Jean d'Aulon, Part IV
The First Victory
Again the French army marched by the English forts without hindrance. Our safe passage through the heart of the English forces proved Jeanne and her 'Voices' correct in their assessment of the enemy's resolve! Yet it was too late now to cry over what might have been.
Jeanne and I retired to our rooms for a nap. I was just dozing off when Jeanne suddenly jumped out of her bed yelling, "In God's name, our soldiers are hard pressed by the enemy! Why was I not awakened? My Counsel has told me to go against the English, but I do not know if I must go to their forts or against Fastolf, who is bringing them food." While rushing out of the room Jeanne ordered, "Get up, Squire! Quick, bring me my armor!" She ran downstairs and found Louis playing at the front door. "Ah, you bloody boy, you did not tell me that the blood of France was being shed! Go get my horse!"
Jeanne bounded back upstairs. "Where are those who should arm me? The blood of our men is flowing to the ground. In God's name, this is ill done." As people rushed into the room, she continued to yell, "My arms! Bring me my arms and a horse!"
Fully armed within minutes, Jeanne darted out of the house. Louis had her horse waiting for her. I ran into the barn to get my horse, coming on the scene just in time to see Louis throw Jeanne's pennon out of the upstairs window. Grabbing it as it fell, Jeanne was off so swiftly that sparks flew from her horse's hooves.
Jean, Bertrand, her two pages, and I caught up with her at the Burgundy Gate. A moment later all the brave captains and knights who put their bodies and lives in harm's way came to her side too! There were Jean Foucault, the Lord of Saint-Germain, Sir Kennedy and his fellow Scots, Baron de Loré as well as Captain Baretta and Lord de Valperga. What a glorious sight! Old and new friends united in our fierce determination to free Orleans from the enemy's grasp. To each and every battle that was to take place, these chivalrous and resolute freedom fighters selflessly answered Jeanne's call to arms.
There at the Burgundian Gate we witnessed the return of some of the wounded. One man, in particular, caught Jeanne's eye and the hideous sight sickened her. It took her a moment before she could overcome her revulsion and ask, "Who is he?"
"He is a Frenchman," came the reply. With great emotion Jeanne exclaimed, "Ha! Never did I see French blood flow but my hair did not stand on end!" and with that she spurred her horse forward.
Because the city's militia was encouraged by the arrival of Mortain's reinforcements, they decided, on their own, to attack the English fort of Saint Loup. Before she arrived, the militiamen were having the worse of it, but this situation quickly changed when Jeanne, holding her white pennon aloft, courageously charged into the fray. The army took new heart at this sight and rallying to her side, fearlessly attacking the fort! At the flourish of our trumpets we, who had followed her from the city, put spur to horse. At the speed of a gale force wind, we galloped headlong into their midst and with the shock of a thunderbolt we clashed with our foes. The clang of our weapons mixed frightfully with our war cries as we rushed upon the English. There in the thick of battle, I was like a farmer who, with his sharp scythe, effortlessly cuts down tall grass. With each of my broad, swift, sweeping blows I leveled great swaths of enemy soldiers.
One hundred and fifty English soldiers died that day. The English command knew it was over and so forty of them tried to escape. They broke into the fort's vestry in an attempt to disguise themselves as priests. Jeanne came to the rescue just in time to stop the French from massacring them. "We must spare the churchmen!"
The soldiers protested, "Maid, these are no churchmen! They are English in poor disguise!"
Jeanne knew full well that these English were not priests but she did not want those who had surrendered killed. Therefore she refused to give into their demands for blood. "We must not take anything from churchmen. Bring them safely to my lodging. Do as I order!" she commanded and the soldiers reluctantly obeyed.
We celebrated our victory by burning the fort to the ground! Jeanne, instead of rejoicing, broke into a torrent of tears as she viewed the land strewed with the dead and dying. The sight of all those men who died without confessing their sins moved her to seek out Father Pasquerel. In his pity for the dead and dying soldiers of both sides, Father Pasquerel gave all the men lying on the battlefield a general, conditional, absolution. There, while still in the field, Jeanne confessed to him. Afterward, Jeanne ordered all the army to do the same, stating her intention to leave if we did not comply.
Horrified and revolted by the carnage, Jeanne's face turned ashen. I saw her sway in her saddle as large beads of perspiration formed on her forehead. "Oh, Squire, the sight and smell of battle sickens me to the depths of my soul. How I wish the English would listen to reason and go in peace back to their land. Oh, God, how I earnestly pray for this!"
"Then Maid, if battle distresses you so, why do you go where the fiercest action is taking place?"
Jeanne flashed me a stern look. "You forget, Squire, I am not here for some kind of vainglory. If it were up to me I would be back home helping my beloved mother. No, Jean, I act for God's glory alone."
She heaved a deep sigh as she smiled. "Never mind me, good Squire, I will answer your question. If I, one so simple, can remain at the front during a battle, then those of the army who do not will be shamed. It is my hope and prayer that if I should die in battle, my sacrifice will encourage the army of France to remain bold and steadfast until the kingdom is free."
