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And God Requireth that which is Past

The Invincible Empire

By Tsira Gelen

Copyright 2018 Tsira Gelenava - Volobueva

Smashwords Edition

Tbilisi, Georgia

Smashwords License Statement

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

That which hath been is now; and that which is to be hath already been; and God requireth that which is past.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1

Dedicated to my beloved husband and our daughters, without the support and help of whom this book would not have seen the light of day.


Chapter 1: Nativity

Chapter 2: Prophecy

Chapter 3: Wedding

Chapter 4: Pit

Chapter 5: On the Way to Ionia

Chapter 6: Sardis, Upraising of Ionia

Chapter 7: Capital of the Sun, Aia

Chapter 8: Engagement

Chapter 9: Clash with Amisiri

Chapter 10: Tribute

Chapter 11: Babylon

Chapter 12: The First meeting

Chapter 13: Hunting in Ecbatana

Chapter 14: The Cage of Sippar

Chapter 15: The Prince’s Children

Chapter 16: Denial

Chapter 17: The Invincible Fortress

An Index of Names

Geographical Places

An Index of Words and Phrases


About Tsira Gelen

Chapter 1


A quiet stillness settled over the semi-darkened hall. Only the impatient pacing of the burly middle-aged man disturbed the total silence. From time to time he glanced uneasily at the dark winding wooden stairs from beneath his creased brow. The man’s deeply wrinkled forehead crumpled even further and he clenched his teeth so tightly that the already thin lips under his graying beard were scarcely visible. The creak of a door echoed nearby. The man listened. Somebody was climbing the stairs leading from the yard to the kitchen. The man looked in that direction. He was unable to see what was happening behind the old oak door, but he could hear it.

“Khongul, have you told the boy to bring firewood?” a woman’s voice demanded.

Yes, he will bring it.” the man mumbled back.

Then footsteps rang toward the hall which was followed once moor by the creaking of a door and a worn, hardened man donning in a sheep skin vest walked in. The strong scent of smoke and burning dried dung wafted in with him. It was apparent that he had come directly from his flock.

“Any news yet, Saurmag?”

“No, Khongul, nothing yet.”

The newly arrived man sank down next to the mahvsh’s armchair and started playing with his felt hat. The final days of the short mountain summer were coming to an end. Normally, Khongul would have been with his herd at this time, getting the sheep from the summer pasture to the lowlands, but he was the host’s cousin and he considered it his responsibility to be with him in his time of need. And this was quite a difficult time for the Svan chief, Saurmag indeed. His young wife had been struggling with labor pains for three days now, and still couldn’t deliver. The Mahvsh’s family tower was seized by such tension, as if an invisible enemy had come to the Svan valley and the inhabitants of these moss covered walls were awaiting a messenger from the battle field any minute now.

Outside it was bright and clear, but inside it was still rather dark. This was no surprise. The Svans built their towers so that these forebodingly elevated stone giants would serve as living quarters as well as fortresses. The middle level was where the family’s main hall was situated, which was separated from the kitchen by a solid wall, thought the remaining three walls were built with such narrow peeping slits that a warrior would barely be able to fit one shoulder through to shoot an arrow at his enemy.

The scarce light that drifted in from outside stretched in straight lines on the bumpy old floor, lighting only a small portion of the hall. The rest of the place was covered in a shady haze. The only way into this formidable tower was up the wooden ladder coming down from the kitchen, but during times of war, even that would be pulled up or burned and the only door, now hanging at an unreachable height, would be barred from the inside. Then the Svan’s peaceful home would truly become an impenetrable fortress.

If I don’t do something about this floor someone will undoubtedly break a leg. Khongul peered into the hole in front of him as he knelt to tie up the loose straps of his leather shoes, but he couldn’t make anything out in the dark crack. The huge store room beneath the hall and kitchen had no doors or windows at all. One could only get there through the little entrance in the floor of the kitchen. At the moment the place was empty, but during heavy snows, the chief’s family would keep their small livestock in this storage for months. This was why the warm, homey smell of sheep, hay, and manure would still be strong even in the late summer.

Khongul quit inspecting the crack and looked about in order to entertain himself in the silence. His wife, Darsia hadn’t lit the lanterns, only one torch was fastened at the top of the winding stairs. The man knew that they had a full supply of oil and Persian radanake in the tower, but the thrifty woman was saving this fuel, bought from Babylonian merchants at the price of blood, for the cold winter days.

What a stingy woman. She couldn’t even light the Mahvsh’s hearth at such a special time? The man thought and glanced toward the winding stairs again.

Upstairs was Saurmag’s tiny bedroom, as well as a spacious room for his daughters. The Chief’s sons, along with the guards slept right there, in the main hall. Piles of flattened hay, covered with felt cloaks were still scattered about in every corner. If he didn’t count the Mahvsh’s heavy Oaken armchair, one long, low dining table against the wall, and the stool on which he sat himself as too much comfort, there were only two large wooden chests in the room to hold weapons and nothing else. A Svan man needed no other belongings. The clothes he had, he wore on his back, as for food, the buzzing women in the kitchen would worry about that. However, little scraps, knittings, and jewelry, all dear to the women’s hearts, were kept in the girl’s chamber.

Khongul was brought back from his thoughts by his cousin’s heavy sigh.

Don’t worry, brother, my wife here tells me this happens a lot down in the valley. It will be a little hard for the lady at first, but it will turn out alright.”

Saurmag glanced thankfully over at his reassuring friend. The Svan chief was a brave man. He had proved his right to being the lord of the mountains in endless battles by shedding blood and sweat, but now fear had crept into his hard gaze.

Dressed in dark, dull colors, there wasn’t much that set the chief apart from the other valley folk. Saurmag’s clothes spoke for that fact that he wasn’t wealthy, but no one could say he was poor either. Over his patched up, canvas shirt and worn leather pants, the chief wore a sleeveless, colorful wool vest that his first wife had woven for him which was fastened at his waist by a wide leather belt. He wore nothing on his head, and kept his graying hair and thick beard short. Still, one thing stood out from his modest attire. Saurmag’s legs were covered by high necked pig skin boots. No one had seen such a wonder in the mountains yet. The chief had acquired it from a Parthian merchant during his visit to the lowlands and brought a pair exactly like his for Khongul as well. His cousin had been so thrilled by this foreign gift that he knelt to the ground and untied his straps to try them on right away.

