Jean de Metz, Part III
I found myself at the court of Charles II, Duke of Lorraine, where I began my training for knighthood as a page. I was taken to a large hall in which there were twenty beds lined up in a row. These beds were nothing more than hay-filled mattresses on top of wooden pallets that had four short legs supporting them. Each boy was given one pillow and one wool blanket. We then were assigned to our own small area of the room that contained a bed and a small table. Over each area there was a long wooden shelf below which were two wooden pegs that projected from the wall. I found myself with nineteen other boys of my age, none of whom I knew. They seemed to be more at ease than I was, as they chatted freely among themselves. Because I was broken-hearted by the death of my father and the loss of my mother, I had no desire to mingle with the others, so I remained by myself, mutely sitting on my assigned bed. Because the other boys were from families that were either Burgundian or allied to them, I would remain the outsider throughout my many years of training. I hid my sorrow the best I could. At night I buried my face in my pillow as I cried myself to sleep, while during the day I buried my sorrow in my assigned tasks.
The page began his day by attending Mass with the lady of the court to whom he was assigned. I was assigned to a cold-hearted woman named Marie, whom I had to address as either Lady Marie or My Lady. She treated me with indifference. To her I was nothing more than a clumsy, annoying servant.
When I was not obeying her every whim, I attended school where I learned how to read and write, sing and dance. I had the opportunity to learn to play the lute, but I must admit that I never was very good at fingering the strings. They trained us in the art of chess playing. This was done not as an amusement to help pass the time, but as a means for us to learn tactical thinking, which is quite useful on the battlefield.
Among my many duties I was taught the subtleties of proper table serving techniques and the different ways to present the dishes and pour the wine for my Lord and Lady at table. Instruction in the knightly code of etiquette also occurred in the great hall of the castle. The master of etiquette taught us how to hold our bodies as we walked and the proper way to speak. Not being interested in attending court, this part of my training bored me. I was only interested in battle!
I thrived in the open air and countryside. The women of the court hunted with falcons and hawks. I learned, therefore, the proper way to care for these birds and how to apply and remove the little hoods that covered their heads. When not in use, the birds wore these hoods to keep them calm during their transport to and from the hunt.
The master at arms gave each page a pony! He did this not out of love, but as a means for us to learn how to care for and ride a horse and maintain the equipment. How I loved my pony. I spent all my free time with her. I loved to whisper into the ear of my 'Brave Charger,' for that is what I called her, as I gently curried and combed her. She was brown in color with a black mane and tail.
The stern senior squires taught us how to handle small weapons such as the dagger, the short sword and the small round wooden shield called a buckler. At this young age the weapons were all made of wood to limit the amount of damage we did to one another.
Our long day ended with our religious instruction, taught by the court's chaplain. Day after day we followed the same routine. Years passed and I grew strong, and tall, although long ago my heart had turned to stone. One thought remained constantly with me, revenge against de Luxembourg!
At fourteen, I acquired the silver spurs of a squire, which distinguished me from a knight who wore gilded spurs. I wanted to become a knight, but my hopes for this honor were pointless, because only sons of wealthy nobles with property had that privilege. The reason being that, it took large amounts of money to purchase the armor and horse needed by a knight. I had no means to earn the money necessary, because I worked for free. Yet so long as I served my master, the Duke of Lorraine, I had access to all the equipment I needed.
One day after I turned fourteen, I left the service of Lady Marie and was assigned to serve a knight named Sir Phillipe Trulane. Now there was a piece of work! He was a cruel, hard man from whom I received many a blow. No matter how hard I tried, nothing I did ever pleased him. Yet he was my master. I had no choice but to serve him and this I did from daybreak until dusk. In the morning I rose and dressed and then served him his food and drink. At the evening meal I learned the proper way to carve and serve the meat for him and his wife.
In addition to my other studies that I had begun as a page, I assumed even more responsibilities and training. My chores ran the gamut, from polishing Sir Phillipe's armor and sword, to the cleaning and mending of his horses' harnesses. I shoveled out the stable, curried and groomed his horses and provided his steeds with clean hay, oats and water.
