The beginning of a new age is heralded by the brutal end of another. The once great Roman Empire succumbed to the strains of time, hundreds of years defending against barbarians, quarreling amongst its courts, until their vast lands shattered and Rome was pillaged. Hadrian’s Wall was emptied of its men and all of Britain became the riches of bloodthirsty crows. The Picts pillaged the coasts, the Saxons and the Scots leisurely stole from farms, and yet dragons and succubi still terrorized the awake and the asleep. Men were building civilizations, men were raising steel. Magic was dying, but the antiquated soils could not heal while the old blood lived. Those that find themselves buried in the filth and mud of this dying chapter of human history have two choices: to accept reality or to create a miracle.
And for a while, they chose to accept reality.
A nameless tribal king of a nameless land whose name was only known by his title, Vortigern, invited the Saxons to drive away the rest of the barbarians with the promise of reward for what his kingdom could offer. The Saxons agreed and succeeded, and then they revolted, killing his son and driving Vortigern away to new lands. Who knew if it were grief, anger, greed or desire that drove him to discard his humanity and drink the blood of the white dragon? Who knew if he had been wise and just before he became the tyrant determined to hasten the end of Britain? For in the test of time, Vortigern would be nothing more than a villain for the legendary King Arthur to prove his kingship and might.
"Please, watch me, Merlin. I won’t say that it will be soon, but I can say with certainty that this country will become a great one, not one to lose against the legendary Avalon, I’m sure."
- Arthur Pendragon, hero-king of Britain
It was love that started it all. It was sin that had been accomplished. Uther Pendragon, brother of Vortigern, wanted the love of the married Ingraine. He asked his court magus, Merlin, son of a princess and an incubus, his court magus, for his magecraft to aid in uniting the unlawful love. Merlin foresaw a bright future in this path. He knew that a child between the two was the king Britain needed to save it from itself.
Merlin agreed. In exchange, he asked that the child be put in his care. When, after Uther received his happiness, Merlin proclaimed the prophecy of the child of promise, Uther decided that such an ideal king must have the blood of dragon in him. But Uther never got the heir that he wanted and his death in the hands of his own brother was marked with despair, for the child Artorius was born a woman.
Artoria, the legends would not call her – nor her father, her foster father, her foster brother, her friends, her knights, her people, her son; no, not by Merlin either. Under the care of Sir Ector, she was raised as a man, treated as a man, fought and lived as a man. But what was a man from a woman, a woman from a king? She never once asked, never once questioned. Artoria, not knowing her birthright, lived obediently. By day, a squire to her brother Sir Kay. By the early dawn – collapsed from exhaustion – a student to Merlin, who taught her kingship in her dreams. They had expectations Artoria did not the true meaning of, and yet she lived without a single complaint.
She often bested her brother, but he would claim the battles his victory and she would believe, smile and agree. She took care of the horses, speaking to them, happy that she made them comfortable. She watched the people from afar, saddened by their hunger and plight, wondering when the new king shall rise and save them from the usurper. If only it could be me, she thought, innocent as a wide-eyed child. And then she would be able to help.
And so, when she came upon the Sword In The Stone, said to be the Sword of Selection who would reveal Britain’s rightful king, it was wholeness that she found. For when none could pull the sword and make Merlin’s prophecy come true, it was when she finally asked: Why? Why was she being made to pretend as a man? Why was she being denied for being a human? What was her purpose? The answer was in before her. The pieces fell together and the puzzle was solved.
Her father was Uther and he had used her. Merlin knew about the prophecy and he had used her. Sir Ector did his duty and so, he strictly demanded the same from her, never explaining why. Her creation was all for this day.
She did not hate. She did not feel. What they did make sense, so she accepted them without concern. The fifteen years of peace was to come to an end now, she knew, and the instant she did, they became an ephemeral moment – so beautiful that it touched her heart. She did have something. She had a father, a brother, and a town she loved dearly. And that’s why, she must let them all go. This was her transformation to become the ideal king.
“You will cease to be human the moment you pull that sword,” warned Merlin. He appeared and met her outside of her dream for the first time.
She would be hated, he continued. She would die horribly, lose everything she loved.
Artoria thought of the miserable faces of those waiting for their savior. All she imagined was the music of their laughter and the light that would renew their eyes. She would give them the king they prayed for. She would be their king. “This path that would bring so much joy could not be the wrong one,” she said with certainty.
When Artoria drew Caliburn, she found peace.
"When the King pulled his spear away from the old man, he gave a laugh capable of shaking the city and turning it to dust."
