There was little sleep that night for the inhabitants of the castle of Bisanthe. Everyone felt that the situation was full of peril. If it had not been for the confidence which everyone brought into contact with Alcibiades felt in his capacities of leadership there would have been something like a panic. As it was, the garrison awaited with calmness, though not without intense anxiety, the course of action which their commander would take for himself, and recommend to them. They were not kept long in suspense.
Shortly after dawn the notes of a trumpet were heard through the castle giving the well-known signal by which a general assembly of the garrison was called. A few minutes sufficed to collect the men. The meeting was held in the central court of the castle, and Alcibiades, taking his stand on the topmost step of an outside staircase which led up to one of the chambers, addressed them.
"Comrades," he said, "you have heard of the disaster by which Athens has loft its last fleet. I will blame no man for what happened or inquire whether it might not have been averted—"
The speaker was interrupted by loud cries of "Long live Alcibiades, the invincible!"
A flush of pleasure passed over the speaker's face, but he made a gesture imperative of silence, and continued.
"The only thing that remains for us is to consider what is most expedient to do. Here, my friends, we cannot stay. Bisanthe indeed, protected by its situation, its walls, and stout hands and tried valor, it would not be easy to take. But, with both sea and land hostile, with all the country and cities from which we have drawn our supplies in the hands of the Spartans, we cannot long continue to hold it. What then shall we do? You, my friends, I can only advise, for from this day I of necessity cease to command. Go, then, I would say, to King Seuthes, and offer yourselves to him. He will receive you kindly. Brave men—and your valor has been shown times without number—are always valued and honored by him, and now that, for a time at least, the Spartans and their allies have become supreme in these parts, he will want men more than ever. If you require it, you shall have my good word; but your reputation will speak for you more effectually than I can. My gratitude to you, who have served me so well, I can never express. Yet such return as I can make shall not be left undone. The paymaster will pay you all arrears of pay, with a donation of thrice as much again."
A loud burst of applause followed this announcement.
The speaker continued: "This gift would be many times greater, if my means were equal to my sense of your courage and your services. From some of you I have a favor to ask. It is not expedient publicly to declare my plans; but I may say that I shall need a few associates in them. For these I shall not ask you, not because I am doubtful of raising them, but because I know that you would all offer yourselves—"
A roar of assent went up from the whole assembly.
"I have already exercised the choice which in any case I should have been compelled afterwards to make. Twelve companions—more I am forbidden by circumstances to take—will go with me. To the rest I say, 'Farewell.' The gods grant that at some happier time we may again render our service to Athens and to Greece. Till then, Farewell!"
A loud answering cry of farewell went up from the men, which was renewed again and again as the speaker entered the room at the head of the staircase. Here the twelve chosen associates were assembled, Callias and Hipparchus, the messenger from the scene of the late conflict, making up the number to fourteen. Alcibiades addressed them:
"I have long since anticipated and prepared myself for this misfortune which has now overtaken us, though the blow has fallen more suddenly and more heavily than I had feared. To you, my chosen friends, I reveal the counsels which it would not have been expedient to publish to a multitude. Briefly they are these: Lysander has conquered by the help of the Persians, for had it not been for the gold of Cyrus, his fleet could never have been kept together. We also must go to the Persians for help. It is an evil necessity, I confess, that makes free-born Greeks court the favor of their slaves; but a necessity it is. And the time favors us for using it. Cyrus covets the throne of Persia which he claims against his elder brother Artaxerxes as having been born after his father's accession whereas Artaxerxes was born before it. As Lysander, then, has used Cyrus against us, so we must use Artaxerxes against Cyrus. 'How,' you will ask, 'is Artaxerxes to be approached?' Through Pharnabazus, the Satrap, with whom I have a warm friendship of now some years' standing. To Pharnabazus, therefore, I now purpose to go. I shall demand of him that which he will himself be most willing to grant—for he is no friend to Cyrus—that he send me up to Susa. This Themistocles did before me; but he, at least in word, went as the enemy of his country, though indeed he was unwilling to harm it. I shall go, both in word and in deed, as its friend. And now for other things. For my most valuable possessions I have prepared hiding-places. Much I shall leave to King Seuthes, to whom I sent a message concerning my immediate departure. This morning, my friends, I would ask you to receive at my hands a year's pay. Do not hesitate to receive it; I can give it now, I may not be able so to do a year hence. We will start this day at sunset. There is no time to be lost. To-morrow, I doubt not, or the next day at the latest, Lysander will be here."
With Callias, after the rest had departed to make preparations for their departure, Alcibiades had some private conversation as to the subject of ways and means.
"You must let me be your banker," he began by saying.
Callias thanked him heartily, but declined to receive anything more than would suffice for immediate needs.
