Jean d'Aulon, Part II
IN GOD'S NAME, FORWARD!
The time had come for the army's departure! Cheering crowds lined the streets of Blois, while others looked down from their windows along our way. Twenty priests, on loan to Jeanne by the Archbishop of Reims, carried banners and chanted the 'Veni Creator Spiritus.' These twenty priests headed the army that would bring the relief supplies to the starving people of Orleans. Next, Jeanne and her captains came riding on their magnificent chargers, followed by her household staff. Her beloved warriors, four thousand strong, followed behind us!
Jeanne's standard was twelve feet long by three feet wide at the point were the fabric was attached to the eighteen-foot tall pole. Because it was my responsibility to carry Jeanne's unfurled standard I had to use a special saddle called a 'Banner Saddle.' The 'wall' or back and the 'pummel' or front of this saddle snuggly supported my armored body in an upright position. I can tell you that it took a great deal of my strength and all my skill to be able to hold Jeanne's deployed standard steady when the wind blew as we road alone never mind when we were in the heart of battle.
Raymond was in charge of carrying the Maid's Pennon. This was almost five feet long by two and a half feet wide at the point where the fabric was nailed to the ten foot tall pole.
Bringing up the rear were many wagons laden with the tools of war. For example, we brought with us at least 14,000 crossbow bolts that Count Mortain had previously ordered for the defense of his city. This one provision cost the city of Orleans 500 livres-Tournois, an enormous amount, if you ask me. I was given, for Jeanne's personal use, twelve dozen loaves of bread per day. She of course never ate so much in all the days that I knew her. Instead she would gladly pass the bread along to us, her household staff, or more likely give it away to the poor she encountered. Jeanne's horses were not forgotten by the Dauphin as he ordered that they should be given one half barrel of oats per day. These barrels were huge, taking two strong men to move them. Sixty wagons laden with food of all kinds brought up the rear. Also in our train were four hundred cattle, to feed the army as well as the inhabitants of Orleans.
Jeanne thought she was commanding the army of liberation and had planned a direct assault into the heart of the enemy. Unfortunately, this was not to be the case and the captains did not bother to inform her of the high command's contrary decision. Instead of being an army of liberation, we were merely an escort column for the food and supplies. The high command, or should I say La Tremoille and his ilk, had no desire to upset the status quo. They were making too much money from the war to want it to end. No, all they wanted was for the city to be supplied with provisions so that they could continue to survive the English siege! As for going right to the heart of the enemy, we instead took the long road around them so that we could sneak 'quietly' into Orleans.
Jeanne had no knowledge of Orleans' location in relation to the Loire River, so she was completely at the mercy of the captains. She innocently trusted them to take her directly to the city as she had asked, but they did not. I think this was so because the men in power did not truly believe in Jeanne's heavenly guidance. Once inside the city, they feared Jeanne would incite the people into attacking the English, causing the total loss of Orleans to the enemy. Another reason for their deception was their fear that the English around Orleans would cut our forces to pieces as they had done so many times before.
We rode all day, moving south and east. Camping in an open field for the night we slept on the hard cold ground. I seated myself next to her with my back resting against a bag of supplies. Jeanne must not have felt at ease with the idea of sleeping so close to those she did not know or completely trust. I believe it was for this reason that she insisted on sleeping in her full armor. Yet, to my amazement she soon fell sound asleep, like a child who slumbered in her mother's warm embrace. Despite the hardship and discomfort, whenever she was in the field, she maintained this practice throughout her military career. Thus impressing the hardest of captains with her robust endurance.
As I watched her sleep, my mind drifted back to the moment that I first laid eyes on her and how she made an intense and lasting impression upon my psyche. The Dauphin had given me a surcoat to present to her. Jeanne had her back to me as I entered the room that is until someone announced my arrival. Jeanne turned swiftly, in one flowing movement. "Agile girl," I thought. Then our eyes met and in that instant I could feel her genuine goodness and gentleness radiate out from her spirit. From her spirit to mine, it penetrated me warming the depths of my soul in a way profound, yet subtle.
