"Tante Mattie, can I go for a walk?"
Mattie Baptiste smiled down at the serious-looking six-year-old boy she was watching, her dark eyes affectionate and concerned at the same time. "Why do you wan' go for a walk, Genard? Dere's nothin' out dere, 'member? Your papa took you along many of de spare tunnels las' week..."
"I know." Genard's brown eyes were pleading. "But I wan' go by myself. How'm I s'posed to learn where t'ings are if I don' try'n find' 'em myself?"
Mattie ruffled his wavy blond hair. "Plus, you're bored an' don' wan' stay here wit' an old woman like me, right, petit?"
"Ev'ryone else is at dat meetin'." He pouted. "Please can I go? I won' get in trouble..."
"Sure you will child. You're a little boy an' gettin' into trouble is what little boys do best. Didn' anyone ever tell you dat?" Mattie laughed and then sighed. What she was about to say went against her better judgement, but she felt rather sorry for the small boy. He was the youngest member of the Thieves Guild family and often got left behind because of that. It only made sense that he wanted to go off on a little pretend adventure of his own. "Okay you can go. But I want you to make sure you're back b'fore suppertime. De meetin' will be over den an' I don' want your papa or anyone else worryin' 'bout you. An' stick to de tunnels, y'hear me?"
Genard's eyes lit up and he gave Tante Mattie a huge hug. "I'll be back by supper I promise!" He exclaimed happily before racing off.
"Stick to de tunnels, Genard...!" Mattie called after him. She knew better than he did the dangers that were lurking in the shadows if he left the tunnels, and feared what might happen to him if he strayed from the Thieves Guild territory. She absently wondered if he was going to heed her advice, and figured he probably wouldn't. The older thieves, when they went exploring as children, never had. Why would he be any different?
"Don' go too far, little one." Mattie whispered. "You don' know how dangerous it is out dere..."
Genard walked through the dimly lit underground tunnels and passages used by the various families in the Thieves Guild. The tunnels were the only home they had, and they rarely went above ground for anything but jobs. But Genard, being a curious child, wanted to go above ground and see what the outside world had to offer. And he knew exactly where he was going.
Last week, Genard had begged his father to take him exploring along some of the lesser-used tunnels. Pierre Alouette had agreed and he spent an afternoon showing his small son more of their maze of tunnels. But there was one tunnel Pierre had refused to take his son down, and it was that tunnel Genard was heading for now. He wanted to know what was down there, and maybe more importantly, what was above it at the end.
The tunnel appeared to be just like the others, and as Genard walked along, he wondered why his father hadn't wanted to take him down it. It was quite long, but they all were, so that wasn't it. However, after what seemed to be quite awhile, it ended very abruptly and Genard found himself facing a ladder. He looked up and saw a grate a dozen feet above his head. He shrugged. "Dis don' look any diff'rent dan de rest of 'em." He said. Shoving his glasses up on his nose, he took hold of the ladder and started climbing. So much for listening to Tante Mattie.
When he got to the top of the ladder, Genard remembered what his father had taught him about getting out of the tunnels if there was a threat. He used that information and shoved the grate out of the way, his small arms paining from the exertion. Cautiously, he poked his head out of the grate and looked around. "Whoa...cool...!" He breathed in amazement as he crawled the rest of the way out. He was in the swamps outside New Orleans. The ground was hard enough, but he knew he had to be careful of alligators and quick sand.
Genard started walking, making sure to leave a trail, much like Hansel and Gretel did in the story Tante Mattie read him the night before, only unlike them he used rocks as markers, making each rock marker the same so he'd know he was going in the right direction. It took awhile, but he wanted to be sure he didn't get lost on his way back. He explored the swamps for close to two hours before he found something he never thought he'd find out there: a cabin. "What's dat doin' all de way out here?" He asked the trees.
"It is my home." A beautiful voice said from somewhere nearby.
Genard whirled around and tried to find out where the voice was coming from. His brown eyes widened behind his glasses as a woman appeared from behind one of the trees close to him.
The woman was wearing a blue and tan dress with a blue jacket over it, and a pair of tan boots. Her long blond hair hung in a braid down her back, and her hazel eyes twinkled at him. Her smile was wide and friendly, and as they stood there, Genard thought that she reminded him of someone, but he couldn't place just who it was.
"I'm sorry I startled you, little one." The woman said in that lovely voice of hers. "I didn' mean to, but you see, you startled me as well. It's not often I get company all de way out here."
Genard shuffled his sneaker-clad feet and stared at the ground. "I'm sorry...you want me to go?"
"Oh no! No, I didn' mean dat! I would be delighted if you would join me for lunch." She looked at her watch. "It's about dat time an' you mus' be hungry."
Genard was indeed very hungry, but he couldn't help thinking of the story he'd been told the night before. "You aren' gon' try to eat me for lunch like dat wicked lady in de story of Hansel an' Gretel are you...?" He asked frankly.
"Of course not!" The woman laughed. "Dat's jus' a story. People don' really go 'round eatin' children. Come along, I'll fix us some lunch."
