8. The third trial
Manuel had just found out that was to set off once again, this time to the court of the great sultan of Rum. What he had to bring from there was a holy rose whose petals once touched always compelled people to tell the truth. But this flower was heavily guarded and there were not many who would dare to venture and take it from the place where it lay?
Yet, again, Manuel put aside all fears and rode across the mountains until one day he arrived at the gates of the sultan’s city, which he entered pretending to be a Persian a merchant.
When night fell Manuel struggled to find a way inside the palace, but everywhere he looked heavily armed guards were watching it from high up on the stone walls. A silver crescent moon then rose up a brightened the darkness, making Manuel’s quest even harder.
But then, out of nowhere, the blows of a thousand horns shook the midnight air. A great host of soldiers coming with their emperor from Constantinople surrounded the city and started wreaking panic among its people. How was it that such a great army had passed unobserved by their scouts, no one understood? But now it was too late. The city had to defend itself. In the confusion that followed, many of the sultan’s guards left the palace to go fight on the walls. It was then that the mysterious sight Manuel had acquired when he sacrificed his eye led him to a small door behind the palace. It their frenzy, some of the guards who rushed out through it had left it open. Manuel entered that door and walked around a palace he had never seen, knowing its every corner, its every hallway, and its every room. This is how, unseen by anyone, Manuel found the holy rose hidden in a lavish inner court with its pillars, and arches, and four whispering marble fountains. Under the light of the moon the turmoil of the fight subsided in the distance. All Manuel could hear now were a few crickets and the lazy trickling of those fountains. The rose stood in the middle, surrounded by its thorny wreathing bush. It had only one majestic, glowing bloom right in the heart of all those entwined branches. To get to it, Manuel had to pass through its sharp thorns who scratched and stung him without mercy. Ah Manuel, why was it that right here your second sight had to fail you?
The boy picked the flower and hid it in his shirt. He then got out of the palace the same way he got in and, eluding both armies, he climbed down the city walls, stole a horse and rode way back to Antioch.
Once he crossed his city’s gates he went to Isabella and gave her the rose. It was a beautiful summer morning. The girl gazed at her charming Manuel and, ignoring everyone around, she embraced the boy. But only a few seconds after a terrible shiver took over Manuel, throwing him to the ground. A thick, white foam started to pour from his mouth and the youth coiled in pain. With a desperate grimace, he looked for one last time at Isabella and screamed her name, then, after some excruciating five minutes he died killed by the holy rose’s poisoned thorns. That had been the real secret behind the great sultan’s rose safety.