There were many joys and wonders that Lancer Arturia had experienced as a parent, and watching her children play in the yard had become her most heartening pastime. Artus and Annabel were squabbling again, tousling on the soft long grass over some mundane argument born from sibling rivalry.
With not much of anyone to interact with in the woods other than their family, it was only natural that the two were close and passed the time by doing whatever to keep themselves entertained.
The life her children was a far cry from that of Lancer Arturia's given their age. When she was a child, she was filled with a strong purpose and desire born within her from the expectations and duties over her tiny shoulders. There was much to do in order to better herself, and little time to focus on the small things.
Breaks? Hobbies? Friends?
All those novel things were only truly experienced once Shirou came into her life, and broke her mold of normalcy.
The ends of her mouth curved upward in reminiscence, but there were more important considerations to dwell over.
Watching her children play in the yard, Annabel trying to grapple with Artus, only for Artus to reverse the situation and put his younger sister into a devastating noogie, let a chuckle escape her mouth.
The carefreeness she could see in her children was reassuring to her in her decision in its own right.
Lancer Arturia had asked Lily about the situation with her own child recently born as a royal heir after she'd worked up the courage and devotion to produce a child of her own. Admittedly, Lily was the youngest and least experienced of the Arturia's, so a child had been something she hesitated over. However, tales of Lancer Arturia's own experiences had Lily's own budding desires left the point moot.
Lily's son was born on Artus and Annabel's fourth birthday.
The fact that Lily named her only child 'Mordred,' was not lost on Lancer Arturia. It was a good name, one that she'd even dwelled over herself, but unlike Lily who had no baggage around that name, Lancer Arturia carried too many implications around it.
She shook her head and focused once more at Artus and Annabel, still squabbling outside.
The point that Lancer Arturia was trying to make was that her children must have been happier than Lily's Mordred. Growing up in a palace was constraining, and there was no guarantee that the child's confidence wouldn't buckle under the shadow of their parents. Then there were the expectations, the burdens, and the teachers all lined up to curry favour with the anointed heir.
Lily had not wasted a single breath fretting over advice as a new mother from Lancer Arturia.
Having been raised by Kay and Sir Ector, Lancer Arturia immediately cautioned Lily not to follow in their example. God be damned Lancer Arturia was still ashamed at her own ignorance when Artus and Annabel were just a few wee months old. Her Shirou had honestly been more of a mother than her at that point. If she could save Lily from the same fate, then it was only right to do so as an upright mother.
Humming to herself, Lancer Arturia moved away from the window overlooking her front yard, and decided to move to the porch for a better view. While Shirou was away, she was the one responsible for looking after the kids.
Getting involved was a must after she'd completed the house's chores.
Besides, Shirou had reminded her that her children wouldn't be this young, cute, and adorable forever. Therefore, she had to cherish it while it lasted.
"Mom! Get him off! Tell him to stop! He's ruining my hair!" Annabel's hurried calls for help, caused Lancer Arturia to snort.
Annabel had yet to free herself from Artus's noogie, and was bucking with her neck caught in a headlock around Artus's right arm. Artus's left hand was presently messing with his younger sister's hair.
The fact that Lancer Arturia found her younger daughter caring more for her hair, than finding a way to reverse her situation spoke volumes for the difference in mother and daughter's childhood priorities. Inwardly, she sighed, but couldn't hide her amusement and gratification at her children's playing.
Lancer Arturia moved towards her children, watching the change in their expressions. Joy bloomed over Annabel's eyes, her hands still trying to pull Artus's arm away from her head. In contrast, Artus was aggrieved.
"No! Don't help, that's not fair!" Artus complained childishly, staring at his mother in betrayal. "She got me last time and I had to get out myself!"
"But you're a boy!"
"Yeah, so? Dad says Mom's stronger than him!"
"You're bigger and taller than me!"
"So is mom when compared to dad. Dad still says she's stronger!"
A satisfied nod came to Lancer Arturia's face at her son's words, but a twitch formed over her lips at her daughter's response.
"When have you ever seen mom and dad spar?! He was just trying to make me feel better! Let go!"
This daughter of mine…
Lancer Arturia helplessly shook her head, granted it was Lancer Arturia's own decision to keep her and Shirou's capabilities to themselves. If they found out how capable their parents are, they might start asking why they were living in to the forest of all places instead of a town or settlement.
"Artus, let your sister go," Lancer Arturia pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Moooom!" Artus complained. "That's not fair! I'm the one who won this time!"
"You heard her! You heard her!" Annabel squirmed.
Lancer Arturia tousled her son's hair. "And a winner should know when to show magnanimity."
"Magnanimity? What does that mean?" Artus tilted his head to the side.
"It means being generous," Lancer Arturia lectured her children.
"So, mercy to the defeated then?" Artus mulled aloud.
"Who needs your mercy!" Annabel retorted, before wincing when Artus continued with his noogie.
"You can think of it that way," Lancer Arturia temporarily ignored her daughter and nodded towards Artus for him to make the decision.
Gradually, Artus let go of his grip on his sister with his own initiative.
