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The Journey of the Paladin of the Artistic Heart

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Rene would rather have been working on his epic poem The Journey of the Paladin of the Battered Heart, but he had to throw a garden party what with mad King Charles finally dying, and his brother-in-law, Charles, the Dauphin, having a serious problem in becoming the King of France on account of the English invading all over the place. Quite frankly, it would be a miracle if he was ever crowned king.

Mother had insisted that a garden party was just the thing to raise Charles' spirits.

Rene had the good wine opened.

He'd invited a few people, most of whom sent, "Sorry, washing my hair," responses. So, it was mostly just family, and Charles' favourite mistress, who was practically family. Family who liked to breast feed her own bastards instead of handing them off to a nurse like normal nobility, but at least she and Rene's sister, Marie, got along fairly well and even held embroidery club together. They wouldn't say what they did there.

"The first rule of embroidery club is don't talk about embroidery club," said Marie.

"The second rule of embroidery club, is don't talk about embroidery club," said Agnes Sorel.

Rene stopped asking if he could join.

There were cheerful, if hastily sewn banners proclaiming, "Charles, you are the King of France! You are!" and "Hang in there, Dauphin!" with the image of a large eyed kitten wearing a slightly askew crown hanging off a branch. Which come to think of it was a bit of a mixed message. Not really Rene's best work, but he'd enjoyed working in a new medium.

They'd just watched a short Mystery Play put on by some local citizens. Their earnest performance had been a little jejune, pardon his French, but Rene had remitted their taxes anyway. Anything to encourage the arts.

Rene's daughter, Marguerite, and he could have sworn that she hadn't been born yet, but there she was, sweet sixteen or possibly aromatic eighteen or even tart twenty, berating a servant that the pots full of French lilies meant to represent France were getting in everyone's way. Rene blamed her premature aging on Global Cooling, the death of feudal chivalry, and Aristotle. Come to think of it Agnes Sorel should be seven, but what could Rene do. No one could overcome the laws of Aristotelian storytelling.

Everyone could hear Marguerite loudly saying, "We should have put out the daisies of Bourges for Uncle Charles. That's all he's King of."

Mother said, "Marguerite of Anjou, Maine, Loraine, Bar, Provence, Sicily, Aragon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus, show your uncle some respect. He's a king. I wouldn't have arranged his marriage to one of my daughters otherwise."

"No, no," said Charles. "No, don't chide her." He looked dolefully around the sun-lit garden and resumed plucking petals from one of Rene's prize Aragonian roses, which were a really lovely deep orange into a light purple. Rene wondered if he could tell Charles to stop picking the roses. They were part of a design representing Rene's four kingdoms. Sadly the garden was about all of those kingdoms that Rene held, but Mother would insist on keeping up the topiary.

Mother raised her wineglass. "At least, mad King Charles outlived the English King. Even if it was by just two weeks. Oh, how the skies wept for joy, the comets danced, the stars put on a concert when that baudet, pardon my English, died."

The silken young ladies Mother was training for courtly affairs raised their wineglasses, "To the death of the baudet."

Nicola, a particularly well put together lady in forest green arched a perfectly plucked brow. "And to the hole the baudet went into." The ladies chuckled at the wit. They really were relentlessly wity. Sometimes, they made Rene feel a bit tired. Glad to be French, but tired.

The trumpets of announcement blared out over the gates and Rene winced. He wondered again why he'd allowed Marguerite to convince him that gate trumpets were all the latest thing in castle design.

A messenger rode through the gate dressed in rough leathers, waving a sword and shouting, "To the Bastard Charles, from King Henry VI, the rightful king of England and France, because we all know your mother fucked around, pardon my French, which is why you are a disinherited bastard. This is your third and final notice that you have thirty days to vacate France, which is English property." He stamped his horse around a few times crushing the rosemary hedge representing Sicily, and rode off.

Rene's… court painter, Barthelemy, whispered to Rene, "Isn't Henry VI only a baby?"

Rene didn't have time to explain how this was the fault of Aristotelian rules regarding drama, the constraints of the novella form, and dramatic tension, because another messenger arrived to yet more trumpets blaring. At least this one was well dressed in fine wool and carried a lovely pennant of a French lily on a black background. He said with fine and clear projection, "Your Majesty," Rene had to wonder which Majesty he was addressing given that Rene was just as much King as Charles, "I come with the gravest of news. The English are advancing on Bar." That really didn't clear anything up, given Rene was also the Duke of Bar, not that he'd gotten a sou from them in years, what with the English marching troops through the fields and vineyards. Sack drinking philistines.

"That's it." Mother pointed at her ladies. "I'm graduating you early. Isabeau, I need you in Scotland, I need you agitating for more troops. Be a good demoiselle in distress." Isabeau curtseyed and set off on her mission of intrigue. "Jeanette, you're off to Florence. Seduce the richest Medici you can find and convince him to invest in our army. James of Scotland may soak us for what he still owes on his English ransom before lending us troops." Jeanette looked determined as she very sharply curtseyed and left. Nicola was bouncing on her toes. "Don't think I don't see you there, Nicola. But the Duke of Burgundy thinks Charles killed his Father, which in all fairness he did. You're my best Agent. I need you to get into the good graces of the Holy Roman Emperor and do what you can to break his treaty with the English."

"Yes, my Lady," said Nicola, who was clearly thinking about how the Duke of Burgundy spent 2% of his GDP on Venetian silk, and kept the best table in Europe. Rene had gained two stone when he'd been the Duke of Burgundy's captive. Still she was a professional. "I won't let you down."

The trumpets blared again. "Oh, for… what now?" said Mother. "God in his Glorious Heaven, but I hate those trumpets."

"They are the latest thing in castle design," said Marguerite. "The… King of Aragon has trumpets." She looked significantly at Rene.

"Oh, sharper than a serpent's tooth is the tongue of the child whose been told she won't be Queen of Sicily," muttered Rene.

"She does love oranges," said Barthelemy.

"Which was why I built her an orangery," said Rene. "I cannot split up kingdoms I don't have between my children."

Another messenger, this one on foot, a woman in men's garb, which in another age would have strained sumptuary laws, but these were dangerous times, and those laws allowed for cross-dressing if it protected virtue. Male garb suited her, which went a long way with Rene and the French Pope's Fashion Police. The Roman Pope only gave allowances for cross dressing for the protection of virtue. The Pisan Pope didn't have Fashion Police, which was why no one paid him any attention. She said, "Dauphin, I bring grave news."

"Is there any other kind?" Charles laid his depetaled rose to rest in a flower bed, and started in on another.

"Jean, our Duke in Alençon, the buffer dukedom against English invasion from Normandy, has been captured. Though young in years, he was great in his desire to avenge the death of his father at Agincourt, but was overwhelmed by the English forces presently laying siege to Orleans."

"What? Orleans is under siege?" said Charles. He looked wildly around the garden. "When did this happen? If Orleans falls then the English will be at our door. They'll be able to take all of France. All is lost!"

"Still think it was a good idea not to tell him," said Marguerite. She tossed her wimpled head for good measure.

"This is why we didn't tell him," said Mother under her breath; then more loudly said, "All is not lost. We are no weathervanes to turn with every turn of the fortune's wind. While you have the support of Anjou, you have a kingdom." She looked around, but she'd run out of ladies. "I shall be in my study. Marguerite, I need you to cry piteously on some letters."

"Grandmaman, I'll fetch the onions," said Marguerite.

"I've told you my dear, you need to learn to cry without the crutch of onions," said Mother, and they exited castle left.

"But Orleans," said Charles.

"The Duke Alençon," said the messenger, "he has ransomed himself at the cost of all he owns."

"You mean…" said Rene, his hand flew to his mouth, and Barthelemy gasped.

"What?" asked Charles.

"They have even taken his clothes," said the messenger. She shook her head, "The English are clothing stealing putains, if you'll pardon my English."

Rene would have cautioned her for language, but really the situation was dire. "Give my tailor his dimensions and he will come here dressed in velvet."

"You truly are Rene the Good," said the messenger.

"But what of Orleans?" asked Charles.

"We've been paying to send them vital supplies. Food, Art, Music, scripts for Mystery Plays. But now that Your Majesty knows perhaps he could…"

"Why look at the time," said Charles looking ostentatiously at a sun dial. "Is that, why, I need to, good day." Charles exited castle right.

Marie looked at Agnes Sorel. "He forgot us again."

