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Dove and Sword: A Novel of Joan of Arc: Chapter 26

I did not hesitate; I did not even think, although much later I worried about having abandoned French wounded to squires and pages. But at the time, I could only follow—for was it not Jeanne whom I had sworn to protect?

I saw that not only Jeanne but also Pierre and Jean d’Aulon and Xaintrailles and one or two others were being led away. And where is brother Jean, I thought angrily, as I urged Smoke forward into the bog as quickly as he could go. Could he have saved them, had he been here?

I could see, as Smoke and I struggled over the soft ground, Smoke’s hooves sucking mud with every step, that Jeanne’s captors were making for the Burgundian camp at Margny. As soon as I was sure of that, I turned, hoping to locate Antoine and Claude, and was glad to see that they had followed me on their horse. As we drew closer I saw a crowd of cheering men-at-arms surround Jeanne and the others; soon I could no longer see them, but I knew now where they were.

My pages and I stopped well outside the camp so we would not be challenged, and dismounted. All was still chaos behind us; there were those of our troops, I felt sure, who did not yet know Jeanne had been taken.

But I knew, and I now had to think what to do.

I knew that important prisoners—and surely Jeanne would be deemed one—who were held for ransom were often treated well, so that they would bring much money to their captors. But Jeanne had been called witch and tart and sorceress and whore by the enemy; they had such deep hate and fear of her that I doubted they would treat her well. And who would ransom her? She was indeed important, but she was not nobly born, nor was Pierre …

But then I recalled what Pierre had told me about the patent of nobility, and my hopes rose again. Surely since King Charles had made them noble, and since but for Jeanne he would not be king at all, he would ransom her and her brother with her!

And since it was Burgundians who had captured her, surely they, who were by birth more French than English, would not be as cruel to her as would the English. Had they not just pulled our drowning men from the river?

But Jeanne was a woman; they were not used to having women prisoners, I supposed, at least not women prisoners of war. I had seen how some of our French soldiers treated their own countrywomen when they went into a town, and I trembled for Jeanne.

What could I, myself a woman, do?

I did not know, so I waited, with Claude and Antoine, concealed with our two horses as well as we could manage in a ditch near a crumbled wall. The boys grew restless, but I hardly noticed. The sky in the west gradually darkened, and the sounds of battle eased. All around were the clanks and hoofbeats of an army returning to its camp. I wondered how our own army fared, and how the people of Compiègne would be this night, since the siege had not been lifted, and their hopes, I thought, had no doubt ended with ours.

The night was warm for May, but I felt cold and huddled together with my pages. I could not sleep for thinking what to do. By first light, though, I had devised a plan, and as soon as there was motion in the camp, I roused my pages. “You must,” I told them, “return to Compiègne and our cart, and do what you can for our wounded. And then, when you have done all you can, I beg you to deliver a message for me. Know you,” I asked Claude, “the convent at Poissy, outside of Paris?”

He nodded.

“Then take this to a lady there called Madame Christine de Pisan.” I pulled my pilgrim’s medal, which she had admired, from under my clothes. “Tell her I am well, and that the Maid has been captured, and—and that I follow her.” I had some dim hope, I think, that Madame could intercede for Jeanne, because of her love for her and because of the prioress being the king’s sister.

Claude nodded gravely, and then Antoine, his mouth trembling, asked, “Will we see you again?”

“I know not,” I told him as gently as I could, hugging him to me. Then I pushed him a little away and said, “I release you both from my service, when you have treated our present wounded. I am sure the nuns will be kind to you, and will help you find places with a fine nobleman. Or”—I smiled, taking their hands in mine—“with a surgeon, as apprentices, for you have both been good help to me in my work, and I thank you for serving me so well. You will be surgeons yourselves someday, perhaps!” I gave Claude a pat and hugged Antoine again, for he flung himself at me. And then I mounted Smoke, for men were coming out of Margny, and I knew I must be ready to follow them if they were escorting Jeanne elsewhere. They rode directly past us, without, it seemed, noticing or caring that we were there. But I saw Jeanne, pale but straight and dignified, glance my way, and, clearly startled, glance back; I held up a hand to her and nodded silently.

