Travel to Guardamar del Segura

49

Remember that giddy feeling when you fall in love? How you are totally besotted with your new amour? How everything revolves around your new Mr or Mrs Right? You’re totally wrapped up in each other. You can’t eat. You can’t sleep, except when you dream of your loved one. And, oh what dreams you have. Nothing else matters. You’d do anything for love.

Love conquers all. You’ll be together, forever. Imagine then, how you’d feel if someone stepped in to crush your love and forbade you from ever meeting again? Star crossed lovers and unrequited love are the stuff that dramas are made of. This is another heartbreaking tale which took place right here in the Alicante province. We’re heading to the Rio Segura between Rojales and Guardamar to see how forbidden love can have farreaching consequences. On any ordinary day, the Rio Segura looks pretty and peaceful. A few little boats bob up and down by the riverbanks. Birds sing prettily as they soar up in the blue skies.

It’s the perfect spot for a romantic walk or picnic. But venture here during San Juan and it’s a totally different story. Who knows what could happen if you’re a handsome young male ripe for enticement by an endearing young woman. Our tale begins in medieval times when the Moors ruled these Spanish lands. A coquettish and very lovely young Princess, Zulaida, lived here with her family as her father, the Moorish King, happened to rule these fertile lands. She was a lively young lady with her heart in the right place. But she was in love with the wrong man. For it was a handsome young Christian Prince who’d taken Zulaida’s fancy. Let’s read what happened. “I cannot trust you,” bellowed the King.

His face glowed red like a volcano ready to erupt. “You cannot live here. You are banished from my Kingdom. “Guards! Take this creature  for it is no daughter of mine to Cabezo Soler, where she will live forever. And I mean forever.” Zulaida cried her prettiest tears that felt like the finest cut diamonds trickling down her pink cheeks. But even they failed to melt her father’s cold heart. She had no tricks left to win round her father. The thought frightened her more than she can ever have imagined. Zulaida screamed in fear as she tried to wriggle free from the soldiers who grabbed her. For she knew she would never survive in such a wild and desolate place.

Remember, this was a pampered Princess who had people running around after her whenever she raised her dainty fingers. She had people to bathe her in fragrant oils. People to dress her. To cook for her. To undress her. She didn’t have to do a thing except lift her little fingers to summon her servants who obeyed her every whim. She was so very bored and called her servants many times a day. She needed food, she would say. She needed water. What she really needed was company because she felt very lonely and craved friends to share her secrets and giggle with her. So when she finally found her soulmate she was overjoyed. Now she had someone to whisper in her ear. Who adored her.

Who laughed at the funny things she said. Luckily too, her beau was as noble as she. And the days flew by with this gorgeous, witty lover by her side. Until now. Until her father caught wind of how serious the relationship was and stepped in. “I hate you,” she spat at her startled father. °I am in love with a Prince and you should be happy. This could be a happy union with a marriage between myself a Princess and my love. It would also be a happy union between us Moors and the Christians. Surely everyone can see it’s advantageous for everyone concerned, even you Father Dearest.” Her wise words angered the King further. “Take her now before I really get angry,” he bellowed. And at this, the guards marched her to the foot of CabezoSoler, a bleak and desolate place next to the Rio Segura, just outside Rojales on the way to Guardamar del Segura.

Her gallant Prince turned out not to be so honourable after all. He too enjoyed a very privileged life. It certainly didn’t occur to him to follow the guards and save his loved one so they could live happily ever after. No, it was San Juan Eve and the self centred little Prince wanted to have fun. Zulaida was left to her own devices with no handsome beau riding to her rescue. At first the Princess thought it is a cruel trick her father was playing on her.

She truly believed he would send someone to fetch her back to the castle once he had calmed down. Then night fell. She was surrounded by a black wall of silence. No one called her name. No one came for her. She was all alone for the first time in her life. Hungry. Scared. In the dark. Zulaida slumped by a large tree and sobbed real tears this time. She cried herself to sleep and then had the weirdest dream. Or was it a warning? She dreamt that a large black crow landed heavily on her left shoulder and cackled in her ear. “Aaawk, Aaawk. You’re the talk of the town, my dear.

