Early in the first century AD, the Romans decided they wanted to add Britain to their empire, but this latest venture had a bit of a rocky start. The natives weren’t too keen on the invaders and it took a few years to gain a foothold. For awhile the Romans were seriously considering giving up on the place, but things gradually settled down. That is, until they crossed paths with this woman: Boudicca.
Her husband, the king, had made peace with the newcomers. But when he died suddenly, the Romans followed standard operating procedure. The one with whom they’d made the agreement was dead; therefore the peace treaty was void, and they simply assimilated the Iceni kingdom into their empire -case closed. Boudicca had other ideas.
They never imagined this woman, propelled by sheer determination, would almost succeed in throwing them out of Britain.
Boudicca is the engine that drives Draegnstoen. Although Historical Fantasy, this is the story of her descendants and how they never gave up on her dream of expelling Rome.
When I began this journey, I barely knew Boudicca, but over these many months I have learned a lot. I have gone from being intimidated by her to being scared to death of this ferocious warrior queen. But more importantly, I have come to admire and respect her fierce tenacity in the face of impossible odds. And so now, I would like to share with you the first part of Draegnstoen’s prologue.
Prologue – The Battle of Watling Street
She was strangely serene as she faced the dawn. It was a cool spring morning and dew still hung upon the grass. The first rays of sun pierced the clear sky, igniting the golden-red tresses which framed her face. Boudicca’s blue eyes gazed across the narrow plain at the enemy five-hundred yards away – Romans, almost two legions strong, and yet she was calm.
They once seemed so conciliatory, so willing to make alliances. Her husband, King Prasutagus believed them, and accepted them as friends, drawn in by their promises and they almost convinced even her; almost, but not quite. For awhile his trust seemed justified. But then the king took deathly ill and within a week was dead. Almost overnight, everything changed. The Roman governor Suetonius claimed the agreements and promises he vowed were with Prasutagus, and since the king was dead, those promises were void. He soon declared the Iceni tribe to be subjects of Rome in the province of Britannia.
Boudicca protested and they dismissed her. She demanded justice; they arrested her and two of her daughters, then publicly flogged her. The governor did nothing to stop Roman officers from raping all three of them. She was imprisoned and her people came forth with gold for ransom. To humiliate and humble her, Suetonius publicly tore her tunic off and forced her to kneel naked before him, promising she would subject her people to Roman rule. Satisfied with her contrition, he released her. She kept her promise for three days, and then in her rage, gathered an army.
She heard a noise behind her and turned to see one of her captains approaching. He was dressed in the same leather armor as she was.
At six feet tall, she stood a good two inches taller and was pleased he needed to raise his eyes to see hers. He met her gaze and then immediately looked away. She suspected both her beauty and demeanor unnerved him. The effect amused her.
“My queen, the last of our tribe have arrived. The mothers and small children are at the back of the camp, as you ordered.”
“Good. How many are here?”
“There are too many to count, highness, but we estimate at least seventy thousand.
She raised an eyebrow. “I hope you are not saying that just to impress me…”
“No,” the captain’s voice quavered. “Three of the chieftains agree with that number. There are probably twenty-five thousand men, about as many women, and then perhaps twenty thousand children. The women will fight if we…”
“Of course the women will fight. I am leading this army and two of my three daughters are here with swords. Bedelia would be here as well, were she not giving birth to her first child right now. Dawn is upon us. When will we be ready for battle?”
“Half an hour…”
“Not a moment longer.” The queen’s voice shook. “This ends today with their annihilation. Go.”
The captain nodded and hurried away.
She turned back to face the distant Roman army. Today would be the culmination of all battles. They had burned other Roman cities, and finally, in her greatest triumph so far, they sacked Londinium itself and burned the city to the ground. The Romans were proud, and thought themselves invincible. She smiled, having accomplished what no king had done; she’d terrified their conquerors. The Romans were mortal, they bled, and when beaten they begged for mercy just like everyone else.
Just days earlier, she made her way through the smoldering ruins of Londinium. The air smelt burnt, and fires continued to smolder. Charred ruins of buildings lined the streets and Boudicca rode slowly into the desolate city on a chariot, mindful of the sense of irony she brought. As she unhurriedly rolled through the devastation, her wheels crushed charcoal beneath them.
Shouting in the distance caused her to stop. She drew her sword and motioned guards to come forward. Down the road, three of her soldiers were pulling a man toward her. His struggles were rewarded with a hard kick to his midsection and he fell limp, remaining silent while they dragged him in her direction.
Stepping from her chariot, she sheathed her sword and met them in the street. The prisoner was held by his arms, his head down. The finery of his uniform and armor was intriguing..
“Stand him up.”
One of her men grabbed his hair and pulled back. Another put a knife to his throat. “You heard the queen.”
Slowly the man steadied himself on his feet, and stared slightly off to the side, avoiding her direct gaze. His hair was short, dark and curly, his beard, once neatly trimmed, was now in need of a shave.
“Atilius,” she cooed, “how very nice to see you again.”
When he did not respond, her eyes flashed. Stepping forward, she took his face firmly in hand, and jerked it in her direction, looking deeply into his brown eyes.
“Am I supposed to know you?”
She put her fingers on his neck, gently raking them diagonally downward, following the lines of four long wounds that were still healing.
“You’ve forgotten me already?” she feigned rejection, her lips turning to a pout. “You’ve still got my fingernail marks on your throat. How sad I wasn’t more memorable to you.”
With her soldier’s knife in hand, she pushed her body against the Roman’s.
“You don’t have to rape me this time. Don’t you want me now, Atilius?” she purred.
He turned his head, refusing to look at her.
She brought the knife down between his legs. “I asked you a question.”
