A Key to the Illuminated Heretic by A.M. Dellamonica, short story book cover artwork

“A Key to the Illuminated Heretic” by A.M. Dellamonica

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Joan of Arc was a heroine of France in her time, and today, much is known of her life up to its tragic end. But what if the ending you thought you knew was just the beginning? When Joan of Arc is free to carry on into war with a stronger following than ever, she’ll rely on faith to lead France to victory.


A Key to the Illuminated Heretic

Frontispiece: Joan of Arc stands chained in a horse-drawn wagon, wearing a black gown. Leaning against a pair of nuns, she seems almost to swoon. Her right arm is portrayed as bones without flesh. The horses’ ornate curls and gleaming teeth lend a ghastly note, and blackened angels border the image.

The scene is easily recognized: the Maid’s debilitation, the nuns, and especially the cloud of larks above serve to identify it as Joan’s journey to the trial that ended her 13-year imprisonment for heresy. It was at this “Exoneration Trial” that she encountered Dulice Aulon, the Jehanniste artist responsible for the holy pictures on which the codex illuminations are based.

"We mustn’t face the King in battle." Joan had the light, clear voice of a young woman, even after her years in prison and the hard decade since her release. She’d asked one of the new archers, a girl of perhaps seventeen, to cut her hair, and a few broken strands of silver hair clung to her neck. The rest lay at her feet, bright in the glow of the dying fire.

"Not fight Charles?” Hermeland was incredulous. He was a badger of a man, with a dramatic, pointy face and remarkable speed with a sword. “We must turn his army back before it unites with the force of mercenaries coming up from Rome. If you can’t see that–"

"Can’t see it? Who ordered us to turn north, days before anyone knew the King had pursued us into Burgundy?"

"You–" he began, and as her brow came up he corrected, “your Voices."

They were nearly of a height, less than perfect subjects for a drawing. From her seat in the shadowed corner of the tent, Dulice tried to capture the dirt on Joan’s blue tunic and leggings, her sheathed knife of a body. She was all deadly intent, a knight with a lined face and too many scars. Her eyes blazed–it was a wonder Hermeland did not flinch from the heat there!

"What I do not see is why Charles is coming at all," she said. "He’s an old man. He never led men-at-arms before."

"Politics," he replied. "So says Marcel Renard."

"He would bring that filthy word into it." She waved off the archer gently, shaking out her shorn locks as the girl left.

“We can win this battle, Joan,” Hermeland said.

"We would win.” She dismissed the issue as she took up her sword. “But God did not have me crown this King only to tear him down."

She had no doubt at all, and it was plain Hermeland was surprised. Misunderstanding Joan as usual, Dulice thought–he thinks she fears defeat, but it is victory that worries her.

Dulice herself didn’t share their belief in the small Jehanniste army–or even, sometimes, in the Maid’s heretical faith. Her uncle had been Joan’s squire, years ago, in the fight against England and Burgundy. He had brought Dulice with him to the Maid’s Exoneration Trial, and Joan spotted her in the crowd. She’d been drawing the scene on a scrap of vellum. Perhaps because Joan couldn’t read, the image had captured her as firmly as the making of it gripped young Dulice.

Joan had adopted the girl on the spot, keeping her close ever since. Her need for a record of her doings was so strong she never questioned whether her handmaiden’s truest love was for God or merely for pen and page.

"If we stay this course we will meet Charles," Hermeland pressed. "Then we’ll fight, ready or not."

"I’m telling you, we must pray for–"

"Joan, an army that does nothing but pray is just a moving monastery!" he thundered.

Her chin came up. "And an army that never prays?"

"Emerges victorious, probably." He strode from the tent, stomping off into the sound of men breaking camp–low conversations, the snorts of horses and the groans of wagons being loaded. Birdsong rose above the murmur of preparation. The air was mild and damp; it had rained the night before.

"No time for Mass this morning," Dulice said, making herself noticed for the first time.

"We’ll say a quick one now, just us two." Stretching, Joan raised her sword in an attack pose, spearing an invisible enemy through the chest. "Will there be churchbells ahead?"

"We might hear Autun. And there’s a monastery east of there… Saint Benoit? If we keep this direction, you might hear one or the other ringing Vespers tonight." She was happy to give the answer–Joan loved bells, for they often brought her Voices to her.

"Of course we will march," Joan said. For just an instant she sagged, and the younger woman saw the chasm of years between them. "God set us on this path, not me."

Dulice teased out the piece of paper, translated the words into Latin, and wrote them at the bottom of the page as Joan gathered up the cut hair on the ground and tossed it into the fire. The tent filled with black, stinking smoke, making them both cough.

Joan smiled apologetically. “It’s the only way to keep the soldiers from making talismans of it.”

Or selling it to relic makers, Dulice thought, nodding her understanding as she roughed in the lines of a portrait. There would be time to add the details later.

***

"First Communion." The Maid emerges from a shop, wearing men’s clothing and carrying bread and wine. A faintly sinister Saint Catherine hovers behind her, seeming to whisper in her ear. The passers-by surrounding Joan all have their eyes turned in her direction.

The inscription and the spires of St. Ouen in the background make it apparent that Joan has just suffered her famous rejection at that church, turned away on her first attempt to celebrate Mass as a free woman. Now she will administer the sacrament herself. Contemporary accounts differ on the issue of whether Joan knew, in that moment, that she was about to create a new faith that would shatter Rome’s hold over Europe.

Hermeland raised a crumb of bread and his glass of wine. "This is my body," he intoned in Latin with the other worshippers. "This is my blood."

Riding all day had blackened his mood. In the months since Pope Calixtus had decided to expunge the Maid’s followers from the soil of France, Joan had kept them moving, choosing small battles and defending Jehanniste villages against mobs from neighboring Catholic towns. They might have kicked out the Pope’s teeth earlier if they’d moved with more certainty. Now his jaws were closing on them.

“…in remembrance that Christ died for me. I feed on him in my heart with thanksgiving.” His eyes roamed the congregation, looking for Dulice. She fancied she could make herself invisible, but he found her easily enough. There—wearing the grey dress and standing in the corner. She was between two of the men, praying unobtrusively and watching Joan. Her voice did not carry to his ears, but seeing her warmed him. She was beautiful and passionate both, an irresistable lure to his thoughts.

