The king (your father in law, your predecessor, if everything played out as intended), returned to his palace and informed you, in voice doing it's best to sound gruff and severe without being unreasonable, that tomorrow you and your wife would forever be parted.
You did your best to behave as appropriately as possible ( and never was it as hard to control your body and manage your tone of voice, find proper expression and correct emotion, but you knew whole scheme would be headache since first moment you conceived of it), bowed and chatted until he left satisfied, and then, despite all protests of your brain that you are behaving madly, that you shall anger the king and worse, rouse her wrath should you visit her. You do your best to ignore it, for rationality is unwelcome in these circumstances.
There is too much left unsaid between you, and gods know goodbye is the least she is owed.
(You watched the king's face well, when he returned.
You noticed exact shade of his pallor, and how much his irises had shrunk. You watched his lips, the pale pink of blood diluted into snowmelt, tremble, and counted how many times he stumbled over his words, where his pauses were placed, what undercurrents were present in his voice. You noted amount of sweat on his brow, and how much force he used to grip his clothes, and then did same with all his attendants.
People say that Medea is snake. They are right, for all the wrong reasons. Her blood runs as cold as rivers of Ultima Thule, and uncaring and uncognizant of human intrigue and machinations, she seeks nothing more than a piece of pleasant green land and sunny sky, and to be left in peace.
Serpents don't lie or mislead. They have no need for it, and never try to hide their fangs or venom. It is a man's own fault that he isn't careful enough, when he stands on the tip of their tails and gets bitten. Serpent retaliates, and stalks it's prey, but never seeks more than she needs. She would be content with cottage in middle of nowhere, and a patch of soil to plant vegetables.
Opposites attract, you suppose. That draws you to her, still, after all these years. You had never met somebody so open, so honest and full of faith in people's honour and commitment to promise as her. You had, however, also encountered battle-axes and warhammers with more discretion than Medea.
Most people don't acknowledge it, because she can make every word sound like a threat, even when not intending to, something she sees as a great virtue, and to be fair, it is both a proof of truly incredible charisma, and usually supported by evidence- when woman who bisected highway robber while in process of childbirth says you better get out of kitchen until she finishes with bread, you better listen, and try not to grimace as you eat it, and believe her when she says she wants honest crtitique, and then spend fifteen years making it yourself when she finds task thankless and boring.
Consciously, most people are unable to differenate between Medea asking for directions, and medea actively threatening their lives. But there is part of their brain that is able to make out the difference, same part of brain that knows when to run, freeze, fight or pacify when faced with a predator. And you had gotten very, very good at divining what that part of brain had registered from people who interacted with your wife.
You suspect that in some other life, you would have made a damn fine soothsayer.)
The nurse awaits you on the threshold of your wife's home. She leads you inside, silent, without a semblance of bow. She sets her face in bland and empty shape, and shoots you dirty look, as venomous as Hydra-tipped arrows of Heracles, when she thinks you can't see her. You do not take offense in slightest- she has always been good worker, and more than loving to your children, but you knew that her loyalty was first and foremost to your wife.
Her husband had cast her out, after she had miscarried, and her father refused to take her back home. So she lived on the streets, for none would take her for work, filthy like rat that had bathed in pigpen, begging for money, old rags, leftovers, anything.
They scowled and hissed at her, called her a pest, the parasite, vermin, madwoman. That was how Medea found her, near market stall, where shop owners threatened to let their dogs at poor woman, as children called her mocking nicknames. She took woman by hand, took her home, bathed and fed and dressed her, and put up with her mood swings and weeping and confusing speech for three months, by which woman's infected wounds were healed without scars, and she swore eternal service to Medea.
(The stall-keepers who had been hissing at her that day had died from sickness, for what produce their hands touched fell to ruin- bread grew mouldy in their hands, vegetables rotted on their plates, and milk curdled before it touched their lips.
The children became orphans and beggars through various coincidences, their homes lost to fire, to flood, to parents fallen from and run over by horse.
And her husband? Him they found in his bed, silent and unmoving, as worms ate through his flesh. He lived, still.
Medea never mentioned or admitted to any action on her part. You didn't ask, and that was partially why marriage lasted twenty years.)