She walked towards me saying something like, "Are you my squire that the good Dauphin has assigned me?" But I did not answer, for my mind was in a whirl. She laughed and patted my arm as I stammered, "A gift... from the Dauphin." Jeanne opened and took the garment from the package that I held out to her. I watched as her face flushed in sheer joy as she lifted it high over her head. Tears flowed from her eyes as free as from a spring. She touched the cloth to her damp cheek, almost breathing in its lovely colors. She passed her hand lightly over the fabric several times before she finally put the surcoat on. In sheer delight she moved, from one person to the next, showing them the magnificent gift. Looking back on it now, I believe it was then, as I watched her peaceful sleep, that the seed of love was planted in my heart.
After morning Mass, with the sun still close to the horizon, we broke camp and the column moved out. I marveled at how the English at Meung and Beaugency made no move against us. They surely knew of our position, from the many scouts that they had in the area, never mind the chanting of our priests. Yet we did not see the slightest sign of the English anywhere.
As the evening drew near we stopped for the second night in the field near the town of Ardon.
Realizing that she would get no help from any of the captains, Jeanne decided to associate herself with the low ranking troops, the sergeants and the common foot soldiers. She wanted to inspire them the best she could so she spent a great deal of time with them.
Jeanne talked to them about the importance of having faith in and obedience to the King of Heaven. "Without it," she said, "God will not help you. You must obey Him, if you do, then you will have victory. What does God ask of His army? To show mercy to any and all enemy soldiers that lay down their weapons. Do not strike a blow at them but allow them to surrender."
Word began to spread about Jeanne and many believed that she was truly sent by God. Soldiers that made fun of her, when she first arrived at Chinon, came and begged her forgiveness. She forgave all those who had wronged her with an open heart. She asked them to go to confession and from that point on to avoid sin and be obedient to the will of God. The soldiers were amazed at Jeanne's goodness and they talked among themselves saying she was truly sent by God. The courage among our forces began to grow at an amazing rate.
Many of the younger men found Jeanne very attractive. It sounded good to tell the captains or the priests that they had no manly feelings towards Jeanne, but among themselves they felt quite different. Many a young soldier was infatuated with Jeanne. They loved everything about her, but they felt she was far too holy to approach. They kept this kind of talk to a minimum for they were embarrassed to admit that they had such feelings.
Jeanne then called all the captains together. She started the meeting by encouraging them to continue to live their reformed lives. "Make a good confession so that God will help you. Be in the state of grace and God will give you victory over your enemies.
"I want you all to know," she continued, "that I am going to make every attempt to end this war with the Mercy of Christ. And by this I mean that I will accept, at any time, the surrender of all English combatants, be they high born or low. They will be free to leave and no harm will come to them, so long as they accept God's will to return to their own homeland. I expect you to follow this to the letter."
If the captains' reaction to her direction at their first meeting was harsh, this order pushed them over the edge because their hatred of the enemy was so great. Their longing to shed English blood was an all-consuming fever. They craved too the self-glorification that a large body count would bring. The captains found this order unbearable and their loud protests rang through the air.
Even so Jeanne stood her ground on this point. "If any English soldier begs mercy of you, do not bring down upon him any blow of your weapon!"
Old habits die hard and so La Hire erupted into a rage, as he roared his objections above the others! He used very strong and vulgar language towards Joan as he excoriated her idea to give mercy to the enemy.
Jeanne was angry at his course rhetoric, yet she was able to contain herself so long as it was directed at her. But the moment La Hire started cursing and using God's name in vain she exploded, with a temper that was redder and hotter than any furnace that I have ever seen. "I warned you about using such foul language against God! How can Jesus aid us, if we offend Him, thus making ourselves no better than the English!?"
La Hire, unable or unwilling to restrain himself, continued to badmouth her as he blasphemed God. Jeanne ripped his staff from his hand and struck his arm so hard with that the staff broke in two! The sound of the wooden staff striking his armor sounded like a shot from a cannon! He was really mad, but, La Hire, stunned by her fierce attack held his tongue. The meeting ended very quickly after this.
During the twilight of the evening, with the sky clear and the moon just rising, Jeanne went behind some supply boxes to pray in private. She was very deep in prayer when La Hire, not seeing her, showed up. He was talking loudly to himself. "It is so stupid for us captains to listen to this damned farm girl who calls herself a maiden sent by God!"
