Act I: Early Days
Those are the days I don’t want to recall. I felt like just a hollow representation of myself. All the pain, desperation, and heartache immediately greets me but gradually consumes me again when I think of those years. That dumb England had me backed in a corner. Everywhere I looked, I saw desperation—pain, violence, disease, or rampages. It was literally inescapable, and my land took all the battering as I sat, huddling to myself and desperately hoping it would all be over. I’ve always sought flowers, the only source of joy, color, and hope in my darkest hours. Somehow the bright, gentle flowers and plants would still persevere, and their innocent tenacity inspired me.
But I still knew it was hopeless. Little by little, everything I loved was taken away. Everyone fought against each other, and I was in internal turmoil—psychological—at odds to discover who I really was. Maybe an inspiring being or a helpful Big Brother like I dreamed, but most likely, I was a failure and a constantly battered, lonely, and depressed soul.
The constant pain of more than 100 years of turmoil finally caught up with me by 1429. Sigh. I was sure those days would never end—at least not without my enslavement, surrender, or maybe even extinction. Do countries even die? In an immortal life, I feared for the impossible: fading away like ashes carried by the wind after a great fire.
If you are hoping for a short introduction about the 100 Years’ War, I apologize, for there won’t be one. The Years escalated quickly, spiraling out of control, compounding, compounding, and adding insult to injury. Just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, something unspeakable would happen and wipe away another aspect of me as though erasing a slate. Another battle. The plague. Famine. Civil wars. It wouldn’t end. Constantly, I feared what I was doing wrong and pleaded God to forgive me or to have mercy on me. My little world was in total chaos, and I, at its epicenter, was without hope. There were times I believed the whole world and all of Heaven were against me. It was all too complicated and horrible for words.
The funny thing is—well perhaps not funny but a little ironic—that this sort of thing probably wouldn’t bother the other nations too much. “C’est la vie” and all… But, Big Brother has always been the sensitive country.
Inbetween those forlorn times, I sought egress, trying to escape from the seemingly ubiquitous depression that chained me down. Sometimes, I would walk to the sea to stare into its calming, everlasting blue…losing myself for hours on end just admiring the color and the vastness, my cares evaporating away. But then my tranquility would be interrupted once the reality that I was looking toward his house came to me. On the other side, however, I’d ponder what could possibly be past my small world here towards the west. I’d always been fascinated by the ocean and secretly desired to travel across the sea to seek what may be there. To reach those grand, hidden dreams.
“There must be so much more…” I imagined, holding on to the thought of forever. “Maybe in the grand scheme of things, I’m just a small portion of the meal. Maybe there are greater things that my sacrifice will bring about.”
That’s when, ironically, I found myself dreaming about peace. It was the first of many failed dreams. But peace has always meant so much to me. It’s inspiring. That subtle feeling that washes over you when resting or walking among nature or staring at the rippling waters. A kind of innocent happiness without any worry or any second thoughts. A world where no joys will be questioned. Maybe ignorance is bliss.
I can recall only a few things that came to mind that fateful morning in 1429: the soft breeze from the west, the singing birds that were largely unnoticed back then, and myself. In retrospect, I grew a lot from the experience of the Never-Ending War (as Eyebrows and I jokingly call it). The pain molded me into something more interesting. Though, no one—other than me—truly realized the significance. Probably because it was mostly internal, and I’ve always been hesitant to share what I keep inside. Plus, I suppose some of the attributes were just enhanced. I’ve always been fearful—they later called me a coward. And I guess I am. I’m afraid to see those I love get hurt. But all I do to avoid such bad things ends up hurting the others or me even more. I can’t run from my problems—they just keep finding me.
I said I noticed myself—let me explain. I spent the morning analyzing myself, pondering my personality and worth, optimistically as well as in the blurred view of depression. But I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t really anyone special. All the other budding nations had something to brag about, but I didn’t. Even as the years and centuries traveled, I found myself standing still. Unchanging. Cultural individuals would later flock to Paris, but that was never my doing, necessarily. Those who came and went, those who lived and conquered—I had nothing to do with their successes or failures. I was just a backdrop—something in a stage play. I wasn’t even a minor character.
Besides, back then, none of the people ever saw me. The fact that my ideas never reached my countrymen’s ears or that my expressions never met their eyes baffled me and, in some way, made me feel ostracized. I once asked England why no one sees me, and he mocked me, saying it was because I’m not interesting to begin with!
I believed him.
It was le 6 mars (March 6th). While wandering about, I heard rumors of a distinguished visitor who had come with envoys to meet with the Dauphin of Chinon, Charles. Curiosity led me to the castle, where a room full of people and royalty awaited me. But, among the dignitaries and commoners, I could find no dauphin. Bemused, I strained my eyes and weaved in and out of the crowd. Caught up in the middle of everything was the man in power, disguised in plain clothes—something that probably, even after a short amount of time, felt foreign to him. Humankind adapts rather quickly to change. Those simple days are cast aside and carried away…
A rather brash yell from outside drew my eyes to the door, and a young man (accompanied by six envoys) entered swiftly through the threshold. The boy in question held a strong air of confidence—not faltering at all to approach the hidden dauphin. In fact, it almost seemed he wasn’t familiar with the ways of royalty. With stern but poised gait, the young person interested me, as the manners seemed almost equally disguised to reflect rigidness. It wasn’t until the strong individual knelt and spoke that I realized it was a girl.
She had taken the appearance of a boy—clothing herself in a boy’s riding uniform. And her light, fluffy, blonde hair had been deftly chopped short, perhaps with a dagger. But she resonated with so much confidence—so much so that I held on to her every word as each was delivered in absolute but gentle tone:
“My most eminent lord Dauphin, I have come, sent by God, to bring help to you and to the kingdom.”
Charles stared a while in disbelief before disbanding the group and pulling her aside for conversation. With a sigh, I followed them to the adjacent room. After all, I assumed it was most probably something concerning me, and I secretly hoped it would be something to ease the crushing burden in my heart. Once they were in confidence, the lady was prepared to speak with Charles. Again, though her words dripped with confidence, I could tell she was either unfamiliar with regal ways or too restless about the subject to ease her sense of urgency.
“Your eminency,” she began, “please listen to what I have to say. I am Jeanne from the village of Domrémy. The Lord God has sent me to help reclaim the kingdom and to see you crowned king.”
The dauphin stuttered a little, “M-me? King?” Though honored by her words, he was too unsure of himself and too humble ever to comprehend why Heaven would ever choose him to lead. In a way, we were somewhat alike.
“Yes. It is also my duty to tell you that there is hope yet for France.”
I admit, the sound of my name, oddly, made my heart skip a beat. Let alone its proximity to the word “hope.” In a sense, I felt as though she were speaking directly to me.
“Oh?” Charles asked, curious.
“If we lead a group into Orléans, we shall be able to reclaim it and begin a conquest to save the kingdom.”
“Orléans?” the man shuttered a bit.
Sigh. It was basically a death wish, but if it worked, it would definitely spawn a new era in the 100 Years’ War. Not only that, but—she’s right—I could make it out alive. It was a huge risk, though. The very thought reduced me to a paranoid, shaking fool.
“Yes, the Lord told me so, and I put all my faith in Him.”
“He told you…how exactly?” Charles questioned cautiously.
The young lady drew a deep breath, afraid to let the answer escape from her heavy heart. “I am afraid I cannot say.”
“It’s…impossible to describe using words.” She lowered her eyes shyly, later lifting them to the ceiling in recollection. “The words…come to me in a bright light that surrounds me, enveloping me in comfort. I know it is His message delivered to me by His angels—perhaps Saint Michael or even Saint Catherine. For a while now, He has been instructing me through these Voices…on how to save the Kingdom of France from ruin.”
All at once, I was paralyzed—held captive in what felt to be a loving presence upon my shoulder. A tear found its way from my eye, and I almost took its message and burst into tears—but I stayed steadfast. It seemed impossible to me that He was actually listening to me this whole time…while I meandered aimlessly like a lost sheep. And so, she was the answer to my prayers?
Charles, however, was doubtful and paced the room, holding on to her absolute but skeptical claim. It wasn’t impossible, for many of the people believed in the saints and the angels, and both the saints she mentioned seemed to coincide to her messages and her personal vows. Finally, he stopped and faced her. “Very well. I suppose we don’t have much of a choice, do we? You sound very absolute in your words. I will follow your claim but only if you do something for me to prove you are indeed sent from God.”
“But I found you among the others without having met you,” the lady spoke up defiantly.
“Yes,” he brushed off her contradiction, “but we must be sure. This is a dangerous mission you’re proposing.”
She heaved a sigh. “Yes, your Eminence.”
With that said, they nodded in reverence, and he took his leave. Though she wore confidence earlier, Little Jeanne faltered before following, her pace hindered suddenly by a heavy countenance. After a moment of pondering and reflection to herself, she continued walking.
Suddenly, she stopped swiftly and held her breath as though her heart had just failed her. Trembling ever so slightly, her eyes slowly lifted up and stopped right into mine. Her green eyes were wide with surprise and shimmering with belief—echoing the majestic hues of the ocean’s depths, from where none returned but where many dare to dream. I, too, was caught. For once, I felt her eyes were indeed locked upon mine and not on the elegant door behind me.
“But could it be that she can actually see me?” I pondered dubiously.
“You…” The word was barely a whisper. “Who are you?” She retained her wide look of surprise, which somehow transformed slightly into a gaze of reverence.
I didn’t need to ask whether or not she could see me, for the answer had been provided. Instead, I composed myself and inquired shyly, “Would you believe me if I told you?”
Now her eyes were shimmering like ripples upon the water, and she was no longer quenched by nervous actions or thoughts. Poised, but still humbled, she awaited my response.
For some reason, I smiled softly. “I am the one you wish to save.”
“I don’t understand…” her words faded away.
“You can call me Big Brother France,” I joked. I didn’t deserve my nickname at that current state.
Once again, she was too shocked for words. “You are—? But…how can it be?”
What was the right answer to that question? Given the time to think about it, I don’t think I can come up with a better explanation now. My existence is both complicated and confusing—maybe standing only as a metaphor or a poetic representation of nature. And how far does my power or influence reach? Am I Nature and is Nature me? Or am I just a spiritual guardian of this land named after me? Or a representation of society? I never considered myself a person, though I consider myself to be a Frenchman. Either way, I couldn’t find the right words to relay my purpose of being—especially during a time that I felt my existence was all for naught and very, very limited.
And so, I sighed. “Who knows, really? I try to be the best I can be, but sometimes that is never enough. I wait and listen to their thoughts about me, but I can never interject or express my gratitude. I at once wouldn’t exist without the people, but by those same people, I could be easily lost and forgotten…” Suddenly, the fog lifted from my wary heart, and all the sentiments I had kept hidden away escaped at once. Soaring into the air like birds that had longed forever to spread their wings again. But then I realized she was still standing there behind me as the words escaped my heart. I was filled with embarrassment. But…somewhere deep inside my soul, everything felt light and relieved. Why? Why did I start suddenly to confide my thoughts and worries to her? Maybe because no one could ever lend a sympathetic ear before?
With a swift breath, I stopped myself. “Well, there’s no use in complaining; it will only make everyone sad.”
“No.” She knelt before me humbly. “It must be an awful burden that you bear. I see now that you are indeed telling the truth. I don’t know how, but I understand.”
“Understand?” The word was caught between a thought and an impassioned whisper.
“Monsieur France,” She bowed her head, “I have been called to help deliver you from this awful burden of yours. Will you please put your faith in God and trust me with protecting your life?”
It was more difficult than holding back any other emotion—like a miniature war with myself—but I forced all my energy to quell the oncoming tears and to push them away; lock them into my heart.
“You may rise,” I commanded politely.
With a curious expression, she did so and returned her gaze to my eyes.
