But Vigilius lingered, and Leander, save in his influence with the irresolute Pontiff, postponed the step he had in view.
Rome waited. It had been thought that the fall of Neapolis would be followed by Totila’s swift march along the Appian Way; but three months had passed, and the Gothic king was but little nearer to the city. He seemed resolved to leave nothing behind him that had not yielded to his arms; slowly and surely his rule was being established over all the South. Through the heats of summer, with pestilence still lurking in her palaces and her dens, no fountain plashing where the sun blazed on Forum and on street, Rome waited.
In June Bessas was joined by another of the Greek commanders, Joannes, famed for his ferocity, and nicknamed the Devourer. A show of activity in the garrison resulted from this arrival; soldiers were set to work upon parts of the city wall which needed strengthening; the Romans began to make ready for a siege; and some, remembering the horrors of a few years ago, took to flight. There was much talk of a conspiracy to open the gates to Totila; one or two senators were imprisoned, and a few Arian priests who still dwelt in Rome were sentenced to banishment. But when, after a few weeks, Joannes and his troop marched northward, commotion ceased; Bessas fell back into the life of indolent rapacity, work on the walls was soon neglected, and Rome found that she had still only to wait.
About this time Marcian fell sick. He had suffered much from disappointment of high hopes, neither Heliodora nor Leander aiding his schemes as he expected. The constant danger in which he lived tried his fortitude to the utmost, and at length he began to burn with fever. Agonies came upon him, for even the slightest disorder in these plague-stricken times filled men with fear. And whilst he lay thus wretched, his servants scarce daring to attend upon him— Sagaris refused to enter his chamber, and held himself ready for flight (with all he could lay hands on) as soon as the physician should have uttered the fatal word—whilst his brain was confused and his soul shaken with even worse than the wonted terrors, there came to visit him the deacon Pelagius. That the visit happened at this moment was mere chance, but Pelagius, hearing of Marcian’s condition, felt that he could not have come more opportunely. A courageous man, strong in body as in mind, he was not to be alarmed by mere talk of the pest; bidding the porter conduct him, he came to Marcian’s bedside, and there sat for half an hour. When he went away, his handsome countenance wore a smile of thoughtful satisfaction.