Now I have a tale to tell of heroes who sailed away into a distant land, to win themselves renown for ever in the adventures of the Golden Fleece.
And what was the Golden Fleece?
It was the fleece of the wondrous ram who bore a boy called Phrixus and a girl called Helle across the sea; and the old Greeks said that it hung nailed to a beech-tree in the War-god's wood.
For when a famine came upon the land, their cruel stepmother wished to kill Phrixus and Helle, that her own children might reign.
She said Phrixus and Helle must be sacrificed on an altar, to turn away the anger of the gods, who sent the famine.
So the poor children were brought to the altar, and the priest stood ready with his knife, when out of the clouds came the Golden Ram, and took them on his back and vanished.
And the ram carried the two children far away, over land and sea, till at a narrow strait Helle fell off into the sea, and those narrow straits are called "Hellespont" after her, and they bear that name until this day.
Then the ram flew on with Phrixus to the northeast, across the sea which we call the Black Sea, and at last he stopped at Colchis, on the steep sea-coast.
And Phrixus married the King's daughter there, and offered the ram in sacrifice, and then it was that the ram's fleece was nailed to a beech in the wood of the War-god.
After a while Phrixus died, but his spirit had no rest, for he was buried far from his native land and the pleasant hills of Hellas.
So he came in dreams to the heroes of his country, and called sadly by their beds, "Come and set my spirit free, that I may go home to my fathers and to my kinsfolk."
And they asked, "How shall we set your spirit free?"
"You must sail over the sea to Colchis, and bring home the Golden Fleece. Then my spirit will come back with it, and I shall sleep with my fathers and have rest."
He came thus, and called to them often, but when they woke they looked at each other and said, "Who dare sail to Colchis or bring home the Golden Fleece?"
And in all the country none was brave enough to try, for the man and the time were not come.
Now Phrixus had a cousin called Æson, who was King in Iolcos by the sea. And a fierce and lawless stepbrother drove Æson out of Iolcos by the sea, and took the kingdom to himself and ruled over it.
When Æson was driven out, he went sadly away out of the town, leading his little son by the hand. And he said to himself, "I must hide the child in the mountains, or my stepbrother will surely kill him because he is the heir."
So he went up from the sea, across the valley, through the vineyards and the olive groves, and across the river, toward Pelion, the ancient mountain, whose brows are white with snow.
He went up and up into the mountain, over marsh, and crag, and down, till the boy was tired and footsore, and Æson had to bear him in his arms till he came to the mouth of a lonely cave, at the foot of a mighty cliff.
Above the cliff the snow-wreaths hung, dripping and cracking in the sun. But at its foot, around the cave's mouth, grew all fair flowers and herbs, as if in a garden. There they grew gaily in the sunshine and in the spray of the torrent from above, while from the cave came the sound of music, and a man's voice singing to the harp.
Then Æson put down the lad, and whispered, "Fear not, but go in, and whomsoever you shall find, lay your hands upon his knees and say, 'In the name of Zeus, the father of gods and men, I am your guest from this day forth.'"
So the lad went in without trembling, for he too was a hero's son, but when he was within, he stopped in wonder to listen to that magic song.
And there he saw the singer, lying upon bear-skins and fragrant boughs, Cheiron the ancient Centaur, the wisest of all beneath the sky.
Down to the waist he was a man, but below he was a noble horse. His white hair rolled down over his broad shoulders, and his white beard over his broad brown chest. His eyes were wise and mild, and his forehead like a mountain-wall. In his hands he held a harp of gold, and he struck it with a golden key. And as he struck, he sang till his eyes glittered and filled all the cave with light.
As he sang the boy listened wide-eyed, and forgot his errand in the song. At the last old Cheiron was silent, and called the lad with a soft voice.
And the lad ran trembling to him, and would have laid his hands upon his knees.
But Cheiron smiled, and drew the lad to him, and laid his hand upon his golden locks, and said, "Are you afraid of my horse's hoofs, fair boy, or will you be my pupil from this day?"
"I would gladly have horse's hoofs like you, if I could sing such songs as yours," said the lad.
And Cheiron laughed and said, "Sit here till sundown, when your playfellows will come home, and you shall learn like them to be a king, worthy to rule over gallant men."
Then he turned to Æson, who had followed his son into the cave, and said, "Go back in peace. This boy shall not cross the river again till he has become a glory to you and to your house."
