Episode 11: The Holy Grail Discussion – or as I call it, A Clash of Kingship.
Saber overlooks the walls of Einzbern mansion, while Iri looks around. The Castle’s in pretty rough shape from the Kiritsugu-Kayneth fight, and I must say it again, Kayneth was not a weak mage. He got pwnt pretty badly in the end, but aside from the glaring weakness of disregarding any weapon of muggle make, guy was doing pretty well.
Saber and Iri believe that Rider’s here to attack them, taking advantage of Kiritsugu’s absence. They show up to confront him, but it turns out Rider’s only here to chitchat, critique Saber’s fashion sense, and drink booze.
Such a bro, that guy. Understands one of the rules of hospitality – you crash a guy’s house, you bring booze.
Cut to the King of Conquerors and the King of Knights sitting in the courtyard, drinking out of wooden spoons. Saber demonstrates that yes, Britons can hold their liquor. Rider cuts to the chase – since they say the Grail is supposed to go to whoever deserves it most, then before fighting, they should always try the diplomatic solution and see if they can decide who has a more noble motive for wanting the Grail. He went to Saber first because she too is a king, and thus as a measure of respect she deserves to be the first to be invited.
What a gentleman, that guy.
Suddenly, Gilgamesh crashes the party! Turns out Rider saw him wandering around town all alone by himself and invited him too. Iri and Waver are totes scared (as they should be), but Rider offers him a drink of wine. As it turns out, Gil respects hospitality, although the wine fails to impress.
I could have the Jewish carpenter who did my flooring turn this to water and it would improve the taste
Apparently the best of Fukuyi’s supermarket shelf isn’t quite up to par, so he opens the Gate of Babylon…and materializes a jug of wine and some goblets out of the air.
…hold on, he can summon booze on demand? OMG I WANT HIS POWERSET.
“Be it wine or swords, only the best is in my treasury,” he says. You know, I’m still not quite sold on the idea that because you were the inspiration, that gives you claim to literally everything to exist, but for now let’s go with that.
Now that the three kings are gathered, Rider announces the beginning of the discussion – why does everyone want the grail?
Answer me these questions three…
What is your name?
Gilgamesh, King of Heroes.
What is your quest?
To obtain the Holy Grail.
To what end?
I am the alpha, the beginning, the inspiration of everything. Every treasure in the world is traceable to my collection. It’s rightfully mine, thus I want it.
Rider immediately begins attacking his argument. “Have you ever held it?” he asks. There you go, Rider! Use that logic Aristotle taught ya!
Gil says no. But his King’s Treasury has long since grown far beyond the point where he can know the exact inventory of what is in it. It’s enough that at least one of the goblets in his collection inspired the Holy Grail, therefore it is his. Besides, copper-counting is what slaves are for.
Saber interjects here, saying his words make about as much sense as Caster’s. How can you own something you never even knew existed?
Stop drop and roll Gil because you just got burned!
Rider laughs and says that he has a pretty good inkling of who Gilgamesh is (as at this point all anyone knows is that Gil is just some shiny guy who got summoned as an Archer class). In addition, he also concludes that Gil doesn’t really have a wish he wants granted. Gil agrees with this – he’s only interested in the Grail because he doesn’t want others to have it. If you take it, he’ll punish you.
Saber demonstrates the advances in argumentation that a few centuries have made by attacking Rider’s basic premise, that he admits that there is such a thing as the “rightful owner”/”most deserving” of the Grail, yet he sees no problems with taking it by force. Thus she must doubt his motives.
Answer me these questions three
What is your name?
Iskander, King of Conquerors.
What is your quest?
I seek the Grail.
To what end?
Waver is all like “lolwut” but is silenced by a MAN-FLICK. Rider continues to explain – Servants will disappear after the Grail War ends. He wants to be human again, to once more feel the rush of conquest and battle, to conquer the world as he once did. As someone who spent her life defending her kingdom from foreign aggression, Saber disagrees strongly – kings shouldn’t roll like that. Rider responds to her argument by turning it around – what’s your goal then, King of Knights?
I am Arturia, King of the Britons. I seek the Holy Grail, such that I may bring peace to my home and change Britain’s path of destruction caused by my becoming king.
Gil merely laughs at Saber’s wish. Rider becomes displeased at this – Greeks, after all, know that challenging fate never works. In addition, he’s offended at the idea that she’d try to erase the history that she herself made. Saber counters by saying that a king should sacrifice themselves for their kingdom, and whether it’s her life or her legacy, if it leads to peace for her people, then she’ll make it.
