The Princess of Pentacles
Strength and Beauty
For the rest of the evening Jason never left Medea's side, and Jason even spent the evening in Medea's chambers. Much to the dismay of Aetes, Jason walked out alive the next morning. Medea had kept her veil undefiled, but had managed to secure from Jason a marriage proposal which she had accepted. She warned Jason he was in extreme danger while still in Colchis, and they would have to wait until he took her with him before she would lose her "virginity" to him. Medea had too much at stake to allow him to have his way with her before he fullfilled his promise to her. Men, in general, kept their promises much better if rewarded after the fact.
Theseus was waiting for Jason, with the rest of the Argonauts. as he left the palace grounds. Aetes had an armed escort for them as well to protect them. They still had a few hours before the trial was to begin, and some group coordination was called for.
"Are you aware, Theseus, that the challenge is impossible. How do you propose to meet the challenge?"
"Has Medea offered to help you?"
Jason was insulted. "Keep her out of this! You are the one that got us into this!"
"Your sweetheart is the one that proposed the challenge. Did she offer you any advice last night."
Jason had enough with Theseus's insolence and assaulted him. Theseus moved quickly and Jason was instantly pinned. Jason noticed the man's strength was enormous, and for a moment he thought that he could even rival Hercules. "Well, I thought you were going to help..." Jason gasped.
Theseus released Jason. "Of course I am, but you are the captain of the crew. Now, tell me are you willing to take myself, Helen, and Medea back to Greece with you?"
"Agreed!" Jason promised, "Providing you help."
"No, providing you are successful!" Theseus retorted. "You must face the challenge."
"The challenge is impossible!"
"How are you to know until you try? The answer to the challenge will not be known until the challenge is faced. This is the challenge of the Golden Fleece."
"Tell me Theseues, why is the fleece so important?".
"The fleece is the royal cloak of the Lord of Artemis, the betrothed to Isis. The Amazons hold it sacred. It was a gift to Medea, and she is is charged with its safekeeping. This I managed to learn from Hercules and the Amazons. If Medea is to come with you , the fleece must go as well. Don't be fooled by her, Jason, if you fail to meet the challenge, it will be Medea, your lover, who is your executioner, and not Aetes. Why do you think that Aetes is so unconcerned about you spending the night with his 'daughter'? As far as he is concerned, you already are dead meat, as are the rest of us. What do you think is the true reason that Aetes sent his goons to guard us? They will try to kill us, if we attempt to escape now before being killed by the challenge."
"So what hope is there then Theseus?"
"To face and overcome the challenge. There is no other alternative. Did not Aetes promise that we could assist you. After all we are a team, are we not?"
All agreed. Jason finally accepted the friendship of Theseus, and the band of heroes once again shared a little optimism. Jason was encouraged to seek Medea again, and spent as much time with her before the hour of the challenge. Theseus went with Helen. Oddly enough each of the Argonauts found himself a lovely Amazon escort, and Aetes's guards soon laughed and left. The Argonauts thought it somewhat curious that their guards had disbanded when the Amazon escorts had shown up.
Whatever it was, Medea seemed to be behind this, and the men were somewhat encouraged by this last minute show of affection. It certainly did seem to inflate the courage of these men, and they became all the more intoxicated with self confidence by the ambrosia. The hour for their sacrifice was not yet at hand, so the dosages were kept somewhat below the lethal level. The guards had seen this before, and knew the Argonauts would soon be dead. No man ever left the temple of Artemis alive.
Jim was full aware that the acquisition of the fleece was not going to be easy. He suspected a trap. This being the reason he had selected mortal men to do the footwork; he would cloak his assistance.
The giant bulls of bronze were nothing more than steam engines which Jim with the assistance of Jason easily brought back to life. The so called skeletons of war were the soldiers who were instructed to murder the Argonauts lest they actually succeeed. The king had no intention of yielding up the fleece, even if the Argonauts suceeded in powering up the great machine. When the guards noticed the flames for the boiler come to life, the soldiers on alert were instructed to don fearsome disguises and to appear in the wake of the great plough.
Aetes and Medea were both somewhat startled by the success of the Argonauts. Medea suspected the help of Qblh, but knew not where he was or how he did it. She thought perhaps that Jason might know more about Qblh. He had mentioned Hercules whom the Amazons were sheltering. She knew that he had to be Qblh, and that was the reason why the Amazons led by Antiope were assisting Hercules. Yet she also knew Antiope and Helen both as disloyal to Isis. She had also had been unable to contact Isis, and the conversation with Qblh earlier on had given the reason why she had not received any new instructions from her queen lately. Yet she knew the fleece was a snare to entrap Qblh, but where was he? Regardless, it mattered not. Isis had predicted that Qblh would retrieve the fleece, and this would allow Isis to bring Qblh to her presence.
Medea, however, was very unimpressed by the treachery of Aetes. She strongly scolded him for his attempt to deny Artemis the sacrifice. He defended himself with the argument that she had stated the conditions of the test. Isis, herself, had directed him to destroy any strangers who managed to fire up the great machine, if he could. Medea was a little surprised that Isis had not instructed her to advise the king in this capacity, but had rather told the king in ther first person. She was not even aware that he had ever met Isis face to face.
"You have met my lady, Isis? When was that?"
Aetes responded. "She came to me one evening, while I was alone in my chambers. I thought she was a vision, a vision of loveliness itself. This is when I first heard the challenge, which you had repeated word for word to me in the hall. This challenge has never been spoken by me to anyone, but when you stated it word for word, I certainly could not go against her directions but to attempt to destroy these individuals."
Medea, somewhat startled, could not doubt Aetes. There could also be no doubt that the fleece would soon no longer belong to Aetes. Somehow, Qblh was behind all of this, and soon he would need to show himself to play his hand. Yet, he had not shown his face to assist the Argonauts. Medea started to suspect hat Qblh may be disguised. She began to suspect that Jason was Qblh, and this was the reason that she had such a burning passion for him. Reenforced with this belief, she resolved to assist Jason secretly. If Jason indeed suceeded in the acquisition of the fleece, she knew that Aetes would be angry and would pursue and destroy all the Argonauts in vengeance.
By taking the Argonauts to the temple of Artemis, it would be easier to find Jim by sacrificing the Argonauts. Only he would be able to save the Argonauts from sacrifice.
She comforted Aetes. "Have you not forgotten the guardian of the fleece, my lord Aetes? Are you not aware that your entire army cannot retrieve the fleece from the guardian. What chance is there for these strangers?"
Aetes was not comforted. "What chance was there for these strangers to face the last challenge, yet they seemed to easily manage that."
"Regardless of what you or I may think, my lord, my lady has given me very clear instructions concerning what to do with these men. They are to be sacrificed at the temple."
Aetes smiled. "And if they survive that?"
"Surely you jest. That is impossible."
"As is defeat of the guardian? "
Medea reflected. Was Aetes suspecting treachery on her part? Yet her loyalty to Isis was beyond question. "Are you suggesting that my mistress, my queeen, your goddess, has deceived me or has deceived you. We cannot go against her will and you know that. The Argonauts are to be escorted to the temple and to be sacrificed in their quest for the fleece. I assure you, you will never see them alive again."
Aetes had no choice but to agree. He still didn't trust Medea entirely and would prepare his forces to kill the Argonauts anyway, if they somehow left the temple alive. He would then be able to steal the fleece for himself and hang it in his own palace.