Home  |  Authors  |  Books  |  Stories  |  What's New  |  How to Get Involved 
   T h e   B a l d w i n   P r o j e c t
     Bringing Yesterday's Classics to Today's Children                 @mainlesson.com
Search This Site Only
 
 
The Golden Porch by  W. M. L. Hutchinson

[Illustration] Hundreds of additional titles available for online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics

Learn More
[Illustration]

 

 

THE LAD WITH ONE SANDAL

I

[155] THERE was a king in the olden time, whose name was Pelias, and he dwelt in the fair harbour-town of Iolcos, ruling a folk that were famous seafarers from the beginning. A bold man was he, and a crafty, but he went ever in fear of his life, for he had an ill deed on his conscience, and his sleep of nights was broken by dreams which boded a bitter reckoning for the same. Many and many a time he awoke with a shriek, as a dagger seemed to touch his throat, but the dream-shape that brandished it was dim and wavering, and he could never descry the countenance of that phantom foe. At last he sent a trusty messenger to the holy place of Delphi, where Apollo reveals hidden things to mortals by the mouth of his priestess, to ask the interpretation of the vision. For he though, "If I can but learn what man it is whose wraith appears to me, I shall make short work with him, and rid myself of this dread in which I live." The messenger returned, and brought [156] this answer from the god: "Let Pelias know that the doom he dreams of will come from the hand of a near kinsman. I bid him beware, above all else, of the man who comes to him wearing one sandal, whether he be a stranger, or born and bred in Iolcos."

When King Pelias heard this message, his blood froze with fear; it was indeed death, then, that the dreams foreboded. Yet it was some comfort that now at least he had a sign whereby to know when the danger drew near, and he still hoped that he might forestall it if he kept good watch. So he set guards day and night about his palace, and watchment at all the city gates, and gave strict charge to them all to bring him instant warning, if ever they should see a man with one sandal. And as time went on, his heart grew somewhat lightened of its dread, for there was no such comer seen, and the evil dreams ceased to visit him.

But he that was foretold came in his destined hour to Iolcos, out of the mountains to the northward, and stood in the market-place, while it was yet morning, and the throng of folk was greatest. The watchmen at the gate had seen him pass, but they paid no heed to one who seemed a mere lad, and by his dress a hunter from the hill-country.

This youth carried two hunting-spears, and [157] instead of a cloak a leopard skin hung from his shoulders, above a close-fitting tunic; his head was uncovered, and his long curls flamed golden-red in the sunlight. It was easy to guess, from the shy and wondering glances he cast about him, that he was new to the sights of a city, yet he bore himself with the noble grace of a king's son, and as he stood there silent, many eyes were drawn to the beauty of his face, and his stature, lofty as a god's. Men began to whisper to one another, asking who the stranger was, and when none could answer, a murmur went to and fro among the crowd that one of the Immortals was come among them.

"So might Apollo look," they muttered, "or the mailed warrior Ares, fair and terrible. Surely this is some god, or the son of a god."

"Nay, friends," said some of the old men, "the gods come not thus in the sight of multitudes. Rather should we guess this mighty youth to be of that old race of the Earth-born Giants, but they all have perished long since, and only their huge graves are left for a witness to our days."

Now, while the folks talked thus under their breaths, and durst not, for reverence, question the godlike stranger, a man of the King's household gazed with the rest, and marked on a sudden that he wore but the one sandal. For it [158] chanced, as the youth crossed the ford of a mountain stream on his way to the city, that its fellow slipped from his foot and was carried away by the torrent. Quickly did that henchman bring word to the palace, and at his tidings, King Pelias came in hot haste to the market-place, urging the swift mules of his ivory car to their utmost speed. "Way there for the King," cried the slaves who ran beside him, and he drew rein in a cleared space, whence all the people had drawn back for his coming, save the stranger lad only. Pelias scanned him eagerly, and his soul sickened with affright as he saw the dreaded token of the single sandal on his right foot. But he cloaked the fear within him with haughty words, and said, eying the lad disdainfully, "Stranger, what country do you call home? What grey-haired carline of low degree mothered such a dainty pet? Come, speak out your parentage, and disgrace it not with detested lying."

Then the youth, undaunted, yet with gentlest courtesy, made reply—

"It is mine, rather, to render such answer as shall not disgrace the great Chiron, my teacher. For my home has been in his mountain-cave, and I had my rearing from the virtuous wife and mother of that wise Centaur. Twenty years have I numbered in the care of these foster-parents, and never yet done dishonour to their upbringing [159] by deceitful act or word. But now I am come again to my own native land, to claim the ancient rights that were my father's, which Pelias, as I hear, holds in unlawful possession, even this kingdom of Iolcos."

"Do you call yourself, then, the son of Aeson," cried the King, "who ruled this land until a better than he took it from him? Who knows not that his only child died at its birth?"

"Not so, for I am that child," answered the stranger; "but when Pelias, moved by reckless desires, had overthrown his kinsman King Aeson with force and fraud, then for fear of that violent oppressor, my parents feigned that their newborn son was dead, and made great mourning, with all their household. Then, at dead of night, they sent me privily out of the city, a babe wrapped in swaddling-bands of royal crimson, and at their bidding faithful friends conveyed me to Chiron's cave, where I might be reared in safety. And Jason was the name by which that twy-natured Being was wont to call me. Such in brief is my story, and now, good townsman, since you know me for countryman, come back to his own city, which of you will show me the ancient house of my fathers, that I know not, though I was born there?"

