By Bradley Hanson
Venta, Britannia 60 A.D.
Boudicca kept her gaze locked on the leather straps binding her hands above her head. She faced the pole that was erected in the town square for the occasion. If she could just concentrate on her hands, then maybe should could maintain her dignity, ignore the humiliation. So far she had been able to keep her anger in check, but they would soon feel her wrath.
The Romans had cut her waist long red hair to just above her shoulders. They’d stripped off her tunic to leave her back bare for the lashings. They will pay for this humiliation. I am Queen of the Iceni.
Suetonius stepped into the center of the square near Boudicca and faced the crowd gathered for the flogging. His armor reflected the sun, polished for this official occasion. She was surprised that he wasn’t wearing his governor’s toga. He was probably making a statement, making a show of Roman military might. His soldiers held the crowd back in a semi-circle around the pole, keeping them from becoming bold.
The crowd was mostly made up of the local Iceni tribe who had remained independent under King Prasutagus, Boudicca’s recently deceased husband. She could see Suetonius scowl at them with disdain. She knew that he thought they were uncivilized barbarians with their long hair and brightly checkered cloaks. He looked at one man with an unseemly, bushy moustache and shook his head.
“King Prasutagus and the Iceni have been good allies of Rome.” Suetonius paced back and forth addressing the crowd. “But Roman law is clear. When Prasutagus died, his kingdom became part of the Empire. He foolishly tried to make his daughters co-heirs with Emperor Nero.
Suetonius shook his head and laughed. He turned and looked at Boudicca tied to the pole. She felt her face flush as he admired her bare back. She felt so vulnerable, naked from the waist up.
“Maybe if Prasutagus had a son, we could have come to some agreement. But Rome does not allow inheritance to women. Did he really think the Emperor would share this kingdom with two girls? This land belongs to Rome and Lady Boudicca tried to keep it for herself.”
He walked over to the pole and placed his hand on Boudicca’s shoulder. “Lady Boudicca will be shown her proper place today. She is lucky that I only ordered the ferula to be used in the whipping. I considered the flagrum which is reserved for the worst criminals. Since she is merely a woman, I granted mercy and her punishment will be limited to 40 lashes with the leather strap.”
Suetonius brought his mouth to Boudicca’s ear and lowered his voice so that only she could hear. “Oh, by the way, your daughters will also be shown their proper place. I am allowing my two favorite slaves to have their way with your girls. I do know how to reward those loyal to me.”
He turned and stepped back to the crowd, clapping his hands over his head, grinning widely. “Let the show begin. And remember, this land is now Roman!”
Boudicca watched him walk briskly out of the square, smiling at her viciously as he passed. Her steel gray eyes flashed hate as she turned her gaze back to the leather straps binding her hands. Concentrate, maintain dignity. She forced the hot anger to remain deep inside, letting it simmer for her later revenge.
She was startled by the first bite of the whip. Managing to muffle her surprised cry and concentrate on her hands, she bit down on the piece of leather hidden in her mouth. Ready for the next strikes, she kept quiet, thought of the revenge she would bring down on Suetonius and the Romans.
She could feel the blood running down her back. The ferula kept doing its work on her back. She couldn’t see the Lictor swinging it, but felt his joy in every stroke. Her vision blurred and she couldn’t keep her head up. She watched the dirt below turn dark. The pain seemed dull now, almost numb. I am a Queen she thought as her vision narrowed and then went black, followed by nothing.
Weeks later, Boudicca sat at a great square table with what was left of her council. Most had been sold into slavery by the Romans, their lands plundered. She ignored the healing wounds that still pulled and stung on her back. They were trivial. She listened to Drest, watched him as he spoke with great animation.
“Suetonius has brought most of his army to Wales. He makes war on the Druids.” Drest pointed to the West, his bushy mustache jumping with each word. “This is our opportunity to rise up and punish the Romans. We can reaffirm our independence. We can cripple their presence in Britannia.”
“I agree.” Brice stood up, his deep voice matching his muscular build. “Honor demands retaliation. What was done to our Queen and her daughters is unforgivable.”
Murmurs of agreement spread around the table.
“The Romans have enslaved our nobles, looted our lands.” Brice paced around the table. “I do not recognize them as our rulers. We are independent. I serve Queen Boudicca.”
He knelt at her feet and kissed her ring. The others shouted agreement and each offered their loyalty kissing her ring.
