JOAN OF ARC TAPESTRIES

 

For close to six hundred years, the world has been fascinated by the true story of Joan of Arc. Less well known is the fact that Joan's astounding destiny was predicted by ancient prophecies attributed to none other than Merlin himself. Or that Joan, later canonized by the Church as a saint, may have been a practitioner of an even older religion that revered the Earth as the Mother of all life, both physical and spiritual.

 

Three volumes have been published in English and one only in German.  I intend a whole bunch more, but--

Praise for The Merlin of St. Gilles' Well

 

"The Merlin of St. Gilles' Well is wonderful!. . . It's the best book I've read in months and months; a terrific premise, and so beautifully imagined and described, I can only gnash my teeth in envy. . . Every word is--literally--magic, evoking another world, an older time--and the echoes of the Old Ways that live on in us, unseen."

--Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series

 

 

Praise for The Merlin of St. Gilles' Well

 

From Booklist September 1, 1999:
* starred review--"Well-regarded historical novelist Chamberlin turns her pen to what is labeled fantasy by the publisher but is perhaps better described as 'magical historical realism.' For it is only fantasy if you don't believe in magic, and magic forms the bedrock upon which Chamberlin has built a marvelous recasting of the story of Joan of Arc in terms of ancient pagan beliefs in the power of kings to invigorate their lands. Brittany, with its residual Celtic heritage, figures prominently in the novel's settings, and philosophical questioning of dualistic thought is a strong theme brilliantly expressed in the book. Some sections, such as that detailing the decoding of the pagan subtext of superficially historical and Christian tapestries, could almost stand alone as academic works. But fear not, such scholarliness is not what Chamberlin depends on to keep us reading. Instead, those old reliables, smart pacing, complex and compelling characters, and, above all, a superbly realized magical world, in which extraordinary powers are wielded by Druidical hermits and inner vision is as true as outer vision, make the book compelling. A splendid beginning to what should become a classic series."    --Patricia Monaghan

 

An Excerpt from The Merlin of St. Gilles' Well:

 

Chapter One

Crimson Tangled with the Call of the Green

 

Fire girdles the wicker bars of the cage, wind-whipped ribbons of crimson and coquelicot twining in a woman's hair.

And pain like fire twines up my right arm from the fragile, broken framework of my three-year-old hand.

A mangy dog--or perhaps it is a misbegotten wolf--and a couple of cats are tethered within the burning frame.

The smell of burning fur and flesh clogs my lungs.

Pain writhes in my arm like the terrified animals in the cage.

And like their howls of agony, my arm screams to the night, the night thick with smoke and sparks and stars.

* * * * *

That is my first memory of this world, a swirling jumble of fire and heat and pain and choking smoke. For a very long time, I thought it must have been a nightmare, one of my "spells" that so worried my mother. Spells run in the males of her family.

When the fit is on me, I do have a hard time telling dream from reality, the edges of my own being from the vastness of creation. Things other men take as given seem not so straightforward--so black and white, good and evil--to me.

Fire is a friend to men, nestled cozily in the ashes of the hearth on a grey winter's day.

But fire can also be a terror, the wrath of God in the Judgement Day.

The hungry tongue of God lapping at sacrifice.

And what man would not avoid pain if he could?

Or what woman?

Yet even the Christians worship the way their Lord took on the pain of the world.

So pain is divine. Even the pain of a three-year-old boy given to fits.

* * * * *

I will wear those images to the grave with me in the red, puckered skin and shapeless, frozen twist of my right hand. But in fact, most of the events surrounding my memory of wicker in flames I know because they were told to my childhood ears, over and over. They were the whole explanation of the current circumstances of my life, a Genesis in which others--my mother, in particular--found cause for our present estate.

Although in our case, our state had actually been improved by the events. Improved in most aspects. At least, Mother always thought so.

Of course, as I have said, in fits I have the ability to turn the world on its head and see a rise as a fall.

For all the tale, no one ever spoke to me of anything resembling the swirling flames that were etched so starkly against the black night of my memory.

 

Praise for The Merlin of the Oak Wood

 

From Booklist
* starred review--"Chamberlin is making a familiar historical tale even more memorable in her retelling."

