It was a tall and handsome young man, clad in robes lighter and finer than any king might wear. His face was as bright as sunbeams, and his eyes gleamed like lightning. Upon his shoulder was a silver bow, from his belt hung a quiver of sharp arrows, and in his hands was a golden lyre. Admetus stood still and wondered. Then the stranger spoke:
“King Admetus,” he said, “I am the poor beggar whom you fed—your slave to whom you were so kind. I have served you, as I agreed, for a whole year, and now I am going home. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes,” said Admetus; “tell me your name.”
“My name is Apollo,” was the answer. “Twelve months ago my father, mighty Jupiter, drove me away from before his face and bade me go out friendless and alone upon the earth; and he told me that I should not turn again towards home until I had served a year as some man’s slave. I came to you, ragged and half starved, and you fed and clothed me; and I became your slave, and you were as kind to me as though I were your son. What shall I give you to reward you?”
“Lord of the Silver Bow,” said the king, “I have all that any man can want. I am happy in the thought that I have been of some help to you. I can ask for nothing more.”
“Very well,” said Apollo; “but if the time should ever come when you need my help, let me know.”
Then the bright prince walked swiftly away, playing sweet music as he went; and Admetus with glad heart returned to his home.
From the place where Admetus lived it was only a few miles to Iolcus, a rich city by the sea. The king of Iolcus was a cruel tyrant named Pelias, who cared for nobody in all the world but himself. This Pelias had a daughter named Alcestis, who was as fair as any rose in June and so gentle and good that everybody praised her. Many a prince from over the sea had come to woo Alcestis for his wife; and the noblest young men in Greece had tried to win her favor. But there was only one to whom she would listen, and that was her young neighbor, King Admetus.
So Admetus went before gruff King Pelias to ask him whether he might wed Alcestis.
“No one shall have my daughter,” said the old king, “until he proves that he is worthy to be my son-in-law. If you want her, you must come for her in a chariot drawn by a lion and a wild boar. If you come in any other way, she shall not be your wife.” And Pelias laughed, and drove the young man out of his palace.
Admetus went away feeling very sad; for who had ever heard of harnessing a lion and a wild boar together in a chariot? The bravest man in the world could not do such a thing as that.
As he walked along and saw the sheep and goats feeding on the hilltops near his own town, he chanced to think of Apollo and of the last words that he had heard him say: “When you need my help, let me know.”