“The body of Christ, the bread of life.” Prayer complete, Hermeland laid the bread on his tongue. It was no great surprise that the Host still felt like what it was–a lump of bread. There were times when it was subtly different, exalted somehow; those were the moments that bound him to this faith bone and sinew. As for today… he shrugged inwardly. This was hardly the first time he’d felt neither the power nor the grace of bread and wine transubstantiated. Perhaps tomorrow he would find the peace of mind required for true piety.

Ahead in the field they had blessed as a temporary church, Joan swallowed her Host, face lit with joy. There was nothing of the warrior about her now. As far as he knew, the miracle had worked for her every time since she had remade the Sacraments for them all.

Today’s Latin lesson had been given by a wounded former monk from Bordeaux. Now, at his urging, Joan strode to the front of the assembly and they repeated the words she spoke at her heresy trial. It was their movement’s signature prayer: "If I am not in God’s Grace, may he put me there. If I am, may he keep me there."

The congregants’ voices rang with conviction. They all believed that clergy could block the path to Heaven. Even so, it strengthened their faith when their Maid led them in prayer. Here in church she was a holy woman, a mystic–you would never believe that come dawn she would strap on a sword and ride to war.

As the crowd broke up, she sank to her knees in the turf, face turned towards the churchbells tolling in the distance. She would be there for hours, and in the morning rise as if she had slept heartily.

I should ask her Voices where to trap the coming army, Hermeland thought sourly, and turned away.

Young Marcel Renard fell into step beside him. "I’ve been thinking about our problem," he declared.

"I wasn’t aware that we had one."

Marcel was the younger son of one of the army’s sponsors, a merchant-born knight with finer armour and manners than the few nobles who had been swept up in the Conversion. He was a great friend of the Maid’s scheming brother, Jean, and perhaps the closest thing to a courtier that Hermeland had encountered in the ranks of his new church.

Marcel’s thoughts moved as if they were oil, always seeking the easiest path to what he wanted. It was a turn of mind Hermeland sometimes admired.

"Of course we have a problem, you old skunk! We cannot fight Charles."

"I see no way to avoid it."

"You look for no way. Come, Hermeland, it’ll just toss him into the Pope’s lap."

"Your pardon, but he is already there."

"So far all he’s done is march. Charles hasn’t molested any of the Jehanniste–"

"Listener," Hermeland corrected urgently. They were still close enough that Joan might overhear.

"Listener towns, yes. They’ve passed through several now without burning them."

"A King can’t afford to massacre his subjects at will."

"I think Charles is undecided, my friend. He may not mind having the Pope’s hand on France’s shoulder… but he doesn’t want it around her neck, either."

"Pretty words," Hermeland grunted. "Do they mean anything?"

Marcel pointed at the moonlit figure of their praying leader. "Why did the English want the Church to condemn her? To prove the King illegitimate, that’s why. Why did Charles have her retried?"

"He thought her all but dead." He didn’t try to keep resentment out of his voice.

"To prove his rightful claim to the throne!" Marcel’s face was aglow with excitement, the certainty of youth that everything could be fixed, that great fires could be put out–like candles–with breath alone. "If Charles opposes her now, he makes himself a bastard again."

"What would you have us do–convert him?"

"Give him a way to come to us honorably. Dispense with teaching Latin to farmers and translate the Bible into French. Let that be the text we preach from. The Crown Prince will strengthen ties with Rome when Charles dies. But if the old King has established an independent church…"

Hermeland stared at the merchant’s son.

"You think it is impractical," Marcel said finally, a hint of uncertainty in his voice.

"I think it is obvious and elegant. It could solve, as you say, our problems." He said it with funereal solemnity.

Marcel scratched his head. "You do not think she will agree?"

"Her Voices tell her to say the Mass in Latin, to teach us to memorize the Bible as it is written."

"She didn’t think that part through. This is much easier, and God won’t mind…"

"There is no chance, my son," Hermeland said. "Not in Heaven, not on this Earth, and not in Hell."

***

"Follow God, not Me." A young girl kneels before Joan, who tries to raise her to her feet. Behind the Maid’s shoulder a winged infant with a halo hovers, its whole being outlined in silver light. Larks nest in the grass in the bottom corners.

Most scholars analyze this scene in the context of Joan’s characteristic rejection of special status within her own cult. It should also be noted, however, that the kneeling girl is said to be the sister of a stillborn infant Joan allegedly revived from death in a village called Lagny. (The child survived just long enough to be baptized.) Unlike the many conflicting accounts of Joan’s miracles during the Jehanniste Holy War, this earlier event was well documented, and Joan spoke of it herself at the heresy trial in 1431.

There were only six soldiers in the maidens’ tent this evening, one merry farmgirl-turned-lancer having been crushed by a cannonball in their last battle. The new archer tried hard to fill the hole in their chatter, but she was better suited to the crossbow than conversation. Every time she spoke up, she merely drew attention to the loss.

Dulice was sitting with them when she heard Joan return, soft footsteps and a rustle of fabric that should have been imperceptible, was she not as attuned to it as a mother was to the faintest movements of her babe.

She excused herself, stepping carefully over muddy ground toward the tent she shared with Joan. Low fires burned across the camp. The smells of wood smoke and cooking pork teased her nostrils, spiced–when the wind shifted–with a hint of latrine. The breeze made the night cold, even for springtime. Hunching her shoulders and hugging herself, Dulice quickened her pace.

Joan was sitting on her pallet, cross-legged in a plain shirt and breeches, as unaffected by the chill as she was by all other bodily complaints. A single candle burned beside her, playing golden light over the sword resting across her knees. She gave no sign that she knew Dulice was there.

Dulice touched the bottle of ink she kept on a chain at her throat. "I have been thinking about drawing a picture of you in prison," she said. "Marcel says nobody will prefer a plain picture–"

"They will if his father stops selling the one with the angels."

Dulice licked her lips. "You said you had visions, when you were locked up in the castle of Philipe Auguste."

"Hush." Joan’s face hardened.

