CYRUS By Theseustoo/Astyages (Continued) CHAPTER 5:
One by one; and silently; using the cover of the darkness provided by a new moon and the middle of the night; princes from five of the six tribes which comprised the Median nation slipped like shadows through the silent streets of Agbatana to the house of Harpagus, just outside the city walls. Each man among them was extremely careful to make sure they were neither seen nor followed by any of the king’s guards, who patrolled the streets and the city’s perimeter every night to ensure that crimes were kept to a minimum. They knew that if they were spotted they would certainly arouse the guards’ suspicions; anyone out and about at this late hour was breaking the curfew and could only be up to no good. If they should be caught, they knew that even their exalted status as princes among their own tribes would not save them. To be caught by the king’s guards would mean interrogation by Astyages’ expert torturers; and as soon as their sinister purpose was discovered, as it inevitably would be, they knew that they would most certainly be sentenced to a most cruel and painful death.
One by one the silent shadows slipped through the open back door of Harpagus’ house; usually this door was used only by servants or tradesmen. Harpagus had left it unbarred to avoid even the remote possibility that a knock on the door might be overheard by any of his servants. One by one the five Princes of the Busae, the Paretacenae, the Struchates, the Arizanti, and the Budii arrived. They were all appalled at the rapidly-increasing harshness of Astyages’ rule; for what had been done to Harpagus, almost ten years ago now, was far from the only atrocity the tyrant had committed on his subjects; merely one of the worst. Of the six tribes which comprised the nation of Media, only one tribe was not represented in this small and very select group; the Magi. As the king’s advisors and administrators they of all people must be kept ignorant of the plot. In warm but hushed tones, and with the shutters closed to hide the light of the single oil-lamp they used to find their way into the kitchen, Harpagus welcomed them, one by one, as they arrived. Their need for caution was still just as urgent, even inside Harpagus’ own household, because the spies of Astyages were everywhere; and although the servants had all retired for the night hours ago, they must be careful not to awaken them in case their clandestine conference should be discovered. If one of them should be a spy and inform the king, their coup would be finished even before it started. Once inside the kitchen, however, they could speak a little more freely as this part of the house was at the opposite end of the building from the servants’ sleeping quarters, although they still used only the one dim lamp and closed the shutters on the windows. When the last of the five princes had finally arrived, Harpagus addressed them in a voice which revealed the intensity of his passion, in spite of its quietness. “You all know why I have called this meeting: Our king, Astyages, has become a tyrant; his actions are so capricious and so abominable that they can no longer be tolerated.” Tabalus, the Prince of the Busae was the first to answer: “That is true, Harpagus; and we all know well enough what he’s done to you.
Indeed there is not a man here who has not suffered grievously at his hands.” Here the prince sighed heavily, “But we cannot hope to overthrow him by ourselves; any attempt at revolt would be seen even by our own people as treachery; motivated by our own ambitions… They would never support it!” Artaphernes, the Prince of the Paretacenae concurred: “The Prince of the Busae is right; our own people would never support such an act…” Hystaspes, the Prince of the Arizanti interrupted him, “Unless we can persuade them that we intend to put a legitimate successor on his throne…” Ah, now we’re getting somewhere, thought Artabazos, the Prince of the Struchates, quickly catching Hystaspes’ drift he realized that the people may easily be persuaded to support such a plan as this.
They all knew that apart from his only daughter Mandane, Astyages had only one other legitimate successor; his grandson in Persia, Cyrus. And, he thought, Cyrus was very popular among both the Persians and the Medes. However, he knew that the support of the people on its own was not quite enough. Pensively he added, “And even then we’ll need help from outside of Media; the king’s army alone is large enough to counter our opposition unless we find outside help!” But Harpagus had already anticipated these problems; in answer to Artabazos’ objections he smoothly interjected, “True; and that is precisely why I think we must enlist the aid of Cyrus of Persia, the son of Cambyses and Astyages’ daughter, Mandane… If we can persuade the Persians to revolt with Cyrus at their head, the tribes may be persuaded to follow our lead…” The tribal princes considered this for a few moments; it seemed like a sound enough proposition… Cyrus, after all, was Astyages’ own grandson and thus perfect for their plans; a legitimate and, equally importantly, a male heir… Almost certainly the armies of all the tribes would support this cause rather than risk any of Media’s individual tribes becoming too powerful and dominating the rest of them; especially as the alternatively involved the even more distasteful prospect of Media being ruled by a woman should Mandane ascend the throne after her father’s demise. A woman on the throne might be wooed and won; and along with her the throne, but the fates alone knew who might thus become their king… This was also, the princes all agreed, one more excellent reason for not merely accepting the status quo, for the king had no sons; and unless something happened to change the situation, they knew that Mandane would indeed inherit her father’s kingdom. It was unthinkable that a nation of warriors such as the Medes, should ever be ruled by a mere woman; a member of the weaker sex; such a blasphemy could only weaken the kingdom. Mazares, Prince of the Budii asked, “But will he support our cause? After all, Astyages is his own blood…” But Harpagus had been thinking about this for a long, long time. More than ten years had passed since Astyages had invited him to that macabre supper; and the thought of one day having his revenge had not left his mind for an instant during all that time. In response to Mazares’ question he said, “That is precisely why I have been cultivating Cyrus’ friendship by sending him gifts every year… on his birthday and also on the anniversary of the discovery of his true identity… Both dates will remind him that Astyages tried to have him killed. I am now confident that he sees me as a friend and an ally.
And Astyages has committed so many atrocities against so many people that he has long ago forgotten the evil he did to me and my family! The fool has just appointed me general of his army! Whether he chooses me or one of you as Commander in Chief, victory will fall to us like a ripe plum!” “Very well, Harpagus;” the Prince of the Struchates said softly, “But how can we get word of our plans to Cyrus? The king’s guards are at every staging post along the road; and their suspicions would surely be aroused if one of us were to try to contact him!” “Aye!” Echoed the Prince of the Arizanti, “We must keep it to ourselves; it must remain absolutely secret until the trap is ready to spring… we dare not risk being discovered…” “You need not concern yourself on that account,” the cunning Harpagus reassured them instantly, “I have planned for that also…” *** ***** ***