Chapter 13: Decisions
During the following days, Arturia pointedly ignored the very slight sense of loss she felt whenever her eyes landed on one of the couches. When she taught Illya, she did her best to avoid thinking about the King of Heroes.
As she had imagined, the young girl was not very happy when she was told that Gilgamesh had left to go to Japan for a while. She pouted and said it was very rude of him to leave without even a word, and she promised herself that she would tell him that.
Arturia hid a pleased smile when she heard her purpose: Illya was learning to be less fearful and more decisive by the day.
As the lessons continued, the King of Knights caught herself touching her own cheek more often than not. She swore to herself that she had just been taken aback by the King of Heroes’s behaviour and was therefore still wondering about it… but she could not deny the fact that on that evening, when they had been very close to each other and he had touched her cheek, she had let him do it.
Why had she not pushed him away? He had given her the possibility to pull back, so why hadn’t she?
She had not stopped him when he had touched her cheek, her neck, her shoulder, her waist… and the most surprising fact was that he had not been forceful. He had not been hesitant or indecisive, that would just not have been him, but he hadn’t been coercive or violent, either.
He had been… gentle. His actions had not been uncertain, but he had given her the possibility to stop him at any given time.
That was certainly unusual, coming from someone like Gilgamesh.
Arturia did her best to avoid thinking about him, and during the day, she usually managed to do so, because Illya’s wellbeing was her priority. However, in the evenings, after the girl had been put to bed and she was reading alone, she found her mind often going to the King of Heroes. She did not really miss him, because he had not been of much company when being silent most of the time… but his absence was not easy not to notice. Arturia was honest enough with herself to admit that she felt lonelier than before.
She also had to admit that she had truly not expected him to leave. He had never left her side for more than four years… Having him around was something she had become used to, not only because he was a Heroic Spirit who had been given a real body – like her –, but also because, in some ways, he understood her, or at least he seemed to understand her.
She did not think he was someone she could trust… but he had proven, more than once, to be different from what she had thought him to be.
The easiest way to define him, and Arturia had heard others talk about him in such a way, was to call him an arrogant king who considered everything and everyone beneath him. Arrogant he certainly was… but much less than in the past, that was for sure. He had become… more tolerant of those he considered ‘mongrels’.
Moreover, he had proved to have wisdom, to have honour – even if in his own form – and to have more than enough acuity to see through people immediately.
Arturia stopped her train of thoughts. Her mind seemed to be more benevolent towards the King of Heroes, but… that was not good.
She reminded herself that, no matter what positive things she had discovered about him, he had killed his own Master. Such a man could have no true honour nor loyalty.
However… again, her thoughts became confused. Why would someone who had killed his Master then spare the life of Waver Velvet? Something did not add up there.
She had to look back on her reasoning.
She weighed her considerations carefully, and she realized… she had no actual proof of him killing Tokiomi. She had assumed such a thing, since she knew that Kotomine Kirei had been involved and had later become the new Master of the King of Heroes.
But… hadn’t Gilgamesh already proven time and time again how her assumptions about him were often wrong?
Considering what she had learned about him, Arturia was forced to admit that there could be another explanation. No matter how arrogant, conceited and disrespectful he was, he was not traitorous. He could be deceitful if he wanted to, and he was very good at manipulating people, but he was not a liar or a backstabber. He had too much pride to sink so low as to kill his Master.
At least, that was what she could say after analysing what she knew about him, but nothing was proved yet. She should probably ascertain her suppositions… but she could not ask him, at least not right then, since he was not there.
She would have to wait… and, for one, make sure her mind stopped lingering on him.
Some days later, Arturia was showing Illya a world map, pointing out the tectonic movements of the plates, in particular the friction between the Eurasian and the Indian plate.
Suddenly, her keen hearing picked up on some mild noise coming from the lower floors, but it soon quieted down. Still on guard but continuing with the lesson in order not to worry the young girl in case it had been nothing important, Arturia bent her head back over the map.
Without any warning, the door of the room opened.
There, standing as tall and proud as ever, was Gilgamesh.
Head snapping up in alert, the first thing that Arturia’s startled green eyes saw were his penetrant red ones.
