Say It's Possible
Just Around the Riverbend
Waiting for the two men on horseback to draw closer to her seemed to take forever. Could they go any slower? She could tell that they were conversing, but she couldn't hear their conversation, and to be honest, she really didn't want to. From a distance, it was hard to tell anything in particular about the man in the military uniform. His hair was a light brown, long, wavy… He seemed elegant. It didn't really bother her much to come to that realization—after all, Louis XV wanted an "elegant" guard, did he not?
He would certainly get it.
While she waited impatiently—though she put on the appearance of being completely calm and patient—she watched the ground by her feet. It took everything in her not to smirk when she heard his horse come to a halt right in front of her.
When she opened her eyes, she noticed the almost confused look on his face, and, well, his servant looked even more baffled. That was just fine with her. She looked right up at the supposed captain, "I was waiting for you, Captain Girodelle." He seemed… She couldn't tell. Indifferent? Bored? Perhaps annoyed that someone dared to slow him down on his way to Versailles… "I am Oscar François de Jarjayes."
His eyes widened in recognition; she could see the grayish-green tint from where she stood. He wasn't a bad-looking man, she thought, but the moment he opened his mouth, she decided that she didn't really care for him.
"Oh, I've heard rumors, but you are indeed beautiful!"
Beautiful? Ugh! He didn't know what he was talking about, did he? He was just like everyone else in Versailles! Just like them! She felt irritation sweep through her belly at his casual words. She looked back down toward the ground before she could say or do something stupid.
"Let's hurry up, then," he continued. "Those snobs are waiting eagerly to see your face."
Like she didn't know that. It was what irked her more than the fact that she had been ordered to compete in a fencing match against Girodelle. The people that attended weren't there because they cared about who took the position of Royal Guard Commander. They were there because they wanted to see her thanks to some stupid rumor. They just wanted to see this supposedly mysterious Oscar…who never showed up to court even with her father, who may or may not be a man, but who certainly wore men's clothing and looked enough like a man to pass for one.
It really made her sick.
He clucked lightly and his horse started to move forward, but there was no way that she was going to let him go to Versailles without letting her prove her worth to herself.
She didn't wait for a reply from him, but she had a feeling that she had his attention. "…I don't wish to be a commander of the royal guards."
"Oh? Is that so?" He almost sounded excited about it, and she couldn't really blame him. That meant that he wouldn't have to fight for a higher position; it would just fall neatly into his lap. "That's very wise of you."
Her eyebrows lowered as she felt anger move in. What did he mean it was wise? How was it wise of her? Did he think she was too young? Did he think she didn't deserve a place in the military because she was a woman?
"I'll let them know that Oscar de Jarjayes has declined, then."
She looked up. "I'm not running away because I'm afraid of you." He threw her a confused, completely clueless look, so she half-smirked and looked almost the other direction, letting her eyes close. "I'd like to prove that to you at least…" Her words sounded confident, and that was exactly what she wanted.
He seemed to understand. "Having a match here?"
For a millisecond, she was excited. Would it really be so easy to get him to agree to fight her? But then he laughed heartily, as if he thought what she had said was hysterical.
"Did you hear that!"
He was still laughing when his servant leaned over his horse, a grin on his pudgy face, "Please don't, Mademoiselle Oscar!"
Mademoiselle! Nobody called her that! Don't what?! What was so wrong with asking for a match away from the prying, gossiping eyes of Versailles? What did it matter if they fought in front of a crowd or in front of a tree? She didn't want the stupid position, it wasn't like she would come asking for it after telling him she didn't want it!
But no matter how angry she got, she couldn't lose her cool… She glanced up at Captain Girodelle again, trying to formulate a plan in her mind to get him to agree to a match with her.
"If you haven't figured it out yet, let me add one more thing." She wasn't really sure of what she was going to say before she said it, but she remembered what André had suggested to her. Insult the man! She probably would have thought of doing so on her own, of course, but now she had no other choice. He seemed to find her amusing. "I don't want to put you to shame in front of the crowd!"
