Basil could scarce contain himself. He had visited Heliodora, yes, but merely because he would neglect no chance of learning where Veranilda was imprisoned; it was not impossible that through this woman such a secret might be discovered. He the rival of that debauched boy! He the lover of Heliodora! Had he sunk so low in the esteem of his best friend? Why, then, it was time indeed to be gone: befall him what might, he could not be unhappier in Constantinople than here in Rome.
At these words, Marcian checked him with a surprised inquiry. What had turned his thoughts to Constantinople? Basil related the events of yesterday and of this morning.
‘What other counsel could you have expected from Pelagius?’ said Marcian, after listening attentively. ’But on one point I can reassure you. Veranilda has not yet fallen into the hands of the Greeks.’
‘How do you know that?’ exclaimed Basil eagerly.
’Enough that I do know it. Whilst you have been idling here— forgive me, good Basil—I have travelled far and conversed with many men. And I have something else to tell you, which will perchance fall less agreeably upon your ear. The fame of Veranilda promises to go forth over all lands. King Totila himself has heard of her, and would fain behold this ornament of his race.’
’When Cumae was besieged by the Goths three months ago, Chorsoman— whom you have not forgotten—made terms with Totila, and was allowed to keep some portion of the plunder he had amassed. Thinking to do the king a pleasure, he told him of Veranilda, of the commands regarding her which had come from the East, and of her vanishing no one knew whither. And of these things, O Basil, did Totila himself, with his royal mouth, speak unto me not many days gone by.’
‘I see not how that concerns me,’ said Basil wearily.
’True, it may not. Yet, if I were wooing a wife, I had rather seek her at the hands of Totila than at those of Justinian. To be sure, I did not speak of you to the king; that would have been less than discreet. But Totila will ere long be lord of all Italy, and who knows but the deacon Leander, no friend of Constantinople, might see his interest and his satisfaction in yielding Veranilda rather to the Goth than to the Greek?’
Basil started. Such a thought had never entered his mind, yet he saw probability in the suggestion.
‘You assure me,’ he said, ’that she has not yet been surrendered. I find that hard to believe. Knowing in whose power she is, how comes it that Bessas does not seize the insolent Leander, and force the truth from him? Were I the commander, would I be baffled for an hour by that sleek deacon?’