“In obedience to the oracle, you, Croesus, had chosen us Lacedaemonians, as the most powerful among the Hellenes, to be your allies against the might of Persia; and you gave us gold for the statue of Apollo on Mount Thornax. The ephori, on this, resolved to present you with a gigantic bronze wine-bowl, richly wrought. I was chosen as bearer of this gift. Before reaching Sardis our ship was wrecked in a storm. The wine-cup sank with it, and we reached Samos with nothing but our lives. On returning home I was accused by enemies, and those who grudged my good fortune, of having sold both ship and wine-vessel to the Samians. As they could not convict me of the crime, and had yet determined on my ruin, I was sentenced to two days’ and nights’ exposure on the pillory. My foot was chained to it during the night; but before the morning of disgrace dawned, my brother brought me secretly a sword, that my honor might be saved, though at the expense of my life. But I could not die before revenging myself on the men who had worked my ruin; and therefore, cutting the manacled foot from my leg, I escaped, and hid in the rushes on the banks of the Furotas. My brother brought me food and drink in secret; and after two months I was able to walk on the wooden leg you now see. Apollo undertook my revenge; he never misses his mark, and my two worst opponents died of the plague. Still I durst not return home, and at length took ship from Gythium to fight against the Persians under you, Croesus. On landing at Teos, I heard that you were king no longer, that the mighty Cyrus, the father of yonder beautiful youth, had conquered the powerful province of Lydia in a few weeks, and reduced the richest of kings to beggary.”
Every guest gazed at Aristomachus in admiration. Croesus shook his hard hand; and Bartja exclaimed: “Spartan, I would I could take you back with me to Susa, that my friends there might see what I have seen myself, the most courageous, the most honorable of men!”
“Believe me, boy,” returned Aristomachus smiling, every Spartan would have done the same. In our country it needs more courage to be a coward than a brave man.”
“And you, Bartja,” cried Darius, the Persian king’s cousin, “could you have borne to stand at the pillory?” Bartja reddened, but it was easy to see that he too preferred death to disgrace.
“Zopyrus, what say you?” asked Darius of the third young Persian.
“I could mutilate my own limbs for love of you two,” answered he, grasping unobserved the hands of his two friends.
With an ironical smile Psamtik sat watching this scene—the pleased faces of Amasis, Croesus and Gyges, the meaning glances of the Egyptians, and the contented looks with which Aristomachus gazed on the young heroes.
Ibykus now told of the oracle which had promised Aristomachus a return to his native land, on the approach of the men from the snowy mountains, and at the same time, mentioned the hospitable house of Rhodopis.