Jean d'Aulon, Part XXII
JEANNE FACES HER ENEMIES
As the Bastard of Wandomme led Jeanne away, his men severely beat and kicked those of us taken prisoner with her. When they finished with their sport, they tied our wrists with heavy ropes and forced us to march to the Burgundian bivouac. There our guards lined us up before the high command's temporary headquarters as the Bastard of Wandomme marched in to give his report. Seconds later we heard joyous shouts and jubilant laughter coming from the tent and almost immediately they came out eagerly wanting to see Jeanne, a most prized possession.
Here we met the Count of Luxembourg for the first time. He ignored all the others, as he strolled joyfully over to Jeanne. How he gloated now that he had the Maid! With great haughtiness he swaggered several times around Jeanne while gleefully rubbing his hands together. "Well, well, so this is the Maid? I have waited a long time for this day. You don't know how pleased I am, how very, very pleased I am, for you will bring me much money and much prestige!"
To the Bastard of Wandomme, he commanded, "Guard her well. I would not have this bird fly from our grasp. In the morning, I will take her to my noble Prince, the Duke of Burgundy, so that he too may have the pleasure of gazing upon her!"
Here they separated Jeanne and myself from the rest. In great distress she could only watch as they led Father Pasquerel and her brother, Peter, away, never to see them again! Jeanne plaintively called after them as she struggled against her guards. Sadly they had only a fleeting opportunity to see her for the last time! Their faces expressed their tremendous emotions as they looked back at her with distress, concern and love.
Jeanne and I were forced to sit on the cold, hard ground with our backs to each other. To add to our discomfort they made sure that the main tent post was between us. We spent a sleepless night there with our hands bound tightly behind our backs. As my hands ached with a terrible, throbbing pain, I knew, to my sorrow, that Jeanne was suffering equally as much.
My thought lingered long and hard of the events of this most sad day. I must have been thinking out loud because all of a sudden I heard Jeanne say, "No, my friend, I did not surrender to the Burgundians as you think. Those last seconds that I fought upon my charger I saw my men - my friends - being slaughtered all around me. A second or two later, I lay on the cold wet ground, a sword point at my throat. I resigned myself to my fate in the hope that by this act the enemy would spare my friends. My capture was unimportant to me if I could save their lives. So I willingly bowed my will to that of God's rather than displease Him.
"Jean, it was so easy, with a sword at my throat, to have done something that would have incited the soldier who stood over me to thrust his weapon into my neck, thus ending my life. Death is so easy in the heat of battle. So I chose the braver, holier way to submit myself to my enemies rather than to commit suicide by continuing my resistance.
"Now my mission is to remain brave in my captivity for the honor of my comrades who remain free to continue the fight, for my King, for my people of France and most of all, for my Lord and King of Heaven, Jesus!"
I replied, "Jeanne, that is all well and good, but de Flavy betrayed us. He closed the city's gate as we shouted for his help. He is the one who deserves to die, that traitor!"
"Jean, do not speak against this good man! He did what he had to do to protect his people and his town from the English and Burgundians. I hold no ill will toward him. He did what he had to do."
I bit my tongue and thought about Compiegne and how its capture was certain. "The poor town of Compiegne, which you love so dearly, will now be placed in the hands of our enemies."
I could not see her but I could feel her body sway from side to side as she answered me in a hushed but confident whisper, "No Jean, it shall not be, so long as the gentle King Charles does his best to protect his people. No place that the King of Heaven has put into his hands by my aid shall ever be retaken by his enemies."
What she said was true, Compiegne did not fall into English or Burgundian hands. We sat in silence for the rest of the night, lost in our own thoughts, fears and prayers. In the morning, with our hands still bound tightly behind us, we were taken by horseback to Clairoix. We were there but a day or so before we were transported once more, this time to the Duke of Burgundy's headquarters, the castle of Noyon.
Once we arrived at the castle, they released the coarse ropes that had bound us for so long. It was good to get our arms and hands back into their natural position. Yet this respite did not last very long, for they straightaway fettered our hands and feet in heavy chains that caused us to walk in slow halting steps. Then they threw us into a dungeon. It was an exceedingly filthy, cold, damp place, devoid of light of any kind. They kept us in this dismally bleak hole, for how long, I cannot say for sure, as we soon lost all track of time.
Time and darkness passed. Then the guards opened the door of the cell. The light from the torches stung our eyes, as we had grown accustomed to the dark. We were being summoned! The greatest Prince in all of Christendom, the Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Good, was summoning us to appear before him! As we were led out, the light of the flames reflected in Jeanne's eyes, and for the first time I saw fear there. The guards pushed and shoved us along until we arrived at the castle's audience hall. They feared Jeanne even now and took no chances while she was in the presence of their Prince. Under a heavy guard they escorted Jeanne down the center of this illustrious gathering.
