"She needs to be married, and soon," Joan's father said. Joan was sure he didn't mean for her to hear; she was coming back to the house with the bread for supper, and in the lull of summer sunset his words carried through the open window. Jacques Darc's strong, clear baritone elevated the hymns on Sunday, and she could always pick out his voice through all the others in the public square.
Her mother said something she couldn’t hear as clearly, and Joan made her footsteps heavier to cut off her parents' talk.
Joan heard the voices for the first time the next day.
Stay a maid.
They clustered in her head and made it hard for her to think. Stay alone. Never marry.
Joan Darc was fifteen, taller than any of the village youths except Robert. She liked going to church better than anything else, especially to hear the stories: a shepherd encountering the pure secret of holiness in a flaming bush, a prophetess sitting outside under a tree while brave generals came in supplication to her for advice. Strong and pious, handsome and healthy, Joan was adored by Father Denis for her quiet attention - though less so when she corrected him at lessons.
Talk about prophecies grew during wartime, and since it was always wartime, there was always talk.
"I heard two brothers will come to the aid of France, one dark and one light," her brothers said. The baker said, "The English will be driven out in the month when the moon eclipses the sun." Her friend Isabelle said, "France will be saved by the hand of a young woman."
"Do they mean, like Deborah?" Joan asked Father Denis.
He snorted. "More like Jael," he said, before he remembered who he was speaking to. "Don't look that up," he said hastily. "Not until you're married."
"He will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman," she recited, mostly to tease him. "He fell between her legs..."
Father Denis laughed, as Joan knew he would. "I'll tell your father to keep an eye on his tent pegs," he said.
She left the church in a good mood, as she always did, and took the long way home to think about God and France.
For, after all, why shouldn't France be saved by a maid? And if by a maid, why not by her? Everyone knew Charles was young, strong and good, and could easily overturn the English rule if he could only fix on a path and take it. And Joan knew she was clever and brave.
Robert passed on her on the path, and turned bright red and didn't look her in the eye.
At home her mother and father were waiting for her.
"Young Robert's come to see me," her father said, and began talking in a roundabout way about the family's wealth, and what sort of dowry she could expect, about the farm Robert would inherit and what a good place it was to live, especially for children.
Joan couldn't think. The air was too close around her, and her ears started to hum.
"God told me to stay a virgin," she blurted.
"Oh, Joan," her mother said.
"I've just been to church," Joan said, "I need to pray."
She ran out and sat under a tree, by the river, and prayed.
Chinon, July 1427
A weedy nobleman with a coronet on his head stood in the throne room, looking very serious, while two men behind him tried not to giggle.
Joan focused first on the man before the throne, though he was obviously not the dauphin. His clothes were fine, but not royal, and his posture and expression were too intent on acting a part. She guessed Charles would be uncertain, but not like this: he would not need to perform to a peasant girl.
Rene, her voices whispered.
They were familiar to her now, and she trusted them. Joan was surprised – Rene of Anjou was her father's liege lord, and she'd expected him to look more of a fighter. But she remembered he was an artist and poet. She would probably like him, but not now.
She turned her attention to the other two men. The first, a man her father's age, wavered and shifted, as if she were seeing him through water: too old to be the dauphin, and somehow not to be trusted. The second man was young, with a curious open face, looking all at once hopeful, lost and cynical; the air around his head burned and shimmered with gold.
Joan walked to him and dropped to her knee.
He exclaimed softly and looked down at her in wonder. "It's true!" he said.
"I told you," the Bastard murmured.
Well done, her voices said.
Not there yet, she replied.
Orleans, etc, 1428-9
"I'm sure you must be noble at least," Alencon said. He held out his goblet, and watched her while she filled it. "No peasant girl could lead troops like that. At least, not my troops."
Charles looked at her appreciatively, and Joan held her back straight while she returned his look. It was a relief that she was cleverer than all of them; she knew her powers would make them listen to her, but Joan was glad she had something worth saying that they needed to hear. And now the city had been won, and they could press on to other vital rescues.
