Honor Before Reason/Literature

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  • Eddard "Ned" Stark from A Game of Thrones is a classic example, hence the comic on the main page. The series being highly cynical in outlook, this is a tragic flaw which leads directly to his own death, his daughter's captivity, and his son's armed rebellion.
    • Eddard's son Robb Stark unfortunately inherits this trait. Despite his pledge to marry a Frey lady to seal his alliance with the Freys, he marries another woman, to save her honor after sleeping with her, shortly after Frey men died fighting for him, which eventually leads to them betraying him. So does Ned's bastard son, Jon. At least he does right up until he starts repeatedly doinking his wildling girlfriend, despite his vow of celibacy. Although to his credit, he was playing the Fake Defector at the time. Yes, he was doinking her as a matter of sworn duty. Really.
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    • Of all the characters, Jon currently has one of the highest concentrations of "heroic" and "alive" so we'll take what we can get.
    • Honor Before Reason could easily be the Stark's back-up family motto. Those Starks who don't subscribe to this policy do so usually as part of distancing themself from the house, although, at this point, Arya lacks honor and reason, Sansa is a Manipulative Bitch in training, and Bran repeatedly Mind Rapes his mentally disabled friend.
  • In David Wingrove's Chung Kuo, members of the House (the parliament) have the son of the T'ang of Europe killed. Knowing where this could lead, the T'ang decides to let matters be. The leader of his army, Marshal Tolonen, does not obey orders. Instead he marches into the House in session and slits the throat of one of the plotters. This sets the stage for everything else.
  • Brave New World: John the Savage, oh so very much.
  • Kel from Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe. In particular, she goes into enemy territory with the intent of rescuing 500 refugees. By herself.
  • Horton The Elephant from Dr. Seuss is an elephant of unshakable honor; once he gives his word, nothing will make him go back on it regardless of much danger, humiliation or rejection he suffers. Fortunately, his stories always end with him coming out on top because of this sense of honor.
  • Piers Anthony relies on this one a lot. Given that the promises are often given under extreme duress ("Swear it or I kill her" or "Swear it or I will never let you leave"), one might think the promises meant little... oh no. Even if it endangers the free world, or the universe, that promise will not be broken, no matter how much Angsting goes on because of it.
    • Self-lampshaded in later books: male centaur "character" (the refusal to go back on one's word) is "stubbornness" to everyone else, especially to the level-headed and practical female centaurs.
      • Maybe for centaurs, but I've never seen a main character centaur yet, and every main character of his has this happen. "My word is far more important than thousands of innocent lives, even if my word was given under duress or through trickery."
      • One book has a male centaur specifically state that an oath given under duress is not valid, though.
    • Remember, the Theory of Narrative Causality is a law of physics to Piers Anthony. Breaking one's given oath will probably create more problems than it solves.
    • This is actually subverted in his Mode Series. The villain, well aware that the male lead will never go back on his word, agrees to let them go free, if they agree not to interfere with his plans. What he didn't take into account was that the female protagonist and her psychic horse don't play by those rules and the moment they are free, the horse uses his powers to force said villain to relinquish his claim to the multiverse, thus trapping him in his own world. The male lead is upset about this, but ultimately can't do anything about it now.
  • Averted in His Dark Materials: It is Will's opinion that honor might make you feel important, but when fighting is a matter of life or death, you have to fight dirty.
    • Especially when you're twelve, and going against grown-ups.
  • In Empire of Ivory Laurence cannot abide High Command's act of sending a Typhoid Mary among the French aerial corps -- an act which probably would win the war for England, but would just as likely also result in genocide among Europe's (and possibly Asia's) dragons. So, in an act he knows will see him hung, he steals some of the curative mushrooms they'd gathered from Africa, and goes AWOL to deliver them to the French. In a further act of Honor Before Reason, he turns down Napoleon's offer of asylum or safe passage to China, preferring to return to England and face the music. Temeraire, getting in on the act, refuses to let him return alone. Laurence urges him to return to China, because he knew Temeraire was destined to be used as nothing but breeding stock if he went back. He doesn't. And the book ends with them flying back together.