“I…” No matter how hard I tried to speak, the words refused to come. In my heart, I felt there were no words or any kind of expression that could convey what I felt inside at that moment. Plus, I also feared the tears would escape me had I opened my mouth to speak. And so, I reached out my left hand and, with a loose grip, set her small, fragile hands around mine. This was a gesture that knights used to profess their formal loyalty; and so, I was in turn doing the same. It didn’t even occur to me that I was a kind of spirit anymore. In her heart and her all-seeing eyes, I was an important being. And so, to me, I was a person of equal importance.
Then it was her turn to try to force away the touched tears.
The rest of the day was smooth but hectic. With new guests at the castle, all the servants were very busy running about and keeping an eye on each of them. I, not formally, decided that I was going to stay near Jeanne at all times from then on—especially because it would at least give me company, and I really had nothing better to do and nowhere else better to be. I was intrigued by her, also. I couldn’t quite place why, but, in her presence, it comforted me to know I was a completely normal individual, though held in the reverence of her innocent, shining eyes. And so, I spent the rest of the day wandering the corridors of the castle, stepping aside for the servants and maids to pass, and overhearing the rumors and whispers that circulated so rapidly.
Though some may have been doubtful of Jeanne, her courage and determination inspired me, and somehow I knew I was in good hands. But the silently restless and sorely confused look upon her face as she was waited upon by dozens of assigned individuals amused me. She was indeed thrust suddenly into the world of royalty without a map or a book to lead her. There were times I could tell she desperately wanted to be alone, and I understood how she felt. Still, she took all attention and care with equanimity, and, as difficult as it was for her, she tried to be patient and to keep her determination-driven impetuous and adolescent thoughts to herself.
The castle, naturally, had a courtyard with beautiful gardens, so I escaped to the company of flowers for the rest of the afternoon into the evening. Flowers are my escape; their beauty and soothing fragrances always make me smile, and my routine walks always pave the way for daydreaming and reminiscing: two things of which either depart quickly, leaving me lonely, or dissipate softly, leaving me somewhat nostalgic and cheerful. Back then, there wasn’t very much for me to remember, except I always longed in my darkest days for the carefree years of youth—back when Big Brother was just a small child of no real purpose. It was nice; though, in retrospect, it was lonely. The flowers have always been there for me, though: to hear my troubles, to comfort me when I’m sad, and to remind me that any adversity can be overcome with a little willpower and a little hope.
I don’t know what it is about flowers. They just give me a reason to keep striving for life.
As the evening approached and a cool breeze swept in, little Jeanne met me outside as she tried to reassure her guardians that she would be fine on her own. She seemed reluctant to visit with me; her eyes were downcast and focused on the flowers while she wandered beside me. Looking back, she was more hesitant around me even though she carried herself with confidence and power around other men. They didn’t intimidate her at all, but I suppose my being the embodiment of a country—especially the one she strove to save—moved her in some profound way I may never capture.
“Bonsoir! How are you enjoying life at the castle?” I spoke in my usual, cheerful manner.
Meekly, she commented, “It is very different than what I am used to, but I will get along fine.”
I nodded, smiling. I didn’t want to bother her with further questions. Instead, I resumed watching the flowers catch the evening breeze, and I lost myself in the relaxing aroma that soothes the soul.
“Um…” Now blushing and twitching slightly, she tried to keep the words inside, but she knew I wouldn’t hear them if she did. “Are you really France—like you say?”
I knew she would have her doubts, just like the others had doubts about her and her claims of miracles. But, just as I believed in her, I felt she would believe me, too. Reassuringly, I patted her shoulder. “Just trust me.”
Over the course of the next few days, Jeanne did nothing but complain—outwardly and inwardly. The nonchalant ticking away of hours tormented her, and she came to me more than once a day, threatening to set off on her own and fix this atrocity herself. Each time, I tried to assure her to be patient, but each time, she would leave in a huff and confine herself to her room again. She was determined, yes, but she was also impulsive. At the same time, she couldn’t grasp why she was continually tested by the King and priests to prove her Divine claims; perhaps the lack of faith the others had disgusted her. She wished to wake to a day where everyone understood how she felt and followed in her headstrong footsteps. I wish I could have been the same. Each hour felt to me like another nail in my coffin.
But, finally, she was issued one last test to prove herself, and she respectfully but hesitantly responded to the issue. Charles sent her and her faithful envoys to Poitiers so that she may be seen by priests there. Curious, I accompanied them. The trek wasn’t too long, and the journey went smoothly—so much that I found myself reminiscing most of the time and ignoring my surroundings and any presence of danger. There were moments we would stop for a break, and little Jeanne insisted I borrow her horse (or even ride with her), but I was so used to walking, and I didn’t want to bother her with my presence. But, at that moment when she paid me heed and offered kindness, I saw a reflection of me in her eyes and her expression—as though it were me as a child offering the world to myself now. And I smiled, adoring the moment, and assured I was all right.
When night fell, Jeanne and the others would lay camp and rest for the night. Being whatever it is that I am, I don’t require much sleep to regain energy like normal humans do, so I planted myself outside and guarded them as they dreamed. The nights were both painful and beautiful; as I waited for nothing in particular, I would look out at the shimmering stars and admire their special tranquility. I would lose myself in the silence. It seemed drearily unholy to me for anyone to attack in the night—the sweet calm and perfect innocence that it held always brought out my worst emotions. By that I mean the tears would always win. They say it is dangerous to spend long hours thinking, and it is. The thoughts would come, one by one, until they flooded me, never ceasing—ripping all secret depression from my heart and commanding me to cry until I couldn’t anymore. Mathieu says that, symbolically, all his tears made up Niagara Falls. I wouldn’t be surprised if mine made up the entire North Atlantic Ocean. Plus all my lakes and rivers, but those would be happy tears.
I had absolutely no doubts from the moment we arrived in Poitiers. In fact, her attitude was rubbing off on me, for I found myself thinking the same as she had been days before. The absolution in her words, mixed with her delightful youth and adorable, witty antics empowered me. In fact, I trusted her so much that I left that same morning to ponder nearby—letting her alone to her confidence. She didn’t need Big Brother then to back her.
And so, I escaped to nature, walking as my thoughts flew away into the clear, blue sky. The moment itself wasn’t dramatic, but the idea of what was occurring in the world while I nonchalantly walked and mused made the whole experience rather poignant. I daydreamed what could be happening now, I daydreamed what future this very day could bring, I daydreamed what I could be if her words were indeed received. I dreamed a lot.
I stopped beside a small creek, which was running with great pleasure and tenacity. As I took a seat upon a rock, my reflection appeared, blurred, in the ripples of the water. Even though I was still the same, I almost couldn’t recognize my face. All the toil and burdens had beaten me down so much that it showed on every centimeter of me—especially in my eyes. I was rugged and raggedy-looking rather than the usual form of elegance I possess. I looked broken—an image that continues to haunt me today. But Jeanne had said she still saw the good in me and assured me that I still had beauty somewhere, a kind of hidden charm, and that alone made me smile again.
Suddenly, that same expression found me in my memory—that familiar look in her eyes—and the realization finally hit me. She wasn’t just my hope; she was the embodiment of my hope—the courage and determination I cast aside and lost amid the pain and sorrow and heartache. She was me—the way I needed to be. Though, of course, we were different and definitely not the same person in any way, but the revelation still seemed true through the view of a country. She heeded my words, which were lost among the others, and acted as she was instructed to stand beside me. The voice I had lost. The spirit that was washed away with the tears. The courage that hid behind my fears and hesitation.
And so, in the midst of the questioning, in the midst of the plotting, in the midst of the senseless violence, I saw the miracle and cried.
Of course, she passed! Life itself would have ended if she had not, for her purpose had many folds to it. As promised, Charles granted her permission to go to Orléans—the word that dominated her vocabulary the past two and a half weeks. He bequeathed her with a charge and an army along with the horses she had received earlier. Plans were made for the future, and I stood still. Though she seemed to have some prior knowledge of the military system back then, she still whispered some questions to me while we were alone. Though confident, she was rather shy to admit she hid some doubts and uncertainties, which plagued her secretly. That was normal, for we had a long few months ahead of us.
In the off days while more waiting occurred (Everything seemed to move slowly back then; in retrospect, it was somewhat nice but mostly tedious), I brought it upon myself to keep a diary of the journey and our “adventures” so far. I’m not quite sure what possessed me to do so, but the comprehensive yet thoroughly emotional log became a staple for me—even so far as to help me cry without actually crying. I never thought words could be used in that way…
Our long-awaited journey to Orléans consisted of an extended stop at Tours. It had been a while since I had been to Tours, so I savored its quaintness a moment before remembering just how quickly these things can just fade away. I tried to stop myself from thinking such awful thoughts…but I could find nothing in my heart but sadness and pessimism. Jeanne was instructed to be fitted for battle, so she heeded the instructions. The others gathered to receive their armor, as well, so I followed her, waiting by the doorway of the smith’s shop the whole time.
The glint of curiosity was still present in her eyes as she looked around the compact space of the shop, filled with all kinds of metal plates. But she didn’t expect the armor’s weight. From head to toe, she was covered in about 27kg of steel plates (That’s about 60lb), which bared a lot of stress on her small frame. Oddly, the idea of her innocence made me smile, and seeing her in uniform made her seem more distinguished—almost like an equal to me. But, at the same time, all that weight was like the crushing burden suddenly placed upon her as she carried the weight of my small world on her shoulders. My heart sunk knowing there wasn’t much I could do, but I promised myself I would try with all my might to stand beside her and be as courageous as I should be but most likely wasn’t.
Additionally, she was given a woolen cloak to keep warm in case of any sudden chills. She draped the cape over her shoulders, stopping a moment to feel its dense, soft texture. Most importantly, of course, she received a standard she could hold so that we could find her amid the raging battlefield. The banner was simplistic but with a subtle elegance: the cloth was pure white with a picture of a dove holding a banner with the words: “de par le Roy du ciel” (“on behalf of the King of Heaven”) etched upon it. She admired it as though it were art, but, at the same time, a heavy melancholy was cast in her eyes. This standard was to be her place-marker in the midst of battle, which both shrouded everything in madness and decimated everything in its path.
After a moment, she departed from the sadness and turned her innocent gaze toward me, though she kept looking away shyly as though hinting at something. It wasn’t until she tried to shift her feet to walk that I realized her trouble. Even though the armor had hinges, it was still very difficult to move in if you weren’t used to it.
“It’s all right,” I reassured, taking my place beside her. “You’ll get used to it. But you can hold onto me if you need help at first.”
Planting the banner to the ground, she leaned all her weight on it and used it like a walking stick. “I’ll be fine,” she commented. She wasn’t fond of receiving help, though she would always offer help. As usual, her antics made me smile.
Slowly but steadily, she stepped into the light beyond the door, and a sense of reverence filled my heart a moment as her silhouette cast a shadow on me. She had such a presence—so magical. It filled me with such indescribable light. Seeing her there, poised with her face lifted toward the sky, was reminiscent of meditating on a picture of angels flying in all their Heavenly glory. She was definitely someone special.
Just before we had arrived to Tours, Jeanne had stepped into another vision by the light of the morning sun. It was both strange and miraculous to witness her internal realization. A miraculous light which only her eyes saw had suddenly covered her. With her determined gait halted, her countenance had become so peaceful and reflective. Transcendent. All sense of quiet or doubt dissipated with the wind, and the familiar confidence and poise was refreshed in her heart. To this day, I know I felt something then, too—something I cannot quite place. A kind of assurance or feeling that He was there somehow, watching over us as though a guardian like I was to her. Except I wasn’t divine at all.
Absolutely, she called out and sent some of her servants to search the area by Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois to find a hidden sword of some sacred significance. She wasn’t sure where exactly it was but that it was definitely in that place that hardly any of us knew existed. The idea intrigued me, and something like that sounded vaguely familiar to me, but I stayed beside her, joining in her anxious kind of anticipation.
Once she was clad in armor and both willing and afraid, the servants returned to her in Tours with the sword she had described from the properties of the vision. The blade was etched in a beautiful pattern, and the sword in each way seemed to reflect her. Glorious, beautiful—almost too shiny and pure to be used. Though she held it near her and was intrigued by its elegance and subtle danger, the hollow look of apprehension once again crept into her eyes. She stayed that way a while before resolutely abandoning the notion and sheathing the dagger, walking off to ponder once again.