Agnes shrugged and switched breasts where she was feeding her daughter, and really there was an interesting idea for a painting. The Virgin Mary suckling baby Jesus. Rene was in the middle of proposing it to Agnes Sorel, with Marie making some really excellent suggestions on composition, when the trumpets quickly bleated to announce a small horde of Englishmen, who ran through the gate and wearing sheets over their heads and waving their swords in one hand and jars of cider in the other. "Woo," said one. "Charles, we're the ghost of the chance you have of holding France."

Marie said, "Charles left already."

"He's not here," said Agnes Sorel smiling down at her baby.

The Englishmen pulled their sheets off their heads, caught sight of Agnes Sorel and yelled that she was trying to bewitch them with her French breasts.

Rene had to ask them to leave. Jars were thrown. Words were exchanged. They threw trash everywhere and uprooted several innocent roses before finally leaving.

It wasn't much of a party after that. But by the time they'd cleaned up, spent fruitless hours trying to figure out how to pay for troops, art, donations for the poor, art donations for the poor, Rene's ransom payments to Burgundy, it was time to go to bed.

Naturally, Rene stayed up to write. He hadn't gotten a thing written in weeks.

He sat in Barthelemy's workshop pretending to write.

Rene's pen hovered over the parchment like a kestrel hovering over a mouseless field. Perfect. His lack of inspiration was a lack of mice, or perhaps rabbits. Rene he found himself sketching a tiny bunny hopping across the side of the page. He refused to draw it eating a carrot. "I am going for a walk in the garden."

"Sacre Bleu, yes." Barthelemy pushed Rene's feet out of his lap and went to put the miniature he was painting of Jesus raising his pet rabbit from the dead on the table.

Rene went into his apartments, which adjoined Barthelemy's workshop, and put on his most comfortable robe, a gift from Barthelemy. The one embroidered with inspirational sayings by great French writers. For what was the entire Arthurian tradition, but an invention of the French. "No seriously, what is it?" he asked Barthelemy.

Barthelemy shrugged as if he were Gallic and not from the Lowlands. "French speaking lowlands," he reminded Rene.

He and Barthelemy were pleasantly engaged in proving all artists were French in some way, when they came upon the Countess Alion of Auvergne gazing at the moon. Her porter, who'd been born Martin Guerre until an angel changed him into a woman and Countess Auvergne was still paying for the Papal Indulgence that proved it, stood behind her. Now Martin went by Martine.

As to Martine, it was no mystery as to why Countess Alion needed to travel with a Porter, given the women's cloak hastily draped over a limp figure on the ground. Still, manners were manners. Rene said, "Good evening, Countess Auvergne and… Porter."

Countess Auvergne said, "Ah, hello, Rene, King of Jerusalem, Aragon, Sicily, and Cyprus, Duke of Anjou, Main, Lorraine, and Bar, Count of Provence and Piedmont and errr… his friend. It is a beautiful night out, yes. I was just telling Martine, it is too lovely to remain indoors. We must be out where the nature is on such a night."

Martine bobbed as daintily as a woman built like a burley armed stevedore could. "Yes, you were your Ladyship."

Rene knew he'd later regret it, but this was the third time this had happened this week. "Is that an Englishman under that cloak?"

"I don't know what you mean. What cloak? I'm not wearing a cloak." Auvergne looked down at her own arms, which were indeed unencumbered by a cloak.

"The cloak that your porter is very industriously trying to drag through my garden." Rene pointed at the swearing Martine.

"Oh, that cloak. Oh, no. I would never. I mean… maybe if say I invited William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, to go stargazing with me because I'd heard of his many accomplishments, and well-formed calves, I might have invited him to walk about your gardens."

"In enemy territory," said Rene.

"Well, the English do claim all of France, so technically, it was just the other side of the river. If such a thing had happened, which it did not, but if it did, he might have been struck on the back of the head by Martine, and now we're taking him to be ransomed, which is practically the only way a woman of my station can earn any money in northern France. I certainly can't farm. Have you seen my vineyards in Champagne? Trampled!" Countess Auvergne looked like a cross angel gesturing wildly, before stopping herself and crossing her arms. "Nothing happened here. If anything has ever happened at all. Which it didn't."

Rene was wondering if he could with any legitimacy claim a share in the ransom given she'd kidnapped the man in his castle, when Countess Auvergne smiled malevolently. "And your beautiful wife. How is she?"

Rene was momentarily struck with confusion as he couldn't be certain if he was married to his first or his second wife, or in a horrifying thought, they had been amalgamated into a single woman. What if she was a child? The laws of conservation of age meant that the years put on Marguerite, Agnes Sorel and Henry VI would have to come from somewhere.

Barthelemy stood up to his full height. "My… Lord's wife is none of your concern, but she is still ruling his territories in Lorraine as she was when we greeted you these seven days ago." Barthelemy was no small man, two inches shy of six feet. Countess Auvergne was a full four inches over six foot in her stocked feet and towered over the lot of them. Still, Rene patted Barthelemy's shoulder for trying.

The shape on the floor groaned beneath the robe and Countess Auvergne kicked it. It was no gentle kick.

"Madame, why can't you return to kidnapping men in your own castle and cease with kidnapping them in mine?" This was what Rene should have said. He could have said. Instead he said, "Lovely moon out. I was thinking to write by moonlight. It's certainly bright enough." He pulled out his pouch notebook and pencil stub, and set to musing, which was a good deal like writing, but with fewer words on the page.

Countess Auvergne coughed.

Rene tapped his pencil on his paper. Barthelemy sighed the sigh of a man who was not about to abandon his… patron to the company of two kidnapping Amazons.

Martine whispered something to Countess Auvergne.

The figure groaned, and received another kick.

Rene tapped his pencil.

Countess Auvergne stepped between them and Martine. She said, "I have been wanting to ask you about the progress of your poem about the knight pursuing a vegetable."

"It's a rose," said Rene. "I'm modelling the Journey of the Paladin of the Shattered Heart on the Romance of the Rose."

"Ah, a fanfiction," sniffed Countess Auvergne. "It is a pity the writing of men is always so derivative." She waved a length of her wimple; while behind that fluttering shield, Martine lifted the figure onto her shoulder as one might carry a sack of flour.

"It is a transformative work," said Barthelemy, while Rene reeled from Countess Auvergne's literary criticism, "which is a legitimate form of artistic expression. Look at the Aeneid and see how it transformed the Iliad and the Odyssey, or how Chretien de Troyes transformed the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth into the Arthurian cannon."

Countess Auvergne shrugged like the Atlas might shrug, if Atlas shrugged. "You make my point. Men are by nature derivative." Behind her, Martine grunted with the weight of her burden and took several wobbly steps in the direction of the stairs.

The Countess continued with her vicious attack. "Perhaps your next argument will extol the works of some hack who writes plays or poetry based on historical events such as the tragedy of Julius Caesar, or who retells some well known stale tale, such as the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet or King Lear. Putting the rouge of new words to an elderly tale. That courtesan sells no wares."

"But the skill with which the themes are handled must surely be…" Rene was not to finish his idea, because just then several ladders solidly thunked outside the castle wall and a dozen Englishmen, shouting and waving their swords, came over the wall and down into the garden.

Rene was reconsidering replacing the moat with an ornamental rose garden, but the roses filled the air with a sweet perfume, while the moat had always stunk of garbage in the high summer.

Speaking of stench, a stout Piggish Englishman yelled, "To me men, I, John of Lancaster, shall be the one to rescue Lord Pole from the clutches of this French witch! For God and Saint Christopher!"

The Countess grabbed the cloak and flung it over a statue of Apollo. She said, "You'll not succeed in taking him back," and generally behaved as if the statue was her captive. While the man, now clearly if limply visible, hung in Martine's arms.

Rene said, "That will never work."

John of Lancaster shouted at the statue. "Behind me, my Lord!"

"Never mind," said Rene.

A burly Bearlike Englishman waved his sword. "No, to me men. I, John of York, shall be the one to rescue Lord Pole from this French Harlot! By God and Saint Christopher!" He pushed John of Lancaster away from the statue and the Englishmen set to fighting each other in earnest.

Rene looked at Countess Auvergne. She shrugged. They parted ways. Countess Auvergne helped Martine carry Lord Pole, and Rene and Barthelemy went back to the workroom.

Rene intended to get some writing done, but the Englishmen were putting up quite the racket as they fought.

