Fate/stay night and Fate/zero are the property of TYPE-MOON. This story is a work of fanfiction, and the author makes no claim to these properties. Some lines of dialogue have been excerpted from the above works in their entirety in this fanfiction. They are from the translations by mirror-moon and Baka-Tsuki, respectively.
I would like to extend my gratitude to my prereaders Kyadytim, Mashadar, Da-Guru, and ttestagr for their help polishing this story.
This is the largest published fanfiction undertaking I have begun to date. I would like to ask that you bear with me through the ups and downs, as it has already been a learning experience for me. Now, please enjoy the story.
Continuation of the Dream
Part One: Waking from the Dream
"Your highness! King Arthur, please come this way!"
The first thing she is aware of when her consciousness returns is pain. The pain of her wounds, aggravated by the jarring gait of the horse she is lying on, overwhelms her senses. She knows she is dying, that her wounds are surely fatal, but she clenches her teeth and bears the pain as her awareness fades in and out.
The horse stops, and she is lifted from its back. It hurts, but she is too exhausted to cry out. Why does it hurt? She remembers fighting a man in golden armor, but she defeated him with only minor wounds. She remembers, too, that she wielded both sword and sheath in that fight, but she knows that cannot be, as the sheath was lost to her.
"Your highness, please stay here. I shall go get someone right away." The voice is of her last loyal knight, and as he lays her down, propped against the rough bark of a tree, she wonders absently where he thinks to go for help.
"Please endure until then. I shall certainly bring our troops here." His footsteps crunch away across the forest floor. Their troops? She is certain that she will not live that long, so she musters her remaining strength, and speaks.
"Bedivere." The footsteps stop.
"Your highness? Have you regained consciousness?" Consciousness. She was unconscious? An explanation for the man in golden armor and the boy with red hair occurs to her.
"Yes. I was watching a dream." Her voice is faint, even to her own ears, and for a moment, her memories of the red-haired boy seem more real than the battle on the hill.
"A dream?" Her knight's voice is uncertain, so she must reassure him.
"Yes. I have not seen many dreams, so I had a valuable experience." She is rambling, and she knows, but she cannot force her mind to focus. How bad are her wounds? She cannot tell, and the pain comes and goes, or maybe her consciousness comes and goes.
"That is great. Then please be at ease and rest. I shall go get the troops in that time." Bedivere's voice is relieved, but his words make no sense to the delirious king. She inhales, to ask him to clarify, but her breath comes in a pained gasp.
"Your highness? Have I been rude...?" His voice is uncertain.
"No, I was just surprised at your point. I did not know a dream could be seen after one awakens. Are you saying I will be able to see the same dream if I close my eyes again?" She knows it is an inane question, and yet she cannot keep the hope out of her voice entirely. It would be wonderful to return to that place where she does not have to be a king.
"Yes. If you strongly desire so, you should be able to continue watching the same dream. I have that experience as well." His voice is halting, and she knows he is lying to comfort her. At that moment, she accepts that she will die here.
"I see. You are knowledgeable, Bedivere." A lie for a lie, and a comfort for a comfort. But if she is to die here, there is something she must have the knight do.
"Bedivere. Take my sword." The last thing that must be done. "Pass through this forest and go over that blood-stained hill. There is a deep lake beyond it. Throw my sword into that lake."
He gasps, as if to reject her command. "Your highness, that is-!" Of course he knows what her order means. She is King Arthur, and Excalibur, the sword from the lake, is a symbol of her reign. Of course he will not accept it.
"Go. Once you have accomplished my order, return here and tell me what you saw." Even if he does not accept it, he must do it. She cannot allow her sword to remain without her, so she commands him again.
She feels her sword lifted from beside her, and knows that Bedivere has left to follow her command. She settles back against the tree and takes a deep breath, hissing against the pain of her wounds. To distract herself from the pain, she tries to recall the details of her dream, but instead finds herself reflecting upon her reign.
Although she recalls distantly that she regretted her choice to take the sword and the crown as she fought Mordred upon the hill, she feels no regret now. King Arthur protected Britain for many years, and in that time, she never once betrayed her beliefs. She feels a vague sense of pride as she falls to unconsciousness.
The crunching of leaves wakes her, and she opens her eyes to see her knight, returned from the lake. He kneels before her.
"It is done, your highness." His voice is uncertain.
"What did you see?" she asks. He does not reply, and she knows that he has lied to her. She does not waste time reprimanding him, but instead instructs him.
