Mercy Alouette danced through the underground tunnels, singing to herself. Her green eyes were shining with happiness, and she was on her way to the section of rooms occupied by her family to share her happiness with them. As far as Mercy was concerned, it was a perfect day and nothing could ruin it. Or so she thought.
Pierre, Mercy's father, was a high-ranking member of the New Orleans Thieves Guild. He held the position of Harvest Disseminator, which was a fancy way of saying he was in charge of selling or giving away anything the Guild stole that they didn't need. Mercy knew her father was worried, because he didn't have a son to acquire the position from him when he was gone, and, much to Mercy's chagrin, girls still were not allowed to even try to pass the test to join the Guild ranks. Mercy had often felt, especially as she got older, that there was no reason why she shouldn't be allowed to join the Guild and take over her father's position after him.
Mercy knew it was of no use to attept to persuade her father into supporting her in her desire to join the Guild. She was nineteen years old, and had learned very early in her life that her father was set in the old ways. She thought about this as she got closer to the rooms she had called home all her life, and smiled as she absently fingered the shiny new ring on her finger. Maybe now she wouldn't need her father's support.
"Papa? Mama? Where are you?" Mercy called, after entering the middle room and finding no trace of her parents or anyone else. She was greeted by Tante Mattie, the spiritual healer and mother figure of the Guild, who came out of her parents' bedroom.
"Shush, chil'. Don' make such a racket. Your Mama is restin'. She isn' feelin' well. An' your Papa's in dere sittin' wit' her." Mattie chided. "What's got you in such a tizzy anyways?"
"Oh Tante Mattie...is...Mama's gon' be okay, right?"
"Of course, Mercy." A knowing twinkle appeared in the kind dark brown eyes. "It will take awhile, but she'll be perfect. Trust me."
Mercy sighed with relief. "Okay. Well..." She held up her left hand and showed the other woman the beautiful diamond with a huge smile on her pretty face.
"He asked you!" Mattie said with a smile. "It's 'bout time. Did you tell Jean-Luc?"
Jean-Luc LeBeau was the patriarch of the Guild. Mercy nodded. "Of course we did. You know Henri had to ask his permission. Not dat Jean-Luc would say no to his own son, but still."
"Dat's true." Mattie nodded. "Well why don' you go in an' tell your parents de good news? An' unless I miss my guess, dey have some news of deir own to share wit' you."
Mercy went into the bedroom, feeling somewhat subdued. She knew her father had been less than thrilled when she began dating Henri LeBeau because, among other things, he felt Henri would encourage his daughter in her ideas that girls should be allowed to join the Guild. Now she was about to tell her father that she was going to marry Henri the following summer. Less than a year away.
"Bonjour, sweetheart!" Helene said softly. "I'm glad you're here." Mercy's mother had always been a dutiful Guild wife, never arguing with her husband and never harboring the kinds of ideas Mercy did.
"Hi, Mama. Tante Mattie said you're not feelin' well...is everythin' okay?" Mercy asked, giving her mother a brief hug. It was difficult, as Helene was laying down, but they managed.
"Everythin' is fine, Mercy. Don' worry." Pierre said, moving around and hugging his daughter from behind. He really loved her very much and wasn't intentionally trying to hold her back. He just didn't want her to get hurt. It was bad enough she had to grow up in and around the Guild. That was enough, in his eyes. He just wished she'd see it that way.
"Well..." Mercy said slowly, going around to the other side of the bed and sitting down, while Pierre sat on another chair. "I've got some news I wanted to share wit' you."
"Oh?" Pierre asked. Both he and Helene had their suspicions regarding that news, but waited for their daughter to tell them herself. It must be said that Helene was more hopeful and excited over the idea than Pierre appeared to be.
"Oui. Henri asked me to marry him, an' I said yes."
"Oh Mercy! Dat is wonderful news!" Helene said. "I'm so happy for you both! May I see de ring?"
Mercy laughed and showed her mother the beautiful ring Henri had given her. Like all engagement and wedding rings brought into the Guild, it had been stolen, but that didn't make a bit of difference to them.
"Mercy, honey, I am happy for you, but do you really t'ink it's a good idea to marry de future patriarch of de Guild?" Pierre asked.
