The Ten of Pentacles
"My father King Aeson has sent me to you, I fear on a mission to have me not come back. He demanded that somehow I could persuade you to release the fleece to my custody. I am not certain that I wish for you to give up such a magnificent treasure on the behalf of establishing a treaty of alliance between the two of us against our common enemy, the centaur invaders of the north country. We certainly did not travel alll this way just to steal your treasure nor to start a fight. It was Hercules of the Amazons who enticed my father to send me on this journey, and he has now abandoned us. We seek not he fleece, but only friendship."
The centaurs were in fact nomads of the north who rode horses and used them extensively for hunting and herding their livestock. They were also quite adept with archery and could easily hit their mark from horseback. Their domain included all of the Northern shores of the Black Sea. The Amazons also preferred to ride their horses bareback, and were not bad shots themselves. The centaurs had learned from the Amazons certain skills to mounted cavalry. No man could rival the Amazons. Their skills with the horses was uncanny. The Amazons claimed to be able to talk to horses as easily as they could talk to men, and in general found the horse to be much more obedient.
The centaurs and Aetes were always skirmishing concerning land. They both desired the gold and other minerals which the mountain mines streams yielded. The centaurs claimed the broad prairies to the north of the mountains north of Colchis for themselves, and Aetes claimed the land south to feed his granaries. The Amazon queen had been successful in regulating the territory between the warring interests in the past, but the Pegasus was no longer available to coordinate her governors. The fleece was situated in a temple to Artemis within these mountains.
The fleece which Jim had created for Medea in the Pleasure Dome on Artemis was a carefully guarded treasure. Isis knew that Jim would need to fetch it during his excursions through time and sooner or later, he would need to return to Artemis with it restored as if nothing ever happened. She would use the fleece to find Jim in time.
Isis may not have as been quite as technically proficient as Jim, but she certainly wasn't a slacker. She knew a little about hyperspace technology. It was required high school study for all the girls on Artemis. She constructed a hyperspace shield to surround the fleece. If the fleece were to be moved she would know it regardless of when Isis would be. If she were accelerated in time beyond the ocurrence of the theft, she could simply activate a tracer which would remember certain details about the event. To guard the fleece she had a remnant of Shaltain's operating system intact to construct a sentinel. The sentinel would construct holograms to ward off potential thieves. If the thief was ever bold enough to work his way through the illusions and traps which guarded the way to the fleece, the retrieval system would then pose him a very different but deadly threat.
Jim suspected that Isis had the fleece booby trapped. For this reason he would get a mortal man to accomplish the task. Shaltain's defensive systems would be somewhat confused if a mere mortal man were somehow able to retrieve the fleece, because its network calculations would consider human success an impossibility. Computers had a difficult time when it came to solving paradoxical solutions. Paradoxical situations were logically impossible, and thus beyond the mental ability of Shaltain's systems.
Jim knew what Aetes was going to demand of Jason according to legend. Legend stipulated that certain impossible actions would be rerquired to appropriate the fleece. The possibility of sowing a furrowed field to spring armed men in the same day is a logical impossibility. Aetes certainly never actually did what he would tell Jason that he did daily, and that is the ability to grow soldiers from a field. The Argonauts had no idea as to what his daily habits were. They were in his court and he decided that he would have a little fun with these men, before he disposed of them. Their words sounded admirable enough. They were on a mission to offer friendship between their kingdom and his. He had no use for their friendship. Their kingdoms lay well beyond the river to the Western Seas and he expected few more visitors from that region. Very few ships ever made it past the straits guarded by the Hittites of Troy without paying tribute. He had no need of any friendship with these strangers, and they certainkly ad nothing to offer him. Yet he decided to offer them a challenge, because the high priestess had requested it and he had no desire to displease Medea's mistress. Too often had the Amazons called fire from the skies to punish them when they chose not to honor their goddess. Aetes knew himself to be king, but he knew that the Amazons had the true power. Without their support and magic, he would never be able to withstand his enemies in the manner with which he was most familar. Jason had clearly stated the purpose of his visit. Aetes was still somewhat mindful of the stranger, Theseus, whom Helen had ejected. Jason seemed to be afraid of that individual and was not that enthusiastic about performing the task that his "father" had given him. Aetes suspected that Jason's father really had no intention on seeing his son's return to claim the throne. Perhaps he had promised the throne instead to a son of one of his newly favored whores. Sending disfavored sons away to die in some impossible mission was not unheard of. Aetes decided to humor Jason and offer him an impossible challenge to perform. Jason would have to accept knowing full well that failure would result in the forfeiture of their lives. He also would not be able to decline because they had all been chosen because of their heroic abilities. To decline a challenge would be out of character.
He did not trust the foreigner. Perhaps he had indeed planned on stealing the fleece, but was afraid now that he was able to see the magnificent might of his kingdom. The apology seemed nothing more to the king than a plea for mercy. Aetes turned to Medea, once again noticing the love in her eyes for this foreigner. He pretended not to notice, and instead asked her concerning the challenge for the fleece. Medea whispered something in the king's ear. Medea gave him the challenge which Qblh had specified. He turned and looked at her oddly, and requested her to repeat what she had just told him. "That's impossible!" he commented, yet Medea assured him that such were the instructions that Isis had left concerning the "right" to claim the fleece.
