And ten years came and went, and Jason was grown to be a mighty man. Some of his fellows were gone, and some were growing up by his side. Asclepius was gone into Peloponnese, to work his wondrous cures on men; and some say he used to raise the dead to life. And Heracles was gone to Thebes, to fulfil those famous labours which have become a proverb among men. And Peleus had married a sea-nymph, and his wedding is famous to this day. And Æneas was gone home to Troy, and many a noble tale you will read of him, and of all the other gallant heroes, the scholars of Cheiron the just. And it happened on a 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.
And Jason looked and saw the plains of Thessaly, where the Lapithai breed their horses; and the lake of Boibé, and the stream which runs northward to Peneus and Tempe; and he looked north, and saw the mountain wall which guards the Magnesian shore; Olympus, the seat of the Immortals, and Ossa, and Pelion, where he stood. Then he looked east and saw the bright blue sea, which stretched away forever toward the dawn. Then he looked south, and 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 the bay of Pagasai, and the rich lowlands of Hæmonia, and 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 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.”
And Cheiron sighed again, and said: “The eaglet must leave the nest when it is fledged. Will you go to Iolcos by the sea? Then promise me two things before you go.”
Jason promised, and Cheiron answered: “Speak harshly to no soul whom you may meet, and stand by the word which you shall speak.”
Jason wondered why Cheiron asked this of him; but he knew that the Centaur was a prophet, and saw things long before they came. So he promised, and leapt down the mountain, to take his fortune like a man.
He went down through the arbutus thickets, and across the downs of thyme, till he came to the vineyard walls, and the pomegranates and the olives in the glen; and among the olives roared Anauros, all foaming with a summer flood.
And on the bank of Anauros sat a woman, all wrinkled, gray, and old; her head shook palsied on her breast, and her hands shook palsied on her knees; and when she saw Jason, she spoke whining: “Who will carry me across the flood?”
Jason was bold and hasty, and was just going to leap into the flood; and yet he thought twice before he leapt, so loud roared the torrent down, all brown from the mountain rains, and silver-veined with melting snow; while underneath he could hear the boulders rumbling like the tramp of horsemen or the roll of wheels, as they ground along the narrow channel, and shook the rocks on which he stood.
But the old woman whined all the more: “I am weak and old, fair youth. For Hera’s sake, carry me over the torrent.”
And Jason was going to answer her scornfully, when Cheiron’s words came to his mind.
So he said: “For Hera’s sake, the Queen of the Immortals on Olympus, 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; and 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; and 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 from off his back:—
“Fool, you have wet my mantle! Do you make game of poor old souls like me?”
Jason had half a mind to drop her, and let her get through the torrent by herself; 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; and a strong man he needed to have been, or that wild water he never would have crossed.
He lay panting awhile upon the bank, and then leapt up to go upon his journey; but he 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; and her garments shone like the summer sea, and her jewels like the stars of heaven; and over her forehead was a veil woven of the golden clouds of sunset; and through the veil she looked down on him, with great soft heifer’s eyes; with great eyes, mild and awful, which filled all the glen with light.
And Jason fell upon his knees, and hid his face between his hands.
And she spoke—”I am the Queen of Olympus, Hera the wife of Zeus. 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.”
And when Jason looked up, she rose from off the earth, like a pillar of tall white cloud, and floated away across the mountain peaks, toward Olympus the holy hill. Then a great fear fell on Jason; but after a while he grew light of heart; and he blessed old Cheiron, and said—”Surely the Centaur is a prophet, and guessed what would come to pass, when he bade me speak harshly to no soul whom I might meet.”
Then he went down toward 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 was he; 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; and my errand is to Pelias your king; tell me then where his palace is.”
But the old man started, and grew pale, and said, “Do you not know the oracle, my son, that you go so boldly through the town, with but one sandal on?”
“I am a stranger here, and know of no oracle; but what of my one sandal? I lost the other in Anauros, while I was struggling with the flood.”
Then the old man looked back to his companions; and one sighed, and another smiled; at last he said—”I will tell you, lest you rush upon your ruin unawares. The oracle in Delphi 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 the fiercest and most cunning of all kings.”
