Very strange to say, what aided the Persians and thwarted the Scythians in their attacks on Darius' army was the braying of the asses and the appearance of the mules.
For, as I have before indicated, Scythia produces no asses or mules; and there is not in most of Scythia an ass or a mule, because of the cold. Therefore the asses frightened the Scythian horses when they brayed loudly;
and often, when they were in the act of charging the Persians, the horses would shy in fear if they heard the asses bray or would stand still with ears erect, never having heard a noise like it or seen a like creature.
The Persians thus gained very little in the war, for when the Scythians saw that the Persians were shaken, they formed a plan to have them remain longer in Scythia and, remaining, be distressed by lack of necessities: they would leave some of their flocks behind with the shepherds, moving away themselves to another place; and the Persians would come and take the sheep, and be encouraged by this achievement.
After such a thing had happened several times, Darius was finally at a loss; and when they perceived this, the Scythian kings sent a herald to Darius with the gift of a bird, a mouse, a frog, and five arrows.
The Persians asked the bearer of these gifts what they meant; but he said that he had only been told to give the gifts and then leave at once; he told the Persians to figure out what the presents meant themselves, if they were smart enough.
When they heard this, the Persians deliberated. Darius' judgment was that the Scythians were surrendering themselves and their earth and their water to him; for he reasoned that a mouse is a creature found in the earth and eating the same produce as men, and a frog is a creature of the water and a bird particularly like a horse; and the arrows signified that the Scythians surrendered their fighting power.
This was the opinion declared by Darius; but the opinion of Gobryas, one of the seven who had slain the Magus, was contrary to it. He reasoned that the meaning of the gifts was,
“Unless you become birds, Persians, and fly up into the sky, or mice and hide in the earth, or frogs and leap into the lakes, you will be shot by these arrows and never return home.”
The Persians reasoned thus about the gifts. But when the first division of the Scythians came to the bridge—the division that had first been appointed to stand on guard by the Maeetian lake and had now been sent to the Ister to speak with the Ionians—they said,
“Ionians, we have come to bring you freedom, if you will only listen to us. We understand that Darius has directed you to guard the bridge for sixty days only, and if he does not come within that time, then to go away to your homes.
Now then, do what will leave you guiltless in his eyes as in ours: stay here for the time appointed; and after that, leave.” So the Ionians promised to do this, and the Scythians made their way back with all haste.
But after sending the gifts to Darius, the Scythians who had remained there came out with foot and horse and offered battle to the Persians. But when the Scythian ranks were set in order, a rabbit ran out between the armies; and every Scythian that saw it gave chase. So there was confusion and shouting among the Scythians; Darius asked about the clamor among the enemy; and when he heard that they were chasing a rabbit, he said to those with whom he was accustomed to speak,
“These men hold us in deep contempt; and I think now that Gobryas' opinion of the Scythian gifts was true. Since, then, my own judgment agrees with his, we need to consider carefully how we shall return safely.” To this Gobryas said : “O King, I understood almost by reason alone how difficult it would be to deal with these Scythians; but when I came here, I understood even better, watching them toying with us.