With pomp and splendor the Duke tried to impress Jeanne with his importance and grandeur. Everyone in this immense gathering place was decked out in the most splendid of garments. The hall was ablaze with such light and color that it took even my breath away! The place echoed with the sound of the throngs' voices, that is, until they caught sight of Jeanne as we entered! Then an eerie hush descended over them. It was so silent that you could hear their breathing.
There at the end of this lavish room, seated upon sumptuous golden thrones were the high and renowned Prince, the Duke of Burgundy, and next to him, his delicate wife, Isabel of Portugal. Their extravagant thrones rested on a four-tier dais made from the finest woods. Over their heads was a canapé with a cascading drapery made from the purest and most brilliant red silk! The Duke's captains and aides were standing in long lines on either side of their chairs of state. Jeanne advanced boldly with her head held high.
He looked at her intently, half-impressed with her boldness and half-angered. "You are in no position to give orders, witch! Do you forget that you are now my prisoner?! The Duke grew uneasy while his wife cringed in fear.
Seeing their reaction Jeanne assured them, "Don't be afraid. I will not harm you."
The Duke leaned forward while tightly grabbing the arms of his throne, which turned his knuckles white. With his face contorted in anger, he replied, "We do not fear you, witch!" Then settling back into his well-padded, silken chair, he again addressed her in a tone of superiority. "I have waited a long time for this moment and I rejoice greatly in it!" He laughed as he looked toward his courtiers, who took their cue from him and joined in Jeanne's ridicule.
When the noise of his court had died down, he continued. "I hold no ill will towards you, Maid. I am not seeking your death as my English friends are. As a matter of fact I would like to save you from them. All you have to do is promise me that you will no longer bear arms against my army and I will guarantee you safety and you would be free to return to your home in Domremy."
Jeanne was calm as she boldly spoke her mind. "Sir, I am sent by God and I must obey Him!"
"I cannot believe that you are sent by God!" replied the Duke. "You are just an ignorant farm girl who knows nothing of the inner workings of government. How could God chose Charles to be King of France when he is not even capable of running the stables that hold his horses, much less the glorious Kingdom of France. Charles is an idiot and a coward who is as evil a man that has ever ruled France."
Jeanne's body stiffened. She advanced, pushing past her guards with her finger pointing at his face. "You are a liar and an evil man for questioning the Will of God," she yelled in outrage. Her face turned crimson as she continued to reprimand the Duke, "You are a traitor for siding with the English!"
The Duke jumped up as he drew his sword to strike her. She did not move, readying herself to receive his blow, but God intervened by causing one of the Duke's soldiers to pull her back with such violence that he knocked her to the floor. Yet they could not silence her. Although she was sprawled on the floor, she did not cease her verbal reprimand against the Duke. "You shall never gain the crown of France, which God has given to King Charles. You and all your people are the enemies of the King of Heaven, so long as you take up arms against the King of France!"
"I have no love for the English," the Duke yelled back, "but Charles is unworthy to be king and so my hatred for him has led me to side with them."
She looked fiercely at him before adding slowly and deliberately, "You think that you will win, now that I am your prisoner, but you are wrong, so very wrong!"
Shaking off the guards who held her, Jeanne struggled to stand up. She took a moment to adjust her tunic and collect her thoughts before she once more daringly pushed past the guards. "You will find only death and destruction, until you do homage and make peace with King Charles, who is your rightful Lord!"
"There is nothing that I can do for you!" Phillip angrily retorted, "You will surely be delivered over to the English." His last words to her chilled my bones. "And they will burn you, if you do not accept my offer!"
Jeanne silently shook her head no.
Furious, he trembled violently while he beat his hand several times on the arm of his throne. "Take her back to her cell!"
The nobles were enraged by Jeanne's outburst. In their frenzy, many flung their fists in her face while others punched her. Still others pushed and jostled her as she passed. Yet Jeanne remained undisturbed by their behavior and maintained her composure despite the chaos that swirled around her.
I was beaten and slapped by the guards, yet I could not help laughing all the way back to our cell at the turn of events. The great Duke had thought to humiliate Jeanne in front of all his courtiers. He brought her to his grand audience hall, to gloat over her, yet Jeanne in her indomitable way had turned the tables on him! She showed the most powerful prince in the entire Christian world to be a rebel and a traitor, not only to King Charles but to God as well!
