Montjoy was not looking forward to meeting King Henry.
The English king had just captured the city of Harfleur and was advancing on Calais. France had lost Harfleur so easily-- the Dauphin Louis had not sent reinforcements and the siege easily broke the town. The governor gave in to Henry's demand of unconditional surrender, no doubt shaken by the assailant's horrible threats. But surely the English could not hold out much longer, weakened as they were by disease.
Now King Charles sent Montjoy out to meet Harry of England. The last official meeting between representatives of the crown had been when Henry's frankly quite terrifying uncle, the Duke of Exeter came to reiterate, for the benefit of the French court, Henry's claim to the French throne and his threat of bloody constraint. Now Montjoy, chief herald of France was to deliver the King's response. Hopefully it would match the threatening tone of the English messages delivered to France so far-- beginning with the French ambassador to England returning with the information that Henry had not appreciated the Dauphin's little joke with the tennis balls and would be promptly invading.
Their first meeting was under strange circumstances in the English camp-- literally.
King Henry had just been saying something about discipline and cutting off some such offenders when Montjoy rode up, carrying the French royal standard. Above the herald's head there swung a hanged man, no doubt an example of these offenders.
Strangely enough, Henry also forbade any mistreatment of the French. Hadn't he been the one who just days earlier threatened rapine and slaughter if the governor refused to betray his town?
King Henry turned to look at the intruder. Great, another Frog, he must have thought.
Montjoy suddenly felt very out of place, in pristine civilian uniform while everyone else was in ragged soldier's garb. Even the king looked like a rough soldier and not like a king--
No. He looked every bit a king. He was a warrior, fierce eyes and close-cropped hair, body lean and muscular, full of life and determination.
Montjoy's heart sank, thinking of the French king-- the beloved Charles, the mad Charles, who was impaired by a terrible occasional sickness that rendered him not only unable to rule but a threat to himself and others. Montjoy loved the poor man, and didn't want to but had to face the fact he was very, very sick. Montjoy wondered what it'd be like to serve such a strong man as King Henry, who didn't have breakdowns and didn't forget who he or his family was.
"You know me by my habit," Montjoy finally said after what seemed an hour of thinking but must have been just a few seconds.
"Well then, I know thee," Henry replied. "What shall I know of thee?" Thee. That was annoying. Montjoy, holder of very high rank was used to being addressed with more respect. But what was a herald, even chief herald, to an enemy king.
"My master's mind," Montjoy said.
"Unfold it," said Henry.
Montjoy began the message the king and the Constable had written. "Say thou to Harry of England, Though we seemed dead, we did but sleep; advantage is a better soldier than rashness. Tell him we could have rebuked him at Harfleur, but that we thought not good to bruise an injury till it were full ripe."
The King and his men stared at the messenger. Montjoy wasn't sure they were buying this. But the herald's voice was imperial. "England shall repent his folly, see his weakness, and admire our sufferance. Bid him therefore consider of his ransom, which must proportion the losses we have borne, the subjects we have lost, the disgrace we have digested; which in weight to re-answer, his pettiness would bow under." Montjoy had to take a breath after that last wordy sentence. D'Albret had probably written this part, intensifying whatever the King had suggested.
Of course, by "England," he meant King Harry.
There was more abuse in store for Henry, some of which was perfect for this occasion. "His exchequer is too poor; for the effusion of our blood, the muster of his kingdom too faint a number; and for our disgrace, his own person kneeling at our feet but a weak and worthless satisfaction. To this add defiance; and tell him, for conclusion, he hath betrayed his followers, whose condemnation is pronounced." D'Albret definitely wrote that. Only he would specifically tell Montjoy to be as defiant as possible, perhaps especially since it wasn't inherent in the herald's nature. "So far my King and master; so much my office."
The King seemed to take this in good stride. "What is thy name? I know thy quality."
"Montjoy," she replied, placing great emphasis on it. It wasn't the name she’d been born with, obviously, but it was the name of her standard and the name King Charles himself had bestowed upon her when he’d made her Queen of Arms. She took great pride in her title and position and was not going to be belittled.
"Thou dost thy office fairly," King Henry replied. Did he just... thank her? He also didn't seem mad at her for her message. Perhaps there was more to him than the enemy she expected. "Turn thee back, and tell thy King I do not seek him now, but could be willing to march on to Calais without impeachment; for to say the sooth, though ’tis no wisdom to confess so much unto an enemy of craft and vantage, my people are with sickness much enfeebled," he admitted. "My numbers lessened; and those few I have almost no better than so many French; who when they were in health, I tell thee, herald, I thought upon one pair of English legs did march three Frenchmen. Yet forgive me, God, that I do brag thus! This your air of France hath blown that vice in me."
Everyone chuckled at that, even Montjoy, in spite of herself. The king could be clever and charming, but she couldn't let her guard down. But... what kind of leader admits such faults? He had to be being disingenuous. How could he take such a threat seriously when delivered by a tiny lady smaller than her own banner?
