Chapter 19: New friendship
One afternoon, Arturia was out for grocery shopping, when her phone suddenly rang. Looking at the screen, she recognized Gilgamesh’s number.
She frowned. He had never been the one to call her before. Had something happened?
She answered immediately.
“King of Heroes, what is the matter?”
Her voice was slightly worried, but his was quite normal.
“Hello, Arturia. I was bored.”
She raised an eyebrow as she collected the last items she needed to buy, holding her phone between her shoulder and her ear – and managing to be graceful nonetheless, as only a king was able to do.
They talked for a little while, as she paid and then left the shop. Even if they had a conversation on the phone every evening, the last time they had seen each other had been at the Emiya residence… with Rin.
Arturia enquired about the priest, and Gilgamesh, annoyed, told her that he was for once tending to his preaching duties, and everything he said was so boring that the King of Heroes had not been able to stand another minute in the same room as him.
While she listened, Arturia walked towards her apartment, and a soft wind blew around her. She suddenly had to stop for a moment, because a slightly stronger blow pushed her dress towards a bush of roses, and the fabric became entangled with the thorns.
And of course, he noticed her stopping and asked her the reason for it. She explained the situation while freeing her clothes and continuing towards the apartment.
His following words made her stop as she was unlocking the entrance door.
“Is it the blue summer dress with the white straps?”
She was surprised. She had no idea he had ever noticed what clothes she wore. “It is.”
Entering the house, she went to the kitchen to begin to put the groceries away.
“You astonish me, King of Heroes.”
She heard him make a sound that seemed suspiciously like a wishful sigh.
“I remember that dress. It compliments your figure very nicely.”
Her tone was flat.
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
On the other side, his reply was prompt.
“Oh? So what will?”
Arturia’s hands gave out and she dropped what she was holding.
“Gilgamesh…!” she hissed.
She could feel his smug smirk across the phone line.
Leaning down to pick up the fallen item, she growled into the mobile.
“Gilgamesh. Would it hurt you to be serious for the time of a phone call?”
“I am being serious, Arturia.”
The tone with which he said that made her hand stop in mid-air, with the object she had picked up still in her hold. She didn’t even realize she had stopped in her tracks after letting out an unwanted sharp gasp.
She paused. She did not want to have to think about him being serious.
She could not.
The possibility of him truly wanting more from her… no. She would not go there.
She breathed in slowly, steeling herself, and then casually changed the subject.
“Have you seen or heard anything from Rin during the last few days?”
He answered in the negative, and then seemed to respect her desire to change the subject, because he did not bring it up again. He enquired about “the girl”, as he sometimes still called Illya, and hearing him actually ask about her made Arturia happy.
She talked about her ward, describing some of the enchantments they were learning and the latest books they had read together that day. Since Illya was fourteen, they were beginning to go through material that was more difficult.
The conversation flew naturally between them for a while, until Arturia heard the door open and close, and someone calling her name.
Illya had just come back from afternoon school; therefore, since Gilgamesh had heard the girl’s voice as well, it meant it was time to end the phone call.
Before hanging up, Arturia paused her movements.
Thinking back on what he had asked her earlier, she began, “Gilgamesh…”
Against her wishes, her voice faltered… she could not find the right thing to say.
From the silence on the other side, she understood that his thoughts were on their brief exchange from before, too.
She closed her eyes… and decided it was time to allow herself to be completely truthful in what she said.
She smiled. It was right to let him know… just a little of what was on her mind.
After all, had he not earned the right of at least that much from her?
“Call more often.”
There was something that startlingly sounded like an intake of breath on the other side of the line… probably the closest thing to a surprised reaction she would ever hear coming from him.
She knew that he had been able to understand that she had been smiling softly while saying those words.
He chuckled lightly, but without his usual arrogance.
“I most certainly will, King of Knights.”
She smiled again and was about to hang up, when he added, “But…”
She waited, mildly surprised, wondering what else he wanted to say.
“I expect you to do the same.”
When a few weeks had passed since the dramatic confrontation with Rin, Arturia mentioned to Gilgamesh – over the phone as usual – that she intended to go visit her, to see how she was and ask if she had made her decision about what they had told her.
To her surprise, Gilgamesh was adamant about coming with her.
She objected, at first bringing up Kirei, worried he might get suspicious, and then reminding him that he, the King of Heroes, had been the one to demean Rin the most; therefore, perhaps it was best if she did not see him.
He instead pointed out that it was best if she did see him. She did not seem to be like her father, but he wanted to observe how she reacted if he were to appear again. It was bound to be interesting and, furthermore, a good test for the girl’s character.
After listening to his reasons, Arturia was silent for a few seconds, before agreeing with him.
Gilgamesh was… pleased.
