C H R O N I C L E
J A S O N ' S
C A P E
A N T E
A N N O
S T E L L A E
Growing more impatient and anxious over Jason's lenthening absence, Medea waits aboard her royal ship with her attendants and mariners. She is not one to tolerate idleness in herself or others, however. Since she is a weaver of fine things, she has brought her loom along, and it serves to pass the time as she works on it.
She has no great beauty, she knows, to win this champion, but she is assured she can captivate him with her mental powers. And if they fail to be sufficient, there are always the dark arts of sorcery, and she has resorted to them before in a time of difficulty with her father and the various rivals who, after her mother's death, sought to be his wife and cast his daughter into heavily guarded seclusion in some lonely palace tower.
The only problem is that the herb woman is not within call or reach. She dare not leave her place on the river, for fear Jason's craft will pass by in the night and she will miss her chance at him forever. If she should send a messenger--would he make the journey back in time? She doubts it, so she has to think of something better.
Medea decides she has to make do with whatever she has at hand. She doesn't know the herbs well enough though to hazard a love potion--it might poison her quarry and kill him if she tries to make it on her own.
What to do? She has to try something other than potions, she feels, in case her arts of womanly persuasion prove too weak to hold a man like Jason. Magic alone, however, can sometimes subdue even the strongest of men. She had seen kings fall under the sway of sorcery and be made to ruin themselves through committing blunder after blunder in statecraft that the worst simpleton would think foolish and mad. One of the kings came to mind particularly. He had a great bush of beard (just like his father's before him), very black, which he liked to oil and anoint with the rarest perfumes--and his palace was of all white alabaster and ivory--he was Persian, and very luxurious and gorgeous in his tastes. But he could afford it--as all the revenues of a vast domain passed through his hands. His army was unbeatable--and he reduced every threat on his borders to subservient vassals, or deposed them and put in men of his own choosing.
What could possibly reduce this great king to nothing? Magic! His entire royal residence--called the White Palace--became infected as well, and everyone in it was brought under the same power that was dragging the king to his doom.
She doesn't wish this fate upon the one she loves. Hurting Jason is not at all her object. Rather, she wants only to make him a bit more receptive to her wishes. Her wishes are simple: she wants to keep him as hers alone--and keep him in Colchis. Somehow she would make him forget Achaea and that wretched city of his! Together they would reign as king and queen, with a new and glorious temple to the great goddess Hecate built in the royal compound.
It will be a splendid reign, and produce a great and powerful dynasty, she foresees--if she can withstrain his love of his country and the instincts of strong-willed, homebound Achaean!
It is the greatest test of her wits and her skills of governing unpromising circumstances to her advantage.
For a full day and half of the following one she sits at her loom and thinks over the problem and possible solutions. What would work best? She finally thinks she might weave something for him--as that is her best gift from the gods. She might weave a special cap, such as the natives of the hinterland wore--they were very good in all sorts of weather, cold or hot or windy. No, he might not want to wear it, as he was so wild and free a man he did not like headwear and seldom used a bronze helmet even in fighting.
How about--? A cape! That was what he would wear! It was something she knew he liked to ward off the chill in the nights--or keep him dry on a day of high waves or strong winds. He had an Achaean dolphin-decorated cape along--but perhaps he could be persuaded to try her new one?
She would weave her very soul into it--praying all the while to her goddess, Hekate, who had never failed her before. It would be irresistable, she thought. She would make it so warm and beautiful to a man's eye that he would have to take and wear it. It would be fit for a king, but at the same time be useful to a man like Jason.
What color? What pattern?
She had to work quickly, she knew, in order to complete it in time.
While she worked, she had opportunity to think of other things--her father, for instance. What of him? Would he like this man as his son-in-law? No matter how many tasks he completed, she knew her father would not like Jason--he was too great, too much a rival to him. Something had to be done about her father, she knew. Colchis was not big enough for both Jason and her father--they would have come to blows, son-in-law and father-in-law fighting like worst enemies! Well, there was no question in her mind. Either her father went willingly into a country estate and yielded up his crown to Jason, or she would do have to do something about him she wouldn't like to do--but would do, nevertheless to preserve Jason's life.
More days pass as Medea works hour after hour, even having a lamp lighted for her to continue after dark behind thick netting that keeps off the river's insects. She is praying as she weaves--pouring countless invocations to Hekate over her work as she proceeds.
At last! A watchman aboard her ship shouts, "Argo!" Medea drops everything she is doing and goes to the topmost part of her ship. There it is--his ship's sail and mast emerge into sight as the Argo clears the last tangled waterway of the forest-overgrown stretch of river between them.