“Please…” the Roman’s eyes were wild and frantic.
Eyes locked and unflinching, the knife twisted in her hand. He screamed and doubled over, gasping.
Boudicca wiped the knife on her tunic and turned away. “Leave him in the street.”
Now the Romans could not ignore her. Now she had summoned them, and demanded their presence here, on the field of battle. They were better trained; their armor was better, their weapons superior. But today, today the Iceni held the advantage. One of the chieftains appeared at her side. A few years older than she, his hair and beard were flecked with gray. He was thoughtful and methodical and she valued his counsel.
“Certaneus, are we ready?”
“Yes, my Queen…”
She turned to look at him. “Speak. There is no room for hesitation today.”
He cleared his throat. “The battlefield is closed in. We have no room to maneuver. The forest is dense and almost impassable to the right. The valley is narrow and the wall very steep on the left. We cannot surround them…”
“This battle will not wait,” her voice trembled. “All our people are here. We cannot choose another battlefield. This is the Romans’ last stand. They are fighting for their lives and yes, the fight will be fierce and white hot. Casualties will be high, but I will see the Romans exterminated today. Bring the advance guard forward.”
Suetonius sat on his mount, looking across the battlefield at the Iceni multitude. His mouth was dry, his throat tight. There stood tens of thousands fearlessly ready to do battle with his army. The two legions between him and the Iceni would normally have given him great comfort, but today they seemed precious little protection. This day, it seemed desperation was part of their ranks as well.
Squinting; his brown eyes could make out a mounted soldier in the front of the horde. It had to be Boudicca. The horrifying stories of what was done in the cities she laid waste had just recently reached his ears. Suetonius knew if they broke through his lines she would find him and cut his heart out while he still lived. He shuddered. It would be far better to fall on his own sword. All the humiliation he heaped upon her should have left her shattered. But it had the opposite effect. This one was made of steel. He scratched the stubble on his chin. Today was looking more and more like a very bad idea. But there was no other choice. To retreat and abandon Britannia would have gotten him imprisoned at the least, and probably executed. At least today he would die a glorious hero, defending the empire.
Just then the sound of an approaching horse made him turn.
“General Domitius,” smiled Suetonius. “Give me good news.”
Boudicca sat on her horse on a small rise and faced her people. Her waist-long red hair was fastened at the back with a leather cord. She wore a leather helmet, her sword sheathed at her side. Thousands of eyes looked expectantly at her. Most carried swords, some held axes and others clubs. On the front line the bravest men and women stood, projecting grim determination. The mass of humanity stretched back over a quarter mile. Near the front of the army her oldest daughter Dreylia sat on her mount, shoulder length blonde hair roiling from underneath her helmet. Boudicca smiled proudly and Dreylia nodded. The queen found Gwenda then, a little further back, also astride a horse and nodded at her. Except for darker hair she looked much like her older sister. They were both determined to fulfill their mother’s wishes; they’d been raped by the Romans as well.
The only one missing was dear Bedelia; the lone daughter saved from rape and humiliation, safely hidden away up north with the Brigantes, even now giving birth to Boudicca’s grandchild. Bedelia’s husband had been killed by the Romans and she wanted revenge as much as the rest; bitterly disappointed that childbirth prevented her from fighting this battle. The Queen was proud of her daughters. They had the fire of their mother and not the weak heart of their father.
Satisfied they were ready; the warrior queen glanced over her shoulder at the Romans in the distance. They seemed to be waiting on her. She spurred her horse and galloped in their direction; a lone rider charging the enemy. It energized her. Today she almost felt like she could face them alone. After a short distance she gave a jerk on the reins and turned back to face the Iceni.
Taking a deep breath, she looked them over. Her hand instinctively went to just below her throat and fingers followed the gold chain down to the gold mesh sack with the fist sized stone in it. It gave her confidence to know it was there. And now it was time.
“My people!” She waited while the crowd fell silent. “You have fought like dragons these last few days. These invaders who stand before us now are utterly astonished at your bravery. Twenty years ago they came to our shores. They wanted this land as part of their empire. But they are now learning – this is our land! These Romans are used to taking what they want. They wanted a bigger empire; instead we gave them death and defeat. This day we take back all that is ours, every handful of this soil, even to where the sand meets the sea. I am here today, not fighting as a queen, but as one of you. I was made to bow before the Romans too. If I took off my armor I would show you the scars on my back where they beat me. They raped me, they raped my daughters.”
She paused and searched for calm. It was bitter anger, not sadness that made her voice break but she would not let them hear her sob. Boudicca gazed at the multitude. All eyes were locked upon her. She started again.
“Any of you who wish to live under the heel of the enemy may leave this field now. But the Romans will no longer rule me. Our cause is just. We have destroyed three Roman cities, an entire legion of their soldiers and many of their people. The gods look down and are smiling upon us.”
She pulled her sword and held it up. “This ends today. They are not meant to be here. This is not their land. It is time to send them home!” A cheer erupted and echoed across the plain. Boudicca shot a glance at the enemy. Shields and javelins seemed to jostle nervously.
Certaneus was at the front of the throng on his mount. Ripping sword from scabbard, he raised it overhead.
“Boudicca!” He screamed, turning to face the horde. They took up the chant. “Boudicca!” It sounded ragged.
The queen glared across the field at the Romans. “Bastards,” she whispered through clenched teeth, her throat tight, eyes stinging.
“Boudicca,” stronger this time…. before the end of the day, Suetonius would kneel naked before her.
“Boudicca!” in unison, the wave of savage wrath crashing across the plain…right before she killed him.
“Boudicca!” She heard the white hot rage in their united voice, matching her own. Whirling her mount around she stabbed the sky with her blade and they charged screaming, rushing past her to meet the enemy.