The building up of our physical strength and endurance was essential. We accomplished this by throwing large stones, wrestling each other and with acrobatics. I enjoyed the physical exertion that came from a good wrestling match. We developed the finer points of throwing our opponent over our hip or shoulder, or disabling him by grabbing and twisting a hand or an arm.
Soon I started my training with the lance. Because of its length and heavy weight it was a difficult weapon to control. It took several daylong training sessions just to have some control over it. As I ran to the target I 'couched' it, that is, held the back end of the lance tightly underneath my right arm while I tried to balance the length and weight with my hand. The objective was to hit the target's center with the lance's point. This is not as easy as you may think, for the lance was fifteen to twenty feet long! Once I got the feel of the lance's weight and balance, I advanced to riding a wooden 'horse' that was pulled toward the target by two running men. In this phase of the training I learned to coordinate my movements in order to strike the target's center. I advanced finally to riding real horses and at breakneck speeds I would charge the small target. I missed the mark more times than I care to remember.
From wooden swords we advanced to the use of blunted steel weapons. The master of arms provided for our use a full set of practice armor. This armor was made from thick leather that was molded and shaped to our body size and then hardened by soaking it in a large vat of molten wax. After the leather had dried, it made a sturdy but crude armor that afforded us some protection from the blows of the heavy weapons. It was at this time that we began learning how to fight from a horse as we perfected the various cutting, thrusting and parrying moves that are necessary to survive a battle.
The bond between a knight and his horse is a special one, because a good horse is worth its weight in gold. I acquired the skill to guide and direct my horse's movements by using my legs, spurs, changes in my position within the saddle and with vocal commands. This was important because in battle I would be using my hands to swing a sword, battle-ax, or mace.
Previously I had helped Lady Marie hunt small game with falcons. Now I advanced to larger, more dangerous predators, like the wolf and the wild boar. Connected with the hunt, I had to acquaint myself with the use of the crossbow. I felt this weapon was unworthy of a knight because there is no honor in killing your opponent from afar.
At eighteen, two years before I completed my training, the Duke of Lorraine allowed me the use of a full harness of armor. It was important for my survival in war that the armor I wore became a part of me, like a second skin. This was not as easy as it sounds because the armor weighs at least fifty or more pounds! So clad from head to foot in this heavy plate steel, I had to learn first how to walk, then run, then jump and even leap into my horse's saddle. Whether on foot or horseback, I continued developing my fighting skills and became proficient with the use of the long spear, battle-ax, war hammer and sword. I couched the heavy lance tightly underneath my arm as I swiftly rode toward the target, hitting it dead center. As I returned in triumph, a profound sense of accomplishment filled me. At long last I had finally perfected my skill with the lance!
At the age of twenty I completed my training. Now came the two days of testing in which I would demonstrate my skills and prove my worth. The objective of the first day's test was for me to defend and prevent any adversary from crossing a narrow bridge. This I did in a daylong fight where I vanquished every opponent! The objective of the second day's test was for me to defend, while on horseback, a narrow ford in a river. Here too, I fought all into submission.
They said I fought like a demon! The knights asked me how I was able to do it, but I only laughed and said nothing. My secret was keeping in mind the memory of that mounted knight killing my father. As I fought, I vented all my hatred and rage and that gave my arm the extra strength I needed to win!
I don't know how long these thoughts occupied me, but the next thing I remember was Jeanne calling to me. "Angel, Angel, you were going to tell me about your life?"
"Yes, Jeanne, I was, wasn't I?" I said, returning to the present moment. "I am not sure how much to tell. I had an ancestral castle and lands located some ten miles south of the border with the County of Luxembourg, on the banks of the River Othain near the Village of De Nouvilonpont. When I was a young child the soldiers of the Count of Luxembourg attacked my home. By the end of the battle I had lost everything that was dear to me; my father, my home, my lands, and my ancestral name, De Nouvilonpont, all were confiscated by the Count of Luxembourg and his men ... leaving me with only my memories."
"I was sent away to be trained as a knight at the Duke of Lorraine's court. Even though I finished my training with honors, knighthood was beyond my grasp because I could not afford the armor and war horse. I left his court ending up in De Baudricourt's service, where you found me."
I gazed at her gentle face as my hatred and despair welled up inside me. "All I have left is my great hatred for the Count and his men." I could feel my jaw tighten as I gritted my teeth. "...I also have my despair, that because of my poverty, I shall never be knighted."
