“When you dare to commit to your deepest desires,
your heart grows to accommodate the task at hand,
no matter how daunting.”
—The Archangel Michael
For Joan of Arc, her challenge was surviving in a man’s world of the fifteenth century.
For Jane Archer, a twenty-first-century West Point cadet, not much has changed in nearly six centuries.
When Joan pierces the fragile veil of time to share the wisdom she received from the Archangel Michael with Jane, both women embark on a mission that will change the course of history. With only eleven days left to live, Joan must take yet another leap of faith, surrender to the guidance of Archangel Michael, and set the record straight to ensure those in the future know the truth.
She challenges Jane to find the courage she needs to expose a cultural crime that has been disempowering women for centuries. In the process, both must learn to trust their own inner guidance.
As one of the greatest heroines of all time, Joan of Arc seeks to awaken the heroine in every woman.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.72(d)|
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Return of the HeroineA Novel
By Kaye Michelle
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Kaye Michelle
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRouen, France
MONDAY, MAY 20, 1431
My tattered silk cape, an extravagant gift from my king at a time when I held his favor, offered little protection against the biting cold. Tiny snowflakes swirled on the wind, seeming like they would never land, cloaking the town in a white shroud, and blew into the carriage in drifts. Each lacy flake, fragile, yet when massed with others of its kind could halt armies and kill without reservation.
I witnessed this snowfall from the deceptive protection of a covered carriage as it transported me to an English prison on French soil. I was at the mercy of an element more powerful and frightening—human fear.
By the time we rumbled across the drawbridge and pulled into the inner courtyard of Bouvreuil, the Earl of Warwick's castle, in Rouen, a layer of snow covered the roads, roofs, and the top of every exposed surface, including the heads and shoulders of the men who rode as guards beside my carriage.
The bishop's dry droning voice interrupted my memories of my last days breathing fresh air and pulled me reluctantly from the padded seat of the cold carriage back to the hard wood chair in the courtroom. Through the lattice mullioned windows behind the bishop, I watched a tree sway greenery back and forth. It was the middle of May, usually a time for hope and new opportunities.
I should have run back then. I would have made it to safety under the cover of the falling snow. For the hundredth time memories of the last few moments of relative freedom rolled around in my mind and served as an escape from the misery of the present moment. Experiencing a little cold and hunger then would have been preferable to the events of the subsequent five months in this prison.
"Jehanne d'Arc." Bishop Cauchon's voice boomed and echoed off the vaulted ceiling. "I command you to swear oath and relate the truth of all subjects asked of you."
Heat rushed to my face. Frustration simmered through my veins. I let my gaze rake around the castle's main chamber. Priests, monks, and learned clergy from the University of Paris, fifty or so of them, sat on platforms placed in a U-formation. Most were draped in the scarlet robes of the church, while a few wore humble brown garments of the monks. This wall of clergy appeared as daunting to me as the entire English army. Quill-armed scribes held their feathers aloft waiting to record my words.
I wondered if the bishop would allow my every word to be recorded, or if he, out of fear, had instructed the scribes to strike those truths opposing those of the superstitious and power-hungry clergy. It was more likely that they rewrote each word so that I would appear to be confessing to the church's manufactured claims, heresy being their main argument. I stood in the middle of the U-shaped sea of red, shackled at my wrists and ankles, guards to my left, right, and behind, and fully understood the enormity of this injustice. I attempted to keep emotion from my voice and answered, "I repeat, as far as my revelations are concerned, I will tell you nothing."
The bishop's voice rose with unchecked fury. "Swear to tell the truth."
"Watch what you, who claim to be my earthly judge, undertake, for you assume a terrible responsibility on yourself. You presume too far. I have taken the oath daily. That is enough," I bellowed and slammed my chained fist onto my thigh.
Bishop Cauchon won the politically prestigious task, appointed by the English and Burgundians, those Frenchmen loyal to the English, of giving me a full trial. My trial was overseen by the University of Paris, whose loyalty lay with the King of England, while its members tripped over each other to be recognized and given political and financial rewards. Bishop Cauchon himself would benefit by being given the honor of the highest bishopric and lands befitting his new office.