She waits for him, there, inside her home, standing taller and prouder than a point of spear, air shimmering around her. It should be his home, he knows, as tradition demands- after all, he is the man, the husband, the son of king (who has, nevertheless, never been prince, not truly), the patriarch, the hero. His is roof under which they sleep, his is courtyard in which children play, his is hearth upon which offerings are made. And yet he comes here, penitent, having fled house they shared for years like the bride eloping from her wedding.
Of course it belongs to Medea. Wherever they made home, even for a day, even in tavern or under trees, she made that place hers, and defended it as fiercely as boars and bears and tigers defend their lairs and territories, and none dared question it, not wolves they slept next to, not inkeepers in whose taverns they found refuge. Authority and power were as much part of her as heel and breastbone, and none could deny it.
She stood in a damp cave as proud and outstanding as any queen, and after a day she spent on the Argo, she was running it like a captain, and Atalanta and Heracles bowed before her as if she was the Hera herself. When your cousin, fire in eyes and foam at mouth, stood over cauldron with your uncle's remains, his sisters weeping and screaming and trying to scrub off blood and guts from themselves, your wife's face was cool and smiling, and he dared not sit on the throne or call himself king while she still walked lands of Iolcus and breathed same air as him.
( He thinks himself the victim here, your cousin. You liked him, a lot, before that day. You would have given him a nice estate, and let him keep status of nobility. You would even have let your uncle live, in a palace, though you would have made sure that he can never plot, or lead uprising, act in any shape or form against you.
You wanted justice. You wanted restoration. You wanted your birthright. You wanted to get back family you never had. And instead, you are banished from the city you should rule, a refugee stained with stigma of such gruesome deed, your mother and brother rotting below earth, drowned with bull's blood, brother you never met, mother whose cunning gambit saved you.
You leave your father behind. He is younger than you, now, and all his scars and proofs of his mistreatment are gone. A prisoner still, man confided to palace after lifetime in the caves, stained with stigma of you and your crimes, haunted by whatever knowledge he gained in hades, after Medea cut him up and boiled his limbs, before she dragged him back to life.
Medea sneers at him, calls him coward, for refusing to press his rights, to offer you his throne, for refusing to demand slaughter of his brother's whole house. He keeps silent, for you both know only reason he lives still is because everybody is too afraid of her retribution if they harm him.
A lifetime spent, trying to liberate and avenge your father, and here are your null accomplishments.)
Medea is inside, waiting for you. She stands, dressed in ivory cloth and adorned with silver jewelry, back straight and unbending as statue in Hera's temple, hair unbound and unveiled, hair slipping down her shoulders, wild and unrestrained, like waterfall of molten gold- the exact shade of crowns and coins melted down, the metallic colour no human can possess. The air shimmers around her, and her hands and shoulders and forehead shine, as if she was a bronze blade upon a ship, reflecting August sunlight beneath the blue sky that offered no respite, the ocean just intensifying the shine. You know from experience that it is just as hot to touch- not enough to burn, to scar, but enough to singe and cause fingers to curl were one to accidentally brush them against surface of her olive, freckled skin.
(You did not scream, first time she kissed you, first time she held your hand, first time she hugged you, though it reminded you of fiery oxen you had to put to plow. Her ointment had saved you from smouldering, but you still had to catch and command Colchis bulls, to put them to work, to feel heat press on your insides and seep in your bones.
You did not scream, or weep. It would be unseemly, and make you look weak before your men, and it would be insulting to her, after all she did for you. With years you learnt to ignore the pain, even when other men, your neighbors, mocked you for scars and bruises.)
She has not changed, not really. Here she stands, decades having passed, wrinkles at her forehead and bags under her eyes, cost of several childbirths having taken away slender waist, clad in Pellean clothing, having shed rainments of princess and priestess. And yet it matters not to you- despite what they say, it is not your new wife's youth and beauty that called you to her side, only presence of her father's throne. You lost eye for the beauty of women and men long ago, though you still know how to compliment them well enough to cause most suspicious, cynical cold hearts to flutter.