He despaired of getting any words on the page and had taken to pelting the lot of them with red and white roses from the various bouquets in the workshop, when Marguerite leaned out of her window and flung a bucket of night soil on them. She yelled, "The next thing I throw on you will be quicklime if you aren't out of here by the time the clock tolls. How's that for an eviction notice."

The Englishmen fell to arguing again as to what she might mean. The quicklime flung on them was sadly the death of the garden of the four kingdoms, but perhaps it was time to rework the entire garden anyway.

Rene made considerable headway on the design with Barthelemy, which was in no way a procrastination on his writing.

"We've worked the night through." Bathelemy blinked at the dawn.

"If only," said Rene who looked at his notes, which bore designs for a garden with rabbits, but not a single word in pursuit of plot bunnies. "My word count was zero again."

Barthelemy patted his shoulder, and if his hand lingered, Rene would not pull away from the comfort of another artist. They took artistic comfort in each other.

Sometime later, he left Barthelemy sleeping, while he went in search of a quiet place to write and break his fast of the night on the southern patio with its morning light and view of the moat rose garden, which were somewhat the worse for wear given the English incursion through them.

Before he'd gotten his first sip of his morning's chocolate, his first spear of fresh tomato, his first pomme fritte, forgive his English, or his first word on the page, Louis, his head gardener ran up the stairs. "Your Majesty. The English!" He was crying. "They've destroyed the gardens."

"I know." Rene patted Louis' shoulder.

"They even stolen the statue of Apollo." Louis sobbed. He'd always been fond of that nude.

Rene ordered a bowl of café au lait and a croissant for Louis. They were discussing the new designs for the rosemary hedge maze when the trumpets sounding from the battlements. Rene decided he much preferred the lutes of announcement. Far gentler, like a leaf drifting on a gentle breeze and he was just about to tell Henri, who was leading the chamber orchestra from the shade of the rose bower, when Charles rode through the gates like a dour cloud of ennui.

Rene missed the days when Charles gaily rode into battle in red, white, and blue, the colours of France. Though he supposed there was nothing gay in France anymore.

Glad that at least he was dressed for the day under his favourite robe, Rene shuffled down the stairs. "Welcome back, your Majesty. Have you come to escort Marie and Agnes Sorel home?"

"Yes, though I'm not yet king," said Charles, "and it is all useless." He waved at an elderly gnome of a man, currently tied up with silk scarves and seated comfortably in a cart. "We've captured the butcher of French charcuterie, Sir Talbot, who commands the English army. He and his men attacked me as I was having a morning's picnic upon a woeful French meadow amid the lilies of the valley with my second favourite mistress."

"Oh, how is Antoinette de Maignelais?" asked Mother, who accepted a cup of tea from a waiting servant. "Agnes Sorel mentioned that they were going in together on a gift for their grandmaman, next month."

"I had to send her home. She was so shaken up by the whole affair," said Charles. "Sir Talbot's men fell to fighting amongst themselves. For pity at his shame, we were forced to take him prisoner, lest he destroy the plateware."

"Lies, damnable lies!" shouted Talbot. "I'll face any of you in single or multiple combat!"

"Yes, but you won't follow the rules." Rene could have said. He had written a book on the rules of tournaments, and knew very well how a melee with the English went.

"Even this victory will be of no use," said Charles. "The English will just send another commander. They are endless. Have you heard they are laying siege to Orleans?"

Rene suddenly found himself looking at the topiary.

Mother cleared her throat. "You should trade him for Lord Ponton de Santrailles, his cousin's best friend's lover is the brother of the Roman Pope and we need all the help we can get." The sun shone over her shoulder, illuminating her with a glow of majesty. Rene wondered exactly how she did that.

"That coward! No! Trade me for a hundred Frenchmen, or not at all!" shouted Sir Talbot.

Charles said, "I suppose we'll trade him. Having no kingdom, I have nowhere to keep him."

Talbot was turning an alarming shade of red. Spittle flew from his mouth as he shouted, "Are you Dolphin or Dogfish! I say dogfish, a shark preying on anything and all. I raise my fingers at you!" He raised his middle and index finger at them.

"You want to make the sign of peace," said Charles, "What a relief, let's stop our fighting immediately. Can I keep this half of France?"

"No, he's making the sign of silence," said Mother. "Which we will not as we will not be silenced by this English débile, pardon my English."

Marguerite fingered her Dolphin necklace. "Dolphins are noble creatures, and," she looked up at Mother, "The Prince of Dolphins shall wail on the Prince of Whales." She held out her hand to bump fists with Mother, who after some consideration shook her hand.

Rene decided the best course was to ignore them. "I think that he's making a victory sign."

Talbot reversed his hand.

"Oh, the bowfingers," said Rene. He looked at his mother and his daughter. "He's giving us the bowfingers." He turned to Charles. "That makes much more sense. But, Sir Talbot, you need to seriously work on your dumb significants." After some thought, Rene added, "Which is to say gestures symbolic of vulgarity."

"I was hoping he meant peace," said Charles.

Marguerite bit her thumb in Sir Talbot's general direction "Oh, my apologies, did I just insult you? I'm a simple Lady and don't know the meaning of such vulgar gestures."

Talbot struggled against his bonds. "I'll take any or all of you in combat! Except the women, who are all fiendish witches!"

Mother said, "Oh, get the man a chocolate and croissant. Perhaps that will even out his temper."

He yelled, "I'll not take the order of the Croissant! I'm a knight of the Garter!"

"If only there were more garters in your army," said Charles. He looked around. "Did I leave Marie and Agnes here?"

"Yes," said Mother. "They're still asleep, the poor dears. The servants informed me that the English invaded the garden, while they were trying to comfort each other at your absence and couldn't get a wink of sleep." She sipped her tea. "I do wish someone would wake me when this sort of thing happens."

Since Mother could and had slept through invading armies, everyone answered her by avoiding eye contact.

Several servants attempted to help Sir Talbot to his feet, but he spat at them. Finally, he was placed at his own table at the farther end of the garden where they could not hear him. He was given his own pot of chocolate and croissants. He was admonished that he'd get no more if he flung them about. He flung them about, and got no more chocolate and croissants.

Rene directed that the servants put a wooden screen between them and Sir Talbot. The man was giving him indigestion.

When they were finally rid of looking at their captive guest, they sat down to their own leisure. Charles blew sadly at his cup of chocolate. Looking around to see if anyone would notice, Rene pulled out his pouch book and pencil in a vain attempt to get some words onto the page.

But inspiration escaped him like a courtesan who was being insufficiently something and he couldn't even complete that metaphor. Not with Charles sighing like cross bow bolts, and at least that was a simile. It didn't help Rene write the Journey of the Paladin of the Sad Heart, but it was something.

Rene made the mistake of making eye contact with Charles. Charles blinked his eyes in an expression that would have worked better had he been a child. "I have been thinking of fleeing to Iberia. I could fight the Moors in your Kingdom of Aragon, and the English would never come there." He flopped a hand in the direction of the ornamental garden of the four kingdoms. "That is one of your kingdoms isn't it? It's hard to keep track."

"Your Majesty is not fleeing anywhere." Mother sipped some black tea in a very decisive way. "What we have we hold."

She was just winding up for another series of volleys, and really Rene blamed the English, or possibly the rival King of Aragon, that all his metaphors were martial this morning, when Barthelemy ran up the steps to the patio. "It… is here!"

Rene put down his pencil. It was more of a prop anyway. "I must deal with this." He stood up, almost tripping on his own shoes, and damn the latest fashion in long toed shoes. It was getting ridiculous when the damnable things had to be tied to a man's knee, but fashion was fashion.

"Yes, I'm certain that your court painter has something to say that needs to interrupt a discussion of policy," said Mother.

There was no point in protesting, though Rene wondered if the Duke of Berry had to put up with this sort of thing. Rene bid the sighing Dauphin farewell, and followed Barthelemy back to his workshop.

There in magnificent glory was a pot of Venetian Cerulean. The exact shade needed for the sky above Lady Mercy in the poem of the Journey of the Paladin of the Wounded Heart, if Rene could ever a) finish it and b) finalize the title.

They were experimenting in combining the Venetian Cerulean with gold leaf on a fine little tryptic of Jesus arguing with this little brother James, the Madonna Berating Jesus for smiting his little brother, and finally Jesus bringing James back to life, when there was a cough.

