This is an old Romanian folk-tale, a darker one than most told in modern days, from a land with a dark and bloody past. Above is a reading of the story from yours truly, and below is the text of the tale. Other stories from the same old collection can be found here. This story may not be suitable for children.
Manoli the Architect
From Roumanian Fairy Tales and Legends – E.B. Mawr, 1881
A brilliant cortège winds along the banks of a river; a crowd of powerful nobles respectfully surround their Chief, whose great height and manly expression, seem to indicate him worthy of being the Commander among them all. In his immediate neighborhood, nine artisans may be observed; they also yield obedience to a Chief, noted for his superior experience and knowledge.
The river below, the river whose waters roll through a country so wild, here shooting up into cascades, and there falling back murmuring on the pointed rocks worn and sharpened by their beatings; lower down, flowing evenly along, sometimes subdued, sometimes in revolt – emblematic alike of life, will, impatience, and human resignation; this river is the Arges, and the country through which it flows is called Lesser Wallachia.
The Chief whom we see surrounded by his nobles, mounted on their splendid horses, with gorgeous trappings, is Radu the Black, Prince of the country, and founder of the Principality.
This brilliant cavalcade is in reality a pious pilgrimage, in search of a suitable site, to be consecrated by the erection of a Monastery, unequaled for beauty of position, and richness of design.
This is also why, among so illustrious a company are to be found the nine masons, headed by the master hand of all the masons – the renowned Manoli.
A young shepherd comes in sight, playing on his flute, a Doïna (National wail) of his country.
“Shepherd,” cried Radu, stopping him, “thou must often with thy flocks have explored the banks of the Arges; tell me, hast thou never seen a wall hidden amongst the green brushwood of the nut trees?”
“Yes, Prince, I have seen a wall which was begun to be built, and my dogs howled at it, as if they had been howling for a death.”
“Right,” said the Prince, with satisfaction, “it is there that our Monastery shall rise;” then calling Manoli and his masons,”Listen,” he said, “I wish you to build me an edifice,so noble and beautiful, that its equal shall never be found, neither in the present nor in the future. I promise to you all, treasures, titles, and estates, which shall make you equals with the Boyards of my court. I promise, on the honor of a Prince, and you know you may rely on my promises. Wait! Don’t thank me yet! My word is sacred, and again I say, what I promise I always carry out; if you donot succeed, I will have you walled up living, in the foundation of the Monastery, which shall be built by cleverer hands than yours.”
Terror,and ambition! two great incentives for all men! So the masons get quickly to work; they measure the ground; they dig the soil; and soon a majestic wall begins to rise.
Satisfied with their work, and certain of success, they fall asleep and dream of the lands, and treasures, and titles, which their skillfulness is to bring them.
Morning comes, the golden rays of the sun dart over the waters of the Arges; the cool morning air, and the desire to continue their work – only interrupted for needful repose – arouse the masons; they seize their tools, and walk quickly to recommence their labors; but, alas! that wall, those solid foundations, all, all, during the night, had crumbled and disappeared.
Instead of sitting down and complaining, the masons recommenced their task; they think of the Prince, and of his oath, and they work and tremble, and tremble and work.
At length, at the end of the day – a long summer’s day, they have repaired the terrible disaster, and when evening comes, they again seek repose.
Again morning, and again sunlight reveals the crumbled walls!
In despair, the workmen recommence; for has not the Prince sworn his terrible oath? But when night comes, they no longer dream of treasures and titles, but of the terrible chastisement which awaits them.
When they again awake, all is ruin, and this happens four times to them.
The fourth night, notwithstanding his anxiety, Manoli sleeps, and he dreamt a strange and terrible dream. He awakes, and calls his comrades. “Listen,” he says, “to what has been told to me while I was asleep. A voice whispered to me that all our work will be in vain; that each night, the work of each day will be destroyed, unless we wall up, living, in our edifice, the first woman, be she wife or sister, who in the early morning comes to bring our food.”
The prospects of the honors which the construction of the Monastery was to bring them; the riches and titles with which their work was to be recompensed decided the workmen, and they each swore a solemn oath, to wall up while living, be she sister, or wife, the first woman who should come among them next day.
