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Those of my people who are still alive call me a hero. A martyr. Someone to be remembered for ages to come, even after our lands are long destroyed. They have written songs about me, praising my courage and strength, and how I stood firm in the face of destruction.
I don’t think I deserve any of these praises. And if they knew that I was still alive, then perhaps they wouldn’t praise me so. The truth is, I only wanted revenge, and in the end, it killed hundreds of our people, leaving me to run away like a coward. They call me a great leader, the Warrior Queen. I never wanted to lead my people. I never wanted to command an army. Yet in the end, I did, and now I am immortalized forever.
The bards tell stories of how intimidating I was and how strong. All this was fueled by my anger. My hatred. The Romans had always pushed at us, causing us to hate them, but what they did to my daughters…that was unforgivable, and I wanted to see their blood spilled for it.
The first injustice, of course, was how the Romans had ignored my husband’s last wishes. The land that he owned was to go to me, and my daughters. Ah, the Romans and their foolish notions of women being weak, of not being allowed to own land or lead their own lives after the husband has died. My daughters and I survived their brutality, despite what they thought.
They should not have let me lived. While the flogging I received was painful, the only real pain I felt was when I heard the screams of my two daughters. My daughters, both so sweet and trusting. Those Roman soldiers had no right to them, and yet they took them. Raped them while I was tied to the flogging post, unable to do anything.
Once the soldiers had left us, taking our land and money away from us, it was then that the anger inside me grew. It festered like an unattended wound and revenge was never far from my mind. The Roman soldiers, each and every one, were to blame. They took our lands. They took our children. They did what they pleased because none of us dared to strike back.
Finally, I had had enough. Because my husband had been leader of our tribe, the Iceni, I led them in a revolt. We joined forces with several other tribes and destroyed some settlements. We attacked a legion and defeated them. Revenge tasted sweet and my people were willing to go further. What had started as a personal battle quickly turned into a full scale revolt my people against the Romans.
We destroyed Londinium and continued on to other settlements. The Roman governor Suetonius fled before us, realizing he was too weak to stand against us. At least, he was until his new forces arrived and he prepared for battle.
My people would have followed me to the ends of the earth. Anything I told them, they would have believed. With revenge comes a great sense of power, and I relished in it. For once, our oppressors had become the oppressed. We were finally going to rid our lands of the Romans, for once and for all.
I do not think that I could have stopped the battle, even if I had wanted to. Even if I had refused to go into that last, fateful battle, my people would have continued on, drunk on the wine of promised victory. At the time, retreating simply did not make sense. Though the Romans had new forces and were ready to fight, we still outnumbered them.
Perhaps the gods did not want the Romans to leave our lands yet. Perhaps it was not the right time. Perhaps the revenge in my heart had turned me into something awful, and I was being punished, and with me, the rest of my people who fought that day.
There may not be an answer as to why we lost the battle. We fought well and I am so proud of my people. We were united, and for a time, it seemed we would win. I can still hear the battle cries, and can still feel the energy of everyone around me. That was a good battle and everyone fought well.
Yet that was not enough. In the end, we were the ones who lost and everyone was killed, save myself. I lay there among the fallen bodies, recognizing friends and their families. My vision was blurring, from a head wound. I could hear the Roman soldiers getting closer now, to count the dead and kill anyone who still lived. Crawling away, like a snake, I made my escape to a nearby forest. Before I reached the trees, however, I saw two bodies that broke my heart.
My two daughters died that day. With all the revenge in my heart, it had blinded my eyes from the real issue. I wanted to protect my daughters, reclaim their honor. But in the end, they too fell dead like the others, and now only I was left.
I’ve lived alone in a forest cave ever since. Almost overnight, after that battle, my red hair turned grey. The revenge that had so long dwelled in my heart is now gone, leaving me empty inside. I hear the songs about me and shudder.
Becoming a hero of my people was never my intent, and the older I become, the more I wonder at all of it. Yet…my people were brought together for a time. They nearly dispelled the Romans from our precious lands.
So if a hero I must be, then so be it. If me being called a hero gives the people hope, something to remember, then let me be called a hero. Let me inspire generations to come to be strong, to unite, and not sway under oppression. Only then will all of this have had any meaning.