After returning to the manor, Kay showered Shirou with attention, leaving him completely bewildered and confused. He couldn't help but wonder if Kay swung that way, and the thought sent chills down his spine.
Feeling uncomfortable, Shirou quickly distanced himself from Kay, which only added to Kay's confusion. He began to question whether he was not recruiting Shirou correctly.
Had he misunderstood his father's advice that the best way to recruit someone was to please them, develop a relationship, and then formally propose recruitment when the relationship was strong enough?
As the son of the manor owner, Kay was a bit hesitant to undertake this recruitment work. Despite Shirou's growing discomfort, Kay remained determined to convince him to join their journey for the sake of his foster sister. However, no matter how hard Kay tried, Shirou only seemed to distance himself further, and Kay found himself unable to approach him.
That night, the moon shone brightly in the sky, and the stars twinkled like diamonds. In ancient times, there were no forms of entertainment, making life even more dull than in 1994 Japan.
Feeling drained from the day's events, Shirou retired to bed early, hoping to get some rest.
Artoria was a woman of her word and would follow through on her promise. Therefore, she decided to tell Merlin about Shirou's situation. However, whether or not Merlin would enter Shirou's dream to meet with him was up to him.
Merlin was renowned as one of the greatest magi of his era and was among the most famous in all of human history. As a candidate for the Caster class, he possessed the highest-ranked Clairvoyance, a necessary condition for becoming the most powerful magus.
Only three individuals were known to possess Clairvoyance of the highest rank: King Solomon, Gilgamesh, and Merlin. While King Solomon's Clairvoyance allowed him to see through both the past and future, and Gilgamesh's Clairvoyance could only see the future, Merlin's Clairvoyance was relatively limited as it only enabled him to observe everything in the present.
In other words, Merlin's Clairvoyance was useful solely in the present.
Although Merlin's Clairvoyance was relatively less useful than that of King Solomon and Gilgamesh, it was still the highest-ranked Clairvoyance. Additionally, Merlin was renowned for his mysterious magecraft, which might hold some clues to help Shirou return home.
Shirou closed his eyes, and before he knew it, he had fallen into a deep sleep. In a dazed state, he felt as though he had entered another world, much like when he had entered Scathach's dream world during the Fourth Holy Grail War.
When he opened his eyes, Shirou found himself surrounded by a sea of flowers. "Has Merlin brought me to his dream world?" he whispered to himself as he surveyed his environment.
As he gazed upon the sea of flowers, a man's voice began lecturing on the qualities of a king "Honesty, kindness, and humility are the hallmarks of a true king," the voice declared. "But a ruler must also learn to make difficult choices, prioritizing the welfare of their country over the interests of individuals. To secure victory, a king must be willing to make sacrifices, even if it means giving up small gains for greater ones. All actions must be taken with the goal of achieving victory..."
Occasionally, Shirou could hear a girl responding to the man's words.
He walked slowly toward the source of the voice, following the path lined with white flowers that gave it a romantic look. On the other side of the flower path, a sea of flowers extended as far as the eye could see. As Shirou approached, he saw a white-haired magus holding a staff and giving instructions to Artoria. It was Merlin, the half-human and half-succubus magus of flowers.
"Kingship... oh? Have you been drawn into the dream world already?" Merlin paused, then turned slightly to glance at Shirou. He seemed momentarily taken aback, but quickly regained his composure and chuckled. "How interesting. You're a 'vessel.'"
"Guinevere," Artoria greeted Shirou.
Shirou nodded in acknowledgement before turning back to Merlin. "Merlin, did you just say 'vessel'?"
Merlin shook his head. "No, I don't believe I did. Perhaps you misheard me."
He chuckled. "My hearing isn't that bad yet."
"Look into my eyes," Merlin pointed to his eyes.
Shirou approached and took a closer look, realizing that Merlin's eyes were truly beautiful. No wonder so many legends and romantic stories were associated with him. But what did he mean by telling Shirou to look into his eyes?
"Are you saying that I'm having a hallucination?" Shirou asked.
"You're thinking too much. I'm just telling you that I'm lying to you," Merlin replied.
Merlin's response caught Shirou off-guard, and he fell silent for a moment, unsure of how to react. Then, with a note of seriousness in his voice, he posed a question. "Merlin, has anyone ever told you that you deserve a good beating?"
Merlin's grin only widened at the question. "Of course, many people have said as much over the years. But so far, no one has been able to catch me."
"Okay, if you don't want to tell me, that's fine. Actually, I came to ask you something,"
"I think I know why you came to me," Merlin said knowingly. "There are only two ways for you to go back."
Shirou's heart leaped with joy, realizing that the flower magus was indeed knowledgeable. He eagerly asked, "What are these two ways?"
"The first method to return requires you to stay alive until the appropriate time, which is likely to be around 1500 years from now," Merlin explained, raising a finger to emphasize his point.
Shirou's expression turned distressed. "That's a long time. What's the second way?"
Merlin didn't answer directly but took out a short knife from his pocket and handed it to him, who looked at it with confusion.
"What does this mean?"