And Æson wept over his son and went away, but the boy did not weep, so full was his fancy of that strange cave, and the Centaur and his song, and the playfellows whom he was to see.
Then Cheiron put the lyre into his hands, and taught him how to play it, till the sun sank low behind the cliff, and a shout was heard outside.
And then in came the sons of the heroes, and great Cheiron leapt up joyfully, and his hoofs made the cave resound as the lads shouted, "Come out, Father Cheiron, and see our game!"
One cried, "I have killed two deer," and another, "I took a wild cat among the crags," and another shouted, "I have dragged a wild goat by its horns," and another carried under each arm a bear-cub. And Cheiron praised them all, each as he deserved.
Then the lads brought in wood and split it, and lighted a blazing fire. Others skinned the deer and quartered them, and set them to roast before the flames.
While the venison was cooking, they bathed in the snow-torrent and washed away the dust.
And then all ate till they could eat no more, for they had tasted nothing since the dawn, and drank of the clear spring water, for wine is not fit for growing lads.
When the remnants of the meal were put away, they all lay down upon the skins and leaves about the fire, and each took the lyre in turn, and sang and played with all his heart.
After a while they all went out to a plot of grass at the cave's mouth, and there they boxed and ran and wrestled and laughed till the stones fell from the cliffs.
Then Cheiron took his lyre, and all the lads joined hands, and as he played they danced to his measure, in and out and round and round.
There they danced hand in hand, till the night fell over land and sea, while the black glen shone with the gleam of their golden hair.
And the lad danced with them, delighted, and then slept a wholesome sleep, upon fragrant leaves of bay and myrtle and flowers of thyme.
He rose at the dawn and bathed in the torrent, and became a schoolfellow to the heroes' sons, and forgot Iolcos by the sea, and his father and all his former life.
But he grew strong and brave and cunning, upon the pleasant downs of Pelion, in the keen, hungry mountain-air.
And he learned to wrestle, to box and to hunt, and to play upon the harp. Next he learned to ride, for old Cheiron used to mount him on his back. He learned too the virtue of all herbs, and how to cure all wounds, and Cheiron called him Jason the Healer, and that is his name until this day.
And ten years came and went, and Jason was grown to be a mighty man.
Now it happened one day that Jason stood on the mountain, and looked north and south and east and west. And Cheiron stood by him and watched him, for he knew that the time was come.
When Jason looked south, he saw a pleasant land, with white-walled towns and farms nestling along the shore of a land-locked bay, while the smoke rose blue among the trees, and he knew it for Iolcos by the sea.
Then he sighed and asked, "Is it true what the heroes tell me—that I am heir of that fair land?"
"And what good would it be to you, Jason, if you were heir of that fair land?"
"I would take it and keep it."
"A strong man has taken it and kept it long. Are you stronger than your uncle Pelias the Terrible?"
"I can try my strength with his," said Jason.
But Cheiron sighed and said, "You have many a danger to go through before you rule in Iolcos by the sea, many a danger and many a woe, and strange troubles in strange lands, such as man never saw before."
"The happier I," said Jason, "to see what man never saw before!"
Cheiron sighed and said, "Will you go to Iolcos by the sea? Then promise me two things before you go! Speak harshly to no soul whom you may meet, and stand by the word which you shall speak."
Jason promised. Then he leapt down the mountain, to take his fortune like a man.
He went down through the thickets and across the downs of thyme, till he came to the vineyard walls, and the olives in the glen. And among the olives roared the river, foaming with a summer flood.
And on the bank of the river sat a woman, all wrinkled, gray and old. Her head shook with old age, and her hands shook on her knees.
When she saw Jason, she spoke, whining, "Who will carry me across the flood?"
But Jason, heeding her not, went towards the waters. Yet he thought twice before he leapt, so loud roared the torrent all brown from the mountain rains.
The old woman whined again, "I am weak and old, fair youth. For Hera's sake, the Queen of the Immortals, carry me over the torrent."
Jason was going to answer her scornfully, when Cheiron's words, "Speak harshly to no soul whom you may meet," came to his mind.
So he said, "For Hera's sake, the Queen of the Immortals, I will carry you over the torrent, unless we both are drowned midway."
Then the old dame leapt upon his back as nimbly as a goat. Jason staggered in, wondering, and the first step was up to his knees.
