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HOW THE ARGONAUTS SAILED TO COLCHIS

from The Heroes - The Argonauts





And what happened next, my children, whether it be true or not,
stands written in ancient songs, which you shall read for
yourselves some day. And grand old songs they are, written in
grand old rolling verse; and they call them the Songs of Orpheus,
or the Orphics, to this day. And they tell how the heroes came to
Aphetai, across the bay, and waited for the south-west wind, and
chose themselves a captain from their crew: and how all called for
Heracles, because he was the strongest and most huge; but Heracles
refused, and called for Jason, because he was the wisest of them
all. So Jason was chosen captain; and Orpheus heaped a pile of
wood, and slew a bull, and offered it to Hera, and called all the
heroes to stand round, each man's head crowned with olive, and to
strike their swords into the bull. Then he filled a golden goblet
with the bull's blood, and with wheaten flour, and honey, and wine,
and the bitter salt-sea water, and bade the heroes taste. So each
tasted the goblet, and passed it round, and vowed an awful vow:
and they vowed before the sun, and the night, and the blue-haired
sea who shakes the land, to stand by Jason faithfully in the
adventure of the golden fleece; and whosoever shrank back, or
disobeyed, or turned traitor to his vow, then justice should
minister against him, and the Erinnues who track guilty men.

Then Jason lighted the pile, and burnt the carcase of the bull; and
they went to their ship and sailed eastward, like men who have a
work to do; and the place from which they went was called Aphetai,
the sailing-place, from that day forth. Three thousand years and
more they sailed away, into the unknown Eastern seas; and great
nations have come and gone since then, and many a storm has swept
the earth; and many a mighty armament, to which Argo would be but
one small boat; English and French, Turkish and Russian, have
sailed those waters since; yet the fame of that small Argo lives
for ever, and her name is become a proverb among men.

So they sailed past the Isle of Sciathos, with the Cape of Sepius
on their left, and turned to the northward toward Pelion, up the
long Magnesian shore. On their right hand was the open sea, and on
their left old Pelion rose, while the clouds crawled round his dark
pine-forests, and his caps of summer snow. And their hearts
yearned for the dear old mountain, as they thought of pleasant days
gone by, and of the sports of their boyhood, and their hunting, and
their schooling in the cave beneath the cliff. And at last Peleus
spoke, 'Let us land here, friends, and climb the dear old hill once
more. We are going on a fearful journey; who knows if we shall see
Pelion again? Let us go up to Cheiron our master, and ask his
blessing ere we start. And I have a boy, too, with him, whom he
trains as he trained me once--the son whom Thetis brought me, the
silver-footed lady of the sea, whom I caught in the cave, and tamed
her, though she changed her shape seven times. For she changed, as
I held her, into water, and to vapour, and to burning flame, and to
a rock, and to a black-maned lion, and to a tall and stately tree.
But I held her and held her ever, till she took her own shape
again, and led her to my father's house, and won her for my bride.
And all the rulers of Olympus came to our wedding, and the heavens
and the earth rejoiced together, when an Immortal wedded mortal
man. And now let me see my son; for it is not often I shall see
him upon earth: famous he will be, but short-lived, and die in the
flower of youth.'

So Tiphys the helmsman steered them to the shore under the crags of
Pelion; and they went up through the dark pine-forests towards the
Centaur's cave.

And they came into the misty hall, beneath the snow-crowned crag;
and saw the great Centaur lying, with his huge limbs spread upon
the rock; and beside him stood Achilles, the child whom no steel
could wound, and played upon his harp right sweetly, while Cheiron
watched and smiled.

Then Cheiron leapt up and welcomed them, and kissed them every one,
and set a feast before them of swine's flesh, and venison, and good
wine; and young Achilles served them, and carried the golden goblet
round. And after supper all the heroes clapped their hands, and
called on Orpheus to sing; but he refused, and said, 'How can I,
who am the younger, sing before our ancient host?' So they called
on Cheiron to sing, and Achilles brought him his harp; and he began
a wondrous song; a famous story of old time, of the fight between
the Centaurs and the Lapithai, which you may still see carved in
stone. {1} He sang how his brothers came to ruin by their folly,
when they were mad with wine; and how they and the heroes fought,
with fists, and teeth, and the goblets from which they drank; and
how they tore up the pine-trees in their fury, and hurled great
crags of stone, while the mountains thundered with the battle, and
the land was wasted far and wide; till the Lapithai drove them from
their home in the rich Thessalian plains to the lonely glens of
Pindus, leaving Cheiron all alone. And the heroes praised his song
right heartily; for some of them had helped in that great fight.