"Your story brings people to our faith. Joan, if you had visions…"

"When I talk of such things, Dulice, they get bent into tales I don’t recognize."

"You can’t control what people say," Dulice wheedled. "All you can do is make the truth known."

She was sure she had gone too far, that she would get nothing. But Joan shifted slightly, expelling a long breath. "Two visions, yes. In the first, I never recanted. Cauchon took me to the stake and they lit the fire… and can you guess? It wouldn’t catch. They tried so hard they burned the ropes binding me. I stepped away from the pyre. The crowd there had come to cheer me off to Hell, but when the ropes fell away from the stake the people’s hearts were opened. They spirited me away and I went back to war. I drove the English out of France…"

Dulice reached for her pen, but a look from Joan stopped her. The Maid patted the ground at her hip and she sat, conscious of the knotted muscles of her heroine’s shoulder pressing against her shawl, of Joan’s heat against her cold skin.

"You said there were two?"

"In the second vision, I recanted," Joan said. "My jailers did all the things you heard: took away the dress I was to wear, so I was naked. Sent that soldier to rape me. Left my men’s clothing handy as a temptation to relapse."

Dulice’s teeth clenched. The ordeals had gone on for months before the false priests had put out their torches and resigned themselves to having the Maid as a prisoner instead of firewood.

"In my dream I bore it for three days. Then I found my courage, put on my clothes, and told them I was done. They burned me in Rouen, as they’d planned all along." Her voice was matter-of-fact. "I was brave, I think, at the execution."

"You’re always brave."

"I gave in to fear when I recanted, didn’t I?" She darted her hand through the candleflame, leaving a fat smear of soot on her fingers. "But fire burned away that sin. It hurt terribly–"

"You felt it?" Dulice interrupted.

"Like I was there. Oh, don’t look like that. All suffering passes, is it not so?" Despite her words Joan shuddered faintly.

"It’s still suffering."

"It was a faster penance than prison. And when I was purified, Saint Catherine and Saint Margaret carried me away. Up."

Dulice’s breath hitched. "You saw Heaven?"

"A glimpse. So wonderful I sometimes can’t believe I have remained down here so long."

"But how unfair to feel the fire, and not to fully taste the reward!"

"It’s a pleasure delayed, that’s all." Joan pinched wax drippings off the candle and smeared them on her fingers. "If I’d burned then, I’d be forgotten now, don’t you think?"

"No! You crowned Charles."

"Pah. People could say anything once I was gone. They made me a witch at my trial, when I was standing right there!" She scowled. "You guard me from those lies now, Dulice. You take what’s real and pin it to the page. If I’m tried again…"

"God forbid!"

"It’s all caught in pictures, just as it happens. No lies, no foolish rumors…"

Joan flipped the sword lightly, fingering its blade. It was a poor substitute for her first, or so she’d often claimed. That had come from the monastery at St. Catherine de Fierbois, and she’d broken it over the back of a camp follower. "God waited thirteen years to take me into His heart again, Dulice. He’s sending me toward Charles, and yet I know we must not fight."

"What will you do?"

Tears welled in the Maid’s eyes. "I won’t break with my Voices, not in the tiniest way. They say to go forward…”

Dulice picked at her toenail, feeling sullen. She might never admit it, but there were times when she disliked God so much she wanted to cut her own heart out, to feed the pieces to pigs. "I know you hate praise…" She swallowed, forcing herself to continue, "But it took strength to stay in prison all that time."

"It takes no strength to lie where you are chained, dear Dulice."

"You were strong," she said fiercely, staring at the steam of her breath. Then Joan’s arms came around her in a crushing hug, so suddenly she nearly cried out.

"Come on, let’s sleep," Joan said. They curled up in the blankets like sisters, and the chill finally forced itself out of Dulice’s bones.

It was waiting for her later, though, when her bedmate’s breath finally loosened into sleep and she could creep out again, driven to capture by candleflame the images of the two dreams.

***

"A little brawl at Neufchateau." Knights and men at arms brawl with peasant Jehannistes near a Franciscan monastery. The Maid is in the foreground, dressed in a partial suit of armor and brandishing a shortsword. Behind her is the abbot who summoned the knights; Joan is defending him from her own people. Enraged Jehannistes burn the monastery, framing Joan’s form in flames. In the lower left corner, a newly converted Brother Hermeland battles the Duc D’Alencon, leader of the Church forces.

D’Alencon was very close to Joan in the days before her Trial, and it was believed he would take the Maid into custody with no difficulty. Instead he found himself at the center of a riot that even the Maid had difficulty quelling. While she would later speak of this first battle dismissively, the Hermeland Testament reports she was heartbroken at the Jehanniste destruction of the monastery and the death of her friend.

"To arms, to arms!"

Hermeland was half dressed when Joan’s voice rang through the camp. Her words were clear and carrying, and captains took up the call, scrambling to rouse the men. A few early risers had been setting up for worship, and the ribbons that marked off the place of consecration were knocked down and trampled as people ran back and forth, shouting and seeking their weapons.

The Maid, already armored and mounted, was galloping away, placing herself between the confused encampment and whatever danger lay ahead. Puffing, Hermeland rushed to join her.

They had camped near the ruins of a Jehanniste village, a town that had been burnt by a band of the Pope’s mercenaries early the previous winter. To the east, he could see the graves of thirty families. The makeshift crosses that marked their mounds had been kicked down by vandals or weather.

Ahead, abandoned fields and vineyards were growing wild. A stand of trees blocked any view they might have had of the road. Reining hard, Joan stared in that direction, though everything seemed calm enough.

Hermeland was about to ask why they were all in a panic when she pointed her sword. There–a glint of light on armor.

"An ambush?"

"Not anymore." Her smile was broad, almost predatory. She was all warrior today.

"Is it Charles?"

"No."

He didn’t know if he was disappointed or relieved.

"We’ll–" Suddenly a small force of knights came charging out of the thicket, crushing his plan unformed. Driving forward smartly behind a red banner adorned with a golden cross, they came quickly into bow range. The disarrayed Listener archers were able to get off only a thin volley of bolts in opposition.

Joan spurred her horse and a small company of men-at-arms–twenty, maybe twenty-five fighters–followed her lead. It was all they had mustered, so far, to protect the chaotic camp behind them.