The first step was up to his knees, and the second step was up to his waist. The stones rolled about his feet, and his feet slipped about the stones. So he went on, staggering and panting, while the old woman cried upon his back, "Fool, you have wet my mantle! Do you mock at poor old souls like me?"
Jason had half a mind to drop her and let her get through the torrent alone, but Cheiron's words were in his mind, and he said only, "Patience, mother, the best horse may stumble some day."
At last he staggered to the shore and set her down upon the bank. He lay himself panting awhile, and then leapt up to go upon his journey, but he first cast one look at the old woman, for he thought, "She should thank me once at least."
And as he looked, she grew fairer than all women and taller than all men on earth.
Her garments shone like the summer sea, and her jewels like the stars of heaven. And she looked down on him with great soft eyes, with great eyes, mild and awful, which filled all the glen with light. Jason fell upon his knees and hid his face between his hands.
And she spoke: "I am Hera, the Queen of Olympus. As thou hast done to me, so will I do to thee. Call on me in the hour of need, and try if the Immortals can forget!"
When Jason looked up, she rose from off the earth, like a pillar of tall white cloud, and floated away across the mountain peaks, towards Olympus, the holy hill.
Then a great fear fell on Jason, but after a while he grew light of heart. He blessed old Cheiron and said, "Surely the Centaur is a prophet and knew what would come to pass when he bade me speak harshly to no soul whom I might meet."
Then he went down towards Iolcos, and as he walked he found that he had lost one of his sandals in the flood.
And as he went through the streets the people came out to look at him, so tall and fair he was. But some of the elders whispered together, and at last one of them stopped Jason and called to him, "Fair lad, who are you and whence come you, and what is your errand in the town?"
"My name, good father, is Jason, and I come from Pelion up above. My errand is to Pelias your King. Tell me, then, where his palace is."
But the old man said, "I will tell you, lest you rush upon your ruin unawares. The oracle has said that a man wearing one sandal should take the kingdom from Pelias and keep it for himself. Therefore beware how you go up to his palace, for he is fiercest and most cunning of all kings." Jason laughed a great laugh in his pride. "Good news, good father, both for you and me. For that very end, to take his kingdom, I came into the town."
Then he strode on toward the palace of Pelias his uncle, while all the people wondered at the stranger. And he stood in the doorway and cried, "Come out, come out, Pelias the Valiant, and fight for your kingdom like a man."
Pelias came out, wondering. "Who are you, bold youth?" he cried.
"I am Jason, the son of Æson, the heir of all the land."
Then Pelias lifted up his hands and eyes and wept, or seemed to weep, and blessed the gods who had brought his nephew to him, never to leave him more. "For," said he, "I have but three daughters, and no son to be my heir. You shall marry whichsoever of my daughters you shall choose. But come, come in and feast."
So he drew Jason in and spoke to him so lovingly, and feasted him so well, that Jason's anger passed.
When supper was ended his three cousins came into the hall, and Jason thought he would like well to have one of them for his wife.
But soon he looked at Pelias, and when he saw that he still wept, he said, "Why do you look so sad, my uncle?"
Then Pelias sighed heavily again and again, like a man who had to tell some dreadful story, and was afraid to begin.
At last he said, "For seven long years and more have I never known a quiet night, and no more will he who comes after me, till the Golden Fleece be brought home."
Then he told Jason the story of Phrixus and of the Golden Fleece, and told him what was a lie, that Phrixus' spirit tormented him day and night. And his daughters came and told the same tale, and wept and said, "Oh, who will bring home the Golden Fleece, that the spirit of Phrixus may rest, and that we may rest also, for he never lets us sleep in peace?"
Jason sat awhile, sad and silent, for he had often heard of that Golden Fleece, but he looked on it as a thing hopeless and impossible for any mortal man to win.
When Pelias saw him silent he began to talk of other things. "One thing there is," said Pelias, "on which I need your advice, for, though you are young, I see in you a wisdom beyond your years. There is one neighbor of mine whom I dread more than all men on earth. I am stronger than he now and can command him, but I know that if he stay among us, he will work my ruin in the end. Can you give me a plan, Jason, by which I can rid myself of that man?"
After a while, Jason answered half-laughing, "Were I you, I would send him to fetch that same Golden Fleece, for if he once set forth after it, you would never be troubled with him more."
At that a little smile came across the lips of Pelias, and a flash of wicked joy into his eyes. Jason saw it and started, and he remembered the warning of the old man, and his own one sandal and the oracle, and he saw that he was taken in a trap.
