((A Rose of Versailles Fanfiction))
I have no regrets, though I would gladly have traded places—no, lives—with you.
I know it must sound ridiculous to someone like you. Someone filled with such pride and that strange sense of freedom that only you were blessed enough to have. Perhaps you cursed your father for raising you as he did. Perhaps you were angry that you weren't entirely sure what your role in life was, what you ought to have been doing with the breath that God gave you.
Perhaps you might think me mad for saying such things when I had the king of France under my thumb. He was a good man, you know. There is no doubt in my mind that he cared for me just as much as I cared for him. I've had time to think about it. So much time… far too much time. You wouldn't understand. The time I've had, you weren't blessed with.
Being here, in this convent, awaiting my fate… has given me nothing but time itself.
Oscar… in those last few minutes, when you escorted the carriage carrying me away, I think I came to understand a little bit about you. I think I understood things about you that even you could not fully comprehend. Call it women's intuition, call it the obvious truth. Words are meaningless here.
You don't know how lucky you were to be a woman raised as a man. You don't know how lucky you were that you were born into a rich house. You can't possibly understand me, my goals, my life. I tried to explain it to you, that day, but did you know what I was talking about? Greed is a terrible thing. It consumes the soul and hurts the greedy more than it hurts the people the greedy one takes from.
But it's hard not to feel greedy when you're lying in a heap in a back alley, your stomach grumbling because you're twenty pounds underweight and you can't find the strength to do so much as move. And being like that, so vulnerable and scared and hungry for more than just food… it puts you in a bad spot.
I think you might understand a bit more, now, than you did that day. The French Revolution has begun. It's only too bad that you're missing it. Perhaps it's better that you do miss this, Oscar. Would it break your heart to see your beloved Queen of France treated in such a manner, thrown into prison, her children stolen from her? I can't be bitter any longer. Her fate is far worse than mine. She's committed far worse crimes than I ever did.
She's made her cake, she's baked it, and now she must eat it. She could have been a great leader, don't you think? She could have saved France. But France is nothing like it once was. Our queen tells us to eat cake when we are starving, she curtsies to the populace before she is forcefully taken from her castle… Do you suppose she wonders where she went wrong? Ah, what a sad state our France is in, now. If only we could go back to the fancy parties and the crystal chandeliers at Versailles Palace.
Those were the days I don't want to forget. Despite my troubles with little Marie Antoinette when she refused to acknowledge my presence because of what I, at one time, was, I can say that those days were certainly grand. I was a ruthless woman. I killed people to get what I wanted. I've killed for less than jewels or diamonds or a country. I've killed for a bite to eat. I've had to do it to stay alive.
Can you understand that, now? Now that you've seen the state France is in, now that you know more than your beautiful mansion's backyard and crisp ripe apples and hearty dinners? Now, my dear, you see how the world works, and what the back streets of Paris were really like while you fenced with your servant and argued with your father about wearing a military uniform. And before that, when you were laughing and rolling in the grass, as carefree as a butterfly who does not yet know its days are numbered, I was crying in a grungy part of town because I'd come to the realization that if I did not do the unthinkable, I would not be able to continue living.
It sounds tragic, doesn't it? It is, but the true tragedy is that there were many others like me. But it's really just something I've come to accept about myself. I made a choice, and I've lived my entire life with it. Not so different from the choices anyone else has made. Not so different from Antoinette's decision to carry on with that Swedish noble, or your father's decision to make you something you weren't.
But…despite what you or anyone else might think, it wasn't easy to make that choice. It was truly a horrid thing to, a terrible, vile act that I had never considered doing up until that point. It wasn't something I just went out one day and did. No, I thought about it and turned it over in my mind and let the tears fall as I worked up the courage to actually go out and sell my body. The one thing I still had, but wouldn't have much longer if I could not provide for it.
