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.