Jean d'Aulon, Part XVIII
WINTER OF DISCONTENT
By the end of October, Lord de la Tremoille came with the King's council to speak with Jeanne about a plan he had formulated to capture the towns of Saint Pierre-les-Moutiers and La Charité-sur-Loire.
Honored by the unexpected visit of these high governmental dignitaries, Madame Touroule graciously led them into her large parlor. An ornately carved large wooden chandelier made from the finest walnut hung from the ceiling, while a splendid green marble fireplace adorned the room with exquisite elegance. With a quick series of claps, she ordered her servants to bring her guests wine and a small repast.
Lord George and his associates were enjoying their refreshments when Jeanne cautiously approached La Tremoille was all smiles and graciousness as he tried to place his arm around her shoulder. But he did not succeed. "We know how eager you are to serve the King, Jeanne. Therefore we have come to ask you to join an army we are forming. This force will go against a terrible enemy of His Majesty, a Brigandine by the name of Gressart. Besides, he held me prisoner until my family paid him fourteen thousand gold francs and for that humiliation I want him dead!"
Jeanne stood toe to toe before the deceptive Lord, peering steadily into his eyes. "I can tell you of a greater enemy of France, Phillip, the Duke of Burgundy! We should go against Paris!"
He could not tolerate her fierce gaze for long and abruptly averted his eyes. Yet unruffled, His Lordship wearily whispered in a condescending way, "Yes, Maid, yes, you are right, but first Gressart, then Paris." It was as if he expected her reaction as he continued to speak with a serpent-like smoothness. "You will be doing King Charles a great service by undertaking this mission."
Jeanne was suspicious of La Tremoille's motives but when she heard these words, her countenance lifted. "When do I leave?"
Lord George smugly smiled to his friends while he nodded several times, as if to say 'See, I told you she would do it.' "The army is massing at Sancoins. You know my half-brother, Lord Albert, he will be commanding the expedition." He closed his web, seductively. "You can leave tomorrow, if you like."
Lord Albert had fought with us in Orleans as well as the Loire campaign and the march to Reims so we know he was a good and able commander. He extended his hand in friendship to Jeanne. Transported with joy at the prospect of being able to fight once more, Jeanne eagerly took hold of the young Lord's hand. "Lord Albert, my household and I will be ready to leave by first light, if that is acceptable." He smiled and nodded. Jeanne's last glance at Lord George was a knowing one and it un-nerved him as she hurried out of the parlor with Madame Touroule trailing after.
Early the next morning just past sunrise, Jeanne bid her hostess a fond farewell. Father Pasquerel, her two brothers, myself and the ever faithful Captain Hugh as well as Sir Jean Foucault with their men accompanied us on this military endeavor. Both of these good knights took a personal risk of reprisals from the King or should I say by the Lord de la Tremoille by coming with us but their fierce loyalty to Jeanne made their decision easy.
It took us a full day and a half of traveling over gently rolling farmland to reach Sancoins. But it was worth the long ride, because we met up with an old friend, Saint-Severe. He had also served with Jeanne at Orleans, the Loire campaign and the march to Reims, now he was second in command under Lord Albert.
We stayed in the small fortified town two days, awaiting the final preparations for the assault on Saint Pierre. By Wednesday, November 2nd, we had reached the stout, stone walls and began to set up our siege equipment. We had a few small cannons and bombards, which Jeanne positioned, along with our archers, to their best possible advantage. We did not have much gunpowder nor many cannon balls. Therefore we could only fire our cannons for a few hours a day. We continued this same routine for three days. By mid-morning of the forth day Jeanne became impatient with the state of the siege. "Lord Albert, Saint-Severe, Canède Sir Foucault sound the charge! By my staff, we will take this place by storm!" The trumpets sounded, and with a loud cheer our troops rushed forward, throwing their faggots into the moat. The Brigandines who occupied the town outnumbered us two to one. The air was thick with gray-black smoke punctuated by great red and yellow flames that spewed from the mouths of the firing bombards. For three and one half-hours we weathered a shower of whistling arrows and crossbow bolts. Even so we made little headway in our attempts to overcome the fortifications. I was wounded in the foot by an arrow and had to retire to the rear. Yet the assault continued, hour after hour passed with still no change. Finally, Lord Albert and Saint-Severe held a meeting to discuss the situation and decided to retreat. They ordered the trumpeters and drummers to sound the notes for recall. Our men slowly returned to camp.
