Chapter 7: Child's requests
Every evening, after Illya had been put to bed, Arturia went back to the living room, where Gilgamesh was on one of the couches, and she read aloud from various books.
After the night in which the girl had come up asking about her parents, however, the routine changed. The two adults accompanied the child to her room, Arturia helped her to bed and read a story to her – usually a novel, because Illya seemed to favour them. As soon as she fell asleep, the former Servants left and went back to their normal evenings.
After a while, Gilgamesh stopped going to the girl’s bedroom – he couldn’t care less about the fairy tales Arturia was sometimes persuaded to read for Illya, therefore he simply waited in the living room for the woman to join him and read aloud.
One evening though, she did not come. The King of Heroes was not a person who tolerated being kept waiting. When too much time had passed, he stood up from the couch. Annoyed at having had to wait and then having to look for her, too, he went to search for her in her rooms. She was not there though, therefore, even more annoyed, he went to the library, only to come out empty handed again.
Quite irritated, he could think of only another place: Illya’s bedroom. He went there, opening the door without hesitation.
And he froze.
Arturia was on the girl’s bed, next to her, with her hand gently held in the child’s smaller grasp, and both were breathing evenly, fast asleep. But that sight was not what had made the King of Heroes freeze.
It was Arturia’s expression. It was a very, very unusual one… relaxed and peaceful.
She never had such an expression when she was awake.
Very quietly, Gilgamesh closed the door of the room again. He most certainly would not try to go in – he knew that the King of Knights’s senses were sharp, and he had no wish to have an invisible Excalibur pointed at his throat. He had heard from the servants that it had happened to one of the butlers when he had tried to wake her up one morning… she had almost beheaded him.
Even though Gilgamesh knew that it would take more than that to do him some real harm, he still did not wish to… disturb her in her sleep.
He realized that he wasn’t annoyed at having been kept waiting earlier… not anymore.
That thought was, to some extent… unsettling. When had that stubborn woman begun to hold that much power over him?
Arturia was the one whose voice was heard the most around the castle. She read and studied all the lessons together with Illya – the child loved to listen –, she explained the things that weren’t clear both during the lessons and during sparring time, she read the little girl stories in the evenings, she read aloud from books at night… In short, she did a lot of talking.
The problem was that Arturia was now a human… and as such, she could become sick. She was a very strong woman, though, therefore it was highly unlikely it would happen… but something was bound to happen.
And it did. By talking so much, Arturia ended up losing her voice completely for a few days.
The homunculi who served in the castle were all quite proficient in healing magic, but there was nothing that could be done. Arturia received instructions to rest for some time in her rooms, and Illya was dismayed at finding out that she wasn’t even allowed to spend time with her beloved tutor.
She did her studying on her own for the first time in months, and she found it much more difficult and boring than usual. Learning Magecraft was not easy, and Illya was the kind of person who remembered things better if she repeated them with someone else. But Arturia was not there, and she had not the courage to ask the King of Heroes for help.
The little girl was still a bit intimidated by Gilgamesh. She often forgot that he was in the same room as her and Arturia, but he was always so silent that it was easy to fail to remember his presence. And since he was always so quiet it was difficult for her to guess what he was thinking… except when it came to the King of Knights.
When she had actually had the occasion to observe him, Illya had seen how his attention was always on Arturia and on every little thing she did.
Aside from his obvious interest in the green-eyed woman, however, the girl had only seen his arrogance. What she knew about him was not enough for her to ask him for help in her studies.
However, the evening of that first day without Arturia, Illya was so unhappy that she forgot her fears. She had spent the whole day in complete silence, going through difficult lessons alone and without having the possibility to exchange a word with anyone. She deeply missed Arturia, not only for the help she always gave her, but also for her calming presence and her genuinely caring nature that made her company so pleasant.
In her pyjamas and with a book in her hands, the white-haired girl went to the couch on which the King of Heroes was lying and timidly cleared her voice. She had not spoken the whole day and she felt her throat completely dry. But she also knew enough about the personality of the proud king to be certain that tugging on his sleeve or anything of the kind would not be tolerated… and she needed to remain on his good side.
His red eyes landed on her, with both haughtiness and inquisitiveness. Illya did her best to ignore her anxiety.