Then Orpheus took the lyre, and sang of Chaos, and the making of
the wondrous World, and how all things sprang from Love, who could
not live alone in the Abyss. And as he sang, his voice rose from
the cave, above the crags, and through the tree-tops, and the glens
of oak and pine. And the trees bowed their heads when they heard
it, and the gray rocks cracked and rang, and the forest beasts
crept near to listen, and the birds forsook their nests and hovered
round. And old Cheiron claps his hands together, and beat his
hoofs upon the ground, for wonder at that magic song.

Then Peleus kissed his boy, and wept over him, and they went down
to the ship; and Cheiron came down with them, weeping, and kissed
them one by one, and blest them, and promised to them great renown.
And the heroes wept when they left him, till their great hearts
could weep no more; for he was kind and just and pious, and wiser
than all beasts and men. Then he went up to a cliff, and prayed
for them, that they might come home safe and well; while the heroes
rowed away, and watched him standing on his cliff above the sea,
with his great hands raised toward heaven, and his white locks
waving in the wind; and they strained their eyes to watch him to
the last, for they felt that they should look on him no more.

So they rowed on over the long swell of the sea, past Olympus, the
seat of the Immortals, and past the wooded bays of Athos, and
Samothrace the sacred isle; and they came past Lemnos to the
Hellespont, and through the narrow strait of Abydos, and so on into
the Propontis, which we call Marmora now. And there they met with
Cyzicus, ruling in Asia over the Dolions, who, the songs say, was
the son of AEneas, of whom you will hear many a tale some day. For
Homer tells us how he fought at Troy, and Virgil how he sailed away
and founded Rome; and men believed until late years that from him
sprang our old British kings. Now Cyzicus, the songs say, welcomed
the heroes, for his father had been one of Cheiron's scholars; so
he welcomed them, and feasted them, and stored their ship with corn
and wine, and cloaks and rugs, the songs say, and shirts, of which
no doubt they stood in need.

But at night, while they lay sleeping, came down on them terrible
men, who lived with the bears in the mountains, like Titans or
giants in shape; for each of them had six arms, and they fought
with young firs and pines. But Heracles killed them all before
morn with his deadly poisoned arrows; but among them, in the
darkness, he slew Cyzicus the kindly prince.

Then they got to their ship and to their oars, and Tiphys bade them
cast off the hawsers and go to sea. But as he spoke a whirlwind
came, and spun the Argo round, and twisted the hawsers together, so
that no man could loose them. Then Tiphys dropped the rudder from
his hand, and cried, 'This comes from the Gods above.' But Jason
went forward, and asked counsel of the magic bough.

Then the magic bough spoke, and answered, 'This is because you have
slain Cyzicus your friend. You must appease his soul, or you will
never leave this shore.'

Jason went back sadly, and told the heroes what he had heard. And
they leapt on shore, and searched till dawn; and at dawn they found
the body, all rolled in dust and blood, among the corpses of those
monstrous beasts. And they wept over their kind host, and laid him
on a fair bed, and heaped a huge mound over him, and offered black
sheep at his tomb, and Orpheus sang a magic song to him, that his
spirit might have rest. And then they held games at the tomb,
after the custom of those times, and Jason gave prizes to each
winner. To Ancaeus he gave a golden cup, for he wrestled best of
all; and to Heracles a silver one, for he was the strongest of all;
and to Castor, who rode best, a golden crest; and Polydeuces the
boxer had a rich carpet, and to Orpheus for his song a sandal with
golden wings. But Jason himself was the best of all the archers,
and the Minuai crowned him with an olive crown; and so, the songs
say, the soul of good Cyzicus was appeased and the heroes went on
their way in peace.

But when Cyzicus' wife heard that he was dead she died likewise of
grief; and her tears became a fountain of clear water, which flows
the whole year round.

Then they rowed away, the songs say, along the Mysian shore, and
past the mouth of Rhindacus, till they found a pleasant bay,
sheltered by the long ridges of Arganthus, and by high walls of
basalt rock. And there they ran the ship ashore upon the yellow
sand, and furled the sail, and took the mast down, and lashed it in
its crutch. And next they let down the ladder, and went ashore to
sport and rest.

