I did not wish for this.
The carriage wheels push over dozens of pebbles, never giving me a chance to relax for just a moment. My eyes stare at the setting sun in the distance despite the brightness flickering different colors over my vision and blinding me. I blink them away and seal my eyelids.
“Aye,” one of the guards calls. “Don’t go dyin’ on me now. We’ve gotta deliver yeh alive and well, eh?”
My eyes open and settle on him. Breathing in deeply, I gather the spit in my mouth and send it at his feet. “Tais tois.”
He doesn’t flinch and instead stands, somehow steadying his legs in the bumpy carriage. “Don’t know English? Thought you’d know it all — after that Charles bloke makin’ yeh co-commander and all. What’s yer name?”
I ignore him and turn back to the sun. They will come. My army must come; they owe it to me.
“Aye!” the guard snaps and lowers, catching my chin in his meaty hand and forcing my head his way. “I asked yeh a bloody question.”
“Careful,” the other warns. “She might launch another at yer face.”
He leans in so close that I can smell his putrid breath. “I fuckin’ dare yeh.” He roughly releases me and stands again. “These bloody French er fuckin’ crazy — makin’ a lass in charge.”
“They beat us quite a few wit’ ‘er, though.”
I smirk, but the one who defended me gets a nasty punch to the face, the resounding crack of his nose making me cringe.
“Don’t bloody mouth off, eh?”
The shackles around my wrists and ankles clank together as I situate to find some type of comfortable position. This carriage ride feels like days long. The English already bought me, and I’m on my way to them, but I expect my army to be there, ready to take me home since they haven’t caught up to us yet. After all, how can they function without me? I’ve aided our country to so many victories, I might as well be the queen.
The carriage halts, and the horses are whinny. One of the footmen curses. The first guard yells through the opening:
“Aye! Wha’s goin’ on?”
“It’s the horses, sir! They so stubborn, they demandin’ a break!”
“Crack ’em with yer whip, and get on with it!”
The guard’s temper breaks and he steps out of the carriage, leaving me and the wounded guard alone.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
His eyes slightly widen. “Yeh speak English?”
“I am co-commander of the French army. It ought to be good to know a bit of English, no? Are you okay?”
He waves a hand before brushing it through his dark hair. “I’ll be all right… What’s yer name?”
My eyes fall to my dirty nails. I rub my hands together to rid some of the filth. “My name is Joanne. What is yours?”
“Arthur,” I echo. “Arthur, what will you do to me?”
He gives me an incredulous glance. As the other guard is screaming and quite possibly beating the footman, Arthur focuses on me. “I ain’t doin’ nothing to yeh, yeh hear? But I can’t save yeh, no matter what. Understand that.”
I gather assumptions as to what these English men will do to me. It does not matter, though, because my army will come for me. Yes, it has been weeks of travel, but they will come.
“What will they do to me, then?” I ask slowly.
A hesitance crosses Arthur’s rather handsome features. He looks far too young to be a soldier with such authority — bringing such a valued prisoner to his leader.
His eyes bore into mine with a serious and sincere glint. “I ain’t sure exactly, but it won’t be pretty. Or painless.”
I attempt to smother my wince, and I sink into myself. He reaches out to brush a strand of my grimy dark hair from my face. Co-commander. Leader. Fighter. Soldier. Name me whatever — but I cannot help feeling so scared that I may hurl, that I may pass out, that I may cry until I can’t anymore.
“Can you help me?”
Arthur’s gaze now shows pity. “I–”
He breaks off when the other guard climbs back into the carriage. It lurches forward, and we’re moving again. It takes us hours, days, another week until we reach where we want — where they want. The hope that was once so thick is now as thin as a single strand of hair. My army hasn’t come.
Whenever the other guard isn’t looking (I never learned his name), Arthur passes me pieces of his food. I cherish every bite and every taste.
A month passes.
Six months pass.
And I’m alone without my army.
I’m now resting on the cold concrete of my prison cell. Winter air whooshes through the tiny window, and I shiver even more. My blue fingers are numb.
Arthur is in the cell beside mine.
For the first few months, he sneaked things to me. Food, clothes, comforting words. When they caught him, they demoted him and tossed him in a cell.
Today feels different.
There is a tang in the air, a thickness; it feels like something is coming.
I crawl toward the edge of my cell. “Arthur. Arthur, come.”
He does. We’re both freezing as we curl on the ground with the bars separating us. He takes my hand in his and breathes on my fingers before rubbing them together.
“We will get through the winter,” he promises.
My eyes shut. The thundering of boots echoes through the chambers. The clatter of keys and the threatening voices startle me. Arthur holds on tighter.
I shake my head.
“Joan,” a man says. “Come.”
My cell door opens. I can feel Arthur’s eyes on me, so I open mine and stare into his brown orbs. He nods.
“It’s okay,” he repeats and kisses my frozen fingers. “I will be here when you return.”
I swallow hard, sure of my words. “That’s just it,” I whisper. “I don’t think I will return.”