Michael Woodhead

BOUDICCA

A novel of historical fantasy based on the life of the queen of the Eceni.


CHAPTER ONE:

A.D. 57
IN THE FIRST WEEK OF SEPTEMBER

King Cedric the Rash of the Trinovantes banged his fist down hard on the wooden table that separated him from seven other rulers of various tribes throughout Britannia. "How long must we endure this Roman oppression," he bellowed. "It was bad enough when the soldier started flowing into our country, but now we have to put up with this damn taxation nonsense. It is too much! Something must be done, and soon!"

Heads nodded from a couple other men, accompanied by murmurs of assent.

But a woman with waist-length red hair stood and faced him. She held up her hand for silence and addressed her words to Cedric, but were meant for all assembled. "I understand your grievance, Cedric, but until we as a people can band together under one king, I fear there will be no choice but to accede to the Romans. They are too organized, too efficient. We are scattered and are continually embroiled in our own petty rivalries--"

Another woman, an attractive, raven-haired queen, spoke up. "Boudica speaks the truth, Cedric. Personally, I think life with the Romans would be quite invigorating. They bring a better way of living-do you know their villas have hot and cold running water. They don't have to wash in the river as we do." "You always were too soft, Cartimandua. And your Brigantes are just as soft. They are no longer strong enough to do any sort of fighting."

Cartimandua rose suddenly. "If there is fighting to do, my warriors will certainly leap at the chance. But I agree with Boudica. We--all of us--are too proud to let any one king lead us. We're always squabbling between ourselves."

"Bah!" Cedric spat on the floor and swung his cape across his shoulders and stalked off to a corner.

"Perhaps the Trinovantes should emulate my people," said Boudica. "Since the emperor Claudius' invasion twelve years ago, we have enjoyed relative peace and quiet. And the Iceni live better than most of the other tribes as well. We might well be assimilated into the Roman way of life, but at least we live in peace and comfort."

"Your husband would probably say different if he were able to," replied Cedric as he gestured towards an old man of seventy who sat motionless in a chair behind Boudica.

"I speak for Prasutagos as well as myself," Boudica said quietly. "Just because he can no longer speak or move, doesn't mean I don't understand him. His eyes speak to me when he so desires."

Another king, Kadeg of the Belgae, placed his hand on Boudica's arm. "Any way we look at it, that is treasonous talk, Boudica."

Boudica shook her head slowly. "I have only the welfare of my people in mind, Kadeg. It is they who will suffer the most if we continue to harass the Romans. We do not want any further bloodshed in our territory."

Cedric cursed and stormed to the door of the small shack in which they were gathered. "I want no more to do with this meeting. The lot of you should be skewered-" He opened the door, rushed out and banged it shut behind him.

Boudica started forward, but Cartimandua grabbed her shoulder. "No, let him go. He has always been unreasonable to deal with. But what of the others-?"

She glanced around at the remaining kings. Two of them rose and headed for the door. One of them, King Loman of the Silures, spoke softly. "I must agree with Cedric, my ladies. This is surely our country, a country worth fighting for. We shall do whatever we can to continue harassing the Romans. Hopefully it will make them think twice about trying to settle here."

The two men left, and Boudica turned to her husband. Although he was thirty years her senior, she still loved and respected him. "We tried, Prasutagos. But, perhaps they may yet change their minds."

Prasutagos' eyes sparkled at her, indicating his assent.

"Well," sighed Cartimandua. "Now that this meeting is over and done with, perhaps the both of you would like to join me for a good meal before we head back home...?"

"We would be glad to," replied Boudica. "It has been awhile since we have visited your settlement."

From the back of the room, a bearded man dressed in robes approached quickly. "With all due respect," he began, "although I see the wisdom in your words to Cedric, I fear the old ways of our people will be lost. There is much knowledge that our people need, but that I know the Romans will most assuredly do away with."

Boudica nodded. "Then you must begin to teach our ways in secret-form small groups of teachers and wise men who can impart their knowledge to other young men who are willing to learn. Nothing need be lost, just redirected."

The priest nodded his understanding. "I shall do as you suggest, priestess. I'm sure we will find many willing to learn what we know."

"Then," replied Boudica with a smile, "let it be done."


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