It seemed that he and the King of Knights were starting to agree on more and more things.
Gilgamesh dematerialized from the Church in front of Arturia’s apartment, where he took her hand to disappear with her again and rematerialize next to a very large villa.
They rang the bell of the Tohsaka mansion. It was huge and dark, and very quiet. From outside, it appeared to be a haunted, uninhabited house. The two kings stood outside the gate and waited.
Soundlessly, the door opened and Rin came out. She stopped for a second when she saw who her visitors were, but then went towards them nonetheless. She opened the gates, inviting them in.
They found themselves seated in the large living room. Rin offered tea rather stiffly, but only Arturia accepted.
For a while, there was silence between the three of them, but it was an uneasy one only for the young girl.
“How have you been, Rin?”
The girl seemed to know that the question was genuine, and answered cautiously.
“I… have been thinking during the last weeks. A lot.”
The two kings waited, not putting any pressure over her, and she slowly continued, “The girl… Illya… was right. I… did not think about what I was saying. Wishing to take part in a war… it’s one of the stupidest things I ever said and thought.”
She hung her head and slumped her shoulders slightly.
“Even though I pride myself on my intellect, I did not use my brain.”
Then she held up her head in determination.
“My father… was not right in educating me only for the war. And Kirei… I don’t understand his intentions, but I agree with what you told me,” she gave a grateful nod in Arturia’s direction, “he can’t be trusted. At all.”
The King of Knights smiled at her a little.
“I am glad that you can see where his true nature is leaning towards.”
Rin nodded again, and then seemed to hesitate for a second; however, she steeled herself and looked up at Gilgamesh’s face. She was obviously nervous and was having difficulties in finding the right words.
She took a deep breath.
“You were very blunt in what you said to me last time. But you were also correct.”
Another deep breath and she fought to keep her eyes on him.
“So… thank you. For making me open my eyes to reality, no matter how unpleasant that was.”
Gilgamesh raised an eyebrow. There was nervousness and embarrassment in her expression… but also respect. She obviously did not like to admit it… but she was smart enough to be able to accept to see the truth.
That was… good. And a bit surprising.
She was definitely not like her father… and it appeared that Kirei had not managed to ruin her or make her completely uninteresting.
To be able to overcome strong prejudices instilled in her since she had been a child… required intelligence. She really seemed to be smart, as Arturia had said…
The King of Heroes, however, did not speak and simply tilted his head slightly, acknowledging her words.
The girl smiled a little, looking down at her untouched tea and, feeling like a huge burden had been lifted from her shoulders, finally took a sip. There was a short silence, but this time it was a lighter one, no longer uncomfortable.
Arturia then said, “Rin. Will you come and visit us soon? Illya would like to see you again.”
Rin’s eyes widened slightly and she frowned.
“But… I have offended her! Even if it wasn’t meant as such, still… I was disrespectful and–..”
Gilgamesh seemed bored as he spoke up, making her interrupt herself abruptly.
“The girl has been raised by Arturia. Did you honestly think she would be mean-spirited? Of course she has a good heart.”
At the explanation, Rin felt deep gratitude and also some respect for the white-haired girl.
But she could not deny that she felt curiosity about the man’s words. He seemed to hold Arturia in high regard.
The girl had by then realized how much insightfulness and wisdom there was in the blond man… and the fact that he openly esteemed Arturia was very interesting. She was without a doubt a very strong and remarkable woman, and even if it was not as apparent, she did not respect him any less than he respected her. The dynamic between them was unquestionably intriguing… but it wasn’t the time to focus on that.
Arturia began to speak again.
“In a few days, school will be closed for summer break. Would you like to come spend an afternoon at the park with us?”
Rin smiled a little and met the calming green eyes of the woman sitting in front of her.
It seemed that her life was about to take a turn… and, with all probability, the turn was for the best.
The afternoon they had agreed on came, and Illya could hardly contain her excitement at the idea of spending time with another girl about her age.
Shirou would not be coming, because he was at school with Taiga, who was apparently tutoring a student one year younger named Sakura, and he was helping with the cleaning of the classrooms in her place. Arturia had discreetly made sure he was not present, since Gilgamesh was with them, and she did not wish to spend the whole time with the King of Heroes burning holes into the boy with his glare. Besides, the afternoon was for Illya and Rin.
When they met, Rin tried to apologize for her past words, but Illya just smiled warmly, taking her by surprise. And shortly after, the white-haired girl was dragging the Tohsaka heir around, jumping happily and laughing freely while exploring the park.
At first, Rin tried to resist and compose herself, appalled by such a carefree attitude. But soon, Illya’s enthusiasm being very contagious, Rin found herself first smiling and then laughing together with her, delighting in the sunny weather and the natural beauties of the park.