Knowing I was never free from the heart of battle whenever anyone else (especially England) is involved, I equipped myself, too. The armor made my heart feel heavier than usual, and I felt caged—separated somehow from myself. It wasn’t elegant at all. But still, I covered myself in the glinting iron and draped the heavy cloak over my shoulders. I knew I would have to find my lost morale; plus, my outfit conveyed my sympathy to Jeanne. She somehow liked seeing me on an equal level to her. She was even curious if my sword had etching, too, which it does, and she was fascinated, though the weapon was far too heavy for her. I held it for her so she could focus better on the designs.
Naturally, I didn’t make my sword, for I wasn’t very good at crafting anything. Oddly enough, I recall telling England (in a joking way) that I wished I had an elegant sword so that I could face him in battle like our armies. He retorted with the idea that a fancy weapon isn’t a weapon at all but a decoration of some sort. But I insisted, of course, it would have to be pretty, for it would be symbolic of my ideals. With a huff, he left…but not before asking me to provide specific details for the etching—adding at the end that I wouldn’t be able to make it, anyway and that my “style isn’t as special as I think.” And so, even now, I don’t know who crafted this sword nor who decorated it with its iconic fleur-de-lis and numerous scrollwork; it was placed at my doorstep one day without any notice or any trace of a messenger. Sometimes I like to joke that dummy crafted his own demise.
As we waited for her brothers to arrive to help in our effort, my brave Jeanne was given two apprentice heralds as messengers. Though they were both apprentices, they worked well and were willing, and she was very lucky, for one messenger was seen as more than enough. As the old saying goes, “Don’t shoot the messenger.”
Once her brothers arrived, they were instructed and given armor, as well. They exchanged greetings, though the brothers seemed a bit uncertain of her, though they were all happy to see each other again. And, as they walked to equip themselves for battle, the poor girl watched them fade away as though she would never see them again. Worry colored every part of her expression, and my heart could sense all the pain, too. I wanted so badly to say something or do anything to reassure her…but no inspiration came to me. And so, I stood behind her and joined in her pain and anxiety. I worried about her too much.
Her parents came by as well to console her and to speak with her. They brought with them a chaplain from their town, and he was very happy to see her (and vice versa). As he stayed with us, he had another banner made for Jeannette to carry—one that depicted the crucifixion—which she was very happy to display and carry.
It was those simple times that softened my heart. I almost wished she could have been easy-going and happy like that all the time. But I had no idea what awaited us.
It always seemed to me that our travels unfolded very smoothly—almost as though we were guided by an angel who kept us all from harm. Soon we were halfway to Orléans, in a town called Blois. It was then we were able to enjoy some food and to take some for the humbling rest of the journey. It seems silly to say my food wasn’t all entirely special back then. That was an art that later came to manifest from my troubling feelings.
While in Blois, we also received the grand shipment of weapons that were to accompany us and be our guards as we ventured forth. Crossbows, longbows, lances, swords, maces, cannons, halberds, poleaxes... Sigh. It was utterly depressing to see the confident look upon Jeanne’s face wane into nothing as the horrors of battle swept before her eyes. It had bothered her all along, nibbling on her thoughts, but seeing it all before her made the reality sink in all the way, weighing down her sweet, innocent heart.
“It’s not pretty, is it?” she finally mumbled once we were the last ones standing beside the pile of tools.
I sighed. “No, I suppose not…” I placed my hand on her shoulder.
Sadness lowered her head, and her poor heart fell into despair. It was always so painful to see her this way; I couldn’t stand it because the pain crumpled my heart, too. And I wasn’t really sure why.
“Please don’t think about it too much, all right?” I tried to reassure her.
She nodded slightly, probably more of a shaking off the hurt or more of a reassurance for herself, but the answer was enough for me, too. And, confidently, I let her alone. She had the confidence in her heart. She was the one that kept us going.
I was the one that was terrified. Terrified of what awaited us beyond that horizon. Terrified of what fate may befall her. Terrified for her to see me in my horrible, most angry state. Terrified that she would break down and cry. But perhaps that’s what she needed all along…and what I needed.
As the final stretch of the journey came into view, Jeanne gathered us all and proclaimed her views. Though her tone was bothered, she expressed all her concern so fully with that same proclamation of determination she always displayed that she moved our hearts to try. Powerfully, she spoke out against us and our bad habits we’d acquired from such a broken and chaos-ridden lifestyle. I was partly responsible, though I didn’t (or couldn’t) necessarily partake in such things often back then, and even if I did, a strange and painful guilt would spread across my chest, consuming me in numbing heartbreak. She wanted us to be envoys of the Lord, and to do that, we had to be well-behaved. Our words would be nice, our actions kind and thoughtful, and our desires pure. It was sweet of her.
It’s somewhat silly to think of that now; I’ve come to stake politeness and etiquette at the top of my most important virtues, standing among justice and modesty and innocence and discipline. I suppose, in a way, she helped me realize the important of doing goodwill along with holding steadfast. Sigh… I wonder if there is anything for which I don’t owe her…
In addition to our conduct lessons, she assembled the group for mass twice a day, calling the priests to stay with us and lead, and halted all our plans on religious holidays. She was always so devout and so dutiful in attending mass and keeping up on her prayers and confessions. And so, quite often, she would stop our camp at a local church to hold mass and to encourage confession. As time marched on with us, the constant discipline from Jeanne and her equals slowly resonated with everyone, and the discipline gradually made each of us shine.
Though I followed her enforcement of the rules, and though my faith was definitely strengthened by her mere existence (which was the whole reason for mine), my heart still felt heavy and full as though it were carrying lead. I don’t know why confession scares me. It’s not like anything bad happens when you confess your sins to God—He doesn’t throw down fire on you or strike you with illness. In fact, those things only occur when you are actively disobeying Him. But I still found myself shaking when I wandered around, pretending I was lost in thought or something, eventually making myself known somewhere where nothing troubles me—a nearby garden, which seemed as miraculous as it was nature-kept.
I love those kinds of gardens: those kept meticulously by Nature. The flowers seem so much happier and so kind and thoughtful. Maybe it was the same with us—dear Jeanne was trying to turn us into nature-tended flowers rather than flowers that refused the natural tending and tried to keep themselves. With a long sigh, I sat among the flower patch and picked a white flower to hold to my heart—for comfort and serenity. Closing my eyes, I spoke aloud casually with Him. I wasn’t sure what to say, but oddly, the words kept flowing naturally from my heart. I spoke of my doubts, my pain, the strength she gave me, and how grateful I was to have her… After, I felt so light that I could have floated away as I lay back among the wonderful aroma of flowers and stared into the never-ending sky… I felt so small. I knew I couldn’t do this alone.
Le 27 Avril… That’s when all the fun began. Of course, it wasn’t fun, but our days became very eventful starting then. Nearing the town, we began a procession that followed us as we marched through all the wide gates. It was quite a solemn affair—especially for me. I was petrified of what was to come. I purposely made myself keep up with Jeanne’s pace to force myself into feeling strong and hopeful.
Not a moment before Orléans, a messenger insisted we follow him to where his master, the Duke Dunois, is staying—the banks of the Loire river, where ships supposedly awaited. With confused looks, we followed the orders, and Jeanne swiftly swallowed her words, stubbornly leading us again with her sturdy banner of the crucifixion. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure what the whole purpose of the delay was—so many things were happening at once that I lost track of details and important information along with events in areas other than where I was currently standing. Sigh. Maybe it was my own fault. If I had been more knowledgeable, we would have never been wandering around or worrying in the dark. It could have also been partly the fault of the stress that gradually chipped away at my heart and mind. There were moments I would forget entirely something that just entered my mind. It was embarrassing; even then, everyone called me “old.” Sigh. In the metaphorical representation of my life, I was just starting my teenage years—15 or thereabouts—which could either be a terrible thing or just another fact.
As soon as we arrived, the Duke Comte de Dunois awaited us, and the river was clear and empty and still—almost impossibly still. Jeanne, with composure, questioned him as to why he called her here, and he, with equal composure, admitted he believed it to be the best course of action. That’s all it took. The strong girl became infuriated, her words like sparks from an otherwise gentle fire. The Duke, naturally, tried to reason with her, changing the subject to the matter of the delayed ships. With the presence of little wind, the ships full of help and supplies lingered on the water. Not only that, it seemed the wind wasn’t in their favor; what little breeze there was blew against them, pushing the ships the opposite direction. He insisted this was a problem of the first priority, but I couldn’t find a way to fix it other than to wait—something Jeanne doesn’t like to do.
Though it seemed her anger had cooled down, the girl still insisted upon her beliefs and the feelings in her heart. Drawing a deep breath, she gradually reached for her sword.
“Let us duel,” she proposed nonchalantly. “The tides will turn with us.”
“But I did you no wrong, M’lady!” The duke was slightly offended, and he attempted to change her course of action; but, as we all know, it’s impossible to change her mind.
Poised, she kept a dueling stance and waited for him to respond. Knowing no other option, the duke silently acquiesced, and the duel began. It was more of a friendly spar—or so I saw it—for Jeanne was unused to sword-fighting, anyway, besides the little spars she engaged in with her friends. So I was sure she wanted to get some practice. Naturally, I was on edge seeing her spar, for I couldn’t bear the thought of her accidentally getting hurt or harming the Duke. Luckily, nothing bad occurred from the incident. In fact, there was only good.
As I observed, a wayward breeze swept across my face, caressing my face and whispering as though announcing, “Here I am.” I couldn’t believe it. The water rippled with waves, and I could imagine the sails of the boats further down the river unfurling and capturing the air’s good gale and gliding the ships forward vigorously. I didn’t will the wind to blow or the tides to turn. I can’t even force it to rain at any given time. He was truly with us. It was then that I understood—it was then that I had no more doubts, if there were any remaining in the shadows, in my heart and mind, that Jeanne and I, under His guidance, alongside our fellow Frenchmen, would see this through to the end.
For a while, I just stood there and closed my eyes—captured in the moment, apart from the rest of the world. Musing on the moment and cherishing the tranquility that swept across the world. I was important after all.
The light faded softly over the horizon. The stars led us forward until, finally, we came upon the little town—our destination. Orléans. At last. It was an eerily calm affair. The solitude of the night cloaked us as we all, resolutely and quietly, marched peacefully into the town. It was a miracle we made it and arrived so undisturbed. It was as though the town itself knew we were coming and welcomed us, assuring we would be all right.
Once we had all crossed the threshold, a gentle light sparked in the distance at the end of the corridor of small buildings. One-by-one, more lights followed, dancing in the darkness like fireflies. They were torches—the people of Orléans; the poor inhabitants—my citizens—waiting to be rescued had come to greet us. To see us, to make sure we were indeed real. I could feel their hope, pride, and relief welling up in me—igniting my heart.
“I’m here. I have her now,” I wanted to say. “I can finally help you.”
They came in close; one man held the light to Jeanne’s face, to illuminate her for all to see. The flame flickered and danced in her verdant eyes—contained. But because the torch was held so close, the fire wafted to her standard, the banner which proclaimed her location and presence to us all, and began to gnaw the fabric, singeing the colors bit-by-bit. At this, Jeanne did not flinch at all; taking her right hand, she patted the flames away, and returned her eyes to the people and requested, “Is there somewhere we can stay for the night?”
“It may be difficult. They are building blockades to the south of the river,” a citizen informed.
But still, the townspeople were all so happy we were there that they kept quiet and offered us all one of the homes. Though the spaces were small, we were happy to have somewhere to sleep.
Comfortably hidden in one of the homes, they discussed the state of the situation and exchanged strategies. I say “they” because I stood back from my army, blocking the closed door, and listened and observed as the ideas bounced around the small, stuffy room. The only lights were candles, and the strain of the dark was taking a toll on my tired eyes. Besides, I was at a loss for ideas, and somehow, I knew I should leave it to them to lead the way as I stood beside them in case anything were to happen.
