Say It's Possible
Dedication: This long, long 'fic goes out to the following people: Xirysa, Loulou.k, Kasia.T, YugiTheOtherWhiteMeat, Qieru, ROV, Nadiyah, Nona, Jen Jen, Bradamante, Nant, Happii, Glottal, The Daughter of de Jarjayes, WhiteTigerLilly, Sara Jaye, Lady Aone, and LunaScorpio. (And of course, to all of the others who have been nothing but encouraging to me as I sometimes struggled to write this.) This is for you guys. For those that love the story of Rose of Versailles almost as much, if not more, than I do.
I Want to Break Free
The hard marble hit the side of her face, and as she tumbled down the stairs, finally coming to a halt five steps from the first landing, she wondered what it was she had said. It wasn't that the impact didn't hurt, because it most certainly did; she could feel her body aching where she knew it would bruise later. Her mind was elsewhere, though, still back in her father's study with that ridiculous military uniform.
Quickly, she got to her hands and knees and made an attempt to catch her breath. She could hear her father's loud breathing from the top of the flight of stairs as he did the same; it was good to know that she was not the only one.
She stood as soon as she was able and wiped at the corner of her mouth, feeling something wet there. Maybe it was blood, maybe it was something else. She didn't know, didn't care; she just wanted to get out of there and away from all of the eyes—the staring, prying, accusing eyes.
"Excuse me." It was the polite thing to say, but not in the tone she said it in. She always struggled with being nice when she was angry, even to her own father. A reply from him wasn't something she was going to wait for, and she turned on her heels and started down the stairs, taking them slowly, one at a time.
Running was not an option. She wasn't running away from anything. Only a coward ran from a problem. She would keep her head up, she would walk calmly, and her father would hopefully not notice that her insides were churning violently. His voice followed her, though, and no matter how hard she tried to tune him out, she couldn't.
"Oscar! The match is at noon tomorrow!"
She walked away. It was usually the best thing she could do. The older she got, the worse her temper got, and the more she wanted to shout back even though she knew better. If she talked back to him, it would make him angrier. If she talked back to him in the presence of most of his staff, it would probably be the worst decision of her life.
One didn't make General de Jarjayes angry without a very good reason.
She narrowed her eyes, glaring at her goal—the door—as she made her way to the first landing.
"Keep in mind that His Majesty is coming!"
The king of France, coming to a stupid fencing match? Surely he had better things to do! After what seemed like an eternity, she made it to the floor. Her father said nothing more to her, but his words echoed in the back of her mind as she saw her nanny and her childhood friend, André, standing close to her.
Her heart sank into her chest. She really hated for Nanny to see things like that… The older woman had tried to defend her in the past, but even tears did not move the ever-proud General de Jarjayes. Oscar had gotten every ounce of stubbornness in her bones from him, and she knew it. Perhaps it was because they were so alike that they did not get along, but she doubted it.
She tried not to look at the horrified expression on the old woman's face. It would only make her feel guilty because it was she herself that had put it there. And André…she didn't even want to see his expression. His hand was almost stretched out toward her, as if he thought maybe he could pull her away from whatever problem it was that she was being forced to face.
But she didn't need his help; she didn't need anyone's help. After all, what good would they do when it all came down to it? She loved André and his grandmother dearly, but…
This little disagreement between her and her father was her own; they had nothing to do with it.
Lost in her thoughts as she was, she paused beside them on the way out of the door. Damn it, damn it all! She hurried away before she could let them interfere to try and help her, Nanny's voice calling her name after her.
The sunset was beautiful, but the air was chilly. Oscar didn't seem to notice as she stood on a little knoll of fresh spring grass watching the oranges and yellows spread across the sky. She supposed that the day had been lovely up until her father had returned from Versailles, and apparently, a meeting with King Louis XV. Suddenly, the day had seemed a little less…nice.
She was glad she hadn't gone to Versailles, though. The last thing she wanted was her father breathing down her neck with that proud look on his face—the closest the man ever came to smiling—that told her that he knew she'd be something great and wonderful some day.
Oh, so she wasn't already good enough? Marie Antoinette… Some silly little girl who was admittedly older than her—by a little over a month—but who probably didn't know the first thing about anything. The King had confidence that she could guard the soon-to-be Crown Princess elegantly and exquisitely?
