Jean d'Aulon, Part XXI
I WILL GO TO MY FRIENDS
As planned, our friends sent out their best scouts. The rest of us stood by, prepared to leave at a moment's notice. It took the best part of the morning to find his position and for us to situate ourselves for the attack.
Jeanne surveyed the situation and saw for herself the size of D'Arras' force. She decided not to take any chances and sent word to bring up more reinforcements from Lagny.
I was actually giddy as I viewed the scene. Because the enemy carried their stolen loot in ox drawn carts, they were forced to use the main road. We had the advantage in holding the high ground of this thickly wooded terrain. In addition the hillocks, which are steep, high mounds of earth that were on either side of the road, hemmed them in giving the enemy no room to maneuver. I knew full well that they did not have a prayer of a chance against us once our reinforcements arrived. After waiting half an hour, the leader of the town's militia came. "What would you have us do, Maid?"
"Since the enemy is forced to remain on this road, I want you to take your men and circle around the enemy, coming up on his left flank. Once your men are in position, signal us, so that together we will descend on D'Arras' forces from both sides of the road, trapping them in the middle."
So we waited for the militia to arrange themselves across the road from us. Not wanting D'Arras' men to know of our presence, we stayed far from the edge of the hillocks, as we paralleled the enemy's movements.
At last the militiamen were in place. All was ready! I held my breath as we waited for Jeanne's command. She drew her sword slowly from its sheath. Gradually and with great care she elevated the blade until it was high over her head. Then with a quick downward stroke of the blade the order was given, "Attack!"
We were off, charging down the steep slope. Our sudden attack startled the English yet the enemy responded with swift savagery. The din of battle was deafening, with the war cries of the combatants and the screams of the wounded. The air reverberated with the crash of sword upon sword and clanging of armor against armor. As I fought, the sweat poured from my brow and my heart pounded within my chest. I wielded my heavy blade against my adversaries grunting with each blade stroke. Slash and cut, thrust and pierce, on and on I bravely fought. Gash and split, stab and plunge, with each blow of my sword the enemy's blood spurted like a fountain. Buffet and strike, slice and lunge, I heard the shrieks and screams of the men that I had struck as they fell before me. In the frenzy of battle my surroundings soon became a blur and my weapon's movements -- instinctual.
Jeanne took no heed for her own personal safety. She was always in the thick of the battle directing our movements while ever cheering us on to the victory. Yet her desire for victory never blunted her compassion for the wounded. She did not care if they were friend or foe, but with the assistance of Father Pasquerel, she made sure they were out of harm's way.
Attempting to escape, D'Arras' men abandoned their loot and headed chaotically for the open field and their presumed safety. It was a good try, but not good enough because Captain Baretta's men were on them in a heartbeat! The carnage was terrible. The dead and dying were all over the road and the field. There were piles of corpses in various places, some two to three men deep. By the end of the conflict several hundred English and Burgundians lay dead, as compared to our seven.
Stillness, the stillness of death, took hold -- the battle was over. It was then, gazing on the dead and dismembered bodies, that Jeanne surveyed the dreadful landscape. In great distress she sought out Father Pasquerel, and asked him to give general absolution to all the fallen.
Baretta came strutting like a peacock over to her. He was puzzled by her anguish and scratched his head. "Why are you upset?" Not bothering to wait for an answer, he continued in a triumphant tone, "I have a gift for you, Maid."
With the wave of his hand he had D'Arras marched before her. Even though heavy chains encumbered him, he struggled with his keepers every step of the way. He stood face to face with Jeanne just as belligerent and cruel now as he had ever been. With anger and contempt he snorted and spat upon the ground. "What are you going to do with me, you foul witch?!"
"Dare you speak to the Maid, like that!" Baretta raised his gauntleted fist to strike D'Arras' face.
She stayed the captain's hand. "Enough! I will answer him." Jeanne said, as she walked slowly around her prisoner. "We are going to ransom you in exchange for a Frenchman that the Godons hold." Motioning to Baretta, Jeanne ordered, "Guard him well. The life of a Frenchman depends upon his safekeeping."
