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Dove and Sword: A Novel of Joan of Arc: Chapter 9


I never knew there were so many colors of earth or so many kinds of landscape. I do not remember when I started noticing them, but it was somewhere between Le Puy and Chinon, with Louis and Father Pasquerel and the two men-at-arms. Brown earth, black earth, sand, red clay, almost-white clay—we went from one to the other, and there were other differences as well. Sharing three horses, we crossed plains and gentle hills and mountains—and rivers, too, once swimming the horses, and once on a cleverly contrived raft, pulled by ropes from one side to the other. We dipped into wide valleys and then narrower ones, the trees closer, the land greener—but never as green as our peaceful Meuse valley.

We passed through safe land, but few of the people we met along the way were loyal to the dauphin, so we did not speak of our mission. Once we met a leper, wrapped in a burial shroud though he was alive, beating his clapper to warn all of his approach. He must be lonely, I thought, shunned for fear of contagion by all he met. Each leper is required to wear a shroud, Father Pasquerel told me, and lodge either alone in a hut with a painted white cross to warn all comers, or in a leprosarium with others of his kind. I had been taught that illness comes from God even as health does, and wondered if lepers were grievous sinners. But I had observed that those who fell ill of any sickness in Domremy were no greater sinners than those who did not, and I dared to wonder if the causes of leprosy and other ailments might be other than what I had been taught.

We were weary when at last we came in sight of the river Vienne and saw the walls of the castle of Chinon, with its towers and turrets, rising on a cliff high above us—higher, even, than the tops of the trees that lined the riverbank. I felt small as we climbed toward it, like some insect, perhaps. Kings, I thought, royalty and nobles, are the giants of our world, and we people of Domremy and other villages are the insects, ordered by their whims.

And yet the insect Jeannette had been recognized by a prince as being from God.

“My father’s house is large,” Louis whispered as we approached the huge gate, leading our horses, “but I think it would fit many times in such a place!”

I smiled, and wondered if Louis had said this to make me feel at ease, for surely, I thought, he is no stranger to great houses.

As we were challenged by a guard at the drawbridge, a man who had just ridden up to the moat looked toward us, and then stiffened, sliding off his horse and shading his eyes. There was a familiar set to his shoulders and to the angle of his head—and then I knew. I ran toward him, shouting, “Pierre, Pierre!” and threw myself shamelessly into his arms, while my companions looked on, clearly amazed. The guards at the bridge laughed aloud and, Louis said later, poked themselves as if I were some strumpet.

“Mon Dieu! My God! Gabrielle! Is it you?” shouted Pierre.

I saw that his shaggy hair was still as unruly as mine, and as he embraced me, his broad and friendly face was creased by the smile I knew so well. He held me away from him, studying me. “Your dress is even muddier now than when we used to play at fighting those Burgundian devils in Maxey. What brings you here and how—and who are these?” He gestured toward my companions, who stood uncertainly by, watching.

I explained, and then Pierre told how he and his brother Jean had traveled to Chinon after monks had gone to Domremy from Poitiers to inquire about Jeannette for the dauphin. “Our father thought we should come,” he explained, “since it seemed likely that Jeannette would ride with the soldiers. Jean is at Tours, where Jeannette is now, and where the dauphin is providing men and arms—you have missed them only by days. And I am here, helping to gather still more men for the army she will lead.” He pulled himself up to his full height, as if displaying his padded doublet whose thickness I had felt when we embraced. “I am a soldier now, Gabrielle,” he said proudly. “What do you think my wife would say to see me?”

So he had married Jeanne Baudot! “I am sure she would like to see you, however you were dressed,” I said primly, uncertain as to how I should act toward my old friend now that he was wed. But then Louis came forward, smiling, and put one arm lightly across my shoulders. Pierre, returning his smile when I introduced them, said, “I am grateful to you, brother, for protecting my playmate; she is as precious to me as a sister.”

“You have nothing to fear from me,” Louis said quietly, and I marveled at this treatment of women by men, as if we were goods, passed from one to the other for safekeeping.

