Close by Tibur, on a gently rising slope, sheltered by mountains alike from northern winds and from the unwholesome breathing of the south, stood the vast pleasure-house built by the Emperor Hadrian, with its presentment in little of the scenes and architecture which had most impressed him in his travels throughout the Roman world. The lapse of four hundred years had restored to nature his artificial landscape: the Vale of Tempe had forgotten its name; Peneus and Alpheus flowed unnoticed through tracts of wood or wilderness; but upon the multitude of edifices, the dwellings, theatres, hippodromes, galleries, lecture halls, no destroyer’s hand had yet fallen. They abounded in things beautiful, in carving and mosaic, in wall-painting and tapestries, in statues which had been the glory of Greece, and in marble portraiture which was the boast of Rome. Here, amid the decay of ancient splendour and the luxuriance of the triumphing earth, King Totila made his momentary abode; with him, in Hadrian’s palace, housed the Gothic warrior-nobles, and a number of ladies, their wives and relatives, who made, as it were, a wandering court. Honour, pride, and cheerful courage were the notable characteristics of these Gothic women. What graces they had they owed to nature, not to any cultivation of the mind. Their health Buffered in a nomadic life from the ills of the country, the dangers of the climate, and the children by whom a few were accompanied, showed a degeneracy of blood which threatened the race with extinction.
Foremost in rank among them was Athalfrida, sister to the king, and wife of a brawny lord named Osuin. Though not yet five and twenty years old, Athalfrida had borne seven children, of whom five died in babyhood. A creature of magnificent form, and in earlier life of superb vigour, her paling cheek told of decline that had begun; nevertheless her spirits were undaunted; and her voice, in gay talk, in song or in laughter, sounded constantly about the halls and wild gardens. Merry by choice, she had in her a vein of tenderness which now and then (possibly due to failing health) became excessive, causing her to shed abundant tears with little or no cause, and to be over lavish of endearments with those she loved or merely liked. Athalfrida worshipped her husband; in her brother saw the ideal hero. She was ardent in racial feeling, thought nothing good but what was Gothic, and hated the Italians for their lack of gratitude to the people of Theodoric.
To her the king had intrusted Veranilda. Knowing her origin and history, Athalfrida, in the beginning, could not but look coldly upon her charge. The daughter of a Gothic renegade, the betrothed of a Roman noble, and finally an apostate from the creed of her race-how could such an one expect more than the barest civility from Totila’s sister? Yet in a little time it had come to pass that Athalfrida felt her heart soften to the sad and beautiful maiden, who never spoke but gently, who had compassion for