Jeanne pleaded with me. "Angel, you must renounce your hate! It will only poison your heart. Do your best to trust in God and He will do the rest." I could only silently nod my head.
Some three hours or so beyond the safety of St. Urbain Abbey the weather became even more difficult as blasts of frigid winds whipped around us. It was at this point in our journey that we had to leave the main road and turned onto a narrow forest trail. We did this for our own protection, as this area was thick with Burgundian marauders. The trail, thick with underbrush and hanging vines, caught and tore at our clothing, hands and faces, slowing our progress to a crawl.
The dawn of February 25th found us some where between St. Urbain and the Burgundian garrison in the town of Clairvaux. Huddled close together, for the meager warmth this would provide, we passed a difficult day hidden within some thickets. I knew we could not afford the comfort of using Clairvaux's bridge to cross the Aube River.
Instead, we looked for a place to ford its icy waters in relative safety. As we did so we all kept a sharp look out for any sign of the enemy. We were deep within Burgundian territory and capture meant certain death!
In the coming days we would have to cross four major rivers and three large streams. Each and every time we crossed a dangerously ice-choked river, our clothing would become waterlogged. As soon as we reached the opposite shore, the water in our boots would slosh around our feet while our soggy clothes would freeze to our skin!
With the faint gray light of Saturday, February 26th, we safely across the River Aube. Thanks be to God, we came upon a small clearing in which we were able to camp. Still only some five or seven miles west of Clairvaux, we did not dare light a fire for fear of giving our position away. Instead, we huddled together on the hard, cold, damp ground. It was a futile attempt to keep warm though, because the thick, miserably cold mist had worked its icy fingers down into our bones and we shivered uncontrollably all the time.
Jeanne tried to bolster our confidence. "Have no fear! The enemy soldiers cause me no worry, for I have a sure road before me. If I do encounter the enemy, I have God with me, Who will clear the way that leads to my Dauphin. I was born to do this, so fear not my friends. What I am commanded to do, I will do! My friends in Paradise have told me how to act. It is already five years since my Voices told me that I must go and fight in order to restore the kingdom of France. I was born for this. The only thing I regret is not being able to hear Mass every day."
"I was born for this" - these five simple words filled me with a profound sense of awe that a girl so young knew exactly what her life's purpose was. It amazed me then as it still does now.
It was quite dark when we once more set out on our journey. We decided to make a wide swath around the town of Pothières traveling southeast through the woods. It was hard going, but even so, I allowed my mind to wander to consider the night sky.
The level of the moonlight went from blinding to almost nonexistent; depending on the number of clouds that passed by its luminescent face. I remember thinking at the time that the swiftly moving clouds were playing hide and seek with the moon, when my thoughts were interrupted by the sound of barking dogs. Brought back to the business at hand, I rapidly realized that the Burgundians had sharply increased their patrols and were actively searching for us!
Our hearts pounded in startled terror as we could hear their voices echoing through the crisp, cold air. We had to act fast. Not saying a word, we swiftly stuffed rags into the hollow of our horses' hooves to deaden the sound that they made against the frozen ground. Always a jump ahead of the enemy, we darted from one clump of trees to the next, weaving our way across the rugged terrain. Finding what cover we could, we made slow progress that night.
The dawn of February 27th found us some where between Pothières and the Armançon River, camped in amongst a tangle of some fallen trees. We had not heard the Burgundians in several hours and I was glad for it! It had snowed for the past 24 hours, not a blizzard mind you, but just enough to make our life miserable with its biting cold to torment us. We hid out in this natural fort for the rest of the day and well into the evening before we felt safe to continue our treacherous trek.
The morning sun, of Monday February 28th, had just broken over the horizon when through the fog we caught sight of the Auxerre cathedral's great towers looming dimly before us. This city, despite being a Burgundian stronghold, appeared to Jeanne as an island of faith in the middle of the war-ravaged land. Notwithstanding the high risk of capture, Jeanne insisted on entering this fortress town to hear Mass. Bound by my oath to protect her I had no choice but to accompany her. The remainder of our group rested in a concealed place while Jeanne and I traveled into the city.
