Fate/Zero:Act 2 Part 2
Sealed in ice, the furthermost Einzbern castle.
That day, the old castle deep in the mountains, where people do not go, quietly preserving the lives of ancient magi, was released from the snowstorm.
It can't be reached until the sky cleared up, but it is remarkably brighter than the days when the sky whitens up in snow. There are no flying birds or green plants on the soil of winter, but plenty of light.
On those days, however busy or tired the father is, they go out together in the forest outside the castle. That was the first unwritten rule between Ilyasviel von Einzbern and Emiya Kiritsugu.
"Alright, today, I will not lose!"
Saying so, the exulted Ilyasviel quickly moves into the forest before her father. She is pitiful with her small boots in the thick snow, but her fidgety eyes don't miss anything of the surrounding trees, not careless for one minute. Right now, the girl was in the midst of a fierce battle with her father.
"Oh, here's one. The first for today."
Hearing the triumphing Kiritsugu behind her, the eyes of the surprised Ilyasviel changed into the color of anger as she turned around.
"No way! Where? I can't have missed it!"
Returning a bold smile to his beloved daughter red with vexation, Kiritsugu pointed at a twig above his head. From a frost branch of walnut, a humble winter sprout was sticking out.
"Fuhhuhu, I get the first point. Let's keep that rhythm."
"I won't lose! I swear I won't lose today!"
The open competition between the father and the daughter in the winter forest is the search for the first walnut sprouts in winter. This year's score for Ilya is 12 victories, 9 defeats, one tie. The total count for Ilya is 427, against 374 for Kiritsugu. The champion was under a heavy pressure.
Ilyasviel had to hurry. Watching over her, Kiritsugu couldn't stop smiling bitterly. Checking one by one which winter sprout her father found, the girl can see her impending death for today. Apparently, today is the day she will have to reveal her skills.
"Ah, here. Ilya found one too~"
Kiritsugu giggled wickedly from behind the merry Ilya.
"Fuhuhu, daddy found a second one too."
This time, Ilya sprang like a sprayed cat.
"Show me! Show me!?"
This time, her girlish pride is at stake if she wants to claim she doesn't miss anything. Actually, she didn't miss any. Only the one she is up against is childishly cunning.
Ilya's expected reaction, 10 seconds later, had Kiritsugu suppress his laughter as he pointed at what he said was his "second" winter bud.
"Eh— ? That branch doesn't have walnuts, right?"
What Kiritsugu pointed at is a branch Ilya hadn't considered it to be her target until then.
"No no, Ilya, this branch is a wingnut, a variety of walnut. So that too is the winter bud of a walnut."
As if she had been tricked by a fox, Ilyasviel remained silent for 2 or 3 seconds, then she shouted, her cheeks all red.
"Not fair, not fair not fair not fair! Kiritsugu, that was mean!"
As a matter of fact, he was indeed unfair. Since before the last time, Kiritsugu was counting the wingnuts with the walnuts. Not only was it fake, it was indeed a foul play.
"Oh, but if daddy doesn't do that, he'll never win."
"You can't! It doesn't count if it's a walnut only Kiritsugu knows!"
An extremely angry Ilyasviel starts pounding on her father's knees.
"Hahaha, but, Ilya, isn't it a new opportunity to learn something? In fact, wingnuts aren't edible like walnuts, remember that."
Ilyasviel growls at him, not caring about it at all.
"If you are so unfair, then Ilya won't play with you, Kiritsugu!"
"That bothers me— sorry, sorry, I apologize."
From the ultimatum, Kiritsugu apologized obediently. With that, Ilyasviel gradually regains her good humor.
"You won't cheat again, you promise?"
"I swear, I swear. The wingnuts are gone."
But I still have the field nuts... Kiritsugu snickered silently.
Ilyasviel, who didn't know how to distrust people yet, threw out her chest in pride, nodding with satisfaction at her incorrigible father.
"Fine. Then I'll challenge you again. The champion must always accept a challenge."
"Yes. You honor me, princess."
In sign of allegiance, for today's walnut hunt, Kiritsugu then played the horse.
"Ahahah! That's high!"
Riding on her father's shoulders was by far what Ilyasviel liked best. Kiritsugu's long legs can even cross the deep snow Ilyasviel can't walk in. With a higher point of view, she could also hunt walnuts more efficiently.
"He~re we go!"
