“I’m not afraid,” she whispers. Her voice is rough-edged, but when it’s this quiet it sounds soft. Gentle. She stares ahead into the darkness with her hands folded in her lap, and she doesn’t tremble. “If I am to die, then that is God’s will.”
“My dear,” he says. He can’t keep his own voice down. It cracks embarrassingly, but there is no one else to hear, and she would never let this slip. “If you but asked, I could–”
“No,” she says. There is finality in her voice, like the snap of a sword breaking, or an arrow sinking into a man’s heart. She smiles faintly, her cracked lips pursing up. “This is what I have been called to do. This is how I will be remembered. In this way, though men today may declaim me, in the eyes of God, I will be remembered.” She closes her eyes for just a moment, and her plain rough features are more beautiful than anything else he’s ever seen–more than anything he will ever see, he knows, however long he remains. When she turns to him again, her expression is soft. She’s already looking through him. “My dear friend, do not weep for me. I return to the arms of our Father, and in His kingdom I will dwell forever.”
But in mine, you are already gone, he does not say, and if he weeps a little, at the door of her cell, she does not chastise him for that grief.
She walks with her head up and her eyes clear. He has always loved her for this, since she was a tiny child and had looked upon his face and known him for who he truly was.
(“I will see you freed,” she whispered to him, with her small palms upon his cheeks. “This I swear to you, before God and all His angels–“)
The crowd is loud. They always are. Most of them jeer with ugly words in their crude awkward language; they bastardize her name to fit their clumsy mouths, and not a few cross themselves as she passes. It makes him angry, angry enough that his throat aches and his face burns with the force of it. If he could, he would draw a blade here and cut down the lot of them–and gladly, consequences be damned alongside her–
His hand falls away from the hilt of his blade. He watches, unmoving, unblinking, as she is tied to the pillar. He sees her speak, though he cannot hear her voice over the crowd, and his breath catches when one places a crucifix into the folds of her clothes.
The fires are lit. She does not scream or cry, even when the crowd falls silent and the crackle of fire fills the sky. For just a moment, she looks and meets his eyes. Though she does not smile, he sees that she is content with this, her martyrdom in his name. He blinks out tears, and in that split second, she goes still, her head falling forward at last.
No one argues when he takes the ashes. Perhaps they can see something in his face, though he does not speak–or perhaps Charles finally came through, or perhaps they simply just think that he’s there only for this reason. They aren’t his people anyway; their mouths make the same ugly noises as the majority of the crowd. He looks at them coldly, with perhaps a fragment of pity: they are small, small creatures; they do not know what they have destroyed today.
I would take you home to rest, my dear, he thinks, pressing the urn over his heart, staring down at the water that rushes around his ankles. Forgive me.
He casts outward and upward, watching as the wind and the water catches her and spirits her away, and likes to fool himself into thinking he hears her laugh. For this, he does not weep, but he breathes against a raw metal taste in his throat, and does not move until that has mostly–mostly–faded away.
“If we were normal men, my friend, I would hate you very much, right now,” he says. “Ah, another, I want another. I want to spend the rest of this war drunk as possible.”
“Hear hear,” his companion mutters, and slides a bottle to him. It is soldier’s beer, warm as piss and tasting as acidly sour, but he drinks until it’s empty. “Someone will be looking for us soon.”
“Let them look,” he says. He leans until his forehead is pressed against the rough wood of the bar and breathes; even now, he can taste smoke in the back of his throat. “I care not, at this moment.”
He doesn’t know when he is left alone, but he knows it happens, and he stares blankly at the too-close wood, trying to remember the look in her eyes that one last time.
In a wide open field, under cloudless skies, a little girl stared up into the face of her country and held her breath. “Why are you here?”
The man smiled. “I came here because I was supposed to,” he said. “Sometimes, if that’s where I have to be, I’ll be there.”
“Just like that?”
“Just like that.” He knelt before her. “And what is your name, little maid?”
She met his eyes, and she said, “I am Jeanne.”