9. The star and the peacock
The death of Manuel brought munch sorrow on Bohemond’s house. The people were whispering in discontent. Suspicion of foul play and court intrigues hanged above every member of his family. To assuage the growing clamour the king ordered the building of a massive mausoleum for the young man. Once this was finished, on his tomb stone the king laid the small, shining star that Manuel had snatched from the bosom of the cold sea, an eternal reminder of the youth’s beauty and virtues.
Isabella would visit the imposing mausoleum every day, floating like a pale ghost among the marble statues and praying in a frenzy to chase away the pain and the guilt that tormented her day and night. She blamed herself for what had happened and never recovered from the loss of her love.
As for the queen, she never had it better. Young Manuel had been punished for his impertinence and all her misdemeanour lay buried with him under a heavy stone slab.
A year passed and, apart from a few bards and drunkards, the city almost forgot all about Manuel and his troubles. And, as people had to go on with their lives, the dashing Isabella was soon to marry a new suitor, a prince from Edessa, a neighbouring kingdom, thus forging a new alliance of the crusaders against the many enemies that surrounded them.
It was a night and a thick fog surrounded the monument where Manuel body rested, when the iron door opened with a rumble and two light steps barely touching the hard pavement of the mausoleum rushed towards the stone coffin. A tearful Isabella kneeled right next to the tomb and uttered:
“I am sorry, my love, for all the torments I caused you and for the sad ending I brought upon you. You deserved better and I will have my punishment in this life and the next. It is always the innocent and the good that pay the price for all our sins while the rest of the world gloats in its vanity like it is the best thing there can be. I… I came to bid you farewell for in just a few day I am about to be betrothed to another man. The will of my father and the needs of my country compel me, and I must accept. But know this, my dearest Manuel, you will forever be my one true love. Rest well, and don’t return to this world of sadness before the end of days, when I am sure you will come flying down as one of God’s angels.”
Isabella trembled and choked in tears, but then, the lonely star that was flickering on Manuel’s tomb flared up and spoke to the startled girl:
“I hope those tears of yours are tears of joy. Life gives has many wonders but there is nothing like the one of resurrection. Daughter of Antioch look around you! In all the darkness there is hope and there is light. I would have spoken earlier to you, but I had to know the depth of your devotion. Nothing Manuel has done was in vain and he received the greatest gift of all in the shape of a peacock. For you see, that peacock is the bird of God one who has power over life as well as over death. So, go now, waste no time and ask the bird to bring you Manuel’s soul back from the great beyond. ”
The star’s light suddenly faded away and Isabella stood there in awe for what she had just witnessed. The girl then ran like the wind out of the mausoleum and into the palace, seeking for the wonderful golden bird and when she found it the bird puffed its tail and sang.
Isabella asked the peacock to do what the star had just told her. The dazzling bird looked at her with indifference, just like any other bird would have done, but after just a few moments it spread its wings and flu away, high in the sky until it disappeared from Isabella’s sight. The peacock passed beyond the clouds, beyond the stars, and beyond the fire that surrounds the world and arrived in a place where there was nothing and from that nothing it picked with its beak an invisible seed it then took back on the Earth and left in on Manuel’s tomb. The seed bore its way to Manuel’s body and planted itself in his heart. Then, the tomb shook and its heavy slab cracked like a nutshell.
The next day, carrying the wonderful peacock on his shoulder Manuel appeared at the court. Horror and amazement gripped the whole city. The church bells tolled once again, for their hero had now defeated even death itself. The time for retribution had come.