The Heroes or Greek Fairy Tales for my Children

Page: 61

So they rowed into the harbour, among a thousand black-beaked ships, each larger far than Argo, toward a quay of polished stone. And they wondered at that mighty city, with its roofs of burnished brass, and long and lofty walls of marble, with strong palisades above. And the quays were full of people, merchants, and mariners, and slaves, going to and fro with merchandise among the crowd of ships. And the heroes’ hearts were humbled, and they looked at each other and said, ‘We thought ourselves a gallant crew when we sailed from Iolcos by the sea; but how small we look before this city, like an ant before a hive of bees.’

Then the sailors hailed them roughly from the quay, ‘What men are you?—we want no strangers here, nor pirates. We keep our business to ourselves.’

But Jason answered gently, with many a flattering word, and praised their city and their harbour, and their fleet of gallant ships. ‘Surely you are the children of Poseidon, and the masters of the sea; and we are but poor wandering mariners, worn out with thirst and toil. Give us but food and water, and we will go on our voyage in peace.’

Then the sailors laughed, and answered, ‘Stranger, you are no fool; you talk like an honest man, and you shall find us honest too. We are the children of Poseidon, and the masters of the sea; but come ashore to us, and you shall have the best that we can give.’

So they limped ashore, all stiff and weary, with long ragged beards and sunburnt cheeks, and garments torn and weather-stained, and weapons rusted with the spray, while the sailors laughed at them (for they were rough-tongued, though their hearts were frank and kind). And one said, ‘These fellows are but raw sailors; they look as if they had been sea-sick all the day.’ And another, ‘Their legs have grown crooked with much rowing, till they waddle in their walk like ducks.’

At that Idas the rash would have struck them; but Jason held him back, till one of the merchant kings spoke to them, a tall and stately man.

‘Do not be angry, strangers; the sailor boys must have their jest. But we will treat you justly and kindly, for strangers and poor men come from God; and you seem no common sailors by your strength, and height, and weapons. Come up with me to the palace of Alcinous, the rich sea-going king, and we will feast you well and heartily; and after that you shall tell us your name.’

But Medeia hung back, and trembled, and whispered in Jason’s ear, ‘We are betrayed, and are going to our ruin, for I see my countrymen among the crowd; dark-eyed Colchi in steel mail-shirts, such as they wear in my father’s land.’

‘It is too late to turn,’ said Jason. And he spoke to the merchant king, ‘What country is this, good sir; and what is this new-built town?’

‘This is the land of the Phæaces, beloved by all the Immortals; for they come hither and feast like friends with us, and sit by our side in the hall. Hither we came from Liburnia to escape the unrighteous Cyclopes; for they robbed us, peaceful merchants, of our hard-earned wares and wealth. So Nausithous, the son of Poseidon, brought us hither, and died in peace; and now his son Alcinous rules us, and Arete the wisest of queens.’