This story was written in
January of 2006. It was originally included in
an Art Book circle - that is, a group of friends
sent each other blank books, and took turns
filling them in. This story went in Sapphire-chan's
book. It is set in
Bordertown, which was home to a series of
shared-world anthologies edited by Terri
IV. The Realization
Tanilith sat on the edge of the low stone wall
and looked out across the rolling hills of her
home. The sun was setting, painting the sky with
an incredible display of colors, and the whole
of the land seemed to be holding its breath.
Birds and beasts had fallen silent; even the
wind was still.
It was indescribably beautiful, and Tanilith was
utterly sick of it.
She had taken pains to be sure that she was
completely alone: no small feat in this land,
for a member of her House. But this was a
feeling that had been growing on her for a very
long time – forever, she sometimes thought. She
felt a need to explore it, but it was not a
thing that she could indulge in any sort of
company. Solitude had been worth the effort.
“Enough,” she said again.
I. The Contest
Three weeks earlier
Amarin drew back from the point of Tanilith’s
blade, the fingers of his left hand twisting as
he conjured with them. A shield of shimmering
silver formed in front of his hand, and he used
it to beat her blade aside. His blade came
forward in a quick double-feint, trying to
recapture the initiative.
Tanilith retreated, but only for a single step.
She was watching him, calculating. Amarin was
skilled; there was no denying it. He was a
little taller than she, his hair wheat to the
honey color of hers. Handsome, if that had been
any sort of consideration in the midst of a
The second feint became a thrust, aimed at her
eyes: impossible to ignore. She murmured a
single syllable as her hand twisted up, and a
glove of purest gold – so pure it might have
been woven from sunlight – coalesced around her
hand as she swept his point aside. She made no
effort to grasp his blade, knowing that he would
already be sending – something – along it.
Unneeded, her magical gauntlet dispersed.
There. She shifted the angle of her own blade,
launching the tip towards his extended right
arm. He swept out with his conjured shield, but
the edge fell short by a rose petal’s thickness.
Her tip speared the inside of his wrist, and his
blade hit the ground as his arm went numb. The
shield dissipated immediately, but before he
could call the weapon into his left hand
Tanilith slipped forward and tapped him in the
center of the chest. His body froze as her blade
delivered its spell, the one she would have used
an instant earlier if she had been sure of
reaching her target. Elvish swordplay was a
thing of subtlety and refinement, whose conjured
effects were used only as they were needed.
Off-balance and unable to move, Amarin started
to fall. It wouldn’t have hurt him – the spell
which held him frozen would also keep him from
breaking – but Tanilith lowered her point and
extended her left hand to steady him. It
required only a little pressure, applied at the
proper point, and it spared his dignity a
little. Though he seldom beat her, Amarin was a
worthy opponent, and he always treated her
“Ishannarith,” announced the Judge. It is over.
The word was spoken in the older, more formal
language, which was always used in these
tournaments. “Inushal, Tanilith.” Tanilith has
Tanilith stepped back and released her spell.
Amarin caught his balance with a small movement,
little more than the sliding of a single foot.
He made a formal obeisance, acknowledging his
defeat. A less polite opponent might have
retrieved his blade first, but Amarin was
content to salute her without it.
She saluted him with her blade: a mark of
respect returned. Sheathing it first would have
indicated disrespect for his blade-skills, if
not for Amarin himself. Then, restless, she
turned from the ring.
Her blade-Master, Inyalya Senuil, was seated
with the rest of her students. Tanilith paused
at the edge of the ring and addressed her: “Mita sho tabrin theyir.”
I am deeply grateful for
your excellent teaching. It was the customary
end to each match, delivered by the winner to
his or her teacher since the world first rose
out of chaos.
Inyalya rewarded her with a small smile, and
Tanilith stepped out of the ring and approached.
“Well executed,” said the blade-Master, as
Tanilith joined the other students at her feet.
Tanilith turned her head, looking back at the
ring, and Inyalya asked: “Is something amiss?”
“Your teaching brings me victory, and victory
honors my House.” Tanilith’s voice was flat,
dissatisfied. “What could be amiss?”
“What indeed?” asked Inyalya. “Is it the young
Tanilith shook her head. “Amarin fought his
“Then the tournament itself,” said the
blade-Master. “I know my lessons do not please
Her words prompted gasps from several of the
other students, and Tanilith stiffened. “Master,
no. I respect–”
“Of course you do.” Inyalya’s words stopped her.
“You are a diligent student, Tanilith, but I am
too old for you to trick. You respect me, and
you respect the art, but it does not stir your
Tanilith lowered her eyes, a tacit
“Even so,” said her teacher, “You are a good
student. I would rather have a dozen of your
sort, than one who is passionate about the art
but lacks the patience for study.”
