Act II: The Simple Days
The Simple Days…
These are my favorite days to
remember. They were both melancholic and simple while also being a magical
moment apart from the flow of time. It was then that, gradually, we talked and
learned about each other—simple lives with complex personifications and tragic
hearts. Our lives intertwined in a mysterious fashion that I, not being very
good with words, cannot begin to explain. I wanted those days to last forever.
Especially when I learned of what awaited us.
For the first time in years, I felt like a better person. In ways, I had crawled from the pit of despair and triumphed to become myself again. Of course, I had a little help. I could spend my days pondering rather than worrying…but I still had a long way to go before I could become whole again and before I could consider myself an “equal” or a force to be reckoned with. But if it weren’t for Jeanne, I’d be nobody.
I guess it is easy to say I was starting anew with greater things because we had succeeded in holding the coronation ceremony. Now, I had a king. I didn’t know what sort of trials or opportunities that would bring, but I felt oddly secure knowing I had a sort of second in command at my side. Besides her, I mean. She’s always my second.
And here I thought she’d be elated or at the very least proud of herself, but the poor girl held nothing like a smile the days following the crowning. She happened to come while I was out thinking one day, and we conversed, as usual.
“What’s this?” I asked as I took my place beside her. “I thought for sure you would be happy! Or at the very least proud of yourself… You did everything you said you would; you have fulfilled your purpose.”
“Well, yes, I have. I followed the Lord’s orders to the letter, and our path was clear and guided to the time of the ceremony…” Suddenly, her countenance fell, and those eyes the color of shimmering green waters turned melancholic and shaded with apprehension. My heart once again hid away in a dark place. “But I am beginning to regret it,” she stated, like all her other declarations, with a tone full of confidence. “King Charles is so passive and I so impulsive—we argue almost constantly. Maybe I made a mistake.”
Standing beside her as she rested upon the hill, I put a comforting hand upon her shoulder. “God never makes mistakes.”
“True,” she answered definitively after a moment.
“Is something else bothering you?” I questioned softly, expressing my concern and amity as I took a seat beside her.
“I do not wish to burden you with my problems.”
“It’s not that I wouldn’t mind…it’s just that I miss seeing your smile.”
She shot me a look of dear surprise and confusion, and I smiled warmly back. It’s true that I missed seeing her happy; I felt so worthless and sick of myself when she was not warming the world like the inspiring rays of the morning sun. I always wished there were something I could do—or, at the very least, that my silly quirks and dumbly romantic self would help.
“You are a strange character, Monsieur France,” she stated warmly and matter-of-factly, a quiet smile making its way from her heart. “And I like that about you.”
I’m sure I blushed when she said that; I had the silliest habit of turning an innocent, rosy shade whenever I was beside her. Even now…just thinking about her brings a warm smile to my face—accompanied by a barely-noticeable but ever-true tint of blush.
After a moment’s hesitation, her smile once again dissipated, and a grave heaviness covered what once was.
“I feel so alone.”
The words hit me like little needles poking my skin.
“Like God has abandoned me.”
“He wouldn’t do that.”
“But I do not sense His presence. Why does He do that?”
Sigh… I don’t know. “Perhaps to test you.”
Resolutely, the glint of purpose returned to her eyes, and she stood up straightly. “Maybe you’re right—I have fulfilled my purpose. I don’t have a reason to be here anymore.”
Impulsively, I clenched her arm, keeping her from leaving, and pleaded half-hysterically, “Don’t say that!”
Her eyes wide and full of terror followed by concern, she searched me silently for answers. Backing down, I realized I shouldn’t have acted that way. I had been so worried about losing her—a paranoid thought that I couldn’t keep from resurfacing—that my worries had even begun to overtake my actions.
“I-I mean…” Gradually, I released my grip on her, telling myself to calm down and keep my delusions to myself. “You do still have a purpose… I know you do.” I meant that. Every ounce of my heart wanted to believe it was so. She did have more to do—more tasks to complete. Just…not what I had wished.
“Then I would like to know what it is,” she declared, her eyes admiring the wide sky.
Letting my worries fly away into the peaceful cerulean sky, I held on to the crisp air and told myself I could only dream of good things. “Me, too.”
But the quest to save my soul and to regain my honor led me back to my heart—my dear Paris. How I missed my precious city. I’ll never forget that day—when I was but a timid and listless infant—when I first laid eyes upon that land, a soft patch of grass. It was nothing then, but it was everything to me. I set camp there; I hardly ever left that simple spot. I planted seeds and watched them grow… I drew up plans for great castles and fortresses in my head. It was my own special place. One day, I had a kind of revelation—as my once dear secret spot began to take shape as a village and eventually a city. At first, I was devastated my special place was discovered, but a kind of vision or reassuring voice came to me—the voice of Paris. She told me we’d become great together—that I would build my city, ma belle Paris.
Ah, of course—she was right.
And so my heart yearned to get back on my feet and fight for my sweet city again—to take her back into my arms like a cherished toy or treasure box of memories and make her new again. The thought that England still owned my city disgusted me. I knew he wouldn’t treat it right or see her beauty the way I did. The way I still do. I wish I never signed that document.
Of course, I had help this time and greater plans than before—when it was just yours truly and Mr. Bossy slashing at each other with swords. Though, it’s strange. The whole time, regardless of the same combatting differences between Jeanne and the King, this odd sinking feeling weighed down my heart. I didn’t understand why my dreams felt like they were a world away and I couldn’t reach for them—just as my dear city was apart from me, and though we could see each other in the distance, our whispers would never carry to each other. But, all that aside, King Charles agreed for us to fight for Paris, and we took the journey back to my beloved city. Jeanne was content that the king was listening to her, and she looked forward to seeing Paris. Though my city was a humbler sight than she is now, you could tell she was growing to be a fine young lady and the inspiration to many. I wanted to share the story and specialty of my city with her; I knew she’d understand just what made Paris so meaningful to me.
As we followed the river Seine, I could feel my heart swell as the distance shortened. Like a divine, persistent call from the distance, her voice rang out to me—the voice of Paris. When we’d arrived, immediately, my army and I were met with barricades and armies, and we rushed into battle, following the strategy we had set. Going off on my own, my heart led me forward—compelled me to reach out. Sprinting past all the people, all the guards, I overtook the wall in a single bound, a leap powered by love.
Finally, I was alone; safe atop the overlook, the noise of the world faded away…and we were once again together. Oh, it had been so long—or it seemed that way. An eternity had kept us apart. The cool stone surfaces, the beautiful stone buildings all in a row, the majestic Notre Dame and the universities… It was as though I had never left. Relieved, I found myself sighing and smiling, cherishing the moments just being there again—observing and guarding with intent eyes and a caring heart.
“Did you miss me, my love?” I whispered. (“Of course I did,” came the reply.)
But of course he had to come and ruin the moment. Clothed ominously in a black cloak, his presence was a hovering black cloud raining all over my nice day. Sigh.
“So, what? Did you come to reminisce or did you come to fight?” England teased me.
“I want no part of you. This battle is not with you but with myself,” I returned.
He continued on as though I had said nothing, “It seems like only yesterday that I had you begging for mercy and handing over your favorite city to me.” With a confident, nostalgic sigh, he added for extra torture, “But I have to admit my favorite was the battle of Agincourt. Though Crécy was great, too.”
Ugh. “Are you done making me feel depressed and guilty?”
Rolling my eyes, I ignored him as he continued on his stupid ramblings. Wishing to escape—just to spend time with my beloved Paris—I walked to the edge of the stone towers that held the gates, letting the sun wash over me as it peeked from behind the looming gray skies. Quietly, solemnly, I disappeared and admired the buildings from afar. Watched over the years and the citizens that were to be. That were to return. Then, there was nothing. Nothing but cold stone and silence. It was somewhat moving that way, but it was also very somber.
“Did I fail you?” I asked quietly. “Am I really that much of a failure? I can’t do much of anything on my own, can I? Is there anything I’m really good at? Was it all…a mistake to save someone like me?”
Sweet Paris had no answers, but her comforting solace and companionship was enough for me. I knew she had a future I wanted to oversee. She was almost like my daughter in that way… A little sister of sorts. She was far greater than I—upholding a legacy that I, myself, didn’t even have. An innocent love that was greater.
But then Idiot had to interrupt again, though more quietly than his other tauntings. “Reminiscing again, old man? You shouldn’t stay in the past.”
“Like you should talk,” I muttered under my breath.
“Come on!” he yelled, trying to ignite some sort of dead feeling inside me. “I thought for sure you would try to fight back for your so-called ‘favorite city.’ Draw your sword, you coward!”
Sigh. I couldn’t. I wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t yet the time…for me to win her back. The previous days were filled with ideas of grandeur—that I would triumphantly ascend and attain my rightful place as head of this grand land. A nation perhaps greater than I make myself to be. Fighting my way back up and relishing in the glory I gained and the pain I caused. But is that really what I wanted? Why…did everything seem so empty? So meaningless? Was my bright star about to burn out? Maybe it was just me.
My heart sank; I almost heard Paris say “Wait for me. Wait for me.” The struggles around me, the over-powering enemy army both overtook the long-awaited conclusion I had so dreamed of. The fantasy that all this would finally be over, and I would have my beautiful city back, enjoying her stories and life with Jeanne at my side. But that’s only what I had wished and what I had wanted. It wasn’t the reality. It wasn’t how it was meant to be. If dreams could pervade reality…
Separated by gates but protected by those same gates.
Disappointed and empty—but I understood. I was just glad she was safe. All I really wanted was to make sure she was OK. And to promise I will return—triumphantly—because I knew we would conquer and win my honor back. I wonder if Paris knew then, too.
Heavy, limp, but still standing, I turned away—the sight of sweet Paris fading from my eyes and living in my mind. My hand was still resting against the cool stone, which had begun to take in some of my warmth. “You can’t win them all, can you? You can’t win them all.” I said that mostly to myself—as a kind of admittance or maybe even a dumb excuse. But that was enough. I had to accept that then—as much as I didn’t want to. Paris is safe, now I needed to protect Jeanne. She and I would return someday.
Casually passing him by, I scanned the area, sensing my other sweetie needed me. “Now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m being summoned,” I said, dismissing him. With another leap, this time of faith, I returned to the ground and swiftly found my spot beside Jeanne again.
“Monsieur France,” she acknowledged my presence, a little startled to see me all the sudden.
“Don’t worry. How is it?” I asked anyway, knowing all too well how it was going.
She responded only with a fallen face and a tiny, “Not so good.” Her face was recovering from being stricken by seething hot tears—pained tears of longing for so much but realizing the true enemy wasn’t the English armies but the predetermined boundary of fate, which none may define or defile.
I wanted to hold her and tell her
it’s all right—that it wasn’t meant to be and that’s OK. That Paris would wait
for us and remain safe. To come with me and enjoy another walk tonight as
though it were something less astronomical than a failed battle. As though
instead we were trying out recipes or something mundane and that a simple
mistake like that would be easily fixed. But it wasn’t that simple. And that
We returned to our camp to rest and to regain our strength. Jeanne couldn’t focus on anything else but her thoughts; she was detracted by worry and concern. Poor cutie. In her thoughts, she was far away; eyes dull with worry, she left dinner early to find the king.
