Ten years after the fall of Babylon, Cyrus's army is on the march again. His slave Croesus, no longer a young man, accompanies him as always, as does the king's son and heir Cambyses, who has inherited none of his father's diplomacy or charisma and all of his vanity and violence. When the warriors of Persia are unexpectedly crushed in battle Cyrus is put to death, and Cambyses assumes the throne.
A defeated king stands on top of a pyre. His conqueror, the Persian ruler Cyrus, signals to his guards; they step forward and touch flaming torches to the dry wood. Croesus, once the wealthiest man of the ancient world, is to be burned alive. As he watches the flames catch, Croesus thinks back over his life. He remembers the time he asked the old Athenian philosopher, Solon, who was the happiest man in the world. Croesus used to think it was him. But then all his riches could not remove the spear from his dying elder son's chest; could not bring his mute younger son to speak