"You may as well take it," returned his host, "there is a good deal more here than I can take with me; and why should you not? For myself, I carry most of my possessions about with me in this fashion,"—and he showed a leather purse filled with pearls and precious stones. "Gold is too cumbrous to carry in any quantity. This no man will take as long as I am alive. Besides this, my worthy friend Hippocles, who, as you know, is as trustworthy as the treasury of Delphi, has most of my property in his hands. And, if we once get safely to Pharnabazus, we need not trouble any more about this matter. I must do the Persians the justice to say that they are always open-handed. And they can afford to be. It is not too much to say that for one talent of gold that we have in Greece they have at least a hundred. Anyone who should have the ransacking of one of their great treasure cities—and they have others besides Susa; Babylon, for instance, and Persepolis and Pasargadæ—would see something that would astonish them. And," he added, with a profound sigh—"if only things had gone straight, I might have been the man."
The journey along the northern shore of the Propontis was accomplished in safety. No Spartan ship had as yet made its way so far eastward. At a little town on the Asiatic shore Alcibiades provided his party with horses for riding and serviceable mules for the conveyance of their baggage and of such a selection of his own possessions as he had thought it well to take with him. The old sailor Hipparchus here wanted to leave them, and to make his way to Byzantium, where he had relatives. The remainder Alcibiades addressed before setting out, to the following effect:
"We have to make our way to Gordium in Phrygia, for it is there that, if he keeps to his usual habits, we shall find the Satrap Pharnabazus. He is accustomed to winter there. But we shall not find it easy to get there. These Bithynians are not effeminate Asiatics, a hundred of whom will fly before five stout Greeks. They are Thracians from the other side of the sea, and we all know how hard are their heads, and how strong their arms. We cannot force our way through them; we must elude them if we can."
The route which the party followed lay for some time within sight of the sea. This was commonly followed by travellers, as the mountaineers seldom ventured within the border of the maritime plain. When they had reached the head of the Gulf of Olbia they struck inland. The road usually followed would have taken them by the valley of Sangarius, a river which divides the great chain of the Mysian Olympus. Their guide strongly dissuaded them from taking it. It was constantly watched, he said, by the mountaineers. No one could hope to escape them, and only a very strong party could force its way through. The safest plan would be by certain paths which he knew, by which they might hope to cross Olympus unmolested. Only hunters and shepherds know them, or a chance traveller on foot for whom it would not be worth the robbers while to wait. It was a toilsome and even dangerous journey. The first snows of autumn had begun to fall, and even the practical eye of the guide found it difficult to discover the path, while the sufferings of the travellers, who had to bivouac for several nights in the open air, with but scanty fire to warm them, were exceedingly severe. Still, but for one unlucky incident, it would have been accomplished in safety. The party was now half-way down the southern slopes of Olympus when they halted for the night at a road-side inn, or rather caravansary. They found the large reception chamber—it contained two only—already occupied by a party of the vagrant priests of Cybele. While Alcibiades and Callias found accommodation, such as it was, in the smaller room, the rest of the party were thrown upon the hospitality of the priests, unless indeed, they chose to bivouac outside. Unluckily, the priests were only too hospitable. They invited the newcomers to an entertainment which was prolonged into a revel. During the passage of the mountains the allowances of food had been small, and for drink the party had had perforce to be satisfied with the wayside springs or even with melted snow. When they found themselves under shelter, in a room which was at least weather-tight, and warmed with a blazing fire, the sense of contrast tended to relax their powers of self-restraint. The priests had roasted a couple of sheep, and broached a cask of the heady wine of Mount Tmolus, with which a wealthy devotee had presented them. This they drank, and insisted on their guests drinking, unmixed; By the time the mutton bones had been picked bare, and the cask drained to its dregs, not a man out of the twelve was sober. A heavy slumber, lasting late into the morning, was the natural consequence of this debauch, and when the sleepers were at last aroused, they set about the preparation for a start in a very languid fashion. It was nearly noon before the party was fairly on its way. Darkness came on before the next stage could be reached. It was while the travellers were bivouacking in a wholly unprotected situation that a company of marauders, who had indeed been watching their movements for some days in the hopes of finding such an opportunity, fell upon them. The result was disastrous. Alcibiades and Callias, who had been sleeping with their horses picketed close to the camp fire, were roused by the noise, and springing to their saddles made their escape. Not one of their followers was equally fortunate. Some were cut down in their sleep, others as they were endeavoring to collect their senses. The sumpter-horses and their burdens, of course, fell into the hands of the assailants. It was only with what they carried on their own persons that the two survivors of the party made their way about six days afterwards to the Satrap's winter palace at Gordium.