But Pelias only answered gently, "My son, he shall be sent forthwith."
"You mean me!" cried Jason, starting up, "because I came here with one sandal," and he lifted his fist angrily, while Pelias stood up to him like a wolf at bay. Whether of the two was the stronger and the fiercer it would be hard to tell.
But after a moment Pelias spoke gently, "Why so rash, my son? I have not harmed you. You will go, and that gladly, for you have a hero's heart within you, and the love of glory."
Jason knew that he was entrapped, but he cried aloud, "You have well spoken, cunning uncle of mine, I love glory. I will go and fetch the Golden Fleece. Promise me but this in return, and keep your word as I keep mine. Treat my father lovingly while I am gone, for the sake of the all-seeing Zeus, and give me up the kingdom for my own on the day that I bring back the Golden Fleece."
Then Pelias looked at him and almost loved him, in the midst of all his hate, and he said, "I promise, and I will perform. It will be no shame to give up my kingdom to the man who wins that fleece."
So they both went and lay down to sleep. But Jason could not sleep for thinking how he was to win the Golden Fleece. Sometimes Phrixus seemed to call him in a thin voice, faint and low, as if it came from far across the sea. Sometimes he seemed to see the eyes of Hera, and to hear her words again, "Call on me in the hour of need, and see if the Immortals can forget."
On the morrow Jason went to Pelias and said, "Give me a lamb, that I may sacrifice to Hera." And as he stood by the altar Hera sent a thought into his mind. And he went back to Pelias and said, "If you are indeed in earnest, give me two heralds that they may go round to all the Princes, who were pupils of the Centaur with me. Then together we will fit out a ship, and take what shall befall."
At that Pelias praised his wisdom and hastened to send the heralds out, for he said in his heart, "Let all the Princes go with Jason, and, like him, never return, so shall I be lord of the land and the greatest king in Hellas."
So the heralds went out and cried to all the heroes, "Who dare come to the adventures of the Golden Fleece?"
And Hera stirred the hearts of all the Princes, and they came from all their valleys to the yellow sand of Iolcos by the sea.
All the city came out to meet them, and the men were never tired with looking at their heights and their beauty and the glitter of their arms.
But the women sighed over them and whispered, "Alas, they are all going to their death!"
Then the heroes felled the mountain pines and shaped them with the axe, and Argus the famed shipbuilder taught them to build a galley, the first long ship which ever sailed the seas. They named her Argo, after Argus the shipbuilder, and worked at her all day long.
But Jason went away into a far-off land, till he found Orpheus the prince of minstrels, where he dwelt in his cave.
And he asked him, "Will you leave your mountains, Orpheus, my playfellow in old times, and sail with the heroes to bring home the Golden Fleece? And will you charm for us all men and all monsters with your magic harp and song?"
Then Orpheus sighed, "Have I not had enough of toil and of weary wandering far and wide, since I lived in Cheiron's cave, above Iolcos by the sea? And now must I go out again, to the ends of all the earth, far away into the misty darkness? But a friend's demand must be obeyed."
So Orpheus rose up sighing, and took his harp. He led Jason to the holy oak, and he bade him cut down a bough and sacrifice to Hera. And they took the bough and came to Iolcos, and nailed it to the prow of the ship.
And at last the ship was finished, and they tried to launch her down the beach; but she was too heavy for them to move her, and her keel sank deep into the sand.
Then all the heroes looked at each other blushing, but Jason spoke and said, "Let us ask the magic bough; perhaps it can help us in our need."
And a voice came from the bough, and Jason heard the words it said, and bade Orpheus play upon the harp, while the heroes waited round, holding the pine-trunk rollers to help the Argo toward the sea.
Then Orpheus took his harp and began his magic song. And the good ship Argo heard him and longed to be away and out at sea, till she stirred in every timber, and heaved from stem to stern, and leapt up from the sand upon the rollers, and plunged onward like a gallant horse till she rushed into the whispering sea.
And they stored her well with food and water, and settled themselves each man to his oar, keeping time to the harp of Orpheus.
Then away across the bay they rowed southward, while the people lined the cliffs. But the women wept while the men shouted at the starting of that gallant crew.
The heroes rowed across the bay, and while they waited there for a southwest wind, they chose themselves a captain from their crew. And some called for the strongest and hugest to be their captain, but more called for Jason, because he was the wisest of them all.
