After preparing a
swift departure, early on the next day Manuel left Antioch and went Eastwards.
It took him many days, but once he reached the banks of the mighty Euphrates,
he built a raft and floated down the cold, rapid waters, struggling not to
crush into the massive rocks that stood in his way. As the river widened, the flow
of water slowed down, slowly carrying him towards the endless, deep sea. And
when he reached it, he kept on floating on the calm waters for weeks, but he
didn’t find the beautiful island and its fantastic dwellers. Maybe it all had
been just a lie meant to send him to his doom.
Then, one cold night,
somewhere on the high seas, Manuel spotted a small outcrop. But by morning the
distant promontory had vanished, and so did the boy’s hopes. What made things
worse, his food and water were nearly gone. Yet, the next night he again saw
that strange mound, looming in the distance. Feeling how his strength was flowing
out of his body, he sailed for it. That was his last chance of getting
anywhere. With the new daylight came another disappointment. Whatever that
thing was, it was nowhere in sight. However, Manuel stayed on course, oaring
towards the inexistent destination. And with every passing night the once small
shadow reappeared growing larger and larger only to disappear in the morning.
He had done well not to give up to desolation and stop from reaching it. It
became clear that some sort of magic impeded Manuel from seeing the outcrop in
clear daylight. And so, on the seventh night he finally arrived on the shores
of an island, all covered with forests the like he had never seen before.
Manuel crept inside those woods to see them populated with all sorts creatures having
many odd shapes and ravishing, bright colours. There were fruits and flowers of
incredible sizes, swarms of flying fish, giant reptiles and frogs, buffalos
with magnificent, spiralling horns, two headed elephants, white deer, covered
with gemstones, airy butterflies who dissolved into thin air like smoke, and
all sorts of other unknown creatures.
The island was
crossed by a network of small rivers, and all seemed to flow from one single
place in its centre. Fade, eerie sounds came down the water streams, but as Manuel
advanced deeper inside the forest, they became louder. He then found an open
plain, and in the middle of that plain there was a pond, the source of all
those streams. What was even more bizarre, on the pond there was a small island
thronged by hundreds of peacocks. Their plumage came in all colours ant they
were singing in a frenzy around a tall tree and perched on one its branches there
was a radiant golden peacock. The bird spanned its metallic wings and chased
away all the other peacocks, who rose in a dazzling swirl, spreading across the
island. After that, the king of peacocks fell asleep.
Manuel sought the
chance and swam across to that small patch of land, and crawling towards the
three, he climbed on it getting as close as he could to the sleeping bird. But
just before he could grab it, the peacock awoke and flu away on another branch,
where Manuel couldn’t reach it.
The boy went down,
trying how to find a way to catch the sly peacock, always thinking of his
beloved Isabella who was waiting for him, far away in Antioch.
Not long after, all
the noises of the forest halted. Alone in that wilderness, Manuel started to be
harassed by his body’s needs. Beleaguered by thirst, hunger and fatigue he
first went to drink some water from the pond, but went he tried to take some in
his palm, the waters withdrew under the ground. Hungry, he saw that the three
was full of fruits, but when he grabbed one of them, the fruit withered away
and turned into ash. Too tired to think about the bird, Manuel laid on the ground
and thought of dozing off for a few minutes, but a voice came from under the
grass and spoke to him:
“Young man, if you
fall asleep, you’ll be swallowed by this island. All that beauty you see
thrives on the bodies of those who hoped to catch the golden bird. Go back and
never return to this cursed place! I was a man like you once. I came here
thinking this golden bird would make me rich, that it would help me fulfil all
my desires. But now, look at me, look what I’ve become. I am just a pile of
soil and roots; defenceless food for the ants that crawl inside me. I feel
their stinging bites, but I cannot defend myself. Don’t share my torment. Run
away from here, for if you sleep, you’ll be always trapped in here, half dead
and half alive, just like the me.” The voice stopped.
this was a task he could never accomplish. Weakened by the many nights on the
sea, he closed his heavy eye lids for a moment and saw Isabella. It was just
for her he had come so far. He sought no fortune, no fame. He lived only for
his love. Alas, without even knowing he slipped into the sleep of death. When
he realised that he had fallen into that never-ending dream, it was already too
late. He felt the thin roots of the three piercing his skin and dragging him under
the earth. He tried to fight them but had no more power. Hopeless, Manuel
whispered his young wife’s name. The last thing he heard were some wings
flapping above his head…
“Manuel, I only let
myself caught in dreams, for dreams always reveal a man’s true nature, his
deepest thoughts. Most of those who came here have tried to have me for their
own vain desires. What they got instead was eternal damnation. But you seek to
save your love and that I cannot vanquish. So far, I’ve met only a few mortals
to be worthy of me. You’re among them. I free you from my course. Wake up!”
