The Eve of Victory

February 2002

by oosh

“Blessed Lord! How you startled me!”

My sudden appearance had shocked her. “I am sorry... I was sent...” I did not know how to explain.

She stood, then, rubbing her wrists. I knew that she had been caged at one time, attached by the neck, feet and hands, so that she could not even flex those limbs; and for many months since, they had kept her heavily manacled. But this was her last night, and now even her judges knew that she was steadfastly resigned to her fate. Clearly, in the end she had won her gaolers’ grudging respect. Not only had the manacles gone: heavy upon her shoulders, symbol of her last defiance of the bloody English, hung a coat of mail – doubtless loaned by one of the guards. Too big for her by far, it drew attention to the very smallness of her.

Yet this tiny poppet, this stocky, muscular little peasant girl had not only terrorized the English usurpers by the devastating brilliance of her generalship: she, an untaught, unlettered country maid, had endured months of interrogation before sixty of their most cunning divines, answering without fear, honestly, with cheerful, calm defiance, and had wavered once – only once – under their relentless hectoring.

And if I marvelled to set eyes on her, it seemed that she, too, was consumed with wonder. “You are... You are come from heaven. You must be.”

“Why do you say that? We are all sent from heaven.”

She frowned. “No... No... Not all.”

“You speak of Cauchon?”

She tossed her head. “Ha! Cochon!” At that, I laughed; but she seemed annoyed, and struck her palm with her fist. “I... I should not have said that. That was wrong of me.”

“His malice tempts you to sin. Yet, for all his present power, Cauchon is but a slave to this world and its temptations. Even now, he stands at his desk, chronicling in finest detail what he makes believe to be your witchcraft and sorcery. Though he seek to justify himself before king, synod, pope and council, in the end his own words shall suffice to condemn him.”

“I do not care what their judgment will be. Saint Catherine has told me already what will become of him, and those who have joined hands with him.” So saying, she shuddered, remembering. “I no longer fear for myself, but for them.”

“As in the next world, so in this: history will condemn them, and vindicate you.”

Her brow darkened. “I have told you – I care nothing for the judgment of this world.”

“Nothing? Then what do you care for?”

“I have but three desires: first, my own deliverance; then, that God should further my work; and finally, the salvation of my soul.” For all her tiny stature, she stood so obdurately there in her heavy coat of mail, legs braced, fists clenched as if ready to fight any who would question her; and yet she seemed afraid to look at me.

“Then, Maid, touching your first desire: do you yet understand the manner of your own deliverance?”

For a moment she was silent; then, her arms parted and her hands opened in an expressive shrug. “My voices have told me... but they are difficult to understand.”

“And what did they tell you?”

“That my soul shall be delivered...” she looked down, and spoke in a whisper. ”...but that my body shall not.”

“Is that all they told you?”

“No. They tell me that I need have no fear. Again and again they say that. They tell me to trust in God.”

“And do you trust?”

Again, the fists. “Let all men be liars – God alone is true!” She looked at me, then, piercingly, and I saw it in her eyes.

“Maid, you answer well. Though there will yet be a little pain, you will not suffer as you did from that arrow at Orléans —”

“That was nothing! Why, I scarcely felt it!”

”— or at Paris – nor even after that leap at Beaurevoir.”

“I...” She made to interrupt, but I silenced her with a gesture.

“There will not even be the pain that Isabelle your mother suffered when she gave you birth. And out of her love for you, she would gladly suffer that pain ten times over.”

She shook her head slowly, her eyes downcast. “But... how do you know this?”

“And now, touching your second desire – that God may aid the French: know that the flames that will be lit tomorrow in the market square shall burn in every Frenchman's heart until the English are utterly driven out of France.”

She laughed then, and clapped her hands. “I know it! God has told me!” Again she looked at me, and again I perceived the inner light.

“But more, much more than that,” I continued: “the fire that is lit tomorrow will burn throughout all the world, and will never be extinguished.”

“Throughout the world? I do not see...”

“What woman soever hears of your deeds, or learns of your courage, be she young or old, be she French or — yes – even English — in her breast that fire shall blaze anew, and every one shall be proud to call herself Woman, after you.”

She bowed, humbled at these words. “But I have failed. I have stumbled many times...”

“Then, you bring us to your third desire – the salvation of your soul. Yes, you have stumbled. You stumbled at Beaurevoir, and again on Thursday last.”

“Then, most especially. I... I was afraid of the fire. I damned myself to save my life. But that was a wrong that I can undo... and tomorrow I shall.”

“Our Blessed Lord, who knows all, knows very well how heavy is the cross you bear for him — and for France. Do not forget: he himself stumbled three times on the road to Golgotha.”

