"So, Jason," said King Aeetes of Colchis. "You have come for the Golden Fleece!" Aeetes looked sternly at young Prince Jason of Iolcos, whose ship the 'Argo' had just sailed into the harbour at Colchis.
"I must warn you that many have come before you, and all have failed. The dragon which guards the Fleece has killed every one of them!"
Aeetes hoped that Jason would be frightened by this warning. Some young warriors, who thought themselves very brave, had turned pale at the mention of the dragon. Others had found some excuse not to try to get the Fleece and very quickly left Colchis for home.
Jason was not like that. He had, in fact, solemnly sworn to fetch the Fleece and take it back with him to Ilocos. Only then would Jason's uncle, Pelias, keep his promise to give back the kingdom of Iolcos which he had stolen from Jason's father, King Aeson.
That night, King Aeetes was too worried to sleep. 'I must get rid of Jason,' he thought. 'I must think of a way to stop him taking the Fleece.'
All night, Aeetes walked back and forth, back and forth, in his bedchamber. All night, he plotted and schemed against Jason. Then at last, as dawn was breaking, Aeetes thought of a suitable plan.
"I'll give Jason three tasks," Aeetes decided. "Only after he has performed them all can he have the Golden Fleece!"
Aeetes laughed out loud. "Jason will never perform the tasks," he chuckled with great glee. "They are all impossible! Each one is meant to kill him. He will be dead before he has finished the first - and the Fleece will be safe once again."
Unknown to King Aeetes, however, his daughter Medea knew of his wicked plans. Medea was a witch, with great powers. She was able to read her father's thoughts, even though her bedchamber in the palace was far away from his.
What she learned greatly alarmed Medea. She had fallen in love with Jason, even though she had never seen him before he arrived at the palace of Colchis the previous day.
"I must warn Jason," Medea decided. "With my magic, he can perform the tasks my father wants to set him. Without it, he will surely die!"
Medea hurried along the corridors of the palace to the room where Jason lay asleep. Without bothering to knock, Medea ran into the room and woke him up "Listen to me, Jason," she whispered urgently. "I have come to save your life!"
At that, Jason became very wide-awake.
"Who wishes to kill me?" he asked.
"My father, the King!" Medea replied, and brie?y she told him of Aeetes' plans.
The news made Jason very angry. He Wanted to go and kill Aeetes there and then before the treacherous King got the chance to kill him.
"No, no, Jason!" Medea told him. "I have a better way. Here - take this magic ointment. It will protect you while you perform the first task. For the second task, you will need this magic stone.
"And for the third task?" Jason asked.
"Make sure your Argonaut, Orpheus is with you... and make sure he brings his lyre, the one that plays such beautiful music. Then the Golden Fleece will be yours," Medea said triumphantly.
Next morning, King Aeetes summoned Jason to his throne-room and told him of the three tasks he had to perform.
"First," Aeetes instructed, "you must yoke two fire-breathing bulls to a plough and with them, you must plough four acres of land. Next, you must sow the land with the teeth of dragons. A host of fierce armed men will at once grow from these teeth and you must kill them all!"
"I will do so!" Jason cried, pretending that he knew nothing of Aeetes' wickedness.
"Next," Aeetes went on, "you must kill the dragon in the magic grove. Only then can you take the Fleece home to Iolcos."
Shortly afterwards, a great crowd gathered in the fields outside the palace to watch Jason perform the first two tasks. King Aeetes was there and so was Medea. Apart from Medea, no one thought Jason had any hope of succeeding.
Either the bulls would burn him up with their fiery breath or the host of armed men would kill him.
Jason came on to the field, clad in his finest armour. People in the crowd sighed and shook their, heads, thinking what a pity it was that such a brave young warrior was soon going to die. What they did not know, of course, was that Jason had rubbed the magic ointment Medea had given him all over his body and his armours.
Suddenly, there was a great noise of hooves and the hiss of flames as two bulls came thundering into the field. Their eyes were fierce and with every breath, great blasts of fire leapt from their nostrils. Their hooves were made of white-hot metal and the ground steamed with heat as they trod on it.
"Soon, Jason will be burned to cinders!" thought King Aeetes gleefully as he watched Jason stride out towards the bulls. The next moment, though, Aeetes was glowering with anger as Jason marched into the flames quite unharmed. Because of Medea's ointment, he did not even feel the heat that surrounded him.
