Alright, so I originally had it in my mind that Alanna wouldn't be quick to kill her challengers (based on the mercy she showed in earlier books), but I changed it after reading on the Words of Tamora Pierce blog about how she did kill at first and then switched to maiming.

Anyways: I own nothing worth anything. All the lovely characters you recognize belong to Pierce. Song lyrics do not belong to me.

When I am gone it's just a penny for my soul.

But God he knows, I got a heart of gold.

-James Blunt

Sir Alanna, the King's Champion, had seen her fair share of foul battle maneuvers. She had seen it as a page, with Ralon. She had seen it in her duel with a Tusaine Knight as a squire. She had faced it multiple times while defending the crown against those with little but their dignity to lose. Fairness meant nothing when pride was at stake.

However, no matter how many times a dirty move was used against her, Alanna kept her honor. Her sword had kissed countless throats over the years, but she avoided killing when she could. After the initial deaths that came from trial by combat, she wearied of killing people who simply wanted to test her as a warrior. Some called it a worthy attribute exercised on unworthy criminals. Others called it a flaw. On this certain day, Alanna might have to agree with the latter.

It had started like all the other duels had before. Tense bodies ready to spring at the slightest movement. Sharp edges and the ring of swords colliding. Bawdy comments from her opponent and the uncommon eerie silence from her. The hushed whispers of the audience and the steely gaze of a certain pair of sapphire eyes on the arena. Clutched hands and shuffling feet. It had ended like all the other duels as well, with the King's Champion's sword pointed at the heart of her opponent. The cheer of the watching knights and nobles breaking the silence. The smile of pride that the king reserved specifically for his lioness. No, it was what happened after the end of the duel that changed everything.

As she had done several times before, the woman pulled her helmet off with one hand and shook out her copper hair. She gave her opponent an icy glare and lifted her sword from his chest. In a flash, his hand was disconnected from his body and lay bleeding on the floor. She would spill no more blood than that. Maiming was where she drew the line, which usually discouraged people more than death did, ironically. However, even lacking a limb, the man had other ideas.

When the knight turned to walk away, the man on the ground leapt to his feet with uncanny speed for a wounded man. His shield was the closest to him and he normally wielded his sword with his left arm, which was no longer whole. The shield was retrieved quickly with his right hand, the the bleeding stump of his left pressed tightly to his side. He threw it blindly, yet powerfully towards the champion. A last effort to kill the woman who had shown him mercy, but shamed him all the same.

Heads turned. A angry roar sounded in the audience. Ladies' screams split the air. In one tense moment steel met skin, swords converged on a man blinded with rage, and the king's champion dropped to the ground.

She awoke to the sound of pacing feet and hushed whispers. She registered the different voices. "Healed most of the damage." Baird. "Never saw anyone throw a shield that hard…with one arm." Raoul. "Mithros, the woman thinks everyone has just as much honor as she does." Jonathan. "Quiet down, she'll wake." Thayet. "I think she's already woken up." Myles. Violet eyes scanned the room and met the hazel gaze of the one silent person in the room. George.

He already knew what she was about to ask. "He's dead, lass. Didn't even stand a chance the moment that shield left his hand." She clenched her fists tightly around the sheets. George covered her hands with his own and spoke quietly, "Ye've been out nearly a day. Ye'll be fine but there's a scar to remind you that not all fighters fight as fairly as you do." She knew that. She did, but she still thought everyone deserved the chance to prove themselves honorable. She lifted hand to feel the slightly tender raised flesh on her scalp. Her heart told her everyone had some honor, her scars told her otherwise. Maybe it was a flaw, having too much faith in human nature.

Mercy had little place in battle, but she knew she would still try to fit it in somewhere. George knew it. Jon knew it. Those who watched the champion fight knew it. The Lioness had a sharp tongue and a fiery temper, but she also had a heart of gold.