“I must seek him,” she explained her feelings. “I must speak to him about today.”
“All right. Let’s go,” I escorted her.
I saw her to the façade of the castle in which he was staying, but it wasn’t long that she returned outside—puffing with steam and aghast with frustrated surprise. It wasn’t until we returned to our room at the same castle that she relayed her feelings to me.
“I can’t believe this!” she stomped about the room, flailing her arms exasperatedly to emphasize her frustration. “Why would he just flee? And return to the Loire?!”
“Calm down,” I voiced softly in attempt to reassure her. “I don’t understand it, either. But there has to be some sort of reason.” Though, I have to admit that I can’t think of a logical explanation even now why he fled. It wasn’t just strange—it was off. Amiss.
Finding a comfortable spot, she stopped, hanging her head dejectedly. With a sigh, she muttered, “I thought for sure we were finally getting along…that we were in agreement…” Without warning, she spun, fluidly, to face me and announced clearly, “Let us go after him! If we leave now, we should be able to catch him.”
“Now?” I repeated dubiously. I knew once that spark of determination settled in her emerald eyes, there was no way to douse her passion, but still, I was a little doubtful as to why we needed to leave immediately. After all, we had business here by Paris. Or maybe I should have told myself to stop fantasizing the notion that I would at last be free that day and reclaim my sweet city. It still hung in my heart—a heavy notion.
“I want to ask him if we can start another conquest to liberate Paris.”
I must admit that I was truly touched by her words, as manner-of-fact they were and as declarative as they were stated. The simple phrase softened my heart. “I see.” Coming away from the wall, I stretched my back a little. “Do you feel we should try again?”
“Well…not exactly. But I would like to hear what he has to say.”
“I…” Once again, after shy hesitation, she turned away from me, her face turning toward the floor, her golden hair reaching along with her eyes. “I would usually make the decision myself, but… I haven’t been feeling anything lately. It seemed impulsive to everyone else, but I acted with determination because it was the Lord’s orders I was following.” After a poignant pause, she added, “I haven’t been getting instructions from Him lately.”
My heart fell, and the words left me. I could only mirror her grief and attempt to understand it.
Though soft, her words found their way out of the silence, “So it seems only natural I should ask the King.” After a moment of reflection, I realized the pinch of regret and distaste in her tone.
A quick but solemn breath escaped me. Reaching for her gentle shoulder, I stood beside her—just wanting more than anything to hold her and to reassure her everything would be all right…while magically displaying the answer and means to solve everything as my heart truly wished to. But I never wanted to promise her anything I couldn’t keep. And so, I closed my eyes and reminded myself—pushed away all doubt—that we would always make it through all this together. All I really wanted was to see her happy again.
“What is your heart telling you to do?” I asked her compassionately. That’s where I turn when I am lost.
“My heart…?” She questioned softly, turning her eyes to me for a second before abandoning the notion and lowering her sweet head to the ground, feeling alone and unwanted. For once, her confidence was gone, and she was but a little girl in an unfamiliar place—afraid and a little tired. Gentle tears escaped her eyes, falling to the stone floor below.
“I just want to go home,” she admitted, her little heart reaching out as though longing for the simple days before all of this happened. The innocence and simplicity of childhood and family.
My heart broke—quietly—aching to save her somehow. So pained, barely a whisper…
And so, we set off in pursuit of the missing king, hoping we would find him within a few days. Before we mounted our horses to depart swiftly, little Jeanne told the others with a calm but slightly sorrowful voice, “I must go to see the King Charles. I shall try to return as quickly as I can, but I’m sorry if I do not return. I will send a message straightaway of his orders. Please don’t worry. We will be going now.”
It amused me how confused they looked when she said “we.”
The horses took off quickly, leaving a trail of dirt and grass in their wake, and I sighed, knowing we probably wouldn’t return to try again. Turning back, I took one last look at my beloved city—unable to turn my eyes away until she faded into the distance—the horizon—my setting sun.
“Someday, I promise, you will rise again,” I pleaded, tears forming in my eyes.
It didn’t take long for us to spot the king encamping in a nearby town about a day or so away from Orléans. Once he was found, he let down his guard, sensing Jeanne’s displeasure of him from quite the distance, and invited us to join him at the castle. I was concerned by the serious and rather sorrowful aura the two of them displayed together; only then did I realize the tension she was always explaining. My heart sunk, and I felt bad for leaving her alone all those times and never quite understanding what she meant. Although, when we returned to the castle, she stepped aside and instructed me, solemnly, to wait outside for her.
And, unfortunately or not, I listened.
As I awaited her return from visiting the king, I sighed a breath of fresh air and savored the moment of peace that surrounded me. It was almost impossible—to me—to believe that someday this would all be over, and I would eventually emerge victorious, starting new battles with myself as I put the pieces back together again. That I’d be enjoying peaceful days like this all the time. Then, I found myself dreaming of the future, while taking in the warm sunshine of the bucolic day. That was back when my naïve heart felt with all its being that she and I would share a life together. Haha…Young love is so innocent…
Losing my worries in the eternal blue sky, I dreamed of our smiling faces and our calm, peaceful world together as we cherished the spring breeze, the starry sky, the slow progress of my land, and—of course—each other. Just holding each other and fading away into our little eternity…
As I chuckled to myself about my silly fantasy, I spun to catch the breeze and to revel in my joy—when a sight I wasn’t expecting caught my open eyes. There, Jeanne returned from the castle, passing the guards with her head slanted to the grass. Without her distinctive armor covering her riding outfit and without her distinctive standard and without her divine saber resting at her side, I hardly recognized her. Only then did I notice her hair had started to grow back ever so slightly, curling at the edges of blonde frays and reaching to her vapid eyes.
“What is it?” I instinctually asked, reaching toward her as though to take her in an embrace. Though, she shied away, so I recalled my arms, chuckling silently to myself. I was thinking too much about hugging, I suppose. She was always shy around everyone, even me, when it came to contact. “What happened? Where’s your armor and sword?”
She sighed heavily, cloaking her downcast expression with the shadow the hiding sun produced, “I have fulfilled my duties, and I no longer have any use of them.”
“How is that?”
Dismissing formalities, she opened up to me honestly. “The King has isolated me from everyone and has refused for me to fight any longer or to associate with anyone. Now I am truly alone. I was afraid this would happen, and now I have nothing any longer. No one…” her soft voice trailed away; her eyes, then closed, pushed back any and all tears.
“You still have me.”
Unable to keep the pain and tears at bay, she finally burst, sobbing, and jumped to me, as though to shield herself from the world. Holding her, I allowed her to cry, and I patted her petite back to comfort her. My little girl. It was so warm being near to her. Cherishing the moment, I rested my head atop hers and waited quietly until her tears faded away.
You’ll always have me.
Having nowhere to stay then, she was at a loss, so I invited her to stay at an old castle I had claimed as my own. That silly place is where I decided to make my home a few decades prior to this madness I found myself in. That castle was then my special place—chez moi—where I could stay and have my own fun and quiet time. I didn’t mind sharing it with her. Though reluctant, she followed me, and I assured her it would be fine.
Everyone knows about my affinity for showing affection and being close to those I love, let alone the fact that I constantly talk about love and feel love for everyone. To some, that means I give off the air of being silly; to others, it makes them feel wary or a bit judgmental of my character. And so, if I may, I’d like to clarify a little bit (and this involves going off on a little tangent for a while… This is a memoir, after all haha). As a child, I was very curious and dewey-eyed but also quite lonely. I didn’t understand love until I fell in love, of course, with Sweetie Pie during this age of time. That is to say that my “usual” character didn’t really manifest until la Belle Epoque, where I had an abundance of ego and an insane amount of confidence and energy. There’s also, of course, a very sad story behind all this…but I don’t feel comfortable elaborating on that here and now. Cutie knows (~CRK), and that’s fine for me. She understands. And, in a way, she helped me to understand myself and why I am the way I am.
I guess all I can say is that, in the end, I just like being close to those I love and care about—to feel them near me even when I close my eyes; to know they are there. I do like to show love in other ways (words, caring sentiments, helping, etc.), but I feel my sentiments are conveyed most accurately in warm hugs or simple company. Closeness and affection. Haha. I’m strange that way. But, yes, I do keep it a sacred rule to make sure everyone is comfortable with me, so I will back down if asked to do so (preferably in a polite or cute way). Sweet Jeannette often was nervous around me, so I tried to contain myself then—in the days when my heart would wax poetic without my really knowing why. She had devoted herself to a chaste life, after all, and she was a very sweet and well-behaved girl, so I respected that about her. As such, I’ve always viewed my love for her as platonic, though with the rich scent of eternity and the undying longing to be by her side always to complete any aspect of her life—to provide her with all the sort of happiness she would seek. Hehe… Let’s just say it’s complicated… Every kind of love is unique and special—unable to be described even with poetry, art, or music—the languages of the soul. Only the heart knows.
In the end, affection is important to me, and I regret every day that I didn’t show her more…even though I was sure she probably wouldn’t have accepted my sweet, innocent declarations of love. Sigh. I wish I could hold her in my arms once again…forever…
Well, before I interrupt any more or change the mood, I should continue the story.
When we arrived at the castle I claimed for myself, little Jeanne admired the structure and interior of the humble building with wide, curious eyes. The castle wasn’t nearly as big as the usual ones, though there were the minimum number of rooms, including a dining area and a kitchen and a parlor. Wherever I lead, she followed me close, noting the echoes that came from the solitude.
“It is a bit lonely with only the two of us in this large castle,” she commented.
“Well, I have another smaller house nearby; we could go there if you’d prefer,” I said.
“Oh, that is all right, Monsieur France. You do not have to cater to my ungrateful responses. It really is thoughtful of you to invite me here to stay.”
“Good. I just want you to be comfortable,” I assured softly.
With a sigh, she perched at the edge of the bed in the main quarters, looking down thoughtfully.
“What is it?” I asked, concerned, refraining myself from sitting next to her.
“Well, it is strange. The King also said I would be welcome to stay at his castle. But it seems strange—as though there could be another motive behind his words. Though, he said I could visit my brothers there.”
“That’s fine. You can visit them if you’d like.” I tried to sound as caring as possible in my gentle tone of voice. “I want you to feel free to do what you would like to do, ma petite. I just request…if you go, please let me know so I can go along with you to see you there. I don’t want you to go alone; I want to make sure you’re safe.”
Tired of being told what to do by the King and the others, she was comforted by my words. For the first time in what seemed to be months, she smiled warmly, delicate and refreshing like the sun’s rays. My heart melted to cool spring water.
Since then, in that cool but lonely autumn, began the days where we had only each other. Time slowed to a quiet pace, drifting by like a stray puffy cloud against the bright, blue sky. It wasn’t exactly a lonely time because we had each other, but Jeanne nevertheless often fought with isolation and worries. I didn’t like seeing her with such a sad face—stricken by hopelessness and aimlessness. Following my instructions, she asked me to escort her places, most often to see her brothers at the castle, and to accompany me on my walks when I decided to leave. Admittedly, it was a nice change of pace. Very casual. Each day felt refreshingly normal and uneventful—but beautiful because I shared them with her.
