To explain starting from the conclusion, Rider of Black, Astolfo, currently had stakes driven into both his arms and legs, had his movements confined by fluid-form golems and was in fact imprisoned along with Berserker of Red.
He had spoken too honestly, and to make it worse had added in his own thoughts (“It was really quite refreshing!”) into his report. That Lancer of Black—Vlad III—would become enraged was only to be expected.
All the Masters, who learned Saber of Black’s true name, had also looked at Rider of Black with reproach. After all, it was Siegfried, the ‘dragon-slayer’ of the Netherlands. To the Black Faction, he was certainly a Servant that could serve as their trump card.
Lancer had ordered that Rider be imprisoned and then immediately vanished into spiritual form. His Master Darnic was smoothing things over with him, but he was currently in an ill mood. If this were back when he was still alive, someone’s life would certainly have been a necessary price to improve his mood.
After expelling everyone else from the dungeon, Rider’s Master Celenike slapped his face. Annoyingly to her, the sound it made was very light. Although Rider wore a solemn expression, he showed no signs of reacting to the pain—and most of all, no signs of despair.
“Do you understand just what you did?”
“I understand, you know? I saved a homunculus… That’s all.”
“Don’t joke around! Saber has disappeared, don’t you get it!? Saber, the strongest of all Servants! And it wasn’t in battle. He didn’t even die in battle! He disappeared due to an internal dispute, how ridiculous! And it’s your fault!”
Rider thought it over for a short while, and while knowing his next words might anger her, he whispered.
“No. It’s not my responsibility. Saber splendidly acted according to his own will, just like a hero should.”
Celenike slapped Rider’s face again. Even so, he remained calm and composed, which exasperated her irritation more and more, so she gripped the stakes stabbed into his hands and legs and shook them.
“Ow, oooooww! No, c-come on, give me a break!”
She felt satisfied as Rider finally showed an anguished face. It was an expression that she hadn’t been able to see no matter what she did to him on top of the bed.
—This alone is wonderful, and yet…
Celenike thought so from the bottom of her heart. It was truly regrettable that Servants didn’t possess a physical body made of flesh.
“If you had held back at my side like a Servant should, you wouldn’t be in this kind of position.”
“Ah, if I start doing that from now on, will you take these things out?”
Celenike, as expected, shook her head at that proposal. At the very least, Lancer of Black would not allow it. She had no intention of getting dragged into it.
“—These will only be taken out when you fight. It’s been decided that you will be completely treated as a pawn in this Great Holy Grail War.”
Celenike gave a cruel smile and put her mouth to his ear as she spoke.
“If you’re going to blame someone, blame that homunculus.”
Watching Celenike leave after saying that, Rider tilted his head with an idle expression.
Celenike considered Servants as being the same as normal humans too much. After all, Rider couldn’t understand at all her words about hating the homunculus. He understood it even less than the reason for why Lancer of Black had driven stakes into his limbs and the abuse he had received from his Master.
Crossing paths with Celenike as she left, Archer of Black—Chiron—also came to visit Rider in the dungeon. He hadn’t said a single word when Rider had been brought before all the other Servants and Masters.
“—If I had at least intervened, it wouldn’t have come to this.”
This was true. Lancer highly valued Archer’s strategic experience, and he was widely trusted due to his honest and upright character. If he had spoken out and stood up for Rider, there was a high chance that the matter would have been settled with just a rebuke.
But Rider immediately had stopped him from doing so with a brief glance at the start.
“No, no. There’s no reason to split apart our camp due to a trivial thing like this. In this incident, I was scolded and received punishment. If that’s enough to end the matter, I don’t mind it at all.”
Rider understood why he was being punished. Regardless of whether what he did was right or not, it didn’t change the fact that Saber had died in the end. So the king, Lancer, thought it was necessary for someone to be punished. And since Saber was gone, Rider was the only one who could be punished now.
Even if it was unreasonable and he knew that his actions hadn’t been wrong, Rider did not refuse the punishment. He had decided that upon finally reaching here.
—In the first place, this wasn’t his first time being locked up and imprisoned. He had a similar experience when he was trapped in the form of a tree by a certain witch.
The only thing that Rider worried about was that, if it came to light that Archer had also been involved with freeing the homunculus, Lancer might alienate Archer.
It would be troubling if their king and their strategist quarreled while they fought in the war from now on. If the issue was resolved with punishing a single reckless knight, the war front wouldn’t collapse completely.
“It’s fine this way. And in the first place, losing Saber doesn’t mean that we’ve lost yet. Right?”
Rider grinned fearlessly.
“—Yes, that’s right.”
It was true that they had lost Saber. But, as long as Archer could devise a strategy, it didn’t mean that their side’s advantage had been completely undermined. If they threw Berserker of Red, Spartacus, onto the battlefield, it would certainly deal enormous damage to the enemy. It may have been completely by chance, but the strategy of capturing him had been the very best plan in that situation. If they had tried to destroy him without proper handling, they might have sustained far more large-scale damage.
However, it was certain that great care would have to be taken in handling Berserker of Red.
“…Even so, I never thought Saber would do such a thing.”
“Yeah, me too. Yeah, maybe I should have talked to him more. I regret not doing so now.”
“That would have been difficult since his Master Gordes forbade him from talking.”
Saber’s greatest misfortune was probably having that guy of all the magi among the Yggdmillennia as his Master. It was extremely unlucky for that rare hero to serve under such a coward… err, cautious Master, thought Rider with a sigh.
“In any case, did he make it out safe and sound?”
“Yeah. Maybe it’s due to taking in Saber’s heart? His height and features became quite splendid and heroic too. If he’s like that, he’ll be fine. By my diagnosis, he’ll live for a hundred years.”
“Hoh,” said Archer as he showed a rare display of surprise.
“I heard that Saber… Siegfried gained a steel body due to being bathed in the blood of a dragon, and that the blood circulated through his body due to swallowing it. The heart is an internal organ that sends blood through the body, so the blood of a dragon might have been mixed in with it as a result.”
“It must be nice, being a dragon slayer. I also want the title of dragon slayer!”
“—At any rate. If it’s him, he should be able to make a compromise with the world and live successfully.”
Archer and Rider felt no unease in that regard. Among the many homunculi within this fortress, he was the only one that had boldly shown his own desire to ‘live’.
No matter what difficult circumstances he came to face, he’d probably live bravely.
“Even so. Why did you go that far to help him, Archer?”
“We are, after all, transient ghosts without flesh. It would be nice if—there was even a single being that we etched into this world, don’t you think?”
There was only gentleness in Archer’s voice.
“I think that you should have been the one to become our king.”
Rider whispered something so dangerous that Lancer would have had to kill him if he heard it. Archer shook his head with a bitter smile.
“I’m not good at bearing the full brunt of responsibility.”
Rider sighed at those words and lamented, “This isn’t going to go well.”