Khongul, brother, the merchant warned me to wrap my feet before putting them on.”

Yeah, right… they’re not shoes that Khonchua’s made.” Khongul pulled the boots over his calloused feet.

He regretted his own negligence that very day. By evening, when the hobbling, stubborn man took his gift off, his feet were covered in bloody injuries and blisters. Never mind the boots, he had a hard time putting on even his own worn out shoes for days after. Ah, what good can you expect from those damned lowlands! The mountaineer concluded and never looked to his shiny boots, tossed in the corner, ever again.

No one knows for sure when the Svans first settled in the formidable Caucasian mountain range. Only one thing can be said for sure, it was maddening demands of the Kolchis kings that drove this independent tribe to the domain of Amiran, the mythical hero, who was chained by angry gods to the steep slopes of the double headed Elbrus for giving fire to mankind. Here, in the high mountains, every clan was equal. Every family lived in their own inaccessible towers. Each clan had their own head, the white bearded, wise mahvsh and the entire mountain was ruled by the Council of Elders. From the valleys to the mountain tops, the Mahvshs reined all. The chief, who was the head of the army, was also chosen by them.

Instead of chasing the Svans down their mountains in vain, the wise Kolchis kings decided to remain friendly neighbors.

Although Svans were not dependent on anyone, they would fight on their kin Kolchian tribes’ side. A Svan always fought: fought in the mountains, fought in the valleys. He was a defender against their impudent northern neighbors’ attacks, he wouldn’t hesitate to raid the neighboring Sarmathian and Zykhian lands either; he defended Kolchis’ northern borders; if needed, he would go as far south as to Moschi and Trapezos. A Svan knew no boundaries. For his country and honor, he would lay down his life without a second thought. One could say the only reason for a Svan’s existence was to fight.

A proud mountaineer knew love as much as hate, valued hostility and friendship equally. He respected his family and loved his woman passionately. Once married, a Svan man would never look aside, he would never speak to another’s wife, nor would he allow a single disrespectful glance toward a female family member go without bloodshed. A man would never cheat on his wife nor divorce her. Only in the case of death could he remarry, and even this was rare. The loyalty of a Svan father or a husband went beyond the human realm of understanding.

By strength, a woman did not fall short of a man. Hardened by the thin mountain air and harsh labor, a Svan woman, by stamina and endurance, could probably beat out any lowlander. A woman gave birth, took care of her family, wove thread and knitted. Occasionally, if the father of the family was away at war, she hunted and herded as well. If widowed, she would take the burden of both the man and the woman on her capable shoulders. The village took care of the orphans. When an enemy, knowing the men were away at war, raided a Svan village to steal the livestock (who would even consider kidnapping a Svan woman!), the women would take up their swords and often times chase them away.

Assailed by the harsh winds and even harsher living conditions, one couldn’t blame beauty on a Svan woman, but there was nothing more cherished than her in the mountains. A Svan man rarely ever married a lowlander beauty and only if he was madly in love. The villages never approved of these marriages. They knew from experience, in such families, the woman would suffer as would the man. A pretty, delicate woman would not last long in the mountain life.

A year ago, Saurmag committed just such a crime: he fell in love with a beautiful lowlander.

Last summer the Kolchis king sent rich gifts to the Svan chief and asked for a favor. This was the deal: The impudent Zykhians continued to pillage the valley Svans and Apshils, living near the northern border. They didn’t spare the Greeks either. The last insult went so far that they even reached Dioscurias. The king sent his troops from Aia and Phasis but when they arrived, there was no sign of the assailants.

As usual, the Svans took the attack on their Kolchis counterparts as a personal insult and immediately gathered an army. Saurmag assigned his spies to every village in northern Kolchis, while he himself camped in a hidden valley. This tactic worked.

The Zykhians, bold from their previous successes, soon appeared in Kolchis. The chief let them go in deeper and deeper, then cut them off to the north and on a narrow path near the Greek city Pityos, he massacred them all. Then, the blood drunken Svans crossed the border and raided the enemy’s nearby villages. During this raid, they landed a lot of spoils, including a rich caravan among them. They freed the merchants at the Greek city Naessos.

Your precious lives for your useless goods!” the chief mocked the foreign merchants.

Saurmag freed all the caravan slaves without any cost. Slavery was unacceptable to the freedom loving Svans. They must either kill or release their enemy, there was no other way, but they rarely ever spared them.

Among the caravan slaves there were a few beauties. Hoping for big profit, the merchants had them well taken care of. They planned to take them to Persia for sale, but they never made it. Except for one, Saurmag left these beautiful women in the charge of his distant relative. The chief knew that such pretty girls wouldn’t burden their kind host for long. The beauty worshiping Kolchian Zans would surely kidnap the lovely foreign girls.

One such maiden captured even Saurmag’s heart. To be exact, it was she, the green eyed, flame haired young lady who had set her eyes on the formidable mountain chief first. The poor frightened captive shied away from everyone except the Svan chief, as if expecting protection only from him.

The young woman’s behavior melted Saurmag’s heart. It had been three years since the chief had become a widower. His family didn’t burden the father of two daughters and seven sons, even the death of his wife changed little to nothing in his life. The children just sprang up on their own like mushrooms. Khongul’s wife, Darsia took care of his home. Everything remained as it always did: Saurmag battled endlessly, and the house sat, forever waiting for his return.

To this day the chief hadn’t even considered remarrying. Now everything was different. Suddenly Saurmag discovered that all these years he had been lusting for the warmth and love of a woman. A single shy glance from the green eyed foreigner aroused almost forgotten desires. Saurmag reached a decision: the Svan chief would marry the lowlander maiden.

The wedding was held that very summer. They had many guests from the mountains as well as the valleys. Even the Kolchis’ king sent his oldest son, prince Amiran, on behalf of Aia to honor the Svans.