Surprisingly, Jeanne—like me—stayed quiet and reserved. It was as though she had her own sort of plan in mind for herself she knew she had to follow. Silent, determined, driven—she stood out like a statue among the others proclaiming wildly and aimlessly what to do.
I found very often, without my noticing, my gaze hovering towards her, and the sensation of the world slipping away—immediately, gradually…until there was nothing left but the two of us. It was a phenomenon I encountered very often during those three short years she graced my life. I couldn’t understand it, but I also longed for the sensation to return. It was comforting…relaxing. Special. Something that became, to me, a kind of escape or consolation in this sad world and state of affairs that surrounded us, closing us in. We could let all that away—push it away—and just enjoy our time together. Each other—something I’d hoped and prayed we’d have forever.
But the first instance my thoughts slipped away, I was confused as to why. I didn’t get it yet. But it didn’t take me long to realize why I felt that way about her.
The morning came quickly. I no sooner dozed off that the sunrise hit my eyes. For a second or two, as my drowsiness faded away, it felt like a fully normal morning. Warm. Ordinary. But that notion quickly faded. Rubbing my eyes, I could hear the people’s murmurs and the clinking of armor in the distance coming over the hill. Sigh. The time had come. I didn’t really know what else to say except “I really hope this works.”
There she stood, among the others. Some of the villagers were even joining the cause, and some of Jeanne’s right-hand men were helping get them equipped. I drew a deep breath.
Taking my place beside her, I stood in silence. I didn’t have to acknowledge my arrival or to greet her. Almost immediately, she turned to me—eyes steely as a sword, full of determination and resolution. But then the color and sharpness softened, turning almost to soft grass, as we locked eyes. It took me a moment to realize I was smiling—a short but nevertheless silly and out-of-place smile.
Turning back to her fellow people, her look of confidence fell away, and I could tell she was truly nervous. I could only imagine what thoughts were going through her mind or what sorts of combinations of emotions were slowing her. She was still young, after all, and a part of me wanted to tell her to stay—to preserve her innocence. But, with a smile, I knew she wouldn’t listen to me. And so I did the only thing I could do: try to reassure her, as usual.
She nodded and declared, “It must be. I must have faith we will be fine.” After a minute of reflection and quiet within her, she asked me, in a way that a child would normally ask of someone they look up to, “After this, would you come with me?”
“I’ll always follow you.”
The fierce, proud yells of battle echoed over the hills as they ran toward the unknown. Weapons in hand, guarded with armor, each man vowed to reclaim his heritage. But we weren’t there. With the calm countryside passing us by—catching every now and then the refreshing scent of wild flowers—I followed dear Jeanne as she dashed, spryly and full of youth, to what seemed to be the edge of the horizon. She didn’t falter at all, her gaze never shifting from the sky across from us.
“Where are we going?” I called, my yell reaching over the rush of the wind around me.
“To the towers!” she announced.
“By yourself?! That’s dangerous!”
“I am not alone! You are with me!” she declared, taking my hand to lead me as I faltered.
Somehow, I was surprised at her words. But it was so reassuring knowing she cared…and that I could be there beside her to help.
“And the Lord is with me!”
And so, we continued our pace, together, as the tall stone towers came up through the plains at last.
The blockade. Past here flowed the river and stood structures and bloomed fields which were once my own. It seems like all just a daydream now—too distant to be reached—but someday, it will be mine again. Eyebrows’ army had built a giant bridge, a gate, to keep watch and to keep us out. I just knew he were lurking atop that tower, cynically sipping his tea as he reveled in my short status I had, literally and metaphorically, as I stood there grasping at what it would be like to climb there to the top. I knew, of course, it would be a difficult climb, perhaps the most difficult in my life, for me to make it out of this.
With a loud and confident voice, she proclaimed to the tower to get the attention of one of the guards, who shouted back in displeasure.
“I am Jeanne from the village of Domrémy, the one known as The Maid,” she continued without interruption, “and I wish to speak with your Sir William of Glasdale. We are to come to battle for Orléans, but we request your peaceful compromise before combat so that we might not have to shed any more blood on either side. The Lord commands you return to your own land and leave us the lands that belong to France.”
The guard atop suddenly and brashly broke into a boisterous and haughty laugh, “You want us to give up?! That’s impossible! And you will never see the King, either!”
But at the noise, Sir William appeared to hear the girl’s plea, and the other man stepped down and left. “Madam,” he started, “I am the Sir William to whom you wish to speak. We will not back away from battle, and I suggest you return to your town and keep away from our business. I don’t know what sent you here, but false spirits or madness must be plaguing at your thoughts. But if it a battle you are planning, then your soldiers shall expect to meet with us and lose everything once and for all.”
At this, she turned pale and silent. My heart sunk; resting my hand upon her shoulder, I could feel her shaking slightly. A sigh colored my breath. “Come on,” I requested, turning away, “I don’t like the way he talks to you.”
As I turned to lead her away, immediately, a great shout stunned me.
“Oi! Hey there, small fry! Did you come to surrender at last?”
I growled a disgusted and exasperated sigh.
I don’t need to elaborate on my “relationship” with the one they call England; you should know by now how much the very thought of him is the only true thing in this world that drives me to manic levels of anger and disgust.
“Oh, you think I’m here to give up, huh? Have you finally lost your mind, old man?” I yelled back.
“Who are you calling old, you old man?! You’re a has-been!”
“What?!” I snapped.
Jeanne tugged at my arm and whispered, “Who is this man?” As I turned to answer her, I caught the shimmer in her eyes. “Is he like you?” she observed instinctually.
“Yes, unfortunately,” I whispered back. “That’s England.”
“It is?” Her youthful curiosity was piqued. “May I speak to him?”
“No.” I quipped. “I’ll deal with him,” I added gently.
As I went to yell back, he rudely interrupted me, “Are you even listening?!”
“I told you,” he reiterated. “You’ve lost! You’re history! Soon, they’ll only see your name in history books!” he returned cynically.
I admit his taunting made me tremble. What if I really did disappear into thin air? No remains to be found except my name in old records? It’s happened before with other nations.
Catching my breath from the emotional blow, I tried to regain my composure when a gentle hand took my right wrist and pulled my arm aside.
“Let us go,” she commanded with thoughtful and stern eyes. “I don’t like the way he speaks to you.”
Touched by her sentiments, I smiled softly and heeded her request. Hand-in-hand, we turned away and left it all behind—walking back to town leisurely in the tranquility of the cool spring day.
Upon our arrival, our forces had returned, and we all assembled. By the looks on their faces, they were displeased with us and were probably unsuccessful in their raid. I heaved a sigh, keeping close beside her.
“Where were you?” Louis de Coutes asked her in a slight tone of discipline.
“I delivered a message to the towers,” she admitted with a mumble. “I didn’t want us to continue our siege if they ceased and admitted a peaceful compromise.”
“They’d never just give up! They’re ruthless!” a fellow soldier yelled out.
“You’re wasting your time,” Fair Duke said sympathetically. “Just stay with the plan of action.”
Placing a sympathetic hand on her shoulder, Fair Duke tried to reason with her. Duke Jean of Alençon was a close confidante of Jeanne who would often listen to her troubles, as well. He was captured and taken as a prisoner when he was 17, but he was released shortly after Jeanne visited Charles, and he joined her forces, acting as a sort of second “big brother” to her.
Jeanne lowered her head, disappointed. She was reluctant to admit that the only course was to initiate unholy battle—I could see the regret in her eyes and feel the weight in her heart. She closed her eyes for quite some time before standing up perfectly straight and pleading, with utmost poise and confidence, “Allow me to try one last time. I will send a final letter straightaway. If they deny this time, then we will ready our armies for battle.”
And so, she and I retired to one of the homes, directing our energy to scribing the perfect letter. As was usual for the common people then, Jeanne could neither read nor write, so she relied on her messengers to dictate her messages, of which she sent many. She had already sent three letters requesting the same thing, so this would be the last. Unfortunately, her messengers were captured during the last siege, so she was left searching for answers.
“I’ll write it for you,” I offered.
A soft smile, full of hidden joy and amusement, climbed up her face. “Very well.” With poised gait, she crossed her arms behind her back, speaking out each word with power and clarity. It amused me how she would dictate her messages—with such force as though she were acting, with great haste and a bit of tempered passion. Though she was illiterate, she spoke so fluidly and intelligently—as though each word came so naturally, perhaps from the mouth of God, Himself. It was something she enjoyed, I’m sure. And she always signed the messages as being from “The Maid,” (La Pucelle) her nickname for herself so as to distinguish her from the many other people who shared her name.
Once the letter was finished to her liking, she folded it neatly into a narrow rectangle and tied a bit of ribbon around it so that it would stay compact. “There,” she declared. “I will deliver it to the towers on crossbow.”
“No messenger or carrier pigeon?” I questioned, concerned. It was odd to deliver a message so forwardly as she preferred; walking to the enemy is dangerous, after all.
“Will you come with me?” she requested.
With a smile, I replied, “You don’t even need to ask.”
With the setting sun as our backdrop that lovely spring night, we dashed carefreely, side-by-side, to our destination once again. My heart overflowed with vigor and youth, and I enjoyed whenever she would invite me along with her; it was like two kids having a grand adventure together, and I loved it. Crossbow in hand, she fired the message after letting forth a great shout, and the arrow struck its target, sticking out just inches from the open window and the Sir’s surprised face. She was a little concerned by the proximity of the arrow, though.
Taking her hand, I shouted, “Let’s go!” and ran off, with her keeping in time with me, and laughed aloud as the stuffy old men in the towers yelled back at us as though we were dumb kids pulling a prank.
Dinner commenced by our return, and I assisted in preparing the meal, as I often found myself doing instinctually. I had come to enjoy cooking for its simplicity and for the thin, emotionless reason that it needed to be done. Centuries later, my vague interest became my passion.
Nevertheless, my nonchalant attitude toward meal preparation didn’t faze little Jeanne at all, for she always happened to comment to me, sweetly, that she enjoyed my cooking. A simple compliment I’ve kept with me all these years. She looked so content nibbling away at the food as though she were so refined. As we sat by each other, she sent me a look of bemusement in response to my out-of-place, love-struck expression. I didn’t notice it at the time, but as I recall, I was entranced, watching her so intently with curiosity and dream-like amusement. Haha. How dumb of me… The day we spent together, enjoying the simple things and reveling in youth and joy, brought warmth and security to my feeble heart. In short, it was just really nice being with her. I was a dumb teenage boy then, after all; I had no idea what I was thinking half the time. Haha.
But our mealtime was interrupted with the shout of a messenger and a return message in response to the letter we had sent earlier by crossbow. As to be expected, she drew a deep breath, and her eyes widened in shock at the words printed. As the shock turned to grief and remorse, I stood beside her and drew the letter away from her wary hands as it was read to her. There were some things there I didn’t want her to hear.
“Very well then,” she muttered after a small moment. Realizing our combat was then the only option, she joined the others that same night to discuss the strategies once more and to get some well-deserved rest before the dawn broke.
Though we were cursed with what seemed to be days of ominous quiet and waiting, the time allowed us rest and reflection before the first and final grand battle, so it was actually quite the blessing in retrospect. But no one expected Jeanne to suddenly order us all to charge in to our grand siege with her trademarked courage and tenacity.
Sure, I joked about it the night before to myself, but I didn’t actually believe she would. Though, of course, she assured me that was the right course of action which came to her the previous night. I knew by then never to doubt her, even though I was trembling all morning long in apprehension of the worst happening, so I just drew a deep breath, took her hand, and said, “I trust you.” And somehow, that helped.
Once the sun broke past the horizon, we all gathered over the hill to begin our attack toward the towers. We knew the enemy would go at any and all lengths to keep us from advancing anywhere near their fortification, so we began our attack at a distance to weaken them so that we could advance, hopefully, to the stone tower later for a final battle which would finally liberate poor Orléans and, to extent, restore my hope. And so, there we stood, soldiers and archers and horses and citizens—Frenchmen—holding on to a single thread of hope that our tenacity and determination, under the hand of God, would finally prevail.
