Our FEATURED WRITER this month is Alice Holden in Year 8.
She says: "I love storytelling because it builds the imagination, improves your editing skills and it allows you to put your emotions into the story. It was the bedtime stories as a young child that inspired me to write"
And here is her story:
I ran home, full of excitement and worry at the same time…
“The Romans are here!” Shouted the Celt on look out.
It was an occasion we had been waiting for. The Romans were to sign a treaty with Boudicca to remain our allies. It hasn’t been very long since King Prasutagus died, leaving the tribe with no male heir. The only hope for us was to stay in peace with the Romans. My name is Breanne and I am part of the Iceni tribe. My father, Ronan, died when I was very young and now I live with my older sister, Alanis, and my mother, Aife. Alanis has brown hair, darker skin and brown eyes with gold flashes in them. I also wanted her eyes: they shine even when it’s the middle of the night and her lips were always painted with red berries. Aife, my mother, has the most beautiful highlights in her hair and her eyes are as blue as the midnight sky. Her name means a warrior of beauty and every now and then, I see rainbow flashes in her eyes, just like in a fairy tale. Ronan, my father, had pale blue eyes and mid length ginger hair. I, however, look like the average person – long, wavy, brown hair, brown eyes and pale pink lips. And some people say my skin is as pale as a vampire’s.
It didn’t take me very long to get home, but I knew my family would be waiting for me. As I arrived, Alanis was feeding the chickens, including the two cockerels, and mother had started preparing supper. It was the usual meal: slightly undercooked turnips, goat and a sprinkle of parsley. Mother loves to cook: we are occasionally told we are posh. But today was different, today it tasted lighter, more vibrant. I asked mother what was different about it.
“Nothing?” She said with slight confusion.
I guess it was just a while since I had eaten. As mother called Alanis to dinner, I could see the Roman ships pull up onto the sandy shoreline that had once been a blood covered battle ground. The very one my father sacrificed his life on – along with many others. Oh, I miss him so much. We used to have so much fun! Once, we even scared Alanis out of her skin when she met a boy. To be honest, I felt bad after that incident because the boy had stopped talking to her. Just like how Alanis had stopped talking to us.
“Breanne, eat up. We’ve got somewhere to be soon.” Aife exclaimed, startling me.
My mother was right, how could I forget? A sacrifice is going to be made in the name of our honoured guests, the Romans. As we arrived I could see the priest stealing and ripping a new born baby out of a young woman’s arms. I could hear her yelp, begging for mercy for that child. Weeping, crying her eyes out as the priest welcomed everyone to the ceremonial sacrifice. He held the baby in the air.
The priest started, “Here is an innocent, a child of no crime. Today, we welcome our guests by sacrificing this young, loved Celt to honour the bonds between a tribe and a nation.”
I could see flames, with smoke that made everyone around me vanish! As the smoke cleared, the young woman had lost all hope. Realising her baby had gone, she stopped crying. Instead was the loud shriek of despair…
The night sky was coming, taking over any light that passed through, struggling to get even a hint of success. Back home, I was meant to be in bed but one thought was keeping me up.
“Were the Romans really our friends? Or were they here for something other than peace?”
These questions kept my mind spinning; it was like a whirlwind in my head, trying to eliminate any other good thoughts.
The next morning, the whirlwind seemed to have stopped. So I gave out a sigh of relief. My sister had gone to see the neighbours. But when she came back she told mother of a meeting. I heard every word.
“The Romans seem to be meeting up with Boudicca about the contract.”
“Oh? This must mean that we will be, once again, allies with the Romans. I just hope that is what they are actually going to do.”
Mother doesn’t always trust the Romans now that father has gone. She seems to be overprotective of us now. All for good reason though, as father was the Barbarian of the family; he was also the protector. Mother had only had to protect us when father was gone. This wasn’t, surprisingly, very often. She didn’t get much practise, but now that it’s just her, she doesn’t have a choice. It won’t be for long as Alanis is almost old enough to marry and many boys have their eye on her. I, however, am not the romantic type as I want to grow up just like my father. A warrior!
“Girls aren’t supposed to be heroes.”
“Girls are weak!”
“Ha! You? A warrior?”