The very first thing Jeanne did upon returning to the city was to visit the English prisoners were being held. She was appalled by what she saw. The room was filthy, cold and damp. The wounded had no blankets nor were they given any food or water. Our Maid flew into action, ordering those around her to bring all the blankets and rations that could be found. In the mean time she took the opportunity to speak and pray with the English captives.
Breathlessly a man came running into the room. "Here is what you wanted Maid. These are all that we could find on such short notice."
"Well done, my good man." She said, as she took one of the blankets and began to wrap it around the nearest shivering prisoner.
Jeanne must have spent at least an hour with them, soothing and reassuring her former enemies with her compassionate love.
Before leaving the place she gave a standing order that from now on these and all future prisoners were to receive the best care that could be given to them.
Jeanne had just returned to the Boucher home when a contingent of irate captains came storming in the room. Sir Jean de Gamaches led them. "You cracked gueuse!" he angrily shouted at her. "What the hell are you doing giving our needed supplies to those godons!"
Jeanne hotly glared at him as he continued his rampage.
"By your stupid actions you are undermining the morale of our troops. Don't you realize, you crazy wench, that if these prisoners survived, they will only take up arms against us? It would be preferable to let them die or better still just put those who cannot pay a ransom to the sword and be done with it!"
The other captains patted his back as they grunted their approval.
Jeanne, red faced with anger, gave them no quarter as she laid into them. "Leave the English prisoners alone! They are just as much children of God as you are - maybe more so seeing what kind of vile man you are!"
She advanced upon Sir Jean with a vengeance! "All I will say to you, sir, is this, it is God's will that we help them! For if we fail to do so, God will abandon us and France will fall! Do you want that on your conscience?"
She said no more but stomped up to her room.
I can tell you that this incident was only the first of many heated and angry arguments over this subject that were to erupt in the coming days between Jeanne and the captains.
Before retiring for the night Jeanne summoned Father Pasquerel to hear her confession and then she informed him of her plans for the morrow. "Father Pasquerel, since tomorrow is the Feast of the Ascension, I shall keep the day holy by not attacking the enemy. In addition, I want you to hear my confession and to say Mass for me and my troops. Please have the other priests help you inform the men that they are not to go against the English. But if they are attacked by them, then they must defend themselves. Remind the men that no camp followers are to be found among them. It is for sins such as these that God would allow their defeat."
Thursday, May 5th was the Feast of The Ascension. Jeanne confessed to Father Pasquerel and then she and all the army heard Mass. Upon returning to our lodging, she dictated her third and last letter to the English.
It read: "You, men of England, who have no right in this Kingdom of France. The King of Heaven orders and commands you through me, Jeanne, the Maid, that you are to leave your forts and return to your own country. Otherwise, I shall make such a war cry against you that it shall be remembered forever! I write to you for the third and last time, and I shall write to you no more. JESUS MARY. Signed, Jeanne, The Maid."
I was folding the letter when Jeanne interrupted me. "Dear squire, please add this to the letter."
"I would have sent you this letter in a more honorable manner, but you have not returned my herald, Guyenne. I pray you to send him back and I will send you some of your men who were taken at the battle of Saint Loup for they are not all dead there."
"Jeanne, does it do any good? Writing the English, I mean? They are deaf, dumb, and blind to your requests for surrender."
"I am following the directions of my Voices, Squire. I find from experience that their counsel is always correct and from which nothing but good comes. Now, my friend let us go to the bridge so that I may deliver my final summons of surrender to these Godons. "
Jeanne asked three soldiers to accompany us, one of whom had a bow with some arrows. Confidently, Jeanne strode to the very end of the fortified bridge that was across from the Tourelles. There she tied her message to the arrow. As the arrow flew, Jeanne shouted in her native tongue, "Read; here is news!"
Glasdale came to the ramparts with the letter crumpled in his hand. Cruelly he shouted back to us as he threw Jeanne's letter into the river. "Ah! It is news from the harlot of the Armagnac!"
Jeanne bowed her head and wept as she called on the King of Heaven for aid. Not so much for being insulted, she could take their contempt. No, it was because they rejected her terms for surrender and she knew the implications of that rejection, the deaths of countless soldiers, which she had tried mightily to avoid. Her countenance soon brightened though. "I have received news from the Lord."
Later that day, Jeanne and I attended a war council held at the Bastard's headquarters. The purpose was to inform Jeanne of their attack strategy. The Count greeted her warmly. "Welcome, Maid. We have asked you here to explain to you what strategy we have planned."
Jeanne nodded impatiently. "Yes, go ahead. I am listening."
Because of their distrust, the captains planned on telling Jeanne as little as possible. "We decided that the militia must attack the fort of Saint-Laurent to pin Talbot's forces down."
Jeanne stood her ground, her temper rising. "Yes? Go on. Tell me what you have really planned and settled on. I am quite capable of keeping silent on matters far more important than this."
"Peace, Jeanne, be not angry. We cannot tell you everything at once."
Mortain walked over to the large table where he rummaged through a stack of maps and then motioned for Jeanne to join him. "We are going to attack the Fort of Saint-Laurent," he explained as he pointed to the different areas of the map. "If the English along the south side of the river should go to their assistance, then we will cross the river and attack the Tourelles."
"I accept your plan, Bastard." With that she left the meeting in a storm of agitation.