“And at the last, he had Simon of Cyrene to help him.”

“That is why I am here. You have not been abandoned. Recall how many times you have begged your captors for a woman to be your companion.”

“Then it is they who have sent you here?” A third time she looked at me, mistrustfully at first, and then I saw the inner light return. “No, that cannot be,” she murmured, looking into my eyes as I gazed into hers. “You do not speak as if you come from them. And you are beautiful.”

Then, I knelt before her; and, taking the hem of her coat of mail, kissed it. “My beauty I owe to you, Jeanne.”

She stepped back. “Why do you do that?”

“Tomorrow, this coat of mail will be torn asunder, and every piece torn into a dozen more; and every fragment shall be accounted a precious relic, to be kissed and kissed again by the loyal sons and daughters of France.”

“How shall this be?”

“Simply because you have worn it, Jeanne. But now it is time to set it aside: for it is in a woman's dress that you must fight your last battle — and tonight, you shall lie with me.”

At these words, I saw a new light dawn in her eyes: the light of tenderness.

“Who are you? What is your name?”

“As to who I am, that I cannot tell you yet: not until I have kissed you three times. And when you know who I truly am, then you and I must part. As to my name: to those who love me, I am known as Marianne.”

“Marianne...” she said it wonderingly, her eyes glowing now with desire. “Marianne...”

“It is late: we must go to bed. Undress me.”

As she did so, her breathing quickened. “You are not like Saint Catherine — nor Saint Margaret.”

“No. You have touched them spiritually: but you know that they are not of this world. They are no more of this world than Saint Michael and the holy angels.”

She nodded. She had bared my arm by now, and could not forbear to caress it. “But you... you are of this world?”

“I am.”

“But if you are of this world... I do not see. How can such beauty be of this world?”

“You are of this world; and my beauty comes from you, Jeanne.”

“From me...” She breathed the words, touching my breast tenderly. “I do not understand, but...” I was naked now, and she stepped back, speechless.

I could see that for the time being, her curiosity had given way to desire.

“Now you, Jeanne. You and I together.”

“Yes, yes...” she seemed crestfallen. “But I am not worthy...”

In the end, I helped her put off her coat of mail and her clumsy prison clothes, calming her with soft words as I did so. And then I looked at her. Pale after this long confinement, and thin after nine months of nothing but the bread of sorrow and the water of affliction, yet she was still strong, and she was fair. “You are but nineteen,” I said. “You are like a lily.”

She smiled shyly. “The fleur-de-lys.”

“The flower of France. Come — come to bed.” I lay on her rough bed, and beckoned her to me.

She crept into my arms like a child. At first she shivered, even though the night was warm; but gradually, as I caressed her, she calmed and lay still. And then she whispered, “You are lovely, Marianne. May I touch you?”

“Tonight, through God's mercy, I am yours.”

Cautiously at first, and then with ever greater passion, she began to explore my body; until, at length, transported by her passion, she began kissing my breasts. Nor were my hands idle: but as her passion mounted, I pushed her gently away.

“Oh,” she moaned breathlessly, “I am sorry: these past months, I have known no gentle touch — no tenderness. How I have longed and prayed for such a night as this! Blessed be the Almighty One, to have heard and answered me! O Marianne, you must forgive me if I have offended you.”

“I am not offended, dear Jeanne. But it is not fitting that you worship me: it is for me to worship you.”

She smiled, then, a sweet, lazy smile that warmed my heart; and with a little of that coquettish impudence that had so infuriated Cauchon, she cocked her head and said, “So you were sent to kiss me? Kiss me, then.”

I laughed soft and low. “You do not yet know what it is that you ask. For I was sent to give no ordinary kiss.”

“Oh?” she teased me. “Show me, then.”

“I am to kiss you in such a way...” I teased her with my fingers, and she wriggled in delight.

“In what way?”

” such a way that your soul will take leave of your body.”

Her dark eyes glowed their invitation.

Slowly, teasingly, I brought my lips to hers. And then I began to kiss. She stiffened at first; but then she yielded to me — and O! how sweet her acquiescence! Quiet at first, she soon began to moan into my mouth, and I felt the first pressure of her hips as they strove against me. Then, breaking our lips apart, but not abandoning the kiss, I guided my tongue across her chin and down to her throat. Her fingers were in my hair, kneading, stroking, imploring me to continue as she offered herself to me without any reservation; and so I continued my journey down, down to her breast. The tightening of her fingers in my hair told me how welcome I was, and how earnestly she desired me to dally there.