I’ve already given my life for you. What more can I give?
Aside: So, according to wiki, most Servants that get summoned are actually a copy of themselves. When you become a Heroic Spirit, the essence of your being – that is, a conglomerate of your real life self plus the legends people tell about you – gets placed in a dimension called the Throne of Heroes. When you are summoned for a Grail War, a copy of you is created and put in one of seven vessels which are the Servant classes. Arturia, however is unique in that a major part of her myth is the search for the Grail, and thus until she finds it, she can’t die. Thus, she’s actually the real deal, and she is literally sacrificing her entire existence if it means the long-extinct kingdom she used to rule would enjoy a different fate.
Rider disagrees. Kings shouldn’t sacrifice anything! The whole point of being king is that people give you their stuff! Kings don’t give, they receive!
Saber retorts, saying that that’s not a king, but a tyrant. Before she continues, however, Rider replies that yes, duh, they were all tyrants to some extent, and that’s why they are considered heroes. If Saber regretted her reign, then she must have been a shitty king.
Both of them have decent points here. It is admirable to sacrifice for the benefit of others. That is why every single culture has legends about heroes who did that. But at the same time, the important thing (which is what Rider is getting at) is benefiting others, not sacrifice. In addition, while Rider’s argument marks him as a product of his time, when absolute rule by monarch and legitimacy via force of arms was an acceptable way to do things, it is also applicable to the world of today – namely, the need for strongmen.
Ideally, we’d all be functioning democracies comprised of relatively well-informed and tolerant people who vote on what we want to do. But realistically, while you have some countries like America that have had 200+ years to learn to live with each other, and other countries like Germany that have had centuries of unification to forge a national identity, a lot of countries aren’t like that. And even in the functional democracies of today, the nation itself is rich enough that there’s not really a scrabble for resources to survive. In many other countries, such a situation is not feasible. In a country like China, for example, which has historically always been comprised of poor subsistence farmers ruled over by local lords doing whatever they liked as soon as the central government’s back was turned, or a country like Iraq, which has its borders artificially drawn to include three groups of people who don’t like each other, you need a strongman to keep the entire country running and prevent it from descending into destructive factionalism. The Founding Fathers of America may have overstated slightly factionalism’s dangers – political parties are but a natural outgrowth of the right to assembly, and the two-party system that the US currently has is but its logical conclusion – but dangers do exist. In such a case, you need a person or a party who, if he/she/they are not universally liked, then they can at least be universally feared, at least enough to force the trains to run on time (yes, yes, I know he didn’t really do that, but the principle still stands). China has corruption problems, yes. But enough corrupt officials do get executed and enough corrupt people do get punished to prevent the sort of fragmentation and clique-building that destroyed the Nationalist government prior as well as prevent a total loss of faith in the system as a whole. The Chinese government is commonly known for seizing land (as “private ownership of land” is not a part of communism, technically the gov’t can do as it likes), sometimes merely for developing expensive condos, yes. But it also means that infrastructure projects and power plants can be built where they are needed instead of having to cater to the NIMBYists. And dissidents who criticize the government’s policies are jailed, yes. But it also means that in cases where something has a net benefit for the country on the whole while leaving segments of the population worse off than they were before – such as increased free trade and changes in the price of labor resulting in China outsourcing its own unskilled labor to nearby countries like Vietnam and Burma, benefiting China because it now has cheaper goods and benefiting those countries because they have influx of Chinese cash – there’s no one to agitate and put the kibosh on that. You contrast the consistent growth of an authoritarian country like China to the political gridlock of a democratic country like India (based on conversations with actual Indian people, so many parties means pork barreling and corruption up the wazoo) or a place like Taiwan (which according to Taiwanese friends somehow keeps running despite a very useless government), it’s clear which government has more political efficacy.
Of course, there are problems with this, and Saber follows up by pointing out the problem with rule-by-strongman – once Iskander died, his empire fragmented. Having your will and testament go to “the strongest” also doesn’t help since it means your underofficers are just going to fight it out to determine who the strongest is. And her point also has a real-life analog to it. Look at what’s happening in Egypt after they got rid of Mubarak. Or Libya after they got rid of Ghadafi. Or Iraq after we got rid of Saddam. Whereas before you had a dictator at least holding things together because they feared his retribution more than they wanted anything else, this peace through fear situation means that none of their subjects ever learned how to live in civility with each other, and now that the strongman is gone, they now have no one holding them back. As the Good Book says, while it is better to be feared than loved, that only applies if the two are mutually exclusive. If you can be both loved by your friends and feared by your enemies, that’s the best thing to be. And maybe fear can get your kingdom started, but if you don’t transition to love, then your kingdom will inevitably collapse once they no longer fear.