And there Heracles went away into the woods, bow in hand, to hunt
wild deer; and Hylas the fair boy slipt away after him, and
followed him by stealth, until he lost himself among the glens, and
sat down weary to rest himself by the side of a lake; and there the
water nymphs came up to look at him, and loved him, and carried him
down under the lake to be their playfellow, for ever happy and
young. And Heracles sought for him in vain, shouting his name till
all the mountains rang; but Hylas never heard him, far down under
the sparkling lake. So while Heracles wandered searching for him,
a fair breeze sprang up, and Heracles was nowhere to be found; and
the Argo sailed away, and Heracles was left behind, and never saw
the noble Phasian stream.

Then the Minuai came to a doleful land, where Amycus the giant
ruled, and cared nothing for the laws of Zeus, but challenged all
strangers to box with him, and those whom he conquered he slew.
But Polydeuces the boxer struck him a harder blow than he ever felt
before, and slew him; and the Minuai went on up the Bosphorus, till
they came to the city of Phineus, the fierce Bithynian king; for
Zetes and Calais bade Jason land there, because they had a work to
do.

And they went up from the shore toward the city, through forests
white with snow; and Phineus came out to meet them with a lean and
woful face, and said, 'Welcome, gallant heroes, to the land of
bitter blasts, the land of cold and misery; yet I will feast you as
best I can.' And he led them in, and set meat before them; but
before they could put their hands to their mouths, down came two
fearful monsters, the like of whom man never saw; for they had the
faces and the hair of fair maidens, but the wings and claws of
hawks; and they snatched the meat from off the table, and flew
shrieking out above the roofs.

Then Phineus beat his breast and cried, 'These are the Harpies,
whose names are the Whirlwind and the Swift, the daughters of
Wonder and of the Amber-nymph, and they rob us night and day. They
carried off the daughters of Pandareus, whom all the Gods had
blest; for Aphrodite fed them on Olympus with honey and milk and
wine; and Hera gave them beauty and wisdom, and Athene skill in all
the arts; but when they came to their wedding, the Harpies snatched
them both away, and gave them to be slaves to the Erinnues, and
live in horror all their days. And now they haunt me, and my
people, and the Bosphorus, with fearful storms; and sweep away our
food from off our tables, so that we starve in spite of all our
wealth.'

Then up rose Zetes and Calais, the winged sons of the North-wind,
and said, 'Do you not know us, Phineus, and these wings which grow
upon our backs?' And Phineus hid his face in terror; but he
answered not a word.

'Because you have been a traitor, Phineus, the Harpies haunt you
night and day. Where is Cleopatra our sister, your wife, whom you
keep in prison? and where are her two children, whom you blinded in
your rage, at the bidding of an evil woman, and cast them out upon
the rocks? Swear to us that you will right our sister, and cast
out that wicked woman; and then we will free you from your plague,
and drive the whirlwind maidens to the south; but if not, we will
put out your eyes, as you put out the eyes of your own sons.'

Then Phineus swore an oath to them, and drove out the wicked woman;
and Jason took those two poor children, and cured their eyes with
magic herbs.

But Zetes and Calais rose up sadly and said, 'Farewell now, heroes
all; farewell, our dear companions, with whom we played on Pelion
in old times; for a fate is laid upon us, and our day is come at
last, in which we must hunt the whirlwinds over land and sea for
ever; and if we catch them they die, and if not, we die ourselves.'

At that all the heroes wept; but the two young men sprang up, and
aloft into the air after the Harpies, and the battle of the winds
began.

The heroes trembled in silence as they heard the shrieking of the
blasts; while the palace rocked and all the city, and great stones
were torn from the crags, and the forest pines were hurled
earthward, north and south and east and west, and the Bosphorus
boiled white with foam, and the clouds were dashed against the
cliffs.

But at last the battle ended, and the Harpies fled screaming toward
the south, and the sons of the North-wind rushed after them, and
brought clear sunshine where they passed. For many a league they
followed them, over all the isles of the Cyclades, and away to the
south-west across Hellas, till they came to the Ionian Sea, and
there they fell upon the Echinades, at the mouth of the Achelous;
and those isles were called the Whirlwind Isles for many a hundred
years. But what became of Zetes and Calais I know not, for the
heroes never saw them again: and some say that Heracles met them,
and quarrelled with them, and slew them with his arrows; and some
say that they fell down from weariness and the heat of the summer
sun, and that the Sun-god buried them among the Cyclades, in the
pleasant Isle of Tenos; and for many hundred years their grave was
shown there, and over it a pillar, which turned to every wind. But
those dark storms and whirlwinds haunt the Bosphorus until this
day.