- Sir Gawain, Knight of the Sun
A single strike from Vortigern rend the earth and disintegrated warrior and steel on its path. The holy sword, Excalibur, was faint against the darkness summoned by the tyrant. But it still shone.
She slashed her sword against the scales of the dragon, whose massive size was swallowing the citadel. It would grow even bigger as it materialized. It would take to the sky, and they would no longer be able to save the country.
The battle stretched for hours. The stench of blood and corpse was no longer a smell Artoria could separate from her lungs.
If there is death, then I will cut to create the path of life.
Vortigern was powerful. In truth, she knew that his form was the very country itself. Britain was once rich with mystery and the demon dragon was the last life that gave it nutrition.
But the king is also the country. If I stay strong, then the country will live.
Only a single knight remained with her. His own holy sword, Galatine, had completely lost its light. Even without glancing back, Artoria knew that Gawain had lost hope.
I have to be his hope. She struck the dragon. When Gawain pleaded for retreat, Artoria ignored him. “Lend me your assistance some more, Sir Gawain. How can we proudly call ourselves wielders of holy swords if we cannot stop one or two menace in the island?”
Sir Gawain’s spirits returned. But unlike Artoria, he did not possess Avalon, Excalibur’s scabbard that healed any injuries.
She parried a claw. Then I will also protect him.
Vortigern grew larger, the darkness thicker. The two knights fought until Artoria was able to drive the holy spear Rhongomyniad into Vortigern’s heart.
She did it. Vortigern’s rule was over. Just Sir Gawain’s exhilaration was able to bring Artoria some joy. She even found herself smiling slightly. But as she pulled the spear from Vortigern, it was her uncle who flashed his teeth and laugh.
"King Arthur does not understand the hearts of men."
- Sir Tristan, Knight of the Bow
It was as if a new golden age had dawned. All those in the island came together to express their joy and gratitude. Hope had materialized at long last and it was the King Arthur who bore the wishes of Britain. A new castle was built. Camelot, the bastion of the knights. Knights from near and far gathered. When their might and character were proven, they were welcomed in the fold of the king’s circle. They sat on the round table where every knight, including the king, was equal to one another.
First, they had to take care of the enemies still in their territory. They could not rest until peace was truly restored. Arturia led from the front lines and drove them all away. But even a powerful knight like her could not be in multiple places at once.
“Put up conscription notices. Look for big, young men and wrap them in armor and helmet to hide their youth. Have them stand guard and tell them to hold their ground no matter what, that we are on our way… They can buy as the day we need to rout the bandits in the south.”
Next, she must entertain politics and maintain the necessary façade. By chance, while fighting barbarians, Artoria heard the troubles in King Leodegrance’s lands and came to his aid. The friendship led to the meeting of fate between Artoria and Gunevere. With just a few words exchanged, Artoria knew the role Guinevere would play. She was welcomed to Camelot and the two became husband and wife. The ideal Queen Guinevere to the ideal King Arthur.
“Truth be told, I was uneasy on the prospect of marriage. I don’t believe our gallivanting friend in the court has the right to properly educate me on the subject. But you taught me what must be the bond between a king and his queen. Not by flesh or desire, but by ideals. I am grateful, Guinevere. Britain and I are fortunate to have you.”
As king, she swiftly delivered justice. Quick, fair, and unquestionable.
“A crime of passion is understandable, but a crime it still is. The man will be hanged. Give his wife a proper burial and when the son has grieved and moved on, welcome him to Camelot. The child must decide his own future from now on. If he wished to rise and stand on his own, then I expect to find him in the castle grounds one day.”
She could not forget either the stately matters a king should know. Hunger was prominent. Their land could no longer provide as the age of mysteries faded. Britain was far behind the changing times.
“Then you’re saying we must keep importing goods? We have to find new ways to live. The people are not able to wait, but we need more time. Welcoming new blood may also be of help… But all those on our borders are our enemies…”
Farther and farther Artoria went to defend Britain. When she saw the chance, she turned to the offensive, letting Rome know their military might so she would have better leverage in their parley. But the distance covered by her army went on for weeks. Villages were dried out. Resources were a necessity.
“This is how we can achieve victory. To protect an entire country, we must deplete the small villages. Our enemies know that we are tired. We must prove them otherwise. We are the might of Britain.”
She killed and she killed. Sometimes, she did not sleep. Above all men, she killed more than anyone, Excalibur stained with more blood than Vortigern’s hands had. Her enemies, defeated, hated her. Her people, still waiting for change, cursed her. And her knights, her friends – they were all quiet. They knew, they understood. But there were only so much that the knights could take.
