Chapter 8: Champagne
The journey back to Metz went swiftly. There was so much left to explore now that we had opened Pandoraâ€™s Box. Domremy the alleged birthplace of La Purcelle - The Maid was just down the road and the whole border area following the source of the Meuse and Moselle seemed to have its own magical character. To the west lay Verdun scene of one of the bloodiest sieges and battles of World War I showing that geography is the mother of battle. The ever expanding Germans would always try to penetrate the plains of France through the same geographical gaps. To the northwest lay Luxembourg the intriguing principality that was pivotal to the Jehanne des Armoises story, for the Duchess had been a great patron of her around the year 1436. The rough hilly terrain of the Belgian Ardennes rose to the north, scene of the last ditch Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944 again involving the Germans, who made an unexpected offensive thrust through that sector on the border between the Gallic Latin tribes and the Teutons. Metz was strategically at the centre of events in this part of Europe, no accident then that Robert des Armoises, Flemish soldier of fortune should be stationed at this crossroads of history.
One thing puzzled me though about the Landremont heraldic blazon, the red dragon was surmounted on a saltier cross argent, field azure, it was the Scottish flag; what was the connection? I was sure that in the church I had seen just the distinctive red dragon on a field of light blue. I knew that it was heraldically incorrect to place a colour on a colour; a badge on a national flag however was acceptable. Could my memory be mistaken? It was a conundrum that would play on my mind for the whole journey home to Lille.
The journey by TGV to Paris was quickly over and soon we were enjoying a 3 hour stop over. I decided to treat my Fleur dâ€™Lilly to dinner so we took a table at a restaurant near Gare du Nord. â€œChampagne and oysters, it's on me!â€ I triumphantly announced much to Lillyâ€™s surprise as she imagined it would be a quick cup of coffee and a pastry on the expense account that had now run all but dry.
â€œWell itâ€™s not everyday you make a ground breaking discovery about yourself and gain a glimpse on how the universe works, is it?â€
â€œIâ€™m still blown away by the whole experience!â€ Lilly confided in agreement.
We chinked glasses in the sure knowledge that the short journey from Paris to Lille would be even quicker after a bottle of my favourite beverage!
â€œIt will take several days for all of this to sink in, Yann.â€ Lilly said reflectively as the bubbles tickled her nose. I ordered a Tornados Rossini bleu and Lilly surprisingly ordered the same! The meal when it arrived looked superb and definitely of a Parisian standard.
â€œWe really are in tune with our character and behaviour!â€ I confided my observation as I sipped my Champagne.
â€œYes, itâ€™s remarkable; I feel we have known each other all our lives!â€ Lilly grinned and relaxed back in her chair, â€œthat was delicious thank you so much, Yann.â€
â€œMy pleasure, my wonderful Fleur dâ€™Lilly, itâ€™s not everyday one can dine in such surroundings with a beautiful young lady; SantÃ©!â€
I raised my third glass of Champagne and toasted our friendship, â€œUn pour tous et tous pour un!â€ I used the famous Musketeersâ€™ toast from Alexandre Dumasâ€™ epic story of friendship and adventure to seal the bond between us. It seemed wholly appropriate given the flash back memories I had experienced.
Lilly decided to add another toast, â€œto the fellowship of the Brethren noir!â€ It came from her deep subconscious and sent a peculiar tingle of familiarity down my spine.
I decided to order another bottle of Champagne which we duly started to drink. I suddenly looked at my watch and realised we had but ten minutes to board the TGV for Lille. â€œDrink up Lilly we must fly!â€ Without further ado Lilly grabbed the half full Champagne bottle as I paid the bill and leaving a generous tip, we ran out of the restaurant in a none too dignified exit!
