The ambassador was brought in chains before the emperor. The royal phalanx lined both sides of the great courtyard. The emperor sat in his chair, absent-mindedly swatting flies and staring into the dancing light of the pluvium. The foreign minister, the master of horse, the cupbearer, the dragoman and the scribes had carefully coached the ambassador in the etiquette, laws, and idioms of the empire. After bowing before the emperor, the ambassador awaited the signal. A woman with a lyre struck three chords. The ambassador spoke. At some indefinite time in the past, an event may or may not have occurred that may or may not affect your realm and may or may not bring salvation. That was well said, a royal guard remarked. The master of horse stroked his clean-shaven cheek in deep thought, perhaps even fear. The musician, dragoman, cupbearer, and the scribes shook their heads with deep disapproval. The emperor watched the pluvium. A goldfish swirled around in waves of pale blue and white light.