It was during this slow time that I was able to keep up on my diary, something I felt compelled to keep the moment I first met Jeanne. I don’t know why I felt so adamantly persuaded to chronicle every single event and line of her life…perhaps to cherish it, perhaps to retain every ounce of her memory, perhaps just because I was gradually and inexplicably drawn to her—to the point where I fell and tumbled madly in love. Either way, we now have extensive records about her life because of the journal I kept and papers I have hoarded… I just couldn’t bear to see them fade away to the flow of time like lost sands taken by the ocean’s waves. She wasn’t just ephemeral. I wanted her to be immortalized… even if it were only in memory and documents. Places and stepping stones. Statues and days. She’s still here—beside me. Somehow. Somewhere.
Either way, I spent a lot of time writing in my journal—so much so that she actually became concerned about me and was curious about what exactly I spent so much time working on. With a smile, I just explained that sometimes one needs to confine one’s thoughts to something… to let it be heard. Remembered—even to my future self with ailing mind that, even in all its struggle and deterioration, would never allow any detail of her to slip away.
She was compassionate to my need to say confidential, and she didn’t really ask me much more after that. Though, curiously enough, she joined me those nights I sat to write, and she practiced stitching and knitting, which she was quite good at. It seemed to help ease her troubles, as it recalled the days she would help her mother back at her house and on the farm. I was glad to see her so content. She even made us both little blankets. So adorable. And sometimes she would practice her letters, learning how to write her name and mine. It was cute, to me, to see her with such a determined look on her face as she tried to copy my examples. We made the simple days such a pleasure to relax and to just enjoy each other’s company.
The cool autumn breeze nourished my soul. It was a lovely evening—so calm as the stars fell to the sky. My favorite sunsets are the ones that are tinged with lavender and bright pink against a muted blue—colors which fade away as the sun burns a bright orange, so full and light. Even now, whenever the sky bursts into bloom, displaying those lovely colors, I remember that evening with her. And I feel at peace, closing my eyes and always feeling her warm presence near. It’s our special place—always waiting for us to return.
It was the first harvest that particular evening; I tended the garden, receiving its bountiful gifts, and brought the fresh produce indoors to be stored and to cook dinner. Of course, she was kind and quick to help me with my task, and her eyes sparkled whenever I cooked—an adorable fact that makes me smile even now, perhaps even more now than how it influenced me then. I found myself preparing soups and stews more often then, trying to chase away the unseasonable cold, especially into the winter, and she always enjoyed whatever I found fit to make, often commenting upon what sorts of things she and her family would prepare back at home. It was special to see her in such a simplistic, rustic way during those quiet, alone times we shared… Little Jeanne, a sweet girl who was otherwise normal and carefree if it weren’t for the great burdens we shared and the ominous, solemn shadows that were always plotting against us from afar. It was refreshing—to us both—to see each other, at least for a little while, as normal individuals—cuties with a soul and a heart hiding too much pain.
We shared dinner again that night—complete with the usual bread and soup—but that particular night, as I’ve said, was truly special. For we shared more than company and good food—we shared our hearts, as well.
As we sat across from each other at the small round table in the open room—the windows allowing the light to glow behind her—we relaxed and savored the warmth of the soup.
With a sigh, she cooled off the wide surface of the soup, like a tiny and contained ocean, and took a sip of some from the bowl. “It is times like these that remind me of home,” she said, beginning to get nostalgic.
Her eyes softened, looking to the ceiling as though she could see the memories floating above her—visions of her past and her self that still somehow remained close by. “It is such a nice home… I wonder what my parents are doing now… They are probably worried for me.”
“Would you like to return for a while?” I asked, sensing she was feeling homesick. I thought it would be nice if she returned once in a while—after all, that was home for her.
“Oh…that would… It’s very kind of you to suggest, Monsieur France, but I am fine staying here,” she assured. Somehow, her tone was pained with melancholy, and she returned her eyes to the soup.
“You sure? I wouldn’t mind.”
“It’s fine. I feel… I am meant to be here now,” she said timidly, gingerly sipping some more soup.
My face turned a soft rose. “I understand.”
It was then that I recalled with a heavy heart that her hometown had been obliterated suddenly in the fighting—right when Orléans was taken. And the town was peaceful and aligned to me. Poor cutie. It must have been tough for her. She always spoke of her hometown as though it were still as it was in her memory. Like her childhood and simple days were still within reach. Intrinsic.
But I hoped perhaps I could instill and revive some positive memories within her. “Domrémy…” I said aloud, leaning back in my seat and swirling the wine.
“It’s such a nice place—I’m sure you know already,” she commented.
“What is it like, though?”
“You don’t know? But you…” she questioned, eyes wide with surprise.
I chuckled, “Well, of course I’m familiar, but I’d like to hear about it from your perspective.” Sitting forward, I rested my cheek on my hand and leaned forward to listen to her tale. “Your eyes.”
“Very well…” she acquiesced, a faint smile coming to her face.
She was born in 1412 (around January 6th) in the quaint and bucolic farm town of Domrémy. Her parents and she lived in a nice house and worked a farm. She was the second youngest of three older brothers and one younger sister. With her mother being very religious, she brought Jeannette up right, and Jeanne went to mass a lot to study and to learn about God. She also was very kind and considerate to everyone, helping in any way she can and offering to give up her own bed for guests. She’s always had that air of dutifulness about her—just feeling compelled and knowing that is what she has to do. Not to show off or even because it was expected…just because it is. She enjoyed her time there and often helped with the housework and chores and farm work while also taking time to study or to play. She was very kind and friendly toward everyone, but there was also that sort of…otherness about her—where she would often just be found on her own in the garden or by the church.
She explained all this to me and the stories of her life in such a cute, innocent way. It made her sound so special. She elaborated on instances up until she was 12-years-old.
Then suddenly, she stopped, the quiet taking hold of her and her eyes turning dim and afraid. Reluctantly, she cast her eyes to the table and turned solemn.
“What is it?” I asked, concerned.
With my hand still resting on hers, I could feel her try to pull away slightly.
“That’s…when I started receiving those visions.” I’d never seen her expression so lost and confused as it was then. Wanting so much not to speak a word but at the same time wishing someone would listen. I suppose even with her headstrong valiance of faith, she had her troubles and doubts. After all, no one else experienced what she had.
“It all seems so…strange and so long ago now,” she explains, her eyes wandering the wide room, keeping gaze away from the empty bowls and cups.
With a deep breath, she mustered the courage to speak. “I’ve…never really told anyone all about them. It’s difficult to explain. And I…don’t feel comfortable explaining…too well… But it…”
“I…don’t know. It burdens me so. Maybe because I haven’t ever said anything. No one would believe me.”
“I don’t mind listening.”
The shimmer in her eyes was like a lost treasure, humbled and honored to be discovered by someone who took the dime to dig a little further in the quarry when all had gone.
“If it will ease your spirit a little. I’d like to—if you don’t mind,” I comforted her.
She hesitated. “You…won’t say anything?” she questioned, a bit suspect.
I know she was worried, not only of what I may say to her but if I were to say anything to others. I would never do either. “I believe you. I’d just like to understand.”
At my consoling words, she smiled again. A warm smile that shook away the shivers. “I’m comfortable talking with you, M. France. It will be our secret.”
“Yes, our secret. And I won’t tell—promise!”
She smiled, letting out a soft giggle. “All right.”
Still looking to the table, she let out of soft, almost pained sigh, and insisted herself to continue. She spoke very softly, as though still retaining the story for herself. “When I was about 12, I went outside to the garden for a walk. We had a garden of wildflowers in our backyard, and I would sometimes go there just to walk or sometimes to meditate on the scriptures. But that day was different… I felt compelled to go outside, and I wasn’t sure why.”
For a moment, she stopped, and I held her hand between mine, comforting her.
“There…” she stopped to mull over her words. “There was a voice that called out to me as I was walking. A light and then words…almost someone speaking from the distance. It said ‘Trust and believe.’ Just ‘Trust and believe, Jeanne.’ That’s all. That happened a lot.”
“To trust and to believe?” I questioned, not trying to sound invasive or anything.
“Well, because I was always worried about us and the village and about the state of affairs in the kingdom. I… I was scared.”
She let out a big sigh in preparation of the next story. “And so, I would keep going outside—because I was worried and I would sometimes pray for guidance because I was scared. And then… One time, an angel came to me. A bright light and a shadow…no, not a shadow because it was all light. A… And said the same thing. And I just couldn’t understand it, but at the same time, I liked it a little because I knew it was the Lord responding to me.”
I smiled. I could tell she was becoming more comfortable and lightening up a little bit. She wasn’t shaking or sighing as much, and her sweet, little eyes shone with wonder.
“But I never told my parents or the priests. I was afraid of what they might say. It is technically not good to say that the Lord, Himself, visits us lowly sinners. But I believed He sent his angels and messengers to me. Especially after…”
But then she sighed again. “After a year or so, the Voices, as I came to call them, became more powerful. I couldn’t escape them. It would come out of nowhere and tell me…”
“Tell you…?” I whispered softly, helping her along.
“How to help you.”
My heart almost stopped. “Really?”
“And that…I was called to help you and how I could.”
For the longest moment, we just stared into each other’s eyes. Both dumbstruck and surprised.
“And…they kept coming back. The same thing each time. I…didn’t know how to respond. I was worried and felt unable to heed the calls. And I didn’t want to tell my parents or siblings. But…I knew there was a reason behind the messages. And that I had to heed them, but… I didn’t know what I could do.”
I could sense the desperation in her eyes; it was as though she had returned to those days. She was so lost and worried—poor sweetie. I wished I could have been there to help her. I could have relayed her messages.
Suddenly, she gained those confident eyes again and relayed the rest of the story as though she were demanding it to me. “But then I knew I had to do something. The May before our village was attacked, I knew I couldn’t ignore the messages any longer. It had been three years…by then. I tried to contact the people at Vaucouleurs by letter, but they didn’t listen. The messages I sent insisted we stay patient and not attack because the Lord would send help…” After a moment of reflection and perhaps gathering of her thoughts, she continued. “My parents were worried about me. Because I became so distant and worrisome. They thought I was in love, so they asked me to marry, but I told them I refused to marry, and they were shocked because that was the first time I disobeyed them. I felt I was needed elsewhere—this is what I had to do in life. To heed the messages of God and understand how I could help you.”
Somehow, hearing her say that—basically that she devoted her life to serving the Lord and devoted her days to saving me—made me feel so warm inside. Especially hearing the word “you.” It was so sweet.
“And then… After Christmas of that same year, I left home. I walked the sixteen kilometers to Vaucouleurs without saying anything to my family. Without even a goodbye.” With a soft sigh, she added, “I regret that now.”
“It’s OK. I’m sure they understand now. I’m sure they’re proud of you.”
A soft smile came to her face. “You’re silly, Monsieur France.”
I chuckled. It was nice having fun with her.
She continued, “Once I arrived at Raxarts, I stayed at the le Royer family’s home, friends of my family. I tried to plead with Baudricourt again but he rejected my claims until I received a message that Charles would be cleared of his maladie. And so they asked me to kneel before a cross to prove I wasn’t possessed, and the priest said I was all right, so then they sent me to Chinon.”
With a quiet, relieved sigh, she looked up to me as though saying “Well, you know the rest,” and I could tell she’d finished her story. For once, her heart was so light—so free. And I, in a way, transformed and renewed. It was special getting to know my little sweetie—compelling to know and rejuvenating to understand. It was like I could reach out and touch the stars—open my arms and take in the whole world at last.
