Jan Surasky

Rage Against The Dying Light

Excerpts

They walked past the knots of celebrants as they strolled across the meadow. "You must tell me all the news of Caractacus and your journey on the mission of trade," said Boudicca, looking up at Venutius as they strolled through the tall grasses of the meadow, clumps of buttercups and bluebells risen with the spring rains among them.

"Caractacus is longer in council and less upon the plains or at the woodland hunt," said Venutius, as he strolled slowly beside her. "Cunobelinus is tired, and wishes soon to pass on the mantle of chieftain. Caractacus studies carefully, for he fears Roman unrest upon the Continent, and he must learn as well the tactics to keep the strength of the Silures from the fierce tribes of the south which attack the gates and raid the fields."

"Cunobelinus has assigned to me the order of the nobles' lands," said Venutius, as he continued to stroll beside her, "and, in respect for my father, whose ancestors, before the Roman conquest, were tribal chieftains, he has assigned to me to open further the routes of trade upon the Continent."

"Caractacus is pleased with this assignment," he added, “as he has bade me to listen as I travel to talk of the Roman empire, to allow him warning to make alignments if Rome makes plans to sail in ships of conquest for our shores."

Venutius finished his talk as they reached the edge of the sacred grove. "Oh, Venutius," said Boudicca, "we must walk through the grove to ask the blessings of Beltane from Sequanna along the sacred stream where she lies most pure."

Venutius chuckled as he parted the brush for the pair to reach the open path. As they trod the path, Venutius reached for the limb of an ancient oak. "I shall carve you a likeness of Sequanna that you may fling upon the waters of the stream and secure her fullest blessings," he laughed, as he pulled from the sheaf about his waist a short hunting knife to part from the limb a hefty branch.

They trod the paths to reach the stream and dropped upon the grasses beside its waters. Venutius whittled slowly in the moonlight, the branch of the oak soon a likeness of the Beltane goddess. He stood, and lifted Boudicca to her feet as he handed her gently the likeness of Sequanna. As she flung the oaken likeness upon the waters, Venutius put his hands upon her shoulders to turn her toward him. "Boudicca," he said, as he looked down upon her, "I leave soon for the Continent. But, I shall send you word as I go."

He bent down to kiss her upon her lips, the scent of the blossoms entwined in her tresses wafting about them. As he pulled back, he took her hands in his. "I shall return," he said, as he looked upon her face aglow in the moonlight, "and when I do, we will ride the plains and pick the blossoms along the banks of the Devon River and tread the woodland paths of the sacred grove as we always have."

They walked back across the meadow, lost in small talk and in silence, the future crowding their thoughts. They reached the hillside as the Beltane announcements had just begun, births and justice meted out, new landowners, new marriage banns, and those who had gone through the rites of Beltane passage. As Diviticus was handing down these pronouncements, then Votorix took his place upon the hassock above the crowd, silencing it by his presence.

"I would like to make an announcement," he said, as only the noise of crickets rose to fill the silence. He paused, then continued. "I have made a match for the Princess Boudicca. She will be joined with the King Prasutagus, chieftain of the mighty Iceni tribe. May the match be bountiful, and our two tribes prosper together."

As he spoke, Boudicca and Venutius stood, silently clasping hands at the edge of the crowd.

•  •  •

Boudicca stood at the top of a hill, her hand above her brow, shading her eyes to view the valley below. Her warriors had sacked and plundered a number of smaller tribes with allegiance to the Romans, and had gathered a larger number who were bent on fighting for their freedom, swelling the numbers of Celtic warriors which now numbered in the thousands.

With victory behind them, and Seutonius and the Roman army headed for Mona to rid the island of the Druids, they had decided to attack Londinium, the largest city of the province, and a stronghold for Roman trade. Though densely populated, its occupants were unarmed, the hub of their activity centered on trade ships and merchants.

As Boudicca stood, she knew the valley below lay very near the thriving city built along the sea. A port to carry Celtic goods to Rome, crafted at the expense of the needs upon the island. Beautifully woven fabrics, jewelry made from the coral beneath the sea, urns of molded clay, goblets of gold and silver, tables and chairs chiseled from the oaks and maples of the Britons’ woodlands. And, the swords and breastplates to protect an army of their oppressors.

She must meet with the chieftains of every tribe that joined them, and with her own council of Indomarius and her seasoned warriors. She must bring unity to tribes who once knew only independence, and with them lay out a plan of attack that would level Londinium and render it useless as a port along the Roman trade route.

As she walked the grasses of the hillside, lush with the brilliant gold of the autumn gorse and the pale lavender of the heather, she thought of Alaina and Valeda. She prayed to Sequanna to return to them the peace and the freedom of their childhood.

Then, she headed for the valley below, where the Celts had camped for three days to recover their strength and check their stores of food, flush with victory and anxious to push on to reclaim what was once a thriving Celtic stronghold. She found Indomarius monitoring the games of the young warriors who, with flagons of ale washing down the dried game and cheese, might easily have taken their valor to the death.

“We must call a meeting of council,” she said. “We must take advantage of the distance of the Roman army and the distractions of the gladiator games and laden tables of Rome for Claudius and the Roman senate.”

“I will round up our warriors and send our young Marinius here who tires of these games to call the chieftains to council,” he answered, rising from the squatting position he had taken to better oversee the actions of the youths.

As Marinius left with instructions and a designated meeting place in a glade at the edge of a nearby forest, Indomarius and Boudicca strolled the plain, the scent of the newly budding primroses and violets filling the air as they walked.

Indomarius talked of his wife Delphia and his two daughters left behind. His two sons, both warriors, fighting by his side on a field of battle new to them, brought pride to his voice as he spoke.

As they reached the glade, they chose a fallen log to seat themselves upon, Boudicca arranging her simple earth tone course linen tunic, held by a wide circle of gold embossed with the Iceni crest, about her, waiting for the chiefs and her Iceni council to join them. She threw over it a crimson mantle, warding off the chill of the late autumn afternoon. As they sat, squirrels scurried beneath the trees, a red fox ran for cover, and an acorn, dropped from the mouth of a startled squirrel on a branch above them, fell nearly at their feet.

As the chiefs assembled, Boudicca fell silent, waiting for them to settle. They chose the soft, mossy ground, covered with pine needles, sitting cross-legged upon it.

When they were silent, Boudicca spoke. “I know you have never seen a woman upon the field of battle,” she said, “But, the minstrels sing of two great queens who led their tribes to victory in battle.”

She paused, looking at each chief as she stopped. Then, she continued. “But, I fight not as Iceni queen, but as an Iceni woman and daughter of the ancients. To avenge the wrongs of the Romans upon me and upon my daughters.”

She paused once again, raising her voice over the clatter of the birds as she continued. “I will lead you to freedom,” she said. “I will fight to the death as our ancestors fought before us.”