Before Jason made an end of speaking, King Pelias turned his mules and drove at a furious [160] pace back to the palace; he knew that the folk held him in secret hate because he had dethroned Aeson, that gentle king, and he feared lest they should rise against him then and there, when they heard the lad with one sandal declare himself their rightful prince. But Jason also hurried from the market-place, eagerly following a band of willing guides. One thing he had not found courage to ask of a company of strangers, and would wait to learn within the doors of his home—was his father yet alive? Chiron had told him nothing of the old man's fate, only had bidden him go to Iolcos and claim his heritage from the usurper. Now when he was come to the house, and entered through its pillared porch, he crossed a wide courtyard, empty and silent, where grass was springing from the cracked pavement of marble, and in the hall beyond it he saw no one but an aged man, wrapped in a faded mantle, sitting in a low chair beside the embers of the hearth. The once lordly chamber was bare of furnishing; dust lay thick upon the floor, and cobwebs, where rich hangings should have been, drooped curtainwise from lintel and cornice. The home the youth had come to seemed a house of the dead, deserted save for that motionless figure cowering over the dying fire. But as he moved towards it, the snow-white head turned slowly, the dim eyes looked him in the face, and [161] a trembling voice rang through the silence, "My son, my son!" Jason sprang to the old king, for he indeed it was, and clasped him to his breast, while tears of joy fell fast from those withered eyelids. It was long before Aeson could find words, in the rapture of beholding his son, come back to him the fairest and goodliest of men, but he told at last how Pelias had stripped him little by little of all he possessed, on this pretext or that, till neither broad lands, nor flocks and herds, nor the rich treasures of his house were left, and he himself, with a few old slaves that tended him for love, lived on the secret doles of his well-wishers among the citizens.

"How comes it, my father," asked Jason, "that your two brethren have suffered you to be so evilly entreated of this tyrant, seeing that each of them is a king in his own country, if indeed they yet live?"

"They live and prosper," answered his father, "but it is far from hence to where they dwell, and they begrudge to waste blood and treasure in the cause of a feeble old man that cannot have long to live. But word will quickly reach them that you are home again, and when they hear what manner of young man their brother's son is become, I am much mistaken or they will think his cause worth battling for. Be you [162] patient till we have news of them, for it comes in my mind that we shall shortly see either themselves, or the princes, your cousins."

The old king was a true prophet, and before many days, so swiftly spread the rumour of Jason's return, those two brethren and their sons came to greet him at Iolcos. The name of one was Pheres, and his son was called Admetus; these two were men of gracious and winning presence, speaking words of pleasantness, but their souls within them were little and mean. Amythaon, the other brother, was king in the far south-west; he had a name for wisdom, but the son he brought with him had yet a greater in the after time. For he was that Melampus of whom you may read in the tale of "The Prince who was a Seer."

Jason and his father made these kinsmen right welcome, although their hearts misgave them for the bareness of their ancient dwelling and for the wherewithal to feast the princes and their following. But at the first word that Aeson's kinsmen were come to visit him, the townsfolk rejoiced openly because at last strong helpers had appeared for the oppressed king, and they feared not to make their gladness and goodwill manifest by bringing him gifts in abundance of everything needful to entertain his guests. Such store of sheep and oxen, of corn and wine and oil, of [163] tables, couches, vessels of every sort, and all manner of household stuffs, as was gathered that day in Aeson's courtyard, had not been seen within its gates for many a long year. Moreover, the wealthier citizens sent their housethralls both men and maids, by the score, to grind the corn, to bake, and dress meat for the banquet, and to serve the king and his kinsfolk in the hall. So that night there was feasting and good cheer, torchlight and merry stir, in the house that had so long been silent and deserted.

Now Jason had the charge of all, and gave command as master, because of his father's great age and infirmity, and carried himself as a princely host should do, overlooking no point of courtesy, so that it was a marvel to his guests how he had come by these manners in the cave of a Centaur. For they knew not noble Chiron, who in the after time reared Prince Peleus in the like gracious ways, and compassed for him his marriage with the Sea-King's daughter, as I have told you already.

Then, to do his kinsmen all honour, Jason feasted them with the best for five days and five nights, saying no word of the matter he had at heart, but tasting in their company the delicious joy of life at its sweetest.

But on the sixth day he began to speak of graver things, and when he had opened all his mind to them, they gave full consent to that [164] which he declared it his purpose now to do, and rising all together from the banquet, they followed him forthwith to the house of Pelias. At the sound of their voices in his hall, King Pelias came hastily from the inner chambers to meet them, and then, with fair-flowing speech of gentle tone, Jason spoke thus: "Son of a might sire, over quick are mortals to barter justice for the wages of iniquity, forgetting that the hour of reckoning must overtake them soon or late. But it well beseems both you and me to rule our hearts aright, and take thought what shall bring us good in days to come. Call to remembrance, I pray you, that your fathers and mine were of one blood, and that the divine Dispensers of weal and woe to men turn their faces from the sight of feuds between kindred. Let there be neither strife nor drawing of swords between us two, to make division of the great inheritance of our forefathers; for if you will follow my counsel, it shall not need. See now, I freely yield the rich lands, and all the goodly flocks and herds, of which you have despoiled the old man, my father; little care I for the wealth these bring into your house, only do you on your part restore me the sceptre that was Aeson's, and the kingly seat where he gave judgement to his people. These, I say, yield up and grudge me not, lest a worse thing come of it."