A gentleman, and that was a kind description, with two other gentlemen holding cudgels, stood in the door. The first gentlemen said, "I is here as a representative of the Duke of Burgundy, who is more than a little sad that you have fallen behind on your ransom payments. Here he kept you his own self and fed you at his own fine table, not even killing you. But instead let you go when your dear Mother asked. Now seeing as you are behind in your payments, you will either pay up with an additional monetary gift, which is no way usury as it shall be a gift, or my friends here will do some small damage to your knee caps." The gentleman waved at his broad shouldered compatriots. "See how kind his Graciousness is. The Duke particularly told me, he said, Francois, for that is my name, do not damage that man's hands. Rene is an ungrateful dog, on the wrong side of this foudrez war, pardon my English, and a lessor Duke than I, but he has the hands of a foudrez artist, he does. So, do not foudrez touch Rene's hands."

"How… kind," said Rene, who was trying to think of anything to say to keep his kneecaps, and was figuratively beating himself up for failing as a word smith.

"Oh, Rene, the Venetian Cerulean," said Barthelemy. There were tears in his dear… royal artist's eyes.

This was in fact how he'd managed to pull together the funds to buy the Venetian Cerulean, but anything less a colour of blue would have been unworthy of Barthelemy's art.

He was about to start blathering when Marguerite, burst into the room, weeping. "Father, I am doomed to hell. For I have a love that dare not speak its name."

Barthelemy whispered, "I have a love that has no name."

Rene took his… friend's hand. "It has a name, it's simply not well known."

"Renemy," whispered Barthelemy.

Rene squeezed before letting go. "Barthe."

Margaret stamped her foot. "Father! Pay attention. I have a love that dare not speak its name." She drew herself up, pushed out her chest and, as her Father, Rene really ought to tell her to lace up her dress more. She was only two laces away from being mistaken for Agnes Sorel.

Francois the Burgundian said, "Is it the love of another woman?"

Marguerite held her hand over her décolletage, forgive his English, which might be far too low, but was charmingly trimmed with lace. "No, it is far worse than that."

The Second Burgundian asked, "Is it a peasant?"

Rene had to admire the way Marguerite was applying her studies in ancient greek plays. He'd often read them to her before she went to sleep. She looked sweetly out the wide window. "No, it is worse than that."

The Third Burgundian asked, "Is it a nun?"

"Technically," said Francois the Burgundian, "if you'll pardon my English, this would fall under the provenance of my first question, as a nun is a woman."

"But not all women are nuns," protested the Second Burgundian slapping the cudgel in his hands.

"And some nuns ain't women," said the Third Burgundian. "My cousin Raoul, the one in Paris, not the one in Brussels, he's got a friend, who knew a guy, who dressed up as a nun to avoid Burgundian justice and swived his way through an entire nunnery." He nodded sagely. "Being a fake nun, it's a good racket."

Barthelemy looked at the Third Burgundian and leaned over. "Looking at him, I don't think he needs to dress as a nun."

"It's not a nun," said Marguerite. She implored the unfeeling heavens, and/or the ceiling, which admittedly Rene and Barthelemy had painted with a lovely set of frolicking cherubs across a blue, if not Venetian Cerulean, sky. "I love an Englishman!"

Rene really hoped not. He also hoped she was going somewhere with this.

"This is no great objection," said Francois the Burgundian. "Our own Duke sides with the English, who speak coarsely, but follow the order of the Garter, which as we all know encircles the legs of the ladies, who as we know in the poetic tradition are the founts of all that is civil."

"Stop interrupting me and listen! My love is married to another woman, and therefore can never be mine!" Marguerite flung herself in the general direction of the window. Not to jump out, but to pose backlit.

Rene wondered if he was supposed to say something, but it was too much to hope that Marguerite was doing this for a distraction. He was getting worried this might not be a distraction.

But he underestimated his daughter. Marguerite winked at Rene behind the cover of her hand and said, "Here, one of you, lend me your cudgel. I must free my love from abject captivity where the wiles of another other woman, not his wife, have led him. I saw him but once, as he walked with the Countess of Auvergne in our garden and there fell my heart to his siege. He now lies bound in her chambers, where love compels me to free him." She held out her hand and Rene was not surprised to see the Third Burgundian hand her his cudgel.

But Francois the Burgundian held up his own hand. "This is not chivalrous. We should not force you to go free your would be adulterous lover on your own. Are we not all speaking the language of love? Have we not all fallen in love at a distance with a married stranger? Now that I see your Father, I know it will only take one of us to obtain what our employer is owed. Lay on my Lady, and we will do your pummelling for you."

"Oh, thank you." She blushed. "You are too kind. This way, she's staying in the Peacock room."

Francois the Burgundian and the Second Burgundian followed Marguerite from the room, leaving only the Third Burgundian, who cracked his knuckles, before picking up their miniature. He said, "This is some very fine brushwork. Very fine indeed. I am glad of this opportunity to see is, as I would like to make a small commission for my portrait. It is for my Mother."

Rene looked at the broad shouldered young man and said, "We'll make you two. One for your Mother and another to woo with. No man should contemplate dressing as a nun for romantic reasons. But," he held up a finger, "for two paintings, I'll need some additional days to raise some funds to pay the Duke of Burgundy and keep my kneecaps."

"It is agreed," said the Third Burgundian, whose name turned out to be Lionel the Burgundian.

Lionel the Burgundian was an excellent subject. They painted three pictures for him. One for his Mother. One to woo with and an amusing cartoon study where he was at the Last Supper holding the bowfinger over Judas' shoulder.

Lionel the Burgundian left happy.

Rene was left with his kneecaps.

They had the Venetian Cerulean.

He even finally had an idea for the next section of the poem of the Journey of the Paladin of the Sadly Bereft Heart.

He and Barthelemy were taking advantage of the light quality in the orangery, and the mistaken idea that they wouldn't be found there. Rene was just putting pen to paper to write out a few ideas, when like a volley of arrows, they sped away at the trumpets sounding from the battlements.

Rene was composing how he'd tell Marguerite that they were changing the door announcement when the Jeannette, who went by the name Bastard of Orleans, strode into the orangery followed by an equally striding Holy Maid.

Rene knew that this was a Holy Maid because the Bastard of Orleans was a magnet for simply dressed Holy Maids who spoke directly to the Almighty God above, and woe betide the priest who didn't listen to them speak about their boyfriend, Jesus Christ, and what he actually wanted them to do. This one was wearing men's clothing fit for a Crusader. Rene wondered whose closet they'd raided.

The Bastard of Orlean's twin, Count Jean Dubois, groaned. Possibly he was wearing an identical dress as his sister, which was allowed under a somewhat complicated Papal Fashion Police clause that allowed twins to dress identically.

Count Jean Dunois said, "We're really got to see different tailors. This is getting as bad as Mother."

"This isn't about you," said the Bastard of Orleans. "I have brought the salvation of France."

"Oh, thank God!" said Barthelemy. He patted Rene's arm. "If we win the war, you'll finally have time for… your art."

Rene smiled to hear what Barthelemy was not saying.

The Bastard of Orleans glared. "I said that I have brought you the salvation of France!"

The Holy Maid smiled at something empty air was saying to the left of her.

Charles snorted awake from where he was drowsing in a lawn chair, and when had he gotten there? Rene could have sworn the orangery was empty except for himself, Barthelemy and the chamber orchestra. Charles said, "Wha…" He looked at the Bastard and her Holy Maid. He sank back down. "Oh, another one."

"I said," said the Bastard f Orleans, but the Holy Maid was braver than Rene would have expected, because she put her hand on the Bastard of Orlean's arm. Rene certainly would not have dared touch any part of the Bastard of Orleans.

"Be at peace. I will tell it." The Holy Maid turned with her face alight with purpose and other things that made Rene's stomach sink.

He'd never get any writing done.

"I am Joan the Maid of Lorraine. The Angel Michael, Saint Margaret, Saint Patrick, who as you all know was originally French, and most importantly," the Holy Maid brushed the back of her free hand along some unseen cheek, "Saint Catherine," Rene widened his eyes at Barthelemy and gestured for him to sketch, "they all have given me the eyes to see who is the true king in the room."

The entire chamber orchestra chuckled into their strings.

Rene's heart was already in the toes of his ridiculously pointed shoes, but with Charles sighing at him, he knew his part. He mentally abandoned his lost metaphors. "I am the King of… France." It certainly was a kingdom he hadn't claimed yet.

Joan the Maid stamped her foot. "No, though you try to deceive me by wearing a king's crown." There were chuckles from the Chamber Orchestra. She pointed at the blinking Dauphin. "There sits the King of France." She knelt before him and briefly gripped his knees. "God give you a happy life, sweet King!"

