Jean d'Aulon, Part XII
THE ROAD TO REIMS
The Bastard handed La Hire a mutton leg. "How many Godons do you think there are in the area?"
Taking a huge bite out of the meat, La Hire grunted and snorted as he chewed. "Oh! Four to five thousand, give or take a few." He wiped his mouth with the back of his dirty hand. "What do you say, Jeanne?"
Grinning she answered, "Do you all have good spurs?"
The captains could not believe their ears and they stared at her with incredulous looks. "What is that!? What did you say? Are we then to turn our backs?"
"No," she laughed. "It is the English who will turn their backs. They will not defend themselves and will be beaten." Jeanne began to spin one of her spurs playfully. "You will need good spurs to follow them! The victory will be won with scarcely any Frenchmen dying."
Before jumping to her feet, Jeanne took hold of La Hire's baton to use it as an imaginary sword. Exuberantly she made broad sweeping motions as she merrily marched around the campfire. "Strike boldly! It will not be long before they will take flight!" Those who watched her show roared and shouted their approval.
It was around eight in the morning when one of La Hire's aids, a young knight by the name of Thibault de Termes, breathlessly brought us important news. "The English are coming! They are in battle order and ready to fight!"
Jeanne was jubilant. "Remember, STRIKE boldly and they will take flight!"
The whole camp came alive with the hustle and bustle of getting ready for battle. By noon all was in order, and we went in search of the English. Obviously the young knight had overstated his information, because it was close to sunset when we first caught sight of them! As soon as the English saw our forces, they dismounted and went into their usual defensive posture; planting their spears' ends into the ground with the points facing out at an angle. Next, under a flag of truce, two heralds came to parley with us. Funny though, they directed their words at the captains but fixed their gaze on Jeanne. They sat stiffly in their saddles as they spoke to us in polite but stern tones. "My Lords Talbot and Falstaff, wanting in all Christian goodness to limit the amount of carnage that would ensue if our armies meet in full battle, have sent us to speak with you. They propose that each side choose from among their number three of the bravest knights who will meet in the open field and try the justice of our cause there. What say you knights of France to this proposal?"
Not giving our captains a chance to reply, Jeanne abruptly answered. "Go back to your camp and rest, for the hour grows late. Tomorrow, if it is acceptable to God and Our Lady, we will take a closer look at you."
With that the heralds turned and galloped away. Soon after they had returned to their position, the English left their defensive position and retired for the night to the town of Meung.
We were some ten miles from Meung, but we could still hear the English bombard the three hundred-man garrison that we had left at Meung's bridgehead. Yet by sunrise our scouts reported that the English had abandoned Meung and were marching in good order toward Paris!
We reached Meung on the morning of Saturday June 18th, but instead of being joyous that Meung was now free, the vast majority of the knights hesitated, fearful of pursuing the Godons any further!
"In God's name, we must fight them!" Jeanne declared. "Even if the English hang from the clouds, yet we shall have them! For God sends us to punish them. Today the gentle Dauphin will have the greatest victory he has won for a long time! My Voices have told me that the enemy will be ours."
With renewed vigor our command sent out eighty knights to search for the English. It so happened that in their quest to find the enemy they had frightened a stag that ran off deep into the woods. Suddenly our knights heard shouts from the English rear guard. Their love for stag hunting was their undoing! What good luck! When the news reached d'Alençon, he immediately ordered La Hire, Ambroise de Loré and Saint-Severe to reinforce the eighty knights already sent out, while the rest of the army formed for battle.
All three Captains gave Jeanne a rousing salute as their men cheered. With their chargers' powerful hooves shaking the earth, they dashed off at a full gallop!
