Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

JOAN OF ARC The Warrior Maid

Chapter 2
The Knight’s Story

By a Woman Shall France Be Lost;
By a Maid Shall It Be Redeemed.

Old Prophecy. Merlin, The Magician. 

The house where Jeanne D’Arc lived was a stone cottage with the roof sloping from a height on one side half way to the ground on the other. In front there were but two windows, admitting but a scanty light. Close by the door, as was usual in that country, were piles of faggots and farm tools covered with mud and rust. The enclosure served also as kitchen garden and orchard.

Beyond the cottage, scarce a stone’s throw distant, only separated from it by a small graveyard, stood the village church, and north of both buildings there was a square towered monastery.

A streamlet that flowed down into the Meuse trickled noisily by the cottage and church, dividing them from the other houses of the village. Perhaps it was because of this fact that the church seemed to Jeanne to belong more to her and to her family than it did to the other inhabitants of Domremy. Born under its very walls, she was lulled in her cradle by the chime of its bells, and cherished a passionate love for them in her heart. Involuntarily the little girl paused with her hand on the latch to cast a lingering, tender glance at the church before opening the door of the cottage. Before she had crossed the threshold a tall woman, who was stirring the contents of a large iron pot which hung on a tripod before the fire, turned quickly at the sound of her sabots, and seeing that it was Jeanne hastily left her task and drew the maid once more without the door. It was Isabeau Romée,[2] the wife of Jacques D’Arc. In marriage the wife always retained her maiden name, so Jeanne’s mother was always spoken of as Isabeau Romée of Vauthon, her native village. She was mild in manner, but her usual serenity was at this moment disturbed by anxiety.

“Right glad am I that you have come, Jeanne,” she remarked. “Your Gossip Beatrix has been asking for you. She came this afternoon. And but a short time since two men-at-arms came, asking for supper and bed. Gentles they are, who have but escaped from the hands of the Burgundians, having been prisoners for many months. Sup them I will right gladly, but bed them I can not. The house is full. It galls your father that we must refuse them.”

“And why not bed them, mother? Let little Catherine sleep with you, and I can lie upon the floor before the hearth. Then the gentles may have my bed.”

“But you are wearied from your play, my little one, and to-morrow we go to the river to wash the clothes. You will need a good rest.”

“Fear not, mother; I shall sleep well,” answered Jeanne cheerily. “If the poor men have but escaped from prison perchance they have had naught but the cold stones of a dungeon to lie upon. Do let it be as I say, mother.”

“As you will then, my little one. In truth it would have grieved me sorely to refuse the bed, but I knew not what to do. You have a good heart, child. Go now, and carry in more faggots for the fire. The night grows chill, though the day was so warm. A bundle will not be too much for the chimney. Then bring forth the drinking cups and the knife for cutting the bread and put them upon the table. I will go to the oven for another loaf.”

“The dear child,” mused the mother as Jeanne obediently gathered up a large bundle of the faggots and turned toward the cottage. “The dear child! Ever ready is she to give up her own comfort for that of others. May our Lady watch over her!”

Meantime Jeanne had hastened into the house, and had thrown her bundle of faggots into the great chimney, over which hung a white stone mantel shaped somewhat like a pent house. On one side of the hearth flags sat an elderly woman who was amusing Jeanne’s sister, Catherine, a child a few years younger than she. Jeanne returned the woman’s warm greeting affectionately, then drew the deal table before the hearth, glancing as she did so at the two men who sat at the far end of the hearth flags.

One was a man of thirty-five or so; the other looked to be ten years his junior. That they were well born was apparent from their bearing and manner, but their armour and clothing were in sad condition. Their hucques[3] were in tatters, and only the closest inspection revealed that they had been of velvet. They wore no helmets, and many plates were missing from their rusty armour, leaving their bodies fair marks for arrows or cross bolts. Noting all this Jeanne was startled to observe that from the right arm of the younger knight a tiny stream of blood trickled through the steel sleeve. She was a timid girl with strangers, therefore it was a full minute before she could muster courage to approach the young man.

“You bleed, messire,” she said, touching him shyly on the shoulder.

“Eh? What?” The young man started quickly, for he had been dozing in his chair. “Oh! The wound?” following her glance at his arm. “’Tis naught. The scratch has but broken out anew.”

“It should be dressed,” asserted the little girl with concern. “I like not to see French blood flow.”

“She speaks truth, Bertrand,” interjected the older man. “A green wound tingles and burns, and there may be many a fray before us ere we behold Châlons. Here! I will be your squire for the nonce, and unbuckle your armour. ’Tis a good little maid!”

The young man addressed as Bertrand rose, and let his friend assist him to remove his armour, protesting against the need of it as he did so. Jeanne meantime brought a basin of water, and when the knight had pushed back the sleeve of his doublet she washed the blood from the wound gently. Then, with all the deftness that Isabeau had taught her––for many were the wounded who had experienced their services––she applied a compress of oil, and bandaged the arm with bands of serge.

“I thank you, my little maid,” spoke the young man gratefully. “It does in truth feel better, and though but a scratch, was indeed painful. What is your name?”

