The crowds were noisy and unruly in Rouen. They were a mixture of English Protestants and French Catholics, who often witnessed the execution of those who were found guilty of the crimes of heresy or witchcraft. Some came with enthusiasm, some to stand there mute, as if giving silent support to the victims. There were many who believed the Catholic Church was in need of reform, and many others who had grown tired of the domination, corrupt clergy, ritual, icons and statues and the belief that these were necessary to the path of salvation. These people were condemned if caught. As the Church authority became more intense in its search for non-conformists, its inquisitors sought out and arrested many innocent people and executed them.
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Camille held Françoise close, wrapping her grey woollen cloak about him. The two-year-old slept, his head on her shoulder, and he was heavy. By her side stood five-year-old Sophie and seven-year-old Pierre in their well-made leather boots, with the hoods of their thick, dark cloaks pulled up over their heads, faces hidden in shadow, and cold little hands clutching her skirt for fear they might be separated.
She and her children stood on the fringes of the large crowd watching what was happening in the square below them. Camille was nervous about crowds and soldiers, and didn't want to get any closer to the central dais on which a pyre had been set with a thick pole in the middle of it.
Stone buildings pressed around the edge of the square, and the crowd, dense and excited, pushed and swayed, spilling back into the alleyways radiating from the open space like the spokes of a gigantic wheel.
From her vantage point she could see the bishop, other religious officials, all dressed in their robes of office, and guards, who restrained the prisoner, a small young woman in men's clothing. The bishop was delivering a lengthy lecture to the prisoner, but the words were drowned out by the raucous voice of the crowd urging the bishop to get on with the burning.
Camille did not follow the same religious beliefs as the young woman, but felt a great deal of sympathy for her. Jeanne d'Arc was a Catholic and supported the King and the Pope. Now, she struggled and shouted, trying to defend herself from her accusers. Camille was wishing that someone could rescue the poor girl from this terrible death, but she knew that would be impossible.
Pierre tugged on his mother's cloak, "Who is that Mama? Why are they all shouting?" His bright blue eyes were visible as he turned his face up to see her.
"That prisoner is Jeanne d'Arc, Pierre. She had been charged with heresy and witchcraft. She has fought the English with King Charles' army, and she claims that the voices of God and the saints have directed her."
"What are they doing to her?" persisted the little boy.
"They are hearing the accusations that have been made against her, and the bishop is giving her advice on how she can save herself. They say she should deny that she hears voices, and she should denounce the King. If they find her guilty she will be put to death."
"Won't the King help her?" Pierre asked.
"I don't think so. He is weak, and afraid to confront the Catholics in the north of France."
"Why?" continued Pierre.
"Do stop asking questions just now Pierre. Come Sophie. I need to pick up the silver from the agent. Françoise is getting heavier by the minute, and we must walk to the river to meet Papa." She now desperately wanted to get away from this dreadful denouement.
Sophie had hardly moved while they stood there, keeping her head bowed. Now she took a firm hold of her mother's cloak and walked as close as possible.
"Wait!" Camille said suddenly and quietly, pulling her children in close, facing away from the group of soldiers barging their way through the people. "