(The book is available here)
Extract of chapter 16 "Storming The Wall"
Back in the 15th Century, a forey into the Hundred Year War raging through the Realm of France: The Maid of Orleans re-capturing the city held by the English.
1429, France, Orleans
… The divine wind of wrath raised by La Pucelle inspired every man on the field, from simple foot-soldier to noble knight. When she spurred her charger to lead the assault, with d’Aulon at her side brandishing high her Standard, the French rushed forward as a single unified body, bristling with spikes, sparkling with white shining metal. Glasdale, standing on the wall, heard the deafening clamour. In that moment he felt his blood run cold. Something in him knew that, sorceress or not, he was standing at the receiving end of divine justice and that his doom had come upon him. Nevertheless, for all his shortcomings, he was a proud warrior, and he made his stand fiercely.
"There are moments when the Spirit moves among men and the breath of the Lord is abroad upon the waters of our being; there are others when it retires and men are left to act in the strength or the weakness of their own egoism. The first are periods when even a little effort produces great results and changes destiny; the second are spaces of time when much labour goes to the making of a little result. It is true that the latter may prepare the former, may be the little smoke of sacrifice going up to heaven which calls down the rain of God's bounty.
Unhappy is the man or the nation which, when the divine moment arrives, is found sleeping or unprepared to use it, because the lamp has not been kept trimmed for the welcome and the ears are sealed to the call. But thrice woe to them who are strong and ready, yet waste the force or misuse the moment; for them is irreparable loss or a great destruction." Sri Aurobindo, The Hour of God
The ensuing French onslaught was so violent that it was difficult to contain. The English troops fought bravely, pinned against the walls, attempting to repel the flood of foot-soldiers and horsemen, but were remorselessly pushed back, step by step. By mid-afternoon, most of the English soldiers had retreated within the walls, and the first French ladders were raised against the walls. Jehanne had dismounted and seeing victory within reach, grabbed her standard from d’Aulon. She climbed a ladder's lower rungs, waving her high-flying Fleur-de-Lys.
At that moment, following a sound of violent impact, in a sickeningly slow movement, she fell backwards with a short cry, like a wounded bird.She landed in d’Aulon’s arms, while he cursed himself for having allowed her to move away from his sphere of protection. She had been struck by a bolt in the chink of her armour, between her left shoulder and neck.
Glasdale knew that if the sorceress fell, the morale of his troops would rise, adversely affecting the French. He had thus summoned his best cross-bow archers and given the command to target the witch. Cheers erupted on the wall, as d’Aulon and de Rais, having ordered a shield of soldiers around them, dragged Jehanne back to safety.
In the centre of a circle of warriors, Jehanne lay on the muddy grass behind the front line. But, to everyone's surprise, she regained control of herself. Against all advice to wait for the surgeon, she ordered d’Aulon to break off the tipped shaft of the bolt protruding from her back. In a feat of unbelievable courage, she pulled the bolt out with her right hand. She began to bleed profusely and on the verge of losing consciousness, she summoned her chaplain, Jean Pasquerel, to hear her confession. Meanwhile, d'Aulon applied a compress of oil to the wound and wrapped a crude bandage around her shoulder. The bleeding slowly subsided.
In the meantime, without the Maid, the assault had lost its momentum. The fighting had already gone on for six long hours. The casualties were high, and the English still held Les Tourelles. Dusk was setting in, and the Commanders considered recalling the troops for the day.
Undaunted, Jehanne could not endure the thought. She knew victory was still possible. Overcoming her weakness, she ordered Jean to fetch her charger and help her mount it. They galloped to Dunois on the front line, where she begged him not to give up, insisting that victory was now or never. She assured him the English could not hold on for much longer. They had lost many men and depleted most of their ammunition on the wall.
Carrying her heavy banner herself, despite her injury, she cried to the men surrounding her: "Watch my Standard! When the Fleur-de-Lys reaches the walls, Les Tourelles will be ours!"
And once more she led them into the assault.
The English had resisted with admirable tenacity, but on seeing the Maid seemingly returning from the dead, leading her men with unabated courage, panic spread through their ranks. When she and her Fleur-de-Lys reached the wall, poorly defended, now, the end of Les Tourelles was near.
"Victory is ours!" Jehanne cried.
In an ultimate effort, the fortress was at last conquered.
On seeing the battle was lost, chaos ensued among the remaining English troops, who attempted to flee by swimming across the river. Most succumbed in this endeavour. Glasdale himself, who had jeered and spat the worse insults at the Maid just a few days earlier, was among those who drowned in the Loire. Five hundred English soldiers perished in Les Tourelles or drowned in attempting to escape; the rest were taken prisoners.
The English would never recover from the lost battle at Les Tourelles, which marked the beginning of their slow retreat towards the channel, losing terrain and allies year after year, till the French finally forced them back to the island of Britain forever.
As night at last fell, Jehanne, after twelve hours on the battlefield, rode across the bridge that had been hastily repaired. She entered the city of Orléans in triumph. In the light of torches, the people of the town offered her a delirious welcome, and the ensuing festivities continued the entire night.
At last she reached the simple house of her hosts. There, d'Aulon helped her dismount and disarm. Finally, she sat and ate some bread dipped in wine.
Before he retired for the night, Jean d'Aulon made sure Jehanne’s wound was cleaned and attended to by a competent physician. He had some food and wine too, then in need of silence, walked to the nearby city wall, where sentries were pacing. From this vantage point, he could see the campfires flickering behind the English lines, eerily silent compared to the sounds of festivity rising from within the town walls.
Yet, regardless of his faith in Jehanne, he found it hard to believe that the seven-month long siege of Orléans had been lifted by the Maid in just seven days. Even more disturbing in the scale of his own beliefs, was the strange and unsettling experience that had shaken him to the depths at the peak moment of the battle. When Jehanne had led her second assault, he had witnessed an eerie golden light flickering around her, and for a brief instant he had had a mind-shattering vision of a Goddess, as vast as the Universe itself.
Much later, he came to know that the English soldiers too, had said that when attacked by the terrible Maiden, they had seen what appeared to be flights of golden butterflies sparkling all around her form.
Until that day, d'Aulon had never fully realised WHO or WHAT, in truth, she was.
He returned to the house and settled in the small basement room he shared with Jehanne's pages. Outside, in the streets of Orléans, a multitude of joyful voices were chanting, Noël! Noël! Noël! Worn out at the end of an exhausting, victorious day, on a simple bed of straw, he fell asleep instantly to the sound of the cathedral bells, ceaselessly ringing their powerful anthem of triumph.
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