"Follow my command."
The knight rises, bows, and returns to his horse, but the king is unconscious again before he reaches it. She dreams again of the strange red-haired boy, and feels affection for him. He is joined by a girl in red and a man in red, and all of them seem familiar to her, but she knows she has seen none of them in her life. Still, she thinks wistfully that it would be nice if she could have lived with them.
She wakes again at Bedivere's return. This time, he does not kneel, and she is now too weak to lift her head. Minutes pass as he stands before her in silence, and she finally musters the strength to speak.
"Follow my command." She repeats her previous order and slumps, exhausted by the effort of speaking. As the knight's footsteps move away, she wonders if she will be alive to command him again if he returns a third time with her sword. Although she can say with certainty that she has no regrets in her life, as her mind falls back into darkness, lit by hazy memories of a life she never lived, she thinks clearly-
'I don't want to die here. I want to live.'
The whickering of a horse wakes her again, and she slowly returns to consciousness. The pain from her wounds has faded to the back of her mind, and she feels as if she is floating, detached from her body. The only thing anchoring her body to her mind is the sensation of something hard pressing into her back.
"I have thrown the sword into the lake." Bedivere says it clearly, and she is relieved to know it is finally done. "The sword has returned to the lady of the lake."
She opens her eyes and forces them to focus on the knight. "I see. Then you shall be proud. You have obeyed your king's command." Her voice is weak, and her knight only nods silently in response. She is satisfied. With this, she can finally rest, free of her duty as king. However...
"I am sorry, Bedivere. This sleep will be... a... long..." She tries to apologize to the knight, who carried out her commands faithfully, but she lacks the strength to finish, or even to keep her eyes open. As her awareness fades for what she knows will surely be the last time, she hears his sad-sounding voice, as if from a great distance.
"Are you watching, King Arthur? The continuation of the dream?"
And King Arthur, watched over by a single knight, dies peacefully.
Her mind is floating, and fragments of memories return to her. She remembers...
-Excalibur flashed in the light, and the woman with white hair smiled as she swung-
-A boy with red hair on the floor, a man in blue standing over him-
-A flash of red, and then pain-
-A girl in red and a man in red-
-A mad giant and a girl with familiar white hair-
-A long sword and temple stairs, under the moonlight-
-The repeated crash of wooden swords above a wooden floor, and the boy with red hair-
-Many delicious meals in warm company-
-Swinging Excalibur against Rider on a rooftop in defense of her Master-
-Fever, delirium and weakness from the prana drain; worry over her Master's disappearance; her relief when he was found-
-Being carried through the forest, struggling to maintain her body; a ruin in the forest, a dusty bed, Rin, and-
-The second battle with the mad giant, Berserker; her failure; Rin's desperate attack, her Master's desperate defense; Caliburn! And then, their joint victory-
-Training her Master in the dojo; the girl with white hair, Berserker's master, watching, and a peaceful lunch-
-The battle with Caster, her Master's injury, and the golden knight Gilgamesh's sudden appearance-
-A date with Shirou, the stuffed animal store, the argument on the bridge, the clash of ideals that broke two hearts, the tears in his eyes as he turned away-
-The bridge again, hours later. Reconciliation. And then, the fight with Gilgamesh. Excalibur defeated, and her Master, no, Shirou, forcing himself to his feet to defend her, forcing himself past his limits to project her sword, forcing himself to fight. Shirou, his arm cut off, lying on the ground. Shirou, cut from shoulder to waist, standing again to defend her despite her protests. Shirou, projecting her sheath; Shirou... her sheath-
She thinks vaguely that she has remembered something important, but other memories crowd her mind, and she remembers...
-That night in his room, and feeling truly happy and free, even if it was just an illusion-
-The realization that her Master was in danger, and her desperate run to the church. The false priest's offer of the Grail that she sought and his blunt statement of Shirou's wish. Shirou's rejection.
"Things lost will never return."
Recalling her oath to herself, even as the priest offered her the same Grail, for the same reason. The knowledge that she was wrong, that she already had everything she wanted. Her rejection of the priest's offer.-
-Returning home to see Rin wounded, and Ilya taken. Their decision to destroy the grail Shirou's decision to return her sheath, their joint projection of the sheath, Avalon. Avalon...-
She knows this is important, but sets it aside because she still feels she is forgetting something... She concentrates, and remembers...