Boudicca stood and smiled. “You honor me with your loyalty. I will lead you proudly.”
She was taller than most of the men in the room, an imposing figure as she now held her husband’s royal staff, looking every bit the ruler of the Iceni.
She looked around the table at each of the leading men of the Iceni tribe, fire burning in her eyes. “I agree, now is the time to destroy the Romans. I have been speaking with our neighbors, the Trinovantes, and they are of the same mind. Like us, they are done with the high taxes. And now the Romans attack the Druids and our holy sites. The Trinovantes are prepared to fight with us.”
She saw agreement on every face. Her husband was able to rely on the loyalty of Drest and Brice. She now knew that she could do the same.
“Gather your armies. We march on their capital Camulodunum. We will destroy the town that houses the temple of Claudius. How dare they honor the man who has tried to destroy our Celtic culture?” Boudicca slammed down the royal Iceni staff, determination and revenge burning in her veins.
It didn’t take long to assemble the army. Within days, they were all gathered and marching south. When the Trinovantes and other nearby tribes joined them, they numbered almost 50,000 fighting men with an equal number of women and children following behind.
As Boudicca rode in her chariot at the head of the army, she looked back at the marching soldiers. She drew a deep breath, filled with pride and confidence. The army looked fearsome with their bare chests and faces painted with blue patterns and shapes, their long hair spiked up to make them look even taller. They would seem like giants to the smaller Romans.
As they approached Camulodunum, one of her scouts approached.
“What did you find out?” She had her driver stop the chariot.
The scout smiled. “They have no respect for us. The Romans only sent 200 soldiers to defend the town.”
“You are sure? They don’t have a Legion somewhere in hiding?” Her steel gaze bored into the scout.
“I am certain. The Ninth Legion remains in the North. Suetonius is in Wales with his Legions.”
Drest and Brice had pulled up beside her in time to hear to hear the scout’s report. Drest stepped out of his chariot and walked over to Boudicca. “Fortune smiles on us. Suetonius will regret the way he treated your family and the way he spit on our alliance.”
“He will more than regret it. We will drive these Romans from our shores and he will have no one left to govern. As long as I draw breath, I will kill every Roman that I see. What they did to my daughters is unforgivable. They are but children, 10 and 12.” Her jaw set firmly as she stared southward, dreaming of the day when the Romans would be gone, trying not to think of how her girls were violated.
“Unforgivable.” Drest shook his head.
They were now in sight of Camulodunum. The capital city was laid out along evenly spaced roads, the white walls and red tile roofs visible in the afternoon sun. Amazingly, the Romans had done nothing to prepare for the defense of the city. There were no walls, no obstacles placed to slow her chariots. The retired soldiers and their families felt safe in their capital. They never imagined an army so large would ever threaten them. Boudicca could see the temple of Claudius towering in the center of town, strong columns supporting the gabled roof in the Roman style.
“Our Trinovante brothers were forced to build that temple on the ground that used to be their home, a temple in honor of the man who took their country from them.” Boudicca spit on the ground. “They will have their revenge today.”
She turned to Brice and told him that she wanted the head of the commander to keep as a memento.
“I will keep one myself to hang over my door.” Brice smiled, clearly enjoying the thought. “I love that custom. What better way to remember our victory.”
Boudicca nodded to Drest, indicating that it was time to start. The soldiers started banging their long swords on their wooden shields. Drummers behind her pounded rhythmically and a group of Druids raised their hands to the sky and began their haunting chant. She could see the Romans running in terror.
“Leave no one alive. Burn the town to the ground.” Boudicca raised her sword high, and then sliced it down to point at the town. Wild screams and roars erupted from the soldiers, the battle cry meant to strike fear in the enemy.
The chariots and horsemen raced to the town with the footmen running close behind, eyes burning with revenge and blood lust.
The chariots charged down the streets unimpeded, the warriors on board working their spears, killing men and women and anyone in their path. Roman families ran in a panic only to be dropped by the spears or run over by the chariots.
The mob of tribal foot soldiers was now in the town, mopping up behind the chariots and horsemen, leaving no one alive. They threw torches onto the roofs. Anyone hiding in the buildings were forced out by the smoke and then gutted by the crazed Iceni and Trinovante soldiers seeking revenge for years of oppression.
The work was done quickly. The Romans were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the Britons. The whole town was put to the torch, every Roman man, women and child in sight was slaughtered.
