'Saoirse!' Talwen called out from her place at the watchtower. Saoirse blinked, and looked up. Her friend was waving from the top of the tower. In a few minutes, the waving hand disappeared and she could see Talwen running down the stone cold steps. Saoirse grinned, and gave the cuffs that bound her to Tadhg a soft pull, enough for him to understand she wanted to dismount.
Getting down from his horse, Tadhg came over and helped Saoirse dismount from Amergin. He was suddenly pulled out of his skin [metaphorically, not literally] when Talwen came rushing over and gave her friend a hug as though they'd haven't seen each other for years.
'Saoirse!' Talwen yelled in her friend's ear. Saoirse winced. Tadhg, meanwhile, looked faintly amused. 'Won't you introduce me, Saoirse?'
'Right,' Saoirse nodded. Talwen looked at Tadhg with a half-wary, half-amusing look on her face. 'This is Tadhg, one of my father's new knights.'
'Pleasure,' Talwen held out her hand. Tadhg planted a polite kiss on it. 'Likewise, Miss...?'
'Talwen,' she replied. 'Daughter of Gawain and Panama.'
'Ah,' Tadhg looked mildly surprised. 'It's an honor to serve with your father, Miss Talwen.'
Saoirse opened her mouth before either of them could say anything else. 'Shall we go, Tadhg?' she gave the chain a vicious tug, calling Talwen's attention to it. She looked up with bemusement in her eyes. 'What's with the chain?'
Tadhg and Saoirse exchanged looks. 'My father's stupid idea,' Saoirse rolled her eyes. 'He wants Tadhg to tame me.'
Talwen nodded in understanding. 'So now, the question is, will you let him tame you?'
Silence. Then another voice rang out. 'Talwen!'
Talwen's eyes lit up. 'Father!' she cried as the rest of the knights galloped towards the trio. Saoirse scowled darkly, and looked at Tadhg. 'If you don't mind I'd really like to avoid Arthur.' Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed the reins to her horse and led the way to the stables. Tadhg followed suit, leaving Talwen by the gates to greet the knights.
In the stables, Saoirse was having a problem to groom Amergin. Everytime she tried to jerk her hand to make her job more comfortable, she would be jerked back by Tadhg's hand, who was surprisingly strong, almost pulling her off her feet a couple of times. In the end, she went and confronted him directly. 'Do you mind?'
Tadhg looked up and shook his head. 'No.' He continued grooming. Saoirse bit her lip. 'Hey,' she cried out. 'I'm asking you something.' She strode over to him and glared at him. He looked at her again. 'What?' he said calmly, replacing the brush and curry comb.
Acting the part of spoilt brat again, Saoirse scowled. 'I need to groom my horse.'
She rolled her eyes. 'And I can't do that if you keep pulling me.' Waited for his answer. Waited for him to yell at her.
'Come on,' he took her hand and dragged her over to Amergin, picking up the brush and curry comb. Placing the two items in her hand, Tadhg stepped back. 'Go ahead and groom your horse.'
Wary, Saoirse took the brush and curry comb, alternating between the two to clean Amergin. Her rhythm started to falter when she realized that Tadhg was still watching her. 'What?' she asked.
'Nothing,' he shook his head. 'It's just...you're doing it all wrong. Brush your horse vigorously. They like that.'
'I did,' she snapped in exasperation. 'I just can't when you're watching me. You're incredibly annoying.'
'So are you.' He laughed. 'Come, this way.' Standing behind her, he grabbed her hand and guided her through the grooming process. With him so near her, Saoirse felt strangely comfortable, even more so than when she was with Aodhfin. Biting her lip, she turned around...and found herself merely inches apart from Tadhg. He looked down. 'Yes?'
'I'm sorry.' She said it quickly, not wanting to prolong her embarassment. He nodded. 'What about?'
Saoirse took a huge breath. 'I don't know. My attitude, maybe? I...I had no right to lash out at you like I did. I'm sorry.'
