Jan 6 1424
On this day, twelve years ago at midnight, I was born, the cries of my mother lost to the roar of heavens that welcomed me. Whether it was a herald or an omen remains to be seen. I am sewing beside my mother, trying to make stitches as fine as her. She likes me best I know, for I am her first daughter after my three brothers. Little Catherine is but a happy-go-lucky baby, with wheels instead of legs and no time to spare. My mother recites stories. Stories from the Bible, stories about the Church, fairy tales, anything. After I am done, I start to tread to the familiar path down the garden and into the village. Our house is big and strong and made of stone and so close to the Church. As I skip down the pebbled path, my friends join me and we laugh and chatter and make our way to the Ladies' Tree. It is a special tree you see, filled with fairies they say. We go there trying to spot one, perhaps it is green like the leaves where it rests.
As we play around the tree, I hear the distant rumble of the Church bells. I go down on my knees and pray, pray for my family's well-being and forgiveness for my sins. Lost in my reverie, I am disturbed by smothered giggles and snorts. My friends find my piety amusing. I do not know what is entertaining. It is what my mother taught me. Once when I believed I was perhaps, doing something amiss, the Voice told me, as clearly as though He was speaking to me, to continue and keep going to Church as much as possible.
As the sun began to dip across the horizon, I make my way home. I am quite early so it is alright I am alone. As I approach the door however, I am snatched by my mother inside. The last time her calm face registered such fear and distress, it had been the Soldiers, sons of France given to the enemy. As a tiny stem of fear grows within me, I heard the sound of skirmish already. The horses in the stable whinny and I imagine the cattle to be frightened as well. My family is seated around the table, appearing calm. Suddenly, the smell of smoke seeps in through the crevices in the closed windows. Alarmed, my father cautiously leads us out to witness a gruesome sight. The entire village is on fire. As my brothers try to help our neighbours, the efforts are becoming futile as wooden rafters cleave, as fire leaps from thatch to thatch. The soldiers have long gone, but by the time the last flame is put out, our beautiful village is lost.
Tears sting my eyes, as I see my friends wounded and in pain. I wonder, have we committed such horrible sins? We return home quite unenthusiastic. The next day as soon as I finish all my chores, I allow my feet to take the road that they wish. In the field next to house, I sit down trying to relieve the varied thoughts mulling in my mind.
Is this God's Will? To keep France in poverty and war, all these taxes that father keeps complaining about? Nearly for a hundred years?
What is this? Is it the Voice?
If it be not God's Will, then what be it?
It is God's Will.
I do not understand.
It is also God's Will that you do not remain here.
I am confused...
You will crown the uncrowned prince at Reims, away from Domremy. It is your destiny.
And who be you?
I awake, my heart easier than it was and trundle back home.
I am about to sin. I cannot think of anything else. I try to brush aside my fears as I do to the dust inside my house. I thought I would tell my parents openly about my mission but only yesterday I heard my father tell my brothers that if he finds me in the company of men-at-arms, then they ought to drown me.
I am about to lie.
I tell my parents, I am leaving to help my aunt who is pregnant. I know my uncle will be more persuasive. My heart thumps so loudly, yet they fall for my ill-formed lie and I make my way to the nearest town. I bid adieu to all those that are dear to me, my friends, flowers, birds, everything. I request to see Mr. Baudricourt who is my father's friend. My uncle is dismissive at first, until I look right into his eyes and tell him, "Do you not remember, a woman will ruin France and another Maid will rescue France?". My superstitious uncle relents but am met with scorn and ridicule by Baudricourt. He advises my uncle to return me home with an advertisement for a sound thrashing. Finally, I get my escort, Jean de Metz who is devoted to my cause. The change of heart caused partly because, I said I felt trouble brewing in Orleans which was true and partly because he had priests examine me and declare that the Evil One doth not reside in me.
I disguise myself as a page, partly for my own safety and partly because of my comfort on a horse. There are some who disapprove of me, but on hearing the prophecy they grant me resources and I make my way. Through Burgundian and English hands. And at court of Chinon, I recognise the King who attempted to disguise himself, but no disguise can cloud the eyes of God's follower. Slowly, I bend their unbending opinions, d'Alencon has become my closest friend and I even managed to convince La Tremoille, a Baudricourt in image. I had to be examined by priests and those fools, the Doctors. They actually asked me whether the Voices spoke in French? What other language do I know, not being as learned as they. The method I used to convince the Dauphin, will be my dying secret as he took me under oath.
I am granted my army, who work without wages for God, and as I march out, the guard insults me. I curse him to drown, only to hear a splash moments later to learn that indeed, he did slip into the moat and dragged by his armour. I make up my mind never to curse anybody else ever again. I go to Tours and ask for a sword which I feel will be found in the altar of the Church to St.Catherine. It is found with the fleur-di-lis and returned to me, repaired and restored. I get an armour that weighs my own I believe but I wear it, wear it with pride. I go to Orleans, to free it and clear the path for Reims where the king is to be crowned.
I entreat my men-at-arms, who have swollen in their ranks to fight the English at Orleans. I ask the English, thrice to surrender and they have the audacity to insult me and kill my messenger. As tears moisten my eyes at these incidents, my heart grows stronger, my faith in God protects me and I attack regardless of night or day.