How could you care about those things, when here stands Medea, as splendid and breathtaking as first time you saw her, no matter how chapped are her lips, no matter her broken nails, no matter that children of streets and your neighbors call her crone with a reason, no matter her yellow teeth. People attribute her strangeness, her sharp and uncompromising ways to being barbarian, but you know that even in her own homeland she was strange and incredible and fearsome, and that foreign tongue of your people slips just as easily from her lips as that of her own people.
That was why she left it so easily, without looking back, never mentioning it, never weeping, never wondering. Snake is venomous no matter the borders of countries, and in Corinth or Colchid or Iolcus or Black Sea, Medea stood out equally: like the scar across throat, like flowers amidst desert, like jewel among coals, like orichalcum among brittle bone and weak mortal flesh.
That is why she is so honest, and so static, and so stubborn. Medea had never known what it means to sit among people as equal, to be subject to human whims and reputations, to depend on another's favor. She had never met challenge she couldn't overcome, the enemy she couldn't strangle and shatter beneath her feet, and so she never had to pretend to be anything she is not, to change and grow.
You know that this will be the hard one, when you enter the room, for her face is placid and her tone measured. Trouble is equal, whether she rages and shouts, or speaks with reason and spares you. In all honesty, you prefer the latter- gods know that her solutions are many times worse than perils you face, and she is easier to fool, more likely to be talked in circles and accept your lies, guilt you subtly sling at her, when she is overtaken by emotion, rage and euphoric, violent joy being worst of them all.
(Chiron taught you strategy and diplomacy, gave you lessons of honour and promises, talked to you about history and myths, how to speak with kings and fight for your demands, how to debate and demand. But it was your nursemaids, who smuggled you ot of the city on your mother's orders, who told you of husbands who beat and insulted them, and how they would trick them in getting what their wives wished while thinking it was their idea all along.
Chiron's lessons on political matches and divorce laws will, if all goes according to plan, win you kingship. Your nursemaids' tales of husbands they left behind won you twenty years of marriage, and will now secure you kingdom, perhaps. May your teacher forgive you, but once again practicality proves itself more worthwhile than ideals and honour.)
She begins her barrage. You bear it stoically, bravely, enduring her accusations and complaints. You don't deny them, not openly, but you imply doubt. You are here to placate her, after all, not drive her to madness. She is trying to guilt you, shame you, but that is game where she is outmatched. You will not refute that her potions saved your life, but aren't your pleas to king to spare her so much greater favor- and more often repeated? You say it not, but you know she thinks it, how often you prostated yourself on knees in front of lesser men to spare her.
(They couldn't have harmed her, she didn't need protection- but you got peace, and were allowed to remain in the city, amidst neighbors that hated her and scorned your weakness, and she would never forget the debt.)
You do not say- for unlike her, you have tact- that surely it was not a great sacrifice. She never turned back or wept, she never insisted that her children learn her language, though you allowed it, when other husbands would have hissed and roared at thought. And you do not say, that you had brother too, even if you never met him, and still you loved him more than she did hers.
You know her better, after all, then even she knows herself. You know the weight and cost of her love. If she loved her brother, she would have never given him up for sake of stranger.
She accuses and spits upon you, that you used her, that she always placed herself behind your purposes, that you have done a gruesome, wicked thing. Your blood boils but you keep silent, and school your face and place your hands and move your eyes as needed. She is calm but you fill yourself with all those signs a husbands know to make themselves seem judging and proclaim her hysterical. You don't do it often, and always feel awful afterwards, but now you fill yourself up with memories, of thousand schemes ruined, of reputation rebuilt again and again, of chances wasted because she couldn't let you work out your silver tongue, but because she had to spill blood, to make daughters into kinslayers.
You never asked her to do it. You never blamed her, either. Not even when she got angry during arguments, and fire danced on her fingertips, and when she didn't get what she wanted she would hold your wrist hard enough to bruise, and dig her nails in, drawing blood, as red as her slit irises...
She speaks of promises next. This has always been point on contention among you two, unspoken and unacknowledged. In Medea's world, promises are worth more than laws of seasons and stars, and one's words should taken as honest, and when shattered, the very mountains and storms would rise against you, the Styx would have her tithe. In Medea's world, you went to inn and asked for room and trusted inkeeper when he said everything was booked. If he lied you sent curse of eternal poverty upon his siblings, and if he treated you well you restored his mother's ailing health.
