JF Ridgley is the author of eight novels and short stories set in ancient Rome and 3 contemporary romance novels. She loves researching history and writing fiction based on real stories of real people. She also loves to write contemporary romance because the ancient Roman saying of ‘Live. Love. Laugh.’ is just as true today. Learn more about JF’s books at JFRidgley.com
Times Change, People Don’t.
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A.D. 60… Three towns writhe under the Iceni queen’s wrath, as she leads her warriors intent on destroying all things Roman – be it Roman temples, Roman villas, or entire families sympathetic to Rome. At stake is Suetonius Paulinus’s reputation. With only 80,000 legionaries, will he destroy Boudica and her horde of 200,000 warriors or will he endure the disgrace in Rome for losing–to a woman? in this horrific historical revolt against Roman injustice. Julius Agricola-Rome’s tribune, and Rhianna-Boudica’s youngest daughter, become ensnared in the harsh worlds that are determined to destroy each other. Who will survive?
Red Fury Revolt
Rome meets the Iceni
Book Excerpt or Article
“Crone. Maiden. Mother.”
“Destroyer. Beginner. Increaser.”
“Death. Birth. Fruitfulness.”
The druid’s chants commanded the air, as warriors lifted her father to his funeral stanchion. Rhianna clutched the pendant, embossed with a racing Iceni horse that her father had given her for her bonding day with Calgacus. It matched Morrigan’s pendant that now pierced the drape of wool at Mergith’s shoulder.
This same horse image also crowned her father’s helmet, shadowing his face, and his round shield, laying atop the seven-colored cloak blanketing his body.
Only days ago, her father had burst into the main hall, his boisterous laugh lifting to the rafters. He had swept her up in his arms and swung her in circles. “Ah, my beautiful Rhianna. News. Where is your mother?”
During another argument over Rome, he had collapsed in Boudica’s arms. She and Morrigan had bolted to his side, only to hear his dying wish, something Rhianna failed to understand. But her mother had promised she would honor it with her life.
Now, her mother stood alone, beside his stanchion, stalwart as any warrior, knowing the Iceni now looked to her to protect them from Rome’s greed.
Her mother couldn’t do that alone. She needed the Trinovantes’ respect, so all tribes would recognize her as the Iceni leader. Otherwise, the gold torc around her neck meant nothing.
Her mother’s sharp features, her iron-gray gaze, and long, auburn hair radiated that strength. Even though Rhianna stood with Morrigan at the opposite end of the burial mound, there was no doubt her mother felt as alone and abandoned as she did. Neither she nor her mother had anyone to stand at their sides this day. Yet, Morrigan had Mergith.
Unlike Morrigan and Mergith, whose souls had already joined, hers and Calgacus’s had not. His constant attention suffocated her. Yet, for the first time, she wished he were there.
She scanned the distant trees as the Iceni continued to lay their parting gifts in the pit beneath the burial stanchion. Each person nodded to her mother and then passed to rejoin the others chanting to honor her father. Bronze trinkets, silver bowls, flasks of ale, colorful blankets, and more created mounds of gifts that would see him home. Proof of their love and respect.
Like a winter wind, the air seemed to freeze at the sound of distant drumbeats and the clank of metal from the nearby valley. People’s attention shifted to the hide of a silver wolf concealing a Roman soldier carrying a wooden staff that displayed the standard of Rome’s tax collector.
Behind that standard rode a Roman officer wearing a black-crested helmet. His red cape draped the rear haunches of his horse ornamented with silver trappings. Behind him glided a column of soldiers like a long, metal-scaled snake. Every soldier carried a large, red, rectangular shield with a yellow-winged pattern and wore a gladius banging against his thigh. Their long, red capes swayed with each measured step.
Cavalry soldiers riding silver-decorated horses escorted the cloth-covered box carried in the middle of the column. Following them strode a guard of bare-chested men whose long hair draped like capes down their well-muscled backs.
The black-crested officer raised a hand and barked, “Halt!”
A circular trumpet sounded, and the serpent’s body stopped. A man, wearing a white tunic with two, narrow purple stripes, appeared from the cloth box. The odd-looking guards accompanied this Roman as he strode up the rise toward her father’s stanchion. His gaze fastened on the piles of funeral gifts.