"Go therefore, tell thy master here I am; my ransom is this frail and worthless trunk, my army but a weak and sickly guard; yet, God before, tell him we will come on, though France himself and such another neighbor stand in our way." Henry did not seem frail or worthless at all – and he apparently knew how to use his weak and sickly guard very efficiently. “Go bid thy master well advise himself: if we may pass, we will; if we be hindered, we shall your tawny ground with your red blood discolor: and so Montjoy, fare you well.” He seemed strangely calm for someone making these threats. Montjoy hoped she hadn’t gone pale at the image of the lovely ground of France soaked in blood – she had certainly felt hers drain from her face.
“The sum of all our answer is but this,” King Henry said, “we would not seek a battle, as we are; nor, as we are, we say we will not shun it: so tell your master.” This was going to be harder than they had initially thought. Hopefully Henry would have been dissuaded from continuing his campaign, at least for a while, and that would have bought them some time.
“I shall deliver so.” Montjoy bowed, almost exaggeratedly. “Thanks to your highness.”
King Henry nodded. Montjoy mounted her horse and without another word between them set off back to Paris.
Montjoy rode hard through the rest of the day, now to return to the French court with King Henry's reply. It'd take another day to reach Paris from Picardy. This gave the herald time to consider the situation. King Henry's army was a wreck, weakened by dysentery and all sorts of nasty disease and apparently had a discipline issue, but still the English king pressed forward, as if he were sure the crown was already his. For all reasons, Montjoy should hate, even fear him, for his invasion and goal of snatching the throne as soon as King Charles’s admittedly shaky rule ended. If she weren't a better judge of character she would have despised him.
After a short rest and watering her horse, Montjoy was back on the road, as she always was. Her work as Queen of Arms kept her on the road so much in the past year that she had almost forgotten what it was like living in one place and not out of a luggage bag. The kingdom had been in turmoil for eight years now, ever since a civil war began after the murder of the king's brother, and that kept her and the heralds under her in the College busy enough. Montjoy herself was often going between the factions-- the Armagnacs and the Burgundians-- for the king. Now England decided to press its own claim to the throne of a country about to collapse in on itself.
Montjoy reached Paris in the evening, relieved to be home. The bell was just tolling evening prayers, but she had little time for worship – anyway, she’d be going to St. Denis in the morning. Now she would deliver her message to the court, then hopefully retire to her apartments at the College’s headquarters at the chapel of Saint-Antoine-le-Petit for some much-needed rest. A stable boy ran out to take her gelding’s reins as she dismounted. She tossed him a coin and carefully stepped through the straw, avoiding putting her foot down in anything unpleasant. She took one of the service entrances and trudged down the narrow hallway and up the stairs to her office, taking the route that would avoid anyone in the main chambers and waste less of her time. She had only a few minutes to spare.
The air in her office was stale and chill, no one had been in it since she left, and it had remained locked. Good. The last thing she needed was an English spy or a French turncoat digging through her papers for whatever they might think they’d find – which wasn’t going to be much, much of anything that would seem important that is. And of course it would make a terrible mess, since spies don’t clean up –
Montjoy realized she was thinking about a useless scenario. She shook it from her head and began to unpack what she didn’t need. She hung up her travel cloak, that’d need to be laundered, and pulled out her clean, official cloak. She hoped it had made her appearance at the audience with Henry impressive. Her small stature was not very helpful, sometimes leading people to dismiss her before learning she was Queen of Arms. Things would be so much easier were she not so tiny. Or a woman. No matter. She pulled off her riding boots and exchanged them for clean shoes, grabbed some of the papers she was to deliver to the King, and headed out again, now to the palace.
A herald’s work was never done.
Montjoy could hear the noise of the court before she reached the throne room’s heavy wood doors. She nodded at the two guards stationed on either side and they stood at attention before opening the door for the tiny herald. The nobles, who had all been talking at once, fell silent as Montjoy entered. She glanced around at all present – just the Duke of Berry and some councilors, since most of the court was in the field – and she hurried up to the throne, bowing.
“Your majesty,” she said, finally looking up at the king. King Charles gestured for her to rise and she did. He looked fine tonight, just as he did when she left for Picardy a few days ago.
“What says our cousin England, herald Montjoy?”
Her heart, as always swelled on hearing her name spoken by the King. He sounded tired though, and her pride settled quickly.
“Henry of England says he does not seek you now,” she began, “but is prepared to march on Calais.” This sent a wave of murmurs through the assembly. “His forces are as we suspected, so says the king himself, but he says to your majesty if they may pass, they will; if they be hindered, they shall our tawny ground with our red blood discolor.” She choked on the last part. Hearing threats against you was one thing, repeating them seemed tantamount to helping write your death warrant. She stepped back as the court launched into frantic discussion. The king listened to this, worry etched in his face. Finally, the noise died down and the King looked up at Montjoy again, waiting for another part of the message.
“Thus says Henry,” Montjoy said, bowing and stepping back. The King signaled that she was dismissed and she bowed again, taking her leave.