Morning arrived, clear and pure, as if it would not light on one despairing heart. Manoli anxiously looks into the distance, his oath strikes him with terror; but he is ambitious, and why should he refuse to sacrifice some one, to ensure his own safety, and the success of his labor? Looking at it in this light, the engagement becomes a sacred duty; it is humane even, to secure the safety of several, at the price of one, and Manoli begins to regard the proceeding as heroic.
Yet he is restless, and gets on a hillock to look around him, to see still further; he mounts a scaffolding, and his eyes scan fearfully the surrounding plain.
Distant ,far distant, he sees something advancing. Who comes in such haste? In truth, it is a woman, careful and diligent, bringing the early morning meal to the man she loves. See, with light quick step, she comes nearer and nearer, she is recognized. It is the beautiful Flora, the wife of Manoli.
Everything disappears from Manoli’s sight, the sun is dark, and swollen; instead of light, there is the darkness of the tomb.
He falls on his knees, and, joining his hands, calls, Oh, Lord, God: open the cataracts of Heaven, shower on the earth torrents of water, turn the streamlets into lakes, oh, Merciful Savior, that my wife may not be able reach me here!” Did God listen to his prayer? Shortly clouds covered the sky, and heavy rain began to fall, but Flora continued her way. Was not her husband waiting? What mattered these obstacles?
Against stream and torrent, she still advances, and Manoli watching her,again kneels, joins his bands, and cries, “Oh, my God, send a wind to twist and tear up the plantains, to overthrow the mountains, and to force my wife to return to the valley!”
The wind rises and whistles in the forest, uproots the plantains, to overthrow mountains, yet Flora only hastens more quickly to reach her husband and at length arrives at the fatal spot. Then the masons tremble at the sight, but tremble with joy.
While Manoli, grief stricken, takes his wife in his arms and says, “Listen, my dear, to amuse ourselves, we are going to pretend to build you upin these walls, it will be I, who will place you there, so remain very quiet.”
Flora laughingly consented, for she loved Manoli and had full confidence in him. Manoli sighed heavily, but though sighing, began to build the wall, which already reaches to the ankles of Flora – to her knees – higher and higher. Flora laughs no longer, but, seized with terror, cries, “Manoli, oh, Manoli, leave off this cruel joking, the wall presses on me, it will crush me,”
Manoli is silent, but works on, the wall still rises, and is now level with her waist.
Again she cries, “Manoli! Manoli! stay your hand; soon I shall no longer see you; I love you so; you are sacrificing me, and yet you say you love me too.”
Manoliworks on, and to console himself, thinks,
“Shortly I shall hear no longer her complaining; suffering is not so bad, when one does not witness it.”
The work proceeds – the wall rises even to her eye-brows – at lengths she is hid from sight entirely. Manoli moves away, but still hears the faint moaning voice of his wife. “Manoli, Manoli, the wallis pressing on me, and my life is dying out.”
The day was magnificent on which the Prince came to kneel and give thanks at the beautiful Monastery – the best proportioned, and the finest in style and grandeur which had ever been built. The master masons, Manoli among them, swelling with pride, waited, at the top of the scaffolding, the visit, the praise, and the recompense of Radu their Prince.
“Well, is it true,” said the Prince, “that you could never imagine, or construct, an edifice more splendid than this? Can no other Sovereign signalize his power and his wealth by a finer building than this?”
Themasons inflamed with pride and emulation, cried with a triumphant air, “Know, Prince, that we are the Master Masons, whose science and skill is unrivaled: we might be able, even, to create a greater work than this.”
The Prince turned aside with a wicked smile.
“Wait up here for me,” he said, “I will go down to fully examine the edifice from below, and I will come up again and make my observations to you.” Hurrying from the scaffolding, he gave a quick sign, and command to the people below, who speedily knocked away, props, poles, and planks, and the masons fell from the great height to an instantaneous death. Manoli, alone caught at a projecting carving, and passing from one to another, would soon have reached the ground, but there came from the wall which he was touching, the cry, “Manoli, Manoli, the cold wall is pressing on me, my body is crushed, and my life is dying out.” At this sound, Manoli, turns giddy and faint, and falls to the earth.
On the spot where he fell, there springs a fountain of clear sparkling water, but its taste is salt and bitter, as the tears which are shed in Romania, even now, when any one relates the sorrows and the sacrifice of Flora, the wife of Manoli.