The first time was hard, Oscar. I would like to forget it more than anything, but I live with that choice and I think about it often. If I could go back, I would happily trade places with you, trade lives. Let you be the one to accept a piddly amount of money so that a filthy, greedy man could touch you in places you've never wanted to be touched by a stranger. In places that only your husband should touch you, if anyone. I would be happy to let you feel the pain because a man like that doesn't care about your comfort, about whether or not he hurts you, leaves you to bleed, leaves you broken and naked in a back alley, or if you're lucky, an abandoned building.
Let you think, in the back of your mind as he lies over you, nearly crushing your thin frame with his weight, that the money he's just given you is enough to eat for two full days. Let you feel excitement because two days means two days that you won't have to sell your body.
Do you want to try that, Oscar? Do you want to see what it was like to me be? Do you want slapped across the face so hard you can't see straight because you didn't lie completely still? Do you want to stumble to your feet after he leaves, ashamed of yourself but too hungry to dwell on it for long?
Imagine, then, how I felt when men of importance wanted me. Pride goeth before a fall, but I'm not too proud to admit that I slept my way to the top. What did it matter at that point, when I'd sold my body countless times before? At least the powerful men would give me whatever I wanted, would let me wear stunning dresses, would let me feel beautiful.
Why did you want to become a man, Oscar? That is something about you I'll never understand. As a woman raised a man, you had more freedom than any woman in Paris. You were allowed to do things that only I, the woman favored by the King got away with. And you, a mere girl at the time! You were granted an amazing job that women could only dream of having, and yet…you were one of us. You were not well-endowed, but you were beautiful, and everyone knew it. You were quite obviously a woman in men's clothing, lovely and dangerous and respected by men in a way most women can only hope to be.
But women still have the upper hand in so many ways.
I would have gladly have put that military uniform on to feel the freedom that you felt. To feel the wind rushing through my hair as I rode on the back of a horse doing something most women only dreamed of. Yes, I'd have traded you lives for that.
I would have welcomed your father's punishing slaps or punches to the face, I would have happily fallen down the stairs for him. Why? Are you truly as blind as your servant was? Despite how he treated you, despite his incompetence, he cared about you and provided for you. That first day you refused to wear the military uniform, he could have tossed you into the streets to become someone like me. But he didn't, did he?
Oh, Oscar… I hope that, in the end, you found your place in this world.
Even here, in this secluded place, I've heard of your treachery. Of how your father nearly killed you himself, of how your servant professed his love to you. It must have been nice to be loved, to feel loved, to experience love and understand it when you found it. Did I love His Majesty? I think that I did. But I'd spent so much of my life loving material things—because I knew I could count on them—that I can't be completely certain anymore.
I heard that Marie Antoinette pardoned you, that she gave you back your life. I think you know how lucky you were. I think you were foolish, but I can't say I wouldn't have done the same. I might have risen to the title of a countess, but deep down, I know I'm still that half-starved, dirty-faced child skulking in the back allies of France, hoping for a little coin for a piece of bread. I know that, if I were in your boots on that day, I would not be able to watch the only hope for the general populace die out. I would not want to be the cause of that.
What is death like, Oscar? Funny, isn't it, that you rid yourself of me so long ago, but here I am, living after you've already died?
To die to the sounds of gunfire, with the exploding cannons and the screams of the wounded and dying… To perish amid a shower of bullets because the enemy was desperate to take you from the fight because you were why they were succeeding… It would be very different from this place. Incredibly strange compared to the schling of the guillotine as it comes down.
Were you afraid of death, or did you welcome it with open arms? I've heard you're buried in Arras. I've heard that you were buried alongside your servant, the one that was pardoned when little Marie Antoinette was hurt horseback riding. Was that love that you felt for him? When he kissed you, was it warm and inviting? When he made love to you, was he gentle and considerate? Did he care about you, worry about you? Was he willing to follow you to the ends of the earth and back? If so, I envy you all the more.
