Prologue, Part 1
A time-etched face looked through its reflection to study the world beyond. On the other side of the ancient glass, Winter held dominion, the great white beast no stranger to Einzberntal. It drank at the creeks, freezing them; it raked its claws on the pines, coating their roots with frost; its breath sent cutting breezes through the glades and over the whitened fields, carrying flecks of rime. The old man knew that somewhere, at the foot of his castle, the creature was slithering under the tiniest gaps in stone and wood, seeping through the walls to prowl the moonlit halls, but if its teeth were already at his throat, he was not threatened.
His ancient eyes were focused far afield, tracing the lines of the Lepontine Alps that rose to surround his ancestral lands: his honed mind reached farther still. From out of the valley, it raced through eastern Europe, climbing the Urals and taking flight over the whole of Asia, over the sea and into Japan. There, his 'granddaughter' labored on his behalf; she had gone to achieve what her parents had failed to, what he had failed to. For the briefest moment, he felt the frailty of his aged bones, the cold biting deep into his hands before he withdrew them into the long, loose sleeves of his great robe, and quieted his mind.
Jubstacheit turned his gaze to the heart of the sky and saw the pale moon, beaming down upon his estate, staring back at him from a break in the clouds, a judging eye. A blind eye, as all such eyes are, he thought. Then, suddenly he was not alone under the lunar glare; a figure, indistinct under a mass of heavy furs, crested the horizon on a brown horse of Einzbern servant's stock, its ruby eyes gleaming. The sight made his shoulders feel heavy, though his pride kept his back straight. The rider drew closer and closer, reaching the courtyard gate and dismounting quickly; when it became clear from the height that it was a child, his weary lids fell shut, he drew in a deep, frigid breath, and withdrew from the window just as a boy's shouting shattered the night's blown-glass calm.
Beyond his pale-lit study lay the dark halls of the family head's private wing of Einzbernhaus, but he could not relish the last fleeting moments of solitude for the knowledge of what awaited him opposite the oaken double doors. Sure as God's cruel humor, as he swung them open with his will and a flick of the wrist, the worst thing imaginable stared him in the face with many pairs of red eyes; family. In varying states of night-or-proper dress, they bombarded him with questions, each sounding more entitled than the last. Two centuries of such harassment, however, had given him an extraordinary capacity to ignore them, of which he availed himself with haste. He only wanted to hear one voice.
They followed him through the castle—whether like lost children seeking grandfather's assurances, or like wolves after an ailing boar, he could not decide—until they met with two guards, animated suits of armor, holding a writhing, crying, screaming boy of twelve years.
Like wolves, then, he thought, staring the boy down until he acknowledged the family's presence.
"Master, she—they, she's—"
Jubstacheit had to admit that the response from his backhand against the boy's round face was edifying, perhaps more so than the whimpering that followed.
"Leopold Holdt, you may be of low birth, but you are nevertheless a servant of Einzbern and thus expected to conduct yourself with dignity with respect to the affairs of this family. Now, speak in a manner befitting the weight of your message." He looked on unmoved as the boy hyperventilated, choking sobs.
"My master," he managed, his face contorting. "Lady Ilyasviel von Einzbern is dead." He stared into Jubstacheit's glacial eyes and saw them bear down upon him with cold certainty. "She has fa … f-fail … she has failed to claim the Holy Grail." He could no longer bear to look at his master; Jubstacheit willed the constructs to let him go, and watched him sob on his knees for a time.
"Were you able to sense the cause of her death?"
"Berserker," Leopold choked, "was bound by chains and pierced with countless weapons, then a servant … tore her heart—" Wracked with anguish, he covered his face. Jubstacheit wanted nothing more than to send the miserable wretch back to the servant's quarters, but he knew from the stares boring into the back of his head that he needed to appear collected. He turned to face his family, each as pale and fair-haired as he, from the children to the aged, and nodded.
"I have prepared for this possibility. We will discuss these matters over breakfast tomorrow. Tonight, mourn for Ilyasviel as you will. Without giving time for a response, he turned and motioned for the shaking Leopold to rise. "You, however, must come with me. You have much work to do, and it is not proper for one such as you to mourn an Einzbern as though you knew her." The words froze in the air over Leopold as the lord of Einzbernhaus walked to the front gates, armor constructs close behind.
"Come!" he commanded. The anger in that one note was enough to chill the tears in the young boy's eyes and turn him as pale as his master's kin, and pulled him from the floor where he wept.
That was as much as Ilyasviel von Einzbern would ever be mourned in the castle that had raised her.