Heirs of the Achaemenids: A Surviving Persian Empire A Game at Dinner 336 B.C. Dark storm clouds had gathered over Persepolis this evening, an ill-omen that drew comparison from the attending nobles and courtiers about the more metaphorical cloud that was forming over their great empire. Upon climbing the steps into the banquet halls however, troubled thoughts were kept behind fake smiles and kept masked and hidden by fake laughter and fake joy. After all, they were all ostensibly gathered for a feast in celebration of their young King of Kings, Artaxerxes IV. All were keenly aware of the devious plots and machinations that were to take place this night and taking place now but lest they wished to end up on the wrong side of a blade they pretended all was well with the world and settled in to enjoy what would surely become a dangerous game at dinner. Such pretenses and worries disguised by merriment did not go unnoticed by the king's vizier Bagoas, however. As the chiliarch of the realm, he officially held more power than any but the King of Kings himself, but few in court were unaware that Bagoas was the power behind the throne as well, quite the achievement for someone who started out as a lowly court eunuch. He watched as the noblemen who formed the spokes of the wheels that turned the empire gather to reluctantly watch the disturbing theater of drama Bagoas had in mind to play. He retired to the king's chambers then to assuage young Artaxerxes' worries. The young monarch however was already in a bit of an irritable mood this morning. "I don't know why you insisted on having this pointless little banquet here today, Bagoas, I should think there's bigger things to deal with than what robes I should wear to the party, such as the petty little rebels you seem so reluctant to mention. Or perhaps the Greek invasion? I swear, your obsession with these trivialities is damnably idiotic." Bagoas bit back a grimace. Soon, he thought to himself, soon you won't have to deal with this little upstart. Putting on a rather unctuous smile, he assured the king, "The nobility all need a show of generosity and fun to put their minds at ease, Great King. We both know how small-minded the lot of them are, let them have their distractions and you will have a contented lot of tools at your disposal." And I will have an audience to witness what happens when you get in my way. "And besides, Arsham," he continued, using the King's real name, "I've invited Artashata since he's been making obvious overtures against your throne. This way he can't attend without putting himself in your hands but his absence will make the others suspicious as to his motives, a fine trap if I say so myself." "That Satrap of Armina, you mean? Yes, he seems almost as ambitious as others I could dare to mention. I suppose you've done well enough, for a eunuch. Go on then, leave me to my most important duties of preparing pointless speeches for a crowd of drunkards." Artaxerxes waved his hand dismissively and Bagoas bowed deeply as he backed away, finally glad he could leave the presence of the young lord while feeling secure he wouldn't ruin the plan. Knowing the feeling was mutual, he went to wander the halls of Persepolis for a few minutes before his banquet began. It seemed the King grew more and more short with him each passing day, doubtless tired of Bagoas being able to run everything behind his back. The eunuch was only mildly disappointed his attempts at being subtle failed, but he supposed such was impossible after he had poisoned so many royals including the late king Artaxerxes III, father of Arsham. Now his snippy young lord couldn't stand his presence but couldn't muster the influence to oust him either, resorting to mild insults. Bagoas imagined he'd have gotten an earful and corrected him on the Makedonian, not Greek, incursion that had recently began. So lost in bemused thoughts he was that he did not realize who had just stood in front of him until he was directly face to face with the man. Staring at him with cold, expressionless eyes and a regal bearing was a cousin to the Great King, royal Postmaster, and Satrap of Armina: Artashata. Momentary shock gone, Bagoas sharply whispered, "Just what do you think you are doing here? You weren't supposed to be in Persepolis yet! You come after tonight's feast with soldiers, or did you forget?" "I did not forget, sir," Artashata calmly replied, "I simply came at the King's invitation. You are aware I was given one, are you not?" "You weren't supposed to respond to it! It's all a part of the plan!" Bagoas took a few breaths and stopped seething. "No matter, just don't make a scene and we'll still be able to pull this off, don't forget the rewards." "I never forget the rewards given to those who are loyal." With that, Artashata bowed slightly and left. Glowering after him, Bagoas went to the royal banquet hall as the event was now starting, trusting his men in the kitchens had done their job. Sure enough, the place was filled with laughing noblemen and silent servants standing in the background who may as well have been invisible for all the attention paid to them. From outside they could hear the crack of thunder and the patter of heavy rain on the roof, but inside the hall was the