What was the Royal Guard, then? A bunch of frou-frou, that's what, she decided, glaring back at the sun. She'd gone her entire life thinking she was going to be some kind of military commander of the Royal Guard, only to find out that they only wanted her because of how she looked? Oh, so she made a dashing man, did she? And that was all that mattered?
She was good with a sword, and she'd read book after book on military tactics. She knew how to behave in court—as a man—and she knew etiquette and proper mannerisms. She knew that if she took on an assignment in the military, she would do her best to do it right; failure was never an option. Duty came first. It always did to the Jarjayes family.
But the king… he didn't know any of that. From the way her father was talking, he wanted her to best this Girodelle man to take the spot. Well, she didn't want it! If Girodelle wanted it, he could have it for all she cared. What kind of a man would want a decorative spot in the military, anyway?
For all the king knew, they could both be worthless with a sword, their reputations only talked up by their esteemed fathers. A winner, a loser…it didn't determine one's worth with a sword or whether they deserved a spot guarding Marie Antoinette. Did it really decide anything at all?
Annoyance clouded her vision. Just because she might happen to beat Girodelle didn't mean she deserved a spot in the military at all, let alone a commanding position. After all, she had no experience to fall back on. Would the men even listen to her, the young man rumored to be a woman in disguise?
She spat on the ground, a brief flash of a memory trailing across her mind of André teaching her to do that shortly after his arrival at the Jarjayes mansion. Well, she would duel Girodelle all right…whoever he was. But it wouldn't be for a stupid commanding job at the front of the frou-frou parade. No, she was going to best him just to prove to herself—because that was the only person she needed to prove anything to—that she would be the better candidate for the job.
Elegance had nothing to do with skill. Did they think she was going to dress in some prissy uniform and stand in Versailles to look pretty? Hardly! Nanny always told her she was beautiful when it was only the two of them, and sometimes she managed to accept the compliment, but she hardly felt that way about herself, and she was sure that her father didn't, either. A beautiful person did not make a good soldier, necessarily. Of course, she brushed her hair and stayed clean, but… She never went to an extreme to try and look or feel good about herself.
Wasn't learning fencing more important? Wasn't keeping her skills with a bow and arrow or gun more important? This Girodelle might be a perfectly good candidate for commander, she told herself, but if he wanted to be in charge of a bunch of prissy aristocrats who were only there because if they didn't, their families would disown them, then he could just be looking for a well-paying, easy job.
Not that she could blame him. Oh, but she didn't know. How could she know? She'd never met the man, had perhaps heard of him once or twice, but nothing that she could recall off of the top of her head…
She would find out. She had to. She didn't want the stupid job, but she sure as hell wanted to fight him. Would she win? She certainly hoped so, but the reality was that there was a chance she wouldn't. However, unlike most noblemen, she had grown up fencing nearly every day with André, and even though her older friend usually lost against her, the practice had done her good. While others spent more time studying things like manners for hours on end, and how to court a lady, she skipped right around all of that stuff—relaying what she did hear to André, for amusement's sake—and fenced instead.
If she did win, she didn't want it to be in public, in front of the king of France… He would most likely press her to accept the position of commander, and she didn't think she could bear to hear him tell her what an exquisite officer she'd make. She didn't want to blow her top, so to speak, in front of him, or in front of her father's friends or the noblewomen who were only there to try and figure out if that supposedly dashing blonde with the sword was a man or a woman.
The sun dipped below the horizon, and she turned away from it. Those noblemen and women could wait and wait and wait, she thought, but she wasn't going to show herself, and if she had any say in the matter, Girodelle wasn't going to, either. At least, not as a winner.
Perhaps afterward, they could gawk at a game of jeu de paume between two handsome young aristocrats, and they could forget about things that didn't even concern them. After all, the men wanted to watch a rousing fencing match, and the women wanted to watch the men. It really was a big waste of everyone's time.
He saw the surprise flicker across her face when she looked up and noticed him standing only a few yards behind her, leaning against a tree. He didn't know what to do or say, really, but after what he had seen earlier, he had a feeling that it couldn't hurt to try. Of course, it would help if he knew what was going on, exactly, but perhaps Oscar could answer that question for him…without the danger of being pushed down the stairs.