--Patricia Monaghan

 

From Publishers Weekly
"Chamberlin deserves an honorable place in the company of such writers as Twain, Shaw and Anouilh who have dramatized the life of the Maid of Orleans."

 

Declared best fantasy novel of the year by VOYA Magazine

An Excerpt from The Merlin of the Oak Wood:

"Jehannette, Jehannette. Daughter-God."

Her tiny, head-sized window rattled in its thick wooden frame as it took the first heavy drops of rain. The steep slope of the roof over her head seemed to funnel the blast straight at her.

"Jehannette. Rise. Fight."

She gasped with the effort of keeping prone.

And then, suddenly, it seemed she fell asleep, though how sleep could come through such tension and noisy confusion bewildered her. Besides, she'd never dreamed so vividly.

Still, as in dreams, she found herself unable to move. The force that had tried to lift her from the crackling straw of her mattress before, now pressed her into it. She could feel the network of ropes beneath the sack of straw etching itself into her back. The weight on her chest forbade her any breath but shallow little gasps. Something thicker than air infested her lungs, crawled through the shallow gulps of air. In a moment, she learned what it was as each breath coughed out a tiny white butterfly.

A dozen white butterflies, more, began to test their wings in the air about her head. She had no trouble seeing them in the dark, for their delicate white membranes glowed with their own deep sources of blue-white light. Flying together, they looked, in fact, exactly like the caul.

The mist of insects soon rose off her, taking, as it seemed, her breath and soul with them. They fluttered at the window and with their many eyes she was able to peer down into the back alley between her house and the neighbor's barn.

That was when she saw them. The fairies' cavalcade, the Good Neighbors, riding at a steady pace through the narrow pinch of road--coming toward her from the graveyard.

Catherine was the first she recognized. It was the honey-colored hair she knew and nothing else, for the curls grew out of the white bone of a death's head, grinning wildly like lips blown back against the wind. A withered chain of daisies crowned the hair still and her sister's shroud whipped around her like the very source of the storm.

But there were others in the hoard, many others, many she knew nothing of, some she remembered more vaguely of Domrémy's departed. Each rode swiftly--none touched the ground, she saw--mounted on some strange beast or other. Some rode pigs, some wolves. Catherine clung to a mane that was the tow of a spindle she'd always known how to harness so well in life. Some needed no more than the long bones of a beast as dead as themselves to reconjure swiftness. One rode a fire shovel, one the twisted, blasted branch of a tree, one old woman a broom. Some had even saddled the backs of children, human children. . . Their sound was the howl of the storm. . .

Then Jehannette saw through butterfly eyes that not all the crowd were dead. She'd missed them at first, the live ones, for their numbers were not great, six or seven, no more, in the press of hundreds. These carried torches to help their mortal eyes. The dead, of course, needed no such aid. The mortals were armed with fennel stalk, thick sheaves of it bundled together. Fennel was the smell of the night, that sweetness mixed with the pitch of the torches, the mustiness of the grave, and the sharp bite of the rain.

Jehannette couldn't recognize any of the mortals. Each was masked as some beast: this one a cow, this one wore the bushy tail of a fox. Here waved a goose's feather, here walked a sow, and they danced and squealed and grunted and gyrated like the creature they portrayed. But she thought she ought to know them. They must be her neighbors, the good folk of Domrémy. And some of nearby Greux had joined them, too, she was convinced, though not many. And who, she still didn't know.

Except the mortal in the lead. She'd missed him at first, but now she returned to that point again and saw him. And recognized at once the black hermit's robes beneath a crown of branching antlers. Père Michel led the cavalcade, torch streaming sparks behind him and, in the other hand, an iron whip.

The tiny window of her room never would have allowed Jehannette such a wide view of all the party, stretching as it did in a jostling, neighing, shrieking, laughing, clomping train from the fern-topped walls of the cemetery to her own front gate. It was this thought that made her realize the butterflies had pressed through the cracks in the window's thick wooden planks on her gasping breath. They swarmed now over the alleyway and showed her Père Michel striding up to her father's door. He pounded on it with the iron of his whip.

"Jehannette!" he cried. "Jehannette, come ride with us." Again he pounded. Her butterfly light rimed his black robes with silver. "Come fight. Our side needs you. Come!"

