AR 1212-01 Introducing: Umbraculo
“I don’t suppose telling you that your name is the dative form of the Dwarven word for ‘shadow’ means anything to you, Racu, does it?” Yari asked his two-year-old cousin. Umbraculo, in turn, smiled and shook both his arms up and down, while making an adorable exhaling noise. “Yeah, didn’t think so.”
Yari picked up the tiny plush cat near his lap and made an exaggerated show of properly tossing it the couple of feet over to the toddler. Racu, in turn, squealed in delight, scrunching up his pudgy face in a way that Yari couldn’t help but find adorable. Despite his heritage, baby Racu appeared mostly human, with only his yellow eyes giving away his orcish lineage. Maybe, once his permanent teeth came in, he’d have the under-bite pseudo-tusks his mother had, but his current baby teeth appeared to take more after his father.
Completely unlike his father, however, Racu’s skin was a dark grey. Yari’s uncle, Jarl, even after all this time, maintained the pale, white pigment of a man deathly allergic to sunlight. Yari knew the stories, how Uncle Jarl used to be a wererat, and how he had grown accustomed to hiding in darkness; however, that part of Jarl’s life was supposed to be behind him – just like how Yari’s father was no longer a demigod – but Yari could not figure out why the shadows still seemed to cling to his uncle.
Racu’s tiny, black-haired head bent down with his whole upper torso, as the baby tried to pick up the tossed toy. He succeeded, but also lost his balance and plopped firmly down on his butt in the process. Unfazed, the boy grinned a toothy grin, and slammed the stuffed cat down in front of him with all his might. It bounced up into the air and fell close enough to where Yari was sitting that he could catch it.
“Hey, alright!” the older boy congratulated. “That was better than last time, for sure! But, watch me, okay? See how I’m moving my arms out, not down?” Yari then thrust the toy straight forward through the air, into Racu’s lap. His cousin squealed again with the same amount of delight, and slammed the cat down in front of him, exactly as he had before.
Yari sighed, grabbing his plushie out of the air with one hand and stashing it behind him. “No, if you’re not going to listen, we’re not going to play with the Sardi-cat anymore. Sorry.”
Racu waited expectantly for a few beats, then grew agitated. He twisted his face up in consternation and wobbled to his feet. Giving Yari the most adorably angry look, he stomped his foot and pointed, while making a, “Meeh!” sort of noise.
“No, Racu,” Yari said calmly. “That’s not how we express ourselves.
“Odin’s Beard! Listen to me!” he caught himself. “I’m starting to sound like Mom!”
It wasn’t exactly clear what triggered it, but something Yari did sent little Racu into a fit of giggles, and the toddler lost his balance again. Capitalizing on the situation, Yari pounced on his prone cousin and began tickling him mercilessly. Racu’s shrieks of delight were enough to wake the dead, but instead they only served to wake his mother.
Groggily, Snookie lumbered into the playroom where Yari was entertaining Racu. “Everything okay?” she mumbled, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
Yari, who was positioned fully over top of Snookie’s son, paused in his relentless tickle-onslaught to look over and say, “Yeah, everything’s fine, Aunt Snookie. Sorry we woke you.”
If Racu thought his mother was coming to save him, the little boy was sadly mistaken. Snookie just nodded in acknowledgement that she had heard her nephew, and went back to bed. As soon as she was out of sight, Yari resumed his tickling. Despite how shrill Racu screamed, no further adult intervention occurred for the rest of the afternoon.
Several hours later, Snookie and Jarl emerged from their bedroom. Snookie actually looked a little more rested; however, Jarl looked as he ever did: tired, gaunt, and pale. Dark lines were perpetually holding up his eyes, and Yari thought – not for the first time – that his uncle looked like death warmed over.
It was the eyes. Uncle Jarl’s eyes had obviously once been the same, intense blue that Yari’s shared with most of his relatives; however, they had since grown dull and grey. Jarl’s eyes seemed dead to Yari, battered down by too much guilt and pain. In the past two years, Yari had grown to appreciate – and even love – his uncle, but Jarl’s eyes still frightened him.
The only time Uncle Jarl ever seemed to look ‘normal’, was when he was smiling at his son. That was something familiar to Yari; his own father would frequently appear sad, only to brighten up when one of his children came into view. He didn’t understand it – how could he? – but he knew it had something to do with the Gods War. That must have been a terrible thing to live through, and there was no way Yari could ever properly empathize with anyone who had gone through it.
Jarl called out, “Raculo!” and little Racu leapt up and hurriedly toddled over to his father, squealing in delight.
“Da-dee! Wheee!” he exclaimed, as Jarl hoisted him up into the air, swung him around in a circle, and clasped him tight to his chest.
“Thanks for looking after Umbraculo for us,” Snookie told Yari. “We really needed a good nap.”
“Hey, it was my pleasure!” Yari assured. “I’ll take any excuse to hang out with my little cousin!”
Looking behind him, perched in his father’s arms, Racu beamed at Yari and said, “Ya-wee!”
“Ra-koo!” Yari returned, twitching his nose and pointing at his cousin.
Snookie happily watched the exchange, then offered, “Well, here, let me pay you for your time!”
Both Yari’s and Jarl’s jaws dropped. Yari was a little quicker to recover, and he stuttered, “N-no, that’s alright.”
Jarl, on the other hand, glared at his wife. “Pay him for his time?!”
“What?” Snookie asked, genuinely confused and worried.
“Uh, Aunt Snookie?” Yari interjected, before Jarl could say anything more. “It’s just that… it’s just that y’all’re family, y’know? You… you don’t…”
“You don’t offer the son Svadilfarsven money for hanging out with his cousin, dear,” Jarl finished. “That be like if I paid you for –”
“Okay, I get it!” the beleaguered half-orc exclaimed. “Poor, Aunt Snookie; only child; doesn’t understand large family dynamics; yadda, yadda!” Yari shared a very rare knowing look with his uncle, and the two smiled.
“Seriously, Aunt Snookie: Anytime you need a babysitter, if I’m free, I’ll be there. I mean it!
“I mean, who else is gonna show little Racu what it means to be among the sons of Igorek!”
Jarl choked and coughed. He handed his son off to his wife, and took a moment to catch his breath. “A son of Igorek?” he finally wheezed.
Yari cocked his head, trying to gauge the situation before answering. “Yeah…” he started. “My grandfather; your father?”
“Oh, believe me, I know who he is, boy,” Jarl said. “How do you know?”
“He lives a few blocks away from us? We go to visit him and Grandma Sif at least every other week? Well, we used to. I mean, Rissa and I used to; then, we moved here. I’m sure Math, Bran, and Siffles still do.”
“Are you telling me that my brother, your father, allows his children to spend time with their paternal grandfather?”
Yari was still uncertain how to proceed, but he continued to err on the side of honesty. “Um… yes?”
“Damn,” Jarl breathed. “He really has changed, hasn’t he?”
“I’m not entirely sure what you’re talking about, Uncle Jarl, but I have a class I need to get to, so I’m gonna go, okay? Bye!” Yari said, all in one breath.
“Of course, dear!” Snookie interjected. She squished her nephew appropriately, and saw him out. As the door closed behind Yari, he heard Snookie say, “You owe your brother an apology…!”