She hasn't finished the cape! It has no gold as she had planned--only a magical pattern of Hecate's drawn on it, but, then, Jason was not keen on wearing embroidered robes heavy with gold like her father, she knew. Would he accept something so plain as what she had woven? Hastily, she takes jewels she had along and stiches them in along the pattern of a sun's rays at dawn--there the sun will catch them and they will glisten.
While she attached the finishing jewel on the cape she orders her royal welcoming flag unfurled--gold and jewels shining on the Colchian dragon-serpent--and wine, and the best of her gold goblets and gold platters are placed near her on a table which stoon will be heaped with a banquet.
By this time the Argo has stopped off Medea's bow, her oarsmen throwing an anchor out. Medea is in her private quarters, the curtains drawn, preparing to meeting Jason dressed in her best robes.
She is not feeling her best. A messenger has just come with news from Aea--or what had been Aea. She was being sought by the survivors, by certain elders of the city, to see if she would return and take up the throne in her father's stead and do something for them. The people left in the ruins were helpless against pirates and anyone who had come for loot. Would she be coming soon? they wanted to know.
She had not let the messenger go without her answer: yes! She would be coming soon.
But what could she do, if her father were dead and all his soldiers with him in Hades? All she had now was this one ship--but with Jason at her side--there was still a good chance she could restore the kingdom and the throne of Aeetes her father. Together they could establish a new but legitmate royal line and dynasty. Would Jason agree to this? Would he? She could not say. All she could do was approach him with her request, at a propitious moment. She knew it was too much to suddenly speak about,w without some womanly preparation first.
Jason finally came aboard, greeted by Medea's dancing and singing musicians. As instructed by Medea, her maids bowed and offered him fruit and wine and cushions upon which to rest, but he was impatient to continue his journey and waved them away.
Seeing Jason's mood, Medea realized she had to do something quickly. She stepped out of her pavilion so that he could see her. Where could they speak privately? It was impossible on her ship, or even on his--so she waited until he came to her, then she said, "Why are you so hasty to go, One-Sandalled? I have waited a long time here for you!"
Jason peered at her, but she had already turned her face away. "Well, I--" he began, then seeing all the people aboard were listening, he approached her closely. "I was busy! We found the Golden Fleece and were bearing it home when we happened upon your ship. What are you doing here? Why didn't you return to your father? I have no desire to detain you."
Medea's thin shoulders winced, as if he had said something cruel. She moved away a few steps. "Would you be surprised if I said destiny has brought us together for such a time as this?"
Jason, smiling at the thought, shook his head. "Really? What could the reason be--if it is as grand as you say?
Medea turned, darted a glance about the ship then fixed her eye on his. "This is no place for me to share it with you. It is for you alone."
Jason, his face flickering with degree of annoyance mixed with amusement, was nevertheless curious. "Why not send them off to my ship, and we will be alone here."
"An excellent idea!" she agreed. She gave orders, and her mariners and maids immediately disembarked to the other ship. While this was going on, Medea picked up some fruit and wine and offered it to Jason, who now seemed hungry and thirsty for it. He sat down to enjoy the food and drink, while Medea stood and watched him.
Finally, they were alone.
He was through with his meal, and he looked up, wiping his face with the beautiful linen napkin provided. "Well?"
"I have something for you," she said simply. He watched her go and get something from her pavilion.
She held it out to him.
"What is this you have here?" he asked, as he took the cape in his hands.
He spread it out between his outstretched hands.
"From your hands?"
He threw it over one shoulder. "It will serve me well, so I thank you, princess!"
He glanced toward his ship. "Well, is this the private matter? Or is there more?"
"There is more," she said, smiling.
Jason looked even more annoyed than before. "You womenfolk! Always keeping back something, to gain some female advantage if you can! What is it? I have little time or patience for feminine wiles!"
Medea walked to one side of him as his eyes followed him. "He thinks he is speaking to an inferior," she said, speaking as if to a close friend, confiding a secret for that person's ears only--though the matter and its outcome would soon be broadcast, she knew, to the whole kingdom and to the neighboring kingdoms as well. "Yes, that is a man's common mistake--not knowing what is in a woman can be mightier than a man's imagination!"
Jason's ears visibly pricked up at the sound of that. What could his mistake be--and what could be mighter in a woman than a "man's imagination?"
Everything hung on how she phrased herself in the next moments. Would her wits fail her, at the most important moment of her career? She had to try, regardless of the risk. To return to Aea with nothing but her swan ship was unthinkable. To beg was even more unthinkable. She had only one thing to offer this lion-maned, lion-hearted man. But that was common enough in his own kingdom in Achaea's wide-flung realm. A man such as this, with royalty in his blood, could command any woman to throw herself at his feet. But would he respect such a one? She thought not.
