A Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons story for Halloween
By Marion Woods
Captain Grey put down the book he was reading, rubbed his eyes and looked again at the clock. Officially he was off duty now, and could, if he so wished, make his way down to the Amber Room where he knew there was an informal Halloween party in full swing.
The colonel had, in the face of concerted pressure from the Americans on base, relented and allowed a few small scale celebrations to be organised. He was conscious, he had explained at the morning briefing a few weeks ago, that strange and unwarranted things tended to happen on Cloudbase during this festival and he was not minded to let them happen again. Grey smiled to himself – he’d not been the only one to look across at the rather red-faced Captain Ochre, even though he was not the only culprit.
It was just a bit of fun after all: a way of letting off steam once a year, a way of banishing the fear of the faceless enemies that were always stalking them – aliens they knew as the Mysterons. Grey rubbed his nose reflectively. It had been a hard year – with many difficult missions - and Captain Scarlet had paid the ultimate price so many times that it seemed as if Halloween might have been designed to celebrate his remarkable abilities. The day of the dead indeed, or in Scarlet’s case, the few hours of the dead, until his Mysteron-empowered body retrometabolised and he woke up, thirsty, hungry and generally in a foul temper.
Captain Scarlet, he knew, did not like Halloween.
He shifted in his chair and glanced down at the open book once more. It was late and, if he wasn’t going to the party, he ought to be asleep, but somehow he couldn’t find the energy to go to bed. He wasn’t a great reader, preferring technical magazines and books about diving and sailing to novels and stories, but this book he had seen on the Officers’ Lounge coffee table was fascinating.
He had been attracted by the cover picture – an ancient galley with brightly coloured sails and a figurehead at the stern of the boat. Across the top, the title - splashed in blood-red letters – read Jason and the Argonauts. He had picked it up and glanced inside. There was an embroidered bookmark between the pages with the name ‘Karen’ on it, but there was an inscription on the fly-leaf which read:
‘To Adam, with much love on your 8th birthday, from Grandad Stefan xxx’
Underneath in large, slightly wobbly letters was:
This book belongs to me – Adam John Svenson, of Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America, The World, The Solar System, The Galaxy, The Universe. Private – keep out, or else – this means you Peter
It had partly been amusement, and partly a curiosity to see what was private about the book, that had started him reading it.
It was absorbing.
The book was an antique in itself – published over a hundred years ago – but, Grey thought wryly, almost certainly rendered valueless due to the writing on the fly-leaf. Why Blue should have it with him on Cloudbase - and why Symphony should be reading it - was a mystery to him…
Yet, once he started reading the clear, precise prose, re-telling a story he half-remembered - of the adventurous Jason and his crew on their magical boat, the Argo, and how they had sailed the known world to Colchis, in search of the magical Golden Fleece - he couldn’t put it down. Interspersed in the text were line drawings – some neatly coloured in – and every so often full-page colour prints, of the impossibly handsome, noble heroes and the anatomically well-endowed, pouting heroines, in the full, rich Technicolor style of the day.
One picture showed the Olympian Gods, gathered around a flat model of the world, watching the events unfold beneath them and - presumably – interfering in that hands-on approach Greek Gods were believed to have adopted. Grey noted with amusement that someone – presumably the 8 year old Adam Svenson – had drawn spectacles on the figure of the glamorous, blond-haired God, Apollo, who was shown lounging on a couch, absorbed in the action taking place on the model that mirrored the reality below them.
Those were the days, Grey thought – when men were men and women were glad of it… equal opportunities hadn’t been thought of… and there were real monsters to fight – monsters you could see and understand – the damned, the wicked and those who had fallen foul of the Gods… the Olympians, watching mankind as they struggled against the fates…..
Yes, it really was the golden age…
He turned the page and came across a so far unseen picture. It was of the Argo, moving gracefully across the ocean on its adventures. The sea was a beautiful azure blue, clear and sparkling under the bright sun. The bronzed bodies of the Argonauts strained at the oars and he could almost hear the water lapping against the sides of the ship…
…Beneath his feet the wooden deck creaked, as if the timbers were talking. The sail fluttered in the warm breeze, snapping against the rigging as the boat moved through the water.
This was what he’d been born to do – the sea was his first love, his mistress and his home. Whatever else he did, the beautiful oceans always called him back…. Even though our voyage was hard and our quest perilous, we have succeeded beyond out wildest dreams. Our way home may be equally perilous, with the Colchians pursuing us for the return of the fleece, but there can be no greater happiness, he thought, than to be out on the serene grandeur of the Aegean, with a bunch of stout fellows as companions – out to adventure and glory…
Jason considered what they had achieved already. Pelias, who had usurped the throne of Thessaly, which should by rights have been Jason’s, had angered the Goddess Hera, and, with her help, Jason had commissioned the building of the Argo. The wise and merciful Goddess Athena had supervised work on the ship, and Hera had begged a branch of the sacred oak at Dodona and empowered the figurehead with speech that she might continue to advise her favourite.
The crew consisted of fifty of the best men in all of Greece, each chosen for a particular skill or attribute at special games held before the expedition set sail. Many of the men who had triumphed could claim descent from an Immortal.
First and foremost amongst them was the demi-god Heracles, the most renown of all Greeks, famed for his strength and bravery. He was the favourite of his father – the ruler of Olympus – but it was said that such was Zeus’s pride in his son it had earned him the enmity of his wife, Hera, resulting in him being bound as servant to his weaker kinsman and having to perform a series of labours at the man’s whim. Yet Heracles couldn’t resist a challenge and, his labours being over, he had willingly joined the Argonauts, much to their great delight.
But Heracles was not the only man of divine parentage. Orpheus, the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope had joined them, as had Polydeuces, the young prince of Sparta. He was the son of Zeus and Leda, the Spartan Queen, and his twin sister Helen was reputed to be a great beauty – and certainly the young Spartan was a handsome youth. His mortal brother Castor was also amongst the crew as the pair were inseparable. Castor was an expert horseman, whilst Polydeuces was a boxer. Melampus and Nauplius were sons of Poseidon, and Calais and Zetes were the sons of Boreas, the God of the Winds.
Never in all history had such an illustrious crew been gathered together.
Some of the men who had started the voyage were not making the return journey. The winged sons of Boreas had sped away in a battle with the dreadful Harpies and never returned, but they had lost remarkably few of their companions.
The acquisition for the Golden Fleece had been far easier than expected too, largely due to the help of the Witch-Priestess Medea. Once again, Hera had helped her favourite, asking the goddess Aphrodite to request her son, Eros, to fire a dart into the bosom of the beautiful witch, so making her fall deeply in love with Jason. Aphrodite, only too happy to meddle in the lives of mortals, had agreed, and so - in return for his promise to marry her - Medea had betrayed her people to Jason and led the Argonauts to the sacred garden where the fleece was guarded by a fearsome dragon. Orpheus had played his lyre until the dragon had fallen into a deep slumber, and then Jason had removed the fleece and led the race back to the Argo before the Colchians discovered its loss.