II. The Painting
Three days earlier
“Good,” said Marith e’Leura. “Not perfect, but
good. To match the Kikara style, you must use
shorter strokes. Kikara was quite clear that one
must only touch the canvas gently, sensitively,
and above all briefly.”
“Briefly,” said Tanilith, glancing from the
delicate lines of her landscape to the face of
her teacher. “Yes, paint-Master.”
Marith moved to his next student, and Tanilith
set her painting aside and placed another canvas
on her easel. She knew better than to point out
that her painting avoided the complete Kikara
style deliberately. ‘Who are you?’ he would ask,
as he had before, ‘to correct Kikara’s style?’
He didn’t seem to understand that she didn’t
want to correct it. She only wanted to do
something of her own.
Inralia leaned over as Tanilith finished the
preliminary lines of her next attempt. “What are
you doing?” she asked, looking puzzled.
“A painting in the Kikara style,” said Tanilith.
“Absolutely, perfectly, in the Kikara style.”
“But… the Kikara style is the pinnacle of
landscape paintings,” said Inralia, her own
efforts forgotten as she stared at the shapes on
her friend’s canvas.
“I know,” said Tanilith shortly. “That’s why
this will be a painting of a toaster.”
III. The Conversation
Three hours earlier
“Disturbing words have reached our ears,” said
Lady Marilia, sitting straight-backed in her
“Yes, mother.” Tanilith lowered her eyes. A
formal summons to meet with her mother might
mean many things, but when the Lady sat in that
particular chair it never boded well.
“First we hear that you are discontent with your
lessons in the blade, though your teacher holds
you in esteem and you bring honor to our house
in Tourney. Then we hear that you mocked your
paint-Master to his face.”
“Mother, no!” Tanilith raised her voice in
protest. “I only told him that I was not Kikara.”
Her mother looked down at her. “You did more
than that, child.”
Tanilith lowered her eyes. “I reminded him that
if Kikara had painted only as the Masters taught
him, he would not be counted among the Masters
“You sullied Kikara’s style by using to create a
painting of some sort of foul human artifact.
You mocked the Masters, and your teacher.”
“I…” Tanilith hesitated. “I meant no
“And now I hear…” Her mother stopped. “Where did
you learn of such a thing?”
Tanilith looked away. She knew she was in
trouble, and she accepted that. She had left
them – her parents, her teachers – with very
little choice except to treat her this way.
Refusing to answer would not improve the
situation, but on her life she could think of no
way to reply.
After a moment her mother said, “Have you been
entering those… clubs?”
Surprised, Tanilith shook her head. “No, mother.
On my honor, no. What I know of human artifice,
I learned… elsewhere. You know how children
Her mother looked at her sternly, but Tanilith
met her eyes. They were, she thought, at an
impasse of sorts. She had told her mother
something – that she had not entered the
strange, subversive Underhill clubs where
illicit human music was played – but not where
she had learned of humankind and its creations.
Her mother would guess that she had been exposed
by her friends, but not which friends or where…
and her mother would know that Tanilith would
not want to tell her those things.
She could push, of course, and force her
daughter either to tell, or to defy her
directly. Instead, she hesitated. “I’m of a mind
to withdraw you from that trip,” she said.
“If you like, mother. I try to be a dutiful
daughter. Command me to stay, and I will.”
Tanilith was suddenly scared. She had been
looking forward to the trip to Bordertown, the
chance to see its newer arts and its reinvention
of the classical styles. It had occurred to her
when she began to paint that paint-Master Marith
might refuse to take her, but she had never
imagined that her own mother might refuse to let
her go. And yet… to show any sign of interest,
or panic, would be to give away her weakness.
Her only defense was to let her mother think
that she cared little either way. And I do.
There are worse things that could happen. If I
don’t go now, I will go later.
“Promise me you will never enter those clubs,”
her mother said sharply. Then she sniffed,
almost as if she were amused. “At least until
you are married, and your actions will only
embarrass some other House.”
“You have my word,” Tanilith said immediately.
“Thank you, mother.”
V. The Decision
“A dutiful daughter,” Tanilith said to herself.
“An apt student. An imitator of other people’s
arts. Is that all that I am? Is that all that I
She watched the velvet darkness slowly gather,
and heard the first of the night-birds clear its
“No,” she said to the empty air. “It’s not
VI. The Trial
“Name?” The guard looked bored. He had
interviewed a dozen people in her group alone;
Earth and Sky knew how many he had seen over the
course of the day, asking the same questions and
watching his spells of truth and intention.
“Tanilith.” She answered automatically; she was
thinking about painting. Blade-Master Inyalya
had been right: the art of the sword held little
interest for her. Instead, she had been
considering how she might have painted the
Borderwall in the style of Kikara: short brush
strokes, delicately touching the canvas, colors
added in incremental layers. Even so, she was
not sure she could capture the subtlety of the
working that divided human lands from the True
and Only Realm, but it was the attempt that
mattered. In her mind, she traced each movement,
each layer, careful to match Kikara’s
“Reason for visiting Bordertown?”
