I wrote this for an assignment in college. I was enamored with the story of Boudica and wanted to do something with her. I don’t think I did very well, for my creative writing professor just sighed and gave it a B minus. Or was it a C plus? Frankly, my whole experience with him was learning that my stories suck when I try to impress my reader, and I really should just pretend the reader isn’t there and write whatever I freaking please. Why he couldn’t just say that from the start….
The Excalibur Queen
by Taylor Clark
Pillars spanned the length of the great hall in a display of splendid cream colored marble. Their curling heads and arms held apart the roof from the intricate, mosaic floor. On all surfaces light gleamed, poured in from windows, terraces, and flickering bowls of fire. A great many people mingled about here, waiting. They murmured about the foolishness of the Emperor. Why have a trial for an enemy of war destined for death anyways? The council was more of a set of advisors to the emperor rather than an actual jury. But they all knew why. Emperor Nero saw himself as a player of the arts. In this occasion he saw his chance to show his great oratory skills to his people—to grace their meager, peasantry lives with his talent. Their olive colored faces often turned to Nero himself, sitting at the throne at the end of the hall. The man himself waited with his fingers winding throughout his beard, dark eyes upon the great doors across from him. A gold crown of olive leaves contrasted with his dark hair. His white robes poured dramatically down the steps of the dais like water, having been placed just right moments before by artisans. As more minutes passed he ran his hand from his beard to his head.
“By the Gods of Olympus, what is taking so long?”
As though in answer to his question, a strangled, angry cry came from across the hall. The people fell silent. In comparison to the humorous air of the Emperor’s pretend court, such a noise sounded ludicrous. A few nervous chuckles echoed over the hall. Did Emperor Nero know
what he was doing? The cries continued, mingled with furious, animalistic growls, raising the question of if whatever was coming through those doors was even human.
At last, the doors he had been watching opened. The people, along with their emperor, leaned forward eagerly. Soldiers marched inside by threes, golden breastplates and helmets gleaming beneath the red plumage. Their expressions were solemn as brought up near the rear by three men came a most startling woman, bound in chains and wearing a torn and ragged dress. She seemed to be nothing more than a mass of curly red hair. As she looked up, though, her face brought gasps from many, making others take a few steps back.
It was beautiful. White like ivory, majestic, and holding bright, almond shaped eyes. Any royalty or kindly nature, however, could not be seen through the vicious expression. She bared her teeth, her face flushed with red anger, and blood from her gnashing jaws trickled from the corners of her mouth. Never had the Romans seen such violent fury. Even as they watched the woman flung her head back and screeched like some crazed animal.
“Boudica,” spoke the Emperor in an overdone, intimidating voice, “that is enough.”
“I say when enough!” she roared in broken latin. “You–man–bastard–TRAITOR!! You have no right to speak to me!”
The onlookers drew in a collective breath. Such audacity, such barbarism, such uncivilized conduct shocked many speechless. Not even the Emperor’s poorly done bravado could save the last dregs of humor. This woman was terrifying. He might as well be acting with a feral lion.
“I will have every right. You have attacked my soldiers–”
“You attack and steal my land! My country! Shut your lips that complain of hurt men!”
The Emperor pressed his lips so tightly together they turned white. His eyebrows nearly met across the black, sparking eyes.
“You will tame that raging spirit of yours, or I will kill you here and now without a trial.”
“Trial?” she laughed. “Play in justice? Very well, do your play. I watch.”
“Oh, you’ll do more than watch.” he cleared his throat, regaining his supposedly regal composure. “Bring out the council.”
From the sides of the throne they came, hands held as though in prayer and pale robes bustling about their legs. A soft murmur of the people arose beneath the slapping of the judges sandals. The woman, standing quite erect and proud now, watched them with demeaning eyes. She let the blood from her mouth dye her lips red and trickle to the floor. A faint sneer appeared on her face. One by one the judges sat in the chairs besides the throne, fifteen in all. Their eyes often fell upon their accused, but quickly fluttered away awkwardly as though not wanting to meet her gaze for too long. This brought a satisfied, amused tilt of her lips.
The emperor stood, wrapping the excess of his robes about his arm. He began to prance about before the council.
“Judges of the Roman Court!” he looked about them, hands held to his sides. “We bring before you, to be judged, Boudica of Iceni, former Queen of the Iceni territory and leader of the rebellion in the British continent. She has been caught in the act of destroying Roman encampments and colonies, disturbing the peace, causing the death of many noble, brave men,–”
Boudica snorted. She glanced slyly at the men next to her, who shifted nervously.
“–and committing treason against the throne.”
“If treason, it lie with you, oh Emperor, not me.”
The Emperor whirled on her, his demeanor suddenly dangerous.
“In this trial, woman, you are to remain silent until given permission to do so otherwise. Unless, do you wish to die now?”
Glancing about her at the obvious numbers against her, she bit back her retort and glowered at him, pressing her bloody lips closed. He gathered himself once more and turned to face the judges once more.