“Warriors are boys!”
I hear this every day. But, that’s just men for you. They have no idea about anything. That’s what Alanis says. If Boudicca can be a queen, then I can be whatever I want.
I was walking round the village when I heard Boudicca’s daughters with two Roman soldiers. They sounded like they were in pain. I also heard the soldiers laughing like a couple of stupid hyenas wandering away from their pack. I called my mother over as I wasn’t far from home; she peeked into the mud house, which was covered in layers of straw and hay. As she looked at me, I could see her face, full of horror.
“What’s wrong mother?”
“G…g…go back to see your sister. You are too young to understand. Oh, and fetch Aart, tell him to meet me here.” She said, “Go now! And don’t tell another soul!”
Aart was one of our friends. He worked very closely to Boudicca, as he was the strongest Barbarian of the Iceni tribe. He had war marks on his chin, very muscular arms and rumours say he could break a ginormous log in half with his bare hands. I knew this wasn’t true, he had said so himself. I grabbed him and told him what my mother had said to me. I walked home, knowing that I had helped mother and that I should stay out of it. Whatever ‘it’ was.
But I stopped. I remembered the whirlwind of the previous night.
“Were the Romans really our friends? Or were they here for something other than peace?”
This must have been what I was thinking about; so I went, secretly, to where mother looked outraged…
Soon enough I was outside the mud hut, waiting for the Romans to give me a clue of what had happened. The hyena laughs were haunting me, like a ghost ready to give me a fright. Then I saw Boudicca. She was rushing down to see what all the commotion was about. Mother and Aart were following her like bodyguards. I hid; they weren’t allowed to see me here. They all went in the hut, I heard shouting, banging on the walls. Boudicca’s daughters were being harassed!
Meanwhile – as Aart put a halt to the betrayal - I saw a few more Romans looting Boudicca’s hut. They were carrying the smallest of brooches to the largest of robes that King Prasutagus used to wear, a wooden chest filled to the brim with bronze coins, jewellery, even rusty candles that were used for ceremonial purposes. I rushed over to the closest hut, I had to warn somebody. But maybe this was my chance? My chance to be just like my father! As the Romans continued to take what wasn’t theirs, I went to stop them. As I ran over, I grabbed a knife from the nearby weaponry. I didn’t know how to use it but I knew it would come in handy. I kept running, almost there I thought. I got closer…
“Hey, hold up little one. What are you doing with that knife?” One of the villagers said, grabbing my arm.
“Let me go!! I need to stop them.”
“The Romans, they are stealing our treasure!”
I urgently needed to go, so I quickly explained to the man what I had seen and heard back in the hut. He only laughed. His grip on my arm was getting looser and I got myself free. I remembered what my father had said to me the night he was killed.
“Breanne, you are strong. Don’t let anyone hold you back. I must go! Look after your mother and sister whilst I am gone. And don’t forget, I called you Breanne for a reason. It means powerful, and I know you are, my dear. Goodbye now.”
I went up to the Roman optios and when I told them they should stop stealing, they only laughed. But this time it wasn’t hyena laughs, it was more like cackles from an ancient witch. My sister Alanis came up to me.
“I was looking all over for you, Breanne! Now,” she said, “stop interrupting these gentlemen and come home.”
She dragged me all the way back home and told me to have something to eat. I hadn’t had any breakfast that morning and, to be honest, I was very hungry. I had porridge and blackberries. Unfortunately, since mother usually cooks, I burnt the porridge over the fire so I wasn’t very keen to eat after all. Alanis was watching me though, so I ate everything (even the burnt part that was covered in ash from the fire). Mother came home, not wanting to talk to either of us. I ended up playing with the chicken and Aart’s sheep. I guess it was something to do. When the sun began to set, Boudicca came to pay my mother a visit. She looked utterly distraught! They were talking quite loudly.
“They have taken everything! Completely ignoring the King’s will and the tribe’s needs! My daughters taken from me as well and I came to you because of your loyalty and service to the Iceni tribe. Your husband was a great man, and, frankly, so was mine.” Boudicca continued, “How dare they do this to us, all we asked for was peace!”