Montjoy found herself late that night in the sanctuary of St. Denis, kneeling before the altar in prayer. An hour after delivering the message to the King, one of the heralds under her informed her of the King’s decision. She was to return to her place in the army, attached to the Constable and going between him and King Henry. Henry’s ultimatum meant there was no other option, he was going to continue his march and France was going to have to do something to stop him, thought the army commanders would not agree on how.
She couldn’t help shake the feeling she had failed somehow, though she didn’t make decisions – she was just the messenger. If only Henry and King Charles would agree to talk more, maybe some good would come of it. Instead they were hurtling faster towards large-scale engagement that would end in the destruction of one of them. Dieu, she couldn’t remember a time when the country was at peace.
She looked down at the badge of St. Benedict – her patron saint – she held, a memento of a journey to Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire before the war.
Crux sacra sit mihi lux.
Tomorrow she would set out to again meet her enemy.
Montjoy would forever remember how silent the earth was the night before the battle that would soon be called Azincourt.
Not fifteen hundred paces away was the English camp, lit by dying campfires just as were the French. King Henry’s ragged army was truly a pathetic sight in all senses of the word. Tomorrow morning Montjoy would cross the line and meet again with King Henry, this time with a message from the Constable.
Montjoy had been friends with Charles d’Albret since the early days of their careers, when she had been just a pursuivant and before he’d become Constable. D’Albret had a crusty exterior, stubborn personality, and an unshakeable dedication to France and his comrades, among whom Montjoy was counted. He’d been the first to support her appointment to the office of King of Arms, which had not been a popular decision. Not-so-quiet whispers of favors, political and sexual, circulated until the Constable put an end to them – most of these had a Burgundian accent, anyway. He knew her integrity and had been willing to uphold it, and the good word of the King, which was seldom heard in those days. Once his hard outer-shell was cracked, d’Albret was a dedicated friend.
“You sure you want to keep using ‘thee?’” Montjoy asked, looking at the parchment the Constable had just handed her.
“Yes,” he replied flatly. “And you heard the King, be as defiant as you can.”
The two old friends were standing outside the commanders’ tent. The Constable had had enough of the squabbling commanders under him and had escaped outside, where Montjoy found him.
“Duly noted,” Montjoy said.
“You said King Harry seems anxious?” The Constable asked.
“He did. I don’t know why,” Montjoy replied.
But she wanted to know.
Both were alerted by footsteps behind them. The intruder was the Duke of Orleans, come to report back to d’Albret on the night’s last-minute preparations.
“All my divisions are in order,” Charles said, saluting the Constable. He turned to Montjoy and saluted her too. “At your service, Madam.”
“At ease,” Montjoy said, unable to suppress a grin. It was strange seeing Charles d’Orleans in military kit. Montjoy had known him since he was born, as he was the nephew of King Charles. He was no longer the bright but quiet child she’d once known – war and personal tragedy had weighed greatly on him in the last few years and he seemed much older than he was. But it was good to see him all the same. All the Valois children had been like nieces and nephews to her and Charles was no exception.
“Anything else to report?” d’Albret asked.
“The Dauphin has… finished preparing for tomorrow.”
“Finally told him to sleep?”
“As you should be now,” d’Albret replied – his voice gruff but his words surprisingly kind.
“Thank you, sir.” Charles took his leave and disappeared back into camp.
“I take it he’s worried about home?” Montjoy said quietly. Charles had a family. Younger siblings, a wife, and a daughter – but every man here had something like that. Except for Montjoy.
“He has a lot to worry about.” d’Albret tugged his cloak tighter against the chill of late October. “You were saying about England?”
“Henry is growing into being king,” Montjoy replied. “He’s not the madcap he once was, and he won’t surrender. Not when he’s already admitted his weakness and rejected our first offer.” She wasn’t sure she knew how to describe the strange demeanor he seemed to have at their meeting, which was still nagging at her.
“His dedication is admirable, if foolish,” the Constable said. “This is as far as he’ll ever reach, though.” Montjoy was relieved to hear the confidence in her comrade’s voice. The current state of the French army was not a good one from an organizational standpoint and d’Albret had the miserable job of trying to make nobles who often hated each other and were all out for personal glory work together. The only unifying figures they really had were the Dauphin Louis and the Duke of Orleans, and that was just because they were the two royal representatives.
They were silent for a while, side by side – they were of a similar short stature and able to look each other in the eye physically as well as emotionally. “Go get some sleep,” the Constable said. “Morning will come soon.”
Montjoy nodded. They both knew they wouldn’t be able to sleep.
The Herald of the French had a habit of turning up at incredibly inopportune times.
The first time, Henry had just exacted justice and hanged a thief – fulfilling an old prophecy at the cost of the life of an old friend. Their meeting had taken place under the hanged body, with Henry’s nerves raw from facing the past and trying to assert authority he wasn’t even sure he had. The herald was a tiny lady who had stared him down and spoke with her imperial voice fearlessly, making up for her size and her country’s weakness. He hadn’t realized then but she was bluffing as much as he was.