"I love him, Papa. An' he loves me." Mercy stated simply. "So yes, it's a good idea."
Pierre sighed, defeated. "Well, I can't help worryin', but I also can' fight wit' dat logic. So let's see dis ring. An' have you set de date yet?"
"Papa he jus' asked me an hour ago!" Mercy laughed. "But, as a matter of fact...we do know when we're getting married. July 12. Nine months from now. I've always wanted to get married in the summer, an' now I am. Dat's enough time to plan a weddin' right?"
Pierre and Helene exchanged nervous glances. They had yet to tell Mercy their own news, which would definitely overshadow all of Mercy's plans. Mercy caught the look and frowned at her parents. "What? Dat's not enough time?"
"No, dat's not it, Mercy." Helene said softly. "But you're going to have to be pretty much on your own wit' all of it, especially near de end..."
"What are you talkin' 'bout? Does dis have to do wit' dat news Tante Mattie said you had?" Mercy was confused and it showed.
"Yes, as a matter of fact it does." Pierre said. "Perhaps we should have told you our news b'fore you told us yours, but it's too late now. Mercy, your mother's not just ill. We jus' found out today from Tante Mattie dat we're gon' have a baby."
"You're...pregnant." Mercy said flatly to her mother. If she had time to think about it, she would have known she was happy; she had always wanted a younger brother or sister. But it came as quite a shock to Mercy, who had given up hope on that dream when she was fourteen. "Let me guess. It's due in July."
"Yes." Helene said. "Mercy, I'm sorry..."
"Mama, it's okay. We'll deal. I am not lettin' a new baby interfere wit' my weddin'. You can watch an' consult an' stuff, okay? I'll get Tante Mattie an' Dominique to help wit' everythin'."
"You're not happy, t'ough." Pierre observed.
"Of course I'm not!" Mercy snapped. "I gave up on hopin' you would do dis a long time ago. I'm an adult. I'm gettin' married. An' at de same time you guys are startin' all over again wit' a new baby! Am I s'posed to be happy 'bout dis?"
"Mercy..." Helene began.
"No, Mama. Please don'. I need to t'ink 'bout dis. My whole life is changin' in two completely diff'rent ways. De first, I was prepared for, but de second, I'm not. It'll be okay, I promise, jus' give me some time to get used to dis."
The weeks and months went by very quickly. All the Guild clans were excited about the two upcoming events, and they were all hard pressed to pick one to be more excited about. Helene, who had been told by Tante Mattie to stay in bed as much as possibly during her pregnancy, hated to be left out of the main preparations for her daughter's wedding, decided to do something no one expected of her.
Five months before the wedding, Mercy celebrated her twentieth birthday. And that morning, before Henri or anyone else joined them for the birthday party, Helene called Mercy into her room.
"Mama, what is it?" Mercy asked, joining Helene.
Helene gestured at the chair beside the bed. Mercy took the hint and sat down. Only then did Helene speak. "I know you're torn 'bout dis new baby, sweetheart. On de one hand, you're happy, an' on de other, you're resentful. An' b'lieve it or not, I understand. I feel de same way. Your papa an' I have been tryin' for dis baby for a very long time, an' we're very happy 'bout it, but at de same time dere's a little resentment dere, especially for me, b'cause it means I can' help you wit' all your weddin' stuff. I'm stuck here in dis bed b'cause Tante Mattie said so."
"Oh Mama...it's one t'ing for me to resent my new little sibling...but dere's no reason for you to..."
Helene smiled. "Oh, I know, chere, I know. But I hate missin' out on all de weddin' plans. So for de past four months I've been workin' on somethin' for you for your weddin', since I couldn' do anythin' else. You've been too busy to notice, an' I've been grateful for dat, b'cause I didn' want you to know until today. Go look in de closet an' see what you find."
Mercy got up and crossed to her parents small closet, which was really just a hole dug in the wall of the room, like every other closet in de underground Guild home. Inside, she found her mother's surprise: a beautiful wedding dress. "Oh Mama...!" Mercy exclaimed, taking the dress out of the closet. "It's beautiful! How on earth...?"