La Hire told me later what he found when he first came upon the English. Talbot had placed five hundred archers in battle order. He protected them with the usual barricade of pointed stakes that flared forward in front of their position. The English let fly a volley of arrows just as they had done at the battles of Agencourt and Crecy. This time their range was off and the hail of arrows fell just short of our advancing cavalry. Wise to the English tactics, La Hire and his comrades did not attack them straight on. No, instead, his and de Loré's cavalry won the day by outflanking the English and attacking them from both sides. This maneuver distracted the English long enough to allow Saint-Severe to make a safer frontal assault, cutting the English force to pieces. Then La Hire, de Loré, Saint-Severe and their horsemen rode toward the English main body headed by Sir Fastolf, which by this time was retreating in panic toward Paris. The French followed in hot pursuit for twenty-five miles before giving up the chase!
By the time Jeanne, her good Duke d'Alençon, and the remaining French, Scottish and Italian forces came upon the scene, the battle was all but finished! There, spread before us as far as the eye could see was a sea of dead knights and foot soldiers. Three thousand Englishmen died that day while only three Frenchmen were killed. Lord da Valperga and his men helped defeat the last of the English resistance and took captive the English Lord Thomas Guerard. The thought of the huge ransom he would receive for such a grand captive pleased the Italian Lord very much!
In addition to the Earl of Warwick's son, Sir Scales, we had in our possession a very disgruntled Lord Talbot who was also taken prisoner. Talbot was presented to d' Alençon and the Constable. The Duke gleefully addressed the English Lord. "You did not think this morning that this would happen to you."
Talbot stoically replied, "It is the fortune of war." He said no more.
We had won the Battle of Patay and with the victory Jeanne's prophecy had come true! For the Dauphin's army had won for him the greatest victory that the kingdom had known in a very long time.
Jeanne however was upset because of the carnage that lay before her. This sight always brought grief to her heart. I do not know if this was true, but it has crossed my mind, that perhaps she was a little disappointed for having missed the great charge!
Jeanne came upon a petty French knight who, with his weapon, struck a mortal wound upon his prisoner's head. Outraged by this wanton act of cruelty, she ordered the knight arrested. "You wicked man! You shall be punished for that! Angel, Bertrand! Take him!"
The other brutalized English prisoners cheered as Angel and Bertrand grabbed him. Meanwhile, Jeanne dismounted and rushed over to the fallen prisoner. Kneeling beside this enemy foot soldier, she gently picked him up and cradled him in her arms. She held him securely next to her breastplate as tears streamed down her face. She called for me to help him, but when I saw his crushed skull, I knew only God could do that. She then called for Father Pasquerel who gave him the Last Rites. Father Peter, one of several the priests who helped Fr. Jean out with his duties, came to translate the prisoner's English into French so that Jeanne could communicate with him. The soldier's blood ran down the left side of his forehead into his eyes and nose. Jeanne tried mightily to stem the flow by wiping it with the end of her surcoat. As she did so she cried and prayed for him. When he had received the Sacrament's final blessing, the man struggled to turn his head so that he could see her face. He gave Jeanne a weak smile before giving up his soul. Jeanne clung tightly to his limp body as she drew him close to her face. There, sitting on the ground, she cried bitterly as she gently rocked him in her arms. Jeanne grieved for some time before ordering his burial next to a great oak tree. Father Pasquerel presided over the impromptu funeral for this unknown English foot soldier. The other prisoners marveled at the respect given to a lowly Englishman, especially by their archenemy. I heard one say to his fellow soldiers, "What kind of witch is she, who cares so deeply for one of our own?"
"To horse, my friends! It is time for us to lead the noble Dauphin to Reims!"
With the deafening blare of forty trumpeters sounding in our ears, we returned in triumph to Orleans! The people rejoiced at their deliverance but they really exulted in the victory at Patay. Now that all of the Loire Valley was free of the English they could return to their normal lives. The people of Orleans begged the Dauphin to come to their city, so that they could show their appreciation to him. Jeanne joined them in their plea, but he refused, preferring to stay at Chateauneuf. Some of the captains felt the Dauphin refused to come out of fear of the High Constable. I think the real reason was that he did not want to be in a city that loved and praised Jeanne more than him.