It worked perfectly. She could see the way his shoulders stiffened at her words, as if he had taken it exactly as she intended it—an insult. After all, why would she put him to shame in front of the crowd and then refuse the position? If she did… If she did, it would make him look bad, but it would certainly make Louis XV want her as the royal guard commander even more!
By challenging him to a match where no one would see him lose, though, he would not be publicly embarrassed and she would not feel obligated to take a job she didn't want.
It probably wouldn't be enough to convince him. After all, the man had said she was beautiful… She felt strange thinking such things. Her parents had called her sisters beautiful. Not her, never her. It was so odd to think that someone she didn't even know might think such a thing.
She could tell that Girodelle was trying to keep his cool, and she smiled. "Or are you afraid of losing to a woman?"
After some hesitation, he dismounted. "If you wish, I'm willing to play with you."
Play? Did he think this was some kind of a game?! Was that how he felt about the position of commander? It was just a game to him? A game that would give him a higher salary and a better pension? Her right hand tightened around the hilt of her sword.
He smirked, though perhaps it was a smile. She couldn't tell. His words were so arrogant they made her sick to her stomach. "But…how could I possibly point a sword at your beautiful face?"
If it had been André, she'd have smacked him upside the head for saying such a thing—not just once, but several times—but it wasn't him, so the only thing that she could possibly do was make sure that he did not continue his life thinking her to be some kind of a joke.
Age, height, gender… It didn't matter in a swordfight. What mattered was skill, and she was confident that she had enough of that to defeat this arrogant man standing in front of her. For his words, he found her sword pointed at his own beautiful face.
After all, she thought vaguely, glaring defiantly at him, he had a face that was more attractive than her own.
His shocked expression and the way his hand accidentally bumped his horse's flank, sending it running off, was more than worth it. He probably hadn't even seen her move closer to him… His eyes had been closed, after all.
Now she had his full attention. "Please! I may be a woman, but I am a warrior!" Admitting such a thing was something she rarely did. She didn't like the way people looked at her when they found out she wasn't really a man. Suddenly, she wasn't good with swords or Latin; when a person found out she was a woman in men's clothing, they thought she was a cute, though surely immature girl who was playing some kind of a silly game. Well, if it was a game, it was one her father had picked out for her, and she had played it her entire life! "This is the only way to protect my honor!"
Honor was important to the de Jarjayes. And by not showing up to the match, surely she would destroy her own…but she could protect it, at least to herself and to Girodelle. And possibly even to André, who was most likely watching, worrying about her needlessly as always.
"I see. I'll fight with you."
She could have laughed in relief. The man was a little arrogant, but at least he understood something about honor. She lowered her sword, and within moments, he was on the offensive. She wasn't surprised, and parried his blows with relative accuracy. It wasn't easy to dodge and move out of his way, but it wasn't difficult, either. He was much taller than her, and he had a lot more power behind his blows than she did.
All she had to do was wait for the perfect opportunity to strike…
He pulled back for a moment to comment on her agility, but she made no move to acknowledge his words. Of course she was agile! She was thin, much shorter than him, and she wasn't hampered down by a ridiculously decorative military uniform.
She stayed on the defensive until he pulled back and swung downward with a blow that, if it managed to hit her, would have dug deep into her shoulder. One step to the left, though, put her out of range, and she swung her sword upward at his chest, cutting through the fabric of his uniform.
With a sense of satisfaction, she pointed her sword—and the lovely little souvenir it had taken from his clothes—at his face. He looked taken aback, almost like he couldn't believe that he had lost to her!
She pulled her sword back and did her best not to smile too widely. "Thank you. I'm satisfied, now." She made to walk away, but she hardly started to turn before his eyes widened and his eyebrows lowered in anger.
"W-Wait!" He took a step forward, "It has only begun!" And before she knew it, he was on the offensive again, despite the wound that she had most likely given him. She could have sworn that he wasn't using his real strength the first time, because his blows were so strong it made her arm ache just to parry them with her sword. He probably hadn't been taking her seriously, assuming that just because King Louis XV wanted an elegant guard, that only beautiful decorations would be suggested for the role of Commander.