Fearful, I approached what I considered to be the lion's gaping jaws of death! The Burgundians were still looking for Jeanne in order to kill her and here we were entering their stronghold. I could feel the hot, bitter bile from my stomach rise up uncontrollably into the back of my mouth. I cannot tell you how my heart pounded within my chest as we slowly rode up the steep hill that leads to the town's gate. In spite of the cold, blowing wind, I could feel the drops of perspiration forming under my cap. As I approached the Burgundian sentries who stood their station at either side of the gate, I felt my neck and shoulder muscles become tense and strained. Beneath my thick leather gloves, my palms were drenched in nervous sweat. I observed Jeanne's serene confidence. It was only her strong presence that enabled me to face the enemy and overcome my fears! Through God's providential care we entered the town unharmed just as she had predicted!
Jeanne calmly said her prayers and attended Mass. I, instead, tortured my thoughts with self-centered reproaches. "What was wrong with me? Why was I so frightened? Why did I need this peasant girl to get me through the situation?"
Fortified by the hearing of several Masses, Jeanne happily rejoined our band, no worse for the experience. I wish I could have said the same. We slept the day in a thickly wooded area just beyond Auxerre. I should say the others slept because I did not. I was too busy detesting and resenting my lack of trust to allow myself any rest.
During the night just passed, we successfully had avoided detection by the enemy garrison of Mézilles one more obstacle overcome! My joy was short lived because by the gray light of March 1st, we had reached the banks of the Loing River. There we looked upon its wide, vicious and swirling waters with dismay before plunging into the frigid water.
We were in the midst of this wide and fast flowing river when we heard the shrilling, earsplitting shouts of enemy soldiers echoing all around us. We had fallen into an ambush! Six Burgundians galloped out from the far side of the river, while four rushed up behind us to close the trap.
Bertrand, Julian and I advanced against the six. Colet, Richard, 'the Archer' and Jean de Honecourt dealt with the four to the rear. Unknown to us, Vincent, in hopes of gaining the Burgundian's sizable reward, had planned from the beginning to murder Jeanne. Seizing this as an excellent opportunity to accomplish his dirty deed, he spurred his horse forward and with his sharp dagger drawn he attempted to slit her throat! Fortunately, I saw him in time and cried out a warning, "Jeanne, look out!"
She turned and looked straight into his eyes and thus for a fleeting instant he hesitated. His hand was but an inch from grabbing Jeanne's doublet when a Burgundian's arrow, meant for Jeanne, pierced right through his neck. With a scream of pain he fell from his horse into the fast flowing river. The swiftness of the current carried his body quickly out of sight.
Richard, busy with another Burgundian, heard Vincent's scream of pain and turned just in time to see his body enter the water. Quickly scanning the scene, he reacted in a split second. Swift and true, he let fly his arrow, which pierced Vincent's killer, before he could get off another shot.
Colet, Richard and Honecourt, vanquishing the Burgundians to our rear, came forward to help us deal with the remaining enemy. That was too much for these cowards and they swiftly vanished into the dense forest from which they had come. We regrouped a few yards from the river to assess our losses. All had come through the battle without injury, all, that is, except Vincent. If he had not inadvertently been in the way of the arrow, it would have been Jeanne's dead body washed away instead of his. I am sure Jeanne realized his murderous intent toward her but in her goodness she forgave him. "Let us pray for the soul of our courageous Vincent who died to save my life."
After such a close call we decided to push on the additional ten miles or so to reach the halfway point of our journey, the loyal town of Gien.
We arrived just in time to hear a late morning Mass. What joy we felt as we gave our abundant and profound thanks to God for the protection the Lord had accorded us. Then we found a friendly, warm inn where we could rest our road-weary bodies. The prospect of a room with a large, roaring fire thrilled me, so I willingly paid the exorbitant price. We men stood by the fire while Jeanne, away from our prying eyes, went to a darkened corner of the room to change her damp, ice filled clothes in relative privacy.
I thought I would never be warm again but after getting into some clean, dry clothes and filling my stomach with a fresh hot meal, I began to feel human again. The warm, soft bed next to my bone weary body felt heavenly. In a blink of an eye, I fell fast asleep, something I had not done in many a day.