"And you," Lancer Arturia poked her daughter's forehead in mock chastisement, as Annabel tried fixing her hair. "Learn to judge a situation better. You do not provoke an enemy with an advantage over you so easily."
Pouting, Annabel glanced away, put off that Artus had gotten one over her today.
On the other hand, Artus was in a grand mood, and seeing that Lancer Arturia wasn't busy, he brought up something that had been on his mind for a long while.
"Mom," Artus decided to broach the subject. "Dad said you were a master in the sword? Could you train us?"
The pouting Annabel, perked up and shifted her gaze towards her mother.
Lancer Arturia hesitated. It was one thing to let her children rough-house and get an idea of how to defend themselves, but formal training may reveal the secrets she and Shirou were keeping from them.
How could a regular hunter and his wife know of reading, writing, etiquette, and such things? Sure, they could play learned-knowledge off, but practical combat skills and experience wasn't something that was just acquired through books.
More than anything, if the two proved just as talented as their parents, they may very well be dragged in to the turbulence of the country even at a young age. Honestly, it was hypocritical when she considered just how young she and Shirou were when they started their journey, but every parent frets over their children.
As for Lancer Arturia, she knew of the troubles and burdens her former identity and station carried. Just thinking about her children crushed by lofty expectations as their mother and father's kids, heavily dissuaded her.
Lily's explanation that the still living Vortigern even attempted to target Mordred as leverage against Lily and Shirou in Lily's alternative record, only further hardened Lancer Arturia's stance.
She wasn't involved anymore, and neither would her kids. She'd be damned if she did anything to take away their choice.
Too much skill, potential, and talent, was just as much as curse as it was a blessing. Moreover, so long as she and Shirou were alive, who would dare try to influence their children?
"Maybe some other time?" Lancer Arturia smiled, pokerfaced and diverting her children's attention by pointing in the direction Shirou had left to go hunting.
"Actually, your father went fishing today and could use company. It just so happens that he forgot his lunch." Lancer Arturia revealed a threaded basket to her children, before passing it over to them. "Would you both mind carrying this over to him? He should be by the stream out back. If you're lucky, I might turn a blind eye if you get your father to roast a few fish for you, rather than bringing them all back to be preserved for dry winter rations."
A light gleamed in both Artus and Annabel's eyes at the clear bribe. "We'll do it," the two said decisively before scampering off.
A soft smile tugged at Lancer Arturia's lips at the two's antics.
Too easy. Hunger was always the enemy.
Her children really did remind her of herself to a strong degree. She could even remember how she'd lied to Sir Ector and Kay, if only to run off and find Shirou to pester him when he was out hunting to make food.
Still, the fact that her children had an interest in training caused her to entertain the notion of getting them up to a level where they could defend themselves? A state that wasn't too weak, but not too strong to grab attention either?
Was it really a good idea though?
She'd thought herself past these things, and wished a normal life for them that she'd never been able to live. Was she just being selfish? She said she'd give her children the choice, but her first response had been to send them to their father rather then insist on her.
She sighed with the struggles and lamentations of child rearing, just before a flurry of petals forced her to heighten her guard.
She blinked, and sure enough a familiar figure had appeared before her.
"Trouble in paradise?" Merlin asked while in his white sage's coat. His staff was held loosely by his side.
Lancer Arturia didn't answer.
She knew that there could only be one reason why Merlin would appear before her again.
She gnashed her teeth, and put on a smile.
Lancer Arturia welcomed Merlin into her home, and treated him as a guest by sitting him down at the table and finding something for him to drink and cooldown. She settled on water freshly procured, boiled, and cooled from the river stream near her home.
"The brat I knew has suddenly turned into a beautiful and accommodating woman in the blink of an eye," Merlin took the offered drink in hand, and tipped the cup in Lancer Arturia's direction. "To married life, and to the new joys of being a housewife." Merlin downed the entire cup before wiping his lips. "Fresh spring water, always the best on a hot day."
Lancer Arturia nodded, and leisurely took a seat with an elegance that didn't lose out to even her sister's. Crossing her legs, she leveled an unimpressed look Merlin's way, barely repressing the urge to snort in amusement.
Her relationship with Merlin was truthfully one of gratitude and appreciation. To begin with, he was the one who helped her see her feelings for Shirou, and pushed her off the deep end before she could naively put aside her emotions.
Merlin taught her in earnest, acted as a close confident, and was even the one who helped settle herself and Shirou in this idyllic forest.
If not for Merlin's perversion and awful influence to her children, Lancer Arturia may have treated the man better and offered to make him her children's godfather.
Alas, she was keenly aware of her teacher's ogling. She was a married woman, she'd reasoned, but his response was that it made her all the more charming…the bastard.
"Funny that you never appear when Shirou's around anymore," she accused, crossing her arms.
Merlin chuckled. "He's someone hard to predict even for me. Moreover, ever since you made it clear to him that you had no intention of retaking the throne from Morgan, he always narrows his eyes on me should I even try to bring the matter up. Let me tell you personally, it's like I'm sitting on blades that could actually 'kill' me when he glares at me."
"And the fact you're here when he's not implies to me exactly what you're here to talk about…"
"I'm, ugh, I'm not that obvious, am I?"
