Meeting Queen Boudicca by R.T Hardwick

I was walking along Gray's Inn Road when she first crossed my path. Sometimes I have to pinch myself, but there she is, in the bedroom, trying on a pair of my slippers.

Anyway, there she was, a woman of medium height, with a fine aquiline nose and a puzzled expression. I was struck by her attire. Normally, I am never surprised what the female population of London is almost wearing, but her outfit struck me as particularly unusual. It comprised a brown hessian dress and sandals made out of some sort of animal skin. Her hair was long and unwashed, and her face was smeared with dirt. This apparition approached me.

'Vassal, where am I?'

'I beg your pardon?'

'I have lost my way. I do not recognise this place.'

'You're on Gray's Inn Road.'

'Who is this Gray? Is he a Roman? Let me at him. I will slice through his tunic as an axe through whey.'

'It's just the name of the street,' I said.

'Which town is this? Is it Camilodunum?'

'Where?'

'You seem to be of a feeble mind. Do I not make myself clear?'

'Madam, I think you need to go back to the asylum.'

'Go back? Never,’ she said. ‘I deign to sue for peace. We Celts do not want their straight roads and water closets.'

'Ah, you are Scottish. That explains a lot.'

'I am not a creature of Caledonia. I am Queen of the Iceni tribe. My name is Boudicca.'

'And mine is Bugs Bunny,' I replied.

She looked blankly at me.

Seeking to humour her, I said, 'we're in London.'

'Ah, Londinium. A place I sacked and burned. I see, during my absence, that the Romans have rebuilt it in a particularly ugly fashion. Where are the daub-and-wattle huts? Where are the open fires? Where are the grazing ponies? Where is my chariot?'

'You have somewhere to stay?' I asked, desperately changing the subject.

From her expression, I could see she hadn't. She shivered as the winter night closed in and the temperature fell.

'You'd better come home with me.'

I took off my jacket and wrapped it around her shoulders.

'The smell of this garment is sweet,' she said.

'It's my deodorant,' I replied. 'Wild Boar.'

'Ah, you have killed a boar and used its blood to prepare some form of musk.'

'Something like that.'

I live in a rented basement flat in Arnos Grove. It’s within easy walking distance of Gray’s Inn Road. Boudicca’s springy steps easily kept pace with mine.

'Do you know what became of Prasutagus?' she asked.

'Who?'

'Do you know nothing, serf? My husband. The fiend, the coward, the traitor, in league with the Romans.'

'Listen, Your Majesty, the only Romans around here work in Italian restaurants, are called Luigi and think they're God's gift to women.'

'Ah, so the Romans have been driven out. Perhaps they have pitched camp in Portus Adorni.'

'Perhaps.'

'We must prepare,’ she said, ‘we can expect them to attack any day now.'

I have to admit that, although she was clearly bonkers, there was something about her that I found quite alluring.

We arrived at my poky flat.

'You dwell here?'

I nodded.

'Then this is where I will make my headquarters.'

'You can sleep in the bedroom,' I said. 'I'll kip on the couch in here.'

'Fetch me a jug of water for washing,' she commanded. 'I don't know where the nearest well is, but I beseech you to go quickly, for I am unclean.'

I went into the kitchen and fetched her a basin of warm water, soap and a towel.

'What miracle is this?' she said. 'You have a fire in that room to heat this water?'

'No. It's a gas-fired hot-water boil....er, oh, forget it, it'll take far too long for me to explain.'

Boudicca washed her face, hair and hands and prepared to divest herself of her hessian dress. I stopped her.

'Steady on. You can't do that here.'

'Why not?'

'Because you're a female and I'm a male. We've hardly been introduced.'

She shrugged her shoulders.

'I'll fetch you a pair of my pyjamas,' I said, and requested her to go into the bedroom to put them on.

I looked at her closely when she returned. She was very pretty, red-haired and full-lipped, yet with an obstinate chin and fierce green eyes.

