WHEN I WAS BOUDICCA
by JOANN SMITH Copyright © 2004 Joann Smith. All rights reserved. ISBN: 1499529783 ISBN 13: XXXXX Library of Congress Control Number: XXXXX (If applicable) LCCN Imprint
WHEN I WAS BOUDICCA
Copyright © 2004 Joann Smith.
All rights reserved.
ISBN 13: XXXXX
Library of Congress Control Number: XXXXX (If applicable)
LCCN Imprint Name: City and State (If applicable)
Iceni Territory – Southeast Britain
“Tallas.” Be alive, Tallas. Please be alive.
His cheek against the ground.
No, I mustn’t think that.
A short sword through his chest. His hands pressing the wound. And blood.
No. Why does my mind taunt me with such images?
His face in a grimace, streaked with dirt, and . . .
Are you crying, Tallas? Wait. I will be there. I will be there. Can you hear me coming? Can you feel me coming? Feel me.
“Tallas.” Hear me. “Tallas.”
I’m coming. Apollo-Belinus, please let him be alive. Keep him alive. Icena, protect him. Esus. Please. I will make offerings. I have not worshipped you well lately, I know; I have not offered enough. But I will. I will give you everything. Please. Please, protect him. Let him be alive.
I will marry you, Tallas. If you are alive, we will not wait any longer. We will not wait for Beltane, and if a winter marriage is to be a barren one as I have been taught, then let it be. What could childbirth bring anyway–my death, as it brought my mother’s, and a child whom I would never see, just as my mother never saw me? No, we will not wait for spring. On the next full moon, we will marry.
“Tallas.” Where are you? Why didn’t you tell me of your plan? Your foolish plan. Because I would have stopped you? Yes, I would have. And you might have hated me for it. But you would certainly be alive. Please be alive.
There is that flash of blue again. What is it? No, not a bird. I see now, not a bird. A man. I see him clearly. Running. Escaping? One of your men, Tallas, woaded in blue? Running. Then is it over?
Fool. You are a reckless fool. To challenge Rome? To battle Rome? Did you think you could battle Rome? They will crush you, Tallas. Ask for mercy. They can be merciful. Beg for mercy. Plead.
A good word. Not “dead.” “Captured.” A better word than “dead.”
Now finally I will see him. Tallas. Though it has only been two days since I was last with him–and I wish we could go back to that day, the day before yesterday, a day before the rebellion, a day before his capture–it has been forever. Forever spent in waiting. Waiting while Rome took him to the fort. Waiting while my father raged over news of the revolt. “I am king,” he’d roared when he heard it was Tallas who had so secretly organized it. “And your dupe. Under my nose, your Tallas plans a rebellion and defies my sovereignty, all the while with my daughter at his side. What kind of a king is that? What kind of a daughter?”
I did not tell him that I did not know. I did not say, “Father, I did not know. Father, I did not betray you.” Instead, I was silent. I let him believe that Tallas trusted me enough to tell me. I couldn’t bear at that moment to confess to him the truth, that I was excluded from Tallas’s confidence, that he did not trust me. You did not trust me, Tallas. I let my father believe I knew. I let him believe you trusted me. But you didn’t trust me.
Now there is more waiting. Waiting in this crowd because Ostorius Scapula, Roman governor of Britain, has demanded that we be gathered, that all the Iceni of the village be gathered outside the Roman fort. That my father–Melcut, our king–and his daughter–me– attend. That we be given a place close to the platform that has been built for this occasion.
But I can wait no longer. It is as though my blood will burst my veins. I will run to the fort, push my way through and find him. But on one side of me, my father stands, erect and dignified, a proud king whose set face is meant to calm his people. But it does not calm me, and yet I must stand here, pretending dignity, pretending calm. The king’s daughter. And on the other side of me are Carduc and Katha who came to my father at my birth, my mother’s death, who have been parents to me, friends to my father. It is Katha’s eyes I seek, Katha’s eyes which worry as mine do.
She offers a glance, reaches across Carduc to squeeze my hand.
Now, there is movement. More guards from the fort. Ostorius Scapula. His man, Lucius. Soldiers. And at last, Tallas.
“Tallas.” My first glimpse of him blurs with my tears. The guards yank at his neck chains as if he is a stubborn ox. But he is just a calf, so thin in his nakedness. But a proud calf. Yes, Tallas, I see you struggle to hold your head up. “Tallas.”