Of course, Medea had come with them, casting spells to protect her companions and abducting the young son of King Aëëtes as a hostage. But there was something about the broodingly sensual Medea that made the other Argonauts uneasy. Their unease was justified, for when it had seemed that the king’s fleet was about to run them down, she had slaughtered her hostage and then cold-bloodedly dismembered the corpse, scattering it into the sea as the Argo piled on speed. Heart-broken, Aëëtes had ordered his ships to stop and make sure they collected every piece of his son’s body to be taken back to Colchis for ritual burial.
Yet, such was Medea’s power and the Argonauts’ fear of her, that the men did not carry out their threat to sacrifice her to propitiate the gods for such an act of barbarity. Whilst the powerful love-dart held her in thrall to Jason she was on their side, but he had little doubt that if he ever alienated her she would turn on him, as easily as she had betrayed her people.
“You should eat something,” said a husky voice beside him. He spun round to see a dark-skinned young woman, holding a bowl of fruit. “It’s all very well setting an example of moderation, Jason, but you are our leader.” She touched the chain of grey-silver that encircled his waist as a sign of his command. “And,” she continued, “if you don’t eat, you’ll fall sick. Then who’ll lead this motley crew? Heracles? A wonderful man - and so strong – but he does tend to forget we are not all sons of immortals and consequently invulnerable. The Argonauts are here to serve under you, and if you fail, the petty jealousies will break out again. So eat… before you fall down. We’ll make land soon – and find fresh water - you’ll see.”
“Atalanta, you startled me.” She was dressed in a tunic – having discarded her woman’s garments on joining the Argonauts. Her black hair was cut short and her dark eyes were amongst the keenest of all them all. She was an expert archer, rarely missing her target. There had been some muttering amongst the men at having a woman on board, but Atalanta ignored them and after a while they had almost forgotten she was a woman… almost, but not quite, in the case of Meleager of Calydon. He adored the dark-skinned beauty and Atalanta treated him with a friendly sympathy – because in having sworn her life to Artemis, the divine huntress – she had vowed never to marry.
She smiled. “Eat...”
Jason took an apple and bit into it. It was sweet and juicy and he suddenly realised he was hungry. She nodded with satisfaction.
“How much longer do we have to follow this course?” she asked.
“We must hold the course until I say so,” he said between mouthfuls. Since Medea’s murder of her hostage, their way home had been difficult and dangerous. Even Hera had been offended and withheld her advice for a time. Now that she had given him a course to steer, Jason was in no mood to veer from it.
“Well, I hope you know where we are going, Jason, because everyone else is lost, and we would all like to get home eventually,” said the helmsman. Tiphys was a well-built, black-haired man, with an engaging smile and sparkling eyes. He was wearing a plain tunic but around his waist was a belt of woven fabric – of the richest rose-pink imaginable - the gift of his lady-love from the island of Lemnos. They had tarried there a twelvemonth, on their way to Colchis, more or less willingly, whilst they set about ‘replenishing the population’ – in Atalanta’s cynical phrase – of an island devoid of men. Obviously, Tiphys still mourned the loss of his mistress. He caught Jason’s eye and grinned. “If only the gods would send us a breeze, we’d make splendid time, wherever we’re going…” he called.
Jason smiled. Tiphys was always eager to help and willing to do any task he was allotted. Sometimes he wished the other crew members were as biddable.
“Maybe we should sacrifice to them?” asked one of the oarsmen, stopping to brush a lock of rich brown hair out of his eyes.
“What with?” asked the ever practical Atalanta. “We are down to our last bowl of fruit, Meleager.”
“Can’t you help us, Heracles?” Meleager called across to the rower on the opposite bench from him. “Ask your divine father, all-seeing Zeus, to send us a breeze,” he suggested.
Heracles stood and stretched his strong limbs. He was tall and broadly-built, with long black hair and a full beard that framed his handsome, sun-tanned face, so that his sapphire-blue eyes shone out from a dark frame.
Now he drew a deep breath and tightened the red leather belt that held his tunic. “There is nothing wrong with having to row, Meleager, if you are strong and fit enough. You have all grown soft and weak, with too much good living. I can row all day and still feel fresh.”
“Your father is an immortal, Heracles, some of us are not so lucky,” Meleager remarked dryly.
“Can you help us, Orpheus? Can you play us up a breeze?” Jason asked quickly, anxious not to allow any rancour to develop between his crew members.
Orpheus looked up from his seat in the prow. He was tuning his lyre – as always – and a smile crossed his genial face at the question. His skin was as dark as Atalanta’s, his black eyes full of expression and easily moved to emotion. No-one complained that Orpheus didn’t take a turn at the oars – he was the greatest poet and musician in the world – his songs could charm beasts in the fields and calm angry seas and men. Around his clean, white tunic, a bright green girdle looked fresh and cool in the powerful sunlight.
“Any time you want music, Jason, I am your man,” he agreed.
“Music is all very well, but it doesn’t fill an empty belly, nor moisten a parched throat…” Heracles said with a significant look at his captain. Heracles could row all day and carouse all night, but he had a prodigious appetite and was almost always hungry.
“We need to find land soon, Jason, to replenish our supplies,” Argus the shipwright agreed. “In fact, we need it almost as much as we need to find the way home. After all, this is a ship on a mission, not a pleasure cruise,” he added to himself. He had lovingly built the Argo, under Athena’s guidance – he knew every inch of her, understood the language of the creaking timbers and could read her like a much-loved woman. He was older than the other Argonauts, tall and white-haired, but still strong and powerful. He had an authority that the others respected, yet he too had agreed to sail under Jason’s command. Argus was dressed simply, the lacings on his tunic were all of plain white – not for him the gaudy colours of his fellows.
“A song, then, Orpheus, one to fill our sail with wind and speed us to land…” Jason replied, smiling.
Orpheus touched the strings of his lyre, and at once the atmosphere calmed and the men relaxed. Listening to the magical sounds that flowed from the instrument, Jason could well believe that Orpheus was the most powerful of all the men on board. Through his music he could communicate with every living thing and soothe even the angriest Gods. Orpheus began to sing, lifting his sweet voice in a song that spoke to each man present of their home and their loved ones, whilst gently reminding them of their oath and their obligation to assist Jason’s quest.
Even as the notes died away the magic remained, and the Argonauts set to rowing with renewed vigour. Orpheus met Jason’s eye and smiled.
Not much misses his sharp eyes, Jason thought yet you can trust Orpheus not to break a confidence.
From the look-out post above them a voice called: “Land ho!”
A ragged cheer went up and the men pulled with enthusiasm as Tiphys changed course towards the distant island.
“You are too generous to them, Hera,” Apollo said mildly. He grimaced and removed the dark, round-framed spectacles from his face, dropping them to the floor with a sigh of relief. “You know Zeus wanted them to suffer for what Medea did. If he catches you interfering with his plans you’ll get what for…”
Hera threw her step-son a haughty glance. “That is all you know,” she said. “I want Jason to succeed and besides, anything that will annoy my husband finds favour in my eyes.”
Apollo rose from the couch and stretched. “You women; you are always playing games with your favourite mortals… “
“And you aren’t? Oh no, I forget… you are too busy chasing after the prettiest ones for yourself. You should settle down and get married, Apollo – or at the very least conduct yourself with dignity – like your sister.”