Charles fumbled for the crown that had fallen off his head and under his chair while he'd been sleeping. Joan the Maid kindly and reverently released his knees and handed it to him. Charles put it on. Lost it again, had his crown returned again, and then sighing, "It's uncomfortable," laid it to one side. He said, "I am the Dauphin. But it is easy to be coached in hope." He shook his head. "To be king, I must be crowned in Reims."

The Holy Maid's robes pooled around her, and her hair shone in a stray beam of light through the window.

Barthelemy's pencil was flying over the page, while Rene could have wept that he'd never be the artist that the Bastard of Orleans was, to have arranged this live theatre. The Chamber Orchestra strummed a stirring melody.

"Has your Father, the old King, not gone ahead to his place at God's side? What can you be then but the new King." Her brow furrowed and she looked to her left. "I'm not sure if that makes much sense." She sighed. "Fine. Saint Patrick wants you to know that in the same way that God is made of three parts. God, the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, who are three and one, in the same way a clover is three and one, just as you are one with the kingship and the sacred land of France, and..." she looked over the Dauphin's head, "Michael, you're right this isn't working." She leaned forward and whispered something in the Dauphin's ear.

The Dauphin looked at her astonished. "How can you know that?" He looked around the room with its glass walls and soldiers lounging drowsing on chairs amid the orange trees. "You won't tell anyone."

Barthelemy hissed because he hated to be left out of gossip. Rene shushed him quiet. He needed to write everything down. There were at least a dozen poems to be written from this moment. Poets were notorious cannibals of the events of their own lives, which come to think of it was perhaps the problem with the poem of the Journey of the Paladin of the Bruised Heart.

Joan the Maid crossed her heart. "I shall not, and only God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the Archangel Michael and, of course, Saint Peter, who is a terrible gossip, knows." She looked up over her right shoulder and held up a slender hand for unseen hand to clutch and Rene heard Barthelemy weeping, which was fine as long as he didn't weep on the paper. Rene was becoming teary himself. "I'll not even breathe a word of this to Saint Catherine. Although," the Holy Maid lowered her hand to take up the Dauphin's and squeeze it. "I can think of nothing that would mark you as more the King of France."

Charles nodded and placed his hand on Joan the Maid's shoulder. "I'll not stand between you and Holy Love. You may tell Saint Catherine."

"Thank you, Your Majesty." Then tilting her head, she stood up and moved back three steps.

Countess Auvergne pelted into the glass lined room weaving her way through the orange trees. "Martine, this way."

Martine ran behind her and knocked over a very expensive and fragile orange tree with the roughly bound gentleman over her shoulder. The tree fell into the path of the Burgundian gentlemen.

Francois the Burgundian said in an aggrieved tone, "Mind the fruit, Martine the Porter. I know my oranges and if that's not an imported Valencia, I'll eat my shoes."

"And if you were not being supported by my host's own daughter, I'd make you eat those shoes," curtseyed Countess Auvergne.

Rene wanted no one eating shoes. Particularly as Francois the Burgundian's shoes were excellently colour matched to his hose. Rene plucked several oranges from the tree next to him and tossed them to Francois and his Burgundians. They caught each of them in turn. Francois the Burgundian said, "Blessings on you, your Lordship. I see why you're called Rene the Good."

In this moment this afforded, Rene pointed at Countess Auvergne. This was precisely the opportunity he'd been waiting for. "What of Dante Aligheri? You cannot call his writing derivative."

Countess Auvergne sniffed. "Can I not! A hack who Gareth Stued himself into a Mystery Play and made sure to include his favourite poet saving his life. Please, sir, you must do better if you wish to prove the value of men's poetry! Dante wasn't even French."

"His paternal great-grandmother was from Strasbourg," protested Rene.

Countess Auverne's sneer was such a consummate display of Gallic disdain, Rene could have wept.

"We should not be fighting among ourselves." Joan stepped between them. "I am myself an illiterate peasant with does not know A from B, and as such all stories that I hear are spoken. There and then gone, and yet eternal as we each transform them in our way. Countess Auvergne have you not heard a woman tell a tragic tale about a tennis ball through a stained glass window and then heard that woman's sister tells it again entirely differently casting herself as the villain, and then their parents repeating the tale again that very night at a party, but as a comedy of sisterly love."

Countess Auvergne's eyes grew wide. "How could you know of that? It was years ago." She held a hand over her heart. "I miss my sister."

Joan smiled. "As she misses you, and you are a new aunt to a baby boy, who they have named Aliono, after you. Listen how adding a sound changes the shape of a name. How telling a story transforms it. Stories are living things. Stories, like France, are meant to be free. Do not fight over the creative spirit of the human soul."

In that moment, Joan won over Rene's allegiance, and from Countess Auvergne's expression, he could see it was the same with her.

Countess Auvergne held out her hand in the gesture of peace. As they shook hands, she whispered, "King Rene, you are an excellent writer and in honour of your art, after a suitable chase, I'll give my captive to the Burgundians to pay for three months of your ransom payments." She made a quick salute and she and Martine ran from the room. When the Burgundians were done with their oranges, they followed her.

They'd barely left when Marguerite strolled into the room waving a cudgel like an Englishwoman. "Where are they? Where is the woman who captured my love? Oh, they're not here." She lowered the cudgel. "Don't worry Father, I have a cunning plan to sell this prisoner to the English, which should be enough to cover at least a few months of your ransom payments. I will prove to you that I'm good enough to be Queen of Sicily."

Rene brushed a cudgel smudge from Marguerite's cheek. "My dear, I didn't say you weren't good enough to be Queen, just that you couldn't be Queen of Sicily. I don't have it to give it to you, and you don't have to prove anything to me."

They hugged. She said into his doublet, "I'll prove to you I can be Queen."

He patted her back unsure of what to say, beyond, "You've no need. You're already my little princess."

She whispered, "But I've no wish to be a just a princess."

"I'm still not King," said Charles in a sad tone that said he was tired of people not talking about him.

"Give me what's left of your army after their defeat today near Orleans, and I'll have you crowned in Rheims," said Joan the Maid.

"What defeat? What army?" asked Charles. "We haven’t attacked anything."

There was a blare of trumpets. Rene held his baby girl's face in his hands. "Please, let me change the trumpets."

To his relief, Marguerite nodded.

A messenger wearing a burlap sack staggered into the Orangerie. "King Rene, your men's attempt to deliver supplies to Orleans was routed. Every single one of them have been captured, the food thrown in the river as being too heavily flavoured, and even worse…"

The Bastard of Orleans and her twin Count Jean Dunois gasped, "No!"

"Yes, their very clothes were taken," wept the messenger. "They gave me this sack to wear and then accused me of breaking ecclesiastical law for dressing as a sack of potatoes."

Rene said to Joan the Maid. "How did you know that they were defeated?"

Charles said, "What could there be but word of defeat?"

Joan the Maid put her hands on her hips. "The Saints told me, as they have told me that if you let me lead your army, God will see the Dauphin crowned in Reims."

"Ah, well," said Charles. "I don't have an army. Rene's army was defeated. Too bad. We'll just have to sue for peace. How is your holy lawyering?"

There was the sound of trumpets. Rene looked at Marguerite. She said, "I'll have them go change it right now."

He mouthed "Thank you," as Mother came into the Orangerie. "Your Majesty, my Ladies have come through, you have an army." She stopped and looked at Joan the Maid. Her mouth opened and closed. She turned in a whirl on the Bastard of Orleans. "You found a Holy Maid and you brought her to Charles! I've told you, if you found a Holy Maid to find me."

The Bastard of Orleans peeled an orange.

Mother jabbed a finger at Joan the Maid. "What have you been sent to do? Please say its lead the army. We need a miracle. God, we need a miracle."

"Don't blaspheme. It annoys God, and that is why he sent me here," said Joan the Maid.

Count Jean Dunois snickered, "He has sent us a maid specifically to blaspheme and so shame the English with their French."

Joan the Maid slapped him and it was no dainty blow. "Let go of low humour masquerading as wit. I am bringing you better help than ever you got from any soldier or any city. It is the help of the King of Heaven."

Rene could have quipped it would take a greater slap than that to knock low wit from a Frenchman's lips, but his heart was not in it.

Just then there was the blissful strumming of lutes from the gatehouse. Rene, he was not ashamed to admit it, transcended with bliss out for a moment or so. When he opened his eyes, Duke Alençon was striding into the Orangerie in the clothes that Rene had made for him. Duke Alençon said, "I heard that you like have a Holy Maid to lead your army. I am so like in."

