Jean d'Aulon Part XI
THE LOIRE CAMPAIGN
She came to the door of her lodging fully armed except for her helmet. In her hand, she held a small ceremonial war ax, a symbol of her office. Raymond brought her black charger, the one d'Alençon gave her at Chinon, to the door. It bucked and reared so that it was impossible for her to mount. She looked down the street from where she stood and noticed a large ancient stone cross in front of the town's church. "Guide him to that cross," Jeanne commanded.
Raymond led the way as the two strong soldiers guided the steed. Immediately the horse became perfectly still, thus enabling Jeanne to mount it with ease. Turning to the priests who stood on the church's steps, she asked for their blessing. "You, priests and men of the church, form a procession and pray for the success of this campaign."
Jeanne then nudged her stallion forward. As she lifted her right arm, she pointed the way with her outstretched finger. "Forward! Forward!"
Raymond holding Jeanne's unfurled pennon, proudly rode before her. I, with her battle standard flying briskly in the breeze, took my usual place behind Jeanne. The rest of her personal staff took their places behind her. We rode back to Orleans to join d'Alençon as he was completing the final preparations for the assault on Jargeau. La Hire, the Bastard, and their men, as well as a thousand men from Orleans also joined us. All totaled we had five thousand warriors, including cavalry, pikeman, lancers, archers, and cannoniers. Our spirits ran high and our confidence soared as we marched toward Jargeau singing our battle song.
We stopped and camped for the night in a forest that was halfway to Jargeau. As we ate our evening meal, Count Jean's scouts came with news that Falstaff and his two thousand-man force had left Janville. Its purpose was to reinforce Lord Suffolk and his two thousand soldiers who occupied this town. This news shook the confidence of the captains and caused them to doubt that they had enough men to take the strongly fortified town.
The troubled captains gazed into the roaring campfire as they silently pondered the situation. With the last rays of sunlight casting long shadows on the ground, Jeanne tried to rally their courage in her usual flamboyant way. "Do not fear or hesitate to attack the English, no matter how great a multitude they might be. It is God Who guides our enterprise. Truly, if I were not sure that it was God Who guided us, I would rather care for my father's sheep than expose myself to so great a peril."
How confidently she stood in their midst! The light of the campfire reflected off her armor giving her face a wondrous radiance that made her look invincible. "Remember how hard you thought it would be to relieve Orleans? Yet you succeeded! Trust in God and you will have the victory!"
La Hire bellowed, "By my staff, what kind of bastards are we that we should be frightened by a handful of dung-hill, flea-headed Godons anyway? I say we can beat them with one arm tied behind our backs!"
Jeanne came up behind the old bear and playfully rubbed the top of his balding head! We were amused by his expression of surprise. I am sure he never experienced anything like that before. He laughed with a deep thunderous roar at her playfulness. She smiled at him as she walked closer to the campfire. "That is true, La Hire, but let us use both our hands against them."
Thus reassured, the captains renewed the march to Jargeau. In late afternoon of the next day, the French army suddenly came upon the English who waited in ambush for us in the outskirts of Jargeau. The English rushed out from the woods that flanked the side of the road charging as they yelled, "For God and Saint George, hurrah!"
This unexpected encounter frightened our men, and we began to falter and retreat into a near-by field, that is, until Jeanne, with her pennon billowing in the wind, galloped out against the enemy. Her massive charger's nostrils flared with each of its long strides that thundered against the hardened earth. The bright sun glistened off her armor, while her white surcoat covered in gold fleur-de-lis billowed behind her. With such a sight to encourage us, we instantly rallied to drive the English back in disorder! We drove them all the way to Jargeau! Unfortunately, they managed to retreat back inside the town and slammed the gates shut in our faces. When Jeanne reached its walls, she shouted her order to the English, "Surrender this place to the King of Heaven and to the noble Dauphin Charles and go in peace. Otherwise you shall be destroyed!" The English gave no answer, none at all. Not even to yell insults at her for they knew what had happened to Glasdale. They were superstitious and were afraid they too would die an ignominious death.