Arriving at Chateauneuf, Jeanne went directly to the Dauphin's private chambers. He was happy to see her. "Welcome, Jeanne. We are glad that no harm has come to you. That was a magnificent victory you won at Patay. We thank you for it."
A shaft of bright sunlight surrounded Jeanne as she bowed deeply before Charles. "Your Majesty is kind as usual, but I must remind you, Sire, it was not my doing but God's strong right hand that crushed your enemies." Jeanne advanced toward him and in doing so she left the light. "Sire, I have come to ask a favor of you."
Smiling, the Dauphin extended his hand toward her. "What is it, Jeanne?"
"Would you, in your royal mercy, pardon and forgive the Lord High Constable and allow him to return to your service?"
At first, the Dauphin looked stunned, then his expression soured and he looked angrily at her. "We are sorry, Jeanne, but we cannot do this thing you ask."
Reaching out for the Dauphin's hand, Jeanne seized it as she fell to her knees. "But why, your Majesty? The Constable has sworn to me, by God, that he will serve you well and faithfully from this time forward. He is truly sorry for his past misdeeds."
The Dauphin struggled to pull his hand free from her grasp. He remained firm and resolute. "We are sorry, Jeanne, but he is a danger to the crown, and therefore we cannot grant you your request."
He turned his back on her as he waved for silence. Suddenly he wheeled around and sternly demanded, "There shall be no more talk of this matter, do you understand?"
Jeanne, with head bowed mutely nodded. With that the Dauphin's mood changed and he acted as if nothing had ever happened. "Come, friends, join us for supper."
After morning Mass the next day, the Dauphin, with his entire entourage, Jeanne and her household staff moved to Saint-Bonoit-sur-Loire. Jeanne attempted again to persuade the Dauphin to go to Reims. While in the presence of Charles and all his counselors Jeanne boldly spoke, "God, through me, has raised the siege at Orleans and has driven the English out of the Loire! Now, we must go to Reims!"
The Dauphin was apparently sincere in his concern for her. "Jeanne, you need rest."
To me, his words meant, what I need is a rest from Jeanne. I am sure she took it the same way too, because she broke into a flood of tears. "Hesitate not! You will obtain all your kingdom and will soon be crowned!"
As she wiped her tears, Jeanne heard the same old arguments bantered about the room. Some counselors insisted on attacking Paris while others wanted to go into Normandy. Jeanne dug in, explaining her position this way. "Sire, to go into Normandy or attack Paris now is great folly because we cannot break the iron hold of the English on these places, without the help and support of the people. Yet, the Dauphin will not have that support until he is crowned and anointed. Once this is accomplished, the people will welcome him with open arms as their true King and Sovereign Lord. Then we, with God's help, will drive the hated English back into the sea!"
Disgusted, Lord La Tremoille coolly interrupted, "That may be so, but to reach Reims we must pass the Burgundian towns of Auxerre, Troyes and Chalons. All these places have large garrisons with cannons and other machines of war." He pulled the captivated Dauphin from her gaze and stood menacingly over her. "How will you penetrate that wall!"
"All this I know well, yet I account it as nothing. By my staff! I will conduct the noble Dauphin Charles and his company safely, and he will be crowned at Reims!"
All eyes turned to the Dauphin who spoke in a quavering voice, "So be it." He looked at her and taking courage from Jeanne's determined yet radiant face, he confidently added, "We will march to Reims. Have the army assemble at Gien!"
While the army and provisions were being gathered at Gien, Charles moved to Lord George's palace at Sully. Jeanne entered the private meeting chamber of the Lord as he and the Dauphin were in consultation. She gave La Tremoille a quick nod of her head and bowed to Charles. "The preparations you ordered are progressing speedily, my Dauphin." Jeanne's posture stiffened, as she became quiet for a moment. "Noble Dauphin, I beg you to reconsider your refusal to forgive the Constable's past treachery. He swore to serve you well, always."