A peasant girl terrified the greatest Duke in all of Europe! Unequivocally, this lowly peasant nobody had lambasted the exalted and illustrious Duke! It was priceless to me that Jeanne had embarrassed him in front his own courtiers! Even his poor little wife looked as though she would faint dead away if Jeanne had come any closer.
Yet, in the quiet of that night and all the long nights that followed, my mind kept dwelling on the Duke's ominous warning - "And they will burn you…."
Once more we were thrown into that dark hole. At dawn we were again moved to the castle of Beaulieu-les-Fontaines, where they held us prisoners in the castle's tower room. Because the Count was refurbishing this tower during the day, the flow of workmen and the incessant banging of hammers constantly disturbed us. Even so, this prison was more pleasant than our previous hole. At least we could see the sky and breathe the fresh, clean air through the small slit in wall.
After two weeks of studying the movements of the guards and the carpenters, Jeanne decided that it was time for us to make our escape. Her plan was straightforward. One of us would grab the guard who opened the door while the other would capture the one standing outside the door. Then we would close and lock the door behind us. We would then run down the stairs and out of the castle, into the nearby woods. Thus, her plan was set and we waited for the opportunity to put it into effect.
The next morning Jeanne crouched down by the door and whispered, "Here they come, be ready." The door swung opened. "Now!" yelled Jeanne and she seized the startled jailer who had opened the door. I jumped the guard who was posted outside our cell and jerked him inside. Then we rushed for the door and quickly slammed it shut before descending the long flight of stairs.
Suddenly Jeanne stopped at a pile of wooden planks that lay near the chateau's entrance. "Wait, Jean, let us act as though we are carpenters and carry these pieces of wood on our shoulders. That way the guards will think we are just two more workmen."
I smiled and nodded at her cleverness. Jeanne picked up two planks and placed one on each of her shoulders to conceal her face. I did the same, and thus disguised, we stepped out into the sunlight. "Jean, we must remain calm as we survey the area. Once we see where the main gate is, we will walk steadily toward it, trying to blend in with the other workers."
All this time, the guards whom we had locked up were raising Cain with their loud shouts for help.
With my heart in my throat we casually mingled among the workmen. Moments later we caught sight of our goal and Jeanne whispered, "There it is! Head for it!"
We slowly but deliberately headed for the open gate and freedom! Alas though, at that very instant, one of the castle's porters caught sight of us and began to yell at the top of his lungs. "Stop! Stop! The prisoners are escaping!"
We dropped the wood that we were carrying and began to run. Running for our lives I set my sight on a great maple tree that was a few yards beyond the open gate. Everything else was a blur. We ran and ran with all our might, heading for that gate to freedom. Within seconds, the courtyard was swarming with guards. Still we pressed forward, swerving, dodging and weaving our way through the men who were intent on capturing us. Yet with our eyes continually set on our goal we pressed forward ever forward!
Tackled suddenly from behind, we fell to the ground! With the breath knocked out of us, we were easily captured and chained up like dogs, prisoners again! Roughly the guards raised us to our feet. Angrily they pushed and shoved us back towards the tower but instead of taking us to our old cell, they brought us to the irate Count of Luxembourg. "I can see now that I was too trusting of you, witch! I shall not be so in the future."
Exasperated, the Duke violently shook his fist. "I will find a castle that is strong enough and tall enough to hold you. I will send you there and from that place, you shall never escape. Until then, I will place more guards around you." The Duke ordered the captain to double and triple the guard assigned to us. He told him to take no more chances, but to deal with us sternly. From that time on we had four guards posted outside our door and whenever any one entered, we were ordered to stand in the center of the room.
Near the end of June, Jeanne unexpectedly revealed something so strange and startling to me that I could scarcely take it in.
"Jean, good Squire, I will not be with you much longer.
"What are you saying Jeanne? What do you mean by 'I will not be with you much longer?' " My agitation increased as her words reached my heart.
She took hold of my face with both her hands and looking into my eyes she tried to get me to focus on what she was trying to tell me. "Jean, listen to me! Are you listening?
"I am going to tell you something very important but you must keep it a secret until some future time when you will be asked to write down your remembrances of me. Do you understand?"
I silently nodded.
"The sword of Saint Catherine was the physical symbol of the covenant that our true Lord and King Jesus Christ made with the Dauphin at Chinon. As long as Charles acknowledged Christ to be the true King of France, then the kingdom would strengthen. But over time, Charles's faith weakened and so did the sword. As Charles' pride grew, after the coronation, he hearkened to his advisors' corrupt guidance. They deceived him with their lies that diplomacy and appeasement were the way to achieve peace. The king's faith in Christ's promises to him died and thus he abandoned his side of the covenant."