“Jeanne, messire.”

“I will remember it, Jeanne. Who taught you to be so deft in such matters?”

“My mother, messire.” Jeanne blushed at being so interrogated.

“You have a gentle touch. If my arm does not heal quickly under such ministration it does not belong to Bertrand de Poulengy.”

Jeanne blushed again and withdrew quickly, carrying the basin with her. After placing a tall flagon, the wooden drinking cups, and the knife for cutting the bread upon the table she went to her godmother’s side, and sat down.

As she did so her father and mother entered. Upon her arm Isabeau carried a large ring of black bread, while Jacques brought another armful of faggots. They were a hard working, devout couple who strove to bring up their children,––of which there were five: three sons, Jacquemin, Jean, and Pierre; and two daughters, Jeanne and Catherine,––to love work and religion. Jacques D’Arc was a doyen; that is, a village elder; the chief man in Domremy after the mayor. He was of such substance that he was enabled to raise his family in comfort, and 28 to give alms and hospitality to the poor wandering friars, and other needy wayfarers then so common in the land.

“Sit up, messires,” cried Jacques as his wife emptied the contents of the iron pot into a platter which she set on the table. “Eat, for you must be hungry. Ay! and thirsty too, I doubt not.”

“By our Lady, but that hath a welcome sound, honest Jacques,” cried the elder knight, starting up eagerly. “We are both hungry and thirsty. Neither of us has broken his fast since morning, and then the repast was but meagre. Bertrand, man, does not the flavor of that stew assail your nostrils deliciously?”

“It does indeed, Louis. Methinks that I shall do justice to it. The Duke of Lorraine does not regale his prisoners on such fare.”

“You were prisoners to the Duke of Lorraine?” questioned Jacques as he and his guests drew up to the table. The women and children sat apart waiting to eat later.

“Ay! and have been for these many weary months, Jacques. It seems like a miracle that we did at last escape, but so it has fallen out.”

“Tell of the manner of your taking and escape, if it please you, messire,” spoke Jacques. “’Twill enliven the hour, and we are of the King’s party here.”

“Right well do we know that, Jacques D’Arc, else we would not have tarried here. Domremy is well known to be for the King.”

“Ay! for the King and France. Save for one man the entire village is against the Burgundians and the English invaders.”

“’Tis good to hear such report, Jacques. And now if you wish to hear the tale it pleases me well to tell it. Know then that in August last, I, Louis De Lude, and Bertrand de Poulengy here with six other men-at-armsdid set forth from the town of Châlons for that of Tours, being sadly in need of armour. You must know that for armour there be none in all France that can compare with the smiths of Tours. Through fear of being set upon by either the enemy, or marauding bands, we travelled at night, avoiding the frequented roads and the towns known to be in possession of the hostile party. Thus we went for ten days with no untoward event happening, and on the morning of the eleventh day we broke into gratulation, for then we came in sight of the walls of Tours.

“The sun was an hour high, and all the gates of the town were open. Through them the country folk were passing with milk and fruit for the market. The sight was a welcome one to travellers weary of the road and road fare. With cries of pleasure we spurred our horses forward. When within a half league of the city the joyous exclamations died on our lips, for suddenly the gates were closed, leaving us and a few poor market people outside. The country people ran distractedly toward the town, uttering loud outcries as the watchman appeared on the ramparts, shouting something that we were not near enough to understand. Wondering at the action of the town, and the apparent terror of the people we wheeled, and saw the cause.

“The frequented road from the town wound a short distance away between two low hills, and over the green shoulder of one of these a dozen bright points caught and reflected the morning light. Even as we looked the points lifted, and became spears. Ten, twenty, thirty, still they came until we could no longer count them. We turned to make a dash back in the way we had come, and behold! springing up in front of us were other spears. We were caught; and, outnumbered though we were, there was nothing for it but to fight. And fight we did, for in a moment they were upon us.

“’Tis hard to know just what is happening when one is in the thick of combat. There were yells and wild cries as the two forces came together in a huddle of falling or rearing horses, of flickering weapons, of thrusting men, of grapples hand to hand. Who it was fell, stabbed through and through, or who still fought single combat I could not tell. It was over presently, and as I yielded up my sword in surrender I glanced about me; and lo! of our little band but three remained: Bertrand here, Jean Laval, and myself. We had fallen into the hands of Sabbat, the freebooter, the terror of Anjou and Touraine.

“He did not take us to his garrison at Langeaís, but retreated to those same low hills by the road, and there cast us into a pit to be held for ransom. Ransom? In sooth, he deserved none, for he took from us the livres we had for our armour. One hundred and twenty-five livres tournois did Bertrand and I have each for that purpose, and he took them. Ay! and likewise he robbed our comrades who were dead. But our armour they left us, because it was old. Three months we stayed in that pit waiting for ransom, with bread and water for our daily fare. And truly it was the bread of sadness and the water of affliction. Jean died of his wounds, but Bertrand and I came through.

