My sunflowers have bloomed, miniature orbs of glowing sunshine. Golden yellow petals, hearts of toasty brown, warming themselves in their mother’s light. The horizon took a bath in orange and pink, the clear morning sky blue as finch’s eggs. I breath in, my mind sharp, pure crystal. These rare English days have an enlivening effect on my mood, and I feel no hesitation as I leave my humble abode on my black mare.
The streets already burst with people, an exotic assortment of color, when I push my way through town. It isn’t hard as most of them quickly clear from my path at the sight of me and I weave my way through their ranks leading my horse behind me.
The jailhouse is a darkly foreboding stone fortress, partially hidden beneath ground. The jailer let’s me in without question, I’m a frequent visitor.
A guard hands me a torch as I feel my way down farther into the prison, my footsteps echoing through the halls. The cell is heavily protected, and illuminated by my firelight, I peer through the bars down at the prisoners face.
She might’ve been a pretty thing once. Before her time in jail. Now her head is shaved, and dirt smudged face wet with tears. There is little pink left in her cheeks, and she wears a blank expression as she stares into a space and dimension I can’t see.
The click of the key in the lock, rusty metal against polished metal, and the young woman seems shocked from her daze. I leave her in a room with a stout woman of grim expression. When she emerges, the dirt has been scrubbed from her skin and she’s been attired in a dress of the purest white.
I bind her hands in front of her with sturdy braided rope, noting the scars of previous chains that adorn her wrists like red, raw jewels. She says nothing; it unnerves me, the way she just stares at me with her lovely eyes. Watching in silence.
A priest suddenly enters the jailhouse, in his finery and smug expression; he seems out of place in the dark and dankness. I never did like priests. He takes a silly hat made of paper and places it on her bare head like a crown, but it doesn’t radiate royalty. The words heretic, relapsed, apostate, idolatress, are written in swirling italic between two drawings of black devils.
She’s dressed up and prodded like a doll for them to toy with, this girl who could be no more than eighteen or nineteen years of age.
I watch a single tear roll down her cheek and when I’m certain the priest and jailer have turned their backs, I gently wipe it away. She looks up with a sad smile at my single act of kindness towards her. My eyes are the only thing she can see and I pray she can’t tell that for a brief moment I was in love with her braveness. It had never bothered me before that my occupation was a cruel one, but this one time I wished I could walk away and never look back.
I lead her into the bright morning light, into the streets. Her hands tremble and I venture to hold them as I lead her up into an open cart that will take us to the Old Market Square. She squeezes my left hand to steady herself and I note how the calluses are that of a man of battle.
The large swarming of people part, creating a clear way to her death, their angry faces staring. A sound rises up from the crowds, a loud chant, filling the air with throbbing cries.
I turn briefly and see she’s silently sobbing, her body shaking. Being human, I feel a deep sadness for this young woman whom no one stands to defend. No mother, no father, no brothers to comfort her in her last moments of life. Perhaps they were also in the crowds, condemning her.
At the Old Market Square it seems that all of England has shown up to watch her die.
She’s questioned, rebuked, yelled at by great men of state. I hear her small strong voice ring out in pleas of forgiveness from those she loved. Begging all would forgive her of any evil. So young, so innocent she looked. The people were silent, listening in rapture at her words.
The Magistrate shouted the fatal command.
“Away with her!”
I’d never dreaded a moment so much in my existence, as I bound her to the stake.
“Please,” she begged them “Let me at least have a cross.”
In a moment of compassion, a common English soldier standing near took two sticks and tied them in the rough form of a cross.
This young woman clutches the gift of her enemy to her bosom. I take a torch alight with fire and touch it to the wood around her.
As the flames spring up, I make brief eye contact with this beautiful brave soul. I could only hope and pray that she read my eyes in that moment, and see how much pain it caused me to see her burn.
Years earlier, I’d made a vow. And now I broke it.
Behind the black mask that proclaims me an executioner, I cry for her. Pulling the dark fabric from my face in disgust, I throw it aside and fall to my knees.
I don’t know how long I’m there, with my head hung down over my shoulders. The strong voice of a man rings out over the audience, through the death silence.
“We are all lost… for we have burned a saint.”
Amidst the noise, the heat, the pain, the guilt, I fear for my soul.
I turn to a woman near me, so desperate to find some way to ease my conscience.
“What was her name?”
The woman looked ahead with a sad expression, lips pressed tightly together.
“Did you not know? Her name was Joan. Joan of Arc.”