I've heard that man became your husband. I've heard that many people cried over your death, that Marie Antoinette requests stories of you of day's long past from a woman who says she knew you well. I've heard that your grave is well-tended to, that people want to visit it every day, that your father spent three years mourning your death, that your mother wept bitterly at the news, that an old woman's cries shook the rafters only minutes before her heart gave out on her.
I don't know how much of that is true. How much of it really did happen. I'm still alive, waiting for my fate to come for me as yours did for you. But I won't go down some wonderful sort of heroine, as you did. I'm no Lady Mars, but oh, how I wish I could be. It won't be long before I die, and when I do, the guillotine will come down, and I will be alone.
No one will mourn my death, or even know of it.
My grave, if I'm lucky enough to be given one, will go untended and unmarked, another faceless, wordless section of green grass and brown earth.
Thinking of it makes me feel like that half-starved child, again. I'm not sad, but I think you can understand that much. I'm almost relieved that the end is drawing ever closer. This France is not what you or I, or even Marie Antoinette wanted. Perhaps, in time, it will become something that you can look down on and smile at. Perhaps this is my punishment, to see this France that you died before seeing. You deserved to die, then.
But I have no regrets. Do you remember, all those years ago, when I told you the same thing as you rode alongside my carriage? Why did you go with me? Was it because you pitied a prostitute, a king's mistress? Or was it because you were curious to know the truth? I suppose it could have been either of those things. Maybe you only wished to offer some sort of comfort to someone who was not worthy of it. Or perhaps… you thought me to be weak because I was a woman.
Women can be just as strong as men, though in different ways. I think you know that, now. We're all only human. We can die from illness, from a guillotine through our necks. We can be tempted by riches or a smile or a handsome or beautiful person. Do you see, now? Do you see that you had the best of both worlds? The freedom to do as you pleased, to hold a man's job and wear men's clothing while being a woman—a true, fierce, proud woman—at the same time?
Do you know, Oscar, why I would have traded you lives in a heartbeat? Why I would have gladly allowed myself to be entangled in the mess you found yourself in, why I would have welcomed a shower of bullets after the death of someone I loved?
I suppose it's too late for that, though. I'll wait for my silent punishment without regret, because a person like myself cannot feel it. I'll go back to becoming a nameless face in a crowd, though this time the hunger I felt all those years ago will be gone.
I'll go wordlessly to my unmarked grave, my name scribbled in a book that no one will bother to check, and I'll wait for God to hand me my real sentence. Perhaps he will forgive me, perhaps not. Am I sorry for what I've done? I'm sorry for a lot of things, Oscar. There are things I would do over if I could, but I can't, just as I can't regret most of the choices I've made.
But while I wait for the guillotine to come down, I'll think. I have time to do that, now. There is nothing but time in this quiet place. I'll imagine what you must have looked like as the bullets pierced through you, as you fell to the ground in shock, in pain, in relief that it was finally over. I'll wonder what love is like, and if I've ever felt it before.
I'll picture you, Oscar, as you must have looked before your death, proud and beautiful, astride a magnificent white horse, flowers in your hair and a meadow around you that stretches for miles and miles. Is that freedom, Oscar? Is death the only real freedom people like us will ever have?
If so, I welcome it with open arms, and if not, I have no regrets, though I would have gladly traded places—no, lives—with you.
I can't stop writing for this fandom, it seems. Though Oscar and André are by far my favorite two characters, and I would love to write about them until the sun burns out, I have been dying to write about Madame DuBarry for quite some time. She was a ruthless woman, but she was also very interesting…at least, I thought so.
The biggest reason I wanted to write about her was because I found it highly ironic that she was Oscar's and Antoinette's first big "problem" in the anime, at least, and despite all that, she outlives Oscar and André by four years. And though it's just mostly speculation on my part, I think DuBarry might have wanted the freedom Oscar was given, being a woman pretending to be a man. At that point in the anime, Oscar really doesn't understand yet how good she's actually got it.
Anyway, thanks for reading! Feedback is appreciated if you've got the time to give it!