Authors: Kathryn Le Veque
De Russe looked at her, leaning back against the old door. “Bedford,” he said simply. “Bedford and the Burgundians. They are ashamed because a young woman has beaten them in battle. Your presence here is the result of male vanity and nothing more. There is nothing honorable about your death and now I am to be part of that dishonor.”
The Maid studied him. This knight, this massive knight who struck fear into the hearts of French and English alike, had become her unlikely ally. Like the father she wished she’d had or the brother she had always wanted, de Russe had been cold and professional at first but gradually, as he’d come to know her, he had opened up somewhat. The Maid understood the heart of a soldier, and de Russe had the heart that few knights had. There was righteousness there, and honor. He had done his best to provide her comfort and protection, and she was deeply grateful. After several long moments of scrutinizing him, her gaze trailed to the colors of the sunset upon the wall.
“I am at peace with what will come,” she told him. “In truth, since the moment I started this campaign, years ago, I always knew I would not live a long life. May I tell you a secret?”
De Russe nodded his head, folding his big arms across his chest. “Of course.”
A twinkle came to the Maid’s dull eyes. “St. Catherine told me that the joys of this earth were not meant for me,” she murmured. “She said that joys would be awaiting me in Heaven. That is why I am not afraid to die. I am tired of misery and wish to know joy.”
De Russe cocked his head slightly. “You told the ecclesiastical court that you would never divulge what the saints had told you,” he said, a smile playing on his lips. “Yet you tell me now.”
The Maid grinned. “They do not need to know,” she said. “Why should I tell them? They would only turn it against me. I know you will not, de Russe. You will keep my secrets safe.”
De Russe nodded in agreement. He didn’t need to say any more than that because they both knew acknowledgment was unnecessary. But it was clear he was still stewing on something, uneasily.
“I have a confession,” he finally muttered.
“What is it?”
He took a long, deep breath. “I am fearful of standing before God and telling him that I did not do all I could to help you, as a servant of God,” he said. “I have done many things in my life that would warrant me a prime place in Hell, but this… if I do not try to help you in your final hour, I fear that even Hell will not be good enough for me.”
The Maid shook her head firmly. “De Russe, listen to me,” she said. “Tomorrow, I will meet God and I will tell him how good you have been to me. He will know of your grace, I swear it. But you must understand that I was never meant to live a long and good life. I am like a shooting star, quick to flare brightly and strongly, and quick to burn away. Soon, I will burn away. As for you going to Hell, I can assure you that is not the case. God has great things in store for you, my friend, happiness such as you cannot imagine. You have been a good and true servant, de Russe, and you have been kind to me when you did not have to be. You will be rewarded.”
He grunted. “Is that a hope or a prediction?”
“It is a promise,” she assured him softly. “Will you do something for me, then?”
De Russe sighed heavily. “You know I will.”
The Maid’s expression tightened somewhat, belying her fear of what was to come no matter how she tried to convince him otherwise. “Tomorrow when I meet God,” she whispered. “Will you be there?”
De Russe hung his head. He found he couldn’t look at her any longer. He could hear the terror in her voice and it hit him in the gut, squarely, like a punch. He could hardly breathe, knowing what pain this gentle, pious girl would suffer on the morrow.
“Aye,” he mumbled.
“Good,” she replied, struggling to brighten. “Then I have nothing to fear. I… I want your face to be the last one I see upon this earth. Will you do this for me? Will you let me see you?”
He closed his eyes tightly, briefly, struggling against great rage and sorrow at the injustice of it all. “Aye,” he replied quietly. “If you wish it.”
The Maid struggled to move off the bed. She wasn’t eating these days and was very weak, but she managed to climb off the bed. Stiffly, she moved towards de Russe, a skinny slip of a girl who had once carried the hopes of a country upon those skinny shoulders. As she went to stand before de Russe, barely coming up to his chest in height, she put a small, cold hand on his forearm.