In your world, you smiled on inkeeper and found out everything about his hobbies and his wife's feud with baker and his cousin thrice removed's birthday, and remained perfectly polite while instilling sense of being both an old friend and a noble superior, and forced him to haggle down price to quarter of their worth. And when you left, inkeeper would give tyou bread and meat and fruits and cheese to carry, as a gift, and you would try to refuse and profusely thank him as you swiped his spoons.
She was a witch and you were politician. To her oaths and bargains were ways to strangle stars and bind bones of the world, to you promises and agreements were necessary evils, compromises upheld on surface while both sides tried to grab best for themselves. She had, after all, known this since before she married you, just as you had known how sharp her blades are.
Still, you have hurt her, and there are things she is owed to. They would call you fool, some, and you agree: but you offer her a royal boon. Whatever she asks, to ease her way as she runs, from this city, from you her husband no more, from war that will try to follow her, you will give her. Your father-in-law would never allow that, but you have plotted and stolen against greater kings. If she asks for pearls from his treasury, or his sweat and hair to work a curse, she will get it. That much you owe her, before you turn away and forsake Hera's favor.
And-she refused! Because of course she did, what else should he expect! Of all things in world, all men and monsters, none were as obstinate and proud and honorable as Medea. Medea had decided that she will keep her dignity, which was more important to her than sleeps and health, and so she would at same time refuse any charity, and insult her enemies and their offers of treaty.
It was magnificent and beyond alluring, how much she burned with conviction, how armies and storms couldn't dissuade her from what she set her mind onto. And it was beyond irritating and disturbing, how she went through life without a lick of pragmaticism, preferring instead to follow logic of epics and tragedies. How many times had they been banished from somewhere due to her, particular approach to problems, and offered provisions and money by neighbors who received their kindness, only to be refused by Medea, who felt insulted none had spoken in their defense?
She has to know, that many women in her position, offered smaller favours, women whose position was far greater than that of a foreign princess, a kinslayer and witch, exiled and eloped, disowned and banished, hounded for high treason and gruesome slaughter twice over, have knelt and thanked profusely, while cursing their benefactor from inside, and you know a nurse must have advised her well.
You do not wish to humiliate her, for all you doubt it is possible, and mere image of her kneeling makes you feel sick. Still, after all these years, part of you that will always be a boy with one sandal, his life brought with his mother's cunning and defiance and sacrifice, raised among hills and horses, in fear and wonder asks how she can refuse such opportunity, even as your mind provides answer.
Because she could afford it, was the thing. Medea could cause fruits to grow from bare branches deep into winter, and call down rain from sky during worst summer drought. She could turn dust into gold and silver, and compel animals to offer themselves up to her as a meal. She could summon a bed from nothing, and call forth barrels of wine from a single drop. She did it, few times, when things got too dire, and he was on the edge of dying. She held him there, keeping Thanatos at bay, and then called forth a kingly feast from the bare stone, once her herbs got him back into shape.
But that was boring, wasn't it? If Medea wanted that sort of life, she would have found herself a demigod or sorcerer, she would have walked with witches and nymphs for rest of her days. She got herself a mortal hero, so she might know challenges and satisfactions of seeking shelter from rain, of dealing with child's tantrum, of baking bread and standing in line for groceries ( all those things, unbenefit of her station, yet she adapts seamessly, she who knew marble and gold while you, raised by man half-horse and elderly servant-women, feel shame and weakness fill you).
To be a housewife and commoner, homeless and tutor, midwife and merchant, exile and refugee, to sleep in caves and endure gossip of neighbors, to plan how to buy more linen for growing childrens' clothing, to beg for favor and run from cousin seeking war and bloodshed- it was all one such exciting game, instead of inescapable doom, because she knew it would never matter, that she could turn world upside down when she got bored of life of blood-paid domesticity.
(How did it feel, then, to be reduced to a disowned, disloyal daughter, the rejected wife, the woman threatened by her ruler?)