    • Admiral Roland lampshades this in the fifth book by pointing out how this verges on Lawful Stupid: he could have sent a discreet letter to Napoleon anyone in France telling them where to get the curative mushrooms; someone as ingenious as Napoleon could easily have bribed a servant for a sample. This would have prevented High Command's act of genocide without anyone knowing it was him.
    • Which only comes after he stops another (Prussian) character from shooting Napoleon from cover. While both Prussia and the British Empire are at war with Napoleonic France.
      • Honor wasn't a factor there though. They only had one shot, were quite a distance away, and would have been mauled by Lien whether they killed Napoleon not, which would have stopped them from revealing the French's plans they had just overheard.
  • Wanderer, a parasitic alien who co-inhabits the mind and body of a human named Melanie in The Host is very pro-life. She lies, badly and obviously, in order to protect the life of a guy who repeatedly tried to kill her. In fact, she's so pro-life that when she realizes that being a parasite on intelligent species is wrong, she would rather let herself die than be transplanted into another body and take away their free will. Fortunately for Wanda, her friends (a) disagee with that, and (b) found her a replacement body that was as close to her ethical standards as possible.
  • Carrot Ironfoundersson, the six foot dwarf (adopted) of the Discworld series is this to a "T". The weird part, though, is that, for Carrot, it works.
    • Theory of Narrative Causality is a fact of life in Discworld, so of course it's going to work.
      • But the weird thing is, if anyone else tried it, they'd get creamed. It only works for Carrot because he's, well, Carrot.
        • More specifically, because he's a prince in disguise. Presumably if he acknowledges his heritage and takes the throne, he would start running headlong into all the challenges of a corrupt, decadent city like Ankh-Morpork and be frustrated in everything he tries to do. The Theory of Narrative Causality will support him constantly as long as he's an underdog but rightful leader, and not a minute longer.
          • This is an example of The Code, a set of rules followed by heroes that says when a hero who follows the code is hopelessly outnumbered he will win. Also when the silver horde (seven old men) win a battle against five armies and when six men (some of them from the silver horde) who had just broken into the city of the gods back down from Carrot on the grounds that he's a king in disguise and there's one of him and six of them. Cohen the Barbarian sums this up perfectly "I outnumber you one to two."
      • And it doesn't always work for Carrot -- see the curb stomping he took in The Fifth Elephant, as he tried to fight Wolfgang "the proper way".
    • Another Discworld example from Jingo: 71-Hour Ahmed got his name from averting this trope. In the desert people are obliged to give one another three days of hospitality; the bond between guest and host is sacred, and considered inviolate by even the most seasoned killer. Ahmed was the guest of a man he suspected of poisoning a well, and thereby killing an entire village. After seventy-one hours he had put together the evidence necessary to prove his host's guilt, and Ahmed saw no reason why justice should wait even one hour -- and so his host became a head shorter. Ahmed became feared even by the D'regs, who despite being viewed as untrustworthy, bloodthirsty, and deceptive have their own code of honor.
  • Galad Damodred, from Robert Jordan's 12-book trilogy Doorstopper bookshelf-destroyer fantasy series The Wheel of Time, always does what is right, no matter the cost to himself or others. His half-sister considers him loathsome for this reason. He also joins the series' version of the Knights Templar, which created similar opinions in readers. This actually works in his favor in Knife of Dreams when he challenges an opponent knowing that his opponent was the better swordsman only to win because his opponent was dragging out the fight to make Galad suffer. The result is that the Knights Templar now follow him.
    • Also, there's the Ogier, who'll never go back on their word, a fact exploited by Faile in The Shadow Rising in order to force Perrin to take her with him to the Two Rivers.
  • Refreshingly averted in Honor Harrington (even though you'd be forgiven for mistaking the trope name for one of its titles): most main characters, while definitely being persons of honor, hold those who enter the Lawful Stupid territory due to this in the very low regard. Especially the title character, who once suffered a command officer that tried to use this trope to cover his incompetence.[1]
    • Honor herself is generally pretty honourable (appropriately enough!) -- she just makes sure when she gives her word that she either really means to keep it or phrases it so carefully that she technically didn't break it (as in Honor Among Enemies).