Genard followed her into the cabin, looking around in awe. It was simply furnished, but not lacking in anything the woman might need or want. "I like your house." Genard told her. "It's like Tante Mattie's house in Slidell, only her house has a lot of voodoo stuff in it an' yours doesn'."
"Well...t'ank you..." The woman replied. She had glanced at Genard sharply when he mentioned Mattie's name. Usually only people associated with either the Thieves or the Assassins ever mentioned the traiteur. She tried to shake her thoughts away, unsuccessfully. She had to know. "What is your name, child?"
"Genard Alouette." He replied, sitting down on one of the chairs in the kitchen. Anticipating her next question he continued. "An' I'm six."
The woman almost dropped the plate she held in her hand. She did the math in her head and realized that her original suspicions had been correct. Regaining her composure, she set the plate in front of him and set a plate of her own at the place across from him. Each plate had apple slices, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and carrot sticks. "Would you like some milk?" She asked him.
"Yes, please." Genard smiled around a carrot stick. When she set a glass of milk in front of him he smiled again. "T'ank you."
She sat down in front of him, but rather than start eating her lunch she looked at him instead. "Well, Genard, I s'pose you'd like to know my name, wouldn' you?"
Genard's t-shirt clad shoulders shrugged. "Sure."
"My name is Rosemarie Jardine. An' I'm very glad you've come to visit me today, do you know why?"
"No, ma'am." Genard said in between bites of his sandwich. "You don' even know me."
Rosemarie sighed. "No...no I don'. But I should...an' it was my own stubbornness dat's prevented it. Do you like hearin' stories, Genard?"
"Yes." Genard replied, and then paused. "It's not a scary story is it...?"
"Oh no, not scary at all." Rosemarie assured him. "But first I want to show you somethin'." She got up and went to the mantle, picking up a framed picture in her hands and taking it over to Genard. She handed it to him. "What do you t'ink?"
Genard studied the picture. It was of a beautiful young woman with blond hair and green eyes. Again, he was reminded of someone, but he didn't know who. "She looks like you. Is she your daughter?"
"Oui. She and I lived here all her life, until seven years ago. But dat is part of the story I have to tell you. Do you have time to hear it?"
"I t'ink so...Tante Mattie tol' me I have to be home by suppertime."
Rosemarie looked at her watch again. "Oui, I t'ink you have time as well. I'll take full responsiblity wit' your Tante Mattie if you're not home in time, how's dat?"
"Yvonne's father died when she was a baby." Rosemarie began. "I raised her by myself, right here in dis very cabin. We were poor, but I made sure she had as much as I could give her, an' all de love in de world. We were very happy for a good many years, until she grew up. She started going into New Orleans more often, and she met a man there. Like a lot of parents, I didn' approve of her choice, an' we argued 'bout it constantly."
Rosemarie studied Genard carefully as she spoke. He was looking at the picture as he listened, his brown eyes thoughtful. "One day, less dan seven years ago, Yvonne told me one mornin' dat she was pregnant. She was plannin' on marryin' de father of her baby, no matter what I said 'gainst it. Naturally, we fought, an' she ended up leavin'. She told me as she left dat she would never return, not until I accepted her relationship. Her last words to me were dat if I didn', I would never know my grandchild."
"Did you forgive her?" Genard whispered.
"Not until today."
"Why today? Why didn' you go find her an' tell her you were sorry an'...?"
"I couldn'. I was too proud. I knew de life she had chosen, marryin' a thief, an' I'd wanted better for her dan dat." Rosemarie admitted. "We didn' have much, but at least we had a house an' always had food on de table...she gave dat up to live...I have never understood, until today, why she chose what she did. Dat's why I could never forgive her."
Genard looked at the picture and then up at Rosemarie. "When I saw you outside, you reminded me of someone, but I didn' know who. De picture did too." He pushed the picture across the table. "She was my mother, an' you're my grandmother. Dat's why you looked familiar. But it ain' a bad life, an' Papa ain' a bad man..."
"Your father is a thief, Genard. It's a dangerous world you live in...a dangerous world she lived in. An' dat's why she died." Rosemarie said firmly. Then she sighed, her voice softening. "I don' expect you to understand. But livin' beneath de streets in tunnels an' stealin' to survive...dat's no suitable life for anyone."
"You knew who I was when you saw me..."
"I had my suspicions, yes. You confirmed it when you told me your name." Rosemarie explained.
"If you don' like Papa an' didn' forgive Mama all dis time...why do you say you forgive her now?"
Rosemarie sighed again. "B'cause I understand her reasons now. She loved your father an' wanted to be wit' him, especially after she found out you were on de way. Lookin' at you now, I can see so much of her in you...an' I know she prob'ly felt you were worth sacrificin' everythin' for."
"I miss her." Genard said frankly.
"So do I. Dere hasn' been a day gone by dat I didn' t'ink of her an' wish she was here. I lost de most important person in my life when she left to be wit' Pierre. She said I would never know you...an' I feared I would never get a chance to redeem myself for my actions."
