A more serious offering than is usual. Written very quickly, inspired by a sadness and likely the last I'll write for her. It does complete, for the second time, the challenge she gave me. It will have mistakes because I haven't proofed it… It may even be slightly incomplete…
The title is generally meaningless, but we must…
"As for Jason, by the grace of Here Queen of Heaven, no hero of the past, no son of Zeus himself, no offspring of the other gods, could have outshone him on that day, he was so good to look at, so delightful to talk to. Even his companions, as they glanced at him, were fascinated by his radiant charm." Apollonius Rhodius.
The atmosphere was raucous. The crew sat at the tables eating what seemed like their first real meal for an age and finally, it seemed that the Quest for the Golden Fleece was about to end. Lifting his cup to his mouth, Jason stopped as a clear and loud, yet not unpleasant laugh reached his ears. Turning, he saw a vision strolling through the room, a pale beauty, wild curly hair streaming down her back a mischievous glint lighting her eyes. He felt an ache in his heart as she strolled towards the king.
Noticing Jason's gaze, King Aeetes beckoned to him.
"Jason, come, meet my daughter."
Easing himself to his feet, Jason strolled across the marbled floor towards the king and the vision that was his daughter. Reaching the dais he bowed to the king.
"Jason, this is my daughter, Medea. A fine daughter yet she goes against her father's wishes, she's a priestess of Hecate."
Turning to the king's attending daughter Jason took her hand and laid a gentle kiss slightly above the knuckles.
"My lady, it's a pleasure."
"Yes, I'm sure you think so." A reply laden with sarcasm and accompanied by a look of tolerance.
"Ha, take no notice of my daughter and her vitriol." Then, turning to Medea. "Leave us Medea, your bitter thoughts taint this joyous occasion. Jason is kin to Phrixus and he brought Phrixus' sons back to us."
Casting a quick look of disdain at her father Medea made to leave, Jason's eyes following her as she glided across the room. Reaching the door however, she stopped and turned slightly to face Jason. Her eyes no longer gazed upon him with contempt; a smile flashed across her lips, a hint of red coloured her cheeks and then she was gone.
As the evening drew to a close and the Argonauts readied themselves to return to the Argo a serving girl appeared at Jason's elbow. He favoured her with a smile and she handed him a small note. Jason recognized the scent he had smelt as he had kissed Medea's hand. He looked down at the note, a small piece of paper delicately cut so that its shape resembled a cow. He read:
"Meet me at the pool at the woods' edge as the moon reaches its zenith. M."
Medea was already waiting when Jason approached the pool's edge.
"I must warn you, Jason, my father does not intend to relinquish the Fleece to you so easily. He has several perilous tasks that you must complete before he will allow you to leave.
"The first is to yoke two great, fire-breathing bulls which will enable you to plough the field and thus sow the teeth of the Theban dragon. Not long after planting these teeth will grow into fully armed warriors; you must harvest this crop."
Medea took Jason's hand, pressing a small wooden object against his palm.
"Take this and apply its contents to your body as the sun appears above the horizon. It will protect you against the flames. As for the harvest, wait as long as you can, until as many of the warriors have pulled themselves free of the earth then you must grab a large rock and toss it among them."
She let Jason's hand fall from hers and looked around, nervously. Moving close to Jason, Medea brushed her lips against his then she turned and quickly disappeared within the trees.
Jason lifted his hand to look at what Medea had given him. A small, ornately carved box lay on his palm. It was made of a dark wood that Jason had never seen before, inlaid with gold and pearl in tiny carvings. Looking closely Jason could make out that the carvings actually depicted the wedding of Peirithous and Hippodameia. He first showed the Lapiths and the centaurs peacefully enjoying the post-wedding celebration as they toasted the couple with fragrant wines. The second image was a scene of chaos as the centaurs, savage and their minds misted by wine, seized the Lapith women, intending to taste the pleasure of the human women. Next the battle in earnest, man fighting with centaur and the figure of the great Athenian hero, Theseus, felling centaur after centaur. Caneus too, given invulnerability by Poseidon but killed her by the centaurs as the pounded him into the ground with trees ripped out of the ground. The final scene, the aftermath of the battle, the Lapiths victorious but greatly saddened by the deaths of so many at such a joyous event.
Jason opened the box and ran his finger through the contents, a blue, tacky substance, the smell of which cleared his mind of all save thoughts of the woman who gave him aid, he was sure he would do anything for this woman.
The day came as Dawn's rosy fingers breached the horizon at the light fell upon Jason as he smeared Medea's ointment upon his skin. Again the face of the young, dark-haired woman filled his mind.
