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/