"Right, Maid," and Baretta gave a mighty shove with both his hands that caused D'Arras to jerk and sway on his feet, but he refused to topple!
Jeanne sent the terms of the exchange to the English garrison at Paris: the Lord of the Bear, plus one hundred silver francs, in exchange for the Burgundian captain named D'Arras. When the messenger returned his report was devastating. "The English informed me, Maid, that the man you wanted has already been executed for his crimes against the English." Jeanne took the news very hard and she insisted on being left alone. She hid away in the town's church to find solace in prayer. There she wept over the loss of her long held dream - a free Paris.
Hearing that the D'Arras' trade was off, the Bailiff and lawyers of Senlis hastily came to Jeanne. They wanted to try D'Arras on charges of murder and treason. Jeanne gave her assent to their request and handed him over to their court. A fifteen days later, the court found Franquet D'Arras guilty and had him executed.
A curious event took place during our stay in Lagny. One morning a large group of women came to Jeanne's residence. The spokeswoman of the group explained, "The girls of the town have gathered in our church. They are there to pray for the restoration of life to a child who was born dead, so that he might receive Baptism. If he dies again, so be it, but at least he can be buried in consecrated ground. Will you come and join us at the church?"
When we arrived, we found fifteen girls already gathered in prayer. Jeanne, not wanting to disturb them, took her place at the back of the group. Curious to see this dead child for myself, I went up to where they had placed the body. I saw clearly that it was hopeless.
The girls had laid the baby on the pedestal that supported the statue of Our Lady of Good Help. The child was pathetic, his cold body all black in color. If life did return, it would be a miracle! After satisfying my curiosity, I returned to where Jeanne was kneeling and knelt down beside her. There we prayed for two hours, until the girls in the front row began to gasp. I was interested to see what had happened so I went to investigate. I saw the baby yawn three times and his color began to lighten. One of the women had the presence of mind to run for the priest. When the pastor saw that life had indeed returned to the little body, he was stunned but nonetheless promptly baptized the child. Shortly thereafter, the baby died again and he was buried in consecrated ground. Never had I seen such a miracle in all my life! Flabbergasted, I joyfully proclaimed, "God be praised, a miracle! And by your intercession!"
Jeanne angrily brought up her hand to silence me. She grabbed hold of my arm, sharply pulling me aside. "Be silent, Jean! Don't speak like that! I did nothing! God was pleased to grant their prayers so that this poor little soul might be with Him in heaven. I am sure God would have done the same thing, even if I were not here!" I did not want to argue the point with her, but I felt differently. I believe, and still do, that it was her prayers that God had chosen to answer!
At our approach we found the surprised Captain Baretta excitedly spitting out his mouthful of food. "Maid, I just received word from the Mayor of Melun. They heard of your success against the cutthroat D' Arras so the citizens of Melun want your help to free themselves from the grip of its Burgundian garrison. They want to declare allegiance to your King!"
"When will this revolt take place?"
"Some time during Holy Week."
Jeanne's face soured at his reply. "That does not give us much time! We must leave immediately!"
Captain Hugh was supervising his men's preparation for departure when Jeanne came to speak with him. "Canède, my comrade, I would like you to stay here."
Hew's mouth dropped open in shock. "STAY? But why good lass? Have my men and I no’ served you well and true?"
Coming closer to her faithful Scottish 'hound' she patted his arm reassuringly. "OH NO, my friend, it is not that! You and your men have been most faithful to me and the King's people. It is not that at all."
"Every last one o’ us would give our lives for ye, Jeanne. Why would ye leave us here?"
By this time Jeanne's emotions were getting the best of her. "I would like you to stay here in Lagny to protect these good people from any reprisals that the foul English or the traitor Burgundians may want to bring against them. The only man that I can trust with such an important task is - YOU, my faithful Scot!"
The color had all but left the stalwart captain's face as he looked into Jeanne's eyes. It was a long time before he could bring himself to speak. "I say Aye, but only because ye ask it of me. Fine ye know I would rather be marching into the jaws of death by your side."
Jeanne smiled weakly. "Canède, my friend… I know this is so." She took hold of his hand for the last time. "Adieu," was all that she could bring herself to say.
