and so the digging of the mine, to unearth the golden pearl at the center of the earth, continued apace.
and all the other preparations for the celebration of the emperor armon-mu’s one hundredth birthday continued apace.
for almost two years, no clouds of discord appeared on the vast blue horizons of the empire.
even the weather conspired to advance the general felicity, and exceptional grape harvests provided a seemingly inexhaustible flow of wine to heighten the general glow of anticipated celebration.
in the midst of all this, a series of events transpired, hardly noticed at the time, but which will have great effects on our story.
among the many princelings born to the many wives of the emperor was a certain prince joto, a youth who seemed to have nought to attract notice, except the fortunate circumstance of his birth.
it had long been the imperial custom to assign the lesser princesses and princes to marry the sons and daughters of the myriad little kings and princes and chieftains whose tiny domains were interspersed among the vast reaches of the empire.
a clerk in the imperial bureaucracy assigned prince joto to marry one of the daughters of gow, a chieftain in a remote mountain kingdom on the northern borders of gondwana.
prince joto rebelled. the thought of a life in a mountain kingdom did not appeal to him, and he was in love with a young woman who called hersellf green star and who danced and juggled in a traveling circus.
joto declared his love for the young woman, and wrote a note to the clerk informing him that he, joto, intended to marry green star and ignore the imperial edict.
the clerk ignored this and wrote back to joto giving the details of his itinerary to the mountain kingdom.
joto appealed to the lord high chamberlain and various other functionaries - there was no question of his appealing to the emperor, who was not aware of his existence - but all his entreaties, whether in the language of passion or the language of the courts, were ignored.
eventually, a retinue of imperial guards appeared at joto’s chambers. the sergeant in charge informed the young prince that they were there to escort him - either to the mountain kingdom to embrace his assigned wife, or to the imperial mines, where he could expend his body and soul in the unearthing of the golden pearl - the golden pearl of armon-mu.
it was his choice.
joto did not hesitate, and after a last passionate embrace with the beauteous green star, was led away to the mines.
this event aroused little interest among the busy citizenry of atlantis. a few minstrels composed songs about the sad affair, but among the few who listened to them, most thought a mythical romance was being celebrated.
and so it came about that prince joto was laboring in the deepest level of the mine when the cataclysm struck that marked the beginning of the end of the mighty empire.
at this point, pete’s recital was interrupted by williams, the butler.
“excuse, me, miss. and mister palomine.”
cosima, who had looked neither enraptured nor obviously bored by pete’s story, looked up. “what is it, williams?”
“i am sorry to interrupt, miss, but i have noticed rather a suspicious looking individual lurking outside.”
“oh? are there not always suspicious characters outside? it’s probably just one of conrad’s lowlife friends. getting up his nerve to ring the bell and put the touch on him.”
“if you will trust my judgment, miss, this fellow looks like a bit more than that. for one thing, he does not, shall we say, give off an air of indecision. and he keeps moving about, not waiting in one spot as he would be if he were waiting for someone to pick him up. always a bad sign.”
“you know i trust your judgment, williams. what do you think, pete? sound like anybody you know?”
pete had turned a little pale. “um - i - i don’t think so.”
“you don’t think so?” cosima drawled. “how about getting up and taking a look at this mystery man?”
“no need for that,” williams offered. “i can step outside and tell him to be on his way.”
“no, no! “ pete cried. “you don’t want to do that!”
cosima laughed. “so you do know who it is. don’t worry, pete. you are safe with us.”
williams turned to go, but cosima stopped him. “don’t you go, williams. i will just call the police.” she got up and went over to a telephone on a small table in a corner.
pete did not look too happy, but cosima assured him, “don’t worry, i am a collinson, the police will at least humor me.”
she dialed. “hello. police headquarters? no, it’s not exactly an emergency, but my name is cosima collinson and i live on east 86th street and i would like to speak to someone. thank you.”
after a few seconds. “yes, officer. there is a shady character lurking outside my apartments. on 505 east 86th, just off madison. it is probably nothing, but i have a guest who is a bit nervous about it… thank you so much. thank you. i believe the policeman’s ball is coming up… put me down for forty tickets. that’s c-o-s-i-m-a collinson. thank you again. good bye.”
cosima put the phone back down on the little table, and looked at pete. “that was not so difficult, was it? if you are still a little nervous, you can stay the night. williams, get the guest room ready for mister palomine, will you?”
“very good, miss.” williams slipped away.
“you still want to go on with your story?” cosima asked.
“why not?” pete managed a brave smile.
“why not, indeed? why don’t we freshen our drinks first?”