His obscene language was flowing in torrents when he turned around and saw Joan looking right at him. He stopped dead in his tracks and haltingly said, "I did not see you there, Maid! Errrrr, what a clear night it is."
Jeanne looked at him as if she were ready to tear his head off. When he saw this, he prudently took a step back, saying as he did so, "There are things I need to do, so I will bid you good night." With that he beat a hasty retreat.
The humorous sight of the mighty La Hire running away from her was not lost on Jeanne and she began to chuckle quietly to herself.
La Hire must have been very embarrassed to appear so foolish before Jeanne because early the next morning, he told her that he was truly sorry for his outburst and that in the future he would try even harder to control his temper. Jeanne, with a warm smile, patted his arm reassuringly and told him that she had forgiven him and it was now forgotten.
As the third day wore on, the few fluffy clouds increased in size and number. By early afternoon they had joined together, covering the sky from horizon to horizon. We reached Olivet by late afternoon where the column turned north. By this time the rains came and we were forced to march the rest of the way in the downpour. When we reached the southern bank of the Loire at Port Le Bouchet, we were all very wet and tired.
Being bruised by her armor and soaked to the skin by the rain did not help Jeanne's disposition at all. When she saw with her own eyes the captains' deception, she exclaimed in disbelief. "Why is the river between us and Orleans?!" Her disbelief soon turned to rage and she stormed as violently as the weather. "Why was this evil thing done? Who is responsible for this?" None of the captains had the courage to answer, but instead they tried to remain in the background and let her shout into the wind.
Count of Mortain and Porcien-en-Rhetélois was aware of our coming. (Because he was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Orleans, he was given the title of 'The Bastard of Orleans'.) It was his duty to defend the city for his imprisoned father, the Duke of Orleans, who was held in the Tower of London. The Count had watched for us from the battlements of the city. With the first signs of our approach and at great personal risk to his safety, he came across the river on a small barge to greet Jeanne.
This twenty-three year old young man was handsome, sturdily built with a broad chest, wide shoulders and muscular arms. He tied his black hair up off his face and neck with a large piece of cloth. His oval shaped face had well-proportioned features, a straight nose, a firm mouth and a strong square jaw that he kept clean-shaven. His thick eyebrows arched over his dark brown eyes. He was a well-educated man and this he normally demonstrated by his gentle and polite manners.
Soaked by the downpour and with his clothing whipped by the force of the fierce wind, he disembarked the barge. He came forward to welcome Jeanne, graciously bowing to her. He was about to speak when Jeanne, in no mood for niceties, snapped at him, "Are you the Bastard of Orleans?"
Count Jean smiled up at her. "Yes I am, and I am very pleased with your arrival. But please call me 'Bastard,' as all my friends do."
Jeanne was not appeased by his charm. "Bastard, was it you who said I was to come by this side of the river so that I cannot go straight against Talbot and the English? The provisions could have been safely within the walls of the city by now! Instead, they are here and must be ferried over the river to the other side, all the while exposing our provisions and men to English attack!"
Despite Jeanne's tirade Count Mortain maintained a friendly demeanor. "Yes, and those more wise than I are of the same opinion. I think it was the wiser and safer way to come."
She bent down over her saddle and practically put her finger in his face. "In God's name! The counsel of our Lord is wiser and safer than yours. You have thought to deceive me but it is you who are deceived. I bring you better help than has ever come to any general or town, for the help I bring comes from the King of Heaven! God Himself sends this aid, not out of love for me, but at the request of Saint Louis and Charlemagne. God is moved with sympathy for the city of Orleans and He will not suffer the enemy to have both the body of the Duke and his city."
I was very glad she was shouting at him and not at me. I would not have been strong enough to withstand the force of her words! I marveled at how well the Bastard took Jeanne's tongue-lashing. He was the commander of the town and of high noble birth while Jeanne, on the other hand, was a "'gueuse'," as Sir Gamache so bluntly put it. He certainly did not have to take her abuse! Caught by her fiery personality, Mortain told me later, with a bemused smile, that he had no choice but to respect her commanding presence. He answered in an apologetic tone, "Well, Jeanne, the deed is done and it cannot be altered. We must wait for the wind to change to bring the boats over to transport the supplies."