Kiritsugu comes out of a grove, his daughter straddling on his neck. The thrill makes Ilyasviel kick up and laugh merrily.
Such disdain for her father's shoulders made him sad.
Having no experience in raising children before Ilyasviel, Kiritsugu doesn't know how they grow up. But he understands that it isn't normal for his daughter, who turns 8 this year, to weigh 15 kilos.
Perhaps, the absurd adjustments she received at birth are the reason. To Kiritsugu and Irisviel, it was obvious she would be late in reaching adulthood. Will her body turn into that of an adult as years pass or not?
No, rather, they had no hope. As a magus, Kiritsugu has already closed his ruthless diagnosis. There is 80 to 90% chances that Ilyasviel's growth will stop before her secondary sex characteristic appear.
Even so, rather than seeing her future as bad luck, she must have plenty of happiness— that wish is only the parents' ego. Yet, the pain of that thought drilling his chest was proof of the love of the man named Kiritsugu.
From a window of the castle, a pair of jade eyes were watching over the small figures of the father and daughter playing at the entrance of the forest.
The young woman standing at the window is far from being weak or transient. She has blonde hair visibly light and soft, and wears an old styled dress wrapped around her slender physique; that evidently suited a young woman secluded in her room, but the atmosphere surrounding her stiffened the air in the room by her just standing there with her intense rigor. Although, rather than the coldness of ice, she has the coolness of a clear pure stream. She was one that somehow doesn't fit the winter scenery of the melancholic Einzbern castle.
"What are you looking at, Saber?"
As Irisviel called her from behind, the young woman at the window — Saber turned around.
"... Kiritsugu and your daughter are playing in the forest, outside."
Doubtful, perplexed, frowning a little with a stiff expression, her beautiful look isn't impaired. More than the humor floating on a smile, the slackless serenity of her strained look suited her: she is that sort of rare beauty.
Can you believe that her young and vivacious presence is that of a materialized Heroic Spirit? But she definitely is 'Saber'... She was one of the seven Heroic Spirits invited by the Grail, with the class of the strongest sword, a full-fledged Servant.
At her side, Irisviel looked through the window. That was the moment Kiritsugu rushed into the forest carrying Ilyasviel on his back.
"You are surprised to see Kiritsugu like that, aren't you?"
Saber nodded honestly to the smiling Irisviel.
From her position, after all, she couldn't see the girl's face, and barely saw the silver hair inherited from her mother; but the shrilling voice she heard just before they left her field of vision was, certainly, overflowing with joy. Just that was enough to guess the harmony between the frolicking father and daughter.
"To be honest, I was under the impression that my Master was a more coldhearted person."
At Saber's words, Irisviel gave an embarrassed smile.
"Well, this isn't without reason."
Since her summoning, Saber hadn't received a word from her Master Kiritsugu.
In the end, Servants are only a tool to serve the Masters, and that was definitely how a magus would treat them. Nevertheless, Kiritsugu's attitude toward Saber was too much. Not even speaking to her, ignoring her questions, barely looking at her, Kiritsugu kept pushing away the Heroic Spirit he had summoned himself.
Although she wouldn't show any of it, Saber was definitely highly dissatisfied with the attitude of that man. Obviously, the Kiritsugu she had been attached to was far different from the man playing with his daughter outside the castle.
"If this is Kiritsugu's true face, then I must have fallen in great disgrace with my Master..."
As Saber muttered, Irisviel unintentionally chuckled: her pained face showed her true motives that were normally hidden on a handsome profile. Saber was even more unsettled.
"This isn't so funny, Irisviel."
"... I'm sorry. I was wondering if you were still holding a grudge from when you were summoned."
"A little. ... I understand that my appearance is different from what anyone would expect. But that shouldn't be something that would surprise the both of you so much."
Despite her gallant dignity, Saber truly looked like a girl not even past her teens. When she appeared in the glowing summoning circle, both Kiritsugu and Irisviel had been struck speechless.
That was to be expected. The Heroic Spirit Kiritsugu was summoning had been recorded in history as a man.
The owner of the golden scabbard from Cornwall, that is, the one known as the sole bearer of the holy sword Excalibur; nobody could have guessed the true identity of the Heroic Spirit Arthur Pendragon was a young girl.
"Certainly I have acted as a man, and have wished that that lie was carried over through history... But it is discomforting that one would doubt I am the owner of this scabbard."
