Chapter 8: Arguments
Some weeks later, during the usual morning lessons, the two girls had just gone through a particularly difficult part of a new magic book they had read together. Arturia had decided they could take a short break to allow Illya to have a snack. Gilgamesh was in his usual spot, lounging on the sofa, and seemed slightly more bored than other days.
The little girl was eating the slices of an apple that the King of Knights was peeling and seemed to be lost in her thoughts.
Out of the blue, she looked at the woman and said, “Arturia, would you tell me a bit more about the other Servants from the war, please?”
Arturia paused in her peeling of the fruit and noticed Gilgamesh leaning up a bit to listen more intently. That was quite a difficult question to answer.
She slowly asked, “The specific Servants of this war, or the Servants’ classes?”
Illya replied, “The specific Servants… I know about the classes.”
Arturia nodded, and finished peeling an apple slice before handing it all to the little girl.
“Well, the Archer-class Servant is currently there on the couch, while the Saber-class Servant was me. Then Assassin… he was a dangerous one, because he had several bodies and therefore tricked the other contestants by faking his death more than once. Caster… he was a very sick person. He disregarded human life entirely, and was only happy when he could do horrible things to innocent people.”
She carefully avoided mentioning all the atrocities he had committed because Illya, even if unusually bright for her age, was still a young child.
“Berserker…” Arturia couldn’t help hesitating, and knew that Gilgamesh had noticed it. She internally cursed his ever-growing perceptiveness when it came to her. “He had no control over his actions, becoming a slave of his madness and randomly trying to kill. He was, in life,… my most loyal and trusted knight, Lancelot, who had fallen under the curse of insanity.”
She had to pause for a second, but immediately continued. She had made something close to peace with her demons inside the Grail, she would not allow them to control her any longer. “Rider was Iskandar, the powerful King of Macedonia. Even if not a very… courteous person, he was a truly valuable leader and a skilled fighter.”
Arturia paused in order to divide the next apple slice into two parts and give one of them to Illya, while she unhurriedly swallowed the second one.
The little girl asked, “And what about Lancer?”
Arturia almost smiled, and didn’t notice Gilgamesh’s eyes narrowing at her expression.
“He was… different from other Heroic Spirits, I believe. He was… truly chivalrous. I would have actually liked to meet him outside the Holy Grail War’s battlefield, because he was someone I respected and could even come to trust.”
Illya was curious, but before she could say anything, a scoff from the King of Heroes made her jump. He was usually so silent around them that she often forgot he was even there.
Gilgamesh seemed strangely irritated. Gaze fixated on Arturia, he said, “That mongrel was not even a King, and yet you deem someone like him worthy of your time? I am appalled at you, King of Knights.”
Arturia, however, wasn’t fazed. She returned his irritated gaze with a challenging one of her own.
“I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to fight side by side with Lancer during the war… and I would have been honoured to call him a fellow knight of mine. He was a just and loyal person, and I wish for his sake that his destiny had been different.”
After a short pause, she added, “He was the only Servant during the war with whom I felt I had something in common.”
Gilgamesh glared at her with something she would have called frustration, if it had not been him. He stood up and made his way to the door, slamming it close behind him.
Rather taken aback by his brusque manner of leaving, Arturia frowned.
“What on earth is wrong with him?”
Illya surprised her by giggling, her eyes twinkling with laughter.
“Arturia, you were practically singing Lancer’s praises in front of him. Would he really stay calm while hearing you talk so considerately about another man?”
The King of Knights gave the girl a dispassionate look. Realizing that Arturia had not understood what she was trying to hint at, the girl went into detail.
“Arturia, I think he is jealous.”
The idea was so ridiculous that Arturia almost said it aloud, but restrained herself at the last moment because she did not want to offend Illya.
Gilgamesh most certainly was not jealous.
And of Lancer of all people?
He had probably been irritated by the fact that she had talked more about the other Servants than about him. That was something far more believable.
Arturia took out the Magecraft book again. The break they had taken had been long enough. It was time to go back to studying.
As she looked for the right page, she did her best to ignore Illya’s smile. The little girl was perceptive enough to see that Gilgamesh wasn’t indifferent towards her beloved Arturia… and she was certain that Arturia had taken a subconscious liking to him, too…
…or, at least in her opinion, she probably would, soon.
Before they even realized it, about a year of rather uneventful life passed.
Illya’s education was going better than Arturia expected, and every time she saw the girl to bed in the evening, she ardently hoped that Irisviel would be proud of the young woman the child was slowly growing into.
She observed the girl closely, and she could say with certainty that she seemed to be quite happy. Illya was a calm and cheerful girl, always eager to learn and always with a smile on her face.
One afternoon, however, Illya was quieter and more sombre than usual. She seemed to be lost in her thoughts, even though she was obviously trying to pay attention.
They were studying, but Arturia stopped their lesson abruptly.
The little girl had started to cry… something she had never done in front of her.
As the tears were running down her face, Illya murmured, “It’s been a year since I last saw mommy and daddy… I’ve been an entire year without them, and I miss them so much…”
Once the sobs began, it was as if a dam broke inside her, and Illya cried in earnest.
