“The light is bad today, Ootlara,” the Contessa observed as she gently rocked Squitara.
The artist nodded, her tentacles drifting slowly above her head. “Storms in the Otherworld. The last session's light was so much better. Fortunately we only need to do these last details, so the lighting won't matter so much.”
The Contessa laughed as her daughter waved the fish at her. “The lighting isn't the only thing being uncooperative, isn't that right little squidling?”
Squitara blew bubbles and trilled, revelling in the attention.
Ootlara smiled as she worked, the finished painting hanging on a wall never reflected the special little moments that went into creating it. A stranger gazing at it would never know the laughter, the tantrums, the tears of the sitter. It was down to the artist to convey the story the portrait commissioner wanted to tell. For the Contessa's family, the story was of pride, a solid lineage, and tradition.
“Do you know what this lighting reminds me of?” The Contessa's voice broke through the artist's reverie.
“A long time ago, when I was so young,” the Contessa started, then paused to remember. “It was the Seas of Soril that it happened. A ship, a great creaking wooden ship came tumbling down here from the Otherworld. Broken apart, it sent its men down here, the dead and the maimed. You know, the Othermen have hair on top of their head, no tentacles. Imagine that! One that fell down had hair the colour of my dress and it swirled as he fell. He saw me and reached out, his blood was the same colour as his hair and it flowed around him as he tried to swim back to his world. I took him in my arms and we went up. When we broke the surface, I was terrified! All the noise and swirling sea, and I couldn't breathe. He spoke to me, his eyes wild with fear. I don't know what he said. I couldn't understand his words.” She fell silent again.
The artist quietly painted and waited, not wishing to intrude.
“The Othermen's giant ship was broken, and this man grabbed a long piece of wood, but the sea was rough and it battered against him. In my fear, I didn't know what to do to help him. I sank back down to our world, so serene and quiet and waited. Slowly the light changed, brightened. I went back up and found him many leagues away. He was still clinging to that board, but he was dying. His face was ashen pale, but when he saw me, his eyes lit up. He was weak, but managed to take off his necklace, a simple chain with a green jewel. He murmured something and pressed it into my hand, then the light left him, and I was alone up there.”
Ootlara softly inhaled, blinking back a tear. “At least he wasn't alone when he died.”
The Contessa rocked her baby once again. “When the light is like this, I wonder about that man and who he left behind. I only hope they found the light again. I'll teach my children to find light and share it with others.”
The Contessa held her head high and gazed into the distance as the artist finished her painting.