I stretched out, reaching my arms to the sky, and returned my hand gently atop hers again. “It’s extraordinary. You’re an amazing and special girl, Jeanne.”
Bemused, she looked to me, searching my eyes for the truth. As a person, she couldn’t believe I understood. But as a country, a kind of strange being who would just as easily be told they were mistaken, it was evident we held a kind of mutual understanding.
Feeling light and relieved, she closed her eyes for a moment and sighed softly. “I’m…glad you listened.”
“You’re a good friend.” She commented heartfully, cherishing the moment of understanding we shared. Gently, she rested her other hand atop mine, and the gesture made me smile.
My left hand reached for her sweet face—so young and innocent—and brushed her cheek, running my fingers slightly through her coarse hair. To my delight, this kind gift piqued her curiosity and lifted her crystalline eyes to me. My sweetie. Your verdant eyes—so beautiful and pure. No hint of the world’s pain or burdens—as though she’s the purest soul…a child of Heaven.
Her gaze unwavering, locked to my eyes, she shyly and curiously reached for me across the table between us. Sweetly, she brushed my face, as well—as though to make sure I were indeed real and not just a dream or an image of something ephemeral. But the lovely caress, so special, touched my heart, and the softest, most breathless giggle escaped me. Carefully, I folded my hand around hers, keeping her close to my face still, and smiled warmly.
If only I could cherish this moment forever, I thought. Spending this time with my sweetie. My love—my everything.
Losing myself in her eyes, I wanted to kiss her—to see how it feels. To take her into my arms, nuzzle her little head of sweet honey hair—laugh the night away under the stars together. To escape the world, to turn into a glimmer in her arms—to keep her close as we lie under the stars together, professing our dreams and speaking in poetry. Staying close until the morning’s light comes, turning our hair to rivers of gold and our eyes to precious stones. Warm, ivory smiles that will never fade as we stay close—still—vowing never to part, even until the day when the world around us crumbles and the sky cracks to pieces and the figures turn to dust and Nature itself trembles in fear.
That we would remain.
Our love—untouched, eternal.
My love. That I would have had you.
That I would have just given in…and held you…whispering under the unchanging stars…
How much I love you.
But I didn’t.
I didn’t want you to be afraid or to worry. I wanted you to feel safe with me. I wanted, above all, to protect you from everything.
And so, I drew a deep breath, swallowing all the tears as much as I could…and, blinking, trying to draw my sapphire eyes away from your emerald eyes…I let go. It hurt. It hurt so much, but I took my hand away from your sweet face—slowly. I love you. Too much. Far too much. So much…that maybe even that wouldn’t be enough.
Sitting back in my seat, I turned my face away—still pushing away the weight in my chest and the choking tears gathering in my throat.
“I’m happy to have someone like you,” I professed. “The other nations tease me, and we often fight a lot…but I suppose that’s just the way we are. I’ve always felt…different from everyone else.” Different is an understatement haha. “I’m glad to have someone to talk to.”
Composing herself, she nodded, keeping quiet—almost reverent. Somehow, it eased almost all of my pain just to look up and see her well. Sheepishly, I grabbed the back of my neck with my left hand, pulling out until my hair trailed away. With one last sigh, all the pain disappeared. Almost.
“Well,” I said through a stretch, getting up, “I’ll take care of cleaning up, OK?”
“I’ll help,” she offered, taking her bowl.
I wanted to say, “I’m glad,” or something silly that wouldn’t make any sense outside of my thoughts, but I smiled instead, the last of the weight receding away. Just being beside her was enough. Just enjoying the quiet, serine night; watching the stars as though they’ll do something magnificent, sitting beside her until the moon came out and she became tired. Her kind taking of my hand and relaying, like a sweet child, that she’ll be all right. With me smiling in return, promising the same.
Now near November, the air turned cold and the sky a pallid blue. Bundled in a blanket and fur smock, Jeanne followed me for another daily walk. That time, we wandered around to see the nearby villages and to check on everyone. It is sort of a routine thing I do, making sure everyone is all right and stopping to notice the progress of the places and the contentedness that fills the air. In a way, I was showing her what it is like in the life of me, the quiet and loving Big Brother of the land who waits and stands beside everyone. She enjoyed that. Though our excursion took up most of the day, I found myself wanting to continue our trip—to walk to the ends of the world with her. Maybe show her where I used to play as a child or tell her about how I first made Paris or to take her to the edges of my land—to the mysterious ocean and relay her my dream to sail across there someday and discover what waits on the other side of the world. Silently hoping that maybe she’d say my eyes remind her of the ocean… and then I’d return with saying her eyes are the loving, green earth. And together…we make the world.
But there wasn’t enough time left in our day. I would have made it forever. Nevertheless, I was content with the time we had, and I could tell she was getting a little tired of running around.
“It’s nice to see, isn’t it?” I commented as we took a short rest upon the hill overlooking the village, watching as the children played, carefreely, and as their parents minded the land or conversed with each other. It was as though we had transcended into another time—one of happiness and prosperity and not of worry.
“It is,” she stated.
A nice, cool breeze came by, and the crisp aroma of late harvest and upcoming winter filled the air. Autumn is such a poetic and relaxing season, full of Nature’s musings and greatest works of art. Such warm colors that make one wax nostalgic of the olden days and of youth. It reminds me of me, in a way—warm but oddly melancholic. Closing my eyes, I rested my hand on hers and lost myself in the quiet again, fading away to peace and losing myself to memories. Maybe if we hold on to this moment forever in our hearts, we can always return to our special place together. I kept souvenirs tucked in my heart so that I could always return to you, my love. To that day—to that feeling which will never fade. It’s so nice…to be here with you.
“Where to now?” she asked, curiously, making it seem like that little rest has recovered her boundless energy. Sigh. Such youth. Maybe I was the one that was getting tired.
“Let’s go back home—we can make some onion soup!” I proposed, helping her up. Soup would be nice for warming up on such a cold day.
Taking one last look over the horizon, I smiled and followed her as we made our descent and return for home.
“It must be interesting…” she remarked. “To watch over everyone and to be unseen.”
“I like it,” I commented softly. “I hope someday I can make them all happy.”
“You will. Many are happy now.”
Her words always comforted me. “I’m sure…”
After a moment, she spoke up over the soft rustling of the grass and the whistling of the wind, “Do you miss Paris?”
At the sudden question, I stopped.
“I’m sorry!” she pleaded to me frantically, feeling she had wronged me. “Please pardon me. I didn’t mean—”
I chuckled softly; she was so cute when she got all concerned. “Of course I do…” My eyes fell to the ground, as though in attempt to reach inwardly to inspect my heart. “It’s…my home.”
She was quiet; we were both disappointed we couldn’t recover Paris during the last battle, and I tried to get the notion out of my mind.
Exhaling the heaviness away, I calmed myself enough to return a smile. “But I’ll have it back someday. I’m sure it will become a great city. I’d like for you to see it at its best someday.”
“So would I.”
Once we returned home, I worked on the soup while she enjoyed the day, bundling up and looking outside at the lovely scenery. The wind had picked up, and puffy clouds gathered in the sky, being carried swiftly by the wind. Often, she liked to look up at the sky. I often wondered what she would ponder while lost in contemplation.
Once the soup was done, we shared it and were blessed with its warmth.
“You make such good soup,” she muttered.
Sweetie. Ruffling her sweet head, I let her be to ponder by the window. Stretching my arms to the sky, I walked to the door to step outside for a moment. To my surprise, the wind came by very strong, almost knocking me back in the house. But on the strong breeze came a small, soft cry—barely familiar as my ears strained to listen. The small cutie of white fluff came and perched on the windowsill before I could distinguish that’s who it was. One of my little Pierres? What sort of message could he have for me? Taking the wide, folded scroll from his little beak, I unfolded it. A message from King Charles…for Jeanne. Sigh. What now? Having completed his task, Pierre sept (7) leapt to fly off, but the wind sent him crashing to my face, so he rested upon my head instead. I miss my little cuties. They spend all day at work—so diligent of them.
Without any words, I returned inside the house to meet her gaze. Her stare was intensive but softened by hopes and contemplation. It was as though she already knew what was happening.
“A letter came?” she questioned, her eyes darting to the rolled parchment. “What does it say?”
With a heavy sigh, I relayed the message—though it hurt me to do so. “The King calls for you.”
With a sigh and a determinative tone, her countenance fell, taking on a pained look. Closing her eyes, she declared, “Very well then,” as she often would, and returned gazing vapidly at the never-ending blue sky.
Worried for her, I escorted her and followed her into the castle to meet with the King. I was also curious about what he had to say. After all, it had been a while, and the last time we had all gathered, he broke the ties between us and made it seem like Jeanne had no more work or ties to the War or to him anymore. I was shaking. The worried feeling Jeanne had was rubbing off on me, and I couldn’t help but be wary of everyone around us.
Once in the throne room, Jeanne approached the king, taking note of the objects in waiting that decorated the table. Her eyes were drawn to the mystical sword that rested with the armor and trinkets of her past. I could tell by the cast-over look in her eyes that she never expected to return—that it all seemed like an eternity ago and an eternity she didn’t wish to return to. Nevertheless, with a soft sigh, she received the sword in her hands and looked it over as though to make sure it weren’t a lie.
“What do you ask of me?” she inquired with her usual confident tone.
Charles explained, “You are to lead a force in battle at la Charité. Your armies will be small, but it will be an important task if we are to achieve ultimate victory.” Though resolute, he still had the underlying feeling of uncertainty and pressure mixed with something strangely…secretive.
It just wasn’t right. Though it would help us in the long run and though it may not be a big sort of siege, a small army wouldn’t be enough, and we were given hardly enough weapons and ammunition. “A small force wouldn’t be enough to quell them! Please! We would need…”
Jeanne stopped me, tapping my arm and muttering in confidence, both kinds, “Please stand down. He can’t hear you.”
I could feel my face drain of color. It was true. I’d become detached again. Or, rather, they became disconnected from me. My influenced had waned again. That didn’t help the sinking feeling any.
With quiet contemplation, she pondered the idea, mulling it over. She knew it would be anything but honorable and that the whole situation now seems to be against us rather than with us. And it hurt her that she wouldn’t be standing beside those she cared for. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open, and her normal, confident disposition spoke through her. “I will lead them. And I assure you, I will do my best for the Kingdom of France.”
I took her hand as she left. We both treaded slowly, weighed down by our heavy hearts. But we still continued. Whatever resolve she had, I would follow. And whatever resolve I had, I knew she would follow me. After all, she never once mentioned the king’s name. Only mine. That she would continue…for me.
Before the trip, we all assembled to suit up and gather our equipment and armor for the conquest again. It seemed like it had been so long. The constricting metal plates…the heavy burden on my heart. Even as Jeanne sighed and gave in, her eyes were very empty. Burdened.
“It feels like a disguise,” she admitted, standing beside me.
With a disguised sigh, I put my hand on her shoulder in consolation. I shared her sadness. But I could do nothing about it again. So I added a bit of confidence. “Don’t worry. I’ll do my best to make up for the small fortiments. I’ll do all I can for you.”