Her mother’s sharp glower followed each step until the Roman halted before her. “Who are you, Roman, to intrude this day?”
The man tore his attention from the gifts to focus on her mother. “Decianus Catus. Procurator of Rome.”
“If you come to honor my husband, you are welcome. If not, I demand you leave.”
“Demand?” A glimmer of mirth lit in his eyes. “And you are?”
“I am the queen of the Iceni. You will deal with me now.”
The procurator lifted a hand, a finger pointing skyward. It flicked. “Tribune.”
The black-crested officer dismounted and motioned to a soldier with the white crest stretching across his helmet. “Centurio. With me.”
Both strode through the guards and joined the procurator on the rise. The man glanced back at the officer. “Circle the stanchion.”
Stunned, the tribune hesitated. Even the centurion shifted with uncertainty.
“You heard me, Tribune. Give the order.”
The tribune jerked to life. “Centurio, circle as ordered.”
The centurion raised the first two fingers of each hand and pointed between the stanchion and her people. One hand circled to the left and the other to the right.
Rhianna’s heart clambered in her chest the moment the serpent split and separated her, her mother, Morrigan, and Mergith from the rest of the Iceni.
Outside the silver ring, her people stirred. Men reached for weapons. Churl, her father’s first warrior, jerked his sword arm across his chest. “Wait.”
The women restrained the men with a gentle touch while children hid in their mothers’ skirts. Mergith caught her sister’s wrist, stopping her from going to their mother. “Churl said to wait.”
“I regret to find the leader of the Iceni dead,” the procurator said loud enough for the gods to hear. “Still. I have orders from Rome to collect payments on loans granted to the Iceni.”
“We owe nothing to anyone,” Boudica announced. “Not even to Rome.”
“Records show your people owe much for the loans that built Camulodunum.”
“Camulodunum?” Her mother shrieked with laughter. “We owe nothing to your designs, except for what my husband granted your emperor.”
The procurator relaxed back on one leg. “What has the leader of the Iceni granted Rome?”
Rhianna could only wonder what thoughts were searing through her mother’s mind. Finally, Boudica spoke. “Prasutagus grants half of the Iceni wealth and no more to this Nero.” Her hand flicked as if throwing a tidbit at this man.
“And you have papers proving this agreement?”
Those who could hear gasped at such an insult. “Proof?” Boudica huffed loudly. “We have no need for proof. Our word is law. Is not Rome’s word equal?”
“No papers?” Laughter bellowed from the Roman’s lips. “Tribune, they expect us to accept the word of a woman who calls herself their leader.”
The tribune stared at the fool and then said, “The Iceni have never proven false before, Procurator.”
“And how would you know that, Tribune?” The man’s gaze locked on Morrigan’s glare. “See that they don’t interfere.”
The tribune nodded to the centurion, who pointed to six soldiers to stand beside Rhianna, Morrigan, and Mergith.
Somehow, the druid had escaped. Rhianna found him lingering in the shadows of the distant trees.
Like a tightening noose, she couldn’t breathe until the tribune’s worried gaze found hers. Please stop this. Whatever is happening, please make him stop. She willed her message to him and gasped when he jerked away his attention.
The procurator raised a hand. “Agreed! Half of the Iceni wealth now belongs to Rome, as well as the payments owed.”
Fury exploded on her mother’s face. She scooped a handful of dirt at her feet and flung it into the Roman’s face. “How dare you insult my husband’s dying wish with your greed?”
He backhanded her, twisting her mother aside like a bent tree. “By word of Rome, I dare.”
Pain seared through Rhianna as if she had been the one slapped. She cried out and staggered backward. The nearest soldier grabbed her by the waist before she could race to her mother.
In that same instant, the ring of soldiers braced behind their shields, their swords appearing like metal teeth.
“Curse you! Curse Rome!” Boudica screamed and then coated the procurator’s face with spit. Cheers and laughter roared through the Iceni.
The procurator simply lifted the edge of his red cape and wiped his face. The cape dropped, and his finger pointed at Boudica. “Flog her.”
