C H R O N I C L E
T H E
Q U E S T
T H E
G O L D E N
F L E E C E
A N N O
S T E L L A E
Mopsos had to proceed slowly with the proud, headstrong, and arrogant likes of Lukeios, as the man was apt to interrupt with his ignorant, opinionated, and maggoty interpretations at every point. Gradually, as Mopsos proceeded slowly and sensitively with the unruly, dark, undisciplined child-mind of Lukeios--so typical, Mopsos knew, of both Minyans and Achaeans--he could see the light of heaven begin to glimmer on the edges of the Minyan prince's soul, so that his long-closed soul's eye was beginning to glimpse something greater for the first time in his life--yes, there was a Most High God, a God of gods, and, yes, there was evil and wrong, but maybe there was a Savior, a great Cleanser of the earth too!
He decided not to overburden the man's struggling soul with too much the first night. Turning off the waterfall of wisdom, Mopsos spoke kindly to the excited prince, "It grows late, my friend. Let us turn in, and let the wise signs and lights of heaven speak to us on another such night." "What--we only started!" Lukeios protested. "I can pay you, if that is what you want! Don't stop now!" He stripped off a ring, and dangled it in Mopsos's face like he would with a pretty port harlot for her favors. "Here, this cunningly fashioned ring made in Knossos the palace is worth a farm! Take it! Now speak on, seer, tell me everything you know!"
But Mopsos smiled, and sank down to sleep where he had made his bed for the night on the beach of the island where Jason had quartered them. A guard for each watch of the night stood duty, and he knew he had to be the third watch, so he lay down, without letting Lukeios dissuade him. Giving up trying to bribe Mopsos, Lukeios swallowed his disappointment and impatience and threw himself down on his own bed blanket, where he lay for some time gazing up into the heavens before he slept.
Jason, even if he had known the reasons, which he did not, lacked time to get the ship safely away. They were passing as closely to the land as they could, not knowing how to navigate without landmarks in sight, when the nearest cliffs and rocky slopes gave way and thundered as boulders and earth cascaded down into the water.
They did not have long to wait. The water from one end of the sea to the other began to foam and dance with agitation, and then it clearly began moving in their direction.
Lukeios, the most alarmed, gave a madman's shriek, leaping up as if he was going to throw himself off the ship.
One moment they were sitting on a placid sea, then the next they were swept with a huge boiling wave that spun them around like a leaf and then shot them forward.
Lukeios, again the most excitable, tried this time to throw himself off the ship, but his shipmates dragged him back down. Together, they clung to the heaving Argo as it hurtled across the water, the great wave bearing it along as it shot them toward massive rocks in the distance.
The rocks grew terrifying large as they rapidly approached. These, some of the Argonauts, recognized, either from reports or from having seen them on previous voyages. The Clashing Rocks! The straits between them were so narrow, uncountable ships never made it through--particulary if the waters were storm tossed.
Everyone looked at Jason--did he have any idea what to do now? Were they not doomed? Was it not time to pray to their gods? Jason, however, just shook his head, and some took that to mean there was no use trying anything--it was no good struggling against fate. Whatever happened, they could not avoid it--and such was many a sailor's fate here, for the sea bottom was a graveyard, littered with ships dashed against the rocks by storm and wind.
Many of the Argonauts closed their eyes as the wave threw them at the towering Rocks that stood sentinel at the head of the straits.
When they opened them in the flying spray, they could not tell for a moment or two if they were safely in the straits or about to be smashed against the Clashers--as the spray blinded them, and all they could see was a gray turbulence.
Lukeios let out a shriek, and no one could see if he had thrown himself overboard--it was chaos on board--as the Argo heaved up one way and then another, even spinning at one point in a giant eddy. Those who did see something, wished they hadn't, as the ship flew over giant, ragged rocks, with a mere inch or two of water between the rocks and the hull.
It was a good thing now they hadn't eaten. The ship went straight up, then was plunged downwards, seemingly to Hades, only to be thrown sideways, nearly capsizing them, while they were simultaneously being swept forward through the narrow straits.
Rolling in the bilge, battered against the gunwales as they clung to the sides of the ship and rock scraped so closely to the hull some had their knuckles skinned, the men thought themselves dead men.
The great wave, born of the great shaking beneath the sea, gained far more force and power when squeezed in in the narrow straits of the two stone sea mounts, and its waters rose higher and higher, so that when they passed through they were not really out of danger--as there lay an islet and surrounding sand bars in their path.
Jason looked down, with one or two others, and saw tall, big boughed trees beneath the hull in the glassy green water--they had barely cleared the hills of the thick forest!
As the ship settled down in the calming water, still moving swiftly toward land from the momentum it had built up, Jason awoke from a kind of trance that made the other Argonauts stare and stand about like marble statues. He started shaking the man nearest him, who happened to be Typhis the Helmsman. Together, they got the big steering rudders back in their slots, and turned the ship just in time to avoid the jagged toothed shore rocks.