After less than a minute, though, she managed to swing upward the moment he seemed to lose his guard, and his sword went spinning into the air. Oh, how she loved using that trick on people… Usually André received the embarrassment of losing his grip on his sword, but now… Now…
Oh, it was worth practicing that technique over and over and over again. He stared at his sword in shock as it came plunging toward the earth, landing hilt-up in the dirt just behind him. A victory for her! She would have to remember to thank André for letting her practice with him so often.
She sheathed her sword and tried in vain to hold back a triumphant smile. She hadn't been worried that she would lose, really… Though she couldn't lie to herself—that first strike of his after she had thought she'd won… It had been a little frightening. After all, Captain Girodelle wasn't André. She was certain that her childhood friend tried his best, but he was only fourteen and he didn't always use his physical strength to his full advantage.
Girodelle, on the other hand, had no reason to hold back since their match was far more than a little practice spar between friends. It was like fighting her father, she thought wryly, only easier.
"Thank you for the match," she told him, inclining her head slightly.
He was silent for a long moment before he turned around and pulled his sword from the ground; he wiped the dirt off of the blade before slowly sheathing it. "Monsieur, Mademoiselle… Whatever you want to go by…" He paused and shifted his weight to his other foot. "By all rights, you have won." Hesitantly, he added, "Twice."
"Take your position, Monsieur," she said sharply. "I do not want it." She turned around abruptly and freed her mare from the tree branch that her reins were tied to.
"Why don't you want it?" He stepped closer to her, and she swung into the saddle, almost feeling intimidated. She wasn't afraid of this Girodelle—she had beaten him soundly, after all—but it was almost like speaking to her father. No matter how she tried to explain it, she doubted he could possibly understand.
She looked away from him, in the direction she knew André was. Her friend was probably wondering what was taking her so long. She was never one who liked to chitchat with other nobles, preferring the more intense, exciting conversations of the gardeners or stable hands instead.
She wanted to say that it was complicated, that he wouldn't understand even if she spent an hour explaining it to him, that she just didn't want it, and wasn't that a good enough explanation?
Her voice was dry, lacking both humor and emotion, "I have no desire to be an ornamental doll of the court."
He opened his mouth to speak, but she didn't want to hear it. Not his excuses, not any more questions. Really, she'd heard more than enough for one day.
"Good day, Monsieur."
Without so much as a glance over her shoulder at him, she kicked her mare forward and headed for the tree she remembered leaving André under. It was just out of sight, and to be perfectly honest with herself, it felt as if it took far too long to get there.
"You did great, Oscar," André said when she made her way back to him. His eyes roved over her body critically, and she glared at him.
"Cut that out, I'm fine. Completely unscathed, even."
He smiled in relief. "He was a pushover, then?"
"Hardly." She snorted and motioned for him to get up. "He certainly sounded like one, though. Calling me beautiful and saying he couldn't possibly point a sword at my face. Hah!" She glared at her hands; they were fisted tightly around Lena's reins. "I wanted to deck him right in that pretty face of his…"
He grinned, and she could tell by his expression that it was at least half amusement. "I'm glad you didn't, Oscar."
"Why? You don't think I could best him in a fistfight, too?"
"Well, it's not that…"
His voice suddenly almost changed, that sometimes-unnoticeable squeak that came out when he was nervous appearing briefly. His voice was still changing—something she was almost jealous of because not only was he a man, he would sound like one, too—and though it had changed almost completely, sometimes it still liked to act up against him. She smiled at his quiet embarrassment and shrugged.
Could she beat Girodelle in a fistfight? She wanted to believe that she could. One of her hands untangled itself from Lena's reins and brushed lightly against a bruise on her hipbone. Out of all the scrapes and such she had gotten from her tumble down the stairs, it was by far the worst. She ate well enough, but she was still very thin, and she hated how her hipbones stuck out. No doubt that was how her right one had managed to get blackish-green. The stupid thing.
