A/N: While reading, I saw the quote I open with and began to formulate this story. The fragmented style is intentional. My decision to use pronouns instead of proper names developed as I wrote.
"You aren't a hero, and I'm not beautiful, and we probably won't live happily ever after," she said. "But we're alive, and together, and we're going to be all right."
-Mortal Engines, Philip Reeve.
The age-old story tells of a noble knight and his fair maiden. The knight is always virtuous and his armor never tarnishes. The maiden rarely does anything of importance. This is not that story.
He once had shining armor golden as his hair, and she is indeed a maiden, that much is true. But he rescues her from no towering, gloomy prison. Rather, she leads him, still in chains, struggling over hills and paddling softly down rivers.
The long road ahead forces them into untrusting, confrontational alliance. Armed with nothing but his steel-sharp, goading tongue, he still battles her, every shaky step of the way. She has to admire that in him, at the least. Used to swordplay, not wordplay, she almost wishes to meet him as a foe, in open combat, all pretenses shed.
So when their blades clash—something, somewhere is released. (And distracts them both, blinding them from the watchers by the river until it's too late.)
The three most powerful sentiments she knows are anger, fear, and love. Who's to say which is strongest? She knows much more of the other two than she ever has learned of love. This is them all tangled up with themselves in desperate struggle. Fear is hot and shuddering, the spaces inside her empty of everything but the echoes of him screaming when they take his hand. Anger is cold and pointed, far from hopeless—she's never been helpless. And maybe it's love as well as all the rest that makes her want to ruin everything that left him in ruins.
The night's unseen creatures prowl where the firelight does not reach, eyes flickering, tongues hissing. Remembering death that came from shadows, she watches for the dawn. Asleep, her lion moans and shivers. (Hear me roar.)
He gets a choice. She doesn't. He leaves her behind to save himself.
The man who broke an oath to kill a king would have made the same choice. The boy who killed a king to save a city would not have.
He comes back for her, trailing broken memories and new-forged dreams.
Warrior maid clad in blue, broad-shouldered, blunt-featured, sword-bitten, skin marked by the sun. No man either sane or honest would call her beautiful. (No man ever accused him of being entirely sane, and certainly not honest.)
Wandering minstrels sing no songs of crippled soldiers or ugly women. They, together, care nothing for those stories. They'll live to tell their own tale.