Chapter 6: Teaching Illya
During the following days, Arturia continued to help Illya with her studies – and she quickly realized that both she and the girl enjoyed it. Helping Illya like that was not a sacrifice on her part – and she was improving the girl’s education in many ways. She knew that Irisviel would have appreciated it, and it was enough to make her feel content with what she was doing.
They were usually in the living room in which she had been introduced on the day of her arrival – and her unwanted thought about the King of Heroes proved to be right. He stayed in the same room as them, lying down on one of the couches and apparently paying no attention to them to simply sip on his wine.
None of the servants interrupted them, unless it was to call them for the meals. Arturia had asked Illya about it, and had found out that the girl was often alone, because her ‘Grandfather’ came to see her no more than once every other month. Servants who provided them with everything they needed – food, clothes, anything they might need – were always ready around both Illya and the two former Heroic Spirits, but they were left on their own most of the time.
Not that Arturia was complaining. On the contrary, that fact gave her the possibility to fully look after the child.
In the first few weeks, Illya had several questions about the ‘mission’ her parents had had to go on… and Arturia had decided to be honest with her. Even if she was young, she was not stupid, and the woman believed it was best for her to understand the truth about what had happened as early as possible – so she would not become a pawn for the Einzberns.
Arturia left out many gruesome details, but she explained what the Holy Grail War had been about and how they had had to fight to the death with other participants. Illya was quite horrified, but was glad for having been told the truth and for the fact that Arturia was not treating her like a kid.
Questions about the war also brought questions about its end. Arturia was a bit vaguer about that, because she had no intention of making her dislike for Kiritsugu too apparent in front of his daughter. However, she explained that the Grail had been destroyed and therefore her father’s mission had failed. Since he had failed, the Einzberns were not welcoming him back, and that was why he could not visit her.
Arturia was pleased to find out that Illya understood all that. She made sure to explain both points of view, the Einzberns’ and Kiritsugu’s – even if it wasn’t his fault the mission had failed, the Einzberns were angry at him and didn’t allow his return.
Illya understood the reasoning… but she did not approve of it, exactly as Arturia wished.
The woman told the child that the only way to see her father was to learn enough to be able to leave on her own and go visit him herself – if he couldn’t go to her, then she could go to him. Illya was very excited at the idea, and in her enthusiasm revealed that she didn’t really trust her grandfather. Hearing that made Arturia even more pleased – the girl was really bright, and there was the concrete possibility of her refusing to accept her already written destiny.
Illya then shyly asked her if she would help her… not only to learn more, but also to grow and fulfil her wish to see her father.
Such a request took the former King of Britain by surprise… but she felt honoured by it, too. Therefore, she smiled warmly at the girl and told her that, since she had been her father’s Servant and her mother’s friend, she was gladly going to be there for her.
Arturia wasn’t sure what her thoughts about Kiritsugu were. She was not going to hate him, out of consideration for Illya, but she was never going to like him either. However, she couldn’t help noticing how the young girl really seemed to miss him. Knowing that he was alive and not being able to communicate with him made her very sad.
Arturia wished she could do something about her sadness… because she knew she was slowly beginning to care about the girl, and not just for Irisviel’s sake.
The thought of Irisviel made her come up with a solution.
She had made a mental note one day, while finishing her lesson with Illya. In the evening, after the girl had gone to sleep, she went to the huge library of the Einzbern Castle (the servants had showed it to her when she had asked for more Magecraft volumes) and began to go through the books in determination.
Unbeknownst to her, Gilgamesh was sitting in the darkness of the room, observing her behaviour.
After almost half an hour of picking out books and going through them quickly – and also finding a manual about sports cars that made her think of Irisviel’s reckless driving abilities –, the King of Knights finally smiled in victory. For a few minutes, she looked intently at the pages that had the parts that interested her, then she took a bookmark from one of the shelves and put it in the book before closing it. Taking it with her, she made her way back to the living room, where she usually went when she had something to read.
She was mildly surprised at not finding Gilgamesh on one of the sofas, but her mind was set on the book in her hands and she didn’t really concern herself with his absence. She sat down at the table where she and Illya did their studies during the day, and began to read through the parts of the book again, opening it where the bookmark was.