“O Marianne, Marianne... Never have I known such a kiss! It is a foretaste of heaven... Yes, yes, on and on, I beg you!” — and with suchlike words, and hearty groans, she encouraged me as I took all of her into my mouth, and with my tongue hugged her warm, resilient teat repeatedly against my palate. Gradually her moans became deeper, seemingly wrenched from deep inside her, and it was not so very long before she stiffened in my arms, her fingers like talons, crushing me to her; and then, at length, with a long drawn-out sigh, she sank back upon the bed, exhausted.

I brought myself up to face her, so that our breasts touched; and while she dozed, I gently brushed her cheek with tender caresses, and she rewarded me with a smile of such childlike sweetness that my heart burned with love for her.

After a while, she opened her eyes, and for a long time regarded me, saying nothing, but content merely to memorize my features, and look deep into my eyes. When at last she spoke, her voice was normal, even a little imperious.

“Marianne: who are you?”

“Do you not know me by my kiss?”

She blinked, and shook her head. “Tell me, Marianne.”

“I have not yet kissed you thrice, Jeanne, and until I have, I may not tell you plainly. But I shall tell you this: I am your heart's desire, and I have come to you.”

At these words, her eyes filled with tears, and she held me tight to her, seemingly with all her strength. For a while, her shoulders shook, and I felt her tears upon my breasts. But then, slowly, and with gathering passion, she began to kiss, until again I gently pushed her away. “No, sweet maid, it is not for you to worship me. Before this night is out, your spirit shall leave your body three times. And this is to prepare you for tomorrow.”

I began to touch her then, until I felt her natural ardour grow, and she began to call out my name, and beg me to kiss her again. Then, I took her breast in my mouth once more, and thence began to kiss down the valley and across to its long-neglected twin. This one I long beseiged with my tongue, while she whimpered in soft delight. For many minutes I beset her milk-white castle mound, circling the proud citadel of her nipple, until at last, almost weeping in the intensity of her desire, she cried: “Dear Marianne! Take all of me, I beg you! All!”

Perhaps this breast was more sensitive than its twin; or perhaps her previous release had left her more receptive to my touch. In any event, this time even the gentlest tickling of my tongue upon her tender pinnacle elicited a torrent of endearments, and the writhing of her fingers in my hair. So sensitive was she, and so gentle I, that we passed a good part of the night like this, she never tiring of the ever-varied play of my tongue, now circling, now flicking, now broadly lapping, now teasing with the lightest touch of tongue-tip.

Several times I felt her stiffen; but then I was gentle with her, and caressed her with my palms, to soothe her. When she was calm, she would whisper to me – sometimes soft endearments, and sometimes wisps of disordered thought: “I never knew... All this time, I never knew... Is this what a mother feels, Marianne? Can it be as sweet as this?” But then, I would teach her with my lips and tongue the silent lay of my love, and her questions would falter, until all she she could do was moan my name, over and over.

But at length, I brought her up and up: and as I did, she began crying “More! Yes, like that!” and her hands, which had been playing softly over my shoulders and my neck, became talons in my hair once more, and in her extremity she drove herself against me, before collapsing again in limp satisfaction.

A second time I drew myself up, and cradled her in my arms, where she lay warm, and a little sweaty. She was already kissing me before she opened her eyes, but when she did, she drew away a little.

“O Marianne... is this heaven, what you have shown me?”

“If being loved is heaven, then yes, sweet Maid, heaven it is. But compared to the love of the holy angels and saints, and of our blessed Saviour, it is nothing. It is but a foretaste of the rapture that awaits you when you are welcomed into paradise.”

She wept, then, but smiled as she wept. “How can you be so sure? And is it right to suckle another woman thus, as if you were a grown-up child?”

“How can it not be right, if what we show is love? Nevertheless, is it not fitting, that a mother should suckle her own daughter?”

She drew back a little at those words, and seemed a little afraid. “Why, what are you saying?” Her eyes narrowed as she spoke. “Who are you, Marianne?”

“After nine months in this confinement, a confinement you have suffered for my sake, do you still not know who I am?”

She shook her head. “Tell me, Marianne.”

“I have kissed you but twice, Jeanne, and therefore can I not yet say plainly. But I will tell you this: I am your own daughter, your firstborn, and I have come to you.”

At these words, she wept greatly, and held me exceedingly tight. “I do not know,” she sobbed, “I do not know how this can be.”

“One last kiss, blessed Maid, and you shall understand. For upon your body, there are three citadels, that only love may conquer. So far, I have conquered only this —” and here, I touched the one nipple — “and this. But there is a third citadel that I must conquer, and that shall be the sweetest kiss of all.”