No, Jason, in his heart of hearts, was looking for such a woman as her--and would find this woman in no one else. But how was she to tell him this--if he did not see it at the moment? If he sailed away from her now--all was lost--there would never be another opportunity to open his heart's door, to the secret place where he was seeking the love of his life.
A man respected only a man's intelligence. That she knew about men. When a woman was too cunning for a man, he resented it, even hated her. But a man also despised stupid women, who could be fooled too easily or made to do anything they wanted, without any resistance. A man wanted, in his heart of hearts, a woman who had to be won--like a prize, like a Golden Fleece guarded by dragons. Anything less was not valued as much, or anything to be troubled about. The only question in her mind was--did Jason perceive her as something to trouble himself about? Or was she just another woman--of inferior parts and wits--and, therefore, not to be greatly desired above any other.
She sat down, her arms around her knees, while he remained standing, still staring at her. He wasn't going anywhere, in fact, until he heard what her explanation was. If she had spoken unadvisedly, a mere foolishness just to detain him, he would leave her presence at once!
"I am in mourning," she said, "though my garments are not those of grief, having just heard the news."
Jason's expression turned grave. "Your father? Your brother? What has happened?"
"Both," she said.
Jason glanced about, then back to her. "Well, then, I will do all I can for you! I will not leave you like this, with no man of your own household to protect you. I will see you safely back to your city and your palace."
Medea shook her head. "I have nothing to return to but ruins. There is no city, no palace, no kingdom. It is all swept away."
Jason gazed silently at her, feeling she had something more to explain than this, and he was right, for she continued. "You would have learned this, and left me to my fate, I expect, so eager are you to return to your home city with the Fleece of Phrixus, except that I am here in your presence, and you've had nothing but good from my hands to yours--and so you know it in your heart and cannot easily leave me without trying to help me." She darted a glance at him with her green eyes, and saw him move restlessly, so she knew her remark had struck home.
"Yes, I am grateful to you, princess! I will do as I said for you. Let us return to your city, and I will see that you are dealt with accordingly as your royal lineage and family demands!"
Medea smiled thinly, then turned to him. "I know you will do what good is in your hands to do, but that will be little beside all I have lost."
Jason's mouth fell open, as if he would protest. "But what more can I do? I can not return your father and brother to you! Shall I make a special trip to Hades and bring them out to you? I have some gold and jewels--take it all, if you wish! I need only the Fleece with me anyway and my men!"
She rose and walked away to the stern, and looked southwesterly toward Aea. Jason waited for her, then when she remained there, joined her.
She let him look into her eyes for the first time. "I don't want your gratitude or your favors."
"Then what do you want? Tell me, and if a mortal man can do it, I will do it. Only then please discharge me of all I owe you for your goodness to me, so I can return to my city and my father's house!"
"So I did you good?"
"Yes, I acknowledge it!"
"Then why are you insulting me like this?"
She knew Jason was both surprised and hurt at the same time by her remark.
"Oh, no!" he said. "I would never think of doing thus to you. Surely, you mistake my intent or my action."
"Oh, no?" she said. Her green eyes narrowed and she looked away toward Aea. "A woman knows when she is being insulted by a man! She doesn't need him to tell her when he has trampled upon her heart as if it were nothing but a trifle!"
Achaeans, she knew, thought nothing much about women's hearts--and Jason could be no exception. But her remark had stung him--with the thought that he had maybe broken the laws of hospitality which are sacred to any Achaean. Perhaps he should have thanked her more graciously for the cape she had woven for him?
He glanced at the cape hanging over his shoulder. "It is a fine thing you wove," he began. "I thank you again for it!"
Medea ignored his words, and returned to his former question. "You wanted to know what I want, so you can be discharged from all duty toward me?"
Of course, he did! Any Achaean would.
She looked him steadily in the eye as any man would. "I gave up everything so that you could succeed, and defied even the wishes of my own father for your sake. You know I did all this for you! I do not have to remind you! So now you would give up trifles in exchange--is that worthy of the mighty one called One-Sandalled? Or is it mean and low of him. Answer me!"
He turned away with clenched fists, as the struggle was so violent, that he could not let her see the muscles in his face and neck were twitching and bulging.
He threw down his cape, and then stood, looking toward Achaea.
Finally, he came and stood before her. "I would be a thief, as you say, if I gave you trifles in exchange for your gifts of gold. You gave up everything, I agree, or risked everything at least for my sake."
