At the same hour Marcian was riding along the Praenestine Way, the glory of summer sunrise straight before him. The thought most active in his mind had nothing to do with the contest of nations or with the fate of Rome: it was that on the morrow he should behold Veranilda. For a long time he had ceased to think of her; her name came to his lips in connection with artifice and intrigue, but the maiden herself had faded into nothingness, no longer touched his imagination. He wondered at that fantastic jealousy of Basil from which he had suffered. This morning, the caress of the warm air, the scents wafted about him as he rode over the great brown wilderness, revived his bygone mood. Again he mused on that ideal loveliness which he attributed to the unseen Veranilda For nearly a year she had been sought in vain by her lover, by Greek commanders, by powerful churchmen; she had been made the pretext of far-reaching plots and conspiracies; her name had excited passions vehement and perilous, had been the cause of death. Now he was at length to look upon her; nay, she was to pass into his guardianship, and be by him delivered into the hands of the warrior king. Dreaming, dreaming, he rode along the Praenestine Way.
Though the personal dignity of Pelagius and the calm force of his speech had awed and perturbed him, Marcian soon recovered his habitual mind. He had thought and felt too deeply regarding public affairs to be so easily converted from the cause for which he lived. A new treachery was imposed upon him. When, after receiving all his instructions from Leander, he went to see Pelagius, it was in order to secure his own safety and the fulfilment of his secret mission by a seeming betrayal of him he served. He knew that his every movement was watched; he could not hope to leave Rome without being stopped and interrogated. If he desired to carry out Leander’s project— and he desired it the more ardently the longer he reflected—his only course was this. Why did it agitate him more than his treachery hitherto? Why did he shake and perspire when he left Pelagius, after promising to bring Veranilda to Rome? He knew not himself—unless it were due to a fear that he might perform his promise.
This fear it was, perhaps, which had filled his short sleep with dreams now terrible, now luxurious. This fear it was which caught hold of him, at length distinct and intelligible, when, on turning his head towards the city soon after sunrise, he became aware of a group of horsemen following him at a distance of half a mile or so. Thus had it been agreed with Pelagius. The men were to follow him, without approaching, to a certain point of his journey, then would close about him and his attendants, who would be inferior in number, and carry them, with the Gothic maiden, back to Rome. At the sight Marcian drew rein, and for a moment sat in his saddle with bent head, suffering strangely. Sagaris came up to his side, regarded him with anxious eye, and asked whether the heat of the sun’s rays incommoded him; whereupon he made a negative sign and rode on.