Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

A Romance of the Days of Jeanne D'Arc - Joan of Arc
by Andrew Lang


Just above the broken bridge of Orleans there is a broad island, lying very near the opposite shore, with a narrow, swift passage of water between bank and island. Some two furlongs higher up the river, and on the further bank, the English had built a small fort, named St. Jean le Blanc, to guard the road, and thither they sent men from Les Augustins. The plan of our captains was to cross by boats on to the island, and thence by a bridge of planks laid on boats to win over the narrow channel, and so make an onslaught on St. Jean le Blanc. For this onslaught the Maid had now been armed by her women, and with all her company, and many knights, was making ready to cross. But before she, or we with her, could attain the shore, horses being ill beasts in a boat ferry, the light-armed townsfolk had crossed over against St. Jean le Blanc to spy on it, and had found the keep empty, for the English had drawn back their men to the Bastille of Les Augustins.

Thus there was no more to do, for the captains deemed not that we were of any avail to attack Les Augustins. They were retreating then to the bridge of boats, and Messires de Gaucourt, De Villars, and other good knights were guarding the retreat, all orderly, lest the English might sally out from Les Augustins, and, taking us in the rear, might slay many in the confusion of crossing the boat- bridge, when the Maid and La Hire, by great dint of toil, passed their horses in a ferry-boat on to the further bank. At this moment the English sallied forth, with loud cries, from Les Augustins, and were falling on our men, who, fearing to be cut off, began to flee disorderly, while the English called out ill words, as "cowards" and "ribaulds," and were blaspheming God that He should damn all Frenchmen.

Hereon the Maid, with her banner, and La Hire, with lance in rest, they two alone, spurred into the press, and now her banner was tossing like the flag of a ship in the breakers, and methought there was great jeopardy lest they should be taken. But the other French and Scots, perceiving the banner in such a peril, turned again from their flight, and men who once turn back to blows again are ill to deal with. Striking, then, and crying, Montjoie! St. Denis! and St. Andrew for Scotland! they made the English give ground, till they were within the palisade of Les Augustins, where they deemed them safe enough. Now I had struggled through the throng on the island, some flying, some advancing, as each man's heart bade him, till I leaped into the water up to my waist and won the land. There I was running to the front of the fight when D'Aulon would have stopped me, for he had a command to hold a certain narrow way, lest the English should drive us to the water again.

All this was rightly done, but I, hearing the cry of St. Andrew, was as one possessed, and paying no heed to D'Aulon, was for thrusting me forward, when a certain Spaniard, Alphonse de Partada, caught me by the arm, and told me, with an oath, that I might well bide where better men than I were content to be. At this I made answer that my place was with the Maid, and, as for better men, bigger he might well be, but I, for one, was not content to look on idly where blows were being dealt. He answered in such terms that I bade him follow me, and see which of us would fare furthest into the press.

"And for that you may be swifter of foot than I, as you have longer legs," I cried, "clasp hands on this bargain, and let us reach the palisades with the same step."

To this he agreed, and D'Aulon not refusing permission (for he loved to look on a vaillance), we, clasping hands, ran together swiftly, and struck our swords in the same moment against the wooden fence. A little opening there was, not yet closed, or he that kept it deemed he might win more honour by holding it with his body. He was a great knight and tall, well armed, the red cross of St. George on his breast, and he fought with a mighty sword. Together, then, we made at him, two to one, as needs must be, for this was no gentle passage of arms, but open battle. One sweep of his sword I made shift to avoid, but the next lighting on my salade, drove me staggering back for more yards than two or three, and I reeled and fell on my hands. When I rose, Alphonse de Partada was falling beneath a sword-stroke, and I was for running forward again; but lo! the great English knight leaped in the air, and so, turning, fell on his face, his hands grasping at the ground and his feet kicking.

Later I heard from D'Aulon that he had bidden John the Lorrainer mark the man with his couleuvrine, for that he did overmuch mischief. But, thinking of nought save to be foremost in the breach, I ran in, stumbling over the dead man's body, and shouldered at the same time by Alphonse, who warded off a stab of a pike that was dealt at me. Then it was a fair mellay, our men pressing after us through the gap, and driving us forward by mere weight of onset, they coming with all speed against our enemies that ran together from all parts of the keep, and so left bare the further wall. It was body to body, weight against weight, short strokes at close quarters, and, over our heads, bills striking and foining at the English. Each man smote where he could; we wavered and swayed, now off our feet in the press, now making some yard of ground, and evil was the smell and thick the dust that arose. Meanwhile came the sound of the riving of planks from the other side of the palisade; above the steel points and the dust I saw the Maid's pennon advancing with the face of my lady painted thereon, and I pressed towards it, crying "St. Andrew" with such breath as was in me. Then rang out the Maid's voice, like a clarion, "St. Denis!" and so, stroke echoing stroke, and daggers going at close quarters, beaten on and blinded, deaf and breathless, now up, now down, we staggered forward, till I and the Maid stood side by side, and the English broke, some falling, some flying to the out-gate.