Whether Jeanne did not hear the trumpets and drums or chose to ignore them, she nonetheless did not return! It must have struck the Brigandines as farcical, to see five men and Jeanne standing alone at the edge of the moat continuing undaunted to attack them, yet continue they did! After all the troops had returned to camp, I noticed that Jeanne was not around so I began to look for her. First I tried Captain Hugh's tent. "Canède, have you seen Jeanne?"
Puzzled, he looked up from his glass of wine. "No, d'Aulon."
With mounting anxiety, I quickly departed in search of Saint-Severe. I found him with most of his armor already off, resting in front of his quarters. "Saint-Severe, do you know where the Maid might be?"
Alarmed, Saint-Severe jumped to his feet. "No, I thought she was with you. Do you think she is still at the moat?"
I mumbled, "God, I hope not!" as I rushed to Sir Foucault's tent. Here too the reply was the same, "No, Squire, I have not!"
Reaching the horses' corral, I ordered a handler to help me on my horse. I then rode back to Saint-Severe and found that my concern for Jeanne by now had spread to Hugh, Lord Albert and Sir Jean who was standing next to him. "I will go back to the walls, to see if Jeanne is still there." The four captains agreed and I rode off.
Only a minute or two later, I confirmed my worst fears, for there, surprisingly, she stood with five men by her side pressing the assault against the town! Annoyed with Jeanne for not retreating, I snapped, "What are you doing here, Maid? All the other troops have withdrawn." Jeanne paid no attention to me so I continued to chide her, "Why do you stay here all alone?"
She peeled her helmet off and pointed to the area around her. "I am not alone! I have fifty thousand of my own company to fight with me!" The strange tremor in her voice was chilling, and it filled me with dread.
I scratched my head, as I looked around quite mystified by her statement. "Fifty thousand? Where?" I questioned quietly to myself. I knew the situation was hopeless so I yelled with such force that my throat became raw. "Jeanne, come away! You must retire with the others!"
But no, Jeanne stubbornly refused. "I will not leave here until I have taken this town! Jean, good squire, have the men bring up more faggots and brush and hurl them into the water. We will make a bridge." Not waiting for me to deliver the message she began to shout as loudly as she could, "Faggots and brush everyone, to make a bridge!" An instant later the army returned, bringing with them the faggots necessary to build the bridge she wanted. They rushed forward with such fury that it took only eight minutes to complete. We then brought forward the scaling ladders and placed them against the walls while Sir Jean ordered his archers to lay down a cover of arrows for us. With a tumultuous shout our warriors rushed up the ladders and easily overcame the Brigandines. I could not believe what I was seeing.
When they were over the walls, our men began to plunder the town. Having no intention of praying, a group of twenty-five headed for the church. Jeanne saw where they were going and outran them to arrive there first. She stood with her sword drawn like an avenging angel! With a fierce determination to protect the church, she blocked its door with her body. "How dare you even think of taking anything from the church! You are no better than these Brigandines, or worse still, no better than a Godon or a foul Burgundian! Go, before I have you all punished!" She stood fast before the door until the last men left to find other places to loot.
Now that the danger had passed, she entered the silent church to pray alone. Instead, what she found was a large, huddled mass of whimpering and terrified people. The old and young women, children, the sick and lame had entered the church in hopes of finding some safety amidst the chaos. Jeanne moved by compassion opened her arms to them. "My poor children, do not be afraid. I mean you no harm." In the half-light that came through the stained glass windows, Jeanne advanced slowly toward them. "I will not allow any one to harm you. Please believe me. I mean you no harm."
The frightened people surged forward, crying out with shouts and wails, "O help us! Have pity on us! Protect us, please! We have lost everything." Unafraid, a small child, no more than three, came running up to her. Impatient for attention, he stamped his bare foot and stretched out his arms to Jeanne insisting that she pick him up. She smiled broadly as she swept the small boy into her arms. She lavished him with hugs and kissed his dirty, tearstained face. "My good and dear friends, I will personally prevent my soldiers from burning your town, and any food that is found will be returned to you. I give you my word."