About an hour later, she didn’t even realize that the King of Heroes had slipped back into the room and was looking at her with mild curiosity. She was therefore startled when he addressed her.
“It’s rare to see you so dedicated when preparing another lesson for the girl.”
Snapping her head up, Arturia’s gaze was slightly unfocused… and she met Gilgamesh’s amused stare. She shook her head, with a slight tilt of her lips, which intrigued him even more.
“This is not exactly a lesson for Illya… or better, it will be one… But it’s an important one.”
Gilgamesh furrowed his brow slightly. It was not like her to give an unclear or incomplete answer. Noticing his irritation, she gave another slight smile – surprising him even more, because she never smiled at him.
“You will just have to wait and see, King of Heroes.”
That sentence was so close to teasing that Gilgamesh’s mouth almost dropped open in shock. Since when had she been so… relaxed in his presence?
Completely immersed in the book again, however, Arturia did not notice.
A few days later, Arturia presented the book to Illya and showed her some important pages. They contained the detailed instructions on how to use magic to create a powerful variation of the crystal ball spell… and therefore become able to see people who were far away. Arturia explained that, if enforced enough, the spell would have the strength to go through any bounded field that protected Kiritsugu, and therefore Illya would be able to see her father.
Illya was ecstatic at the idea of being able to see him, and excitedly asked if they could begin to practice the spell immediately. Arturia gave her permission, but warned her that it might take a while to learn the specifics of the enchantment.
The little girl, however, had a persistent streak in her, and after less than a week managed to master the spell. She was ready to use the magic to finally see her father again.
Before allowing her to do it – the woman usually kindly supervised what the girl did, making sure she did not exert herself too much –, Arturia had to tell Illya something she knew very little about, but felt was best addressed immediately.
She explained to her that, after the war, Kiritsugu had saved a boy from the destruction that had followed, and had later adopted him.
The King of Knights was worried about telling Illya such a thing – she feared the girl might feel hurt, thinking her father favoured the boy over her.
But Illya smiled widely and said that that such an act was something she would expect her father to do.
Arturia smiled, too, and was grateful for the fact that not only was Illya a very bright child, but she was also very similar to her mother Irisviel.
Illya was able to use the crystal ball spell… even if it took her a few more days to maintain it for more than a handful of seconds. The glimpses she got from her father showed him around a young red-haired boy, and even if he seemed peaceful, there was an obvious sadness surrounding him.
The young girl was happy at seeing her parent again – and having the possibility to see Kiritsugu sometimes was enough for her. She wanted to learn more, learn enough to be able to leave and go see him in person… but, at least for the time being, observing him through a crystal ball made her content.
Arturia’s gaze landed on the white head of hair that was curved over yet another book of magic and mentally smiled at the girl’s never-ending energy and curiosity.
I will watch over her, she promised herself. I will watch over your daughter for you, Irisviel.
In the following weeks and months, the little girl learned and grew.
Illya and Arturia fell into a sort of routine. They usually sat at a table in front of each other, while progressing with the girl’s studies. Arturia wasn’t a Magus, but she knew quite a bit about Magecraft and she read through the books with Illya, educating herself as well as the girl.
Gilgamesh was always in the same room as them, lounging on the sofa, sipping on his eternal glass of wine (he had once diffidently agreed to try beer – he had not been impressed). He hardly ever talked, but since he did not disturb them neither did he try to do anything preposterous like give the alcohol to the young child, Arturia didn’t complain about his presence.
She found it sometimes puzzling – he had said he would not interfere as long as she kept him amused, and she couldn’t understand, for the life of her, what she was possibly doing to keep him amused. Since he wasn’t interfering, it meant that he wasn’t bored – yet. It was probably best to leave it at that, even if it was strange.
Usually, in the afternoons, Illya watched Arturia spar. Now that she had a real body, the King of Knights had to work out to keep in shape, as she had started to do while she was still in Fuyuki – and she did not intend to slack off. Illya wouldn’t join her – the body of a homunculus was not strong enough for such exertion. However, Arturia did not wish for her to rely on magic alone if she ever had to defend herself, therefore she gently convinced Illya to begin to go through a series of simple movements every day, movements she carefully selected to improve the child’s flexibility and her physical resistance.