Finding the platform fairly easily we jumped aboard the waiting TGV and sat back in our seats giggling like school children. â€œThat was close!â€ Lilly said as she drew a much needed breath, â€œyouâ€™re quite something, Yann Baillieu. I salute you!â€ With that she took two restaurant Champagne glasses out of her handbag and to my utter astonishment, poured me another glass of Champagne. She then delicately passed it to me with a very unladylike cheeky grin, â€œand Iâ€™m sure that your more than generous tip will cover the price of two glasses!â€
â€œExcellent! A lovely souvenir from my comrade in arms; I shall keep the glass on the mantelpiece over my fireplace in lasting memory of our trip and this moment. You are quite a character yourself Mademoiselle Chevalier; SantÃ©!â€
I raised my glass to my stunningly beautiful confederate much to the amusement of the other passengers in the carriage. The champagne having kicked in Lilly put her ipod ear pieces in and started to close her eyes. â€œWake me up in Lille â€“ Robert...â€ Her last words echoed in my mind as I stood guard over my sleeping comrade in arms. Images flooded my mind as I sat looking at her angelic face framed by her lustrous auburn hair. I saw castles, and sieges, battles raging and men dying. It was brutal warfare at its worst; bloody and extremely violent. Arrows rained down as men hacked each other to pieces with sword and pole axe. The noise and clanging din of weapon on armour sounded in my head in a cacophony of sound. I saw the fluttering banners of France and England above a seething mass of shiny armoured knights thrashing like a shoal of fish. The studded and leather clad men-at-arms fought hand to hand with the quilt clad common soldiers in furious melee. Both sides taking casualties from arrow and crossbow quarrel, their armour to no avail. Everywhere was awash with blood, hot red gushing blood, spurting like geysers from mensâ€™ arteries as they were severed by vicious blows from the butchersâ€™ weaponry.
Yet, amidst the carnage I saw a young girl in shining armour mounted on a magnificent white steed of sturdy proportion. She held aloft a virgin white banner bearing a flurry of golden fleur dâ€™lys that sparkled in the sun, they surrounded a picture of a man on a cross with an angel on either side; the words Jhesus Maria embroidered in gold proclaimed her holy mission. Her right hand held aloft a long shining sword as she urged the men on to victory. Her bronzed cropped chestnut hair flowed freely exposed in the breeze so that all may recognise her. She was the very vision of an apocalyptic angel of doom and hope. Such beauty surrounded by such carnage; she gave hope, inspiration and encouragement to the soldiers of France in their darkest hour.
Suddenly the electric glare of Gare Flandres, Lille flashed in my eyes and I snapped out of my waking dream. I shook Lilly from her slumber and we made our way from the train to the solid ground of the platform. The clod night air hit my face and the change was complete. I was finally home and the dream of the last three days was broken...
We had another three days to write our article for La Voix du Nord. Lilly and I shared a taxi and I bade her bon nuit at her apartment address. The door of the taxi slammed shut with a finality of permanent separation but I knew I could see my Fleur dâ€™Lilly bright eyed and bushy tailed at 09:00hrs in Editor Jeanâ€™s office. Jean wanted us to report on our mission and outline the details of our article to him personally. The content of the story we could write together was already crystallising in my mind as I inserted the key to my front door. A quick shower and I was glad to fall into bed as it was now well past midnight.
At 09:00hrs sharp Lilly and I entered Jeanâ€™s office, for the next 45 minutes we off loaded our joint experiences with the aid of Lillyâ€™s PowerPoint presentation of images. All the while Jean sat there listening with only the odd quip thrown in. He was naturally sceptical but fascinated with the wealth of intuitive detail we had collected.
â€œWell thatâ€™s certainly an interesting tale,â€ he said. Then getting straight back to the nitty gritty, â€œRight, a double page centre spread to kick off the series with, lots of patriotic imagery and a touch of the occult a la Da Vinci code should hit the mark. Conspiracy and the paranormal are quite fashionable now and it should sell well. I like it! It will add a splash of historical colour to the usual summer events and lack of news during la grand vacance.â€
Lilly and I looked at each other and smiled. â€œExcellent!â€ I said to break the silence and clapped my hands together as I stood up. â€œWeâ€™ll get onto it right away.â€
With that we left Jean to get on with the business of the day and we returned to my office. Upon entering I was amazed at the amount of paper work that had piled up on my desk, plus the hundred or so e-mails whilst I was away.
â€œDonâ€™t worry Yann; Iâ€™ll write the article, you just get on with clearing your desk of all that paper!â€
â€œAre you sure Lilly? Thatâ€™s very kind of you, normally I have to juggle and do everything at once.â€
â€œYes, sure, it will be great fun and I can write it from my perspective observing you.â€ Lilly had already seen how this was going to work and the fact that Jean liked the memory flashbacks meant she could write the article and include what happened to me in these episode. Jean had indicated that the article needed to have a new fresh perspective and that people do like a genuine mystery story, so the way was unexpectedly opened to write up our tale in full and not to make it just another sanitised politically correct historical tourist guide.
I was pleased at the outcome as it meant that our experiences would reach a wider audience and stimulate debate and discussion as to the whole issue of our existence on this tiny blue planet.
Twenty four hours later Lilly presented me with her article.