Chapter 10: England, present and past
As soon as the dematerialization was complete, Arturia immediately felt it.
She was home.
She was back in England.
A nostalgic smile appeared on the face of the former King of Britain. Her time as a king had ended, but her deep connection with her land had not… and she could feel every bone of her body recognize the place where she was. She was in her country, in her beloved country… and she still had something profound that linked her with it.
Her expression was one of such perfect completion that Gilgamesh could not help staring at her. Was that the result of having her come back to her homeland?
But the moment was over too soon. They had dematerialized into a small station right outside London. They knew how to reach the Mage’s Association through the British Museum, but before going there, they needed to change their appearance slightly.
They had decided it was not a good idea to disguise themselves by using their powers, because not only was it energy consuming, but it could also be detected. And since they were going to enter the headquarters of a group made of people who specialized in magic, it was best to keep a low profile. After all, their very existence had been a product of magic.
Arturia had taken with her the bag she had prepared in Fuyuki a long time before, with money in it. She had changed a part of it into the correct currency to be able to use it in England without problems, because she did not want to rely on the Einzberns for most of their expenses. She was glad that she and Gilgamesh could benefit from their help, but she was well aware of the fact that they could not be trusted. Moreover, she did not like the idea of her movements being traceable.
The woman had foreseen that the King of Heroes would not be thrilled about having to travel on the same trains as those he considered ‘mongrels’, but she had patiently reasoned with him, explaining how important it was to maintain anonymity. And she had pointed out the fact that, once they learned where exactly the most important places were, they could dematerialize there. Very unenthusiastically, Gilgamesh had finally relented, but his expression remained one of pure disgust during the whole train ride to reach the centre of London. Arturia did her best to ignore him.
Their first destination was Oxford Street – it was a crowded place full of shops, and they had to change their appearance to make sure they were not recognizable in the unlikely case they met someone who could guess their identity. Arturia was about to buy hair-dye but, unexpectedly, Gilgamesh firmly opposed that plan. He told her that neither he nor she would stain their blonde colour with anything else.
A bit irritated, but also surprised by the fact that he included her in his reasoning, she conceded and opted for a wig for herself. She knew that Gilgamesh would not tolerate such a thing for his person; therefore, she just suggested he let his hair down. He accepted that idea – during the war, no one had ever seen him with his usually spiky hair down, except Tokiomi and Kirei; the former was dead and the latter was in Fuyuki.
He looked quite different from his king persona with his hair down – he looked good, her mind impishly murmured –, but it still wasn’t enough as a disguise. Arturia decided to have him buy a pair of wraparound sunglasses… because his red eyes were bound to appear strange in the modern world. She bought a smaller pair for herself, just in case, even if her green eyes were less striking among the population. In the same shop where she purchased the glasses, she also bought some makeup. She noticed how the King of Heroes lifted an eyebrow at her, but she only rolled her eyes.
They went to a big shopping mall for a change of clothes, and that was where Arturia made use of the dressing rooms to put on the wig she had chosen. It was black and it reached her shoulders. To make the disguise more convincing, she used the makeup she had bought to darken her eyebrows and then black mascara on her eyelashes. If the colour of eyelashes, eyebrows and hair was not the same, it was bound to appear suspicious.
Then she proceeded to wear her new clothes. Since during the war she had mainly worn a black suit and her long blue combat gown together with and without her armour, she had chosen something relatively different. Her selection was made of quite a short green dress with black leggings underneath and long brown boots. Together with her black hair, she looked classy but casual enough.
When she came out of the dressing rooms in her new outfit, she looked around for Gilgamesh, but had trouble recognizing him. If she hadn’t been able to sense him, she wouldn’t have been sure about his identity.
Aside from the sunglasses, he was now wearing a casual white t-shirt with a black leather jacket and black slacks. With his tall and lean figure, he could have been mistaken for a biker – quite the fashionable one, though. She was glad he had agreed to renounce to his usual golden jewels, because they would have really made him stand out too much.
He gave her a smirk when he saw her, his eyes scanning her up and down. She ignored his staring and asked him if he preferred to check in at the hotel the Einzberns had booked for them or if it was fine to go to the Mage’s Association immediately. Gilgamesh gave her a haughty look and said that he hardly expected them to have chosen an adequate place for their stay; therefore, he did not intend to spend there more time than was strictly indispensable.