Pierre was no longer with her, nor Xaintrailles; only d’Aulon, who at least, I knew, would look after her well, if their captors allowed. But I had not thought they would be separated, Pierre and Jeanne. Jeanne would, I knew, be in great need of comfort; she would have her saints still, I hoped, but I vowed to go to her myself if there was any way I could, for her mother’s sake as well as for her own and mine. When the small party headed north, on the road to Clairoix, I followed.

I lost sight of them when they went within the town. I dared not follow farther, for Clairoix was in Burgundian hands, and I was deeper in Burgundian territory than I had ever been.

While I hesitated, indecisive and fearful, a band of ill-dressed peasants came near me—peasants, I thought, till I saw their bows and daggers and their tattered clothing and knew them for highwaymen. I was on the main road, but just off it there was a wood, and I fled there, dismounted, and huddled behind a tree, praying that Smoke would be quiet and not betray my presence. But soon I trembled for my life, for the band of men came closer, and it seemed they were going to make camp in that same wood, not far from where I was.

I was trapped, like an animal, and worse—or so I thought.

“And so Compiègne is lost, too,” I heard one of them say, and at that I listened more closely.

“My poor wife!” exclaimed another, as they gathered firewood. “I was sure I would be able to return to her with food, once the Maid had lifted the siege.”

I was astonished! Could it be that these men were residents of Compiègne, and had become robbers to help supply their families throughout the siege? I moved closer, and watched as well as listened.

They were clustered around their fire, and the third member of their band joined them bearing several rabbits, which he quickly skinned and cleaned, putting the meat on sticks and holding it over the fire. My mouth watered, and I realized it had been two days since I had eaten.

“I met one of the Maid’s soldiers,” said one of the men—tall and heavily bearded, with shoulders wide enough to bear an ox. “He said she did not scream when she was taken, but rather crossed herself and prayed, and bore all stoically.”

“Ha,” said a smaller man with a pale beardless face and a long scar running down his neck. “I wonder how stoic she will be able to remain in their hands.”

“Would we could free her,” said the third, short and round and ruddy, “and free our city, too.”

His companions grunted assent, and they soon took the rabbits from their sticks, and fell to.

I hid there still, beside my horse, hardly daring to breathe or to hope. But if they were friendly to Jeanne, and loyal to France, surely they would not harm me—and I was near fainting from hunger. Besides, I had noticed that the round ruddy one had a filthy cloth bound around his foot, with dried blood on it, and something oozing above the blood; perhaps I could exchange my skill for food.

Hesitantly, I stepped from behind the tree, leading Smoke, and softly said, “Messieurs—gentlemen.”

They looked up, each man with a hand to his weapon, and then, seeing me, they glanced at one another, and let go their weapons.

“What have we here?” said the tall man with the beard.

“A waif from the battle, methinks,” said the scarred one. “Come, lad, we will not hurt you. You look hungry; come. Tie your horse there. Were you at the battle?”

“Yes, sir,” I said, fastening Smoke’s reins to the tree at which he had gestured. I went toward them and sat carefully, hoping my tattered garments were still whole enough to disguise me.

“Why,” exclaimed the ruddy fellow, “it is a very young lad, surely, with no hair on his face and no change to his voice and”—he reached out his hand and squeezed my shoulder—“small bones, light as a girl’s …”

“And hands, sir,” I said quickly, trying to deepen my voice, “skilled at healing, for I served the king’s surgeon in many a battle, and follow the Maid even now. Your foot, sir”—I nodded toward it—“looks to be festering. I perhaps have with me herbs that will help, and skill, too.”

“And grace in your hands as well,” the ruddy one replied, looking at me hungrily, his eyes dropping to the front of my garment.

I hastily drew my tattered doublet closer around me, and pulled up my chemise beneath it. Too late I realized that of course that very action might betray me, for a boy would have no need to hide his body.

