Content Warning: Brutal violence
When she had placed their weapons in their hands and smoothed their tattered garments as best she could, she began to go to and fro about the gorge, picking up large rocks and boulders and carrying them back to the grave. The work lasted all the day and far into the night, and she had to stop several times for water, but at long last, when the moon stood high overhead, she had built a cairn that covered Mave and Lavena’s bodies and would stand for many years in their memory.
Standing beside the tomb, she wept freely and silently for a long time, until her eyes had nearly swollen shut and her throat burned with the effort. At last, knowing she must go but dreading the moment itself, she dried her face on the back of her arm and turned to leave. But grief overcame her, and instead of walking away she cast herself on the cairn, opening her mouth in a wail of misery and despair that echoed throughout the hills and up into the sky beyond.
So she swung the ax downward toward the roots of the sacred oak, and with the first bite of the blade splinters flew up into her face, piercing her skin and drawing blood from the flesh beneath. Another of the druids, growing bolder as she turned her back to him, reached out to clutch her right arm, but she turned and pushed him away. She raised the ax once more to strike at the tree, but he came toward her again, so instead she sent the blade thudding down onto his shoulder, nearly cleaving away his arm from his body. The rest of them, crying out to the gods for vengeance and deliverance, kept their distance, and she let their keening die into the background as the thud of the ax, repeated over and over in the depths of her mind, formed a rhythm that almost persuaded her order might be returning to the world.
The mighty tree began to sway, sending the scattered glimmers of sunlight flickering about the floor of the sacred grove as its branches danced above. With a few more blows of the ax, she knew that her work was done, and she stood back to watch as the great trunk, creaking in its death-throes, fell downward—slowly at first, then gathering speed until the sound of its ruin echoed to the very bones of the earth.
She threw down the ax and turned away, but as she walked back through the midst of the lamenting druids she heard a cry behind her.
“The gods will damn you for this, Boudica! Your profane murder will haunt you to your grave and beyond!”
Turning once more, she saw the man she had wounded lying on the forest floor, raising himself on his one good arm, his visage twisted with fury and malice. The others, gathered about him, fell silent and looked up at her, their own faces strangely blank.
She took a few steps toward the fallen man, then squatted to bring her face roughly level with his. Looking deep into his enraged and agonized eyes, she asked, “Have the gods some worse hell than this prepared for me?”
Then, rising, she turned away again and left the grove, fading into the darkness under the trees.