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Dove and Sword: A Novel of Joan of Arc: Chapter 15

I woke, stiffly, before Prime, as it was getting light. When I rose, I examined my wounded, cheering them as best I could, and giving them water from a muddy well in the Augustins yard. Nicolas returned and, quickly looking over the wounded men, said roughly, “Good. I see no errors here, and no carelessness.” He surprised me by giving my shoulder a friendly squeeze before he left again to be near the other men when they attacked.

I still had not seen Pierre or Louis, or Yarrow, or the page I had entrusted her to. I surmised that Pierre was with Jeanne, but wondered why he had not sought me out. Later I learned that he had looked for me, then thought I had returned to the city, and so gone back there, where he soon fell asleep from exhaustion.

I climbed cautiously up part of the ruined Augustins walls. Les Tourelles, where the English were, was uncomfortably near, no more than a bowshot away, with only trenches and earthworks between us and the blockhouse on the riverbank, from which the wooden drawbridge led to Les Tourelles itself. But all was quiet. Perhaps the English were exhausted, too, and still slept.

Beyond Les Tourelles, across the river, I could see many Orléanais near the broken bridge, bustling about with carts. A party of them moved out onto the solid part of the bridge with a weapons cart, and others followed, as if they had found a way to cross the broken spans. Not far from the bridge, I saw boats crossing the river, laden with supplies, and a party assembling on the shore near where we had crossed to Saint-Aignan Island the day before. Then the English stirred in Les Tourelles and I dared stay on the wall no longer.

Soon the men from Orléans began to arrive. Jeanne came also, none the worse, it seemed, for her wounded foot, and the better, I would say, for having slept in a bed the night before. She held council with her captains in one corner of the Augustins yard. Pierre, who arrived with her, told me that it was she who had called them to meet, and that they had, for the first time, done her bidding willingly. “It is important,” he said, “for it shows the captains trust her now.”

“What will happen today?” I asked him.

“Why,” he said, smiling, “we will take Les Tourelles, and it will be ended.”

I asked him then if he had seen the page with my horse, or Louis, and he said he had not seen the page or Yarrow, but that Louis had spent the night on Saint-Aignan Island, to be ready to assist with the supplies brought by boats from Orléans. I was much cheered, knowing he was well, but worried still about Yarrow, whom I sorely missed.

Suddenly trumpets sounded and our men bestirred themselves, rushing forward with the men who had come in the boats from Orléans. They all swarmed into the trenches and onto the earthworks protecting Les Tourelles. But the English defended their fortress strongly, with arrows and crossbow bolts and huge round stones shot from cannons. There was terrible chaos again, and screams and heat and the acrid smell of fire. I found myself wanting to run away, or to shout, “Stop! Stop!”—but I could not leave my wounded, whom I tried to soothe while the battle raged only a short distance away. It seemed to me that as fast as our men attacked they were beaten back, over and over. At last, though, they came close enough to put their scaling ladders against the blockhouse walls, to be climbed by the bravest of men. A cruel fate awaited them despite their metal helmets, for the English beat them down with burning pitch and axes and maces and buckets of stones and slingshots and guisarmes, which are spears with curved blades, like scythes. The ground was soon slick with blood, and I was busy with new wounded. Here were broken heads as well as broken limbs.

When I tended one man, a common gunner, whose shoulder had been laid open with an ax, my doublet opened, and the chemise I wore under it pulled awry, revealing my breast. Before I could conceal it, the man leered despite his pain and grabbed me to him, saying, “What, are the other pages wenches as well?”

I tore free of him, which opened his wound further, and adjusted my garments, swallowing my fear and wishing that I had not lost my sword. Luckily, we were a little apart from the others, but I whispered nonetheless, spitting out the words in anger. “If you touch me, I will let you bleed to death. And if you reveal to your companions what you have learned, I will seek you out and poison you, for I am a healer and know how.”

He grinned, showing black stumps of teeth, and his hand strayed again.

“I follow the Maid,” I said, moving away and drawing my mother’s knife, pushing his hand aside with its point, “as do you. You serve her ill by doing this. I also assist the dauphin’s surgeon, who serves the Maid on the dauphin’s behalf.”