"Ah, no, lass, no ‘Adieu’ between us. No farewell forever, but 'A la prochaine fois' - until we meet again." He snapped to attention giving her one last brisk military salute.
Jeanne, returned his salute as she said with a broad smile, "Remember, dear friend, St. Catherine's promise." Then with her hot tears flowing down her face she walked quickly away.
The resistance leader of Melun knew of our coming and arranged to start the revolt as soon as he saw our arrival. Jeanne had her men deployed in battle order. Then advancing alone to the top of the earthen works that surrounded the town, she gave her usual flamboyant surrender proposal. "Surrender to the King of France and go in peace. If not, prepare to defend yourselves, for we shall take this place from you!"
No answer came from the Burgundian garrison. Jeanne was about to signal our advance, when the doors of the main gate burst open. The town's people came racing out as they cheered our welcome. We turned our attention back to the walls, and saw that the Burgundian garrison was struggling against another group of town's people. "Forward men!" Jeanne shouted as she lunged forward. I ran up behind Jeanne shouting a war cry when I noticed her facial expression! It so shocked me that I stopped dead in my tracks! Her eyes were open wide with a glazed look, her face frozen in terror.
"Jeanne!" No answer. The other soldiers rushing past us did not notice her state. I gently took her by the hand and led her down to the base of the earthen works. Still Jeanne remained in this cold, death-like state. I took off her helmet and gauntlets, I began to rub her hands and pat her cheek. I was filled with concern. "Jeanne, Jeanne. What is the matter? What is wrong?" She slowly came around and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Gradually, in a tone of voice that I could hardly understand, she answered me. "Jean, my Voices just told me something so terrible, so horrible, that I tremble at the thought of it."
"Tell me, Jeanne? Please, maybe I can help."
"No, Jean, you can't help me."
I was bewildered by her condition. "At least, tell me what has put you in such a state?"
With her face still expressing her shock and dismay, Jeanne sank limply to the ground. "They said: 'Jeanne, you will be taken prisoner before Saint John's day. It is necessary that this should happen. Do not be distressed by this, but take it with a willing heart for God will help you.' "
Struck dumb by her words, the weight of them forced me to my knees. I could not say anything. Only a look of disbelief revealed my thoughts. Jeanne continued in this dazed monotone voice. "I begged my Voices, that when I would be taken, that I might die quickly without suffering a long imprisonment. But they replied, 'You must be resigned to everything because it is God's will that you be taken prisoner.' I asked them when this was to happen to me, but they would not say."
Jeanne put her hands to her face and cried uncontrollably, "I don't want to be taken prisoner! How can my capture serve God? I can serve HIM best by doing what I am doing! I can serve Him best by fighting His enemies and those of the French people! Oh God! I don't want to be captured! Why?! Oh why must I be captured?" I felt her pain and my heart was wrenched in two.
Jeanne continued to cry and sob for several long minutes before she began to regain control of her emotions. All this time I sat mute, unable to say anything or do anything to help her. The implications of this ominous warning ran through my mind. There would be no mercy shown to The Maid once she was captured! Oh, how I wished that I could have helped her!
In that brief period of time, Jeanne fought a ferocious internal struggle between what her human nature wanted and what God wanted! Perhaps God was calling her to more than mere military victories. If there were thorns to come, they would come soon enough.
From the look of sad resignation on her face, I knew instantly, that her stronger spiritual side had won the fight. I heard her pray softly, "Our Father Who art in Heaven hallowed be Thy name! Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven...."
"Now, that my Voices have revealed this to me, I will refer the conduct of the war to Captain Baretta. I don't want my friends discouraged by this news, or worse still, have them try to force me, for my own safety, to return the King's Court." She at last regained her former self-confidence and sternly ordered, "I want your solemn word that you will not tell anyone of this! Not Father, not John, not Peter and especially not the captain." With my teeth clenched tight, I silently nodded.
"Get up! Come, Jean, let us join our friends."
I grabbed her hand tightly. "Please God I will have the courage to stand by you, always!"
"Now come, pull yourself together! I want no sign from you that something is wrong! That is an order!"
