Dove and Sword: A Novel of Joan of Arc: Chapter 28


How did I reach Rouen? I went sometimes as a leper, sometimes as a madwoman or pilgrim, and once in the back of someone’s turnip cart, when he did not know I was there. And at last I came to Rouen, with no idea of how I was to live, but much confidence, now, from experience, that I would find a way.

God must have been pleased with my mission, for I did find a way, and quickly. Not long after I arrived, I overheard a woman ask in the street where a certain midwife lived, and when she had heard the answer and hurried off, I followed her. Unknowingly, she led me down many small dark streets, some with houses still in ruins from when the English had held Rouen under siege, with the usual city filth running in the gutters and the usual city cries and smells. She led me to a narrow, shuttered house, and was admitted, emerging soon after with a short, stout woman carrying a large basket—the midwife, I was sure. I waited for the midwife to return, and when she did, I smoothed my hair as best I could, and my skirt, which was muddy at the hem and rumpled from many days and nights of wearing. Then I went up to her.

“Madame,” I said as politely as I could, “Pardon, madame, but you are a midwife—yes?”

Her eyes dropped along my body as if she were gauging how soon I would need her services, and returned to my face. “Yes,” she said, not unpleasantly. “What is it?”

“Pardon, madame, but it is not what you think. I have traveled here from Beaurevoir, and before that from Beaulieu. I am Gabrielle de Domremy, and I am myself a midwife, as is my mother, and I follow Jeanne de Domremy, she whom they call the Maid.” I feared then that I should not have spoken so boldly, for I knew Rouen was not one of the king’s towns. It had surrendered long ago to the English, ending the siege, and the English still held it, and had made it their headquarters. Many of its residents had become more English than French, though whether out of fear or choice, I did not know.

As soon as I spoke of Jeanne, I feared the worst, for the woman’s brow furrowed and she looked behind me, up the street and down. Then, putting one hand on my arm, she opened her door and drew me quickly in.

“It is not wise,” she said when we were in a narrow passage and she had closed the door, plunging us into darkness, “to speak of the Maid in Rouen”—and I felt weak with relief then, and knew that God had not deserted me. “She lies prisoner here,” the midwife continued, “in the Castle Philippe-Auguste, for she has been sold to the English, and people say she will come to no good when at last they put her to trial. She has many enemies among the English.” She lowered her voice. “There are, however, in Rouen, a few, like myself, who love her, for she is France.”

“Oui, madame,” I said, smiling at her, “she is France indeed. And I gave my word to her mother that I would stay with her as much as I could, and so I have followed her here.”

The midwife clucked her tongue. “You are a loyal woman if nothing else, Gabrielle de Domremy. Come further in and rest, and tell me your story—and eat, too, for you look pale and hungry. I have new bread, and soup as well.” So saying, she led me to the back of the house, where there was a thick stew on the fire and a thicker loaf beside it—and thus began my acquaintance with Madame Jacqueline Marret and her two daughters, one of whom loved an English man-at-arms and was no friend to Jeanne or, indeed, to her own mother. Madame Jacqueline warned me to be careful of what I said around this daughter, whose name was Marie-Claire. In the months I was in Rouen, Madame Jacqueline taught me some few things Dame Trotula’s book could not, and I taught Madame Jacqueline, too, for I had learned some things that she did not know. She and Michelle, her other daughter—her husband had been killed during the siege—never tired of hearing about Jeanne, though we had to wait to talk till Marie-Claire was absent.

And then one day, Madame Jacqueline took her basket on one arm and me on the other, and we went to the castle, so I could at least see the outside of where Jeanne was.

It was well guarded, too well guarded for us to enter beyond its outer yard. I counted eight peaked towers rising above it, with the narrowest of slits cut in their smooth rock walls for light and defense. I thought of Jeanne in one of them—we knew not which—and wished I were sorceress instead of healer so I could gather sunlight for her and thrust it into her dark prison.

I returned every day, and at last one of the guards asked me what I did there. From his accent I could tell that he was English, so I said, slowly, to ensure he could follow, “Oh, I am come to see the witch, but I know not in which tower she lies.”

“Why, in the back one,” he said promptly. “See, that one there—the next-to-largest. It is called the Treasure Tower, though the greatest treasure it has now is this Maid—who is so brazen, mademoiselle, and so unwomanly that, unlike you good Rouen girls, she will wear only men’s clothes.” With that he reached out his hand and pinched me, laughing, and I, afraid to arouse his suspicions by displeasing him, gave a soft scream and laughed as well. But I left soon after, saying my mistress would be looking for me.

For two days afterward I stayed away, but then returned, this time to the street across from the tower. I stood there hoping that Jeanne might look out, see me, and be cheered. But I never saw her.

