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  But Not Alone

This is a short story about Joan of Arc, La Pucelle d'Orléans, "The Maid of Orléans", as she is often known in France. I was inspired to write it after seeing a painting of her in her cell after her capture by the British. I can't find that painting now but a similar image can be seen here.



It is finished. I remember thinking that. I remember it all. The thoughts. The fear. The adrenaline rush of anger. This painting is a joke; some whey faced girl in skirts and long hair posing as me. I was a warrior, Jeanne d'Arc, La Pucelle d'Orléans, and by that last day I had overcome that first onslaught of fear that had gnawed at my insides and allowed them to force me into skirts. I was clothed in breeches and my hair was cropped. The manacles are real enough - I still feel the weight and the chafing - and the look of hatred on the old devil's face. Because he did hate me, but it was hatred born of fear. It was the fear, fear and ignorance that drove them on, fed their determination to be rid of me.

I confused them. But then I was confused. Everything seemed so certain in the beginning. It was glorious; I felt so close to God. I left my mortal self behind and rode out at the head of the troops, no longer a young, weak girl, but a power to be reckoned with, strong in faith and conviction. So short a time before the darkness, the interminable questions. And the damnable silence in my head.

Where were you then? Why did you leave me and make the darkness complete? Wasn't the suffering to come enough? Did I have to bear the terror of my prison alone? They played such cruel games, stripping me of myself and condemning me to the role of woman, forcing me to speak words they wanted said. And I let them. I lost for a time that strength you helped me find within myself. That hurt more than all their torments, more even than the fire. But you were with me then. You came back that last day. I could feel the strength flowing through my limbs and knew that I could face whatever they would do with my body. Knew that I would live on, long after the ashes.

Still, I was afraid. I knew I could pass through the fire, but the flames terrified me. Their yellow, hungry mouths. They took me from the cell, I stumbled with the weight of chains and fear. The crowd was eager, they hissed and cried out when I appeared, then became silent and sullen as I passed. Horror clawed at my gut and bile rose in my throat, but I forced it down and began to pray. I managed to mount that bleak little platform they had built for me and stood unresisting as they bound me to the pole. I remember the faggots being heaped about my feet and the misery in the eyes of one of the men who brought the wood to my pyre. I smiled at him. Another young man handed me a small crucifix that he had made for me from twigs. It was rough but beautiful in its honesty. Peasant made, like me. He tucked it into the rope binding me to the stake.

In nomine patris... Flames leaped about me, smoke burnt my nostrils. All I could hear was the spitting of the fire and the cracking of the wood. Then the heat.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Yellow tongues licked my legs, blackened my feet. Biting mouths of fire chewed at my convulsing body. I danced the dance of death. But not alone. You danced with me, singing in my head. I left that poor blackened body that had been Jeanne. But not even death was enough for those vultures.

They doused the flames, scraped back the ashes to expose the naked corpse. They even parted the legs to show the sickened crowd that what they destroyed was only woman. Then more wood was piled about the corpse and the pyre relit. It burnt on into the night filling the air with its rancid perfume. It burnt on until all that remained was ashes. But all that they destroyed was flesh. La Pucelle had moved on.






    © 2012