-The fight against Gilgamesh. The destruction of the grail, and then... Sunrise. Her words.
"In the end, there is one thing I must tell you. Shirou, I love you."
He closed his eyes against the glare; she let her body fade. And then, she was back on the hill of corpses-
Arturia Pendragon wakes with a start. She stares unseeing at the leaves above her, her mind too overwhelmed to focus.
'I'm... alive?' Her first thought. She had been certain she was dying, and had commanded Sir Bedivere to return Excalibur to the Lady of the Lake. But she also remembers...
'It wasn't a dream!' The Holy Grail War, the fight with Gilgamesh, the destruction of the Holy Grail, and Shirou; none of it was a dream. She was surely wounded in the battle with Mordred, and yet she feels no pain from her wounds. As soon as this thought occurs to her, Arturia is overcome with fear that she is not feeling her injuries.
She pushes against the tree behind her, levering herself to her feet with only a twinge of pain. Curious, Arturia touches her head where she recalled being wounded, but there is no pain, only dried blood. Similar checks to other bloodied parts of her armor reveal that her wounds have closed, and cautious attempts at movement show only some residual pain and stiffness in her joints, and general weakness of her body.
After evaluating her physical condition, Arturia turns her attention to her surroundings. She is in a forest, and she hazily recalls the ride with Sir Bedivere, and his repeated refusals to throw her sword into the lake. The morning sun had just risen when he returned the final time, and a look to the sky shows her that it is morning now.
'How many days was I asleep?' She immediately discards the possibility that it is the same morning, and turns to examine the depression where she was lying for signs of the passage of time. However, as soon as she sees it, her mind freezes. There, where she had lain, is an impossibility.
"A-Avalon...?" Certainly, it appears that the sheath of her sword was beneath her as she slept, but Arturia knows the sheath was stolen and returned to the lakes, and so her mind continues to reject its presence even as she kneels to pick it up. Its weight in her hands is familiar, and her body accepts it before her mind does.
"This is definitely Avalon." By saying it, she forces herself to acknowledge it. Even as she does, she knows why it is returned to her.
"Shirou." Arturia's voice is warm, a voice that her knights would have been amazed to hear from her. The only explanation for the presence of Avalon at her side is that Shirou returned it to her. It was stolen in her time, and she cannot believe that it was coincidentally under that tree when Bedivere placed her there.
'Shirou, it seems you were able to save me after all.' She smiles at that. His wish, that he gave up out of respect for her, may have been granted after all. Overcome with sudden longing, she turns and leans back against the tree that is still stained with her blood, drawing her knees up and clutching Avalon to her chest.
'Shirou... I want to see you.' It is only natural. Although she had been able to tell him she loved him, she had at that moment been returning to her own time, where they both expected her to die. She had entertained no hopes for the future at that time. It was enough. But now, though she still lives, she is separated from her lover not just by miles, but by centuries as well.
Slowly, Arturia's thoughts turn to the empty sheath in her hands. Excalibur is gone, and with it, her right as king. Moreover, she knows intuitively that she was supposed to die. That battle on the hill was the prophesied death of King Arthur, and the world would not have accepted her as a Counter Guardian if she were not about to die.
'I was saved by a miracle.' Arturia accepts that, but the knowledge of the end of her reign leaves her feeling empty. Despite the loss of her throne, the feeling of wanting to protect the people has not faded. Looking at herself, now a simple swordswoman, she feels empathy for Shirou, who also lacks the power to protect everything he wishes to protect.
That thought brings with it concern about those who fought on the hill. Ally and foe, they were all King Arthur's subjects. Sudden hope that there might be survivors drives her to her feet, and she looks around to get her bearings. A cloud passing across the sun casts a shadow on Arturia, and she reflexively looks up. The sun has almost reached its zenith The reminder of the time brings to her mind many delicious meals with Shirou, and her stomach growls. The angle of the sun gives her a final indication of the direction to that blood-soaked hill, and she sets off. Hungry, alone, and carrying an empty sheath, Arturia heads for King Arthur's last battlefield.
It is slightly past noon when Arturia reaches the battlefield she almost died on. Her wounds have nearly recovered by the time she arrives, but her body is exhausted in exchange. She plans to navigate from the battlefield to her army's camp, to see if any food remains unspoiled, but the sight that awaits her when she arrives at the edge of the forest pushes her hunger out of her mind.