The next morning, March 2nd, we crossed the ancient stone bridge that spanned the mighty Loire. Finally, we were in the Dauphin's territory. Now we could use the main roads and travel by day, which was a great relief to all. It was our great hope that with in the next three or four days Jeanne would finally meet her noble Dauphin. All our spirits soared, but none higher than Jeanne's. Her eyes sparkled and her face glowed with happiness. Her confidence seemed to affect everyone, even her horse, for it seemed to me that its gait was lighter and prouder than before.
We entered the town of La Brillière at dusk. Here we came upon a pack of beggars that were aimlessly standing around the town's large stone crucifix. Perhaps they were related but it was hard to tell because their faces were so haggard. Their appearance was grotesque; they looked more like walking skeletons with a thin layer of flesh pulled tight over their bones, than human beings. Normally I handled the problem by chasing this human debris off with foul curses and menacing them with my sword, that is, until Jeanne came into my life.
Horrified by my behavior, Jeanne pulled her horse up between the riffraff and me, thus protecting them from my wrath. With a stern reprimand, she chided me for my cruelty and lack of Christian concern for the poor. Her fierceness astonished me because I had never seen her act so stern before.
Jeanne's words cut deep, like knives, into my heart. I quickly apologized to her for my crassness and asked how I could make amends. She extended her hand toward the beggars and ordered me to give them money. Under her severe and terrible gaze, my proud spirit was brought low. Reduced to a small obedient boy, I gave the leader of the ragtag band some coins from my purse. Quickly I shifted my eyes to see if Jeanne was satisfied by my reluctant act of charity. She was and I breathed easier for it.
It was Thursday, March 3rd, when we arrived at the small and ancient Village of St. Catherine de Fierbois. Because the sun was soon to set, we looked for an inn.
Located across the square from the church was a cozy little tavern where we found the welcoming warmth of a large, roaring hearth fire. The village itself was small with only a few stone houses surrounding the church.
The next morning Jeanne and I went to Mass. The church was filled with votive offerings of swords or parts of armor that were left behind by grateful knights and soldier who were either healed or freed from prison through the intercession of Saint Catherine.
At eleven, after hearing three Masses, we returned to the inn. I ordered for us some mutton, bread and cheese. I took my hearty red wine straight. Jeanne instead asked for a cup of water, into which she poured a few drops of the wine to flavor and redden it. I marveled at how little she ate because she consumed only a small piece of bread and cheese. Enjoying the warmth of the nearby hearth fire, we quietly consumed our meals. With my ravenous hunger almost satisfied, I asked, "Jeanne, what reward did you ask of God?"
Caught by surprise, she held a morsel of food in midair. "The salvation of my soul."
"Is that all you asked of God?"
With the morsel of food held between her thumb and forefinger still dangling between the plate and her opened mouth, she answered, "Surely that is the greatest reward anyone could ever have!" Jeanne shook her head in weary disbelief and said no more.
After supper, eager to be about the Lord's business, Jeanne dictated a letter, which read:
"Most Noble Dauphin: My name is Jeanne, the Maid. I have traveled one hundred and fifty leagues to come to your aid, which I do by command of my Lord, the King of Heaven. I know many things that will bring you much peace of mind. I beg audience with you that I may accomplish God's Will in France. As a sign of what I say is true, I will recognize you among all the others. Written, Friday, the forth day of March at the town of Saint Catherine de Fierbois. Signed, Jeanne, The Maid."
Jeanne put a small "X" by her name, because she did not know how to write. Colet soon afterward left for Chinon to deliver our two letters, the one from Sir Robert and Jeanne's letter to the Dauphin. With that, I was finally able to rest. I did not stir from my slumber until that evening.
Colet returned with written permission that allowed us to enter Chinon. I am sure the innkeeper must have thought us mad the way we celebrated. With shouts of joy we flung our heels high into the air as we danced with our servants. This merry madness must have lasted a good long time before we fell exhausted in a heap on the floor. Jeanne laughed so hard at our antics that she nearly slipped off her chair!
On the morning of March 5th we entered the town of Chinon. We took lodging at The Bowmen's Inn but found no rest as we were inundated by the Dauphin's agents. They came to question Bertrand and me about Jeanne's moral character, her mission, and our journey to Chinon. Meanwhile, Jeanne attended morning Mass in the nearby church asking God for patience to endure the delay this inquiry was causing.