Saurmag, tired of pacing, took a seat in his deceased father’s chair. Closing his eyes, he submerged himself in old memories. Khongul secretly took a peek at the chief, wondering what was hidden behind his wrinkled forehead. At times, Saurmag would smile quietly; at times he furrowed his brows.

Over the past year many things happened, worthy of recollection. His wedding night protruded from a sea of memories. How he tiptoed to the heavy wooden door of their bedchamber, knowing that, she, his beautiful young bride was ready, waiting for him. Although heavily drunk, the bridegroom still couldn’t calm his thrashing heart. Mustering his courage, he pushed the heavy door aside and entered the room…

Memories of that night still made him blush. The next morning, the exhausted yet cheerful groom left the room and bounded down the stairs, feeling young again. Many of the guests sat around the table of the wedding feast, still celebrating. A little distance form the table, The women were boiling lamb and its innards in a pot set on three legs. Only two paces from them, a ram was roasting whole on a spit. Beside the scorching clay plates, bakers, brought up from the lowlands, were bustling around. Young boys and girls were hurrying the already cooked food to the table on large trays. Saurmags oldest sons kept the steady up supply of wine for their guests themselves. The smell of wine and escitement still hung in the morning air.

Here’s our groom!” thundered the Tamada upon seeing the chief, dressed in red and white attire with a cross-embroidered felt hat.

Everyone sprang to their feet, congratulating him once more, hugging him, blessing him.

Saurmag my Lord, look what we’ve come to! Here we are, in Svaneti, so many drunken fellows, and lo: no swords have been drawn, no blood has been shed!” the overjoyed chief of the lowlander Svans smiled naughtily.

Hey! Who said no blood has been shed? It has, I know it for sure!” the Zan chief sprang to his feet like a forest imp.

With his hand on his silver sward, the flushed mountaineer didn’t know where to avert his eyes. The whole table was shaking with laughter.

That day Saurmag couldn’t even look toward the women’s quarters. When evening fell, the guests dispersed at last. The host finally managed to reach what he most desired. Standing in front of the bedchamber, the chief smiled to himself shyly. Just as he reached for the door, it sprang open on its own and Darsia towered over him. Saurmag froze in surprise. The woman shoved the baffled man, making him stumble back.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Khongul’s wife glared threateningly. “What, do you think, you’re some kind of wolf and this poor woman your prey? Now, get out of here, and don’t show your face till you’re called!”

The bewildered chief went down to the hall and stopped in the middle of the room, dazed. Khongul’s shadow moved from the wall. Wordlessly, he took his cousin’s hand and like a child, drew him away.

Saurmag was only called to that tower two weeks later…

A woman’s voice brought the Svan chief back to the present.

“Darsia, Darsia, bring water! Quickly!” At the top of the winding stairs, the midwife’s tiny form darted into sight and immediately disappeared.

Both men sprang to their feet. Darsia rushed from the kitchen with an old faded cloth tying her damp hair back.

Khongul, help me bring up the water! Hurry, hurry!”

The alarmed Svan hastily followed his wife. Soon they both reemerged. Khongul was carrying a boiling pot of water. Darsia hurried after him with a smaller cold one.

Let me help you, brother.” the chief extended his hands.

No, no!” his cousin called, already darting up the stairs.

Saurmag started to pace again restlessly. Shortly Khongul joined him.

“How is everything?” the chief asked anxiously.

“How should I know? They wouldn’t let me in.” Khongul responded honestly, but seeing his friend’s disappointment, added: “Well, since they asked for water, it should be soon now, Saurmag. It’s always like this. The midwife’s there, so is Darsia and the girls are helping too. Don’t worry, brother, who hasn’t given birth to a babe!”

No living thing on this earth had ever scared the Svan chief. Saurmag had looked death in the eye many times before and never even flinched. The loss of his first wife pierced the heart of the fearless chief. Distress, anger, helplessness, pain, they all took turns on him. But it was not fear.

This day, Saurmag felt something he never felt before. This new feeling crept into the body of the invincible Svan, and gnawed at him from the inside. Khongul was right, fear emanated from his eyes.

Soon the entire tower was filled with scurrying woman. The red and greed high stockings of the girls, constantly running up and down the stairs, whirled past right before the two cousins’ eyes. Then all went quiet, silence hung in the air. From time to time only a woman’s screams rang through the still rooms. Soon this stopped too. The quiet weighed heavily on Saurmag’s shoulders. Suddenly the cry of a child rang through the air, bringing everything back to life.

The men felt immediate relief. The chief headed for the stairs, but his cousin pulled him back.

“No Saurmag, don’t. They will call you when it’s time.”

Time went by. Saurmag sat at the edge of the armchair. He couldn’t understand why they hadn’t called him yet.

Do you think they forgot us?” Saurmag looked at his friend, puzzled.

“How could that be, my Lord? You know women. They’re probably prettying up the mother and her babe to meet the father.”

Finally, Darsia appeared at the top of the stairs. She motioned Saurmag to follow and disappeared. Saurmag took the stairs three at a time and approached the bedchamber. Darsia was already waiting for him. Head bowed, the woman led him in.

Chilling silence stirred in the grey room. Here, even the clear mountain air seemed to be wrapped in a dismal shroud. The only bright spot in the room was the fiery red locks scattered over the bed. Only the newborn’s quiet breathing could be heard.

The familiar, nauseating smell of blood hit Saurmag hard upon entering the room. The father didn’t even look in the baby’s direction. Moving past the spinning wheel set in the center of the room, he headed straight for the bed, kneeled next to his wife and cautiously took her withered hand. The woman didn’t move. A faint smile was frozen on her pale face as if glad to be free of all earthly matters.

Sorry, my Lord. We did all we could. The poor thing was drained of blood,” the midwife’s trembling voice cried as she wiped her toothless mouth.

Darsia shot a quick angry glance at the old woman making her cease. Then Khongul’s wife motioned something at the chiefs eldest daughter standing by the wall. The girl approached her father, holding the newborn out for him. The chief didn’t move.

There will be time to grieve, Saurmag, for now the child needs to be taken care of.” Darsia encouraged the chief.

You know better than I, what to do.” the devastated father looked away.