But, at my words, her eyes only dimmed further. Her face only turned from me—and stared into the sun waiting in the horizon. The bright orb of hope we had to chase to our destination. But why? Then, confidently but with innocent eyes tinted with rose, she fervently commanded of me, “Please. I ask that you not help us this time.”
Before I knew it, she slipped away, leading a procession of soldiers to the unreachable horizon. I was so alone—so meaningless. I could feel myself slipping away as she proceeded further and further. So lost. So confused. So empty. But I couldn’t let it be that way. Once they had hit a safe distance, I followed—in short bursts of intense running—just so they wouldn’t stay out of sight. Just so I could still be there with her. Even if I were not seen. Even if, somehow, I wasn’t needed.
Mid-trip, they stopped for a rest and set up camp, so I took my chance to wait at a distance, combatting my courage and doubts to force myself to speak with her. I don’t know why, for the first time, I felt like I couldn’t talk normally with her. It frightened and isolated me. But I exhaled the doubts away, and once she was alone, I waited close by for my chance. She had, as she would sometimes do, found a comfortable spot outside to sit and to meditate in the comfort of nature.
“Does she miss me?” I wondered. Slowly, gracefully, I crept closer until her sweet face turned to me. But her eyes were not sad, nor were they angered with my presence. In fact, it was as though she expected me to come. And was hoping I would.
With a soft sigh, I donned a smile and stood beside her. Her face fell back to the ground. “Hello again,” I said casually. “Is…there a reason why you didn’t want me to come?” I mustered the courage to ask.
Her eyes still fixated to the ground, she mumbled, “It is because I want to fight for you.”
With her legendary sword at her side, she looked so determined. But I was worried. I didn’t want her to have to force herself to fight if she didn’t want to; violence worried and hurt her greatly, and I knew with all my heart that it would be extremely difficult for her to strike somebody down with her own sword by her own hand. That’s why I stood with her. To protect her and to fight for her. She fought in other ways—displayed strength in other ways. Ways that amazed me.
Patting her head, I relayed with all my heart in gentle tone, “You don’t have to do such a thing to prove your loyalty or pride to me, Sweetie. You already have done so by being here. I’ve never had any doubts. Why would I begin to have some now?”
Her little head shook, and her breaths were stifled by tears, choked by sadness. Wiping her tears away, she whispered painfully, “But everything is so uncertain. It’s not how it used to be anymore. What is there that I can do?”
Poor cutie. Loosely wrapping my arms around her, I waited as the tears fell away and listened to her concerns.
“I need to do my best and to be confident for you, but I’m just so afraid that it won’t end well,” she lamented desperately, as the remainders of stifled tears made their way from her starry eyes.
Standing behind her, I rested my chin on her head, ruffling her sweet hair. With a sigh, I began to understand. We both wanted the same thing. I wanted to help her; she wanted to help me. Let’s both work together.
“It’s all right,” I consoled, taking her hands from her beautiful face. “I know, too. But no matter what, I won’t be mad or disappointed in you. We’ll both have each other. I’ll stand beside you until the end. And I’ll help you in any way I can.” Cradling her hands between mine, I winked and cherished the way her emerald eyes shimmered from the solace of my words and sentiments.
I could tell she wanted to say something—anything, perhaps—but by then, there were no words or oppositions to share. So, with a smile and the last of tears, she nodded in response.
No matter what happens, we’ll stand beside each other. Until the bitter end.
Still worried, Jeanne stopped along the journey several times to scribe several letters requesting backup. Many of the letters she sent, she signed her name herself though they were all dictated by another messenger. Unfortunately, she didn’t receive many responses, and our army remained small without many weapons. Though we had conquered larger armies before with very little on our side earlier, this time was different. What lay ahead of us was larger than any of us could have dreamed, and our hearts remained wary from the start. A kind of sad intuition.
Once we arrived, Jeanne insisted we wait for responses before heading into battle—something that sounded too cautious and far-removed from her usual manner. But Cutie felt so alone. Our usual comrades were off on “better” conquests and missions, living the life of luxury as we treaded among unfamiliar territories, fighting beside unfamiliar faces. Wading in uncertainty and mistrust. It was so cruel, and I knew her heart felt the sting. Poor Sweetie. But as I promised, I remained by her side. Keeping her safe and fighting at her side.
Planted at the writing desk, she stared despairingly, vapidly, at the wood—wishing, hoping, and praying that help would come. And come in time. It pained me to see; my heart desperately wanted to reach for her—to save her from the darkness around us. To become the soft flicker of candlelight waiting beside us and fill the world with love and light.
Sitting beside her, I stroked her hair gently, petting her velvet cheek—and she flinched ever so slightly at my touch. “Are you all right, Sweetie?” I whispered so as not to frighten her away like a little rabbit.
Shutting her eyes, she closed out the world. But kept me intact, knowing somehow I was the last light of hope trying to keep her afloat. Burying her face, she let go of a quick breath, “I don’t know.”
Taking her hand, I stayed there with her. There was nothing else I could do.
All these years, all these days, all I’ve ever wanted was to change everything. To open my arms and extend my heart to save those who suffer, to relieve those who cry, to pacify those who fight. But the world, unfortunately, doesn’t work that way. It weakens me to admit that, and I despise the feeling of being so weak and helpless. So lost and confused. In the end, I’ve found all I can do is care. Open my heart, try to understand, and just be there for them. Anyone. Anywhere. It’s the least I could do. And, unfortunately, the most.
And so we stayed in silence—mutual consolation and companionship—until all went dark.
We found ourselves plunged in the middle of battle again. We were practically surrounded and hopelessly outnumbered. I tried my best to make up for our small numbers, but I lost my strength and courage somewhere in the shadows of the fallen. It felt so automatic—desperately trying to protect myself, blindly slashing at the dark, staving away at the oncoming faces. Nameless figures with angry faces.
I felt so numb—so automatic. I forgot why we were even still fighting anymore. But just as I let down my guard, I got a bad scratch—then two—then multiple all over my face and arms. It was like everything turned into a bad dream, with me trying to stop billions of needles from coming after me. Needles like angry bees with swords. But I could do nothing; it was like all my movements were changed to opposite what I wanted to do—never reaching peace or dodging an attack. Suddenly, just as I was about to burst with anger, her voice rang over all the screaming, agony, fighting, and suffering:
“Come back! Fall out!”
As I whipped by head back to verify her words, I questioned the call, scoping to see how the others are. Of the few of us left, they all scrambled immediately to follow her, running and jumping past the blockades that were once souls. A pierce to my back verified it. “She’s right,” I told myself sadly.
We had to fall back—regroup—while we still may have had a tiny chance. Chasing at shadows—that’s how it seemed to be. It was like we wanted to catch a falling star—after it had already faded away.
Jeanne said nothing as I followed her all the way back, as she followed our soldiers as they ran ahead, as she desperately fell into the seat beside the writing desk and meticulously helped craft more letters. Finally, she scribed an elaborate and rather heartfelt letter to the king in request for some kind of glance. With a heavy heart, she inscribed her name to the letter I penned for her, and she put her hand to her fallen head, holding out her other hand, which was desperately clutching the last letter meant for the king. Our final hope. The last one for me to send off.
In understanding, I took it from her and silently whispered a plea before seeing the parchment off as little Pierre bird took it into the expansive, cerulean sky—riding an uncertain wind.
And all we could do was wait. Even though we already knew what the answer would be. Never before have I seen her so somber—so beaten and depressed. I hadn’t thought it possible. Seeing her immersed in the shadows, refusing to move or to see daylight, putting down action and insisting to wait. She just wasn’t herself.
All those troubles that had been ruling our hearts—my longing to help her somehow, her increasing sense of isolation—had been at once confirmed. In a way, we both felt slighted. I knew I couldn’t magically make her world a better place, but I could still stand there beside her—something she desperately needed as she waded in the uncertain shadows, feeling mocked and alone. She wanted so desperately—I’m sure—to return to those previous days of friendship and victory. Days, that then, seemed like forever ago. Too far away to reach, too idyllic to ever have been truly real.
Finally, she stood up, pushing away the chair and the desk as though kicking them out of her sight and mind. “I can’t take it anymore. It’s like I’m a fool or something.”
I hated myself. All I could do was sigh.
Slowly, she descended back into the chair, sinking with a sigh, and quietly began to cry. She wanted to hide herself and her tears—soft sobs sounding like they belonged to a mouse or maybe a sparrow. Poor cutie.
My heart hid inside, sobbing itself
into a corner. All I could do was cry, too.
Hoping to stave away the loneliness and constriction she felt inside, she went for a walk, taking to the outside, where wide-open spaces and relaxing landscapes awaited her. That morning, she was all sighs. I could tell her countenance was reflective of mine—lost and confused, wandering in an aimless world. I felt the same; there was nothing we could really do. She fought back and forth with herself whether we would return to battle.
A soft chill, the outside was a quiet escape; subtle snow fell from the sky in little puffs. It wasn’t too often it would snow out here, so it was a little marvel to see. I can’t quite imagine what exactly she was thinking as she contemplated and looked to sky—but, as she turned around, she was refreshed, and she looked to me as I waited by the window.
“One more chance,” she declared.
And so we returned—I’d always follow her decisions, feeling I was obligated to do so and feeling her decisions were aided by God. Sometimes it felt like we were characters in a play, ultimately aided by the playwright to act accordingly. But with awareness we were doing so—oftentimes with regret when things didn’t go our way. But I went on. Continually, to the end, I persisted. Because I didn’t mind the outcomes. As long as I was with her in the end.
That battle seemed no different from the others at first—in the start and concept, they are all similar. It is the outcomes that differ them. As they progress. The sky turned gray, covering all our faces with apprehension and regret. In concept, it would be all right—but it didn’t take long for it all to go awry. The odds were against us—I realized there was no more we could do. Just like that time in Paris, we’d leave empty-handed—only with regrets. It was how it was meant to be. I realized that. But she didn’t want it to be so.
Hating to see her comrades fall so. To see the world slowly darken around us. Hope turn into nothing but a flicker on the horizon… It frustrated her.
My poor girl. My poor everything.
The world faded again—around us, around me—as I watched her call out to them. As she tried desperately to provide hope and guidance…even if she had none of her own. Suddenly, her arm fell; her head and countenance fell. She’d accepted it, too—perhaps with remorse.
I had to stand beside her—in this uncertain world, where we both stand, with everything dissolving and turning darker and darker around us. Only shadows. Taking her fallen hand, I tried to cheer her up with a smile, though an insincere one, for I knew there wasn’t much left we could do.
But then we locked eyes.
My hope in the darkness—my shining star to guide my way. Those shining gems were fading away; the light dying out. She didn’t know why we were still fighting. Why we continued. Why we degraded ourselves in this way. Why, most of all, it had to be this way. Why fighting and suffering had to exist.
Those eyes… They look so familiar now.
My sweetie. I’m sorry.
Her head fell again—and all I could do was take her into my arms. Try to comfort her. Stand beside her—as the world faded to black around us. As it all seemed too big for us. Too hopeless. Like two tragic characters in a play—all alone. Without the guidance or cue as to why.
But it was still us. Only us.
That’s something—I thought—that would never change.
Much later, winter was upon us, and we found ourselves relaxing at our little castle or home again. That particular evening, gentle snowflakes fell around us, and all was sublimely serine. It was the perfect evening to just relax and enjoy something warm while bundling up and talking about trifles or poetry. Or just treasuring the silence.