But the Argonauts went eastward, and out into the open sea, which
we now call the Black Sea, but it was called the Euxine then. No
Hellen had ever crossed it, and all feared that dreadful sea, and
its rocks, and shoals, and fogs, and bitter freezing storms; and
they told strange stories of it, some false and some half-true, how
it stretched northward to the ends of the earth, and the sluggish
Putrid Sea, and the everlasting night, and the regions of the dead.
So the heroes trembled, for all their courage, as they came into
that wild Black Sea, and saw it stretching out before them, without
a shore, as far as eye could see.

And first Orpheus spoke, and warned them, 'We shall come now to the
wandering blue rocks; my mother warned me of them, Calliope, the
immortal muse.'

And soon they saw the blue rocks shining like spires and castles of
gray glass, while an ice-cold wind blew from them and chilled all
the heroes' hearts. And as they neared they could see them
heaving, as they rolled upon the long sea-waves, crashing and
grinding together, till the roar went up to heaven. The sea sprang
up in spouts between them, and swept round them in white sheets of
foam; but their heads swung nodding high in air, while the wind
whistled shrill among the crags.

The heroes' hearts sank within them, and they lay upon their oars
in fear; but Orpheus called to Tiphys the helmsman, 'Between them
we must pass; so look ahead for an opening, and be brave, for Hera
is with us.' But Tiphys the cunning helmsman stood silent,
clenching his teeth, till he saw a heron come flying mast-high
toward the rocks, and hover awhile before them, as if looking for a
passage through. Then he cried, 'Hera has sent us a pilot; let us
follow the cunning bird.'

Then the heron flapped to and fro a moment, till he saw a hidden
gap, and into it he rushed like an arrow, while the heroes watched
what would befall.

And the blue rocks clashed together as the bird fled swiftly
through; but they struck but a feather from his tail, and then
rebounded apart at the shock.

Then Tiphys cheered the heroes, and they shouted; and the oars bent
like withes beneath their strokes as they rushed between those
toppling ice-crags and the cold blue lips of death. And ere the
rocks could meet again they had passed them, and were safe out in
the open sea.

And after that they sailed on wearily along the Asian coast, by the
Black Cape and Thyneis, where the hot stream of Thymbris falls into
the sea, and Sangarius, whose waters float on the Euxine, till they
came to Wolf the river, and to Wolf the kindly king. And there
died two brave heroes, Idmon and Tiphys the wise helmsman: one
died of an evil sickness, and one a wild boar slew. So the heroes
heaped a mound above them, and set upon it an oar on high, and left
them there to sleep together, on the far-off Lycian shore. But
Idas killed the boar, and avenged Tiphys; and Ancaios took the
rudder and was helmsman, and steered them on toward the east.

And they went on past Sinope, and many a mighty river's mouth, and
past many a barbarous tribe, and the cities of the Amazons, the
warlike women of the East, till all night they heard the clank of
anvils and the roar of furnace-blasts, and the forge-fires shone
like sparks through the darkness in the mountain glens aloft; for
they were come to the shores of the Chalybes, the smiths who never
tire, but serve Ares the cruel War-god, forging weapons day and
night.

And at day-dawn they looked eastward, and midway between the sea
and the sky they saw white snow-peaks hanging, glittering sharp and
bright above the clouds. And they knew that they were come to
Caucasus, at the end of all the earth: Caucasus the highest of all
mountains, the father of the rivers of the East. On his peak lies
chained the Titan, while a vulture tears his heart; and at his feet
are piled dark forests round the magic Colchian land.

And they rowed three days to the eastward, while Caucasus rose
higher hour by hour, till they saw the dark stream of Phasis
rushing headlong to the sea, and, shining above the tree-tops, the
golden roofs of King Aietes, the child of the Sun.

Then out spoke Ancaios the helmsman, 'We are come to our goal at
last, for there are the roofs of Aietes, and the woods where all
poisons grow; but who can tell us where among them is hid the
golden fleece? Many a toil must we bear ere we find it, and bring
it home to Greece.'

But Jason cheered the heroes, for his heart was high and bold; and
he said, 'I will go alone up to Aietes, though he be the child of
the Sun, and win him with soft words. Better so than to go
altogether, and to come to blows at once.' But the Minuai would
not stay behind, so they rowed boldly up the stream.