My people are roused. They believe that I am their leader. We attack. I do not kill, it is true. However, I am upset. The sight of blood nauseates me and the wounded arises my pity. However, my time is not that in safety. True to my foreboding, an arrow strikes me. I can see it sticking out of my chest, dangerously close to my heart. I cry, I who have never experienced pain, cried so vehemently. I still hold onto my standard and that arouses my men. Half in anguish and half in frustration, I pull the arrow out.
Pain. It dissolves me. I know not where I exist. I know not what is holding me. I know not the very air I am breathing. Yet I do not sleep, nor do I become unconscious. I am the slave of pain.
Somewhere, from the depths of my memory, I hear my mother tell me, that wounds ought to be dressed in olive oil. During the afternoon respite, I hasten to do so to feel immeasurable relief. In the aftermath, my men are invigorated and we drive the enemy out!
The Dauphin is crowned.
I meet my parents in embarrassment but they are so proud of me. My father heard of my mission before I left from my confidences to my brother, but had hoped Baudricourt would have restored me to my senses. I smile spontaneously on hearing this. Baudricourt is no match to me. My banner is displayed with pride. Also, I set my father and my neighbours free of a burden. When asked for a gift, I request for the removal of taxes from Domremy.
However, things are amiss. The Dauphin is quite on the path of his insane father, negotiating with the Burgundians. Does he not see it is but a ploy to get more troops into this nation? France, France is suffering and the royal blood is not doing his duty. And that fool, Tremoille is encouraging him. As much as I am put off by the lust of blood in La Hire, I'd rather he chop off the head from this conniving diplomat than entertain him.
I prepare to free Paris.
I march in confidence. Yet, my men show signs of doubt. Even de Metz is surprised at my haste, disrergading the King. I have not time for such things.
We fight at Compiegne and Paris. However, the enemy has grown in size and skill and my men are not what they were. Surrounded by my brothers, as I tried to reach the drawbridge to freedom, my accursed cloak, the one symbol of vanity I possesed, was used to drag me off my horse and I was captured. Rather than be tortured, I hoped to tempt death, refusing to surrender to no one except God.
I am imprisoned. I pray. I try to escape once by jumping off the tower to safety only to be brought back to it. I stay, I live and nothing. Perhaps the King has run out of money to ransom me.
And then begins the trial. A sixty-year old Cauchon is called to question me. I am questioned and interrupted and questioned in hopes of a mistake. I laugh inwardly, my extraordinary memory helping me as always. I decline to comment on the King but everything else was for them to know. I merely say "next question". They find fault with my men's attire, my friends, even the poor Ladies' Tree at Domremy. They question me about me running away from home and my speedy recovery from war wound. How can they not see the purity of the soul within?
After a few days, they ask me whether I am in God's grace. Sensing the trap I answer, "If I am, may the Lord keep, if am not may God take me there." All those learned lawyers adjourn as they are surprised that I escaped unscathed from a question where either yes or no would have convicted me. I am supremely confident.
Yet at night, I cry. I cry for the filth in my room, the insulting English guards and most of all, my beloved France. I am forced to wear women's clothes.
The circuitous trial continues. At one point, they actually ask me whether my Voice will disappear after marriage. Disconcerted, I reply God only knows. What is it with women and marriage? And am finally given a long document and they ask me to sign. They assure me that they will release me once I do. Unable to both read and write, I make a small circle with the pen, smiling that I have at last won, and I am not condemned by God.
It is not to be. I am condemned for wearing male attire again. And my petitions that it was because my other dress was stolen by my insulting guards falls upon deaf ears. They maintain it is my own doing. Absurd and illogical, I burst into tears again at the injustice.
May 31 1931
They are escorting me to the stake. Fear haunts my heart. I was confident of my escape. I trusted in these men. One of them even claims that he would have freed me if I had been English. No, France is the Lord's fiefdom. Ah, how many times I heard my father say, he'd drown me or burn me. His words sound so ironic. I am alone and friendless in an unknown land. My courage fails me, it finally loses. These are my final tears, and I let them flow. Can they not see I am a woman, so susceptible to tears am I. I curse Cauchon, curse him for his injustice.
I am taken to the stake and tied. I cry Jesus. I know France is saved. I believe in God. My death means my mission on Earth is over. Paradise awaits me.
She is heralded as a Saint and Martyr. Her mother fought for her at the Rehabilitation trial. Her name was Jeanne d'Arc that was falsely translated to Joan of Arc. She died at 19, her ashes spread on the Seine river to prevent any relics. Her intelligence and intuition were extraordinary. And she did not know how to read or write except for her name.
In retrospect, why this story moves me is because, she performed such spectacular feats for her nation at a time where women had no say anywhere. They were property carted from father to husband, meant to serve and not served. Joan for example, had to both keep house and farm. Yet her awareness of the politics, war and the nation was impeccable.
And her duty to her Voices. As metaphysical it may seem, I believe we all have a Voice within us, a conscience or God or whatever you choose to believe, a sub-conscious that goads us to do impossible things. She saved France. So much so, that a 19-year old girl in India is writing about her nearly half a millennium later.
I often fret at being a girl, at being trapped, at being restrained. Come on, if an unlettered peasant girl followed her heart and conquered destiny 500 years before, I had better do better.