“St. Michael told me once that he would bring someone to help me in my need,” she said. “He never told me who, or where, but I believe he meant you. Do you not understand, de Russe? God has sent you here to be with me in my final hours and bring me comfort. Moreover, you must do something else for me.”
De Russe gazed down at that dark little head. “You only need ask.”
The Maid looked up at him with her dark, hollow eyes, but there was fire there. Fire that could have only come from a heavenly source.
“You must take whatever remains of me and transport it with you to England,” she said softly. “St. Michael says I am to be buried in Hampshire at Winchester Cathedral because it is Beaufort’s church. Do you know it?”
She was speaking of Henry Beaufort, Bishop of Winchester, who had been one of her chief inquisitors. The man had been brutal and unfair. Not coincidentally, he was also half-brother to the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Gloucester. De Russe pondered her question for a moment.
“I do,” he finally said. “Winchester is a great cathedral.”
“Will you take me there?”
He stared at her, rather perplexed. “You have never even been to England,” he said. “Why must you be buried there?”
The Maid’s expression lightened and her pale cheeks seemed to take on some color. “Because God has made a promise to me,” she said. “He said that I was meant to become a martyr for France. You must take me to Winchester and before Michaelmas, I shall make my presence known to the English, in death as I once did in life. Before St. Michael’s holy feast day I shall reveal myself to those who condemned me to die.”
De Russe was looking at her with a mixture of doubt and confusion. “Are you to be resurrected, then?”
The Maid shook her head. “Nay,” she replied. “Not resurrected. That shall never be. But St. Michael said I should know my vindication only after death.”
The Maid nodded, eyeing de Russe with a faintly amused expression. “You do not believe me?” she asked. Then, she shrugged. “I knew no one would. Why do you think I did not tell the ecclesiastical court this? But I will tell you because I know you will trust me even if you do not believe me. Whatever is left of me, de Russe, you must make sure it is taken to Winchester.”
De Russe continued to look at her, that small woman who had thrown two countries into turmoil. He was pensive in his response. “If I do this,” he said quietly, “I could be considered a traitor. Bedford already knows I am sympathetic towards you but he has no grounds to act against me. If I do this for you… it will give him grounds. Surely you realize that.”
The Maid nodded. “I do,” she said. “But you only just offered to let me escape again. Would that not be the same thing? Giving Bedford grounds to act against you?”
He shook his head. “That would be different,” he said. “Turning my back and allowing you to run off does not mean that I have physically helped you to escape. I did not carry you out of here to take you somewhere. It would merely be aiding your cause by lack of action, which would be less difficult to prove. But if I were to carry your remains to Winchester… that, demoiselle, would indeed be physically aiding you.”
She cocked her head, thoughtfully. “And you do not want to be a traitor to your country much as I would not want to be a traitor to mine?”
“Something like that.”
The Maid nodded her head. “I do understand that, truly,” she said. “But I would not ask this of you if it was not important.”
She was looking at him, eagerly, but de Russe was harboring great doubt. Whether or not it was wise, or considered betrayal, weighed upon him heavily. This young woman had waged a hard-fought battle for years, was ultimately betrayed by the French and then mistreated by the English, when all she had wanted to do was free her country from English rule and see the
upon the throne. It was not such a terrible thing, what she had wanted. But to put the Maid’s remains upon English soil… de Russe wasn’t so sure about that.
De Russe sighed heavily, shaking his head as he spoke. “I have been fighting in France for many years, demoiselle,” he said. “My oath is, in fact, to England and not to France. My oath is not to you. As much as I deplore the way you have been treated and believe that your inspiration is, in fact, divine, I am not entirely sure I can plant you upon English soil to haunt the English people. I would be betraying everything I hold dear and everything I stand for.”