The Dauphin bit his lip. "Were you not told by us not to bring this matter up again? Why won't you listen?!"
He was not really angry when he said this, only annoyed by her persistence. His Lordship on the other hand turned an ugly shade of crimson, because Jeanne's request threatened his place of influence with the Dauphin. The Constable was Lord George's only rival and La Tremoille would do anything to maintain his power and prestige. He was livid with rage. "When you plead the ex-Constable's cause, you plead for a deadly enemy of the Crown. Thus you became an enemy of the Crown; an enemy of the Dauphin; an enemy of France!"
His statement astonished Jeanne. Desperately she searched their cold empty faces for any sign of compassion. Her eyes darted several times between them before she could find her tongue. "My gentle Dauphin does he speak for you?"
By now La Tremoille's anger and emotion had spread to the Dauphin. Charles' face and voice was filled with anger. "Yes! We never again want you to speak his name in our presence! Do you understand?"
Stunned by the Dauphin's reaction, Jeanne mutely walked out of the room, her face ashen. She numbly walked to the spiral staircase. " I deserved the Dauphin's reprimand. I did bring the subject up when he asked me not to. But why be so cruel?"
Her eyes began to fill with tears as her bottom lip, slightly at first, trembled. "Why did he use such heartless words? Why say to me, 'You are an enemy of the Crown, the enemy of the Dauphin, and the enemy of France?' "
As she leaned her shoulder against the chateau's wall, the trembling of her lips swiftly increased in magnitude to involve her chin all the while her face grew crimson. With her mind in a whirl she descended the steps, but her bewilderment soon turned to anger. "I'm NOT the enemy!"
She was now in the courtyard of the castle when the full force of La Tremoille's callous words hit her in all their vileness. With the speed of thought her emotions changed from anger to feelings of rejection. At this thought she could no longer control her emotions and her bitter tears flowed freely as she ran to her waiting horse. Even though her tears blinded her, she spurred her stallion into a full gallop and rode away. I was hot on her heels, filled with hatred for this Lord and the man Jeanne called 'Noble Dauphin!'
We rode all the way to Gien in silence. Once we arrived, Jeanne sought out Father Pasquerel to hear her confession. Afterward she knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. There in fervent prayer she found solace for her wounded and rejected heart. The love that flowed from her men-at-arms and the common people also helped to ease her heartache.
Two days later, Jeanne received a letter from the Dauphin. It read:
"To Our Most Beloved Servant, Jeanne: We did not mean for you to leave Sully so soon, as we had a fine feast prepared for you, to show our thanks to you for what God has done for us through you. Since you are with our army at Gien, stay there, for we will soon join you. Signed, Charles. Written at Sully. The 24th day of June, 1429."
The Dauphin and his counselors arrived at Gien the evening of Friday the 24th. Yet doubt reigned supreme among his counselors as they questioned whether or not the Dauphin should make this hazardous journey. Unannounced, Jeanne in her usual brash manner entered the Council room. Ignoring all others, she went directly to the Dauphin. "Go forward bravely! I have enough men to follow me. Take courage and go forward like a man, for God guides and protects us on our way. All that is needed on our part is to trust in His help and we will arrive in Reims safe and sound."
The Dauphin searched the faces of those present trying to decide what to do next. As uncertainty clouded his mind, he began to gnaw at his nails. Jeanne's fire had spread to the captains and they began to chant, "To Reims! To Reims!" The sound was like an infectious drumbeat that eventually affected even the passive Dauphin. Still frightened and unsure he gave an insipid nod to indicate his agreement. Jeanne had won! We will march!
There was a very large contingent of Scots and Italians who fought with us at Orleans who joined the Dauphin's escort to Reims. But of all of them, the ones that marched the closest to Joan and her household were our good friends, Commander Ogilvy and Captain Hugh along with their loyal men.