And a dream came to Aietes, and filled his heart with fear. He
thought he saw a shining star, which fell into his daughter's lap;
and that Medeia his daughter took it gladly, and carried it to the
river-side, and cast it in, and there the whirling river bore it
down, and out into the Euxine Sea.

Then he leapt up in fear, and bade his servants bring his chariot,
that he might go down to the river-side and appease the nymphs, and
the heroes whose spirits haunt the bank. So he went down in his
golden chariot, and his daughters by his side, Medeia the fair
witch-maiden, and Chalciope, who had been Phrixus' wife, and behind
him a crowd of servants and soldiers, for he was a rich and mighty
prince.

And as he drove down by the reedy river he saw Argo sliding up
beneath the bank, and many a hero in her, like Immortals for beauty
and for strength, as their weapons glittered round them in the
level morning sunlight, through the white mist of the stream. But
Jason was the noblest of all; for Hera, who loved him, gave him
beauty and tallness and terrible manhood.

And when they came near together and looked into each other's eyes
the heroes were awed before Aietes as he shone in his chariot, like
his father the glorious Sun; for his robes were of rich gold
tissue, and the rays of his diadem flashed fire; and in his hand he
bore a jewelled sceptre, which glittered like the stars; and
sternly he looked at them under his brows, and sternly he spoke and
loud -

'Who are you, and what want you here, that you come to the shore of
Cutaia? Do you take no account of my rule, nor of my people the
Colchians who serve me, who never tired yet in the battle, and know
well how to face an invader?'

And the heroes sat silent awhile before the face of that ancient
king. But Hera the awful goddess put courage into Jason's heart,
and he rose and shouted loudly in answer, 'We are no pirates nor
lawless men. We come not to plunder and to ravage, or carry away
slaves from your land; but my uncle, the son of Poseidon, Pelias
the Minuan king, he it is who has set me on a quest to bring home
the golden fleece. And these too, my bold comrades, they are no
nameless men; for some are the sons of Immortals, and some of
heroes far renowned. And we too never tire in battle, and know
well how to give blows and to take: yet we wish to be guests at
your table: it will be better so for both.'

Then Aietes' race rushed up like a whirlwind, and his eyes flashed
fire as he heard; but he crushed his anger down in his breast, and
spoke mildly a cunning speech -

'If you will fight for the fleece with my Colchians, then many a
man must die. But do you indeed expect to win from me the fleece
in fight? So few you are that if you be worsted I can load your
ship with your corpses. But if you will be ruled by me, you will
find it better far to choose the best man among you, and let him
fulfil the labours which I demand. Then I will give him the golden
fleece for a prize and a glory to you all.'

So saying, he turned his horses and drove back in silence to the
town. And the Minuai sat silent with sorrow, and longed for
Heracles and his strength; for there was no facing the thousands of
the Colchians and the fearful chance of war.

But Chalciope, Phrixus' widow, went weeping to the town; for she
remembered her Minuan husband, and all the pleasures of her youth,
while she watched the fair faces of his kinsmen, and their long
locks of golden hair. And she whispered to Medeia her sister, 'Why
should all these brave men die? why does not my father give them up
the fleece, that my husband's spirit may have rest?'

And Medeia's heart pitied the heroes, and Jason most of all; and
she answered, 'Our father is stern and terrible, and who can win
the golden fleece?' But Chalciope said, 'These men are not like
our men; there is nothing which they cannot dare nor do.'

And Medeia thought of Jason and his brave countenance, and said,
'If there was one among them who knew no fear, I could show him how
to win the fleece.'

So in the dusk of evening they went down to the river-side,
Chalciope and Medeia the witch-maiden, and Argus, Phrixus' son.
And Argus the boy crept forward, among the beds of reeds, till he
came where the heroes were sleeping, on the thwarts of the ship,
beneath the bank, while Jason kept ward on shore, and leant upon
his lance full of thought. And the boy came to Jason, and said -

'I am the son of Phrixus, your Cousin; and Chalciope my mother
waits for you, to talk about the golden fleece.'

Then Jason went boldly with the boy, and found the two princesses
standing; and when Chalciope saw him she wept, and took his hands,
and cried--'O cousin of my beloved, go home before you die!'

'It would be base to go home now, fair princess, and to have sailed
all these seas in vain.' Then both the princesses besought him;
but Jason said, 'It is too late.'

