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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.