Apollo laughed good-naturedly and winked a cerulean-blue eye at the goddess. “Artemis and I have agreed to differ on the matter of virginity. She is keen to promote it, whilst I… well; I prefer to play my part in reducing the numbers of virgins around the world…they are such a waste…” His sister shook her head contemptuously at him and moved across to the other side of the room, making it clear she disassociated herself from her brother’s wild words.
“Tcha!” Hera spat. Of all the Gods on Olympus, Apollo was probably the one who irritated her most. Not that she had much time for any of them.
The tangled relationships that bound the Olympians together were a constant source of annoyance to Hera. Her own children, Ares, Hephaestus and Hebe, brought her enough grief, without the attendant problems of her husband’s by-blows by various lesser goddesses, nymphs and mortals.
To her the sanctity of marriage was all important, but to the other Gods it was something of a joke. Even her own son, Ares, had fathered three children by his brother’s wife. Not that Aphrodite cared… she didn’t like Hephaestus, and had protested loudly at being given to him in marriage. That Zeus would not order the beautiful goddess to do her duty by her husband, was another bone of contention between Hera and her husband – along with the fact that he was always making allowances for the immodest behaviour of the flirtatious young woman.
The other goddesses were not so bad, although both Artemis and Athena were disinclined to marry, which was not what Hera would have preferred.
Athena, who had sprung fully-grown and armed from Zeus’s head, could not be accused of being the off-spring of one of her father’s adulterous liaisons. She was rational and even-tempered, merciful and just by nature and often acted as peace-maker between Hera and the other Immortals. Currently she was looking across at Apollo, her brows raised in exasperation at his teasing comments. Even she was inclined to favour certain mortals and had a particular fondness for the good-looking Perseus, who had given her the Gorgon’s head that adorned her battle shield. But she understood that what annoyed the Queen of the Olympians, even more than the misbehaviour of her fellow deities, was the partiality Zeus showed to his children by human women, primarily, but not exclusively, Heracles. Jason was one of the rare heroes who couldn’t claim descent from Zeus, and as such Hera favoured him.
She stirred and looked away from the world model. “Hera, you have sent them to Crete. Are you sure it is a good idea to let them land there whilst Talos is defending the island?”
“I am sure Jason will manage, Athena,” Hera replied with dignity.
“If you say so,” she answered, and beyond that the Goddess of Wisdom held her tongue.
“We can get fresh water and fruit from this island,” Jason agreed as the Argos drifted into the bay. “But we should take care not to antagonise the locals or offend any of the gods who may hold this island in their care… so, be sure you avoid the animals on the island…”
“Of course,” Heracles said.
Jason sighed, sometimes he had the distinct impression that Heracles didn’t listen to anything he said. Besides, it was him who was most likely to upset people, with his bluff assurance that no-one would begrudge him anything he wanted. If he offended an Olympian, he relied on his father to save his neck…
If only the rest of us could rely on Zeus’s help when we transgress, Jason mused.
The Argo was now close enough to the beach for the Argonauts to swim ashore on their foraging expedition. Some small boats were lowered to carry the provisions back to the main ship. Jason glanced at Argus.
“Will you stay with the ship?” Argus nodded. He was always happiest on board his beloved vessel. “Medea and Orpheus will keep you company, along with a few crewmen to stow the provisions as they are brought aboard,” he added.
The musician nodded gratefully, he was not one for manual labour – he worried too much about damaging his hands.
Then Jason dived into the clear sea and struck out for the shore. As he strode up the beach he noticed that Heracles and his young kinsman Polydeuces were already some way in land, following a clear stream that babbled down to the sea. Well, they can’t come to much harm together. After all, Polydeuces is no mean fighter. I just hope they don’t get lost.
Jason set about splitting the remaining Argonauts into groups, the better to search for the food and fresh water they needed. One group he left on the beach, to transport the provisions out to the Argus. Then, with Atalanta and Meleager at his side, he moved inland.
They had not gone far when they heard a commotion away to their left – the very direction that Heracles and Polydeuces had taken. Jason veered off and clambered up a bank to survey the adjacent valley.
Some distance away inland, he could see a giant man, the sun glinting on his metallic body, striding down the valley, crushing trees with every step. Around the corner came Heracles and Polydeuces, running for their lives.
“Back, back to the beach!” Jason ordered his companions. Meleager paused long enough to sound the horn he carried around his waist on the golden belt he wore. Any Argonauts close enough to hear the blast would know to return to the Argo immediately.
Even though he ran as fast as he could, Jason could see the giant moving ahead of him on a parallel track. As they three of them reached the beach they could see Heracles and Polydeuces squaring up for a fight, although how they expected to fight a man of bronze was something Jason could not imagine.
Polydeuces threw his spear at the advancing giant, who stared with contempt at the weapon as it bounced harmlessly off his leg, with the slightest ‘ping’. Heracles advanced, raised his mighty club over his head and brought it down on the toe of the monster. This time, the echo rang over the island from the blow, but the impassive giant merely moved his foot and made to step on his attackers. Both men fled back towards the sea.
“No,” Jason shouted in anguish, “don’t draw his attention to the ship!” But he was too far away and Polydeuces was already swimming out towards the Argo, with Heracles bounding through the surf in pursuit of his half-brother.
The giant watched the men running in confusion all around him and, as one of the Argonauts threw another spear at him, he turned and quite casually brought his enormous foot down on the group, crushing the life from them.
Jason had reached the beach and was yelling at the top of his voice, urging Argus and Orpheus to move the Argo to safety. With the few crewmen that had made it back to the ship, Argus lifted the anchor and unfurled the sail, ordering the men to the oars.
With an agonising slowness the great ship started to turn.
“What is that creature?” Atalanta asked as they sought cover beneath an overhanging cliff.
Jason grimaced. “I feared this might happen. It is Talos – the creation of the god Hephaestus, who keeps his herd of cattle on the island.”
“Hephaestus?” Meleager moaned. “Jason, you know that he is the most bad tempered of the Immortals…”
“Nevertheless, it shouldn’t have been a problem - Talos protects the island and the herd, but unless provoked, he does not attack.”
“Want to bet who provoked him?” Meleager asked with a wry smile.
“No, I can imagine. I shouldn’t have let them go, but I thought Polydeuces would keep Heracles under some sort of control.”
Atalanta sniffed. “Well, it might have helped if you had warned us – or at least Polydeuces. Besides, he is young and by no means immune to Heracles’s charisma.”
Jason acceded that he should have given some warning. “I never imagined Heracles would go in for cattle stealing,” he explained.
“Hey, we are talking about the I-am-a-demi-god-and-I-want-that-Heracles, aren’t we, and not some other man with the same name?” Meleager asked with just a touch of asperity.
“Look.” Atalanta pointed. Talos was moving towards the mouth of the bay they had moored in. He straddled the entrance and waited with patience for the Argo to drawn near.
“I hope Argus has the sense to turn back…”
The Argo slowed and rode the still waters, some distance from the monstrous guardian of the island. Awkwardly Talos twisted to one side and picked up an enormous rock from the shoreline. Casually he dropped it into the bay – it landed close to the Argo, which rode the wash from the boulder easily enough.
