563 AD



The grim day had come, as at last it must for all who are born of Eve.

It was a pleasant warm spring afternoon on their Thracian estate and Antonina, now an elderly grande dame of nearly seventy, knelt beside her husband’s deathbed. To the last she would remain at his side as she had, and he by hers, since they had first met so many years and campaigns ago.

Antonina would have much to fear when her own death came. Would it be the bright angel of a merciful God who would come to carry her to paradise, or a dark angel of justice come to throw her soul to the devils below? Antonina wished that she had faith in the absolution of the priests; she had more trust that her husband would intervene before Christ’s throne on her behalf..

She had not been a good woman while her Belisarius was the finest man who ever lived save Jesus himself. She knew that he would have nothing to fear in the hours ahead when he slipped away to eternity. True, he had been a soldier and had dealt out death his whole career, but that was in warfare and war was the way of the world. Her own sins had been political or in petty retribution. He had saved the Roman world from the Persians and reconquered much of the empire from the barbarians; but he had always spared life when able to. She feared for her own soul but not for that of the dying man.

“I love you, my lord.”

“I know.”

“No, I love you. I just did not know how much until now.”

“I know.”

In time Antonina had come to regret the infatuation she had once had for Theodosius. He’d been fun to be sure; but like every other officer under her husband’s command he’d had his own agenda. He had used the general as he had used her, and she him. She hoped it had not been entirely a calculated thing but he had advanced because he was Belisarius’ trusted son in Christ.

Theodosius had long years ago faced Christ’s justice for their sin. One day soon she also would have to. Dare Antonina ask a favor of her husband that she dared not ask of Christ herself: “When you are with Our Lord, please pray for our godson and for me.” Belisarius squeezed her hand with something still of the iron grip with which he had held a sword. Then he left this earth.

Belisarius died. The old widow wept for three days and nights but on the morning of the fourth day while she looked out across the Sea of Marmara she was at peace. In Belisarius she had seen and known and loved a reflection of the Divine Mercy. She had betrayed him and he had forgiven her. Yet in her way she had loved him as deeply as he had loved her. As Edward Gibbon wrote: “She reigned with long and absolute power over the mind of her illustrious husband; and if Antonina disdained the merit of conjugal fidelity, she expressed a manly friendship to Belisarius, whom she accompanied with undaunted resolution in all the hardships and dangers of a military life.”

This author chooses to believe that Antonina was less to be faulted than successful businessmen and gossips. She was just unimpressed by the hypocrisy of those who make much of the seventh commandment while ignoring the others. Antonina had boldly sinned in the sunlight. She had not hidden her sins in the dark, and Belisarius was so secure in himself and their marriage – a marriage firmly founded on a lifelong friendship, not male rights of property over her – that he would forgive her anything and defy any man to call him cuckold. This his jealous and cowardly secretary Procopius dared only after the general’s death.

Belisarius died. Antonina wept for three days and nights but on the morning of the fourth day while she looked out across the Sea of Marmara she was at peace. In her heart she no longer just felt, but now knew that he had been blessed.