"Wit' very little difficulty, actually." Helene laughed. "It was my weddin' dress when I married your father. I jus' made it over an' modernized it a little bit so you could wear it too. I wanted to give it to you now, so if it's not fitted right, I have time to redo it so it's not a last-minute t'ing. Do you like it?"
"Like it? Mama, I love it! It's perfect! T'ank you so much!" Mercy impulsively gave her mother a huge hug and kiss. "An' to t'ink I'd been worryin' 'bout where I'd get a dress!"
As the date for the wedding, July 12, drew closer, Tante Mattie began to worry, even though she couldn't place her finger on why she was worrying. She had calculated with her usual accuracy that the baby was due on July 9, and the plan they were working with centered around that. She would be missing the wedding to look after the new little one so Helene wouldn't have to miss seeing her daughter get married. But something was telling Mattie that things were not going to go according to that plan.
When both the ninth and tenth of July came and went without any sign of the baby's arrival, everyone started to worry, even Mercy, who was scared something would happen to her mother or the baby or both. It was a silent fear shared by all of the Guild members, not just Mercy, and she spoke of it with her soon-to-be-father-in-law on the morning of July eleventh.
"Jean-Luc what if somethin' happens to dem? I'll never forgive myself for bein' more resentful dan happy..."
The patriarch gave a strained smile. "Well, it is cause for a bit of concern, as babies in dis Guild have more of a tendency to be early. Dis is de first time in quite awhile one has been even a day late."
"What do you t'ink is wrong? Why isn' de baby comin'?"
"I'm not sure, Mercy." Jean-Luc replied. "Only de baby knows dat. Maybe it isn' ready to come out yet. My mother always used to say babies come when dey're ready an' not a moment sooner or later. An' I've always found dat to be de case. Please try not to worry too much...you're gettin' married tomorrow. Leave de baby up to itself an' everythin' will all work out, I promise."
Mercy tried to take Jean-Luc's advice. In fact, they all did. But on the morning of Mercy's wedding day, the baby still hadn't shown any sign of arriving, and Helene had to beg Tante Mattie to allow her out of bed to go to the wedding. Against her better judgement, the healer agreed, and made sure to sit beside Helene and Pierre during the wedding ceremony.
It was obvious to everyone there that Henri and Mercy were very much in love with each other, and were very, very happy. True love was a rare thing in the Guild, as Minister Hoard said during the ceremony, and they were very fortunate to have found it in each other. The ceremony was beautiful and perfect; the day belonged to Mercy and Henri, and everything went off without a hitch until the very end.
Minister Hoard was just about to pronounce the newly-weds man and wife when Helene, who had been feeling strange since she got out of bed but had hidden it very well from everyone, Tante Mattie included, let out a sharp gasp. The entire Guild looked at her and Minister Hoard interrupted himself to ask a question.
"Helene...are you alright?"
To everyone's surprise, Helene started laughing. There was nothing else she could do. She was in incredible pain, but she knew what was happening and the thought of it struck her as being rather funny in an ironic sort of way. She looked at her daughter and son-in-law, and smiled apologetically. "Dis is s'posed to be your day...a day to celebrate an' cherish the love you share...but...I don' t'ink dis little one is gon' wait any longer..."
"You're havin' de baby now?!" Mercy exclaimed. "Of all de...!"
"Mercy...!" Henri whispered. "What happened to feelin' bad 'bout resentin' de baby...?"
"Well I do, but why couldn't it have been born when it was s'posed to an' let us have our day to ourselves, huh?" Mercy whispered back before turning her attention back to her mother, who was now looking like she was going to have the baby right there at the front of the church. "Mama...I'm sorry."
Tante Mattie took over, shooing everyone away to give Helene some room. "Alright, everyone out of de way. De weddin's over, an' now it looks like we're gon' deliver dis baby right here too. I need room. Henri, go get me some towels an' warm water wit' a cloth, okay? An' be quick 'bout it. Pierre, you come here near Helene's head an' hold her hand. Mercy, do you want to assist me?"
Mercy was stunned by how quickly things were moving. "I...I do, but...Tante...my dress...it'll get ruined..."
Mattie laughed. "You have time to go put on somethin' else if you don' wan' ruin dat beautiful dress your Mama made you, honey."