As soon as Typhis cast the anchor, no one could have held the men back a moment longer. They all dove from the ship, or jumped off, some swinging down on ropes--it was every man for himself, to gain the safety of oh, so sweet solid earth!
The Argonauts stare at him, then some begin to chuckle. Argonauts run like hares from mere birds? Preposterous!
Lukeios tells the old man to his face that he is an old fool--and Jason steps forward. "Let him alone, bring him some food--the dried meats in the basket with the lid! Bring him a blanket too to cover himself in the night!"
Argonauts hurried back to the ship. Others stood round the old man, wondering but not asking how a man could get himself in such a state as to live worse than an animal. Was it the birds?--what birds could be so bad that the island's people would all flee, leaving just this one old man?
The old man could see they did not believe him or heed his warning.
He shook his trembling finger at them. "You are young and have not seen such fowls as these! They are most terrible winged beasts that fly by night and day--and can swoop down on you at any time. And they spread a foulness everywhere they have been--so what they don't eat or carry off from me they ruin with their stench! All my family and the village people tore down their houses for the beams and left in a Minyan vessel--we are not Minyans here, but we traded a long time with them--so they did not raid us. As for the dirty Achaeans--we don't see them in these islands--they are such cowards and don't go about much in ships on the sea--they're--"
Jason interrupted. "But tell us--these birds, you say--they attacked you. Why did you and your people not drive them off?"
The old man looked at him as if he had not heard him. Then, slowly, a look of terror glazed his eyes, and he pointed upwards, staggering, so that Boreus, who was close by, grabbed him to keep him from toppling over.
At that moment, the men came running with the food and the blanket, and they laid them down before the old man and Jason.
"Come, lie down, old one," said Jason kindly, beckoning him to the blanket. "Rest and eat. We will bring up some water too, and mix it with a little wine for your digestion."
Again, Phineas (his name) did not seem to hear. He rambled on. "Yes, yes, they will return--perhaps soon! They will fly about here, searching for anything they can eat, and they eat most anything. The whole gang of them even kill and feast on livestock, and carry off small cattle to devour later--though all sheep and goats are long gone! Oh! Oh! How they ruined me! I was once rich--I had the largest flock, and many vines and olive trees too--but the monsters kept tearing everything with their claws and beaks, rooting up the vines, roosting in the trees and killing them with their stinking dung, and all my fine, fat-tailed sheep and big-uddered goats--" His voice trailed off--as the scenes were too much for words.
Mopsos, looking closely at the old man, shook his head when an Argonaut moved to give him some of the bread and meat.
"He has been starved so long, by the looks of him," Mopsos explained, "this much food might kill him. No, some clear broth would do better to revive his strength and his spirits. We will need a fire, and someone to gather any wild leeks that grow here we can boil for the juice--or perhaps there is something else still growing in the gardens of the deserted houses we can add to make it tastier."
Jason approved this advice immediately, and Argonauts hurried off in search of ingredients for the soup, while Jason turned back to the pitiful old man, who had now sunk down on the blanket, still moaning over his losses, with Boreus holding his hand as if he were his aged father. Apollos too, and his brother, came close--remembering their own lost parents.
"Captain, can't we do something more for him?" Apollos blurted out. "We can't just give him some soup and then leave him here like this--with no one to care for him. Where are his sons and daughters? How cruel to leave their father! He'll die alone, and the forest animals, the wolves and the boars, will devour him."
The old man seemed to awaken as if he had heard Apollos. "What? I want nothing from you! Leave me, strange youth! I expressly stayed behind to die--I will die in my own house--and nothing will drive me out but death! I welcome the boars and the wolves! Let them gnaw my bones! The sooner the better!"
Jason knelt down, drawing his face near to the old man's. "Sir! Please listen to me as if I were your son. You won't like it in Hades any better than here. That is no answer to your distress. We will take you along with us, and you can choose any island, any city, and perhaps rejoin your own people and family. Life may be kinder, and give you some happy days yet. You don't have to remain here--where there is nothing to comfort your old age! Please, come with us! We will not trouble you further. We just want to help you."
The old man shook his head doggedly, from side to side. Boreus stood and straightened up. He looked determinedly at Jason, caught his eye, and then went to him, speaking in a low voice. Jason looked away, as if he were considering something, then turned to the Argonauts.
"Men, I will not risk you in going after these birds. I will not let you all go, if they are as large and fierce as this old man says--we have never seen their likes. I have heard old tales of these giant birds, and if they are the sicklebirds we know, they are grown so large because of great age. No one knows how long they live or how big they can grow. But we may soon find out! Boreus has offered to fight them! I will let him do it, since his heart is set on it--but no one else! I cannot spare anyone, and will greatly regret losing Boreus--but he is a man--I cannot make him stay a boy and set him back on his oar--he has to do this manly, noble feat for his own sake and also the old man's."
