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Dove and Sword: A Novel of Joan of Arc: Chapter 14

When Jeanne returned through the gate, the Orléanais greeted her with joy at the victory. But although she smiled graciously, her smile was taut and small, and there was no triumph in her eyes. When I arrived back at the Bouchers’, she was closeted with Father Pasquerel, weeping and confessing. My hostess said, awed, “She is as softhearted as any other woman.” I myself, feeling need of consolation and prayer for those who had fallen, went alone to the cathedral, found a quiet corner, and prayed.

The next day being Ascension Day and a holy feast, there was no fighting, but there was a council of captains to which Jeanne was not invited. This angered her, and she stumped about the house, a different Jeanne from the one who had wept the day before. At last she called for a scribe, and dictated another letter to the English, so loudly that I could hear its contents.

“Men of England,” she began, “you have no right in this kingdom of France. The King of Heaven orders and commands you through me, Jeanne the Maid, to abandon your fortresses and go back to your own country. If not, I shall make you such trouble that the memory of it will last forever.” She also demanded the return of her captured herald, Guyenne; Ambleville had at length come back to us safely. And then she strode outside, seized an arrow from an archer, and tied the letter to it. Running to the wall, with me and her brothers and the man who knew English anxiously following, she had the archer shoot it into the English camp. “There’s a herald for them to keep or burn,” Pierre said, chuckling, and I chuckled as well, though Jean scowled, as if he did not approve, as usual.

“Read it! Read it!” Jeanne shouted over the wall. “There is news in it!”

But the English laughed derisively and shouted to each other, saying, our translator reluctantly reported, “News has come from that whore of the Armagnacs!” The Armagnacs, I knew, were other supporters of the dauphin’s cause; there were some in Paris, I had heard.

I was alarmed to see Jeanne weep again at the English reply. But by the time we returned to the Bouchers’, her hurt had turned to anger, and she was more desirous than ever to do battle.

Later, in the evening when the moon had risen, my own Louis came to me at last. We walked for a while near the city walls, and then beyond the Burgundy Gate, toward the ruin of Saint-Loup. Louis pointed to the moon, smiling, and asked, “Do you remember our daytime moon?” and I answered, “I do—and God still smiles on us.”

“He smiles on the English, too,” Louis said wryly. “We shall soon see whom He truly favors.”

“Louis,” I said, turning to face him, “now that you have fought, are you as eager for war as you were before?”

His face grew more sober. “You are a healer, Gabrielle, and do not have a soldier’s fierceness like your countrywoman Jeanne. But think of this: without war, how will we have our king, and how will the Burgundians be quelled and the English persuaded to leave us?”

I thought of the boys of Maxey and of the way the English had replied to Jeanne’s letters, and knew there must be sense to his words. But the cries of my wounded echoed in my mind and I wished there were another way.

And yet excitment filled me again the next morning when the streets bustled with battle preparations and everyone spoke eagerly of success. “Today is the day, eh?” said Madame Boucher as I bade farewell to her and the children after hearing Mass.

Young Charles Boucher squeezed my hand and said, “We French will drive the English out today, with the Maid, and then all will be right again. We will have good things to eat and be able to walk outside the walls, and the country-folk will come into the city again with food from their farms. And I will watch the battle from the walls.”

“You will not,” said his mother sternly. “If you watch at all, it will be from the safety of your room, well back from your window, for I will not have your head blown off by a stone from a cannon, or your face and life lost to a bit of iron like the English Salisbury, of whom you like so much to tell.”

And so, in the midst of an argument between mother and child that reminded me of many I had heard in Domremy, I hurried out with my sword to get Yarrow, find Pierre, and see what my role would be that day.

I rode behind Pierre, who in turn rode behind La Hire, who was joking, and Dunois, who was not, and Gilles de Rais, who was smiling, and the other captains. After us came a huge force of men-at-arms—archers and gunners and knights and their squires. We were many thousand again, as we had been when we left Blois. Somewhere in that vast throng, I knew, was Nicolas, the surgeon, with a cart bearing oils and herbs and greases, linen strips for bandages, and sharp knives and saws. And somewhere also was my Louis. I prayed for his safety even more than for my own and Pierre’s and Jeanne’s, and for the lives of all our gallant French.

