One of Thousands
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: Kirkwall/The Free Marches
Current Game: Dragon Age II
Chapter Three: Attack and Defense
AS I'VE SAID BEFORE, Auldric may be a fool in the sense that he's rude and lacks wit, but he is also shrewd and cunning. That's what troubles me the most. Other people in our village hear his clownish laugh and see his stupid antics, but that is all they happen to observe. I hear him as he spends the night pacing loudly in his study and weighing his “earnings” from Goldie's rear end. I also see his impish smile and glittering eyes whenever a nobleman or merchant comes to visit our modest estate. That has been happening often...
They're all coming because of Elise's wedding, or so they say, but I doubt that's the only reason. For one thing, they spend far more time talking to my stepfather than my sister! On the one hand, that's rather suspicious, and on the other hand, it's completely natural. Her nuptials are in two days' time, and that means our whole household is in a flurry trying to prepare for it! Luckily, things are going well. Against Capucine's anxious calculations—”It's going to take poor me a fortnight to alter the bodice on this gown!”—it only took her an hour to finish sewing. With the time she had to spare, she crafted a pair of matching silk slippers, with the same golden thread and pearl beads on the toe. As a finishing touch, she also had the blacksmiths fashion a golden comb—made out of gold!—with more shimmering thread, more pearls, and tiny white late-blooming flowers that are seen at autumn-time.
“Aren't they lovely?” Elise has always had a fondness for slippers and shoes. As for me? Not so very much, because my left foot is so much smaller than my right! It is a large part of what made me lame, unable to walk well, and with terrible balance besides! However, I honestly suspect that the trouble lies in my body. My limbs do not seem to work together in the sensible way that Elise's do, or even Auldric's. They are tight and awkward. I have to pay close attention in order not to fall down and look the fool, even when I'm the house! As for my feet, they are large for a girl's, with big toes and an unsightly turned-inwardness. That is why I hold no love for shoes. I prefer to go barefoot, or in very specially-tailored fur slippers. Heavy and clunky boots hurt my feet, even though I often wore them as a child...
“Oui, ma soeur!” I replied. “I can only hope that I have slippers half as beautiful as those if I ever get married!” She giggled, and I did, too. Capucine worked miracles with any cloth.
As for Caroline, she was skilled at cutting hair. I saw her today after luncheon, in secret:
“Auldric tried to stroke my hair today—as if he were my husband, not my stepfather. He's absolutely disgusting, and I want it all cut off, right to the nape of my neck. I mean it.”
Caroline was aghast. “Remy! Your beautiful tresses, already to your waist! Are you sure?”
“I'm absolutely positive. I can't bear to have hair that has been so defiled by that man, and besides, he won't deign to marry me if I look like a boy. He's very particular about women, I've noticed. He likes them plump as geese, like me, but also quite...feminine-looking.” I grumbled—almost spat—those last two words. A girl has to go through so much to make herself look beautiful and womanly: painting her eyelids, powdering her face with rouge, spending hours piling her hair up into elaborate coiffures, and plucking her eyebrows and legs. After all, what sort of a husband wants a hairy wife lying beside him in the boudoir? I myself do not pluck, because it takes too much time and causes intense pain. I also do not paint and powder, because my face is sensitive to such things. I break out in skin rashes!
As for a man? All he must do is shave his face, if he wishes, and comb his hair...
I've often felt as if I am a young man, trapped in a young woman's body. I've always despised cooking and cleaning, and all of the “womanly arts”. Sewing? I've tried it, with all my heart, but I can't even manage to mend a shirt if one of the buttons has fallen off! My needle goes through the cloth, as does the thread, but almost never through the button-holes! I've practiced and practiced, but to no avail. I'm so glad Capucine is there when one of my kirtles gets torn, or I outgrow one of my chemises (which happens rather quickly)! There are other duties that are considered “women's work” that I loathe even more than cooking and cleaning. Changing and scrubbing babies' undercloths, for one thing. If men are so strong, and are supposed to have wills of iron and stomachs to match, why can't they do it? The reek of wet and dirty undercloths makes me gag. We who are older know how to hold off the call of nature until we can relieve ourselves properly in the privy. We also know how to wash, and to apply perfume to those hidden places (don't tell Elise! She thinks I only borrow it for my face. To be fair, I apply the perfume to a handkerchief first, and then...)
“Hold still, Remy,” Caroline says. “This won't hurt a bit, but I am going to use a knife.”
Caroline takes a hold of my long, red hair, pulling and squeezing it tightly around the nape of my neck. I sit stock-still. I'm not going to move a muscle. Even though she's only using a paring knife to cut my hair, it is incredibly sharp, and I'm not risking having my ear cut off along with the tresses! I take one last anxious look around the kitchen. Capucine is washing the luncheon dishes in the scullery, Elise is in the garden, perhaps, and Auldric? If I know him, he has gone out to the stables where his donkeys rest. He wants to check on Goldie.
And check her “leavings”. He himself takes the gold away, and not one of our farmhands. Of course, he lets the farmhands clean up all the rest of the donkeys' waste, because that is beneath him. As a wealthy man, Auldric has the privilege of letting servants do such things.
Not that I mind! It's just that he treats everyone as his inferior, including me and Elise.
“Mademoiselle?” Caroline asks one last time. “Are you certain you want me to do this?”
“Evidemment. S'il vous plait, cut it off! My stepfather attacked me today, wanting to caress my hair like a lover. This is my defense. It's always lain too heavy on my head, anyway...”
With a final whack!, the paring knife sliced through my hair, and then it all fell to the floor.
For some reason, I shuddered and closed my eyes, my chin quivering. Why had such a simple thing—a thing that I wanted, no doubt—felt more like an execution, as if Caroline were cutting off my head instead of the long, red strands on it? After sitting there for a full minute in silence, I reached out my arms for Caroline to help me up from the low stool on which I had been sitting. She gazed at me sadly, brushing the remaining hair from my face.
“Ah, cherie,” Caroline said, sounding heartbroken herself. “Why does such a man exist?”
I threw myself into her arms and wept. I didn't care who saw, or who heard me. Young ladies aren't supposed to cry over such a silly thing as a haircut. Yet here I was, wailing and snotting as if I'd just lost a relative or a close friend of mine! I was such a weakling...
Later, after I had composed myself and scrubbed my face at the wash-basin in my bedroom with cold water, I emerged to find Elise arranging flowers in a vase in the common room of the house. When she turned around and saw me, she smiled, but then almost screamed!
“Remy! What on God's green Earth have you done to your hair?! You appear a boy to me!”
“I know,” I replied, smiling ruefully and holding back fresh tears. “You saw what Auldric did at luncheon, when I tried to whisper something in his ear. He stroked my long, red hair as a husband would, not a stepfather. I was so revolted that I had Caroline get rid of it all...”
“My dear sister...” This time it was Elise who rushed into my arms, and she began to sob.
“No, no, no!” I tried to laugh. “I'm done with all that. Don't you start, or I'll start again!”
Nevertheless, we let our tears flow like rivers down our cheeks, and each other's dresses.
When we were at least mostly done crying, I said, “Fear not. It's all for the better. Even if Auldric does manage to fulfill the three impossible conditions that I gave him, how is he going to marry me if I look like a young man instead of a young lady? The peaches on my chest don't count. I've made myself irredeemably ugly in his eyes, and it's going to take forever for my hair to grow back to an adequate length. You see? I've won this battle!”
Neither of us wanted to comment on what I'd just lost in exchange. Instead, we laughed.