The boy opened his
eyes and found the golden peacock sitting right next to him. His kind soul had
saved him and brought the bird down to the ground.
And so, the youth had managed to complete the
task. But now he started to contemplate at his long way back. He had no more food
and water, neither could he get them from that island. Then, like somehow it
had read Manuel’s mind, the peacock shook its feathers and grew tenfold in
size. Spreading its long, golden wings it shrieked and waited for Manuel to climb
on its back. Once that happened, the two flew back to Antioch.
Imagine the amazement
of all those living in the city when they saw the boy circling on the back of a
giant golden peacock high above the lofty, slender towers.
Once the landed, the
peacock returned to its previous size and was taken in one of the palace
gardens, where he spent much of the days grooming itself and displaying its
glittering plumage to the astounded people at the court.
As for Manuel, he returned to his mother house
and from where he sent a message to Isabella, waiting for her response. Tee
poor youth hoped their troubles were finally over.
wanted to see him right away, but her jealous mother reminded her of the letter
and persuaded her not to give up with such an ease. Manuel must have caught the
bird out of sheer luck. There were better ways to prove his devotion to his
wife and she will find them.
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.
“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.
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.
Bohemond le-a vorbit oamenilor, cerându-le tuturor bărbaților cetății să pornească în
căutarea fiicei sale, iar cel care avea să o aducă înapoi nevătămată va conduce
regatul alături de el, împărțind toată puterea și privilegiile unui rege.
Astfel ademeniți, mulți dintre bărbați
și-au pus șeile pe cai și s-au împrăștiat prin tot regatul, căutând în lung
și-n lat. Timp de zece zile ei s-au urcat pe vârfurile munților, au coborât în
cele mai adânci ponoare, dar nu au găsit-o pe Isabela. Iar când s-au înturnat
cu mâinile goale, regele a știut că venise timpul să ia o hotărâre. La porunca
lui toate clopotele bisericilor au bătut o noapte întreagă și multe rugăciuni au
fost înălțate la cer în speranța unei minuni.
Minunea însă nu a avut loc, dar în următoarea
zi, în timp ce regele stătea întins pe un pat într-una din grădinile interioare
ale minunatului său palat alături de regina lui care-i mângâia fruntea și
barba, un fecior cu părul negru și sprâncene groase veni să-l vadă. Ochii lui
mari și verzi străluceau ca cele mai rafinate smaralde, buzele lui cărnoase
rosteau cele mai blânde cuvinte. Îl chema Manuel și era fiul unei grecoaice
foarte bogate, ai cărei strămoși își legaseră numele de însăși fondarea
Antiohiei. Manuel îngenunche în fața perechii regești jurându-le că o va
returna pe preaiubita lor fată. Apoi, fără să aștepte vreun răspuns din partea
regelui băiatul a țâșnit afară din palat, fugind la casa mamei lui și
implorând-o să-i împrumute cele mai de preț bijuterii pe care le avea. Femeia
și ceilalți fii ai ei, aflând ce voia să facă, au încercat să-l facă pe băiat
să renunțe la planul lui necugetat, dar Manuel nu-i ascultă. Într-un sfârșit,
copleșită de rugămințile lui, văduva a cedat și i-a dat fiului ei un sac plic
cu mărgăritare, rubine, safire și multe brățări și cercei de aur. Sfidând privirile
nemulțumite de pe fețele fraților lui, tânărul a pornit în căutarea Isabelei,
dar nu înainte de a afla de la iscoada ce-l urmărise pe acel mesager jerpelit
de veni la curte, unde anume îi pierduse urma. Călări astfel înspre acel loc și
odată ajuns a început să vorbească în gura mare, vorbindu-i roibului și lăudându-se
pentru furtul unei comori pe care tocmai o șterpeli din casa unei bătrâne
văduve din Damasc. Astfel a pătruns mai adânc prin acele chei, făcând larmă și
râzând pe seama faptei sale când dintr-o dată fu înconjurat de o ceată de
tâlhari ce-l cercetau bănuitori. Viața băiatului ar fi trebuit să se termine
atunci și acolo, dar Manuel le vorbi tâlharilor, dându-le în dar toată prada
lui și cerându-le să-l ducă la căpetenia lor deoarece dorea să se alăture
bandei lui. Văzu un bătrân ponosit ce veni șchiopătând înspre el. Acesta îl
prinse pe Manuel mână și-l privi lung, parcă uimit de frumusețea băiatului.