Rider, however, considers it irrelevant. OK, so the diadochi fought internecine wars between themselves, disintegrating the greatest empire of the Western world. So he’ll mourn for the loss of his empire, but he would never try to change history so it never happened – that would be an insult to everyone who’s fought and bled for him over the years.
Saber changes tack, arguing that we need rule of law, not rule by strongmen. And initially, I read that as her just being naive, but looking back she has a good point here too, since if we do law of man instead of law of jungle, there’s much less of a need for people to fight and bleed for you in the first place. Rider dismisses this as her being a mere slave to her ideals, unable to even live for herself. Saber retorts that she is a warrior servant of her people, whereas Rider is just a selfish greedy robber baron.
Rider then delivers a verbal smackdown to that notion. He argues that if you don’t want things, if you lack drive or ambition, then you’re not worthy of kingship! He doesn’t doubt Saber’s nobility, per se. But who the hell wants to live like that? Her criticism of his idea of kingship is flawed because it attacks a strawman, that because you are king you deserve better and can lord your status over everyone else. Rather, it’s that if you are king, then you should strive to be better than everyone else, such that all your subjects want to be you.
Being king means you lead by being that guy everyone wants to emulate, not being that guy who lives by an impossibly immaculate standard. Maybe Saber’s ideals saved its kingdom once. But then what? She made herself so perfect that everyone thought she was out of touch. Rider’s method former galvanizes his followers into action. Saber’s method makes her followers call her a sanctimonious bitch behind her back.
The words hit home, emphasized by a convenient cloud that covers the moon and causes a shadow to move across Saber’s face as tears well up in her eyes.
Isn’t it sad, Saber?
Rider continues the smackdown. Sure, Saber, you saved your people, but never led them. You won the war, but you lost the peace. You had a vision, an idea, and you wanted your ideals, but didn’t give a shit about whether they were implementable.
Everyone’s dead, Art.
So, back in 2008, Beijing was selected to host the Summer Olympics. As a Chinese myself, I found this a very joyous moment where what was formerly the largest third-world country picked it up by the bootstraps and joined the modern world. So I go online when it was about to start, and to my surprise there were people who didn’t like that. They said that because China didn’t have enough human rights, because the people in China didn’t have enough freedoms, because the government sent an army to quash a riot in 1989, because China was a country that just so happened to have parts of it be inhabited by ethnic minorities with secessionist movements, because this because that, it did not deserve to host the Olympics and we should boycott them.
This is when I learned the word “slacktivist”.
They get taken in by an ideal, whether it’s “human rights” or “self-determination” or “stop persecution”. And they’re good ideals. And then they’re lazy and don’t think about what it is they’re doing to try to achieve that. They don’t think that, say, the rest of the world perhaps needs to meet China halfway – from China’s POV, the supposed free and civilized democracies of the Western world have carved up its lands and ignored its sovereignty for over a century just because they were stronger militarily. Why should they trust the intentions of any Westerner who has ideas on proper Chinese governance? They don’t think that, say, hosting the Olympics brings closure and catharsis to a people who have been treated as second-class citizens in their own lands and are the perpetual foreign “other” when they do immigrate to other countries, or that it’s a very good thing for these people that such a thing is happening, only that it’s bad that the baby-murdering Communist Party of China gets the credit. They don’t think that, say, this evil government of China could use their call for boycott as propaganda to say to their people, “see? The imperialist ambitions of the West does not die, they still wish to keep us down, only they dress their true purpose up in gilded words. Good thing your leaders in the CPC work tirelessly to improve your condition”, only that a group with “human rights” in its name is calling for a boycott, so it must be good, right?
In other words, they may have a good ideal (or maybe not, as in the case of those Falun Gong jokers whose idea of fair retribution for their religion being banned seems to be to call for the overthrow of the Chinese government, blind to the chaos that would bring as explained by the previously mentioned strongman analysis). They’re just fools who can’t see that their methods only take them farther from achieving their goals.
As the good Bella said, “What do I want? What do I have? How may I use the latter to obtain the former?”