“Back, come back,” Jason urged.
Meleager sounded his horn again, hoping Argus would understand the order from his captain.
The boat moved slowly away, retreating to its original station and the stranded Argonauts swam out to climb aboard.
“So, what happened?” Jason asked Heracles, after he had told the men the nature of the danger they faced. “How did you manage to upset Talos?”
“I wasn’t to know the cattle belonged to Hephaestus…” Heracles replied sulkily, trying to look innocent of any misdemeanour.
“They were the fattest and sleekest cattle I had ever seen. A few of them would have fed us all for weeks. I agreed with Heracles that a couple of them wouldn’t be missed,” Polydeuces volunteered, with a toss of his long blond hair. Good-looking and a little vain, Polydeuces did not look like the best boxer on board, but he was strong and skilled at the sport.
On their way to Colchis they had encountered King Amycus, a son of the mighty Sea-God Poseidon. It was his custom to insist that any strangers wishing to cross his lands must send a champion to meet him in the boxing ring. Amycus prided himself on his prowess and the road to his city was lined with the corpses of failed challengers. In the absence of Heracles – away searching for his missing friend Hylas – Polydeuces had been the natural choice amongst the Argonauts to accept the challenge.
It had been a long and bloody match, as the two men, both sons of gods, fought each other to a standstill. Then, with almost his last ounce of strength, Polydeuces struck a blow that crushed Amycus’s skull and his opponent had dropped dead at his feet. The resultant pitched battle had been won by the Argonauts, who had sacrificed a herd of cattle to Poseidon to appease the God’s wrath at his son’s death, before they started for Colchis once more.
Yet now, as he looked at the two men, one so dark and the other so fair, all Jason could see was two troublemakers. Hephaestus was known to be a malicious God, not noted for forgiving trespasses against him. Heracles looked indifferent to the problem he had created, but young Polydeuces was looking rather shame-faced in the light of his captain’s disapproval.
“Did you kill any of the beasts?” Jason asked, ignoring the self-justification of the two miscreants.
Polydeuces nodded. “We were in the process of stringing them onto a tree-trunk to carry them back when that thing turned up…”
Jason shook his head sadly and this time Polydeuces’s good-looking face frowned. “We didn’t know – you should have said something, Jason. Besides – how do you know all this about Talos anyway?”
“Yes,” Argo said quietly into the sudden silence. “I was wondering that, myself.”
Jason sighed. “We are under the protection of Hera. She has promised me her help on our quest. It was she who recommended we come to this island to get provisions. She warned me not to touch the cattle – and I told you to avoid the animals,” he explained. Seeing the stony expressions around the group, he turned to appeal to Argus. “Argus, you know that part of your ship was built using a timber from the sacred tree in Zeus’s oracle? Well, it was made into the figurehead and it is through that that Hera speaks to me.”
“Hera?” Heracles mumbled with a glance at Polydeuces. “I wish you had mentioned that earlier, Jason. The goddess and I do not really get on all that well…”
“Ask her help now,” Atalanta urged.
“I cannot overuse the help she promised me,” Jason explained.
“Do you have a clue how to defeat Talos?” Meleager asked.
Ruefully, Jason shook his dark head.
His companions all looked significantly at him and, sighing, he moved to the figurehead at the stern of the ship. It was carved in the likeness of a beautiful woman, regal and proud.
“Hera, goddess and queen,” he implored, “you promised me your aid and I humbly beg that you come now and assist us against this servant of your son, the mighty craftsman, Hephaestus.”
The Argonauts watched as slowly the figurehead seemed to take on the hue of flesh and the sightless blue eyes blinked and turned to Jason, standing at the side of the carving.
The gentle sound of a sweet voice was heard, coming as if from a distance on the breeze.
“I hear you, Jason. Speak. What would you know of me?”
“Great goddess, we need to know how to defeat Talos. Unwittingly, two of my men slew cattle from the herd of Hephaestus and earned the wrath of the bronze giant who guards them. He is immune to our weapons, we cannot attack him.”
The figurehead blinked slowly and turned its enormous eyes on Heracles and Polydeuces. The tall, blond-haired man flushed and, ever the diplomat, bowed a knee. Heracles, his dark hair rumpled by the breeze, stared back in apparent unconcern.
“Yes, we know of the incident,” the soft voice said. “We have asked our son to forgive you, but Hephaestus is not inclined to mercy. A price must be paid for the beasts.”
“Is there no way we can defeat Talos?” Jason prompted.
“He has a single vein, filled with ichor, the life-giving blood of the Gods. The liquid is held within his body by a nail… in his heel. Remove that and he will be immobilised.”
“How can we remove it?” Jason asked. But the figurehead had hardened to wood again and the goddess spoke no more.
“Well, that was useful,” Argus said ironically. “Are we supposed to answer riddles now as well as fight?”
“Huh, as usual with Hera you get half the story and are left to work the rest out by yourself,” Heracles sniffed.
“We have to remove the nail, that much is obvious,” Meleager said. “The problem is how?”
“First we have to get Talos back on land. Standing at the mouth of the bay, his ankles are under water,” Polydeuces said. Several of the others gave him an exasperated glance. Polydeuces had a habit of stating the obvious.
Tiphys spoke for the first time. “Surely, if Polydeuces and Heracles made a feint back to the herd of cattle, Talos would go to defend them,” he suggested.
“And then what do we do?” Heracles asked. “Even Polydeuces and I can’t defeat him, remember.”
“But I bet I can,” Atalanta said to the considerable surprise of the men in the group.
“What are you going to do – flash your… eyelashes at him?” Heracles stumbled as Polydeuces dug his sharp elbow in his ribcage.
Atalanta sighed. “No, but I could shoot the nail out of his heel.”
“It’s a small nail on the heel of a giant, Atalanta, not a bull’s-eye on a board, or even a full-size moving target in a hunt,” Meleager said, gently.
The dark-skinned archer nodded. “I know, and I can shoot it out, especially if Heracles will lend me his bow and arrows…” She turned to the man on her left. All eyes were on Heracles. He frowned at the slender woman with hesitation in his deep-sapphire blue eyes. “Do you doubt me?” she asked.
The hero shook his head. “No, I have seen you shoot, I have no doubts you would be able to strike the nail – if you were close enough to get a good shot. But the problem is how to get close to him?”
Medea, who had been lounging on a bank of silken cushions against the deck of the Argo, raised her voice. “I shall make a potion that will make Talos sleep and then Atalanta can fire her arrow…”
“And how will you get close enough to Talos to give him a potion?” Polydeuces asked.
“Oh, Polydeuces, you still have so much to learn, my child,” Medea laughed. She languidly rose from her cushions and turned her sultry brown eyes on the assembled men. The sun struck golden rays from her hair and her white skin almost gleamed. “Which of you would not listen to the pleadings of a helpless woman, kidnapped from her home by thieves and brigands? Which of you,” she turned and ran her hand lightly over Polydeuces’s bare arm, “would not want to help that woman – especially if she told you that, in return for your help, she would be your wife and give you a drink that would make you invulnerable?” Her brittle laughter shook them from their collective trance.
