More Than Words
Page 22

 Mia Sheridan

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“She refers to Joan of Arc as Jehanne,” I said.
“Yes,” Dr. Moreau answered. “The signatures that appear on the few surviving documents from that time say ‘Jehanne’ as well. It’s the medieval spelling of Jeanne, believed to be her first name. These writings seem to further support that is what she went by.”
“Interesting,” I murmured, feeling a buzz of excitement over the confirmation that these documents were very likely written by someone who knew Joan of Arc.
After a little while, Dr. Moreau excused himself to attend a meeting in one of the upstairs conference rooms, and for hours, the only sound in the room was the clicking of Ben’s and my fingers on our respective keyboards and a question or two uttered to the other when we became stuck on a word or phrase.
“Ben, a ‘veuglaires’ is referred to here. Is that a gun?”
“Uh, no. It’s like an English Fowler.”
“Yeah, still no idea.”
“A sort of wrought-iron cannon.”
“Ah, thank you.”
“Jessica, have you ever heard of this phrase about a red rag …?”
“Let’s put it this way, Ben—there was no Kotex in the Middle Ages.”
“Oh God …”
Mostly we worked in silence, but there was a pleasant, comfortable atmosphere in the room, and it felt like before I’d even blinked, there was a soft rap on the door and lunch was being delivered. I brought the bags to the conference table and stretched my back. “Do you want to eat in here?”
“I’d like to get some sunshine, actually, before I start getting seasonal affective disorder from being in the dark so long.”
I laughed. “I don’t think it sets in that quickly, but good idea. The set of back stairs leads to a courtyard. If I’m not turned around, I think I walked past it when I was looking for the gardens a couple of days ago.”
“Let’s find out.”
We found the sunny courtyard easily and ate our lunch on one of the stone benches, chatting about what we’d read so far and the theories we each had about who the girl named “Philippe” was, though we knew that reading further might solve at least some of those mysteries. It was wonderful to talk to someone who was as intrigued as I was by talk of ancient French culture, and the hour zipped by.
We returned to the basement conference room and continued as we had before, when I came across an excerpt that I read aloud to Ben:
In the year of our Lord 1429, on the twenty-seventh day of April
Everything is dusty and dirty and foul-smelling, the men even worse than the animals, and I find myself longing for nothing more than a tub of steaming water and a cake of lavender soap. Jehanne caught me murmuring to myself about the lack of hygiene in the camp, and though I wanted to die of shame for being caught complaining so, she only laughed and told me to follow her quietly and to stay among the shadows.
We snuck to a nearby river, where the horses had appeased their thirst earlier that day, and Jehanne taught me how to scrub my dirty skin with sand from the river’s floor and to use the crushed rose petals at the water’s edge to wash my hair. It was simple but heavenly.
Jehanne spoke of her plain peasant upbringing and described the house of her girlhood and her father’s beautiful garden. It was there, she said, that she first heard a voice from God at thirteen years old. I asked her if she had been afraid, for if a voice had come out of the clouds and spoken to me, I daresay I would have perished of fright. She laughed and told me that she had been so afraid, she ran into the house and didn’t go out for days.
“Then how did you come to ease your fear?” I asked.
She smiled so serenely, her hand swirling across the water as she said, “I have learned that my soul rejoices when I listen to God’s wisdom, difficult though it may be.” She paused then, and I waited as she seemed to gather her thoughts. “A wise and devout man once advised, ‘Live fiercely and without regret.’ He did not impart the wisdom to me personally, and yet I find myself repeating the sentiment in my own head. And it is my belief that to follow the path laid before me is to live in such a way.”
As I watched her, the words echoed in my own head: Live fiercely and without regret. I must admit, my heart beat with longing to feel such joyful freedom as she described. For I have experienced nothing of the sort. I have known only trappings and rules, and followed the paths others have laid before me, never questioning my own calling in the world.
“What is it you want from life?” Jehanne asked.
The question confused me, for I had never been asked of my own desires. Indeed, I had never dared to ponder such a thing. “I don’t know,” I answered honestly. “God does not tell me of his mission for me. Only my father does that and with great authority,” I added, not able to disguise the displeasure in my voice. “God does not speak to me at all,” I said, watching my hand make movements in the cool water of the stream.
But Jehanne only smiled. “God speaks to everyone in some way, if you know how to listen.” I vowed to think about that later, for I confess, I do not understand her meaning.
Our conversation turned to lighter matters, and we spoke of the men at camp who are the most insufferable heathens—particularly Captain Olivier Durand, who is the biggest horse’s backside of all—and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much, nor was my heart so grateful for levity. And though I’m almost afraid to say it, I think that in Jehanne I have not only a soldier to serve, not only God’s chosen to follow, but a sister to call a friend.
“She definitely lived a pampered life previous to that,” Ben said. “Maybe Charles the Seventh wanted to protect Jehanne’s virtue by having another girl in the tent? Perhaps their main priority was to have this girl report on Jehanne? That part’s not totally clear.”
I nodded. Ben’s forehead furrowed in thought for a moment. “Why do you think the girl posing as Philippe was directed to dress like a boy, even though the French army knew Joan of Arc was a girl?”
“Probably for her safety more than anything. Joan of Arc was assigned a bodyguard by Charles, but this young girl was not. A woman traveling with an army in the Middle Ages would have faced danger from both the soldiers surrounding her and from the enemy. Joan of Arc herself reported that the saints had told her to dress as a boy to protect herself from the possibility of rape as she carried out God’s mission.”
“Yes, I do remember reading that. There were several men assigned to Joan of Arc in various roles. It would have made the most sense that the male”—Ben raised his hands and made air quotes—“assigned to be closest to her was an unassuming, probably slight, teenage boy. At least as far as the appearance of propriety went.”
“Yes, exactly. I wish all the entries had been preserved so we didn’t have to piece so much together. What is clear is that this girl was directed to do this duty, but seems to have questions and doubts like anyone would.” I smiled. “She and Joan both had a mission, though this girl’s wasn’t exactly in the same league.”
“And hopefully things turn out better for her than they did for Joan.” Ben grimaced.
“I hope so, too.” I paused as I considered the scope of what we were translating. “Without these writings, history would never have known about this girl. It’s fascinating, Ben.”
“It really is.”
We worked for a little longer, and when I leaned back in my chair to stretch my back, Ben looked up. “It’s almost six and I’m starving. Dr. Moreau’s already left for the day, and he gave me the code for the safe. What do you say we pack it up for the day?”
I was hungry, too, and was fortunately at an opportune stopping point. “Okay, sounds good.” I handed Ben the plastic-covered writing I’d been working on, and after gathering his own work, he told me he’d be right back. While he was locking up the writings, I straightened up the conference room, bringing our coffee cups to the coffee station and scooting the chairs in.
Ben and I took the stairs together, entering the back hallway and walking into the lobby. We stopped, chatting and laughing about some of the things we’d needed clarified from the other, namely that I’d mistaken a type of gun for a comb. Ben took my hand, mimicking me brushing my hair and then shaking as the gun went off. I laughed, and he let go, his eyes seeming to linger on someone behind me. When I turned, I saw Callen walking toward us, a bemused look on his face.