So Jason was chosen captain, and each hero vowed to stand by him faithfully in the adventure of the Golden Fleece.
They sailed onward and northward to Pelion. And their hearts yearned for the dear old mountain, as they thought of the days gone by, of the sports of their boyhood, and their hunting, and their lessons in the cave beneath the cliff. Then at last they said, "Let us land here 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."
So the helmsman steered them to the shore, under the crags of Pelion, and they went up through the dark pine-forests toward the Centaur's cave.
Then, as Cheiron saw them, he leapt up and welcomed them every one, and set a feast of venison before them. 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 he sang of heroes who fought with fists and teeth, 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.
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 the making of the wondrous world. And as he sang, his voice rose from the cave above the crags, and through the tree-tops. The trees bowed their heads when they heard it, and the forest beasts crept close to listen, and the birds forsook their nests and hovered near. And old Cheiron clapped his hands together and beat his hoofs upon the ground, for wonder at that magic song.
Now the heroes came down to the ship, and Cheiron came down with them, weeping, and kissed them one by one, 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 wiser than all beasts and men.
Then Cheiron 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. 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 eastward, and out into the open sea which we now call the Black Sea.
All feared that dreadful sea, and its rocks and fogs and bitter storms, and 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.
Then Orpheus spoke and warned them that they must come now to the wandering blue rocks.
Soon they saw them, and their blue peaks shone like spires and castles of gray glass, while an ice-cold wind blew from them and chilled all the heroes' hearts.
As they neared them, they could see the rocks heaving, as they rolled upon the long sea-waves, crashing and grinding together, till the roar went up to heaven.
The heroes' hearts sank within them, and they lay upon their oars in fear, but Orpheus called to the helmsman, "Between the blue rocks we must pass, so look for an opening, and be brave, for Hera is with us."
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 bird."
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 dashed together as the bird fled swiftly through, but they struck but one feather from his tail, and then rebounded at the shock.
Then the helmsman cheered the heroes, and they shouted, while the oars bent beneath their strokes as they rushed between those toppling ice-crags. But ere the rocks could meet again they had passed them, and were safe out in the open sea.
After that they sailed on wearily along the coast, past many a mighty river's mouth, and past many a barbarous tribe. And at day dawn they looked eastward, till, shining above the tree-tops, they saw the golden roofs of King Aietes, the Child of the Sun.
Then out spoke 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?"
But Jason cheered the heroes, for his heart was high and bold, and he said, "I will go alone to Aietes, and win him with soft words. Better so than to go altogether and to come to blows at once." But the heroes would not stay behind so they rowed boldly up the stream.
And a dream came to Aietes and filled his heart with fear. Then he leapt up 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 the Argo sliding up beneath the bank, and many a hero in her, like Immortals for beauty and strength. But Jason was the noblest of all, for Hera, who loved him, gave him beauty and height and terrible manhood.
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 jeweled scepter, which glittered like the stars.
Sternly Aietes looked at the heroes, and sternly he spoke and loud, "Who are you, and what want you here that you come to our shore? Know this is my kingdom and these are my people who serve me. Never yet grew they tired in battle, and well they know how to face a foe."
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 to the King.
"We are no lawless men. We come, not to plunder or carry away slaves from your land, but we have come 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. 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' rage rushed up like a whirlwind, and his eyes flashed fire as he heard; but he crushed his anger down in his heart and spoke mildly.
"If you will fight, then many a man must die. 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 labors which I demand. Then I will give him the Golden Fleece for a prize and a glory to you all."
So he said, and then turned his horses and drove back in silence to the town.
The heroes sat dumb with sorrow, for there was no facing the thousands of King Aietes' men and the fearful chance of war.
But Chalciope, the widow of Phrixus, went weeping to the town, for she remembered her husband and all the pleasures of her youth while she watched the fair face 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 up the fleece, that my husband's spirit may have rest?"
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."
Then 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 the evening they went down to the river-side, Chalciope and Medeia the witch-maiden, and with them a lad. And the lad crept forward, among the beds of reeds, till he came to where Jason kept ward on shore, leaning upon his lance, full of thought.
And the lad said, "Chalciope waits for you, to talk about the Golden Fleece."
Then Jason went boldly with the boy and found the two Princesses. When Chalciope saw him, she wept and took his hands and cried, "O cousin of my beloved Phrixus, 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 to return!"