It had been quite the day for my little fighter. She was summoned to the castle for a special ceremony in which she was bestowed gifts and decorations for her valiant efforts and her courage as she led us all to grand victories and reminded me who I am and what I mean to this world. She made me feel so warm—so proud. I couldn’t let her go once we left to return home; I wanted to hold her forever.
But her attitude toward the entire affair was entirely different. She felt out-of-place. Somehow like a display or something that stood in place of everyone else’s determination. Not only that, her heart sank because she knew, and even muttered to me later, that this was the country’s farewell. The separation. The king had finally, discreetly but openly, sent her off with a fond farewell. I think that’s what hurt her the most, in a way. It all felt fake to her—like the glimmers of something that is supposed to be treasure but was instead just something painted gold.
I didn’t know whether to accept her feelings and empathize with her or to try to cheer her up and insist she shouldn’t be so negative and so down-hearted. But I couldn’t find the way. So I just took her hand and walked her back home as snowflakes occasionally fell and clung to our hair or melted on our noses.
Once we arrived home at my small cabin, we cherished the quiet evening, and I made us some nice, warm tea to drink as we rested. She hadn’t moved a centimeter once we arrived home. She was insistent on reclining in her chair before the fire and watching the flames dance in the night. Staying close enough that she could sense the exuding heat but far enough that once the warmth came forth from the fireplace, it dissipated to the rest of the room before reaching her. Her facial expression hadn’t shifted at all, either. She still kept that empty gaze of clouded eyes and the sour, beaten-down expression that at once conveyed so many burdening feelings but also safely hid everything.
Sitting beside her, I offered her tea, and she received the cup without any words, keeping her gaze forward.
“It was nice, wasn’t it?” I commented.
“I don’t deserve any of this stuff. It has no meaning to me anymore.”
“Please have your tea, sweetie.”
“I don’t deserve them. Especially not today.”
“Please drink your tea.”
Numbly, she took a small sip, her eyes transfixed at the glowing fire in the fireplace—the embers glinting in her emerald eyes and flickering like some sort of lost hope. Only reflections then—no real emotion was ever conveyed in her trance, and she didn’t have any feelings anymore. Just numbness.
With a sigh, I leaned back in my seat, searching for any possible words I could use to liven up the mood.
“Is this the end for me now?” she mused aloud. “Is there anything more for me? Another purpose?”
I wanted to speak from my heart, poetically, about how much meaning she has. But, really…she made me worry for the same. What was left for us? Really, what I wanted was just to spend more time with her. Now, with all the time in the world, we could do that.
After a moment of quiet and contemplation, she took a long breath. “I would like to go to mass with you tonight,” she said calmly. I supposed she secretly loathed the fact that they chose Christmas to bestow her with gifts—making it a day all about her except she never wanted all the attention to be about her. Especially on a sacred day like Christmas—the day the Lord, Himself, was sent to the world to live among us.
“Sure,” I agreed with a warm smile.
A soft sigh escaped her breath. “It is not so bad now. Now I can finally do whatever I want—and not worry about being told that I can’t. I knew this would happen eventually—the separation. He never listened to me in the first place, and it just seemed like they wanted nothing to do with me anymore once Charles was crowned. But why? What did I do wrong?” With a sharp breath, she cooled off the surface of the tea and took a big gulp of the drink. “Maybe they just don’t like my attitude or maybe it’s just that they don’t understand. Either way, I don’t mind—there must be some reason it is this way. And you and the Lord shall always care about me, I know. I’m never truly alone. It just feels like I am.”
Sweetie. She had to endure so many burdens. There were times she felt so similar to me—tired of being misunderstood and tired of being alone. Petting her head, I sympathized with her and suggested, “After this, we can return to my castle so you can have somewhere nice to sleep, all right?”
With a gentle smile, she acquiesced and took another sip of tea.
Whenever we stayed at my small house, she would offer me the bed and sleep on the floor by the fire—all bundled in her blankets to stay warm and cozy. I felt so bad she had to endure that, but she always insisted it be that way. She always thought of others before herself. I fought with myself for quite some time, pondering whether I should ask her to stay beside me so she could be comfortable. I would have enjoyed resting and snuggling up with her (You know, purely innocently)—dreaming together under the sky full of wishes and hopes. But I knew she’d probably either give me a strange look or reject me in her very headstrong way. Haha. But it was a thought I often had…a wish that often came to mind—that if we were close together, we could share each other’s dreams and meet together in a field to play. Get away from the world and our troubles and just smile together. That’s what I really wanted… Just to stay close beside her and keep her safe at all times… And even to share in her sweet dreams.
But that’s all right. I was content seeing her act her normal, silly self and not as sad as she had been.
I bundled her up in warm fur cloaks, and we both went to Christmas mass that night. She was always very ardent about attending mass, flat-out refusing to miss any time—even if we were in the middle of our battles. It was very dutiful for her, and she always seemed very relieved and renewed—in such an otherworldly sort of way. She always did exude a presence of that of a saint. But she liked being seen as a companion and fellow human. In that way, we were strangely alike.
Again, that night, she was relieved and accepting of hearing the Father’s words and in offering herself to the Lord. She was so humble—always willing to repent and to cast away her cares, though I was sure she never really did anything wrong. She was such a good girl.
As I stood beside her in the cathedral, I, too, felt renewed. It was a safe place—a sacred place. Somewhere I could have no more doubts as to the journeys of our lives. I was the one that needed to repent.
As we joined in song, she would sing along in a somewhat quiet but full tone—as though only for the Lord to hear if He were standing right before her. I hadn’t gone along with her much, so it was the first time I heard her sing. Her singing was quite haunting, but not necessarily in an angelic or beautiful way—more in a sort of whole-hearted and soulful way. As though it was another substance that transcended through time, that could be picked from memory and played again like a record. Simple. But unforgettable because it was her. Her soul.
When mass had finished, the snow picked up again, so I made sure she was properly bundled. The soft flakes rested casually upon her golden hair, and the atmosphere around us fogged from our breaths.
“You sing very well,” I commented.
She turned her head aside a little as though she were a little shy or humble to admit it. “Not really. I like the way you sing, too.”
Sweetie liked it when I’d sing her to sleep sometimes. Lullabies always help me sleep, too, so I often find myself, subconsciously, singing myself to sleep.
With a smile, I took her arm and picked up our pace through the cold, and, keeping in tradition, we kept warm by humming tunes and hymns the rest of the way home.
It didn’t take her long to glide into a peaceful slumber; it was such a sweet sight to behold on that peaceful night. All felt well with the world and calm in my soul. With a tender smile, I stroked her head and whispered, “Sweet dreams,” while carefully bestowing a good night kiss on her forehead. Sitting up, I stretched my arms and legs, knocking away the lingering stiffness. With a big sigh, I realized I couldn’t sleep still, so I ventured out to the balcony that adjoined the room.
Being near winter then, the chill had started to come over the horizon, but it wasn’t too cold that it bothered me much. The night was tranquil and serenely still; the stars reached out forever in the sky, and though they were innumerable, they shined with such vibrance that I thought for sure I could count them all—or maybe just that they were all present. Inhaling the cool air, a shiver ran up my back, and I crossed my arms to keep out the cold.
I love calm nights. It’s so sweet a time that I can cherish forever. I always feel oddly more in tune with myself and with romance and poetry at night…maybe the night is the Romantic’s quiet time to reflect. Or the closest I can be to reaching my soul. I’m not sure. But, while I wanted to get some rest, a part of me just wanted to stay up and cherish every last second of solitude and peace before the day broke again. I wished we could stay in my castle forever. I wished I could continue to spend time with her and chat about random things while smiling and enjoying the simple things in life. I wanted so much to wish on every star that we could just have our solitude apart from time and away from the rest of the world to enjoy. With a soft sigh, I closed my eyes, and my heart pushed my wish up to the stars, hoping my sentiments would reach every one. Then, with one last look, I returned inside.
Trying my best to keep quiet, I shifted my feet across the floor until I reached downstairs, where I boiled some water to make herbal tea to relax me. As I waited for the water to boil over the flame, I nibbled on some old bread, my thoughts becoming a little dreary and spotty again. It seemed like I couldn’t hold on to a positive notion for too long. Sigh.
Returning outside for the fresh air (and the tranquil atmosphere once again), I draped a cloak over my shoulders and sipped some of the relaxing tea. Staring at the grassy plains shifting in the breeze made me a little drowsy.
My sighs got lost in the calm breeze, drifting away. My eyes kept transfixed to the stars as they glimmered and twinkled so brightly, as though they were trying to tell me something in their own language. A language I, unfortunately, didn’t understand.
As I began to drift away to a short nap, the grass swished behind me, and I snapped awake to look. Jeanne had come. She was a little dreary; her eyes would not stay open too wide, but she nevertheless looked restless. Like she had tried to sleep but couldn’t, and her fighting to rest was catching up with her, making her even more tired than before.
“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” I asked anyway.
She yelped a little yawn and responded, “I can’t sleep. May I sit with you?”
“Sure, Sweetie. Would you like some tea? It may help you sleep.”
“All right,” she said, taking a seat across from me.
When I returned, she was staring out vapidly into the distance—as though trying to find the sun even though it wasn’t there. And she stayed quiet for quite some time until she finished the warm drink.
“I kept having bad dreams,” she explained quietly. “About enemies and people around me who hated me. Told me I was betraying them and that I had to be stopped.”
“Scary, huh? But please don’t let the dreams bother you.”
She sighed heavily. The little burden upon her heart weighed her down so. “But I can’t just forget them.” Turning again, her eyes stayed fixed on the horizon of black. “Why is there so much evil in this world?”
I know. It bothers me, too. Searching for some kind of answer—some kind of reassurance, my heart softened, and I smiled. “Well… There is some good and beauty in the world… We just have to find it and seek it out. And, in our own ways, bring beauty and goodness through our hearts so the world can be sweeter.”
Leaning back in the seat, she smiled, observing the twinkling stars. She had always seen the good in people, loving God’s Creation and humanity, but all this brutality became too much for her, I’m sure. She was searching for the dream hidden among the nightmares. “You’re right, Monsieur France. I shouldn’t worry.”
It was a treasure to see such a sweet smile again. Soft and beautiful as the stars’ innumerable lights. She was my shining star.
“Thank you for the warm tea,” she said, getting up. “I will try to get back to sleep again.”
I nodded. I knew she’d have good dreams that time.
The winter wasn’t the best time. My poor sweetie spent most of her hours moping about and confining herself to her own lonely thoughts. I’d take her to see her siblings sometimes, though often they were out fighting, and I’d try to get sweetie to smile…but to no avail. I felt worthless, too.
But it was the worst when she would cry. I hated to see her cry. The crushing pain she felt would rule my heart, as well. I felt awful crying with her, so I’d make leave of myself when she was done to go alone and cry my eyes out. Trying desperately to relieve some of the pain. To pour it all out of my heart and make it fade away into the shadows.
One day, she caught me. It was surprising for both of us, sure, but she looked strangely relieved as she spotted my tears. Before I hid them.
“I didn’t think you cried, M. France. Why don’t you cry?” she asked me sweetly.