[165] Now Pelias was no ways minded to give up the kingship, even though he might keep all the fatness of the land for his own, and besides, he was utterly purposed to destroy the lad with the one sandal, because of the oracle he had heard concerning him. While Jason was yet speaking, his swift and cunning mind devised a plan for his undoing, and he answered with a show of mildness, in these words: "Behold, I will deal according to your pleasure in all things, but I am now stricken in years, and you are in the flower of your youth, therefore it is for you to undertake a certain task that else were mine. Hear now what it is, since you seek to be head over all our kindred, for the matter touches him most nearly who is chief of our house. There was a prince of our blood, Athamas by name, whose wife died and left him with two young children, and in no long time he wedding another. Now this second bride proved a cruel stepdame, and when sons were born to her, she plotted death for Phrixus, the eldest born of the first wife, that her own children might inherit the kingdom. She caused all the seed sown in the land to be secretly poisoned, and when many that ate the corn sickened and died, she brought her husband to believe that the gods had sent a pestilence on the people, which must be stayed by some great sacrifice. Then did she bribe a wicked seer to declare [166] that the wrath of the gods could be turned away by no other victim than the King's first-born son. But when the boy Phrixus was laid on the altar-stone, and the knife upraised to slay him, the gods delivered him out of her hands in wondrous wise. For a ram with curly fleece of gold stood suddenly on the altar, and while all shrank back amazed, the boy threw himself upon its back, and it rose with him into the air. Over land and sea it flew till it brought him to the country of the Colchians in the unknown regions far northward, and there, by divine bidding, he sacrificed it to Ares, god of the land, and hung its golden fleece on a tree of his sacred grove. But that fleece of gold was the bane of the hapless youth not long after, for the king of the Colchians put him to death only to possess the marvellous thing. And now, O Jason, I would have you go to yonder land, and take the Golden Fleece from the keeping of that savage king, since I am given to know that our murdered kinsman's spirit cannot rest till this be done. Yes, such is the message his unquiet ghost has sent me in a dream, and when I sought counsel of the god at Delphi, answer came from the place of prophecy, that I should straightway launch a ship to sail on the hallowed quest. This quest, then, do you pledge yourself to follow in my stead, and I will swear a solemn [167] oath, making Zeus my witness, to yield you the kingdom."

Now all the tale Pelias told concerning Phrixus was true, but as for the dream and the message from Delphi, they were falsehoods cunningly devised to send Jason on a quest wherein he should surely perish. But the youth neither knew guile in his own heart, nor looked for it in another, so he made the covenant that Pelias asked, and took leave of him, filled with eagerness to achieve so strange an adventure. Then forthwith he sent out heralds to proclaim everywhere that he was bound on a perilous voyage, and would make all welcome to sail along with him who loved danger and renown better than to dwell at home in ignoble safety. At those tidings, high-hearted sons of kings gathered to Iolcos from far and near, for Queen Hera filled their hearts with keen desire to be Jason's shipmates, because she favoured him above all mortals from the day he came to the city to his life's end. And this was the reason: when he came to the ford where he lost his sandal, he saw an old beggar-woman sitting on the bank, crying and bewailing herself because she could not cross the rain-swollen stream. Jason spoke kindly to her, and, though she was both ragged and dirty, he took her up in his arms and carried her over. No sooner had he set her down again than her bent and shrunken [168] form was changed into that of a fair woman in her prime, and her rags into shining raiment, and she said to him, "For this good deed, count me your friend for ever." Thereupon she vanished from his sight, and he went on his way with gladness, knowing that one of the Immortals had appeared to him in this shape. Now the beggar-woman was Hera, who was wandering that day on earth, to see what kindness mortals would show to one so feeble and wretched.

So the flower of all the heroes who then lived came to the house of Aeson, making offer to sail with Jason on the quest. The first who came were two noble youths in armour of gleaming silver; so like they were that none might know one from the other, and their silver chariot was drawn by horses white as snow. These were the twin brothers, Castor and Polydeuces, who for the great love they bore each other were never parted their lives long, nor did even death sunder them at the last. The next comer had neither chariot nor shining armour, but trudged on foot, bearing a great bow and quiver, with a tawny lion-skin girt about his sinewy, sun-browned limbs. He was a man in the prime of life, of gallant bearing, though without height or comeliness of person, and he passed unremarked through the crowd that were drawn to Jason's door to gaze on those glorious Twins.

[169] But they, when they saw him stand within the hall, rose up in deepest reverence as at the coming of a god, and Jason also, for he knew by the lion-skin and bow that this was Heracles himself. Much had he heard from Chiron of that great helper of men, and he gazed with awe and wonder on him who had done such mighty deeds by land and sea. But now came into the hall a young minstrel clad in flowing robe of white, with a chaplet of ivy on his fair hair. "I also, Jason," he said, "would fain be of your crew, though I have no weapon but this harp of mine. I am Orpheus of Thrace, come hither at Apollo's bidding, that your brave company may not lack for the minstrelsy warriors love so well." Right gladly did the princes there assembled welcome that sweet singer, whose fame was gone out into all lands; of him it was told that beasts and birds, nay, the trees and rocks of the Thracian mountains, would follow the sound of his enchanting lyre.

It were long to tell what other heroes of ancient story mustered in Jason's hall that day, but none were so wondrous to behold as the last comers, Zetes and Cala?s, sons of the North Wind, who had bright feathered wings waving from their shoulders.