Jeanne, in her humility, did not speak fully of what was in her heart. But now I can clearly see the truth of this matter. Had Charles continued to keep faith in God's promises to him the Kingdom of France would, at this moment, be free and at peace. How sad for all of us that after the coronation the King no longer wanted to take the advice of 'a mere peasant girl' but instead turned to his greedy and ambitious lords for guidance.
Jeanne continued, "When I sinned by breaking the sword of Saint Catherine, I ran to Jesus and threw myself at His feet, begging Him for His forgiveness. With Father Pasquerel's absolution I was immediately forgiven but Jesus let me know that the consequences of King Charles' sinful unbelief would not be removed. He told me that the breaking of this blessed blade was an outward sign that the King had totally lost faith in the covenant that he had made with God. Do you understand what I am saying, my friend?"
I bowed my head as I asked, "How can this covenant be restored?"
"The Kingdom can only by saved by the blood of THE warrior."
I could hardly speak the words for fear of what I might hear. "Who is this warrior?"
Crying out, I slumped to my knees before her. I was nothing more than a mass of quivering flesh. "NO! No, it cannot be so! I don't want you to die! I.., I.., love you!" These words poured out of me. Even though I had promised myself a thousand times before that I would never speak them to her face, I nevertheless could not stop myself.
I could not clearly see her face because my tears had clouded my vision, so I am not sure exactly how she reacted to my profession of love. All I can say for sure is this. Her sweet hand gently stroked the side of my face. I took her hand in mine and I dared to place her fingers to my trembling lips. She did not pull her hand away but with her other hand she lightly stroked the side of my head. How long this continued I have no idea.
I heard her soft voice flow over me like a soothing balm. "There was once this poor wee farm girl, known as Jeannette, who in the fields of her beloved homeland, bowed low in prayer. Tears covered her face as she fervently prayed for her suffering people. Heavenly visions came to her; she did not understand why. They said to this frightened insignificant girl. 'Are you willing to do great things for your people, for the people of France and for God?'
"Trembling, this scared girl said, 'Yes!' Once more the heavenly voices asked, 'Are you willing to offer yourself as a sacrifice to God?' Not knowing fully what this meant she answered, 'Yes!' Somehow, deep down inside her, she knew that her time upon this earth would not be long. But buried within this young maiden's heart was a wonderful faith and hope that her Heavenly Father would make all things right.
"When the sword of Saint Catherine was broken, this insignificant farm girl tried to remain strong for her army. She did her best to keep from yielding to fear. She showed little emotion to others for she knew how sad they were to learn that this holy sword was no more. In private though this little Jeannette was very upset and cried greatly as she prayed.
"She finally understood that the holy sword she had pointed to the Heavens would not recover the Kingdom. Oh no, finally she realized that it would be only by uniting the blood of God’s warrior, to the sufferings of Jesus, that the realm she loved so dearly would be reborn.
Fearing her response I nonetheless asked, "How will all this come about?"
She continued to tenderly stroke my hair. "I am not sure, Jean, my voices have not as yet revealed this to me."
I spent the rest of that endless day in fearful silence. What could I say to her? My heart was broken and no amount of words would ever heal it.
The very next day the guards came bursting into the cell. They roughly grabbed and began to drag her away. "What about my squire?" she cried.
"He stays here! Now come, witch!"
Jeanne turned to look at me and I looked at her. She broke free from their grasp just long enough to placed her sweet lips lightly on my cheek kissing me good-by. It was the first and only time that I ever felt their tender touch. This too is a treasure that I will forever hold in my heart! The guards brutally took hold of her again as she tearfully said, "Good-by, my dear, loyal and good friend, God be with you!"
"I will miss you, Maid. It was an honor for me to have served you...."
Jeanne turned her eyes from me as they filled with hot tears and did not look back as I stood stiffly at attention, giving her my salute. The guards scornfully jeered as they dragged her from my vision. "Enough, witch! We are taking you to a place where not even the Devil can help you escape!"
They removed her from my sight, but they could never remove her from my heart! I still find myself missing her company and profoundly feeling her loss. I pray that when I die, God will take my soul to where I believe she is now - with Him in heaven!
She was, she is, the greatest soldier and soul that ever walked the beautiful lands of France! The Kingdom was and will always be blessed by her indomitable will and unconquerable spirit. Her burning spirit will inflame our courage, our minds and our souls - Forever!
Long live the memory of the bravest, truest heart that ever existed,
Jeanne, the Maid!