"But you know not," said Medeia, "what he must do who would win the fleece. He must tame the two brazen-footed bulls, which breathe devouring flame, and with them he must plow ere nightfall four acres in a field. He must sow the acres with serpents' teeth, of which each tooth springs up into an armed man. Then he must fight with all these warriors. And little will it profit him to conquer them, for the fleece is guarded by a serpent more huge than any mountain pine. 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."
Medeia trembled and said, "No mortal man can reach that fleece unless I guide him through."
But Jason cried, "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, and I may yet win the Golden Fleece, if a wise maiden help bold men."
And he looked at Medeia 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."
And Medeia said slowly, "Why should you die? I have an ointment here. I made it from the magic ice-flower. Anoint yourself with that, and you shall have in you the strength of seven, and anoint your shield with it, and neither fire nor sword shall harm you. Anoint your helmet with it, before you sow the serpents' teeth, and when the sons of earth spring up, cast your helmet among them, and every man of them shall 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.
So at sunrise Jason went and bathed and anointed himself from head to foot, and his shield and his helmet and his weapons. And when the sun had risen, Jason sent two of his heroes to tell Aietes that he was ready for the fight.
Up among the marble walls they went, and beneath the roofs of gold, and stood in the hall of Aietes, while he grew pale with rage.
"Fulfil your promise to us, Child of the blazing Sun," the heroes cried to King Aietes. "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!"
Aietes grew more pale with rage, for he had fancied that they had fled away by night, but he could not break his promise, so he gave them the serpents' teeth. Then he called 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.
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 women crowded to every window and bank and wall, while the heroes stood together, a mere handful in the midst of that great host.
Chalciope was there, 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!"
Aietes bade open the gates, and the magic bulls leapt out. Their brazen hoofs rang upon the ground 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 horns, and up and down they wrestled, till the bull fell groveling on his knees. For the heart of the bull died within him, 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 plow and goaded them onward with his lance, till he had plowed the sacred field. And all the heroes shouted, but Aietes bit his lips with rage, for half of Jason's work was done.
Then Jason took the serpents' teeth and sowed them, and waited what would befall.
And Medeia looked at him and at his helmet, lest he should forget the lesson she had taught him.
Now every furrow heaved and bubbled, and out of every clod arose a man. Out of the earth they arose 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.
The heroes grew pale with fear for him, but Aietes laughed an angry laugh.
Then Jason snatched off his helmet and hurled it into the thickest of the throng. And hate and fear and suspicion came upon them, and one cried to his fellows, "Thou didst strike me," and another, "Thou art Jason, thou shalt die," and each turned his hand against the rest, and they fought and were never weary, till they all lay dead upon the ground.
And the magic furrows opened, and the kind earth took them home again, and Jason's work was done.
Then the heroes rose and shouted, and Jason cried to the King, "Lead me to the Golden Fleece this moment before the sun goes down."
But Aietes thought, "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. Afterwards he bade a herald cry, "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," he said; "you have helped these yellow-haired strangers."
Medeia shrank and trembled, and her face grew pale with fear, and Aietes knew that she was guilty, and he whispered, "If they win the fleece, you die."
Now the heroes went marching toward their ship, growling, like lions cheated of their prey. "Let us go together to the grove and take the fleece by force," they said. But Jason held them back, while he praised them for brave heroes, for he hoped for Medeia's help.
And after a time she came trembling, and wept a long while before she spoke. At last she said, "I must die, for my father has found out that I have helped you."
But all the heroes cried, "If you die we die with you, for without you we cannot win the fleece, and home we will never go without it."
"You need not die," said Jason to the witch-maiden. "Flee home with us across the sea. Show us but how to win the fleece, and come with us and you shall be my queen, and rule over the rich princes in Iolcos by the sea."
And all the heroes pressed round and vowed to her that she should be their queen.
Medeia wept and hid her face in her hands. "Must I leave my home and my people?" she sobbed. "But the lot is cast: I will show you how to win the Golden Fleece. Bring up your ship to the woodside, 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!"
But Medeia calmed them and said, "Orpheus shall go with Jason, and take his magic harp."
And Orpheus laughed for joy and clapped his hands, because the choice had fallen on him.
So at midnight they went up the bank and found Medeia, and she brought them to a thicket beside the War-god's gate.
And the base of the gate fell down and the brazen doors flew wide, and Medeia and the heroes ran forward, and hurried through the poison wood, guided by the gleam of the Golden Fleece, until they saw it hanging on one vast tree in the midst.