Some escaped into the temple and barricaded the doors. Boudicca’s soldiers swarmed around the temple, yelling insults and threats as the Roman families cowered inside. Their only hope was to have the siege lifted by the Ninth Legion stationed 100 miles to the north.
Boudicca had thought of this and sent scouts the previous day to locate the Legion and report on its movements. By that evening she already had a report.
“My Lady, the Ninth Legion marches south. They must have been warned about our numbers.” He dismounted and smiled. “But they will be too late to relieve the garrison at Camulodunum.”
“How many? Is it the full Legion?”
“No, roughly half strength. 2000 infantry and 500 cavalry. Cerialis was only able to muster half the Legion on short notice. The rest are spread out garrisoning several forts.” The scout’s eyes gleamed.
“Good”. Boudicca turned to Brice. “Take your men and prepare an ambush along the road. There is a forest to the north perfect to hide your men.”
“Gladly.” Brice lit up with excitement.
“You must hurry though. The Romans excel in open battle. The Legion will be disciplined. You must surprise them and cause panic as soon as possible.” Her gray eyes locked on his to stress the point.
“Understood.” Brice bowed quickly and then left to organize his troops. He soon disappeared up the road with about 5,000 men. Any more would be hard to conceal and they would lose the element of surprise.
Boudicca posted a few thousand men on the road north to stop any Romans who made it through Brice’s ambush. The remainder rotated manning the siege of the temple and patrolling the area.
Sitting on a burned bench near the temple, she watched Drest approach, his eyes dancing, and his big smile barely visible beneath his bushy mustache.
“My Queen, more men are arriving every hour from neighboring tribes. Your great victory here at Camulodunum has given them courage. Our numbers are swelling.”
“Suetonius will regret his decision to humiliate the Iceni and steal our lands.” Her face was taut and eyes stone cold. Revenge was the only thing on her mind. “My daughters will be avenged.”
They sat quietly for awhile watching the soldiers batter the huge temple doors with a tree felled and stripped for the purpose.
“There must be a better way.” She said almost to herself.
“Well, the constant pounding must be unnerving for the Roman dogs inside.” Drest shook his head slowly as if imagining how they felt inside.
“Good point. Keep it going all night and tomorrow we will find a way to burn them out.” Boudicca stood and left to find her tent. It had been a long and emotionally charged day. She needed sleep.
Late the next day, she heard yells from her troops on the northern road. As she approached the north position, she could see the men grabbing the reins of a riderless Roman horse that had just run down the road. Then she heard men coming down the road in the forest. Laughing to herself, she knew they weren’t Roman. They were making too much noise.
The soldiers erupted in cheer as the first men stepped out of the forest. She could see Brice marching at the head of column. He spotted her and headed her direction as the rest of his soldiers were greeted with slaps on the back and boisterous calls.
“The Ninth Legion no longer exists. No one was left alive except the cowards on horseback. They were tired and unalert from their forced march. We obtained complete surprise, attacked them from both sides of the road.” Brice brought both palms together to simulate the action.
“Well done Brice.” Boudicca allowed herself to smile and enjoy the moment.
“They didn’t even have time to form ranks. They couldn’t use their neighbors shield for protection like they do in open battle. It was like practice on straw dummies.” Brice grinned, his eyes glittering.
The next day they were able to burn out the remaining Romans in the temple. All either burned to death or were put to the sword. Boudicca took the commanders head to remember this victory.
As the army headed south out of town, Boudicca rode in her chariot side by side with Brice and Drest. Her spirits were high, but she was not satisfied. She wouldn’t be happy until the Romans were driven from Britannia or she killed every last one of them.
“Suetonius will have heard about our victory by now.” Drest pointed to the West. “He will be bringing his Legions down Watling Street from Wales.”
“He will never make it to Londinium in time to save the town. We will have it burned to the ground before he is halfway there.” Brice leaned back in his chariot, relaxing, breathing in the fresh air.
“You know, I’ve heard the saying ‘revenge is sweet’ all of my life.” Boudicca stroked her finger slowly over her lips. “I never totally appreciated it until now. It really does taste sweet.”
Bradley Hanson resides on an island in the Puget Sound (Washington State) with his wife and three kids. An electrical engineer by day, he spends his free time writing and reading when he is not busy enjoying his kids and their multitude of activities. He is currently working on a historical fiction novel about Charlemagne.