Now Belisarius and Antonina prepared for the arrival of Photius, newly graduated from the palace school of strategy and tactics. While he waited, Belisarius was fully occupied with preparations for the invasion of Italy itself. Antonina and her bodyguard had nothing of importance to do however, except to enjoy the sun and warm breeze. Theodosius lay on the beach with Antonina. Her other guards stood in groups not far away and for decency several Sicilian noblewomen sort of joined with them, or at least sat with them from time to time. The day was as fine as any but hot. At one point Antonina hiked up her tunica and waded into the warm sea but soon returned to sit beside her escort again. The sea had wet her hair and Theodosius watched as she brazenly released it from the confines of a noble Roman lady’s coif to fall in scented tresses to her waist. She was his commander’s wife, Theodosius reminded himself… Oh fortunate of men. Then Antonina smiled and laughed a younger girl’s bright giggle. It would have been far easier for Theodosius to keep to his duty of simply occupying the general’s wife’s time with chit chat and parlor games had she frowned. He looked around at her other guards who pretended disinterest and to the Sicilian noblewomen who seemed unable to decide what was proper behavior around these two people who obviously cared more than a little about each other. Antonina was a tease; everyone knew that. The question was whether or not Theodosius was made of stone? Surely Belisarius should have entrusted Antonina’s entertainment to some eunuch.

The next day, Theodosius himself went to suggest just that. He got as far as the general’s quarters but stopped outside. What would he say? He couldn’t just make up some excuse to be replaced in such an easy duty and one safe from death in battle. Belisarius would see through it and he would soon be a dead man. It would be worse and a quicker demise to admit he lusted after Antonina. Neither was an option and so he turned about, worrying for his life and his soul. He returned to his own rooms and for a few minutes considered speaking with one of the priests who accompanied the army. But what would be the use? He could hear in his mind’s ear what a priest would say, and he did not need to hear it. Anyway, Theodosius did not really want to lose the sight of Antonina at play or forget the smell of her damp hair.

He and Antonina were more and more to be seen together laughing and happy in each others company as they went about whatever task Belisarius had assigned to them, or Antonina had assumed on her own as Theodora’s agent. One day they were examining the accounts of the Sicilian garrison when Antonina stretched up on her toes to haul a wooden box of records from a high shelf. She should have asked for help but that was not Antonina’s way. She stumbled and fell backwards into the arms of Theodosius. He innocently caught her at the breasts but was slow to release the wife of his general. Antonina looked at him over her shoulder smiling. Theodosius nervously recovered a proper demeanor towards his godmother and the wife of the second most powerful man in the Roman empire; but Antonina trapped his hands on her bosom, and continued smiling naughtily. Their tenderness for each other had been growing in Africa and Constantinople and that had not gone unobserved by Procopius, among others.

“It’s OK. I’m not one of the sillies in the Great Palace who think their virtue is more important than friendship.”

“Godmother, it would not be right; if we start we will not stop.”
“Hush. Don’t think so much of what is right. I love my husband more than my life and I always will. But he is very busy and we are very lonely.” Antonina’s hands were now loosing the sash about Theodosius’ waist. Theodosius was almost impotent with fear of Belisarius’ wrath, but not quite. He was indeed lonely. As Antonina’s constant guard he could hardly visit the whores that satisfied other soldiers’ needs and the lady was lovely to behold in the afternoon sun which streamed through the windows. As always there was the slightest scent of thyme about her. She was also strong and and possessed of a feminine dominance that broached no refusal. She was not young. She was not a skinny waif. She was not heavy but definitely full bodied. Nor was Antonina, the Romanesque lady, accustomed to being refused by anyone in any manner. For her it meant nothing if a man enjoyed her breasts. That she could do for the lonely Theodosius as she had once done for coins. Belisarius would not need to know. She was not choosing the youth over her husband, she told herself, just passing time in a gawd-awful army post. After all, no-one would care if they had been two friends playing a dice game or shooting arrows at a target. To Antonina it was nearly the same.

It was only the heavy footfalls of Belisarius’ guards approaching that ended the awkward moment. Seconds later Antonina was explaining to her husband how she and Theodosius had been stashing a store of Gothic coin among the uninteresting boxes of paper records: purchases of corn and olive oil, of camp wine and of carts, of pigs and goats. It would be sufficient to purchase some mules for the bucellarii and, she added quite innocently, a nice dinner for her and the tired commander at a seaside restaurant.

The explanation was not lost on Theodosius. He had debts and there would be much more loot for Justinian’s coffers when they took Italy. His mistress might spare a small part, a thing he would never dare suggest to his commanding officer.

In the weeks following, Theodosius tried to avoid Antonina without alerting Belisarius that anything had changed. He wanted to be a loyal godson and Antonina was his godmother. He dared not ask to be relieved of his duties as her constant guard and companion when away from camp for that might arouse suspicion in the general who would recall how cheerful Antonina always was around Theodosius. Instead he asked to be assigned a combat command. Belisarius would not hear of it; the youth was not muscular enough. He then requested that he be assigned to duties surveying the recently captured towns for recruits and war material. It would give him the chance to see the wonders of the empire when the caesars had still ruled from Rome, and to visit many holy and beautiful churches and monasteries – for he could rightly claim a more than usual bent for the religious life, if not for a life of holy poverty. This Belisarius reluctantly granted and Antonina as reluctantly yielded to it as necessary. She had come to love the cheerful banter of her godchild which dispelled the sober climate of an army camp at war. She did love her husband with all her heart save that little space reserved for the youth. Before long, however, she asked of Belisarius that she accompany Theodosius on these trips, except of course, to the monasteries where women were not permitted.