Jason would have sprung to seize it, but Medeia held him back and pointed to the tree-foot, where a mighty serpent lay, coiled in and out among the roots.
When the serpent saw them coming, he lifted up his head and watched them with his small bright eyes, and flashed his forked tongue.
But Medeia called gently to him, and he stretched out his long spotted neck, and licked her hand. Then she made a sign to Orpheus, and he began his magic song.
And as he sung, the forest grew calm, and the leaves on every tree hung still, and the serpent's head sank down and his coils grew limp, and his glittering eyes closed lazily, till he breathed as gently as a child.
Jason leapt forward warily and stept across that mighty snake, and tore the fleece from off the tree-trunk. Then the witch-maiden with Jason and Orpheus turned and rushed down to the bank where the Argo lay.
There was silence for a moment, when 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. On and on, beneath the dewy darkness, they fled swiftly down the swirling stream, on and on till they heard the merry music of the surge.
Into the surge they rushed, and the Argo leapt the breakers like a horse, till the heroes stopped, all panting, each man upon his oar, as she slid into the broad sea.
Then Orpheus took his harp and sang a song of praise, till the heroes' hearts rose high again, and they rowed on, stoutly and steadfastly, away into the darkness of the West.
So the heroes fled away in haste, but Aietes manned his fleet and followed them.
Then Medeia, the dark witch-maiden, laid a cruel plot, for she killed her young brother who had come with her, and cast him into the sea, and said, "Ere my father can take up his body and bury it, he must wait long and be left far behind."
And all the heroes shuddered, and looked one at the other in shame. When Aietes came to the place he stopped a long while and bewailed his son, and took him up and went home.
So the heroes escaped for a time, but Zeus saw that evil deed, and out of the heavens he sent a storm and swept the Argo far from her course. And at last she struck on a shoal, and the waves rolled over her and through her, and the heroes lost all hope of life.
Then out spoke the magic bough, which stood upon the Argo's prow, "For your guilt, you must sail a weary way to where Circe, Medeia's sister, dwells among the islands of the West; she shall cleanse you of your guilt."
Whither they went I cannot tell, nor how they came to Circe's isle, but at last they reached the fairy island of the West.
And Jason bid them land, and as they went ashore they met Circe coming down toward the ship, and they trembled when they saw her, for her hair and face and robes shone flame.
Then Circe cried to Medeia, "Ah, wretched girl, have you forgotten your sins that you come hither, where the flowers bloom all the year round? Where is your aged father, and the brother whom you killed? I will send you food and wine, but your ship must not stay here, for she is black with your wickedness."
And the heroes prayed, but in vain, and cried, "Cleanse us from our guilt!" but she sent them away and said, "Go eastward, that you may be cleansed, and after that you may go home."
Slowly and wearily they sailed on, till one summer's eve they came to a flowery island, and as they neared it they heard sweet songs.
Medeia started when she heard, and cried, "Beware, O heroes, for here are the rocks of the Sirens. You must pass close by them, but those who listen to that song are lost."
Then Orpheus spoke, he, the king of all minstrels, "Let them match their song against mine;" so he caught up his lyre and began his magic song.
Now they could see the Sirens. Three fair maidens, sitting on the beach, beneath a rock red in the setting sun.
Slowly they sung and sleepily, and as the heroes listened the oars fell from their hands, and their heads dropped, and they closed their heavy eyes, and all their toil seemed foolishness, and they thought of their renown no more.
Then Medeia clapped her hands together and cried, "Sing louder, Orpheus, sing louder."
And Orpheus sang till his voice drowned the song of the Sirens, and the heroes caught their oars again and cried, "We will be men, and we will dare and suffer to the last."
And as Orpheus sang, they dashed their oars into the sea and kept time to his music as they fled fast away, and the Sirens' voices died behind them, in the hissing of the foam.
But when the Sirens saw that they were conquered, they shrieked for envy and rage and leapt into the sea, and were changed into rocks.
Then, as the Argonauts rowed on, they came to a fearful whirlpool, and they could neither go back nor forward, for the waves caught them and spun them round and round. While they struggled in the whirlpool, they saw near them on the other side of the strait a rock stand in the water—a rock smooth and slippery, and half way up a misty cave.
When Orpheus saw the rock he groaned. "Little will it help us," he cried, "to escape the jaws of the whirlpool. For in that cave lives a sea-hag, and from her cave she fishes for all things that pass by, and never ship's crew boasted that they came safe past her rock."
