Psst. Hey. There’s something we need to talk about. Some rumors have been floating around, and I’m trying to set my record straight. Have you ever had anyone lie about you? For centuries people have whispered behind my back about the horrible deeds I’ve done. They say I’m a cold-blooded murderer. They call me a witch. They even accuse me of having no heart. But the thing is, no one understands. No one has stopped to ask my side of the story. So, would you mind just listening? That’s all I’m really asking for. Forget everything you know about me. Close your eyes. Just listen. You can decide for yourself what you think about me.
Almost done, I thought. I felt the warm glow of success mingle with the hunger in my stomach as I stared into the cauldron and then consulted the age-worn book on the table beside it. “Just a pinch more mustard seed and some salt, and it should be ready.” Stirring the boiling liquid with the crude wooden spoon released delicious vapors that snuck through the house, tickling the noses of my children and compelling Jason—my husband—to leave his arrow making. I inhaled deeply.
“What’d you make this time, my little witch?” Jason sauntered over to the pot and plunged a dirty finger into the mixture.
My eyes flashed at his pet name for me. Witch? Really, witch? We’ve talked about this. “Sorceress, husband. You know I hate the label witch.” He turned a deaf ear and plunged another greedy finger into the pot.
“Good soup?” I asked. I hated the way my voice arched into a question filled with hope. A question with only one right answer, by the way.
He licked his fingers and eyed the roiling liquid with uncertainty, then mild disgust. “Needs some salt or something still.” He shrugged his broad shoulders in his nonchalant way and tossed his shiny black hair back with a flick of the head. “My mom makes better soup.”
“Your mom is dead.” I received a piercing glance of his dark brooding but wasn’t even sorry for saying it. It was true.
“Well, she wouldn’t be if you had arrived sooner.” He stepped closer and rose to his full height.
“You know I tried,” I said. His even tone pricked something inside of me but failed to move my resolve. It wasn’t my fault the wind blew us off course twice. I don’t control the elements, okay?
“Hmph.” He crossed his arms and pouted when I didn’t budge.
“Out!” I pointed the wooden spoon in his face. “What happened to your manners? Wash your hands and use the ladle; you’re not an animal.” I crossed my arms. “And don’t insult me in my own kitchen.” He didn’t move a muscle and stared back with those piercing black eyes. Honestly, he’s been acting weird lately. He thinks I don’t notice his leaving at odd hours, but I do. I’ve literally given everything up except my skills to be with him. What more does he want from me?
“Medea, we need to talk.” He examined his fingers, then shoved them back into the pits of his elbows. He began to pace back and forth in the space between the table and the windows, the repetition sandpapering at my sanity.
“I think so, too,” I said. If this has anything to do with the women in the marketplace, I’ll have his head. I put the spoon down on my table so I wouldn’t have anything to throw his way if we got into an argument. The cracks on the handle stared back at me. No use bringing the children's attention to what we were doing. The soup’s surface bubbles popped. Steam rose into the air with each belch of a bubble.
Peering around the corner to make sure the children weren’t in earshot, he pronounced my fate. “I’m leaving you.”
A thunderclap of a revelation. The wind changed directions. The corner of his mouth hinted at a smirk, but he dared not show more. I heard his stomach rumble across the room. I had lost my appetite. He knew what I was capable of and stood stone still.
I frantically searched for his soul in the abyss of his eyes. I felt . . . nothing in my cavernous soul. Perhaps just a shattering of our, no . . . my, riddled reality. A life in exile followed by nightmares. “Why?” My voice sounded stronger than it felt, and I straightened my spine. I had done nothing wrong to him. He was fickle sometimes anyway. Surely, he couldn’t be serious.
“It’s not personal, okay,” he began. He shifted his massive frame uneasily and his sandals protested the change.
Not personal? How was this not personal?
“I just don’t love you anymore.” He ran his calloused fingers through his hair and rested them on his bicep, then looked out the window. “I’m marrying Glauce. Don’t interfere. If you do—” He left the hanging threat and motioned in the direction of the children’s room. Then, he turned on his heel and walked out the door.
The first thing I felt was shock. Glauce, the king’s pretty but dull daughter? The sickly one with the feverish face and spindly arms? And to threaten our children because of his wandering lusts? My babies? OUR babies?
