Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

How Jason Got the Golden Fleece

This is a re-telling of just a bite out of a larger epos, for the Viborg Story Tellers' Guild; hence the formulaic repetitions. 

How Jason got the Golden Fleece

Jason is a hero from the old days, even though he doesn’t really want to be a hero. But that is just the way things are. Jason meets all the requirements for a hero: he descends from a noble family, he is handsome and strong, and he gets to go a perilous journey.
You see, Jason is sent on a mission by his uncle Pelias, the king of his homeland Thessaly. He is to travel far away, almost to the end of the world to retrieve the Golden Fleece of a ram hanging over there in a tree (the fleece, not the ram). This was a magic ram, who could both talk and fly; but even magic rams do not live forever, particularly when they ask to be sacrificed to the gods. So now, its Fleece hangs in a tree. It is still magic, though, bringing peace and prosperity to the land; and since the man who brought it there was the cousin of Pelias, it is only fair that it be returned to Thessaly.
So runs the argument, and it does sound reasonable. So Jason takes on the task, gathering fifty-odd other young men and sets out on the good ship Argo to find the far end of the world and the Fleece.
What Jason is not aware of is that uncle Pelias has planned for this to be a suicide mission: he believes that Jason wants to be king and accordingly does not him to come back safely.
After many weeks of sailing and many dangers – among these an island filled with murderous women – or heroes reach Kolkhis at the end of the world (these days we call it the Eastern shores of the Black Sea, but back then it was the end of the known world).
Their plan, such as it is, is to go to the king, Aietes, and ask nicely to have the Fleece and bring it back home to Thessaly, where is rightly belongs. What they are not aware of is that Aietes is even more brutal and dangerous then uncle Pelias back home: he routinely suspects any strangers of wanting to seize his power and so plots how to kill them, before they get a chance to kill him. He is, however, sufficiently well-trained and cunning to not murder them outright, but their request gives him an opportunity: he sets Jason a challenge to prove himself worthy of the Fleece. Jason must yoke two of Aietes’ bulls, plough a field of a certain size, and sow the seeds he is given. Everything must be accomplished between sunrise and sunset on the following day.
This is a demanding, but not impossible, task; and Jason accepts it. What he is not aware of is that Aietes’ bulls are made of bronze and breathe fire; and the ‘seeds’ to be sown are dragon’s teeth from which issue undead and practically unkillable warriors that spring from the earth fully armed and programmed to attack the first person they see.
So, the next morning before dawn, he is ready to begin. All of his comrades from the Argo are there to cheer him on – even though several of them privately think that they would be better for this job – and Aietes himself presides, chuckling to himself, because he is confident of how things will proceed today.
What he is not aware of is that his youngest daughter, Medea, sat in a corner of the hall yesterday, when Aietes interrogated the prisoners interviewed the visitors, and she looked at Jason in the way a young girl can look at a young man. And Jason certainly is worth looking at.
Afterwards, Medea convinced herself that Jason had really come to Kolkhis to woo her, and that the whole story about the Fleece was just a silly excuse. She knew all too well that the challenge her father had set Jason was likely to have a grim and bloody end, because Aietes’ challenges usually do. And so she had to keep Jason alive, and probably also help him get that Fleeces, since it seemed to mean so much to him. Consequently, she offered him her help, and he did not refuse to take her home with him.
Medea is not your common or garden variety princess: she knows something of magic spells and herbal remedies (or whatever you want to call them), in other words, she is a witch. Not a fairy tale witch with the warty nose and the black cat, either: the kind who walks into the graveyards in the dead of night to pick those herbs that stretch their roots down through the corpses.
Medea mixed a balm that would protect Jason from the fiery breath of the bulls, and gave him a tip on how to deal with earth-born warriors.
So, Jason yokes the bulls – not without difficulty, but without being burned alive – and sets to ploughing. It is strenuous work, even though the bulls do a good job of it, once they are subdued; and it is a long, dry day under the sun. Late in the afternoon, when the sun in sinking towards the west, Jason is done with the ploughing and hastens to sow the seeds. Before he has thrown the last handful, the first of the warriors are there, ready to attack. Jason’s comrades protest and begin yelling accusations of cheating, but are restrained by Aietes’ guards. They watch Jason as he bends down and seems to look for something on the ground – and then he throws a stone into the midst of the warriors, confusing them so that they attack each other instead of him.
Technically, Jason has now completed the task and thus won the right to the Fleece; but Aietes knows full well that he had help, and from whom. So they have to act quickly to pick up the Fleece and get to the ship, before he can strike back at them.
What they are not aware of – but ought to have known – is that the Fleece like so many other gold treasures is protected by a dragon; this one sleeps all day and awakes at sunset. So, the exhausted Jason has to get back into it. He fights bravely, avoiding the venomous bite of the dragon, until at last he chops its head off.
Finally, he can grab the Fleece and run towards the ship, pursued by Aietes’ soldiers.
When they are all on board and ready to cast off, Medea comes running: she reminds Jason of what he promised her – everybody looks puzzled at this, including Jason, which does not escape her – and that she will be severely dealt with by her father, if she stays at home after what she did. The only decent thing Jason can do is to bring her along. And anyway, they haven’t got time to stick around and discuss the matter, since the severe dealings of Aietes are pretty much closing in on them. So, Medea is allowed on board, even though there are murmurs about it being bad luck to have a woman on a ship.
Thus, our hero claims both the treasure and the princess and can sail homewards with them both ...
What he is not aware of is just how much Medea will turn out to be capable of.

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