Manuel and The Two Hearts

10. The confession                                                                      

In the last part of this tale will disclose to you what happened only a few weeks after Manuel’s return.

It was during at a great banquet given to honour some foreign ambassadors.

In a resplendent hall thronged with guests echoing with the clattering of cutleries and with people’s songs and laughter, the tables were loaded with the best food and wine one could have ever imagined. Yet, amid the festivities, Manuel stood up and, asking for a moment of silence, he spoke:

“Hear me out, everyone! By now all of you know of all my recent troubles and deem me to be a worthy man. I have done everything in my power to restore my honour and to mitigate my beautiful wife’s mistrust towards me. But none of you knows that what had happened was caused by a untamed heart, one that unless made to confess, will never admit any of the wrongdoings it has brought upon me and my dear Isabella.”

The commotion that followed brought the celebration to an end. Then, at a sign from the king, all the guests suddenly became silent. Bohemond asked Manuel:

“What do you mean? Wasn’t it by your own free will that you endeavoured to go an fulfil the tasks you accomplished?”

“It was, my king. Hadn’t she sworn an oath not to confess it, my wife should be able to tell us who made her ask of me all those chores she did,. But even so, she doesn’t know the whole truth either,” said Manuel.

“I don’t understand! What is he talking about, Isabella?” the king inquired.

The princess stuttered:

“Father… I… I mean… I got that letter, you saw it. It had Manuel’s writing on it. Had I

known how much trouble it would cause; I would have burned it. Father…”

“Please, my king, don’t blame her for anything. Both I and Isabella had to learn that some things are not what they seem to be, that some people, we tend to trust, can deceive us for their own good,” intervened Manuel.

“Then what in God’s name is going on? Be quick and bring light upon the matter!” spoke Bohemond gripped by anger.

“I shall, but only if you swear not the harm that person in any way,” said Manuel.

“Why would you ask for such a thing?” asked Bohemond.

“I must. Do I have your word, my king?” asked Manuel

The king confirmed.

“Then know that before all this started, the queen herself wanted to see me, for she desired my body and my love. After I refused her, she swore herself to get read of me and remove the threat I represented. And so, she persuaded Isabella to try my loyalty in ways no one had done it before. In the end I lost my life. But you see, it wasn’t the will of the heavens that her majesty’s plot would go undiscovered. I saw it myself, but it was too late for me to divulge it.”

“This is pure nonsense? The boy is out of his mind,” the queen uttered.

“This might be true, but it was you, my queen, the one who forged the letter with the help of the powerful sorceress Amala, one who everyone in this room has heard about. You don’t to admit it, but let me assure you, you will,” said Manuel.

“Ridiculous! My king, his insults have poured on me, long enough. Ban your so-called hero from the court. He is and adulterer and most probably a wizard. Don’t let yourself be deceived by him. I tried to warn you about this for so many times, but you were blinded by his pretence kindness and bravery. There was nothing I could do to undo the spell he cast on you. And now look at him, he is trying to undermine you, by taking me out of the way. My king, I am the only one who now stands between you and a certain death. Who will you believe: this cunning upstart or your ever-faithful wife? Show this court and your guests what you are made of,” said the queen with a decisive look on her face.

“Bring forth the sultan’s rose,” said Manuel. “We will both kiss its petals and you shall find out who is right and who is wrong.”

“Clearly you will not allow such a sham of a trial, my king. Who can confirm to any of us that the story about the rose is fact or mere superstition?” said Constance.

“It will be one of you two, my queen,” said Bohemond, talking with as much resoluteness as Constance. “If you will both hold onto your stories after you have touched the rose, there is nothing neither of us can do but to agree with one side or the other, but if one of you will admit his guilt then we can only hold the rose’s power as responsible for it. Bring forth the sultan’s flower.”

And so, they did. And after each of the two touched the rose’s petals with his lips, they were again asked to confess. While Manuel’s version stayed unchanged, the queen admitted her intrigue in front of all those people. The uproar that followed shook the whole palace. The king, immediately ordered for the queen to be banished from the court, but Isabella stood up and spoke:

“Father, husband and all you that are present, listen to what I have to say. If this is the punishment you assign for my mother, then I should join her wherever she goes. For if she was foolish enough to fall in love with a younger man, I was even more of a fool to have listened to her. My guilt surpasses her in every way. I know you will look at her and judge. What she had done was both wicked and human in the same time. But, if my husband agrees with me, I would like that the two of us leave this house never to return. People of Antioch don’t banish your queen. Let her live in the shadow of her sins. Manuel, this world is not ours, I beg you, let’s build ourselves a new home and forget about the old one.”