The next, rage. It welled up inside me from somewhere deep down as I stood next to the cauldron. It felt like a fire ignited my veins while my heart shuddered with the breath of frost. My face burned but the red of my hair darkened to embers. I balled my fists and sparks flew out, extinguishing their tiny lives on the dirt floor. The thunderclouds brewed a storm in the distance.
Then shame. A quiet settling like the hush of rain over the mess that dripped to the roots of my soul, washing it with poison. It ate at my stomach like groveling worms. The sacrifices I made for love of Jason, the reproach I brought on myself—was it all for nothing? The pain, the unbearable agony. The sights, the sounds of death.
I remember the day we fled like it was yesterday. . .
“Quick, Medea, let’s go!” Jason grabbed my hand as I sat peacefully thinking under my olive tree. “Your dad knows I have it.” He shook the heavy Golden Fleece and started running.
“Why are we running?” I gasped at the grip he had on my fingers. “I helped you win it fair and square.” My legs easily kept pace with Jason as we headed for the ship.
“How would you feel about a honeymoon in Crete?” He winked as his head turned towards mine for a split second, completely ignoring my query.
“Crete? We aren’t even married yet.” I gazed back on my beautiful Colchis with its verdant hills and snow-white sheep. The air I breathed was pure and salty. My homeland, rich with medicinal herbs and minerals, blooming with life from the thick forests to starry skies, retreated under my feet.
“But we will be, soon.” Jason squeezed my hand and smiled an enchanting smile to drive away my fears. “You’ll be my queen when I am king.”
“But my father, my family . . .” The guilt, the sudden loss made my head reel. I couldn’t think straight. Did I really have a choice now, though? After helping Jason through the three challenges to win the Fleece . . . of course I loved him. Of course, I wanted to run away with him—he had promised me a kingdom with countless delights after returning the Fleece to King Pelias. The Fleece for the crown, simple as that. Just not this type of running away. Plus, Father never expressly forbade my helping the warriors who tried for it. His temper would have been fine as long as he never discovered my pact with Jason.
It started off with a nod, then sending smiles. Soon it turned into an innocent friendship with Jason and his crew. None of them fell as hard for me as the master traveler did, though.
“Your father will kill you,” he said emphatically. “Hurry, climb aboard.” We had arrived at the dock and found his ship with little trouble. He flung the Fleece onto the deck, then swept me off my feet and climbed in.
“Stop them!” The familiar, authoritative voice of my father cut through the air. His royal horses snorted wildly as they pranced at the unsteady rocking of the waves ahead. “Use whatever means necessary.”
My heart cried out at the ice in his voice. “Jason, maybe I can talk with him,” I said, folding my hands into a plea. “He wouldn’t hurt me.” I said this more to convince myself than the tanned man in front of me. My father’s anger crowned his reputation. Now that he knew of my helping Jason, not even his love could save me now.
“No.” Jason turned away and set the ship on its course. “I would die if I lost you. You heard what he said and he’s not going to listen.” Kneeling, he untied the ropes, unfurling the bright white sails that reflected the sparkling sea.
Father. A silent tear slipped down my cheek as I turned around to glimpse my father and home one last time. He boarded his boat and sailed after us as the endless water swallowed the fertile soil with its fragrance of jasmine and honey, the comfort of my childhood. Goodbye.
“Medea? Sister!” My bother sat up from under the Golden Fleece. “Nice blanket you have here.” He ran his skinny hands over the luxurious wool.
“Absyrtus?” The shock of my voice grabbed Jason’s attention. I saw him move to the stern of the ship from the corner of my eye. “What are you doing here?” I looked from brother to the ship in pursuit of us and back again. “Does Dad know you’re here?”
Absyrtus yawned. “Why so many questions? Er, uh, I guess I just really wanted to look at the Argo up close, you know? The craftmanship on this thing . . .” He whistled in a low undertone. “I, um, might’ve fallen asleep, too.”
“You can’t be here. You shouldn’t be here,” I started.
He rubbed his eyes and slowly took in the scene of moving water. “But I’m done now. I’m sorry, won’t do it again. She’s just so pretty.” Then it dawned on him, and he looked at me, startled. “Um, where are we going? Why—”
His question was cut short by a sword through his back. Without another word his body toppled over onto the wooden planks, revealing the stony face of Jason. I collapsed on the deck. My kneecaps struck the planks with a hollow thud. Dark red blood seeped through my little brother’s shirt. No. Tears streamed down my face as anger swelled. No. I reached out to touch his smooth face, to cradle it one last time, to close his eyelids in peace. The metallic scent of his blood filled my nostrils, mixing with the salty sea spray.
