Chapter 9: The Book
A week later just before our next assignment in Orleans, I made two astonishing discoveries. The first occurred as I was getting my car out of the garage. Instead of just shutting the up and over door I decided to go back in and look at the open wall cabinet containing some 200 miniature fantasy figures that I had painted in the early 1980s They were placed there because I had nowhere else to put them and at least in the garage they were accessible and on view.
To my utter amazement there on the top shelf in the townsfolk section was a knight on horseback with a banner and a squad of 7 men-at-arms. I remembered that I had painted them at random without reference to any books. At the time I was puzzled by the fact that I had painted the heraldic blazons in a stylised way that I hadnâ€™t used before. Now I knew why; for there was the Landremont red dragon on a sky blue field proudly displayed over and over on shield, surcoat, jupon, trapper and banner. My jaw dropped in disbelief as I held the precious tangible icons in my hand. I now knew absolutely for certain that they had been a product of my fertile subconscious mind.
This led directly to the second bombshell discovery. I had always been an artist and had painted in water colours since being a small boy. Often I would paint for relaxation and some five years previous I had engaged myself in an unusual project. I had decided in a completely arbitrary moment of inspiration to construct a 3D pop up picture book on heraldry and the medieval history of France instead of my normal 2D flat illustrated paintings. The project was largely an experiment with the aim of publishing a small book for marketing to young people via La Voix du Nord. The whole work had blossomed into a complete work of art containing several pages of heraldry painstakingly rendered in fine watercolour.
I now sat down in total disbelief at what I was seeing. The book lay open on the coffee table in my lounge and I sat in silence for several minutes before breaking out into a huge smile. Wow! It was an excellent example of my subconscious in action as at the time I had no conscious idea of what I was constructing. The whole project had been hijacked by my own hidden memory for it own purposes of expressing itself into being.
I decided to invite Lilly to dinner on the night before we would leave for Orleans in order to show her my discoveries. I desperately wanted to see her reaction to make sure I was not deluding myself in wild fantasy and hallucination. I duly invited her to dinner on the following Sunday night.
Originally I had intended to cook at home but decided at the last minute against the idea as it would make far too much mess and work; the assignment and deadlines came first. This would be an emotional trip as we were heading for the epicentre of Jeanne dâ€™Arcâ€™s finest hour which would lead to her major influence on French culture and history for posterity; for it was the miraculous lifting of the English siege of Orleans in 1429 that raised her to the status of national superstar. The legend of la Pucelle â€“ the Maid started in Orleans.
I had an intuitive premonition that this for me would be an emotional journey, for my senses were beginning to home in on this past life with stunning clarity.
Lilly turned up on time at 19:30hrs sharp which surprised me as I had been used to her using her ladyâ€™s prerogative of being fashionably late. I invited her in for an aperitif which would be a civilised way to start the evening. â€œI have something to show you, Lilly!â€ I announced with dramatic flair as I popped the champagne cork and made her jump unexpectedly. The perfectly chilled champagne poured smoothly into the tall fluted glasses and turned a reddish purple colour as it mingled with the blackcurrant Cassis liqueur already in the bottom quarter of the elegant crystal vessel.
â€œMagnifique, Kir Royale! My favourite,â€ Lilly exclaimed with the adolescent excitement of a teenage school girl, â€œyou spoil me.â€
â€œOnly the best for my comrade-in-arms,â€ I responded in debonair fashion, â€œI have to look after my precious Fleur dâ€™Lilly!â€
I raised my glass in salute as did Lilly and we both stood eye to eye, â€œUn pour tous et tous pour un!â€ â€œOne for all and all for one,â€ Lilly repeated the toast joining in enthusiastically as we chinked glasses.
With that she sat back down on the settee and relaxed visibly. â€œWhat has Monsieur Baillieu to show me then?â€ She said with a giggle as the bubbles tickled her nose again and she fondly remembered the train journey.
â€œWell I was going to keep it until the end of the evening but seeing that you are interested and we have an early train to catch tomorrow I shall show you now!â€
With that I walked over to my lounge book case and drew out the slim hand illustrated volume rendered in fine watercolour and gold leaf, applied to a brown leather binding. â€œSee what you make of this my petite Fleur dâ€™Lilly!â€ I handed her the A4 sized antique looking tome with a flourish and sat back with my drink to observe her reactions. Lilly studied the cover intently. â€œItâ€™s beautiful Yann, quite exquisite; where did you buy this?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t. Itâ€™s all my own work,â€ I said modestly.
â€œYou made this!â€ Lillyâ€™s face lit up and her mouth opened wide in animated caricature fashion. â€œItâ€™s amazing, really, really beautiful; you are so talented.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so but it did become literally a labour of love as you will see.â€
Lilly examined the covers and studied the rich water coloured pictures of the principle characters interspersed with scenes from the medieval story told within its rich leather covers. The corners were bound in riveted brass so as to give it that medieval feel of authenticity. The Gothic script of the title was rendered in meticulous calligraphy and read, In the Shadow of the Dauphin; its hand embossed gold leaf shone in the flickering candle light of the room which gave the whole volume luxurious warmth.
â€œIt reminds me of Froissart in style,â€ Lilly said knowledgeably.
â€œPrecisely that was my intention but Froissart with a twist darling and it did get a little out of hand with my original simple concept as you will see!â€ I smiled gently and waited for Lillyâ€™s reaction.
I was not disappointed for as she opened the book Lilly let out a squeal of delight. â€œWow! Itâ€™s 3 dimensional; how totally amazing!â€
She then proceeded to lay the book out flat on the coffee table underneath the pendulum light in order to bring the pages into full illumination. As she did so up popped a scene of a medieval chateau set in rolling country side with a small boy playing with his falcon in the foreground.