My mother tried to calm her down but it was no use. I was scared and frightened, but also clueless. What would we do now that we were no longer ‘friends’ with the Romans? Tomorrow morning they leave so I thought we should give them justice for what they had done. As the night sky disappeared, the cockerel woke me. The roof was quite low where I slept and as I sat up, I bumped my head hard. I looked up and I saw the hole in the roof where the smoke and ashes from the fire went. The thatched roof above me was slowly falling apart, and every so often, another few bits of hay would land on the mud floor. Having no windows, the room was always dark and whenever you walked outside your eyes would squint due to the sunlight. The roof was layered up with mud to thicken the foundation of our house and to keep the warmth in. It was always very smoky here, as the fire was always burning.
“Aife is out”, Alanis told me.
She doesn’t call her ‘mother’ because she says it sounds babyish and only for young children. I disagree.
“Why?” I asked.
“She is attending a meeting called by Boudicca about the dreaded Romans. Aife is going to tell us all about it when she returns.”
I sat down and ate my porridge. Alanis did it for me this time because I didn’t want to risk burning myself. I thought a lot about Boudicca and the young woman at the ceremonial sacrifice: both lost their children and both lost them because of the Romans coming here. I couldn’t bear to lose my mother or Alanis like I lost father. My mother once told me of how she and Ronan met.
“It was a cloudy day and all of a sudden it started raining. Your father gave me his arm and helped me get to a shelter. I was around Alanis’ age and Ronan was a few winters older. He helped me warm up in his hut. The very one we live in now, in fact. His father was a weak man, a coward they used to call him. Ronan was the Barbarian of the family, even at that young age. He had fought off intruders and any wild animals that had come near the village. Ronan went out hunting one day, and when he came back, he had picked a beautiful tulip. He gave it to me and told me I was as pretty as that flower, as bright as a sunny day and as perfect for him as a new born baby, welcomed to the world by the Gods.” Mother cried every time she had told this story, “The very next month we were married and were ready to make a family of our own – including you and Alanis.”
I loved this story, I found it calming and it helped me get an honourable picture of father. The man who had a heart, I used to say. I was taken aback when mother appeared in the door way. She wanted to talk to us. Since every adult had been to the meeting, it wasn’t a secret (unlike yesterday’s events).
“A war is coming.” Mother said this like it was a casual thing. “Boudicca will lead all warriors into a rebellion against the Romans and Gaius Suetonius Paullinus.”
I could tell mother was tearful, Alanis could too. She told mother to have a lie down. Mother nodded gently and hobbled off to her bed.
I asked Alanis, “Who is Paullinus?”
“Paullinus is the governor of the Romans. Boudicca wants to rebel against him and we will prepare for it whilst he is away leading a campaign in North Wales.”
The next day, the sun was shining brightly and it was quite early. The Romans had left and there was a crowd surrounding somebody jeering.
“THE ROMANS CHOOSE TO SIDE AGAINST US. THAT IS THEIR CHOICE, NOT OURS. WE WON’T STAND FOR THIS! THEY HAVE TAKEN ALL THAT WE CARE FOR AND NEED. WE ARE THE ICENI TRIBE; WE ARE THE CELTS!!”
We all cheered at this speech and I had just noticed who was saying it. My eyes had just adjusted to the light. It was Aart, and next to him was Boudicca. Aart was holding a sword; it was very shiny and looked new. The Romans had taken most of the Iceni tribe’s coins which meant we were limited on supplies. But with the equipment we did have, we made good use of.
Days passed, and all Barbarians were busy fighting and practising. The whole week, all we could hear was the clink of iron swords, the bang on their oval shaped shields, and daggers dinging. I could see straw dummies getting whacked and hacked at by some Celts. This was done mainly by those who whirled their swords around their heads and brought it crashing down right onto the top of the dummy. Spears were thrown far and wide as there was a cry of anger by those throwing them. Women and young children were preparing barrels and barrels of food from the crops and looking after all the animals. Goats, sheep, chickens, and pigs were being fattened up whilst crops were being watered. Some girls, like Alanis, were wiping sweat off the warriors’ faces, dipping the cloth in the dirty water as the men were fighting. If this is what they did to mannequins, what would they do to the real enemies?