The hill she fought upon is covered in corpses, and the land around it is covered in corpses. Bodies, maimed and torn, lie thick upon the ground. The ground under them is sodden with blood to the point of being heavy mud. The air is thick with the reek of blood and viscera. The only things that moves in the wasteland are scavenger birds that have come to feast on the corpses. At this sight, the girl who was once a king that ran through many battles covers her mouth and drops to her knees, leaning on her free hand and choking back bile. Without the duty of the king to lock away her heart, she can only stare aghast at the remains of the two armies that clashed here.
To her eyes, there are clearly no victors of this battle. What happened here was a tragedy. Both armies were the subjects of King Arthur, and the war was fought over the throne. The girl who was once a king knows that she will mourn those who fell here for the rest of her life. Despite this, Arturia has no regrets. Even now, she still believes it needed to be fought. Mordred was not a suitable king, and would likely have become a puppet for the machinations of his mother.
Forcibly suppressing her nausea, Arturia ventures out onto the battlefield. She tries to ignore the bloody mud squelching beneath her feet as she walks, and listens instead for human voices. She calls out intermittently in a soft voice as she walks, hoping to hear some response. There is none. The only sounds she hears are the ones she makes as she moves and the occasional rustle of feathers as one of the carrion birds shifts over its meal.
Arturia spins toward a sudden clatter to her side, and her hand goes instinctively to her hip. She freezes when her fingers close on air, and her eyes widen with fear as she realizes she is unarmed. Her eyes flick rapidly across the plain, and she relaxes slightly as she identifies the source of the sound. A crow had knocked a helmet aside, and it had clattered as it rolled down the hill. However, the fear, once acknowledged, it not so easily set aside.
Acutely aware of the absence of Excalibur, Arturia feels vulnerable as she has not felt in years. No, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that she has never felt this vulnerable in her life. As a child, she was secure in the knowledge that she would one day be king. As a king, she was secure in the knowledge that she was the king chosen by Caliburn to rule Britain, and though Merlin had shown her the fate that awaited her, she had taken comfort in the knowledge that she was invincible until that time.
In comparison, her experiences as a Servant had been much more frightening. The disabling wound dealt by Lancer in the fourth war had left her weakened in a way she had never experienced before. Her hopeless fights against Berserker in the fifth war should have been terrifying. However, she had not needed to fear death as a Servant, because she knew that if she fell in battle she would simply return to her wounded body and wait to be summoned again, until she succeeded in obtaining the Holy Grail. The only truly frightening battles that she had fought were those against Gilgamesh, because he sought not to kill her, but to force her to drink from the Grail and deprive her of her wish and her freedom.
For the first time in her life, Arturia feels the dread of an unknown fate, and she trembles. Her earlier wish, to be reunited with Shirou, seems impossible in the face of the immense weight of years separating them. How can she hope to survive the centuries? The enormity of the task she has set herself presses down on her, and she falls to her knees in the blood and filth. Even if Avalon still renders her ageless and will protect her and heal her wounds, she can only fight as long as her endurance holds out. Defeat in battle is no longer an impossibility for her. This knowledge tempers Arturia's desire to protect the people of Britain, even though she is no longer its king.
Considering her limitations, but feeling uncomfortable without a weapon anyway, the young swordswoman temporarily sets aside her search for survivors in favor of searching for a weapon. Instead of moving across the battlefield calling out and listening for a response, she instead picks across it slowly, looking for a weapon that may suit her abilities and style. She finds and discards several swords, unsatisfied with the quality of the blade, or finding the weapon too heavy for her to wield, or not balanced to her tastes.
Finally, she finds a sword she considers acceptable, and cleans it as best she can. The blade is unremarkable, but undamaged, and the leather wrapping the grip is in good condition. It is the most she can hope to find, so she sets aside her distaste for robbing the dead and unfastens the sheath from the belt of its former owner. She slides the blade into and out of the sheath, checking for resistance to the draw, then, satisfied, fastens the sheath to her own belt and removes Avalon to clear the path to draw it. She slings Avalon diagonally across her back and moves experimentally to test that it does not impede her motions. Satisfied, she resumes her search for survivors, but without much hope. At least an hour has passed since she arrived, and she has heard no living thing but the birds.
It is well past midday by the time Arturia reaches the hill she fought upon and fell upon. She has left the hill until last because she knows she will find no survivors there, and because she does not want to see it. It is a natural hesitance; she is averse to visiting the place where she almost died. However, she feels obligated to see Mordred one final time. She was never a parent to him, through no fault of her own, but she feels obligated to at least see him off.