The way her father had so casually tossed her down the stairs hurt. Not physically so much as mentally. Well, if she had known he would kick up such a fuss, she'd have just said she wouldn't wear the uniform. Why did she have to say guarding Marie Antoinette was babysitting?
Well, because it was.
But he had just dragged her out there by the front of her shirt or her cravat—she couldn't quite remember which—and tossed her down that first flight of steps. It was almost like to him, she weighed nothing. She wondered for a brief moment if Girodelle could do something like that. What about André?
No, definitely not André! She almost laughed at the thought. André was strong—there was absolutely no doubt about it—but she just couldn't even imagine him doing something like that. And Girodelle… Well, André was built better than he and still growing, so there was just no way that Girodelle would have that kind of strength. He didn't lift bales of hay or pitch manure.
"I could probably beat him," she said smugly. "He had a lot of physical power behind most of his sword swings, but probably only because I made him angry. I'll bet I'd have an advantage fighting him with my fists. After all, he probably couldn't even lift a bale of hay."
André mounted his horse and chuckled. "Oscar, you probably weigh less than a bale of hay. I still remember when…"
"Enough, enough! Don't bring that up!" Her face was burning red.
He only grinned wider. "I'm not allowed to talk about anything, am I?"
"Not when it involves public humiliation, no." After a short while, she managed to compose herself and lightly kicked Lena's sides, starting off ahead of André at a fast walk. "Let's get home. I'm sure Father has a thing or two to say to me."
Oscar was in a slightly better mood after defeating Girodelle. Was that what had been bothering her, he wondered? Or was it something more? It had to be more… There was absolutely no way that she would get so worked up over a fencing match, especially one so easily won.
She couldn't still be sour over being considered beautiful… It was just… That was ridiculous! Despite her better mood, she seemed unsettled for the duration of their ride back to the Jarjayes estate. He couldn't blame her for feeling so conflicted about everything, but at least she seemed to be sticking with what she felt was right. Or at least, what she wanted to do.
She said no uniform, and so far…she had not shown even the slightest indication that she would do so much as think about putting it on. It just made him sick to think that General de Jarjayes had thrown Oscar down the stairs for telling him that she would not wear it. He was certain that there was something she wasn't telling him, possibly more than one thing.
"Oscar, are you okay?"
"Huh?" She blinked in confusion and turned to look at him. "What?"
"You were staring off into space," he told her, removing her horse's saddle before taking it to the tack room to put away. "And you're looking a bit pale, too."
"I always look this way."
It was one of her automatic retorts, but he knew better. He hadn't spent nearly every day of his life with Oscar only to find himself unable to tell when something was different about her. She was definitely pale, and when he squinted, he could see that she was chewing absent-mindedly at her lower lip.
"No you don't."
She ignored him and continued to stare off into space, rolling her lip between her teeth. She looked really… It was hard to describe, he thought. Cute? He couldn't possibly say that to her, though! She would hit him in the back of the head so hard she'd probably knock him out.
"What's wrong, Oscar?" She didn't answer him, but when he returned after hanging Lena's bridle in its special spot in the tack room, he tried again. "Oscar, what's the matter?"
She whirled around to face him, her expression a mixture of a lot of negative emotions. Right off the top of his head he saw fear and anger. "Nothing, okay? Nothing!" She waved her arms a little bit for emphasis and turned away from him. "There is nothing wrong."
Her words were not convincing, but he didn't know if she knew that. He would play along for the time being, he decided, and lifted his own horse's saddle to put it away. On his way back to Chevis to remove his bridle, he noticed that Oscar was still chewing on her lip.
Just as he reached up to take the metal bit out of his horse's mouth, one of the barn doors slammed open. He knew who it was standing in the doorway—he didn't even have to look. Automatically, his gaze went to his childhood friend. That was the fear, he thought, remembering what he had seen only minutes beforehand, partially hidden in Oscar's expression.
She had expected a firm talking-to, but perhaps… Perhaps she had realized that words would most likely not be the only things coming from her father.
