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She stared at the portrait blankly. It was exceptional work, to be sure, but it showed a beautiful woman that she did not recognise.

“Fine work, ” she said. “But who is this?”

The painter smiled awkwardly, and swept a bow so deep that his beard almost brushed his boots.

“My lady,” he said, “That is your portrait, as commissioned by your dear father.”

She blinked a couple of times, then burst out into laughter.

“A fine joke,” she said eventually, leaning on the back of a nearby chair to catch her breath. “But in truth I am keen to see what you have made of my own face.”

The painter looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Milady… ’twas no joke. That is your portrait.”

Her laughter stopped and her eyes narrowed. “That is the worst kind of jest. This lady has not my sallow complexion, not my wide bones nor my nose, nor my forehead- I am quite familiar with my reflection, sir,and this bears no relation to it.”

The painter clasped his hands together and bit on his lip before answering. “My lady,” he said slowly, “My task is to… illustrate the fine and beautiful nature of your soul; to create an image of you as you should be seen-”

She bristled and clenched her hands in a most unladylike manner. “I should be seen as I am,” she snapped. “This portrait is to be sent to the man my father would have me marry. What will he say when, instead of the fine and delicate being you have painted, he sees me at the altar – a marriage begun in such inevitable disappointment cannot bear anything but the bitterest fruit.”

He tried again. “No man could be disappointed, my lady, you are a fine match-”

“Aye, but I am under no illusions as to my beauty or lack thereof. I am not this maid! I will have no false portrait sent to my husband to be. He will take me as I am or not at all. You will begin again.”

The painter looked around for help, but none was coming.

“Very well, my lady,” he said, resigning himself to his fate and gesturing towards his studio. “We must begin again.”

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: Three Word Wednesday time again, and this week the words are False, Illustrate and Sallow.)