She speaks of the children at last. Finally something you can properly converse on, instead of you listening with one ear and forgetting it next moment, only holding words for so long that you can twist them for your arguments. Justice and reckoning, debts and honour, promises and pride, dignity and truth- it is always so with Medea, in that incredible and infuriating way of hers, that all those things come before and shine brighter than any concrete matters.
There is instinct, it is known, in all things of flesh and blood, to care for their offspring. Perhaps it makes sense, for woman to care bit more, as she would carry child in herself for nine months, but there are million other things. There are customs, and duties, and how much time you spend with each other, and what virtue is valued in young, and how much will son earn husband's favour, all of those complicating and feeding into what fools call mother's boundless love. And the essence of character, of course- is a child fruit of your womb, gift of gods, flesh of your flesh and flower of your soul, to be treasured and adored, or is it an inconvenient, annoying, bawling thing, to be resented for it kept you moody and weak and sick for nine months.
Your mother, you are sure of it, cared for you. You doubt she loved you, except as a shadow of dream, or a flicker of affection next to a lake of it she held for your brother ( or perhaps they resented each other, and constantly argued, or were passive agressive, or exhausted from putting up with each other- you know not, because you never met them).
She had you because she loved your father, perhaps, and this is how these things went, or it was accident and she was prevented from getting right herbs, or perhaps she gave you birth to prove that her life mattered, or to deny and defy your uncle, and certainly so you could someday come and save them all and reclaim your birthright.
(,,Your mother was was mighty cunning, boy.'' said the eldest of your nusemaids ,, She was daughter of daughter of Orchomenus's founder, who made first treasury in the known world, and she was mightily proud of that. She honoured her ancestors and never forgot her roots, and thanked them for chances they gave her. She had made her home in caves, but she never stopped planning for the throne and palace that were rightfully hers.
She was all manners and grace, a perfect maiden and proper woman, later on, even in midst of damp cavern. She was sweet and quiet and had voice like honey and tongue of silver, and everybody was charmed by her. She made so many friends, from so many walks of life, that we all were ready to sacrifice ourselves for you. She put us together and organized things, and when she wanted to, she could make soldiers dance on their hands, and think it was their idea all along.
She had a grand plan, months before you were born. It was risky and mad but she made it work, and we all trusted her. We all huddled in, and raised a great noise, as if whole city was banging on the bronze pots and washbowls, to scare away the eclipse. Men, they didn't dare set a foot inside, not even king. Too smelly and bloody for taste of our great soldiers- you will have to fix that, when you become king. Anyway, there we were, acting better than any thespian, acting as if everything was going wrong with childbirth. I was never so scared nor excited in my life, my little prince.
We had decided to sell story you were stillborn, you see. So we had managed to procure a dead newborn, hours ago- kept it under ice, to stop smell and all, and presented it as you. Mother gave it to us for five coins, we strangled it day before. You we hid behind the pillow, your mother pressing on it to stop cries, and she herself acting as if whole world had come down. It was risky, and we weren't sure we could sell the story, what with day old corpse and baby so nearby, but thankfully your uncle and his empty headed minions knew nothing of women's body- and so few physicians do, your luck Master Chiron is exception- and we bought all midwives, so in matter of hours we had you out of the city.
Your uncle, he was the true bastard- all usurpers are like that, which is why I hope I will live to see you roll his head down the cobblestones- but he was very smart man, I must admit that. We spent three years in that cave, with him as our only company from outside world. He knew what world was about- telling people you will do as they say, that you will give them what they want, so well they believe it themselves, and then finding way to scam them, and expect same from everybody else.
But your mother knew that better, my prince.'')
You were raised by a horde of women, and many of them, young and old, had children before they left them to protect Jason, and died in wilderness of Thessaly. Some of them wept and sighed in silence and secret, praying for their health and success, though they too found much joy and pleasure in Chiren's abode on other days, and others ran over hills and laughed and trained, and when asked exclaimed that leaving marriage bed and cradles behind was more liberating than seeing Sun and slipping free of manacles. Others were childless, and aome of them were sometimes, if rarely, struck by melancholy and quiet regrets over that, while to others it didn't even occur that there was something missing.
