02 | a betrayal in iolcus
Head held high, Medea walked past the citizens of Iolcus. She ignored their widened eyes, their hushed whispers. It had unnerved her... at first. Jason had insisted that she ignore them. She had been anyway – she was after all, a princess still. Even if she had preferred the route that her aunt had taken. But unlike most of the people who had been milling the streets of this new land, she was descended from a god. Her grandfather was the sun god, her aunt a fearful sorceress and her father? He was a king.
She just wasn't used to the hidden whispers.
After spending months at sea with a group of men, she had almost forgotten what it was like to walk among civilisation. But the travelling was needed. She had her wrongs cleansed (the gods had forgiven her), and she'd married Jason. She'd also grown used to her powers, used them more than she ever would have in Colchis. Seen more than she ever could have imagined.
They'd escaped sirens, Skylla and Charybdis! Medea had used her cunning ways to destroy the giant robot Talos – she was sure she'd killed the undefeated bronze man. His ichor had soaked into the ground, just outside of Europa. And now, she was about to meet her husband's uncle.
The crowd of men behind them, the heroes, as she'd found out on the journey, cheered. The skin of the ram held high in the air, glinting under the afternoon sun. The roar of the crowd was deafening. Even the gods would have been able to hear the rejoicing of the city.
"People of Iolcus!" As Medea and Jason stood on the final step. She could see the entire city, almost. It was amazing – nothing like Colchis. But still. She wondered if this is how her father felt – how her brother felt – when they heard the citizens of Colchis cheer them on. "We bring you the golden fleece!"
Holding the skin, high in the air, it glinted under the sun. It was a wonderful sight; one she'd never forget. Even though she'd seen it so many times, even tried it on once, it still managed to surprise her. But, after all, the golden fleece was a legend. One that was told even in the darkest, deepest corners of the land.
"Jason!" The crowd rejoiced once again. They chanted his name, as if the name gave them life. As if Jason was their life-line. It was incredible to hear.
One of Jason's hand gripped Medea's. The other slid around her waist. It felt perfect. It felt right. Medea's free hand hovered over her belly. A budding life, a soon-to-be prince was growing in her belly. Her and Jason's child. Their first. Once he was born (she was positive it was a boy – the kicks were too strong), they would rejoice. Celebrate.
With a single look from her husband, Medea nodded.
Time to face the old king. Time for her husband to take his rightful place.
"What do you mean, you won't give up your throne?" Fury was in Jason's voice. If he were a woman, his anger could have summoned the Erinyes. "You told me to get the golden fleece from the barbarians across the sea. I have it!" He shook the shimmering fleece. It did not faze Pelias. Maybe, in those old eyes of his, he couldn't see it.
"You may have your celebrations," Pelias said, avoiding answering her husband's question, "but you are to be known as a hero. I am still the king of Iolcus. I will not be usurped by a mere boy child."
"A hero, you shall be. A king, you shall not." Medea stared, the familiar feeling of burning rising through her. Her lover had not gone through perilous trials, through a dangerous journey, just to be betrayed at the end. However, Pelias was not the young man she'd imagined. No. He was frail and old. The wrinkling of his skin, the grey in his hair (and tainting his skin). The frailness of his arms. He probably didn't have many years left. Jason wouldn't need to even attempt an attack of sorts – all he had to do was wait out the king. But was that really an option they wanted to explore?
"I will not–,"
"Have your celebrations, boy." Pelias waved off Jason. His hand trembling as he did. "Please, enjoy the wine. Enjoy the dancing. I have released your father. Pausanias will show you to him."
An animalistic half-growl, half-snarl left her husband's lips. The guard, who had stood next to the old king, walked forward. In silence, Jason turned and stomped after him. Medea, playing the dutiful wife (as was expected), followed her husband without another word.
"My love, you've seen how frail my father is." Jason's words were slow and cautious. Medea rose an eyebrow, her hands subconsciously tapping over her protruding belly. "I've seen what your power can do. I ask for one more favour."
"One more?" Her raised eyebrow didn't lower. "I have helped you reclaim the skin of the legendary winged ram. I helped you escape my father's pursuit. I saved you and the other heroes many times on the journey home. My belly carries your heir. What more could you possibly want from me?"
"Take some years from my life. Add them to my father's. It's not a celebration without him."
Medea sighed. Her heart twisted, her mind whirled. As much as she wanted to say no, how could she? The love of her life, asking for his father to have enough years so that he could partake in the celebrations.
"Fine." She gave in, just as she knew she would. "But I won't take it from your life. I cannot lose you."
Jason gave her a smile. One that melted her insides. Just like he had the moment they first met. It was like Aphrodite herself had sent this hero to her.
"Thank you, my love."
"Anything for you."
Aeson, Jason's beloved father, lay still on the bed. Had she not heard the shuddering of his breath, she would have thought he was a corpse. Ignoring his lifeless body, she carried on with what the preparations. Medea had all the ingredients she needed, thanks to her husband and his fellow comrades.
She erected two altars; one to Hekate, goddess of witchcraft and the other to Hebe, goddess of youth. Taking a dagger, she plunged it into the black sheep's throat. Its blood spurted, decorating both altars. Calling upon Hades, she asked that he not take the old man's life. Walking over to Aeson, she placed herbs around his bed, as if readying him for his funeral rites.