Aetes smiled to himself and decided to ad-lib a few lines of his own. After convincing himself that the tasks were impossible, he challenged Jason to do such inpossible tasks, and then he would offer him the fleece out of friendship. He now trusted Medea a little better. She had convinced even him that Medea was actually showing love for Jason. He now began to think that Medea was actually going to use these men for one of her unholy sacrifices to Isis, or the Amazons. The king was well aware that the Amazon priestesses did indeed breed by sacrificing human males. His own father had been sacrificed in such a manner. These males were quite often raised to rule the local tribes. DNA research aboard the mother ship had not yet succeeded in producing a male with resistance to the ambrosia effect, but the researchers were on the brink of discovery when Jim intercepted the Pegasus. The pharaohs of Egypt were perhaps the most highly developed with regard to this experiment. He would entice the Argonauts to enter the holy temple of Artemis where the fleece was located, and leave it to Medea to sacrifice these men to her goddess. The Amazons apparently desired these men for sacrificial breeding, and that explained the reason why the Amazons were showing such interest in these men.
Aetes then turned to Jason to offer the challenge which would most certainly test the mettle of these Argonauts:
"Stranger, why needest thou go through thy tale to the end?
For if ye are in truth of heavenly race, or have come in no wise inferior to me,
to win the goods oftrangers, I will give thee the fleece to bear away,
if thou dost wish, when I have tried thee.
For against brave men I bear no grudge,
such as ye yourselves tell me of him who bears sway in Hellas.
And the trial of your courage and might shall be a contest
which I myself can compass with my hands, deadly though it be.
Two bulls with feet of bronze I have that pasture on the plain of Ares,
breathing forth flame from their jaws;
them do I yoke and drive over the stubborn field of Ares, four plough-gates;
and quickly cleaving it with the share up to the headland,
I cast into the furrows the seed,
not the corn of Demeter, but the teeth of a dread serpent
that grow up into the fashion of armed men;
them I slay at once, cutting them down beneath my spear as they rise against me on all sides.
In the morning do I yoke the oxen, and at eventide I cease from the harvesting.
And thou, if thou wilt accomplish such deeds as these,
on that very day shalt carry off the fleece to the king's palace;
ere that time comes I will not give it, expect it not.
For indeed it is unseemly that a brave man should yield to a coward."
Jason was astounded and felt betrayed, yet he remembered what Theseus had told him. He had no alternative but to accept the king's challenge and to seek Theseus's offer of assistance. It was quite clear that Hercules would not be present to help, and the challenge seemed impossible. He glanced at Medea feeling betrayed, yet still she smiled at him enchanting him with her glance.
"I am positive that he will accept my lord's challenge," is all she said. She then took Jason's hand to lead him around the palace.
Aetes showed no more interest in the Argonauts, assured now that they were all doomed men. It was now quite obvious to him that the Amazons were preparing these men for sacrifice. He pitied them, and began to enjoy his banquet once again. Just to be safe, he alerted his captain to keep an eye on the Argonauts and to kill them all if they tried to escape with the fleece.
Jason's mind could not stop thinking about Theseus. He had known! How much more was he aware of? What had he told him? He had to contact Helen. He would have time, perhaps Medea could help him. No that wouldn't do. He needed her to think of him as heroic. He was a little confused, but to his surprise, it was Medea who seemed to propose the solution.
Medea was under the influence of Circe's medication, but Medea was wise enough to understand that her drink had been heavily drugged. In spite of the drugs, Qblh's visit had been no illusion. He had directed her to assist this Jason before he disappeared. True, she had told Qblh off, but with young Jason now in hand, she was in a win-win situation. Should he fail the test, she could sacrifice him and bear the child of this fine young athlete, and should he win.....well, she would be obligated to give him the fleece as Qblh had directed. What could Isis say? Medea was no match for Qblh, and she knew it. Yet Qblh had promised Medea his love, if she assisted, and Medea desired future affairs with Qblh as well. In either case, she had nothing to lose. Returning her thought s again to Aetes, she decided that it may not be such a bad idea, but to let the scoundrel stew in his own juices when she left him. She was certain that he wished these strangers no good fortune, and believed that she was but going to sacrifice these strangers. To make matters worse, she actually found it quite easy to love this Jason. He was quite charming in her company and was free and sincere with the complements.
Jason too was quite enchanted by this princess Medea. He danced with her every song and was thrilled when she gave him a kiss. She was thrilled to see this strong young Jason acting like a silly little school boy, as she consistently threw him off guard teasing him for each weakness she found. Medea would instantly capture Jason's interest, the moment he lost interest in her and looked at another woman.
He did manage to entertain a few words with his fellow Argonauts. He told them to find Helen and to ask for Theseus's help. It was a matter of life or death. Castor and Pollux agreed to find Helen to seek assistance.