Meanwhile, the best-skilled craftsmen of Iolcos had wrought busily under Jason's watchful eye [170] at the building of his ship; the tallest pines on Mount Pelion, whose woody top overhung the cave of Chiron, had been felled for her masts and timbers, and her fifty stout oars were hewn from giant ash-trees. When all was finished, and the good ship lay ready for launching, her young captain summoned his new comrades to the harbour, and said to them, "Here, noble friends, is the bark that shall carry us to the far Colchian land, well found with all we need for the long voyage." Then all the heroes clapped their hands at sight of the ship, and they called her Argo, that is to say, the Swift. And now Jason called upon Mopsos the seer, that dwelt in Iolcos, to offer sacrifice to Zeus, and entreat him for favourable signs at their setting forth, which the god granted both by the omens of the altar and by the lucky fall of lots that the seer cast to tell their fortunes. So that wise soothsayer bade them embark with all speed, for the hour was propitious to their sailing. But a greater sign followed, for when all were come aboard, and the anchors were raised on either side the prow, Jason stood up beside the helm, holding a golden cup in his hands, and poured wine therefrom into the sea, calling aloud on Zeus, lord of the lightning, on winds and waves, and nights of sea-faring, to be gracious to their outgoing and their homecoming. Immediately a peal of thunder gave [171] answer from the clouds above, and lightning-flashes were seen to the right of the ship, cheering the hearts of all with happiest augury. At that, the seer bade the princely comrades betake them to their oars, and their mighty strokes bore the Argo swiftly out to sea. All that day, and many a day after, they rowed on untiringly, sped along by the strong south breeze that filled their sails. Fifty all told were those sailors, sons of gods and of kings, but none of Jason's kindred was among them, except only the brave Acastus, son of Pelias, who, for all his father could say, would not be turned from the quest of the Golden Fleece. So they fared ever northward, keeping in view the bays and promontories of the western mainland, till they had need of fresh water, and put in to a wooded cove, where a stream ran sparkling to the sea. And here misfortune befell them, for they lost Heracles, the best of their crew. There had followed him to Iolcos a fair lad called Hylas, who served him as cup-bearer. This boy, for his dauntless spirit, and the love Heracles had to him, was made one of Argo's crew, and he disembarked in this place with the rest. But while they drew water from the stream, he wandered along its banks into the woods, till he came to its source in a deep, clear pool. As he bent over its cool depths, the Water Fairies who abode therein fell in love with his beauty, [172] and before he was aware they threw their white arms about him and drew him under. Hylas gave one cry for help as the water closed over him, and Heracles, who heard and knew the well-loved voice, rushed to find him, but in vain; nor, though the hero and his comrades searched the woods the livelong day, could they see or hear aught of the vanished lad. Then when morning dawned again, Heracles bade the others delay no longer from their journey. "But I," said he, "must tarry, for I will never leave this place till I know what has become of Hylas." Sadly Jason and the rest took farewell of their great companion; their hearts were sore for his grief, but they might not linger, and so once more they stood out to sea with our and sail.


[Illustration]

BUILDING THE ARGO.

Now, after that, they came to a long straight of the sea, and on the shore of it there was an old blind man sitting at a table, who seemed to be weeping. "Let us draw in to land," said Jason, "and ask that old man what he does in this solitary place, and what may be his sorrow." So they brought Argo close in to the shelving shore, and called to him, asking who he was. The old man turned his sightless eyes upon them, and answered, "I am Phineus, the seer, of all men most miserable. Apollo, in my youth, bestowed on me the power of prophecy, whereby I came to great honour, and my house was filled with rich [173] gifts from the folk who sought to me for soothsay. But I offended the holy gods by greed of gain, therefore in mine age they sent blindness upon me, and a strange evil, the like of which came never on mortal man. For whenever I sat at meat, two monstrous birds, with heads of women, darted screeching upon my food, and snatched it away before I could taste one morsel, leaving but fragments dropped from their foul talons. They were in sight like vultures that prey on carcases, and the deadly carrion smell of them polluted all they touched, and all the air of the house, so that none could endure to abide therein. And at last the men of my city thrust me forth, because of those noisome guests, but that they might still resort to me for prophecies, they builded me a hut on this lonely shore, and daily bring me offerings of choice dainties, such as I love. But woe's me! those fell winged creatures cease not to haunt me, as you will shortly see."

"Old man," said Jason, "our hearts are moved with pity for your wretched lot. Tell us now, by your divine foresight, shall none rid you of this strange pest?"

"Concerning that," said Phineus, "only this much is revealed to me; my deliverers are even now aboard this your ship, O son of Aeson, and bound for the far Colchian land. I know you, [174] prince, and your errand, and who your comrades are, but which of them shall rescue me, and in what hour, is hidden from my ken."

While they talked thus, certain men came thither from the city, bearing baskets of rich viands which they spread on the old man's table, and he put forth his hands to take of them. Instantly, with hideous screams, two vulture-shapes, woman-headed, swooped down from upper air, seized upon the food and soared away swifter than an arrow's flight. And the air was filled with a poisonous savour of decay, so that Jason and his comrades were fain to push off their ship from that tainted shore. But Phineus cried to them with tears not to abandon him in his helpless plight, and they talked with him from Argo's deck, and Jason asked him how the dire monsters were called. "By mortals," he answered, "they are called the Harpies, that is the Snatchers, but the gods name them the Hounds of Zeus. You have seen their swiftness, how it is such that neither javelin nor arrow may overtake them; alas, what could Heracles himself avail me, where he yet with you!"

Then said Jason, "I know a way," and he filled a trencher with food, and bade the two Sons of the North Wind carry it ashore and set it before Phineus. They no sooner did so than the Harpies were seen darting upon the table; [175] but swifter still, Zetes and Cala?s rushed between and drove them back with thte flapping of their bright wings. The Harpies fled shrieking, pursued by those winged brethren over hill and dale, and the North Wind blew a fierce gale to speed his sons along, till on a desolate mountain they overtook the monsters, and drew their swords to slay them. But Zeus sent Iris, his messenger who rides upon the rainbow, to forbid them, because the Harpies were ministers of his vengeance upon sinners, and she commanded Zetes and Cala?s to put up their swords, and take an oath from them never more to come near Phineus. So the women-headed creatures swore it with human voice, by the great oath that binds the Immortal gods, even by the Water of Styx, that icy stream which flows from Earth into the Nether World. And the sons of the North Wind flew back to the Argo.

Now when they had bidden Phineus farewell, the heroes sailed along the strait to its opening into another sea, stormy and cold, where never ship had sailed before. For at the mouth of the strait two steep cliffs made a gateway, and they were alive, and whatever passed between them they crushed to pieces, clashing suddenly together upon it. But the comrades were forewarned by Phineus of this dreadful place, and having cast anchor before it, they went ashore and built an [176] altar of stones and sacrificed a bull to Poseidon, god of mariners, with prayers for aid. And Hera, in her love to Jason, prevailed with Poseidon to grant them safe passage through those gates that he had set up to keep mortals from the Northern Sea, and she came herself to the ship in the likeness of a damsel, carrying a white dove. "Hail, Jason!" she said: "A friend sends you this bird, even she whom you met by the ford of the stream, and bids you let it loose from Argo's prow. Then, when you see it pass between the Clashing Cliffs, let your comrades row forward at their utmost speed." With that, she vanished, and Jason, glad at heart, bade his comrades bend to their oars, and let go the dove. Straight through the pass she flew, and the cliffs closed upon her with a roar like thunder, but by Hera's grace she sped between so swiftly that only her tail feathers were caught. Then, as the rocks rolled back with a grinding noise, Argo's crew rowed onward for their lives, and brought the good ship through by a hair's-breadth. The Clashing Cliffs met again that same instant, but too late, and that was the end of them, for their doom was, if ever they missed their prey, to dash each other to powder.