Telamon aided Jason into his armour, a plain bronze breast plate, no scenes of great deeds adorned this armour, trapped firmly with leather ties. A leather skirt, made for ease of movement but still strong protection for the thighs. Bronze greaves, again, unadorned but they didn't require such fancy work to give Jason the protection he needed. Finally, a large crested, helmet, open enough to give clear vision but still protecting nose and cheeks. The crest, of purple-dyed horse-hair, fell to the front of the helm just short of Jason's brow and behind it swept down to the base of his spine. A short sword was strapped, in its leather sheaf, to Jason's hip before he bent to retrieve his large circular shield bearing the image of the Golden Fleece. Finally, Jason hefted two short spears in his right hand and he turned to his crew.
"Argonauts!" His voice carried magnificently through the still air, one might have thought the gods empowered his voice. "We approach the end of the Quest. I will undertake whatever it is Aeetes will ask of me and we shall return to Iolcus triumphant."
The Argonauats roared with approval, Castor and Polydeuces, Tydeus and Meleager, Telamon and Peleus. The sons of the north wind, Zetes and Calais, too joined in the cheers, as did Idas and Lynceus and even Pelias' son Acastus cheered the words of his cousin, Jason.
Aeetes awaited the Argonauts as they approached the city of Colchis, his daughter at his side.
"I bid you a good morning, Jason, and I hope you will be up to the tasks I will set for you today." He smiled but, Jason noticed, the smile did not touch his eyes. "Come, for you have much work to do before the sun god completes his journey across the sky."
The Argonauts were led to a large, enclosed field, poorly maintained and scattered with many rocks.
"This," Aeetes gestured towards the field. "Is where my two bulls reside. They are rather… Hot, of temper." He smiled. "I require you to yoke these two bulls." He gestured again, this time at a plough lying by the fence.
"I see no bulls." This from Idas, as hot-headed as Aeetes claimed of the bulls.
"There." His brother Lynceus pointed towards the far end of the field but it was only his eyesight that could make out the forms of the bulls at such a distance.
Jason lay down his shield, his spears and removed his helm, taking the plough in his arms in their stead. Approaching the fence he heaved his burden over the fence and began to climb.
"Jason," Lynceus warned. "The bulls are approaching. At speed."
The thunder of hooves on the packed earth was the first indication to the others that the bulls were, indeed, on their way. Jason walked calmly forward and set his feet, firmly, shoulder width apart, awaiting the charge of the bulls.
The bulls arrived in a swirl of dust and a blast of flame. Two black bulls of a size the Argonauts had never seen, being as tall at the shoulders as Jason, they were a primal mass of muscle. They bellowed their anger at the trespass on their field, flames spouting from flaring, red nostrils. They curled Aeson's son, pawing at the earth with massive hooves that could split a head as easy as an olive.
Without warning one of the bulls turned and raced towards Jason; it seemed that if he was not crushed by the onrushing mass then he could not possibly stand against the fire that gushed from the bull's mouth. A silence fell upon the Argonauts, all seemed lost.
The bull hit Jason and stopped as though it had run into a wall. As the dust settled, the Argonauts cheered. Jason stood firm, each hand grasping one of the bulls huge horns, flames licking across his body but seemingly having no effect. Gradually, the bull tired and it fell to its knees at which point Jason used his foot to drag the yoke closer to him. Freeing a hand he forced the yoke over the bull's massive head and fastened it to the plough.
Bellowing its anger the second bull charged in but this one was felled easily as Jason aimed a powerful blow of his fist between its horns. Dazed the bull toppled onto its side, its powerful chest heaving, reddened nostrils dragging in air. The bull was quickly yoked and fastened with its brother to the plough.
Then the tilling began, the bulls lowing in defeat and entirely submissive to Jason's needs. The two powerful beasts made light work of the field, as hard as the ground was, packed firm by the mighty hooves and baked by the fetid, fiery breathe. The job was complete Before the sun god had completed half of his journey across the heavens and a pile of large rocks lay, by the fence, where Jason had tossed them as he pulled them from the field.
"Well done, Jason." Aeetes approached him, eyes betraying his annoyance at Jason's success. "But now, you must sow these and reap the harvest."
He handed Jason his helm, purple crest dragging across the newly tilled earth. Taking the helm Jason took and handful of its contents; the teeth of the Theban dragon. Casting the teeth left and right, Jason walked the field until the helm no longer held the strange seeds and returned to where his companions waited.