“Would you please read for me?” Her voice came out hoarse and slightly croaky.
The King of Heroes raised an eyebrow. The kid had the gall to come up to not only speak to him, but also make a request? He scoffed. What audacity. She must have picked that up from the green-eyed woman, without a doubt.
Turning his gaze away from her, he coldly dismissed her.
“Forget it, girl. You have domestics for these things.”
Illya felt herself becoming both angry and frustrated. Why? Why was he like that? She proceeded to voice her thoughts, looking at him with a cross expression on her young face.
“Why is Arturia such a nice person and you such a mean one? Why are you always like this? Why-”
She suddenly stopped and took a deep breath. Gilgamesh had looked at her with indifference at her outburst, but her abrupt halt had captured his attention, and her next words did that even more.
In a lower voice, as if she was speaking to herself, and with her eyes closed, Illya murmured, “Arturia says that anger almost never gets the desired results… I have to calm down.”
Before Gilgamesh could do anything more than stare at her, the little girl’s eyes opened again and a determined expression, oddly similar to Arturia’s firm one, settled on her features. She lifted the book she was holding in her hands and showed it to him.
The King of Heroes could not deny that he was impressed by her choice.
‘King Arthur’s Legends’.
No wonder she was asking him to read it to her – she would not ask Arturia herself to read about her life, and she obviously did not want the servants to know more about the woman.
Gilgamesh debated with himself. He was interested in reading the book, too – and the girl had managed to catch his attention. He mentally sighed in annoyance. She was Arturia’s protégée… he could agree to give her the honour of listening to him.
He sat up on the sofa.
“Only as long as it amuses me, girl,” he told her warningly.
Illya couldn’t control her excited smile and quickly went to the other couch and settled herself on it, with her head on a pillow. She was sure he would not allow her to be on the same couch as him.
Gilgamesh felt strange as he opened the book and as the child looked towards him in expectation. Was that what Arturia felt every time she did the same thing? It was… not an unpleasant sensation.
He dismissed the thought and began to read.
After listening to a few stories, Illya fell asleep on the couch. Gilgamesh stopped reading and closed the book.
He had to admit to himself that he had been entertained enough by the activity. It had been interesting to read some legends from Arturia’s life… and reading aloud was not too bad. It was what the King of Knights did every day, after all.
The girl had also been quiet and an attentive listener.
Overall, it had not been an unpleasant evening, he mused.
The following day, Arturia was still on resting orders, therefore Illya had to study on her own again.
But after a few hours, she felt too lonely and confused by the difficult subjects to continue. Remembering the previous evening’s success, she looked at the King of Heroes, who was on the couch, with a questioning gaze. She wondered if he would help her with her studies.
As soon as she opened her mouth to ask him, though, he spoke.
“Don’t even think about asking, girl. I am not Arturia. Do something on your own, for once.”
The cold rebuke made her flinch. She had a slight headache already, because she was studying very difficult Magecraft, and she would have liked to discuss it with someone to understand it better.
The servants might be able to listen… but she was tired from the work she had already done. She considered the idea of taking a break. If she made a pause, what could she do in the meantime?
A small smile appeared on her lips. She jumped from her chair and took the book about the Arthurian Legends, which was on the couch next to where she had fallen asleep the previous night.
She walked up to Gilgamesh’s couch with a shy expression. She bit her lip.
“Will you please read to me a little more? I would like to hear about Arturia’s past again.”
The King of Heroes had not expected her to ask him that. He was interested in reading more legends about King Arthur… but he didn’t want to come even close to the idea of babysitting a brat.
His red eyes narrowed. It would be the last time he read for the girl.
He took the book Illya was holding and opened it at the page he had stopped on the previous day.
By sunset, the small volume was finished and the white-haired girl was asleep. Gilgamesh told himself that, even if he had been quite entertained while reading about Arturia’s feats, it was the last time he kept the little girl company like that.
However, the next day Arturia still hadn’t recovered and Illya had to study alone again. In the afternoon, after going through the daily exercises the King of Knights had taught her, she walked up to Gilgamesh’s couch again, with little smile and a book in her hands.
He gave her quite the hard look. He was about to tell her that he would not be reading anything once more… when she prevented him from speaking by showing him the title of the book.