It wasn't that he couldn't believe that the general had pushed his youngest child down the stairs, but really… he couldn't believe it! Obviously, the man was very angry. He wondered what Oscar could have said to him to upset him so much. It had to be important, at least to either the general or to Oscar.
"André," she said, sounding almost breathless. He wondered if he had startled her more than she allowed him to see.
He nodded. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Her words came so fast that they nearly cut his off, and she walked right up to him and tilted her head to look at him. "What do you want?"
"I just wanted to see if you were…" He trailed off and stared at a smear of blood at the corner of her mouth. He pointed in its general direction, "You've got…"
She wiped at it with the edge of her sleeve, and he thanked God that she did because the urge to do so himself was almost irresistible. She probably wouldn't have appreciated such a gesture from him, anyway.
"It's gone, now," he told her, and seemed to forget to speak for a few long moments. He could tell that she had a lot of things on her mind, and none of them were good. "Uh… So…"
He could have slapped himself for sounding like such an idiot, but how did one approach a subject like that?
"Stop beating around the bush, André."
Obviously by not beating around the bush. He sighed and scratched the back of his neck where his hair was pulled back into a ponytail. "You have a match tomorrow?" Well, he thought, it was better than asking her why her father threw her down the stairs.
"Yes." She continued to stare straight at him; it was making him nervous. "Some man named Girodelle or something. He wants the position of Royal Guard Commander. The same one my father thinks I should have." She snorted, but he was still mulling over the name of the man she had mentioned to notice.
"Girodelle?" he asked. "Captain Girodelle?"
"I guess? You've heard of him?"
"A little." He blinked and tried to recall what little he knew about the man. "Captain Girodelle's a captain… Uh…" Sometimes he wished he wasn't such an idiot, and other times, he just wished he didn't make himself look like one, especially in front of Oscar. Laughing nervously, he continued, finding it difficult to keep looking her in the eye, "Of course he's a captain… He's probably four or five years older than me…"
"Do you know if he's good with a sword?" She was getting irritated and impatient.
He knew apologizing would do no good. "A-ah… A few of the maids have talked about him, and they think so…"
"Half of them are still convinced that I am a man, so what do they know?" She seemed to shrug and then started to walk in the direction of the house. After some hesitation, he followed.
"So they want you and Girodelle to have a fencing match to decide who should get the position of commander?"
"You'll win, Oscar." His words were meant to be encouraging, but they didn't seem to have the desired effect.
"And if I do?"
"You'll be a commander of the Royal Guards…"
"Wrong." She stopped walking long enough to enable him to catch up to her, and then continued again at a slower pace. "Tomorrow morning, André, wake me up early. I want to practice."
"Of course I will," he said, knowing there was more to it than just that. He wanted to ask her what else she could possibly have in mind, but his courage fled before he could form the question.
Well, if that was all of the information that he would get from her, there was nothing he could do about it but accept it. She didn't seem to be in a particularly good mood, but he didn't know why. Hadn't she always wanted to be in the royal guard? Being promoted to a commander was a great accomplishment… So why didn't she seem happy about it?
He would have to ask her later. Maybe in the morning, after she could get a good night's sleep and he could think about how to go about asking her why accomplishing her dream did not make her happy.
I want to break free,
I want to break free,
I want to break free from your lies,
You're so self-satisfied; I don't need you.
I've got to break free,
God knows I want to break free.
"I Want to Break Free" –Queen
First, thank you for reading!
Jeu de paume is tennis. Not the lawn tennis we know and see most often today, but the original game of tennis played by aristocrats many years ago.
I'll be putting slightly more detailed notes in my journal, which you may comment on if you so desire.
This story is 88,000 words long at the moment. Feedback is appreciated, but I want to stress that it's also necessary. I must thank my very faithful reviewers—Kasia.T, Xirysa, Loulou.k, and WhiteTigerLilly—for their continual support. If this 'fic is for anyone especially, it's the four of you that are constantly behind me, encouraging me, and telling me what you think. I need that. It's that feedback that gives me the push to keep writing even when I'm tired or in (physical) pain. This story isn't finished. 88,000 words is only the tip of the iceberg. I need your thoughts, opinions, criticisms and observations, and believe me, I'd love to hear them. They'll motivate me not only to write more Rose of Versailles 'fics in general, but they'll also encourage me to finish this epic-length story that I know deserves a good, solid conclusion.
Until next time!