This is a story inspired by a picture I saw
The Artist's Tale
The young man never spoke to the artist, or anyone for that matter, except for maybe the child. And she was too young to tell. But nevertheless, he still produced a profound impact. The artist would never have painted the picture otherwise.
The artist was traveling with a group of various people, who had all chanced to be heading in the same direction and had banded together for protection. There were many bandits on this particular road. It had been uneventful so far, and they'd reach their destination on the next day. Other travelers included a fat merchant, a trio of mercenaries working as guards, and a new mother with a tiny baby girl, accompanied by a middle-aged servant woman. She didn't say much. The men in the party had learned to leave her alone, especially after the female mercenary had forcefully made the point.
The woman kept to herself, and all of her attention was taken up by the baby. The serving woman was, however, much more talkative, and the artist finally got the story out of her on the last night.
"Her husband came up to the city to oversee some land. My lady's brother owned a big piece, but he vanished a few months ago, when he was on his way to the little one's christening. Upset her something fierce, seeing as how he had promised to come see the baby. But, bein' the responsible sort, she wanted someone to go look after his land, as she was his only kin. But she had just had the little one, and neither were able to travel, so the master came up alone. As soon as they were, she decided that we would join him." And she would not say more on the subject.
The lady mercenary, sent around the glare that meant the subject was to be dropped, and conversation tended to other things. And soon, the others went off to sleep. Soon, only the artist and one of the mercenaries, designated to keep watch, remained awake. It was quite some time before either of them realized there was a newcomer.
He was a handsome, dark haired young man, elegantly dressed. A nobleman, maybe. The mercenary, a tall, thin, wiry man, put his hand on one of his swords. The young man held up his hands, showing he had no weapons. The artist noticed that he was holding a horse's bridle.
"Your horse run off" He nodded. The artist glanced questioningly at the mercenary. "Surely it would be fine if you sat at our fire tonight." The mercenary considered for a moment, and finally agreed that it would be fine.
They sat like that for some time, and the artist was just dozing off, when the young stranger looked up sharply. Without saying anything, he got up and motioned to the mercenary. The mercenary got up, and looked in the direction that the young man pointed. He kicked his co-mercenary, a big giant of a man, and let out a low whistle, waking the woman mercenary.
It was perhaps only that few seconds warning that made the difference. For when the bandits suddenly attacked, the did not find the camp asleep, with only one guard. They found the three mercenaries up, with weapons drawn, and the resulting clamor woke every one else. The merchant evidently knew how to handle himself, much to the surprise of nearly everyone, and the artist had a fair weapon hand himself. It was a close thing, but they eventually drove the bandits off.
They did not notice until then that the young mother, the baby, and the young stranger were missing. Two of the mercenaries immediately went in the direction the bandits had fled, and soon returned carrying the woman. She was unconscious, but not badly hurt. There was no sign of the baby or the young man.
The servant was near hysteria when the young man stepped silently out of the surrounding brush, the baby in his arms. He stood at the edge of the road, his back to them all, looking down at the tiny girl. She reached up to him. The lady mercenary calmed the servant down, and sent her to tend to her mistress. Meanwhile, the artist was watching the young man.
He was still looking down at the baby, a look of sadness on his face. Nothing else seemed to have any meaning to him. The servant, having assured herself that her mistress would be fine, came to get the baby. She took one look at the young man, and exclaimed, "Your Lordship!" And then she fainted dead away.
The young man seemed to return to his senses. He gently laid the child on the ground, and touched her hair. Then, after one last long look at her, he turned and walked into the forest. The thin mercenary followed him.
The artist was startled when the baby started crying. She had been silent until then. Not quite knowing what else to do, he picked her up and tried to comfort her. He was relieved when the servant came to, and took over. She looked badly frightened and confused, and he decided not to press her about it.
When the mercenary returned, he also looked disturbed. He had a short, whispered conference with the other two, and the artist was close enough to overhear.
The mercenary had followed the young man, but had quickly lost him. Going in the same rough direction, he had eventually chanced on a clearing. It had been a campsite once, very much like this one, but not close enough to the road to be practical for travelers. And the mercenary had found something there, carelessly buried, that needed closer examination.
That was the extent of it. The mercenaries did not speak any more of it, and the rest of the night passed uneventfully. In the morning, the group left early, and made it to the city late in the day. Things went on.
But the artist did not forget. He was given to thinking of certain things when his mind wasn't otherwise occupied. In the end, he painted the picture and gave it to the mother of the child. She cried and thanked him. He left the city soon after that. He wouldn't take the road through the woods.
You can still see the portrait today. It still hangs in the great manor. The young lord's sister and her husband moved in after his untimely death. There are many people who praise the artist?s skill and imagination, for surely it took a great deal of both for him to be able to paint the young lord as he had been in life, holding his infant niece, who he didn't live to see.