On March 6th, Laetare Sunday, the day all Christianity celebrates as Mid-Lent, two noblemen came after supper to the inn asking to speak with Jeanne. Annoyed, she burst out at them, "Are you from the Dauphin's court?"
With raised eyebrows they momentarily stared at one another. "Yes!"
Jeanne, bristling with emotion, vented her frustration. "Why did he keep me waiting so long?"
They were dumbfounded. They could not believe the brashness of this peasant girl! "That is certainly none of your affair. The King can do as he wishes. Now come along with us! You must not keep King Charles waiting, because he commands your immediate presence at the castle's great hall."
Jeanne's face turning red with holy impatience. "What do you mean? It is you who have kept the King of Heaven waiting!"
By their incredulous looks and posture, I saw that they did not care at all
We left for the castle just as the sun was descending behind the horizon. We traveled up the steep cobblestone streets thick with the celebrating town's people. The inns were alive and riotous, with laughter and vulgar songs. As we passed one such place, a man came crashing out of the door, his face all bloody and swollen. He fell hard against my horse's flank pushing it to one side, causing my charger to prance nervously, as the man fell face down into the filthy street. Jeanne, fearing that he would drown in the mud, motioned for me to see to his safety and I obediently complied. I washed the blood and dirt from his face with water from my canteen. Bertrand dismounted and helped me drag the unconscious man to the side of the street where we left him propped against the inn's wall.
Illuminated by the fading twilight we could make out the dark outline of the chateau. As we reached the top of the hill, we came to the wooden bridge that crossed the castle's dry mote. Along its' entire length a large number of the castle's garrison had gathered. At the first sight of Jeanne this entire band of unsavory characters began to jeer and taunt her with wolf howls and smacking lips. I was enraged by this display and embarrassed for Jeanne as well. Fear for her safety made me vigilant for any moves against her person.
We were almost across the bridge when, coming out from the glare of the torch's light, we caught sight of a mounted soldier. "Well, by the blasted Godhead, so that's the MAID, is it?!" His words were full of scorn as he let out a sadistic laugh... "She would not remain one for long, if I had my way with her!"
With the speed of a reflex my hand flew to my sword. I wanted to strike him dead for his insult towards Jeanne but she stopped me. Pulling her horse up sharply, she turned in her saddle to see who had just so foully spoken God's name. "In the name of God! How dare you blaspheme Him when you have so little time to live?" Before this dog could respond, Jeanne had already entered the courtyard. It was only by God's grace that I kept my sword in its sheath!
I saw a series of eight steps that led up to an impressive oak door. I was sure that we would be taken to the Dauphin through this regal entrance but my fantasy was short lived. Several of the Dauphin's servants came running out of the castle's kitchen door to assist us with our horses. The porter, with lantern in hand, stopped only long enough to motion for us to follow, and then disappeared through the open door. We promptly followed after him through the noisy kitchen to a narrow staircase that was used by the serving men to bring the food from the kitchen to the audience hall above. We climbed a short spiral staircase that ended abruptly at an ordinary wooden door. Behind which we heard the sounds of music, and merriment as the Dauphin's court wildly celebrated what remained of the day.
The porter knocked on this door. When it opened he quickly spoke with some one. As he turned to go he ordered us to remain where we were until summoned.
I called after him, "Are you going to leave us in the dark?"
All we could do was site upon the cold stone steps as we waited in silence and anticipation. Bertrand had been at court a few times before so he knew what to expect.
I said to my friend, "Bertrand, do they treat all their guests like this?"
He let out a low sarcastic grunt. "They only treat country bumpkins this way. Try not to let it bother you too much, my young friend. They need their sport and we are it."
I am sure Jeanne could sense my rage at this despicably treatment because she gently touched my arm as she whispered into my ear. "Never mind, Angel, God will repay." I didn't know her thoughts, but her tranquil demeanor amazed me.
A rattle of the doorknob and a sudden shaft of light intruded into the darkness, which caused me to jump to attention.
"Is Jeanne, the Maid, present?" asked the court page.
"Yes, she is." I replied as I shielded my eyes from the torch's glare.
He grandly gestured with a sweeping motion of his arm. "Follow me. His Royal Majesty awaits you."