Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

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


I have now shown wherefore the fighting, in this spring, was to be up and down the water of Oise, whence the villagers had withdrawn themselves, of necessity, into the good towns. For the desire of the Duke of Burgundy was to hold the Oise, and so take Compiegne, the better to hold Paris. And on our side the skill was to cut his army in two, so that from east of the water of Oise neither men nor victual might come to him.

Having this subtle device of war in her mind, the Maid rode north from Melun, by the King's good towns, till she came to Compiegne, that was not yet beleaguered. There they did her all the honour that might be, and thither came to her standard Messire Jacques de Chabennes, Messire Rigault de Fontaines, Messire Poton de Xaintrailles, the best knight then on ground, and many other gentlemen, some four hundred lances in all. {33} With these lances the Maid consorted to attack Pont l'Eveque by a night onfall. This is a small but very strong hold, on the Oise, some six leagues from Compiegne, as you go up the river, and it lies near the town of Noyon, which was held by the English. In Pont l'Eveque there was a garrison of a hundred lances of the English, and our skill was to break on them in the grey of dawn, when men least fear a surprise, and are most easily taken. By this very device La Hire had seized Compiegne but six years agone, wherefore our hope was the higher. About five of the clock on an April day we rode out of Compiegne, a great company,--too great, perchance, for that we had to do. For our army was nigh a league in length as it went on the way, nor could we move swiftly, for there were waggons with us and carts, drawing guns and couleuvrines and powder, fascines wherewith to fill the fosses, and ladders and double ladders for scaling the walls. So the captains ordered it to be, for ever since that day by Melun fosse, when the Saints foretold her captivity, the Maid submitted herself in all things to the captains, which was never her manner before.

As we rode slowly, she was now at the head of the line, now in the midst, now at the rear, wherever was need; and as I rode at her rein, I took heart to say -

"Madame, it is not thus that we have taken great keeps and holds, in my country, from our enemies of England."

"Nay," said she, checking her horse to a walk, and smiling on me in the dusk with her kind eyes. "Then tell me how you order it in your country."

"Madame," I said, "it was with a little force, and lightly moving, that Messire Thomas Randolph scaled the Castle rock and took Edinburgh Castle out of the hands of the English, a keep so strong, and set on a cliff so perilous, that no man might deem to win it by sudden onfall. And in like manner the good Messire James Douglas took his own castle, more than once or twice, by crafty stratagem of war, so that the English named it Castle Perilous. But in every such onfall few men fought for us, of such as could move secretly and swiftly, not with long trains of waggons that cover a league of road, and by their noise and number give warning to an enemy."

"My mind is yours," she said, with a sigh, "and so I would have made this onslaught. But I submitted me to the will of the captains."

Through the night we pushed our way slowly, for in such a march none may go swifter than the slowest, namely, the carts and the waggons. Thus it befell that the Maid and the captains were in more thoughts than one to draw back to Compiegne, for the night was clear, and the dawn would be bright. And, indeed, after stumbling and wandering long, and doubting of the way, we did, at last, see the church towers and walls of Pont l'Eveque stand out against the clear sky of morning, a light mist girdling the basement of the walls. Had we been a smaller and swifter company, we should have arrived an hour before the first greyness shows the shapes of things. But now, alas! we no sooner saw the town than we heard the bells and trumpets calling the townsfolk and men-at-arms to be on their ward. The great guns of the keep roared at us so soon as we were in reach of shot; nevertheless, Pothon and the Maid set companies to carry the double ladders, for the walls were high, and others were told off to bring up the fascines, and so, leaving our main battle to wait out of shot, and come on as they were needed, the Maid and Pothon ran up the first rampart, she waving her standard and crying that all was ours. As we ran, for I must needs be by her side, the din of bells and guns was worse than I had heard at Orleans, and on the top of the church towers were men-at-arms waving flags, as if for a signal. Howbeit, we sprang into the fosse, under shield, wary of stones cast from above, and presently three ladders were set against the wall, and we went up, the Maid leading the way.

Now of what befell I know but little, save that I had so climbed that I looked down over the wall, when the ladder whereon I stood was wholly overthrown by two great English knights, and one of them, by his coat armour, was Messire de Montgomery himself, who commanded in Pont l'Eveque. Of all that came after I remember no more than a flight through air, and the dead stroke of a fall on earth with a stone above me. For such is the fortune of war, whereof a man knows but his own share for the most part, and even that dimly. The eyes are often blinded with swift running to be at the wall, and, what with a helm that rings to sword-blows, and what with smoke, and dust, and crying, and clamour, and roar of guns, it is but little that many a man-at-arms can tell concerning the frays wherein, may be, he has borne himself not unmanly.