‘Epic of Gilgamesh’.
“Will you please read this for me?” she gently asked.
He noticed, however, that her smile was slightly smug. She knew that a book with stories about himself would catch his interest.
Instead of feeling irritated, he almost smirked at her little deviousness. Perhaps it was Arturia’s influence or perhaps not, but the girl was proving to be quite entertaining in her own way.
He sat up on the couch, taking the book. Illya, without realizing what she was doing, sat down on the same couch, even if not next to him.
The King of Heroes read the stories until the book was finished. By then, the white-haired child was asleep beside him. He felt a little annoyed at having her there, but he admitted that it had been quite amusing to read about his own life in a book. She had been rather cunning in choosing such a story… he wondered briefly if the idea had come from Arturia.
He disregarded the thought and looked down at the child again, pensive. Even though reading aloud to her had not been a bad experience, he was not doing it again. He was at the Einzbern Castle to observe Arturia’s actions towards the vessel’s daughter, not to take her place in looking after her. She had better have her voice back by the following morning.
He frowned when he was struck with a thought. In the last months, he had stopped considering Illya a half-homunculus… he had come to consider her a young girl.
He almost shook his head at himself.
Being around a person like Arturia… was making him… change.
The next day, Arturia had indeed her voice back… and she was ready to begin the lessons with Illya again. The two studied together the whole morning and then went to the garden to do their exercises in the afternoon. Gilgamesh had been on the couch, listening to them, and had not followed them outside.
After going through the exercises, Illya told Arturia about what the King of Heroes had done the previous days.
She smilingly explained, “He read two books for me!”
Arturia, with a completely straight face, walked up to her and firmly put a hand on the young girl’s forehead.
“Do you have a fever, Illya?”
The girl giggled and shook her head.
“I just remembered what you said, Arturia… ‘Gilgamesh only does something when he feels interested in it’. So I took the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ and asked him to read it to me…”
Arturia almost smiled back.
“Illya, that was a bit… sly of you,” she said, with her tone managing to be both reprimanding and amused.
The girl giggled again before turning serious.
“I promise I won’t do it again, Arturia… but I had no ill intentions and… I just felt very lonely without you.”
Arturia was not used to such words directed at her… but she felt touched by them.
She gave Irisviel’s daughter a small smile.
“I’m here, Illya… and I’m not going anywhere.”
The dark red eyes of the girl were happy as she followed the woman back inside the castle.
After Arturia had gotten her voice back, the usual lessons and studying resumed in the living room, and Gilgamesh was content with observing the woman and the girl interact with each other. The only moments when he wasn’t with them were when they were doing physical exercises outside and when Arturia put Illya to bed. He usually waited for the King of Knights to come back to the living room, lounging on his couch.
One day, after lunch, when he went to the living room, Gilgamesh didn’t find the two girls. The sparring time had already ended, and it was both strange and annoying for them to be late. It became even more annoying when they did not show up after a while.
Slightly irritated, he decided to find them – being in the living room was too boring otherwise.
He asked – or rather, demanded – from the first servant he met where Arturia was. He was immediately answered that she was in Illya’s room.
He made his way there, wondering about what they could possibly be doing.
A very unusual and unexpected view met his eyes when he entered.
Illya was jumping around in circles around a woman who stood in the centre of the room, a beautiful woman dressed in a lilac gown, decorated in blue lace, that reached down to her feet.
Gilgamesh’s usually arrogant eyes widened slightly when he recognized Arturia.
Her blonde hair was down, and it was much longer than he had expected it to be. She was not wearing any make up, but she had a silver tiara holding her hair in place and a matching necklace, which complemented her dress perfectly.
Arturia’s eyes were closed as Illya ran around her, gushing about things like silver bracelets and rings, therefore she had not noticed his presence yet. And because of the protective shield in the castle, she could not sense him, either.
He allowed himself to admit silently that he admired her appearance, before leaning against the door’s frame and crossing his arms. As soon as Illya noticed him, he let her know to stay quiet with a motion of his hand.
He wanted to enjoy the sight of Arturia a little longer. Dressed up as an elegant lady, with her long hair down… It was something that he had never witnessed before – and would probably never behold again.