All complaining about the king’s inability to understand others, they left his service. The remaining knights tried to dissuade them each time, calling them cowards, chiding them for their weak hearts, for their childishness in this game of war. Each time, Artoria quelled the noises. She understood why they left, expected it, even, but she must not let it bother her or her knights.
“Let them be. They will return as lords over their lands. Depending on our war with the invaders, we may be able to use them to launch a decisive assault. Even though they are no longer directly at Camelot’s service, they will still be able to do their duty by serving as our decoys.”
Even Artoria knew that what she said then did not reinvigorate the spirit of her knights. But she did not take her word back. A king must always follow his word and ideals. It was why she always thought carefully of what she said and how she acted. They did not have to understand her. Artoria would just have to make her actions speak for herself, and as long as this would lead Britain to a future, then she would be happy.
She didn’t need anything else.
At times, she would sit on her throne to think, sorrow lurking in her exhausted eyes. She could not save everyone now, but she would be able to in the future. All this was meant for that day. That was all that mattered.
She must not feel. She must not be weak. She must not stray. She must not be less. Her thoughts continued to swirl in her head that, for a moment, she thought she had lapsed to a dream, seeing Merlin once more as she always had when she was simple and young. Caliburn was still in the stone, but she was already in armor. She could not make out through the haze of the light if his face had been with mockery or pity, if the Merlin before her were really a figment of her imagination.
“I told you, didn’t I? Every miracle has a price.”
"The king was unlike us to begin with. He wasn’t human nor raised as one. But still, she tried to live rightly as one. Even when she was unable to experience human happiness, she loved the happiness of the people."
- Sir Lancelot, Knight of the Lake
The king must see that the adultery between his wife and friend to be of the highest treason. But for once since she became king, Artoria could not separate herself from her duty. For, to her, this was clearly all a tragedy. If only she knew, if only no one had to be forced to play the part, if only she had been a better husband to Guinevere. Lancelot was not able to voice his concern directly to her. But for a loyal man like him to bed Guinevere, then Artoria’s crime must be unforgivable.
Guinevere would not rise from her knees. She would not stop crying. There was nothing Artoria could do or say to make her stop. “I understand, I forgive you…” But Guinevere continued to beg, whispering, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I knew, my king. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
If only she could take Guinevere back when they were wed. It was the only time Artoria made her happy.
Lancelot had fled from Camelot. Artoria sent him a letter, wishing to impart in her words her sincerity.
“My friend, my pride, my ideal knight. If you had seen it fit to commit such actions, they must have good cause. I believe in their justness. Know that I forgive you, and that in my eyes, you’ve committed no crime. Only this failure of a king of yours did.”
All the while, the populace could not wait. “Filthy traitor!” “Knight-whoring queen!” “Whore!” “Slut!” “Burn her on the stake!” “Burn her!” “BURN HER!” “IS LANCELOT THE KING’S KING?”
Her knights could no longer control their emotions either. They were wounded even more that Lancelot had fled as a guilty man. Lancelot, too, knew what would happen. Guinevere already knew. Neither of them feared death. Surely, both of them were aware what their positions entailed.
“For her treason against Britain, for betraying the trust of the people, for disgracing…” Her voice mysteriously vanished. Arturia forced the rest of the words out. “…her husband, the king, I, Artorius Pendragon, hereby sentence Queen Guinevere to death.” The riots were seeping into the walls of Camelot, replacing the silence with their bloodthirsty screams. “By burning on the stake.”
As Artoria expected, not even her closest allies could simply accept this. Their reactions made sense, and yet, this was the right path for a king to make. If she could be burned in Guinevere’s place, if she could be hanged in Lancelot’s place, if she could be the one to replace all those that suffered, then she would have taken it. If only she were the only one who had to fight, then it would make her happy knowing that everyone else lived with how they wanted to.
Come quick, my friend. Come and save us all from further sorrow. And with our clashing blades, we shall say goodbye to each other one last time.
"If everyone could live righteously without corruption then, without a doubt, Britain would become a prosperous country. But how much? How much longer do we have to endure to receive that reward?"
- Merlin, king's adviser and court magus
War against Rome had occupied Artoria. In the middle of Lancelot’s escape with Guinevere and the death of some of the Knights of the Round Table, the friendship in her circle replaced with hatred and vengeance, Artoria could feel despair inching closer. She managed to win the war in a foreign land, but news from home did not reward her: Mordred was leading a rebellion.
