Just before sunset on this same day there was trampling of hoofs along the road ascending to the villa, as two horsemen, with a dozen followers, some on horses, some on mules, rode up. Summoned to the atrium, Basil greeted the return of Marcian, and looked with curiosity at the man standing beside him, who could be no other than Venantius. A tall and comely man, wearing a casque and a light breastplate, his years not more than thirty, rather slim, yet evidently muscular and vigorous, he had a look of good-humoured determination, and the tones in which he replied to Basil’s welcome were those of a born commander. In contrast with his host’s elaborate courtesy, the manners of Venantius might have been judged a trifle barbarous, but this bluntness was no result of defective breeding; had he chosen, he could have exchanged lofty titles and superlatives of compliment with any expert in such fashionable extravagances, but he chose a plainer speech, in keeping with his martial aspect. First of all he excused himself for having arrived with so many followers.
‘But our good Marcian,’ he added, clapping a hand on his companion’s shoulder, ’had a story to tell me of a fair lady and fairer maiden—though not long to bear the name, she—who may belike need protection as well as honourable attendance; whereas you, noble Basil, have thought little of the use of arms, and probably keep no very warlike retinue at command. So I mounted half a dozen bowmen, who will ride and shoot with any Hun, and as many stout fellows who can wield lance or throw javelin, and here they are at your gates. Have no fear for the girls within doors; my men are both sober and chaste by prudence, if not by nature. There was a time when I had to make an example here and there’—he scowled a smile—’but now they know me.’
Basil replied as became him, not without some slight imitation of his guest’s bluff manliness. Admiring, as he did, above all things, that which savoured of heroism, he was strongly impressed by Venantius, whose like, among natives of Rome, he had not yet beheld, who shone before him, indeed, in a nobler light than any man he had seen since the days when he worshipped Belisarius. Arrangements were speedily made for the entertainment of the little armed troop, and as dusk gathered the host and his two guests sat down to supper. Whilst the meal was being made ready, Basil had found opportunity of speech with Aurelia, who heard with great satisfaction of the coming of Venantius, and promised to receive him early on the morrow.
‘The lady Aurelia’s name is not unknown to me,’ said Venantius, when Basil spoke of her at table. He would have added a remark, but paused with a look at the attendant slaves. ’Her illustrious father,’ he went on, ’I spoke with when I was young. But for the illness of Maximus I should have ventured hither during this year gone by, notwithstanding some difference in our view of things; or rather, to make sure whether there really was as much difference as I supposed.’