A Struggle For Rome is a Webnovel completed by Felix Dahn.
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“It is so, by the slumber of Justinian!” cried Belisarius. “Bishop of Rome, what have you to say?”
Silverius had with difficulty composed himself.
He saw the edifice which he had been constructing his whole life, sink into the ground before him.
With a voice half choked by despair, he answered:
“I found the doc.u.ment in the archives of the Church a few months ago.
If it is as you say, I have been deceived as well as you.”
“But we are not deceived,” said Cethegus, smiling.
“I knew nothing of that stamp, I swear it by the wounds of Christ!”
“I believe it without an oath. Holy Father,” interposed Cethegus.
“You will acknowledge, priest,” said Belisarius, “that the strictest examination into this affair—-“
“I demand it as my right,” cried Silverius.
“You shall have it, doubt it not! But I will not venture to judge in this case. Only the wisdom of Emperor Justinian himself can here decide upon what is right. Vulkaris, my faithful Herulian! I herewith deliver into your keeping the person of the Bishop of Some. You will at once take him on board a vessel, and conduct him to Byzantium!”
“I put in a protest!” cried Silverius. “No one on earth can try me but a council of the orthodox Church. I demand to be taken to Rome.”
“Rome you will never see again. And Emperor Justinian, who is justice itself, will decide upon your protest with Trebonia.n.u.s. But I think your companions, Scaevola and Albinus, the false accusers of the Prefect (who has proved himself to be the best and warmest friend of the Emperor), highly suspicious. Let Justinian decide how far they are innocent. Take them too, Vulkaris, take them in chains to Byzantium. By sea. Now take them out by the back door of the tent, not through the camp. Vulkaris, this priest is the Emperor’s _worst_ enemy. You will answer for him with your head!”
“I will answer for him,” said the gigantic Herulian, coming forward and laying his mailed hand upon the Bishop’s shoulder.–“Away with you, priest! On board! He shall die, ere I will let him escape.”
Silverius saw that further resistance would only excite compulsion dangerous to his dignity. He submitted, and walked beside the German, who did not withdraw his hand, towards the door in the back of the tent, which was opened by a sentry.
The Bishop was obliged to pa.s.s close to Cethegus. He lowered his head and did not look at him, but he heard a voice whisper:
“Silverius, this moment repays me for your victory in the Catacombs.
Now we are quits!”
As soon as the Bishop had left the tent, Belisarius rose eagerly from his seat, hurried to the Prefect, and embraced him.
“Accept my thanks, Cethegus Caesarius! Your reward will not be wanting.
I will tell the Emperor that for him you have to-day saved Rome.”
But Cethegus smiled.
“My acts reward themselves.”
The intellectual struggle, the rapid alternation of anger, fear, anxiety, and triumph had exhausted the hero Belisarius more than half a day of battle. He longed for rest and refreshment, and dismissed his generals, none of whom left the tent without speaking a word of acknowledgment to the Prefect.
The latter saw that his superiority was felt by all, even by Belisarius. It pleased him that, in one and the same hour, he had ruined the scheming Bishop and humbled the proud Byzantines.
But he did not idly revel in the feeling of victory. He knew the danger of sleeping upon laurels; laurel stupefies.
He decided to follow up his victory, to use at once the intellectual superiority over the hero of Byzantium which he undoubtedly possessed at this moment, and to strike his long-prepared and princ.i.p.al blow.
As, full of this thought, he was looking after the generals who were just leaving the tent, he did not notice that two eyes were fixed upon him with a peculiar expression.
They were the eyes of Antonina.
The incidents which she had just witnessed had produced a strangely mixed impression on her mind. For the first time in her life she had seen her idol, her husband, entangled in the nets of a priest without the least power to extricate or help himself, and saved only by the superior strength of this terrible Roman.
At first the shock to her pride in her husband had filled her with dislike of the victor. But this feeling did not last, and involuntarily, as the great superiority of Cethegus unfolded itself before her, admiration took the place of vexation. She felt only one thing: Belisarius had eclipsed the Church, and Cethegus had eclipsed Belisarius. To this feeling was added the anxious desire that this man might never become the enemy, but always remain the ally of her husband.
In short, Cethegus had made a serious intellectual conquest of the wife of Belisarius; and not only that, but he was at once made aware of it.
The beautiful and usually so confident woman came towards him with downcast eyes. He looked up; she blushed violently and offered him a trembling hand.
“Prefect of Rome,” she said, “Antonina thanks you. You have rendered great services to Belisarius and the Emperor. We will be good friends.”
Procopius, who had remained in the tent, beheld this proceeding with astonishment.
“My Odysseus out-charms the sorceress Circe,” he thought.
But Cethegus saw in a moment that the soul of Antonina humbled itself before him, and what power he thus gained over Belisarius.
“Beautiful _magistra militum_,” he said, drawing himself up, “your friendship is the proudest laurel in my wreath of victory. I will at once put it to the proof. I beg you and Procopius to be my witnesses, my allies, in the conversation which I must now hold with Belisarius.”
“Now?” asked Belisarius impatiently. “Come, let us first to table, and celebrate the fall of the priest in fiery Caecubian.”
And he walked towards the door.
But Cethegus remained quietly standing in the middle of the tent, and Antonina and Procopius were so completely under his influence, that they did not dare to follow their master.
Even Belisarius turned and asked:
“Must it absolutely take place now?”
“It must,” said Cethegus, and he took Antonina’s hand and led her back to her seat.
Then Belisarius also retraced his steps.
“Well,” he said, “speak; but briefly. As briefly as possible.”
“I have ever found,” began Cethegus, “that with great friends or great enemies, sincerity is the strongest bond and the best weapon. According to this maxim I will act. When I said my acts reward themselves, I wished to express thereby that I did not wrest the mastery of Rome from the false priest exactly for the sake of the Emperor.”
Belisarius grew attentive.
Procopius, alarmed at the too bold sincerity of his friend, made a sign of warning.
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