Excerpt: Boudicca: Britain’s Queen of the Iceni
In this scene from chapter four, a prayerful Boudicca seeks wisdom from The Morrigan.
Two years of peace passed. For the time being, it seemed like the Roman governor was keeping his word. But with each passing week and month, Alys and Morgan grew more anxious as their dreams became filled with visions of the future.
Boudicca watched them, her heart aching for their pain. Finally, three days before mid-summer’s day, she and Linet drove her light chariot to a small shrine to the Morrígan in the thick ancient forest to the north of their village. All day and through most of the night, Boudicca and Linet sat in prayer and vigil, asking the goddess for guidance.
Finally, as dawn broke through the trees and birds woke from their sleep, Linet stood up and put her hand on Boudicca’s shoulder, “Your Highness, we must return.”
“We will not survive what is coming, my friend, though it seem victory will be in our grasp for a time. War is upon us; the Romans do not see the equality of women as our peoples do. This governor – Paullinus – does not even consider me queen of the Iceni – only my husband’s personal servant for his bedchamber. Should anything happen to him, they will come to claim what they feel belongs to them. The Iceni will become as my people are,” wept Boudicca.
“We do not have to let them take our people; we can fight. Already we are fighting them in the west. They would stamp out our faith – but we are not afraid. We fight them with all we have. The goddess is on our side, Your Highness, as is the morality of our cause: freedom and equality for all people! They think that those who lack certain kinds of strength are created and designed to be inferior. But we know better. We know we are all one – equals. Surely our goddesses and gods will fight for us in the great battle. Camulos, god of war, he shall be our champion!” proclaimed Linet with fire in her eyes.
“Camulos must hate the Romans for taking his city and claiming it as theirs. He must especially hate this temple to the dead emperor Claudius in his city. How can he fight for us while the temple still stands, while animals are killed and offered to this Claudius where once our people prayed to him?” asked Boudicca.
“All the more reason for him to support us and help us cleanse his city of Roman stench. We will re-dedicate it to him – when all of us are free.”
Just then a scream echoed in the forest. Drawing their swords, Linet and Boudicca charged towards the sound. By the time they reached the source all that could be seen was Prasutagus, his blood spilling into the ground – as if a year-king killed as an offering to the gods for his people. Prasutagus looked up, his eyes blurring, “Boudicca?”
Boudicca knelt, weeping, the blood from his chest wound soaking her dress, “I am here.”
“A Roman – scout – I – surprised him.” gasped Prasutagus, trying in vain to tell his wife what happened, knowing the moment he died rage would fill her – rage against Rome.
Boudicca kissed him tenderly, “My love, do not leave me!” Prasutagus kissed her repeatedly, his eyes fixed on hers until they saw no more. Feeling his spirit leave his body, Boudicca wept, as if her entire life suddenly passed with him – at least for this moment. Finally, she rose, helping Linet carry him to their chariot. With a gentle nudge of the reigns the horses turned for home and the sad work ahead.
Several days later, war trumpets heralded the arrival of a group of twenty soldiers and five centurions dispatched from the Roman capital of Camulodunum, the once great capital of the Iceni’s southern neighbor, the Trinovantes. This was a relatively small force for the Romans to send, a sign that the Roman governor expected little trouble enforcing Prasutagus’ will and claiming the Iceni for Rome. At the head of this group marched Centurion Marcus Vetus, the son of a legionary born among his mother’s Aedui tribe near the Seine River. As he approached the fortification guarding Boudicca’s village, Boudicca could not help staring at the man who looked far more Aedui than Roman. Resolutely Boudicca intercepted him, “Who comes to the heart of the Iceni?”
“I, Centurion Marcus Vetus come in the name of Nero and his imperial governor Gaius Suetonius Paullinus. Your king is dead; your kingdom now belongs to us.”
“No, Centurion. It belongs in equal measure to my daughters and to Nero. Until our people deem them ready to rule, I rule as queen as is my natural right as Prasutagus’ widow and by the customs of all British people.”
“You are a woman; you have no rights under Roman law.”
“But I do under Iceni law,” countered Boudicca.
“There are no Iceni now, only slaves,” proclaimed Marcus, seizing Boudicca before she could draw her sword. With the help of another centurion, Marcus bound and gagged the struggling Boudicca and her daughters, forcing them to watch as the remaining soldiers spread across the village. Every Iceni, armed and ready for the attack within hours of Prasutagus’ death, challenged the soldiers resolutely, creating a great noise. With the Roman attention entirely on the battle, Linet slipped quietly out of the village in order to raise the alarm across Britannia.