      • In From the Highlands a Manticoran agent whose daughter was kidnapped does not believe Haven did it-because spies have a code of honor that precludes hurting dependants and even StateSec agents follow it. When it turns out that Havanites were involved it was because a Garritrooperish beaureaucrat was messing up the game.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms has Liu Bei, who nominally honors this trope (for political correctness' sake, apparently with Confucianism and thus this trope being en vogue). Subverted in that more than once he operates less than nicely, whereas other times Honor Before Reason's the reason that he's the protagonist.
    • For example, his refusal to simply take over Jing province before Cao Cao's arrival, even when Zhuge Liang specifically calls him on it, is because it would be interrupting the "natural" succession to the eldest son of current governor Liu Biao, and he doesn't want to take any criticism from "the people" for it, even though the dying Liu Biao himself requested that Liu Bei be his inheritor. In an earlier case of this with the late governor Tao Qian of Xu province, the late governor's officers and people begged Liu Bei to accept the succession... and even after Liu Bei gave in, he soon tried to give the office away to Lu Bu.
    • Dynasty Warriors 7 had a variation where Liu Bei similarly refused to usurp his relative and host Liu Zhang of Yi province -- even though controlling Yi province was the key step in his advisor Zhuge Liang's "Tripartite Realm" strategy -- leading to his other advisor Pang Tong, and his generals Huang Zhong and Wei Yan, "mutinying" against Liu Zhang on behalf of Liu Bei and "the people," leaving Liu Bei upset until he saw that "the people" seemed to be perfectly fine with this.
  • In JRR Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers, Aragorn makes a statement fitting this trope when the Brothers-in-Arms have gone into Fangorn in search of Merry and Pippin.
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Gimli: Then what shall we do now? We cannot pursue them through the whole fastness of Fangorn. We have come ill supplied. If we do not find them soon, we shall be of no use to them, except to sit down beside them and show our friendship by starving together.
Aragorn: If that is indeed all we can do, then we must do that. Let us go on.

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    • In The Silmarillion, the Oath of Fëanor is particularly problematic: the eldest sons of Fëanor feel compelled to fulfill their oath, even though this means doing things which are not only counterproductive but which they know to be utterly wrong.
      • That's pretty much the plot of the Quenta Silmarillion: The hubris, stupidity, and irrational stubbornness of the good guys, especially the elves, does at least as much damage as Morgoth himself.
    • Denethor also accuses Faramir of this in The Return of the King, though unfairly. (Denethor feels that the Ring would have been useful to his country in the war, while Faramir believed it was too dangerous to use and therefore did not take the opportunity to get it from Frodo.)
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"Ever your desire is to appear lordly and generous as a king of old, gracious, gentle. That may well befit one of a high race, if he sits in power and peace. But in desperate hours gentleness may be repaid with death."

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    • Bilbo in The Hobbit refused to kill Gollum out of pity, when it was clearly the sensible thing to do, as did Frodo (and eventually Sam) in the sequel. These actions led to the eventual saving of Middle-Earth, even when they seemed completely illogical at the time.
  • In The Dresden Files, the purpose of the Knights of the Cross is not to kill Denarians, but to save their hosts. They will give their foe every chance to surrender the coin, only killing the host if there is absolutely no other choice. And if the host does surrender the coin, their job is done, no matter how evil and vile the host may be, or how likely they are to seek another coin -- their purpose is not to judge, but to give each host a shot at redemption. Oddly enough, it does seem to work out for the best: Sanya, Knight of the Cross and wielder of Esperacchius was a former Denarian host. However, also brutally subverted -- Michael and Sanya walk away from a particularly nasty host who had surrendered his coin in order for his life to be spared. However, they didn't insist that harry do the same, and Harry, being the nice sort of chap he is, proceeds to break every major joint in the host's body with a baseball bat in order to extract important information and stop the host from escaping. And afterwards, the two Knights have a good laugh at the expression on the host's face when he realized he was left alone in a hotel room with a violently angry and vengeful man.
    • On the side, they're especially amused by the fact that Harry gave the man a quarter to use the pay phone to call 911.
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Michael: Phone calls cost more than that now.
Harry: I know.
