Old Greek Stories
Page: 69He climbed the stairway which led to the top of the steep, rocky hill, and his heart beat fast in his bosom as he stood on the threshold of his father's palace.
"Where is the king?" he asked of the guard.
"You cannot see the king," was the answer; "but I will take you to his nephews."
The man led the way into the feast hall, and there Theseus saw his fifty cousins sitting about the table, and eating and drinking and making merry; and there was a great noise of revelry in the hall, the minstrels singing and playing, and the slave girls dancing, and the half-drunken princes shouting and cursing. As Theseus stood in the doorway, knitting his eyebrows and clinching his teeth for the anger which he felt, one of the feasters saw him, and cried out:
"See the tall fellow in the doorway! What does he want here?"
'GREAT KING,' HE SAID, 'I AM A STRANGER IN ATHENS.'
"Yes, girl-faced stranger," said another, "what do you want here?"
"I am here," said Theseus, "to ask that hospitality which men of our race never refuse to give."
"Nor do we refuse," cried they. "Come in, and eat and drink and be our guest."
"I will come in," said Theseus, "but I will be the guest of the king. Where is he?"
"Never mind the king," said one of his cousins. "He is taking his ease, and we reign in his stead."
But Theseus strode boldly through the feast hall and went about the palace asking for the king. At last he found AEgeus, lonely and sorrowful, sitting in an inner chamber. The heart of Theseus was very sad as he saw the lines of care upon the old man's face, and marked his trembling, halting ways.
"Great king," he said, "I am a stranger in Athens, and I have come to you to ask food and shelter and friendship such as I know you never deny to those of noble rank and of your own race."
"And who are you, young man?" said the king.
"I am Theseus," was the answer.
"What? the Theseus who has rid the world of the mountain robbers, and of Cercyon the wrestler, and of Procrustes, the pitiless Stretcher?"
The king started and turned very pale.
"Troezen! Troezen!" he cried. Then checking himself, he said, "Yes! yes! You are welcome, brave stranger, to such shelter and food and friendship as the King of Athens can give."
Now it so happened that there was with the king a fair but wicked witch named Medea, who had so much power over him that he never dared to do anything without asking her leave. So he turned to her, and said: "Am I not right, Medea, in bidding this young hero welcome?"
"You are right, King AEgeus," she said; "and let him be shown at once to your guest chamber, that he may rest himself and afterwards dine with us at your own table."