"You may say this, but that's inevitable. Your legend is very well known, and it has been dramatized for 1500 years. That's quite a gap with the image we had of the King Arthur."
As Irisviel smiles uncomfortably, Saber gives a dissatisfied sigh.
"Of course you would wonder about my appearance, somehow. The instant I drew the sword of contract from the stone, I stopped aging through its magic, keeping my apparent youth. My people didn't even question my appearance at that time to begin with, as I was king. The only thing I was asked to do is fulfil my duty as a king."
How harsh a youth had that been?
The kingdom of Britain exposed by the invasion of pagans, thrown on the verge of destruction. Following the predictions of a magus, the young king, "incarnation of a dragon", was burdened with the duty of the savior, invincible through ten, twelve years of battling.
In spite of these feats, this was the ill-fated ruler whose throne was finally taken over by his own blood, betrayed, never forgiven for ending their glory.
The truth that such a delicate girl was burdened with a so violent, painful fate, weighed on Irisviel's heart.
"Does Kiritsugu... Hate me for my womanhood? Because I am not worthy of a sword?"
Saber muttered in a dry voice, watching Kiritsugu disappear into the forest afar, touching Irisviel's feelings.
"That's wrong. He understands your power. That man isn't so stupid as to misjudge a Heroic Spirit who was placed into the Saber class. ... There must be another reason, if he got angry."
"To get angry?"
Saber reacted to what she heard.
"Do you mean I made Kiritsugu angry? I cannot understand that. I still haven't spoken to him even once."
"Then it could be something unrelated to you. What he is angry at must be the legend of the King Arthur that was transmitted to us."
If the Heroic Spirit Kiritsugu summoned had been the "grown man" King Arthur that the legend told of, then he probably wouldn't have rejected his Servant so much. Simply, for him who kept his feelings from mixing up, discussions were best kept at the required minimum. Then, in the end, his daring "disregard" was the direct result of a highly emotional response.
The one who pulled the sword stuck in the stone was a young girl; that truth Kiritsugu had just learned was the source of his open indignation at the legend of the King Arthur.
"He must be angry at the people who surrounded you in your era. At the cruelty of those who forced the duty of a king on a small girl."
"That wasn't the case. I was prepared ever since I pulled the sword from the stone."
Saber said so without reserve, her expression still cool and clear. Troubled, Irisviel gave a short nod.
"... The fact that you accepted that fate like that is all the more provoking. Perhaps it is on that point he is angry at you, the girl named Artoria."
Saber briefly lowered her eyes, unable to answer. But when she immediately looked up again, her eyes were still and obstinate.
"This is being too emotional. There was nobody who would complain to those who made the decision, in my era."
"And that's why he remains silent."
With Irisviel's fast answer, Saber can only falter this time.
"Emiya Kiritsugu and the Heroic Spirit Artoria are definitely incompatible— that's what I will leave it at. If we are to talk, we will only deny each other."
Irisviel could but agree on that. If Kiritsugu was to spend time with this proud Heroic Spirit, he would always feel like their minds are too different from each other's.
Irisviel could understand each other's complaint, and had as much compassion for each of them. So, the fact that these two would never agree was, again, Irisviel's resigned conclusion.
"... I thank you, Irisviel. Without a woman like you, I might have lost this Grail War without even fighting."
"The same to you. I want my husband to be the one to reach the Grail."
Fearing the incompatibility with the Heroic Spirit Artoria, Kiritsugu had come up with an unthinkable solution to this deadlock.
Servant and Master will act completely apart.
To begin with, there is no range limit for the contract between the two. Whatever the distance, a Command Spell can control the Servant, and prana can still be supplied as well unless the Master faints. But Master and Servant actually staying together is solely a mutual understanding. Prudence dictates that battle decisions aren't just left to the Servant. The Master needs to remain on the battle scene to control the Servant.
If Kiritsugu moves independently without knowing about Saber's actions, of course that doesn't mean he trusts her completely. Kiritsugu entrusts to Irisviel the duty of being his agent to oversee Saber’s actions.
That's not something so reckless at all. For example, if Kiritsugu's Servant were to act rebellious, there is no fear she would want to kill Irisviel as long as she wants the Grail. Without Irisviel, then even if Saber defeats all the other Servants, she won't be able to reach the Grail. The "vessel of the Grail" that Irisviel carries is absolutely necessary for the Grail of Fuyuki to materialize. Therefore, Saber will need to defend Irisviel from the other Masters.