And this is a common problem across all parts of the political spectrum, that people get caught up in ideals whether it’s “traditional family values” or “universal healthcare” or whatever that they don’t stop and think to themselves the full effects. Socialism sure *sounds* nice, where everyone works as hard as they can and gets what they need, until the part where people stop working as hard because their payout is not tied to their performance. Not having a military draft *sounds* nice, until the part where it means your military is increasingly and disproportionately made up of people who were unable to get private-sector jobs and can’t be fired and your military is no longer representative of the population from which it is drawn, and your individual soldiers are only incentivized for lasting until the tour of duty ends as opposed to when the war is won. Taxing the rich more because they can pay more *sounds* nice, until the part where they just leave the country so they don’t have to pay the taxes.
It is said that the Arthur C. Clarke short story “Superiority” is required reading at MIT, with the purpose of teaching students the perils of overengineering solutions and not thinking through the consequences. It would be good if all activists were to read the same.
Anyway, Assassin appears to cut me off before this gets hijacked by politics.
Assassins, sir! Zillions of them!
Waver is surprised at their numbers. Gil is not impressed. Well, he also doesn’t care, what with the deadly alliance and all. As they surround the gathering, they begin chanting ominously. We are the many who are one, one who are many…OMG ASSASSIN IS ANONYMOUS
Nothing is true. Everything is permitted. We do not forgive. We do not forget. Expect us.
Rider, however, is unperturbed. He even gets up to offer hospitality (YAY ANCIENT GREECE), inviting them to join. “This wine is as your blood,” he says. “Drink and let us be joined by blood”. Also it means he can lay down the pain if they break it….and they just did.
May Zeus have mercy on you soul, for I sure as hell won’t.
Rider asks Saber one last question as he is preparing to get dangerous – “are we kings to stand in solitude?” Saber replies of course, the life of a king is a lonely one. Rider yells at her, saying NO! YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND! A TRUE KING LEADS, THUS HE HAS FOLLOWERS!
What time is it? Noble Phantasm Time!
Suddenly, everyone is in a desert. Iri notes that somehow Rider’s summoned up a Reality Marble.
Explanation: a Reality Marble is kind of like an extra dimension that usually only mages can summon, containing something important to themselves. In Fate/Stay Night, Archer’s basic power was the ability to summon/manifest copies of other Noble Phantasms. Unlike Gilgamesh, who has the real deal, Archer’s weapons all drop one rank in stats because they are only copies. His Noble Phantasm was a Reality Marble containing copies of literally every single weapon in existence, which he shoots at enemies, manifesting as an endless field of blades planted into the ground.
Here, Rider explains that this dimension is the desert his armies once marched across. Wait, is that HOPLITES I see? And some unique-looking guys…I guess those are the Diodochi? OMG RIDER’S NOBLE PHANTASM IS THE ENTIRE MACEDONIAN ARMY THIS IS GLORIOUS.
Seriously, even his horse is here. And it’s in correct colors too!
Kings are never alone, Rider tells Saber as he saddles up. If you are truly a worthy king, you have followers who share your dreams and will fight for it alongside you. This world doesn’t just exist in his heart, but in the hearts of everyone who campaigned with him! His Phantasm isn’t just the Marble, or the army, it’s his bond with them, the shared dream that pushed them forward, faster, farther, to boldly go where no army has gone before. And it is this bond that allowed him to summon his entire army back as Heroic Spirits, that allowed their souls to travel across the space-time continuum just to fight alongside him once more. Of course…in history, Alexander the Great stopped his invasion of India because his armies mutinied, not liking the prospect of fighting more prolonged wars against large armies as well as getting homesick and missing their families. But this version of events is so much cooler so we’ll go with that.
And the name of his Noble Phantasm?
OMG COMPANION CAVALRY FUCK YEAH YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW HAPPY THIS MAKES ME. I SERIOUSLY JUST HAD A HISTORGASM
So, explanation: The Hetairoi, also known as the Companion Cavalry and “Alexander’s Hammer”, was an elite unit of cavalry that the city-state of Macedon kept around. Ancient Greek warfare was characterized by massed phalanxes of spear and shield pushing against each other until one side broke. In such a situation, cavalry was not of much use beyond scouting and pulling chariots – cavalry going into melee simply results in the phalanx forming a square which eats horses like hungry Frenchmen, so no one really had much of a cavalry force. Alexander, however, changed that; he would have his phalanxes be armed with massive pikes that outreached his enemies’ spears, and while those kept the enemy phalanx occupied and their spears pointed in one direction, he would lead his companion cavalry and smash into their flank or rear. Thus the Companions won Alexander the Great many of his victories, and to this day his tactics are studied in military academies as textbook examples of combined arms warfare and hammer-and-anvil tactics.