'But you know not,' said Medeia, 'what he must do who would win the
fleece. He must tame the two brazen-footed bulls, who breathe
devouring flame; and with them he must plough ere nightfall four
acres in the field of Ares; and he must sow them with serpents'
teeth, of which each tooth springs up into an armed man. Then he
must fight with all those warriors; and little will it profit him
to conquer them, for the fleece is guarded by a serpent, more huge
than any mountain pine; and over his body you must step if you
would reach the golden fleece.'

Then Jason laughed bitterly. 'Unjustly is that fleece kept here,
and by an unjust and lawless king; and unjustly shall I die in my
youth, for I will attempt it ere another sun be set.'

Then Medeia trembled, and said, 'No mortal man can reach that
fleece unless I guide him through. For round it, beyond the river,
is a wall full nine ells high, with lofty towers and buttresses,
and mighty gates of threefold brass; and over the gates the wall is
arched, with golden battlements above. And over the gateway sits
Brimo, the wild witch-huntress of the woods, brandishing a pine-
torch in her hands, while her mad hounds howl around. No man dare
meet her or look on her, but only I her priestess, and she watches
far and wide lest any stranger should come near.'

'No wall so high but it may be climbed at last, and no wood so
thick but it may be crawled through; no serpent so wary but he may
be charmed, or witch-queen so fierce but spells may soothe her; and
I may yet win the golden fleece, if a wise maiden help bold men.'

And he looked at Medeia cunningly, and held her with his glittering
eye, till she blushed and trembled, and said -

'Who can face the fire of the bulls' breath, and fight ten thousand
armed men?'

'He whom you help,' said Jason, flattering her, 'for your fame is
spread over all the earth. Are you not the queen of all
enchantresses, wiser even than your sister Circe, in her fairy
island in the West?'

'Would that I were with my sister Circe in her fairy island in the
West, far away from sore temptation and thoughts which tear the
heart! But if it must be so--for why should you die?--I have an
ointment here; I made it from the magic ice-flower which sprang
from Prometheus' wound, above the clouds on Caucasus, in the dreary
fields of snow. Anoint yourself with that, and you shall have in
you seven men's strength; and anoint your shield with it, and
neither fire nor sword can harm you. But what you begin you must
end before sunset, for its virtue lasts only one day. And anoint
your helmet with it before you sow the serpents' teeth; and when
the sons of earth spring up, cast your helmet among their ranks,
and the deadly crop of the War-god's field will mow itself, and
perish.'

Then Jason fell on his knees before her, and thanked her and kissed
her hands; and she gave him the vase of ointment, and fled
trembling through the reeds. And Jason told his comrades what had
happened, and showed them the box of ointment; and all rejoiced but
Idas, and he grew mad with envy.

And at sunrise Jason went and bathed, and anointed himself from
head to foot, and his shield, and his helmet, and his weapons, and
bade his comrades try the spell. So they tried to bend his lance,
but it stood like an iron bar; and Idas in spite hewed at it with
his sword, but the blade flew to splinters in his face. Then they
hurled their lances at his shield, but the spear-points turned like
lead; and Caineus tried to throw him, but he never stirred a foot;
and Polydeuces struck him with his fist a blow which would have
killed an ox, but Jason only smiled, and the heroes danced about
him with delight; and he leapt, and ran, and shouted in the joy of
that enormous strength, till the sun rose, and it was time to go
and to claim Aietes' promise.

So he sent up Telamon and Aithalides to tell Aietes that he was
ready for the fight; and they went up among the marble walls, and
beneath the roofs of gold, and stood in Aietes' hall, while he grew
pale with rage.

'Fulfil your promise to us, child of the blazing Sun. Give us the
serpents' teeth, and let loose the fiery bulls; for we have found a
champion among us who can win the golden fleece.'

And Aietes bit his lips, for he fancied that they had fled away by
night: but he could not go back from his promise; so he gave them
the serpents' teeth.

Then he called for his chariot and his horses, and sent heralds
through all the town; and all the people went out with him to the
dreadful War-god's field.

And there Aietes sat upon his throne, with his warriors on each
hand, thousands and tens of thousands, clothed from head to foot in
steel chain-mail. And the people and the women crowded to every
window and bank and wall; while the Minuai stood together, a mere
handful in the midst of that great host.