This was my lot at Pont l'Eveque, and I knew but little of what passed till I found myself in very great anguish. For I had been laid in one of the carts, and so was borne along the way we had come, and at every turn of the wheels a new pang ran through me. For my life I could not choose but groan, as others groaned that were in the same cart with me. For my right leg was broken, also my right arm, and my head was stounding as if it would burst. It was late and nigh sunset or ever we won the gates of Compiegne, having lost, indeed, but thirty men slain, but having wholly failed in our onfall. For I heard in the monastery whither I was borne that, when the Maid and Xaintrailles and their men had won their way within the walls, and had slain certain of the English, and were pushing the others hard, behold our main battle was fallen upon in the rear by the English from Noyon, some two miles distant from Pont l'Eveque. Therefore there was no help for it but retreat we must, driving back the English to Noyon, while our wounded and all our munitions of war were carried orderly away.

As to the pains I bore in that monastery of the Jacobins, when my broken bones were set by a very good surgeon, there is no need that I should write. My fortune in war was like that of most men-at- arms, or better than that of many who are slain outright in their first skirmish. Some good fortune I had, as at St. Pierre, and again, bad fortune, of which this was the worst, that I could not be with the Maid: nay, never again did I ride under her banner.

She, for her part, was not idle, but, after tarrying certain days in Compiegne with Guillaume de Flavy, she rode to Lagny, "for there," she said, "were men that warred well against the English," namely, a company of our Scots. And among them, as later I heard in my bed, was Randal Rutherford, who had ransomed himself out of the hands of the French in Paris, whereat I was right glad. At Lagny, with her own men and the Scots, the Maid fought and took one Franquet d'Arras, a Burgundian "routier," or knight of the road, who plundered that country without mercy. Him the Maid would have exchanged for an Armagnac of Paris, the host of the Bear Inn, then held in duresse by the English, for his share in a plot to yield Paris to the King. But this burgess died in the hands of the English, and the echevins {34} of Lagny, claiming Franquet d'Arras as a common thief, traitor, and murderer, tried him, and, on his confession, put him to death. This was counted a crime in the Maid by the English and Burgundian robbers, nay, even by French and Scots. "For," said they, "if a gentleman is to be judged like a manant, or a fat burgess by burgesses, there is no more profit or glory in war." Nay, I have heard gentlemen of France cry out that, as the Maid gave up Franquet to such judges as would surely condemn him, so she was rightly punished when Jean de Luxembourg sold her into the hands of unjust judges. But I answer that the Maid did not sell Franquet d'Arras, as I say De Luxembourg sold her: not a livre did she take from the folk of Lagny. And as for the slaying of robbers, this very Jean de Luxembourg had but just slain many English of his own party, for that they burned and pillaged in the Beauvais country.

Yet men murmured against the Maid not only in their hearts, but openly, and many men-at-arms ceased to love her cause, both for the slaying of Franquet d'Arras, and because she was for putting away the leaguer-lasses, and, when she might, would suffer no plundering. Whether she was right or wrong, it behoves me not to judge, but this I know, that the King's men fought best when she was best obeyed. And, like Him who sent her, she was ever of the part of the poor and the oppressed, against strong knights who rob and ravish and burn and torture, and hold to ransom. Therefore the Archbishop of Reims, who was never a friend of the Maid, said openly in a letter to the Reims folk that "she did her own will, rather than obeyed the commandments of God." But that God commands knights and gentlemen to rob the poor and needy (though indeed He has set a great gulf between a manant and a gentleman born) I can in nowise believe. For my part, when I have been where gentlemen and captains lamented the slaying of Franquet d'Arras, and justified the dealings of the English with the Maid, I have seemed to hear the clamour of the cruel Jews: "Tolle hunc, et dimitte nobis Barabbam." {35} For Barabbas was a robber. Howbeit on this matter, as on all, I humbly submit me to the judgment of my superiors and to Holy Church.

Meantime the Maid rode from Lagny, now to Soissons, now to Senlis, now to Crepy-en-Valois, and in Crepy she was when that befell which I am about to relate.


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