Manuel and The Two Hearts

3. The first heart

After the princess regained her strength, the king summoned Manuel at the court to crown the youth and have him rule by his side. But Manuel declined the offer and told everyone that the only reason he had ventured to save Isabella was because he couldn’t bear knowing that she was in the grasp of those evil men and that the only thing he asked for was her everlasting friendship. The grateful Isabella jumped from her throne and embraced the handsome Greek, her tears rolling from her eyes like waterfalls. Then, a strange thing happened. The boy’s perfume and his slender, warm body mystified the princess. She stopped weeping and, amazed, boldly looked him in the eyes. Just now she had realised that her saviour’s beauty was like nothing she had ever seen before. Isabella blushed. Her gratitude turned into desire and once she recovered, she asked Bohemond to invite Manuel to join them at the court. The insightful king agreed and so did Manuel, who was secretly in love with the girl. He had been watching her for many months from a distance, following her wherever she was going, dreaming of her wonderful long, golden hair, her sweet lips, and her deep blue eyes. But on that dreadful day when she was captured, he was in Damascus to take care of his family business. He never forgave himself that mischance. Day and night, he fretted, he cried, and he struggled to find her. No one understood his commotions and he never shared his sorrow. Yet, it was this love he carried in his heart, that gave him all the courage he needed to finally venture out and rescue her.

And so, Manuel moved into the palace and never left Isabella from his sight. He was the happiest man alive until one day when a young, bashful knight approached the princess and overwhelmed her with gallantries. While the two of them were talking everyone noticed how Manuel started to shiver, his face turned purple, and his eyes were burning with rage. The coming night the tormented Manuel entered Isabella’s chamber, woke her up, and confessed his unwavering love for her.

Isabella let him pour all his feelings out and when the boy finished with his ingenuous drivel, the princess smiled and kissed him on the neck, then on the cheeks, then on the mouth… What happened next my words will not reveal, but one month after Manuel and Isabella married, bringing hope and joy to the entire city.

Manuel and The Two Hearts

2. The courageous, young man

Bohemond spoke to his subjects, asking the men in his city to go and find his daughter and the one who would bring her back unharmed would rule by his side sharing all the power and the privileges of a king.

Lured by such a prospect, many men saddled their horsed and scattered all over the land, searching far and wide. And for ten days or so they climbed on the top of the mountains and they went down the deepest ravines, but no one could find Isabella. Thus, when they all returned empty handed the king knew that the time was near for him to take a decision. At his request all the churches bells rang through the night, and many prayers were sent to heaven in hope of a last wonder.

The wonder never came, but on the next day day as the king lay on a bed inside one of his palace’s beautiful inner gardens in the company of the queen, who caressed his forehead and his beard, a boy with dark hair and thick eyebrows came to see him. His big green eyes shone like the most exquisite emeralds; his full lips uttered the kindest words. The youth’s name was Manuel and he was the son of a very rich Greek woman, whose ancestors could be traced back to the origins of Antioch itself. Manuel kneeled in front of the royal couple and swore to return their beloved daughter. Then, without even waiting for an answer from his king he dashed out of the palace and rushed to his mother’s house begging her to lend him her most precious jewels. After they found out what he was up to the woman and her other sons tried to dissuade him from going further with his reckless plan, but Manuel wouldn’t listen. Finally, overcome by his pleadings the widow surrendered and gave her son her a bag full of pearls, rubies, sapphires, and many golden bracelets and earrings. Defying the displeased look on his brothers’ faces Manuel left to look for Isabella but not before he had enquired the scout who followed the coarse messenger to tell him where exactly he had lost that man. After that, he rode to that place and once he arrived, he started to shout out loud, as if talking to his horse, boasting about the incredible treasure he had just stolen from an old widow’s house in Damascus. And so, he went deeper inside the gorges shouting and laughing about his deed, when suddenly, a bunch of brigands surrounded Manuel looking at him with distrust. The boy’s life should have ended on that spot, but Manuel addressed the thieves, offering them his entire loot and asking them to take him to their leader for he wanted to join their gang. Then, a rugged old fellow came galumphing towards him, he grabbed Manuel by the hand and looked at him as if amazed by the boy’s beauty. The old man spoke to Manuel, presenting himself as the king of the thieves who will soon be king of whole Antioch, for in just a few days he would again meet Bohemond, pretending to be one of his own servants and claim the throne for himself, the one and only Two-Blades.

Who would have guessed what the wonders of beauty can achieve? It was through mere physical charm that Manuel found out that the messenger that came to visit Bohemond in the city, deceiving the king and the court, was none other than Two-Blades himself. He also became aware that the old man had a weakness for young men and he quickly sought to take advantage of this unexpected development knowing that his passage towards Isabella was now unhindered. By showing interest in the old thief’s advances, Manuel made his way through the labyrinth of rocks and narrow paths of Mount Amanus, trying to remember every detail that could help him on his way back. When finally, they reached the brigand’s cave, the boy saw the beautiful Isabella held in chains and surrounded by ten strong thieves, by a pack of wild dogs, and by countless stolen treasures. The young’s man heart ached for Isabella’s misery, but ne concealed his pain with a cold smile, trying to find a way to get her out of there.

 The relief came from the king of the thieves himself. The old man’s blood boiled with infatuation for Manuel and he looked for ways to please his new follower, telling him stories about his incredible feats and the terrible tail of bloodshed he had always left behind. Then, as he drew nearer and nearer to Manuel, the cunning youth asked Two-Blades to celebrate their partnership and drink some wine. Aroused and delighted the so-called king of thieves asked for the darkest, oldest, fullest Armenian wine he kept deep inside the cave. After a great feast and many rounds of wine all those infamous brigands and their leader got drunk falling asleep one by one, until none of them was left standing.

 As soon as that happened, young Manuel who abstained himself from all that debauchery, immediately took a sword, cut the powerless drunkards into pieces. As for Two-Blades, awoken by a sharp pain he saw the handsome boy’s face all smeared with blood as Manuel leaned over him thrusting the sword deep inside his chest. That was the end of the king of thieves.

Manuel then slew all the brigand’s wild dogs that were guarding Isabela, freed her from her chains and took the horror-stricken girl on his horseback, riding under the clear moon light until they reached the safety of Bohemond’s palace.

To be continued