La Coursier de Jeanne D'Arc
You know that they burned her horse before her. Though it is not recorded, you know that they burned her Percheron first, before her eyes, because you know that story, so old that story, the routine story, carried to its extreme, of the cruelty that can make of what a woman hears a silence, that can make of what a woman sees a lie. She had no son for them to burn, for them to take from her in the world not of her making and put to its pyre, so they layered a greater one in front of where she was staked to her own-- as you have seen her pictured sometimes, her eyes raised to the sky. But they were not raised. This is yet one of their lies. They were not closed. Though her hands were bound behind her, and her feet were bound deep in what would become fire, she watched. Of greenwood stakes head-high and thicker than a man's waist they laced the narrow corral that would not burn until flesh had burned, until bone was burning, and laid it thick with tinder--fatted wicks and sulphur, kindling and logs--and ran a ramp up to its height from where the gray horse waited, his dapples making of his flesh a living metal, layers of life through which the light shone out in places as it seems to through the flesh of certain fish, a light she knew as purest, coming, like that, from within. Not flinching, not praying, she looked the last time on the body she knew better than the flesh of any man, or child, or woman, having long since left the lap of her mother--the chest with its perfect plates of muscle, the neck with its perfect, prow-like curve, the hindquarters'--pistons--powerful cleft pennoned with the silk of his tail. Having ridden as they did together --those places, that hard, that long-- their eyes found easiest that day the way to each other, their bodies wedded in a sacrament unmediated by man. With fire they drove him up the ramp and off into the pyre and tossed the flame in with him. This was the last chance they gave her to recant her world, in which their power came not from God. Unmoved, the Men of God began watching him burn, and better, watching her watch him burn, hearing the long mad godlike trumpet of his terror, his crashing in the wood, the groan of stakes that held, the silverblack hide, the pricked ears catching first like driest bark, and the eyes. and she knew, by this agony, that she might choose to live still, if she would but make her sign on the parchment they would lay before her, which now would include this new truth: that it did not happen, this death in the circle, the rearing, plunging, raging, the splendid armour-colored head raised one last time above the flames before they took him --like any game untended on the spit--into their yellow-green, their blackening red.