The chief’s Daughter obediently drew back, but one glance from Darsia made her freeze. The Svan woman rested a hand on the kneeling man’s shoulder and spoke in an unusually soothing voice.

Where to find a nanny and how to take care of her, is of course on me, Saurmag. That’s not what I’m talking about. You’ve lost your wife, she - her mother. Don’t leave this little girl without a father’s love as well. Hold her!”

His eldest daughter held out the newborn once more. The father looked down at his child with empty eyes. Tossing discontentedly in her older sister’s arms, the little girl, with fuzzy red tufts of hair, was glaring about blindly with her emerald eyes.

Just like her poor mother. Struck by the similarities, Saurmag unconsciously reached for the child and carefully clutched her to his chest. Apparently the child felt the closeness of her parent. The little one yawned sweetly and started suckling on her fingers. Tears rolled down Saurmag’s tan cheeks. Darsia motioned to the onlookers. They all silently crept from the room. Left alone, the formidable mountain chief sat on the floor, placed the baby in his lap and wept bitterly.

Chapter 2


Kshayarsha stood behind the King’s chair fidgeting impatiently. The elders, as always, were discussing something of great importance, but for some reason, the prince had no desire to listen to their argument today more than ever. Some strange longing beckoned him to the open meadows outside with undeniable force. The prince blamed his unusual mood on the upcoming wedding he’d been wrapped up in.

What a lucky star Bagha was born on. He lives no worse off than me, and in return, no one’s forcing him to marry an old spinster. The prince envied the boy roaming about freely outside.

He knew his father well; the great Darayawahush would never break the law. When the time came, the camp of Ten Thousand Immortals would kneel and offer their prayers to Ahura-Mazda and finally be allowed to rest. The exhausted warriors would settle down around their bon-fires and drift into well deserved slumber.

Midnight was slowly approaching yet the crotchety elders hadn’t even rightly started their debate. Strained silence settled into the king’s roughly set tent.

It was here, amongst the Ten Thousand Immortals, that the sovereign’s sons were trained; it was here, that future kings and generals were crafted. One torch, fastened to the central post and a copper lamp hanging from a chain above the table lit the room. One end of the tent was sectioned off by a pomegranate embroidered drape, behind which the king’s bed was set. The sovereigns Parthian bow and Egyptian double edged sward were lain on a chest at the foot of the bed, while his Anshanian spear was stuck in the ground so that the gold lion head wouldn’t be damaged. The rest of the space on the other side of the drape was almost entirely taken by the Ionian map covered table, around which eight people sat.

Kshayarsha had known each of them from his childhood. The oldest among them, the nearly seventy year old Satrap of Elam, the worthy Gauparuva, was the father of the prince’s closest friend, Mardunaya. He always took his place at the King’s right hand. The elderly man was known for his austerity and even now he glared so menacingly at the three men in front of him as if he doubted their words before they even said them. This stern browed, weathered noble, despite his respectable age, served as the King’s lance carrier, the arshtibara and by strength and influence, only the red headed Utana, who sat at the King’s left, could compare. This was exactly the same Utana who’s daughter Kshayarsha would be taking as his wife.

If my bride looks anything like her father, I’m done for, and that’s that. The youth tore his frightened gaze from his unsightly father-in-law to be and began secretly observing the noble beside him. Next to Utana sat the renounced Satrap of Medea, Vidarna, clad in a shiny brocade robe. Among the King’s companions, he was the most pleasant looking and if anybody were to ask Kshayarsha’s opinion, upon being forced to marry a woman without seeing her first, he would much rather have Vidarna’s daughter, than Utana’s hideous spinster. But unfortunately it seemed that the elders were not at all interested in Kshayarsha’s opinion in this matter.

The prince scanned the Median satrap’s faultlessly chiseled face once more. Vidarna was only about sixty, but despite his relatively “modest” age, he had taken part in every one of Darayawahush’s battles and was considered one of the most experienced supreme commanders in all of Persia. However, there was another elderly noble in the tent, Abar-Nahara’s formidable satrap, Baghabagsha, who’s strict appraisal the young courtiers feared above all. He had taken his respectable place beside the satrap of Elam. Kshayarsha turned his head that way. This grumpy, average height old man, covered with scars, was truly Bagha’s grandfather, but the youngsters had never had the opportunity to speak with him. On the other hand, Bagha’s father, the red cheeked Zopyrush, who sat across from the satrap of Elam, was the prince’s mentor and had invested a lot of time in the young men’s training.

Among his father’s friend’s Zopyrush was the only one who Kshayarsha sincerely loved. He was far younger than all the others, about forty-five to forty-seven years old, but he still managed to put a lion’s share into the suppression of Babylon’s uprising at the beginning of Darayawahush’s reign. For this, the sovereign especially valued him. Zopyrush was the only chubby noble at the Persian court and, as it seemed, had not yet finished blowing up. Khayarsha looked over the Garnet tunic stretched over his robust belly with a hidden smile. If not for golden brocade belt tightly wrapped around him, the noble’s embroidered garment would fall open before everyone’s eyes. Zopyrush perfectly combined his title of the man with the biggest appetite with being the cleverest. This was why the youth called him an old fox behind his back. At a single glance, the red cheeked, average height, chubby, middle aged man, left a kind and harmless impression, but everyone at the Persian court knew: Darayawahush’s friend and personal advisor, set apart by his exceptional shrewdness and cunning, was one of the most influential and dangerous people in the Empire.

Beside Bagha’s chubby father, sat Khayarsha’s uncle, Darayawahush’s youngest brother, Irdabanush. This straight featured, weathered man, with the sovereign’s hazel eyes, was only forty, but thanks to his solemn and balanced nature, he had rightfully earned the position of a wise advisor at court.

The last member of this council, prince Irdabrdna, was Darayawahush’s eldest son. From his mother’s side, the prince’s grandfather was the satrap of Elam, Gauparuva. Despite all of these advantages, this brown eyed, sparse bearded, big foreheaded half-brother of Kshayarsha left only pity in the heart of his younger brother, standing beside the King, in place of rivalry. Even now, instead of showing his worth to the elders, Irdabrdna was doing everything to remain invisible.

