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- An Egyptian Princess, Volume 5. - 4/10 -
example by us; we are content with our own faith and leave others to enjoy theirs in peace. Cease to look upon yourselves as better than the rest of the world. I wish you well, for a pride founded on self-respect is pleasing in mine eyes; but take heed lest pride degenerate into vainglory. Farewell! rest assured of my favor."
The Jews then departed. They were disappointed, but not hopeless; for Belteshazzar knew well that the decree, relative to the building of the temple, must be in the archives at Ecbatana.
They were followed by a deputation from Syria, and by the Greeks of Ionia; and then, winding up the long train, appeared a band of wild- looking men, dressed in the skins of animals, whose features bespoke them foreigners in Babylon. They wore girdles and shoulderbands of solid, unwrought gold; and of the same precious metal were their bow-cases, axes, lance-points, and the ornaments on their high fur caps. They were preceded by a man in Persian dress, whose features proved him, however, to be of the same race as his followers.
The king gazed at first on these envoys with wonder; then his brow darkened, and beckoning the officer whose duty it was to present strangers, he exclaimed "What can these men have to crave of me? If I mistake not they belong to the Massagetae, to that people who are so soon to tremble before my vengeance. Tell them, Gobryas, that an armed host is standing on the Median plains ready to answer their demands with the sword."
Gobryas answered, bowing low: "These men arrived this morning during the sacrifice bringing huge burdens of the purest gold to purchase your forbearance. When they heard that a great festival was being celebrated in your honor, they urgently besought to be admitted into your presence, that they might declare the message entrusted to them by their country."
The king's brow cleared and, after sharply scrutinizing the tall, bearded Massageta:, he said: "Let them come nearer. I am curious to know what proposals my father's murderers are about to make me."
Gobryas made a sign, and the tallest and eldest of the Massagetae came up close to the throne and began to speak loudly in his native tongue. He was accompanied by the man in a Persian dress, who, as one of Cyrus' prisoners of war, had learnt the Persian language, and now interpreted one by one the sentences uttered by the spokesman of this wandering tribe.
"We know," began the latter, "that thou, great king, art wroth with the Massagetae because thy father fell in war with our tribe--a war which he alone had provoked with a people who had done naught to offend him."
"My father was justified in punishing your nation," interrupted the king. "Your Queen Tomyris had dared to refuse him her hand in marriage."
"Be not wroth, O King," answered the Massagetan, "when I tell thee that our entire nation approved of that act. Even a child could see that the great Cyrus only desired to add our queen to the number of his wives, hoping, in his insatiable thirst for more territories, to gain our land with her."
Cambyses was silent and the envoy went on. "Cyrus caused a bridge to be made over our boundary river, the Araxes. We were not dismayed at this, and Tomyris sent word that he might save himself this trouble, for that the Massagetae were willing either to await him quietly in their own land, leaving the passage of the river free, or to meet him in his. Cyrus decided, by the advice of the dethroned king of Lydia, (as we learnt afterwards, through some prisoners of war) on meeting us in our own land and defeating us by a stratagem. With this intention he sent at first only a small body of troops, which could be easily dispersed and destroyed by our arrows and lances, and allowed us to seize his camp without striking a blow. Believing we had defeated this insatiable conqueror, we feasted on his abundant stores, and, poisoned by the sweet unknown drink which you call wine, fell into a stupefied slumber, during which his soldiers fell upon us, murdered the greater number of our warriors and took many captives. Among the latter was the brave, young Spargapises, our queen's son.
"Hearing in his captivity, that his mother was willing to conclude peace with your nation as the price of his liberty, he asked to have his chains taken off. The request was granted, and on obtaining the use of his hands he seized a sword and stabbed himself, exclaiming: 'I sacrifice my life for the freedom of my nation.'"
"No sooner did we hear the news that the young prince we loved so well had died thus, than we assembled all the forces yet left to us from your swords and fetters. Even old men and boys flew to arms to revenge our noble Spargapises, and sacrifice themselves, after his example, for Massagetaen freedom. Our armies met; ye were worsted and Cyrus fell. When Tomyris found his body lying in a pool of human blood, she cried: 'Methinks, insatiable conqueror, thou art at last sated with blood!' The troop, composed of the flower of your nobility, which you call the Immortals, drove us back and carried your father's dead body forth from our closest ranks. You led them on, fighting like a lion. I know you well, and that wound across your manly face, which adorns it like a purple badge of honor, was made by the sword now hanging at my side."
A movement passed through the listening crowd; they trembled for the bold speaker's life. Cambyses, however, looked pleased, nodded approvingly to the man and answered: "Yes, I recognize you too now; you rode a red horse with golden trappings. You shall see that the Persians know how to honor courage. Bow down before this man, my friends, for never did I see a sharper sword nor a more unwearied arm than his; and such heroic courage deserves honor from the brave, whether shown by friend or foe. As for you, Massagetae, I would advise you to go home quickly and prepare for war; the mere recollection of your strength and courage increases my longing to test it once more. A brave foe, by Mithras, is far better than a feeble friend. You shall be allowed to return home in peace; but beware of remaining too long within my reach, lest the thought of the vengeance I owe my father's soul should rouse my anger, and your end draw suddenly nigh."