Cursing, Hermeland joined her, while Marcel Renard closed in on Joan’s left side. The three of them became the center of the thin defending wall.

The two sides met in the middle of the overgrown meadow with a crash of weaponry and armor. Catholic or Jehanniste–it ceased to matter to the dead as they fell. Shrieks filled the air as blades clashed against shields.

Joan, as always, drew more than her share of enemy attack. With Marcel and Hermeland fighting fiercely on either side of her, the odds were just barely fair. Cutting at would-be assassins, Hermeland found his arm muscles aching with familiar soreness. Sweat rolled inside his armor; breath steamed out of his visor in gusts.

A sudden pocket of quiet fell on the three of them as the fighting moved elsewhere on the line. Joan drew herself up instantly, scanning the enemy’s rear. "There!" She shouted so loudly her voice rasped. Heads turned to see where she was pointing, a spot about twenty feet away. The faithful, knowing her keen eye for cannon placements, scrambled away.

Moments later an explosion ruptured the runaway grapevines. Hermeland’s horse staggered, perhaps struck by a clod of dirt from the blast. He dropped his shield, fighting for balance… and a knight with a short-sword came straight at him, weapon high, screaming a prayer.

Marcel shouted a useless warning. Hermeland bellowed too, as if his voice alone could block the fatal blow.

But a single swipe of the Maid’s sword saved him, knocking the attacker onto his back. His helmet fell loose, showing a young face gored with a mortal wound.

Now she’ll start to weep, Hermeland thought, heart skipping at the close call as he gathered himself at last.

As the battle wore on, soldiers from the camp fell into companies, swelling and strengthening the line. They showed a discipline they had lacked in their early months together, and though the Churchmen tried twice to push past them, Joan had the numbers now, and she turned back the charges easily.

Their herald was one of the last to find his place, pushing to the fore nearly an hour into the battle. He bore up the Listener pennant, a white banner ornamented with an unlit torch and a lark. Cheers broke out among the army as they saw it, and the enemy faltered.

"Marcel, gather up a company and get behind them," Joan ordered. "Take their supplies."

By now the Listener Army was fully deployed, their would-be destroyers routed, but the assurance of victory did no more than it ever did to quicken the end. The battle played itself out to a bloody conclusion. When it was finally over the Jehannistes had captured two couleuvrines, along with some cannonballs and a few hundred pounds of gunpowder. Only fifty or so of the enemy had escaped.

"Too many," Hermeland told Joan as they left the field. "They must have been going to meet up with His Majesty. Now he’ll know to expect us."

"I’m sure he has spies in Burgundy, just like you. He must already have known."

"Better that it be probable than a certainty."

"Cheer up, friend." She squeezed his arm. "If they’d caught us at Mass, we’d be at Judgement now. One whole army, praying forever." Her eyes sparkled, teasing him.

Hermeland was nodding when he spotted Dulice. She sat exposed on a hill, too near the fighting. Imagining herself unseen, she drew furiously. His face reddened, and he snapped at Joan. "I suppose this victory means God wants you to fight the King?"

Joan’s face tightened, and the color raised by the battle drained away. "We drove the English out of France, and now we’ll drive out the Church. This is our mission."

Which was no answer, but he reined his temper with difficulty. "And do we march through the afternoon, or rest?"

"We consecrate the graves in the village," she said, striding away. She left Hermeland to strip the prisoners of their arms and regret that she wouldn’t order them hanged.

***

Conversion at Orleans: In 1429 Joan led the troops that relieved the English siege of Orleans. Now, in 1450, the city’s gates stand open to her and her converts. Joan is upright on a black stallion, brandishing an unlit torch. Behind her, the Listener troops straggle, bleeding and in apparent despair. The townspeople are rapturous: girls dressed as men beckon Joan, holding up the pieces of a full set of armor. Larks fill the sky, soaring on the town’s high spirits. At the gate, four priests and the Bishop of Orleans clutch at their throats.

Folklore has it that the Catholic clergymen were struck dumb as they tried to convince the city fathers to close the gates to the Jehannistes. The Hermeland Testament states unequivocally that they were merely shouted down and turned out of the town. Historians do agree that the Listener movement would have died out without the support of Orleans at this critical juncture–their army was ill equipped and half-starved.

The bourgeoisie of Orleans were mad for Dulice’s illustrations of Joan. So wrote Marcel’s papa, anyway, in his monthly lament about the restrictions their dear Maid was putting on the process of producing the paintings in quantity: the insistence on Latin for the inscriptions, the hard condition that the illustrators refrain from adding to Dulice’s simple scenes, and the insulting requirement that he send each completed illustration back to be checked for inaccuracies.

Meanwhile Papa’s competitors translated the Roman texts back to proper French and threw in as many angels and ghouls as they chose…

"Yes, Papa, yes Papa." Marcel grinned, murmuring the words as if he was home receiving the sermon personally. “Is it my fault the Maid is mad to keep her every stroke of fortune from being counted a miracle?”

A dozen copyists Papa had in his shop, filling vellum and imported paper with portraits of the Maid and her deeds. Their paintings might not be as lurid as their paymaster would wish, but they were bringing in plenty of gold. From Dulice’s dirty and bloodstained originals, they made gloriously colored pictures, bordered with silver flowers and bright stars.

Their images of the Maid were never old or plain enough to please a Joan who had come forth from prison shorn of her pride and legendary boastfulness. That was a pity, in Marcel’s opinion–it had given her a much-needed flair.

If only she had lost her stubbornness instead!

He winked at the wagon-driver who’d brought in the supplies. It was Jean D’Arc, who was slipping back into his sister’s penumbra after an exile stemming from a scheme so old neither of them remembered its details. Grinning furtively, Jean hefted a long, heavy satchel from underneath the sacks of grain.

“The sword?” Marcel whispered, though the cool iron inside the fabric made the answer obvious.

“Sword and the other,” Jean murmured, pulling his hat low over his eyes. "Nobody’s seen them."

"Dear Papa. He turns paper to gold and gold to food." Jean nodded, looking at the other wagons and the hard-driven horses that had caught them up to the army. "And this time…"

"Yes, this time?"

