4. The second heart
Once married, Manuel and Isabela’s love grew even stronger. Enjoying all the comfort of the royal court their lives were as calm and blissful as an endless summer day. From dawn till dusk the shiny marble halls and the hidden gardens of the palace echoed with music, cheers and laughter. But happiness is as short lived as an ant’s wings, and while the lovers praised their beautiful life to the delight of the king and all his subjects, a pair of cold, beautiful eyes, teeming with jealousy and yearning, was constantly spying them from the shadows.
Then, one day, it so happened that the princess wanted to go with her maids at the city’s market and buy new garments for herself, leaving Manuel alone in the palace. The restless youth waited for his lover’s return, but after many hours there was still no news from her. Fearing for her safety Manuel prepared to run and join her at the market when a servant came and asked the boy to follow him to the queen’s apartment. Once arrived, Manuel found himself in a place of unparalleled wealth and beauty. Drapes of transparent silk and shiny silver lamps came down from the ceiling surrounded by a dim red light. All over those obscure rooms were pale silhouettes of statues, of slim porphyry pillars and of priceless pieces of furniture. Dumbfounded, Manuel looked around. The servant was gone. An uneasy stillness engulfed the lonely youth. Suddenly, he heard a soft voice:
“There is no one here but you and me. I made sure that Isabella won’t be back till late in the evening. Don’t be afraid my beloved; we have all the time in the world.”
“What is going on?” asked Manuel while his heart was throbbing.
Then, from a sofa, behind the soft drapes of silk he saw a naked woman approaching. It was none other than the queen herself. Her body was as white as milk and her eyes, much like those of her daughter’s, pierced Manuel’s chest, making him shiver. Constance was a woman worthy of her reputation. Her beauty, always incarcerated by the many layers of clothing, was now completely exposed. There was no charm that God had spared her body of. In poor Manuel’s eyes she seemed to outshine even his beloved Isabella.
“My queen, what you are showing me is both reckless and sinful. My love for Isabella is as strong as ever and there is no room left for another woman in my heart,” the young man whispered.
But Constance kissed Manuel and touched him with the skills of a woman well accustomed with the art of earthly pleasures and said:
“There will be no talk of love until you try the fruit I have to offer.”
And once she got the youth’s solid confirmation that her charms had vanquished him, she tried to make love to him.
But Manuel downright refused and pushed her away. He then left her apartment never to return, never to talk to her, never to look her in the eyes.
The insulted queen shook with rage and gazed at her situation. If, by any chance Manuel divulged her desire for him she would be lost. From then on, she sent her spies to watch the boy relentlessly, reminding him of the ever-looming threat that now hanged above his head. But Manuel kept quiet. He feared too much he had somehow been responsible for all that happened, and he didn’t want to raise any doubts about his fidelity to Isabella.
But it was too late, the queen’s pride had been tattered; her fury had been unleashed. She wanted revenge. Manuel’s fate was sealed.