"Suicide, of course," Merlin responded bluntly, "After you commit suicide, see if you have the luck to be reborn at the time you want to go back."
As Shirou gazed at Merlin's serious expression, he couldn't help but feel the corners of his mouth twitching, "Merlin, have you ever had someone chase you with a knife before?"
Merlin pulled out a sword from his pocket with a serious expression and responded, "Yes, which is precisely why I've become a master swordsman!"
"If you wish to leave, the exit is right over there," Merlin gestured towards a nearby exit. "As for me, I must continue teaching Artoria about the art of kingship."
"Nevermind, I think I'll stay here for a bit longer," Shirou sighed and settled down.
"Suit yourself," Merlin replied, swiveling his head back towards Artoria, resuming his teachings.
Artoria's blue eyes shifted briefly towards Shirou before settling back on Merlin, fully engrossed in her lessons on the "ideal" methods of rulership.
Shirou lingered in the flower garden, observing the duo, while his mind raced with doubts about Merlin's honesty.
Although it was apparent that Merlin possessed exceptional abilities, his character was questionable at best.
It was entirely possible that he knew the solution to his predicament but was unwilling to disclose it.
And so, the question lingered in Shirou's mind - Where was the way home, exactly?
Shirou looked confused, and the flames that once burned brightly in his eyes flickered a few times.
"Honesty, kindness, humility... these are the traits of a king..." he heard Artoria reciting as if from a book, momentarily dispelling his confusion.
He observed Merlin's method of teaching Artoria, closely analyzing their interaction. Observing this dynamic between teacher and student...
To be frank, it was somewhat comical.
As Merlin made a statement, Artoria would repeat it verbatim. The repetition reminded Shirou of rote memorization, a type of education that he found more frightening than helpful. If this was the method employed to educate a king, what kind of ruler would it produce? A rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible one?
Unable to contain himself, Shirou let out a chuckle.
"What's so amusing, Guinevere?" Artoria asked.
"Nothing, nothing," Shirou responded. "It just seems like you two are wasting your time."
"Oh? Is there something wrong with what I'm teaching?" Merlin questioned.
He was somewhat intrigued by Shirou since he could observe Shirou, but couldn't see through him.
In other words, Shirou was a toy with an unknown gameplay, which piqued Merlin's curiosity. Otherwise, he wouldn't have agreed to Artoria and brought Shirou into the dream. However, the designated date was drawing near, and he needed to instruct Artoria earnestly to prepare her for the throne, as was agreed upon with Uther.
So when Merlin heard Shirou apparently belittling the kingship he was imparting, he felt somewhat intrigued, somewhat curious, and somewhat aggrieved. He was teaching Artoria with sincerity, not his former frivolity. It was akin to a sculptor who was painstakingly chiseling a masterpiece but was ridiculed for a mistake in technique.
Merlin halted his teachings, and Artoria gazed at him and Shirou with interest.
Shirou smiled and responded, "I have never been a king or led anyone, so I don't have the qualifications to criticize your teachings, nor do I have the right to say that they're wrong. However, I do believe that learning without thinking is pointless, and thinking without learning is dangerous. To reach the highest good, knowledge and action must be integrated. True knowledge means putting theory into practice, and knowledge without action is hardly knowledge at all. Your dogmatic teaching that doesn't lead to action, what is it if not a waste of time?"
Merlin was caught off guard and asked, "Is this the teaching method in your era?"
Shirou nodded slightly, "Sort of."
"That seems rather misguided, don't you think?" Merlin retorted. "The more knowledge one acquires, the more confident one becomes in resolving issues and finding effective solutions. The method of selecting a king is based on boundless wisdom. This is the wisdom of Solomon and the archetype of an ideal monarch."
"Knowledge is a product of humanity," Shirou countered, "but if we treat knowledge as unchanging and absolute, how can we address novel situations our predecessors never faced? Knowledge is static, while the world and people are dynamic and constantly evolving. As a result, knowledge must adapt and evolve to accommodate changing circumstances. Attempting to govern a vibrant and evolving reality with unchanging and lifeless concepts is dogmatic. And that's the real issue, isn't it?"
Merlin asked with keen interest, "In that case, how does your world define the notion of an 'ideal king'?"
"We don't have a fixed definition of an 'ideal king' in our world, but we do place great importance on the integration of knowledge and action, as well as the pursuit of deeper understanding," Shirou responded.
"Knowledge and action must be integrated, and we should strive to comprehend things more deeply?" Merlin repeated with a frown. He had already used Clairvoyance to survey the world, but he had found no indication of this perspective.
Naturally, this notion was not born in this epoch but was an innovative concept from the future.
Artoria glanced at Merlin and then at Shirou, her expression perplexed.
She had always regarded Merlin as a wise man and an expert in the ways of kingship. However, now someone had appeared who was challenging Merlin's teachings with his own wisdom. What's more, it seemed like Merlin was being bested by this person.
Most surprisingly, the individual who had employed his wisdom to outshine Merlin was the same person she had met a year ago. This was particularly noteworthy because that person had rarely spoken and wasn't particularly articulate.
Artoria was left feeling confused by what she had witnessed.
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