The gunner seemed ashamed then, or frightened. He fell back upon the bloody earth, and let me dress his wound in peace.

I had not feared discovery for some time, concealment had become so natural to me. But after this I bound my doublet as closely around me as I could, and thanked the Blessed Mother that I was small, for with my garments fastened, there was truly no curve to betray me.

All morning I saw men coming from the attack, achingly tired, their faces caked with dirt and blood and sweat. Each time I asked one how it went, he replied, “As before,” and I began to fear God had deserted us, or did not favor our cause as Jeanne had promised. The air was thick with smoke and the red glow that comes from many flames, but still the men pressed on, scaling the walls and being driven back, and scaling and being driven back again. Some of their wounds were terrible, and there were more broken heads than my poor supply of betony could mend, and I had no hot beer to mix with it. Soon my share of the thorn apple salve that Nicolas had made for burns was gone, so I could not ease the men who suffered those most horrible of wounds.

At last, though, all fell quiet, and word came that Jeanne had urged the men to rest and eat what food they could find. All around me in the Augustins yard men sat slumped against the broken walls and ate or slept or conversed or moaned or stared emptily at nothing. Never had I seen such exhaustion or discouragement. But then Jeanne appeared, and strode among them, her armor freshly cleaned of mud, and gleaming. She smiled and joked and urged them on, saying that an easy victory is not as sweet as one for which one has sorely fought, and saying that they would win if they stayed of good heart. This cheered them, and it cheered me as well; I marveled at her courage and her faith. I remembered what she had told me about her saints, and was much comforted—for surely if she was certain the day would be ours, they had told her so.

In midafternoon, at last, I saw Louis, coming back from an assault, with his face so black with soot and dirt I did not know him till he was nearly upon me. But when I saw it was he under the grime, I ran to him. Luckily he held out his arm, stopping me and saying, “What behavior is this for a page?”

“How goes it?” I asked, clenching my fists to keep from gripping his arm. My voice shook, and I could not steady it, so great was my relief at finding him, and at finding him whole.

“As you see,” he said wearily. “They fight hard, those English. But we will not let them win. Have you drink?”

I ran to the well and drew him some muddy water, which he drank as gratefully as if it had been good wine.

“My thanks to you,” he said, wiping his mouth on his filthy sleeve. He took my hand and squeezed it quickly, then dropped it. “I must return, but”—he glanced around and I knew he spoke formally to protect my disguise—“I am glad to see you well.”

“Stay awhile and rest,” I pleaded.

He glanced around again and said, so softly that only I could hear, “What, woman, a nagging wife already?” Then, with me still pondering what he meant, he left.

The day wore on much as before, and I could not see that it would end any differently from how it had begun, with the English in Les Tourelles and we French holding the Augustins. Then suddenly Jeanne was coming toward me, hand cupped against her shoulder. I saw blood between her fingers, and remembered her words of the day before. As she reached me, a man-at-arms ran up, saying, “I have a charm, madame, that will cure your wound.” But she turned to him sternly and said, “I will have no charm. I would rather die than do what I know to be a sin, or to be against God. Here is one that can help me.” She nodded toward me as she said this, and when she took her hand away from her shoulder, I saw that in it she held a crossbow bolt, which she had just removed. It had left a clean wound, thank God, between her breast and neck, running upward to her shoulder. I had nothing left to dress it with save some olive oil, but I used that, and bound it firmly.

Some time later, as the stalemate continued, I saw Jeanne kneeling in prayer. Not long after, I heard a trumpet, and a man near me said, “The retreat at last; we are leaving!” But suddenly there was a lusty shout from Les Tourelles. Several of the men climbed the nearest earthwork to look, and I scrambled up with them, in time to see Jeanne running toward the trench around the walls that our men had tried all day to scale. “My standard! My standard!” she shouted, and I knew she realized that if she carried it herself, her soldiers would rally quickly—but I feared for her safety as she ran into the melee. The faithful d’Aulon was ahead of the stout Frenchman who bore the standard, and was already running courageously across the trench. There was such shouting I could not make out separate words, but at last I saw Jeanne seize her standard and shake it as if signaling to our men-at-arms to come forward instead of retreating—and so they did, running bravely out of the Augustins once more. Roaring mightily with joy at following the Maid herself, they surged toward the walls, this time with such vigor and purpose that the English must have trembled to see and hear them. There was an answering shout from the Orléans end of the broken bridge, and I could see men running out on it.

