The second portrait hung on the landing of the stairs, looking thoroughly out of place. From below Brianna could see the ornate gilded frame, its heavy carving quite at odds with the solid, battered comfort of the house's other furnishings. It reminded her of pictures in museums; this homely setting seemed incongruous.
As she followed Jenny onto the landing the glare of light from the window disappeared, leaving the painting's surface flat and clear before her.
She gasped, and felt the hair rise on her forearms, under the linen of her shirt.
"It's remarkable, aye?" Jenny looked from the painting to Brianna and back again, her own features marked with something between pride and awe.
"Remarkable!" Brianna agreed, swallowing.
"Ye see why we kent ye at once," her aunt went on, laying a loving hand against the carved frame.
"Yes. Yes, I can see that."
"It will be my mother, aye? Your grandmother, Ellen MacKenzie."
"Yes," Brianna said. "I know." Dust motes stirred up by their footsteps whirled lazily through the afternoon light from the window. Brianna felt rather as though she was whirling with them, no longer anchored to reality.
Two hundred years from now, she had—I will? she thought wildly—stood in front of this portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, furiously denying the truth that it showed.
Ellen MacKenzie looked out at her now as she had then; long-necked and regal, slanted eyes showing a humor that did not quite touch the tender mouth. It wasn't a mirror image, by any means; Ellen's forehead was high, narrower than Brianna's, and the chin was round, not pointed, her whole face somewhat softer and less bold in its features.
But the resemblance was there, and pronounced enough to be startling; the wide cheekbones and lush red hair were the same. And around her neck was the string of pearls, gold roundels bright in the soft spring sun.
"Who painted it?" Brianna said at last, though she didn't need to hear the answer. The tag by the painting in the museum had given the artist as "Unknown." But having seen the portrait of the two little boys below, Brianna knew, all right. This picture was less skilled, an earlier effort—but the same hand had painted that hair and skin.
"My mother herself," Jenny was saying, her voice filled with a wistful pride. "She'd a great hand for drawing and painting. I often wished I had the gift."
Brianna felt her fingers curl unconsciously, the illusion of the brush between them momentarily so vivid she could have sworn she felt smooth wood.
That's where, she thought, with a small shiver, and heard an almost audible click! of recognition as a tiny piece of her past dropped into place. That's where I got it.
Frank Randall had joked that he couldn't draw a straight line; Claire that she drew nothing else. But Brianna had the gift of line and curve, of light and shadow—and now she had the source of the gift, as well.
What else? she thought suddenly. What else did she have that had once belonged to the woman in the picture, to the boy with the stubborn tilt to his head?
"Ned Gowan brought me this from Leoch," Jenny said, touching the frame with a certain reverence. "He saved it, when the English battered down the castle, after the Rising." She smiled faintly. "He's a great one for family, Ned is. He's a Lowlander from Edinburgh, wi' no kin of his own, but he's taken the MacKenzies for his clan—even now the clan's no more."
"No more?" Brianna blurted. "They're all dead?" The horror in her voice made Jenny glance at her, surprised.
"Och, no. I didna mean that, lass. But Leoch's gone," she added, in a softer tone. "And the last chiefs with it—Colum and his brother Dougal ... they died for the Stuarts."
She had known that, of course; Claire had told her. What was surprising was the sudden rush of an unexpected grief; regret for these strangers of her newfound blood. With an effort, she swallowed the thickening in her throat and turned to follow Jenny up the stairs.
"Was Leoch a great castle?" she asked. Her aunt paused, hand on the banister.
"I dinna ken," she said. Jenny glanced back at Ellen's picture, something like regret in her eyes.
"I never saw it—and now it's gone."