Ben found himself in an awkward position, standing while looking down at her face-to-face, less than an arm's length apart. She seemed quite at ease, he was not.
"My name is Benjamin, Queen Boudica. It isn't right for me to look down on you. May I sit?"
"You may if you wish," she responded with a sensuous cat-like smile. "You speak our language in an amusing way. You're not a Celt, at least not from any of the bands we know."
"That's true," Ben replied. "I'm from the land of Judea. It lies on the western extremity of a region the Romans conquered and named Palestine."
"Do they control it now?"
"Yes. Completely. And it's happened before."
"Others have done the same?"
"Many times, by many people including Babylonians, Persians, Assyrians, the Macedonians of Greece, and now the Romans. Before all of that came to pass, my people abandoned the land to escape a terrible drought by going south to Egypt, where they were enslaved for many years by the Egyptians, then returned after a harrowing exodus."
"Except for the Romans, I've never heard the names you give these people. What are your people called?"
"It's a very long story," Ben replied. "The father of our religion was called ‘Abraham' his son was named ‘Isaac' and Isaac had a son named ‘Jacob' who was later called ‘Israel' because he wrestled with our God one night. Israel had twelve sons, and they became the leaders of our twelve tribes. One of those tribes became prominent. It was led by a son named ‘Judah' and from those we became known as Israelites, Judeans, or Jews."
"So I could say that your people are called ‘Israelites' and you are a ‘Jew.' Is that right?"
"Yes, it is, Queen Boudica. That's the way it stands. Our religion is called ‘Judaism' also from Judah. And you might call your religion, ‘Druidism'...?"
"Yes. Exactly. I would say it that way. And did your people fight to defeat or escape the people who dominated them?"
"As I mentioned, they escaped from the Egyptians in ancient times, and made it back to their land after forty years of wandering in the desert, but they did not have the number of warriors they needed in order to defeat subsequent invaders. There are many of my people who still live in our land, and there are just as many scattered widely in many directions, living as they can in the lands of their conquerors."
"Will those left behind fight the Romans?"
"I believe there are some who will try, but it will be futile. The Romans will prevail. I fear that our land, our Holy City of Jerusalem and thousands of our people who remain there will soon be destroyed in a horrible slaughter of apocalyptic proportions. Those who survive will be scattered for the last time, and our homeland will be contested forever by others."
"Did your priests make sacrifices to bring help from your gods?"
"We only have One God and our Priests did make sacrifices to Him."
"Only one god? What sacrifices did that god require?"
"Sheep, lambs, mostly," Ben replied.
Boudica was stunned. Her expression changed dramatically, frozen, perplexed. Then came laughter, roaring, in waves, finally disappearing behind tightly closed lips.
"Is this true?" she asked, in a tone reflecting complete disbelief, and astonishment.
"It's the best I can tell you at this point, Queen Boudica, given my limited use of your language."
"You've done well for a foreigner," Boudica responded. "Are there Gaelic speakers in Palestine, from whom you learned?"
"Only one I knew well. He lived nearby, in a land Celts had reached in their migrations to escape Germanic tribes, Romans and Bedouins."
"And he taught you?"
"Yes. He did."
"Where is he now?"
"I fear to tell you more about him," Ben responded demurely.
"Why?" asked Boudica. Her brows knitted again, in expression of recurring concern.
When Ben withdrew further in avoidance, Boudica shifted her position and leaned forward until he could feel the warmth of her breasts, and the heat from her breath. Her face was less than a hand's width from his. Her lips were parted. Teeth bared. Ben looked into her eyes and inhaled sharply as a filmy gray curtain closed over the white pools around the blue-green eyes that once shined so brightly through shadows beneath her brows. Ben recalled the shark, attacking through shallow water while Ian's crew pushed the Dhow across a sandbar near Sidon. The creature rolled to its side as it was about to strike. Its jaws opened. Ben could see the protective covering slide over its eyes, an instant before Ian delivered a blow with his iron rolling-bar, disabling the shark and sparing Ben's life.
But Ian couldn't help him anymore. Ben was on his own, and Boudica tore into him.
"Listen to me Jew, and mark my words," she hissed. "I have no time for weaklings. If you can't engage in straight talk and would rather pout like a child, what good can you be? Your people obviously cannot fight your enemies and win. You run to other lands and act like cowardly weaklings. You offer sacrifices of lambs instead of people. You have only one god, and you give him lambs? No wonder your enemies make slaves of you and chase you out of your lands. People-and their heads-are what we sacrifice, and we have many gods to please. We have taken so many heads from our enemies our gods delight, even when we take some heads for ourselves to decorate our dwellings and summon our strength for battle. No wonder your god frowns upon you Israelites. You are babies and he wants his children to be men and women who are warriors in his service. Get up! Go with my guards, and do not approach me again until you can deal with me like a man who is worthy of my time and attention. I need help, not weaklings. If I see you again, as you are on this day, there will be no mercy. I'll sever your head from its moorings without regret!"