For a moment, she lay still; but then, to my amazement, she began to laugh. At first, her laughter was silent; and then it became high, and silvery, yet at the same time mingled with tears. When, at length, she quietened, she spoke as follows: “What nonsense is this? These citadels of which you speak, are but two. And yes, I would that you would kiss them more, for they are lofty enough with all your kissing and fondling.”

Then I drew myself up, and retired to the foot of the bed, and gestured that she should part her thighs.

“What?” She drew herself up, then, to face me. “You would take my virginity? But that is not possible for you, a woman. Besides, I have sworn, and I would never...”

I gestured for her to hold her peace. “Maid you are, and Maid you shall remain. Do you truly think that in giving honour to the virgin loins from which I spring, I should dishonour them, and so dishonour myself?”

Reluctantly, warily, she opened herself; and I, with gentlest touches, soothed her as I approached her inmost shrine.

“There is no citadel there,” she scoffed at me, groaning when I caressed her, “You have mistaken my sex, I fear.”

“Oh no, Maid,” I reassured her, “It is there, if you would but look, and full ready it is for my kiss.”

“Is that it? That thing? What is it? You would not kiss me there? — That is where... — Oh! O Lord in Heaven!”

The last, because I had already begun this, my third and final kiss. And such was her tumult, as I worshipped her there, that I feared that the guards would come a-running — or perhaps not, but merely assume that their gentle masters were putting her to the torture. Nevertheless, I interrupted my kiss and besought her:

“Sweet Maid: you will see there, beside the bed, my chemise, lying where it fell. Take it and make a knot of it, and bite down thereon, lest your cries bring the men a-running in on us!”

“But I made no sound — did I, Marianne?”

“Jeanne... Dear Jeanne...” I looked into her eyes, molten with desire, and loved her all the more. “When your spirit departs your body, you know not what tumult it makes, nor what cries you utter. Do it, I pray.”

With a little sigh, she complied, and I resumed my gentle conquest. How often she surrendered, and received the great blessing, I do not know; but time and again, in her extremity she strove against me with all her womanly might, and it became indeed a sort of battle between us, in which I had to exert all my strength in order to transport her utterly. And at last, as the faintest light began to steal through the tiny window-slot, she spoke thus:

“O Marianne, Marianne, no more, I beg you! I am empty now. Such excess of sweetness leaves me empty, and I am quite, quite drained.”

At that, I took my leave of her sweet loins, and lay once more beside her, and let her doze awhile on my breast, while I petted her and soothed her with my caresses.

“O Marianne, Marianne, who are you, that you love me thus? Will you not tell me now who you are?”

“Do you still not know? Smell me, Jeanne. What do you smell?”

“I smell... the smell of soil; of grass, and green leaves.” She shook her head and blinked. “I do not understand. Come: you have kissed me three times. Now I must know.”

“Then I shall tell you. But first, dear mother, pray let me look into your eyes one last time.”

“And why must you call me ‘mother’?”

“Hush, and let me look, and see what I can read therein...”

I looked, and I saw what I had longed to see. “In your eyes, I see a vision.”

“Yes?” She was suddenly eager, as if her strength were flowing back. “What is it that you see?”

“I see you crowned... soon, this very day...”


“Not with one crown, but two.”

“Two crowns? Tell me of them!”

“The first crown is magnificent – more magnificent than even Saint Catherine's or Saint Margaret's – and that crown you shall receive from our blessed Lord and Saviour himself. It is the martyr's crown.”

“Praise God! — And the second?”

“The second is a crown that girds the world about. Set therein is but one jewel, just one. As the world turns, so turns this crown: and this is your earthly crown, the gift of sinful mankind.”

“An earthly crown?”

“That is so. And on the thirtieth day of May...”

“The thirtieth? But... but that is today, is it not?”

“Just so. — On this day each year, that one jewel shall catch the sun's rays, and rekindle your flame anew. And so henceforth, this day shall be your day upon the earth, until the world shall be no more.”

She clutched me then, her eyes blazing. “How do you know these things? Who are you, Marianne?”

“I have kissed you three times. Now I may tell you plain. And when you understand, you and I must part.”

“For a time?”

“Yes, for a time.”

She shook me, almost hurting me. “Then tell! Who are you?”

I would fain kiss her again; but that was not permitted.

“I have already told you, but then you did not understand: now you shall.

I am your daughter, your one true daughter;
I am your heart's desire, the jewel of your hope;
I am your Nation, proud and free;
I am Liberty —
I am France.”

Historical Note

Winner, ASSTR Silver Clitorides Award, February 2002 Golden Clitorides Awards 2002: Short Story of the Year
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