It was said that an iron cage had been ordered for her, in which she was to be chained so she could not move. I could not bear the thought of such cruelty, and spent one whole night raging at it. The next day, Madame Jacqueline went to see a friend of hers, Lisette, who was a kitchen maid at the castle, and found that though the cage had been made, it had not been used. But Jeanne, Lisette told her, was chained by the legs and often by the waist as well, and guarded night and day by men—and to me this seemed nearly as cruel.

In February, Lisette came to our house one evening, and when at last Marie-Claire had gone to meet William, her English love, Lisette said, “Today they took the Maid out of her tower to the Chapel Royal, and people crowded into it to see her. They have questioned her privately many times, I am told, but now there is to be a public trial.”

I felt my breath catch in my throat. “Did you see her?” I asked.

“A glimpse, madame,” she said. “She looked tired, and thin, but I saw her smile at one of the soldiers even so. She is a great heroine, and I fear what they will do to her.”

Lisette saw her a few times after that, but inside the castle only, for no more trial sessions were held in the chapel; instead, they took place in a small room in the castle itself. I arranged to meet Lisette near the castle wall, for Marie-Claire had grown suspicious of my purpose in Rouen, and therefore watchful. Usually when I met Lisette she told me she had not seen Jeanne, but whenever she had, her description of Jeanne was the same, except once she said Jeanne looked ill and pale. Once, also, she said, her eyes looked red, as if she had been weeping. “But always,” she went on, “she has a high courage about her, a lift to her chin and defiance in her eyes, even when they are also red or sad, and the glow of holiness as well. She is brave, that one, an example to all women. I could not bear what she is bearing.”

With that, Madame Jacqueline and I agreed.

And so the cold snowy months of winter passed, and eased. With the warm winds came melting of the snow and of the ice that followed it—but slowly, for Rouen is in the north. I wondered how Jeanne fared in her lonely tower, and I hoped they had a fire there for her.

At last the spring days grew longer, and warmer, and soon it was May, but the saddest May I had ever seen. It was as if the newly blossoming flowers and the bright young green leaves mocked my sorrow with their beauty.

The first sign I had that something was about to happen came when Lisette reported much unrest at the castle, and more than usual passing back and forth of the various officials. A great throng of them assembled there one day, but Liseette did not know what for, and then some ten days later, she told me that she had seen Jeanne again, being taken to the castle’s donjon where were kept instruments of torture. I cried out at this, fearing the worst, but Lisette said quickly, “I do not think they used them, for I saw her being taken back to the Treasure Tower later, and she was walking, and there was no blood on her. She was pale, still, but no worse, and she looked straight before her, with great dignity and holiness.”

Another ten days or so passed, during which time Madame Jacqueline and I attended several births, one difficult—a large baby and a slender mother, who named her child for me, and I dared not suggest she name her Jeanne instead. Then late one night, we were awakened by a beating on our door. Madame Jacqueline, her daughters and I behind her to protect her, opened it, admitting Lisette.

“Madame …” Lisette began breathlessly—and then stopped, for Marie-Claire had pushed herself quickly forward.

“Yes?” Marie-Claire said. “Yes? Madame … what? What news do you bring my mother at this late hour—when anyone can see you have no need of her usual services?” She regarded Lisette smugly, as if most proud of her own cleverness. “Do you perhaps carry messages against the English, or for their prisoner?” Then she looked straight at me, and my heart quailed, though I think I made no outward sign. “Oh, yes,” she went on, “I am not as stupid as you would like to think, and I have told William of your comings and goings, Gabrielle, and he has told the castle guard. So if you”—here she glanced again at Lisette and then at her mother and at me—“if you are developing a plan for the Maid’s escape, you will not succeed.” She smiled then, triumphantly, her eyes flashing and her hands on her hips.

But Madame Jacqueline remained as calm as she did when faced with the screams of a woman in childbirth. “What nonsense you speak, Marie-Claire!” she said. “My friend Lisette is worried about her sister, who has lost much blood delivering her third child …”

“And is bleeding still, madame,” Lisette said, falling quickly into the ruse. “I have come in haste to summon you, lest she bleed to death.”

Madame Jacqueline reached for the basket of herbs and tools she kept hanging ready above the hearth. “Come, Gabrielle,” she said quietly. “We must hurry.”

But once we were outside, safely away from Marie-Claire, we dropped all pretense, and Lisette told us there had been a great stir at the castle, and that the Maid would be taken to Saint-Ouen Cemetery the next day, there to publicly recant or—if she refused—to be executed.

Executed—when she had saved France!

Was there to be no hope at all, then, ever, of ransom?

I sat the rest of that night at the window of the room I shared with Madame Jacqueline. It faced the castle, and as I looked out at its towers, I wondered if Jeanne watched that night, too, and what she thought. Recant or be executed—that was no choice at all, for to recant would be to say she had not been sent by God, and that would go against all—herself, and the king, and her saints, and God, and France.