Churl’s arm shot forward, releasing her father’s warriors into the soldiers like a stampede, only they began to fall beneath the locked shields and stabbing swords. The air filled with metal striking metal and cries of pain.
Soldiers barely restrained her and Morrigan, while the Roman’s guards strung their mother to Prasutagus’s stanchion like an animal hide.
Morrigan’s scream tore Rhianna’s attention to her sister, where two soldiers jerked their blades from her man’s belly.
Wrenching free, Morrigan fell to the ground, clutching Mergith’s body to her chest. Screams and tears exploded from her, as the man she loved wilted lifeless in her arms.
Rhianna thrashed against the arm wrapping her waist and searched for someone to end this. The tribune. “Do something! For the sake of my father, the gods. Stop this. Please!”
The tribune looked skyward as if beseeching the gods, his fists clinching. Meanwhile, the procurator began removing her mother’s silver bracelets, even the comb in her hair and lifted the royal torc for all to see. “Rome’s first payment.” Then he ripped her mother’s gown away and nodded at the centurion. “Begin.”
The centurion glanced at the tribune. While glaring at the procurator, he nodded.
The lash fell and then fell again, continuing to destroy her mother’s flesh while the remaining Iceni people watched, helplessly confined by the of soldiers.
Rhianna’s insides twisted as Morrigan’s sobs cut through her, as the lashes sliced the entirety of her mother’s body. Lurching free from the soldier’s grip, Rhianna bolted for the stanchion to protect her mother. She had to stop this, to do whatever she had to, to stop this horror.
Barely two strides away, an arm clamped her against the leather cuirass of the tribune. His worried expression radiating in his gaze was her only hope.
“Please, don’t let him kill my mother. Please.”
He thrust her back to another soldier. “Take her. And keep her this time.”
The soldier dragged her back to Morrigan. Another soldier had stretched her sister’s throat to the sun as she spewed curses on every Roman soul present.
Rhianna glared at the tribune as lash after lash continued, until her mother’s body sagged against the ropes. As if called, his gaze found her and his jerked away as if stung. “Halt!” barked from his lips and the whip wilted to the ground.
The procurator wheeled, livid at the order. “What in Hades are you doing, Tribune, giving that order?”
“You want her dead?”
“Do I care if she is…?”
Not only had the tribune stopped the flogging, but he also seemed to welcome the procurator’s wrath with a direct glare.
Relief barely had time to melt through Rhianna as her mother struggled to her feet. “You filthy pieces of shit,” spewed from Boudica’s lacerated lips.
The procurator stormed to the stanchion and then jerked her mother’s face up to his. “No one insults Rom—” Again, she covered his face with bloody spit.
Again, he cleansed his flesh of the insult with his cape, but this time he smiled. “Take them all prisoner!”
When his friend Tancorix stumbled through the trees, Calgacus released the axle of the broken wagon to the ground.
“It’s…insane!” Tancorix gasped. He bent over to breathe. “They’ve taken them…all but the dead…to the fort. The Iceni. Everyone.”
Calgacus and his father rushed toward the warrior. The rest of the Trinovante gathered around them. “What? They what?” his father asked.
Tancorix shook his head and shrugged. “The Romans…also flogged Boudica.”
“No.” Diras ran a hand through his long hair. “They flogged Boudica?”
The warrior nodded. “Yes.”
Fear, hotter than fire, seared through Calgacus. “What about Rhianna?”
His friend’s gaze hit him like a fist. “They took her and all the others.”
“They better not touch her. Rhianna is mine, and I’ll kill any Roman who does.” He scanned the bristling warriors ready to kill every Roman who had crossed their lands. “Enough of Rome’s insults. Let’s go.”
Before he stepped away, his father slammed him against the nearest tree trunk. “Don’t be a fool, son. You know how many Romans are here.” Pain and rage flooded his father’s face. “And you know we don’t have the weapons to fight. Not yet.”
Calgacus didn’t care about weapons. He didn’t care about how many Romans he had to face. “It’s Rhianna. You know what they’ll do to her…and all the other women.”
His father’s grip eased slightly. However, his determined, blue gaze grew hotter. “I assure you, Calgacus…and all of you.” Diras scanned those surrounding him. “The Romans will pay for this and for more. For everything. But not today. This I promise.”
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