Poseidon, at Hera's entreaty, calmed the northern deep for those first voyagers, and [177] with a fair wind ever behind them they came at last in sight of the low misty shores of an unknown land. It was towards evening when they drew near and saw at hand the mouth of a broad river that flowed between dark woods of beech and pine, and there in a creek of the spreading stream they moored their ship for the night.

II

WITH the first light of day Jason and two of his comrades set forth inland, that they might find some inhabited place, and learn if this was the country to which they were bound. Presently they spied smoke curling up through the trees of the forest, and they went towards it, and came to a great house of timber, standing in an open glade, with byres and barns around it. As they drew near, a lad met them, driving cows to pasture, and they asked him the name of the land, and who dwelt in that house. "Strangers," said he, "this is the country of the Colchians, and yonder house is the palace of Aietes, their king." Then Jason, and the two comrades with him, who were Castor and Polydeuces, were glad, because they were at their journey's end; and they went into the palace and found the King [178] sitting in the hall among his chieftans, dark-skinned men of fierce countenance, clad in golden armour of strange fashion. Aietes looked grimly upon the strangers, but he bade them sit down and feast with him, and his slaves set food before them in plenty, and dark, sweet drink, brewed of herbs and honey. When they had eaten and drunk, the King asked them whence they came, and where they had left the ship that brought them, for he knew that they must have come by sea to his country, since by land it was walled about with trackless forests. And Jason answered discreetly, not making known his errand, but saying they were come from a land far south, and had moored their ship in the river not far away. "It is well," said the King. "Let your two comrades now go and bring the rest of your crew hither, that I may feast them all. To-day we will make merry, and you shall try your mettle in sword-play with my warriors, and to-morrow you shall tell me your errand."

So the Twin Brethren went forth to fetch their comrades, but the King, under show of courtesy, kept Jason from returning to the ship lest the strangers should put to sea, and escape out of his hands. For this Aietes was a cruel prince and a cunning, and he thought to make easy prey of these young men and their companions, and seize their fair-wrought arms, and any treasure [179] they might have with them. But meantime he covered his evil purpose with friendly speech, bidding Jason refresh himself after his voyaging, and caused him to be led to a chamber where a bath was made ready. As the youth entered it he saw an ancient serving-woman pouring water into the bath out of a steaming cauldron, and she said to him, "Prince Jason, when you leave this chamber the King's daughter will meet you, and offer you a posset in a silver cup. Beware you taste it not, for it is deadly, but pour it on the ground, and say, 'For Those Below.' Then give this to the King's daughter." So saying, the old woman took a shining thing from her bosom, and gave it to Jason, and went quickly forth. But as she went out the fashion of her changed, and she shone with a beauty not earthly, so that he perceived some goddess had spoken to him. Now the shining thing was in the form of a four-spoked wheel, and it was golden, and the figure of speckled bird, moulded in clay, was bound upon the spokes by the outspread wings and by the feet. Jason viewed it with wonder, and he bathed himself quickly, eager to see what should next betide. Then, when he was arrayed again, and come out of that chamber, there greeted him a dark maiden, robed in scarlet, and she offered him drink in a silver cup. But he took it from her hand, smiling, and poured the drink upon the [180] ground, and said, "For Those Below." The King's daughter looked at the youth in silence, and her olive cheeks turned pale. "Princess of the Colchians," said he, "let it not displease you that I deal thus with your gift, but take a gift in return." And he laid the golden wheel in her hand, and left her standing mute. Now the daughter of Aietes was a great enchantress, one that could draw the moon out of the sky by her incantations, and knew all the spells that can be wrought with strange drugs and herbs of might. At her father's bidding she had mingled a potion for the stranger prince that would have destroyed him in three days, withering his veins with consuming fire. But, by his offering it to the Dead, she understood that he knew death was in the cup, and great fear of him took hold of her, for she deemed he had that knowledge by art magical, and that his gift was some potent charm. This in truth it was, as shall presently be told.

So soon as Argo's crew were come to the palace, King Aietes made them cheer with a feast of good things, and after the banquet he had them forth into a meadow, and desired them to show him what skill they had with their weapons. And he set ten chosen warriors to sword-play with Jason and nine of his comrades, while he sat to watch on a grassy knoll, and his daughter beside him. Then, under colour of sport, the [181] Colchian warriors aimed deadly strokes at the strangers, for so had the King given secret command, trusting to see his champions slay those youthful guests right speedily. But the ten comrades fought like young lions with their fierce adversaries, and when they saw the battle was for life or death, they spared not to smite them till all were slain upon the place. Sore wearied, but unwounded in that deadly fray, the heroes sheathed their resistless swords at last, and Jason cried to the King, "We are guiltless, Aietes, of the deaths of these men. In an evil hour have we come to such a host as this, who would make it his pastime to see guests slaughtered before his face."

Aietes rose up with a laugh, and answered, "They that fare to strange lands must meet with strange customs. But since you like our Colchian manner of sport so little, I will henceforth deal with you in earnest." With that he took them back to the palace, but because it was now late, he sent them to the guest-chambers, saying he would hear their errand in the morning.