Then Jason laughed a great laugh, like a war-horse in his pride—”Good news, good father, both for you and me. For that very end I came into the town.”
Then he strode on toward the palace of Pelias, while all the people wondered at his bearing.
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, and “Who are you, bold youth?” he cried.
“I am Jason, the son of Æson, the heir of all this land.”
Then Pelias lifted up his hands and eyes, and wept, or seemed to weep; and blessed the heavens which 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 be my heir then, and rule the kingdom after me, and marry whichsoever of my daughters you shall choose; though a sad kingdom you will find it, and whosoever rules it a miserable man. But come in, come in, and feast.”
So he drew Jason in, whether he would or not, and spoke to him so lovingly and feasted him so well, that Jason’s anger passed; and after supper his three cousins came into the hall, and Jason thought that he should like well enough to have one of them for his wife.
But at last he said to Pelias, “Why do you look so sad, my uncle? And what did you mean just now, when you said that this was a doleful kingdom, and its ruler a miserable man?”
Then Pelias sighed heavily again and again and again, like a man who had to tell some dreadful story, and was afraid to begin; but at last—
“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, too, which was a lie, that Phrixus’s spirit tormented him, calling to him day and night. And his daughters came, and told the same tale, (for their father had taught them their parts,) and wept, and said, “Oh, who will bring home the golden fleece, that our uncle’s spirit may rest; and that we may have rest also, whom he never lets 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 it.
But when Pelias saw him silent, he began to talk of other things, and courted Jason more and more, speaking to him as if he was certain to be his heir, and asking his advice about the kingdom; till Jason, who was young and simple, could not help saying to himself, “Surely he is not the dark man whom people call him. Yet why did he drive my father out?” And he asked Pelias boldly, “Men say that you are terrible, and a man of blood; but I find you a kind and hospitable man; and as you are to me, so will I be to you. Yet why did you drive my father out?”
Pelias smiled, and sighed: “Men have slandered me in that, as in all things. Your father was growing old and weary, and he gave the kingdom up to me of his own will. You shall see him to-morrow, and ask him; and he will tell you the same.”
Jason’s heart leapt in him when he heard that he was to see his father; and he believed all that Pelias said, forgetting that his father might not dare to tell the truth.
“One thing more 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 neighbour 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 awhile 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.”
And at that a bitter smile came across Pelias’s lips, and a flash of wicked joy into his eyes; and Jason saw it, and started; and over his mind came 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; and whether of the two was the stronger and the fiercer it would be hard to tell.
But after a moment Pelias spoke gently—”Why then so rash, my son? You, and not I, have said what is said; why blame me for what I have not done? Had you bid me love the man of whom I spoke, and make him my son-in-law and heir, I would have obeyed you; and what if I obey you now, and send the man to win himself immortal fame? I have not harmed you, or him. One thing at least I know, that he will go, and that gladly: for he has a hero’s heart within him; loving glory, and scorning to break the word which he has given.”
Jason saw that he was entrapped; but his second promise to Cheiron came into his mind, and he thought, “What if the Centaur were a prophet in that also, and meant that I should win the fleece!” Then he cried aloud,—
“You have well spoken, cunning uncle of mine! I love glory, and I dare keep to my word. I will go and fetch this 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 said, “I promise, and I will perform. It will be no shame to give up my kingdom to the man who wins that fleece.”
Then they swore a great oath between them; and afterwards both went in, and lay down to sleep.
But Jason could not sleep, for thinking of his mighty oath, and how he was to fulfil it, all alone, and without wealth or friends. So he tossed a long time upon his bed, and thought of this plan and of that; and sometimes Phrixus seemed to call him, in a thin voice, faint and low, as if it came from far across the sea—”Let me come home to my fathers and have rest.” And 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.”
140 And on the morrow he went to Pelias, and said, “Give me a victim, that I may sacrifice to Hera.” So he went up, and offered his sacrifice; 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 of the Minuai, who were pupils of the Centaur with me, that we may fit out a ship together, 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 him, and, like him, never return; for so I shall be lord of all the Minuai, and the greatest king in Hellas.”