Manuel and The Two Hearts

  1. Every story has a beginning

King Bohemond of Antioch ruled over a city of a rare beauty and wealth whose high towers and thick walls surrounded some of the most grandiose and luxurious palaces and houses in the Levant. Countless merchants laden with spices, silk, gemstones, and incenses poured through this this city’s gates coming from all over the world, filling the dusty markets and using all their skills to increase their fortunes. Along its promenades walked beautiful young ladies and their admirers, while in its lavish gardens among the many palm trees, the white statues of ancient gods, and the spluttering fountains, scholars and their students debated in the cool shade about everything there was in heaven and on earth. And then there were the churches. Rising in the Eastern sky, these were shinning from the myriads of golden mosaics and icons set with precious stones that covered their inner walls. In the middle of all these wonders lay the great palace of the king, a maze of marbles of all colours and textures, standing on lofty columns and wide arches. Had there been a place on Earth where angels would have descended, a place fitting for their glory, this place was Antioch.

As for Bohemond, he was a wise, generous, and just ruler who long forgot the sins of his youth and the many struggles that put him on the throne. Now, in his later days he shared his power with his younger wife, a graceful and proud woman who he once he met in Jerusalem when she came from France sailing across the wide sea to see the holy places the crusaders had conquered. Her name was Constance and she bore the king only one child, a daughter who grew up to become the most beautiful maiden in the kingdom. Named Isabella, tales of her charm spread everywhere, inspiring poets, kindling hearts and stirring envy.

Alas, not long after Isabella had turned sixteen, one day when she was strolling with her suite along the riverbanks just outside the city walls, a gang of thieves came out of nowhere slaying her servants and taking the lovely king’s daughter in some God forsaken hideout. When Bohemond found out that he lost his most precious treasure, he sent many scouts and many envoys to bring her back, but none could find her.

Then, one evening, a strange and ugly fellow with rotten teeth came to the king’s court with a message. He told Bohemond and his wife that for the time being their daughter was safe and sound and that she was being held prisoner by a cruel brigand and his pack of followers, who would gladly return her to her parents if  Bohemond would agree to hand over his city and all his treasures to them by the next full moon, in three weeks’ time. If he refused, a terrible death would await poor Isabella. The scoundrel’s nickname was Two-Blades, and everyone knew him as a man of his word. And to prove he was telling the truth the messenger gave the king one of Isabella’s rings and a lock from her blonde hair. The messenger also promised the king to return in due time hear his decision and settle the bargain.

The king was burning with fury, but he nevertheless let the messenger go and immediately after he sent a scout on that haggard man’s tail. However, as cunning as the scout was, he lost the thief somewhere deep inside the writhing gorges of Mount Amanus, which stretched North of Antioch.

A proud warrior, the king refused to surrender to those wretched people either his crown or his daughter and abandoned himself to days and nights of thought and prayer. After a while, when he re-emerged all pale and weakened by sorrow, he spoke to his subjects…

To be continued

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