That night the witch-princess could not sleep for thinking on the bright-haired stranger, and the meaning of the gift he had given her. She was afraid to keep it, and afraid to leave it, and she had it hidden in the folds above her girdle while she watched him fighting for his life with [182] her father's best swordsman; nor for all her skill in enchantments did she know that the spell of it was at work upon her even then. At last she slept, and dreamed that a queen crowned with roses stood at her bedside, and asked her what thoughts those were that troubled her; but, when she essayed to answer, she could find no words, and fell to weeping.

Then said the rose-crowned queen, "I am Aphrodite, known among gods and men for an enchantress of power, and to pleasure great Hera, I have put a charm upon you mightier than all your spells. For, as the bird is bound upon the wheel I bade Prince Jason give you, so your heart is bound with cords of desire to the giver, by the virtue of that charm. Rise now, and follow me to his chamber; the thoughts that you could not speak I know, and the struggle of your soul, but stronger than all is the thought that he must not die."

The King's daughter awoke, and behold, she was no longer in her own chamber, but stood beside the sleeping stranger. Moonlight fell upon her face, and hair of ruddy gold, and the drawn sword by his side, and she looked at him long before she aroused him with a touch of her hand, calling him by name.

"Who calls me?" said Jason, springing to his feet and grasping his sword.

[183] "It is I, Medea," said the King's daughter; "I am come to bid you fly from this house while it is yet night, for to-morrow Aietes purposes to slay you and your comrades. Come, awaken the others, and I will unbar the gates meanwhile; the guards shall not hear us, for I have power to keep them slumbering soundly."

"Noble Medea," answered the prince, "I have seen strange things on my way hither, but here is the strangest of all, that you, who would have destroyed me with your potioin, are now fain to save my life. I thank whatever god has changed your heart towards me, and praise your kindly thought, but as for flight, neither I nor my true comrades will quit this place without the prize we are come in quest of." And thereupon he took Medea by the hand, and seated her beside him on the couch, and told her all the tale from the beginning, of the task Pelias laid upon him, and the Argo's perilous voyage. Now, while he spoke of the dangers he had passed, and pleaded with her in sweet persuasive words for help to win the Golden Fleece, pity and love overflowed the heart of the witch-princess, and she forgot all the world but him only, and promised at last to aid him to the uttermost against her father. "For your sake, prince," she said, "I will brave the wrath of Aietes, though he kill me when he finds his [184] treasure gone, and ask but this for reward, that you think sometimes of Medea when you dwell happily in that far southern home you tell me of."

Then Jason vowed a solemn vow that he would not leave her to suffer her father's vengeance, but take her home to be his wife, and queen of fair Iolcos, and they plighted troth together in that same hour. Medea then fetched from her own chamber an ivory box of ointment, and bade him anoint himself therewith in the morning, and told him all else that he must do to outwit the crafty King. Thus did Queen Hera, with help of Aphrodite, accomplish victory for Jason over the enchantress, who else would have proved a foe too strong for him and all his crew.

No sooner had the King and his guests broken fast on the morrow, than he said to them, "Let him that is captain among you now declare the cause of your coming hither"; and Jason made himself known to him, and in courteous words desired him to restore the Golden Fleece to the rightful heirs of Phrixus. Aietes heard him in silence to the end; then he arose and beckoned Argo's crew to follow him, and they went after him, wondering, to a fallow field hard by the palace. There they saw a huge plough of bronze lying, and two dun oxen stood near it, wondrous to behold; they had horns and hoofs of bronze, and breathed forth smoke and flame from their [185] nostrils. The King marked with his staff a furlong on the ground, took up the heavy brazen plough-yoke, and yoked those great beasts therewith, heedless of their scorching breath, that burnt black the grass around them, and the furious tossing of their terrible horns. Then, taking in hand a sharp-pointed goad of iron, he drove the oxen to the mark, and turned them, and so back again, cleaving the fallow soil with furrows deep and straight. And his guests watched with speechless amaze so great a marvel, till he unyoked his team beside them, and said, "If your chief can do as you have seen me do, the Golden Fleece shall be his. But I am sworn to give it to no man who cannot yoke my oxen and plough with my plough." Straightway Jason stripped off his saffron vesture and stepped boldly to the task, putting his trust in divine aid. Even as Aietes had done, so did he; he took up the yoke as it were a feather's weight, laid it on the necks of the oxen, despite their plungings hither and thither, and goaded them forward with the one hand, while with the other he bore hard upon the plough-stilts, driving a true furrow alongside the King's. Aietes looked to see him scorched to a cinder when he approached the fire-breathing bulls, but the flames had no power on his flesh by reason of Medea's enchanted ointment, and a wordless cry broke from the [186] King, beholding him unscathed, and the god-like strength that was in him. But all Jason's comrades shouted with a great shout when the task was done, and crowded about him to clasp his hands with praises and glad greetings, and they crowned him with a garland of flowering grasses. In silent rage the King now led the way to the grove of Ares, where hung the Golden Fleece, yet he still had hopes that Jason, for all his prowess, would not be able to achieve the task that there awaited him. For the Fleece had a guardian stranger and more terrible than the oxen whose breath was flame. The grove of Ares was a gloomy wood of ancient oaks, that stooped their gnarled boughs low over dense undergrowths of brambles and juniper. A stone altar stood before it, stained with dark blood, and far within, the green gloom was broken by a spot of radiance like the clear shining of a lamp. No voice of bird sounded in that drear wood, for all winged creatures shunned it except the woodpeckers, whose tapping was heard ever and anon in the deathly stillness. "Yonder light," said Aietes, "is the glitter of the Golden Fleece, and you, bold prince, will need no other guide to lead you thereto."

