Thais makes the march from Babylon to Persepolis with Alexander's army. As she enters the ancient city of Persian rulers, she makes a few startling discoveries that might explain the downfall of the once-great empire.
At dawn, when they were only a few hours away from Persepolis, Macedonians saw a huge crowd on the road. Middle-aged people carrying green branches as a sign of peace and submission were walking toward them. They were Helenians, captured or tricked into working at the capitol of Persia. Skilful craftsmen and artist, they were all cruelly and purposefully disfigured: some were missing their feet, some – left hands, yet others – noses or ears. These people have been crippled in such a manner so that they could still perform their work but could not escape and go home in such pitiful or terrible state.
Alexander’s eyes filled with tears of outrage. When the cripples fell to their knees before his horse, begging for his help, Alexander dismounted. Calling over a few noseless leaders of the crowd, he said he would help them return home. The leaders discussed this among themselves and came back to the patiently waiting Alexander, asking him not to send them to their homeland, where they would be subject to mockery and pity, but to let them settle together in a place of their choice. Alexander approved of their decision and ordered them to walk toward Parmenius’s provisions train and then further to Susa, where each one of them would be given three thousand drachmas, five new garments, two pairs of buffalo, fifty sheep and fifty measures of wheat. The cripples moved on with joyous shouts glorifying the king. Alexander rushed toward the most hated city in Asia, as he called Persepolis.
A moved Ptolemy rode up to Alexander and Thais who rode slightly behind, shocked by what she just saw.
“How could they destroy the beautiful Athens – temples, galleries, fountains! What for?” – Thais asked.
Alexander glanced at Ptolemy.
“What would my best observer of countries and states say?”
“It is very simple, great king!”
The hetaera noticed the unusually formal address.
“It is very simple,” – Ptolemy repeated, “Beauty serves as support for the spirit of the people. When we break it, shatter it and tear it to pieces, we break traditions that cause people to fight and give their lives for their homeland. Love of your people, your past, military valor and civilian courage cannot grow in a polluted, decimated place. When people forget their glorious past, they turn into a crowd of vagrants, wishing only to fill their bellies and drink some wine!”
“Excellent, my friend!” – Alexander exclaimed, “Do you not agree?”
“Ptolemy is right, as usual, but not in everything. Xerxus went through the entire Attica with destructions and fires and burned down Acropolis. The next year, his envoy Mardonius came to Athens and burned down whatever was left after Xerxus. Ptolemy is right – Mardonius burned and destroyed primarily temples, galleries and collections of sculptures and paintings. But my compatriots did not restore anything: the shattered walls, blackened columns, broken statues, and even the charcoals left from the fires remained until Persians were pushed out of Hellas. The black wounds on our beautiful land strengthened the Greeks’ hatred and rage during the battles again Asian conquerors. They crushed them in the battle of Platea – thirty long years later! And then came Pericles, Aspasia, Phidias, and Parthenon was created!”
“Are you saying that not only the most beautiful things, but also the sight of their destruction strengthens the people’s spirit?” – Alexander asked.
“Precisely so, majesty,”- Thais replied, “But only if the people, who created the beauty of their land and sublimated it, realize what they have lost!”
The queen of Amazons, also in golden armor, rode to Alexander’s left – a place of high honor. People watched Alexander and his divinely beautiful companion with bated breath. The Amazon in her pure and disdainful nudity sat atop an incredibly beautiful horse – reddish-chestnut, with a long black tail and mane, braided with golden threads. The pacer, small and agile, looked as small as a lizard next to the huge Bucefal. The Amazon queen’s copper-skinned body was circled by a belt of golden squares with a short sword, her back was covered by a leopard skin, upon which rested her bow and arrows, framed by two long blond braids falling from under the blindingly glittering helmet. The queen’s face was framed by a wide helmet strap, which, combined with a low brim, gave her a warlike and uncompromising look. On her left arm, above her elbow the Amazon carried a shield with the image of Circe’s golden hawk in the center.
Another Amazon rode a step behind the queen on a dark charcoal-gray mare. She was dark-skinned and wore a silver helmet and silver weapons. A silver snake was coiled in the center of her shield, and her wild dark-blue eyes peered from under the helmet watchfully and ruthlessly. The dark-skinned Amazon held a short silver spear in her right hand. Her horse, bowed and danced, swishing her silver-braided tail.
Alexander with his officers and Amazons rode slowly through the crowds toward the southern edge of Persepolis. There, on a smooth stretch of the valley, tents and seats were constructed for the guests, as well as a space for athletic competitions and a stage for actors and dancers. It was incredible, how quickly magicians, famous musicians and gymnasts managed to get here for the celebration…
At the intersection of two large streets the wealthy Persians could be recognized by their colorful garments and absence of women. Wealthy female citizens wrapped in light scarves huddled against the walls and fences, while female slaves almost threw themselves under the hooves, pushing men aside. Persian nobles openly admired the splendid horses and the majestic royal retinue.
“Look!” – a tall warlike man exclaimed addressing a friend whose featured betrayed a touch of Indian blood, “I thought the legend about Amazons was false, if for no other reason, then because they would have to be as crooked in the legs as the Massagete women, from horseback riding since childhood.”
“But now you see that the Amazons seat…”
“Is completely different!”
“Yes, their calves are not wrapped around the horse, but lie on the horse’s back, with their knees bent and heels resting on the spine…”
The half-Indian froze, gazing after the queen of Amazons, riding with Alexander into another district, where the street was even wider and more crowded.
“En aristera! (To the left!)”
People were startled by the piercing yell of the dark-skinned Amazon. The queen instantly covered herself with the shield. A heavy knife, thrown with great force, thudded loudly. The black Amazon’s horse dashed to the left, parting the crowds. Before anyone could grab the attacker, he already collapsed on the ground with the spear thrust deeply behind the left collarbone – a strike, from which there was no recovery. Thais recognized the training of Kibela’s temple.
In a moment the enraged getaerosi burst into the crowd, crushing everyone who was in the way. They surrounded a group of spectators near the dead attacker and lead them down a side street. Two of them tried to jump over the rope and were killed on the spot. The queen’s face showed no trace of fright. She smiled to Alexander carelessly. The king spoke a few words to Ptolemy, who turned his horse and rode after the getaerosi.