Then out of the depths came Thetis, the silver-footed bride of one of the heroes. She came with all her nymphs around her, and they played like snow-white dolphins, diving in from wave to wave before the ship, and in her wake and beside her, as dolphins play. And they caught the ship and guided her, and passed her on from hand to hand, and tossed her through the billows, as maidens do the ball.
And when the sea-hag stooped to seize the ship, they struck her, and she shrank back into her cave affrighted, and the Argo leapt safe past her, while a fair breeze rose behind.
Then Thetis and her nymphs sank down to their coral caves beneath the sea, and their gardens of green and purple, where flowers bloom all the year round, while the heroes went on rejoicing, yet dreading what might come next.
They rowed away for many a weary day till their water was spent and their food eaten, but at last they saw a long steep island.
"We will land here," they cried, "and fill our water casks upon the shore."
But when they came nearer to the island they saw a wondrous sight. For on the cliffs stood a giant, taller than any mountain pine.
When he saw the Argo and her crew he came toward them, more swiftly than the swiftest horse, and he shouted to them, "You are pirates, you are robbers! If you land you shall die the death."
Then the heroes lay on their oars in fear, but Medeia spoke: "I know this giant. If strangers land he leaps into his furnace, which flames there among the hills, and when he is red-hot he rushes on them, and burns them in his brazen hands. But he has but one vein in all his body filled with liquid fire, and this vein is closed with a nail. I will find out where the nail is placed, and when I have got it into my hands you shall water your ship in peace."
So they took the witch-maiden and left her alone on the shore. And she stood there all alone in her beauty till the giant strode back red-hot from head to heel.
When he saw the maiden he stopped. And she looked boldly up into his face and sang a magic song, and she held up a flash of crystal and said, "I am Medeia, the witch-maiden. My sister Circe gave me this and said, 'Go, reward Talus, the faithful giant, for his fame is gone out into all lands.' So come and I will pour this into your veins, that you may live for ever young."
And he listened to her false words, that simple Talus, and came near.
But Medeia said, "Dip yourself in the sea first and cool yourself, lest you burn my tender hands. Then show me the nail in your vein, and in that will I pour the liquid from the crystal flask."
Then that simple Talus dipped himself in the sea, and came and knelt before Medeia and showed the secret nail.
And she drew the nail out gently, but she poured nothing in, and instead the liquid fire streamed forth.
Talus tried to leap up, crying, "You have betrayed me, false witch-maiden."
But she lifted up her hands before him and sang, till he sank beneath her spell.
And as he sank, the earth groaned beneath his weight and the liquid fire ran from his heel, like a stream of lava, to the sea.
Then Medeia laughed and called to the heroes, "Come and water your ship in peace."
So they came and found the giant lying dead, and they fell down and kissed Medeia's feet, and watered their ship, and took sheep and oxen, and so left that inhospitable shore.
At the next island they went ashore and offered sacrifices, and Orpheus purged them from their guilt.
And at last, after many weary days and nights, all worn and tired, the heroes saw once more Pelion and Iolcos by the sea.
They ran the ship ashore, but they had no strength left to haul her up the beach, and they crawled out on the pebbles and wept, till they could weep no more.
For the houses and the trees were all altered, and all the faces they saw were strange, so that their joy was swallowed up in sorrow.
The people crowded round and asked them, "Who are you, that you sit weeping here?"
"We are the sons of your princes, who sailed in search of the Golden Fleece, and we have brought it home. Give us news of our fathers and mothers, if any of them be left alive on earth."
Then there was shouting and laughing and weeping, and all the kings came to the shore, and they led away the heroes to their homes, and bewailed the valiant dead.
And Jason went up with Medeia to the palace of his uncle Pelias. And when he came in, Pelias and Æson, Jason's father, sat by the fire, two old men, whose heads shook together as they tried to warm themselves before the fire.
Jason fell down at his father's knee and wept and said, "I am your own son Jason, and I have brought home the Golden Fleece and a Princess of the Sun's race for my bride."
Then his father clung to him like a child, and wept, and would not let him go, and cried, "Promise never to leave me till I die."
And Jason turned to his uncle Pelias, "Now give me up the kingdom and fulfil your promise, as I have fulfilled mine." And his uncle gave him his kingdom.
So Jason stayed at Iolcos by the sea.