Rene shuddered at the poor construction of French, but could not hold it against him. While not a Burgundian, Alençon was from Normandy.

Charles waved his hand. "Excuse me, Dauphin here. I'm still not king, and never will be. I have but lately learned, the English even now are laying siege to Orleans."

"What the English are is dangerously overextended," said Joan slamming her hands down on a table Rene hadn't even noticed until this moment. "Let me lead your army, give me an exceedingly large banner to inspire the troops with, men's clothes to protect my virtue, a set of white armour without stupid lumps on the breast plate that would direct any blow towards my heart, and God will deliver France to you."

After a brief consultation with an Ecclesiastical Fashion Lawyer, because no red-blooded French man or woman wanted to cross the Roman or Avignon Pope's dreaded Fashion Police, it was agreed that this would be allowed under the ecclesiastical provision that men and women could cross dress if it would perverse their virtue, lives, or in the case of the French Pope, look really amazing.

Rene and Barthelemy were honoured to consult with Joan the Maid on her exceedingly large banners. "It's an honour," said Rene, who for once didn't feel as if he was procrastinating on his writing by getting pulled into another artistic project, given that they were saving France and all.

They ended up making three banners. Joan the Maid's battle standard was a long narrow rectangle of white buckram sewn with lilies and Jesus Christ with angels on either side. They embroidered the names Jesus Maria on it and fringed it in silk. Her pennon for about camp was a smaller triangle of buckram depicting the Annunciation, but with the Archangel Gabriel was presenting French Lilies to the Virgin Mary rather than baby Jesus. The third banner was a simple Crucifixion scene for Sundays.

After the first day on the march, Rene would have liked to have reported to Barthelemy that night that he'd managed to write on horseback, but he had to admit, "I couldn't look away from the battle standard."

"I know," sighed Barthelemy. "I meant to complete a miniature of Jesus smiting the rodents in his parent's attic and then for pity's sake bringing them back to life in a local field, but was too distracted to even try."

When they arrived at the first fortress Saint Loup, Charles said, "Maybe we should try talking."

Joan waved her battle standard and said, "Fire the cannons from there, there and there." It turned out firing canons was a very effective way to destroy castle walls.

"Who knew?" said Rene.

Barthelemy dipped his brush into a pot of ink and resumed painting a small cross over Rene's heart for good luck. "God, apparently."

That night a war council was held, but Joan the Maid was not there. Rene said, "Did someone forget to include Joan the Maid on the meeting invite?" He groaned. "Did you accidentally send it to the Maid of Orleans? The Maid of Lorraine is the only alias we've set up yet. Or maybe it was a typo, did you type Puzzel rather than Pucelle. She doesn't go by Jean d'Arc."

Count Jean Dunois said, "The Maid is a girl. War is men's work."

"Excuse me," said Mother, "I and my Ladies paid for this war."

"He is not excused," said Marguerite tapping her fingers on the parquet table of their hastily constructed parlour of war. "I'm not losing an opportunity to prove I'm worthy to be Queen of Sicily."

"It matters not," said Joan the Maid striding through the tent flaps like a boss. "God is my meeting maker, and I have every invitation and reminder that I need." She tapped at each fortress on the map and directed the placement of artillery. "Ours will be a swift montage of victory. Taking each fortress in turn. Except tomorrow. That's the Day of Ascension, and God will be very upset if we fight tomorrow. We should send a hail of arrows at the English telling them as much."

Rene got no writing done.

Actually, he wrote a great deal as every Frenchman in the army who could write wrote Joan the Maid's message on parchment to be shot into the fortress of Saint Jean le Blanc.

The day after that, they found Saint-Jean-le-Blanc abandoned. Joan waved her battle standard. "It's as I've said. Overextended."

Charles sighed. "I'm not sure if I can call this a victory. The English still have an army surrounding Orleans."

"They are a conquering army. What they take, they must hold by force." Joan switched to her camp pennant and waved it. "The people of Orleans are French and want a French king."

Duke Alençon said, "I don't even like Charles, but when she puts it like that, my heart like totally surges with the blood of a Frenchmen."

"About that," said Joan, "At the fortress of Jargeau when the cock crows three times, duck." She waved her camp pennant. "Lest you be hit in the head by cannon fire." She grinned. "Dirty cannon fire, my pretty duke." She tousled his hair, and by some miracle he let her.

Duke Alençon fixed his hair after this affront and rolled his eyes.

They made camp in a jovial enough mood, and on the next day advanced on the monastery of the Augustine's where the English had kicked out the poor, actually fairly wealthy, monks, and made a fortress.

Sir Talbot, who had been ransomed, rode out from the fortress shouting, "I'll face any man among you!"

Joan the Maid waved her battle standard. "I am no man."

"Then I'm out!" shouted Sir Talbot, and the English returned to their fortress.

The battle that followed was fairly nasty. Rene hardly had time to jot down any notes.

Joan the Maid was shot in the shoulder. She yanked the arrow out. "It's just a flesh wound," and shifted hands she was using for her battle standard. They took the castle.

By morning, the English withdrew their army.

Strike that.

The English retreated. Making bowfingers and biting their thumbs all the way, but they retreated. Rene could hardly believe it. He wrote a quick, if terrible poem, on the spot.

They marched into Orleans carrying vital supplies:fine bread, cheese, charcuterie, wine, small pieces of art, a theatre troop performing a mystery play. There was much rejoicing.

Rene may have had too much wine for he woke from a horrible dream that the English had retaken Orleans, which since they'd never had it in the first place was both ghastly and made no sense. He said, "We ran into the fields wearing nothing but our night clothes and the English stole our clothes."

Barthelemy rubbed his back comfortingly. "Make art from your nightmares."

So they worked through the night painting miniatures of Englishmen burning art, churches, kicking large eyed puppies and drowning large eyed kittens. "I don't feel better," said Rene. So they put large eyed Jesus in the corner of each picture looking sad. They sent them to the Pope. All three. Like a set of triplets, it was not wise to give a gift to one when the others didn't get exactly the same.

Over chocolate and croissants in the morning, Charles declared, "That was wonderful. We can all go home now that we've won."

"We won't have won until the last Englishman is driven from Your Majesty's kingdom," said Joan the Maid.

"But that sounds hard," said Charles, "Perhaps merely some of them."

Joan the Maid shook her head. "The Archangel Michael says all."

Charles groaned and went to the cathedral to sulk at the saints.

When he was done, they held another council of war. Joan the Maid was there waiting when they arrived. She waved her camp pennant at them.

In a panic, Count Jean Dunois, who she'd rescued from three Englishmen and a duck the previous day, said, "We should attack their retreating army. That's what you always want. Attack."

"Attack where it makes the most sense. There's no sense in attacking when they are ready for us with their long bowmen well-fortified," said Joan the Maid. "No wonder God sent me. No, they can't hold their bows taunt forever. Their strategy is inherently defensive and depends on the French being arrogant enough to attack where they are strong. But we are humble before God, so we'll destroy these bridges and cut off their supply line."

"They'll still have an army," said Charles. "Everything is pointless as long as they have an army."

"An English army surrounded by a French countryside. Command that your people heavily flavour their food and even if the English ride out to pillage, they won't eat what they find." Joan the Maid shrugged at Duke Alençon. "If only that worked for clothing, my gentle Duke."

"I'm not gentle, not a Duke since the English stole my duchy, and I've got one set of clothes," said Duke Alençon. Rene decided to have some more clothes made up. Having only one set of clothes to fight a war in wasn't right.

There was another victory montage, broken up occasionally by Joan the Maid insisting they all go to Mass, observe the Sabbath as a day not to make war, take Communion and the Sacraments, and driving the prostitutes out of the camp, saying, "I need to pump these boys up to make holy war! Now give me a Hail Mary, boys!"

Rene painted the whole thing. Barthelemy as well. It was a time of true artistic expression. Every day new recruits joined their army. The common folk as well as the nobility, drawn by word of Joan the Maid's victories.

Mother was almost in tears when she said, "A soldier told me today he was mortgaging his home to help pay for the war. Peasants have been donating wine they'd saved for a rainy day. I've been in many wars, but," she shook her head, "none in which the people were invested."

"Too bad it's all for Charles," Rene could have said. He tried to think of a rhyme for victory and couldn't quite get the schema right. At least the war was finally going their way.

