Cyrus didn’t want to bother with this Lydian revolt himself; he was a big powerful emperor! He had better things to do! Instead he put his man Mazares in charge. “Do Croesus’s thing,” he told Mazares. “Pass out flutes to everybody, and enslave anyone who looks at you cock-eyed. And bring me Pactyas alive! He’s the leader of the rebellion I’m told.”
“You got it, boss!” cried Mazares, and waved goodbye to Cyrus and Croesus and the bulk of the Persian army, as they left Lydia for Babylon. He started on the campaign of flute-disbursement, but his capture of Pactyas was stymied when the rebel leader fled to the neighboring state of Kyme.
“I’ll get you, Pactyas!” Mazares shook his fist in irate fashion. “But first, more flutes for everyone!”
Once the flutes were all passed out and the rebellion quelled, Mazares turned his attention to Kyme, where Pactyas was living in exile on the largesse of the city as a refugee.
“Dear Citizens of Kyme,” he wrote in a telegram, “Bring me the head of Pactyas, or face ruination. Love, Cyrus the Persian (signed by Mazares the Mede on behalf of Cyrus).”
The citizens of Kyme were pretty nonplussed. On the one hand, they didn’t know Pactyas from Adam, and Mazares made some good points in his threatening telegram.
“On the other hand, it feels like kind of a dick move to just kick out this guy pleading for asylum,” said Aristodicos (the most charismatic of Pactyas’s friends in Kyme). “C’mon, guys. Let’s let him stay here. What’s the worst that could happen?”
“The worst that could happen is that the army of Cyrus could raze our city.”
“Okay, I admit that’s bad. But it’s the worst-case scenario! Maybe Cyrus would be impressed by our pluck, and then, perhaps gifts!”
Aristodicos talked the citizens of Kyme into punting the issue to a local oracle, the Oracle at Branchidai. You probably haven’t heard of this oracle; Branchidai was basically just an off-brand Delphi.
After a quick consult the Oracle declared that Pactyas was a jerk and that Kyme would be better off without him. “Just turn him over to Mazares already,” was the official pronouncement.
Aristodicos tried to intercept the message from the Oracle before it spread, but the word got out. All Kyme debated the meaning of the oracle’s gnomic utterings! Aristodicos, angry, stomped off to Branchidai and started murdering birds and smashing their nests.
“Dude!” cried the oracle’s priests. “What the hell?”
“Apparently we’re just killing helpless innocent birds and political refugees now!” Aristodicos shouted.
“Dick!” The oracle then banned Aristodicos in particular and Kyme in general from receiving further oracular wisdom.
Herodotus doesn’t explain exactly why, but Aristodicos was desperate to keep Pactyas out of Mazares’s hands. He arranged in secret for Pactyas to relocate from Kyme to another nearby city, Mytilene. Everyone in Kyme breathed a sigh of relief.
But then the Mytilenes got some threatening letters from Mazares, and immediately they caved and announced that they didn’t want any trouble and that Pactyas would be turned over to the Persians post-haste. Aristodicos then led a daring commando raid on Mytilene, in which they rescued Pactyas back from the people they’d given him to!
But then yet another city-state got in on the act: the Chians decided that they had a chance to win brownie points with the up-and-coming Persian empire, and they stole Pactyas away from Kyme again. They sent word to Mazares that they had him, and that Mazares could collect him whenever.
All of Kyme, Mytilene, and Chios held their collective breaths waiting for Mazares’s response! Would he be pleased, or angered? Would the Persian army fall upon them?
Answer: neither, because Mazares abruptly died of an unspecified disease. Pactyas got off scott-free.
“Isn’t life a funny thing?” asks Herodotus.