For an instant, the two kings’ gazes were locked and some form of understanding passed between them. The woman’s lips tilted slightly upwards, in a very close resemblance to a smile.
The next second, however, the moment was lost because a cross little white figure stood up from the table and walked towards Gilgamesh.
Illya was only a little over twelve years old, but she was a remarkable sight when she was angry. Stopping in front of the King of Heroes, she crossed her arms and glared up at him.
“You have been very rude, Gilgamesh.”
He frowned slightly.
He had just come back. What was the girl talking about? And why on earth was she addressing him like that, daring reprimand him?
More importantly, why was he allowing her to do such a thing?
Sensing his well-hidden perplexity, Illya’s glare intensified.
“You decided one day to wake up and leave. And you did just that. Did it occur to you that it would be polite to let other people know about your intentions? You didn’t even say goodbye to me!”
Gilgamesh’s frown deepened in something very close to confusion. The girl was angry with him because he had not said goodbye before going to Japan?
He looked up from her furious dark red eyes, only to meet Arturia’s green ones. They were not giving away anything but, by then, he knew better.
Even if she was as composed and collected as ever, Gilgamesh was able to see that she was obviously enjoying the scene. He narrowed his eyes at her, but she only looked back with a bland stare.
The young girl in front of him demanded his attention once more. She was clearly mad at him.
“It’s common civility to say goodbye before taking your leave, Gilgamesh. Instead, you offensively went away from the castle without a word!”
She sighed, her shoulders slumping slightly, before adding, “Did you at least say goodbye to Arturia before leaving?”
At hearing that, Arturia’s countenance shifted imperceptibly. She mentally decided that, while it was indeed positive that Illya was a very bright young girl, there could be negative aspects in that, too.
Noticing the King of Knights’s slight discomfort immediately, Gilgamesh grinned. Oh, he had said goodbye to her, all right.
“That, I did.”
Illya’s eyes stared at him intently, as if to decide whether he was being sincere or not. She seemed to accept his word and sighed again.
“At least you did that much. But Gilgamesh, please remember to be less rude in the future. It only hurts other people.”
Inwardly both irritated and amazed at the girl’s words, he gave her a haughty look, did not grace her with a reply and simply made his way to one of the couches. He took off his winter coat and lay down. His trademark red wine glass appeared in his hand, and he began to sip slowly.
The scene felt so natural that Arturia could not stop a slight smile from appearing on her lips.
Gilgamesh did not appear to notice, but the minimal tilt of his own lips while he was sipping gave him away; he had seen her expression.
Shaking her head briefly, she called Illya back to the table and resumed the lesson… without realizing that the troubled thoughts that had accompanied her the whole time while he had been away were gone.
As soon as Illya was asleep in her bed, Arturia left the room closing the door silently. She headed to the living room, where she knew Gilgamesh was waiting.
She felt an unexpected nervousness, and when she interrogated herself about it, her mind immediately went to the evening in which he had left. What had happened between them was nothing much, though, so why was she feeling so uneasy?
Through sheer force of will, Arturia ordered herself to calm down. It wasn’t the time to behave like… like… like an adolescent. Gilgamesh probably had information about Kirei, and that was where her focus should be.
Opening the door of the living room, her eyes fell on the couches… only to narrow in confusion.
He was not there.
Had he left? But surely he wouldn’t have done it without saying anything. And if he hadn’t left, then where was he?
Unsettled, she scanned the area quickly… and she met his amused gaze right next to her.
He was leaning against one side of the door; therefore, she had not seen him immediately. His red eyes were burning on hers, but she broke their gaze. She had taken a resolution before entering the room; it was high time for her to stick to it.
Especially after having just let her self-control slip.
She closed the door behind her and was about to head to the couch, when one of her hands was firmly snatched up in his and he made her turn around to face him. They were almost as close as they had been the evening in which he had left, and his eyes seemed to be studying every inch of her face. One of his fingers went under her chin and slowly made its way up to one of her cheeks, caressing her skin.
She could have slapped him away… but she did not.
He smirked at her, and the rest of his hand joined his finger to cup her cheek.
“Did you miss me, King of Knights?”