He glanced long at his own ship which blazed at the prow with the Golden Fleece.
"But now I see something in your words, for which I thank you. You have been brave to tell me this to my face! I would dishonor the Fleece if I came bearing it to my city and my people and my father with stained hands and stained heart--stained with mistreatment and inhospitality and thievery in the household of my host! I cannot do such a thing! What is you wish? Whatever it is, I will do it?"
"I want nothing of that sort from you or any man!" she said truthfully.
Jason was now in agony. He could not believe his own ears. He was beside himself. He wanted only to hear something from her--that was in his power to give Medea, that she rightfully and deservedly had coming to her from him.
"Then I cannot give you anything--if you will not accept it!" he burst out. "Is that what you want? Will you imprison me in this cage forever? If I go like this, I shall be a wretch and despise myself, and how can I lead my men home in this state?"
Medea now had him where she wanted him--and had dreamt. It was now the right moment to lay it all on the table--to bear the secret of her heart before him, and he could not now--as a man, as an Achaean--despise her, or belittle her as other men would.
Guilt, or the thought he had offended sacred laws against his own host, and, on top of that, left his benefactress, the daughter, with an offer of "trifles" in exchange for her risking all she had for him--that could bring him to his knees, but still something more was need to win his heart.
Now she could make her move and keep him--but his Achaean blood and heart would always turn from her to his lost homeland--and he would be unhappy, increasingly, in her arms. This she now said to him as Jason listened intently.
Jason was a mighty warrior, but her simple, heart-to-heart words affected him to the quick. It was as if all his armor fell off him.
He reached out and took her hand. They stood quietly some time, hand in hand.
She turned her face up to his. He put his hand over her hair, stroking it gently. Finally, she said, "I won't ask you anymore what I want, Jason. But I do ask this one thing: what is you want? What is it that Jason wants in his secret heart? Could I be what he wants? If so, I will again give up everything I have known for that man--if that man is true to what he wants, enough to reveal it."
Achaeans were not accustomed to revealing their secret hearts to anyone--leastwise any woman. It is likely that such a thing had never been attempted before. But Medea was not Achaean, and she had brought him to a place where no Achaean had ventured before. He had gone so far as to find, fight for, and win the Golden Fleece--a triumph no other man on earth could boast of but him. But now it was one step beyond that--to reveal what she was asking him to do. Would he? Could he? Men and women were not equals--had never been such, not at any time that could be remembered. But here she was asking him something that demanded equality, a thing that no one had conceived of in their world.
Jason, realizing that he was now treading where no Achaean before him had dared or presumed to tread, was almost afraid. He felt the loss of his manhood's armor far less than the loss of all solid footing beneath his Achaean feet! Where was this strange and captivating princess taking him? He had no idea. But he could not escape now from the path onto which she had led him. He had to go on--to find the end of it--and whether he could still live and breathe there as a man--he could not now tell.
"I think you have bewitched me!" he said, grasping her delicate arms carefully like grass stems in his powerful, bone-crushing hands. His breath was labored as he pulled her closer. "This is a strange thing to my mind! I have never thought such things."
Medea sank toward him, and Jason sat down, with her lying across his chest.
"If we let ourselves share love, and I bore your son, I would be hunted down by every usurper and claimant for the throne of my country, and forced to be his wife--and my son? He would be slain as a rival. No, it is better we do not become man and wife." After she said this, he had only this word which was very difficult for him, an Achaean and a leader of Achaeans, "Would you want me to be your slave? I would do anything for you, give up anything I have."
Medea stroked his forehead. "No, I always was yours--so you are too late for that. It cannot now be offered me. It would be a trifle, you see."
"Then what? I have nothing left."
She did not answer.
He turned back to her question, without her reminding him. "You wanted me to say what I wanted in my heart. Is that what you want to know? How can I tell you? I did not know myself until you asked me. Then it was revealed to me." Green eyes, like two glistening emeralds only more alive, gazed deeply into Jason's shining, ebony-black ones.
They found much to talk about from this point on. Lovers usually do. But it is not a good thing to repeat lovers' secrets, even in a love that is impossible, as this one clearly was.
He could not remain in Colchis--a lion pacing back and forth in his cage, his spirit broken. She would not try to keep him. But she was found to be the desire of his heart. Together, they would be most unhappy, even if they shared incredible bliss for a time. These were the things woven into their destinies that they could not change, because neither would deny themselves for the sake of making a slave of the other, or a mere plaything. They both respected each other now too much to play such low games. Jason saw her as greater than any man, in a true sense. She was more than a man, and somehow more than a woman.
