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,
“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,”
“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
“I must. Do I have your word, my king?” asked
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
“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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.”
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:
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. ”
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.
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.
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.
Can we start living outside the norms and obligations of societies, beyond the prejudices, the mass consumption patterns?
The only thing I can say about my life right now is that I am tired. Tired of running in circles, tired of running away, tired of struggling for things that will most probably never make me happy.
For many of us it is time to redifine their way we think, to learn the function of generosity, the role of a good, long break, to learn to say no when we have to, to cherish everything that life gave us, and to build with what we have. We live under the umbrella of fear and division, we live to serve others, constanlty ingest what we are given, never doubt.
We drag ourselves from one paycheck to another, from one loan to another. Every year we buy year new gadgets without even learning how to use the old ones. We travel to escape our lives, then we return to find ourselves trapped again. We try to evade life and death alike. In a world where everything falls into the hands of private bussineses, society will only feed basic needs, never ensure security to its people, never create free citizens. Is this what we’ve become so proud of? Is that what we actually need from life?
What can we do then?
Tackling social policies and cultural prejudices would be a part of the answer.
Living for a clear, achevable goal and having the right expectations would be another.
Telling the stories we want to tell, telling them out loud, and giving other people the courage they need, will always help.
Discliplining ourselves to push our own imaginary boundaries and find the strenght to pursue our dreams would be ideal.
“What is the highest good in all matters of action? To the name, there is almost complete agreement; for uneducated and educated alike call it happiness, and make happiness identical with the good life and successful living. They disagree, however, about the meaning of happiness.” Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
Although one couldn’t blame our language and our knowledge for lack of depth, our efforts to define lifeare still far from satisfying. An even tougher question arises when we try to understand life’s meaning.
What is this force that sets us in motion giving us a purpose, governing us throughout our entire existence? Is it just rationalized instinct? Is it a collection of arbitrary values that tend to vary throughout time, from one age to another, from one individual to another? Is it yet another form of filling the void of our mortal condition? Yes, yes, and yes…
Whether as a cause or as an effect, the meaningof life is quintessential to all our actions, thoughts and creative impulses. It is the alpha and the omega of all our stories and of all our songs, of everything we struggle to achieve in just a few decades we have on Earth.
A simpler form of existence doesn’t need purpose it relies on its organic drive to feed itself, to grow and to procreate. But once neurons jump into the equation, they start wandering and wondering. And this adventure leads these otherwise astounding cells (so well equipped for problem-solving) to the uncharted territories where they either get lost or hit unsurpassable walls. Life’s purpose is just one of those nebulas (as it is God, the life beyond and so on).
Now, is it worth to think about our life’s meaning or
should we just push forward focusing on our daily objectives? I guess it’s up
to each of us but knowing that we are alive doesn’t make much sense without knowing
why we are alive for. And I am sure that everyone has had at least one moment
when this question popped up into his or her mind.
Today’s society highlights success. Many great minds talked about creativity. Both happiness and death were always on the table. I wouldn’t know what the right answer is, but I consider life to be an ever-expanding phaenomenon that circumscribes us all, an ever-growing personal and collective lesson, one that we are bound to go through and one that we should try to share to those around us and to those that will follow.