During the evening, Jeanne directed the placement of the cannons and bombards for the next morning's attack. God certainly was with us because the captains had forgotten to post the usual number of guards at the perimeter of our camp. If the English had been sufficiently bold to come against us during the night, we would have been at their tender mercy.
Even though it was Sunday, the English prepared to give battle until Suffolk called for a parley. We chose La Hire to represent our position. Under a flag of truce, he went to speak with the English commander. "Lord Suffolk is willing to surrender in two weeks if Falstaff does not come to relieve him in that time."
"I will accept nothing less than their immediate and total surrender! Go tell him that!" the Duke declared.
Jeanne, not eager for bloodshed, grabbed d' Alençon's surcoat and counseled for leniency. "Good Duke, my friend, they will never accept that! If they choose to do so, let them leave Jargeau with their lives and take their equipment with them. If not, then shall they be taken by assault." D'Alençon silently nodded his head in acceptance and La Hire went back to the English.
He soon returned though. "The English commander said he would consider the proposal, and give us an answer tomorrow."
The answer came at nine o'clock in the morning, with a volley of cannon fire. Sadly and with head bowed Jeanne mournfully declared, "So be it. May God have mercy on their souls." Then with great confidence she looked up from her prayer and ordered, "To the Assault!"
The air vibrated with the roar of our cannons and the shouts of our advancing forces. With faggots in hand, the men rushed forward to fill in the moat. Wave upon wave, our troops weathered the storm of the English missiles. Thanks be to God, by mid-afternoon, the moat and trenches were filled with the wooden faggots and our brave men began planting the scaling ladders against the wall.
"Forward, gentle Duke, to the assault!" Jeanne yelled.
D'Alençon hesitated. "It's not yet time, Jeanne!"
Jeanne grasped his arm and smiled reassuringly at him. "Have no fear and doubt not because it is the right time when it pleases God. We must work when it is His will. Act and God will act!" Still he was uncertain so Jeanne pressed her hands upon his shoulders. "Oh, gentle Duke, are you afraid? Do you not know that I promised your wife to bring you back to her safe and sound?" And Jeanne's bold presence gave solace to his wavering heart. "On then, noble Duke, let us together continue the attack!"
Side by side, Jeanne and d'Alençon courageously advanced through the smoke and the blasts of cannon fire. Not thirty feet from our objective, Jeanne stopped to survey the situation. She saw a cannon on the town's wall positioned to have its shot reach where the Duke stood. Pointing to the cannon she screamed, "MOVE!, good Duke, or that cannon will kill you."
D'Alençon instantly obeyed and seconds later the cannon's shot struck dead another who had taken his place. The Duke stood in shock, visibly awed by Jeanne's power to predict coming events accurately; and with a trembling hand he made upon himself the sign of the cross.
Jeanne took her pennon from Raymond and began to climb the scaling ladder. An English soldier threw a massive stone at her, which struck Jeanne's helmet. The force was so great that her helmet cracked in two and she fell to the ground in a stunned heap! Seconds later though, she was back on her feet. This was the second time Providence had spared her life!
Jeanne's fiery words inflamed our courage. "Friends! Friends! on! on! Our Lord has doomed the English! Keep a good heart because they are ours!" With a vengeance we swarmed over the walls. Suffolk saw that he and his men did not have a prayer of a chance against us now, so he surrendered. Unfortunately, the other English were not so lucky and they were hacked to pieces!
Jeanne rescued as many of the enemy as she could by leading them to a waiting barge that would take them safely to Orleans. Despite her valiant efforts, eleven hundred Englishmen were slaughtered that day. The sight of all the dismembered bodies and the pools of blood made her violently ill! Jeanne's heart was heavy with grief. She cried bitterly for each of the fallen as she lamented over the carnage.
After taking Jargeau, we marched triumphantly back to Orleans. How the people welcomed us! They rejoiced as if they were still celebrating their own liberation! The city's burgesses and officials once again warmly received Jeanne!