Jason grasped each of the bulls by one of its horns and with a quick movement, smashed their heads together. The animals fell to their knees dizzy and dazed. Quickly, Jason slipped a yoke over their heads and waited for them to recover. When the bulls staggered to their feet, all their ferocity had gone and the fire in their nostrils and their hooves had cooled.
The bulls were now as meek as lambs, and they obediently pulled the plough across the four acres of land, with Jason directing from behind. The crowd gasped in amazement at the sight. King Aeetes was furious.
He wondered by what magic Jason had managed to perform this feat. "Still, the next task will see the end of Jason," the King comforted himself.
Once again, though, Aeetes was disappointed and once again the watching crowd were amazed. Hundreds of armed men sprang from the dragons' teeth that Jason sowed. Jason hurled Medea's magic stone amongst them as she had told him. At once, the armed men turned on each other. They each accused the others of throwing the stone. They argued. They shouted. They began fighting among themselves. Soon, every one of them lay dead in the field from which they had grown only minutes before.
The crowd cheered and clapped and shouted with pleasure. They soon fell silent, however, when King Aeetes jumped to his feet and in a loud and angry voice called out, "Enough! Two such great tasks are enough for one morning!
"You must rest, Jason."
"But Your Majesty..." Jason protested.
Trembling with rage and frustration, King Aeetes interrupted him. "No! I have said it is enough! You can attempt the third task tomorrow."
"Tomorrow, my brave Jason, you and all your Argonauts will be dead!" Aeetes thought as he stalked angrily to his palace.
As soon as he got there, Aeetes summoned the commander of his soldiers. He ordered him to kill Jason and his Argonauts as they slept in their rooms that night.
Medea, of course, was listening. At once she rushed to Jason and told him of this latest treachery planned by her father.
"You must get the Golden Fleece tonight!" she urged him. "Tomorrow will be too late!"
That night, Jason crept silently from his room, woke the Argonaut, Orpheus and with him crept out to the magic grove.
They saw the grove long before they entered it. The Fleece, which hung from a tree, shone so brightly that it filled the surrounding woods with brilliant golden light. It was so bright, that to Jason it looked like another sun shining inside the grove. Beneath it, his eyes watchful and unsleeping sat the dragon.
"This must be the most fearsome dragon in the world" Jason whispered to Orpheus, looking at the creature's thick spiky tail and a mouth full of sharp teeth. "But come Orpheus. Sing."
Orpheus plucked the strings on his lyre and began to sing the most beautiful melody. When it heard it, the dragon pricked up its ears and starred in the direction of the sound. The music was so beautiful that the dragon's eyes lost some of their fierce expression. Then, as Jason watched and Orpheus continued to sing, the dragon opened its huge mouth and yawned. Its eyelids began to blink. It felt sleepy for the first time in its life. Then, its eyes closed and the dragon slumped down on the ground, fast asleep.
"Keep on singing, Orpheus," Jason whispered. Quickly he ran across the ?oor of the grove, sword in hand. Jason gave one great swipe with his sword and cut through the neck of the sleeping dragon. Then he scrambled up the boughs of the tree and unhooked the glittering Fleece.
Orpheus helped Jason stuff the Fleece into a sack. They did not want its golden light to give them away. Then they ran back through the woods and down along the narrow, tree-lined paths that led to the harbour of Colchis.
There, Medea and the rest of the Argonauts were already waiting in the 'Argo'. Jason and Orpheus jumped on board. The ropes that held the ship to the quayside were cut and the Argonauts rowed swiftly and silently out of the harbour. The wind filled the 'Argos' sails and by the time King Aeetes discovered what had happened, Jason, Medea and the Argonauts were far out to sea.
The triumphant Jason left one raging, furious King behind him in Colchis.
Another King was just as furious when the 'Argo' brought Jason home to Iolcos. Jason's uncle, King Pelias, had sent him to fetch the Golden Fleece believing the dragon who guarded it would kill him. Now that Jason had returned, Pelias was forced to keep his promise. He had to give back the Kingdom of Iolcos which he had stolen.
Once the wicked Pelias had gone, Jason brought back his father, King Aeson, from exile. It was a great day when Jason led his father to the throne in the palace of Iolcos, from which Pelias had driven him so many years before.
That night there was a great feast to mark Jason's return and on the wall of the banqueting hall the Golden Fleece hung. It spread its brilliant light over a scene of great celebration.