The Maid’s expression of hope wavered and she forced a smile as she realized that he was denying her request. She was disappointed, that was true, but she also understood that the man’s true loyalty was not to her but to his country. She, of all people, understood loyalty to one’s country. She was an enemy of his people and he was a soldier. He had done all he could for her. He could do no more.
“I understand,” she said. “You must do what you feel is right, of course. But if you do not take me to England, then... then I hope you will make sure my remains are disposed of.”
His brow furrowed. “What do you mean?”
She took her hand off his arm, turning away from him and heading back towards the spindly, uncomfortable bed. “I do not wish to become the fodder for those who wish to own a piece of my body,” she said. “I do not wish for my finger bone to end up in someone’s house as an object of veneration, or worse, used for monetary gain. I do not wish to be sold or bartered. Will you make sure there is nothing left of me, then? If you choose not to take me to Hampshire, then cast me into the river. Make sure there is nothing left.”
De Russe’s intense gaze was upon her. “As you wish,” he said. “I will make it so.”
The Maid lowered herself back onto the uncomfortable bed, the last bed she would know upon this earth. Her memories of earth would not be particularly pleasant and she found she was somewhat eager to be done with it all. After shifting on the bed to find a comfortable position, her dark-circled gaze found de Russe once more.
“Thank you, my friend,” she said softly. “For all you have done for me and for the comfort and concern you have provided, you have been an excellent big brother. I am grateful.”
De Russe was experiencing a great, hollow feeling in his chest, as if a light had gone out. Something had been taken away from him that he wasn’t sure he would ever regain. He didn’t even know what it was. All he knew was that he was filled with sorrow and disillusionment. He was a knight, straight and true, and the things he believed in, the things he held dear, had been twisted and chewed up and spit out by Bedford and a host of crafty English clerics. This wasn’t the England he wanted to serve. He wondered when, and how, things became so distorted.
De Russe spent the rest of the night in the Maid’s cell, sitting against the cold stone wall, speaking with her in soft tones, watching over her while she slept fitfully a few hours before dawn. The uneasy sleep of the condemned. It made him sick to watch.
When the sky began to turn golden and the wall above him began to turn colors as the sunlight streamed in, he rose from his position against the wall and made his way down to the guards on the lower level, where three out of the four were sleeping. He sent the awake guard for the Maid’s last meal but was prevented from presenting it to her alone when a few of the clerics who had presided over her trial arrived in the tower, coming to escort the woman to her doom.
The trial bailiff, Jean Massieu, also joined the congregation of men. Much like de Russe, he was somewhat sympathetic to the Maid, as he had presided over the entire trial and had seen what had been done to force this woman into the position she was in. It had been a travesty in many ways. As the sun rose, all of these men, and several guards, crowded into the Maid’s cell as de Russe personally placed her tray of bread, wine, and some cheese in front of her to eat.
The Maid smiled thankfully at de Russe but would not eat anything. As the charges were recited and the sentence against her was read once more so she understood exactly why she was facing such an end, de Russe stood silently by. It was de Russe and Massieu who escorted the young woman from her cell and down to the waiting wagon, the one that would take her to the square in Rouen where she would be put to death. De Russe wouldn’t let anyone else touch her until she got onto the wagon.
The town had turned out for the execution, a massive event for the French. Clad in the men’s clothing, the only clothing she had been allowed to wear, and her dark hair cut in a short bob that came to the bottom of her ears,
was both jeered and cheered as she was taken to the town square, with its massive marketplace, for maximum exposure for her execution. There was a frenzy in the air this day, something rarely seen, as the entire city gathered in the square, waiting, watching, for the Maid to be put to death.
De Russe was astride his charger, riding just before the wagon, clearing out the crowds who were gathering in the road. He was an impressive sight, a massive knight astride an equally massive charger as dark as coal, kicking people aside when they didn’t move quickly enough. He also managed to trample three people to death when they rushed the wagon, grabbing for the Maid. He had rushed back to pull them away and ended up killing them. He wasn’t sorry in the least.