That was his typical arrogance she had been thinking about during the previous days. But she had been around him enough to begin to learn a few things… and she knew how to answer him.
Keeping her stance firm and her voice unwavering, she replied, “Did you?”
He laughed lightly and his hand gave her cheek another caress before falling down and going to rest on her hip to pull her closer to him.
“You are learning with alarming promptness, Arturia.”
His hand was firm on her side as he began to guide her towards the couch. However, suspicious of his intentions – from what it seemed, he intended to have her sit in his lap –, she softly broke free from his grasp and sat down in front of him, while he took his usual place with an unreadable expression on his face.
His trademark smirk was back in place quickly, though. He narrowed his eyes at her.
“You enjoyed seeing the girl angry at me earlier, didn’t you?”
Arturia’s attempt at an innocent expression wouldn’t have fooled a child. She almost shrugged under his discerning gaze.
“Everyone’s ego needs a little slap sometimes.”
He gave her a half-hearted glare, before opening his Gate of Babylon and taking out a wine glass. This time, however, he took her by surprise: another gate opened next to her hand, and another glass full of the red liquid was offered to her.
With a nod of acceptance, she took a sip. She had forgotten how heavenly that wine tasted.
The two kings sat in silence in front of each other, drinking the wine. Arturia then looked up at him. It was time to get down to business.
“How was it in Japan?”
His expression became a bit more serious in a way that would have been imperceptible to everyone… but not to a woman who had spent more than four years with him.
He twirled his half-empty glass in his hand.
“Kirei is up to nothing interesting. He is looking after Tokiomi’s daughter… in his own way. The Church has been rebuilt, and he is living there. But since he was not interested in taking care of the brat the whole time, he has also been keeping tabs on your former Master… Kiritsugu.”
Several months had passed since Arturia had last thought about that man. But it was true, he was in Fuyuki as well.
Before she could say anything, though, Gilgamesh dropped his bombshell.
“Kiritsugu is dying.”
That piece of news made Arturia’s eyes widen. Looking at her intently, he continued.
“Apparently, your former Master is ill… and he has a very short time to live. Perhaps less than a month.”
Completely still, Arturia did not say a word. He pressed on.
“What are you going to do now, King of Knights?”
She knew why he was asking her such a thing. The fact that Kiritsugu was dying changed many things… mainly about Illya.
When she had decided to look after the young girl, she had done it out of respect for the bond she had shared with Irisviel. The white-haired homunculus had been the closest thing to a friend she had ever had, and her end had been a very tragic one. Her daughter Illya was supposed to share that same destiny… but Arturia had decided to save her from it by taking care of her. She had also taught her enough about magic to make sure she could see her father in the crystal ball from time to time, because she was aware of how much the young girl missed him.
Arturia had also decided that, as soon as Illya was grown up, she would take her away from the Einzberns to allow her to live a normal life, and she would probably take her to see her father again.
But the fact that Kiritsugu had a short time to live made those plans no longer possible.
If Illya wanted to see her last living parent, it would have to be soon.
Arturia felt conflicted. Illya wasn’t ready to take over the Einzbern family and leave… therefore she wasn’t sure if it was best to take the young girl to see Kiritsugu one last time.
Troubled, her eyes fell on the King of Heroes… to discover that he was observing her keenly, clearly aware of her inner struggle. He did not say anything though; he was obviously waiting for her to make a decision.
She closed her eyes, deep in thought. It was true that Illya was not strong enough to defy the Einzberns in order to leave the castle… but with her own aid, she probably would be. She had decided to protect the girl, after all, and Illya had the right to see Kiritsugu if she so desired.
However, she realized that that was where the problem lay. It was not Arturia’s choice to make. She would be honest with Illya, telling her about her father, and Irisviel’s daughter would have to decide. The King of Knights would support her in her choice, of course, but it was ultimately Illya’s choice.
Mind made up, she met Gilgamesh’s gaze. He looked at her inquisitively.
“I will tell Illya about this… she has the right to decide herself what she wants to do.”
His eyes seemed to measure her for a moment, and then unexpectedly became approving. He slightly raised his glass of wine at her, giving her a smirk.
“Sensible choice, King of Knights.”