Placing the helm on his head, Jason indicated to Idas that he should bring him his shield and spears. As he took the huge shield in his left hand, sunlight flashing from its surface Aeetes cried out.
"Look, the first of the crop appears." His eyes glinted with expectation as the gathered Argonauts gazed on with horror. A crested helmet was forcing its way from the earth, closely followed by the head that was wearing it.
Pulling his sword from its sheath Jason hurried forward and slashed down towards the still trapped warrior. The head rolled from it position in a spray of blood. There was respite however as more warriors started to force their way from the earth. Sword flashing, the hero raced through the field cutting down the Earth-born warriors as they appeared from the ground. Blood soaked the earth but Jason was tiring and still the warriors came and now he could not prevent them all from pulling themselves free of the womb.
Retreating to where his companions waited Jason noticed that Idas had struck his spears into the ground. Grabbing one her turned and hurled it towards the advancing warriors. It flew true and took the lead warrior under the chin, blood and brain burst outwards as the spear point exited through the back of the skull.
There was no time for a second cast, the Earth-born were nearly upon him and then he remembered the advice given to him by Medea. Taking one of the rocks from the pile he had made Jason flung it among the still advancing warriors. Immediately Jason was no longer the focus of their attention and he watched, astounded as the warriors turned on each other, slaughtering their kin in a haze of blood until only a single warrior remained. The warrior turned to face Jason, eyes widening as the bronze of the hero's sword slid neatly into his belly and up through his chest.
As the last of the Earth-born fell under Jason's sword a huge cheer erupted from the gathered Argonauts. They rushed to congratulate their captain on his success but Medea was first by his side.
"You must meet me again, everything depends on it." She whispered.
Jason nodded his affirmation to her as he was swamped by his crew and lifted to their shoulders.
"A celebration is in order." Roared Telamon to shouts of agreement.
As they made their way back to the Argo, from his vantage point Jason watched as Medea slopped off with her father, the look of worry on her face in contrast to the furious scowl that Aeetes wore.
The moment Jason appeared at the pool Medea threw herself to her knees, clutching at Jason's belt.
"You must take the Fleece and leave now for my father intends to kill you and your companions at first light. I can help you by putting the serpent guardian to sleep but you must take me with you." Her eyes were pleading with him at the last.
"Then lead on, Medea, and fear not, I would never have left here without you."
Heart fluttering within her breast and a smile on her lips Medea led Jason to the grove where hung the Golden Fleece in the branches of a tree. As they neared, Jason could hear the angry hissing of the serpent; it sensed their approach. Medea motioned for him to continue on his current path and indicated that she would move around towards the right.
A golden light shone through the thinning tree cover, getting brighter the closer he came to the grove. Then the trees were gone and Jason stood at the edge of a clearing, a great tree standing proudly in the centre some fifty paces away. The source of the golden light hung high in its branches; the Golden Fleece. Jason smiled as he looked upon it but as he looked to the base of the tree his smile vanished.
The serpent raised its head, allowing its unblinking right left eye the opportunity to look upon the intruder. It turned towards Jason, forked tongue flashing from its mouth and tasting the air. Slowly it began to move its massive bulk from its position of rest. Scales the size or breast plates scraped the bark on the tree as it uncoiled itself.
Jason approached the serpent, ensuring that its attention was on him and directed away from Medea. As he saw the dark-haired witch approach the serpent he ducked down behind a large rock the serpent following and lowering its head within reach of Medea's potion. Swiftly she unstopped the vial and grabbing the scales at the base of the serpent's head with her free hand, emptied the contents over its head. The serpent writhed in an attempt to shake off the fast overpowering effects of the potion, throwing Medea from her position with a slight snapping sound. Having left his position whilst Medea applied her potion Jason was able to move to intercept Medea's descent and prevented her from hitting the tree from which the Golden Fleece hung. Her fall cushioned, Medea glanced at the source of a pain on her left hand only to see that she had a broken nail; she shrugged the pain away. An instant later the serpent stopped its thrashing and hit the floor with a thump.
"Take the Fleece, now, and let us flee." Medea was slightly breathless and her voice hinted at a fear.
Climbing onto the serpents back, Jason navigated the coils that still encompassed the tree and reached for the lowest branches of the tree. From there it was a simple matter to reach the Fleece and take it from its resting place. Leaping from the tree, he landed lightly, Fleece flung across his right shoulder. He smiled at Medea, took her hand in his and they left the grove, bound for the Argo and thence to Iolcus.
In the tree, on the branch recently vacated by the Golden Fleece, sat a mischievous young god, bow in hand, depleted quiver strapped onto his back. Eros grinned to himself and vanished.