Everyone: (raucous laughter)

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    • Considering that said Denarian knew that the Knights wouldn't touch him because he surrendered the coin, regardless of the reason; then, before Harry beats the crap out of him, talks about how they tortured Shiro, the third Knight, and threatens Susan, the same woman Harry started a freaking WAR over... Of course, it deserves to be mentioned that the same Denarian host comes back two books later in Dead Beat while working with the main villains, and tortures Harry in an attempt to get Lasciel's coin.
    • And the way Harry pulls off this attack on the Denarian is perfect.
      • I turned away from him again and said, very quietly, "People like you always mistake compassion for weakness, Michael and Sanya aren't weak. Fortunately for you, they're good men."
      • The Denarian laughed at me.
      • "Unfortunately for you, I'm not."
      • I spun around, swinging the bat as hard as I could, and broke his right kneecap.
    • To a lesser degree, Harry himself. Despite Harry's repeated insistence he isn't a good person, he displays an alarming tendency to screw himself over to save others. Especially women and children.
  • The entire novel of Don Quixote De La Mancha is a parody of the Chivalric Romance of Cervantes' time, including their obsession with honor.
  • Alice L. Malvin of Pumpkin Scissors insists on charging ahead and "destroying evil" no matter what the odds are against them. Even after she started using more reason after she was kidnapped, she stayed true to her ideals.
  • In Graham McNeill's Warhammer 40,000 Ultramarines novel Dead Sky Black Sun, Uriel and Pasanius pursue their death oath until the bitter end although no one would know if they failed, and Leonid joins them, although the renegade Marines who join them for a time decide that it wasn't worth it.
  • In Sir Apropos of Nothing,, the titular Anti-Hero has no use for honor, and often uses other people's honor against them in strange and awesome ways. Well, sometimes. Okay, when he's backed into a corner.
  • Another Warhammer 40,000 novel example: Soul Drinker. Sarpedon's refusal to back down and let the Adeptus Mechanicus get away with stealing the Soulspear (which was the most sacred relic of their Chapter, and they had only just managed to locate it) led directly to their being declared Excommunicate Traitoris and finding themselves chased around the galaxy pursued by both Chaos and the Imperium, perpetually depleted and subject to shoot-on-sight orders.
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 novel Deus Encarmine, Stele indulges in Flaw Exploitation with this; because the Blood Angels believe they owe him, he sets into play a Batman Gambit to win them to Chaos. Unfortunately, he trusts it a little too far. When he hears a message had been sent bearing the id of a dead sergeant, he is flabbergasted: the Blood Angels regard tampering with the equipment of the dead as sacriligeous. He does not consider that it is forbidden except under the most dire circumstances and so does not investigate who could have gotten to the dead man's gear. Indeed, when the responsible Blood Angel confesses, those he confesses to regard it as very serious -- but not so serious that even investigating it should take precedence over the news he had sent.
  • In P.C. Hodgell's Chronicles of the Kencyrath, the Kencyr peoples display this trait as a whole. Honor overrides reason and common-sense, although the cleverer Kencyr are very good at working out ways to keep within the Law while doing whatever they want.
  • In The Belgariad, the Arends have this as their hat. Mandorallen takes this to the extreme even for an Arend.
  • The Knights of Solamnia in the Dragonlance saga.
    • Est sularis oth mithas.[2]
    • The Knighthood as a whole was doing a-okay right up until the Cataclysm. In the aftermath, the public began turning against them, saying that the Cataclysm was either their fault or blaming them for not stopping it. Solamnia was spared much of the destruction that followed, but soon Knights of Solamnia were being murdered by mobs in the streets. Recruitment plummeted and many remaining Knights simply took off their armor and renounced their vows. The larger problem was that the Solamnic Knights were sworn to uphold the Code (seen above) and the Measure, a complicated series of laws that uphold chivalric virtues and knightly behavior. For centuries, most of the Knights' senior leadership posts were vacant because not enough Knights existed to constitute a quorum to vote in new leaders and the Measure made no allowances for a giant meteor wiping out a good chunk of their membership. It wasn't until after the War of the Lance that a revised Measure was drafted that was much more flexible with the formalities. But during the War of the Lance, a large percentage of the Knighthood was slaughtered because they were ordered into a hopeless Curb Stomp Battle by a half-insane Knight of the Rose, Derek Crownguard. They could not refuse, because the Measure made Lord Derek the commander by rank and seniority, nor could they remove him from command because the Measure did not anticipate a Knight commander losing his shit in the middle of a war.