He didn't see the general step closer to her, but he heard the sound of the man's boots tapping angrily against the cobblestone floor of the stables, and he saw Oscar steel her eyes just moments before her father came to stand in front of her.
She expected something. He could tell that she did. She looked so wary that it was almost disturbing to him. She was on her guard, but she didn't expect the palm of her father's hand to land squarely across the left side of her face. She tried to brace herself, he thought, but it didn't work, and another blow across the right side of her face sent her to the stable floor.
Chevis reared in distress, and he tried to calm the horse in vain, far more concerned for his friend's well being. His heart was thudding in his chest nervously; he hated seeing things happen to Oscar. He hated it. Hated it. But after seeing it enough, after seeing her father's disregard for who was watching when he hit her, seeing him order her to his study so that he could do so where people could hear it—which was almost as bad—he almost felt like he could understand her and the way that she was.
It still didn't keep his chest from aching every time it happened. It didn't keep him from wanting to reach out to her, though he wasn't sure what he would do if he could. Hold her, maybe? He doubted she would appreciate it. Something…he just wanted to do something.
When he was the stupid silent stable boy in the background holding a horse's reins while his friend was smacked practically senseless, he felt so helpless.
She almost didn't catch herself with her left arm before her father's loud voice shook the rafters—or perhaps it was only the horrific thud of his heart that he was hearing.
Chevis snorted and stomped nervously as Oscar managed to get to a kneeling position and looked up at her father. André desperately wanted to see her face, to see if she was really okay. But he knew that if he saw that false, almost defiant look in her eyes that she gave to her father to try and appear brave, it would break his heart.
"What's wrong with you?!" the general was shouting, but Oscar did not so much as flinch. "Don't you understand your father's concerns?!"
He knew he could not interfere, though he sorely wanted to. Oscar had learned long ago to remain silent when her father was on one of his angry tirades, and André had, too, though mostly by seeing what had happened to her. He shuddered to remember it, and the many nightmares he had awakened to for nigh upon a year after his first time seeing such a thing.
He just…he didn't like Oscar being treated like that! Long ago it had stopped mattering if he saw it or not, because he knew when it happened. He could always tell when she had been yelled at, reprimanded, punished, beaten… He couldn't even explain it to himself. He just knew. He could see it in her eyes, and when he looked closely enough, he could tell exactly what had happened to her.
She didn't need to say a thing.
He was dying inside, unable to see her face, her expression, her eyes.
"Listen to me! Whatever His Majesty decides at Versailles today…a traitor like you will not have an excuse!"
Did she have that stubborn tilt to her chin? Were her eyes flashing angrily? Was she scared? Nervous? Was she still looking at her father or at the ground? He couldn't tell.
With that, her father stormed out of the stables and André quickly looped Chevis's reins around a post and made his way over to Oscar. He kneeled down on one knee next to her and his fingertips were a breath away from her shoulder when he heard her murmur something mostly under her breath.
"Be ready for what…?"
His fingers closed in and dug lightly into the fabric of her shirt and vest.
She shrugged his hand off. "Leave me alone, André," she said firmly, her tone sounding cold except for the slight quaver that gave her real emotions away. He pretended not to see, not to understand, and put his hand on her back instead.
"Leave me be!" she shouted, whirling around to face him, her hands pushing him away from her as she clamored to her feet.
Her words stung, but they meant absolutely nothing. No, her face, red from where her father had hit her and from what he assumed to be humiliation, the way her lips refused to stay still, trembling ever so slightly, and her eyes, almost on the verge of shedding tears… That told him far more than anything she said.
"Oscar," he whispered, his heart still thudding nervously against his ribcage. "Are you okay?"
She took in a lungful of air, and he could hear her breath shudder as she struggled to calm down. She had to know that he was worried about her.
"He didn't hit me that hard. I'm fine." She turned away from him and rubbed at her temples. Her hands were shaking. "I… I just… I want some time alone." Before he could make a move to stop her, she was gone.
