Terrible indeed must have been the despair of the Hellenes on hearing of the death of Cyrus, for by this one blow their whole position was changed, their every hope was shattered. Instead of being able to cherish pleasant dreams of future happiness made possible by the bounty of Cyrus, they had now before them nothing but a dark and dreary prospect of toil and danger, through which if they barely escaped with their lives, it was as much as they could dare to hope.
Hitherto Cyrus, who had studied in advance every mile of the road, had been their leader, and had always brought them by the best way. Now they found themselves a thousand miles distant from their home, without the slightest knowledge of the countries through which they would have to pass. Hitherto they had been free from all care with regard to their daily food, for the liberal pay which they had received from Cyrus had enabled them to supply their wants without difficulty. Now they had nothing to fall back upon but their savings, and when these were spent, they would be reduced to the most extreme distress.
They were, in fact, like men lost in some primeval forest, surrounded by every kind of danger, with no human being to help them, no landmark to point out the way, but nevertheless struggling to escape from among its gloomy shades.
Fortunately for the Hellenes, there was among them one man at least, who, even in the most sudden reverses of fortune, never lost his presence of mind. This was the rough, stern soldier, Clearchus. Although under ordinary circumstances he was rather hated than loved by his men, yet in the press of battle, the consciousness that nothing escaped him, and that he, at all events, was absolutely cool and self-possessed, inspired them with courage and confidence, and in this time of need, he rose at once to the position of greatest authority in the whole army. Hitherto he had been merely the general of his own company; now he became commander-in-chief, not so much by any formal choice, as because every one was ready to grant him willing obedience, in the belief that whatever the difficulties might be, he would cope with them better than any one else.
The first plan suggested by Clearchus was to join forces with Ariaeus, who had commanded the Barbarian army under Cyrus, and who, on the previous day, bad fled back three miles to the last halting-place. To him therefore the Hellenes sent messengers to say that if he would like to fight for the throne on his own account, they would be willing to help him, as they had helped Cyrus.
Soon after the messengers had departed, there arrived at the camp some Persian ambassadors, accompanied by a Hellene named Phalinus, belonging to the suite of Tissaphernes, who acted as their spokesman. They asked to see the generals, and demanded, in the name of the Great King, that the Hellenes should give up their arms, and throw themselves upon his mercy.
But Clearchus said, "We have conquered, and it is not usual for the conquerors to give up their arms."
Just then however he was called away to attend to a sacrifice that he had caused to be offered for the purpose of consulting the omens, and he left the conference, saying to his comrades, "Give them such a message to take back as may seem good to you."
In his absence, Cleanor, the eldest of the generals, was the first to speak, and he said, "We will rather die than give ourselves up."
Another general asked, "If the King thinks himself the conqueror, why does he not come and fetch our arms?"
And a third said, "The most precious possessions that we have are our valour and our arms. So long as we keep our arms, our valour may be of some service to us, but if we part with them, our lives will not be worth much."
Others again thought it desirable not to irritate the King, and said that the arms which they had hitherto carried in the service of Cyrus might now be employed in the service of the King.
By this time Clearchus had returned, and he asked Phalinus whether the ambassadors had as yet received their answer. "The other generals," answered Phalinus, "have spoken this and that,—now let us hear what you say." This gave Clearchus an opportunity of appealing to Phalinus to help him to keep up the spirits of his comrades. "I rejoice, Phalinus," he said, "that you, a countryman of our own, are here among the ambassadors. Give us counsel, and say what appears to you the most honourable and advantageous course for us Hellenes, situated as we are. You know that in the time to come all Hellas will know what has been your advice to us to-day."
But Phalinus evaded the appeal, and gave a very different answer from that which Clearchus had hoped for. "If," he said, "you have the least ground for supposing yourselves able to hold your own against the Great King, I advise you not to give up your arms. But if you see clearly that it is impossible, then my advice is this, Save yourselves as best you can."
Clearly there was nothing to be gained by further discussion, and Clearchus said, "You have spoken, but take to the King this answer, that if he desires our service as friends, it is better for him that we should keep our arms. And on the other hand, if he regards us as enemies, it is better for us that we should have them."
With this message, the ambassadors returned to the King. When they were gone, Clearchus announced to the other generals that the omens of the sacrifice which he had just caused to be offered, were unfavourable for a battle with the King, but favourable for the proposal to join forces with Ariaeus.
Soon afterwards the messengers returned from Ariaeus with the answer that he did not care to accept the offer of the Hellenes to set him on the throne, because among the great lords of Persia there were many more powerful and distinguished than himself, who would never endure to see him placed above them. But he said that early the next morning he was going to begin the return-march to Sardis, and that the Hellenes might go with him if they liked.
The generals decided to do so, and although it was already dark, they set out at once for the place where he was encamped, and reached it about midnight. There they entered into a treaty with Ariaeus, and confirmed it with sacred rites in order that it might be doubly sure. According to the Persian custom, a bull, a wolf, a wild boar, and a ram were slaughtered, and their blood was mingled in the hollow of a shield, into which the Hellene officers dipped their swords and the Barbarian officers their lances. Then they swore on both sides to help one another in every difficulty. Neither party was to desert the other, the Barbarians were to act as guides to the Hellenes, according to the best of their knowledge, and in all emergencies they were to stand by one another as true friends.