“Leave off your lewdness, François,” said the bearded man, “lest you anger our guest so that you will find no help for your wound. We could go much faster had you not that festering sore. Let the lad—or lass—tend it.”

I could see they were all looking at me with the eyes of men who have been too long away from women, and I turned cold inside, but I managed to stand and say, “Messieurs, I follow the Maid, as I said, and I am from her village, Domremy; I am known to her and to her brothers, and like them, in God’s care. If you harm me, no good will come of it. I will not look to your foot,” I said to the ruddy one, “unless you pledge that you will do me no harm.”

“Pay no heed to François,” said the bearded man. “His foot pains him and makes him lose all courtesy. Whether you be man or maid is your concern and yours only.” He looked severely at the others, and I could see he was their leader, and that they respected him. “Come, eat with us; the little we have left is yours. And then we will test your surgeon’s skill on François’s foot. He will extend to you the respect due to a follower of the Maid, or I—I am Guillaume—I will give you leave to cut his foot off.”

Here the other man, the scarred one, who I later learned was called Collot, laughed, and handed me the remains of his rabbit, which I ate hungrily and with no daintiness, I am sure. Then I turned to François and unwrapped his foot, which gave off an evil smell from a huge green pustule.

“This must be cut,” I told him, “and the poison drained out—or the foot will die without my taking it off,” I added as François’s hand strayed to my arm, tickling it softly.

He pulled back his arm, and soon his bravado vanished as I heated my mother’s knife in the fire, and opened his wound. He screamed and the others had to hold him down as I cleaned it out and rubbed it with an unguent Madame had taught me to make, call gratia dei, which I had carried with me. I tented the wound also, as Nicolas had taught me to do, by leaving a small opening and inserting a strip of cloth, made from Collot’s shirt, to keep the opening free. This would allow the poison inside to drain out.

Finally I wrapped the leg all around in cloth from Collot’s shirt. By then François was sweating; I pitied him, and wiped the moisture off his brow.

“It should feel better shortly,” I told him, and he fell asleep soon after, from pain and fever and fatigue.

Collot and Guillaume made a place for me between them near the fire, where I curled like an animal to sleep. Though it was now well after dawn, I was weary, and they were as well, having watched all night for fear the battle would resume. I needed to relieve myself, but dared not until they were breathing deeply, and when they were, I got up quietly and went into the forest to do so.

When I returned to the smoldering fire, Guillaume was awake, sitting up and watching me. “You would be safer,” he said softly, “if your doublet and the chemise under it were less tattered.” So saying, he pulled off a leather jerkin he wore and handed it to me. “If you pull the thongs tight so the jerkin is closed across your breasts,” he said, “you will be better concealed—mademoiselle.”

I felt afraid once more, but was reassured before he spoke again, for I could see his eyes were kind, not lustful. I put on his jerkin, and as we talked, he told me of his wife and daughter in Compiègne, and I told him of my quest.

“It is Jean de Luxembourg who has charge of the Maid, I heard from one I met on the road,” said Guillaume. “If I am not mistaken, he will take her north to Beaulieu, for that is his nearest castle, where surely he can guard her better than he can here. If you truly wish to follow her, you should go to Beaulieu and wait.” He cleared his throat. “I myself,” he said, “have a wish to see Beaulieu again.”

“Surely not,” I cried, “for you and the others are supplying your families in Compiègne with food!”

“I am weary of the company of these rogues,” he said, nodding toward his sleeping companions. “And my family can do without me a while longer, and will be glad when I return to hear that I had helped one who has helped their Maid.” He then told me he had a cousin, secretly loyal to the king, living near Beaulieu—and later, parting from his companions, he set out to take me to him. I gave Smoke to him in thanks when at last we arrived, and his cousin, Arnaud, took me in. But Arnaud’s wife, Marie, grumbled and seemed afraid, even as she helped me bathe.