Their conversation over for the night, she stood up to leave. She reached the door, opened it and exited the room. In the short moments before the heavy wood closed behind her, she heard his words.
“I did miss you… Arturia.”
The following day, Arturia surprised Illya by not beginning a new lesson. Instead, she made the girl sit next to her on the sofa and began something that would later be called by them ‘serious talk’.
She told her about Kiritsugu’s condition, and explained that it was time for her to make a choice.
The Einzberns were not going to let her leave just like that if she wished to see her father – but at the same time, it was the last time she could see him in person. Whatever decision she made, she would have to face the consequences.
Seeing Illya quite shaken by the amount of information she had received, Arturia’s voice became kinder. She told her that the choice was a difficult one but hers and hers alone, and regardless of what she decided to do, she would have the King of Knights’s support.
“I will be with you every step of the way you choose, Illya,” were Arturia’s conclusive words.
The young girl was silent for a long time. Arturia did not interrupt her thoughts, and simply waited. Gilgamesh, on the other sofa, continued to sip his wine, calm as usual.
Finally, Illya looked up. Her first words were hesitant, but they became firmer as she continued to speak.
“I… I would like to see my father… one last time. I know… that Grandfather and the rest of the Einzbern family will disapprove, and they will make things difficult, but this is my decision.”
Her dark red eyes, even if slightly scared, were firm when they met Arturia’s green ones. The King of Knights gave her a nod.
“I will respect your decision, Illya. This means that we will soon be leaving for Japan. And this also means… that we must be ready for the Einzberns’ reaction.”
The Einzberns’ reaction was, in fact, the most troublesome part of it all.
Jubstacheit’s frown was so deep that it seemed about to become a permanent feature on him. Arturia, with a neutral expression on her face and without speaking a word, stood behind Irisviel’s daughter, while Gilgamesh was right next to her.
The woman did not know why the King of Heroes was there; knowing him, she had assumed that he would have preferred to lie down on a sofa and observe from there. Instead, he was standing by her side, with his wine glass in hand and, to anyone who was looking, he would have seemed bored.
But the King of Knights had come to know him a little… and she knew that he was actually quite interested in what was going on.
Illya was addressing her Grandfather calmly but firmly. She explained that she wished to go to Japan for a while, to see her father in Fuyuki.
There could not be words that were more unwelcome for Jubstacheit, especially coming from the girl he considered his best chance to reach the Grail.
He would never allow her to leave the castle for any reason, least of all to visit Kiritsugu, the man who had failed in his mission after everything the Einzberns had done for him.
But… there was something odd. Why was Saber not saying anything? Why was she not opposing the girl’s plan?
The old man’s eyes narrowed even more, glaring at the girl and at the female Servant, who maintained a completely blank expression. The other Servant, with a glass in his hand, instead addressed him with a superior smirk, looking down on him.
Jubstacheit felt his anger rising. The girl needed to be punished for what she had said.
His expression darkening, he addressed her with a deadly tone.
“You do not seem to understand your position, Illya. You will not be leaving this castle, and most certainly not for such a whimsic–”
With an unexpected equally deadly tone, the twelve-year-old girl interrupted him.
“I am not asking for your permission, Grandfather. I am informing you of my decision.”
Jubstacheit was, for the first time in many years, at a loss for words.
She… was defying him?
The homunculus… had the gall to defy him?
His anger now boiling, he raised an arm, ready to strike with his powerful enchantments… only to discover that his magic was not responding.
For the first time since she had entered the sitting room, Illya almost smiled.
“I have been studying hard, Grandfather… and, thanks to Arturia’s patient teaching, I now know how to create a bounded field to suppress any form of magic for a specific amount of time.”
Her dark red eyes were determined as she stared down the head of the Einzbern family.
“I have the power to make you accept my decision… but I would rather have your consent.”
Her tone became slightly kinder.
“As soon as I am done in Fuyuki, I will come back, Grandfather.”
Jubstacheit’s anger had been replaced with incredulity when he had found himself unable to use his powers, and Illya’s words had only increased his bitterness. He knew the methods she had used – they were perhaps still rudimental, but undoubtedly effective.