Arturia was shocked. She did not know what she was supposed to do with weeping children… but she remembered her friend Irisviel, and thought about how much Illya must miss her… and her father, too.
Gently, the former King of Britain put a hand on the crying girl’s head, a very ancient look appearing on her face. She knew what sorrow and torment were… and she allowed Illya to pour out all her sadness.
After a while, the girl’s sobs became softer and softer, until she slowly fell asleep with her head on the table.
Arturia silently stood up, picked the girl up in her arms and exited the room, heading towards the child’s bedroom.
She had completely forgotten that Gilgamesh was in the living room as well. The King of Heroes’s eyes had followed her every movement the whole time, but she had been too focused on Illya to notice it.
After tucking the sleeping girl into her bed and turning off the lights, Arturia left the bedroom and closed the door carefully.
She turned around… and found the King of Heroes leaning against the wall opposite from her and staring at her intently.
She returned his stare with an unwavering look of her own.
They had not talked directly since their confrontation about marriage. The air between them was thick with tension.
Gilgamesh inclined his head without breaking their gaze. His voice was sardonic when he spoke.
“That was quite the… sad display to see, King of Knights. I had thought that the girl actually had some interesting traits in her… but as it turns out, she’s just a child who misses her parents’ love.”
That was when Arturia snapped. She was normally a level-headed person who calmly analysed the situation and then figured out a solution – but the man in front of her was going too far in his arrogance and his disdain towards people. She didn’t even know what exactly about him made her so angry as to make her blood boil in her ears… but she didn’t care. It was one thing when he insulted or offended her personally – she knew that, in his own way, he acknowledged and respected her as a king –, but she would not tolerate any baseless accusation directed towards Illya.
Eyes as cold as ice, her glare would have made hell freeze over.
“You wouldn’t understand, King of Heroes. You have never been loved.”
The moment those words left her lips, Arturia regretted them.
She had let her anger take over… and she had replied to his arrogance with cruelty.
Gilgamesh was taken aback by her words, but he refused to show it. He decided to ignore her and continue with his verbal attack. The former discussion with her was still fresh on his mind… and after what she had said about Lancer, he was somehow… angry with her. He knew his judgement was not completely unclouded – but he could not care less at the moment.
“You have failed to save your country during your lifetime, Arturia. In this new life, you have decided to look after the Grail vessel’s daughter, trying to give her something of what she has lost, because you know what it means to lose everything and be alone. All you do is nothing but cling to your past, King of Knights…”
His mocking words hit Arturia with the strength of a slap in the face.
All her fury came back… but this time, she was able to think more clearly, and she could counterattack. She did not drop eye contact for a second and her voice was steady in her reply.
“You are arrogant, King of Heroes, and look down on everyone. You regard yourself as superior to everybody else, and never even consider the idea of anyone being your equal, much less being superior. But there must be a reason for that… You must have had someone, once, someone you did consider worthy. Someone you could rely on, someone you could perhaps even call a friend. You must have lost this person… I don’t know how or why… but you unconsciously compare everyone to this person, and that prevents you from seeing the true worth of other people.” Her eyes narrowed at him. “It seems, King of Heroes, that in some ways it’s you who is still clinging to the past.”
Eyes burning, she turned around to walk away… and she didn’t see his perfect, arrogant face completely dismayed.
Gilgamesh had never felt so… vulnerable in his whole life.
He could not allow things to remain as they were.
His legs moved automatically, and he followed her steps. He began to talk as he came near her, and she stopped as she heard his words.
“King of Knights, your mistake in ruling your kingdom was not that you were unable to understand the hearts of the people around you… the mistake was that you didn’t understand them completely. You are an insightful person… but you do not seek to understand a person fully. That was what you did wrong with your knights in Camelot… and that’s what you are doing wrong right now as well.”
Arturia had stopped, and she slightly turned around to look at him. He came up next to her.
“You are able to see some of the traits that define people… but you stop there. You don’t understand the person in its entirety… you manage to grasp a part of them, and you stick to that. But there is more to every person than that… and you fail to see it.”
The two kings were standing next to each other, and their eyes were locked on each other, with challenging sparkles coming from both sides.
Each of them had criticised the other about the way they went around people. Arturia had told Gilgamesh that he regarded everyone as inferior to him because, even though he could read people easily, he unconsciously compared them to a person he had lost in the past, and therefore tended to underestimate them. Gilgamesh had told Arturia that she only grasped parts of the people that surrounded her and she did not try to go further than that, and therefore tended not to understand them completely.
The clash of the green and red eyes was very evidently not going to be over any time soon, and the two kings were aware of that. They had both too much pride to back down.
They stayed silent and still, glaring daggers at each other. After several minutes, he finally spoke. “If you can see what I’m saying…”
“Then so can you,” she immediately shot back.
Their gazes, still locked together, became more measuring. Slowly, very slowly, the tension began to dissipate between them.
They still didn’t look away from each other… but they had reached an agreement. They would both consider carefully what the other had said.
And their argument ended like that – in a draw.