Jason, once Captain of the Argo and leader of the Argonauts, now picked at the bamboo bars of his make-shift cage as he was carried along the trail on a pole by two of his taller men. The sun was out, and birds were chirping. Monkeys ranged above him hooting and screeching. The men, once his own, were singing a tawdry old sailors song. He was trapped in a cage, but also imprisoned in a fog of dumb cheer. Doom was straight ahead, and he could not escape it.
It was futile to pick at the bars, for he could not break through any of them without being noticed. All of the stalwart heroes that once were his allies had abandoned the quests of the Argo for greater glory once the Golden fleece had been retrieved, and he was left with the few who yet clung to the Fleece itself in the hope of some fortune. It was futile to order these men to look ahead of them, because they were all blindfolded, and instructed by the priest not to listen to him anymore. The Trader wore the Golden Fleece over his head, leading Jason's men along the path of doom, although he could not possibly see anything. They relied upon the Priest's promises of great rewards somehow in the afterlife, but also dead ahead of them at the end of this trail. No matter how many times Jason put it together for them, summed it up like a Stoic, spelled it out for them like Homer, they just kept ignoring him.
“It is your fault we ended up here in the first place!” they cried.
“My fault?!!!” he would say, “Indeed! It is my fault that we successfully navigated beyond the edge of the known world. It is definitely my fault that we escaped the women of Lemnos, survived the six-armed giants—”
“That was Heracles!” they protested.
“Who ordered Heracles to guard the ship?! You lazy cowards didn't want to leave the ship without him, and he was already sick of your bullshit. Shut up!”
“It was definitely my fault that we made it through the Clashing Rocks, since none of you helped with those Harpies. And which one of you, I might ask, was going to yoke that fire-breathing bull? Which one of you tricked the Spartoi into destroying each other? Which one of you faced the never sleeping dragon to get the Golden Fleece? No, it is definitely my fault that you are alive today with your precious Fleece, so whatever you do, don't listen to me!”
And at last, they obeyed him.
Tramping through the wide and well-worn trail, the Argonauts came upon a clearing, in the middle of which was a modest crackling fire. A spit had been rigged over it, and on the spit was a leg of chicken. The men heard the fire and could smell the chicken, now burning because the mysterious cook had run off when they arrived, yet even so, the Trader walked into the fire before calling a halt. The chicken, now dumped in the fire by the Trader's panicked stomping, caught on fire in earnest. Once he had put out the flames that were climbing his legs, he threw off the Golden Fleece and declared,
“We will set up camp here! And we will enjoy the remains of this abandoned chicken.”
“We must not eat!” cried the Priest.
“Balls of Poseidon, man! Remind me again why we cannot eat.”
The Priest, refusing to doff his blindfold like the others, sighed and told them,
“The Recipe of Doom clearly leads us into mortal peril by way of diabolical crockery. We, the pure of heart, must resist temptation of the stomach to appease the Gods.”
“That makes less and less sense the more you say it,” said the Trader.
“Dionysus eats and drinks,” said one of the Argonauts, to a chorus of agreement.
“Pfah!” replied the Priest, “The lowliest of Gods!” Which set off a multitude of arguments among the crew.
Into this chaos, dragging a woman by the arm from out of the brush, stumbled one of the men.
“Look! I found this woman hiding in the bushes watching us.”
“A Witch!” cried the Priest.
“What?” she yelled back, “You are blindfolded. You can't even see me.”
“I am a priest of the High Temple of Zeus, foul temptress. The stench of your evil infests this place.”
“Ya, that's the chicken. You dumped it into the fire when you arrived. It's ruined,” she said.
“Throw her into the cage! She shall be judged along with the Captain when we attain paradise.”
This they did.
“So,” she said to Jason once settled in the cramped cage with him, “You fellows are from the Isle of Hapless Morons, which the gods have not forgotten, so much as just ignore?”
“Sadly, I have no defence from your just assessment,” he replied. He related the bulk of the journey to her. Telling how they had secured the Argo with the help of the Prince and set sail to the east. He told of how they escaped the Isle of Lemnos.