If one would have asked Khayarsha what these eight men had in common appearance-wise, he would certainly have said their beards. Thick beards, arranged in layered curls, reaching down to the chest were the pride of every Persian man. Kshayarsha himself impatiently yearned for his own newly sprouted, soft beard to grow to its full glory.

The four nobles sitting to the left and right of the sovereign were invited to the tent just to listen. Telling the news in detail was up to the three younger courtiers sitting on the other side of the table. Wrapped in a long Median fur robe, Darayawahush leaned against the high back of his chair, waiting patiently for the answer. There was no crown on the King’s gray hair. In his circle of friends, he never weighed himself down with this precious adornment. From the royal objects, he only had the golden scepter, and even this he used as a simple pointer stick for the map. From time to time, the sovereign’s narrowed eyes would shift from his younger brother, to his eldest son, and flicker over to his own loyal friend. Zopyrush, The King’s Eyes in Babylon, already had the answer at the tip of his tongue, but the experienced courtier knew that to respond before the sovereign’s own kin, Irdabanush, would be a grave mistake. The general impatiently dabbed at his chubby face with his sleeve and fixed his questioning eyes upon the young man as well. Irdabanush didn’t rush his reply.

The question everyone eagerly awaited the answer to regarded the western satrapies and Ionian cities. Two years earlier in the city of Sardis, Athenian envoys had visited the king’s older brother, the Satrap of Lydia, Irdapirna, and had asked for protection from unfriendly Greek neighbors in turn for “earth and water”. The fact that by giving this Attica was admitting a vassal dependence to the Great king of kings probably evaded the emissaries. Of course, then Persia had gladly accepted the proposal.

After that, two summers had passed and the situation at the Empire’s western boarders had changed entirely. Now their spies were already bringing alarming news from the Greek colonies and still free Hellenic settlements in Europe to the capitals.

It wasn’t a coincidence that the king called together a secret council at the camp. Darius fully trusted no one, and in the palace, even the walls had ears. The great king wouldn’t like to draw too much attention to the West Coast, but on the other hand, he couldn’t leave the restless boarders without attention either. The wise king sensed that trouble was beginning to arise in the Aegean Sea.

It was not unusual for the sixteen year old Kshayarsha to be present at the secret councils. From the age of twelve, he had been fallowing his father everywhere, but after reaching fifteen, at which time he was awarded the golden belt, symbolizing his adulthood, forever standing behind the throne became his honorable duty.

Kshayarsha already had opinions on many crucial matters, but he never took part in the discussions. Even the princes were allowed to speak only with the king’s invitation. But when Darayawahush the Great would let his young son take part in national matters, was only known to him.

When the sovereign realize that his cautious brother would not give a straight-forward answer, he rephrased the question.

Still, who are these Athenians? And what’s going on, even amongst the Yaunas on our own land?”

For a long time Irdabanush had served as the king’s eyes in Lydia so he knew everything about his older brother, Irdapirna’s surroundings. Ever since he came to the capital cities, the duty of spying on the foreign guests, as well as guarding the royal family fell upon him.

It was impossible to delay the answer any longer.

“O, Great Sunki,” Irdabanush rose to his feet, “you know the whole western part of Asia has long belonged to us thanks to Ahura-Mazda. Even on Europe, across the sea, we have a strong hold. Most of the islands either pay tribute or already belong to us. Although, it is true that some islands still resist, Naxos and Delos, for example.” The king’s brother knelt over the map on the table and traced the places with his ringed finger. “But it’s all a matter of time.”

Kshayarsha stared with curiosity at the map on the table from over his father’s shoulder, which wasn’t hard, thanks to the boy’s unusual height. All the rest, apart from prince Irdabrdna, also started studying the brightly pained ox skin map with much interest.

How much trust can one put in these paintings?” Baghabagsha asked doubtfully.

This map was drawn by Hecataeos of Miletos. No one’s better than him at this.” Zopyrush replied to his father.

I don’t know…” The elderly man still shook his head uncertainly.

The fact that those islanders have been looking across the sea is no news, we’ve known that for some time.” Gauparuva grumbled.

Irdabanush glared discontentedly at the satrap of Elam from under his brows, but didn’t dare say anything. The member of the renowned seven nobles of Persia could interrupt even the King, himself, this was why the young man swallowed his anger and continued his speech.

“Our brother, the noble Irdapirna informs us, that the islanders are frequently asking for our help themselves. Their nobles, if we can even call them that,” Irdabanush smiled wryly, “wouldn’t last two months on their little thrones without us. Yaunas, my dear Lord, are an unorganized and disobedient people. They don’t honor their own government, never mind anyone else’s. They live in the moment. They worship many gods, and like them, lead meaningless and shallow lives.”

A lot of people have many gods. We never interfere with the beliefs of our vassals. I don’t quite follow where you are taking this discussion, Irdabanush,” Utana noted calmly.

“What I want to say, worthy, Utana, is that there is no power in Hellas which can unify those brainless people. If the Great King wills it, we can easily conquer these Yaunas one by one. But we must also consider that controlling numerous islands and the European coast will be difficult even for us. It is not one country, Great Darayawahush.” The young general turned once more to his brother. “They do not even have one king with whom you can make peace after conquering it.”

Kshayarsha swept his gaze over the little islands scattered across the blue painted sea. He knew many of them by name. He even remembered what riches could be found on each. The islands that already belonged to or paid tribute to the Empire were marked with golden lion-headed pins. A few of the islands, rich with silver mines, still didn’t belong to the Empire, but for some reason Irdabanush was not drawing attention to them. This surprised Kshayarsha. Then the biggest peninsula caught his attention: “Pelloponnisos”. Not counting Argos, which he had heard about somewhere, the prince knew nothing about these lands.

As far as I know, such an odd thing is only happening in Athens. If not kings, the islanders at least have tyrants,” Gauparuva scratched his beard.

Kshayarsha immediately shifted his eyes over to the peninsula of Attica. Suddenly something splattered as a large blotch on the map. Everyone looked up. Oil was slowly seeping from the blazing copper lamp. Darayawahush’s eyes froze for a second.