â€œItâ€™s truly breathtaking, Yann,â€ Lilly held the book level with her eye and rotated it a whole 360 degrees to observe the fine detail. â€œAstonishing, the quality of the water colour illustration is worthy of an art gallery!â€
â€œGlad you like it, I have never shown anybody this; you are the first to see it. I painted it in 2004 for my amusement and relaxation.â€
Lilly read the story neatly written in medieval Gothic script while I continued to explain. â€œI made myself a quill pen, well several actually. Then I taught myself to write using them. Strangely I found it easy to do.â€
It had been a mystery to me as to how I could do that without training for I just seemed to know what to do. Now with my experiences in Metz I had a good idea as to why this was.
After Lilly had fully savoured the first two pages she turned slowly over to pages three and four. Her eyes grew wider as she absorbed the sheer detail of the armoured knights on horseback engaged in combat, banners flying, heraldic emblazoned shields and jupons colourfully arrayed which all combined to produce a rich feast for the eyes.
â€œIâ€™m speechless Yann, truly speechless!â€
â€œYou ainâ€™t seen nothing yet, try the animating levers then rotate it and open the door!â€
Lilly found that by pulling tabs the knights moved in combat and the horses reared up, then she rotated it 180 degrees and found that the scene had switched to a peaceful castle with a wooden door in an arched stone wall surrounded with flowers set in a garden enclosed by medieval crenulated walls. In the near distance towers and turrets shone in the painted sunlight.
Lillyâ€™s deft slender fingers opened the door and she immediately drew a breath and yelled. â€Mon Dieu! Itâ€™s the two figures on the door, even the pose is the same; itâ€™s the door from the museum in Metz! I donâ€™t believe it!â€
I laughed at her reaction, â€œthatâ€™s exactly how I felt.â€ I said with satisfaction and a certain feeling of vindication.
â€œBut, I donâ€™t understand, you said you made this five years ago?â€
â€œPrecisely it was literally a labour of love and just evolved from my subconscious. I had no idea why I was so obsessed with finishing it and then the unexpected twist of the love story. Turn to the last two pages, go on, go on!â€
Lilly turned to pages 5 and 6 and her eyes started to mist up with emotion, â€œitâ€™s beautiful, so sad.â€
She had been instantly moved by the content of the story that told of how the knight had lost his love to the Black Death and was left alone and desolate despite being successful in battle and life. He stood tearfully alone on the ramparts of his fort chateau.
Lilly sat staring at his face and reflected. â€œItâ€™s amazing, truly amazing. It is as if you have just made this after our trip to Metz, but you canâ€™t possibly have put this together in the short space of time since we have been back.â€
â€œExactly, you are a witness to that very fact Lilly, a very important witness. Did you notice the name of the battle depicted in the middle pages?â€
â€œNo, I was too absorbed in the detail of the heraldry to look at the writing on the page.â€
â€œHave a look again,â€ I said quietly.
Lilly turned the page and read, â€œPatay 1429, itâ€™s the battle that sealed the success of Jeanne dâ€™Arcâ€™s campaign and lifted the siege of Orleans!â€
â€œYes, precisely and where are we going in the morning?â€ I said with a smile.
â€œOrleans! Ah now I see your reason for showing me this tonight.â€
I poured Lilly another Kir Royale and she placed the open book reverently on the coffee table.
â€œNow I will show you the second part of the show!"
â€œWhat thereâ€™s more!?â€ Lilly sipped her aperitif and sat back up straight on the edge of the chair.
â€œYes, behold!â€ With the dramatic flourish of a stage magician pulling a rabbit out of a top hat, I reached under the table and produced a tray bearing a squad of miniature painted soldiers surrounding a knight on horseback bearing a red dragon banner.
Lilly looked intrigued and mystified. I waited for the penny to drop. I carefully stationed the caparisoned dragon knight with his faithful squad of men-at-arms one by one next to the book. The pendulum light illuminated the heraldry perfectly! Every man bore a shield or badge of the red dragon exactly the same as their liege Lord who displayed multiple copies on his jupon and horses trapper. He held aloft a banner with the same device on a field of pure sky blue.
Lilly still looked quizzically then suddenly spotted the connection as she consciously took in the heraldic significance of the assembled scene. Her eyes opened in disbelief!
â€œSacre bleu, non, itâ€™s the exact same red dragon motif! How, when, why?â€
â€œA long story mon petit Fleur dâ€™Lilly, but with a paint brush, 1982 and they are just eight figures from a collection of over 200 fantasy role playing miniatures from my gaming days.â€
I tried to be precise because I sensed that it was as if Lilly was scribbling the details down in her mental note book. As we sat finishing our drinks the church bell struck 20:00hrs.
â€œTime to eat! What perfect timing.â€ I announced as I stood up.
â€œYes, Iâ€™m hungry now after all that food for thought.â€ Lilly stood and placed her champagne glass on the table. â€œNotice Iâ€™m leaving the glass behind!â€ Lilly laughed again at the memory of our TGV trip.
â€œI know a nice little restaurant in La Madeleine not far from here. We can walk there no problem and the rest of the evening is yours to command my lady!â€ I bowed theatrically then helped Lilly on with her black cut jacket. â€œNice tailoring, very sci-fi!â€
â€œThank you. Yes, youâ€™re not the only alien in town!â€ Lilly laughed again but I detected a note of truth underneath her riposte.
â€œWell, you are a Dragon Princess those genes have to come from somewhere?â€ I grabbed my own black leather jacket and left everything exactly as it was.