“I have been to that isle,” she said, “Good times.”
Jason frowned but finished his tale with how he had overcome the dragon and taken the fleece.
“It was then that the Priest had a vision which said that any attempt to return home with the Fleece would incur the wrath of the Gods, and that we must seek paradise in the Mountains of Volga. Naturally I headed west anyway. The Priest is a notorious drunkard. But that night a storm came out of nowhere and drove us into a rocky shore.”
“But then surely his vision was a prophecy?” the witch said.
“It was no prophecy. Just a white squall such as are found on any large sea. We would have weathered it but for a rogue wave that turned the Argo athwart of the wind. There was no time to recover. We were on the rocks. Truly, if you escape, go to any port and ask the sailors and all will tell you of similar storms. I have been a sailor my entire life, and I tell you that if Poseidon had desired us off the sea, he would have done so out in the deep, where he resides. Now we are on land.”
“So how did you get on this trail? You must know it leads to those cliffs over yonder.”
“Indeed I do know that. I had a very good map, but once we were stranded the men were convinced that the storm was driven by the Gods and blamed me for wrecking the Argo. We had nought left but the Golden Fleece and they decided that it would lead them home, or to paradise or something, but did not know how to use it, so they asked the Priest.”
“Let me guess,” she said, “It was he who told them to wear it over their heads?”
“But then what would you have done with it?”
“I? I would have done exactly what King Aeetes suggested, and melted it down for the gold. He never liked the damned trinket in the first place. Said it was a waste of good gold. We could have bought two ships and an extra crew and still had money left over....
“However,” he continued, “They could not decide who would wear the Fleece on their head and took to fighting. The Trader then killed the Prince and took it. They took the map and locked me in this cage.”
“No,” he replied pre emptively, “Besides the Prince, only I among the crew can read.”
“Circe's Tits, man, that is bad luck.”
“Your command of the obvious is admirable. So here we are. The besotted priest of Zeus, the only God who would dispose of humans, has convinced the crew that they must all be blindfolded in order to sense the path to paradise. They further are led by a trader who can't read a map, let alone actual words, and are heading down this trail aimlessly. I will admit to you, my lady, that I am feeling much like a sailor who cannot swim.”
The woman placed a hand on his shoulder, “Go easy on yourself, my friend. The Gods themselves could not have foreseen this lunacy. My name is Medea. I would not have admitted it to them, but I truly am a witch.”
“Ah! Then you can use a spell on these men to get us released?”
“I'm not sure a spell is necessary on these men,”she said, looking at them. They had not set up a camp of any kind, but were arguing about who would or would not spoon the other to keep warm.
“Still, any Gods who yet favour us would be helpful. Tonight, we shall pray under the full moon.”
“Hm,” he said, “We are too far from the sea, or I would indeed pray to Poseidon. He has ever been my friend and patron, but perhaps there is another.”
So they waited. The Argonauts had fallen asleep under the spell of a peaceful forest and a clear sky. Within a few hours the moon had risen full and dominant above them, and they began.
Holding hands, Jason and Medea prayed under the moon for divine help, and were rewarded.
Shining unto herself, Selene arrived with her white bow strung across her chest. Silent in her lunar beauty, clothed in a demure hunting toga of purest white, she walked among the Argonauts without waking them until she stood before the cage.
“You are faithful, Medea, therefore I will answer your request, but do not place much hope, for I can but bring the one to whom this rabble pray. Bow before your Lord, the almighty Zeus.”
As she spoke, and disappeared herself, a swift shower of gold flakes drifted to the ground and out of them appeared the King of the Gods. A toga barely covered his muscled physique, and he wore little else but a Laurel wreath and majestic jutting beard. With calm but grim appraisal in his eyes, he looked at them in their predicament.
“Behold the wily Jason,” he began, “We did watch with fascination how you nearly mastered that storm, you know. Masterful! Utterly astounding. I, could almost, be persuaded to spare humanity. Assuredly, my son, when I remake humans it will be you who are foremost in my thoughts. However,” he gestured at the Argonauts with one hand, “We have these ones, don't we?”