That evening, at a reception held in the Boucher home, Jeanne was invited to an extravagant banquet. In attendance were the gracious host and hostess, Jeanne's adoring little 'sister,' Charlotte, and all the city's officials. We also met there Monsieur Jean Lullier, the city's merchant, and Monsieur Jean Blourgois, the tailor to the wealthy and influential of Orleans.
At the conclusion of this opulent meal, Monsieur Boucher rose to toast Jeanne for her many accomplishments. This embarrassed her and she buried her face in her hands. "Jeanne, I have a special honor to bestow upon you. Since you left us this past May, I have been in correspondence with our dear imprisoned Duke. With his own hand, he instructed me to prepare and present these gifts to you." As he said this, he pointed to where Monsieurs Lullier and Blourgois were standing. Monsieur Boucher continued, "And so in the name of my most grateful and honored Lord, the city of Orleans presents to you, Jeanne, the Maid, these magnificent garments!"
Everyone cheered as Monsieur Boucher had the two men escort Jeanne to the front of the room. Monsieur Blourgois, the tailor, held a beautiful robe made from a delicate crimson lace backed with the purest white satin.
Jeanne glowed as she took off her leather doublet. With trembling hands she touched the lace and satin to her cheek. The full-length robe, which reached her ankles, had a narrow waist and a high collar that ended just below her chin. The sleeves were puffed at the shoulder and tapered down to the wrists. The tunic itself was made with an abundant amount of cloth that fell in long gentle folds over her chest and back. Everyone sighed and applauded as Monsieur Blourgois had Jeanne turn around to show off the quality of his work.
Next to step forward was Monsieur Lullier who held a huque. Worn over armor, this sleeveless decorative garment had four, knee length scalloped panels of cloth that came together at the neck. This particular huque bore the colors of the Duke of Orleans, vermilion red and forest green. It was fashioned from the finest red brocade that was accented with green grape leaves. As with the robe it too had the same choice white satin lining. A golden clasp, at the area of the collarbone, secured it in place.
Jeanne still stunned by the beauty of the gifts reached out and took hold of the huque. She held it high to allow the guests to see its magnificent workmanship. Her tears flowed freely as she thanked them for the gifts.
On the evening of Tuesday, June 14th, Jeanne spoke with d'Alençon. "Tomorrow, after dinner I wish to pay a visit to the English at Meung. Give orders to the company to march at that hour." Snapping his salute, the good Duke agreed. And so the next day, with our confidence soaring, we marched to the jubilant strains of a war song, ready to continue the deliverance of the Loire Valley.
Even though the Meung bridgehead was strongly fortified, we quickly took it from the English, who retreated into the walled town. After a brief conference the captains decided not to waste time trying to take the town. Under the command of the Earl of Douglas, a company of three hundred soldiers was ordered to maintain and defend the bridgehead while the main force continued on to Beaugency.
Jeanne always had an uncanny sense for the correct placement of the artillery and at Beaugency she proved her superior skill once more. She spent the morning directing the cannon's deployment after which she walked alone to the walls of the fort. There in easy shot by any of the English defenders, Jeanne shouted, "Surrender to the King of Heaven now and leave with your lives and horses. If not, prepare to meet Our Lord in judgment." There was no reply to her summons, only stony silence. Jeanne walked back to our lines with a heavy heart. "Why are these English so hard-headed?"
Meanwhile the former High Constable of the realm, Arthur of Brittany, the Count de Richemont, sent his close friend, the Count Pardiac, Bernard d' Armagnac to d'Alençon. "The Constable has sent me to ask permission to join the besiegers."
Because of La Tremoille's influence, the Dauphin had forced the Constable Richemont to leave his court. In anger at this insult, he went over to the English side. Because of this treason, the Dauphin gave d'Alençon strict orders not to admit Richemont into their company. Thus d'Alençon was not at all happy with the Constable's request. He told the Count, "Go back to your master, Richemont, and tell him that he is not welcome here. Let him know that if he comes, I shall leave."
"Sir, the Constable brings with him twelve hundred men."
D'Alençon thundered, "I do not care if he brought with him twelve thousand! If he shows himself here, I will fight him. Go tell him that!"