Caught in his reverie, Marcel was unpleasantly surprised to find Dulice at his side. "Ahh, the alchemist herself."

"Alchemy is witchcraft," she said.

He bore her displeasure happily, since it gave Jean time to slouch away. "Shall I call you our little Latin tutor, then? The one who somehow never teaches our Maid any Latin? Most unfair, since we have to mouth it psalm by onerous psalm."

"She learns when she may," Dulice said.

"She prefers to study war. Who will she drive from France next, do you think, if we win?"

"What do you study, Marcel, besides nonsense?"

"Only the provisioning of our company." He pointed at the supplies. "The finished pictures are in that wagon. If they portray the true doings of our Maid, perhaps you would write to my father so he can spread our message?"

"What’s this?" She poked his bundle, discerning, no doubt, the shape of the weapon within.

Marcel did not blush. "Gifts from home."

Dulice had only been in a convent two years, but she had the penetrating gaze of a Mother Superior. It had quite marred her–despite the round body, cornflower eyes and golden hair, she could never be a woman with whom a sane man would lie comfortably.

"Private gifts," he amended, but by now the damnable woman’s fuss had summoned Joan.

How did they manage it, this art of seeing the unseen?

"What is it?" the Maid asked peremptorily. "The French Bible Hermeland mentioned?"

"No such thing," Marcel said stoutly. There had been no time yet for anyone to translate, let alone copy, such a book. "Food for the army and paintings for you and Dulice to examine." Pretending he’d forgotten she was as unlettered as a farm animal, he showed her a scrap of vellum–Jean’s inventory of Papa’s wagons.

She batted it away, and the mule was hard in her features. "You must–"

A shriek from the east interrupted her. A girl ran towards them, one of the scouts, coming from a distant Roman edifice called the Temple of Janus. Legs pumping in her breeches, her pale face was a blot of white amid the landscape of green and brown. Hoofbeats beat behind her, a knight galloping in hard pursuit.

Marcel felt, rather than saw, Joan’s movement. He flung himself blindly at the nearest horse, just reaching its bridle as she mounted.

"No!" Between them, they startled the animal into a kick. Joan lost her saddle and came off, landing half atop him. His arm jerked painfully before he thought to release the reins. As he hit the ground, the animal’s back hooves whistled past their heads. The pair rolled away fast in opposite directions, gaining their feet in the same instant.

"You aren’t even armed," he protested.

Joan crossed the space between them, slapping Marcel hard enough to knock him down again, then calming the horse with a single murmured word.

Rubbing his jaw, he saw Dulice was oblivious to both the animal and the fleeing girl headed toward them. Transfixed by Joan, the artist was memorizing the scene. No market for this, he wanted to tell her. Papa couldn’t sell two copies of a picture of the Maid striking a follower.

"Oh, now it’s too late!" Joan cried.

The knight had indeed caught up with the fleeing scout. Instead of cutting her down he snatched her by the arm, heaving her up across the horse and then galloping away.

"Captured, not killed," Marcel said, tasting blood as he probed loosened teeth with his tongue. "You’ll get another chance to save her."

She ignored him, pacing like a caged dog and eyeing the bend in the road where the knight had vanished. "That knight–do you know who he is?”

“Who?”

“He’s the son of Georges de la Trémoïlle." Her voice was harsh as she spoke the name of the man who had probably prevented her ransom, years before. "Just when I think I’ve outlived all my old enemies… There’s always someone new, isn’t there?"

"It’s your gentle nature," Marcel muttered, earning himself a glare.

“Joan!” Hermeland bustled to her side, glancing quizzically down at Marcel. "Autun has announced they are with us. The whole town’s converted, and the King’s army demands they return their churches and souls to the priests of Rome. Charles has stopped vacillating–he’ll burn anyone who resists."

Joan scowled, scraping mud off the heels of her hands.

"We must go to Autun," Hermeland suggested. "Their walls are strong, but…”

“The King has cannon enough to break them,” Joan agreed. "We will assess the town’s defences and leave them some help if need be. The army will place itself between Autun and danger."

"We’ll meet Charles soon, then." Hermeland spoke mildly, the old anarchist, as if he wasn’t lusting after a little king’s blood.

She nodded, not hiding her pained expression, and waved him off towards one of the more reliable captains. Then she extended a hand to Marcel, yanking him to his feet.

"I’ll see your gifts from home now."

He didn’t argue, but reached for the bundle and unwrapped it carefully. Perhaps he might just slide out the sword–

Reaching past him, Joan grabbed the wrappings and yanked them upward. Then she gasped.

White boucassin fringed with silk unfolded in her mud-smeared hand–a pennant. It showed a field strewn with lilies, and two angels on either side of the world. The words ‘Jhesus Maria’ blazed across it.

"My standard…"

She pulled it to her face in a doubled fistful, and Marcel thought she would smell it. But she kissed it instead, tears streaming down her lined face as they so often did.

"I haven’t seen it since my capture at Compiègne." She stretched it out for a look. It was perfect: faded, soiled and then washed, its fabric worn.

Marcel waited, face a blank.

Then Joan’s face stilled and her tears dried up. He felt a pain like gas in his belly as her head turned, piercing him with the look an owl might use to freeze a field mouse. "Where did you get this?"

Pretend ignorance and blame Papa? No, those eyes dragged forth the truth even from him. "Hamish Powers lives yet. He remembers the original well."

"You made a copy," she said, dropping the banner like the corpse of a dog. She rubbed at her mouth, dirtying her lips, and then she dumped the satchel from Orleans with one violent heave. The sword dropped out. It was a replica of the holy blade she had broken over a whore’s back all those years before. "Marcel, what are you up to?"

He swallowed. "I thought… if Charles saw you with your pennant restored, your broken sword whole…"

"You would stage a miracle." Marcel could see she was on the verge of throwing him away, and all Papa’s resources with him. "Have you no faith at all?"

"I confess my mistake," he said, forcing himself to look down. "I want to help…"

"By doing wrong?"

"I’m sorry." Each humble word was singed by the rage rising in his throat. If she would just allow them to read the Bible in French! "I want to bring the King to our side, that’s all."