I chuckled nervously, hiding my sadness and frustration, “I just… don’t want to cry around you, Jeannette. I don’t want to burden you.”
In truth, I have to be strong. I always feel the need to be strong around those who feel pain. It’s my duty (as Big Brother) to comfort them and stay strong for them. To be like the one that has all the answers and the one that has it all together when the world is nothing but chaos and lies. But, alas, my heart is easily hurt, too. Far too easily hurt. It just feels strange to cry with someone. But I guess I wouldn’t know… I’ve never tried.
To my pleasant surprise, she wrapped her little arms around my neck and put her head to my shoulder. “Please don’t feel bad about crying. I’m sad, too. You are human, as well, after all—aren’t you?”
With her holding me, I didn’t have any more tears.
“Thank you, sweetie. I’ll remember that.”
I didn’t want to let go of her after that—with or without tears. We just stayed there together a while. Cherished the moments. Let the pain and loneliness slip away…
There is no
more pain, sadness, or loneliness when you are safely in my arms. My sweetie.
No matter what, the flowers always return in the spring. Sometimes I worry that spring won’t come or that the flowers will freeze or fade away—but once I return outside and the warmth hits my skin and the sweet sprouts of green break through the ground, I smile and recall. It is then that all my worries seem so ridiculous—so stupid and baseless. Spring always returns. The flowers always make it back, no matter how harsh and unforgiving the winter.
I had to take another walk. The fresh spring air and crisp, beautiful day with the bluest sky called out to me. Jeanne wasn’t in the mood for a walk that day, so I was a bit worried to leave her alone in the castle—though she assured me she would be fine, though likely a bit lonely. I promised her I’d be back soon. I had to quell my spring fever a little; unfortunately, being surrounded by such beauty and feeling my heart swell with the symphony of spring only makes my spring fever worse. But it calms the soul.
Whispering goodbye, I shut the castle door—and the lovely day immediately swept me off my feet. Poetry coursed through my veins, and with each sigh, my body and spirit became lighter—so light, I could just fly away. There are no cares in the springtime. At least, that’s what I thought.
Even though it was a far-off destination, I gave in to my heart’s silly desire and returned to Paris. Something called me there—it wasn’t until I arrived that I realized just what the strange sensation was. It wasn’t because I was worried about Paris or because I was homesick. No—something was amiss there. And I had to figure out what it was. What once was an innocent visit turned into a shocking and worrying discovery. An unhappy accident.
There was that dummy enemy of mine conversing to his loyal followers about something or other. As soon as they came into view, I felt nauseous, and a sickening bout of terror constricted my heart and lungs. My “country sense” was going off. I was being threatened again. Something’s wrong. What could it be? What should I do?
But don’t get too used to it. It won’t last long.
No. I shouldn’t have left her alone. What was I thinking? Without any logical thoughts, I took off back to home—the landscape speeding by me faster than my thoughts were racing through my mind, bracing me and impeding my tasks I should have been doing (like spying). But I was so worried about her.
Dreams in which she’s hated—targeted—taken away.
No. Nightmares in which she’s taken away and threatened. Tortured and hurt. Lied about…and…
It was just a worry, right?
Suddenly, the castle door was back before me, and I slammed down the barricade to let me pass. The crash resounded through the quiet castle—echoing emptiness and despair. Loneliness. But there she was in the grand hall—sitting casually and having something to drink and nibbling on a few crackers. I heaved a grand sigh, both relieved and utterly ashamed at my impetuous, impulsive fears. Of course she’s OK.
“What is it, Monsieur France?” she questioned casually with a slight tone of concern.
I sighed again, exhaling the last of my frantic state and covering my worries with a simper. “Hey… I have something to tell you.”
We talked the rest of the day—into the night. As the sun receded into the sky and was swallowed by the darkness. I didn’t expound on my worries or my bad dreams or even my dumb ideas for us, but the fact alone that I was anxious and felt we should return to combat was enough for us to talk about at length together for such an extended time. At first, she rejected the idea. The thought of returning—as we had done once before—belittled her, troubled her. Such innocent eyes that wanted only to follow God’s will and to restore me—to save me. With that done, what else was there to do? But as we conversed and shared our meal, she became much more serious—purposeful and introspective. It was her other face, the one I had known so well. My confidante and my guardian. My hope and my reminder. I had become so used to seeing her innocent, childlike, normal—in a word—that as the driven and poised persona returned, it was so theatrical. I missed her. But why? I enjoy the sweet, unassuming Jeanne, as well. The little girl. The maid of Domrémy. La Pucelle. But there was more to her than that—too extraordinary for such simple descriptions.
The candles on the table flickered and danced as she stood up, contemplating all we had discussed. She stood silently for a while, and all that could be heard was the gentle wind outside, whistling an aimless tune. I hoped I hadn’t said anything wrong or sounded too nervous, condescending, or pleading in my words and tone. It just weighed me down. The fact that I was still surrounded at all sides, seemingly helpless. We were certainly at a plateau, and I feared we may lose our land all over again—even after those miraculous months of rebirth. I was still wandering in the dark forest, metaphorically, searching for a light to chase or a path to take—all the while hoping the next isn’t a fausse or that I’d actually make it out of the labyrinth someday. Hopefully alive.
I wasn’t strong enough to make it on my own. I never have been.
I knew she couldn’t hear my thoughts, but she suddenly whipped around—standing at attention—with eyes of steely determination as though she overheard everything I pondered and was offering the solution.
“I know I said I wouldn’t…and I know I haven’t been to battle in a while…but I am still loyal to you, and I will follow your orders as they come.” Reverently, she held her fist to her heart as she delivered her words of resolve, and she bowed to me, displaying her humility and willingness.
“I’m glad” is what went through my mind as I chuckled softly and took her hand, relaying the mutual loyalty I had to her.
But it was all a big mistake.
If I could go back—to any time—I realize now. I should return right then. And slap myself.
I don’t know why, but we were granted an army of 350 and sent to Compiègne, which was about 50 miles north of Paris. My sense must have been right because I had felt (not quite predicted) that hostile forces were coming from around Paris—centered north—and approaching fast. Closing in. I was a nervous wreck the whole trip. I couldn’t sleep, and for once, I could hardly eat. Jeanne urged me to eat once or twice and even had to feed me once her pleading wasn’t enough. In retrospect, it was both silly and sad she had to feed me. If only it were under more romantic circumstances… Sigh. I wonder what she’s saying about me now as I think that.
But I couldn’t get that gnawing, sickening, disgusting feeling out of my mind as it sunk into my stomach and pried its way into my heart, creeping to the edges of my soul. It’s all I could think about. All I could feel. All I could process. I couldn’t take it anymore—the pain was driving me mad.
Don’t get too used to it.
Why? What was it? I didn’t want those nightmares to surface. I wanted them to be just worries. Just pain. Just fears. They were less hurtful that way.
But the battle at Compiègne didn’t help any. The sky shadowed in a morbid gray, the fields wide and unforgiving as they turned dark in the shadows. Terror and anxiety wracking at my nerves. Heaviness and doubt pulling down Jeanne’s heart. Everything was already an indication of how the day was going to progress. After all, the sun was safely hidden behind the thick layer of clouds. The only consolation was that the air was light and quiet without a hint of rain or humidity. Calm. Still. But somber. Ominous.
With a full inhale and heavy but composed exhale, she raised her banner, signaling for us to charge into battle. No triumphant shout. No passionate eyes. No perfectly-straight stance as she led us on. Nothing. I almost burst into tears right then; crushed, I almost fell to the ground and sobbed ridiculously, making up for the sky’s lack of life-giving rain. But I didn’t. I put a hand to her shoulder in consolation, reaffirming the promise that I’ll always be there to protect her. The subtlest smile came to her sweet face; it was like the stars that wait among the evening’s blue sky. You would have to look hard to see it—but once you did, you were gifted with something truly special and beautiful. I wanted to stay there beside her; take her into my arms and keep her safe. Take away her worries and her tears and her pain and replace it all with my love. To make sweetie smile again. Instead, I imparted a quick embrace, savoring her warmth and the coarse softness of her hair.
“It’s OK,” I whispered. It’s OK. Not to this day or this battle—but the feelings we shared. The worries we felt. The outcome that waited. It’s OK to feel that way. Whatever happens today, it’s OK. As long as I can hold you in my arms.
With a decidedly audible sigh, I parted with her and ran straight for the front lines again to stave off any oncoming trouble before it goes too far. By that point, I had to be careful in my extreme speed and actions, for the others could see me. To their eyes, sometimes, I was just a glance, but most often it was a normal occurrence that I stood beside them in permanence. Somehow, they never questioned my presence. Like I was just another person.
With the morbid gray canvas as our background, we all fought tirelessly—until our final breaths. It wasn’t fun any longer. It wasn’t glorious any longer. It wasn’t even painful or disgusting any longer. It was tiring. Bothersome. Why was I even there? Why did it have to be that way?
“Wait.” The thought hit me suddenly, and I desperately searched everywhere for some kind of sign. Only to find no trace. “Where’s England? Don’t tell me he’s not here.”
Just what my raging nerves needed. He wasn’t even there. Off somewhere else entirely, probably enjoying his stupid tea. Ugh. “That figures. He probably felt he didn’t have to come,” I growled internally. “Like he knew he’d win anyway.” How belittling. It was like the prince and the pauper, and I was nowhere close to being the prince. The very thought surged my veins with disgusted anger.
And there I was fighting with all I could muster. Was I really that much of a help?
Even with a bigger army, we were outnumbered. Our days of victory and glory were long gone. It just felt like we were lost sheep refusing our guided trip to the slaughter.
I couldn’t. Pushing back all the raging emotions—pain, sorrow, regret, anger, you name it—I turned away. My place was with Jeanne—and that’s where my wary heart wanted to go. Where my body wanted to be. Where my troubled soul felt comfortable and comforted. Just run away and leave it all behind. Forget it even existed. Put it out of sight and mind. And run away—escape—to something else.
Poor Jeanne. My sweetie. In the middle of it all, all she could do was observe. Once again, she had that desperate look on her face. The feeling she wanted to reach out and save everyone. To stop all this madness and suffering. Overseeing and calling out orders to her comrades, in the midst of everything, her little head whipped around to catch something behind her—one of her fellow soldiers about to lose to opposing sword. Acting on impulse from her biting heart, she thrust herself forward—heeding the untold cry for help—but her effort was stopped mid-stride as a throwing spear, knocked off its trajectory, wounded her right leg. Immediately, I was at her side—to protect her from any further harm—and huddled beside her on the unforgiving ground. She looked up; I followed her eyes. It was too late. He had been caught off-guard and been sent to the floor—just a lifeless body without a soul. That quickly. The fragility of life frightened her.
Regret in her eyes, she fell into my arms, and I nuzzled her little head, comforting her silently as I tended to her leg’s wound. The spear didn’t do too much damage, thank God, but it was still enough that she’d have to rest a few days before she could walk again. As I held a cloth against her to stop the bleeding, she stayed silent and remorseful. All the energy and meaning in her life was gone. She just wanted to stay there with me—in a quiet place—and forget all our troubles. Like how it used to be. Poor sorrowful face. She felt the same as I did.
For a brief respite, she was so relaxed. So soothed. I thought for a second she’d fallen asleep in my arms. But then her ethereal, verdant eyes opened, shimmering, and stared into my eyes of cerulean.