“And that helpless woman is you, is it?” Atalanta said sourly.
Medea’s eyes flashed. “Yes, my lady Argonaut… now, I suggest you equip yourself with the bow and arrows and attire yourself in more feminine garb – for when I flee from my captors to the sanctuary of Talos’s arms, I shall require my tirewoman to accompany me.”
“I will be no witch’s tirewoman!” Atalanta spat venomously. It was the first time any of the Argonauts had seen her behave like the woman she was.
Meleager appeased her. “Atalanta, please, think it through before you refuse. Medea’s plan is a good one. If one of us goes with her, Talos will be suspicious, but he cannot suspect a simple tirewoman. When Talos is won over, you will be able to get close enough for a shot at the nail and we shall be freed from here. Please, lady, think of your companions.”
Atalanta stared into the loving eyes of her suitor and gave a grudging nod of her head. Then, with a venomous look at Medea, she swept away behind the partitioned part of the deck Medea used as her bower to find herself a suitable tunic.
“Such a graceless woman,” Medea said spitefully. “Now, set me a fire on deck and fill a cauldron with sweet water. Jason, you are the finest swimmer amongst us, slip over the side and swim away from the ship. I will explain which herbs I need you to collect.”
Medea was busy for several hours, chanting over the cauldron from which issued a sickly sweet smell. Her prayers and invocations were to Hecate, the goddess she had served in Colchis, and a rather grumpy Atalanta, now unhappily attired in a long tunic with her short hair gathered into some semblance of a coiffure, whispered to Meleager that she would not be surprised if Hecate refused to grant the request.
By mid-afternoon, the plan was ready. They had to act quickly before the light grew too poor for Atalanta to have a good shot, and yet in time for them to escape, with all the provisions they might gather before the islanders or Hephaestus discovered Talos was disabled.
On cue, Polydeuces and Heracles slipped down into the water, making sure their antics were noticed by the silent guardian of the island. Splashing to the beach they ran as quickly as they could towards where the herds grazed. Even at this distance they could hear the squeak of metal as Talos turned to watch them. As the giant began to move from his post at the mouth of the bay, to answer a more fundamental call to duty, Medea and Atalanta were lowered to the water in a small boat. The archer concealed her bow beneath the voluminous cloak she was wearing and waited for Medea to pick up the oars. The witch sat back and smiled - she had no intention of rowing.
Orpheus rolled his eyes at Argus and the older man nodded in cynical agreement. As Orpheus began to play, a gentle breeze blew the small skiff to the beach, with neither woman having to lose face. Talos had already reached the beach and was starting to move towards his herds, when Heracles and Polydeuces came running back, haunches of meat on their backs. They dodged and skipped past the slow, grabbing movements of the metal giant and as Talos started after them Medea began her complaint.
“Gentle Lord Talos,” she called, “take pity on a poor lady – cruelly used by these barbarian Greeks! Here am I, a prisoner, foully abused and to be abandoned as a sop to the God Poseidon, so that they may escape from your wrath. Pray you, Lord Talos, take pity on a poor lady.”
Talos halted and looked down at the beautiful woman, on her knees in the silver sand, her blonde hair cascading over her attractive shoulders, her tunic, all awry, so that the swell of her white bosom might be seen.
“Help me, my Lord; help me be revenged on them!” Medea wept, raising her white arms towards the giant. “They do not know my worth, Lord. Many secrets have I learned from the wise and powerful Hecate – I have with me a potion, that was made by my goddess herself. One draught of this liquor will make anyone invulnerable. I offered it to Jason in return for my freedom, but he mocked at me and rejected my offer. Will you take my potion – and me – dread Lord? Allow me to live here with you – as your companion - and I will give you my potion…”
Talos looked down at the woman. Standing close behind her was another woman, harder, leaner and less pleasing to his eyes than her voluptuous mistress. Medea heaved a huge sigh, and brushed a tear from her eyes.
Talos reached down his hand and extended his finger. Medea rocked slightly as the giant stroked her hair and traced the line of her neck. She turned her sad brown eyes to the immobile face and quavered, “Oh my Lord, if you will not help me, I do not know where to turn.”
Talos withdrew his finger and laid his open hand on the sand before Medea. She clambered on to it, holding the fingers as they closed around her. Talos lifted her up to his eye level, so that she could see out into the bay where the Argo lay at anchor. The Argonauts were all watching, their faces turned upwards to watch Talos’s face. Heracles and Polydeuces were amongst them and Jason stood with Argus and Orpheus close to the figurehead.
Talos was waiting for the potion. With becoming modesty and simpering smiles, Medea showed him the phial she carried. The giant carried her close to his mouth. His face was cast in the mould of a man, his apparently sightless eyes were perfect copies of real ones and where his lips curled in eternal disdain, there was the slightest parting of the metal, as if his mouth was partly open. Medea tipped the potion into the gap, hearing it drip into the apparent void of the giant’s body. She began to sing sweetly, stroking the metal hand that held her so far above the ground.
Soon Talos began to sway. He took an uncertain step, and Atalanta fled away to the water’s edge to avoid being stepped on. Then she threw off her cloak and drew her bow to take careful aim. The arrow of Heracles sped from his bow and striking sparks from the metal, sheared the nail head from the ankle. Talos reached down and rubbed the wound. He turned to Atalanta and then back to Medea.
She was now rather frightened, it was such a long way from the ground, but she never faltered in her song. If the plan failed, she might yet convince this metal giant that she knew nothing of the Greek’s treachery and had acted in good faith.
Atalanta watched and smiled with satisfaction. Seeping from the broken seal was a liquid; it sank into the sand with a hiss. Talos staggered and slowly sank to his knees. Once more his hand brushed the wound.
As he swayed Medea slipped from his grasp and landed in a rather ungainly heap on the beach.
“Medea, come over here, if he falls he will crush you…” Atalanta’s voice was stern.
Slowly, the witch crawled away from the stricken giant and joined her companion. “Good shooting,” she said.
“Thank you,” Atalanta replied and gave a slight smile as she helped her companion to her feet.
The air rang with the hollow echo of Talos’ final fall, and the giant lay immobile on the beach – his face looking blindly towards Medea, one hand stretched imploringly in her direction.
From across the water came the cheering of the Argonauts and the sound of men diving into the water and swimming for the beach.
Jason was first ashore. He hugged Medea and smiled gratefully at Atalanta, who was submitting herself to Meleager’s enthusiastic embrace with less than her usual reluctance.
When Heracles reclaimed his bow and arrows from the young woman, he also complimented her on her shooting. Atalanta blushed and almost simpered at this praise from the great hero. Meleager held on to her hand with a slightly tighter grip.
“Shall we fetch the meat now?” Polydeuces asked, turning from examining the fallen giant.
Jason nodded. “We must gather all the provisions we can, then make a sacrifice to Hephaestus and his mother, the divine Hera – and get the hell out of here – all before nightfall.”
The Argonauts cheered and scattered in groups to carry out their orders.