Rolling her eyes for the umpteenth time and suppressing an exasperated smile at his usual arrogant antics, Arturia proceeded to purchase tickets for the Tube before he could protest about the ‘lowly’ way of travelling.
The two kings went to the Clock Tower base, whose entrance was hidden in the British Museum. Arturia showed the Einzbern ring to one of the guards, and they immediately escorted her to the secret access doors.
However, they eyed Gilgamesh warily. His appearance and his sunglasses were a bit intimidating. Arturia prevented any possible conflict by immediately stating that he was with her, and the guards let them through.
Realizing that they had just entered the centre of operations of one of the most powerful organizations in the world did not faze either Arturia or Gilgamesh. They had a clear objective in mind, and the only thing they had to be careful about was not letting anyone know who they actually were. The Einzberns had provided them with fake IDs, just in case.
Following the directions on the walls, the two kings went through the labyrinth of corridors and halls, walking by many people that were around. They were looking for the main library of the Association.
As soon as they found it, they immediately began to look for the books they needed, making sure that no one followed them nor seemed interested in what they were doing. Well, actually it was Arturia who began to look for the books… Gilgamesh had already said that he was not going to search through dusty volumes.
The King of Knights however was more than capable of completing such a task on her own, and indeed managed to locate books about summoning rituals and books about the Holy Grail from Fuyuki. Then she simply chose the volumes that were about both, and her research was done.
The problem was that the quantity of the material was not small – there were more than twenty heavy, dusty books ready for her to go through. It could take months to read them carefully and find the information she needed. Especially considering that, of course, the books could not be borrowed… it was not a library in the strictest sense of the word, because the data kept there was far too ancient and precious to risk its loss.
Arturia sighed. She had come to London to obtain the necessary information to perform a summoning ritual and destroy the Grail… she had not expected the task to be an easy one, and she was not going to give up only because a large amount of work awaited her. Determined, she went to one of the tables scattered around in the library, opened the first book and began.
She found out she had been lucky – the first volume described in detail how to perform a correct summoning of the Holy Grail. At Gilgamesh’s request, she read aloud the passages that were the most important. Well, not in a loud tone because they were in a public space – and a library –, but in a low murmur.
They soon discovered that the proper ritual had changed between the Second and the Third War – especially concerning the vessel that was needed to make the Grail obtain a physical form. Something powerful was necessary as a container, and the most powerful thing for such a ritual was human life. The Einzberns had found a way to avoid using ‘real’ human life… by creating the homunculi and using them as vessels. Because not only was a life necessary, the chosen life also had to be in some ways magically bound to the Grail… and the Einzberns, being among the three families that had started it all, knew how to do that with the homunculi.
There was no way to go around that obstacle – something as powerful as a human life was necessary to bind the Grail to the physical world of the living. Arturia was silent after reading those parts, thinking.
She did not want to use a person for the ritual… and she would not do it.
There had to be another way, because she was not going to sacrifice anyone to summon a corrupted cup that needed to be destroyed. Her thoughts went to Illya, and she had to suppress a shiver. To think that the Einzberns were raising her like an animal for slaughter, simply preparing her to be the future Grail vessel… Arturia felt deep disgust towards that family.
The King of Knights decided to put aside the matter of what – or who – to use as a physical vessel for the Grail, at least for the moment. She was firm in her decision that she would not be using a human life – there had to be a way to go around that obstacle.
When she mentioned that to Gilgamesh, he seemed quite unconcerned. He didn’t really see a problem in that, but when she asked him why, he simply replied that she would be able to come up with the noblest solution – as always.
Taken aback by his comment, Arturia lowered her gaze. She decided to let it slide and continued in her reading.
Without her noticing, several hours passed and suddenly a strangely familiar voice addressed her.
“I am sorry, the library is about to close.”
The King of Knights felt very glad at having decided to wear her small sunglasses even inside the room… because in front of her was someone who would have been able to recognize her if he had seen her green eyes.
It was none other than Waver Velvet, Master of Rider during the Fourth Grail War.
He had a friendly attitude and a polite smile on his face, and seemed to be patiently waiting for them to leave. Arturia gave him a nod, standing up and collecting the various books. She went to put them in their place, while Waver waited and Gilgamesh silently observed.
The young boy looked at the two with interest.
“Excuse my curiosity, are you tourists?”