  • In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, Syme is certain he will be crushed by Sunday if he doesn't tell the police -- but he's promised not to reveal anything he's learned. He knows how crazy it is, but does it anyway.
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It was his last triumph over these lunatics to go down into their dark room and die for something that they could not even understand.

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  • In Edgar Rice Burroughs's The Gods of Mars, a traitor offers John Carter his freedom in return for certain pledges, and even though he will die, and his friends and allies could really use his help, Carter refuses.
    • In The Chessmen of Mars, when a man tries to lay hands on her while she is a prisoner, Tara stabs him, much to the horror of a slave woman.
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Lan-O, wide-eyed, looked with horror upon the corpse. "For this we shall both die," she cried.
"And who would live a slave in Manator?" asked Tara of Helium.
"I am not so brave as thou," said the slave girl, "and life is sweet and there is always hope."
"Life is sweet," agreed Tara of Helium, "but honor is sacred. But do not fear. When they come I shall tell them the truth -- that you had no hand in this and no opportunity to prevent it."

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    • In A Fighting Man of Mars, Tan Hadron rues this: John Carter refuses to strike first in any war, but his enemies, this time, had a Mad Scientist invention that caused ships to disintegrate and men to fall to their deaths, horribly; it had a short range, and Heliumite guns could have pounded the enemy ships to pieces before being in danger.
  • Doing this is the central theme of de Sade's Justine. It is, however, satire.
  • The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. Alexander and Dimitri plan to desert during the Finnish War by volunteering to search for their commanding officer's missing son. When they really do find him while crossing the lines, Alexander insists they bring him back, earning Alexander the eternal gratitude of their CO, and the hatred of his friend Dimitri.
  • This attitude gets Bertie Wooster into (light comedic) trouble on a regular basis.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, Paige says that they can't provoke a fight with the civ, as they are intelligent if primitive, Jones says that's inconvenient, and Paige says it's not supposed to be convenient.
  • Byrhtnoth Byrhthelming, hero of the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon (fought in 991), has a horrible case of this: the Saxon army is on the mainland, the Viking enemy are on a marshy island with a one-man-wide causeway as the only way off, the Viking leader says that a really honourable opponent would let them cross and fight on open ground... and Byrhtnoth agrees. The Saxons are crushed and he dies.
    • YMMV here, as he may have suspected that if he didn't let them fight on open ground, they'd merely sail off and raid the next town over. He had the largest force in the area, and thus the best chance to stop the raiders, making this more of a Senseless Sacrifice.
  • A similar dilemma to the last John Carter example above lead directly to the utter destruction of a galactic civilization in the past of the Perry Rhodan universe: Segafrendo. Picture a galaxy very much at peace with itself and ably defended against external threats by scarily competent alien mercenaries who everybody knows can nonetheless be trusted utterly because of their adherence to a strict code of honor. A code of honor that, it turns out, prevents them from initiating any hostilities against others on their own no matter how much they might want to. Cue a massive invasion force from another galaxy showing up and clearly moving into the perfect position over multiple worlds for its own crippling first strike, all the while refusing to formally declare its intentions or fire a single shot until ready...
  • Sharpe's Honour, shockingly enough, features this as a major element. It starts with Sharpe fighting a duel over the honour of a woman he knows to be a traitor. Half-way through he's offered the chance to escape captivity, foil his nemesis and save the war for Britain, but refuses because doing so would involve breaking his parole (which he has not, at that point, given).
  • In Shadows of the Empire, mercenaries burst in on Luke Skywalker and some Bothan spies. One of the spies is shot but not with an Instant Death Blasterbolt, and Luke refuses to leave him - and the Bothan dies, and Luke is captured, while those Bothans who just ran got away.