After Illya finished putting some silver jewellery around the woman’s wrists, continually singing the praises of her appearance – to which Arturia had only replied with a small, tight smile (it was apparent that she wasn’t enjoying the experience), with her eyes still closed –, Gilgamesh decided it was time to make his presence known. He inclined his head to the side while his gaze remained fixed on her. And his lips curved in a little smirk.
“You look like a Queen.”
Arturia’s eyes snapped open – shocked and slightly embarrassed green met very amused red.
Gilgamesh enjoyed her surprise and didn’t let his stare leave her form.
He added, with a wider smirk, “I knew that coming with you to Germany would prove entertaining, Arturia, but I never thought this entertaining…”
The King of Knights would have flushed if she wasn’t who she was. Illya only giggled and gave the two a smile.
“Arturia agreed to let me dress her up – but I had to beg her for a long time, and I had to promise it would be just this one time.” Then she gave the King of Heroes a mischievous glance. “She is always very pretty, but doesn’t she look beautiful now?”
For the first time Gilgamesh did not have a snarky retort ready, because he actually agreed with the little girl. His eyes still did not leave the King of Knights’s figure.
“Indeed, girl. She seems ready to be a bride.”
To that, Arturia’s eyebrows shot high for a second, and then her eyes narrowed at him. He just smirked at her, while Illya giggled again and began to run around in happiness, enjoying herself, as a kid should.
Later that evening, after Illya had been put to sleep, Gilgamesh mentioned her costume parade again.
The King of Knights averted her gaze from his face when she said, “Illya asked for that favour… She has only been learning and studying this whole time, and she is a child after all… She deserves to play as well.”
He smirked at her.
“You looked good, Arturia… I did say you seemed to be a bride, didn’t I?”
She gave him a hard stare.
“What are you trying to say, King of Heroes?”
He leaned forward in his seat, towards her.
“What I’m saying, King of Knights, is that you looked perfect as a bride… my bride. My future Queen.”
She merely lifted an eyebrow. She had seen that coming. It appeared that he was bringing up a subject she had hoped could be forgotten.
“And why, Gilgamesh, would I ever marry you?” Not giving him the time to reply, she looked him in the eye seriously. “First of all, I am a King, not a Queen. Second… do you even know what a marriage is and what it entails?”
He was looking at her intently, and she took it as her cue to continue.
“Perhaps you don’t understand the concept of matrimony, King of Heroes. It’s not a mere contract… it’s supposed to be a holy bond formed between two people who not only care deeply about each other, but also respect each other.” Her green eyes were firmly locked on his. “You are unable to respect anyone, much less care about anyone… you will never be part of a marriage.”
Gilgamesh was silent for a second, but then he looked at her with a raised eyebrow.
“I did not think that you would be such a hypocrite, King of Knights. You were married during your life, and that marriage was nothing but a contract. You married Guinevere for the good of the image of the kingdom… but even if you may have cared about her as your subject, it was nothing more than that.” His gaze turned cynical. “And now you are trying to moralize me about what a marriage truly is?”
Arturia looked at him with cold fury.
After a short silence, she slowly said, “You are right… on some things. I was married to Guinevere, and not by choice. She, however, did make a choice… she accepted such a destiny, fully aware of what she was getting herself into, out of respect for me. For the sacrifice she accepted to make, she had my respect as well. You are right in saying that there was nothing more than that between us, not even friendship, because I was a King who chose to be alone. But this,” and voice became stronger, “is precisely the reason why I can say what a marriage should be, because mine has not been it.”
She paused for a moment. Her green eyes were still on his red ones. A question came to her mind. “Did you ever have a wife, King of Heroes?”
Gilgamesh scoffed, not breaking their gaze.
“As if I would have ever found anyone deserving of the title of being my wife.”
Those words made her stay silent. He said he had never found anyone estimable enough to be his wife… but he had proposed to her. She gave him a measuring look, thinking.
He smirked at her, his arrogance back.
“Proposing to you, Arturia, is not enough proof of the fact that I consider you the only woman worthy of the honour of becoming my wife?”
Arturia’s eyes turned cold again.
“I am a King before being a woman, Gilgamesh.”
She sat up from the couch and went to the door to leave for the night. The second before she walked out, she heard the last words he directed at her.
“By the way, Arturia… you look really good with your hair down.”