“And then it fell upon a day that some of my Lord Duke, Charles of Lorraine’s, retainers passed by the robbers’ lair on their way from Tours to Lorraine. Sabbat’s men set upon them even as they had done upon us. But the Duke’s men worsted them, and carried away not only many freebooters as prisoners but those also who were held captive by the marauders. Finding that Bertrand and I were Armagnacs, of the King’s party, they took us to the ducal palace at Nancy to be held for ransom. We were thrown into a dungeon there to await the return of the messenger to our friends, but whether money was ever sent either to Duke Charles or to Sabbat we know not. All that we know is that we lay waiting, waiting in that vile dungeon for weary days. So the time went by; long months that sapped our vigour, but which whetted our appetites for vengeance.

“We were not upon parole, though my Lord Charles had striven to put us there, so we watched for a chance to escape, as is the right of every prisoner. It came at length. Two days ago the old man, who was our keeper, came to us at eventide bearing the black bread that formed our meals. He had not brought the water, and Bertrand made a cry for it, grumbling loudly because it had not been fetched, saying that he was athirst. It confused the old man, because he had in very truth forgot the water, which he was loath to acknowledge. For this reason he neglected his usual caution of backing out of the dungeon with his face toward us, and turned his back upon us. Instantly we sprang upon him, and easily overcame him. We bound him with his own garments, and then, possessing ourselves of his keys, went forth boldly. To our amazement we found our way into the courtyard without encountering any one. There were sounds of revelry from the palace, and creeping near we found that it was the anniversary of his birthnight, so Duke Charles held high carnival. It was the night of all nights favorable to an escape.

“The guard was relaxed so, unchallenged, we succeeded in placing a scaling ladder against the ramparts, and up we went. When we had reached the top, however, we were seen, and a shower of arrows were shot at us, wounding Bertrand. Two lance lengths high were the walls, but we dropped from them to the outside, landing, by God’s grace, on the edge of the moat. We crept close to the walls, and the fast falling darkness hid us from the view of the archers on the top.

“Doubtless they thought that we had fallen into the water, for presently the hue and cry died down, and we heard no sound that denoted that search was being made for us. Then cautiously we crossed the moat, fearful of its waters, but Saint Catherine, the friend of escaping prisoners, was with us, and reaching the other side we went forth free men once more. How we obtained horses and the manner of coming here have nothing of mark to relate. We did obtain them, and we came. And that, honest Jacques, is the tale. A common one in France.”

“Ay, messire; but too common,” agreed Jacques, shaking his head mournfully. “Truly, France has fallen upon evil days.”

“It has! It has! And to none other than Isabella of Bavaria do we owe them. By that infamous treaty of Troyes by which Charles, the Dauphin, was disinherited in favor of Henry Fifth of England the Queen lost us France.”

“She lost us France,” acquiesced Jacques. The younger knight spoke abruptly:

“I was at Troyes when that treaty was signed. ’Twas four years ago, and of April the ninth day. Well do I remember it; for at the same time the ceremony that betrothed our Lady Catherine to Henry of England was celebrated. The King, our poor mad King, was brought from his retreat to be made to sign the treaty, and the streets and the ramparts of the town were filled with people desirous of seeing him. The Dauphin was there, looking like death, and well he might; for the kingdom which was his by right, as well as his sister’s, was to be given to the butcher of Agincourt. His mother, Queen Isabella, was here, there, everywhere, flaunting a robe of blue silk damask and a coat of black velvet into the lining of which the skins of fifteen hundred minevers had gone. Shamelessly she made a gala day of the matter, and after the ceremony caused her singing birds, goldfinches, siskins, and linnets to be brought for her entertainment. And now, the Duke of Bedford is Regent of France, holding it for Henry Fifth’s son; and the Dauphin, who should be king since his father is dead, lies in retreat in Bruges. Isabella lost us France. The shameless woman!”

“Shameless indeed, Bertrand, but take courage. Have you never heard that though a woman should lose France, from the march of Lorraine a Virgin shall come for its redemption?”

“’Tis Merlin’s prophecy, Louis. ‘A Maid who is to restore France, ruined by a woman, shall come from the Bois Chesnu in the march of Lorraine,’ is the reading. Pouf! What could a maid do in such matters? I believe it not.”

“Nor I,” ejaculated Jacques. He laughed outright suddenly. “Why, the Bois Chesnu is our own wood out there,” and he jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “Messire, ’tis a prophecy that will fail.”

“Scoff not, ye doubters,” cried Louis. “With God all things are possible. For my part, I would a Maid would come to the healing of France. But there! ’tis long since I have slept on aught but stones, and fain would I lie upon a bed. Good Jacques, if you have such a thing, show me it, I pray you. I am weary.”

“Then come, messires.” Jacques lighted a candle and led the way to an upper room, while Isabeau opened the doors of the cupboard bed on the far side of the room, and made it ready. Then she drew her children round her to hear their prayers and the Credo. After which the family went to their beds.

But Jeanne lay down upon the floor before the hearth.

[2] Romée. So called by reason of a pilgrimage achieved either by her or some member of her family to Rome.
[3] Hucques––Cloaks worn over the armour.

RETURN TO TABLE OF CONTENTS                          CONTINUE to CHAPTER 3 Warrior Maid

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