“It isn’t going so well. We should retreat before we lose any more men. I can’t stand this anymore,” she commented matter-of-factly, her composed tone disguising her worry and tears.
“Yes. I think so, too,” I said in a consoling tone. Picking her up, I cradled her in my arms and ran off—the both of us calling for our countrymen to follow.
To run off—and away. To escape. To some other place—some other world.
Is there even a place like that?
Once we had all gotten away, I volunteered to take Sweetie back home—to the castle I stayed in. She was reluctant at first, but I wanted her to have a nice, safe, quiet place to rest. Somewhere close to me so I could keep watch over her. She was doing well, getting used to the surging pain that comes and goes, fighting with the urge to get up and go, recovering and resting after she’s been hurt. She barely even cried that time—though I could tell she wanted to. My brave girl. She was silent the whole way home.
Once we returned, I set her gently in the big bed upstairs. Being careful with her.
“Here you are. Get some good rest, all right?” I instructed kindly as I covered her up and tied another cloth around her leg.
“But what about you, M. France? You’re hurt, as well, and you had to run me over here.”
“I’m fine. Please don’t worry about me.” I was used to getting scratched up. Plus, I was practically healed by then. “You take the comfy bed.”
“You need it more than I do, Sweetie,” I said, tucking her under the covers and giving her a kiss on her forehead.
“I…” she voiced softly, the lingering melancholic tone hanging in the air and following me.
Once she was safe and sound, back at home with me, tucked in and resting…I let her alone. Scaled the winding stairs—painful and long. Heavy. Plodding on the stone floor. Once alone, the pain seeped in—the unbearable weight caged and crushed my poor heart. The torture of depression surged through me…until, at last. I couldn’t take it anymore. I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
At the bottom of the stairs, I broke down—literally fell to my knees—and sobbed.
I couldn’t protect her. I shouldn’t have suggested this. It’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have made her go back to this. I know she doesn’t like it. I should have known. I shouldn’t have let my worries get the best of me. I never should have said anything. It was such a huge mistake—such a big mistake. I was such a fool to think I could win—be something. Fight again and conquer like this.
So stupid. I was so stupid. So so so so stupid. And I let her get hurt. I hated to see her in pain. Why? Why did she have to feel pain and get hurt? My poor cutie. Why? And her poor heart, too, taking on such burdens only I should bear.
All she wanted was to protect her people and to save me. To make me great again and to help me realize who I am. And I couldn’t even save her once. I was never great—what was there to restore?
That’s all I’ll ever be.
And inbetween my sharp gasps and pained sobs, I could hear Sweetie upstairs—calling my name.
Asking me if I’m OK.
A few days passed, and she was recovering steadily. Though it bothered her to rest most of the day, she had become used to the idea, and she didn’t have much strength to defy me, so she recuperated quite quickly over such a short time. Because she slept in a little that morning, I prepared an omelette for lunch for us to share. She was amazed at how I mastered the technique to fold it just so that it looks perfect and beautiful. Happily, she took a bite and enjoyed the light texture and rich flavor of the dish, but she suddenly stopped—intently studying my face in wonder.
“Am I looking lovestruck again?” I wondered. “What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I feel strange eating all of this myself,” she admitted shyly.
“It’s OK. I’m fine.”
“We don’t have a shortage of food, though, do we?” she questioned, concerned, as she read my face.
“Well, that would be a nightmare for me, wouldn’t it?” I commented sheepishly, twirling my hair.
Adamantly, she split the omelette in half, cutting through the strings of cheese, and pushed the plate to the middle of the table. “Let’s share it,” she declared.
“You’re sure?” My eyes lit up.
“Yes, it will be enough for both of us,” she said with a warm smile.
“Sharing a meal with you would be my life’s greatest treasure,” I expressed poetically, reaching my fork to her.
But as she, coyly, returned her fork to clink with mine, as though in a toast, the memory dissolved in my mind.
At that point, all those memories and daydreams seemed like only yesterday—but, at the same time, visions of a fabricated world that never existed. My days and times fell apart like threads that couldn’t be put back together—that fell from between my fingers as I tried to reach them again.
What is there left when one is in agony? What is left when there is only depression and uncertainty? Is it even possible that I could be happy—or that I ever was?
“I can’t believe it’s tomorrow already. I miss the pleasant days.”
My words fell on empty space—resonated in deaf ears. Brought nothing but more pain and ache to my heart that was already just pieces of something that used to be there. A numb lump that could produce no more emotion except emptiness. I had lamented it so much that I couldn’t believe I had any tears left. Little did I know then how much more I would have to cry. That “tomorrow” would be an even worse nightmare than I could ever imagine.
That it would be the last time—the last memory—I would see her. That I would have of her.
So…but still…I desperately clutched my stinging chest and held on to the memories, the fantasies, all the plans I had made for escape that I could never have again. That I could never make reality. That I was too frightened to follow. I wished time could have just stopped then. That the world could have dissolved and ended then—anything. Anything but tomorrow. Anything.
Anything at all but having to say “goodbye.”
Once again with the illustrious evening as our backdrop, we shared dinner outside together, reveling in the lovely day and the pleasantly warm weather. The stars were peeking through the warm, inviting sky, and the sun sat witness in the corner of the world. Such a clear evening sky… It was another calm moment.
But the quiet wasn’t pleasant or relaxing. It was unnerving. For once, we couldn’t cherish our special moment together. With all the worries and rumors and failures burdening us, our hearts sank to the ground and couldn’t find any peace. It was so disheartening. Not knowing whether we should return to Compiègne or just stay here and wait out until something happens.
Even among those sad times, I wanted to cherish the moments with you. Let’s cherish this lovely evening—perhaps the last one we may have together.
Sitting up in my seat, I said, “Let’s not have this sad feeling. We should play a little game to cheer ourselves up.”
“What sort of game, M. France?” Her inner child’s interest was piqued.
My eyes drifted to the lovely garden that surrounded the castle—such a sweet, precious garden. Forever contained in its innocence and eternity. Magical, almost, as it burst into bloom with a plethora of flowers in every style and color. Meticulously and lovingly maintained.
“Let’s run around in the gardens. We each have to find our favorite flower and bring it back to give to each other. How’s that?”
“That sounds good,” she agreed, gaining a soft smile as her energy returned and she left her seat.
While I was there with her, the gardens seemed to stretch on forever. The towering wildflowers, the patches of pruned roses, the interspersed species guarded with care—all reaching to the endless sky, taking in the warm sun. We walked beside each other for a moment, but the call of youth sang in my heart—and I teased her to race me and to try to catch me. And, with a smile, she accepted my challenge.
She had recovered by then, so she put up a good chase; whispers through the curtains of flowers, a ringing call across the fields. Every now and then, I could see visions of her, but I could feel her presence all around me—as though we were both beings of light. Stopping for a moment, she searched for me in the midst of the paths—where they all converged to a small clearing—and tried so hard to find me while keeping up her guard as though we were playing a game of tag. From hiding, I darted past her, leaving a trail of rose petals in my wake. As they rained down upon her, my heart swelled, and she shied the crimson rain away. With a joyful shout, she chased after me—looking to get me back. Which she did—with little violets. And my laughter echoed throughout the whole world.
I couldn’t have been happier. You and me and flowers. Youth and love and beauty.
Like butterflies, we fluttered back and forth for the longest time, chasing after each other or following each other in a kind of premeditated dance our hearts shared. Circling around, wide with smiles, we each secretly vowed to meet in the middle this time—the rotunda where all the trimmed paths joined together. My target had been spotted—the patch of white lilies, full in bloom, sought for me as my eyes focused on them. As I ran by, I plucked a flower to take with me. I felt like a child waiting to bring this small treasure home to someone special. Someone who would realize how magnificent it is to my wide, innocent eyes.
The circular clearing came into sight, and I ran for it at full speed. But, suddenly, she appeared across from me, and I halted on the dot.
There we were—both standing dangerously close, the lingering light from the radiant sky shimmering in our vibrant eyes. Wide with surprise, ripe with bemusement—fascination. Both carrying an envoy of white. The symbol of purity and innocence.
It couldn’t be.
The same? The same.
We both brought the same flower.
It was like my entire existence had been confirmed to have meaning. Pure happiness burst from me, and I snatched her up in a joyful embrace, laughing and twirling her around until we both fell to the ground. I made sure she fell either one me or beside me so I wouldn’t crush the poor sweetie, and we ended up side-by-side—both smiling. Sigh. My heart swells to think of it now. For what seemed to be the longest time, I just held her close to me as I giggled stupidly, lost in the pure, unbridled joy I thought had been long lost. Then, finally, I rolled to my back, allowing her some space in case I was bothering her. I wanted her to feel all right; our youthful, innocent love meant everything to me if it was the preference of her heart. It meant everything to me just to be there beside her. To smile like that. Besides… No poetic wording, no amount of affection, no heartbeat, no grandoise display, no sweet action, no amorous sigh could ever explain…how I feel about her.
“You like lilies, too?” I asked.
“Yes, they are just very lovely flowers,” she responded, glancing over the sweetie she had picked.
“I think so, too. White flowers especially are so…poetic. So different from the rest.”
She smiled still, twirling the flower around. Maybe my silly old romantic notions were just something for me. But that’s all right. I just love seeing her smile. It brightens my life. She seemed so young, so renewed. I felt that way, too. As though we’d transcended somehow.
“Shall we trade?” I proposed.
Handing over the two lilies, we exchanged as they crossed the sky—so pure and white like dancing angels.
Holding on to the simple, yet elegant flower, I treasured it. A gift from my dear Jeanne. I will cherish it forever.
“It’s sweeter coming from you,” I whispered so gently—so softly—maybe even the flower didn’t hear me as I raised it to my nose to smell the gentle fragrance.
I’m glad. We had our moment together—the quiet time at last apart from everything and everyone else. No one would ever find us here; we could remain always, untouched, in the garden of our youthful, eternal love.
I was happiest there. The happiest I’ve ever been in my entire life. Just being there beside her, sensing her sweet, angelic presence—among all those flowers and the warm, Romantic evening sky. It is Heaven for me. I was in Heaven for a moment, cherishing the sort of ethereal perfection I’ll never know in my lifetime, being tethered to this long, lonely existence.
Absent-mindedly twirling the flower in her fingers, her face fell again; slowly, our small paradise returned to reality. Like a small child afraid of the dark to come, she turned to me, resting her head on my chest, and stayed beside me. I loved having her there—close to my heart, as she will always be. Though it surprised me a little she nuzzled up close to me—though innocently and in a worried manner. I had to keep her safe. I worried so much. I was afraid of the dark to come, too. Afraid of losing her. Afraid we’d no longer have these nice, quiet moments to enjoy. Afraid I would have nothing left. A persistent, biting fear that refused to leave my heart—even while she was next to it, comforting me as much as I was comforting her. Sometimes…no perhaps truly…I wondered if we had the same exact fear. The same worries of the same inevitable ending.
And so the sweetness, like the fragrance of the flowers, once again faded away—to the background—as our worries took hold of us again. As the sounds of the night overtook the quiet and as the sun sank further and further into the horizon. So beautiful. So special. But so brief. Too ephemeral.
“Are you afraid?”