Cauchon's face turned as crimson as his robe, and he began to shake with fury. Several other priests and judges hurled threats at me. They could not comprehend that I was a woman claiming to communicate directly with God's agents, the angels. Their myopic view of the world held no room for a young woman capable of leading men into battle. And there was certainly no room in their limited minds for a young peasant woman, dressing as a man, to succeed at reviving the fading embers of hope within the hearts and minds of the people of France. Before I was captured, people would rush from their homes and line the streets to see me ride by on horseback. I must humbly say that it was their country and God they honored, not me. I hope God's record books will indicate that I acted only from my faith in the desires of my divine counsel and never did I act for personal gain. In fact, I did not feel at all comfortable with the pomp and parades. I would much rather remain in the shadows and lead a quiet farm life like my family did, but God had other plans for me, which I honored as best as I could.
Gesturing with his short arms in fur-trimmed sleeves, the bishop stormed, "You will suffer instant condemnation if you refuse to take the oath."
"All the clergy in France could not condemn me," I shouted back at him proudly; I would not be bullied or tormented by a priest. "I completed a mission authorized by God. My wish is to return to Him. I am finished here."
Bishop Beaupre, older and more austere than chubby, yellow-jowled Cauchon, interjected in an attempt to break up the battle between us. "When was your last meal?"
"Midday yesterday," I answered flatly. I was not sure why this sudden concern about my diet. They only wanted to keep me alive so that they could make a public spectacle of me and burn me in the market.
Bishop Beaupre cleared his throat, glanced at Cauchon, who nodded assent to him, and asked, "Do you think you are in a state of grace?"
The entire castle hall went quiet. Scribes held their quills at the ready.
I had not even a counselor assigned to assist me in this farcical trial. I realized that only a situation as absurd as this would be created by God for some reason beyond my simple understanding, so I honestly answered, "It is God's affair whether or not I am in a state of grace. With all humility, it is my wish to be in God's grace ... always. For I would be most unhappy if I were not." God's opinion of me was a serious matter. Nothing mattered more.
A great uproar broke out within the hall. A number of priests smiled at me, surprised, while others gesticulated vehemently and argued among themselves.
"She's a witch," one of the priests cried.
Archangel Michael, one of my three guardian angels, whispered in my ear, as he did frequently, offering counsel and instruction when I needed it. His presence, more important to me than bread and water, always offered an insight to the situation at hand. Dearest Jehanne, the question was a scholarly trap. According to church doctrine, no one could be certain of being in God's grace. If you answered yes, then you would have convicted yourself of heresy. If you answered no, then you would have confessed to your own guilt. Well said.
When the noise within the hall quieted, I added calmly, "Were my intentions not of a pure heart, I don't believe my heavenly voices would come to me." I paused, feeling emotion rise within me, then continued, "I wish that everyone could hear them—the voices—as well as I do myself." I added, "I have greater fear of failing my voices, in saying something that displeases them, than I have of you."
Appearing flustered, Bishop Beaupre adjourned court suddenly. My guards escorted me, wordlessly, through the castle's darkened hallways, my chains clanking arrhythmically up each step, back to my cold tower cell. Silent tears rolled down my now-sunken cheeks. I realized I would never be able to play their game. For weeks and months, I withstood their mind-spinning questioning in an attempt to stay ahead of them without betraying my heavenly voices or my own flesh. I would not force myself to go against that for which I stood.
The injustices placed upon me over the last months were finally taking their toll; the great chamber of my heart began to close. I gave everything for my God, my king, my country, and my love. It was all lost to me now, and I had nothing left but the scant skin on my bones.
I would allow the shadow of death to stand beside me and pet my hand. I would allow my grip on the rope of humanity to slip. It became clear I would die at the hands of the English and French traitors.