Some people say we will never build up the courage to fight the Romans, others say it will be years until we do, some that we will be fighting in a matter of weeks, days even. I just hope we do fight, stand up for our tribe and, most importantly, win!
Meanwhile, Alanis was sneaking off from her duties. She wandered into the nearby woods, I didn’t know what she was doing – nor did anybody else. So I went after her. Alanis had done this many times before, at least once a day. Usually she did it at dawn each time; this gave me the opportunity to plan my spy work perfectly. At dawn the next morning, even though I felt tired, I was ready. I slowly followed her and I observed her with a boy. I had recognised him from our village - his name was Brendis, meaning prince. However he was only a farmer’s son. Brendis had bright blue eyes and unusually blonde hair. Most boys his age had started growing a small beard by now, but Brendis had none. He was tall for his age and as thin as a stick. I was very surprised to see him the next day, helping the women with their obligations, instead of being with the boys and men – fighting. But I could tell Alanis liked him, and I wasn’t going to stand in their way of happiness.
One year later, the preparation for war was brought to a halt as Brendis and Alanis were married. Alanis was moving out and Brendis was becoming the best Barbarian of the just wedded men. He was no longer a farmer’s son as his father had recently passed. Mother was happy for Alanis and calmly aging. Soon it would be just me. Tomorrow, there would be another sacrifice. But I am choosing not to go as I am old enough to make my own decisions. Whilst everyone was at the ceremonial sacrifice today, I met a boy my age. I hadn’t seen him before, he introduced himself to me.
“Hello, my lady. I am Hines.”
“Hello Hines, I am Breanne.”
We both blushed. His eyes were as dark as a demon, his hair as black as ebony. He was also tall, like Brendis and wore clothes that I seem to remember from somewhere before. But I could see his heart was white, pure as a soul. Every week, at sunset, we would meet behind my hut. Hines would tell me the most amazing, adventurous stories of his travels. I would tell him of what it is like living in a village. We both admired the other’s life. But something was on Hines’ mind.
“What’s wrong? Is something going on?” I asked.
“I must confess, I am not a Celt. I… I am a Roman messenger. I have also been preparing for a battle. But not against the Empire; against the Iceni Kingdom…”
I looked astonished. This whole time spent with Hines had been a lie. He also told me he was here to advise us to bow down and let the nation take over our land and home. But it was too late now.
A horn sounded.
War had been declared!
Hines had to leave; I didn’t want him to go. He comforted me. He was there for me in the weeks beforehand. I went to the centre of the village. Boudicca let out a war cry. All the soldiers had blue paint wiped on their cheeks; this made them look like monsters. Monsters that would chase away everyone’s good thoughts, hurt and destroy people and their lives – just monsters. They didn’t look like the caring people I grew up with. Boudicca was wearing an iron helmet, she was covered in chainmail. Some people wore helmets, some didn’t. This depended on how rich they were. Some wore leather tunics; others wore heavy chainmail (like Boudicca). However, all the Romans wore linen undergarments and woollen tunics.
The Iceni women, including mother, Alanis and myself, sat on the side lines watching, waiting. Everyone else charged into battle. I saw Hines on the other side, his eyes full of tears – like mine – trying to catch my attention. We waved for, what I thought would be, the last time. Brendis was on the front line of our side. Alanis was screaming, holding her new baby boy in her arms – rocking him side to side and covering his eyes and ears. The battlefield was already covered in Roman and Celtic blood. Many of us had been taken away; my guess was because they were going to be tortured. You could see Boudicca tearing apart any Roman that stood in her way. The Romans outnumbered us, five to one. We were losing. Mother was squeezing Alanis’ hand and looking in my eyes directly. All I could do was look away; I didn’t want to see the droplet of water form under her red, swollen eyes. It was too painful. A few Romans had left the main group and came up to us. But I didn’t care; all I could see was Hines in the far distance. Two Celts had sneaked round behind the Roman audience, who were observing the battle. Hines was at the back. They got closer to him. Too close. I couldn’t help him, only watch as he was wounded and stabbed by my people. I was mortified, my eyes bulging with tears. I realised at that very moment that no men were good men.
We are the Iceni tribe; we are the Celts…
By Alice Holden