Now they had reached the endgame. No longer was it the slog of siege warfare or time for discourse between the two kingdoms’ representatives. It was battle and Henry had to make good on all his promises to his men and country today, either by winning or dying nobly. He placed his faith in his ragged band of brothers, he had to, and he chided his lieutenants for wishing they had those who were still in England. Before he realized what he was doing, the king was making a speech, growing in confidence as he spoke until he choked on the words “We few, we happy few…” He did not break. He was already beginning to feel the strength he prayed for so desperately last night.
Salisbury arrived as Henry finished, announcing the French had taken up their positions and were preparing for a charge.
Westmoreland said he wished he and his king could fight the battle by themselves, having no need for the men still at home or the 5,000 who were present.
And then the Herald appeared.
Not her again.
Montjoy rode over to the English side, accompanied by two of her junior heralds. She did her best to suppress her nervousness as she dismounted and approached King Henry, who was with some of his officers. While a herald had immunity and was supposed to be considered a neutral party regardless of employer, there was always the fear someone would forget that and shoot the messenger upon receiving a particularly displeasing message. There was little chance Henry was going to appreciate the Constable’s offer, but it was still her job to deliver it.
King Henry must have been preoccupied with something, because he looked supremely annoyed to see the herald.
“Once more I come to know of thee, King Harry, if for thy ransom thou wilt now compound, before thy most assurèd overthrow, for certainly thou art so near the gulf thou needs must be englutted,” Montjoy said as she approached. The Constable had taken to derisively calling King Henry “Harry,” and now Montjoy found herself doing it – if His Majesty was going to address her so informally as he had in their first meeting, she would do the same. “Besides, in mercy the Constable desires thee thou wilt mind thy followers of repentance, that their souls may make a peaceful and a sweet retire from off these fields where, wretches, their poor bodies must lie and fester.”
Henry glared at her. “Who hath sent thee now?”
“The Constable of France,” Montjoy replied.
“I pray thee bear my former answer back: bid them achieve me and then sell my bones,” Henry began, planting himself in place, arms crossed. “Good God, why should they mock poor fellows thus? The man that once did sell the lion's skin while the beast lived, was killed with hunting him. A many of our bodies shall no doubt find native graves, upon the which I trust shall witness live in brass of this day's work.” He was nearly shouting and, it felt to her, towering over her.
Montjoy dug herself in in front of him.
“And those that leave their valiant bones in France, dying like men, though buried in your dunghills, they shall be famed, for there the sun shall greet them and draw their honors reeking up to heaven, heaving their earthly parts to choke your clime, the smell whereof shall breed a plague in France.” Henry’s voice was shaking. “Mark then abounding valor in our English, that being dead, like to the bullets crazing, break out into a second course of mischief, killing in relapse of mortality.”
Then Montjoy understood.
The thing she had sensed in their first meeting. What made him so angry now. Harry was just as afraid as she was. The weight of the war lay on his shoulders, he was preparing to send his ragged but loyal-to-the-death army into battle. He wasn’t sure he knew what he was doing, so he wore the mask of a man who did. No wonder he had been so angry, he was barely holding it together and she had brought nothing but challenges and insults, never treating him as a worthy opponent. Some keeper of the laws of chivalry she was.
“Let me speak proudly, tell the Constable we are but warriors for the working day. Our gayness and our gilt are all besmirched with rainy marching in the painful field. There's not a piece of feather in our host –good argument, I hope, we will not fly –and time hath worn us into slovenry.” Harry took a breath. Montjoy didn’t move. “But by the mass, our hearts are in the trim, and my poor soldiers tell me yet ere night they'll be in fresher robes, or they will pluck the gay new coats o'er the French soldiers' heads and turn them out of service. If they do this, as, if God please, they shall, my ransom then will soon be levied.”
No ransom, no surrender. Was he still bluffing, as he had been when they first met, or had something in him changed? Montjoy couldn’t help but respect Harry’s determination, even when he was unsure of himself and she believed his cause was not just.
“Herald, save thou thy labor,” Harry said, somewhat softer now. “Come thou no more for ransom, gentle herald. They shall have none, I swear, but these my joints, which if they have as I will leave 'em them, shall yield them little. Tell the Constable.”
The two stared at each other – English and French, king and herald, man and woman with burdens they could not truly voice.
“I shall, King Harry,” Montjoy said finally, bowing deeply. “And so fare thee well. Thou never shalt hear herald anymore.” The Constable had not written that – instead, it was Montjoy. Farewell, Harry. This is the end of the line. There she made a promise to herself as well as King Harry to keep away from him. She would not come back to him, even if d’Albret ordered her. If we both survive, it will be a different world, she added silently. And Montjoy did not want to imagine the kind of world where France was subjugated and she at Harry’s mercy.
King Harry was again lost in thought as Montjoy returned to her waiting horse. He wasn’t going to admit it but the French herald made no sense to him. Both times they had met they had been almost ritualistically at odds, never fully stepping out of the roles of king and herald, but somehow it felt they were speaking directly to each other. Maybe their verbal sparring matches would be more enjoyable were they not negotiating battle.
“I fear thou wilt once more come for a ransom,” Harry said, though the herald didn’t hear him.
