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Jason and the Golden Fleece.

From Myths and Legends of all nations
by Logan Marshall.

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On receiving this excellent counsel, Jason hurried back to his companions (who were far more dismayed than when they fought with the six-armed giants) and bade them strike with their swords upon their brazen shields. Forthwith the fifty heroes set heartily to work, banging with might and main, and raised such a terrible clatter that the birds made what haste they could to get away; and though they had shot half the feathers out of their wings, they were soon seen skimming among the clouds, a long distance off and looking like a flock of wild geese. Orpheus celebrated this victory by playing a triumphant anthem on his harp, and sang so melodiously that Jason begged him to desist, lest, as the steel-feathered birds had been driven away by an ugly sound, they might be enticed back again by a sweet one. While the Argonauts remained on this island they saw a small vessel approaching the shore, in which were two young men of princely demeanor, and exceedingly handsome, as young princes generally were in those days. Now, who do you imagine these two voyagers turned out to be? Why, if you will believe me, they were the sons of that very Phrixus, who in his childhood had been carried to Colchis on the back of the golden-fleeced ram. Since that time Phrixus had married the king's daughter, and the two young princes had been born and brought up at Colchis, and had spent their play days on the outskirts of the grove, in the center of which the Golden Fleece was hanging upon a tree. They were now on their way to Greece, in hopes of getting back a kingdom that had been wrongfully taken from their father.

When the princes understood whither the Argonauts were going they offered to turn back and guide them to Colchis. At the same time, however, they spoke as if it were very doubtful whether Jason would succeed in getting the Golden Fleece. According to their account, the tree on which it hung was guarded by a terrible dragon, who never failed to devour at one mouthful every person who might venture within his reach. "There are other difficulties in the way," continued the young princes. "But is not this enough? Ah, brave Jason, turn back before it is too late! It would grieve us to the heart if you and your forty-nine brave companions should be eaten up, at fifty mouthfuls, by this execrable dragon." "My young friends," quietly replied Jason, "I do not wonder that you think the dragon very terrible. You have grown up from infancy in the fear of this monster, and therefore still regard him with the awe that children feel for the bugbears and hobgoblins which their nurses have talked to them about. But in my view of the matter, the dragon is merely a pretty large serpent who is not half so likely to snap me up at one mouthful as I am to cut off his ugly head and strip the skin from his body. At all events, turn back who may, I will never see Greece again unless I carry with me the Golden Fleece." "We will none of us turn back!" cried his forty-nine brave comrades. "Let us get on board the galley this instant, and if the dragon is to make a breakfast of us, much good may it do him." And Orpheus (whose custom it was to set everything to music) began to harp and sing most gloriously, and made every mother's son of them feel as if nothing in this world were so delectable as to fight dragons and nothing so truly honorable as to be eaten up at one mouthful, in case of the worst.

After this (being now under the guidance of the two princes, who were well acquainted with the way) they quickly sailed to Colchis. When the king of the country, whose name was Ĉetes, heard of their arrival, he instantly summoned Jason to court. The king was a stern and cruel-looking potentate, and though he put on as polite and hospitable an expression as he could, Jason did not like his face a whit better than that of the wicked King Pelias, who dethroned his father. "You are welcome, brave Jason," said King Ĉetes. "Pray, are you on a pleasure voyage?--or do you meditate the discovery of unknown islands?--or what other cause has procured me the happiness of seeing you at my court?" "Great sir," replied Jason, with an obeisance--for Chiron had taught him how to behave with propriety, whether to kings or beggars--"I have come hither with a purpose which I now beg your majesty's permission to execute. King Pelias, who sits on my father's throne (to which he has no more right than to the one on which your excellent majesty is now seated), has engaged to come down from it and to give me his crown and scepter, provided I bring him the Golden Fleece. This, as your majesty is aware, is now hanging on a tree here at Colchis; and I humbly solicit your gracious leave to take it away." In spite of himself, the king's face twisted itself into an angry frown; for, above all things else in the world, he prized the Golden Fleece, and was even suspected of having done a very wicked act in order to get it into his own possession. It put him into the worst possible humor, therefore, to hear that the gallant Prince Jason and forty-nine of the bravest young warriors of Greece had come to Colchis with the sole purpose of taking away his chief treasure. "Do you know," asked King Ĉetes, eyeing Jason very sternly, "what are the conditions which you must fulfill before getting possession of the Golden Fleece?"

"I have heard," rejoined the youth, "that a dragon lies beneath the tree on which the prize hangs, and that whoever approaches him runs the risk of being devoured at a mouthful." "True," said the king, with a smile that did not look particularly good-natured. "Very true, young man. But there are other things as hard, or perhaps a little harder, to be done before you can even have the privilege of being devoured by the dragon. For example, you must first tame my two brazen-footed and brazen-lunged bulls, which Vulcan, the wonderful blacksmith, made for me. There is a furnace in each of their stomachs, and they breathe such hot fire out of their mouths and nostrils that nobody has hitherto gone nigh them without being instantly burned to a small, black cinder. What do you think of this, my brave Jason?" "I must encounter the peril," answered Jason composedly, "since it stands in the way of my purpose." "After taming the fiery bulls," continued King Ĉetes, who was determined to scare Jason if possible, "you must yoke them to a plow and must plow the sacred earth in the grove of Mars and sow some of the same dragon's teeth from which Cadmus raised a crop of armed men. They are an unruly set of reprobates, those sons of the dragon's teeth, and unless you treat them suitably, they will fall upon you sword in hand. You and your forty-nine Argonauts, my bold Jason, are hardly numerous or strong enough to fight with such a host as will spring up." "My master Chiron," replied Jason, "taught me long ago the story of Cadmus. Perhaps I can manage the quarrelsome sons of the dragon's teeth as well as Cadmus did."


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