Jeanne's hair was soaked by the rain and hung down in little clumps all around her head. Droplets of the wind driven rain ran down her forehead and off the tip of her nose, as well as down the sides of her face. Jeanne erupted again yelling over the blustering wind, "Bastard, did I not tell these men of importance what God had willed?! See what a blunder your wiser heads have caused by not following His will! Only God can correct what you did!"
Jeanne was very disappointed. She abruptly turned her massive steed and rode a short distance away where she dismounted to kneel in the rain soaked mud. Bowing her head she prayed fervently, and at that very moment the rain stopped, and the gale force wind that had blown to the west all day suddenly changed direction and began to blow just as strongly to the east! Every face turned to Jeanne, astonished by the sudden change of the wind and the cessation of the rain.
Within minutes, the barges that had been moored on the city's side because of the inclement weather left Orleans. Despite the rain-swollen river and rapid current, the boats made good time in reaching us.
Following the orders from the high command, La Hire shouted for the men-at-arms, archers and lancers to fall in rank for the march back to Blois. At first Jeanne stared in disbelief, but then her temper flared anew. "Stop, stop, I shall not allow them to go! What kind of foul trick is this! Bastard, is this your doing?"
Count Mortain attempted to calm her. "No, Jeanne, they are only following their orders. Were you not told before you set out that once the army had brought you and the supplies safely to Orleans, they were to return to Blois?"
Jeanne's face convulsed with rage. "No, I was not! If the army leaves, then so do I! I shall not leave my men after they prepared themselves so well for battle. This is ill-done, Bastard, and because of it God's will is delayed!"
"Jeanne, listen! Listen please. The people in that town need to see you. They are at the point of despair and need you more than your men do. They need their faith and hope restored and only you can do that! Please, please come back with me and give them that aid."
"No! It is another one of your tricks to deprive me of my army. Once they leave I shall never see them again and I worked too hard to get the men ready for battle. No! I shall not leave them!" Jeanne's plan to deal with the English was simple and direct. She wanted to end the people's suffering here and now by "Hitting the English hard to drive them away."
"Jeanne, I give you my solemn word as a knight and Lord, that I shall personally go to Blois and bring the army back to you. Only, please come back with me to the city."
"Your solemn word, Bastard?"
"My solemn word, Jeanne, I swear it by God!"
Father Pasquerel spoke up, "Jeanne, under the circumstances, I feel it is a fair proposal. The people of Orleans do need you. The rest of the priests and I shall stay with the men, and I give you my assurance that they will return in a holy state."
His words calmed Jeanne just enough for her to allow the army to leave. Accompanied by her personal staff, Jeanne, Mortain, La Hire and two hundred of his soldiers, rode the additional five miles east, to where we could more safely traverse the river.
As the barge heaved up and down and the cold river water sprayed our faces, Mortain informed Jeanne that we would be spending the night at the de Cailly's farmhouse, which over looked the village of Checy.
Even before Jeanne could open her mouth in protest, he held up his hand in front of her face as if to stop a child from speaking. He then proceeded to tell her that it was far too dangerous to move these important supplies at night for fear of an English ambush. "I swear, as God is my Judge, that you will make your formal entry into the city tomorrow."
I knew full well just how frustrated Jeanne was at this news! "This treachery will not go unanswered, Bastard!" Fuming she turned her back on him and moved away.
Waiting for us on the river's north shore was Guy de Cailly. He was a well off middle class farmer who offered the comfort of his home to the Maid and her entourage.
"Welcome, my Lord Count Mortain! I am honored that you and those with you have accepted my invitation to spend the night with my family. Where is the wondrous Maid?"
Jeanne stepped out from behind the men. Even in the dim twilight I could easily see the excitement and awe that filled his face as he beheld 'The Maid.' "God be praised for sending you to us! It is my very great honor to have you stay in the safety of my home, Maid."
The graciousness of his greeting helped to cool Jeanne's temper. I can tell you that the warmth of his farmhouse's hearth and the hot meal that he provided for us was most welcomed. I don't know about the others but as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was fast asleep, nestled in the comfort of my feather bed.