“Stop.” Jason had grabbed my wrist and hauled me to my feet. “We can’t waste any time, your father’s ship will catch us if we don’t do anything to stop it.”
His face looked like the chiseled walls of caves or the sharp rocks in a dangerous harbor, not the exhilarated face and beaming eyes of a man in love. “You killed him.” This didn’t feel like love.
“We need him.” He wiped his sword on the bottom of his tunic. “We actually got lucky with him on board.”
“Excuse me?” I almost shouted as I dried my tears. My fists and jaw clenched and unclenched in angry unison. “You killed my brother because we need him?” Rage froze my veins.
“If we’re going to get away, we need to throw him overboard.” He had said these words slowly, carefully eyeing my body language as he stepped closer to me. “I’m doing this because I love you and want you to be safe. Start chopping.” He handed me his sword and gestured at the body.
I didn’t move. There must be a way out of this, I thought.
“Now.” He pulled a dagger from his belt and raised my chin with its point. “This is the only way. The pieces will slow down your father as he gathers them.” His jaw was set like iron.
Did I know this man that threatened me? What choice did I have now? My thoughts raced as my hands became sweaty from uneasiness. Jump and die at sea or be killed by my father, or maybe escape now and live? My heart felt like it had been ripped to pieces, fluttering with little life left. No home but with Jason.
“They’re gaining on us.” His voice sounded unfamiliar in my ears. He pushed me towards the body, following behind with the dagger nudging my back. It replaced the prick of my conscience as I knelt on the deck, wishing for my own death. I closed my eyes, said a prayer for forgiveness, and obeyed like a machine. The only escape now was the sea.
Are you beginning to understand now? His insatiable desire to be king at all costs, to escape and return triumphant in the conquest I gave him while claiming the victory for his own should’ve been red flags. I had to get him out of that mess, too. What was I supposed to do? I’m not an enchantress, okay. I don’t control people—that’s not how it works or trust me, I would’ve used it then.
Slowly the shame subsided, replaced by the dark grief of a thousand moonless nights. I sobbed, crumpled on the floor of what had been our decently happy home for years. I was aware of the anguished cry that escaped my lips and reverberated through the city, followed by the near simultaneous flickering of daylight. I didn’t care who heard my lament, even if it was the children.
Minutes later I heard a knock, knock, knock. The knocks sounded more like intense banging than the polite request to please open the door. “Medea, I know you’re in there.” The muffled voice of Creon, king of Corinth, came through.
“Come back tomorrow,” I yelled back. I wasn’t ready for people yet.
“It’s urgent,” came his response. It sounded terse and strained, almost panicked, if I guessed right.
I reluctantly stood to my feet. If this was about the medicine I gave him yesterday, I was not going to be happy. If the man would just take it like I prescribed it, there wouldn’t be an issue. I took the soup off the fire to cool and closed the book on the table. I smoothed my clothes, straightened my hair, and walked to the door. “My king.” I bowed as I opened the door.
“Medea,” he began. He stared at the ground and adjusted his collar before speaking again. “I, um,” he coughed. “I, um, came to say that I’m banishing you, effective immediately.” The last half of his sentence rushed out in a whoosh, unlike his well-known steady, regal manner.
I laughed out loud. “What, you’re banishing us from the exile we’re already in?” I crossed my arms, waiting for his explanation.
He looked over my shoulder. “No, I’m banishing you.”
“Me?” I said. Everything felt numb. What about my children, my own flesh? “I didn’t do anything wrong; you’re not making sense.” I took a wary step back into the safety of my home. I had worked so hard to build a new life here. One not haunted by the nightmares of my reputation or the nasty tales of things I didn’t do.
“I’m protecting my kingdom from your wrath.” Creon fidgeted with his signet ring and stared at the ground.
What, are you waiting for my permission to leave? A mixture of deep anger and sorrow mingled in my heart. Somehow, I wasn’t surprised by the antics of the weak-spined ruler. I knew what he meant. “You mean, you’re protecting your daughter Glauce from my wrath, don’t you?” My eyes read his now deflated form. He exhaled a sigh and shifted his weight. I’d found the truth.