Mercy had never moved so fast in her life. She raced back to the dressing room and changed into her street clothes and was back out in the church before Henri even got back with the water and towels. In that time, Mattie had insisted that everyone else go sit down unless they were called upon to do something. Mercy knelt down beside Tante Mattie.
"What do I do..?"
"Essentially, chere, you wait here wit' me, help guide your mama t'rough de contractions an' as soon as your husband gets back wit' de towels, you hold dem. You're gon' be de first one to officially hold de little scene-stealer, an' dat's what de towels are for, aside from cleanin' up your mama. To wrap de baby in."
Henri came back with the water and towels, looking flustered, nervous and bewildered all at once. Under Tante Mattie's instruction, he set the bowl of water down nearby, handed the towels to his wife, who looked like she felt the same way he did, and then handed the wet cloth to Pierre, so he could wipe Helene's forehead with it. Then he sat down, taking it upon himself to re-wet the cloth whenever Pierre asked him to. Other than that, he did what everyone else was doing. He watched.
Once the baby decided to come, there was no stopping it. Within an hour and a half, Mercy found herself sitting there on the floor of the church, holding her newborn baby brother in her arms, a look of amazement and awe on her face.
"Y'know..." She said to him softly before handing him to their mother. "You were s'posed to do dis three days 'go. An' you'll never be able to convince me you didn' wait until today on purpose. But you're so adorable...an' y'know what else? Je t'aime, mon petit frere. Even if you are a spotlight stealer."
Pierre laughed from his spot beside Helene and the baby. "He didn' want you to have all de fun of today, Mercy. Pretty interestin' how he ended up bein' a rival for de day's focus wit' you, isn' it?"
"What are you gon' name him?" Jean-Luc asked.
Helene looked at Pierre, who nodded his consent. "Actually...we were kind of hopin' Mercy an' Henri would name him. I know he kind of ruined deir day, but we'd still like for dem to do de honors."
"Mama...he didn' ruin our day..." Mercy protested.
"Yeah, he jus' stole de spotlight." Henri laughed. "Hey, he's a t'ief already!"
After a brief consulation at the far end of the church, the newly-wed couple came back with their decision. It was, suitably, Mercy who made the announcement.
"We decided to name him after two people in our fam'ly who have always been very important, especially as influences in my life. I wish dat Grandpa Cordeau could have been here for dis day, b'cause it's certainly been an interestin' one to say de very least. I know he's here in spirit, though, an' I know he'd approve. I also have a pretty good idea dat Papa's gon' approve too. So...if it meets with everyone else's approval, Henri an' I would like our new little brother to be named Genard Pierre."
"It's perfect!" Helene said.
A week later, when Mercy and Henri returned from their honeymoon to Niagara Falls, the first thing they did was check in on Helene, Pierre and the baby.
"Oh, you're back! Dat's wonderful." Helene said as Mercy went right to the cradle and picked up her little brother. "Dere's a meetin' of de High Council, so no one else is around." She saw de look of alarm dat crossed Henri's face and laughed. "Don' worry, Henri, you're not missin' anythin' dat you can' be filled in on later. An' b'sides I wanted to ask you two somethin'."
"What's dat, Mama?" Mercy asked, cuddling the baby in her arms and gently running a finger over the soft blond fuzz on his tiny head.
"Would you like to be Genard's godparents?" Helene asked seriously. "If somethin' were to happen to us...I'd...well, to be honest, we wouldn' really trust anyone but you to take care of him."
"Of course we would!" Henri and Mercy replied in unison.
"Oh good. Now can you do me a favor an' keep an' eye on him for five minutes? I have to go see Terry for somethin', an' I'd love to be able to go without takin' him jus' dis once."
"Sure, Mama, go on." Mercy said.
Henri moved over and stood beside Mercy, smiling down at his new baby brother-in-law. "He's some cute, isn' he. You still resent him like you used to b'fore he was born?"
Mercy chuckled. "No, of course not. I think he an' I are gon' be real close. Don' know why, jus' got dat feelin'. I jus' hope we don' end up bein' rivals for everythin' all de time, b'cause dat would be a pain."