“Well, that was a turn-up for the books,” Aphrodite said, as she sat watching the world model and combing her long, reddish-blonde hair.
Athena smiled. “They are clever men… and women.”
“Are you sure you didn’t give them even the smallest amount of help?” Aphrodite asked, as she curled the long strands of hair into a beguiling coiffure.
“Are you sure you didn’t?” Athena countered. “You and Hephaestus are always bickering and Talos was one of his favourite creations. I thought you might have had a hand in his destruction – as part of the never-ending quarrel between you two.”
Aphrodite pouted her perfect lips and said sulkily, “He is a bore and I don’t see why I should have to tolerate him, if I don’t want to.”
“You don’t tolerate him,” Artemis said sourly, “which is why he is a bore…”
“I never asked him to fall in love with me,” the Goddess of Love said sweetly. “In fact, I’d be much happier if he wasn’t in love with me…”
The other two goddesses sighed and exchanged weary glances. Aphrodite wanted every man to fall in love with her - and then always protested that it was not her fault when they did.
“I wonder what Hephaestus will do when he finds out?” Artemis mused, adding, “Whatever it is, he had better not take revenge on Atalanta – the girl is under my protection and I won’t have her harmed.”
Aphrodite smiled secretively. She had plans for Atalanta and Meleager and she would bet on her skills against Artemis’s any day.
Athena watched her sister-goddesses with some condescension. They were mere novices at weaving plots, yet they thought themselves so clever. We’ll see, she thought, but I have a feeling this is not the end of the matter… not by a long way.
Hephaestus was working in his forge beneath Mount Etna, when Hermes strolled in and told him the news about Talos. He was outraged and instantly decided to be revenged on the Argonauts for the destruction of his creation.
“But you can repair him,” Hermes said, wondering if he had done the right thing in bringing the news after all.
“That is not the point,” the smith growled, swinging his hammer down on the anvil with great force. “I have been over-looked once too often, Hermes. It is a fine thing if mortals can abuse me without paying the penalty.”
“What will you do?” Hermes asked, as he fiddled with one of the huge hammers Hephaestus used in making his artefacts.
“I shall pay my Uncle a visit.”
“Poseidon? Well, he isn’t very well disposed to the Argonauts since Polydeuces killed his son,” the younger god agreed. “He’ll probably help you…”
“No, not Poseidon. I meant my other Uncle…”
“Hephaestus,” Hermes warned, genuinely shocked, “you shouldn’t bring him into it… you know he always exacts a price for his help.”
“I have had enough! It is time people realised I am a power to be reckoned with.”
Hermes watched as the irate god limped off into the distance, intent on following his idea through. There is going to be trouble… he thought gleefully, a wicked grin on his face… I wonder where I can get a good vantage point to watch.
The Argonauts feasted all night on the beach. Orpheus played his lyre, and the others joined in the singing and dancing, including Medea, who, as the night wore on, led Jason away to the shade of the trees and spent the remaining hours until dawn alone with him.
Meleager cast a hopeful glance at Atalanta and received a stern reproof.
Heracles suggested an expedition to find some local women, but was dissuaded by Argus, who feared that - once they got started on such a mission – it would be near impossible to get the crew back once more.
As the sky brightened, a rather sheepish Jason - and a very smug Medea - rejoined them and the task began of loading their spoils onto the Argo.
After a few hours of hard work, Jason straightened up and glanced at the sky. Away in the west it was growing dark, as thunderous clouds built up and the distant rumble of thunder filled the air.
“There’s a bad storm brewing,” he said to Argus, who followed the direction of his glance and frowned.
“They look like no storm clouds I have ever seen, Jason,” the older man remarked. “I don’t like it. In my opinion, this is the work of the gods and not very happy gods either.”
Jason looked back at the sky. The dark clouds were building at an incredible rate, tumbling across the sky in their haste to darken the sun. From within their stygian darkness, lightning could be seen, darting through the mass, like sparks from a chariot’s wheels. He turned to meet Argus’s calculating expression. “I think you are right,” he said.
Swiftly he drew his men’s attention to the approaching threat and hastily they took cover, using the fallen body of Talos as a barricade against whatever the Immortals had decided to throw against them now.
Atalanta had her own bow in her hand, and Medea was muttering enchantments as they watched the storm swirling across the sky. The sun was blacked out and an unnatural night fell on the island.
Suddenly, from the very depths of the clouds, emerged two figures. One was a tall man, heavily built, bearded and limping. To his right Jason heard Heracles whisper “Hephaestus, maybe hiding behind Talos is not such a good idea, after all.”
All eyes were then drawn to the other figure and a cold shiver ran through the Argonauts, making even Heracles fearful. The God was taller than Hephaestus. His robes were black, and his hair and eyes, whilst his skin had the wax-like pallor of the long dead. At his approach it was if a cold wind chilled the Argonauts and hope fled from their hearts.
“Hades…” Orpheus muttered. He had met the God of the Underworld before, on a personal quest to free his wife from death’s cold lands.
“Jason,” Hephaestus called, his voice making the mortals cringe, “you will pay for the desecration of this island, for the destruction of my creation and the killing of my cattle.”
He stood aside and Hades moved forwards. From his dark eyes glowed an eerie green light, which travelled as in circles over the sand and along the cold metal corpse on the beach.
The Argonauts panicked and fled away as the giant began to move. Slowly the bronze monster raised itself and got to its knees, then, staggering slightly, it stood and turned to the Immortals watching it, with a creaking that grated on everyone’s already overwrought nerves.
Hades’ voice, cold as the tomb and without emotion, said: “YOU KNOW WHAT YOU MUST DO…”
Talos drew his sword from his scabbard and stared down at the Argonauts as they ran in all directions seeking shelter.
“Uncle, dread Lord of the Underworld, I pray you, do not let them escape...” Hephaestus cried.
Hades raised a hand and once more the green light shimmered over the sandy beach. Moments later the sand began to heave, small mounds appeared and grew, until from all over the beach, swords emerged in skeletal hands, and fully grown, armed warriors clambered into the gloomy light of day.
“Aaaiiiee,” Medea wailed, “the sons of the dragon’s teeth! The warriors that spring from the teeth of the Hydra! They are invincible!”
“They are just a load of old bones…” Heracles growled. He fitted an arrow to his bow and as Atalanta did the same, the two loosed their weapons into the advancing hoard. Both struck a target, and two skeletons staggered momentarily, before the arrows passed straight through them and fell harmlessly to the ground.
“Oh, help,” Tiphys whispered.
“Well, that just confirms my first thought,” Heracles said, shedding the cloak he wore. “This will be settled man to man… come on, Polydeuces – we’ll have the boxing match of our lives out there!”
Nothing loath, the younger man stripped too, and they made a move towards the advancing enemy. Medea hurried away to the groves that bordered the beach and began to cast an enchantment, in the hope that Hecate would come to her aid against the might of Hades.
Another flash of green light brought the clatter of wings overhead and from the dark sky the Harpies appeared, screeching out their fury and reaching with their deadly talons to grab at any man unwary enough to allow them to close.
“We have fought these monsters before!” Tiphys cried as his sword was snatched from his hand by a winged monster. “Why are they here once more?”