Slowly, he stood and looked off in the direction she had gone. He shook his head and walked back to Chevis, petting his faithful steed's neck lovingly before he took the steel bit from his mouth and pulled the bridle over his ears.
"I hope she's not crying," he murmured to himself as he hung the bridle in the tack room and shut the door behind him on the way out. He took a seat on a bale of straw and crossed his legs as he thought. He didn't like the thought of her running off to be alone to cry, and he couldn't be certain as to why.
Perhaps it was because he hated seeing her upset, sad… But no, there was more to it than that. The thought of her off by herself crying made his heart twist sickeningly in his chest. It made him feel jealous, unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary, and…guilty. Why couldn't she come to him like she had done when they were still children? Why couldn't she cry to him, on him?
She didn't have to explain herself, she didn't have to say anything. He would let her cry.
Of course he would wonder, but if she would only trust him that much again, he would never have to know what was wrong. So long as she would come to him, it wouldn't matter…
He was only kidding himself. If she came to him crying, he would want to know everything.
A part of him wanted to go to her and hold her when she looked so distraught, and it frightened him. He had always felt that way, but the urge had never been so strong before, so real. It had never felt so…strange.
He supposed what really bothered him was that she went off alone to cry, and lately, it was something she always did. He rarely had the courage to follow her, and rarer still was a time when she would speak to him with tears running down her face. Didn't she know that she didn't…have to be alone? That it would be okay if she stayed with him and let herself cry?
It wasn't a weakness. It wasn't…a fault.
He would never think less of her for it.
His thoughts were so jumbled that they only confused him more than was necessary. He decided to give the horses their afternoon meal and then to pick up some vegetables from town for his grandmother. Maybe that would take his mind off of his normally energetic friend who seemed to be spiraling into a confused state of despair.
It would have to be sorted out sooner or later, he thought. Her father was angry and had mentioned something about her being a traitor… And all over a stupid uniform! As he pitched hay into the horse's feeding troughs, he sighed and stopped to wipe the sweat off of his forehead with his shirtsleeve.
He would have to get to the bottom of things. He wasn't going to… He couldn't…
He had to try and understand Oscar's decision not to wear the uniform. After all, what would happen to her if the king really did consider her to be a traitor? His chest clenched painfully at the thought, and his stomach suddenly felt unsettled.
No, he couldn't just watch something like that happen to her… He had to say something, had to try and convince her to—
No. No. He wasn't going to try and convince her to do anything. But he wanted to know why she was being so stubborn about it. Was it that she didn't want to be a decoration? Or was it a lot more than that? There had to be more. It had always been her dream to be an officer in the military. She had talked about it so much as a child, it had been something he had both looked forward to and dreaded for most of his life. Her dream was, in a sense, his nightmare. The last thing he wanted was for her to be taken away from him.
Maybe… Maybe she had a perfectly valid reason for her sudden change of mind. The only way he could find out, though, would be to ask her himself. And he had a feeling that she wouldn't want to tell him.
To be safe, we lose our chance of ever knowing
What's around the riverbend,
Waiting just around the riverbend…
I look once more,
Just around the riverbend;
Beyond the shore
Where the gulls fly free!
Don't know what for,
What I dream the day might send,
Just around the riverbend.
Coming for me…
"Just Around the Riverbed" -Judy Kuhn
There are so many notes I can slap to this. Okay, first of all, Girodelle. He's a great character, and Oscar doesn't like him. Not yet. But remember, it's her that doesn't like him, not me. I'm not trying to make him look bad. I'm not going to try and make Monsieur de Jarjayes look bad either.
"Ornamental doll of the court". That's from the manga. I do believe Bernard calls her this. Someone in the live-action calls her a wooden soldier, which is almost the same thing. The difference? A wooden soldier is plain, but a doll is exquisite!
Oscar is still fighting letting anybody comfort her. How long will that last? You'll see. With the word "traitor" comes a lot of other words. Oscar has a lot more to think about now than "Do I wear that uniform or not?" Now it's, "What might the king do to a traitor?"
Thank you for reading, and please review if you have the time!