After the meeting at Hadrian’s villa which he granted to the lovers, Totila summoned Basil to his presence. Regarding him with a good-natured smile, he said pleasantly:
‘Your face has a less doleful cast than when I first saw it.’
‘That,’ answered Basil, ’is due in no small degree to the gracious favour of my king.’
’Continue to merit my esteem, lord Basil, and proof of my good-will shall not be wanting. But the time for repose and solace is not yet. To-morrow you will go with Venantius to Capua, and thence, it may be, into Apulia.’
Basil bowed in silence. He had hoped that the siege of Rome was now to be undertaken, and that this would ensure his remaining near to Veranilda. But the loyalty he professed to Totila was no less in his heart than on his lips, and after a moment’s struggle he looked up with calm countenance.
‘Have you aught to ask of me?’ added Totila, after observing his face.
’This only, O king: that if occasion offer, I may send written news of myself to her I love.’
‘That is a little thing,’ was the answer, ’and I grant it willingly.’
Totila paused a moment; then, his blue eyes shining with a vehement thought, added gravely:
’When we speak together within the walls of Rome, ask more, and it shall not be refused.’
So Basil rode southward, and happily was far away when Tibur opened its gates to the Goth. For more than half a year he and Venantius were busy in maintaining the Gothic rule throughout Lucania and Apulia, where certain Roman nobles endeavoured to raise an army of the peasantry in aid of the Greek invasion constantly expected upon the Adriatic shore. When at length he was recalled, the siege of Rome had begun. The Gothic ladies now resided at Tibur, where a garrison was established; there Basil and Veranilda again met, and again only for an hour. But their hopes were high, and scarce could they repine at the necessity of parting so soon. Already in a letter, Basil had spoken of the king’s promise; he now repeated it, whilst Veranilda flushed with happiness.
‘And you remain before Rome?’ she asked.
’Alas, no! I am sent to Ravenna, to spy out the strength of Belisarius.’
But Rome was besieged, and so hateful had Bessas made himself to the Roman people that it could not be long ere some plot among them delivered the city.
‘Then,’ cried Basil exultantly, ‘I shall ask my reward.’
* * * *
On a winter’s day, at the hour of sundown, Heliodora sat in her great house on the Quirinal, musing sullenly. Beside her a brazier of charcoal glowed in the dusk, casting a warm glimmer upon the sculptured forms which were her only companions; she was wrapped in a scarlet cloak, with a hood which shadowed her face. All day the sun had shone brilliantly, but it glistened afar on snowy summits, and scarce softened the mountain wind which blew through the streets of Rome.