Disclaimer: Much as I wish I did, I do not own any of the characters or places in this story. They belong to Tamora Pierce.

Right. Well, first chapter up. I'm sorry it's not very long and I'll try to make my later chapters longer. Hope everybody likes this!


Chapter One

Alanna sat staring into space. A gentle breeze wafted past, ruffling her short red hair. She glowered, and attempted to hold it down, but wisps managed to escape her grasp and drift across her face. Her hair was getting a bit too long for comfort and would need to be trimmed soon, at least before her friends noticed. Alanna's eyebrows lowered at the thought, and her purple eyes glinted dangerously. The last time Coram had tried to cut her hair, he'd cut it so short she despaired of it ever growing back. There was no way she would let him near her with scissors again, not in a million years.

"Alan!" Hearing the familiar voice of Alexander of Tirrigan, she struggled to suppress a groan and plastered a smile on her face. Today really wasn't going well for her. She definitely wasn't in the mood to duel. For some reason Alex had begun to challenge her constantly about a week ago, and she had taken to hiding in corners just to escape fighting him.

"Hi, Alex," she replied through gritted teeth, smile still firmly in place. Please let him want to borrow some books, she thought to herself, just for once let him be disorganised.

"I saw you here all alone and I thought…well…I thought you might want to duel. It's the perfect day for it. So what do you say? Shall we?"

There was no way Alanna could refuse. She couldn't think of any good excuses and there was nobody around to rescue her. Her knight-master, Jonathan of Conte, was out hunting bandits, so there was no chance there either. Grimly, she nodded and stood up. "Right. Fine."

Alex smiled and gestured for her to follow him. "I thought we could try dueling with proper swords for once." He added casually as they strode across the courtyard. "What with you being in your third year as a squire now. I mean, we're both able to handle ourselves pretty well, aren't we?"

Things had just gone from bad to worse, and Faithful wasn't around to caution her or give her advice. Ever since their last "duel" Alanna had been wary of Alex. The recent bouts she could handle, as her friends were always around to watch them, but this, this was something else. Now they'd be dueling with proper blades and there'd be no one around to stop Alex if he got dangerous. She was about to open her mouth to tell him in no uncertain terms exactly what she thought of the idea when natural competitiveness got in the way. Maybe this time she might beat him. Berating herself for it she nodded again. "Yeah, I guess we are."

"Excellent." Alex smiled again, but this time Alanna noticed that his smile didn't quite reach his eyes. Warning bells pealed inside her head but she chose to ignore them. I'm probably just seeing things, she thought.

Reaching the practice courts, she went over to one side and began stretching. From the corner of her eye, Alanna could see Alex doing the same. Finishing the stretches, she drew Lightning and checked the edge for flaws. As usual, there were none, and she made her way to the centre of the court where Alex was already waiting.

Both swung their swords up to the guard position and moved their weight onto the balls of their feet. Alex began with a simple feint, designed to test Alanna's reflexes. She ignored it and launched a riposte of her own. Alex blocked it easily. A grim smile edged its way onto his face. His limbs were relaxed, his shoulders down. He took a step back, waiting, daring her to attack.

She did, but cautiously. Feinting towards his head, she took a sidestep and swiped at his feet. He dodged with ease and responded with a quick slice to her arm which she barely avoided. As the duel continued, Alanna felt herself heating up, both from the unseasonably warm Spring weather and from her own anger. She didn't want to be in this position. Sure, she and Alex had their differences...to put it lightly, but still, she didn't want to be here, fighting. And most definitely did not want to lose.

The duel continued, getting more heated by the second until they danced amid a blur of blows. Somehow Alex was everywhere, and Alanna barely able to counter him. This was not how it was supposed to go. She watched his chest, trying to work out what he would do next. But he gave nothing way, and still that smirk remained on his face. He stabbed, once, twice, three times, putting her on the defensive. Finally, dodging a blow which came dangerously close to cutting her neck, Alanna was forced to back up a few steps. She had already tried switching sword hands, but that hadn't worked, and she had been through almost every sequence that she knew. Nothing got past Alex's guard. Then again, nothing Alex tried had gotten through hers either. Yet.

Finally, worn out and sweaty, Alanna spotted a breach in his defence. She rushed to disarm him but had forgotten the toll the fight had already taken on her. Like a snake, he moved out of the way as she was halfway through her lunge. Off-balance, she tripped and attempted to right herself. Even as she did this, Alex's sword snaked out and caught her a harsh blow on her side.

Alanna screamed, and fell heavily, her sword pinned beneath her. Gods, it had happened again. But this time the wound was a lot worse and there was no Coram or Myles to help her. She struggled desperately to retain consciousness but her head swam and her side was on fire.

"Alan? Oh dear gods! What have I done?" Alex's words echoed dimly around her numbed head but she didn't pay them much heed. Pain was creeping through her brain, making everything seem a blur.

As though from very far away she felt hands tugging at her and voices shouting. One stood out above the rest, "Stand back and give the lad some air. We're going to need to take that shirt off him if we want to get to the wound." It was Sir Gareth the younger, barking out orders as per usual.

Alanna nearly smiled at this thought until one thing he had said pierced her mind and made the blackness recede temporarily. "We're going to need to take that shirt off him," Oh no. Oh no no no. This was not good. Feebly she tried to struggle against the hands holding her, but her weak muscles wouldn't do what she told them. After a little tugging, her shirt came up and off her body to gasps of surprise.

"Mithros!" She felt rather than saw the people around her jump back at the sight of her bound breasts. "Alan…Alan's a girl!"

Even as uproar spread through the practice court Alanna, thankfully, receded into unconsciousness. Her last coherent thought was: please let this all just be a dream.