But I shuddered, thinking of the cruel alternative. I would recant, I knew, were I Jeanne, out of terror for my life—and silently, all that long night, I begged her to do the same, and prayed that she would; surely God and her saints would forgive her! If she recants, I thought, she will be freed, and I can take her home to Domremy—perhaps with Pierre, if we can find him.

Comforting myself with that thought, I fell into a restless sleep.

The day dawned, warm and bright. Madame Jacqueline and Michelle—Marie-Claire had gone to meet her William—and I hurried outside and joined the throngs already streaming toward Saint-Ouen. As Madame Jacqueline had said, there was some love for Jeanne in Rouen, despite the English, and where there was not love, there was curiosity.

Saint-Ouen was a pretty church, though still being built, and its abbey was in need of repairs from the English siege. On one side had been erected two high platforms, and we stood between them, in the crowd, and waited.

In time, several men mounted the platform facing the church. “That is Cauchon,” Madame Jacqueline whispered to me, pointing to the thinnest of them. “He was the Bishop of Beauvais, but he was driven out of that city when he refused to support the king—so he is no friend to your friend. Before that, he was Rector of the University of Paris. He is one of the judges, and I do not like his face.”

I did not like it either; it was pinched, and sour.

There was also a cardinal, which I could tell from his clothes, and a bishop, and several others, all to sit in judgment upon Jeanne. Worst, though, was the man I saw come up behind the platform facing the church door: the executioner, all in black, with his cart. I tried not to look at him, but I found my eyes straying there many times.

At last a side door opened, and under its arched frame, decorated with knobs of stone that resembled flowers perched atop triangular stems, stepped Jeanne with three men, who were in earnest conversation with her. Her eyes went quickly from them to the platform opposite her, and then to the executioner’s cart, and at last, I thought, to me. I smiled and nodded, but I do not know if she saw me.

A man in long black robes stood; one in the crowd said he was called Guillaume Erard, and that he was from the University of Paris. Looking at Jeanne, and then at the crowd, and then back at Jeanne, he began speaking. His words filled me with anger and must have wounded Jeanne, for he talked cruelly to her, saying she was prideful, evil, and a heretic. Erard spoke ill of our King Charles also, saying he only called himself king—he who was crowned in Reims Cathedral by the archbishop, with the holy oil from the secred ampulla! Finally, Erard said severely, “It is to you, Jeanne, that I speak, and I tell you your king is a heretic!”

Jeanne had been silent until now, but at this her pale face grew red and she said, “By my faith, sir, in all reverence, I dare say and swear, on pain of my life, that he is the most noble Christian of all Christians, the one who best loves the faith and the Church. He is not what you call him.”

“Make her be silent!” Erard cried, and went on with his sermon. Then he turned to Jeanne again. “Your judges have remonstrated with you, and have explained to you that according to churchmen, there are many things among those you have said and done which are false and erroneous.”

Jeanne answered in a clear voice that I easily heard, despite the restlessness of the crowd around me. She told him that they should send report of her words and deeds to the pope in Rome and let him judge her, but most of all, that God should judge her. “And as to my words and my actions,” she declared, “I said and did them moved by God.”

There was much talk then that I could not hear, between Jeanne and the men near her and the men on the platform opposite her, while the people in the crowd grew noisier. But at last Cauchon pulled a rolled-up parchment from his sleeve and opened it, reading, although the men near Jeanne were still in earnest conversation with her. There was such a hubbub I could hear only angry shouting among the officials on the platform, as if they had forgotten Jeanne and cared only to abuse each other. Then above it all I heard the words “Sign!” and “Recant!” and “Abjure!” Erard’s voice rose again, louder than the rest, shouting to Jeanne, “Do it now, or you will be burned this very day!”

At that, the executioner gazed full at her.

I could see Jeanne shudder. She held out her hand for the parchment, and as she did, someone in the crowd threw a stone toward her. Then someone else threw one toward the platform with the officials on it, and for a while, there was much shouting and ducking and hurling of stones, until guards came and quelled it.

When next I looked toward Jeanne, her hands were joined together in prayer and her eyes were looking Heavenward. I wondered where her saints were and I prayed that they were with her—for she had no one else, clearly.

I found myself saying silently to her, “Sign, please sign; it will not change what you have done. Our dauphin is King; Orléans is free and the Loire towns are loyal. Do not throw away your life!” I thought of her mother, and of the little garden where Pierre and I had first heard her answer her saints, and I ached for her.

At last she did sign, or made some mark, for I do not think she could have learned to write, though some said later that by then she could write her name. I felt weak with relief—but then, as I pushed joyfully through the crowd toward her, she was led away.

Led away!

I stopped, stunned, watching in horror. And my arms, which had longed to embrace her and take her home, felt empty and betrayed.

The crowd began to leave. “Poor child,” I heard an old woman say. “It is a cruel fate.” Another replied, “Yes, but now she will be given to the Church, who will treat her more kindly than the English officials,” and my spirits lifted a little at the thought.

But only a little.

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