At the head of our organized group, little Jeanne looked out over the wide world, her eyes straining to see farther than the horizon, and breathed heavy, steady breaths. I could tell she was worried—not for us losing or being captured, but for the unavoidable prospect of losing her fellow comrades. She wanted us all to make it out alive, though we gathered in prayer before we left and she constantly assured them the promise of eternal life after all. The fear in her eyes and weight of her heart stopped her—even though all the confidence in the world was there beside us.
Clutching her standard so tightly, her little hand trembled in fear, and I tried to ease her troubles by taking her hand. “It’s all right,” I’d always say…though the tinge of melancholy was always evident in my tone, and I sympathized with her doubts and fears most of the time, the both of us knew, in the end, that it must be done. No matter the end result, we were to continue bravely—to the end. Together. All of us.
She nodded. Her eyes turned stern, looking forward, piercing the sky with determination. And so, declaring with a confident shout, she raised the banner high and proclaimed to all the world, “For the Kingdom of France and for the Lord Almighty our God!”
At this, the others joined in a grand jubilant shout and rushed ahead to the fields, coalescing at a singular point once the armies from the other side met us. Everyone was in the fields now, and the enemy forces were still coming from the other side—seemingly endless in numbers.
“They keep coming!” Jeanne noted, surprised, and I stood to her side in case she needed me. She wasn’t fond of wearing her armor. With every opportunity she had, she’d cast it away for normal, light clothes. She hated being closed in and weighted down by its burdens. I knew how she felt. Though, that particular day, she chose to wear the armor anyway—for protection and safety—as she stood among the others, surveying and giving orders. For being wary of fighting and war, she bravely took to her position and was able to stay quite collected while the battle raged around us.
“Is there anything I can do?” I questioned her with a smile.
Bemused, she scanned my face before realizing something and shyly demanding, “Oh, yes. Could you perhaps stand at the front lines, Monsieur France?”
I chuckled a little. “What was that? You can order me and send me where you want, that’s fine! Have more confidence!”
With the faintest smile, she drew out her stern, commanding side, declaring boldly and reaching out her hand, “To the front lines! Keep them from coming any closer!”
With a full smile, I heeded her orders, taking her sweet hand in mine and relaying, “Of course. I live to serve you, la Pucelle.”
Turning away, I burst into a full sprint—a speed which took me straight to the front lines in hardly a second’s time. Sword in hand, I could feel the confidence welling up in me like an otherworldly kind of power. Our determination, our heart—it fueled me, bringing me life and strength once again. Nothing could stop me. With precise skill and swift speed, I took down all the enemies that came my way—feeling unstoppable, indomitable. There were no questions on my mind anymore nor any doubts or feelings of distance. I had returned, and I wasn’t going down that time.
And, in a sudden flash of insight, it was all over. Recovering, some allies kneeled to the ground to catch their strength while others rounded up the prisoners, gathering them and tying them up so they wouldn’t cause any trouble. Standing strong in the solemn, red-stained fields, I reflected on the situation and—oddly—found myself at a loss of what to say. It worked. I was still standing. We were at a great advantage. There was hope. She was right. God must have found some sort of small favor with me, for He was at my side again. I could have cried tears of joy, but I knew there would be more battles ahead. The green fields beyond us, where I once stood, awaited us. But, finally, I could march forward with pride and some shred of dignity we had pried from beneath the cold ground. There was hope. I could breathe easily again.
Letting forth a sigh, I lowered my head; my shoulders relaxed. At last, I wasn’t overcome with worry or fear for my life. My people. My little Jeanne… I owed them everything.
But as I turned to behold them, perhaps to fade away into the blueness of the sky and look down upon them with pride and a warm smile…
Sweet Jeanne fell to her knees and let forth a great wail—one that echoed all over the plains and hills, carrying over to the mountains—reaching straight into my heart so much that, metaphorically, her lament really did reverberate over all of France. We all stood silent, shocked, partly concerned or bemused, as she wailed, never once stopping the tears from flowing. Tears for all the friends we had lost. Tears for all the villagers, countrymen, and warriors who stood beside us. But, to our surprise, that wasn’t all. Really, she cried for the humans. English as well as French—all humanity that had to suffer, die, and endure such madness…at what cost?
At the time, I didn’t quite get what she meant. I really only sympathized because I hated to see her sad. Only falling through many years made me realize, empathetically, what that feeling truly was.
Then, there was nothing I could do. I hated to see her cry that way; my heart understood that the sight of so many brutal murders and suffering people was too much for her. But what could I do? And so my soul dissipated away, taking the form of the usual me—invisible to the world around me and something only seen by those who sought me. And, once again without any answers or any words of consolation or wisdom, I did the only thing I could do—the only thing I could ever do. I cared. I knelt before her and took her into my arms until she, with a burdened heart, couldn’t cry anymore. And once we were the only ones left, I helped her up and led her back to camp. Fair Duke and a couple of her friends waited nearby to check on her, as well. We were all worried for Sweetie. Perhaps she didn’t want us all to worry so much, though.
Feeling for her, I whispered, tussling her soft hair, “It’s all right to cry. Don’t worry.”
She sniffled in reply, wiping her face with a scratchy cloth.
“If…you’d rather stay…” I voiced from my heart.
“I’ll be fine,” she assured, taking my hand.
My strong, brave girl. As the sun set in the distance, I could feel the warmth of the sun’s last rays compelling us forward again. Refreshing our energy. Taking away our burdens, sharing the pain, so we could continue again anew. I told myself I shouldn’t worry so much, but I always did.
With a smile, I held her again—though, for a different reason.
“We must continue without rest,” she declared, making no room for contradiction.
“But we can’t!” a fellow soldier shouted in protest.
“Lady Jeanne, I pray you stop being so impulsive!” Fair Duke yelled out once again.
“We must,” she insisted again. “We will make way toward the towers. They will be weak, as well, and they may not expect us to come. We will make it. He…” she stopped herself. “I feel it is what the Lord wishes us to do.”
They knew by then it was impossible to change her mind once it was set on something, so they all silently agreed and readied for rest that night.
As my brave warriors rested, I lost myself in the stars again that night…while keeping watch over the quiet world once again to make sure they all rested safely and soundly. I didn’t want them to worry. I found myself at peace, daydreaming what it would be like tomorrow and all the possible outcomes. I lingered on how it would feel to, at last, rise again from the ground I had sunk into; to be reborn, like a garden coming again into full bloom after the long, harsh winter that forced it away to only dreaming and longing. With the return of a single flower, life will start anew. I would make it. I knew I would. With the soft brush of comforting solace at my shoulder, I sighed all my fears away and rested my head on the grass, below the twinkling stars, to build up my strength, too.
Once again, we gathered on the hilltop, but that time was the end. We were all fired up to finish what we had started—to reclaim the land we had once called our own. The time was near for the final chapter of this endless saga to begin.
Looking on to the fleet of enemies waiting for us—the people who would also suffer—Jeanne faltered again. My poor girl; the previous battle had scarred her so much, and the pain that she hid beneath her shining confidence had finally taken a toll. I took her hand again.
“Please,” she pleaded loudly, not with the voice of the tiny commander, but with the strained tone of the kind girl from Domrémy who had always thought of others before herself, “There is one last chance I offer you. If we resolve this peacefully now, I will return the prisoners we took!”
Some of the soldiers around us gasped softly at her sudden proclamation.
“And we will no longer have to fight each other!” she continued, holding back tears.
I hated to see her that way.
The only response we received was the same that had always come: mocking and haughty laughter that was drowned out by the distance that separated us. But it always hurt her nonetheless.
Swallowing the heavy tears, she held herself back, almost falling to the ground, unable to stand from the crushing weight. Weakly but firmly, she kept raising the banner and plunging it to the ground as though hitting the earth continually in frustration. With a heavy sigh, I slid to her side and stood confidently behind her. Hiding myself, I spoke through her, taking her small hand and raising the standard for her, drawing out the determination of the others, who immediately flooded the plains, yelling out with loud shouts and running as quickly as they could.
Surprised, she whipped her head back over her right shoulder to see me; with a strong, protective, and comforting smile, I relayed my message silently. My eyes held no trace of doubt. Just when I was sure we’d stay there, staring into each other’s eyes forever, she took off, escaping the spot she’d planted herself, and joined the others. I knew she’d be fine.
“Now it’s my turn,” I announced confidently to myself.
In a flash, I darted to the clearing before the stone tower; yelling out, I readied myself for the combat I had been so looking forward to. It was time at last for my return and my vengeance. To settle the score.
At my arrival, Dummy England called for his weapon and leaped from the tower, landing before me. He acted as though he were a privileged, spoiled royal and I the lowly pauper acting too confident in my skills (like in Shakespeare or something; he likes those books).
“So it’s come to this again,” he commented, unamused.
I only smiled and readied my sword.
“What’s with that over-confident smile?”
“You’ve lost this time, old man. I’ve come to reclaim what’s mine! I can’t lose now—I’m over-powered!”
“Ha. In your dreams,” he replied, bringing up his guard. “But all right. I’ll amuse you if you’re so serious.”
For probably the first and only time in my life, I made the first strike. The ring of the swords clashing screamed all over the hills—constant ringing back and forth between dodges and thrusts. It was invigorating; finally, I could hold my own and win again. I have to admit there’s a kind of thrill that comes with holding power and dominance, something that left me after those days of constant striving and the days I was once an empire. It all seems silly and almost inhumane now…but then, it was glorious. In a world where I was constantly beaten down, I rose above the rest, gallantly, with my pride and heart directing my course.
I had him on the ropes; he hadn’t hit me once, but I had made quite a few scratches—dents in the armor, that persistent and gnawing ego of his.
Jumping back, he re-readied his stance, commenting, “Ha. I admit that I underestimated you earlier—but now I realize that that battle was only beginner’s luck.”
“Beginner’s luck? What do you mean?” I questioned, parrying his attacks.
“That kid you’re so insistent about! No kid could ever lead an army about like that! And you’re so sure about her, too—you must really be desperate!”
“How dare you,” was the first response that came to my mind—that rang in my heart louder than the resounding clashes of the swords. The words and his tone together disgusted me. Without any remorse, I acted out of impulse, drawing the sword dangerously close to his stupid face—I wanted so badly to cut that dumb smirk away, but I contained myself…instead drawing a permanent mark upon his dumb face. A short and simple slice but a wound that mirrored the pain he drove into my heart. Silently, I hoped that cut would remain forever.
“Don’t you ever talk about her like that,” I growled.
With a hurt and confused look, he kept his hand to his cheek, possibly trying to quell the pain or to hide the fact that I had somehow gotten past his guard. “Sheesh. You’re no fun anymore,” he said, almost disappointed in me.
As Dummy and I duked it out at full strength, the forces had begun to fall back, and my side had come together in attempt to climb the tower to make a siege. As they banded together with ladders, I glanced over occasionally to check on the progress. The staircases, seemingly reaching toward the heavens, stayed in my peripheral vision the entire time I continued sword-fighting. And, looking back, it’s symbolic how ominously they never left my eyes. Finally, we were making good progress in this battle; Jeanne willingly assisted her comrades in the climb, and she jumped on to one of the ladders, taking her place at the head.
But, in response to our advance, the enemy stood ready with archers to stop any forward assault to the waiting officials in the stone structure. It was amusing how England would turn occasionally from our bout and yell out orders, commanding his legion of warriors. I, however, stood by second to Jeanne and my fellow countrymen. I don’t always shy back from the affairs of the land I watch over—but sometimes, I think it’s a little fun to observe.
With victory in sight, they scaled the ladders tenaciously, dodging or enduring the sting of arrows that flew past them. Especially Jeanne; she was determined to go forward. Perhaps too much so.