    • Allegiance has Leia in an Imperial city and lying low, because they know she's there and are hunting her. While in hiding she sees burglars breaking into a house that has a child in it; she knows they probably won't just let the kid be, so she fires her blaster, even knowing that patrollers might hear and investigate.
      • She knows it will get people's attention. That's why she does it, even though she might be discovered because of it.
  • Garren's father in the Farsala Trilogy, who made a bet that his son could conquer Farsala with only ten thousand troops. Unfortunately, his son has no such scruples.
  • Eremon in Watson's Dalriada Trilogy. He refuses to turn on the Scots tribe he's only recently met in order to join the Romans, even though it would be in his best interest to do so. Since there's no apparent reason why he'd be so loyal to the rather ungrateful tribe, this comes across more as a plot device than anything else.
  • Colonel Nicholson in The Bridge Over the River Kwai orders his men not to attempt an escape from the prison camp, because the circumstances under which they were captured mean that it would technically be against the rules for them to escape. He also helps his captors build a better bridge because they ordered him to.
  • In The Sea of Monsters when Percy doesn't kill Polyphemus. Also a case of Genre Blindness.
    • It should be noted that Percy's fatal flaw is personal loyalty, which is basically an extreme version of No One Gets Left Behind - ie. he'd prefer the safety of his friends and family over the safety of the world.
  • While The Zombie Survival Guide advises you to travel through urban areas as quickly as possible and not stop except under dire circumstances, an exception can be made if you want to assist other survivors. "Sometimes, logic must give way to humanity." (The rest of the book averts this pretty hard, though, and encourages the reader to be as pragmatic as possible for the sake of their own survival.)
  • In Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive, Dalinar.
  • The Elites in the Halo expanded universe often would rather die with honor than live without. In The Cole Protocol it's even dishonorable to have another Elite give you a mercy killing, implying you're too weak to even kill yourself.
    • Some are even observed fighting in hand-to-hand combat and dying from it rather than pick up a fully loaded human weapon at their feet.
  • In one of Mercedes Lackey's Tarma and Kethry stories in Oathblood, Tarma and Kethry (and their Kyree Warrl) get a bad-luck cursed coin. Kethry refuses to do anything to pass it off onto another innocent party. Warrl comments, "Admirable. Stupid but admirable." They eventually get rid of it by arranging to be targeted by bandits. Kethry only refused to pass it to an innocent party.
  • The Arkenites in the Star Trek Novel Verse take their debts very seriously. In the Star Trek: Vanguard series, Klingons save an Arkenite outpost from a disaster in exchange for the outpost swearing allegiance to the Klingon Empire; the residents then refuse to back out. Even though they don't want to leave the Federation or help the Klingons, they all willingly keep to the promise even when Starfleet shows up trying to "liberate" them. To choose gratification over duty and refuse to repay their debt would, their leader explains, be unthinkable.
  • Rudolph Rassendyll of The Prisoner of Zenda loves Princess Flavia and is loved by her, and she is arranged to be married to her boorish cousin and The Wrongful Heir to the Throne. Raaendyll admits to himself that the best possible outcome would be allowing the villains to dispose of his look-alike relative before stopping them, allowing him to be a good ruler and be with the woman he loves. However, because of his honor, he helps restore the king to the throne and does not get the girl. For her part, because of her own honor, Flavia accepts being married to a man she despises rather than one she loves.
  • Michael from the Knight and Rogue Series. He will only lie if absolutely necessary, and lets a murder suspect run free even though doing so will give him one of the most severe punishments the law can deal because he's found evidence she's innocent. In fact, she flat out tells him she can prove her innocence in court, but he's worried because the court he wants to take her to is stacked against her and there's a chance she could be found guilty anyway. Just for added affect, this not actually guilty murderer who choses not to capture despite the penalty had been torturing/experimenting on him several hours before he made this decision.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, the two owners of the only ammunition factory burn it down to keep the civil war a fight with blades. Then they shake hands and depart for opposite sides of the war. The one who joins the coup is regarded as odd by his own side, who do not understand his principles.
  1. Said commander, later made an admiral, got his comeuppance during Haven's Operation Thunderbolt, albeit at the expense of the fleet he commanded and the world it was assigned to guard.
  2. "My honor is my life."