Montjoy returned to the French lines in haste. She had to find d’Albret before anything happened to deliver King Harry’s message. She found him, suited up in full white plate – oh God, may it keep him safe – mounting his horse.
“Then he’s made his choice,” the Constable replied grimly. It was strange, when Montjoy stepped back to look at it, that all this time Harry and the Constable had communicated only through her, never seeing the other until now, as they would at least see the banners of the other.
“It’s been an honor to serve with you,” Montjoy said, saluting the Constable.
“And with you, my friend,” he replied. “Take care of yourself.” As Montjoy began to turn her horse, the Constable spoke. “If something happens today, tell Orléans –“ A trumpet sounded from the English side, interrupting him. “Never mind,” the Constable snapped before Montjoy asked him to repeat his request.
There was no more time for talk. The leaders of the first battle were arriving after last-minute preparations, and Montjoy’s heart swelled with pride as she saw Guillaume de Martel, the Seigneur de Bacqueville, riding up, carrying the oriflamme. Martel was another old friend, now entrusted by the king to serve as porte-oriflamme. Montjoy saluted him and the other commanders assembling, knowing she was possibly saying farewell to them for the last time. Forcing down the pre-battle butterflies in her gut, she rode out to the highest point she could find, followed by her junior heralds. There they met the English heralds, led by William Bruges, Garter King of Arms.
“Lovely day for a battle,” Montjoy said, looking out over the newly tilled fields. Last night’s rain had left the ground soggy and the air miserable.
“Perfect venue, too,” Garter replied. The English had dug in, with sharpened stakes pointed out toward the French, who would first come across the field in a charge intended to take out Harry’s main asset, the longbowmen.
This was the worst part of being a herald, Montjoy thought grimly. We must stand to the side and wait, watch the battle, helpless, see our comrades die and we can do nothing. We are to do nothing. Just deliver a verdict and count the dead. How she envied King Harry now, he was in charge of something, able to fight rather than stand by. A herald had to be a passive, neutral observer, simply delivering the messages and orders of their superiors. Unable to change anything.
She saw one of the English persuviants shaking, clutching the reins so tightly his hands shook from that pressure alone, along with fear.
“First battle,” Garter said.
Montjoy wanted to say it would be alright, but that was of course impossible. She gave the young herald the most gentle, understanding look she could. She remembered when she herself was new to the job and saw for the first time the reality behind the chivalry she recorded.
The cry went up through the French ranks.
“Montjoie Saint Denis!”
The battle had begun.
It would later be said that the flower of French chivalry died that day. Years later Montjoy would recall it in more apocalyptic terms as the day the world came to an end. Death rained down on the French with every volley of English arrows. Trapped in the mud, the French were easy targets for first the archers and then the men-at-arms. Montjoy had seen battle before but never slaughter like this. The screams of dying men and horses, the clash of weapons, and the horror of it all could never be erased from the mind. The heralds, from their position on the sidelines watched the proceedings to prepare the final report.
Suddenly, one of her junior heralds spoke.
“Where’s the oriflamme?”
Montjoy scanned the battlefield, hoping to get a glimpse of the glorious red banner, but it wasn’t flying. Its presence on the field meant that no quarter and no prisoners were to be taken. Surely they hadn’t lowered it – but that meant –
Martel must be down. The oriflamme was lost.
The battle raged for three hours. The second French line was pummeled too, and the battlefield was strewn with the dead, French and English, noble and common alike. Someone had to go to King Harry and concede defeat, but who was left? Once there was no risk of being hit by a stray arrow, the English heralds set out to return to their side of the field. Those who were not dead were taken prisoner or lying among the heaps of bodies, waiting for death. Usually the surviving commanders of the two sides would meet to negotiate the end of battle but there was no one on the French side left.
Only Montjoy. She looked out on the field that she would soon trod through, taking note of the casualties, and she felt bile rising in her throat. She then broke her promise to herself and Harry that he’d never again hear her. The French queen of arms would go to beg the compassion of the English king on St. Crispin’s Day.
Henry had never been so angry in his life.
He stood among the wreckage of the baggage, surrounded by the dead pages who had been little defense against the French who had attacked them. Two of his captains, Fluellen and Gower, were helping clean up the bodies.
Henry repeated his order to slit the throats of the French prisoners. There were too many of them, they’d easily break free and start the battle again – and this time probably win – and for this atrocity they needed to pay. This time he had none of the self-loathing that had accompanied his threats at Harfleur. His blood was still on fire, he was exhausted, and full of righteous fury.
He had been ready to send his chief herald, Garter King of Arms, to find the remains of the French command when hoofbeats announced the arrival of –
Not her again.
“Here comes the herald of the French, my liege,” Uncle Exeter said.
“Her eyes are humbler than they used to be,” said Gloucester – Henry’s little brother Humphrey, who the king had nearly lost today.
“How now, what means this, herald?” Henry demanded, closing the distance between them. “Know'st thou not that I have fined these bones of mine for ransom?” He barely had time to register the look of absolute terror on her face as he grabbed her cloak, yanking her to him. “Come'st thou again for ransom?” he snarled, shoving her and releasing the cloak. Montjoy hit the ground. She lay there for a second in the mud, stunned, and Henry realized what he had done. He’d violated the code of chivalry and attacked a herald, a protected person – and a lady at that. The horrifying thought that maybe the only thing preventing him from beating her to a pulp was that she was a lady went through his mind – or maybe it was he knew she was already as broken as he was.