“I agree, my sweetheart,” said Manuel and then he turned towards the royal couple, “My queen, I forgive you, my king, I pray that you forgive her too. Isabella, we shall ride far away this very night and we shall forge us that kingdom you spoke of.”

And so, the two youths took the golden peacock, the star and the rose and, together with just a few followers, they travelled far, far away where no one could find them, and there they raised a new citadel one that slowly grew to become a home for many wanderers and exiles, growing into a place of great knowledge and art.

As for those they left in Antioch, I do not know what happened to them. They grew old and died and were slowly forgotten as it’s always happens with those who so briefly pass through this world.

The End

Manuel and The Two Hearts

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.

Manuel and The Two Hearts

7. The second trial

A few days later Manuel received a letter which appeared to have been written by Isabella. The letter contained the following:

“My love, I wish nothing more than to have you by my side, but the wounds that were left by your infidelity are still bleeding. Please do not forsake our love and prove me for a second time that there can be no one else in your heart but me. Beloved Manuel, bring me a star from the sky and I shall forget the past.”

Dumbfounded, Manuel could barely recognise his wife voice in those words and he was right to do so, for the letter had been written at the queen’s urging, who, after seeing the incredible golden peacock hated him even more. But this request she now made would keep Manuel away from both her and Isabella forever, punishing his defiance and avenging her pride.

For many nights to come Manuel contemplated the beautiful sky, with its endless dark plains and its travelling constellations. Sometimes, when he closed   his eyes, he thought he could hear a music coming from above. Yet the brightest star of all was his fair Isabella and the purest sound he longed for was the one of her voice. He then wondered how to do it, how on earth could he bring her the star she wanted.

The answer came to him on the brightest night of all. Manuel was again gazing at the sky when he saw one tiny star falling somewhere in the West, sinking in the great sea.

The boy didn’t hesitate for one moment. He left Antioch that very moment reaching the shores of the Mediterranean on the coming morning. Heading towards the sunset on a boat he bought from a fisherman, Manuel was carried far away offshore by the light sea breeze.

This time he wasn’t led by a distant shadow but by the star’s blue light plunging out from below the waters like the beam of a sunken far, and, when finally reached the place where the star fell into the sea, he stared into the depths and saw a lonely white dot resting on the sea bed. He had found what he was looking for. Manuel then took a deep breath; he dived into the abyss and swam right into the stream of light that came towards him. It was a long way to the sea floor and back, nevertheless Manuel went on until he ran out of air. Hanging half-way below the surface, he started to choke and to squirm, gripped by terror. The was no way he could go on, no way to turn back. The boy would have drowned for sure if it hadn’t been for a sudden, cold kiss which filled him with the breath of life. Manuel came back to his senses to see himself in the embrace of a lovely sea nymph who jumped to his aid. It was because of her that he finally reached the depts of the sea where the star was being slowly extinguished by the salty water. The heavenly body was just a small orb he could hold in the palm of his hand, but the stream of light it diffused, spread for hundreds of miles around. The boy grabbed it and pulled by the enchanting sea woman he escaped a horrible death.

Once they reached the surface, he thanked the nymph and jumped inside the boat, rowing towards the Eastern shores. But the sea creature sopped him. She had saved him only because of his unearthly beauty and now he had to stay with her forever. When Manuel refused, the furious nymph shook the boat and threatened the shred Manuel into pieces. Knowing how bloodthirsty sea creatures could be, Manuel asked for her forgiveness and told her his whole story, begging her to let him sail away. The nymph looked him in the eyes and said:

“My gentle human, what you ask of me is   almost impossible. But you seem have an honest heart, one that will never fall for me. That is why, I will let you leave if you to give me one of your eyes to remind me of you and to be an undoubtable proof of your valour.”

And so, poor Manuel gorged his right eye out and offered it to the sea nymph.

Once free, the half-blind youth went back to Antioch.  But while still on his way, something dark crept in Manuel’s soul as if the loss of that eye had given him a second sight and for the first time, he came to recognise the source of all his hardships.

When he reached the city, he bowed in front of the court and placed the glowing white star at the feet of none other but the queen.

Apart from Constance, everyone failed to understand the gesture. The queen sensed that somehow Manuel wasn’t the same anymore.  

The star was then sealed away in an ivory box and taken to Isabella’s chamber while Manuel re-joined his family. From there he wrote a short note to his wife. The reply arrived three days later, and it wasn’t at all what he had expected…

https://poemefarastapan.com/2019/06/25/manuel-si-cele-doua-inimi-7/

Manuel and The Two Hearts

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. 

https://poemefarastapan.com/2019/06/04/manuel-si-cele-doua-inimi-4/

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