His body lies where he fell, the wounds she had dealt him almost instantly fatal. It was only the strength of his mother's magic that had let him wound her after she struck him down, and in death, there is no evidence of that sorcery. Instead, he looks small within his armor, and his face is frozen in a confused expression. Grimacing, Arturia kneels and covers his body with his blood-stained cloak. It is not much, but it is all she can offer. She remains kneeling beside her son's body for a few minutes, thinking wistfully that it might have been nice to have a family. Maybe, she thinks, if she had a family, her people would not have seen her as inhuman, and this civil war could have been averted.
Her stomach's complaints interrupt her reverie, and Arturia shakes her head to dispel fantasies of what could have been. Rising to her feet, she looks around to locate her next objective. She was uncertain earlier how many days she had slept while recovering, but the state of the battlefield seems to indicate that it was not more than one or two days. The state of her stomach, on the other hand, indicates that it has been far too long since she last ate, so she determines that she will head to her army's camp, where she is increasingly hopeful she will find food and supplies that were left behind to await her army's victorious return from battle.
Arturia wanders the tents and pavilions of her knights, a pair of saddlebags draped over her shoulders. From her posture, it would seem as though the bags weigh hundreds of pounds. She knows the knights will never return; they died while killing their comrades-in-arms on the field of Camlann. The empty rows of tents press in on the girl walking between them, accentuating her loneliness. Each empty bedroll she passes twists her heart, and she wishes that she had died on the hill with her knights rather than survive after leading them to their deaths. It is a fleeting thought, and she regrets entertaining it, but her guilt gnaws at her as surely as her hunger.
Food she has found in plenty. Bread there is, stale but edible, and cheese only slightly moldy on the outside. Dried meat, smoked and salted, kept better, but is unappealing. She took it anyway, but passed on travelers' pies with unidentifiable ingredients. She found many wineskins, and took the ones that smelled least like vinegar. The bags over her shoulders contain her dinner for tonight, and for several days ahead, as well. Now, she seeks somewhere to eat away from the reminders of her great failure.
To the west of the camp is a low rise overlooking the forest, and she settles herself on the far side of this rise to eat. It will be soothing, she hopes, to sit here and watch the sun set. She wonders briefly if Shirou is also watching the sunset, but remembers what she learned of the world during the Holy Grail War, and wonders if he is watching the sunrise, instead. It is not strange to think of him now, she thinks to herself with a grimace as she bites into stale bread. Her love for his cooking was no lie. Even the best food of her time that is considered fit for a king's table would not be considered fit for Shirou's.
Arturia does not even try to resist reminiscing about Shirou's cooking while she eats. Some of her clearest memories of their time together are of meals, and anything is a welcome distraction from her meal. Fine food is a pleasure she did not discover until she became a Counter Guardian and was summoned for the Holy Grail War, but it is one she takes no shame in. So wrapped up is she in fantasizing about eating Shirou, Sakura, and Rin's home cooking again that she does not register the smoke rising from over the forest until the scent of it reaches her nose.
As soon as she smells smoke, Arturia is on her feet, all thoughts of food set aside. She shoves the remains of her meal carelessly into one of the leather bags to her side and quickly ties them shut as she stands. Slinging the bags over her shoulder, she kicks off the hillside and dashes into the forest. The smell of smoke that reached her nose was not the smell of cooking, but the smell of burning, and too thick to be a simple campfire or cookfire.
As she races through the trees, the former king recalls the maps of this area she studied as her army marched north to meet the rebels. There were three villages in this area that she can recall. One of them her army had stripped of resources to replenish itself after returning from the campaign in the south. Of the remaining two, she remembers that one was near this forest, to the west of the field she decided to meet the rebels at. She cannot be sure of its exact location, but it seems likely that the smoke is coming from the village. She runs faster.
The forest ends abruptly at the fields surrounding the village. Normally, the trees would thin out and the underbrush would become denser near the edge of the forest, but here the forest was recently cut back to enlarge the farmland. Arturia slows her pace here, not to catch her breath, but to find a place to hide the bags she carries. She cannot carry them into battle, but she does not want to leave them too far away. A shallow hollow formed by the roots of a towering tree provides a suitable location, and she uses the small knife she carries to scratch a subtle mark into the bark of the tree so she can find it later. These actions are second nature to her; her mind is wholly focused on the situation at the village.
