This poem came out of the July 3, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from kelkyag. It has been selected by the audience in a poll as the free epic for the November 6, 2012 Poetry Fishbowl.
This poem begins the series The Arc of Joan, which takes place in nether-Earth a long time prior to The Steamsmith, and lays some of the background the later time. Because Jeanne d'Arc is a peasant, the appearance of alchemical motifs will be smaller, especially at the beginning; because she's a saint, the spiritual aspects will be larger; and the gender studies balance about the same given her penchant for crossdressing. This series also documents one of the major points of divergence between nether-Earth and historic-Earth, so follow along reading about historic Joan of Arc if you want to watch for the differences.
Jeanne d'Arc was born in 1412
in the quiet village of Domrémy.
From her mother Isabelle Romée,
she learned about God.
From her father Jacques d'Arc,
head of the village watch,
she learned about justice.
During Jeanne's childhood,
the Hundred Years' War made life hard.
Several times raiders attacked Domrémy,
and once they set fire to the village.
Neither prayer nor law could stop them.
Jeanne railed against the war,
against the impiety and injustice of it.
In 1424, three saints
appeared to Jeanne in a vision.
Saint Michael, Saint Catherine,
and Saint Margaret came to her
as she walked alone in a field.
"We need your aid, Jeanne,"
said Saint Michael.
"You must help us
to stop this terrible war."
"What can I do?"
"I am only a girl,"
"No, you are not,"
said Saint Catherine.
"You must begin training,"
Saint Michael told Jeanne.
"Learn the arts of war, for
soon we will need your strength."
Again Jeanne tried to protest,
but Saint Catherine said,
"You must follow your deepest wish.
You must reveal what you have hidden,
and pin your true heart upon your sleeve."
"I am a good Catholic," Jeanne said.
"The Holy Roman Church has
condemned such things as heresy."
"It is neither heresy nor sin," said Saint Catherine,
"to be as God has made you."
"Besides, God is growing displeased
with the Holy Roman Church,"
said Saint Margaret.
"I have heard the priests squawking
over whether Quintessence is matter or spirit,"
Jeanne said, "for the experiments of the alchemists
have set them all fluttering like so many capons."
"Quintessence is neither matter nor spirit,
both matter and spirit," said Saint Catherine.
"It is the meeting between the two,
as our Lord Jesus Christ is the meeting
between immortal God and mortal man.
Quintessence is the stuff of which souls are made.
Do not worry, people will figure it out in time."
"This too will become part of your path,"
Saint Margaret said to Jeanne,
"for the Church of England
is destined to become more tolerant,
and God wishes for all His followers
to love one another."
"The English frighten me," Jeanne said.
"The French should frighten you more,"
Saint Michael said grimly.
"Now go and begin your training."
Jeanne went home and thought
about what the saints had said to her.
She felt as if she had come
to the crossroads of realities
and taken the second left
without quite realizing it.
She also thought, of course,
that she might simply be going mad.
The sensible thing to do would be
to put it all out of her mind, if she could,
bury it down deep with all the other
things she never said and never did.
But sensible things had been no use
at stopping the war, or even the raiders.
So Jeanne took some clothes
that her brother Pierre had cast off,
disguised herself as a boy,
and went to watch the guards
upon their training field.
She would learn tactics and strategy.
She would learn the sword and the bow.
She would learn how to ride a horse.
Jeanne was determined to do all of those things,
even if it meant pinning her innermost heart
to the sleeve of a young man's shirt.
As for the church, Jeanne decided,
she would just let God and the saints
worry about that part.