And Chalciope was there and Argus, trembling, and Medeia, wrapped
closely in her veil; but Aietes did not know that she was muttering
cunning spells between her lips.

Then Jason cried, 'Fulfil your promise, and let your fiery bulls
come forth.'

Then Aietes bade open the gates, and the magic bulls leapt out.
Their brazen hoofs rang upon the ground, and their nostrils sent
out sheets of flame, as they rushed with lowered heads upon Jason;
but he never flinched a step. The flame of their breath swept
round him, but it singed not a hair of his head; and the bulls
stopped short and trembled when Medeia began her spell.

Then Jason sprang upon the nearest and seized him by the horn; and
up and down they wrestled, till the bull fell grovelling on his
knees; for the heart of the brute died within him, and his mighty
limbs were loosed, beneath the steadfast eye of that dark witch-
maiden and the magic whisper of her lips.

So both the bulls were tamed and yoked; and Jason bound them to the
plough, and goaded them onward with his lance till he had ploughed
the sacred field.

And all the Minuai shouted; but Aietes bit his lips with rage, for
the half of Jason's work was over, and the sun was yet high in
heaven.

Then he took the serpents' teeth and sowed them, and waited what
would befall. But Medeia looked at him and at his helmet, lest he
should forget the lesson she had taught.

And every furrow heaved and bubbled, and out of every clod arose a
man. Out of the earth they rose by thousands, each clad from head
to foot in steel, and drew their swords and rushed on Jason, where
he stood in the midst alone.

Then the Minuai grew pale with fear for him; but Aietes laughed a
bitter laugh. 'See! if I had not warriors enough already round me,
I could call them out of the bosom of the earth.'

But Jason snatched off his helmet, and hurled it into the thickest
of the throng. And blind madness came upon them, suspicion, hate,
and fear; and one cried to his fellow, 'Thou didst strike me!' and
another, 'Thou art Jason; thou shalt die!' So fury seized those
earth-born phantoms, and each turned his hand against the rest; and
they fought and were never weary, till they all lay dead upon the
ground. Then the magic furrows opened, and the kind earth took
them home into her breast and the grass grew up all green again
above them, and Jason's work was done.

Then the Minuai rose and shouted, till Prometheus heard them from
his crag. And Jason cried, 'Lead me to the fleece this moment,
before the sun goes down.'

But Aietes thought, 'He has conquered the bulls, and sown and
reaped the deadly crop. Who is this who is proof against all
magic? He may kill the serpent yet.' So he delayed, and sat
taking counsel with his princes till the sun went down and all was
dark. Then he bade a herald cry, 'Every man to his home for to-
night. To-morrow we will meet these heroes, and speak about the
golden fleece.'

Then he turned and looked at Medeia. 'This is your doing, false
witch-maid! You have helped these yellow-haired strangers, and
brought shame upon your father and yourself!'

Medeia shrank and trembled, and her face grew pale with fear; and
Aietes knew that she was guilty, and whispered, 'If they win the
fleece, you die!'

But the Minuai marched toward their ship, growling like lions
cheated of their prey; for they saw that Aietes meant to mock them,
and to cheat them out of all their toil. And Oileus said, 'Let us
go to the grove together, and take the fleece by force.'

And Idas the rash cried, 'Let us draw lots who shall go in first;
for, while the dragon is devouring one, the rest can slay him and
carry off the fleece in peace.' But Jason held them back, though
he praised them; for he hoped for Medeia's help.

And after awhile Medeia came trembling, and wept a long while
before she spoke. And at last -

'My end is come, and I must die; for my father has found out that I
have helped you. You he would kill if he dared; but he will not
harm you, because you have been his guests. Go then, go, and
remember poor Medeia when you are far away across the sea.' But
all the heroes cried -

'If you die, we die with you; for without you we cannot win the
fleece, and home we will not go without it, but fall here fighting
to the last man.'

'You need not die,' said Jason. 'Flee home with us across the sea.
Show us first how to win the fleece; for you can do it. Why else
are you the priestess of the grove? Show us but how to win the
fleece, and come with us, and you shall be my queen, and rule over
the rich princes of the Minuai, in Iolcos by the sea.'

And all the heroes pressed round, and vowed to her that she should
be their queen.