Arturia is running again the moment she finishes notching the bark of the tree. She does not know how long the village has been burning, nor what started the fire. She hopes that it was a cook fire that burned out of control, or an accident at a blacksmith's forge, but she has to consider the possibility that there is some sort of enemy waiting for her. In the worst case, the fire was set to draw her into a trap. Despite knowing that, she keeps running. Even if she is no longer the king, there is no reason for her not to protect the people with everything she has. That was her dream as a child, and that was why she drew the sword from the stone.
She finally stops running as she reaches the top of the last gentle hill outside the village and drops to her stomach. It pains her to have to risk delay in the face of a fire, but the threat of ambush slows her. Creeping to the edge of the slope, she strains her senses. She can hear raised voices carried on the wind, but the words are lost. Through the smoke, she can see no movement.
'If it were a natural fire, they'd be scrambling to put it out. It must be an attack.' Nodding once sharply to herself, Arturia loosens her sword in its scabbard and rushes down the slope. Now that she has ascertained the presence of an enemy, there is no need to hesitate.
As she reaches the outskirts of the village, Arturia can see that the village itself is not burning. Several buildings on the far side are aflame, but they are distant enough from the central cluster that there is little risk of the fire spreading. Reassured that the fire is not an immediate threat, Arturia presses herself against the nearest building and creeps toward around toward the center of the settlement, listening to try to evaluate the situation.
"This is the best you can do?" The voice is heavy with contempt, and followed closely by a thump, a heavy thud, and many indrawn breaths.
"The speaker struck whoever he was speaking to, and knocked him over," Arturia evaluates.
"P-please, sir, we're a poor village, and the harvests've been bad." The second voice is terrified.
"We are knights of King Arthur's round table. Surely you can spare us more than a few sacks of grain for our horses and a meal for ourselves." The first voice again, and Arturia begins constructing the history of scene taking place just around the corner from her.
'Survivors from one of the armies, mine by their claim, seeking to resupply before traveling back to Camelot.' Her brow creases. 'Or maybe deserters.' The possibility tears at her. In the early years of her rule, none of her knights would have ever considered deserting. 'Survivors from either side would know I fell in battle with Mordred.' Still, she resolves to give them the benefit of the doubt.
"Please!" The second voice has gained a note of desperation. Arturia concludes that the first speaker most likely made some sort of threatening gesture. "We've no more t'give you!"
"Are you saying we'll have to take it, then?" The first voice, apparently that of the leader of the knights, is angry now. "Alright, lads!" The self-proclaimed knight's tone becomes overly friendly as he addresses his men. "Find what we need and take it! Oh, but don't worry, peasant," the voice sneers, "we'll pay you fair coin for what we take."
Arturia finds herself grinding her teeth. It is clear the "fair coin" he speaks of will be steel. 'I've heard enough.' With that decision, she steps out into the village center.
As soon as she rounds the corner, she sighs in relief. There are only three armed men with their backs to her facing a terrified huddle of peasants. If it comes to blows, she is certain she can defeat them; their hardened leather armor is shabby, and there are no horses in evidence. These men were certainly not her knights.
The apparent leader of the village, a middle aged man, is on the ground in front of the villagers. The blood drains from his face when he notices her.
"No! Please, m'lord, I meant no offense! We'll give you anythin' you want, but please spare us!" The villager's voice is hysterical, and he scrambles backward.
"Now that's more like it!" The armored man in front of him laughs as the peasant begins begging. "I- What are you babbling about, peasant?" His voice becomes confused when he realizes the villager is not addressing him.
"-know you were servin' a noble! We didn't know! Please spare us, m'lord!" The peasant had not stopped speaking when the soldier laughed, and his pleadings are addressed no to the soldier, but behind him.
"Nobleman?" The soldier turns slowly, confused. As soon as he sees Arturia, he barks out a rough "Hey!" and his companions turn to face her, as well. Their eyes take in her high-quality armor and clothing, and the ends of the golden scabbard visible on her back.
"Well." He raises a hand in greeting. "Are you one of King Arthur's knights, too?"
"King Arthur was not in the habit of bullying peasants. I was not aware that his knights were in the habit of doing so." Arturia ignores the question.
"Bullying peasants? Us?" He laughs again, and his companions laugh with him. "We only want a bit of food, maybe some ale or beer. We're not going to tear the buildings down and take them with us!" The two men with him laugh harder, thinking this a fine joke. However, Arturia's eyes narrow with rage.
