Having conquered the crazy rich, awesome city-state of Babylon, Cyrus’s next move was to march his army up towards the Black Sea and fight the Massagetai. The Massagetai were some people, who were in a place. They liked milk. It’s not important. There was a river and they were on the far side of it, that’s all you need to know.
What is maybe important is that their ruler was another ruling queen, a widow named Tomyris. At first Cyrus tried for a political marriage, which I would think would have to be a pretty big deal. And Cyrus had just conquered Babylon, so I would think it would have had to have been a pretty sweet deal, too. However Tomyris wasn’t having any of it; she was not into Cyrus at all. Talks broke down almost immediately.
Cyrus hit on a two-step plan: first, pontoon bridge across the river. Second, army marches across river and conquers Massagetai.
However as he was setting this plan into motion, Tomyris sent him one last angry diplomatic missive. “Dear Jerk,” she wrote. “I see what you’re doing with your stupid pontoon bridge! Just so you know I’ve evacuated the area on my side of the river, going like forty miles back, because I don’t want to fight you on my side of the river. If you’re not too much of a jerk, pull your army back away from the river. Then I’ll cross the river with my army, and we can fight and finally settle this. Or are you too much of a jerk? Love, Tomyris. PS you’re a jerk.”
“Sounds reasonable,” said Cyrus. “Can’t think of a reason not to let my enemy dictate the terms of our coming battle!”
Croesus was also there, but don’t worry, this is pretty much Croesus’s last scene. He alone among Cyrus’s advisors was willing to point out the flaws in Cyrus’s thinking, which given that he was Cyrus’s prisoner/slave/vizier was kind of crazy. “Listen, Cyrus. If you defeat her in battle it doesn’t really matter where you do it. But if you lose, it does matter. Lose to her on the far side of the river and we can retreat back across the river. Lose to her on this side of the river and us retreating means the Massagetai get to rampage around and loot this nebulous countryside.”
“Makes sense,” mused Cyrus.
“Also you may not have noticed by Tomyris is a woman. If she wants you to do a thing, you should do the opposite! That’s the manly way!” Croesus accentuated his point by pounding his fist, almost knocking loose his fedora, he was so worked up.
“Heh, women.” Cyrus shook his head. “They’re basically terrible, am I right?”
“So first you march over the river,” suggested Croesus. “Then you make camp and you leave out all of the liquor and red meat and I don’t know, do we have any opium? In the morning you abandon camp but, whoops, you forgot to pack all your opium back up. There’s the sundae bar, still ready to go!”
“I don’t get where you’re going with this.”
“You push further into Massagetai territory. Tomyris’s army will circle around you to ambush you, but when they see all the hamburgers and scotch and heroin, they’re freak out because they don’t have any of that stuff. The whole army will collapse into a big orgy of steak-eating and vodka-swilling and hot fudge sundaes. Then you mop ‘em up, no trouble!”
“I like this plan! Especially the part where I deliberately lead my army into an ambush. So we’ll do it, then. I’m going to lead my army over the river into Massagetai territory in what we’ll call Operation SITTING DUCK. That’s an ironic name because no way are we going to get ambushed. It’s them who will be the sitting ducks! This is a woman we’re talking about, after all!”
(See, Cyrus dies at the end of Clio, so I’m making him cartoonishly unlikable such that you won’t feel bad when that happens. You’re welcome! Also, spoilers.)