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Acastus took Jason aside. “One day your part in this will be honored,” he said, “but right now it would be dangerous for you to attract too much attention from my father.”

“Thank you, Acastus,” said Jason, and meant it. He smiled. “Then you’ve changed your mind about us settling things like warriors?”

“We have settled things like warriors,” Acastus replied, “fighting side by side. How you stayed on that creature’s back I’ll never know! And the way you fired that stone!”

Jason laughed. “There was more luck to that shot than I care to admit, Acastus.”

“What matters,” Acastus said, “is that you never stopped fighting. From now on we are comrades in arms, whatever happens in the future.”

For a moment Jason could not think what to say. He wondered if Hera had guided his shot or if she’d abandoned him to his fate long before. Either way, with Acastus offering himself as a friend, Jason knew he could never help the goddess in her scheme for revenge. If ever he returned to Iolcus, it would not be with an army, but alone and unarmed.

“I can’t guess what the future holds for us, Acastus,” he told the prince, “but I promise you this: If ever I come for my throne, I will do no harm either to you or your father.”

“And I promise no harm will come to you, either. Let the gods decide the rest.” Acastus put a hand on Jason’s shoulder.

“In the meantime,” Jason said, “my mother and father are still living in Iolcus ….”

“You will find them safe and well when you come,” Acastus promised. “I will see to it.”

He offered his hand, and Jason clasped it firmly.

The other boys gathered around them.

“I can’t pretend to understand what’s going on, Jason,” said Admetus, “but I suppose if you don’t want anyone to know about your part in all of this, we’ll go along with that.”

“Thank you,” said Jason. “One day everything will be made clear.”

“When that day comes, Jason,” said Lynceus, “if you should need a sharp pair of eyes—”

“Or a strong arm,” Idas put in.

They spoke together, “Just send for us.”

“Me, too,” said Admetus. “If you should ever need somebody who can … well, somebody who’s willing to help, I will come.”

“I will remember all of you,” Jason assured them. “And I hope that one day we will all travel together again.”

“In that case I hope it’s an easier journey than this one!” said Admetus.

“Easier?” Idas laughed. “Why, this was just a warm-up!”

And they all laughed with him, Jason the loudest of them all.


DID THE HEROIC AGE—the Age of Heroes—really exist? Yes and no. No—there was not a time when the gods took part in human battles, nor were there harpies flying about mountaintops or centaurs galloping along the plains. There were no Gorgons, monsters whose blood could bring both life and death.

But yes—there was once a rich and powerful civilization in Greece that we call Mycenaean, where each city was a separate state with its own king but where the people were united by a single language. One of these was the kingdom of Thessaly, on the plains, where King Jason eventually reigned.

In the old mythological stories, Aeson—then rightful king of Iolcus—gave up his throne to his half brother, Pelias. Fearing his own baby son Jason would be killed by the greedy new king, Aeson sent the infant to the mountains to be reared by Chiron, the wise centaur.

When Jason was grown, he came down out of the mountains to demand the crown from Pelias. Pelias had been warned by an oracle to beware of a one-sandaled lad, and since Jason arrived wearing only one sandal, Pelias knew he had to destroy the young man. He suggested that before becoming king, Jason should first go on a perilous quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece, which rightfully belonged in Thessaly. Pelias did not expect Jason to return.

Jason was thrilled to go on such a quest. He rounded up fifty of the heroes of Greece—including the king’s son, Acastus; Lynceus (whose eyesight was so keen he reputedly could see right through the earth) and his brother, Idas; Admetus; Hercules; Theseus; Orpheus; Nestor and (in some versions of the story) the female hero Atalanta. Many are the names in the folklore, as Greek families added to the story for centuries in order to claim an ancestor who sailed with Jason.

Jason’s boat was built by an innovative builder named Argos and was named the Argo after him. The fifty who sailed on her were known as the Argonauts. Some folklorists feel that this adventure may have—in part—been based on one of the earliest maritime expeditions known to Western civilization.

The love story of Admetus and Alcestis is told in mythology, and thence in a play by Euripides based on the folklore. Admetus was another king in mythic Thessaly. The god Apollo, learning that Admetus was destined to an early death, conned the Fates (with the help of a great deal of wine) into granting Admetus a longer life if someone would die in his place. His father and mother refused, but his wife, Alcestis, agreed to offer herself. Coming to visit his friend Admetus, Hercules learned of what had happened. He intercepted Thanatos—the messenger of death—and wrestled him into submission, freeing Alcestis. And so the loving couple were reunited. This myth gives no reason for Admetus’ early death, but we have provided one in our story, for herein Admetus brings down a curse on himself by using the Gorgon’s blood to restore Alcestis to life.

The story of Melampus and the little serpents who licked his ears and thus gave him the ability to hear animals speak also comes from Greek mythological tradition.

The centaurs (in Greek they are called Kentauroi), half human and half horse, also were supposed to dwell in Thessaly, on and around Mount Pelion. They all had a bad reputation, especially Nessus, who tried to steal away Hercules’ wife and was killed for it. Chiron was a different kind of centaur, the son of a god who had sired him when in horse shape. He was known to be both wise and just, learned in both music and medicine. The stories say he educated many of the Greek heroes, including Asclepius, Jason, and Achilles.

Alcestis’ prayers to Hera and to the god of the river are both adapted from several found in a collection of prayers.

Stories. Legends. Tales.

But a young man—even a mythic hero—must have a childhood and adolescence that foretell his future deeds. We know little about Jason’s childhood from the tales except that he was taught by Chiron. We know from the stories of his famous expedition on board the Argo that he was easily persuaded to go on a dangerous mission; that he was heroic, ambitious, brave, headstrong, willing to put his body on the line for his friends, and considered a great leader.

We have taken the Jason of the legends and tales and projected him backward into his adolescence, using what archeologists have told us about the civilization he would have inhabited if he had been a real young man.

Or a young hero.

A Conversation Between the Authors

Jane: When we began the first of the four Young Heroes books, Odysseus in the Serpent Maze, we were quickly heads down in the thirteenth century BCE. I remember feeling amazed each time we swam up to the surface, where we were using computers to write the books, not scrolls, and sending emails back and forth, even when we were living in the same country.

And look where we are now: We have cell phones that can take us from point A to point B and take and send photographs from any location; we have twitters and tweets and more. Does all this technology make it even harder to get into the Heroic Age mindset?

Bob: When I try to think about being in a “mindset,” my mind goes completely blank. To give an answer worth reading, I would just have to make something up. In other words, lie.