We arrived at Auxerre on June 30th. This was the first of several towns that were loyal to the Duke of Burgundy and hated Charles. It sat on top of a hill that was surrounded by a lush green valley. The crops in the area were ripening well and the beauty of the countryside was most pleasant. The bright sun shown through a hazy mist that made the sky take on a gray-blue hue. The humidity felt like a thick and heavy shroud clinging to our skins.
At our approach the town's people shut the gates. They did send out a group of fifteen richly dressed men, who came proudly before the Dauphin. "We, the lords, citizens, and burgesses of Auxerre, have closed our gates to you, Sir, until we see what the other towns of Troyes, Chalons and Reims do. If they shall yield obedience to you, then we shall do the same. If not, neither shall we!"
Their arrogant tone and bearing angered Jeanne. She rode right up to the spokesman and stopped her horse only a few feet from where he stood. In her usual flamboyant style she came right to the point. "Yield to the Dauphin or be stormed!"
Thus frightened, the representative's eyes darted several times between Jeanne to the Dauphin. "We are willing to sell your army all that it might need at a fair rate of exchange."
Nervously the Dauphin twisted his bottom lip as he considered the matter. Never eager for a battle, Charles readily capitulated. "Thank you for your kind offer to supply our army. We understand your position and accept your conditions."
Jeanne objected to these lenient terms but our Prince ignored her. He was such a passive and weak-willed individual that he did not want to press his advantage and force the city into submission.
True to the representatives' word, the city supplied our troops generously with all the food and wine that they required. For reasons known only to God and the Dauphin we tarried here three days before continuing the march. While the army encamped around this strongly fortified town, Jeanne and her personal staff made camp near the river because it had an unobstructed view of the cathedral's imposing towers. She, de Metz and Poulengy reminisced about their journey to Chinon, and how different the countryside looked now. De Metz blushed as he remembered his nervous sojourn past the town's guards to escort Jeanne to the cathedral. I'm afraid the rest of us had a good laugh at his expense, but he bore our teasing well.
The next town to confront and bar our way was Troyes. This town had good reason to fear Charles because it was here, in 1420, that the treaty between Henry the Fifth of England and our poor mad King, Charles the Sixth, was signed. This villainous document disinherited the Dauphin and labeled him an illegitimate son of Charles VI.
The burgesses and Burgundian soldiers refused to deal with Charles in any manner. They even refused to sell food to our army. Charles asked Jeanne to write to the people, explaining to them that he had benevolent intentions and held no vengeance in his heart for past deeds done. With this intention Jeanne dictated the following to me:
+ JHESUS MARIA +
"Lords, Burgesses and inhabitants of Troyes: Very dear and good friends if you so will. Jeanne, the Maid, by the grace of God, her rightful and sovereign Lord, and Whom she services every day, writes you. It is God's will that you should make true homage and recognition to the noble King of France. No matter who may come against him, with the aid of King Jesus, King of Heaven, he will soon be at Reims and in Paris, and in all his good towns of this holy kingdom. Loyal French, if you come before King Charles, there is no need to fear for your lives or property because there will be no trouble for you. But if you do not, I promise you and confirm on your lives that we shall enter with the aid of God into all the towns that belong to this holy kingdom, and will make there a good lasting peace, no matter who comes against us. I commend you to God. God guard you, if it pleases Him. Reply soon."
"Before the city of Troyes, written at Saint Phal, Tuesday, the 4th day of July."
Guyenne took the letter to burgesses and lords of Troyes. He was gone only an hour when he reported back to Jeanne. "They read it, and said, 'It is just a mockery. She's nothing but a stuttering idiot! We here certify that she is a girl inspired by the Devil!' Then they contemptuously threw the letter into the fire, so I left."
I fumed with anger. "They are asking for a fight."
"You're right, Squire. They are defying the Dauphin, and I will not tolerate that!"