The painting wavered, but held. “I’m an art
student,” she said, which avoided the question
but wouldn’t alarm the truth spells. “I’m here
to see Bordertown’s paintings.”
In her mind, she went back to the canvas,
putting the final touches on her creation. She
might not ever be able to paint it, but in her
mind’s eye she could see how it should look.
The guard hesitated, but his spells revealed
nothing untoward. If the girl seemed a little
distracted, well then, and what did he expect
from an artist? “Pass,” he said.
Tanilith moved on, and Inralia stepped up the
VII. The Experience
Three days later
They had spent the first two days in the elegant
art galleries of the upper city, and Tanilith
could not help but be disappointed. The work
here was progressive, to be sure, but it still
seemed very formal. She saw considerable skill
in execution, but none of the
boundary-destroying imagination she had hoped
for. She could produce art like this, but she
could never be satisfied with it.
But on the third day paint-Master Marith e’Leura
scandalized half the class by taking them into
the lower city to see some of the smaller, less
esteemed galleries. “Remember,” he had told
them, “that the human world has its painters as
well, crude and unsophisticated as they may be.
The works you have seen so far have been
influenced by their exposure to these other
styles; now I want you to see what those
It was a long walk. Magic worked poorly here
(the paint-Master said it was tainted by
nearness to the human world, as so many other
things were) and there were no sensible means of
transportation. Tanilith’s legs and feet were
aching by the time they reached the lower city,
and the charms she muttered to restore them
fizzled and died, leaving only a faint scent of
lavender on the air. The buildings here were the
remains of a human city, stone and brick and
concrete, low and heavy compared to the
gleaming, slender elegance of the towers in the
True Lands. It was not as dirty as she had been
led to expect, but she was disappointed
nevertheless. What manner of art could possibly
spring from such dreary surroundings as these?
Inralia stayed close at Tanilith’s side, looking
around with a mixture of fear and disbelief, as
if she half-expected to be assaulted on the
spot. Certainly, the streets were busy; and
crowds were mostly of commoners; and many of
those commoners were human, the bulk of them
unnaturally short and squat, dark of hair and
eye. But Tanilith thought her friend was
overreacting, even when thick-built human in a
black leather jacket cut through the center of
the class as if unaware that they traveled as a
group. He reeked of sweat and other, unfamiliar
things, and he showed not the faintest awareness
of the courtesies, or even that any such things
Amarin moved up beside Inralia, opposite
Tanilith. “Be at ease,” he said softly. “He was
not worth your notice.”
Inralia frowned at him, but seemed to relax.
Tanilith glanced at him curiously, but he only
met her eyes briefly and then looked away. With
friends on either side of her, Inralia appeared
to relax even further. “It’s as foul as my
father said it was,” she remarked.
This time Tanilith looked away, her eyes falling
on a young man who moved gracefully past them.
He was too tall, too slender to be human, but
his olive skin and almost-black hair were too
dark to be otherwise. A halfbreed. She’d heard
that was possible, but wasn’t sure she’d
believed it until now. The young man wore a
sword at his hip, belted over a silver jacket,
and people made way for him as they did not do
for the paint-Master and his noble students.
“Very different from home,” Amarin remarked
tactfully, answering Inralia without (quite)
agreeing with her.
“Here,” said the paint-Master, and they turned
into a grubby brick building, passing under a
metal gate and through a narrow wooden door.
With the gate down, the entire front of the
building would be closed off; were such
precautions necessary, here?
The inside of the building was a sharp contrast
to the outside. Soft lighting filled a long,
low-ceilinged room which had been broken up with
a series of partitions and high counter along
part of one wall. Stronger lights had been
arranged in some arcane fashion to fall upon
specific paintings, where they hung upon the
walls and the partitions. An elegant vinework
tracery had been sculpted into the wall just
below the ceiling, and painted over with
considerable care. Soft music flowed into the
room from several points; Tanilith picked out
the black mesh of its sources and decided that
it, like the lights, must be delivered by some
human artifice. Still, the effect was salutary.
A single human woman, sleepy-eyed and
red-haired, straightened up from behind the
counter and called them a greeting. It was
politely worded and given in their own tongue,
though with a truly atrocious accent.
Paint-Master Marith replied grudgingly with his
name and their business, and the human returned
her attention to whatever had occupied her
Tanilith was already moving away, towards the
nearest of the pictures. It was crude, and a
little garish; dabs and strokes of color
delivered with a great deal of force onto the
canvas. She could almost see the artist at work,
furious with concentration and hurry, slapping
his paints down so that he could finish before…
what? Before he lost the light? Before his
inspiration left him? Before he had to go make
She shook her head. It didn’t matter. This was
what she had been looking for: this sense that
painting was worth doing, not for the acclaim it
brought her house or as a vacant imitation of
the skills of the Masters, but in its own right.