Cheers rose up from the group as they tentatively followed Jeanne out of the church. True to her word, the town was not burned. With all their food returned the citizens rejoiced for being spared a fiery destruction and for being freed from the Brigandines' brutal hand. That very afternoon the inhabitants hurriedly prepared a big feast, that they might gratefully share their food with us! Some worked in the town's square to set up makeshift tables while others prepared the food. While we waited for the feast, they brought out kegs of wine for us to drink. By nightfall, the town square was ablaze with torchlight, as the inhabitants celebrated with us their newfound freedom. The town's folk entertained us with music and songs and we passed the evening in great joy and revelry. Jeanne was pleased yet her mind seemed to be elsewhere. Once or twice that evening I saw her look longingly at the ring her mother had given her.
A gaggle of children, full of laughter, giggles and whispers, crowded around and followed Jeanne wherever she went. She gave each child a warm embrace besides holding and kissing every baby in town. In addition she warmly greeted every adult who approached her. How she endured all this attention is beyond my capacity to understand. I would have gone insane, screaming to be left alone, but Jeanne did not seem to mind at all!
Because Jeanne did not want to burden the citizens of Saint Pierre with our maintenance, she ordered the army to march on to Moulins. By evening of that same day we had arrived and set up our camp outside that town's walls. Jeanne dictated a letter to the town of Riom. It read:
"To my dear and good friends, the men of the Church, burgesses and the people of the City of Riom. Dear and good friends: You must know by now how the town of Saint Pierre le Moutier has been taken by assault, and with the help of God I intend to clear out the other places that are opposed to the King. It was only with the great expenditure of power, arrows, and other materials of war that we took the town. Now the nobles here and I are too poor to pay for the needed equipment to lay siege to La Charité. In whatever measure that you love the welfare and honor of the King, I beg of you to help us. I ask that you give aid to the siege preparations by sending us powder, saltpeter, sulfur, arrows, stout crossbows, and other equipment of war. If you supply us well enough, then the work that we are about to do will not drag on for lack of supplies, and then no one can say that you were negligent or unwilling to help. Dear and good friends, Our Lord keep you. Written at Moulins the 9th day of November." JEANNE
During her stay at Madame Touroule's home, Jeanne became determined to learn how to write her name. Over a period of a few days, I taught her the letters that formed it and from then on she practiced the mechanics of writing. Thus she decided to sign this letter and valiantly struggled to form the letters of her name. She handed the completed letter to Lord Albert's herald and said to me, "Tomorrow you and I will ride to Monfaucon-en-Berry, where Lord La Tremoille is. Since he asked for this campaign, he should be willing to give us all the supplies that we need."
We arrived at Monfaucon-en-Berry in the early afternoon of Thursday, November 10th. We lodged at the town's inn where we had supper. Jeanne and I sat comfortably by the fireplace warming ourselves when to our surprise, in walked Brother Richard! "Welcome to Monfaucon, Maid. I have missed you."
Annoyed by this unexpected appearance she gave him but a passing glance, yet she tried to be polite, "Thank you, Brother Richard. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"
"I would like you to meet someone, a lady. I am sure you'll like her as much as I do." As he said this, he moved aside to reveal a tall, slender, woman with classical features. Her hair was blonde and her eyes.., her eyes were the deepest, most captivating light green that I have ever seen! She was a very striking figure in her long, dark green, velvet dress. I was instantly smitten by her charm! Brother Richard continued the introduction, as he bowed lower to this lady than he had to Jeanne. "This, Maid, is the Lady Catherine de la Rochelle." The Lady Catherine held herself aloof, giving Jeanne only a slight nod of the head. Brother Richard then motioned toward Jeanne as he turned toward this extraordinarily beautiful lady. "This, Madame, is Jeanne, the Maid." Jeanne politely returned the greeting. Then seating themselves next to us Brother Richard explained the reason for this visit. "I understand, Maid, that you are low on funds, and need help to continue your campaign."
Jeanne, not knowing what to make of all this, purposefully looked at him for the first time, and gave him a restrained nod. "This is true, Brother."
"Well, Maid, I think we have a solution to your problem. Madame, would you please be so kind as to explain your plan to the Maid."
Catherine slowly slipped her cloak off her delicate, milk-white shoulders. "Yes, certainly, Brother, thank you." She spoke in a haughty, self-assured manner, "Jeanne, just as you are visited by saints, so am I. Every night a white lady dressed in cloth of gold comes to me. She tells me to go through the loyal towns with heralds and trumpeters that the King will give me. I will tell everyone that whoever has treasure must straightway bring it out to me. If anyone does not bring forth his treasure, I will recognize him at once and will know how to find his treasure. This treasure will pay for your soldiers." In all her ways she acted as if she were equal or even superior to Jeanne.