Later that day, as the sun began to leave the sky and pale purple shadows crept along the curved tower walls, I watched my head guard, John Grey—they always had two or three in the room with me—grow increasingly agitated. I found his constant agitation more irritating than my itchy mattress. I much preferred the disinterested neglect of the other two guards, William Talbot and John Berwoit.
"So, Jehanne, are you really the virgin they say you are? I believe you are a camp whore—spreading your legs to all your captains. Right? That's why ... you won. Your men won the battles for you. You must be a demon in the hay ... uh?" He tried to provoke me, his face red with intensity.
I dared not answer him lest he become more vexed.
"No men at all. Is it true?" He leaned over me, his grimy face twisted in a sneer. He shook the chains at my wrists, bating me to respond to him, breath as malodorous as his disposition. "You're lying. You bitch. You don't know what you're missing. Maybe that's it ... you don't know the pleasure from the man's prowess." He stood upright and untied his woolen hose.
God, please protect me, I thought and directed this prayer to my angels. Panic slithered through me as I dug my heels into the meager mattress of my prison bed. I managed to go all this time, two years in the constant presence of men-at-arms, with my virginity intact. I forced myself to focus on my heavenly voices.
Saint Catherine crooned in my ear, All will be fine.
John Berwoit, shorter and stockier than lanky John Grey, stepped into the room. "What's going on?" His slate-colored, lazy eye rested on me briefly before he turned to his fellow guard.
"I'm showing la Pucelle, our maid, what she's missing," Grey jeered as he lowered his hose and grabbed hold of his engorged penis, goading me, his eyes bulging. "Look at this. Look!"
I glanced over at the sausage-like appendage he held between his hands. I'd never seen a man's organ up close. Startled, I turned away, my heart thudding. He moved to within inches of my face. Shaking it, he growled, "You must want this. Jehanne, how can you resist?"
"Do you see, monsieur, how much God loves you?" I replied despite the fact that I was backed up against the stone wall.
His sweaty forehead crinkled in confusion. "Come on ..."
I took a quick breath and glared at him with all the courage I could muster. "You must know God loves you—because if I had my sword in hand I would cut that thing off. Just one flick of my wrist, in a flash, your manhood and brains would be lying limp on that filthy floor."
Berwoit doubled over laughing. Grey's appendage drooped.
Humiliated, Grey turned away, pulled up his hose, violently tied the laces, and pulled his tunic down in a huff.
I turned my face to the wall in order to conceal a victorious smirk and bid my heart to slow down.
"Someday, Jehanne, you will pay for this. Someday ..." He strode the short distance to the old stool near the deep, narrow window of our tower room, and clearing his throat, he leaned into the opening and spat. Wiping his mouth with his sleeve he sat down hard and glared at me shooting invisible daggers from brown bloodshot eyes.
"John," I said and lifted my chained hands, shaking them at him, "I pay already."
The others continued to laugh, but neither John nor I felt this was a laughing matter. My virginity was the backbone of my mission to help France.
Dearest Archangel Michael, why is it I find myself in this horrid situation? What did I do wrong?
Archangel Michael's deep voice resonated clearly in my head. Dearest child, you are so brave. You have done nothing wrong. Just as you were born to lift the siege of Orléans and deliver the crown of France to the dauphin, you were born for this.
Why would I choose to be thrown in prison unjustly and betrayed by those I sacrificed my life to help? My heart still ached at the reluctance of my king, Charles of France, to buy me back from the English. He'd had several opportunities but chose not to blemish his tenuous reign with my controversial presence in his court.
As always the presence of my angels helped to dissipate my sadness and fear. Since just before my thirteenth birthday, I had enjoyed the visits and guidance of my three angels. Each continually offered love and encouragement in their own unique way. In the presence of Archangel Michael my heart felt more resilient and my mind became as sharp as a carving knife. Saint Catherine offered tenderness and wisdom while Saint Margaret buoyed my heart and gave me courage.