Genard got up and walked over to his grandmother, giving her an impulsive hug. "She was wrong. I'm here an' you do know me. But I'm not her..."
Rosemarie hugged him back and then picked him up, sitting him comfortably in her lap. "I know you're not, an' I'm glad of dat. You're gon' follow in your papa's footsteps an' be a thief jus' like he is. I know dat too. I don' approve of it any more dan I approved of your mother marryin' your father, but as long as it's what you want to do, I will not try to stand in your way like I did to her."
"If Papa says it's okay, can I come back an' visit you 'gain?" Genard asked, a hopeful look in his eyes.
"Anytime you want." Rosemarie confirmed. "I wish you would...I'd love to get to know my only grandchild. An' I wish you could stay right now, but you should be gettin' back so your Tante Mattie doesn' get mad at you."
"She's already gon' be mad...she told me to stay in de tunnels an' I didn' listen..."
"Oh I'm sure she won' be too angry when she finds out where you were. Do you know how to get back?"
Genard nodded and hopped down off her lap. "Oui...I left markers. It won' take as long goin' back b'cause I won' have to set 'em up. An' I'll leave 'em dere so I can find my way back if Papa says I'm allowed."
"Very well den." Rosemarie laughed. "I'm glad I got to meet you today, Genard. An' I want you to have dis." She handed him the picture.
"Me too. But...it's yours...don' you wan' keep it?"
"I have other pictures of her. I'll show dem to you sometime if you want. You can have it."
"Okay...uhm..." Genard stammered. "T'anks for lunch...an' for de picture." He hugged her again and darted out the door. "Bye!"
"Goodbye, small one." Rosemarie said as she watched him race off into the swamps until he was out of sight. He was so much like his mother, but he had aspects of his father in him too, she'd noticed. Those serious brown eyes were the most noticable aspect. She had seen Pierre Alouette once, and, thinking of him now, she knew her grandson was in good hands. She just wished she'd figured that out seven years ago and not been so opposed to her daughter's marriage.
Genard ran as much of the way home as he could, to make sure he wouldn't be late for supper. He met up with some of the older members of the Guild once he was back in the tunnels used most often by the thieves. There were five of them, all much older than he was.
Claude Potier was eighteen and the closest in age to Genard. With him were Francois Lapin, 24, Theoren Marceaux, 26, the Guild's computer specialist, Henri LeBeau, also 26, son of the Guild patriarch and his wife Mercy, 25. It was Claude who got Genard's attention.
"Hey squirt! Did'ja have a good day today without any of us 'round to bug ya?"
Genard stopped and looked at them. He thought about meeting his grandmother and smiled thoughtfully. "Yeah."
They caught sight of the picture and noticed it was of Yvonne. "Where'd you get dat?" Henri asked.
"Oh..." Genard replied. "My grandmother gave it to me." With that he walked away towards the section of rooms his family used as a home. He wanted to talk to his father.
The five thieves watched him leave. "His...grandmother...?" Theoren asked. "I didn' t'ink he knew his grandmother..."
"I t'ink he does now." Mercy laughed.
"I hope Pierre lets him visit her 'gain." Henri said thoughtfully. "It would be nice if he had dat connection to his mother now dat she's gone."
"Sorry...you didn' have to worry, t'ough. I was okay." Genard gave his father a hug. "Look what I got." He showed Pierre the picture.
Pierre's heart skipped a beat when he saw the picture of his dead wife. He missed her everyday. And he knew there was only one place his son could have gotten that picture. "Genard...you shouldn' go into de swamps by yourself..."
"But Papa...!" Genard's eyes filled with tears. "I wan' go back...!"
"I know." Pierre sat down in a chair and pulled Genard up onto his lap. "An' I imagine your grandmother wants you to as well."
"She said she wanted to get to know me...an' dat if you said it was okay I could go back anytime I wanted...please Papa..." Genard begged.
"Yes, Genard. You may go back." Pierre consented. "In spite of everythin', she d'serves to know you. But until you're older, I don' want you goin' by yourself, okay? Ask one of us to go wit' you, or we'll make arrangements for her to pick you up an' take you back, but I do not want you goin' out dere alone. You're jus' a child an' it's dangerous out dere."
"T'ank you, Papa!" Genard exclaimed. "An' I won' go by myself 'gain 'til I'm older, I promise."
Later that night, Pierre stood in his son's room. Genard was sleeping peacefully on his mattress, the picture of Yvonne propped up beside the bed. He had a feeling he couldn't explain. He felt that somehow, Yvonne's spirit had brought her mother and her son together that day so that they could bury the past and move on. He was glad of it, because he had often thought in the past year that he would like to find a way to have Genard meet Rosemarie, but he could never figure out how to do it. He had known that Rosemarie didn't approve of him and didn't like him, but now that the initial contact had been made, maybe he could bury the hatchet with his mother-in-law as well. It was something to consider at any rate.