He walked over to stand above the sleeping Priest and Trader, both huddled together for warmth and cuddling the Golden Fleece.
“I ask you, what am I supposed to do with them,” said the king of the Gods, “I am stunned by their vacuous cries for riches and women. Such things are all around them. Look there. They had a woman, and they locked her up with you! Do you wonder why I lift not a finger in their aid?”
“Oh mighty Zeus,” said Jason, “I am torn between loyalty and,” he sighed, “Solemn recognition.”
“Mmm. You would do well to reassess your loyalties, my lad. Be loyal to your fellow captive, there. You are a matching set.” He walked back over in front of their cage. Looking at Medea, he said, “Your earlier sentiment, my dear, was poignant. Be assured that all of Olympus laughed with you.” Then he looked at Jason, “But your pleas for help weary me. The tackle on the mains'll of my patience has been worn to a thread. Go home. Raise good Greeks and your cup shall runneth over.” Then he disappeared in a shower of gold.
The trapped pair were despondent. The Gods would not help. Neither could muster a thought worthy of speech, and so fell asleep huddled together in despair.
Come morning however, Jason awoke with the possibility of an idea. He could not tell what it was yet, but he knew it was there. It was something. He could feel it like the fire of potential in his belly whenever he saw victory. There was no path, or plan, but he could feel it. Medea awoke then in his arms and asked what had happened.
“A matching set, eh?” he looked at her, and she caught the glint in his eye.
“What is it?”
“You have to get them to let you out.”
She rolled her eyes, “Let's assume I got that part already. How? I don't have a 'unlock the bamboo cage' spell.”
“I don't know. You're the witch. Think of something. But I need room to move in order to escape. They'll never let both of us out, so you have to.”
“But you must have some idea.”
“Almost. It was something Zeus said.”
“Yes. He said that my earlier sentiment was poignant. It is an odd thing to say.”
“You had stated before that you did not believe a spell was necessary on these, these men of—what was it?"
"The Isle of Hapless Morons, whom the gods did not simply—"
"Yes yes. The point is clear. And to me he did indicate the main'll tackle was wearing thin, but you must be a sailor to realize that the mains'll tackle is the finest rope that can be made by men. It does not become worn such as hemp twine would. My lord Zeus has kindly instructed me how to escape, and I would reward his faith in me.”
Medea frowned, pursed her lips and looked around at the Argonauts. They were fighting over the map and it occurred to her. She smirked and gave Jason a sly look.
“I can read that,” she called to them.
“But you're a woman!” they cried.
“I am a witch, trained in the arts of the Gods at the Temple of Delphi by the Oracle herself! I can speak eight languages, including Egyptian glyphs. If you let me free, I will swear by Zeus himself that I will read your map faithfully.”
The Priest had not yet awoken, so the Argonauts decided to see what she had to say. They brought her the map.
“Oh,” she said after looking at it a moment, “This is a good map. Look, there's Lemnos, and Colchis, and here we are—” she put the map in her lap a moment and cursed under her breath.
“What?” asked Jason.
“Fuck me, I've been heading east all this time!”
“Why didn't you just follow the sun?” said one of the Argonauts.
“Well because it rises in the—Nevermind. Look here,” she pointed at a point on the map that said 'PRECIPICE of DOOM' and arrowed to the cliffs near where they were. “You see these squiggly marks under it? That is Sanskrit, the language of Babylon. It says that paradise awaits you there, but beware of the Curse of the Ancients.”
“What is the Curse of the Ancients?”
“It is the curse that says you must not, uh, bring along uninvited guests, you know, uh—”
“Those not of the faith,” supplied Jason.
“Yes! So you see, since I am a witch, it would be a terrible doom to bring me into Paradise. You would not risk being cast down to Tartarsus—”
“Right, Tartarus. Where Prometheus is being eaten alive by Harpies for all eternity. What sane man would risk that?”
The Argonauts went away from the cage to discuss it among themselves. They shortly came back and let Medea out of the cage.
“We don't really believe you, but we think it would be best not to bring a woman into paradise. It could be bad luck.”