Someone’s going to get a flogging tonight, Kshayarsha thought.

To bring the elders’ attention back to the matter, the king’s brother gave a quite cough.

You speak the truth, my Lord Gauparuva. Among the Greeks, Athenians are the worst. They keep rambling on about this repulsive idea of people governing people!”

What one doesn’t hear at this old age!” Vidarna, who was the youngest among the old men, and even dyed his beard to appear younger, shook his head, sourly.

“The Aegean Sea is a bee hive, Great Darayawahush. In my opinion, to start any serious affairs with the Greeks would be a great mistake.” The king’s brother bowed respectfully and resumed his seat.

The words of his young uncle had a great impact on Kshayarsha.

How can a country exist without a King? The astounded prince reasoned to himself.

The king sat, thinking deeply for awhile, and then wordlessly shifted his gaze to Zopyrush.

“Great Sunki, you well know how much respect I put in honorable Irdabanush’s wise words!”

At hearing this Kshayarsha smiled to himself. He knew the old fox’s tricks like the back of his own hand. When the first words out of his mouth were compliments, the last, no doubt were insults. The only exception to this was the king himself. For Darayawahush, Zopyrush could only offer praise. Even if waken suddenly in the middle of the night, his startled cry would probably be “Hail Darayawahush!” From the lips of this man, never had a word of censure escaped. This degree of loyalty deserved even the Great Darayawahush’s trust, and the king trusted almost no one.

“Honorable Irdabanush’s words, of course, we never dare to doubt. They clearly reveal his deep knowledge and incomparable wisdom.” With devilish sparks in his small, lively eyes, the noble praised the king’s brother with a flattering smile and immediately went on to obliterate his advice. “Among the Yaunas there is much chaos, that’s true, but isn’t that in our favor? How many divided and disorderly nations have we already conquered? Have you yourself not traveled through their lands during the Scythian battles? You have already conquered many of their tribes. You and my father, the noble Baghabaksha, have even reached the ‘Yaunas with sun hats.”

At these words, Zopyrush shot a quick glance to the satrap of Abar-Nahara. God forbid the old man count the mention of this campaign as my way of flattery. Thankfully his father sat peacefully in his place, listening attentively to his son’s argument. The words of the red-cheeked noble irritated someone else entirely.

“Fighting on land and fighting on islands or on the narrow sea shores aren’t the same thing, Zopyrush!” Irdabanush broke in impatiently. “We can’t even use our chariots properly over there!”

But we can’t leave the Yaunas unattended!” Zopyrush’s temper flared. “They bring chaos to our lands! I’ve learned from a Babylonian Jew that Ephesos and Miletos are always looking beyond the sea. We are not getting better news from Byzantion either.”

The cities which Zopyrush had named and the lands attached to them covered almost half of the Empire’s western coast.

How can this be true? The astounded Kshayarsha mused.

As if guessing his thought the elderly Gauparuva narrowed his eyes with suspicion:

“Isn’t your fear a bit exaggerated, Zopirush?”

“I don’t think I am exaggerating anything, worthy Satrap. Irdabanush spoke the truth, the Athenians are the worst. They came up with this idea of democracy! Never mind others; they don’t give their own nobles peace. Persia is full of their runaway rulers. Even as we speak, their rabid ideas are poisoning our Greek cities. The islanders truly do look like a bee hive and bees are known to attack and sting dreadfully!”

No, not unless you provoke them first, Zopyrush!” Irdabanush shot back.

Darayawahush’s son, Irdabrdna had been sitting silently beside his uncle the whole time, obviously not eager to partake in the discussion. The sovereign gazed carefully at his eldest offspring, given to him by a Satrap’s daughter. The king of kings didn’t like of the prince’s dormant character.

Kshayarsha knew beforehand that this secret council would probably yield no results. His father wouldn’t even state his own opinion. King Darayawahush was looking at his oldest son with narrowed eyes and appeared to be deep in thought.

Suddenly at the tents entrance a young boy’s messy head popped in and immediately disappeared. Kshayarsha shot a pleading glance over at his father. The king nodded his dismissal. The gleeful boy swiftly scuffled out. The guard bowed respectfully to the prince as he emerged from the tent.

The youngster was well respected among the warriors as well as in the palace. At the camp he was liked because of his amazing strength and bravery, and the palace was charmed by his even more amazing beauty. Kshayarsha’s appearance could be summed up in one word: incomparable. The boy had already outgrown many of the best warriors, yet his red, childishly plump lips exposed his true age. Kshayarsha always dressed flawlessly. Today he clothed his long legs with silk garnet-colored wide pants, golden fish-scaled chainmail covered the Punjabian linen draping his wide shoulders, and on his feet he wore shoes brought especially for him from the Egyptian town, Anthylla. His soft, shoulder length raven curls were tied at the nape of his neck with a golden purl, and on his forhead sat a prince’s crown. Refined in every aspect, he may have even left a soft impression, but from his beautiful almond shaped, almost black eyes, set against his bronze skin, emanated such a fierce predator-like essence that even many of the stern generals felt strange shivers in the presence of this boy.

“My son has such a spirit within him; no one can deny him the throne!” Queen Hutaosha had concluded with a pleased smile long before.

The noblemen half jokingly called this slim, curly haired boy Little Sunki – Little King, which made the other princes resent him deeply.

The beautiful Hutaosha, Kourosh the Great’s oldest daughter, was not the king’s favorite wife. Darayawahush’ heart was conquered by the lovely Irtashduna, the queen’s youngest sister, but among the king’s wives, Hutaosha was the wisest and the most cunning. The cold and reserved queen didn’t engulf Kshayarsha in motherly love; instead she gave him an enviable education.

The sixteen year old prince fluently spoke Arian, Aramaic, Babylonian and Elamite. Surrounded by Hellen slaves and healers, the boy took to Greek as well. The prince learned stars and ground measurments from Chaldean wise men. Hutaosha paid particular attention to her son’s religious upbringing. Under his mother’s guidance, Kshayarsha became a most sincere follower of the Arians’ beloved prophet Zarathustra.