A bitter smile played round the bearded mouth of the warrior as he made answer to this speech. "The Massagetae deem your father's soul too well avenged already. The only son of our queen, his people's pride, and in no way inferior to Cyrus, has bled for him. The shores of the Araxes have been fertilized by the bodies of fifty thousand of my countrymen, slain as offerings for your dead king, while only thirty thousand fell there on your own side. We fought as bravely as you, but your armor is better able to resist the arrows which pierce our clothing of skins. And lastly, as the most cruel blow of all, ye slew our queen."
"Tomyris is dead?" exclaimed Cambyses interrupting him. "You mean to tell me that the Persians have killed a woman? Answer at once, what has happened to your queen?"
"Tomyris died ten months ago of grief for the loss of her only son, and I have therefore a right to say that she too fell a sacrifice to the war with Persia and to your father's spirit."
"She was a great woman," murmured Cambyses, his voice unsteady from emotion. "Verily, I begin to think that the gods themselves have undertaken to revenge my father's blood on your nation. Yet I tell you that, heavy as your losses may seem, Spargapises, Tomyris and fifty thousand Massagetae can never outweigh the spirit of one king of Persia, least of all of a Cyrus."
"In our country," answered the envoy, "death makes all men equal. The spirits of the king and the slave are of equal worth. Your father was a great man, but we have undergone awful sufferings for his sake. My tale is not yet ended. After the death of Tomyris discord broke out among the Massagetae. Two claimants for the crown appeared; half our nation fought for the one, half for the other, and our hosts were thinned, first by this fearful civil war and then by the pestilence which followed in its track. We can no longer resist your power, and therefore come with heavy loads of pure gold as the price of peace."
"Ye submit then without striking a blow?" asked Cambyses. "Verily, I had expected something else from such heroes; the numbers of my host, which waits assembled on the plains of Media, will prove that. We cannot go to battle without an enemy. I will dismiss my troops and send a satrap. Be welcome as new subjects of my realm."
The red blood mounted into the cheeks of the Massagetan warrior on hearing these words, and he answered in a voice trembling with excitement: "You err, O King, if you imagine that we have lost our old courage, or learnt to long for slavery. But we know your strength; we know that the small remnant of our nation, which war and pestilence have spared, cannot resist your vast and well-armed hosts. This we admit, freely and honestly as is the manner of the Massagetae, declaring however at the same time, that we are determined to govern ourselves as of yore, and will never receive laws or ordinances from a Persian satrap. You are wroth, but I can bear your angry gaze and yet repeat my declaration."
"And my answer," cried Cambyses, "is this: Ye have but one choice: either to submit to my sceptre, become united to the kingdom of Persia under the name of the Massagetan province, and receive a satrap as my representative with due reverence, or to look upon yourselves as my enemies, in which case you will be forced by arms to conform to those conditions which I now offer you in good part. To-day you could secure a ruler well-affected to your cause, later you will find in me only a conqueror and avenger. Consider well before you answer."
"We have already weighed and considered all," answered the warrior, "and, as free sons of the desert, prefer death to bondage. Hear what the council of our old men has sent me to declare to you:--The Massageta; have become too weak to oppose the Persians, not through their own fault, but through the heavy visitation of our god, the sun. We know that you have armed a vast host against us, and we are ready to buy peace and liberty by a yearly tribute. But if you persist in compelling us to submit by force of arms, you can only bring great damage on yourselves. The moment your army nears the Araxes, we shall depart with our wives and children and seek another home, for we have no fixed dwellings like yours, but are accustomed to rove at will on our swift horses, and to rest in tents. Our gold we shall take with us, and shall fill up, destroy, and conceal the pits in which you could find new treasures. We know every spot where gold is to be found, and can give it in abundance, if you grant us peace and leave us our liberty; but, if you venture to invade our territory, you win nothing but an empty desert and an enemy always beyond your reach,--an enemy who may become formidable, when he has had time to recover from the heavy losses which have thinned his ranks. Leave us in peace and freedom and we are ready to give every year five thousand swift horses of the desert, besides the yearly tribute of gold; we will also come to the help of the Persian nation when threatened by any serious danger."
The envoy ceased speaking. Cambyses did not answer at once; his eyes were fixed on the ground in deep thought. At last he said, rising at the same time from his throne: "We will take counsel on this matter over the wine to-night, and to-morrow you shall hear what answer you can bring to your people. Gobryas, see that these men are well cared for, and send the Massagetan, who wounded me in battle, a portion of the best dishes from my own table."
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