The King of Heroes never sparred with her. He usually didn’t come to the garden where they did their exercises, but when he did come, he only observed them – as always. Arturia was certain that he worked out as well to keep in shape – even if she had never seen him do so. She did not even know when he worked out, since in the evenings, after Illya had been put to bed, he was again on the couch or occasionally on an armchair while she read aloud, but she didn’t actually care. What the King of Heroes did with his time did not concern her, as long as he didn’t interfere with her work.
Reading aloud in the evening was not really for Gilgamesh’s benefit – even if that was the only moment in which he actually made comments and talked to her, and they interacted a bit. It was to keep herself awake, too. Having a real body made Arturia need to rest more than in the past. But she wanted to continue to learn more about the story of the past wars and the Grail.
She had noticed that for some reason Jubstacheit, having once seen her in the library, seemed not too keen on allowing her free access to it. That alone told her that he had something to hide, probably something huge. He knew more than what he let on.
In the rare times in which they met, another thing in his behaviour had raised Arturia’s suspicions. She had not given away any details, but she had confirmed Kiritsugu’s failure in obtaining the Grail. Jubstacheit had not pursued Kiritsugu to kill him or punish him; as the servants had told her, he had simply put up a barrier to keep him out, preventing him from ever seeing Illya again.
And while Arturia could very much see the cruelty of it, she knew it was mild compared to the usual Einzberns’ course of action. It was almost as if the Einzbern leader, even if obsessed with winning, had expected Kiritsugu to fail in the struggle for the Grail. Something was wrong in that.
That whole state of things worried Arturia – mostly for Illya’s sake. The little girl had understood the reason for her father’s absence – and for that, Arturia was grateful. But remaining with the Einzberns… who knew what her destiny would be.
No, she had to correct herself… she knew it very well. Unless something changed, she would be forced to become a tool… just like her mother.
It was rare for the King of Heroes to address her directly as he did one evening. She paused in her – for once – silent reading and looked up from the book.
“You came to Germany… to look after your former Master’s daughter, who is destined to become a Grail vessel.”
Arturia’s gaze was lost in the distance.
“For Irisviel,” she simply answered.
It was short, but she knew enough about Gilgamesh by then to be sure that he would understand what she wasn’t saying – as well as she had been able to understand his unspoken question. If there was something that she had learned about him during the past months, it was the he had some strange wisdom – and he was very perceptive.
At least, when it came to her.
She resumed her reading, the conversation with him over for the night.
Illya’s voice broke through the silence of the room and the woman she was addressing looked up from the book she was going through. A little girl in her pyjamas was looking at her with slightly sleepy eyes. Arturia lifted an eyebrow.
“Illya, why are you not in bed? What happened?”
The girl’s eyes turned a bit sad and she averted them from her.
“I…” she swallowed. “I… couldn’t sleep.”
Arturia’s eyebrows were now both lifted. Her gaze, focused on the child, turned pensive.
She stood up, closing the book in her hands – while making a mental note of the page she had stopped on – and gestured for Illya to follow her to the sofa. Or better, to one of the sofas, because Gilgamesh was occupying the other one. Arturia sat down and Illya snuggled next to her, taking a pillow between her arms. The woman rested her questioning gaze on her, waiting.
The little girl looked down at the pattern on the sofa’s pillow and hesitated. Without lifting her gaze, she murmured, “Arturia, will you… will you tell me something about my parents?”
Arturia froze. Now that was a request she hadn’t seen coming. It had been some weeks since Illya had learned the crystal ball spell, and she had not seemed sadder or more wishful since then.
The King of Knights’s eyes remained on the little girl for a while. She could not exactly… refuse, could she? Illya missed her parents… and she had only asked her to tell her something about them.
The woman also understood… she wished for something called ‘bedtime story’.
Arturia mentally sighed. She was not good with that kind of things. But for Illya, she would try.
She thought for a while. She wasn’t going to talk about Kiritsugu, because she doubted she could be impartial, but about Irisviel… what could she tell Illya about her mother?
“Did you know, Illya, that Irisviel loved driving?”
Illya’s interest was piqued, and she gave Arturia a happy smile for accepting her weird request. From the other sofa, Gilgamesh looked intently at them both.
Arturia almost smiled, remembering the white-haired woman she had come close to considering a friend.