After the count left, d'Alençon then gave orders for the bombardment to begin. All through the night, we continued our attack. At midnight, under a flag of truce, the English commander communicated his conditions for surrender. "I am willing to surrender this position to you, if you will allow my garrison to march away with their lives and equipment - whatever we can carry." Jeanne happily jumped at this offer, but d'Alençon had the English swear that they would not fight for the next ten days. This they agreed to and at dawn they marched away.
After the enemy's departure La Hire's scouts came with news that Falstaff and Talbot had joined forces and were somewhere in the area. D'Alençon ordered his soldiers to break camp. "We will find these English!"
But before we could carry out his orders, the High Constable himself came swaggering into d' Alençon's tent! Unconcerned by d' Alençon's and the other's contempt, Richemont bellowed, "I have not come here to fight you. I have come to speak with the Maid."
Jeanne was puzzled by this blustering noble's request. "What do you want to speak to me about?"
This proud noble did not bow or lower his gaze as he stood stiffly before her. "I have come to ask you to intercede for me before the Dauphin. I want to return to his service and prove myself by fighting alongside the Dauphin's army."
"Constable, do you, from this day forward, swear by God's Holy Name to be loyal to the Dauphin's cause?" She then turned to the other captains present. "Do you all swear to serve the Dauphin's cause loyally?"
They all answered, "Yes."
She then turned back to Richemont. "Ah, fair Constable, you did not come by my will, but since you are here, you are welcome. I will speak to the Dauphin on your behalf."
D'Alençon still did not trust or like the Constable and he let him know it. "If you are to stay with us, you are to take up the rear position." Richemont sarcastically bowed to d' Alençon's decision after which he left. It might have been safer in the rear during a battle. But it was not the place of honor either.
After the Constable had left I cautioned her, "Jeanne, be careful. Do not plead the Constable's cause before the Dauphin."
"Jean, how can you say such a thing? Why not?"
"The Dauphin hates that man, and he never forgets or forgives an injury. If you plead the Constable's case, the Dauphin will never trust nor forgive you."
Shocked that I should speak so against the Dauphin, Jeanne angrily reprimanded me. "Squire! The Dauphin is too noble a man to be like that! Since Richemont has sworn to be loyal to his cause, I think we must be Christian enough to give him a second chance."
"Jeanne, you are too good and trusting of people."
We rode all day without any sign of the English. Around the campfire that night the captains talked of many things to try to keep their minds off the coming battle. Jeanne, sitting next to La Hire, struck up a conversation with him. "La Hire, tell me about your youth."
The old war-horse was at first taken aback by the question but then he howled with laughter. "Maid, I had no youth, I was born fully grown! I was so large that it took the poor old wench that carried me three days to bring me forth!"
Jeanne pushed him with her shoulder. "Come now, La Hire, the truth, out with it!"
I heard a deep guttural noise come from him as he scratched his head. I suppose he was trying to decide what to say. "I was born in Gascony in 1390, I think."
"Good friend, what was your mother like?"
His expression spoke volumes and I was sure that he was about to say something coarse but he quickly changed his mind. I think he was trying not to offend Jeanne when he whispered, "I don't remember my mother."
"Then tell me about your father."
Once again La Hire burst forth with a deep growl of a laugh. "That son of a bitch was the meanest, cruelest bastard that ever walked on two legs!" He took his staff and struck it hard against his leg. "He would thrash me almost every day, just for the hell of it. From time to time I would run away knowing full well that when I returned, I would receive a severe strapping. But it was worth it just to be by myself and free from him. He hammered me like that until I got too big for him. Then one day, when I could take his beatings no longer, I pounded the living daylights out of him."
He pushed his arm against Jeanne. "To my surprise my father was not angry with me. On the contrary, I could not believe that, scum-sucking bastard, when he laughed and patted me on the back and told me that I was now a man! From that time on he treated me as an equal and he began to train me as a soldier. You know, Maid," he said as he pointed the end of his staff at her, "as a father he was no damn...." Jeanne flashed him a stern look. "I mean, he was no good," and she smiled at that, "but as a soldier he was the best ass kicking, head splitting, bone breaking, son of a bitch that was ever my privilege to meet!" La Hire swung his staff at the other captains. "You know, that Devil's spawn low life taught me everything I know about the art of war, God Bless him!"