Taking twigs, she walked thrice round the altars before lighting them and letting them burn. While they released swirling smoke, she walked over to the bubbling cauldron. To it she added herbs from all corners of the land, seed and flowers (and stones) from the Far East. Sand touched by Poseidon's ocean joined the mix, as well as hoar frost gathered from underneath Selene herself. A screech owl's head and wings were mixed in, along with the entrails of a wolf. Fragments of tortoise shells, the liver of three stags were added. Finally, she added the head and beak of a crow, (that supposedly would outlive nine generations) and mixed the concoction with an olive branch. It smelled horrendous, but Medea had complete faith in her talent.
Cautiously lifting the olive branch from the thick liquid, which was overflowing, a smile graced her face. The branch, which had looked dead, had grown leaves and luscious green olives sprouted from it. Content that her potion was at its peak, she dipped a jug into the mixture and took it over to Aeson.
There, she gently placed the full jug down. Grabbing the knife, laid carefully on the table, she gently cut Aeson's throat. Ignoring the blood pouring out of his neck at an alarming pace, she grabbed the jug and poured the potion into his mouth, and then into his open wound. Taking a couple of steps back, she watched as her gifts came to life.
His hair and overgrown beard, which had been white and frail, assumed the blackness that it once had been. It was much like Jason's; thick and shiny. His pale, wrinkled skin that was damaged from being imprisoned for so long had tightened. His face wasn't a mask of lines, nor was it sickly pale yellow. It was like Helios had kissed him with his light. Resting a hand over his heart, she felt it beat like a young bull's.
Aeson's eyes snapped open. Gone were the pale, almost transparent irises. Instead, they were filled with a rich brown – just like her husband's. In fact, Aeson could have passed for Jason's brother. Pride filled her. No-one else but Medea had done this. Nobody else but her was capable of a feat. If her aunt, Circe, had been with her, she was sure they'd be celebrating. A sacrifice to the gods, later, was needed for her gratefulness.
Moving off the bed swiftly, Aeson let a smile of his own spread across his lips. Awe filled his voice as he thanked the young woman. Medea smiled, saying and revealing nothing.
"Medea!" The high, annoying voice of one of Pelias' daughter rang in her ears. Turning, she gave a smile. It wasn't that she had anything against Pelopia (or her sister Antinoe), she just couldn't see why they would love an old man like their father. He was despicable, and an oath breaker. For someone who held himself so high in regards, she had expected so much more. Maybe it was just the Greek way. "Medea, that was extraordinary."
"It was!" Antinoe nodded, staring with wide eyes. Excitement was written all over her young face.
"Could you do it for Father?" Pelopia asked. The question made Medea stiffen. 'No' was on the tip of her tongue, swirling in her mind. If she did the same to Pelias as she did for Aeson... her lover would never gain his birthright. "It's so amazing! We've never seen anything like it."
"The slaves say you were a bad omen, sent by the gods." Antinoe added, her voice timid.
Just as she was about to tell the daughters that she was not capable of performing a feat on their dreadful, traitorous father... she had a wonderful idea. A smile, so sinister it would have even frightened the Erinyes, drew itself on her face. Nodding, slowly, she placed a hand on each of the sisters.
"You know, why don't I tell the slaves what to get?" The girls nodded eagerly, licking every word that came out of Medea's mouth. "And then I'll show you how to return your father to his youth?"
Everything was ready. She had set everything up, just as she had for Jason's father. The only difference was that Pelias did not know what was about to happen. A 'wonderful surprise', Medea had called it. The ingredients looked very similar – she had asked for herbs, stones, sand and animal entrails. They had all mixed. With confidence, she hadn't even tested it with an olive branch.
"Come, Antinoe," she guided the youngest sister, "this part is for you." Guiding the ceramic jug, she let Antinoe grab the watery liquid from her cauldron. No smell rose from the thin liquid. Handing over a sharp blade, she held Pelopia's hand tightly. "And you have the hardest job. But I have faith in you. Be strong."
Both girls nodded, determination strong in their faces.
"Now, we must go to your father's chambers. And be as quiet as possible. We wouldn't want to ruin the surprise, would we?" The girls shook, and in the dead of night, the trio made their way. As they got closer to Pelias' chambers, Medea had expected her nerves to work themselves in her stomach. She had expected her mind to go into over-drive. None of that happened.
Her mind was like the sea at its calmest moment. There was no storm waging in her mind. No. She strode on, her head held high and her lips twitching at the corners.
Reaching his door, Pelopia quietly opened the door. Walking in, Medea's confidence rose. Only a few more minutes, and they'd be free of Pelias. He'd be lost to the living world, instead walking in Hades realm. If she was lucky, maybe he'd get eaten by Cerberus, Hades' three-headed rabid dog. Medea could only dream.
"And now," she whispered into Pelopa's ears, "you need to cut deeply into your father's throat."
Once Pelopia had nodded, understanding her role, Medea turned to Antinoe. Her thin arms were trembling from the weight of the jug. But if she dropped it, it wouldn't matter. Once Pelopia had cut into her father, it would be too late.
"Once Pelopia has stepped away, you need to pour the potion into your father's mouth, and then into the wound."
And with that she swiftly left the room, returning to her chambers with Jason.
It was just a shame she wouldn't see the life drain from the perjurer, or the wailing of his pathetic daughters.