Even though Kshayarsha wasn’t the firstborn of Darayawahush, thanks to his personal qualities and the blood of Kourosh the Great from his mother’s side, among the princes he was undoubtedly the best candidate to become the heir to the throne.

The immortals’ camp was set at the foot of the Zagor mountain range, because of which the heat broke off sooner there, making the nights pleasantly cool.

Emerging from the stuffy tent, the prince greedily breathed in the fresh Medean air and looked around. Bagha was nowhere in sight.

“Where has this useless pike disappeared to in the blink of an eye?” Khsayarsha quietly swore to his friend and called to a nearby immortal: “Datia, have you seen Bagha?”

“He was just here a moment ago.” The warrior stopped sharpening his saber and headed for the young man. “Hold on, I’ll find him right away.”

“No, I’ll find him myself.”

Although it was late at night, the fires scattered about the field allowed the prince to see clearly. No one was sleeping in the camp, they were all scurrying about busily. Beneath the copper pots sitting atop dried brick, embers crackled cheerfully. Most of the warriors had already finished their suppers, although some were still eating heartily. Some were laughing, some arguing, in some places singing could be heard. Others were dancing and playing around. There were even those who managed to get some alone time behind some bushes with the jahikas, who permanently lived in the camps. The most prudent ones sat about fixing their armor and sorting their things. In short, everyone entertained themselves in whatever way they could.

When the smell of meat roasting on the spit was too much for the prince, walking between the fires, the boy felt his stomach burn. His supper would probably have been set by then, but Kshayarsha decided to look for Baghabagsha rather than go eat. Asking around, he finally ran into him by the blacksmith’s. Crouched beside the immortals, stretched across the trampled grass, the young boy way arguing loudly with a man three times his size.

I’m telling you, there’s nothing to it!” The boy was waving his silver belt, broken at the buckle, in front of the man’s soot-covered face.

“That may be so, but it is not my job. Go bring it to the goldsmith.”

I’m telling you to fix it!” Zopyrush’s son moved threateningly toward the smith.

At seeing this, the prince sternly called to his arrogant friend.


Hearing the familiar voice, the lad immediately sprang to his feet and darted toward Kshayarsha.

So, they let you out, my Prince?” he said, bowing with mock respect.

One would never believe, when looking at this skinny, disheveled and always joking boy, that he was the only heir of the clever, plump Zopyrush, nor especially the ever frowning grandfather after whom he was named. Zopyrush didn’t approve of his son’s frivolous character and gave strict instructions:

Baghabaksha, yes, the prince is your friend but keep in mind, one day he may become the ruler of all Persia. And a king deserves the highest respect. Never forget that!”

And now the mischievous boy fulfilled his fathers orders in his own frivolous way.

Bagha, come to your senses or I’ll have your head!” Kshayarsha clapped his friend lightly on the shoulder but was unable to measure his own strength, and bore the boy to the ground.

The immortals lying about around them broke into a fit of laughter at the scene.

What are you laughing at? You’d better get on with your own work!” Zopyrush’s son sprang to his feet again and growled menacingly at the cheerful immortals.

Will you look at that! He had a walloping and he’s still at it!” The lanky boy’s cockiness astonished the ox of a man.

Are you surprised? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Mumbled the immortal next to him.

“Instead of that useless talk, how about you roast us a couple of rabbits, I’m as hungry as a wolf! You’re hungry too, right, Kshayarsha?”

We’re not your cooks, boy. But if the prince wills it, we’d be happy to prepare his meal.” One of the men laughed provokingly.

The prince shook his head no.

“What are you saying, Kshayarsha?” Bagha was appalled. “My stomach has all but shriveled up waiting for you, and you won’t even order them to roast some rabbits?”

Yeah, I can see that, glutton,” the prince laughed and turned down the path leading to the outskirts of camp.

Having a little hear and there with the skauthi doesn’t count as super!” Caught in a lie, the liar wiped his greasy mouth and ran after his long legged friend.

Zopyrush’s empty-headed son was one quirky imp. Dressed in the finest clothes, due to his nobility, he still managed to always look a mess. Even now, the sleeve of his maroon brocade tunic was coming apart at the seams, half of it hanging already, and a huge grease stain soiled his bright green pants, but he couldn’t care less. Pimply faced and buggary-eyed, the youngster’s tight curls were also forever standing on-end. Thankfully his beard hadn’t grown in yet, for it too, would have probably been polluted with food remains and God knows what else. Bagha’s caretakers selflessly fought his harmful habits with floggings and beatings, but there was no use battering a stone wall. He was completely hopeless.

Bagha was two years younger than Kshayarsha and had spent his entire life with the prince. The reason for this was quite simple: Zopyrush, the brother-in-law and loyal friend to Darayawahush, earned queen Hutaosha’s trust as well. This is why his son grew up in the palace. The prince had many other companions, but they were all the flesh and blood of Darayawahush, which meant certain rivalry in the future. For this reason the queen brought this joyful boy for her son. True, through the veins of Baghabaksha also ran the Achaemenid blood, his mother was darayawahush’s full sister, but they couldn’t bring a nobody from the streets, could they? The king’s proud wife only regarded the members of the seven noble families as their equals.

Where are we going, Kshayarsha?”

“To the horses.”

I thought I wouldn’t see you until prayer time. What are our elders doing?”

“They are debating, and will debate some more. Your father as usual, cannot rest. If only you could see how mad our uncle is!” the prince grinned wolfishly. “But he won’t show it because of my father. He knows how much the king loves that old fox!”

The friends turned down another path leading to the stream.

It was a beautiful warm autumn night. The moon shone brightly, set against the dark, star studded sky. At a nearby bush, the nobles’ horses grazed lazily, occasionally whinnying in undertones as if afraid to disturb the serene ambiance. A little distance away, within a wooden fence, hundreds of horses were housed for the immortals. This was why the smell of manure was so strong in this part of the camp. From time to time, the stifled snickering of the warriors could be heard. No one was asleep here either. The guards and stablemen were also waiting for the nightly prayer.

Kshayarsha found his horse and lovingly began to stroke his steed. The thankful four legged friend playfully snorted at his master.