“You must leave now. My guard will ensure your safe passage away.” Creon turned to leave.
I knew what I had to do. fell to my knees, almost prostrating myself before the old king. “Please, give me a day to prepare, to bid my children and home farewell.” I wept openly, loudly wailing at his feet as I pulled my hair in agony.
Creon awkwardly backed away. “Um, okay, shhh, don’t do that.” He wrung his hands together as I looked up. “You can have until tomorrow. My guards will arrive by sundown.” With that he quickly walked away, glancing nervously at my disheveled appearance every few steps.
I sat on the ground in front of my home for hours as Helios passed noon. Surely, he saw my affliction and heard my keening from his place in the heavens. When I rose from my spot, the whole city had either heard my cries or been told about them. I knew because of the way they pointed at my house and whispered behind their hands. Some even sang warnings to others about the furies of my vengeance. But it didn’t matter because I had a plan.
“The robe,” I murmured aloud. Helios, my grandfather, had given me a special robe—a family heirloom of sorts—when I married Jason. A peace offering to the bride to be, perhaps, I mused. A peace offering conveniently doused in fragrance that reacts with the skin to produce a Sulphur smell. It should linger for weeks, causing mild discomfort and an unruly stench. Perfect.
“My little ones,” I crooned as I heard their tiny voices in the house. What should I do about the children? They deserve more than Jason. I had to save them from his influence. I had to make sure he couldn’t pass his family name on to anyone else.
By the time Jason arrived home for dinner, I had sent the children to play in their rooms and rubbed the ashes from the cooking fire on my face. My normally curly hair stuck out, untamed in all directions. Its frizz and disorder matched the chaos of my soul.
“Really? You’re marrying her because she’s pretty?” I greeted him from the other end of the table as I devoured my food. Vengeance does require a large amount of fuel to keep it burning.
“Okay, yes. Glauce is the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on.” He sat with his chin in his hands, dazed.
“If you weren’t looking, that wouldn’t be an issue,” I responded. I wanted to throw things. Maybe a potato or a cow or my dagger. The dagger, definitely. But too soon of an end, I thought. I decided to wait. I was in a better, calmer mood now that I had a plan.
He thoughtfully chewed the legume he had just placed in his mouth. “Well, I was actually thinking you could still be my mistress.”
I almost choked on my food. “Your what now?” I spat out the veal and stared in disbelief at him for what I’d heard. He can’t be serious. “No.” Rage surged and I’m sure he saw it in my eyes. The familiar fire spread throughout my body.
“Okay. No mistress, that’s fine.” He retreated with his plate to the other side of the room. “Will you at least attend the wedding?”
The pleading in his voice made him sound like a girl. “I’m not coming to the wedding,” I said. “You know Creon banished me, and I don’t want to go anyway.” Honestly the audacity and pride of this man.
“Oh, yeah.” Jason stared at his sandals as the color rose around his ears. “I’m sure I could work it out if you wanted to be my mistress though.” He kept his eyes glued to the floor.
“I’m not staying. But take this present to her.” I pulled out the package from under the table. “I don’t harbor ill will towards her.” I couldn’t help feeling hopeful.
“Whoa. You got Glauce a gift?” He stared at the bundle, not daring to blink in case it disappeared.
I hated her name. “I’m doing this for the children, okay?” I walked to the other side of the room and handed him the package. “Have her try it on tonight to make sure it fits.” I smiled inwardly. I couldn’t wait for both of them to smell like rotten eggs.
“I’m going to give this to her now.” Jason rushed out the door, package in hand. Within moments he returned. “Don’t put the children to bed until I get back, okay?” He eyed the barbed points of his unfinished arrows on the table, then looked at me. “Don’t touch those.” He came back in, removed the kitchen knives, and gathered his arrows.
“What are you doing?” I asked. I feigned surprise, but he saw through my thinly veiled guise.
“I know you. I heard what people said today about your wailing.” He narrowed his eyes as he searched my face. “You’re not touching the children until I come back.”
That’s what you’d like to think. You’d better hurry.
He ran out the door. With Jason gone I could begin my final act. I counted to fifteen, just to make sure he was gone. “Children, you can come down now. Your father has run an errand for me.” I slowly withdrew the vial from my tunic and poured its contents into two small cups. I had anticipated his reaction perfectly. Odorless, colorless. It would feel like sleep until the last seconds. I felt the cold metal of the dagger in my belt rub against my side. Only as a last resort, I convinced myself.