“Ah. Well whatever floats your boat. May Zeus speed you on your journey, brave Argonauts.” Medea then walked away from the camp with, some noted, an unusual spring in her step.
Jason caught the attention of a younger crewman, “Telemachus, do me a favour, would you, and find me a piece of wood to whittle with my fingernails. I'd like to have a gift for the Ferryman in lieu of a coin.”
“I'm not supposed to, but you did save us in that storm.” A few minutes later he came back with a brief length of hardwood that he had sliced to a blunt edge on one side.
“I even got it started for you Captain.” And then he walked away.
Jason hurried to get about his plan while the crew woke up the Trader and the Priest. There was the usual scuffle over who was wearing the Golden Fleece again, with the Trader winning as usual. Then the Priest gathered the crew together for a prayer.
“Today is the day that we have travelled under the Gods' good guidance for so long, that we have reached in spite of the treachery of the Captain—”
“Well hang on! We would have died at sea if the Captain hadn't—”
“Let's not go into this again,” said the Trader, his voice muffled from under the golden sheep's head, “We've been over this enough. Our goal has been decided and it makes no sense to waver now that we are so close. The Priest has never led us astray before—”
“You mean except for that time about five years ago,” called Jason, “When he predicted the end of the world.” He was furiously weathering away at the ropes with his abrading tool while trying not to be noticed. As they turned to address his remark, he pulled one rope free.
“A minor difference of scale!” the Priest protested, “The Tower of Babylon fell!”
He kept whittling, “They knew it was going to! Anyway, it had nothing to do with that minor earthquake in Athens in which nobody died. You're a fraud!”
“Enough talking! Paradise is at hand, and we must be resolute in our purpose!”
“Pray tell what is the purpose, exactly,” Jason continued, but the men were already coming to pick up his cage.
“Blindfolds, everyone!” called the Priest, “Forward to Olympus!”
“Olympus is the other way!” Jason cried.
Now that the men were all sightless he turned to his task with vigour. The cliffs that they were about to fall over were near. The air now had a cool saltiness to it. Sea birds could be heard, as well as the waves crashing against the rock below. He wore through a second rope, and was now able to push two of the wooden bars aside, but it was not enough to squeeze through. He started on the bindings around the middle of the round cage.
At the front, the Priest had already walked over the cliff, but the Trader was waiting off to one side near the edge. He was stomping his feet in the rhythm of the men marching, but had lifted the sheep's mask so he could peek. This worked until one of the falling Argonauts reached out blindly and grabbed hold of him. Both tumbled over the cliff.
“Hear the cries of rapture, my friends!” said one of the marching men.
“Don't ruin it for us!”
Still struggling with the ropes, and beginning to panic as the cliff came closer, Jason thought that maybe he should try once more to alert the men to their doom, but Zeus' words came back to him, and he simply renewed his work. The ropes began to come apart. He was carried in his cage at the end of the marching line, and in front of the lead carrier, the two last Argonauts dropped off the Precipice of Doom. Jason started pushing the bars apart to escape. The first carrier dropped off the Precipice and Jason slumped on the floor of the cage where it came to rest at the edge.
The sea breeze whipped through the cage as if to clear him of wonder. He looked up at the man behind and it was Telemachus. He had tossed his blindfold away.
“I couldn't say anything, Captain, but I wasn't going to let you drop off the cliff.”
“It's just like the Almighty Zeus said, Captain, 'What are ya supposed to do with a group like that?'”
Jason completed his task and crawled out of the cage. Medea arrived and helped him stand up.
“Now that that's over with,” she said, “What are you going to do?”
He smiled brightly and put his arm around her, “I am going to do as instructed, and go home, raise children and be a good Greek.”
It was then that a massive gust of ocean air buffeted the cliff, sending the trio reeling toward the forest. It fell away as quickly as it came and out of it swirled the Golden Fleece, which landed in a pile nearby.
They stared at this new fortune a moment.
“What should we do with it, Captain?”
After a moment, he said, “We shall give it back to the dragon, lad. We don't need it so badly, and I sense that it would be of greater value as a myth. Come, let's go home.”