With that unexpected comment, we all broke out in howls of uncontrollable laughter. It took a good ten minutes to calm down enough before Jeanne could ask, "When did you join the Dauphin's service?"
He rubbed the back of his neck as he thought. "It was back in 1418. I was around twenty-eight years old, if my memory serves, when I joined the old King's army. God rest his soul." He and the rest of us sloppily crossed ourselves. Meanwhile Jeanne took her time bowing her head and slowly making the sign of the cross as she prayed, "God rest his soul."
The old war-horse waited patiently for Jeanne to finish before continuing, "As I remember, I did not have anything better to do, or maybe I just liked hopeless causes, so I joined up. The old King put me right to work. My men and I became a band of free-lancers around the towns of Laon and Vermandois.
"I did pretty good for myself back then. I made a good living plundering those poor bastards out of house and home, if I do say so myself. I fought hard and long until 1424 and the battle of Saint Riquier, when I was severely wounded in my leg. The physician wanted to cut it off and he told me that if he did not do it, I was going to die! I cursed him royally and told him that I would rather die a whole man than live as a cripple! I guess I was too bad for God and too good for the Devil, for neither wanted me. At any rate, it took a full year to recover from that deathblow, but the Good Lord wanted me to live! I guess so the Maid here could convert me from my heathen ways!" With a sincere look of admiration he added, "Would you not agree, Maid?"
"God is already at work in your life!"
Her statement surprised la Hire. "He is?! When did He start?"
"When you decided to cooperate with His grace."
"When did I do that?"
Jeanne patted his back reassuringly. "When you returned to the Sacraments, my friend. That is the way God chooses to change us. Back home my parish priest once explained it to me this way. 'When a rock first falls into a fast flowing stream it is all jagged and rough. Yet over time the swiftness of the water and the rock's interaction with the sand and other stones of the river changes it and the rock becomes pleasingly smooth. It is the same way with us. Our soul is the rock, baptism places the rock into the fast flowing stream of God's grace. The sand and the other stones represent the hardships and challenges of life. How do we treat and deal with other people? Our choices and actions make a difference. Are we patient, kind and loving or are we abrupt, hard-hearted and cruel? So long as we remain in union with God and cooperate with His grace, He changes us. He uses the sand and the other stones to smooth out and round off all our jagged and rough edges. Of course unlike the first rock that can't move from the stream, we choose daily whether we want to stay in the stream of God's grace or leave it. That is God's gift to us, our free will! He will never force us to stay in the steam of His grace. We must choose to do so. We must take the first step and say 'yes' to God's Love. Then God does the rest."
"My friend, you must not compare the progress that you allow God to make in your soul with that of other souls. This is a trap that the Devil sets to trip you up. If you compare yourself with a spiritually advanced soul, you can easily fall into the sin of despair by saying to yourself, 'Oh what's the use. I will never become like that, so why should I try?' In this way the Devil has tricked you into giving up your daily struggle to conform yourself to God's will. The other trap the Devil uses is just as deadly. When you compare yourself to a less spiritually advanced person, you can just as easily fall into the sin of pride saying to yourself, 'Oh look how holy and good I am! I have reached perfection and now I can relax and enjoy myself!' Again the Devil had tricked you into giving up your daily struggle to conform yourself to God's will. Instead you must constantly keep your eyes set only on Jesus and follow closely after Him. That is the only true way to reach the level of perfection that Jesus would have you be. Don't be like the pebble who is at the outer fringes of the stream and is always content to remain the same. This soul is spiritually lazy, very willing to receive all the good gifts that God will give him, but is not willing to live up to his full potential of being molded into a tool that God can use to help others. So my prayer for you, La Hire, is that you will choose to stay within God's love and be molded by it."
La Hire was touched by her simple yet profound wisdom and he placed his huge hand over hers. "With your good example to inspire me and God's grace, I will try."
This pleased her very much.