That irregular team formation was solely due to Kiritsugu and Saber's respective battle tactics. The Heroic Spirit of the knight of Saber is a fighter that has Servant abilities and Noble Phantasm properties fully geared toward a "full frontal battle". Her mindset would never consent to any makeshift that doesn't fit with that. On the other hand, her Master Emiya Kiritsugu is essentially a hitman who plans out clever schemes, and there is no possibility for the two of them to arrange for anything more than average.
Rather, as far as affinities go, Kiritsugu evaluated that Irisviel would fit much better as Saber's partner. His wife is definitely a homunculus outcast, but she still is of the noble Einzbern family, and as such, she has a natural elegance and dignity. Irisviel definitely is the kind of lady a knight would devote his loyalty to.
In fact, past a few days of living together after the summoning, Irisviel and Saber have both developed a mutual understanding and respect. The natural air of nobility Irisviel held was similar to that of a "princess" of Saber's own era, and Saber's nobility was a perfect match with Irisviel's well breeding.
Therefore, the contractual Master Kiritsugu proposed that his wife Irisviel acted as a "substitute Master" in his stead, which Saber easily accepted. Her problem really was that she felt uneasiness in cooperating with Kiritsugu, and more than letting her swing her sword freely, Irisviel was indeed more appropriate; that much was agreed on. So, the two of them were under a master and servant relationship in accordance to the oath of a knight, different from the Servant contract; and this is how they are now preparing for the Heaven's Feel.
"Irisviel, what kind of person do you view Kiritsugu as?"
"A guide as well as a husband. The one who gave a meaning to my life. —But that's not what you want to know about, is it?"
Saber nodded. What she wanted to know isn't about Irisviel's subjectivity, but about the side of Emiya Kiritsugu Saber doesn't know.
"To say the truth, he is a kind person. Only, because he was too nice, he couldn't forgive the cruelty of the world. He chose to be even more coldhearted to fight against that."
"I can understand such a determination. With a standpoint any lower, one would have to throw away his human sensitivity."
Saying this, you can't think that Kiritsugu and Saber are any alike. Perhaps Kiritsugu's disgust toward the Heroic Spirit of the king Arthur was of the same kind.
"To save the world with the power of the Grail— is that what you are saying? What your and Kiritsugu's wish is?"
"Yes. Mine is only a reflection of his wish, though. But I do think it is something worth risking your life for."
At Irisviel's words, Saber nodded, her eyes set ablaze as well.
"The wish I have for the Grail is also similar. I want to help the Britain I couldn't save by myself. I think what you and Kiritsugu want is right. It is a path to be proud of."
Smiling, Irisviel replied ambiguously.
Pride— that precisely is the problem.
Her husband's words came back in Irisviel's mind. The true reason why Kiritsugu and Saber behave so differently.
'The two of you will be flowers on the battleground. Never running away or hiding, shine so that nobody will look away from the Servant Saber.
Because those who will look at Saber will be turning their backs to me.'
Kiritsugu has no intention of leaving the battle to Irisviel and Saber. Rather, he intends to actively transform the progress of the war by his own means. He will be an assassin sneaking up from behind the enemy, and Saber has the role of the lure that will make his trap certain; no more than a feint.
Irisviel couldn't say anything, but it was clear what methods Kiritsugu would adopt once the war starts. What will the proud and honest knight think after that... thinking of it, Irisviel is worried about it.
"Irisviel, you have a deep understanding of your husband Kiritsugu, and have much faith in him."
Unaware of Irisviel's melancholy, Saber watched the harmony between the father and daughter through the window.
"Looking at it that way, the two of you appear to be a pretty normal couple looking for happiness.
But if Kiritsugu thinks that I too should have looked for happiness as a person and not as a king the same way... Both are the same wish one can't help having."
"... So, you don't have a grudge against him anymore?"
"Of course, I don't."
With a delicate face, Saber nodded, and Irisviel felt like she was betraying the Servant.
"But— Irisviel, is it alright? To tell me about something like that."
Asking again, Saber's eyes seemed to want to tell more.
"I mean— you will need to accept leaving your daughter, like Kiritsugu. Tomorrow... Won't we fly over to Japan for the Grail?"
"Ah, that. —It's fine. There is no need for me and my child to part."