Artoria did not stop. She returned home with an exhausted army and continued the battle. Not once did she turn to look back at the soldiers who died for her, who abandoned her. Forward, she went. Forward was the only way, the only future. I can’t lose hope. I can’t lose now.
She killed men who were under her banner. She slew familiar faces. The hill was covered with weapons and corpses as far as the eye could see. Only Artoria and Mordred remained.
Mordred was foolish and misguided, no doubt influenced by the machinations of her half-sister, Morgana. But Artoria would never know just how thick the blood between them was. Both of them were twisted creations of someone else’s invention, through sorcery and deceit. Merlin had disguised Uther as the duke to bed Ingraine, before slaying her beloved husband in combat. Morgana saw the chance to make an heir from Artoria while she was briefly a man, charming her and raping her. Artoria was still part of the blame, but Mordred asked something she could never have: the throne.
Mordred was too emotional. She raged like a beast, fighting with no honor. She demanded that Artoria speak with her tongue, not with her sword. “Do you hate me? Do you hate me that much? Did you hate me for being Morgana’s son? Answer me… answer me, Artorius!”
Artoria never once turned to look at Mordred. She never once called her her son. She never once acknowledged her. She understood better now why Mordred acted the way she did, but if she clamored for the throne because of her birthright so much, she should have known better.
In a methodical, clinical way, she responded to her grief. “I have never once hated you. The reason I did not hand the throne over to you is because you did not have the capacity to be a king.”
Artoria struck her in the heart with the holy spear that took her uncle. In her final breath, Mordred reached out to her. “Father…” she whispered, dying.
She dropped to the bloodied dirt along with her son, her mortal injuries slowly taking away her consciousness. Avalon had been stolen. Her knights were dead. She was still alive. She, the king. Just her.
It wasn’t supposed to end like this. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. She fought for everyone. She killed for everyone. She ruled for everyone. Then, why? Why did she fail to the very end? All the victories had been meaningless. All the people she had helped to get up and walk behind her had already fallen and sank back to the filth and mud. Artoria looked at what her kingship had done. She saw the end of Britain and screamed.
"You abandoned your men when they lost their way. Then, alone and untroubled, you followed your own petty little ideals. Thus, you are no true king. You are only a little girl, enraptured by a false idol of a king who serves others, but not themselves."
- Iskander, King of Conquerors
Moments before her death, Artoria took hold of her destiny. She offered herself to the World: "Let me be a Heroic Spirit so that I may win the Holy Grail while I still live. Give me the miracle that I could not create to save Britain." She became frozen in time, her soul unable to pass on until she could complete her wish. Her people have moved one. The world have moved on. Artoria remained on the hill of her sorrows, remembering every mistake she made.
She could not give up. She could not let things end this way.
Artoria realized that this was what she should have done from the very start. A battle between seven honorable soldiers with no casualties, no politics, no unnecessary destruction or pain. Should she lose one Grail War, then she would fight again. Whoever the victor was must have proper reason. Artoria would take her time. She would not run away from her mistakes.
But when a man named Emiya Kiritsugu had summoned her, it came to a harsh lesson to her that war remained unfair. He mocked her code of honor, disrespected her. Even though their ideals were not that different from each other, they could never see eye-to-eye. Artoria knew the pains of sacrifices, that's why she was determined to fight differently in this battle where those things were not necessary. But Kiritsugu was without mercy. Artoria did not understand. She thought she did, but Emiya Kiritsugu turned out to be nothing but a wretched man.
But she did not stop him. She wasn't going to. Once they both attained the Holy Grail, then the world would know a better life. Their wishes would save countless. Even Lancelot, a friend she was forced to fight, a man made into a rabid dog... This was for his sake, too. You can rest easy, Lancelot. I... We have finally won.
The Holy Grail had materialized before her and Kiritsugu. Her arms began to move on their own, her hands clenched like claws on Excalibur's hilt. Artoria resisted, her mind exploding in a single, unfathomable question. "Why, Kiritsugu? WHY?"
Kiritsugu continued his mantra, consuming another Command Seal. "Use Excalibur to destroy the Holy Grail."
Artoria screamed, tears spilling from her eyes. She did not understand. Why, Kiritsugu? Why? The light of Excalibur destroyed the path in front of her, the Holy Grail disintegrating into nothingness. At the release of the Noble Phantasm, her emotions vanished to somewhere else, to a place she did not know or could reach.
They were all correct. They all had the right to judge. Artoria Pendragon did not understand anyone, not even those closest to her, causing them the most terrible of pains. As her connection to the world weakened and the scene frozen in time slowly came back, none of her feelings returned. She vanished, feeling nothing.