The blast of trumpets just outside the gates of the villa they occupied was shatteringly loud. Veranius and the other two senators were almost startled into jumping from the couches on which they reclined.
“Do these Africans know nothing of subtlety?”
Actius’ plaintive question grated on Veranius, the senior of the three senators.
“Hush, the very abrasiveness of their ceremonies is merely a subtle reminder of their power here in Sicily.”
His fellow white robed figure subsided, mumbling under his breath. Better watch that one, he thought as he settled back into his couch to await the arrival of the Carthaginian delegation. He didn’t know Actius very well, the new senator was impulsive and quick tempered; not good traits for a diplomat. At least they had been allowed to bring a century of legionnaires for guard and ceremonial duties here as well as their own numerous slaves who could be trusted.
“His Excellency, Hanno, governor of Sicily.”
The major domo ushered the leader of the Carthaginian delegation into the presence of the three senators under the shade of the partial roof of the courtyard.
“Hail, Hanno, hail and well met.”
Veranius greeted their visitor, indeed their effective keeper within Carthaginian territory. The other two simply stared impassively almost disdainfully.
“Greetings, Veranius, my friend. How are you today?” Veranius noticed the instant stiffening of his compatriots’ backs at the my friend. The ubiquitous greeting of the Carthaginian nobility grated on their younger ears. Rome was at war with these people. How could he call a Roman senator a friend unless . . . unless . . .
“And you, gentlemen and friends, I trust you slept well?” Veranius could see by the mottled colours on his fellow senator’s face that the greeting had nettled his less experienced companion. He was also sure that Hanno had noticed it, too, and the smile contained an element of pleasure at having got under the skin of the younger man. In reply to the greeting, Veranius nodded graciously and indicated the fourth couch in the grouping, the one nearest to the edge of the roof and already the sun was beginning to touch the back of it. In a few minutes whoever was sitting there would be in full sunlight and the three Roman’s would still be cool in the shade. It had been Actius’ idea to attempt to put their adversary at such a disadvantage and Veranius wasn’t surprised when Hanno hooked a foot stool with one leg and sat on that rather than reclining onto the couch. “So, are you ready to talk about peace today?”
“We have been here to talk about peace all week.”
Actius’ outburst did little to temper the atmosphere within the courtyard and Veranius, as ever the consummate diplomat, bit his lip soundlessly in exasperation.
“We have been ready to talk peace with you for a long time, young senator; it is Rome that asks for unacceptable terms.” Veranius realised that Hanno was deliberately needling his younger companion by referring to his age and lack of seniority. Quickly, he spoke up to head off the confrontation.
“Now, which terms of Rome’s are those you find acceptable, then? Let us discuss those and then we can focus on those you deem unacceptable.”
“And what of Carthage’s terms?”
“Why should we consider your terms. We are winning this war.”Click here to return to book