Arturia, sitting on a bench and with Gilgamesh next to her, observed the two girls enjoying themselves, and could see that friendship had already started to bloom between them.
The two girls had eaten their lunch from bento boxes before going to play, while the two kings had still not had anything. There was a little box with a few strawberries left, and Arturia offered them to the King of Heroes, who simply shook his head. She rolled her eyes and ate them on her own, only stopping for a second to tell him how ‘absolutely delicious’ they were.
When she was finished, she was about to stand up to throw the empty box away, when a hand on her arm suddenly stopped her.
His other hand came up to her face, and one of his fingers softly landed on her lips. Quite unsettled, she was about to say something, when his finger moved slightly.
He began to trace her lips slowly, sensually, and he took a small piece of strawberry that had remained there. His finger, with the strawberry on it, left her lips and went to his own mouth, disappearing inside. He licked it clean, with a very satisfied expression on his face.
Arturia could not stop a light blush from appearing on her cheeks. The nerve of that man…
Her eyes narrowed and her irritation rose. Luckily for both of them, however, the girls came running towards them in that same moment.
Illya slid on the bench next to Arturia, laughing, and pulled Rin to be seated at her side. The white-haired girl chatted excitedly about the games they had played in the park, but Arturia noticed that Rin seemed to compose herself and then feel embarrassed.
The woman frowned, understanding why she was behaving in such a manner.
A few seconds later, Illya offered to throw away the empty boxes and, as soon as she was a little distance away, Arturia leaned towards the Tohsaka heir slightly.
The black-haired girl looked up at her, startled.
“There is no reason for you to feel shame if you enjoyed yourself. You have been robbed of your childhood too early… you have the right to be carefree and relaxed. Don’t grow up too soon.”
The look on the King of Knights’s face was ancient, and Gilgamesh was probably the only one who could understand it – she knew he had noticed it, too.
Rin, however, was taken aback by her perceptiveness. She started to object, but Arturia gently put a hand on her arm, making her fall silent again.
“Just think about it, please.”
Rin recognized her words from before, when she had made her reconsider her whole life, and mutely nodded.
Gilgamesh observed the scene, in complete silence.
As soon as she came back, Illya grabbed the black-haired girl’s hand and pulled her towards the middle of the park with ease, Rin no longer trying to resist.
Yes, Arturia thought, friendship between the two would definitely grow.
In the following weeks, Rin’s way of thinking slowly underwent a change. From the slightly aggressive, cynical and narrow-minded out-of-the-world girl she had been raised to be, she grew. She learned to think, to consider the consequences of her actions, to use her intelligence more widely and productively, and to see people for who they really were.
Spending time with Illya helped Rin realize that she had the right to be more relaxed in what she did. The Einzbern girl explained how she studied with Arturia, seriously but without ever exaggerating. Rigour was not the only way to learn, Rin recognized. The two girls started to share their magic knowledge, studying and learning together as trust slowly began to form between them.
They also talked about the war. Illya was completely earnest with Rin, explaining how her mother had died during the war and how her father had been forbidden from ever coming back to see her after failing to obtain the Grail.
Rin was deeply shocked by that, and in turn, slowly began to open up about her past as well, even if she was still very reserved about her family.
Being often with Illya meant that Rin also got to know Shirou. Even if the two girls could not have heart to heart conversations in front of him because he didn’t know anything about the war or Magecraft, the boy was still someone Illya considered to be her brother. The three got along well together.
Even if Rin was under the guardianship of Kirei, she lived alone and the priest only sometimes went to check on her. Once, when busy with an exorcism, he had asked the King of Heroes to quickly go take a look for him at the mansion… to which Gilgamesh, after Arturia persuaded him, agreed – and deeply despised the mongrel when he did not question his compliance.
After that, he began to go to the girl’s place more frequently, mostly out of boredom.
Arturia sometimes went to the Tohsaka mansion to see the girl as well, but it was a much rarer occurrence, because they saw each other at the Emiya residence when she and Illya met.
Arturia had decided it was right to let Rin know a few details… mainly to keep her safe from Kirei, because the Tohsaka heir knew some things about the Grail war, but not the important matters; she had only been taught that she needed to win it.
The King of Knights explained to the girl her and Gilgamesh’s identities as Heroic Spirits who had fought in the war, and that seemed to be a source of fascination for Rin. The black-haired girl said that that explained the fact that they seemed wise and knowledgeable beyond their apparent young age.
Quite relieved that she had taken the piece of news calmly and without too many questions, Arturia warned her – even though she admitted that she had no proof – that the priest probably intended to use her as his pawn in the future.
Rin understood perfectly, knowing it was highly probable that she was right, and thanked the woman for her advice, promising to be more cautious in her dealings with Kirei....