She was very talented for being so young… Saber’s aid must have played an important role in it.
However, it seemed that he had his hands tied in the current matter. He would have to let them leave without protest… but he would make sure that, once they came back, they would pay.
Therefore, in a frosty and clipped tone, he said, “You may go to Japan, Illya.”
The girl gave him a nod and turned around to leave the room without another word. As soon as she was out of his sight, Jubstacheit’s expression contorted. He was livid.
His eyes landed on Arturia, and unadulterated hostility emanated from their rancorous stare. It was very apparent that, as soon as they left, they would not be welcome in the castle anymore.
Arturia’s expression remained carefully blank, and she gave him a slight nod, similar to what Illya had done a few seconds before. She did not seem to be fazed by his dirty look.
Jubstacheit’s anger was rising again. He had allowed that female Servant to stay at the castle, thinking that they had the same common goal and that she would teach the young girl… and she had.
Too well, it seemed, especially since it was now apparent that she had no intention of following his plans.
“You. Selfish. Bitch.”
Pure venom was in his gaze as he looked at her with very calculating eyes. Still, she did not react and was about to turn around to go away, when Gilgamesh suddenly moved.
He had not intervened the whole time, silently observing – and enjoying – the scene unfold. But there was something he wanted to rectify before leaving.
He took one step towards Jubstacheit, casually put an arm around Arturia’s waist and, not giving her time to react to his actions, pulled her close to his body. From there, his red eyes stared at the head of the Einzbern family with an almost sinister glimmer in them.
“Know your place, mongrel – you are not worthy of even gazing upon her.”
The King of Heroes’s expression turned ominous for one single moment, but that was enough to make Jubstacheit take one step back in instinct.
He might not have the use of his magical powers for the time being, but he didn’t need them to feel the dangerous aura emanating from the former Servant.
With one last haughty look, Gilgamesh made his way to the door… still holding the King of Knights firmly close with his arm around her waist.
As soon as the door closed behind them, though, she immediately broke free from his grasp and looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“Even though it was a clever move to intimidate him, there was no need for such a display, Gilgamesh.”
He deliberately ignored the specific fact she was referring to and addressed instead what had aggravated him enough to act. He narrowed his eyes at her slightly.
“No one, mongrel or not, has the right to insult you like that, Arturia.”
His red eyes were firm on her green ones, and for the first time, she was speechless.
No one had ever taken her defense before, or at least, not in such a way. She was far from helpless, and she knew he was perfectly conscious of the fact; but the type of insult she had received earlier was the kind she rarely heard directed at her, and therefore had simply ignored it. It was strange and yet almost… uplifting to see someone else get angry on her behalf.
The King of Heroes knew her enough to be aware of the fact that she would not care about the insult; and yet, he had been annoyed by it, and had intervened.
That was… not like him.
As they parted to go to their respective bedrooms to pack their belongings, Arturia was faced with a dilemma, similar to the one that had come up in London.
Could it be that Gilgamesh truly cared about her as a person, and not just as his form of amusement?
A few hours after facing the head of the Einzbern family, Illya knocked on Arturia’s bedroom door. As soon as the woman called for her to come in, the girl hesitantly made her way to her, with quite a large amount of what appeared to be legal documents in her hands. Arturia had been carefully preparing the gems full of mana for transport, because they were all supposed to be getting ready to leave.
The girl sat on the bed and began to explain.
“A few days ago, when we decided to leave, I heard you talking with the servants… because we need documents to travel. As you know better than me, all the servants in the castle are homunculi… and most of them do not find Grandfather’s methods and ways of thinking worthy of their devotion and respect. I talked to them… and they have agreed to help me. Here are the documents for you and Gilgamesh that you requested,” and the girl handed her two birth certificates, two identity cards and two passports.
Arturia went through them quickly, finding them quite accurate. She was under the name of Arturia Pendragon and appeared to be twenty years old. Gilgamesh was twenty-three and his surname… she raised an eyebrow.
“Gilgamesh… Utnapishtim?” she asked the girl, who smiled slightly and nodded.
“At the servants’ request, I asked him what he would have wished as surname, since he doesn’t have one historically, and he personally told me he wanted this one.”