“Ahem…I, Emperor Nero of Rome, come before you in behalf of the people to ask for your judgment in the choice of proper judgment for the crimes of this enemy of Rome, for thus has she made herself. I am sure all have seen the proof of her heinous acts and need no more proof that she is guilty. News of her ferocity, her cold blooded killing, her uprising against the good of the empire, has been watched avidly by many. Good council, she was caught in a ferocious battle between Londinium and Viroconium. Our good governor Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, after a great and bloody war, was able to defeat and capture her. She is now held before you as a prisoner of war–a leader and a captain–of an enemy. Because of this, I beseech you all to treat her accordingly as a captain of an enemy. Do not let her sex confuse you, for no feminine tenderness resides in this creature anymore, so thusly, treat her as if she were a man and deal punishment as such. This punishment I seek of, which is tradition and well placed, is death.”
There came a breathless silence with the end of this speech. This was an unnatural response to a speech of his, all things considered. It wasn’t that anyone was surprised by the Emperor’s request. Death had been everyone’s expectation. None were even concerned with the answer of the council, who hardly paused to look at each other before offering their votes to Nero. What the people anticipated most was the warrior queen’s reaction. It was as though they
were in the coliseum rather than in a court. They waited on her.
The third to last council member stood when it came his turn to vote.
“I cannot vote with a clear conscious of justice until I have one question answered by the accused. Will my colleagues give me leave to speak to her?”
The lot of them nodded, slightly puzzled. A few nodded out of a doze induced by Nero’s speech to stare.
“Boudica,” he began in a clear voice, “is it true you were former Queen of this providence of Iceni?”
“Did you not agree to become a part of the Empire of Rome by peaceful treaty?”
There was a faint murmur among the council. Emperor Nero’s face flushed with frustration, but he fought to stay in character.
“You made no such treaty with Rome? Pray tell, what dealings of Rome have you made? You do understand me, correct?”
“I understand your speech well. It is in speaking I am not…well. I had no dealings with Rome. My husband did.”
“What dealings did your husband have?”
“Alliance. He was approached by Rome with a gift and a request for alliance. He agreed, seeing good fortune for our country.”
“If in alliance, why did you, upon your husband’s death, begin to attack Roman settlements and soldiers?”
At this, her face once again became inflamed with color. She drew herself up to her full height, beautiful almond eyes wide and scowling.
“Death? My husband was murdered. Murdered! Then murderer’s turn on me and my daughters and murdered us as well! Taking our clothes–violating us! Do you know the murderers? Do you know? They were ROMANS!!!”
A shocked buzz broke out over the hall. One olive face turned to another, eyebrows raised and words exchanged. Boudica continued, ignoring the effect she had just pulled on the Romans, though Emperor Nero looked nonplussed.
“Romans,” she hissed, “Romans, come to take my country as their own, though my husband had left the kingdom to us—me and my daughters. Rome as ally? No. Rome a waiting spider, luring fly into web, to trap and eat. That is why I attacked Romans. Romans invaded my country. I defend my country. I squish spider.”
The council member hid a shudder.
“Boudica, is this the truth?”
“Yes.” she said.
After a moment of thought, the council member looked to the emperor. His eyebrows rose in question. Was his part finished? The Emperor merely nodded, but this seemed to be all that the councilor needed. Beads of sweat glistening from his balding head, he gulped, giving a pitying look to the beautiful dame. Then, he raised his hand, and gave his vote to the emperor.
After he sat down, the rest of the council finished their votes. The vote was unanimous in favor of the Emperor Nero.
“We grant her unto your will, Emperor,” said the spokesman of the council. “She is under
your power to execute as you deem fit.”
Though the people knew that she always had been.
As Nero smiled, Boudica roared.
“Barbarians! This is your justice?!? You will never have my country! You will never fully tame my land! You will never be able to rule my people in peace! I refuse!” her yells trailed off into a fervor or Gaelic, which no one could understand. Her native tongue almost sung as she ranted, body tense.
“Take her away.” he said. “I will deal with her later. This meeting is adjourned.”
A young man had separated himself from the crowd. His eyes were on Boudica. The blooming conversation died as the people struggled to hear him above the Gaelic din.
“Paulinus, whatever your request, it can wait.”
“At least let me speak before you decided to kill her.”
Nero wrapped his robes more securely as he looked on the general of the Roman army incredulously.
“Could it possibly be you are attempting to stand between this woman and the court’s judgment?”
“In a word,” said Paulinus, “but only because I believe there is a better way–a more productive way.”
“And this way would be?”
The fair haired man gestured to the people around with a twitch of his shoulder. “Let us speak later, as you have requested.”
Emperor Nero breathed in deeply, his large nostrils flaring. He hesitated. But his audience…
Boudica was still screaming what sounded like insults as they dragged her out of the door, followed by soldiers and citizens. The council had disappeared behind the throne with little notice, and the last to leave was the only councilman who had questioned Boudica and justice. He looked back, listening to her screams, then vanished while shaking his head.