"You must try harder to believe!" A silence then, while he looked at his toes and endured the stares of common soldiers who lurked at the sidelines. Intolerable, after all he had done–but he tolerated it. At length, the Maid sighed. "But you are confessed and I forgive you."

Relief flooded him, and he dared a glance up. Joan was testing the sword’s weight without realizing it, raising it in that dangerous way of hers so the point was aimed at his throat.

Then, suddenly, she smiled. "Nobody will mistake this for the original–that had five crosses, and this has three." With that, she slid it into her scabbard.

Marcel indicated the banner, still lying on the ground. "And this?"

“Burn it.” She spared the pennant not a glance. "The Lark banner will do good service tomorrow."

***

"Jump, for this time we are with you." Joan, in full armor, leaps from a burning church steeple. Saints Catherine and Margaret grasp her arms, bearing her slowly to the ground. Below, Jehanniste soldiers watch in wonder.

It is interesting to note that the original Dulice Aulon sketch for this plate has survived and is available for comparison with the final Orleans illumination. The sketch calls for columns of smoke from the church fire to surround Joan’s body and makes no mention of the saints. It also notes that Joan’s foot should be bare and bloodied but does not say what this signifies.

The inscription, it is generally agreed, indicates Joan had achieved a renewed state of grace by the time of this dangerous leap. In a 1430 attempt to escape her English captors, Joan jumped from the 60-foot tower at Beaurevoir. Though she survived, the escape attempt failed. She said later that her Voices had told her not to jump.

They were moving to it at long last, and after so much waiting for a decisive battle, Hermeland should have been relieved.

Instead, he was too aware of his mount. His old horse, Rust, had been lamed in the skirmish the day before. He’d found him limping this morning, favoring a bloodied pastern. The young black stallion he rode now was poorly trained, fighting the bit and trying to crop grass every chance he got.

They moved with deadly purpose, racing past Autun. By meeting Charles beyond the town, they left themselves a place of retreat. If it came to that, though, they and Autun would probably come to ruin.

It won’t come to that, he thought. They had won small victories before, and now they would show their strength and righteousness of their cause.

As they neared the walls, they spied a band of soldiers scouting its gates, a force so small it fled at their approach. The knight–de la Trémoïlle–who had captured their scout was the last to retreat, turning twice to glare at Joan before galloping away.

Nearer the cheering town, they found the scout herself. She was lying in a shallow stream with just her head and shoulders on the bank. Blood ran from her mouth.

Shooting a murderous look at Marcel, Joan dismounted.

"Someone else can give her Last Rites," Hermeland said, and then regretted it. It would take but a few minutes. What was the difference?

"She’s breathing," Joan said indignantly.

And she was, he saw. The Maid bent, murmuring prayers, the sun glinting off her silver hair as she dipped a hand in the stream and rinsed blood off the scout’s pale face. It roused the girl–she coughed, spraying red droplets over her own wet chin.

"Have her carried to town," Joan ordered. She lifted the injured girl, straining to raise the slack body and water-sodden clothes as well as her own armor-weighted limbs. Two young men-at-arms and one of the fighting women rushed to relieve her of the burden.

There was a receding bustle, and then they were underway again.

It was a warm, sleepy day. The sky was dotted with small clouds, and a firm wind cooled the lancers, ensuring a steady and comfortable march. Despite the tussles with his horse, Hermeland scanned the edges of the army for a blond head. Dulice must not come near the fighting again. She could have been killed or captured yesterday, up on that hill in plain sight with her pen and ink bottle.

The thought brought a rush of confused feelings: pain, desire, fear for her safety and a wistful longing. He shoved it all aside. The girl would never leave Joan, and that meant she would remain unmarried and chaste. Unless they won, there was no point in wondering if the artist might take a once-monk to wed.

No point either if they lost, but he would not think of that.

At length they reached a floodplain run through on one side by a shallow river that must have been the Arroux. Larks nested in the grass by the water.

On the other side of this plain was the glittering army of Charles VII.

Hermeland felt a small flutter in his belly, a feeling like hunger that was really just shock. No word from the other scouts, he thought numbly. They must all be dead or captured.

The two forces halted well out of bow range, weighing each other. The Jehanniste army seemed tiny and tired in comparison to the company arrayed across the field. Hermeland thought of the battle the day before, the Listener numbers overwhelming its foe easily, even when the camp had been unprepared for a fight.

Finally the silence grew too long. Clearing his throat, he spoke: "The King has more knights and better weapons."

Marcel laughed. "What a great and unnecessary understatement."

"Here’s another, then–we have God," Joan said, staring at the King. Her voice was threadbare.

Here was the real army he had wanted to fight for so long. What arrogance! For the first time Hermeland appreciated Joan’s tactics–how she had kept them on the move as she trained the men, why she had always chosen the smaller battles, the most defensible towns. There might have been five thousand men out there across the valley, well-drilled, well-fed, and fresh.

"Should we advance," he asked, "or let them charge?"

"I always advance," Joan said. “But…”

A movement to their left brought his head around. Dulice Aulon was edging towards a low rock, no doubt thinking to crouch behind it and record the carnage.

Joan’s gaze followed his. "Dulice," she called.

The girl startled. Then she headed toward them as if she’d meant to come that way all along.

"Get to the rear, woman," Hermeland growled.

She ignored him. "Joan, please. I must see what is going on."

"We will tell you everything later."

"That’s no good!" Blond brows drew into a fierce scowl. "They’re already saying there has been a miracle here. I can’t draw rumors–I must see!"

"What miracle?" Joan raised her visor. "Marcel?"

He puffed up indignantly. "Am I to be accused of fraud every time God is kind to us?"

"It’s not true, Dulice," Hermeland said. "We’ve been riding together all morning. I’m sure I’d have noticed the hand of God if it came down and pointed our way. Please, go before you’re trampled."

Dulice’s bright eyes sought out Joan’s, unrelenting. Her back was stiff with determination. "They’re saying our scout was dead and you raised her.”

"They could charge any second," Hermeland interrupted. "Dulice is unarmed and on foot. Our own soldiers will run over her if battle’s joined."

"Your brothers are in the camp, spreading tales," the artist protested. "This is what you want me to prevent!"

