With his wonted grave simplicity, Felix told that he had long since recovered from the effects of the wound, but had remained at Aesernia, unable to obtain permission to go in search of his master. The Gothic army was now advancing along the Via Latina; Basil’s followers were united with the troop under Venantius; and on their arrival at Casinum, Felix succeeded in getting leave to climb to the monastery. He had been assured that his lord had recovered health, and was still sojourning with the holy men; but by whom this news had been brought he could not say. Doubtless Venantius had held communication with the monastery.
‘And you are here alone?’ asked Basil, fearing still to utter the question which was foremost in his mind.
‘Alone of my lord’s men. I followed those that came with the king.’
‘The king? Totila is here?’
‘It was rumoured,’ replied Felix, in a reverent voice, ’that he desired to speak of deep matters with the holy Benedict. They are even now conversing.’
Basil fell into a great agitation. Absorbed in his private griefs, and in thoughts of eternity, he had all but forgotten the purpose with which he crossed the Apennines at the summons of Marcian. The name of Totila revived his interest in the progress of the war, but at the same time struck his heart with a chill misgiving. With what eyes would the king regard Marcian’s slayer? Was he more likely to pardon the deed if he knew (as assuredly he must) that it was done in jealous love of Veranilda? The words he had not dared to speak leapt to his lips.
’Felix, know you anything of the Gothic lady—of her whom we lost?’
‘The lord Venantius brought her to Aesernia,’ was the grave reply, ’and she is now among the wives and daughters of the Gothic lords who move with the army.’
Answering other questions, Felix said that he had not seen Veranilda, and that he knew nothing of her save what he had heard from those of Basil’s men who had been at the island villa, and, subsequently, from the gossip of the camp. A story had got abroad that Veranilda was the lost princess of the Amal line surviving in Italy, and it was commonly thought among the Goths that their king intended to espouse her—the marriage to be celebrated in Rome, when Rome once more acknowledged the Gothic ruler. This did Felix report unwillingly, and only because his master insisted upon knowing all.
‘Very like it is true,’ commented Basil, forcing a smile. ’You know, my good Felix, that the Emperor would fain have had her adorn his court; and I would rather see her Queen of Italy. But tell me now, last of all, what talk there has been of me. Or has my name been happily forgotten?’
‘My dear lord’s followers,’ replied Felix, ’have not ceased to speak of him among themselves, and to pray for his safety.’
’That I gladly believe. But I see there is more to tell. Out with it all, good fellow. I have suffered worse things than any that can lie. before me.’