In all of cities, many women came to Medea's door, asking for help. Some would bring children halfwaydead, and beg for restoration, others would give their offspring and ask couple to find them new home, and never know who was their birth mother, because they had no means or will to raise child. Sometimes, old women would come, ones whom physicians warned against childbirth, for it was dangerous for both her and fetus, and beg for child to be saved, and other times girls would walk up to them, with developing stomachs, and ask for salvation, a way to flush out parasite that had taken root inside their bodies.
Medea loved their children, all of them, for she didn't invest herself in what she didn't care about, and wouldn't have otherwise given them birth. She was fond of them, and could accurately tell you of each's quirks and eccentricies, and loved letters of their eldest, who walked world ( and would, Medea foretold, someday rule Iolcus), but she wasn't what drab and pretentious old men would call maternal. To tell children stories, to change their diapers and sing them lullabies, to feed them and carry them at hip and teach them to walk and talk to them about their concerns, to teach boys to run and girls to weave, it was your job.
Medea healed their wounds, and never prohibited them anything or gave them scolding, not because she was soft on them, but because she believed scars and experience were best teachers. She taught them letters, and took them to temples, and lept herself up to date on their skills and hobbies, and in general regarded them almost as equals, seemingly as adults, equal in understanding to her, if more sheltered and less learned. Instead of ordering or flattering, when children were obstinate, she debated and bargained with them. She wanted best for them, but if that best entailed them moving far away from her, she would let them go, and never feel any anguish over it.
You know she sees reason in your argument, for truly there are few fathers who would take children of previous marriage into their new home, and few kings who would allow his daughter's stepsons to hold same position as his grandchildren ( there is measure of pity in the king, and a great awareness, that, although Medea, who at times seems to disdain that she has flesh and harbors grudge against Sisyphus, as she holds against all oathbreakers, and has had some funny business with his shade about three years ago, twists fact into crude and blundering insult, that they are of much finer breeding than his own), and she has to know that you will protect them, keep them safe and treasured, even if they hate you, even if your father-in-law has to suffer a misfortunate incident.
And she has to know that they would never go with her.
Like her, they have ichor running inside their blood. Sometimes, their skin seems to capture light and reflect it changed, strengthened, like a prism through which sunrays break. They do not suffer from heat, or fear fire at all, and are known to wave at Sun, and speak with animals. They see dead and can dance with nymphs, and there is some alluring, unsettling, puzzling feeling around them, always- and they have her eyes, pupils slit as in a snake and as red as blood on the sand, their irises several rings of different hues of orange, amber and ocherous and colour of tiger's fur, making them see like edges of sky at dawn and sunset, and their sclera are an impossible white, whiter than poearls, than marble and snow, or bones, the colour of Sun's corona during the eclipse.
And yet, divinity in them is diluted, and it is no fault of yours, not really. Their increased mortal blood is nearly inconsequential factor, next to their own choice.
(You had known many demigods, and none of them, not even Heracles the son of Zeus- and wasn't that interesting friendship, both of your lives so tied up in Hera's designs- who could topple mountains and rend apart whole world with his strength, were alike to Medea.
So often to you it seemed, that she could not have been brought in the world same way as you and untold billions of men, pulled from womb in blood and exhaustion and screaming. Too soft, too easy, too tame and ordinary for somebody like her.
Surely, her father, the Colchian king, must have taken the arrow, one most finely crafted in the world, gifted to him by Artemis, and set it's steel tip in the altar-fire of Hecate's temple, and called out to Zeus and Hera, and fired it from Apollo's bow. For three days and nights it flew, and bore gaze of Helios his father and Selene his aunt, catching and reflecting light of sun and moon, before it circled the whole land, and fell unto hearth of his home, where offerings are made to Hestia.
Then, and only then, did arrow become a girl, already grown, and she walked out of flames as if she was ready to assault the whole world, if chance presented itself, and she named herself Medea.
You had learnt well, that for all they stank of mortality, demigods were something else, filled to brim with something inexplicable and impossible to fully contain or explain. Men like you could no more grasp them than a fallen, rotten leaf on the road could grasp movements of stars. And often, they were mystery, even to themselves.