“Joan,” Hermeland said. “Please. She’ll be killed.”

Joan sighed. "Marcel, bear Dulice to the rear. Order my brothers turned out of the company…"

"No," protested Dulice.

"The fight is upon us, Joan. Surely I’m needed–"

"Yes, Marcel–needed at the rear.” Her voice was iron. “And please tell everyone the scout was alive."

Sulking, Marcel drew Dulice up onto the horse, seating her in front of him. She had to flap her arms, birdlike, to balance her drawing board and papers without losing them to the wind. Hermeland sighed, and the knot in his belly untied itself. She would be safe with Marcel. And now…

“Will you advance?” he asked the Maid again.

“Yes.” With a brisk move, Joan plucked her banner from the standard bearer. "And you will charge too, Hermeland… if this falls. Not before."

He knew what she would do. "You think Charles won’t kill you now? That sick old man left you to the Church once already! It would be a miracle if you made it back."

Her voice was furious. "Everything I do is a miracle, haven’t you heard? I’ll speak to the King one more time. No attack unless this falls, do you hear?"

"And if they take it from you?"

"Destroy them," she said carelessly.

Banner held high on its ash shaft, Joan urged her white horse forward at a walk.

A whisper ran through the army. Hermeland heard its echo, a surprised rise and fall of voices, from across the valley. Then larksong was all he could hear. The Maid rode well beyond his protection: twenty feet, fifty, a hundred. Soon she was across the field, and even the birds fell silent.

Hermeland realized he was praying.

Marcel had not ridden a step. He wasn’t ignoring orders–he was simply stuck, staring at Joan with the frozen expression of a man who expects to see disaster. So did they all, all except Dulice. She was twisted awkwardly on his horse, writing board pressed into her stomach, thumb mashing a page to its surface while she scratched with her pen as if possessed.

When Joan was twenty feet from the enemy army she dismounted. Banner raised, she slapped her horse’s rump. The animal loped straight to Hermeland, eyes reproachful. She is all alone now, it seemed to say. Beyond rescue.

"Perhaps we could steal forward a little," Marcel murmured.

Dulice paused in her drawing just long enough to crane around, giving him a look that would sour milk. "There’s no saving her now if he strikes."

"And no saving him if he harms her," Hermeland said.

His voice challenged Marcel to laugh, to point out the odds were against them. Instead he heard his own words spreading like fire, warming the gathered men as Dulice’s eyes met his with a jolt.

The gusty air around them seemed to thicken. If the battle came, Joan’s men would make it an expensive one. Marcel had become a knight, Dulice an artist, he a general. The Listeners had been transubstantiated from a band of cross-bearing bandits into a true army through God’s grace. Now, perhaps, their day had come.

He was strangely content to wait and see.

Across the field, Joan of Arc knelt before her king.

***

Wedding in the Loire: a young couple kneels before an outdoor worship assembly. The girl’s white dress befits the occasion, but her lowered head and expression speak of a grief that is absent from the face of the groom. Joan and a group of well-wishers stand to the right bearing farewell gifts–food and travel necessities.

Despite attempts to place this image after Autun and to claim it as the wedding of Brother Hermeland and the martyr Dulice Aulon, the evidence clearly favors another interpretation. A crossbow sits in easy reach of the bride’s hand, marking her as a member of the army. Further, the ‘Forbidden Marriage,’ as it is known, took place in secret so that Joan–who demanded chastity from her female followers–would not be faced with turning the no-longer-chaste Dulice out of the Listener ranks.

It was cold up there at the front line, drawing with a board wedged against her belly and Hermeland’s concern sending chills through her bones. Dulice drew anyway. A quick image of the Maid raising the banner, her orders written in French–no time for translation now. Then a figure of her riding toward the King, covered with more notes: horse does not gallop. Wind strong, banner fully extended.

And now, on one knee before old Charles, her neck bent. Dulice had to squint to make her out clearly. When she did, fear pushed the breath out of her in a moan even as her hand shakily unstoppered her ink bottle, spilling black drops onto the neck of Marcel’s cream-colored horse.

A motion from the King and Joan rose, bending backward stiffly so she could look up at him. Clad in armor, the distant figures gave no clue as to their mood. They might as well have been statues, dolls.

"What do you think she’s saying?" Marcel asked.

"What else but the usual?" Hermeland’s voice was reverent. "The Lord God wants me to drive the corrupt Church out of France. Stand down or die."

“She wouldn’t say that to Charles.”

“She’ll say anything,” Hermeland said. “Will she do it? That’s the question.”

The men’s voices were faint, far-away. Dulice pressed a new page to her writing board, inking her pen to draw the Maid standing in front of the vast array of armed men. So small and alone against the force of Charles!

Now the King-doll was shaking his head, so stiffly his shoulders moved with him. Joan bowed again, turning on her heel and starting back. Her gait–angry steps Dulice knew well–said the parley had not gone well. She still held the banner aloft.

When she was halfway across the plain, de La Trémoïlle could contain himself no longer. He spurred his mount and galloped after her, a charge of one.

Both armies jerked forward. Shouts from Hermeland and Charles VI cracked across the field, and the twin advances halted raggedly. Marcel’s armored hands tightened around Dulice, jostling her pen so that a thick black line scratched across Joan’s figure.

"I’m safe," she said furiously, but Marcel wasn’t listening.

Raising her eyes from the page, Dulice saw the knight bearing down on Joan. Her safe world of picture-making burned away, and she screamed.

Joan had needed no warning. She did not draw her sword, just turned with her banner and waited for him to come. The knight twirled a flail overhead, swinging as he galloped past her. The blow struck hard, its crunch sending another shock through the army. It lifted Joan off her feet. She landed on her back, and did not move.

Hermeland’s armor creaked as he raised his hand to signal a charge…

… but the Lark banner did not fall. It remained in Joan’s hand as she lay there, dead for all anyone knew. The staff that held the standard remained perfectly upright.

Wiping her nose, Dulice pressed her pen against the page. She drew Joan, lying beside the banner. Her eyes were wide and she could hear herself sobbing. She turned her head whenever a tear fell to keep it from further smearing the ink.