Archangel Michael continued in a soothing resonant tone, Jehanne, you are a magnificent brave soul who has come to assist in the growth of humanity. You have come to illustrate two things. First, by example, you have chosen to lead a life inspired by God, without an intermediary. Your life as a spiritual warrior will inspire many far into the future to follow the divine voice within. Second, your life as a prisoner will, by contrast, illuminate those out-of-balance seats within the royalty and hierarchy of the church.
But, why did I not just go into a convent? It would have been much simpler—for me. I pushed myself to sitting, ignoring the dizzy feeling in my head and wiggled my feet to bring back lost circulation to my bound ankles.
Yes, it would have been more simple for you, but far less meaningful for the world. You are creating history in this very moment. Every minute you spend in chains will be met with years of inspiration, not only for the people of France, but the entire world. You have come to show and create a desire for spirituality. This desire will ripple outward, empowering people to connect to their own divine purpose without the need of an intermediary. Those men in positions of power will fight this change for a long time, but, in the end, freedom of faith will prevail.
The injustice of your experience at the hands of the church and royalty will open the eyes and crack open the hearts of thousands.
Saint Michael, I fear you are not correct. Will the people of the future know of my love for my country, my desire to serve my king and my God humbly? Will my reputation be tarnished by these so- called men of God? Are they writing my words or are they building a case against my sanity and my honor? I wish I could tell my own story and show I am no different than any other man or woman. Please protect me from any harsher treatment and help me to find the courage to get through today. I stretched my shackled wrists over my head to lessen the ache in my shoulders.
You are always protected. Even if something feels harmful, your soul is ever whole, ever radiant, ever unblemished. You will be free soon. In fact, this whole journey will be complete in eleven days. Focus on your breathing. Feel your heartbeat and you will know we are with you. This is your secret weapon to move through this part of your mission.
Remember, Jehanne, how it all began. Remember your faith. Remember it all. Send your memories out into the future, project your mind so that young women and men of the future can, if they choose, pick up your inspiring courage and unflagging faith and know the truth about you.
Remember ... remember ... You have eleven days.
Archangel Michael's voice echoed in my head as I lay there contemplating his words. I could hear the rumbling of a thunderstorm's approach. He said eleven days. Did he mean I would be set free, sent to a nunnery, or martyred? Strangely, in that moment, I did not care. Sleep overtook me until a clap of thunder rattled my tower. As I listened to the showers drenching the land outside, I contemplated where to begin with my memories. The thought that my angels would help my story find its way into the hearts of a few in the future helped me garner strength.
Lightening struck. Flashes of light danced on the walls of my room and a warm energy encircled me. I let myself slip back in time and released my memories into the belly of the storm.
Everything felt soft and warm. Back in time, I could see my home and my family in Domrémy, northeast, many miles away. We lived in the part of France, the province of Lorraine, that remained loyal to the French crown. Random memories floated through my mind: my papa's strong shoulders, my maman's raw working hands, the smell of our sheep, our family garden in the spring. It all moved, shifted, and came into focus, and then shifted again.
The pain of prison disappeared as I slipped deeper into the past. I was back at home, and it was early summer in 1427, when I was just fifteen years old.
Excerpted from Return of the Heroine by Kaye Michelle Copyright © 2012 by Kaye Michelle. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
RETURN OF THE HEROINE by Kaye Michelle is an intriguing fiction. A modern legacy of Joan of Arc. Told alternating between 15th century France, where the story is narrated by Joan of Arc, and 1990s United States, where we meet Jane Archer, a West Point cadet. In six hundred years things have changed so much between Joan of Arc and Jane Archer,both are trying to survive in a man's world. This is a daunting story of trusting one's inner self, courage, challenges, victories, divine guidance and the one's spiritual relationship. While, we all have heard the story of Joan of Arc, "Return of the Heroine" brings her to life on the pages of this captivating story. Ms. Michelle has written a well-researched story with many facets. A joy to read! A powerful and compelling story! Received for an honest review. RATING:4 HEAT RATING: SWEET REVIEWED BY: AprilR, courtesy of My Book Addiction and More