We rode through the Burgundy Gate to the riverbank, and waded our horses across to the island of Saint-Aignan. Yarrow needed urging, and I wondered as I had before how both she and I would behave in battle. I could see Les Tourelles to my right as Yarrow stepped gratefully up onto the island, and I could also see part of the ruined Augustins church, whose walled yard was full of English troops. I knew we must take it if we were to take Les Tourelles from that direction—from the south. There were also English soldiers on the walls of the blockhouse between the Augustins and Les Tourelles. We would have to conquer them as well—but our French soldiers streamed out of Orléans as if there were no end to them, a vast ever-flowing river of men. It was exciting, but terror gripped me, making my mouth dry and my palms so wet that I feared they would slip away from any wound I had to tend. “This is war,” I whispered over and over to Yarrow as I bent to rub her neck. “This is war.”

A cart soon came up and I watched while men removed two leather boats from it, set them in the water, and lashed planks between them, quickly making a bridge from the island to a spot facing Saint-Jean-le-Blanc, the small fortress the English held on the southern bank. Jeanne and La Hire were first across and then a small party of men-at-arms. When he left, Pierre bade me stay behind, but I pretended I did not hear, and followed him, for my fear was less when he was in sight. Besides, I knew that to tend the wounded, I would have to go where they would be.

By the time I reached Saint-Jean-le-Blanc, there were no longer any English there, as if they had fled in fear as Jeanne approached. But I could see them to the south and to the west, where they had gathered by the Augustins. And then, before our other forces could leave the island and assemble, the English thundered toward us, attacking with shouts and cries and stamping of hooves. The noise was so deafening I dropped Yarrow’s reins and grabbed at my ears, and I was so horrified to see the sudden avalanche of men bearing down upon us that I could not move. Yarrow was horrified, too, I think, for I felt her trembling under me, though she bravely did not flee.

“Go back, Gabrielle!” Pierre shouted, wheeling his horse around to face Yarrow, whose nostrils were flaring with terror. “This is no place for you! You should not have followed me. Go back!”

But I was too frightened to leave his side, and I urged poor Yarrow closer to him, till her flank touched his leg. An odd metallic taste filled my dry mouth and throat and I wondered if Jeanne felt the same, or if she was stronger in this than I. The English swirled around us, lances, swords, and arrows thickly thrusting, flying, and cruelly piercing when they found their marks. Then an Englishman near me turned his horse so sharply to face me that the horse reared. The man waved a mace, and I closed my eyes and lay against Yarrow’s neck, crying out silently—at least I think I was silent—to God and Our Lady to save us.

The next thing I knew, Yarrow moved, and I opened my eyes to see that Pierre had seized her bridle and pulled her away. The Englishman and his horse were no longer in sight; I was surrounded by Frenchmen again, and, much to my relief, we all galloped back across the boat-bridge to the island, where most of our men were still waiting. The English did not follow, and I wondered if the battle was over and we had lost it. I am ashamed to say I hardly cared, but wished that it was done. Then a shout rose from the southern shore, and I saw that Jeanne and one of the captains—Greensnake Gilles de Rais, I think it was—had turned toward the Augustins again. “Armagnac whore!” the English shouted, hurling names at Jeanne in bad French, but not so bad that I could not understand: “Cowherd—peasant—limb of Satan!” I saw Jeanne’s mouth compress into a thin, angry line—no tears this time—and she called across to us. “Go forward boldly in the name of God!” Our French troops roared back in joy to hear her words and see her, and I was so swept up in their courageous cries and in the motion of their brave charge off the island that my fear dried up inside me and I followed them.

It is hard in the midst of battle to know what happens except in the small place directly around one. I remember poor Yarrow’s rearing once as I urged her forward, and my sword coming loose and clattering to the ground when I gripped her mane lest I fall and be crushed. I remember Pierre’s thrusting me and Yarrow behind one of the huge war machines, a thing like a screen on wheels that acted as a huge shield, which men had brought up on a cart. “Stay there!” he shouted, “or I will never again let you ride with me. You must remain whole, Gabrielle,” he added more gently, “so you can succor those who do not.”

I stayed crouched behind the machine, off Yarrow now, but with my arm around her leg. I was shaking with fear, and unable to retrieve my sword. The noise was like no noise I had ever heard, but worst of all were the screams of the innocent horses, forced by their riders into a fray not of their making. The smells of blood and sweat and excrement and vomit and gunpowder mingled into a whole so terrible that it was painful to draw breath.