Argus beat off another attack from a Harpy and gasped, “Hades raises them from the dead – he has the population of the underworld to call upon – they live again through his might and power!”
“So even if we kill them, they will get up and fight us once more?” Meleager gasped, shielding Atalanta from talons that would have ripped her flesh.
She fitted an arrow and fired. It struck the Harpy in the eye and the creature screamed and fell writhing to the ground. Then it lay still. The green light covered its body, and once more it rose and took flight.
“Yes,” Tiphys answered his friend, “I’d say that was about the sum of it!”
Heracles, grinning all over his blood-splattered face, rejoined them. “Get back under cover – make them come to us. Under the trees the harpies cannot reach us…” He swung with his club and felled one of the she-demons with a single blow.
The Argonauts turned and ran for cover. Under the trees they were safe from the aerial attack, but the army of skeletons was still advancing towards them. Jason pointed a shaky finger to where Talos had waded out to the Argo and picked her up by the mast. He was shaking the boat, and the crew left on board were falling, screaming, into the water, along with the provisions.
The mast snapped. The great boat fell to the surface, fracturing as she did so. Argus groaned to see his pride and joy so misused.
“We’ll repair her, Argus – when this is over,” Jason said, with more hope than certainty.
“Come on!” Polydeuces yelled, a huge grin on his face. “There’s a whole army waiting to be torn apart…”
Heracles thumped his half-brother on the back and they led the sortie out from the trees to fight the relentless skeletons. Jason, Tiphys, Argus and Meleager followed. Orpheus was sitting under a tree, sucking at his hand.
“Play something, Orpheus,” Atalanta pleaded, “play something that will dismay our foes!”
He held up his bleeding hand. “I can’t play… my fingers are broken! Oh, father Apollo; won’t you come to my aid? Make me whole again and grant that I might play my part in this battle!” he pleaded to the turbulent sky.
Away in the east there was a gleam of light, advancing slowly across the black sky, forcing the clouds to yield.
Atalanta glanced at Orpheus from watching the phenomenon. “Maybe he heard you, Orpheus?”
“Apollo, God of the Sun, Master of Music, son of the all-seeing Zeus! Come to our aid!” Orpheus pleaded, his hope growing as the light crept closer.
There was a blinding flash and at the opposite end of the beach stood Apollo, the sun casting a halo of light around him. In his hand he carried a spear. In quick strides he crossed the beach and drove his spear into Talos’ side. The giant crumpled and sank beneath the water in a hiss.
“Apollo,” Hephaestus protested, “this has nothing to do with you. Go away!”
“You injured my son – or your minions did. That makes it my business,” the tall God replied. “You and I have issues to resolve, Hephaestus.”
Hades turned. “Do not stand between me and my will, Apollo. I have agreed to aid my nephew and I will not be deterred.”
“I have no quarrel with you, Great Lord,” Apollo said smoothly. “Yet I will not stand by and see my son wrongly slaughtered. He had nothing to do with this fight.”
Atalanta, who had ventured out from the trees in her concern for Meleager’s safety, suddenly let out a piercing scream as a Harpy descended and sank its talons into her shoulder, lifting her from the ground. Meleager flailed at it with his sword and Heracles pierced it with an arrow. The creature let go and fell mortally wounded.
Meleager cradled the dying woman and hid his tears in her hair.
With a sudden swirl of wind, Artemis appeared beside her brother. “Greetings, Dread Lord Hades,” she said sternly. “I am here to stand by my brother – you will not harm Atalanta, she is under my protection.”
“CHASTE LADY OF THE HUNT, SURELY YOU KNOW SHE LOVES A MORTAL MAN?” Hades said, casting his glance at the huddled couple on the beach.
Artemis frowned. “It is an honourable love,” she said through slightly gritted teeth. “I will see her happy and safely delivered of her sons…” She reached out a hand and Atalanta drew a great breath. Meleager looked up in astonishment and hugged her closer to him. She opened her eyes and smiled.
“SO, THE CHILDREN OF LETO WOULD OPPOSE ME, WOULD THEY? YOU KNOW THE COST IF YOU FAIL?”
The two siblings smiled at each other. “We shall not fail,” they said in unison and launched an attack on Hephaestus, who turned and fled as quickly as his lame leg would allow.
Mighty Poseidon rose from the water, trident in hand, and aimed a blow at Apollo. Before the startled eyes of the mortals the gods engaged in a brawl.
Hera and Athena, alerted by Hermes of the impending fight, arrived to add their weight to the Argonauts. Hera stopped momentarily to pick her figurehead from the stricken Argo and place it safely on the shore. The expression on her face spoke of her anger and offence at having her image so misused. She advanced across the beach, scattering skeletons as she walked.
Athena strode over the battlefield, her flame-red hair streaming behind her like a flag and her shield held before her to strike terror into the army of skeletons. One Harpy, unwise enough to glance at her, fell from the sky, turned to stone by the terrible visage of the Gorgon Medusa that adorned the Goddess’s shield.
Heracles whooped with delight and ran after the advancing immortals, swinging his club at any skeletal warriors he encountered, Polydeuces followed close behind him, and a gaggle of Argonauts behind him.
Hera came alongside her brother and looked at Hades with acute vexation. “You swore you would not interfere in the realms of the living,” she reminded him.
“I AM MERELY ASSISTING MY NEPHEW – YOUR SON, HERA - IN RECOVERING HIS PROPERTY AND PUNISHING IMPIOUS MORTALS.” He reached out a hand and caught a wayward arrow fired by Artemis at a swooping Harpy.
“You are breaking your oath,” Hera said, firmly.
“SO, AS I UNDERSTAND IT, ARE YOU. WEREN’T YOU SUPPOSED TO LET JASON AND HIS CREW FLOUNDER, AFTER THEY HAD LEFT A TRAIL OF CARNAGE IN THEIR WAKE?”
His sister brushed that aside. “Go back, Hades, go back before Zeus finds out you have been… meddling.”
A thunderbolt rent the air and crashed into the army of skeletons, smashing them to pieces and knocking Heracles and Polydeuces over in the blast. The skirmishing faltered and came to a rather awkward stop as Zeus appeared amongst them; no-one could mistake the fine head of snow-white hair and the beetling black brows, nor the cold blue eyes beneath them that swept the scene with annoyance . Now, his expression was angry - his always hasty temper was obviously roused by what he saw.
He spoke in thunderous tones: “WHAT, IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS HOLY, IS GOING ON HERE? I LEAVE THE PLACE FOR A FEW DAYS AND YOU ARE ALL BRAWLING LIKE STREET-URCHINS! APOLLO, I CAN STILL SEE YOU - PUT THAT SPEAR DOWN – NOW! HADES, POSEIDON, WHAT ARE YOU DOING GETTING MIXED UP WITH THIS…INCONSEQUENTIAL MATTER? HERA, HAVE YOU BEEN GOING AGAINST MY ORDERS AGAIN? ATHENA, I THOUGHT I COULD TRUST YOU NOT TO GET INVOLVED, AND ARTEMIS, I AM DISAPPOINTED AND SURPRISED AT YOU…”
From behind the broad-back of the King of the Immortals, Aphrodite peeped shyly. She smiled approvingly as she scanned the ranks of the Argonauts and gave a coy wave of her fingers at Polydeuces, who blushed and tentatively waved back.