And, when all was done, there was I, knowing little enough of what had come and gone, dazed, with my sword bloody and bent, my head humming, and my foot on the breast of an English knight, one Robert Heron. Him I took to prisoner, rescue or no rescue, and so sat we down, very weary, in the midst of blood and broken arms, for many had been slain and a few taken, though the more part had fled into the boulevard of Les Tourelles. And here, with a joyous face, and the vizor of her helm raised, stood the Maid, her sword sheathed, waving her banner in the sight of the English that were on the bridge fort.

Natheless, her joy was but for a moment, and soon was she seated lowly on the ground, holding in her arms the head of an English knight, sore wounded, for whom her confessor, Father Pasquerel, was doing the offices of religion. Tears were running down her cheeks, even as if he had been one of her own people; and so, comforting and helping the wounded as she might, she abode till the darkness came, and the captains had made shift to repair the fortress and had set guards all orderly. And all the river was dark with boats coming and going, their lanterns glittering on the stream, and they were laden with food and munitions of war. In one of these boats did the Maid cross the river, taking with her us of her company, and speaking to me, above others, in the most gracious manner, for that I had been the first, with that Spanish gentleman, to pass within the English palisade. And now my heart was light, though my flesh was very weary, for that I had done my devoir, and taken the firstfruits of Elliot's wedding portion. No heavy ransom I put on that knight, Sir Robert Heron, and it was honourably paid in no long time, though he ill liked yielding him to one that had not gained his spurs. But it was fortune of war. So, half in a dream, we reached our house, and there was the greatest concourse of townsfolk clamouring in the praise of the Maid, who showed herself to them from the window, and promised that to-morrow they should take Les Tourelles. That night was Friday, yet, so worn were we all that the Maid bade us sup, and herself took some meat and a little wine in her water, though commonly she fasted on Friday. And now we were about to boun us for bed, and the Maid had risen, and was standing with her arms passed about the neck of the daughter of the house, a fair lass and merry, called Charlotte Boucher, who always lay with her (for she had great joy to be with girls of her own age), when there came the sound of a dagger-hilt beating at the door. We opened, and there stood a tall knight, who louted low to the Maid, cap in hand, and she bade him drink to the taking of Les Tourelles that should be to-morrow.

But he, with the flagon full in his hands, and withal a thirsty look upon his face, shook his head.

"To another pledge, Maiden, I will gladly drink, namely, to the bravest damsel under the sky."

And therewith he drank deep.

"But now I am sent from Gaucourt, and the Bastard, for all the captains are in counsel again. And they bid me tell you that enough hath been done, and they are right well content. But we are few against so great a host, in a place so strong that men may not avail to master it by main force. The city is now well seen in all manner of victual; moreover, we can now come and go by Sologne and the left bank. The skill is therefore to hold the city till the English wax weary and depart, or till we have succour anew from the King. Therefore to-morrow the men-at-arms shall take rest, having great need thereof; and therefore, gentle Maid, pardon me that I drank not to the pledge which a lady called."

Then he drained the flagon.

The Maid, holding the girl Charlotte yet closer to her, smote her right hand on the table, so that it dirled, and the cups and dishes leaped.

"You have been with your counsel," she cried, "and I have been with mine! The counsel of Messire will stand fast and prevail, and yours shall perish, for it is of men. Go back, and bear my words to the captains," quoth she; and then, turning to us, who looked on her in amazement, she said -

"Do ye all rise right early, and more than ye have done to-day shall ye do. Keep ever close by me in the mellay, for to-morrow I shall have much to do, and more than ever yet I did. And to-morrow shall my blood leap from my body, above my breast, for an arrow shall smite here!" and she struck the place with her hand.

Thereon the knight, seeing that she was not to be moved, made his obeisance, and went back to them that sent him, and all we lay down to sleep while we might.

These words of the Maid I, Norman Leslie, heard, and bear record that they are true.


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