'What are you looking at?' she said, crossly. 'Have you never seen a woman before?'

'Not one like you.’

'I am weary with my wanderings. I must lay down my head. Tomorrow, we must devise our plans to defeat Suetonius.'

'Queen Boudicca,' I replied. 'There is no Suetonius. He died almost two thousand years ago. So, as a matter of fact, did you.'

'And yet I stand here before you, flesh and blood. Feel me, if you do not believe me.'

I stood, gently took her hand and looked into those penetrating eyes.

'They flogged me and violated my two daughters,' she said. 'They will pay with that in blood.'

'You are over-tired tonight, my Queen, but tomorrow,' I said, 'I will prove to you that the war with Rome is long over, and that two millennia of civilisation has followed.'

I looked in on her before I went to bed. She was sleeping peacefully, lying on one side, her long red hair cascading around her on the pillow. I felt as though I wanted to be her protector, to be by her side and help her out of the mental difficulties she was obviously experiencing. I wondered if it was alcohol, or drugs, or just a simple case of schizophrenia that made her act like this.

The next morning dawned bright and fresh. I made Boudicca tea and toast, which she devoured hungrily.

'This square bread is burnt,’ she remarked, ‘yet it has a pleasant taste, and this hot mead is soothing.'

I had a track suit I hadn't worn for a while, so I gave that to her to wear whilst I put her hessian dress in the wash. I found an old trouser-belt, so she could keep the trousers up. She looked quite fetching in the outfit, with her long red hair and freckled skin. To my great surprise, she took my hand as we walked the short distance to the British Museum.

We entered. The uniformed flunkey at the door looked curiously at her but took no further action. We wandered into the room where I knew we would find the evidence she would need for her to defeat her mental illness. I led her over to one of the walls, upon which hung a number of framed pictures.

'There's a print of you overthrowing your enemies. There's another of you haranguing the Britons.'

'She looks nothing like me,' she said.

'No-one knows what you looked like,' I said. 'These paintings are from Victorian artists who presumed you looked like this. In any case, you're far more beautiful than these prints portray.'

'You think me beautiful?'

'You are beautiful.'

She squeezed my hand. I thrilled at her touch. I continued my tour.

'There's a third print showing your warriors burning the City of Londonium,’ I said. ‘Look closely, can you see the date in the caption underneath?'

'The text is strange,’ she replied. ‘It is unfamiliar to me.'

'It says 61 AD. That means Anno Domini, after the birth of Christ. Do you know what year it is now?'

She shook her head.

'It is 2022. That is one thousand, nine hundred and fifty-one years after your death.'

'I have been a long time in a damp, dark place,' she reflected, sadly.

'I've two more things to show you,' I said.

We walked hand-in-hand to the Victoria Embankment.

'See that statue?'

'Yes.'

'That's you. Thornycroft fashioned that statue a hundred and fifty years ago.'

'My daughters are alongside me.'

'Yes. And your fine horses. And your chariot. There's something wonderful and noble about this statue. It's the way you're defiantly holding your spear. It shows your great courage.'

'Would you consider being my King?' she asked. 'Anyone would be better than that eel Prasutagus.'

I laughed.

'That's not much of a recommendation. Nevertheless, I would consider it an honour to be your King.'

'You said you had something else to show me?'

I nodded. We walked to Kings Cross station. I led her onto platform nine.

'This is a strange place,' said Boudicca, 'carts riding on rods of silver.'

'These are rails, and the carts are trains.'

'Why have you brought me here?' she asked.

'You committed suicide by taking poison after you were defeated by the Romans and your followers buried you here. The station was built in 1850 and this platform stands on top of your last resting-place.'

I turned round to look at her. Her face was suffused with tears.

'Never mind,' I said. 'I'll look after you. You'll just have to get used to the twenty-first century, that's all.'

Selected: 24th Short Story
Published in Issue #30

No comments:

Post a Comment