Irisviel smiled peacefully to show gratitude toward Saber’s anxiety; but somehow, the lonely hollowness of that smile troubled her.
"If I am to cease to exist as Irisviel, it doesn't mean I will disappear. When she grows up, I am sure she will understand. Because she is an Einzbern woman like me."
She couldn't grasp the enigmatic words of Irisviel, but Saber's face stiffened at the sinister omen she could feel hidden inside them.
"Irisviel, you will definitely survive. I will protect you until the end. I swear it on the pride of my sword."
The knight's solemn statement made Irisviel smile brightly.
"Saber, get the Grail. For yourself, and for your Master. Then the Einzberns will reach their 1000 year desire, and me and my daughter will be freed from our destiny. —We rely only on you, Artoria."
Again, Saber couldn't comprehend the meaning of Irisviel's anxious smile. Her hair glittering like snow, and her radiant beauty, that woman filled with a warm kindness, just what fate was she born tied to? —For the knight to know the complete truth is a revelation that has yet to come.
The fair hunt for winter buds of wingnuts ended with Ilyasviel's victory, ending a series of 3 consecutive defeats for the champion. Also, no field nut trees were found in the Einzbern forest.
After the battle, the two casually walk back. Because they walked deep into the forest, the majesty of the Einzbern castle has become a silhouette in the haze.
"The next time will be when you come back from Japan, Kiritsugu."
Having fulfilled her revenge, Ilyasviel looks up with a large smile at her father. Unable to look straight at her, Kiritsugu feigned serenity as best as he could.
"Yes... Next time, daddy won't lose."
"Uhuhu, if you don't do better, we will soon be a hundred points apart, you know?"
The smile of his beloved daughter was becoming too much of a burden for the man.
Just how should he tell her? Until the end, maybe that will be the one thing he will think of.
This is the worst struggle for Kiritsugu. But, by all means, he must win. For that purpose, he can't afford to give up his life.
So― the promise to his daughter to play again in the winter forest is only a small victory.
Save everything. Abandon everything for that.
To the man who swore to do that, love could only be a thorn.
Whenever he loved someone, it was a curse to have to be ready to keep it hidden in his heart.
This was the fate that burdened Emiya Kiritsugu in exchange for his ideal. Love was a torture that could not be healed.
Then why―he was questioning himself when he looks at the frozen white sky and earth.
Why did he love so much the one woman and the child he shares his blood with.
"Kiritsugu, how long will your work with mother last? When will you be back?"
Unaware of her father’s suffering, Ilyasviel asked with a lively voice.
"Daddy will come back in a couple of weeks, probably. ―For mom, that should be, much longer, I think..."
"Yeah. Mother told Ilya. That we will part forever."
Hearing her reply without a shadow on her face was the finishing blow for Kiritsugu. His knees lost the strength to push through the snow-covered path.
His wife was ready. His daughter was prepared.
For the truth was that Emiya Kiritsugu was snatching her mother away from this young girl.
"Mother told me that even if we wouldn't see each other anymore, she will always be by my side. I don't have to be sad, she has been telling me, before going to bed. So Ilya will always be with mother."
"... I see..."
At that point, Kiritsugu became aware of the blood dyeing his hands crimson red.
He didn't know how many people he had killed, how impure his arms were. For you to hold a child as a father, that is definitely unforgivable― he told himself.
But wasn't that warning the same as running away?
This child will never be embraced by her mother ever again already. And if her father Kiritsugu abandons that duty as well... Who will be holding Ilyasviel again?
Kiritsugu stopped his daughter walking beside him, dropped down and wrapped his arms around the girl.
In 8 years, every time he held that small body in his arms, Kiritsugu doubted his fatherhood, deep inside. Disgusted by his acting as a father, he could only scorn at himself for being unable to do otherwise.
But this too is reaching an end. As this child's only father, he must hold her in the warmth of his arms. Without running away, without lying.
"Will you wait for me, Ilya? Can you stand to be alone until daddy comes back?"
"Yes! I will bear it. I'll wait for you with mother, Kiritsugu."
Memories of this day will probably fill Ilyasviel with joy until the end. Her cheerful voice holds no grief.
"... Then daddy will promise you something too. I won't make you wait. Daddy will definitely come back quickly."
Emiya Kiritsugu took on another heavy burden.
Enduring the thorn that is love that pierced his whole body, he tightly embraced his child for an eternity.
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