Apoi i-a vorbit lui Manuel, dându-se drept regele hoților, cel care în curând
avea să fie și rege al întregii Antiohii, deoarece în numai câteva zile avea să
se înfățișeze din nou regelui Bohemond, pretinzând a fi unul dintre slujitorii
lui și cerând tronul regatului pentru el însuși, temutul tâlhar Două-Cuțite.
Iată cât sunt de miraculoase sunt
puterile frumuseții! Datorită chipului său încântător Manuel aflase că cel care
îl căută pe Bohemond în cetate, amăgindu-l pe rege, era tocmai Două-Cuțite.
Băiatul mai înțelesese că bătrânul avea o slăbiciune pentru bărbații tineri și
astfel a căutat să se folosească cât putea de mult de neașteptata împrejurare
ivită știind că în acest fel calea sa spre Isabela nu mai avea nici un fel de
opreliști. Arătându-se încântat de avansurile ticălosului, Manuel a trecut prin
labirintul de stânci și poteci înguste al muntelui Aman, încercând să țină
minte orice amănunt care l-ar fi putut ajuta la întoarcere. Când în sfârșit au
ajuns la peștera tâlharilor, băiatul o zări pe frumoasa Isabela prinsă în
lanțuri și împrejmuită de zece tâlhari puternici, de haita lor de câini
sălbatici, și de nenumărate comori. Inima tânărului pătimea pentru suferințele
Isabelei, dar și-a ascuns durerea sub un zâmbet rece, străduindu-se să afle o
cale să o scape de acolo.
Izbăvirea veni tocmai din partea regelui tâlharilor.
Sângele bătrânului fierbea de dorință pentru Manuel. Străduindu-se în fel și
chip să-i facă pe plac noului său acolit tâlharul îi istorisea băiatului despre
faptele sale de vitejie și cumplita vărsare de sânge pe care mereu a lăsat-o în
urma sa. Apoi, văzându-l că se apropia
tot mai mult de el, șiretul tânăr îi ceru lui Două-Cuțite să sărbătorească buna
lor înțelegere stropind-o cu niște vin. Ațâțat de frumusețea feciorului și
peste măsură de bucuros, așa-zisul rege al tâlharilor a poruncit să fie adus
cel mai întunecat, mai vechi și mai puternic vin armenesc pe care îl ținea în fundul
peșterii sale, la răcoare. După un ospăț strașnic și multe cupe de vin, toți
tâlharii și căpetenia lor se îmbătară strașnic adormind unul câte unul, până
când nici unul nu mai rămăsese în picioare. Dar tânărul Manuel, aținându-se ce
la acea destrăbălare și plin de obidă față de acei ticăloși s-a ridicat cu
curaj și, luând o sabie, i-a tăiat în bucăți pe toți bețivanii aceia
neputincioși. Trezit de o durere pătrunzătoare, Două-cuțite îl zări pe frumosul
băiat cu fața toată mânjită de sânge cum sta aplecat peste el înfigându-i sabia
adânc în inima lui bătrână și blestemată. Și acela a fost sfârșitul regelui
Apoi Manuel a omorât toți câinii aceia
sălbatici care o păzeau pe Isabela și eliberând-o din lanțuri, o luă pe sărmana
fată înspăimântată și ,gonind pe roibul său în lumina lunii, a dus-o pe fată în
siguranța palatul părintesc.
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.