God, he hated himself.
Montjoy didn’t stay down long. “No, great king,” she said, scrabbling to her feet and steadying herself. “I come to thee for charitable license, that we may wander o'er this bloody field to book our dead and then to bury them, to sort our nobles from our common men.” Now Henry could see the herald more clearly, catching the things he had refused to see in his anger. She was scared, even as she faced him. “For many of our princes -- woe the while -- lie drowned and soaked in mercenary blood; so do our vulgar drench their peasant limbs in blood of princes, and the wounded steeds fret fetlock deep in gore, and with wild rage jerk out their armèd heels at their dead masters, killing them twice.” She spoke quickly, never taking her eyes off him, as if she expected him to attack her again – she probably did. “O, give us leave, great king, to view the field in safety and dispose of their dead bodies.”
Henry understood the herald now. She’d been wearing a mask in their previous meetings just as much as he had been. Now their masks were both gone. Montjoy was as alone as he was – now she had no superiors to tell her what to say, no imperial voice to use. All she had left was her own desire for peace, she had crossed the battlefield and faced her enemy for it.
“I tell thee truly, herald, I know not if the day be ours or no, for yet a many of your horsemen peer and gallop o'er the field,” Henry replied. He spoke much more levelly now, his anger sated and replaced with something else – respect for the herald. Her defiance had forced him back into reality. There was no reason to keep fighting, and he could not take his anger out on the nearest person, even if they were French.
If Montjoy came to him asking for compassion, that must mean she believed he was still capable of it.
Montjoy took a breath. “The day is yours.” She was cold, trying to suppress shaking from exhaustion, and trying to analyze Henry’s sudden change in demeanor.
“Praisèd be God and not our strength for it. What is this castle called that stands hard by?”
She looked up toward the castle in the distance. She ran through lists of territories and estates in her head before replying. “They call it Azincourt.”
“Then call we this the field of Agincourt, fought on the day of Crispin Crispianus,” Henry said.
“Your grandfather of famous memory, an't please your majesty,” came a voice behind Henry. He turned to see Captain Fluellen. “And your great uncle Edward the Plack Prince of Wales, as I have read in the chronicles, fought a most prave pattle here in France.”
“They did, Fluellen,” Henry replied.
“Your majesty says very true,” Captain Fluellen continued. “If your majesties is remembered of it, the Welshmen did good service in a garden where leeks did grow, wearing leeks in their Monmouth caps, which your majesty know to this hour is an honorable badge of the service. And I do believe your majesty takes no scorn to wear the leek upon Saint Tavy's day.”
Montjoy had no idea what the captain was saying to the king. He spoke English but with a strange accent she didn’t recognize. Henry must like him, however, if he was allowed to talk to him so freely.
“I wear it for a memorable honor,” Henry’s voice wavered slightly. “For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.”
The king’s response apparently delighted the captain. “All the water in Wye cannot wash your majesty's Welsh plood out of your pody, I can tell you that!” He exclaimed. “God pless it, and preserve it, as long as it pleases his grace, and his majesty too.”
“Thanks, good my countryman.” Henry said, the exhaustion in his voice audible.
“By Jeshu, I am your majesty's countryman,” the captain declared proudly. “I care not who know it; I will confess it to all the 'orld. I need not to be ashamed of your majesty, praised be God, so long as your majesty is an honest man!”
“God keep me so –” before Henry could say anything else, the captain embraced him, as if they were brothers rather than sovereign and subject. Montjoy stared, dumbfounded. Henry looked like he didn’t know what to do. Finally the king put his arms around the captain and returned the embrace, shaking with exhaustion and stress. The herald couldn’t see that the king was crying. The captain let him cry.
After a moment, Henry stood up, somewhat reluctantly giving up the first bit of tenderness he’d received in far too long. He issued orders for the English heralds to assist Montjoy in the field. Montjoy caught his eye – his face was still twisted from emotion – and she averted her eyes and bowed, then set out into the field.
And so the heralds of France and England together began the task of counting the dead.
Montjoy trudged through the muck that hours ago had been churned up by the battle, overseeing the dead laid out. She made note of each coat of arms and their owners, but the motions were purely mechanical as she wrote down the heraldic shorthand. Her mind was numb and her hand obeyed only because she knew what she had to do.
Quarterly France and gules. In all her time as a herald she’d never had to announce the death of one she’d held so dear. The Constable was dead. So were Grandpre, Rambures, Alençon, both of the Duke of Burgandy’s brothers, more she had yet to find… England had lost several knights and the Duke of York, Henry’s cousin. Then there were the men at arms, the archers, common men just as brave as the nobles, all gone to join the bivouac of the dead.
Montjoy picked up the remnants of another banner, too muddy to identify. She splashed a few precious drops of water from the skin she carried and some of the mud washed off, revealing a flaming red fabric.