Arturia knew that if Gilgamesh said anything, it would be something rude; therefore, she quickly nodded.
“Yes, we are visiting London.”
She knew that the fact that they were specialized in magic was implied, because otherwise they wouldn’t have been in the secret area of the British Museum in the first place.
Waver gave a smile while they were heading towards the doors.
“You are in luck then. There are quite a few festivals these days in the city centre. I presume you might be interested in bikes… there is a parade tomorrow.”
Gilgamesh gave the boy a cold stare, but luckily his sunglasses hid that.
“Why should we be interested in motorcycles?”
The former Master only gave a wave.
“I assumed that from the way you are dressed, but I probably misjudged. The only person I ever saw on a motorcycle was a woman… and man, she really knew what she was doing.”
Arturia frowned slightly. The only person he had ever seen on a motorcycle…? Oh.
Gilgamesh noticed her reaction, and he was smart enough to make the connection. He gave her a smirk.
With a glare that he could sense even in spite of the sunglasses, Arturia decided to ignore him and concentrate on going out of the library… and that was when she noticed a sign on the door that specified the opening and closing time of the place.
She turned towards Waver.
“Pardon me, but is tomorrow the library closed?”
“On Sundays no visitors are allowed inside the library of the Association.”
Her disappointment must have been apparent, because he quickly added, “But as I mentioned, there are a lot of festivals these days and–”
Gilgamesh’s visible expression was bored.
“We’re not interested in those things, kid.”
Waver was polite enough to ignore the term and continued, “Well, there are also a lot of important historical places to visit if you aren’t interested in more modern things… There are quite a few very fascinating abbeys to see… Oh! There is for example Glastonbury Abbey-..”
Gilgamesh was clearly uninterested and about to say something rude, when Arturia put a hand on his arm firmly, and he let the boy finish.
“…where there is the grave of King Arthur, or if you’d rather visit a cathedral like the one in Ely-..”
At the mentioning of that name, Arturia immediately tensed up. Gilgamesh instantly noticed and took a step in front of her. He simply gave a nod to the boy – a strangely civil enough nod – and, taking her arm, smoothly dragged her away.
The two kings left the Mage’s Association and went to their hotel in silence. As Gilgamesh had expected, the hotel was not up to his tastes, even though it was a five-star one. Before going to their respective rooms for the night, he took her arm again.
He met her questioning gaze and smirked slightly.
“Tomorrow we are going to Glastonbury Abbey, Arturia.”
Her green eyes widened and she tried to protest, but he prevented her from doing so.
“The library is closed tomorrow and I have no intentions of letting myself be bored. There is supposed to be your grave in that abbey’s yard, something that might prove quite entertaining to see. After all, how many people can have a look at their final resting place?”
The King of Knights debated with herself for a moment. There was no advantageous way to spend the following day… they might as well go see her grave. After all, the time that could not be spent collecting information about the Grail, well, it could be used to… go visit around in her country, could it not? She was back in England after so many centuries, so why not go look around a little? Slowly, she nodded at Gilgamesh, who gave her another of his smirks before turning around and giving her a wave with his hand.
That evening, in her luxurious bedroom, Arturia thought about Illya. It was the first night in a very long time in which she hadn’t tucked the girl in her bed. She had to admit to herself that she missed the kind-hearted little girl…, as she had known she would.
Wishing her a good night with all her heart, she fell asleep.
The following day, after Arturia made sure they were wearing jackets with hoods to better conceal their appearance, Gilgamesh dematerialized them to Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset.
It was a cool day, and a strangely soft breeze was surrounding the place. It was unusual, considering the normally harsh climate of England.
They walked through the yellowish yard inside the abbey, and about in the middle of it, they found the purported grave of King Arthur.
The two kings stopped in front of it, without saying a word.
A simple grave in the middle of England. A simple grey stone and grass growing on it.
That was the place where King Arthur had his final rest.
The place where a life had ended, together with a kingdom’s era.
And that was the place where Arturia finally came to one of the most hurtful realizations of her life.
She could not change the past.
A deep sense of sorrow invaded her, because she knew that what she had just thought was the harsh, bitter truth.
Until that point, even if she had known that the Grail was corrupt and she had no knowledge of any other kind of magic that could grant her her desire, she had still had the misguided hope to undo the past.
Her deepest wish had been to change her kingdom’s destiny… and she could see that it was a wish destined to fail.