The thing in itself, she thought.
“Just so,” said the paint-Master,
misinterpreting her gesture. “I warned you that
these would be crude and clumsy, but you needed
to see them.” The rest of the class gathered
around as he raised a hand to indicate the
pointing. “Consider the way in which this artist
uses his paint. Wasteful, compared to the
elegance of a Kikara or Lorinim…”
VIII The Escape
Tanilith listened to him talk, and managed not
to smile. She glanced once at the circle of
faces around them, and was disturbed to find
Amarin’s eyes on her; the others were watching
She hung back a little when Marith finished
speaking and moved on to the next piece of art.
This one wasn’t even a painting; at least, not
exclusively. Layers of thick paper, dead leaves,
and a bit of string had been placed on the
canvas beneath the paint, giving it an odd,
artificial sense of depth. In some ways she
liked it better than the first piece; what it
lacked in urgency it made up in experimentation.
The paint-Master, of course, had no kinds words
for such a bastardized technique.
The next painting was on the opposite side of
the partition, and once the paint-Master was
behind it and the rest of the students were
focused on him, Tanilith found it easy enough to
walk over to the counter. She couldn’t go out
the front door; it had a little bell, which
would alert the paint-Master immediately.
“How may I help you?” The woman’s accent was so
terrible that it took Tanilith a moment to sort
through the words… and the she hesitated, unable
to begin with what she really wanted to ask.
“Forgive him,” she said. “He speaks only what he
The woman smiled and lowered his voice further.
“All is well. We have visitors like him, and
most often they only end by encouraging others
Tanilith took a second to be sure she had heard
the humor correctly, then smiled. “Do you have a
back door?” she asked softly.
The woman bent over the desk, writing quickly
with an oddly-shaped instrument. Tanilith felt
her stomach drop, sure that she had offended the
woman somehow. She would be lucky if the human
only ignored her; a few of the right words,
spoken loudly, would ensure that Tanilith would
be bundled back across the border in disgrace.
She had just started to step back when the woman
handed her a piece of paper. I hope she writes
better than she speaks, Tanilith thought, then
chided herself for being uncharitable. She spoke
none of the human languages at all, and so had
no room to criticize.
The words on the paper were an address. “There’s
a door behind the last row.” The woman kept her
voice low and made no other movements. “Go
straight down the hall, and out the door at the
end.” She nodded at the paper. “The people there
can help you, if you desire.”
“Thank you,” said Tanilith, slipping
unconsciously into the older, formal language.
The woman nodded as if she understood, then went
back to her work as Tanilith slipped back to
join the class. She needed only one thing more:
She followed the others around the room,
watching their movements – and particular the
paint-Masters – with the same focused precision
that she had used in the Tourney. Her timing was
flawless: paint-Master Marith finished his
commentary and turned away, and the rest of the
class turned to follow, and she took a single
step back, placing herself behind the last
partition. The hallway was right in front of
her, made narrow by a stack of boxes on one
side, and she slipped lightly down it to the
It was fashioned after the human style, light
metal with a round knob. She could detect no
spells upon it. If it has any human security,
I’m trapped. Her heart was beating faster, but
when she tried the knob it clicked sharply and
the door opened.
She slipped outside, listening for any sounds of
disturbance as she pulled it closed behind her.
Then she turned, regarding the dirty alley
behind the gallery…
And barely stifled a shriek as Amarin touched
her arm. How?
But she knew. He’d been watching her, and he’d
guessed – somehow, when even Inralia had not the
least inkling – what she meant to do. And he’d
seen how she would have to proceed, and he’d
“I don’t…” Her voice trembled, shaming her, and
she swallowed and began again. “I don’t think I
can explain. I’m a valued member of a successful
House; how can I not be happy with my life?”
But Amarin shook his head gently. “I don’t
understand your discontent, Tanilith, but I do
see it. And if you will allow it, I would walk a
while with you.”
It was a delicately phrased offer, with no hint
of what he might do if she refused. But… she
didn’t think he would interfere, even if she
refused. And she was alone, and scared, and it
would be good to have a familiar face for
company in such a strange, bastard place as
“Yes,” she said. “I will allow it.”
He smiled. “My heart is gladdened. Do you know
where we’re going?”
“No…” Thinking of the piece of paper in her
belt, she added: “…but I have an idea where to
His smile broadened, and he motioned for her to
proceed. “All good projects begin with an idea.”
The Bordertown world was created by, and
is copyrighted by, Terri Windling. The world,
its landmarks, and its characters are used with
her permission only. All rights to Borderland
material are reserved by Ms. Windling and the
authors of the Borderland books.