Arturia kept her thoughts to herself. She knew who Utnapishtim had been. In the book she had read in the bookstore in London, a human was mentioned, a human who had been respectful of the gods when many others weren’t, who had saved his family and many animals from a huge flood and was then given immortality. His name meant, “he found life”, and Arturia frowned at the thought. Gilgamesh had met this immortal being and had been told about the plant of immortality… but he had also been advised against searching for it. Gilgamesh had found it nonetheless – but a snake had stolen it.
Why had he wanted to remember that fact by choosing such a surname?
Arturia pushed those thoughts away. It was not her problem, as long as he had proper documents.
Aside from those documents she had just gone through, Illya also gave her her own.
“The servants did the research about the best way to travel, and they said it’s best if you take my documents as well.”
The woman received the IDs for Illyasviel von Einzbern, and the girl continued, “That is mainly because I am underage, but also for another reason. I can’t travel around the world without people who are my close relatives… but the other homunculi figured out a solution.”
She took several papers that appeared to be official and handed them to Arturia.
“If you sign these forms, you will become my legal guardian. You should read them through because you understand them better than me, but from what I could see they make sure that Grandfather will no longer hold any power over me. You will be the only one to decide about my future.”
The King of Knights was taken aback, but her first reaction was to frown.
“Illya, are you certain that this is what you want? It is not my intention to force you to do anything–..”
The young girl’s earnest smile made her stop.
“Yes, it is. I will not be used by Grandfather… and I trust you, Arturia.”
The woman was deeply touched by her words, and impressed by her actions. Illya, together with the other homunculi, had found a simple yet effective solution to break herself free from Jubstacheit’s influence… at least legally. And Arturia was perfectly aware of all the advantages of such a solution. Illya’s decisiveness was making it even better.
A small but proud smile appeared on the King of Knights’s lips, and she put a hand on the girl’s shoulder briefly.
“Thank you, Illya. I wish… I wish your mother were here now. She… would be incredibly proud of you.”
Illya’s eyes filled with tears. She threw herself into Arturia’s arms and let herself be held gently as she cried. She cried until she had no more tears… but they had been liberating tears.
She was ready to take a new step in her life, and she knew she was not going to be alone.
Arturia kept the girl close until it was time to go to bed. After making sure she had fallen asleep, she went through the documents, finding them all very precise and accurate. She signed them and filled her suitcase with her few personal items. They were going to leave a few days later.
As she closed one of her bags, it occurred to her that Gilgamesh still did not know that they were going to travel by plane, from Frankfurt, Germany, to Tokyo, Japan. From there, they would probably take another plane to go to the island of Kyushu, where Fuyuki was.
She frowned. Hopefully he would agree to step on a plane with them without complaining.
“No, King of Knights.”
Arturia sighed, close to being exasperated, her patience running thin after more than half an hour of repeating the same thing.
She was trying to reason with the King of Heroes.
“Gilgamesh, we don’t know the effects of dematerialization on people, since we are no longer Heroic Spirits. We can’t risk it on Illya. To go to Japan we have to take a plane.”
Before he could say anything, she continued, “And we are going to travel in first class, therefore you will have the very best service at your complete disposal.”
“There are other mongrels who think themselves worthy of first class seats. That means it’s not an acceptable solution.”
The two kings were not relenting and, sitting on the same sofa, they were glaring at each other. The argument would have continued for who knows how long if Illya, who was snuggled in between them, had not spoken up candidly.
“I am supposed to be the child among the three of us…” and a giggle followed her words.
Arturia and Gilgamesh were dumbstruck and stared at each other mutely. Such a comment from a twelve-year-old girl had been quite unforeseen.
Eventually, the King of Heroes hmphed.
“Fine then. We will be travelling among those filthy mongrels. But,” and his eyes narrowed at Arturia, “you will make sure to be sitting next to me, because otherwise I will not tolerate twelve hours of meaningless time surrounded by those lesser beings.”
Arturia suppressed a sigh but did not stop herself from rolling her eyes.
“Just don’t be too rude, King of Heroes.”
The following morning, they left the Einzbern Castle in Germany with one destination in mind: Fuyuki City, Japan....