Let’s go for a ride, bagha. We still have time before midnight.” The prince untied the beast and fluidly swung onto its back.

On an empty stomach? It would be better if we filled our bellies first.” Bagha scowled but did as his friend.

As soon as the youngsters silently crossed the brook and kicked their horses into a gallop, one of the warriors sitting by the fire stood and called with a jackal’s cry to the hidden bodyguard on the other bank that the prince was headed in their direction. Kshayarsha was never left alone even amongst the loyal immortals.

After a while, the prince slowed his steed and let him move at his own pace. As if understanding the rider’s desire the smart beast looked back and resumed walking with slower steps.

Kshayarsha was feeling strangely restless that night, so restless that, although he had been hungry since the day before, he had no desire for food.

What’s wrong with me? This matter confused the boy himself.

The friends rode silently for a while. Far to the east, where the bright, star-studded sky enwrapped the earth in a lovers embrace, the highest peak of the mountains of Medea, Alvand, stood like a sleeping black giant. The life-giving north wind was blowing in the direction of the camp, holding the bustling noise at bay, so that it barely disturbed the calm of the night. The horses carefully stepped through the tall, lush, but already bowing, late summer grass. There were low bushes here and there, but the fields at the foot of Alvand were mostly grazing lands. The dizzying scent of wild flowers stirred there in the early spring, but now the familiar, lazy smell of hay snuck even into the fields. The king’s palace in the capital of Medea was counting down its last days of summer. Darayawahush would wait for one more new moon to be half filled; meanwhile on the fifteenth day, dedicated to the god Attar, they would celebrate Kshayarsha’s wedding, after which the king’s court would leave Ecbatana and move to the capital of Elam, Susa, for the winter.

“They say Amisiri is a real beauty,” Bagha broke the silence first.

“They’re probably lying. How can Utana’s daughter be good looking?”

“What are you talking about, Kshayarsha? If she were ugly, why would the King wed her to you?”

“Because my father and her father have some old scores settle.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard that too, but your father repaid Utana a long time ago.”

“What are you rambling about, Bagha?”

“I’m not rambling. You remember the old tale of how our Elders snapped that so called Bardia’s neck. Don’t you?”

“Yeah. That’s when the seven nobles of Persia arose. Your grandfather received Abar-Nahara as a reward. Vidarna became the satrap of Medea. Utana gained strength in Lydia. And our Mardunaya’s old man became the Lord of Elam, the heart of the Empire. Ardunamush would have gotten a Satrapy as a guift as well, had he not journeyed to the world of the deceased. Only Vindafrana was cheated by fate. That wretched man got himself killed by the king for no reason.”

“Your father still benefited the most. He got the whole Empire.”

“The seven chose father as king themselves!” Kshayarsha stiffened.

“The wicked say that Utana deserved the throne more. That is why your future father-in-law’s family is the only one in the Empire who doesn’t pay a tribute to the King. They say that this is how Darayawahush gave him his thanks.”

“If you don’t learn how to hold your tongue, it will undoubtedly be your doom, Bagha!”

“For what? I’m only saying that your father has already paid his dept to Utana. There is no need for you to marry his hideous and old spinster of a daughter.” Bagha didn’t withdraw.

At remembering his future wedding, Kshayarsha sighed heavily, cast his sad gaze over the moon-lit meadow, then looked to the sky and, in order to deprive Bagha of the opportunity to ramble on, began surveying the starts. Knowing how much his friend loved to gaze for hours at the celestial bodies, Zopyrush’s son was forced to keep shut for a time.

Studying the writings of Chaldean wisemen always filled Kshayarsha’s soul with uncommon pleasure. He knew “Enuma Anu Enlil” almost by heart. Bagha, of course, considered all of this entirely useless stupidity for a soldier and always slept soundly during lessons with the Chaldian wisemen. Even now, as if mocking him, the cerulean sky was filled with glittering stars. This meant that Kshayarsha would be lost to him for a good while. On the other hand, the prince himself looked rather pleased. The blissful fireflies seemed as if they were playing with the somber prince: they laughed, winking and hiding childishly and then appearing again on that vast stretch of darkness. Kshayarsha knew the stars’ arrangements by heart. On a clear night he could easily find the ox, the lion and all other constellations, but tonight’s sky was completely different. It looked more like a magical world of dancing fireflies. The boy could even have sworn that he could hear the distant song of the stars. This astonishing sight entertained Kshayarsha at first, then slowly reeled him in, and finally, invited him into its twinkling wonder world. The prince, enchanted by the stars, watched them play their strange games. Suddenly a new starlet appeared as a bright dot to the north, then as if ignited by a life-giving breath, it flickered and burst into a brilliant star.

“Look, Bagha, look!” the price burst out pointing up.

Where, where?” His companion stared up at the sky with widened eyes.

“Over there, how can you miss it? In the sky, to the right!” The astounded boy was frantically waving his arms in the air.

Baghabaksha tried to focus his gaze to where the prince was pointing. Next to Kshayarsha’s star another suddenly appeared, it flared with all its might and as if yanked from its place, streamed across the sky beyond the horizon.

“There, I see it!” the exited boy shouted. “What do you think this could mean? They say it means war is coming!”

No, Bagha, you didn’t see anything!”

“What do you mean I didn’t see anything?” he was astonished.

“My star was just born, my friend!” the prince cried out wildly, filled with new happiness out of nowhere.

“You probably imagined it. How could you possibly have seen the birth of one tiny little star in the vast sky?” Baghabagsha doubted but at seeing Kshayarsha’s angrily furrowed brows, rephrased his disbelief: “How do you know it’s your star?”

I know. I feel it in my heart.” The prince smiled.

“What a great treasure! What use can a little light in the sky be to a man? It would be even better if you found us a tasty rabbit in the grass somewhere.” The boy retorted coolly.

“How hopelessly stupid you are, pike. Something exceedingly important to me has taken place on this earth tonight, but why do I bother explaining it to you? Your feeble mind won’t understand anyway.”

Right, it won’t understand! I understand everything that is necessary and important perfectly.” Bagha laughed cheerfully.

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