It all happened so fast; but it was purely Divine intervention that I caught it in time. She scaled the steps, as though she were flying and ascending into the great sky, making her way toward her destination—eyes intent with focus. On her way, she looked back to those behind her, and her foot slipped for a mere second to catch her off-balance. Retaining her equilibrium, she took a second or two to refocus, and by the time she turned back to scale the heights… An arrow, devilishly aimed toward her, took its opportunity to hit and to knock her off guard—and, upon sudden impact, off the ladder.
She didn’t want to wear the full armor that time. She wanted to be free. Oh, how my heart ached. I wished I could have gone back and changed all that.
Screaming her name, a yell that rang over the world, I threw aside my sword, and everything disappeared. The land rushed by—time almost stopping—and nothing remained but the two of us. Thoughts darted in and out; worries gripping me and forcing tears from my aching heart. As I stopped beside the ladder, she fell into my arms—just in time—and I forced away the worries and the tears to assess the situation.
The arrow had pierced her right shoulder, and she cringed in pain, grasping her shoulder with her left hand. Her face was stark pale, covered in tears, as she struggled to breathe. I panicked. Not wasting any more time, I sprinted away as quickly as I could with her in my arms, passing by everyone. Some comrades by the ladders followed me, and the kind boy she called Fair Duke called out to me to come with him to the clinic nearby—that’s where I was headed, of course, but I followed. The world blurring around us, my heart fell apart gradually into small chunks, the pain and terror shocking my breath.
“M…Monsieur…France…” Poor Jeanne strained, calling to me softly, her eyes clamped shut.
“Jeanne,” I whispered back through tears.
“It hurts,” she said, pushing away her shock ever so slightly.
Somehow, seeing her try to be brave made me feel strong and assured my broken heart she’ll pull through. “It’s fine. I’m taking you back. The nurses will help you.”
With a relieved exhale, she relaxed in my arms, and her breathing became more steady.
My brave girl. By then, we reached the nurses, and I pushed past those in waiting and the others in care outside to bring her inside the shack to rest. Immediately, they prepped and readied to treat her. Medicine and medical treatment back then was much different than it is now in our privileged time. That said, she was still panicked and in shock, and I stayed back so the nurses could help her. But as I shied away, my heart fell, sinking further into my chest, and the tears returned. My heart had been ripped in half. Seeing her like this was too much for me to bear. Confining myself to the seat by the door, I tried to hide my tears, but that was an impossible feat. The pain and sadness was so great that my poor heart crumbled and sank; my throat constricted as I sobbed, and I thought for sure I was going to die (or faint in my case) from lack of air. I was devastated.
“It can’t end this way,” I kept telling myself. “It can’t. She needs to be OK.”
While her shoulder was being patched and held to stop the bleeding, some of her fellow comrades came to her side, asking if they could help in any way. The custom, on occasion, was to resort to superstition or to sorcery because it was believed that magic could help healing. But, of course, Jeanne didn’t believe in superstition and instead suggested roughly through the pain that they offer prayers and thanks to the Lord to watch over her and to help them all and to call a priest to come. I prayed, as well. With all my heart. I wanted her to be all right; she had to be all right.
When all the tears had shed and dried, when the nurses’ work had finished and the quiet took over our small world, Jeanne woke from her short nap to a much better state. Sweetie. I was relieved, yes, but I was reminded just how fragile she is—just like everyone else. Mortal. I told myself I’d have to protect her even more now—never to leave her side ever again.
A soft sigh floated in the room, and the sound of shuffling snapped me out of my pondering trance.
“Wait! You can’t go now! Stay and rest!” I called out to her, my call echoed verbatim by the nearby nurse, who helped her back into bed.
“No,” she muttered. “I’m healed now, right? I’ll be fine.”
“But…you should rest,” I requested compassionately.
“I must return,” she commanded, her presence and words diminished by her quiet, hurt state. “As long as I am able to move, I can continue to fight. I will return.” Still clenching her shoulder, she passed me by, venturing slowly but steadily to the door—to the outside world. Once bathed in the sunlight, she stood up perfectly straight, casting aside the tension and doubts.
Again, she was so ethereal in the sunlight’s glow. As though the light of Heaven rejuvenated her—made her invincible. Magical. I couldn’t help but smile and stand at her side once again, offering to accompany her on her way.
And so, we returned to the fight. Enveloped in my own worries, I had no idea what happened while I was by her side, so I took a minute to assess the situation from afar. Of course, it had become hard to determine any sort of progress or relapse in such chaos, but somehow my heart’s intuition always proved a better indication than anything for me, so I trusted my heart. With a light weight, it said we’d be fine.
As we marched back, I faltered, worrying for her yet again. I hated seeing her hurt and writhe in pain like that. I wanted more than anything to keep her away and to protect her. But, as always, she was so headstrong and so confident. Still though, with a wary smile on the verge of tears, I asked her, “Are you sure you want to return?”
“It is what the Lord would have me do,” she proclaimed.
“Then I will stay by your side to protect you.” I assured.
Bemused at the kind tone in my voice, she examined me with such an innocent and curious face—the youthful look that often graced her visage that reminded me just how young she was. “But…you have other matters. And I shall be fine this time on my own. I don’t want you to feel you need to protect me at all times, Monsieur France.”
“It’s not that I need to but that I want to.”
Searching my eyes, she found my words to be true, and the gentlest hint of a smile surfaced upon her pure face. “Just this time…I’ll be all right. For the times to come, you may act as you wish.”
“All right. I promise.”
Then back at the battlefield’s outskirts with the others, Fair Duke came by to check on Jeanne. He also cared for her, somewhat like an older brother, and I could tell he waited for the news, as well.
“Lady Jeanne, you’re back! Shouldn’t you rest?” he said, alarmed.
“I am fine, I assure you,” she returned with her usual poise. “What is the situation?”
“We are still trying to scale the walls. They are persistent in driving us back,” he summarized well.
Before he could continue, Jeanne jumped in, hearing all she had to to know where she was needed. “All right. I will return to assist them. Please stay here to oversee for me.” And, with that, she darted off yet again—with that same vigor and youth she always exemplified. It was as though she had never been backed down.
With a smile, I knew she’d be all right, and I returned to continue my bout with that eyebrows idiot, who was waiting, bored, for me to return.
“What, is it your tea time already?” I joked, as he was partaking of the quiet and a sip of something while waiting. Only he would stop and drink tea in the middle of a heated battle. Honestly. “I hope I’m not interrupting,” I added sarcastically, drawing my sword again.
“Oh, please. I was just waiting for you. What did you do—take a vacation or something?” he returned with equal facetiousness as he abandoned his relaxation time.
“I had to make sure she was all right,” I commented matter-of-factly.
Without any more demeaning comments, he just sighed and waited for me to continue the match. Which I did.
Meanwhile, Jeannette had returned to the ladders with the others, requesting that she go forward again. Followed by her comrades, they all made the ascent once again, believing then was the time that success would come their way.
But something else unexpected loomed over the horizon. The fortifications were near the river that ran through the land, and it acted as a sort of bridge as well as a wall or a kind of stationed castle. That is to say that the water ran around and under the wall in such a way that the ships for supplies and men could come and go easily. That’s partly the reason why we needed to take it in the first place.
As she made the climb once again, shouts impeded her course and confused her. Suddenly, the others jumped and ran from the ladders and those in the tower screamed in fright, taking to hiding places or fleeing into the river.
Bemused, she searched the area for answers…when, suddenly, the answer found her. A ship, on its way towards the tower, raged in an inferno—a literal moving beast of flames—and didn’t stop until it crashed into the structure, rendering it useless and scaring all those around to panic.
“The ships,” she whispered, remembering those ones from before. Taking her cue, she leapt from the ladder, caring not if the distance between her and the ground was too great, and she ran back, getting at a good distance, and just stood there—completely stupefied.
England, hearing the shouts, turned away from our battle, and I had noticed it before he did, so I stopped in complete horror before he ran off, yelling for everyone to retreat. Which, of course, they already were in the middle of doing. With my job done, I immediately ran to check on Jeanne, who had planted herself close to where I had stood, and I stayed beside her. Lost in the scene, staring with wide, blank eyes, she began to tremble and shake. Her eyes poured forth warm, pained tears. She was terrified, yet she couldn’t look away.
“Run! Retreat!” she pleaded, as though she were watching it on film and she were calling out to those she loved as though she could do nothing to help them. “Please, go while you can!”
The English interpreted her heartfelt shouts as brash commands and began to panic that she had cursed them with some sort of black magic or spell—adding to the madness that was already unfolding before us.
And that was it. She had had enough. Whether she noticed I was there or not, she suddenly whipped around and pushed herself into my arms, sobbing immensely and shaking with pure terror. My poor sweetie. All this was too much for her little heart to bear. Seeing them all fade away like that…it was too much. She always wished we could be saved. Always wished we wouldn’t have to fight like this so we could all live. Always wished it wouldn’t have to be so violent and dreadful of an experience.
And all I could ever do was hold her. I had no words of comfort, had no words of wisdom or assurance. Had no explanation as to why it was this way. Why it had to be this way.
“Why…?” Her words came softly, strained, through the tears she cried into me. “My God. Lord God, why? Why?”
Holding her closer, I stayed with her until her tears ceased—ever slightly—and, with the OK from Fair Duke, I brought her back to the station where she could rest while the others cleaned up and took care of what they had to do. Whatever there was left to do, I suppose.
But we knew it still wasn’t over. They wouldn’t give up that easily. England Eyebrows would never give up so easily in any battle with me—what with that indestructible grudge we mutually hold. And so we rested that night and prepared for the worst to come the following day.
The next day, we arrived to a strange sort of stalemate. Gathered, the English stood together—stern like a wall—and refused to act or to move. And so we mirrored them, partaking in a sort of staring contest for the longest time. It was so surreal. I didn’t know what to think. Why did they gather like this? Were they planning something? Guarding something? They certainly weren’t protesting or anything like that—the olden times were different than now. I was worried—especially because England was among them at the head, overseeing their so-called “operation.”
Occasionally, Jeanne glanced to me with a look of concern, as though she feared they would suddenly ambush us or launch a surprise attack. And I didn’t have any answers for her.
After the staredown, England glanced behind his shoulder—maybe to check on whatever it was they were doing—and huffed a quiet “Let’s go” which prompted the single-file and final release. They left.
Jeanne sighed a breath of relief, and I took her in my arms—overjoyed. Finally! We had done it! Everything she said was right and, with our persistence and her vision, we had revived Orléans! I had hope, after all. Hope for then, today, and the future. At that moment—that singular moment—my troubles and worries were left behind for good.
To celebrate our victory, we all came together that night and enjoyed some company and wine together. It was nice finally to let all our cares fly away to the sky and to forget the pain and tragedy that once was. The villagers joined, as well, admiring their town and the land surrounding that they would once again be able to claim as their own. The children were content to play once again, and everything had transformed to peace, colored by the warm sunset framed against the clear, blue sky.
Relaxing, taking in the evening, I reflected upon everything and sighed a much-needed sigh of relief. We’d finally made it. The great weight was lifted from my heart, and I could finally breathe easily again, watching as the worries faded away into the sunset. But, at the same time, I knew I wasn’t out of the woods just yet. It wouldn’t be that easy to undo the pain of the previous fifty or so years.
“Why are you out here, Monsieur France?” Little Jeanne came by to keep me company and to wonder where I was.
“Oh, I’m just pondering is all. This is your victory, after all. You should enjoy it with your friends.”
“It is not my doing entirely. The Lord Himself delivered us and granted us victory. And I was assisted by the others.”
I chuckled. “You’re so modest.” I took another sip of wine, holding on to the warm taste. A sigh left me, and the company of the burgundy elixir started to bring out my emotions again. “I don’t mind being alone sometimes. Don’t worry about me, all right?”
Lowering her eyes, she questioned softly, “Is it because I’m the only one that can see you? Am I really the only one?”
“Well…” I leaned back, lifting my face to the placid sky. “It all depends. It’s been a while since I’ve been noticed, though. Maybe because there are times I just want to be alone. Or maybe because I lost all faith and confidence in myself… Everything is still such a mystery to me.”