Not caring about saving her water, she poured more on the scrap. More mud gave way as she washed it and her heart broke. It was all that was left of the oriflamme, the sacred banner representing the king and France’s proud history, and the thing that gave the herald her name. Montjoy, Queen of Arms fell to her knees, finally sobbing. It was over. The Constable, her old friend was dead, so was Martel, struck down carrying the oriflamme, which was now destroyed. The Duke of Orleans and the Marshal had been taken prisoner and the Dauphin would by now be trying to strike a deal with King Henry for some honorable release. Everything they had fought for was ruined and lost.
Clutching the scrap, which would probably be just big enough to cover her small shoulders, she dug in the mud with her empty hand, desperately searching for another piece of the oriflamme but she found nothing. Her sight was blurred with tears and exhaustion. Nothing, not another scrap of the once glorious standard. What now did she have to cling to? To stand for? She absently wiped her muddy hand on her already soiled cloak and clutched the standard to her chest, determined to keep it safe. Even if it was as ripped up and no longer as beautiful as her country.
“Peggin’ your pardon, my lady,” said a voice in front of her. She looked up to see the tall, scruffy captain who’d embraced King Henry earlier.
“Yes?” Montjoy replied, barely stopping her voice from shaking. God, she looked so much like a woman, kneeling in the mud, crying over a banner and her dead comrades, whose brave deaths she ought to honor, not weep over like some widow.
“His Majesty wants to speak to you when you return,” the captain said. Montjoy wasn’t very familiar with Welsh accents, so it took her longer than usual to understand what he said. But he seemed nice, which she certainly hadn’t expected.
“Tell King Henry we shall return with our first list by sundown,” she said. She closed her eyes, berating herself. “Apologies, Captain – ?”
“Fluellen,” he replied.
“Captain Fluellen. I’ll send one of my heralds with that message.”
“I would pe honored to deliver a message on pehalf of such an upholder of the true disciplines of the wars,” Fluellen said. He helped her stand and handed her his canteen, which she drank from gratefully.
“Thank you, Captain,” she said. She almost lost her balance in the mud again but Fluellen steadied her. “Now I must return to our dead.”
It was night by the time Montjoy, Garter, and the other heralds returned to the English camp. Montjoy was in no better mood than when she had last spoken to Henry. She was still scared, especially after what had happened during their last meeting, and despite her protected status as a herald, she was still French and still a woman and in an enemy camp. The discovery of the remnants of the oriflamme just made her even more miserable. She was cold, exhausted, and did not want to deal with the English king, who was no doubt gloating over his victory.
The Duke of Exeter led Montjoy and Garter to the King. It was easy to be intimidated by Exeter – even the English King of Arms seemed scared of him, and he’d spent plenty of time around him. But when Exeter saw his nephew his demeanor changed to that of an affectionate uncle. It made Montjoy miss her father, God rest his soul.
Henry was waiting for them. He greeted his uncle warmly, then turned to the heralds. “Have you finished the count?” He now seemed much calmer than he had been previously, but no less tired.
“We have, your majesty,” Garter replied, handing the king the list of the English dead.
“I have not completed the tally,” Montjoy said. There are too many bodies to clean up in one day, she thought bitterly as she handed over her report. “It will be ready tomorrow.”
Henry read the lists in silence and made the sign of the cross. The English list was much shorter 6but no less hard for him to read thanks to “Edward, Duke of York” scrawled at the top. His own cousin. Somehow seeing it written made it final, even when he’d seen York’s body earlier that day. “It’s over, Richard,” he said to himself, forgetting the heralds were still there. After a moment he turned back to them. He dismissed Garter and was about to do the same for Montjoy when he changed his mind.
“You’re not planning on leaving tonight, are you?” he asked.
“I have to get the news to King Charles as soon as I can,” Montjoy replied.
Henry folded his arms. “You also dodge a lot of questions.”
“With all due respect, your highness, I have a job to do.”
“With all due respect, messire, you wouldn’t get far tonight before you’d have to stop anyway. Set out in the morning.”
Henry had a point, but Montjoy didn’t want to concede it to him. She still, to her own frustration, accepted the stool Henry indicated. On doing so she realized this was the first time she’d properly sat down that day.
“I’m sorry about your cousin, your highness,” Montjoy said as Henry poured some wine and passed it to her. It wasn’t too bad for military wine, she thought at first, before realizing this was the good kind she wasn’t used to – the kind kings had regularly.
“Thank you,” Henry said, sounding truly appreciative of her sympathy. “York was more like an uncle to us than a cousin.”
Montjoy looked down at the notes in front of her. Her eyes began to well up again, blurring her vision and the names written in her chickenscratch. Realizing she was crying in front of her victorious enemy, she quickly wiped her eyes and nose on the sleeve of her tabard. Dieu, she had to stop crying.
“Who did you lose?” Henry asked softly.
“My best friend, d’Albret,” Montjoy replied, knocking back the rest of her wine.
“I regret that I never met the Constable, except through the messages you delivered.”