Her swan ship followed his ship down to Aea. There hers remained in port. There she gave up being a royal princess. There was, without a kingdom, no point to the pretence now. She took a humble farm and vineyard, fortified it as best she could, and moved there, learning husbandry and viticulture with her good wits. When she grew old, she knew she had done the best thing--even though her heart had been cut in two and still bled as if the wound had just been made, though many years had passed over the wound since the day Jason's ship departed her shores.
Sometimes, as in any port or shore where ships put in for rest or local provisions, stories came by the lips of merchants and wayfarers about the world-famous Jason the king of Iolkos--and she was glad to hear anything they could tell her. But gradually the stories became more and more fantastic. She heard that a princess of royal blood had accompanied him from Colchis, and treacherously slain many a person with her poisons and then been betrayed by Jason who sought out other women by the score. What a monster they had made of her! she laughed.
If only they could see her now--trimming grape vines, hoeing the rows of vegetables, picking the fruit trees! Her hands, no longer delicate, slender, and fine, with rings of gold set with jewels, were now brown and wrinkled. Her crystal-like, green eyes were dim--faded with the sun-- but once they had been filled with the gazed of a man who loved her more than anything else in his world--the eyes of a great man.
That man's love for her alone was enough as she thought back over her long life and what she had let him keep. To keep what you will eventually lose--what wisdom was there in that? She had truly gained him only by giving him up. For she knew she always had his heart--and there would never, never be another woman there to take her place.
In his heart, she would always be beloved and sought after. Unlike the Golden Fleece, he would always be seeking her there.
For Medea, that was more than enough to repay her other losses, and, strangely, she felt his arms had never ceased to hold her.
And Jason? What did he have of her whom he knew he loved when he sailed away forever from Colchis?
He paused now and then on the voyage to touch the jewel of gold she had given him. It was a strange ornament, with a symbol he had never seen. She had handed it to him on parting, saying only it was engraved with an ancient sign of her people, of the one God Most High that they once knew and served. There as an ancient story that went along with this pecular sign of two cross-beams: that a great Lord and Savior would come to set the people of Colchis free some day, one who would bear this very sign on his breast.
Though it did not look Achaean at all, Jason attached it to his ear.
This seemed a strange thing at the time--and he had thought nothing about it. Only later, when he had cause to think more about the things she had said concerning it, did he begin to understand a little more. The jewel burned in his mind's eye even in sleep! He saw it grow and tower over the whole world, in fact. Men of every nation ran, crawled, flew through the air, to seek the refuge of its very shadow! It was as if one look at it was sufficient to save them from the dark clouds all around them. There at the foot of the towering sign of cross-beams, light poured down upon the huddled masses clinging to it for life--and there he saw himself! Not only himself, he saw Medea! And Mopsos!
The mighty Jason awoke from that sleep with a whole new set of eyes, as he leaped up to stand at the prow with the Golden Fleece shining upon it, its rays greeting the rays of the morning sun.
Each port city had detained them, in order to present them with special festivities, parades, games, and celebrations, not to mention gifts. The ship soon filled with the gifts--which were enough to make all of them rich the rest of their lives.
As for the Golden Fleece, it was so beseiged by people wanting to touch it, that Jason had to station guards at the prow day and night to keep the Fleece from being carried off or torn in pieces by souvenir hunters. People thought it was magical too, and were worshiping it like a god would be worshiped. Priests came and offered their temples to house it, expecting huge revenues if they could feature such a prize in their sanctuaries, but Jason declined each offer--he wanted only to return home with it.
When the ship could hold no more treasure and flowers and fine crafted things given them, Jason hired a ship to carry them, so that the Argo could be kept free for their own use. Now there was room to rest on the cleared deck, when they were sea-going, and a weary Argonaut took a break.
Jason climbed up once to it alone, and listened to its melodies played by the winds of heaven. Never had he heard more enchanting music, nor did even the music of court, harped by highly trained musicians, charm him as much as this music charmed him.
Jason, grown old, sent men back up the mountain to restore the Harp of Mopsos, but it was too late--a woodsman had found it and cut it down. All that could be saved was taken down to Jason, who had a harp made of it for one of his grandchildren who showed promise in music. As soon as he could, he taught the boy about Mopsos mighty in wisdom, and a song was composed that honored him. The royal cape? The one Medea had woven especially for Jason, and affixed with magical signs in order to darw him to her forever? It never had a chance to ensnare him, for it was the first thing Jason gave away on his return to Iolkos, as he was passing though the streets and saw a naked beggar. Stopping the procession of rejoicing people, he took the time to have pity on the man, and wrap his cape around him, giving him some gold coins as well, before continuing to the palace.