Zeus’s eyes fell on Heracles, who had got back to his feet and was grumbling as he brushed the sand from his black hair and beard. Zeus cast a glance at his favourite son and sighed.
“HERACLES, IS THIS YOUR DOING?” he boomed.
“No, Lord. I am here as a mere member of Jason’s crew…” Heracles said innocently. “We were fighting off these skeletons, Polydeuces and I, which had attacked us when we were just about to load our boat and leave…”
“JASON? AH, NOW I UNDERSTAND. COME FORTH, JASON, COME FORTH AND EXPLAIN YOURSELF – OR FACE THE FULL FORCE OF MY DIVINE WRATH UNHEARD…”
His heart in his mouth, Jason advanced across the bone-strewn beach to where the shining figure of the king of the immortals waited him – in no good mood.
He couldn’t imagine why the God was blaming him for all the trouble – when it had been Heracles who had started it by killing the cattle and Medea who had slaughtered the hostage. He had been trying to follow orders, to do the bidding of the Goddess whilst not upsetting any of the other gods and now – it seemed everyone thought it was his fault…. He desperately tried to think of an excuse, convinced he was going to get the blame for it… and really it wasn’t his fault…. really it wasn’t…. it was the others….Heracles, Polydeuces, Medea…
Zeus was waiting for an answer and he didn’t look very pleased at all. Jason gulped and dropped to his knees in the sharp sand. He looked pleadingly into the stern face of the ultimate arbiter and opened his mouth to speak a few times – without being able to make a sound.
“Well, come on, man, I don’t have all day….” Zeus grumbled.
Jason swallowed. “It wasn’t me…” he began…
“What wasn’t?” Captain Ochre asked.
Captain Grey woke with a gasp, the book falling from his knees to the floor with a clatter, and glanced around him. He was in the Officers’ Lounge on Cloudbase and beyond the small portholes the sky was dark. Gathered around him, their faces flushed with merriment, were the cream of Spectrum’s officer class – all wearing ridiculous costumes.
Ochre was wearing a plumed helmet, like a Trojan hero, and Blue, with a similar style breast-plate on, was carrying a plastic sword. Behind them, Lieutenant Green, dressed in what looked like one of Fawn’s surgical gowns, had his guitar slung over his shoulder, whilst Magenta wore a laurel wreath on his black hair and a voluminous tunic made of a white sheet. He was carrying a ceramic jug, whilst Melody, dressed as an Amazon warrior, had a carefully-made bow and quiver of arrows in her hand. Destiny wore a tightly-laced bodice over a rich full-length gown and her fair hair lay over her shoulders in artful curls. As he surveyed the motley group, Captain Scarlet emerged from the corridor, a substantial toy lion strapped to his back, its head lying on his shoulder, and a polystyrene club swinging in his hand.
“You missed a great party,” Ochre continued. “I particularly liked some of the nymphs’ costumes…” Melody thumped his arm.
“What was the topic this time?” Grey asked in confusion.
“Ancient Mythological heroes and villains…” Scarlet reminded him.
“And you are meant to be who, exactly?” Grey asked, eyeing the lion with some surprise.
“Heracles,” Scarlet said, somewhat affronted. “This is the corpse of the Nemean lion.” He stroked the toy’s head affectionately. “I call him Fluffy…”
His companions laughed.
“It was the skin of the Nemean lion – which Heracles killed - that made him indestructible,” Blue added with a grin.
“Yes, yes, of course it was…” Grey said, and rubbed a hand over his eyes. “And who are you?” he asked Ochre, letting his gaze drift over the others.
“I am Hector, Prince of Troy,” Ochre explained, “and Blue is Paris – the wastrel of the family…”
“But at least I get the girl…” the Bostonian said, laughing. He held out his hand to Destiny and kissed her fingers.
Ochre grimaced. “Destiny is Helen of Troy, of course.”
Grey smiled at the blushing Angel as she gently disengaged her fingers from Captain Blue. “I can see the resemblance,” he said, which caused the Frenchwoman to blush even more.
“Patrick is Bacchus, God of Wine – because it was down to him to make the punch this year – and a bloody good job he made of it,” Scarlet smiled. Magenta took a bow.
“And I am Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons,” Melody said. She raised her bow and quiver for Grey’s inspection.
Grey nodded as he looked at them. So that was what Ochre had been so busy making with such secrecy for the past weeks, he thought, adding aloud, “Yes, I can see that now – they are all very good costumes. I am sorry I missed the party, but then I never had a costume picked out anyway, knowing I was going to be on duty for most of the evening.”
“Did Symphony ever decide who she was going to be after looking at the pictures?” Scarlet asked his friend, nodding at the book on the floor.
Blue grinned and nodded. “Two guesses,” he said.
“Athena, the warrior goddess of wisdom?” Scarlet hazarded.
Destiny laughed. “Non, Symphony was going to be Aphrodite…” she smiled at Captain Blue.
“She wasn’t at the party, though,” Blue said. “So we may never get to see her costume after all.”
“That’s a shame. I bet she’d have made a good Aphrodite,” Magenta mused.
“We drew lots for the duty rota – it was the fairest way,” Melody responded.
“Never mind, Adam, maybe she’ll show you her costume later when she comes off duty – in a fashion parade just for you…” Scarlet consoled his friend.
The others laughed.
Grey began to stand from the chair. “I came in here after my duty finished and I must have dozed off over that book.” He picked it up and placed it on the table once more. “I had the most remarkable dream. It was so realistic and … you were all in it – in a weird sort of way…”
“Come on, Brad, you look bushed; we’re going to get a drink from the canteen before we turn in, and I bet you could do with a drink too…” Magenta said.
“Yes, I could do with a drink and I’ll tell you about my dream while we’re there.”
“If I’m all ‘eager to please’ in this one, I don’t want to hear about it…” Magenta began as he led the others out of the Lounge.
Blue stopped to retrieve his book and, smiling, he glanced through the well-loved pictures.
He came to the one of the Olympians and stared in bewilderment for a moment. Many years ago, he had had an almighty argument with his younger brother when Peter had drawn spectacles on the face of Apollo. Now, he did a double take. There was the picture, as he remembered it, with Hera, Apollo and the other Immortals watching Jason’s progress on their model world, but the face of the God was free of any defacement… there were no spectacles to be seen.
“How on earth…?” he murmured, and gasped in surprise as for the merest fraction of time, he thought the blue-eyed God winked at him.
He snapped the book closed and glanced suspiciously around the empty lounge.
“I certainly need a drink but it isn’t coffee,” he said aloud and, as if from a long way away, he heard the faintest sound of laughter.
My thanks go to Hazel Köhler for beta-reading this story and to Chris Bishop for her inspired choice of background and decoration!
As usual, the mistakes are mine alone.
Captain Scarlet and the characters from the TV show belong to the company that owns the rights to them – (lucky them) but the Greek legends belong to everyone.