Did that mean… that everything she had done had been completely in vain?
…or perhaps not.
As if he had read her thoughts, Gilgamesh, standing next to her, spoke up.
“You have done some good things for your kingdom, King of Knights. Even if Britain has fallen during your time, your actions have ensured its basis, its future prosperity and even created a legend to guide and inspire it. Your story has influenced the greatness of this country… you fought against a destiny that couldn’t be changed, but you have done well.”
Hearing the arrogant King of Heroes giving such praise… to say it was unexpected was an understatement. He stood next to her, with his hands in his pockets, and stared into the distance with an unreadable look on his face.
Arturia, quiet and motionless, did not realize that tears had begun to flow down her cheeks… until she felt the hot water on her neck. She was glad her hood was hiding her face from view.
A calming breeze was blowing around them. Gilgamesh allowed his hood to be pushed back by the wind, but he still did not look at her.
For that little fact, Arturia was grateful. It was the first time she felt something friendly towards the King of Heroes. She did not know why he was… respecting her space, so to speak, and she did not really care about his motives. She appreciated it in any case.
Apparently, however, he was not done speaking.
“Someone like Rider should see this place. That man… that man was a great warlord, but he had not the right to dismiss anyone as a king, when he had never been one in the first place. Iskandar… he was a worthy Heroic Spirit, even worthy enough to contemplate my Ea’s greatness. For that, I can give him enough respect… as a hero. But he was no king – he was a leader, and a truly great one. However, nothing more than that… and that is why he never had the right to express his judgement on a king as great as you… Arturia.”
The blond hair of the King of Heroes was down, and the wind blew through it softly. Arturia’s tears would have glistened in the sunlight if her hood hadn’t been covering her cheeks.
Gilgamesh seemed to breathe in slowly.
“Your actions as a king may have failed back then, in your time, in protecting your kingdom forever, but your mark has remained in history – you should not try to change that, Arturia… because you are one of the few in history who deserve to be remembered.”
The astonishment produced by those words was so great that even he had to feel it, because he added, in a slightly colder voice, “Do not think that I am complimenting you, King of Knights. I am simply stating the obvious facts about King Arthur… facts you should already be aware of.”
Arturia could feel that his last words had been harsher on purpose, and she would have rolled her eyes, if they still hadn’t been full of tears. She willed them away and brought both her hands up to push her hood back. She used that movement to swiftly and discreetly dry her cheeks with the sleeves of her jacket.
She looked up at the sky, thinking back on her kingdom. And slowly, a serene, accepting and peaceful expression settled on her features. As Gilgamesh finally looked at her, a melancholic smile appeared on her lips.
“I… I am letting go of my kingdom.”
It was said quietly, but with underlying strength in every word.
The King of Heroes raised an eyebrow at her and almost scoffed… but somehow, surprising himself, he managed not to do that. He disregarded the thought by inquiring about her words.
“You are no longer regarding yourself as a king, then?” His tone was a bit quizzical.
Arturia met his gaze… bright green met blood red.
“I am letting go of my kingdom, not of my kingship. I made mistakes during my reign – and I will never forgive myself for them. Ever,” and her tone became slightly sadder, even if it immediately went back to being resolute as usual. “But I know… that I did all I could as a king. I may have failed, but it was not because I didn’t try my best with everything I had. Sometimes… sometimes I can’t help thinking that someone else might have done better in my place – but history had me there, and I did the best I could.”
She took a deep breath, closing her eyes and allowing herself to feel the caress of the wind on her face.
“I now know and accept, though, that regret is not the only thing I must allow myself to feel… because I did some things that were good. Therefore, I am not letting go of my kingship. I am the rightful King of Britain and of the Knights, and that is something I will remain.”
Gilgamesh felt strangely pleased while observing her expression… a strong, courageous and yet gentle and wise one. The right expression of a king.
In that moment, as he looked at her, he could see what a truly great king she was, with her proud and honourable countenance. She was irresistible… whoever could behold such a treasure would be a lucky person, indeed.
The two kings stared at each other for a very long moment. But then, that moment of perfect understanding between them broken, they turned around and walked away from King Arthur’s grave.
As soon as they were out of the Abbey, Gilgamesh offered his hand to her in a less haughty manner than usual… and she took it with more gentleness than usual. Eyes locked once again, they dematerialized.