"Like a pansy, you avoid my husband. What do you think? I figured that this was what this was about again," Lancer Arturia sighed, knowingly. "My answer's still the same Merlin. You're not convincing me."
"Really?" Merlin met Lancer Arturia's gaze.
"Really." She nodded in all seriousness. "Go ahead and try persuading me. See if I don't shout for my man, and an arrow comes over the horizon to try and skewer you again?"
Merlin recoiled, visibly distraught at the absurdity of it all. "How did he even do that? Even Tristan can't do that. Who fires Noble Phantasms on their teacher…" he shuddered in recollection, decisively positioning himself away from the windows as if the trembling of his hands wasn't noticeable?
Lancer Arturia found it difficult to hide her amusement, but her emotionless face was practiced and well learned throughout a lifetime already.
Her crossed arms unraveled as she leaned forward on her table and stared Merlin down. "If you really only came to persuade me again, I can say for sure that I haven't changed my-
Merlin raised a hand, cutting off her response.
"I am not here to patronize or pressure you, Arturia, merely to advise as I always have before," Merlin grew wistful. "I am your teacher, and it's not even a stretch to say that other than your husband, I know you best- wait stop, don't shout! I'm being serious! In this regard, will you just let me speak?"
Lancer Arturia coughed, turning her face away from the open window facing the stream where she knew Shirou was fishing with the kids.
Her silence was a tacit acknowledgment that she'd hear Merlin out.
Relief flooded Merlin's features. Shirou's means were getting more and more annoying. Just recently, he'd switched to some sort of red arrow demonic Noble Phantasm that wouldn't stop until it hit its target. Nonetheless, this wasn't the point.
Merlin cleared his throat and regarded Arturia with an air of aloofness.
"You've chosen to remain within this enchanted forest away from the violence and strife plaguing the homeland, and I respect that. More specifically, I can feel how content you are with your current life." Merlin began, nodding to himself. "You're happier, burdenless, 'bigger' than I could have ever imagined from a former washboa-"
"Merlin." Lancer Arturia's mouth twitched, far too used to her teacher's antics to truly be angered at this point. She was just thankful that he was prudent enough to not mention such things in front of the kids. "I'm going to shout. Go ahead, continue. See what happens."
"Ah yes, ahem."
Merlin stood up and began walking towards the door, knowing that what he had to say would surely sour his student's mood to be less than welcoming. He had to be able to run at a moment's notice. Shoot not the messenger, Merlin would have said if he didn't know his student's own temper and disregard for 'Perverts.' She'd shout for Shirou knowing the accuracy of her husband's pot shots.
Merlin steeled himself and hardened his resolve.
"No matter how hard you try, you can't run from destiny, Arturia."
The mood suddenly grew solemn, Lancer Arturia's features clouding at the implication. "Like I said before, I've already left such matters behind," she stressed softly, eyes downcast over shadowed bangs.
Lancer Arturia's head craned up to stare at Merlin. "I-I have," she murmured. "I am happy- more than I've ever felt before. This forest, this house, this life, it's warm, nurturing, and…was everything I've ever imagined for my future as a child ignorant of the expectations placed on me. I have a loving husband, two children, and even a family pet flaming bird acting as my children's silent guardian."
Merlin sighed, fully knowing how earnest Lancer Arturia was in admitting to her own feelings. A far cry from the years of yonder passing.
"I believe you," Merlin could only say before shaking his head wistfully.
"Then why bring this topic up?" Lancer Arturia pursed her lips.
"Because there's no choice. The situation is deteriorating," Merlin thought to himself, but spoke a different answer.
"Arturia, you know I have a penchant for prophecy? Let's just call it a strong predictive ability- mere deduction, if you will hear me out?"
Silence, and another curt nod from Lancer Arturia whose hands had balled into fists.
"You and Shirou are both satisfied and grateful for your present circumstances, but will your children be?"
Lancer Arturia's breath hitched, pupils dilating from the knowing and forlorn expression on Merlin's face.
"In time, they will age and ask questions. Why must they stay in the forest? Why don't they see other children and people? What is beyond the world of this little cottage? What sort of identities and weight do their parents truly carry?"
Each question left Lancer Arturia's complexion paling.
"Knowing you as I do, you wouldn't bar their freedom, and they'd eventually spread their wings unprepared to a homeland ravaged by war. Would you then remain here in this quaint home, or would you follow to protect them and inevitably be drawn back to the prophecy foretold?"
Merlin shook his head.
"I told you," he said, stressing it and cutting Lancer Arturia off. His demeanor appeared more tired than playful. "I'm not trying to pressure you, only to advise. If this land can't be saved with its Lost King, then the role would surely fall onto the next generation."
Merlin opened the front door of Lancer Arturia's home, and slowly closed it behind him, his voice drifting into Lancer Arturia's ears.
"It's up to you to decide."
Thanks for reading!
Sorry for smaller chapter, but I wasn't feeling too well from a persistent headache and cough. I really don't want to go for a Covid test. I don't feel like its Covid anyway, so I'll just wait and see.
Next update: TBA
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The Lonely Peak
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