"King," said Jason, who was forewarned by Medea's counselling, "I fear to lay hands upon the sacred thing till I have offered sacrifice upon [187] this altar, and besought mighty Ares not to be wroth at the taking away of the treasure which Phrixus dedicated here. Suffer us therefore to return to our ship for the night, and to-morrow we will bring offerings to the god of such things as we have." Aietes gave them leave willingly, for now he feared Jason exceedingly, and was well content that he should either depart at once from the land, if such were his secret purpose, or meet his doom on the morrow from the guardian of the Fleece. And one of these things he trusted would most surely befall, for that guardian was a dragon of baleful glaring eye, whose dappled coils were in length and thickness not less than Argo's hull that had fifty oars. So the King returned to his house, and Jason and his comrades went towards the river where their ship lay. But when they had gone a little way, Jason told the others what had chanced in the night, and how the King's daughter had wrought him deliverance from the bulls, and shown him means to overcome a yet greater peril. When they heard of the dragon in the grove, they were full eager to fight the monster, and prayed their captain by no means to encounter him alone, but Jason said, "That task must be mine only, and with Medea to aid, I shall not fail, if the gods so will. Do you, my comrades, hasten to our ship, and make all ready to sail whenever I shall come to you."

[188] With that, he turned back and went alone to the dark grove, and at the setting of the sun, Medea came to him there.

But his comrades went on board the Argo, and looked well to all her gear, and set her sails, and when they had taken their supper, they sat each man at his oar, waiting in silence through the first watch of the night, while the autumn moon rose golden up the sky. And at midnight, they were aware of two stately forms coming swiftly through the shadows of the wood, who seemed to carry between them a huge, glittering shield. Then the voice of Jason softly hailed them, and they saw that it was he and the witch-princess who drew near, bearing a spear athwart their shoulders, whereon hung the Fleece of Gold, shining like a sun. Without word spoken, those two laid their burden on Argo's deck, and Jason, with finger on lip, took his own place, and made sign to his crew to give way. Silently they bent to their oars, and the good ship stole out into the stream, and forth to the open sea. The helmsman turned her prow southward, but at that, Medea cried, "Princes, steer not homeward on the course by which you came, for that way will Aietes send to pursue you with a great host, and his ships sail fleeter than the wind through his enchantments. Long must be your voyage, even half the circuit of the world, but if you will [189] trust to me for piloting, I will guide you safe home at last." The comrades hearkened gladly to those wise words, and turned Argo northward again at her command, and sailed for many days over a desolate sea where no man had come since the making of the world. At last, where that sea narrowed into a gulf between hills of ice and snow, they came forth upon the boundless Ocean stream, that girdles the round world, and now, by Medea's guidance they steered eastward and southward, till the cold of the frozen north was left behind, and the sun's heat gladdened them again. Three moons had risen and set, while Argo bore them along the Ocean stream, before they saw on their right hand the red cliffs of a coast, and wide channel of waters between.

"Through yonder strait lies our way," said Medea, and they steered northward once again along that firth of ruddy shores. Now at the head of it, they found no passage for their ship, for dunes of yellow sand stretched before them, far as the eye could see, and their hearts were discouraged. But Medea bade them draw Argo ashore, and said, "Beyond this sandy waste lies the Midland sea, whose waters wash the shores of your own dear land. Be not downcast, brave comrades, for in twelve days Argo shall ride on that sea once more, if with stout hearts you endure the toil of bearing her thither." So when [190] they had rested there that night, she who had been their pilot over a thousand leagues of ocean, guided the crew across the pathless desert, and they, by main strength hoisting the ship to their shoulders, marched onward thus laden under a burning sun. Never in their long seafaring had they known a labour like this, but the spirit of the heroes and the might of their young limbs did not fail nor falter in all that toilsome journey. On the twelfth day, the glittering of water was seen among the sandhills, and they pressed onward joyfully, till they came to the margin of a vast and shallow mere. Now when they would have drunk of its water, they could not, for it was brackish, but Medea cast a certain herb therein, and forthwith it was sweetened. Then she said tot hem, "This water is bitter with brine of the sea that neighbours it. Launch Argo now upon the mere, and let us seek a channel among the shallows that may bring us to the open main."

So they pushed off from the reedy bank, and rowed slowly, steering warily through the shallows of that great lagoon, till the helmsman saw blue water sparkling ahead, and cried, "The sea, the sea!" Then the glad heroes plied their oars with fresh vigour, and ere nightfall Argo was anchored in a bay of the Midland deep.

At early dawn, when they had hoisted sail and were drawing up the anchors, a voice hailed them [191] from the shore, and they turned in wonder to see who might call them in that lonely place. There, at the waves' edge stood a man, stately and tall, and greeted them with kindly words, and desired them to tarry awhile, and be his guests that day. But Jason and the rest made courteous excuse, pleading their haste to be home. "Friends," said the stranger, "I will not seek to delay you, but at least take a guest-gift from my hands, for I would fain show you hospitality. I am the king of this desert land, and I know who you are, and the quest you sailed on. Be pleased to take this boon, the only one I have at hand." So saying, he stooped down and took up a clod of earth of the shore, and held it forth to them. Now Argo's prow was nearest to the land, for thereby she had been moored, as the manner was, and it was not yet turned seaward, and he that stood nearest her curved beak was a young prince named Euphemos. He, springing to the bulwark, leapt lightly ashore, and clasped hands with the stranger, and took the clod, and knew not what gift that was, nor who gave it. But as he sprang on board again, and turned to speak thanks and farewell, the stranger vanished where he stood, and awe came on all the comrades, understanding that they had seen the god of that wilderness. Nevertheless, they set forth again rejoicing, because he had shown them favour and blessed them with [192] a gift. Euphemos showed the clod to Medea and asked her what it might betoken, and she answered that the time was not yet come for him to know, but he must look well to the keeping of it, because there was a magic in it.

But when they had sailed three days, a gale blew from the south-west at twilight, and the waves rose high round the ship, and the enchanted clod was washed from the deck, where it was laid, by the driving spray. The Euphemos called aloud to Medea, "Alas, wise Lady, what shall I do? The precious thing is lost, carried overboard by a dashing wave, and it is sunk into the depths of the sea."