Pierre was well known enough in the castle by this time to vouch for us and have the drawbridge lowered. When it was, he led us inside, our feet and the hooves of the horses echoing on the wood of the high bridge, and resounding off the water in the deep moat below. Within the walls, the castle grounds seemed like a city, with crowds of people but without the press of houses or the darkness of narrow streets. Much of the space there was filled with farriers and laundresses and potters and smiths and cooks and butchers and gardeners—and nobles returning with their dogs from the hunt. Deer and boar and hare were slung across their horses, and the dogs barked and leapt around the horses’ legs. All was bustle and rush, as Le Puy had been, yet there was an orderliness here unlike Le Puy’s chaos. And here there were no pilgrims.

Pierre led us to a long, somewhat low building, one that would have filled much of our road at Domremy—our little road that I used to think was wide! “This,” he said, “is the Château du Milieu, where the dauphin lives when he is here. Inside is the throne room where Jeannette—Jeanne, everyone calls her now—recognized the dauphin. It is said …”

“Yes,” said Father Pasquerel quickly, interrupting, but politely, “we have heard that miraculous story, proving that your sister was indeed sent from God.” He made a little bow to Pierre then; Father Pasquerel could be as gracious as any courtier, I had learned on our journey together.

Pierre nodded. “Our brother Jean is still not convinced, but I am, and so is everyone else. She is a holy person, Father; you should see her with the men. Rough men who are given to oaths and swaggering are as lambs when they are with her.”

“Jean is not convinced?” I asked.

Pierre shrugged, dismissing it as he often did when it was a question of Jean, whom he disliked as much as I. “If he is, he hides it well; he does not seem moved by Jeannette’s mission. But come—let me show you our lodgings.”

He took us to the far end of the castle grounds, where a round tower—he called it the Coudray Keep—rose majestically into the sky. He led us inside, and up a stone staircase to the floor above, where he said Jeannette slept. I would be dizzy, I thought, sleeping so high in the air, for when I looked out of the small slit of a window in Jeannette’s round room, I could see the castle grounds as far below me as a bird might see them, and the people—insects again—scurrying busily about.

“Drafty,” Louis said disapprovingly. But there were bright tapestries to protect against the drafts, and the room itself, though smaller than rooms I later saw, was as large, nearly, as my parents’ whole house in Domremy.

That night Pierre was allowed to let us lodge with him in the Coudray Keep, and I, being the only woman, had Jeanne’s chamber. Pierre even managed to bribe two serving women to bring me a bath to wash in. They struggled in, two women no older than myself, bearing an enormous wooden tub bound with iron. They poured hot water into it from huge brass jugs, and finally added a sweet-smelling liquid they called rosewater. On the bottom of the tub was a linen cloth, to protect from splinters!

I felt embarrassed at the attention, and the women were at first surly, since I was no great lady such as they were accustomed to serve. But when I told them I knew Jeannette, whom they had only glimpsed, and that I had played with her brother as a child, they served me as if I were a great lady after all. I would have preferred to laugh and talk with them, and I fell asleep that night longing for my sisters.

I did not see much of the life of the castle. But early the next morning I did see two pages attending a lady as she came out of the Château du Milieu. Although Pierre had told me the dauphin’s court was not as rich as some, the pages were dressed almost as elegantly as the lady herself. One wore a sky-blue tunic bordered with gold, pale blue hose, and an odd, tight-fitting red cap with a softly sweeping gray feather. His companion’s tunic was red, his hose pinkish, and his hat blue. The lady they served, who was perhaps as old as Maman or Isabelle, wore a full gray gown belted in gold and jewels, trimmed with a white fur I later learned to call ermine. On her head was a thing that looked like a boat with a high prow and an equally high stern, joined together with a shimmering veil draped behind her head, as foamy waves must drape around a boat when it is tossed at sea. I stared at her till she was out of sight, not knowing whether to admire her or laugh at her, and I wished Louis were there to see her, too. But then I realized he must have seen many elegant ladies in his father’s house.

Soon after that, clean and rested, we set out for Tours—Pierre, Father Pasquerel, and I. Louis stayed behind with the men-at-arms, to march to Tours with them later, as a soldier; he promised that he would find me there.


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