Without any further delay I snapped to attention and saluted her. "Right, Maid!"
Jeanne then whispered, "Thank you for your concern and loyalty, my good friend."
From the 25th of April to the 21st of May, Jeanne, Sir Jean, de Loré and Captain Baretta's forces were constantly on the move. Traveling from Melun to Senlis, from Senlis to Soissons, and on to Crepy-en-Valois. Then on the 22nd of May, Jeanne learned that the Duke of Burgundy was establishing his headquarters at Coudon. This town was only four miles from Compiegne. The siege of Compiegne had begun in earnest. Jeanne easily realized the importance of holding this place for the King. Simply put, Compiegne was the Orleans of the north. Jeanne knew what she had to do! She had to go to the defense of those most endangered and threatened by the enemy! Fully determined to help no matter what it might cost her, she ordered, "My friends, get your men in battle order. We march to Compiegne!"
"Maid, do you think we have enough men?" Sir Jean respectfully asked, "Burgundy has more than two thousand men before that town."
Jeanne's old confidence returned. "Though the whole world stand against me, I do not fear, for Jesus stands with me. By my staff! We are enough! I will go to see my good friends in Compiegne!"
Traveling by night, we took little-used paths and back roads through the woods to reach Compiegne just as dawn was breaking. On this date Tuesday, May 23rd, 1430, Jeanne's year and a little longer, the time allowed her by God to do great things for King and Country, would end. It was fifteen months to the day since she first rode through Vaucouleurs' Gate of France to raise a fallen people and by 6:00 P.M. that evening Jeanne would be in the hands of the Burgundians! Jeanne went forward, without knowing where her path would lead.
We heard morning Mass, after which Jeanne and her personal staff retired to the lodgings of the Mayor. There, we slept until 3:00 P.M. After a light lunch, I helped Jeanne to arm. "Jean, please get me my red and gold surcoat. I think I will wear it today." The surcoat was made from a beautiful bright red satin fabric upon which was sewn a design of grape leaves in gold thread. I placed it on her and then I stepped back to admire her grand appearance.
We walked out of the Mayor's home together. There waiting for her was a large dapple-gray demi-charger full of vigor and strength. As Jeanne mounted her steed, I went over to Peter to get her pennon. I handed it up to her as I had done so many times before. Jeanne spoke in a loud clear voice, "Those who love me, follow!" I took to my horse and raced after her. Besides Baretta, and de Loré's combined force of two hundred and ten-man, Governor de Flavy gave us an additional two hundred and ninety men from his garrison, thus increasing our number to five hundred strong! Sir Jean explained that he and his archers would serve Jeanne best by standing ready to protect us with their ability to shoot their projectiles long distances.
The Governor took all the usual measures to protect our retreat, if that should prove necessary. He placed two hundred of his own archers, as well as Sir Jean and his men, on the ramparts that overlooked the north gate. And if the enemy got too close, he had boats in the Oise River ready to ferry us back to safety. It was de Flavy who suggested and arranged this sortie in order to dislodge a Burgundian garrison from the nearby village of Margny. This village was no more than a quarter of a mile from Compiegne's north gate. Once routed, we were to burn it down so that the Burgundians could no longer use it as a site to launch their attacks.
As I waited for the gate to open, I noticed a flock of geese high over head. They flew the unseen currents of air with grace and strength. Bold and free unfettered by the earthly confines of mere man they soared into the upper reaches of the azure sky. I envied their ability to go wherever the winds would take them.
The gates opened and with an abrupt sound the drawbridge dropped into place, bringing me back to the business at hand. We rode out without fanfare, as we wanted this attack to be a surprise.
Sir Jean from top the battlements waved his encouraging fair-well, long bow in hand! Our chargers' hooves pounded the earth with a thunderous sound, as we raced up the hill toward Margny. It seemed to me that I could hear bells ringing behind me but I was too caught up in the moment to take much notice of it. As hoped, we took the Burgundian garrison by surprise and drove them back to the end of the village. Somehow they regrouped and turned the tide of battle to their favor. With great vigor and strength of arms, they drove us back outside the village. Once again we charged and advanced boldly against them, pressing them back, ever back. We had already raced halfway through the village, when Captain Baretta caught sight of a brigade of Burgundian cavalry coming toward us from the north. Seeing the situation we faced, Baretta order a slow, orderly retreat back to the safety of Compiegne.
