2016 Revision: This story had a wealth of inconsistencies, the major one being the armor situation. Post-revision, the armor conditions more or less mirror those in ITHOTG.
Alanna getting Jon's nod of assent is a personal head canon of mine. For me, it signifies Alanna's place as Jon's sword arm. While she does the heavy lifting here, it is very much his orders being carried out.
The tone of the original one-shot was much lighter, and the revision is far grittier in theme. This is what led me to change the lyrics at the top, which used to be a segment from James Blunt.
Disclaimer: All the characters you recognize belong to Pierce. Song lyrics are not mine.
Well, my heart is gold and my hands are cold.
- Gasoline by Halsey
As the King's Champion, Alanna had seen her fair share of foul battle maneuvers. While grand displays of chivalry would likely mean your life on the field of battle, it was still a tradition clutched tightly to the chests of the aristocracy. Nobles often preferred to besmirch their honor in far more subtle ways. Despite that, she still encountered several opponents in formal combat who were just desperate enough to forgo tradition in favor of pride.
She had seen it as a page, with Ralon of Malven. She had seen as a squire, with Dain of Melor. And she had seen is as knight, dueling men with nothing but their dignity to lose, all in the name of the Crown.
As a longtime vassal of that crown, she had been prepared to die in its name since she was twelve years old. However, for all the loyalty in Jon's kingdom, there would always be dissatisfaction, and she knew that not everyone was willing to die for Tortall.
And so she was summoned, whenever an accused noble demanded trial by combat, to cross blades with those who would like nothing more than to find the proverbial chink in her armor — sometimes by any means possible.
However, no matter how many times a dirty move was used against her, Alanna clung to her honor. It was one of few things she could fully control as a knight in a world of gods and kings. Her sword had kissed countless throats over the years, but she avoided killing when she could. After the initial deaths that marked her early years as King's Champion, she wearied of killing people who simply wanted to test her mettle 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, with the familiar weight of a sword in her hand and the steely resolve she'd long since mastered. Her eyes tracked her opponent, cataloguing the man's posture and involuntary movements as he shifted on tense legs. She knew little of him beyond his name and station, a second-son and distant cousin of the accused, quick to jump at the chance of such a high-profile duel. Somewhere underneath her practiced indifference, she felt a pang of sympathy.
He must have taken her furrowed brow as an opening, and he lunged forcing her to bring her sword up to parry. The impact jarred her arm, but it wasn't anything new, for all the training in the world still hadn't changed her shorter stature. Disengaging, she flicked her eyes to the man's feet. His tense muscles were quickly devolving into shoddy footwork, and she wasted no time in pressing her advantage. Her trademark silence was soon matched by the audience as the shouts diminished to whispers. Soon, the only noise in the hall was the ring of steel and harsh breathing. When the last trace of confidence had left the man's face, she knew it would end the same way as all the other duels had since she swore fealty as champion — with her blade leveled at another's throat and the defeated sound of "I yield".
When the words left his lips, a guard stepped forward to hold the man's arm and she absentmindedly noted how he still clung to his sword like a talisman. She found her king upon the dais and met his eyes just has she had during her first duel in his name. She matched his sharp nod with one of her own before she brought her blade down in a single, swift movement. The man's sword clattered to the ground, followed by his hand. She forced herself to turn away, desperately tuning out the man's yell of agony and blinking the crimson from her eyes. The crown had its justice and its blood, and the accused had a debt owed his cousin and one less reason to defy his king. She lowered herself into a practiced bow, only deviating from routine as she caught sight of the flicker of alarm in her friend's eyes. She had no more warning than that as a shout of rage preceded a blinding burst of pain.
She met darkness before she met the ground.
She awoke to the sound of pacing feet and hushed voices. For brief moment, she deliriously thought that she had fainted before the duel had ended. Then she noticed the texture of a blanket, the familiar tingle of healing magic, and the voices that were recognizable even to her addled brain. Snippets of the conversation reached her ears, and she slowly began to piece together the events that landed her in the palace healing ward.
"Mithros, she should know better than to expect honor from a man she just maimed."
Jonathan's voice, which she impulsively decided was one she heard far too often upon waking from injuries, sparked just enough indignation in her to clear her head. But before she could muster a retort, Thayet clucked at her husband.
"This coming from the man who is still surprised every time Gary cheats at cards."
Jon's response was cut off by the queen, "Hush, she'll wake."
Cracking her eyes open, Alanna met the gaze of the one silent person in the room.
George already knew what she was about to ask, and his words were quiet enough for her ears only.
"He's dead, lass. Didn't even stand a chance the moment you dropped." She clenched her fists tightly around the sheets. George covered her hands with his own, "You've been out nearly a day. Baird took care of most of the damage, but you don't take to healing like you used to."
His gaze darkened slightly as he raised a hand to cradle her head. Even with his gentle fingers, it still hurt and she knew what he was getting at — tradition be damned. Chivalry was a liability when it was one-sided. She knew that, she did, but she still thought everyone deserved the chance to prove themselves honorable. However, her husband had been the King of Thieves, and he reminded her every day that honor was born from the heart and not from a title.
Mercy had little place in battle, but she knew she would still try to fit it in somewhere, no matter how many scars she accumulated as a result. George knew it. Most people who watched the King's Champion fight knew it. Despite his exasperation, even Jon knew it.
For all the blood that stained her sword, her heart remained untarnished.