I tried not to laugh, but I could not help snickering, "Are you actually telling us that you are visited by the Blessed Mother and she tells you to do this?"
She answered defensively, "Yes, I am."
Jeanne touched my hand to signal me to be silent. "Now, Jean, wait a moment. Let me talk to this lady. Madame Rochelle, does this white lady come to speak to you every night?"
"Yes, Maid, she does."
"May I spend the night with you, so that I might see her?"
Catherine smiled and nodded her consent. "Maid, I would be delighted. Later tonight come to my home and stay with me." At that she got up and motioned for Brother Richard to put her cloak back on her.
Astonished by Jeanne's attitude, I asked after they had left, "Do you really take her crazy talk of a white lady seriously?"
Jeanne, apparently amused by my reaction, patted my hand. "No, Jean, I don't, but I have to give her a chance to prove herself, just as the Poitiers court gave me."
As planned, Jeanne spent the night with Catherine de la Rochelle. The next morning, she told me what had occurred. "I went to bed with her and stayed awake till midnight. I saw nothing and I fell asleep."
I chuckled, "I knew it! The nicest thing I can say about the lady is that she is a good storyteller."
"Wait, Jean, there is still more. In the morning, I asked if the white lady had come. Catherine said that she had, but I was asleep and she could not wake me."
"A likely story," I smirked.
"I then asked her whether this white lady would come again tonight. Catherine said, 'Yes, she will.' So, Jean," she added with serene confidence, "this is what I propose to do. I will sleep all day today, so I will be able to stay awake and keep watch tonight."
"It sounds like a wise plan to me, Maid."
I awakened Jeanne at the appointed time, so that she could go to Madame Rochelle's house for the coming night's vigil. As Jeanne was leaving, she told me, "Jean, I spoke with Saints Catherine and Margaret about this Lady Catherine and they told me that her undertaking was folly and nothing more. But because I have already promised Madame Rochelle that I would spend the night with her, I will keep my word."
The next morning, Jeanne again told me what had transpired. "I went to bed with Catherine as I had done previously and watched all night. I saw nothing, though I kept asking if she would come. Catherine always answered, 'Yes, presently.' I am afraid Catherine did not get much sleep." At that, we had a good laugh.
Unbelievably, that afternoon Lady Rochelle and Brother Richard came back to Jeanne to seek her approval. Brother Richard strongly urged, "We must put Lady Catherine to work right away."
Jeanne politely spoke to Catherine. "Madame Rochelle, you should go back to your husband, look after your household, and care for your children. That will serve God and Our Lady better than what you propose to do."
Insulted Catherine pushed her away. "You do not believe in my visions!"
Jeanne remained calm and mildly answered, "No, I don't, and I will tell the King that your undertaking is all foolishness and for naught."
Catherine became angry. "Not only can I obtain the needed money as I have told you, but I can also obtain for the King, the peace that he so earnestly desires with the Duke of Burgundy!"
With her arms crossed high over her chest, Jeanne shook her head in disbelief. "You will find no peace with the Duke, except at the point of a lance. Yet, I am willing to test what you say. Come with me to La Charité and there prove the truth of your words!"
Catherine promptly turned her back on Jeanne. "I cannot. I am not strong enough to withstand the November chills!"
"The November chills, ha!" Slyly I confronted her. "Is there not a statue in the Cathedral at Bourges called the White Lady?" She hesitantly nodded yes. "Well, now I know where all this comes from. Your white lady comes from your imagination! I did not believe your fantastic story for a moment. You will have to give me definite proof, if you want me to believe in you."
For my impudence, Madame Rochelle angrily slapped my face. "I suppose you think God's light is for her alone!?" Angrily she shook her finger in my face. "What proofs did you ask of your precious Maid, tell me that?! She never showed you her visions or voices, DID SHE?"
I struggled for an answer. "That's none of your business!"
Lady Catherine replied sarcastically, "Then she did not!" Gruffly she turned to go, but not before giving me a final parting shot. "Then who are you to ask more of me than you do of her?"
Brother Richard solemnly chided Jeanne before running after Catherine. "You are wrong not to use this fine lady's help, since it comes from the Blessed Mother herself. You have become proud, Maid. Beware the fall!"