vision of serene beauty. The architects had really done their work, with every bit of wall and column finely decorated and a ceiling made from fine wood of many varieties and well painted. A perfect setting for tonight's performance. Artaxerxes and his relatives and closest companions were in place at the table upon the royal dais, Artaxerxes at its head. Bagoas approached and Artaxerxes, acting much more warmly and cordially than an hour before, smiled and raised his drink to let Bagoas begin his speech. Bagoas politely bowed, and all in attendance stood as Bagoas began to talk. "As you are all no doubt aware, I have organized today's festivities myself as I am most grateful to our Great King, Artaxerxes IV! He has been on his father's throne for only two years and already great things have been accomplished by his glorious reign. Tonight is dedicated to His Majesty!" His hired servant boy from the kitchens approached holding a tray with a single filled cup upon it. Bagoas had the servant turn to face the King. "And to express my gratitude I offer this humble gift to our most noble King of Kings!" Artaxerxes rose and approached the tray. Lifting the cup, he smiled and said, "You are too kind, Bagoas." He looked to the crowd. "This humble servant of mine has served my family all his life, and he has served us well indeed! My father owed a great debt to this man..." At this moment Bagoas felt an incomprehensible chill, and started to perceive a shadow over him from behind. Manners and custom however compelled him to remain attentive to the king. "...Without this great and loyal man who stands before me, I would surely not sit in the chair I do today! So I feel it only honorable to thank him myself, Bagoas, you may drink this." And Artaxerxes extended his hand to Bagoas, still holding the cup originally given to him. For Bagoas, time seemed to freeze. For once he could not think of what to do. Weakly, he replied, "I couldn't, Great King, this cup is for you, not one so lowly as I!" "The King has offered you a drink, who are you to refuse? You must drink." This cold voice came from behind Bagoas, who turned around only to see Artashata still bearing the same cold expressionless gaze that felt like daggers in his skin. And behind Artashata was a scene even more grim, the jovial faces and grins of the guests of the King had all turned into the same evil glare pointed straight at Bagoas. So everyone knows but me? I am the only one not in on this cruel jest? Bagoas started to feel weak at the knees and wondered at how he could remain standing. He wanted to give a noble statement to all watching, but only tears came forth now. He was well and truly out of options. Hands shaking, Bagoas reached forth and accepted the cup from Artaxerxes, who still somehow maintained the same smirk from earlier that now seemed all the more smug and malicious. As he felt his breaths coming quickly in short pathetic gaps, the royal vizier stammered, "I-I only ever w-wanted to s-serve my empire..." And with that Bagoas gulped down the wine as quickly as he could, filling his body with the same poison meant for the King, the same poison used on the king's fathers and brothers. Within seconds he started convulsing into violent spasms, making agonized choking noises all the while. It was a disturbing scene but the King had made his point. "You have done well to tell me of this toad's plot, Artashata," he said, grimacing at the corpse his former vizier, "I wonder if that scum really did think he was serving the state rather than just himself. No matter, you shall be awarded his estates in Babylon for your service. And you shall receive his position, for Armina is too lowly a post for someone as useful as you. Though you shouldn't get too comfortable, we have work to do. After all, Philip is knocking our door looking to be invited, we can't just ignore him can we?" "Indeed we cannot, Great King." ___________________________________________ So, new timeline from me, I've been trying to start it for a while and now I've finally decided to go through with it. Basically, the POD is that Bagoas' plot to kill Artaxerxes IV has failed, and now the Persians have an additional two years of more political stability than IOTL to get their house in order before a bigger storm than Philip comes a-knocking. So now we have a young and energetic visionary on the throne, freshly liberated from a scheming manipulator, and more militarily experienced generals to lead the troops. In case you are wondering, Artashata is in fact OTL's Darius III, and he shall yet have an even bigger role to play in the events that are unfolding, as will many other figures of this time who deserve more attention such as Memnon, a certain Molossian, and a whole host of Athenian statesmen. I should also note that this chapter was partially meant to ease y'all in. I shall plan on using more Persian names rather than their Greek bastardizations, and to that end I shall welcome all the constructive criticism and advice, both linguistic and historical, I can get because admittedly Classical Antiquity isn't my primary forte, especially in comparison to the wide depth of knowledge I know many of you possess. So please feel free to give input of whatever kind you can dish out!