“She enjoyed sports cars – of all types, and she loved driving fast on the streets of Japan. She considered them her new… playground, and cars were toys for her.” Supressing another smile, Arturia added, “She was disappointed when, after a while, I told her that we were going to switch and I was going to drive.”
Illya smiled and almost giggled.
“That sounds like mommy,” she said. Then her expression turned sadder. “I miss her.”
Arturia extended her arm to the little child and put her hand over her smaller one. She gave her a small but genuine smile.
“Illya, I can’t bring your mother back to you. But I have memories of her… and I will share them with you every time you ask.”
Illya returned her smile with a grateful one of her own, even after Arturia retracted her hand. However, her eyes turned sad and troubled again after a moment.
“Arturia… did daddy know that mommy could die during the war?”
The King of Knights did not wish to lie to Illya.
“Yes, he did.”
The child’s expression turned frustrated.
“Then… why did he let her go? If he knew that she was going to die in the war, then why did he allow her to go with him? Did daddy… did daddy care about mommy… at all?”
She threw her pillow away from her, on the other side of the sofa, and crossed her arms, the slight trembling of her lips indicating that she was holding back tears.
Arturia leaned towards the girl, looking her in the eye seriously.
“Illya… I do not know how and why Kiritsugu and Irisviel made the choices they did, because I am not them and I cannot claim to have known them well enough. But one thing I know for sure… Kiritsugu loved Irisviel, very dearly. Aside from the very last orders, the only time… in which he truly used a Command Spell on me… was when she had gone missing.” The bright green eyes of the former King of Britain were clear and earnest. “Your father cared deeply about your mother, Illya. He had a strange way of showing it, but he truly did all he could for her sake.”
The eyes of the little girl were reassured, but they were also beginning to droop slowly. It was late, after all, and she was tired. Arturia noticed it and continued to speak in a calm tone, repeating to her that her parents loved each other and loved her as well. She only stopped talking when Illya’s breathing had evened out and she was fast asleep on the sofa.
Silently, Arturia stood up, took a folded blanket from a chair and covered the young child’s form with it. To her mild surprise, Gilgamesh stood up as well and, without a word, followed her as she took her book and left the room, turning off the lights there. Outside in the hallway, as soon as she closed the door behind them both, he addressed her.
“What was that, King of Knights?” His eyes were slightly narrowed at her.
Reading her confusion in her eyes, he added, “You are perfectly aware of the fact that your Master was having sexual relations with the sniper woman. And yet, you still told the child that her parents loved each other? I thought you were no liar, Arturia.”
She didn’t wish to speak with Gilgamesh – especially not about Kiritsugu. However, something about the look he was giving her made her reconsider. His red eyes were almost hostile towards her in that moment, but also held a little amount of something else.
It seemed… as if he really wanted to hear her answer. She didn’t know his motives for asking her such a thing, but it appeared to be mostly out of curiosity.
She suppressed a small sigh before staring back at him. “I did not lie, Gilgamesh. Even if he often appeared to show the opposite, Kiritsugu truly cared about Irisviel.”
The King of Heroes’s eyes narrowed even more at her. “You dislike your former Master… and yet you defend him.”
It was Arturia’s time to narrow her eyes. “I consider Kiritsugu as great a fiend as the other opponents in the war… but he is also a very complex man. I don’t know about his past…” and her eyes seemed to be momentarily lost in the distance, “…and therefore I cannot judge him fully, even considering his many flaws.”
Gilgamesh let out a short laugh, the sound strange, almost bitter. “So, you have come to this, Arturia? Forgiving everyone?”
Her eyes hardened, as did her voice. “That is not a question I expected from someone usually so perceptive,” she told him a bit brusquely. “I may have come to understand my former Master slightly better, but that doesn’t mean that I will ever forgive him.”
Her expression was so firm and resolute then, that Gilgamesh couldn’t stop himself from taking a step in her direction to have a better look at her face. With his eyes focused on her, his lips slowly stretched into a smirk… a strangely proud one.
Yes, he was truly enjoying his time around this woman.
In some ways, a person like Rider had been worthy of his respect… but the fact that he had repeatedly refused to recognize Arturia Pendragon as a king proved that he didn’t know what being a king entailed, nor did he know what being a king was – because indeed, she truly was one.
His smirk widened slightly.
“Good night, King of Knights,” he said, before turning around and leaving.