Also, fun fact – Alexander was kind of an attention whore, so he’d always lead from the front. As the Hetairoi liked to charge in a wedge formation to facilitate breaking the enemy’s line, this also means he was in the position of most danger. Such a bro, that guy. Also, doing this helped facilitate unity among his army which was comprised of people many disparate nations and tribes, as whatever their differences, they can get behind this conqueror who’s in the shit just like them.
YO DAWG I HERD U LIKE SERVANTS SO I SUMMONED MY OWN SERVANTS SO WE CAN FIGHT GRAIL WARS WHILE WE FIGHT GRAIL WARS
Oh jeez, Assassin you are so fucked. All you have is DEX, but there is no cover for you to take advantage of that. Sure, you can dodge, but you’re not going to dodge a thousand javelins and arrows coming at you at once. You’re inside Iskander’s reality marble, so there’s nowhere for you to run. The hoplites have more Str and Con than you, and their armor reduces your damage even further. You can maybe try to critical hit, but it won’t matter since they’ll cut you down as soon as you land one. And you may be the flower of Persia’s fighting men…but we all know what happened the last time Persia fought Macedon. So Hoplites vs Assassins turns out to be pretty much a bloodbath. A beautiful beautiful bloodbath for which no prose is appropriate…only verse.
I AM THE BONE OF MY ARMY
BRONZE IS MY BODY, AND SAND MY BLOOD
I HAVE CONQUERED OVER A THOUSAND NATIONS
TO SATE MY HUNGER FOR EARTH, MY THIRST FOR WATER
SO AS I CONQUER
Man, he even leads at the front of the wedge just like he did in real life! Anyway, soon the last Assassin falls, and all is well.
Everywhere and PEOPLE DIE!
ZEUS BRONTIOS NIKEPHEROS!
HAROOH! HAROOH! HAROOH!
As the battle ends, so does the discussion. As Rider prepares to leave, Saber tries to ask for more wisdom – but Rider no longer acknowledges Saber as a king.
You know nothing, Arturia Pendragon.
Meanwhile, Gil is surprising supportive, telling Saber to ignore that numbskull and keep at her ideals. Hold on, he’s empathizing? Oh no, just schadenfreude at her situation and some interest in this clash of ideologies. And…he hits on her creepily as he leaves, saying that she just might be interesting enough for him.
Hey girl, I seem to have misplaced my scabbard, so I’m gonna put my sword in yours.
Saber is pensive, and we close with her confiding in Iri that once there was a knight who left the Round Table, saying King Arthur could never understand others’ feelings.
Wow. This was an episode comprised almost entirely of people sitting there and talking, and it was AWESOME. We got a crapton of characterization, a few vague call forwards to Fate/Stay Night, and neither side got reduced to strawmen. Also we got to see Rider smack the Tartarus out of Assassin. If they ever dub this series, I think they should totally get Gerard Butler to voice Rider.
The hundred Assassins of the Persian Empire await you. Our shadows will block out the sun.
Then we will fight in the shade.
So…Rider isn’t just a dumb meathead, anyone? His Noble Phantasm can pretty much kill Assassin right off the bat, but he tactically withdraws from fighting Assassin in the sewers because there’s only a couple of them and he doesn’t want Assassin’s Master to be able to figure out a countermeasure. But now that he knows most if not all of them are here, and that he can land a psychological victory against Saber while he’s at it, he makes what is possibly the first Servant kill of the series. Economy of force, Kiritsugu, you are not the only person who understands it.
I really do have to wonder what the hell was Kirei thinking, though. He had to have known from observing the first Servant battle that Rider and Archer are noble types and would probably at least ally with each other against Assassin, clash of kingship or no. Sure, Einzbern Mansion offers cover which is good for Assassin, but it’s also Saber’s home turf so she has defender’s advantage, plus cover is really one of those things that benefits both sides roughly equally. I guess he was he was banking on being able to take out the Masters before their Servants can defend, but didn’t expect to get dragged into a Reality Marble? Or maybe hoping Gil would back him up?
Oh, I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your cries of pain and dying over the sound of how douchey I am.
I’m interested to see how things develop from here though.
Until next ep.