They were truly blessed at the field of Patay. A brace of pheasants broke from the marsh and the English bowmen couldn't resist shooting them, loudly calling for their dogs, "Fucking fetch boy. I say there, fetch that bird and pardon my French." This completely gave away their position, and made for a wonderful four by eight painting.

Joan the Maid led the charge against them waving her battle standard, "In God’s name, we must fight them. If they were hanging in the clouds we should get them. For God has sent them to us for us to punish them

Rene wrote her entire speech down. He was still writing when he saw Joan the Maid come face to face with Sir Talbot, who shouted, "Puzel or Pucelle! French Virgins are separated from French sluts by a slur of the teeth! I name you pussel, a sluty..."

Joan the Maid knocked him off his horse with the point of her battle standard. She called back over her shoulder, "This is where my standard is also a lance."

Sir Talbot sat upon the field biting his thumb at her after that.

The English in general seemed to be at some confusion. With the English cavalry on the right of the field and the English infantry on the left of the field standing there shouting at each other to engage the enemy.

The Burgundian contingent pushed forward, and who did Rene see, but Lionel the Burgundian. He called out, "King Rene, I wanted to thank you for the portraits. My Mother was very pleased and they hung the cartoon at the wine bar, which I frequent."

"You're welcome," said Rene blocking a Burgundian sword.

Joan the Maid waved her battle standard. "Men of Lorraine. Men of Burgundy. Wage no more war in the Holy Kingdom of France. The same blood runs in our veins."

Lionel the Burgundian exclaimed, "I am French!" He tore off his Burgundian standard. "Call me Lionel the Burgundian no more. From now on, I am Lionel the Frenchman."

An English Lord shouted, "Oh, come on!" and waved his sword.

Still even so, Rene could hardly believe that when the battle was over, they'd won.

Charles said, "It was like Agincourt in reverse."

Count Jean Dunois said, "In that we won."

Joan the Maid waved her battle standard. "Because we used our artillery rather than charging horses at entrenched fortifications."

"Because we'll ransom our prisoners rather than killing them," said Marguerite with an expression that said she was calculating how much they'd make.

Rene winced for it was too soon after seeing that horrible production of Henri V Fubar by the mystery troop out of London.

They continued their victory montage north, but supplies for fine meals and even basic cheese necessities were growing ever shorter.

Joan the Maid waved her Sunday pennant. "God will provide.''

Rene's belly grumbled, but he did not wish himself back into Burgundian captivity. Although, it turned out that Lionel the Frenchman could turn a turnip into a gourmet meal.

But by the time, they arrived in Troyes they didn't even have turnips. After some standard waving, Troyes surrendered. In the town, they found that an itinerant priest had told everyone to grow beans in case of the apocalypse. Lionel the Frenchman cooked at fine bouillabaisse that night while Rene took the opportunity to do some shopping for first editions of the works of Chrétien de Troyes.

They were well into their campaign, when Duke Alençon rushed into the camp to the melody of a gentle lull of lute music. "OMG, you've got to hear this."

"Blasphemy!" Joan the Maid playfully punched his shoulder. "Gentle Duke, I do understand that OMG stands for Oh, My God."

Duke Alençon flapped a hand at her. "Let me tell it. Okay, so you know how Sir Talbot is always going, you can't ransom me for less than a hundred men, blah, blah.

"Yes," said Rene.

"Okay, so the Countess Auvergne invites him to dinner at her castle, because she's heard about what a, pardon my English, nique incroyable chevalier he is," he glanced at Joan the Maid, who appeared to have no trouble with bad language, merely blasphemy.

Rene pulled up a seat in the battle parlour. "This should be good."

"So, she like pulls her typical, kidnapping schtick," said Duke Alençon.

"At this point, the English should consider being kidnapped by her a rite of passage." said Rene.

"Anyway, so he's all, ha ha, ha, I've defeated you, because I brought a hundred men with me, and I'm kidnapping you."

"We shall rescue her," said Joan the Maid gripping her camp pennant. "I know just where to arrange the cannons to the most good."

Duke Alençon held up his hands. "So, not necessary. So, she's all, oh noe, I have been captured by a superior force, what shall I do? And Sir Talbot's all, serve me dinner and make mine boiled you French witch. She serves them all dinner and... get this, she put a sleeping potion in the boiled cabbage."

"Which no self-respecting French man or woman would eat," said Joan the Maid. "I like the shape of this woman's wimple."

"And now the Countess has one hundred prisoners to ransom," said Rene.

"Ding, ding, ding. 101 Englishmen. As speckled with shame as a lot of Dalmatians." Duke Alençon shrugged. "She wanted to know if we could take some of them off her hands. Now that she has them, she realized that she's prepared to handle at most thirty prisoners."

Rene did the math. "I may be able to take them off her hands." At this rate, he'd pay off the Duke of Burgundy within the month. He'd be able to supply his people with fine cheese and put on Mystery Plays, and still buy Venetian Cerulean. He said, "This is winning."

Naturally, he dreamed that night that they captured Rouen through some subterfuge, and ended up losing it within the hour, because Joan the Maid's powers only worked while she was awake.

When he asked her the next day, she'd looked at him blankly. "God never sleeps, but I do. So how could I say if they work in my sleep?"

Dreams hardly mattered. They marched into Reims triumphantly to a cheering crowd. Joan the Maid waived her battle standard as they crowned Charles. "It did most of the work. It should be here."

As his first command, Charles said, "Great, we've won. Let's disband the army and negotiate with the English. If we talk, the Duke of Burgundy will change sides."

"But Your Majesty," said Joan the Maid waving her battle standard.

"Na, na, na, I'm the King and I'm not listening," Charles plugged his ears and walked very briskly away.

Duke Alençon said, "Hey, like, I'm going home to fight the English and get my stuff back. Joan the Maid, you could come with if you want."

Joan the Maid shook her battle standard sadly. "I must stay here and fight for Paris when the opportunity comes."

To Rene's later shame, he said, "I need to go home as well. See you in the next war." Rene wanted, no he needed to spend some time writing, which meant he was constantly interrupted.

Rene counted not for Marguerite, who roamed the countryside trying to be "captured" and supplant the enemy from within, and so raise funds to pay off the Burgundians, and prove what she didn't need to prove.

Rene counted not for Joan the Maid, who as soon as the English broke the treaty, went to the aid of the city of Compeigne, and was captured.

Rene sent an offer to pay her ransom. He could afford it after the war. Nobles were captured and ransomed every day.

The Duke of Burgundy sold her to the English, which everyone agreed after Rene's latest Mystery Play After party was not on. "A real connard move," said Duke Alençon, who'd brought the news, "If you'll pardon my English."

Mother said, "I'll arrange for three of my Ladies to talk to his Sisters, Wife and Daughters. The Duke of Burgundy must be made to understand what he's done isn't chivalrous, and he can take his order of the Golden Fleece and eat it."

Still everyone agreed that Duke Alençon would free her. There were hundreds of volunteers streaming into the North of France to help. The Duke of Burgundy even changed sides. Lionel the Frenchmen threw out his back trying to scale the fortress where she was held.

But the English kept their bowstrings taunt and the French had no Joan the Maid to arrange their artillery.

Word of Joan the Maid's completely illegal Ecclesiastic trial kept coming. The Roman Pope's chief Inquisitor was threatened with a sword if he didn't bless it. The man went back to Rome and wrote back stern letters.

Charles declared that the English would pay and invited them to talk about it.

Late one night, Rene rolled over and told Barthelemy, "I have a bad feeling about this. If this were a story that I were writing, it would end in tragedy."

Barthelemy put his hand on Rene's breast over the cross he'd painted over Rene's heart. "Then re-write it."

Rene went to see the Countess Auvergne the next morning. He said, "I want you to kidnap someone."

She cracked her fingers. "You've come to the right woman. Who's the target?"

"Joan the Maid. So, we're technically kidnapping a captive."

Her eyes lit up. "A challenge. I like it." She grinned. "I shall play the role of her aged shepherd Father, and you will be her Mother."

"What? Why? Martine can be her Mother. Or for that matter, I should be her Father and you be her Mother."

Countess Auvergne explained her plan. "Ah, I see why that wouldn't work then," he said.

Still he insisted they get dispensation from the French Pope's Fashion Police. Since Rene was count of Provence and Avignon was in Provence, this was fairly easy. "I'm going to miss when we don't have our own Pope," said Rene.