'Sorry enough to apologize twice?'
Saoirse caught herself, before noticing the twinkling in Tadhg's eyes. 'That was mean and unnecessary,' she growled, unable to stop herself ffrom grinning. Heavens above, what had he done to her?
'Yes,' he replied. 'But you liked it.'
'Oh, very funny! I suppose you--'
'Suppose what?' Arthur called out. Both of them blinked as they turned towards him. Behind Arthur, Bors and the other knights entered the stables also, Talwen bringing up the rear with her father Gawain. 'Suppose what?' Arthur repeated again. At that moment only did Tadhg and Saoirse realized how close they really were. Pouting ever so slightly, Saoirse moved out towards Gawain. 'Sir, who were the Romans?'
Gawain exchanged looks with his superior; it probably looks a bit unfair that Gawain's relationship to Saoirse was much smoother than Arthur's with his daughter. Shaking his head, Arthur nodded. Gawain started talking. 'The Romans are part of a patrol escorting a Roman commander called Flavian Marcius, who's basically the equivalent of Arthur Castus, former Roman officer,' here, Gawain sniggered, 'back to Rome. Marcius is the godson of the Bishop Larcius, cousin of Bishop Germanius. That's why he's getting royal treatment.'
Ganis nodded. 'And that's also the part of the reason why they're requesting to stay here, at Hadrian's Wall.'
Talwen caught the uncertainty. 'Part of?'
'Yes,' Pembroke, one of the new knights, spoke up. 'Apparently they were--' he sniggered, '--attacked by Woads on the way.' He failed to notice Saoirse's raised eyebrows and continued. 'Anyway, their supplies were gone, and a couple of their horses were stolen in the middle of the night. They blamed everything on the Woads. Probably lost their stuff themselves and too proud to admit it.'
'Aye,' Orionus piped up. 'That's why their commander's requesting a week or so at Hadrian's Wall to stock up their supplies and all.'
Saoirse turned to her father. 'And you said yes?'
Arthur shrugged helplessly. 'Saoirse, what could I say?'
'You could've said no!'
'The Romans were civil to us once. I was once a Roman myself. We should do the same.'
'Civil?' a look of disbelief crossed his daughter's face. 'They insulted my mother's people. They insulted my people. If you grant their request,' her eyes grew cold. 'I will not enter Hadrian's Wall until they leave. Bors.'
'Where's the key for the lock?" Saoirse turned to him. 'Since I'm leaving, I don't want to Tadhg to be deprived of his stay at the tavern.' Exchanging looks with Arthur, Bors held out the key. Saoirse took it and unlocked the metal cuffs, leaving them dangling on Tadhg's wrist.
'Saoirse,' Tadhg said gently. 'Let it go,' this time in Gaelic. He took her arm. 'Your father's trying to do the right thing here. Don't give up on him.' Ignoring his words, she pulled away and immediately saddled her horse. 'Saoirse! Don't walk out on me!'
At this point she crumpled mentally. Burying her face in Amergin's mane so that the knights, especially Arthur, wouldn't see her sobbing, she spoke up quietly. 'What do you want me to do, Tadhg?'
He spoke again in Gaelic. 'I want you to calm down and think. These Romans insulted your people, yes, but until they aim it directly at you, it's a waste of time trying to best them. Instead, wait for them to make the first move. It's just like swordplay. Wait for them to start playing before you join in. Have faith in your father, Saoirse. He knows what he's doing.'
Saoirse nodded. Brushing her arm across her eyes quickly to wipe away her tears, she stood up straight, looking more regal and calmer than Arthur had ever seen her. 'When are they coming?'
'Before the sun sets tomorrow,' he answered. Saoirse nodded. 'Call me when they come.' Stepping forward, she grabbed the metal cuff and replaced it on her wrist. Turning to her father, she finally betrayed a hint of loneliness and love. 'It's good to have you back,' she said quietly, burying her head against him in an affectionate hug.