"Your names." Her inflection is flat. She does not like these men, and is barely restraining her anger at the insult.
"What? Our names?" He is clearly confused. "Who wants to know?"
"I do not recognize you from my court." Arturia ignores his question again. "Certainly you never sat at my round table."
"Your court? Your round table?" He scoffs and steps toward her. "Do you think you're King Arthur or something?"
"I am Arthur." Her voice is unamused, and the practiced lie about her name falls easily from her lips.
"You? Arthur?" He laughs, but steps closer and peers at her. "You're far too young to be King Arthur! Can you even grow a beard yet, boy?"
"I see. You are some of the mercenaries Mordred hired when he came to usurp the throne, are you not?" She no longer bothers to conceal her anger. "As you are still alive, can I safely assume you fled the battle at Camlann?"
"Listen, brat! Maybe your daddy bought you some nice armor and a shiny sword, but don't think that'll be enough to stop the three of us from killing you!" The mercenary steps forward angrily, and his two companions begin circling to flank her.
"I will warn you only once. I command you, on my authority as king of the Britons, to leave this place and not return, on pain of death." Arturia draws her sword as she speaks, and holds it low to her right side, angling her body, left leg leading, to present a smaller target.
"I'll make you a counter-offer, kid. Ask nicely and hand over that shiny piece you've got on your back, and maybe we'll let you leave here alive." His voice is friendly, but his body language indicates that he does not expect her to take his offer. Instead, he stops advancing and draws his sword, taking a defensive stance. In her peripheral vision, she can see the other men unsheathe their blades as well.
'He thinks me a novice.' With combat experience from many great battles, and innumerable minor ones, Arturia can easily see through his plan. 'He intends to provoke me into attacking him, exposing myself his to comrades in the process, letting them strike me down while he fends me off.'
"You will not leave?" The question is rhetorical; Arturia only speaks to distract her enemies while she shifts her weight and stance.
Without waiting for a response, she takes two steps forward and kicks off the ground in lunge, not at the man in front of her, but at the one away from his dominant hand, the one he cannot quickly assist: the soldier to his left that had been circling toward her back. He is caught unprepared, and does not offer even a token defense before her scavenged sword pierces his stomach with all of her weight behind it. She does not stop, but drives her shoulder into his chest and pushes him back another step, gaining space from the two behind her. His shriek of pain is cut off as her shoulder knocks the wind out of him.
Arturia plants her feet after taking a second step forward and twists to straighten, using her left hip as a fulcrum to tear her sword free of the man she impaled. It comes free with some effort, and she feels a moment's pleasure that the sword she picked from the battlefield lives up to her expectations as she completes her turn to face the remaining two mercenaries. She ignores the spray of blood, from the falling man's stomach, that splatters her left side. Arturia finishes the attack in the same stance she started in, facing the enemy with her sword held low.
Her surprise attack to the side has ruined her enemies' positioning, and they now face her in a line, one behind the other, instead of encircling her as they had planned. Arturia wastes no time in exploiting this advantage and rushes forward to engage the mercenary leader before the man behind him can move to support him. She closes the distance in two quick steps and swings with the second step, an overhand chop with all her weight behind it. The blow would cut the man in two from right shoulder to left hip if she were wielding Excalibur. She is not, and his desperate, two-handed block stops her sword, although the force of it drives him to one knee.
She lets him push her sword back and brings it around low in a horizontal swing, stepping forward and around him to add extra force to the blow. The man has no hope of blocking it properly from his current position, and can only awkwardly interpose his sword between her sword and his body. Unable to set a stance or effectively lean into the block, he is knocked sprawling by the blow, and Arturia continues past him, pleased and unsurprised by this result.
The third mercenary was attempting to move around his commander, and is caught by surprise when Arturia steps past the downed man and attacks him. Her sword flashes as she barrages him with heavy blows, stepping forward with each one to press him backward. Each swing is a downward strike aimed to take off one of his arms. She is aware of the risk she has taken leaving a surviving enemy behind her, and hastens to finish this fight so she can engage the last man before he reaches her.
Faced with Arturia's attack, the last standing mercenary can only desperately parry her strikes, and hope his commander can recover and rescue him before his defense fails. The blows rain down, impossibly fast, and the impacts numb his hands. He retreats as fast as he can, but her pursuit is relentless.