Another page, the one I had befriended earlier, suddenly appeared at my side panting, with a great gash in his shoulder. “They say the Maid has gained the moat,” he cried while I ripped the edge off his chemise to bind his shoulder, “and that she has stepped on a caltrop and wounded her foot. It bleeds inside her sabbaton, but she heeds it not.”

A caltrop, I had learned, is like a ball with spikes; it pierces the foot of he who treads on it. A sabbaton is foot armor, and a caltrop that could pierce that would make a nasty wound, I knew. Screams and smells vanished from my mind, giving way to the thought that if Jeanne were injured, all could be lost, for I knew both from today and from Saint-Loup that it was she who gave the men courage as no one else could. So I handed Yarrow’s reins to the page and edged away a little from my machine, intending somehow to find her.

When I peered out, searching, I saw a huge, heavily armed Englishman on the wall of the Augustins, preventing our men from getting inside. Suddenly he vanished, blown apart by a mighty shot which I later learned had been fired by a master culverineer who came from near Domremy. And then two knights, as if heartened by the shot, ran hand in hand into the Augustins fortess. With a great cry, the river of French surged after them, capturing it—and the day at last was ours!

I followed the men into the Augustins yard, but it was some time before I saw Jeanne. I found Nicolas first and his cart of supplies, and he set me to binding wounds, as if he had asked me to be his assistant, though he still had not spoken of it directly. Although the army’s work was over for that day, ours had just begun, as he made plain to me in his gruff way. We established a hospital of sorts in the Augustins yard, against one side of its badly damaged wall.

It was as quiet now as it had been tumultuous earlier, except for the moans of the wounded. We worked in silence, and swiftly, but soon I heard noise again, shouting and laughing, not the fierce cries of battle. Men streamed past me from inside the ruined Augustins church, carrying chickens and loaves and turnips and other foods, and some arms as well. La Hire, resting nearby, burst past me and faced them angrily, saying, “By my …”—and here, Jeanne being absent, he used a word I will not use myself. “I will strike the head off any man who plunders, for the Maid will have none of it!” Most of the men, shamefaced, dropped their booty—but I saw others gather the food up again and take it away.

Then came Dunois, truly the Lion, at the head of a band of sorry-looking French who had been prisoners in the fort. Among them, I was glad to see, was Jeanne’s young herald Guyenne, who looked frightened and pale but happy to be among us again. La Hire put his arm around his shoulders, saying he would lead him to Jeanne. “Look you to the wounded, boy,” Nicolas ordered me, hurrying to the prisoners, “for I must see to these.”

Not long after, Jeanne herself arrived, disheveled, with her beautiful armor spattered with mud. She sat wearily beside me, easing off her sabbaton and saying, “I need your tending, Gabrielle, for I have hurt my foot. But I will need more tending by and by, for I will be wounded again, soon, above the breast.”

I glanced up at her in wonder that she should know this, but I said nothing, and fell to examining her foot. Her sabbaton had saved it from much damage; it was more pinched that cut, but I dressed it and instructed her to keep it moist with wine until it healed.

Dunois, who had stood by as if ready to spring to our aid if needed, came closer then and said, “Come, Jeanne, I shall cross the river with you, for you must rest well this night.”

“I will stay with the men, Bastard,” she said, but then La Hire, also nearby, offered her his arm gallantly, bowing as if at the dauphin’s court. “Come, lady,” he said, “and have this victory dance with me—across the river.” Jeanne laughed heartily at this, and left for Orléans with them both.

And there was I, among my few wounded, suddenly aching for sleep. Pierre was nowhere to be seen, nor Nicolas, nor Louis, nor my sweet, brave Yarrow, nor anyone I knew, and I still had not found my sword. But more men soon gathered, and lit fires, and roasted meat, some taken from the Augustins, and some brought by the grateful Orléanais, who had crossed as we had to Saint-Aignan Island. They also brought bread and a little cheese and wine, along with much cheer and gratitude. Before long, everyone was telling stories of the battle just fought, as calmly and cheerfully as if it had been a mere tournament, but with great relief that it was finished, at least for now, and that such progress had been made. And soon I fell wearily asleep among my wounded, with no feeling about the rightness or wrongness of what we were about. My last thoughts were worried ones, for Louis and for my horse, before sleep prevented me from fretting more.


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