Captured. But alive. Alive.
Look to me. I am here. I am here. Do you see me? Tallas, I love you.
He is brought onto the platform, he and his brother, Magon, his father, Balin. All chained. All naked. A trumpet is blown, and we obey with silence.
Scapula ascends the platform. “These men,” he indicates Tallas, Magon, Balin, “the leaders of your failed rebellion, are responsible for the punishments that will follow– punishments that all of you will bear whether you participated in their rebellion or not.”
The word leaps through the crowd. “Punishments.” An unbroken murmur of “punishments.”
“Rome was brought here to protect you because you could not protect yourselves,” Scapula continues. “The cost of that punishment has just gone up. The tributes will be raised.”
Wails erupt in waves as the news is passed to those out of range of his voice. “How will we pay?” one asks another hopelessly. “How?”
“And your people will be disarmed.”
So, we are to be at their mercy. Be merciful.
Now he shouts over the gasps. “Over the next days, Roman troops will come to your homes, and you will present your weapons. Those Iceni still living in the hills will be moved to the village. All are to reside here now where you can be watched, and all will participate in the building of huts for the hill people.” He pauses, and in that moment, I hear the whispered lamentations, “No weapons,” and the anxious pleadings for a “merciful Rome.”
“These men,” again Scapula waves behind him, “have brought this hardship on you. These are the men who have burdened you with the anger and retribution of Rome.”
Now Scapula beckons, and Tallas, Magon and Balin are led forward.
A shriek goes up from somewhere in the crowd. A war cry? Yes. Will they attack Scapula, defend Tallas? Yes. My sword–my hand is at the hilt. I am ready. Tallas, I am ready. I will come for you.
A stone hurtles past. Aimed for Scapula, surely. Striking Tallas on the shoulder. A bad throw. But another stone, and Tallas is hit again. Now Magon and Balin. Scapula and his guards step aside. And then it is a storm of small rocks and angry shouts, and Tallas is pelted.
These are my people, his people, turning on him. “Stop it. Stop it.”
My father grasps at my arm. Pulls me back. Was I moving forward? And on the other side, Carduc holds me.
But I will go to Tallas. “Let me go.” But they hold tighter. “Tallas.”
A trumpet blares. Another.
The guards raise their shields and climb back onto the platform. The stoning ceases. Scapula returns, sneering.
“Do not fear,” he shouts. “Rome will finish your work.”
My stomach turns. The odors around me are suddenly sickening. My own people, unclean, heavy-breathed. I despise them all, despise the stench of them. “Father.” He won’t let go of my wrist. “Father.” I sink, my arms still held, and vomit.
“But they are not alone in their blame.” Scapula keeps talking. “Your king also bears blame.”
I rise. Will they stone us, too? “Father.” His hand releases my wrist and moves to the hilt of his sword.
“A new king will be named. But first we will teach the rebels what happens when they conspire against Rome.”
The guards take them from the platform, yanking on their neck chains, and lead them to the grove. Tallas is pushed against a tree.
Barbarians? Tallas is no barbarian.
“…have raised their swords against Rome who came on the request of your king to serve as protector. The hand that raised a sword against us will not do so again.”
“Tallas.” My voice, stifled by my fear, is only a whisper. His wrists are unchained, his sword arm raised and pressed against the bark. What is that? “Father?” What objects are those that Lucius is holding? Tallas, I cannot see you, only Lucius’s back, Lucius’s wide back, then short, sharp motions with his hand.
Lucius steps aside.
“Tallas.” He is nailed down by the sword hand to the tree. Now his eyes seek me. “Here. Tallas, I am here.” Lucius again. His back blocking me. “Tallas. I am with you. Tallas.” What is that glint? Another spike for his other hand? Lucius grabs him by the hair. A swipe.
Now Lucius stands aside.
“Tallas.” His chin against his chest. Quick blood.
“Tallas.” His neck slit. Neck that I kissed. Neck where I sought his scent. “Tallas.”
I feel myself falling. There is shouting. I am falling. Tallas. Tallas. I am grabbed. Held.
“Stand,” my father commands. “If he is yours, stand for him.”
Tallas. He is mine. I watch his blood hug his body, watch his blood run into the earth. He is mine.