This was quite a large speech for Jason, and everyone was silent and impressed, though there was some feeling among them that was not pleased with Jason's decision. Evenso, Lukeios did not whisper any witty remark in the closest ear. Instead he gazed at Boreus, who had seemed a boy to him, but now had surpassed them all in bravery, volunteering to go alone after the hounds of Zeus.
Jason was not one for lingering after a decision was made. He returned to the ship, there to await Boreus, the men thought. A few of the strongest suddenly tapped each other's shoulder and went apart to talk.
As for Jason, if Boreus did not return in two days, he realized he would have to leave his bones to be picked clean by the birds. In the meantime, Argus could inspect the ship and see to any repairs it needed. Thanks to the Clashing Rocks, the Argo's boards had pulled loose in places, and water was getting in.
Boreus left after taking a javelin Jason released from the ship's arsenal, a fine weapon of the hardest wood for the stave and perfectly cast bronze for the deadly tip that Argus had fashioned, using his own blacksmithy and cunning arts learned from the masters of Crete. Mopsos caught his arm in passing. "Here," he said, handing Boreus a rope and a fat garden parsnip, "Catch yourself a wild goat with this root, and use it to lure the birds--they might not bother with one lone man otherwise."
Boreus grinned, and took the rope and parsnip, then hurried up the trail into the hills above.
The Argonauts turned to go. It would be a long wait, with guards set. A fire was lit on the shore, and what they could find--a couple ducks, quail, and some garden things--went into a pot after the broth for the old man was prepared and brought to him in his ruined house by Mopsos and Lukeios.
While all this was going on, six Argonauts quietly slipped away, carrying whatever makeshift weapon of their choice they could find in the area--Lukeios and Apollos among the champions--though Lukeios was not actually invited, he was just not one to miss a chance for a little excitement to crow about later to his shipmates.
Jason's legs were longer and swifter. He caught them right at the path where it led up into the mountain. "Hold it! Give me your sandals! I waited for this, and now I can go to stand with Boreus. Now back to the ship!"
The thoroughly surprised and now thoroughly sobered Argonauts--wondering how Jason could have divined their secret plan--thought he had to be a sorcerer, but pulled off their footwear for Jason to collect, then forgot the rocks and raced each other back to the ship without any more trouble or protest.
It went as Mopsos had said. Boreus quickly got a wild goat to come for the parsnip, and ran it down before it could escape up into the crags of the mountains crowning the islet. Tieing it with the rope, Boreus slung it over his shoulder and hurried into those same mountains. He had only two days to complete his exploit--what a test of his strength and fighting prowess that would prove--it thrilled him to think about it! Back in Iolkos, the women would sing songs about it in the streets and markets, and he would be famous the rest of his life! "Boreus, the hero of many-shipped Iolkos! Slayer of the Sickles of the Sky! Boreus of the radiant, piercing javelin, bravely, singly, challenged the hounds of Zeus--" It would be a fine song, hle knew--and he might even let Orpheus play his harp and sing it to him in his white-pillared mansion the king and the people award him.
The goat worked perfectly too, just as beautifully as the parsnip on the goat. Bleating and jumping at its tether atop the crag Boreus selected for the battle with the giant birds, the goat soon drew the attention of an eagle-eyed sicklebird, which left off flying in a line with more of its kind flying afar off. At first Boreus thought it was just another sicklebird. He had seen them before--and they were quite ordinary in size--about the size or a crane, not even the size of a stork. But the bird, as it beat its wings and drew closer, continued to grow in size. And the bird did not reach the crag--it was still some distance off when Boreus realized that the thing was truly of monstrous size. It was constantly enlarging, and still it had not reached the crag. How big was it anyway? Boreus marveled, his blood beginning to run cold.
He took his place with his shield and javelin, and waited. Even as the sicklebird swooped closer and closer, eyeing the frantic, frightened goat, it must have noticed there was something else alive on the mountain top. Was the little two-legged as tasty as the little four-legged? the monster seemed to be thinking, as it made an exploratory pass by Boreus.
Boreus was waiting for this, and had a rock ready to get the bird fighting mad--that is, even more angry than it was hungry.
Suddenly, a wave of the most sickening odor washed over him. He choked, and tried not to breathe any more of it, but the smell was everywhere, thick and inescapable. Forcing himself to take the smell, Boreus wound up and slammed the rock against the passing giant right in its belly, and it shrieked as it pulled up, beating the air with such a thunder that Boreus's ears were almost deafened. Then turning in a wide arc the sicklebird headed back. Shrieking like a javelin-stuck pig, the bird beat down upon Boreus, who had a bronze-headed javelin ready to greet it this time, rather than a mere rock.