Brianna was amazed at how many different ways there were to make brown, how many different shades and how all of them seemed to be found on Murtagh. His hair, beard, and eyebrows were darkest. His skin was browned from the sun but that was a lighter, ruddier shade - some of it was dirt from the fields and woods. His shirt was lightest but that too was dingy.
He moved to scratch his nose and she glared at him.
“Sorry lass but I been setting on my arse for a solid hour now,” he apologized. “Will ye no let me walk about to stretch me legs?”
Brianna sighed and set her brush and palette down. “It’s fine. The light is fading anyway.”
Murtagh rose from the stool and straightened his stiff limbs. Brianna could hear the joints cracking from behind her easel and felt a brief wave of guilt - it was too much to expect him to sit in an unnatural position for so long at his age.
He moved to the window to look out. “Aye, the clouds are gathering. Yer no likely to get more done today lass. Am I allowed te see it yet?”
“No, yer not,” Brianna affirmed with all the authority she’d learned from her mother. “No till it’s finished.”
Murtagh shrugged and walked about the parlor some more, his movement loosening the further he got from the stool.
It had been Auntie Jenny’s idea - using Murtagh as a portrait subject.
“Ye’ve yer grandmother’s gift,” Auntie Jenny had said with a nod to the portraits in the hall upstairs.
Mam had been able to help with the berries, herbs, and minerals to help mix her paints whenever her supplies ran too low - though whenever Murtagh went on the periodically necessary trips to Edinburgh he always returned with more.
It had occurred to her one day that there was no portrait of Murtagh anywhere so she asked if he’d mind sitting for her - she’d worried it would take more coaxing than it did - and had been struggling to complete the task since. There was always something… not quite right about the sketches she made. She finally gave up and just began painting, hoping the portrait would take shape once she had color to work with. Except there was a lack of color about Murtagh sitting there on the stool and staring at a spot just over her shoulder.
He left her contemplating the drying image, heading outside where Young Ian and William were playing in the yard.
Da came out of his study with a ledger in his hand. He looked around before approaching Brianna.
“Ye wouldna happen to know where yer Mam has gone?” he asked, glancing at the portrait.
“Rabbie’s wife went into labor this morning,” she informed him.
“Ah. Did yer subject rise up and abandon ye then?” he nodded to the empty stool.
“Light’s shifted. I let him go.”
“Kind of ye. Dinna fash, mo nighean ruaidh,” Da said with a quick pat to her shoulder. “Ye’ll get better light soon.”
“It’s no the light, Da. It’s… I just canna seem to get Murtagh right. He’s so stiff when he sits there like he’s got something up his… like he doesna want to be there,” she caught herself.
Da laughed. “Well, it isna in Murtagh’s nature to be on display like that. Ye must give him time to get used to the sitting.”
Brianna rose on her toes to give Da a kiss on the cheek.
“What was that for?”
“For giving me an idea. Do ye have any loose bits of paper to spare?”
* * *
It rained the next few days so Brianna told Murtagh she wouldn’t need him to sit until the lighting matched what it had been when she started. There was something in her expression that left him uneasy - why did lasses always look like they were up to something?
When the sun did return and he’d prepared himself for another sitting, she smiled and told him that in fact, she’d finished the day before and it was ready for him to see.
“I want to show everyone else but thought ye might like to see it first.” She bit her lip in her excitement before leading him into the parlor.
The easel sat in place of his stool and was turned so it caught the light.
Murtagh’s brow furrowed as he examined the picture.
“Why’d ye have me sit there for days on end if ye were no gon te use it?” he exclaimed but there was a note of satisfaction in the accusation. He managed to catch the attention of several other members of the household who came to investigate.
“It wasn’t you,” Brianna tried to explain as Da came up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder. “So I sketched ye when ye didna know I was watching.”
In the painting, Murtagh was leaning against the door post by one of the outbuildings. On the grass in front of him, Young Ian and William were scratching lines in the dirt and building huts out of twigs and leaves. There was a quiet smile on Murtagh’s face as he watched the boys.
“Ye’ve painted him in his kilt,” Da remarked, amazed.
Brianna flushed. “I copied the tartan from the portrait of you and Uncle Willie upstairs,” she confessed.
“Huh?” William asked as he and Young Ian came to investigate what everyone was looking at. “I wanna see,” he proclaimed, pushing his way forward. “It’s me!” he exclaimed excitedly.
Da ruffled the hair on his son’s head. “Aye, lad. It is.”
“You’re right where you’re supposed to be,” Mam assured Murtagh giving him a quick peck on the cheek before adding, “Making sure young Frasers keep away from trouble - well, young Frasers and young Murrays.”
“Away from trouble?” Da said with a laugh. “From what I recall Murtagh ne’er lifted a finger to prevent me getting in trouble - though ye have been there often enough to help me out of it.”
“Thank ye, lass,” Murtagh said to Brianna, ignoring Jamie’s banter. “It’s… Ye have yer grandmother’s gift, aright.”