All was confusion for a time—men and horses, scrambling and rearing and thrusting and shouting, and cannons and culverins booming, and arrows falling around us like sharp hail. Even some of my wounded stirred and joined the battle, and I, seeing I was no longer needed by them, moved closer. Unthinking, carried by the men’s fervor as a twig is carried by a swift stream, I seized an abandoned crossbow, and put my foot on it, as I had seen bowmen do. I tried to draw its string back with its windlass to prepare it for firing, but I could not get the knack of it. It was heavier than I expected as well, so I put it down and unsheathed my knife instead. For war is like that, too, I was discovering: a passion that seizes a crowd, consuming each individual so that the crowd becomes one person, mindless, bent on a single goal, to kill and maim and take.

There was a great bustle of men at the end of the bridge, near Les Tourelles where the arch had been broken. I could see people from Orléans laying a long wooden rain gutter across, trying to reach Les Tourelles from the other side. The supply carts I had seen earlier were close behind them. A cry went up when the gutter wavered and nearly fell into the Loire; it was too short to span the distance. Then came a man with planks, and others lifted the gutter once more. Somehow they fastened the planks to it, and then to the shore, so creating a thin bridge over which the Orléanais, teetering, managed to cross. This meant Les Tourelles was being attacked on both sides, by our men from the Augustins and by the Orléanais from the gutter-bridge!

While I was watching this, a bowman took the crossbow, which was still lying at my feet. “’Tis too heavy for you, lad,” he said kindly. “Wait till you have more years and can draw it more easily. Here, use this.” He gave me a short dagger, and ran forward with the bow.

But I had my mother’s knife, so I gave the dagger to a young page who had no weapon.

There remained a final section of river for our men to cross, between the blockhouse and Les Tourelles, on the Augustins side. The English—foolishly, for them—let down the wooden drawbridge spanning it, and ran onto it, ready to attack. But our men-at-arms swarmed toward it, attacking also, having scaled the blockhouse walls at last. Jeanne, standing splendidly in her armor against the flaming sky, shouted, “Glasdale! Glasdale!” to the English captain who had insulted her when she had urged him to surrender earlier. “Yield,” she cried. “Yield to the King of Heaven! You have called me whore, but I have great pity on your soul and your men’s souls!”

I saw him shake his armored fist at her, and hurl insults at her again. Though I did not understand the English words he said, it was easy to tell their meaning.

While Glasdale was shouting, I saw a boat, all in flames, reach the drawbridge near which he stood. I thought at first it was a boat that had been attacked. But I soon realized it had been set alight on purpose to burn the bridge, for it was full of all manner of stinking things, bones and sulphur and garbage. I could tell that Jeanne saw it, too. As Glasdale and his men stepped upon the bridge, the flaming boat reached it, making it catch fire behind them. Within moments the bridge burned through and broke, dropping Glasdale and the men with him into the Loire. Their heavy armor made them sink quickly, and they drowned—without confessing, as Jeanne had predicted when she had answered Glasdale’s insults. I shuddered, and crossed myself.

There is little left to tell. The English stopped resisting after that, and the day again was ours. Prisoners were taken from among the noblemen; they would be held for ransom, as was the custom. English surgeons tended their wounded and buried their dead. Pierre and I found each other, and then I found Louis, who was still unscathed, as was Pierre. Though I did not like leaving without my horse, they urged me back to Orléans, where the bells rang and the people danced and cheered as we made our way to the Bouchers’, too weary to rejoice ourselves. Nicolas came to the Bouchers’ soon after we arrived and he also dressed Jeanne’s wound, adding pig’s fat to my oil. She had preceded us, but had been held back in the streets by people praising and thanking her. We all supped, and then retired. I, of course, had to tell the story of the battle to young Charles, who had indeed watched from his room, and whose account of it was far more glowing than the truth.


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