It is raining.
Clouds have crept through the usually clear night skies to obscure the stars and the grim rain deities who have taken rainfall as their calling tug and poke at the heavy, lazy collections of vapor and water drops, herding them and urging them to melt into the watery curtain that covers the world outside the window, stealing the light, the joy and the color away from the day until all there is left is just grey, solemn twilight.
This is not the light rain of the kinder gods of flurry, sent at the end of the drought to wash over a slumbering world, nurture the plants, warn the animals of the coming of new shoots and children of all kinds and shapes. No, this is the unyielding, unforgiving, depressing rain that lulls the mind with its song and opens doors long ago sealed, brings forth old regrets, washes away the scabs of deep, ancient wounds and leaves the soul unprotected against bitter, predatory melancholy.
It is a rain of mourning and it could not suit Math’s disposition any better.
He sighs and moves away from the window, feeling his flaxen hair lose its color, the grooves on his face become deeper. He feels older, more tired, defeated by Fate if not by Time. Time, after all, has not just robbed him of his only sister and brother-in-law.
The serene, monotone voice of the demigod conveying the terrible news goes silent for a moment as its owner realizes that the Archon is not quite listening anymore. Math looks at the young boy sitting on the chaise lounge clutching a small stuffed toy gryphon. The doll sits looking at Math with beady black eyes, body glowing with a faint, magical light.
“And that is my nephew, is he?” the Archon asks, fixing his gaze on the quiet but alert little boy.
“Yes, your lordship,” the demigod replies. “His name is Gwydion. It was your sister’s wish that he would be left in your care, should anything happen to her.”
“But he’s little more than a toddler!” Math exclaims.
“He is four years old, master Math,” the patient, austere demigod concedes.
The Archon sighs. The boy sitting before him is the spitting image of his father, with long shiny black hair and a well-drawn jawline. Young as he is, he sits straight and attentive, head turning as his inquisitive eyes pay close attention to the world around him, much like his father's used to do. And the hazel in his eyes is exactly the same pleasantly quaint shade of brown that his mother's used to own.
The boy looks down at his toy gryphon, pats it on the head, and the disproportionately small wings on the thing begin to flap. The plush animal rises in the air, clearly animated by a spell of some sort, and performs a little pirouette in midair, much to the child's amusement. Gwydion giggles and claps his hands before calling the toy back to his lap. Looking up, the boy fixes his gaze on his uncle and smiles innocently.
Math shakes his head slowly. “I should have visited more often… What is he playing with?”
“His favorite toy, Gryphy,” the demigod explains. “His father taught him to animate it and he has been inseparable from it since.”
He is a quiet, somber character with long dark hair that falls in waves over his shoulders and thick eyebrows that make his deep-set eyes, already dark brown by nature, look darker, sadder, wiser than most mortals’. His thin moustache and short beard are beginning to turn grey but here and there the light still manages to rip reddish highlights from the soft facial hair. His words are deliberate and kind, both in content and in sound, the perfect mirror of the tranquil heart and solemn mind from which they arise.
Iovan, Demigod of Learning, Groomer of Minds, Guardian of Youth. Many praise him as the best tutor a First Ring child could ever wish for. However, his services are nearly impossible to hire. This is the kind of tutor that knocks on one’s door one night with a guarantee that he is needed, whether his future employer realizes it or not.
Slowly, it dawns on Math that he has not only inherited a child but also his tutor. He looks to his right to find two beady black eyes staring back at him. A soft, plush bleak hovers just a finger’s width away from his nose. A bushy brown tail brushes softly against his shoulder. The sight makes him cringe slightly. From his perch on the chaise lounge, Gwydion smiles beatifically at his uncle.
“I don’t want to look at him and see his parents. My grief is too recent,” the Archon says. “Cut his hair, change his clothes. Everything that has been brought from my sister’s house is to be destroyed.” He grabs the gryphon and hands it to Iovan. “You can start by this toy. It is disturbing to look at.”
The order causes the tutor’s eyes to widen. “Please, your lordship,” he requests as he carefully holds the plush animal. “If I may… The boy has just lost his parents and he is in no condition to sustain the loss of the only friend he has in this world.”
“That…thing is not even real,” Math insists. “It is just a stuffed toy.”
“Yes, but his mother made it for him,” Iovan argues.
“She didn’t even make a proper-looking gryphon,” Math rants on. “Who has ever heard of a gryphon with feline forepaws?”
“She thought that eagle talons might wound the child,” Iovan insists softly, patiently. “Please, master Math. It is the only thing he has left of her. And he is so young now… In a few years, he won’t even remember the way she looked.”
“Good, he won’t be asking questions I can’t answer, then,” the Archon mutters. “From now on, his mother and father are geasa in this house, do you understand? Even their names are not to be spoken. I don’t want him going down the same path they did.”
“I understand, my lord Archon,” the demigod nods in acceptance. “And the toy?”
Math sighs. Iovan is right. Regardless of the well-known resilience of youth, there are only so many blows a child can sustain before being completely destroyed. “I just don’t want to see it, Iovan. Keep it out of my sight, where it won’t remind me of my grief.”
“Thank you, your lordship.”
“Has he even begun to show any hints of a sphere?” the Archon enquires.
“No,” Iovan answers, releasing the gryphon back to the growingly impatient boy, who welcomes his friend by hugging him tightly. “None whatsoever. His father has taught him a few spells and he seems to take to that form of magic quite easily. But nothing else seems to cause him to react the way a god-child should. Even as a baby, his days were rather uneventful.”
“Lovely,” Math snorts derisively. “How tragic and comical that the sole heir of two of our most powerful weapons against Hell is useless as a god.”
“He is young still, my lord,” Iovan notes. “He may yet reveal some great skill. Who knows if he can’t master his father’s more complicated spells? The ones he was trying to perfect before tragedy struck.”
“I don’t want him anywhere near those spells or anything that could send his father’s enemies on the hunt for him,” Math warns the demigod. “Just worry about raising him. I will deal with his education.”
“I shall, my lord Archon,” Iovan states, extending a hand in the child’s direction. Gwydion slides carefully off the chaise and, holding his beloved toy tightly in his arms, walks over to his tutor’s side. “Say goodnight to your uncle Math, little Dion.”
The boy looks up at Math and bows brightly. “Goodnight, Uncle Math.”
“Goodnight, nephew,” Math replies. He looks at the demigod. “Goodnight, Iovan.”
“Goodnight, my lord,” Iovan says as he turns to leave, offering his hand for the young boy to hold. “Come with me now, Dion, and hold on tightly to Gryphy. We don’t want to lose him, do we?”
Dion takes Iovan’s hand and hugs the toy with his free arm, nuzzling the stuffed gryphon. “No,” he says. “Are we going home now? I wanna see my mommy.”
Math watches them leave the room before collapsing onto a chair and helping himself to a glass of Ambrosia from the crystal decanter that sits on the small table by the chaise.
“Oh, Eidon…” he whispers in between sips. “Of all the things you could have left me alone to deal with, why did it have to be him?”