We were half way down the hill, when panic seized our men because they had caught sight of a large English garrison coming at us on our left. Advancing toward us on our right side was an equally large garrison of Burgundian archers. Hemmed in now on three sides the men lost their nerve. "The enemy is cutting us off! Quick, back to the city or we will be lost!"
Jeanne became angry and shouted in a vain attempt to make them regain their courage. "Be silent! It is up to you to defeat them. Think only about attacking them! Forward, good soldiers, forward!" But it was to no avail. One of her men grabbed her horse's bridle, and swung it around. Jeanne was forced at last to see the danger that she and her men faced. She could have easily spurred her horse and outrun the English and the Burgundians to save herself. Instead, she surpassed the nature of women and did great feats of leadership, taking great pains to save and protect her comrades-in-arms, by staying behind and facing the enemy. In doing so, she showed herself to be the bravest and most valiant of them all!
I could see the entrance to the north gate being cut off by the growing number of enemy soldiers. Slowly at first and then in a torrent, they came. I could not understand why de Flavy hesitated in stopping the enemy's advance. Why did he not use the town's cannons? Why did he not at least command the archers that manned the walls to fire their arrows and slow the enemy's progress?
I noticed that Captain Baretta and his men easily made it back inside the town's walls. I looked up to the top of the battlements and saw Sir Jean with the Governor by his side just standing there. I could not believe my eyes! I screamed out at the top of my lungs, "Sir Jean, order your men to fire their arrows! Sir Jean! Sir Jean! Save us! Save Jeanne!" He did not move one inch. I could not believe it. My disbelief turned to anger. "May you roast on the devil's spit for all eternity for what you have done this day! Traitor, TRAITOR! Curse you forever!"
If this treason was not enough, my head began to swirl at what happened next. The Baron de Loré and his men had just crossed the drawbridge when it began to rise. "They're raising the drawbridge!" I yelled. "They are leaving us to the enemy! They are leaving Jeanne to the enemy!"
The north gate closed with a terrible sound, like that of a close clap of thunder. They left us to our fate and at the thought a shiver ran violently through me. We, Jeanne's faithful few, fought hard and furiously to save her and ourselves from the Burgundian soldiers that increasingly surrounded us. I saw a Picard bowman grabbing for Jeanne's surcoat. I tried to warn her, "Jeanne, look out! Behind you!" But alas, it was too late! He grabbed her surcoat and used it as a lever to drag her backward off her horse. Jeanne landed in a heap on the ground unable to move. There, she lay sprawled on the wet, marshy, meadow unable to get up, while we, her friends, in a last ditch effort tried in vain to help her.
The Picard bowman who had pulled Jeanne off her horse served the Bastard of Wandomme. He was nearby and ran over to her. There he stood, with his legs astride and his hands on his hips, towering over her poor sprawled, motionless body. "I am Lord Simon, Bastard of Wandomme. Surrender and give me your word not to escape, and I will spare your life."
Jeanne answered him in a resigned, low tone, "Never will I give my word to you or anyone else because I have given my word to Another and to Him will I keep it."
The Lord Simon's troops were jeering as they aggressively pulled Jeanne to her feet. One of his men bound her hands so tightly together that they began to swell and turn a dark red. Yet she did not complain or protest her treatment. Then they attached a tether line to her waist and gave it to the Lord Simon. He proudly led Jeanne off behind his horse as he pulled and jerked on the rope in an attempt to make her fall.
At the taking of such a great prize, the Burgundian and English soldiers went wild with joy. They were all cheering and shouting with unbounded pleasure, as if they had captured a king or won a great battle. They toasted each other with rounds of drinks from the lowborn soldier to the high nobles! The celebration started at the moment she was captured and lasted until the late hours of the night! Taken prisoner along with Jeanne were her brother Peter, Father Pasquerel and me, as well as six other loyal and brave men.
THE MAID WOULD RIDE NO MORE!