“Brother…” Marcel said breathlessly, but Hermeland did not signal a charge. He moved his head slightly and a girl archer stepped forward, firing an arrow at the knight as he wheeled back to Joan. The shaft caught his horse, striking it in the haunch. The animal screamed and danced sideways, forcing the knight to dismount.

Raising his weapon, he strode towards the fallen Maid.

"She moves!" A cry went through one army, perhaps both. Joan sat bolt upright and then stood, as if it were no effort at all, as if she were wearing nothing heavier than a nightgown. Her hand fell away from the standard-pole as she drew her sword.

Again the banner did not waver.

And that was wrong. The wind blew still, strong enough to unfurl it fully, and yet it stood upright, as if planted deep in the ground. Perhaps it is, Dulice thought, perhaps Joan’s weight as she fell drove it into the soil…

“But the ground is dry and hard,” she said, not sure who she was asking. “Isn’t it?”

The knight looped his flail up, bringing it down towards the Maid’s head. She skipped back, uncommonly fast, and raised her free arm in defence. The chain wrapped around her wrist. Metal screeched against metal and Marcel hissed as if in pain.

Around her pen, Dulice’s fingers were white.

The knight yanked on his flail, but Joan did not fall. She jerked her captured arm backward sharply, closing her fingers around the handle of the flail and pulling it from her attacker’s grip. Her sword was at the ready, but Joan she drove the butt of the flail against de La Trémoïlle’s helmet, once, twice. The blows were so loud they echoed back from the other side of the meadow. The knight staggered back a few paces.

"Turn aside. I would not fight today." Her words rang across the field.

Bellowing, the knight charged.

Joan was ready. She drove the sword home, piercing de La Trémoïlle’s collar with shocking force. The man crumpled without making another sound.

Turning her back on the body, Joan marched lightly back to where her standard was waiting. She lifted it as easily as if she took it from a waiting herald.

"The ground is dry, Dulice," Marcel whispered urgently. "You must write of this. Joan told me yesterday the Lark Banner would…"

"Now, of all times!" Dulice twisted, furious, trying to see Marcel, to stare him down.

"I’m telling you–"

"Don’t speak to me." She slid down from the horse, and lost her last clean page to the wind.

Marcel snapped his mouth shut. Then he turned his horse.

"Where are you going?" Hermeland asked.

"To expel Jean D’Arc from the army."

Dulice stared, dismayed, at her ink-wet paper. It would smudge if she turned it over now. With the other page lost, she would have to draw miniatures next to the image of the Maid on her back.

When Joan had almost reached her army, she turned to face the King. Tearing off her surcoat, she revealed the bare crumpled armor over her heart. Then she raised her open hand, apparently indifferent to the flail caught in the joint of her gauntlet. The whole of the Listener army strained against its leash.

But one by one the gold-crossed flags in Charles’ army fell to the ground. Soon only the King’s personal banner remained upright on the other side of the field.

Joan lowered her own hand slowly and turned to face the troops. "Save your strength. We will not fight the King."

Dulice scribbled the words in the margin of a picture as the army gentled.

"We’re going to win," Hermeland said softly. "Charles will ride with us."

"With God," Joan said.

A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. "And in Latin, too."

She nodded, looking at the crushed, blood-weeping gauntlet. "I don’t think I can get this off. The flail’s stuck and it’s all bent."

"We’ll see to it." Hermeland slid to the ground, holding out the reins of her horse and offering to help her mount.

"Thank you," Joan said, passing the staff and flag to her herald as she mounted. She reined the horse awkwardly with her good hand, her path taking her right past Dulice. Her shadow fell on the hodgepodge of ink on that last page.

"You’ve made me too brave again," she said, but she smiled, and Dulice felt her whole soul open up. Had she once had reservations? Not she: she would be here with the Maid and Hermeland forever. She would blaze the truth of their fight: its small wonders and the miracles that weren’t, that were just good fortune and life’s merciful accidents. Her drawing was God’s work indeed, not false pride. Could she ever have doubted?

But…

"What of that?" she said, pointing to the Lark banner. "How will I show that so nobody says it was a miracle? It stood when you fell. It stood when you walked away."

An impish, youthful smile crossed the Maid’s face. "What was it you said? ‘If it’s truth…’"

"Then it should be made known," Dulice said. She fought back a tremble in her voice.

"Good, sensible advice," Hermeland said, and his tone was warm.

"Just give us whatever you see, Dulice." Spurring her horse, Joan rode, bleeding, in the direction of Autun.

Wet-eyed but with a steady-hand, Dulice scratched out the Maid’s instructions, word by word, in Latin, filling up the last clear space remaining on her page with bold letters and certain words.

Three Miracles at Autun. Gauntlet raised, Joan stands between the supine figure of an armored girl and the corpse of a knight. A stylized puddle of water surrounds the girl, who takes up the largest part of the center of the page. Blood seeps from the knight’s armor and the two fluids mix at Joan’s feet.

One of the most confusing and controversial images of the Jehanniste Holy War, Three Miracles is said to depict holy works by Joan that convinced the famously indecisive Charles to throw his favor to the Maid’s cause. The first miracle was defeating Georges de La Trémoïlle in single unarmed combat; the second was the resurrection of the girl, who had been drowned by de La Trémoïlle earlier that day.

As usual, attempts have been made to identify the girl as Joan’s favorite, Dulice Aulon. It is far more probable that the figure is her standard bearer, for Aulon was neither a combatant nor given to self-portraiture. Further, the woman holds the Lark Banner.

Despite the title of the image, the nature of any third miracle to take place at Autun in the spring campaign of 1456 has been lost to history.

About the Author
A.M. Dellamonica's first novel, Indigo Springs, won the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. Her fourth, A Daughter of No Nation, has won the 2016 Prix Aurora. She is the author of over forty short stories, appearing in Tor.com, Strange Horizons, Lightspeed and numerous print magazines and anthologies. She was the co-editor of Heiresses of Russ 2016. She teaches at UTSC and through the UCLA Extension Writers' Program. Alyx is married to fellow Campbell Award Finalist Kelly Robson; the two made their outlaw wedding of 1989 legal, in 2003, when the Canadian Supreme Court conferred equality on same sex couples.
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