As they went on from there, they kept seeing tracks of horses and horses' dung. To all appearances it was the trail of about two thousand horses, and the horsemen as they proceeded were burning up fodder and everything else that was of any use. At this time Orontas, a Persian, who was related to the King by birth and was reckoned among the best of the Persians in matters of war, devised a plot against Cyrus—in fact, he had made war upon him before this, but had become his friend again.
He now said to Cyrus that if he would give him a thousand horsemen, he would either ambush and kill these horsemen who were burning ahead of him, or he would capture many of them alive and put a stop to their burning as they advanced; and he would see to it that they should never be able to behold Cyrus' army and get to the King with their report. When Cyrus heard this plan, it seemed to him to be an expedient one, and he directed Orontas to get a detachment from each one of the cavalry commanders.
Then Orontas, thinking that his horsemen were assured him, wrote a letter to the King saying that he would come to him with as many horsemen as he could get; and he urged the King to direct his own cavalry to receive him as a friend. The letter also contained reminders of his former friendship and fidelity. This letter he gave to a man whom he supposed to be faithful to him; but this man took it and gave it to Cyrus.
When Cyrus had read it, he had Orontas arrested, and summoned to his tent seven of the noblest Persians among his attendants, while he ordered the Greek generals to bring up hoplites and bid them station themselves under arms around his tent. And the generals obeyed the order, bringing with them about three thousand hoplites.
Clearchus was also invited into the tent as a counsellor, for both Cyrus and the other Persians regarded him as the man who was honoured above the rest of the Greeks. And when he came out, he reported to his friends how Orontas' trial was conducted—for it was no secret.
He said that Cyrus began the conference in this way: “My friends, I have invited you here in order that I may consult with you and then take such action in the case of Orontas here as is right in the sight of gods and men. This man was given me at first by my father, to be my subject; then, at the bidding, as he himself said, of my brother, this man levied war upon me, holding the citadel of Sardis
, and I, by the war I waged against him, made him count it best to cease from warring upon me, and I received and gave the hand-clasp of friendship. Since that,” he said, “Orontas, have I done you any wrong?”
“No,” Orontas answered. Cyrus went on questioning him: “Did you not afterwards, although, as you yourself admit, you had suffered no wrong at my hands, desert me for the Mysians, and do all the harm you could to my territory?” “Yes,” said Orontas. “Did you not,” Cyrus said, “when once more you had learned the slightness of your own power, go to the altar of Artemis and say you were sorry, and did you not, after prevailing upon me to pardon you, again give me pledges and receive pledges from me?” This also Orontas admitted.
“What wrong, then,” said Cyrus, “have you suffered at my hands, that you now for the third time have been found plotting against me?” When Orontas replied, “None,” Cyrus asked him: “Do you admit, then, that you have proved yourself a doer of wrong toward me?” “I cannot choose but do so,” said Orontas. Thereupon Cyrus asked again: “Then could you henceforth prove yourself a foe to my brother and a faithful friend to me?” “Even if I should do so Cyrus,” he replied, “you could never after this believe it of me.”
Then Cyrus said to those who were present: “Such have been this man's deeds, such are now his words; and now, Clearchus, do you be the first of my counsellors to express the opinion you hold.” And Clearchus said: “My advice is to put this man out of the way as speedily as possible, so that we may no longer have to be on our guard against the fellow, but may be left free, so far as concerns him, to requite with benefits these willing servants.”
In this opinion Clearchus said that the others also concurred.
After this, he said, at the bidding of Cyrus, every man of them arose, even Orontas' kinsmen, and took him by the girdle, as a sign that he was condemned to death; and then those to whom the duty was assigned led him out. And when the men who in former days were wont to do him homage saw him, they made their obeisance even then, although they knew that he was being led forth to death.
Now after he had been conducted into the tent of Artapates, the most faithful of Cyrus' chamberlains, from that moment no man ever saw Orontas living or dead, nor could anyone say from actual knowledge how he was put to death,—it was all conjectures, of one sort and another; and no grave of his was ever seen.