“Angels, remember what we talked about?” They nodded their heads and looked up at me. My heart burst at the sight of their wondering eyes and dark complexions. They’re so perfect. Too perfect for Jason. I knelt to hug them both and whispered our secret in their ears. “Drink these, quickly, before your father returns.” I handed them the cups and made sure they drank all the liquid. “Good boys. Now, up to bed. Your father and I will be there shortly.”
I heard a loud wailing from a distance. What could it be? I stepped outside to hear better, smelling the night air for traces of my mischief. Nothing. Straining my ears, I caught phrases of Glauce and dress. Yes, yes. This was very good.
I heard a harrowing cry. I ran out into the street, pursued by a gnawing of icy dread that I couldn’t shake. Under darkness I slipped into corner shadows, trying to hear the news. Two young women from the marketplace hurried past, whispering loudly.
“Glauce, Creon both dead in one night,” said the first. “I bet Medea used her witch’s potions to poison the dress.”
“Everything smells like rotten eggs,” the other replied. “Who knew they were allergic to it? I heard Glauce’s skin burned when she tried the dress on, and Creon held her in his arms until they both died from it. What a horrible way to go.”
“Medea deserves to die for her witchcraft,” added the first. “I heard that dress is stuck to her body.”
Creon, Glauce dead? Allergic to my Sulphur compound? How was I supposed to know that? Ice crystals wrapped around my spine and I almost froze in place. Jason would be coming for me. I sprang to life, sprinting to my house. I had to get the children before Jason got there. I’m not a murderer.
Suddenly I heard Jason’s anguished cry. It sounded like a scream of horror, chilling my blood. The children. I was too late. As I ran through the doorway, I saw him weeping over the limp bodies of our sons. They were pale, silent apparitions in the moonlight.
“You killed our sons?” Jason’s face resembled flint, his eyes daggers. He wished me dead with each breath he took. After all, I’d taken his pride and joy.
“I’m not a murderer,” I replied. I coolly slid to the opposite side of the room as I watched the grief unfold before me. A breath of wind tousled the boys’ damp hair.
“My sons, my sons.” Jason rocked back and forth, kissing their heads, holding them, then gently placing them on the ground again. “How’d you, do it? How? Heartless witch!” He cried again, beating his chest as the tears streamed down his face and splattered onto his sons’ clothes. “Gone.”
My heart felt . . . sad at his pain. A bit of regret as I stared at the bodies of my sons. What else was I supposed to do? I didn’t stab them, at least.
Thud. Swish. Odd noises sounded from our roof and the presence of something large filled the air.
Jason barred his teeth at me. “This better not be one of your tricks.” He reluctantly left the bodies to look outside. It’s not like I could do anything worse to what used to be his sons. Seizing my chance, I picked up the bodies and ran the opposite direction outside, one child resting in each arm. My dragon-drawn chariot had arrived. I quickly loaded the children inside and took the reins. “Let’s go, boy.” I patted the scaly neck as it strained to my request. The chariot lifted with a swoosh of wings and wind.
“Medea, you villain! My children!” Jason yelled. “Come back. "As the chariot lifted over the top of the house, Jason turned his face toward me. “You’re a monster.” He raised his fist and fell into a ball, weeping on the dirt.
I sensed through the clarity of moonlight the deep pain of the man I had loved once. My heart felt a pang, but I knew the dress wasn’t my fault. Glauce’s death wasn’t malicious or premeditated. And Creon, that was his choice to die. I tied the reins and stooped over the bodies of my sons. The cool night air whistled through my hair and calmed my fraying nerves. Their father would never receive the joy of raising surly sons any further and passing on his name.
I gently placed my hands on their foreheads. I could feel the slightest bit of warmth seeping back into their bodies. “Here, little ones, the sleeping potion will wear off soon.” I began to sing their favorite lullaby to them as I sat and cradled them in my arms. Their eyelids fluttered, then they began moving their limbs with small motions.“Just you rest, we’ll be safe in Athens soon.” I had escaped with the ones I loved most and won my freedom back. There had to be a better life waiting for me, for us, in that city.
So, be honest. What do you think of me?