"I'll make her noble," Charles said. He sipped his wine and smiled. "If she'll have me."
Not again. Joan was tired and heavy from fighting and eating, and didn't want to spend another evening sparring with these men. Even if Charles was serious – and he had promised her everything from one day to the next, sainthood, queenship, a statue of gold in every cathedral in Europe – it would be impossible to accept him now. A holy virgin leading the army of France into righteous battle was one thing, but Charles' mistress prancing around before columns of soldiers was another.
Joan stood up.
"I must pray before bed," she said. She curtsied. "You have done a great thing today, my lord, as you will on many more."
"Another time," Charles said, and drained his glass.
"I'm sure she must be noble," she heard Alencon say as she left the hall.
Very well, if nobility was needed, then nobility Joan was. If a shepherd struck with revelation wasn't enough, a long-lost princess would be. Her triumph at Orleans had energized Charles, but now her story spread across the country, inspiring thousands. A royal changeling growing up in provincial Domremy, La Pucelle had always known she was somehow different, special. In one moment of divine glory in the field, she discovered both her martial powers and her true lineage - all focused on the glory of France and French royal blood. As Charles had unjustly lost his birthright, so Joan had hers – and so she fought tirelessly for him, and for the people.
Charles had been delighted to discover Joan's long lost ancestry. Alencon had said "I knew it!", and poured a satisfied drink. Rene had frowned, and been about to fetch a book of genealogy before she set her spirits to confuse him; after that he was certain. The Bastard, her favorite, had nodded briefly: "I suspected something like that," he said, in a tone that was almost a warning.
Talbot died on the field near Bordeaux. Joan wished she could have seen him and spoken to him, but the cities were falling at her feet so fast that it was impossible to stop and spend time with any one. And as fast as the cities fell, they raised up again, and fell again: Joan was dizzy and exhausted, and her voices floated in and out. Sometimes they abandoned her, or sometimes they were so loud she couldn't think at all, not even to get off the field. She felt certain her reckoning was close, so she pushed harder, wanting to leave the war in the best place she could before her time was up.
When she realised the English troops were around her, she wasn't surprised. Only at how much she missed her voices, which had warned her of such attacks for two years and were now totally silent.
Dirt-smeared, sweaty, and more tired than she'd been in years, the English captain smirked as he led her out of the camp and into town.
Joan stopped, horrified at what the man showed her.
"Father, you aren't part of the story!" she cried. "What will they say?"
Domremy, May 1427
Joan ran out and sat under a tree, by the river, and prayed.
She knelt and thought about God's glory, and the desperate state of France. "Make me your hand," she prayed. "Take me away from here, and elevate me to glory. Let it be me who is to save this country, me who is transformed to do Your work in the world."
"You'll do someone's work, certainly."
Joan opened her eyes. The figure had the sun behind it, and she couldn't make out its face or form; but it crackled around the edges, like a frying egg sending off spits of oil.
Joan thought, and stood up and deliberately crossed herself.
The figure buckled, then stepped forward and resolved into a face she knew well: the warm, soft face of the sandstone Mary in the south-west wall of the parish church.
"You're brighter than the rest," it said.
"I know," Joan said. "Who are you?"
"I don't think so. I think I know who you really are."
Mary smiled. "I doubt that."
"I do know, and I don't care," Joan said, sure now. The figure shifted, she thought in surprise. "Can you push the English out of France?"
"Can you do it with me? Can I go to Paris and be well loved and never marry?"
"I can do anything you want."
"Done," Joan said.
"My price is – "
"Done," Joan said. For the first time realised she was cold. She lifted her chin. "Don't tell me. I don't want to know until it happens."
"Then done," Mary said. She was still smiling with placid, maternal affection. She touched her cheeks and brow, and Joan felt hot, like when she sat too close to the fire. "That's that – handsome enough to turn any prince's head – and you'll need a sword. Come with me..."
And Joan took the devil's hand with open eyes.