“His words,” Montjoy said as Henry refilled her cup. “Not mine.”
“Except for the last message.”
Silence hung between the two.
“Yes,” Montjoy said finally, looking down at her wine. “Except for the last message.”
“Your voice is still imperial,” Henry said, “even when the words are your own.”
“Thanks,” was all she could mumble. She was feeling more dead inside by the minute.
“I’m sorry for –” The silence returned. They both knew what Henry had been about to say, though there was no good way to put Sorry for breaking chivalric law and attacking you and knocking you to the ground, that was kind of a bad thing to do.
Montjoy nodded in understanding, stunned she’d gotten an apology from a king – and this one, of all possible kings. They avoided each other’s eyes.
“What did you mean by ‘It’s over, Richard?’” Montjoy asked before she could stop herself. She grimaced internally; prying into a king’s mind was not a good idea.
“My father deposed King Richard,” Henry said. “York was – as loyal to Richard as he could have been. He was the last connection I had to Richard.”
It was like a weight had been lifted that had once been holding down her memory. “I remember Richard. And your father. You don’t remember me though,” Montjoy said. Things seemed different now that they were seated opposite and saw the other on the same level.
“I don’t think so, no. I don’t recall meeting you before Harfleur.”
“You were young,” Montjoy continued, somewhat emboldened by a strange sense of seniority and superiority over the young king. “We both were. I was not yet Montjoy and you had just become the Prince – Hal, I remember they called you. It was after Richard died and his widow was in the custody of the new king. King Charles sent us to get back his daughter.”
“You and another man came to demand my father return Isabelle,” Henry said, his voice soft again.
“The man was the Comte d’Albret,” Montjoy continued. “Not yet the Constable. Your father would not answer our letters, so we had to come in person.”
“My father… tried to avoid many things. He blamed himself for Richard’s death, in the end. It was as if he were the one to deliver the blow.”
Of course Montjoy had heard the conflicting narratives of Richard of Bordeaux’s death. Henry referred to the most popular, that Richard had met his fate at the hands of assassins, perhaps on direct orders from the king, or indirect orders misinterpreted, much as Henry II of England had rid of that turbulent priest Becket by knights taking his outbursts as command. The more likely story was worse, however; and it was the English government’s position that Richard had starved to death, though it was never clear if this was on purpose or not. No wonder Henry’s father felt guilty, any action he took would have condemned Richard in the end.
“He never forgave himself,” Henry continued. “He couldn’t escape our cousin Richard, even in death. He buried Richard in York, far from where he had wanted to be interred.”
“Where did Richard wish to rest?”
“Beside his wife Anne – his first wife – in Westminster, London. But that was too close for my father, he couldn’t bear to have even Richard’s body to remind him. So he buried him at King’s Langley, owned by the Duke of York.” Henry paused for a long drink of his wine.
“And I have heard you reinterred Richard,” Montjoy said.
“Yes. I have.” Henry rested his forehead on his hand. “Richard adored Isabelle,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “He treated her like she was his own child. And he was kind to me too.”
“I should not have brought up the past, your highness,” Montjoy began.
“It’s easier to dwell on that than the present,” Henry replied. “Thank you for reminding me of it, messire.”
Montjoy looked down at her half-finished report and another wave of exhaustion swept over her. She was tired of everything – war, death, politics, all of it.
Montjoy fell asleep slumped forward on the table, head resting on her arms. She didn’t hear Henry rise and say to someone outside the tent that the herald of the French was his guest tonight and was not to be bothered, and she barely felt him drape his cloak over her shoulders to protect against the night’s chill.
Early the next morning Montjoy prepared to leave for Paris. The world was silent, looking as it had yesterday morning and every morning before that, as if nothing had happened yesterday. She was used to often being the first person awake, but this was almost always accompanied by an uneasiness she couldn’t quite explain. She tied the remnants of the oriflamme to her horse’s tack, like a token given to a knight at the tournaments she judged.
Montjoy was saddling her gelding when she heard someone behind her. She stopped what she was doing and sighed. “Is it customary for English kings to sneak around in disguise?” She asked without turning around.
“Not really. I just find it easier to get around like this.”
Montjoy finally turned to look at King Henry, who was indeed undercover with the help of his cloak. He would have been better disguised had he not been in the path of the sun’s rays. Now that they were standing again, Montjoy had to look up to look him in the eye. She still didn’t like that.
“I need you to deliver another message alongside your report,” Henry said. He reached under his cloak and pulled out a letter, sealed with the royal signet ring. “Tell your king that his son, Louis the Dauphin, will be returned home safely to his mother and father.”
“He’s not your prisoner?” Montjoy asked, putting the letter in her satchel.
“No. But if he thinks he is, I am not going to correct him.”
Montjoy cracked a grin. The Dauphin had caused much grief with his insult and his posturing. Perhaps this would shut him up – considering his father had told him not to go with the army in the first place.
“Take care of yourself,” Henry said as Montjoy mounted her horse.
“Take care of yourself, your highness,” Montjoy replied, looking down at the king. Without another word she whistled, flicked the reins, and spurred her mount towards Paris.