So many struggled, but not Medea. She wasn't her father, who had buried his numen so deep that he might almost as well be a normal man, haunted by a daemon, having denied all that mortal minds couldn't grasp, rendering himself simple and ordinary that he could lose himself into politics and concerns of state, only sometimes remembering that he didn't burn, that he could hear song of universe. She wasn't her children, who had toned down and suffocated their presence, so they could play with their mortal friends without feeling of awe filling up other children, and reduce number of heads staring after them at streets, nor was she her cousin Phaeton, who thought fact his father appeared to him in form of man meant they were same, that he could contain and control powers of reality.
No, Medea was aware of her mortality, perhaps better than most men, or than fish is aware of water. She knew that she had limits and that she was contained by time and that she was as far away from gods as shadow of drawing is away from real thing, and that she would one day go down into Hades- and she was aware of that transcedent and unreachable spark inside her, that infused everything, that piece of truth that made gods inextinguishable and always changing, bearing billion shapes and always being themselves, and she was aware that one day her soul would consume this fragile body and erupt triumphant and shining and free.
To her, mortal and divine were not in opposition, as it was in eyes of so many like her, and so she was greater than most of them, for all that she was but a quarter divine, and had to discover it herself- to Medea, human and divine existed at same time in her, entrenched in one being, and she knew without doubt that latter was superior to former, and that made her strong.)
You think it is over, finally, and you are surprised how much it hurts, as if snake has bitten your hearts and spilled venom in your lungs. But this is Medea, and how could have things gone if she didn't surprise you, go against everything other people would have done in her place. So she makes her offer, and you have no words for her.
Once again, all your careful plans, all things you considered, all your self-control, shattered by her simple, heartfelt declaration. To go back to her, and to- not forget, not go back to how things were, but to build something new on ashes of old, to arise as the phoenix. It wouldn't be so bad, after all. For all your complaining, whether it was because you spent years on road or because you had to wash dishes and clothes, it was lovely, in a way. You had never felt so alive, not even when you drove Argo (your dear, dear ship, abandoned so long ago) through the storm for the first time, as when you and Medea were making life for your quiet, careful children, used to so many things children should never know ( to dead that came to seek absolution, to satyrs and harpies that came to feast at your table, to assasins sent by your cousins, to lies and half-truths you spun as to how you got money, to reasons for why there was a red band around your neck), running through life and it's dangers, she defeating enemies and healing wounds, and you keeping household afloat and taking care of all boring practical parts of life (perhaps there is reason why Hera chose you, so long ago).
You weren't satisfied, no. But you were happy.
And as yes lodges itself in your throat, as you are ready to break down and cry, to kneel and thank her, you remember what would be price. The pursuit of Iolcans and Corinthians, of Colchidians and Scythians, all of them united in mutual hate against one family that was stupid and obstinate enough to steal and scam and stab them all. The peace reigns in Greece, for now, but your children are children of war, and their reality may soon became reality of them all. And the very worst thing?
You know you would make it. Because Medea loves you, and she has told you not to worry, that there is no need for you to raise hand against your father-in-law, for it is her part. And you know that kingdoms would burn, that from Carpathians and Manea people would see skies and seas painted with blood as flames would lick heavens and scorch earth, and Medea would ensure that bloodline of every soldier, and anybody they ever cared about, is reduced to charred remains, and that their shades would forever be chained and tormented at shores of Styx.
And people would curse her, with good reason, and disdain your children, and once again you would be root of their misery while remaining innocent. And so you say no, when you mean I am sorry, I have asked too much of you, and still do, for I am full of wanting and greed and you wasted yourself on me, and I do not regret it, neither lies and treacheries I spoke nor scars and burns you left over me, and I love you, so I say no more, you have bloodied your hands for sake of my ambition too many times, go free and live in peace or discord as you desire, for I know you are strong and wise enough to make joy out of anything, and to stay with me is to twist yourself and burn for sake of my ambitions.
And so you say your goobyes, and slip away from her, Medea, she who shakes all things and brings down heavens, Medea who is more frightening than kings and greater danger than sea, who is proud and dignified, just and vindictive, who is honest and honourable, who pays back her debts and keeps her promises, who is so much more than you and who will blaze across history, and who, you hope, will find some grand new adventure for herself.