He put on clothing that that was open at the bottom rather than safely tied up to prevent easy access. Rene took a few steps, "This is rather lewd. It does make me wonder that the clothing of priests and women is fairly similar."

The Countess of Auvergne strode about in her hose. "Don't mess with the Fashion Police. Even the French ones will get you."

Rene nodded and hurried with his lacing. It was the day that Joan the Maid was to be burned at the stake.

As they arrived, they saw Joan standing below the pyre wearing men's clothing and pinching her nose. "You're executing me on a technicality, which isn't even valid. If you'll bring some French Papal Fashion Police to judge me, which according to every Saint I've talked to is required by all Papal law, they'll tell you I have dispensation to wear men's clothes to protect my virtue."

"No dispensation," shouted an English priest in a dress like cassock and waving a sword.

"You could also stop stealing my women's clothes," said Joan the Maid.

The priest hissed, "Englishman would never steal clothes."

There was a certain stillness among the crowd that came from everyone suppressing snickering.

Countess Auvergne, who had gone all out on her coarsely woven smoke singed outfit as an aged shepherd, said, "If it please the court, I'm her aged Father. Even if it doesn't please them, it is so."

Rene, who was feeling a little embarrassed that he hadn't been as committed and had had his dress made of velvet, took a deep breath and waved at the court. "And I am her fairly spry Mother, who having been ennobled recently, is a little nouveau riche, if you've pardon my English."

"Gods Bollocks, and pardon my French," shouted an English Guard and waving a sword, "but Joan the Witch's mother is hideous!"

"God's Left Tit, and pardon my French!" shouted another English Guard waving his sword. "She looks like my Mother! I bite my thumb at you in offense!" They immediately began fighting each other until a priest threw a bucket of cold water on them.

"This isn't my Father and that is certainly not my Mother," said Joan the Maid. She peered at both of them and her eyes widened. "If these were my parents, then I'd be of far nobler birth than I am."

"If it pleases the court, please show her mercy," said Countess Auvergne.

"She's a witch, who has had carnal knowledge of the devil, King Charles…" yelled the First English Priest.

"By which he means the old legitimate King Charles, not this new bastard pretender!" cut in the Second English Priest.

The Third English Priest cleared his throat, and whispered, presumably because he'd been shouting too much, "What they said."

The First English Priest shouted, "And she's fucked, pardon my French, Duke Alençon, and Duke Rene!"

"What I," Countess Auvergne kicked Rene before he got any further. He told himself to get in character and drew on years of experience putting on and participating in Mystery Plays, and burst into tears. "Oh, no my daughter. Husband, your dream that she ran off to become a camp follower came true. Oh, no! Woe is me." He put everything that he had into his performance. Hot tears streaming down his face as he turned to the English Court. "If it please your kind and noble worships, let my husband and I take her aside and yell at her for her evil hussy ways. So that she goes to the death she deserves with the righteous rejection of her aged parents ringing in her ears."

The Priests conferred. "I like it!" shouted the First English Priest waving his sword. "It has a real dramatic sense of rejection by all earthly and heavenly forces!"

"I thought you might," Rene might have said, but Rene was in character. So he wailed and cried and tugged on his wig. "Oh, woe is me. My daughter is a harlot who is bearing the hate child of the Devil." The English priests cheered.

Joan the Maid was pushed into a small room off the plaza. She looked at both of them. "Thank you for coming in this my last hour."

Countess Auvergne went to the tiny window where Duke Alençon was stuffing straw into the room. "Last hour nothing," said Duke Alençon.

"We're kidnapping you," said Countess Auvergne. "Take off your clothes."

"I'll avert my eyes. You may want to do the same," said Rene, as he unlaced his dress.

Joan the Maid said, "The saints, Saint Catherine in particular, cloaks my eyes with a hazy glow when there is nakedness in my presence."

"I wish the same thing would happen when I look at King Rene." Countess Auvergne stuffed straw into Joan's clothing.

She pulled a dead cat out of the sack she was carrying and positioned the cat's head where Joan's head would be.

"Why a dead cat?" asked Rene, who had been expecting a scarecrow head.

"Because they think I am a witch," said Joan the Maid. She sadly waved the edge of her wimple like a flag. "It's the face they expect to see." Joan looked considerably better than Rene had in the dress. Even the wig transformed her face. Joan the Maid and Countess Auvergne left the room with Countess Auvergne yelling back curses for the day Joan was born.

Rene told the cat headed scarecrow. "I'm fairly certain this won't work." The cat headed scarecrow said nothing.

The English guards came in. Rene arranged himself so there could be no question he was a man. Rene said, "Help, I'm an honest man, but through her witchy wiles, Joan the Hussy bewitched into this room so I would fornicate with her."

"Vile witch!" shouted the First English Guard.

"No accounting for taste!" shouted the Second English Guard. "You're free to go. We need everyone at the burning in five minutes." He glanced at a small device on his wrist. "Five Minutes to burning woman. Places everyone."

Rene gladly took his second best Robe, he knew better than to bring his best, from Duke Alençon, who was disguised as an Englishman and therefore waving a sword in the air and shouting.

As they stood in the crowd watching the pyre burn, Rene said, "You have to admit, this is a new plot twist."

"Please, taking a story that ordinarily ends in tragedy and miraculously saving the heroine in a ridiculous plot twist. No, I'll admit no such thing," said Countess Auvergne.

Joan laid one firm hand on Rene's wrist and the other on Countess Auvergne's. "Please, friends, be at peace. The Saints said that I would be rescued. It is my fault that I assumed they meant martyrdom and a later retrial to clear my name." She looked up at the glowing fire. "If either of you had met my Mother, you'd know she'll stop at nothing to clear my name." She looked to her left and smiled at something an invisible saint was saying.

"So, like what now?" said Duke Alençon.

Rene said, "You could go home." He paused with a wonderful idea. "Or you could go to the Holy Lands to drive out the infidel from say the Kingdom of Jerusalem, or convince the Aragonians they must fight the Moors in Iberia and leave the Kingdom of Sicily, or "

"Become a pirate," said Countess Auvergne dreamily. "You could call yourself La Pucelle and sail up and down the French Channel taking captives of any English reinforcements."

"Yes," said Joan the Maid, as the English raked the coals of the scarecrow's body and prepared to burn the body again. "This is what I will do." She looked at Countess Auvergne. "If you and your Porter will join me, I will form an all women crew and become the terror of the fairly narrow channel." She smiled softly into the air. "Saint Catherine will be with us, and God will guide us to many victories."

"Nothing would make me happier," said Countess Auvergne.

Which is what they did. Although, Rene did send word to Joan the Maid's family that she wasn't actually dead, and she got together with her brothers time to time to pretend to be someone else pretending to be her. While her Mother, who got along amazingly well with Rene's Mother, insisted on clearing her daughter's name anyway.

Unfortunately, just as Rene was sitting down to write after all these events, Marguerite came into the workshop. "Father, I was captured per my intent, but in being captured my heart was taken too. I've fallen in love."

He looked around for Burgundians. Barthelemy looked around.

"He's English."

Rene looked under his chair for Burgundians. Barthelemy looked under the table.

"He's married."

Rene looked behind his chair. Barthelemy looked in the cabinet.

"He wants to make me the Queen of England, and he's convinced Henry VI to marry me." She licked her lips and toyed with the laces of her dress. "These men are shrewd tempters with their tongues."

"Please," said Rene, "I may be French, but I'm also your Father. I don't need to know…" Rene looked at his little girl, already through the magical powers of Aristotelian rules, a woman. "Is this what you want?"

She nodded vigorously. "More than anything."

"More than Sicily?" he asked, because he had been thinking that if a Holy Maid could drive out the English from any part of France, perhaps Marguerite could retake the Kingdom of Sicily.

"More than Sicily and oranges and anything, I want him," said Marguerite.

"Then," said Rene, "have him, but…" he thought about it, "let's have Charles get the English to promise to leave Anjou, Maine, Lorraine and Bar alone in exchange for your hand in marriage, and that the French crown will pay your ransom if you ever need it. It's about time Charles paid for something and he is your uncle. Deal."

"Deal," said Marguerite and they hugged on it.

Since neither of them had saints over their shoulders, nor writers whispering spoilers, they did not know what could come of that agreement.

What Rene knew is that he finally knew how to finish the Journey of the Paladin of the Mending Heart, and Barthelemy was smiling as he began the painting of the Lady of Mercy under a Venetian Cerulean sky.

It was enough.