I soon learned that Jeanne was indeed imprisoned in the castle at Beaulieu, so every day, in a cast-off dress Marie reluctantly gave me, I went to the castle on the pretext of selling eggs, glad to be out of Marie’s sight, for she did not pretend to welcome me. At the castle gate I gave out that I was a cousin of Arnaud’s, come to stay with him, for my family had been killed by the French. Yes, the French, for all around were Burgundians, and Arnaud went to many pains to keep secret his loyalty to the king. Had his true feelings been known, he would no doubt have been murdered.

I was let into the castle grounds to sell my eggs, along with those selling other goods, and I stopped a page the first day, saying, “I hear there is a great prisoner come to stay with us here.”

“Ah, oui, madame,” he replied excitedly, “a very odd one—Jeanne the Maid, and she is in that tower there, at the top.” He pointed to a round donjon with a small peaked roof and a thin slit or two for light. I ached then for Jeanne, for she would hate being kept so far from God’s sunlight.

“They say,” a young laundress told me on another day, “that her hair is as short as a man’s and that she will not wear women’s clothes, nor does she eat much, and they keep a close eye on her, for fear she will escape.”

“She would have to be very strong and very clever,” I said dryly, looking up at the high tower, “to escape from that.”

Even so, she tried, I learned one rainy day when I had no need to ask questions, for there were clusters of people all over the castle yard, speaking of her. I had only to listen.

“… and she stamped right hard upon the wooden floor, until she had made a hole, and down she tumbled. She was about to take the keys from a sleeping guard to lock him up so she could leave, when she was caught …”

“No, no,” said another. “She did not stamp; had she done so she would have woken the guards. She lifted up the floorboards …”

“But how?” said another. “Surely she had no weapons with her, and she is, after all, a mere woman!”

“A woman of great strength, they say. Why, she had overpowered two of the guards by the time the others heard and seized her!”

“No, not two,” said someone else, “but ten!”

“There be not ten guards, Jacques, in the whole tower,” another retorted, poking his companion in the ribs. “How rumors fly!”

“Yes, and how she herself may fly,” added a thin man with a weaselly face, “for I hear she is a witch, and that is how she broke through the floor.”

When I had pieced it all together, it seemed that Jeanne had indeed tried to escape and that she had nearly succeeded in locking up her guards. But she had been discovered and, as punishment and for security, had been locked in a tiny cell in the depths of the same tower. So now she would have no sun at all—and the only thing I could do for her, it seemed, was pray.

Some days later I heard new rumors in the castle yard. Chief among them was that Jeanne would soon be taken still farther north, to Beaurevoir, which was Luxembourg’s main castle, and more secure than this one. “For it is feared that she will attempt escape again,” the young laundress said, “or that her supporters will try to free her.”

“Perhaps they will come in the night,” the page added with considerable relish, “and mine the castle by digging under the tower, and thence break into her cell, freeing her. I know about such things,” he said proudly, “for Didier, the gunner, has told me of war.”

I could tell you of war, too, I thought, but aloud said only, “Eggs! Fresh eggs!” and went about my task, listening all the while for when the move would be made, and wondering how I would follow.

But that night when I told Arnaud what I had heard, he looked thoughtful and then said, “As it happens, I must travel to Beaurevoir to—to …”

“You know no one in Beaurevoir, husband,” Marie said quickly, “and it seethes with Burgundians; it will not be safe for you to go.”

“I went to Poissy,” I said, not wanting to endanger Arnaud or frighten Marie any more than I already had, “as a leper. If I can somewhere get a shroud, I could go that way again. No one will come near a leper; it is a safe disguise.”

They both stared at me with what seemed like new respect, and then Marie said, with ill-disguised eagerness, “It will not be difficult to get a shroud. Leave that to me.”

“And a clapper, too,” said Arnaud. “You will need that.”

“Clappers can be made,” I told him, describing how Pierre had made mine.

“This time,” said Arnaud, “you will have the best clapper any leper has ever had. The very best and the most beautiful!”

Arnaud kept his promise, and a few days later, after the rumor had proved true and Jeanne was removed under cover of night from the tower—as I learned the next day, again selling eggs—I put on my leper’s garb, and thanked my kindly host and reluctant hostess. I took my clapper, which was indeed beautiful, and set out on the road to Beaurevoir.


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