Arturia's seventh swing knocks the defending mercenary's sword from his hands. Even as her eyes briefly track the flying weapon, her eighth swing removes his left arm above the elbow as he raises his hands in futile defense. Squinting to see against the spray of blood, she swings her sword back up, cutting into his body above the hip. Her sword lodges in his lower ribs, and her eyes widen slightly. She is not used to her sword failing to cut through anything in a human body, and she realizes immediately that she has erred. With only a brief pause, she follows through naturally on the motion of the swing, planting her right foot against the torso of the dying man in front of her and pushing his body off her sword.
As her sword comes free, she continues forward with her right foot and turns her body, stepping into for the third time that battle in her preferred stance; left foot forward, sword low, facing her enemy in profile. The moment she turns, she leaps backward, swinging her blade up in a hurried block. The man she knocked over recovered sooner than she anticipated, and his sword scrapes across her left gauntlet as he adjusts his swing in response to her defense.
Arturia grimaces as she maintains her defense. Her opponent is keeping her on the defensive with continued light attacks from rapidly varying angles. His sword is lighter than hers, and while that let him overpower his defense earlier, now it forces her to struggle to keep up. However, this soldier is no Sasaki Kojirou. His blade technique, while above average, is certainly not good enough to reach the level of a Noble Phantasm. Arturia continues blocking while she waits for an opportunity.
Her chance comes when her opponent follows up a blocked cross body swing with a thrust at her unarmored shoulder. She steps forward with her left foot and releases her sword with her left hand, using her freed hand to deflect his thrust with her gauntlet, ignoring the shallow cut across her upper arm she receives in exchange. Now inside his guard, she immediately grips her sword and swings upward into her enemy's exposed armpit. Delivered without much weight behind it, the blow lacks the strength to cut deeply.
Her enemy falls back, dropping his sword from his powerless left hand as he clutches at the wound with his right.
His cry is silenced as her next attack removes his head; blood gushes from his neck. The entire fight lasted just over a minute. Arturia turns away from the corpse as it falls and evaluates the cowering peasants.
"I will not hurt you." She addresses them in the most comforting tone she can manage. The crowded peasants' only response is to huddle more tightly together and to edge away from her.
As the adrenaline from the fight fades, Arturia becomes aware of her own condition. She is exhausted, and she is covered in blood and holding a bloodstained sword in one hand.
"I must not be as recovered as I had hoped," she thinks as she kneels to clean her sword on the edge of the fallen mercenary leader's shirt. "I need to regain my strength faster." Indeed, she had woken at sunrise, still recovering from wounds that should have killed her after sleeping for at least a day. Then she spent the morning making her way painfully to the battlefield, searched for survivors at Camlann, and searched her camp for food. After that she ran to engage in battle again, with only a short break to eat a light meal. It is not surprising that her body is worn out.
Arturia stands and sheathes her weapon, then wipes the blood from her face as best she can on her sleeve and turns to address the peasants again. Perhaps it is the fact that she is no longer carrying bared steel, or perhaps it is simply that she did not immediately slaughter them, but the crowd of farmers seems to have relaxed slightly, and their appointed spokesman steps forward to speak with her.
"M'lord, thank you for savin' our village!" He prostrates himself at her feet. "Anythin' we can offer you's yours for the takin'!"
"I, ah, that is..." She trails off. "I was simply doing my duty." Never has anyone expressed such profuse and sincere gratitude to her before. When she protected the country as the king, it was simply what was expected of her. When she protected one of her comrades in battle, they thanked her by saving someone else in turn. She has never protected the people in such a personal fashion before, and she is bemused by their thanks.
Her words break the fascination holding the villagers, and the adults and older children rush toward the burning buildings. Arturia watches them go, struggling to force herself to focus and to control her wandering thoughts. The motion of the village leader standing again draws her attention back to the present.
"There is one thing, actually." She looks down at her clothing and armor, coated and splattered with drying blood. "Is there somewhere nearby I could clean this?" She gestures to her equipment. "I don't have the proper supplies with me, but clean water would do for now. Oh, and some clean rags, if you can spare them." Arturia grimaces, regretting that she did not think to bring oil and cloths with her, in addition to food.
"Ah. If m'lord doesn't mind, there's a stream past the fields to the north. The women do the washin' there. I'll send one of the children with the rags." He ducks his head repeatedly as he speaks, overwhelmed by addressing a member of the nobility.
"Thank you." Arturia nods, and turns to leave. Her pace is slow, and she does not doubt that an energetic child will reach the stream before she does, even though she has a head start.