Jeanne rose at dawn, ready to make the ride. Count Mortain informed her of his plan. He and his fellow captains had already arranged for a diversionary attack against Fort St. Loup that would take place this evening at twilight. While this attack was occurring, the supply-laden barges would hopefully slip past this English fort to reach the protective ditch work that was located near the Burgundian gate. He added, "A half an hour after the last barge has left, I will then order you and the rest of the troops to assemble in an orderly fashion for our departure."
Jeanne valiantly tried to convince him to execute his plan earlier in the day, but he refused. As kindly as he could he explained that he did not want to allow Jeanne to enter the city any earlier, for fear that her presence would cause an exuberant riot among the people that the enemy would take advantage of.
In this one statement he had unwittingly expressed his own inner most heart. What he really feared were not the English but Jeanne herself, for as yet, he did not believe in her or her 'heavenly' mission.
Away from everyone else Jeanne bitterly complained. "Why won't they believe me! First it was de Baudricourt, then the Dauphin, then the churchmen, then the captains and now the Bastard! In God's name, will it never end?"
"The people believe in you, Jeanne. I am sure that once you beat these English into the ground, the rest of these great men will believe you too."
The de Cailly farmhouse was no great manor. To me it looked more like a collection of rooms that were randomly built together. It was as if, as the family's fortunes had increased, additional rooms were added and the wall separating the new structure from the old was broken through to make a passageway between them. From the looks of things this process must have occurred many times.
As was his custom, de Cailly would go to his private chapel for afternoon prayers. He invited Jeanne and the rest of us to join him if we so wished.
Father Jean Pasquerel said Mass for us and then after his dismissal, we quietly began to leave. All of a sudden Guy fell to his knees. His face glowed with an expression of ecstasy. He was in this state for several minutes. When he recovered, Jeanne was by his side. He said, "Maid! I saw the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel and Raphael! They are magnificent in the splendor of God Himself!"
With a reassuring smile she replied. "Yes, I know you did because I saw them too."
God forgive me, but I had to leave them because my soul was consumed with such a jealous rage that it even frightened me! Fortunately, Father Pasquerel saw the state I was in and he quickly pulled me aside. "My son! What causes you this distress?"
I could not speak as I tried to pull myself free from his strong grasp.
Father continued, "Calm yourself, Jean! Come to my room and let us have a drink together. If after a glass or two, you still don't want to talk, then I will let you go. How does that sound?"
I must have agreed to it because the next thing I knew I was sitting across from Fr. Jean with a tall glass of red wine in my hand.
"Are you feeling better, my son?" The good Father continued in a clam concerned tone, "Can you tell me what put you in such a state?"
"I feel so ashamed, Father. I know I should not have reacted in such a violent manner."
"Do you know why?"
"Yes, perfectly, Father!" I said before taking in another gulp of wine. "I was extremely jealous that a lowborn farmer saw Jeanne's angels but I cannot! I asked her once if I could see them but she refused me saying that I was 'not good enough!' But this farmer IS! What is wrong with me? Am I some kind of pig slop in her eyes?"
"Good friend, I can easily assure you that you are not 'pig slop' in Jeanne's eyes. She has expressed to me, on several occasions, just how highly she esteems the consistent and valuable help that you provide each day."
I was dazed by what Father Jean had said because I had no idea that she felt this way.
Father continued, "My son, it is not Jeanne who decides who sees or does not see heavenly visions. It is totally up to God. So directed your anger at God and not at our good Maid or even Guy! Beside you are more blessed than a hundred such as he! And you know why?"
I remained silent, too confused to speak.
"Because God has given you a most important task."
I must have had an incredulous look on my face because he emphatically added, "My son, listen to me! God has placed into your hands the awesome responsibility of protecting and providing for Jeanne, just as St. Joseph was given the holy task of protecting and providing for the Blessed Mother."
He reached over and grasped my arm, "Jean, do you not see how much God trusts you? Do you not see what a holy office God has given you? If you ask me, your position in daily service to 'The Maid,' is far surpasses any vision that Sir Guy had or will ever have."
With tears in my eyes and great sorrow in my heart, I fell to my knees and asked him to hear my confession.
That evening, after all the barges had departed, Count Mortain, as promised, ordered the troops to assemble for the final march to Orleans.
Her face radiated with an intense joy! Eager to be inside the city that she had come to save, Jeanne gave the order.
"IN GOD'S NAME, FORWARD!"