Jehannette tried to leap from her bed like a martinet after bugs, and yet, she couldn't move a muscle. There was only the flutter of butterfly wings.

She heard her father's growl, just through the plaster wall beyond her icy feet.

"Who's there at this hour on such a night?"

"It's I, Père Michel. The Horned One. I've come for Jehannette to do Night Battle with us, with all the good folk."

"My daughter doesn't fight."

Jehannette could see her father there, a small figure just struggling into his shirt, struggling for a light. He didn't open the door but peered out of the milky parchment in the window, trying to see something against the dark and the storm. She could tell he couldn't see the dead, he couldn't see his own daughter Catherine. He could see the priest only as a dark blur stuck with antlers. So they stood on either side of the door, the blur of black and the blur of white, offsetting one another.

"She was born with the caul," the dark figure said. "She is the one they call La Pucelle."

"Be off with you, madman."

"Let her decide for herself, Jacquot d'Arc. Jehannette," Père Michel cried against the rain and her father's curses, raising his branching head to where all the little butterflies fluttered on the roof above him.

"Off with you, cursed heathen, or I'll come at you with my pitchfork."

"Your arm and pitchfork would be welcome, too, Jacquot d'Arc, if you'd come."

"I'll see you rot in hell first, horned devil."

"And you the one with the pitchfork. Domrémy hasn't won a single Night Battle these eight or ten years. Our numbers are sorely depleted. We could use you. And your sons."

"You certainly shall not have my daughter. Over my dead body. Over hers, as I live."

Jehannette felt she must in fact be dead, her soul torn in two by the combatting forces that grabbed it by either end.

But then she saw a smile spread across the face Père Michel lifted upward to catch raindrops beneath a fringe of brown deer hide. Her father didn't see, but Père Michel did. He recognized her before she recognized herself, threaded through his antlers like a swarm of butterflies.
 

Praise for Gloria: The Merlin and the Saint

 

"Chamberlin resumes the Joan of Arc Tapestries. . . with La Pucelle now at center stage as a heavenly, or perhaps diabolical, gender-bending vision-figure who straddles the line between witchcraft and mystic Christianity. Well told and full of magic and romance. . ."

-- Patricia Monaghan, Booklist

An Excerpt from Gloria: The Merlin and the Saint

In blackness, my mind clung to one word. A name. Charles. In Blois. He must come here. I must bring him. Halfway over the smooth, grey Loire, I opened my eyes. I blinked towards the sun as it sank to a keener angle. Across the blinding brilliance, a shadow cut like the blade of a knife, dropping.

The merlin falcon.

This bird was not escaped from some mews, not he. This was my namesake.

Or I was his.

His brown wings arced, taut with the force of his slowing flight, slowing enough to snatch at the barge's railing beside my left, my power hand. With great dignity, once he'd landed, he mantled his wings over his back, fluffed the feathers of his reddish breast a little, and regarded me with one cold, hard black eye.

I began with that eye, trying to give my own the same opaque, obsidian quality. The transformation came quickly, tiny feathers circling my sight. A rush, as of a great wind, filled my ears.

No matter how many times one has entered the animal kingdom, the irruption never fails to awe, to overwhelm. My vision slammed into a sudden, almost terrifying clarity. What had seemed merely a blur of low rushes and growing weeds upon the far bank was now alive with nesting ducks, a dozing family of weasels, a wading heron.

I breathed the air in that direction with interest, through nostrils set in stiff membrane rather than my normal soft flesh. I opened my mouth and hissed.

Quickly now, I sent my soul in to fill the rest of the offered body, for the falcon knew his world as well as ours was threatened without La Pucelle, without the full coven. I occupied the great, empty orbits of the skull, pushed my way into the hollow bones, lighter than air, where there was always plenty of space. I felt the muffle of feathers overlapping all my flesh.

"Hey, be off now," the bargemen cried, and made threatening gestures in my direction. Calmly as they'd accepted a boatload of motley folk--witches to any one with half a sense--this bird on their craft was an omen with which they could not sit easily.

The moment I felt my feet in horny talons, I spread my wings and let loose the rail. Smooth, grey water shot below me, but by the time I reached the nesting ducks on the Orleans shore, I'd caught a warm updraft and was soaring high.