“Would you ever like to be visible and in command like England is?”
I sighed, hiding a snide chuckle. “Well, our styles are certainly different. But I suppose I wouldn’t mind having the company. But I’m fine the way I am now. I shouldn’t complain so much.” Sitting up straight again, I stared vapidly into the light’s reflection glinting off the wine’s deep maroon surface.
“Besides,” I reassure with a soft smile, “I’m not lonely because I have you.”
She nodded in response. Ruffling her hair, I instructed her to go
have fun, and I remained—alone as usual—to witness the sun set magnificently on
that special day that began the rest of forever.
But it was time for us to get going again—to continue our journey and thusly our conquest we had planned. As we were packed up and about to leave, the villagers offered us (and especially Jeanne) gifts, though Jeannette was humble and assured she couldn’t possibly accept their gifts. Though she cherished their thoughtfulness and assured the Lord would bless them. And so, with her signal, we continued our journey onward. There was still so much to do. So much she had left to help me with.
We left on May 9th to go to Loches then to Reims and eventually back around the Loire, a place close to both our hearts that we called home. All that took the entirety of May and the days going into June, though it all seemed to pass by at the blink of an eye for me. As we left the village, I could tell she was still hurt about the previous battles (poor sweetie), and I attempted to stay cheerful to bring some joy back to her verdant eyes—a soft but simple act of kindness that I believe she cherished as we traveled to Loches. I preferred to see her smile and see her jump and spring with youth.
It took us two days to arrive to Loches, and by that time, I fully believed she had recovered from the earlier incident. I felt for her; I knew it was so hard for her to move on, but she realized she had to follow her call to continue our fight. Now that we had victory at Orléans, we were at a big strategical advantage. Plus, our morale, lead by Jeanne’s vision and courage, was the best it could be.
That’s how it was. A league of few against the armies of many—battling against all odds with the courage and determination of the world and the greatest faith in God. With her at my side, I had finally come out of my rut and had begun to rise again—rise up and take my rightful place as the one and only Kingdom of France. For once, I was proud to be who I am… I was grateful and changed. And it was all because of her. He sent her to me—my miracle girl. I was so proud. So happy.
Battle after battle, we always emerged victorious. The broken pieces of what once was were beginning to form again, and I could finally distinguish my own face and, in a way, who I was meant to be. With each victory, I began to realize who I was as I grew to understand myself in this uncertain world. Emotionally… physically... mentally… perhaps more emotionally than anything else.
There was a lot to think about then—where I was going, what I would have to do in later days, where all these events would eventually end up… And though we were stealing victories and enjoying happy moments, we were still at war, and that continued to bother her. I tried my best to be there for her—I believed. In the craziest time of my life, nestled between mixed emotions and brought up from the depths of despair, I was still young and trying to discover meaning in the world. After all, I was technically a teenager then, too. And she was my first love.
Love—first love in its silliest and purest form especially—bathes everything in its glow and makes the world look more beautiful. It was strange that way; even when everything was falling apart, and the earth itself was crumbling, it was all still so beautiful. I was so happy to be alive even though my heart was in pain. Because, in small ways and silent ways, we shared the pain and marched onward, hand-in-hand, through it all together. It was nice…just being there with her. I miss her so much.
And that is what occupied my mind the most. It was around those moments we blazed through the towns, driving out the enemy and tending to our fellow countrymen that I, oddly enough, began to understand why my goofy, teenage boy heart fluttered so much around her. She was special. Though I couldn’t quite place why (being then only a novice Romantic without any place in the world just yet) exactly she piqued my interest so and what sort of words I could use to describe what I was feeling. Poetry? Song? Is there truly anything that isn’t ephemeral or majestic that can truly give life to what I feel and felt? Not having the command of words I wished I might have had, I settled for the simple affirmation that I often repeated to myself at night while pondering and musing to the moon and the night full of stars—“She brings meaning to my life. I’d be nothing without her, and I love to see her smile. Why I’m not exactly sure… but I know she was made just for me, and that makes me feel special.”
After the conquest at Loches, we changed our course for the Loire, and our little future king, Charles, became increasingly impatient and insistent upon his being crowned, curious to when the day will come. Though in a humble and oddly inquisitive sort of fashion.
“W-when will I be crowned king—as you said? We haven’t made much progress with that yet,” he would say, reminding Jeanne of their first encounter and one of the first things she told him.
“I assure you we will make the journey to Reims once we take back the Loire,” she responded, keeping her cool and refusing to revert to any sort of condescending or disciplinary tone with him.
As for me, I was eager to return to the Loire River, for the river and the land surrounding were and always will be a special place that resonates with my heart and heritage. It’s like the home within my home, somewhere sacred where my heart remains always. A sort of living memory that returns whenever I call for it that reappears so simply like singing an old song that slept within me for years. I’ll always have the Loire to call home—even if only in my dreams.
Curiously, Jeanne also held a soft spot for the place, spending most of her time there—a determination that ruled her heart even more than usual, which caused some conflicts with the future king. Well, it’s not like they hadn’t argued and butted heads before over strategies and ideas, but Jeanne and Charles’ arguments became more frequent and heated around this time, oddly enough. I never believed the king-to-be to have such passionate outbreaks, though it was true he was a little insecure, and maybe the thought of gaining authority went to his head a little—especially because Jeanne seemed to have more authority than he did…something which bothered him…and a few outsiders.
And so, she would continue to join me on my evening walks, often saying nothing about her troubles or the state of the world and instead allowing the warmth and beauty of Creation to wash over her, wiping all her troubles and aches away. My girl. She was undoubtedly growing up; she was 17 (or thereabouts) at the time, and the weights and trials of our journeys coupled with her increasing, unwavering faith in God helped her to mature finely. I was surprised (almost pleasantly, though a part of me always wished for her innocence to remain) to see her suddenly so determined and strong again—even after all the battles—as we marched toward the Loire and even when she and I went for our relaxing walks. There was no more doubt or pain from what surfaced; her eyes were clear and full—as defined as the full moon shining out in the darkened sky.
“You seem rather confident now. You don’t have any worries anymore?” I asked as we walked.
“Everything is going just as the Lord instructed it would. So I have nothing to fear.” Her statement was absolute—punctual. But, around me, her stance suddenly dropped; her eyes wavered. The determined face of complete composure disintegrated. “Except…” she voiced softly, slowing her pace until she stopped in the grass.
“What is it?”
After a moment of quiet, she relayed her secret to me. “There…is only one thing that concerns me.”
“Yes? You can tell me. I’m listening.”
The wind whistled over the plains, dying down over the hills as though they felt compelled to turn quiet and hushed—almost foreboding—as the word was to come from her. “Treachery.” The word was so harsh beneath the matter-of-fact tone in which it was said. It sounded like the distant clash of swords hovering through the quiet, rolling plains. “I’m afraid of being betrayed.”
“I’d never betray you,” I assured, feeling oddly hurt inside.
“I know you wouldn’t, M. France. But…it’s just an odd feeling I have.” Reverently, she hung her head as though to apologize for her out-of-place but nevertheless clairvoyant feelings she’d often get. I understood these sensations and cues would mean a lot to her and often weigh a lot on her mind, so I tried to be as sympathetic as I could—even when I could find no sign or clue of her worries anywhere outside of thoughts and notions.
“You’ll be fine,” I reinstated, putting an arm around her shoulders. “I’ll protect you.”
And that wasn’t just a bland statement to cover up worries temporarily—I swore myself to that statement. I refused for anything to hurt her ever again. Because, while she may have had recovered from the battle at Orléans, my heart still felt crushed seeing her hurt that way. I never wanted her to feel pain ever again…
Physical or emotional pain.
We arrived at last to the Loire, which was then the name only for the grand river which cuts through most of the region and a large majority of the land; the river which later became the foundation of a region. Rivers have always been an important staple for civilizations, and so it would be essential to get some of it back. That meant we were to march through the line of villages along the route and take back each town—Targeau, Meung, Beaugency, Patay… But the battle at Targeau was the most (let’s just say) interesting of them.
We were doing well at driving the enemy armies back—even though their numbers were more than twice the size of our forces. To make up for the number gap, I stood at the head of the lines, doing my best. With all my resolve and determination I had mustered through our days of conquest, I had plenty of strength to spare. That battle, from the start, wasn’t the prettiest in the world, though obviously no brutal conquest is pretty—but I could tell the glory was beginning to discolor itself and turn into its brutal twin, shameless revenge.
Now, I admit that I often enjoyed the thrill of a good fight, but that glorified sort of feeling died away in sweet Jeanne’s regretful eyes. Since her presence, I couldn’t find myself to enjoy fighting much anymore; I couldn’t really understand why other than the fact that the brutal violence hurt her so much—and I refused to make such a sad impact on her caring heart. But it never occurred to me that there could have been another, intrinsic reason behind my sudden distaste and lack of drive.
Amid the mess of countrymen batting at each other, tensions rose high and brought out some quick tempers. Jeanne stood comfortably at a distance, overseeing the tactics she contributed to the cause. While scanning the area, a particular scene caught her innocent eyes. An Englishman had fallen to the ground, defeated, and was barely alive or conscious among the hundreds of us humans battling it out to the end. One of our fellow troops stood beside the fallen man and, without any resentment, kicked him in the head repeatedly as he lay dying.
Sweet Jeanne fled in sympathy toward the poor soul—with a caring heart that searched for all to love. Shooing away the fellow Frenchman, she fell to the ground and took the beaten man’s head in her hands, calling out to him with a broken voice. Hoping he would answer to assure her he’s all right. With pained tears, she shouted for a priest—a yell which faded into the all-encompassing sounds of brutal combat. But a muffle in this loud, crazy world. Knowing it was then too late, she stayed beside the poor man and cried. Mourning the sadness of the world…the brutality of battle…the loss of yet another poor soul who never had a chance.
It’s just her again. Whenever I saw her like that, the world and all properties of it would just fade away. But what can I do? Observe? That’s all I could do, really. A strange feeling drained my veins of all energy—hardened my heart with emptiness and strife. Is it remorse? Regret? I couldn’t quite place it then. There were no tears for me, but I could feel a lump in my throat as though my body wished to cry but didn’t have the resolve to do so. The reason to justify the need for tears. Instead, I stood and watched her—invisible, detached from the world—with a chained heart, a paralyzed body, a repentant soul. Until I became so weak—so light-headed from the emptiness that clutched every inch of me down to my ephemeral, evasive soul that I felt phantom-like. As though I didn’t even exist. Or maybe that I could fly away or disappear into a fog.
Disappear. That such a filthy soul as I could disappear.
Maybe reappear. But at a different time—one where I could realize just how she felt. Just why she cried. Just what she felt that I didn’t.
Unfortunately or not, I got my wish. Just years later. Centuries
later. Months later.
After our grand string of conquests, we finally reached an off time where we could reflect on our achievements and plan for the trip to Reims at the end of June. For what seemed to be the longest time, I finally had my energy back and felt like I could run all around the world a few hundred times without getting tired. I was so grateful, for I believed that the incessant pain and burdens that kept battering me had made me age or had turned me old. But now that I was back on the uphill, I felt as young as I had ever felt.
With a bright smile, I visited Sweetie as she stayed to rest at the nearby castle with her guards at waiting by her room. She never really liked having guards, but she didn’t really mind their presence, either. It was just something that existed for her, and she often talked with them—being friendly and all. Staying in her room, she rested, occasionally getting up out of permission to look out the window or to take little walks around the room. When I first visited to check on her, she was behaving and staying in bed. As I sat beside her, the glint in her eyes was evident that she was unhappy being kept from the outside. Poor cutie. Though she never harmed another person throughout all our conquests, she was often injured at each battle, a fact which beat me down and saddened me and a fact which bothered her because she didn’t like being restricted. Even though she was young and she healed quite quickly, she dreaded the hours and sometimes days of wait she’d have to endure before going out again. I wonder if she wished she were like me and healed within minutes.
“You doing OK?” I asked.