"Nay," said Medea, "it has not sunk, for there is a magic in it, but is drifting even now to the shore of yonder island on our lee. Listen, heroes all, and I will tell you what power is in the clod, and what will come of it. It is fated that where-ever it is laid upon the ground, the lard of that land shall be lord also of the soil whence it was taken. And if Euphemos had brought it to the fields of his own fair domain, and planted it there, then in the day when his children's children will seek new lordship over seas, they would have sailed to the land where we saw the solitary god, and made it their kingdom. But now, because the clod is flung by the salt waves on the strand of yonder isle, that is yet uninhabited, seventeen [193] generations of men must pass away before the god's gift bears fruit. For the descendants of Euphemos will make their new home in that island, which then shall be called Thera, and long after, they will voyage thence to the land of the clod, and reign there as kings of many cities." The comrades listened in silence to Medea's prophecy, and pondered it in their hearts, and Euphemos ever after kept it in memory, teaching it to his sons, and they to theirs. And in the seventeenth generation the words were fulfilled.

But now the gale freshened to a tempest, and Argo was driven before it out of her true course, and her crew were fain to run her for shelter under the white cliffs of another island, far to northward. There they found a fair haven where they anchored, and forthwith, and armed host came out to them from the city night at hand. Argo's men stared at these warriors with amaze, for they were women, and their leader, a tall, black-haired girl, clad in rich armour. She came to the harbour-side and greeted the strangers, asking who they were, and if they came peaceably.

"Peaceably, in truth, O Queen," answered Jason. "We are men of Iolcos, homeward bound from a long seafaring, and we do but seek shelter here till the storm is overpast. Tell me, I pray you, what land this is, and wherefore its warriors are women." "Stranger," said the armed maiden.

[194] "This island is Lemnos, and my father was king of it. He and all our men-folk went forth to war against certain pirates of the mainland, and while they were abroad, Aphrodite took displeasure at us women, because we slighted her worship, and she caused us to become utterly hateful to our fathers and husbands when they returned. Therefore they thrust us away from bed and board, and would have taken them wives of the captives they brought home, but we, thus wronged, banded together for revenge, and slew them while they slept, with their own swords. Not one did we spare, except my father, but him, though I had sworn to show him no mercy, I hid in a great chest, and had it thrown into the sea, that, if the gods so willed, he might drift to some other shore. Since then, I, Hypsipyle, am Queen, and none but women dwell in Lemnos. Arms we have, as you see, and have learnt the skill of them, to defend ourselves against all comers, but you, if you are what you say, we will welcome as guests."

Jason had little will to enter that city of dark deeds, and consort with those women of fierce nature, but Medea said, "Our ship was blown hither not without divine purpose. Let us go ashore, and lodge with the Queen, as she would have us." So they sojourned seven days in Lemnos, for all that time the wind blew rough 195 and contrary. Queen Hypsipyle entertained the comrades royally, and held games in their honour, setting forth prizes of golden goblets and broidered mantles for running and wrestling and throwing the spear. For these the warrior-women contended with the heroes, and overcame not a few of them, for they were cunning wrestlers, and marvellous fleet-footed. But in feats of strength they could not match Jason and his men, nor in the race for which the Queen gave the richest prize of all, a silver shield, embossed with wild bulls, and hunters driving them into the toils. That race was run by seven heroes in full armour, carrying their heavy shields, and there was laughter among the women when the seventh, whose name was Erginos, stepped to the starting-place, because he, though yet young was grey-haired. Yet he outstripped the rest, and came foremost to the goal, and the mockers were ashamed when he took the silver shield, and the victor's garland from the Queen's hands. After this, the strangers found great favour with the island maidens, who would fain have had them for their wedding lords, and Hypsipyle made offer to Jason of her hand and kingdom, if he would abide in Lemnos. Now she was more beautiful than the Colchian enchantress, and Jason's heart was drawn to her, but false to his word he could not be, and that was given to [196] Medea. But some of his comrades took them brides among the Lemnian damsels, and of these Euphemos; and Medea, at his wedding, prophesied good fortune to the marriage, moreover, the gods, she said, had willed him to find a wife in that island, for which very cause they had driven Argo to its coast. And the truth of her saying was quickly made manifest, for that very day the wind blew fair again for Iolcos, so that the heroes longed to set sail for home without delay. They listened not to any pleading, but made Argo ready for sea, and put their island brides on board, and went their way. This was the last of their sea-faring; the kindly breeze never failed till they dripped anchor once again in the haven where their good ship first floated.

Here ends the story of Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece, for it needs not to tell the joy of his father and of al Iolcos at his homecoming, nor how the brave comrades took farewell, when they had seen him receive the kingdom from Pelias, who durst not draw back from his oath to yield it. Jason and Medea were wedded with splendour and rejoicings, and thereafter they had such happiness as seemed good to the gods. But as for Pelias, although Jason did him no violence, he did not escape the death that was to be dealt him by his own kindred. For his daughters heard that Medea had made old [197] Aeson young again by her spells, and entreated her to do the like for their father. Then the enchantress killed an old ram before them, and cut it in pieces, and threw the pieces with magic herbs into a cauldron, and when she had said certain words over it, forthwith she drew out a lamb, alive and unhurt. And she gave a handful of herbs to the daughters of Pelias, saying, "Do to your father as you have seen me to do this sheep, which has become a lamb again." The princesses did so, but Medea had given them common herbs, and they had not bethought them to ask what those words were which she said over the cauldron, therefore they could not bring their slain father to life again. Thus perished Pelias, even as the oracle had forewarned him, by a doom that had its beginning in the coming to Iolcos of the lad with one sandal.


[Illustration]

MEDEA'S MIRACLE.


 Table of Contents  |  Index  | Previous: Peleus and the Sea-King's Daughter  |  Next: The Pansy Baby
Copyright (c) 2000-2017 Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.