(You remember, first time you saw her, how she came to speak with you, for all she didn't yet know your tongue well, she would learn it later, despite fact that she devised a translation spell on spot. She was mysterious and you barely awaited chance to see her once more, afterwards, and you were terrified of her. For, although she was not as vast and striking and incredible as Hera, a pallid yellow flame nect to that galaxy of ivory and bronze, silver and gold that was the supreme mother and ultimate wife and first goddess and queen of all, and yet still sticking out among pale, hollow mortal existences like line of volcanic ash, born from devastation and turning soil so fertile, streaked across white linen.
You remember, when you overreached and finally grasped that golden fleece, eager and foolish, devastated with emotion, with your kingship between gingers and key to your family in midst of your palms, how Talos moved to strike you down, and as giant's club approached, Medea pushed placed herself in front of you, pushed you away, ordered you to run, compelled you to keep quiet and move with her magic, and despair and madness poured out of her eyes, and struck him with such madness and despair and pain that metal giant tore himself apart.
What so many people got wrong about her was that, though Medea was as full of passion and violatile emotion as Etna was full of lava, she had intellect as profound and undefeatable as sea, and her will was as strong as that same force which made Earth turn. Whatever she did, in ill or benevolence, she did by choice, with full awareness of her actions and their consequences. She acted in response to, sometimes, but never under influence of another's actions, and she used her relentless passion as fuel, never driving force.
And you saw in her face, that she was confused, afraid, and unsure, and that she did not know whether she could unmake Hephaestus's champion. And yet, she chose to stand before you, to buy you time to escape with her life, to ensure you would escape, even if she had to wrench control of your body from you. And you were terrified, and you were grateful, and exhilarated, and annoyed at her pig-headed ways, and you knew you had to stand besides her, whether she was giving birth, or arguing with cheese-seller, or performing impossible surgery in poorest districts for free, or turning enemies in minced meat. You would hold her hand, whether it was stained with blood or vomit, with flour or mud, no matter how strongly it grasped you, no matter how much it burned.
And now you let her go. Let her become healer or queen or sage or priestess, let her fade out of history or write herself in chronicles and fairy tales, instead of being stuck here with man never full enough, man who was coward who would not stop chasing his birthright when she threw away hers, man who would, if he stayed by her side, be murdered and his corpse thrown to dogs alongside his children, someday.
You will never love another. You will be good husband to princess, faithful and respectful and proper, but you will never love her, for all she will never argue as fiercely with you, never harm you by intent or fallout from her feuds, never savagely paint walls with man's blood, never mix asphodel with eyes of serpents and scales of dragons and spit of sirens in kitchen as you try to prepare lunch, never burn you or make you feel puny and terrified, for her eyyes will neither be full of that otherworldly, incomprehensible and profound knowledge, nor will they ever widen madly, hungry for adventures and new experiences and chance to learn and challenge oneself and travel. And this you will keep secret, for it would be giant disadvantage, and she will have her own virtues worthy of respect, but you, you will be the remnant of withered flower, buried under snow, dreaming of Sun, and you would have made same choice again and again.)
And you will live, for sake of your brother who never got the chance, not truly, and love your children, even if they rightfully despise you, for sake of all nursemaids that saved you so many years ago, and go down in history as having accomplished great and kind things, for sake of Chiron who took you in and tried to make a honorable man out of you, and you will deal with fallout of your uncle's murder and stop war from erupting, for sake of your father who wasted away beneath ground and whom you will liberate from his new prison, and you will be a king, for sake of your mother, who died knowing you failed her, and smiled in her murderer's face, and died with grace and dignity, dreaming of light.
And when your father-in-law dies, and you ascend to throne, you will build three temples. One for Hecate Apotropaia, to be a heart of her cult in Thesally, one for Hera Alexandros, grander and more lovingly made than any in whole world, and for Helios Soter, to be a jewel of the city.
And there, among statues and attendants, enshrined and honored forever alongside Circe and Perse, Eilethiya and Hebe, among Empousai and Lampads, you would place one woman, just next to altars, so that whoever comes inside would see her and know her, and then you would consider your debt repaid.
But that would come later. Now was time for that final sacrifice, to say goodbye and walk away without looking back, to bury down that damned yes, and hope there would be no more surprises for any of you in the future.