“I am fine,” she assured, hiding the uncertainty and disdain in her eyes. Staring longingly out the window, she requested, “I would like to go for a walk with you again when I get better.”
“Of course.” I smiled. “But for now, you have to rest so you can recover faster.”
She only sighed in reply.
“I know. It’s tough. But I believe in you.”
She nodded. I couldn’t tell if she liked it when I treated her like a kid or if it bothered her. Either way, she relaxed her head on the pillows and closed her eyes.
Stroking her hair, I whispered, “I’ll be back later, all right? I have to go out for a bit. Sleep well.”
She looked so peaceful as she dreamed. Such a sweetie. I wanted to remain at her side and dream with her, but there was something I had to do. Something I’ve been wanting to do for years. Something I could finally, after all this time, feel confident about doing.
I went to rub my success in England’s face.
With the most annoying mocking laugh I could muster, I called out to the idiot, “Well! Not so high and mighty now, are you? How does it feel to lose so much so fast, huh?”
He scoffed. “Yah. You would know how that feels better than I would.”
I tossed the proverbial tennis ball back in our match of the wits. “Well, not anymore. And soon you’ll be the one begging for mercy.”
“What makes you say that? You just got lucky!” he fumed.
“Again with the luck, I see. Stop bringing that up! It’s true skill, I say!”
“Oh, please! You couldn’t even win a fight with a little songbird!”
“Hey!!” Him and his stupid insults. It drives me crazy!! “I’ll have you know that the little birds like me very much!! And that one incident was just a fluke! It was hungry!” Drawing a deep breath, I changed the subject. “Well, either way, this little has-been certainly is getting the upper hand on you, huh? What do you say about that?”
He groaned, taking the sting of reality. “Well, you’ve got me there.”
“But don’t think you’ve won yet! The next battle’s only beginning!”
“Au contraire, mon ami. I have love and power on my side. There’s no way I can lose! Also, I’m getting a new king, so there.”
He scoffed again. “So what?”
“So,” I pouted, speaking in a silly voice, “you better count your days because they’re numbered.”
Sick of listening to my nonsense, he closed his eyes shut and walked away.
“I mean it!” I call out. “The once great Kingdom of France will rise again!”
Stopping, he turned around to deliver one last remark. “Sure. But not without another big fight from me.” Hesitating, he commented, “You may have had quite the winning streak lately…”
“That’s right. I have,” I agreed with a puffed-up chest.
“But don’t get too used to it,” he continued without interruption. “It won’t last long.”
I was sure the world fell to pieces at that moment. Reality shook the fantasy I had created, driving the sickening thoughts into my heart that all this was just a daydream that could end at any minute. Just fragments remained now—pieces that came together and fell apart gradually as I continued, walked through my empty life, with her. As he walked away, I remained, stymied, trying to process the words he had said and why they pierced my heart and quaked my confidence so much. Then, after a moment of pondering, I swallowed all my apprehension and, leaving it all behind, I walked away. Returning to her. Remaining at her side.
And as I went, I passed a patch of lilies—standing tall in neat rows, about to fill the world with their purest beauty. I smiled. “I know,” I whispered. “I’ll go on, too.”
And then it was time to take our journey to Reims to crown the new king. We left at the end of June, and the Lord guided our path, keeping us safe the entire trip there. But though our voyage was safe and directed, the other aspects of the process did not go without blockades. We weren’t given any money, and the invites Jeanne sent out for the ceremony either never returned or were responded to in odd ways. And, at that time, the Duke of Burgundy was a rival to us, and he tricked us in roundabout ways, lying that he would give Paris back and saying he would agree to set a time for peace but giving us only two weeks of peace instead. Everything was a delicate balance at that time, and I was worried we were treading on the precipice. But, to untrained eyes, everything seemed fine, and the trip did go very smoothly.
It was just the action that was occurring in the letters. The writing and instruction amid the actions we made in reality. And it bothered Jeanne the most, for she still held loyalty to the king and wanted to see the ceremony go well, plus she was the one who sent the letters and arranged the event. In a sense, to put it all in a more modern-day perspective if I may, she was the party planner and none of the preparations were going just as she had hoped they would. The invites were ignored, strange envoys were being sent to us, the manager of the place where we were holding the event refused to cooperate with us, no one wanted to chip in any money for the festivities, and our ideas were conflicting with others’ ideas. It wasn’t very pleasant. But somehow, she and I made it work.
Though it continued to bother her, she would stop periodically along the route to double check everything and to organize the mail, sending more letters if necessary. And requesting politely for money.
She would sigh and say things like, “I wish they would respond” or “I don’t know why I am getting strange responses back.”
And I would just stay beside her and comfort her, offering quiet consolation.
Mid-trip, it was the same thing again, and I stayed beside her as always, offering my companionship. “Don’t worry about it, OK?” I said. A lovestruck sigh escaped me, and she gave me that bemused look again—indicating I was daydreaming again. I cherished spending time with her like that. Our quiet moments.
“Oh…” her eyes softened, examining my face with interest. “Your face.”
“Your face has cleared.”
“Oh. That’s right. I’m cleared up now because of our successive wins. I’m slowly becoming my old self again!” I declared happily.
Before, I was a tattered mess with dark patches and scrapes all over—plus light circles under my eyes that made me look like I hadn’t slept fully in days. And I don’t even want to mention my hair—it had gotten completely away from me and turned frizzy and dull. I was like a poor kid full of all the dust and dirt the world had thrown at me. My face had taken the blunt of the damage, showing scrapes that refused to heal. But because of our victories and the returning of the land, my complexion cleared, and it became evident I was finally making my way back. I was glad to be handsome again. With my younger face softened by youth but sturdy with the onset of wisdom. My hair then was blonde tinged with platinum, and my eyes remained the same, though shimmering with the last remains of innocence. I didn’t yet have my “elegant scruff” that often distinguishes me. But I still looked older than the others…somehow.
“I see… So, these occurrences are connected to you somehow,” she noted as though adding to her study.
“Yes, these kinds of things happen all the time.”
“So you really are the country, then…” she affirmed quietly to herself.
A soft smile came to my face. Though she had always believed me, seeing me change with the times and heal quickly among other supernatural events always fascinated her. It was cute seeing her so curious.
“Come on,” I spoke up, standing and taking her hand away from the letters. “Let’s take some time off. You’re worrying too much about all this. Want to take a walk?”
Hesitating, her eyes clung to the stacks of parchment. Letting go of a silent sigh, she turned her youthful eyes to me at last. “Sure. A walk sounds nice.”
It was another magnificently clear evening. The radiant blue sky softened, painted with a myriad of colors. Like a symphony of the evening. The sun burned a bright orange as it descended for another night of rest. She always liked to accompany me on my evening walks—and stand beside me to watch the sunset, allowing the beauty and quiet of the scene to wash over her, an otherworldly and spiritual experience for her. We’d often converse, as well, just enjoying the simple moments and winding down before another battle or long journey came to test us.
As the evening fades to night, I always find myself pondering. I suppose that’s when the “Melancholic Muse” tends to come out in me.
“I wonder what makes me so special…” I commented aloud, wondering always just why God decided to give me another chance. Sure, I was desperate…but did I really have another purpose? At a time when I felt I had no meaning in the world, I didn’t know what awaited me. And I was no saint, either. I tried to do well, but I wasn’t as devout as I should have been, and my pessimism and sadness often beat me down too much for my own good.
As I rambled on, she kept a quiet and interested eye on me; she already knew the answer.
“But you are special, Monsieur France. Every nation and person is essential to this world. We all bring diversity and different ways of living and ideas here. All with unique points of view. The Lord God loves all of his creation and wants us all to live here equally. You could say the different nations are sacred, in that way.”
“You…think I’m sacred?” What a strange compliment for me, I thought. Too perfect-sounding and flattering for someone like me. It made blush rise to my face.
“In a way, yes. The Lord sees meaning in you and knows the purpose you must fulfil. This is why I was called to help you.”
A soft sigh tinted with an embarrassed and humble chuckle escaped me as I turned to hide my abnormally red face. I was honored. She always spoke highly of me, sounding so patriotic and zealous for me all the time, and I never quite knew how to react to her determination. I was as special to her as she was to me. Sigh…
Though I was still unwilling to accept such high words and sentiments. “I see…” I whispered; a soft whisper that faded into the soft zephyr that passed us by.
Why…do I feel so warm around her?
Unfortunately, there was something else that inhibited an almost perfect excursion and an almost perfect plan. Jeanne and the king-to-be Charles still weren’t seeing eye-to-eye on many things, and they would often break out into arguments whenever they got together to discuss ideas or strategies. Their personalities differed, their ideas differed, and they never could really get along all that well. They both held mutual respect for each other, and they spoke well of each other—they just couldn’t agree.
Jeanne wanted to battle for Paris again, but Charles insisted we wait it out and “hope” that the Duke of Burgundy will change his mind. Jeanne acted out of confidence and assurance while Charles refused to do anything that had any slight chance of risk. They certainly were not the kind to work together on such big projects.
And it bothered me the most to see them argue all the time—more frequently as time passed. More intensely as situations and crises heightened. I felt so trapped in the middle; unable to do anything but watch and see who comes out scratched in the end. I hated that. I’ve always felt so distant—so incapable. Like the damsel in distress or the supervisor of the affairs of an entirely different world.
I didn’t want that anymore.
With the events of the conquests and my revival, I had gained new vision, new confidence. Jeanne taught me I was worth it all—all the pain and struggle and the fighting. All the care and love. And so, I took a deep breath and stepped out of my shell. Out from the old and to the new—crossing the dimension of space and coming to terms with who I was in the here and now. The France she saw.
I had found my voice at last.
“Stop this arguing,” I demanded in a confident but gentle tone. “This isn’t the time. I know you both have differing ideas, but we need to come to a compromise sometime. A lot is at stake here.”
Silent and surprised, they both looked at me with wide, confused eyes.
At last, Charles turned to Jeanne and asked, stuttering, “Who is this? Do you know him?”
“So it had worked,” I mused. I had made myself visible for the first time in a long while.
Jeanne lowered her head in respect. “This is your country, my king.”
Still flabbergasted, Charles looked back and forth from her to me as though trying to find an answer somewhere else than us—perhaps from thin air. “But how can that be?!”
Relaxing from my serious and stoic disposition, I formed a genuine smile. “It’s true. I’m the Kingdom of France. I’ve been here this whole time. Even before there were people living here.”
He still didn’t quite understand or grasp the situation, but that was all right. We explained a bit more and left him alone a moment so he could rest and process what had happened and so that Jeanne and I could get some fresh air once again. I could tell she was ready to burst, but seeing me acting strong made her feel warm and composed again. I’m glad I was able to help her and stand beside her just as she had done for me.
But as the sun crossed the blue expanse, slowly fading in the evening sky, her confidence waned more and more until she went off on her own to the comforting embrace of the quiet nature and pondered all that was, is, and will be.
Of course, I followed.
It was painful upon my heart to see her vibrant eyes so dull and apprehensive. Her face so stricken with worry and heart so lost and empty. I knew she needed someone; I wanted it to be me. I wanted to be able to solve all her transgressions and to love her despite everything. I could only love—never solve or take or relieve—only love. As I will continue to do.
“I feel so isolated,” she muttered. “So alone. I’m being attacked on all sides, and someday, they will come and get me. That’s what I fear the most. I can sense it… But maybe I’m just imagining it all. Being…betrayed. It’s a horrible thing to think, isn’t it? But…maybe it could happen?”
Beads of water fell from her eyes; pained, suppressed. Not knowing how else to help, I held her and pulled her beside me while thinking of all the possible things I could say. But would any of them really help? Poetic words and sentiments can hardly act as some sort of magic spell that changes and fixes everything, right? But only one thing truly came to mind as she buried her face in my chest and cried.
“I’d never betray you…” I whispered.
Because I love you.
I wanted to tell her that. “I love you.” I wanted so badly to say it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t. And I don’t know why. I don’t know why.
I don’t know why.