Medeia wept, and shuddered, and hid her face in her hands; for her
heart yearned after her sisters and her playfellows, and the home
where she was brought up as a child. But at last she looked up at
Jason, and spoke between her sobs -

'Must I leave my home and my people, to wander with strangers
across the sea? The lot is cast, and I must endure it. I will
show you how to win the golden fleece. Bring up your ship to the
wood-side, and moor her there against the bank; and let Jason come
up at midnight, and one brave comrade with him, and meet me beneath
the wall.'

Then all the heroes cried together, 'I will go!' 'and I!' 'and I!'
And Idas the rash grew mad with envy; for he longed to be foremost
in all things. But Medeia calmed them, and said, 'Orpheus shall go
with Jason, and bring his magic harp; for I hear of him that he is
the king of all minstrels, and can charm all things on earth.'

And Orpheus laughed for joy, and clapped his hands, because the
choice had fallen on him; for in those days poets and singers were
as bold warriors as the best.

So at midnight they went up the bank, and found Medeia; and beside
came Absyrtus her young brother, leading a yearling lamb.

Then Medeia brought them to a thicket beside the War-god's gate;
and there she bade Jason dig a ditch, and kill the lamb, and leave
it there, and strew on it magic herbs and honey from the honeycomb.

Then sprang up through the earth, with the red fire flashing before
her, Brimo the wild witch-huntress, while her mad hounds howled
around. She had one head like a horse's, and another like a
ravening hound's, and another like a hissing snake's, and a sword
in either hand. And she leapt into the ditch with her hounds, and
they ate and drank their fill, while Jason and Orpheus trembled,
and Medeia hid her eyes. And at last the witch-queen vanished, and
fled with her hounds into the woods; and the bars of the gates fell
down, and the brazen doors flew wide, and Medeia and the heroes ran
forward and hurried through the poison wood, among the dark stems
of the mighty beeches, guided by the gleam of the golden fleece,
until they saw it hanging on one vast tree in the midst. And Jason
would have sprung to seize it; but Medeia held him back, and
pointed, shuddering, to the tree-foot, where the mighty serpent
lay, coiled in and out among the roots, with a body like a mountain
pine. His coils stretched many a fathom, spangled with bronze and
gold; and half of him they could see, but no more, for the rest lay
in the darkness far beyond.

And when he saw them coming he lifted up his head, and watched them
with his small bright eyes, and flashed his forked tongue, and
roared like the fire among the woodlands, till the forest tossed
and groaned. For his cries shook the trees from leaf to root, and
swept over the long reaches of the river, and over Aietes' hall,
and woke the sleepers in the city, till mothers clasped their
children in their fear.

But Medeia called gently to him, and he stretched out his long
spotted neck, and licked her hand, and looked up in her face, as if
to ask for food. Then she made a sign to Orpheus, and he began his
magic song.

And as he sung, the forest grew calm again, and the leaves on every
tree hung still; and the serpent's head sank down, and his brazen
coils grew limp, and his glittering eyes closed lazily, till he
breathed as gently as a child, while Orpheus called to pleasant
Slumber, who gives peace to men, and beasts, and waves.

Then Jason leapt forward warily, and stept across that mighty
snake, and tore the fleece from off the tree-trunk; and the four
rushed down the garden, to the bank where the Argo lay.

There was a silence for a moment, while Jason held the golden
fleece on high. Then he cried, 'Go now, good Argo, swift and
steady, if ever you would see Pelion more.'

And she went, as the heroes drove her, grim and silent all, with
muffled oars, till the pine-wood bent like willow in their hands,
and stout Argo groaned beneath their strokes.

On and on, beneath the dewy darkness, they fled swiftly down the
swirling stream; underneath black walls, and temples, and the
castles of the princes of the East; past sluice-mouths, and
fragrant gardens, and groves of all strange fruits; past marshes
where fat kine lay sleeping, and long beds of whispering reeds;
till they heard the merry music of the surge upon the bar, as it
tumbled in the moonlight all alone.

Into the surge they rushed, and Argo leapt the breakers like a
horse; for she knew the time was come to show her mettle, and win
honour for the heroes and herself.

Into the surge they rushed, and Argo leapt the breakers like a
horse, till the heroes stopped all panting, each man upon his oar,
as she slid into the still broad sea.

Then Orpheus took his harp and sang a paean, till the heroes'
hearts rose high again; and they rowed on stoutly and steadfastly,
away into the darkness of the West.





Next: HOW THE ARGONAUTS WERE DRIVEN INTO THE UNKNOWN SEA

Previous: HOW THEY BUILT THE SHIP 'ARGO' IN IOLCOS



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