You may not recognise me but I live in the rafters of your fine palace. Or should I say your former home. Aaawk, Aaawk. “Everyone is talking about you and the curse your father has put on you. You’ll never find anyone to break the curse. You’redoomed to live here forever and ever and ever. Your father has left you to rot here although he has given you one very slender glimmer of hope. To lift the curse, you need to find a galla.nt young man to carry you to the river where you can wash your feet to remove the curse. But there is only one night of the year when you can

carry you to the river where you can wash your feet to remove the curse. But there is only one night of the year when you can lift the curse. And it just happens to be San Juan Night when every eligible young man is out enjoying the fiesta Aaawk! Aaawk! Aaawk!” Zulaida woke up with a mighty shudder. She was still all alone and she feared the curse must be true. Her belly rumbled. She hadn’t eaten for 24 hours. But what could she eat? The Princess was unable to fish. Did not know how to catch wildlife. And had little clue which plants to eat or which would kill her. She thought she would die.

But she survived. Day after day after day. She really could live for all eternity unless she broke the curse. But how? Every night Zulaida sobbed herself to sleep. But now her dreams were filled with schemes of how to lift this curse and exact revenge on her father. Unfortunately, she only had one opportunity a year in which to break the curse. If she failed, she had to wait another whole year in this wretched state before trying again.

But that gave her plenty of time to think of how she would punish her father for what he had done to her. For most people, the year passed very quickly. Zulaida never knew a year to drag so slowly and to be so very, very boring. But then San Juan arrived and she was ready. Zulaida got up, combed her hair with twigs that she fashioned into a hairbrush and plaited her long, dark tresses as best she could. Remember she used to have servants do everything for her. Now she did everything for herself. Why, she’d even learned to cook! As night fell, she heard footsteps and knew she must act. Young Juan was wandering home alone after a joyous party celebrating the start of summer. The party was so fantastic it carried on all day. He had been out for 24
hours or more and was exceedingly tired. But he was young, carefree and was looking forward to spending the entire summer fishing with his brothers. Besides, he could hit his bed as soon as he got home, or so he thought.

RioSegura at Guardamar del Segura. Lot peacefuldoesn’t it?

It was a beautiful night with the stars twinkling brightly and the moon casting a shadowy light on the river. Juan stopped for a moment and watched the moon’s reflection dancing in the ripples. “Help ma” a silvery, breathless voice called from behind a tree along the side of the road. “How? Who are you? What do you want?” replied Juan. Zulaida breathed more easily. Her bait was being reeled in. “I need a brave, nay heroic, handsome young man to help me break the spell that my heartless father put on me. Will you be my hero? Are you brave enough? Are you handsome enough?” Juan puffed out his chest a little. Of course he was the right man for the job. Especially as his damsel in distress had such a pretty voice. And sounded a little flirtatious. “I wonder how she’ll reward me for saving her and breaking the curse,” he thought to himself. “What do you need me to do?” he asked at once. This wasn’t the time to weigh up the pros and cons between helping this young lady or heading home to his comfy bed.

This was a time for action. “It’s very simple,* replied the silvery voice. I’ll be forever in your debt if you would just carry me over to the river where I can bathe my feet and wash off this stupid curse.” “Her voice sounds so delicate, I bet she’s a dainty maiden and doesn’t weigh much at all,” thought the impetuous young man. “No problem at all,” replied her romantic hero, quite taken at the thought of seeing his maiden wash her pretty little feet in the river. “Here I come. Get ready to be rescued.” He swooped Zulaida up into his big strong arms and was delighted to find she was as light as apeacock feather – and just as beautiful. But, often when you think you’re doing a simple favour for someone, it turns out it’s never as easy as it first appears. Saving a cursed Princess is no exception. As Juan strode confidently towards the river, Zulaida became heavier and heavier, and even heavier.

Then, just as he was about to put her down by the riverbed, up popped a monstrous dragon (which could be a rather wellfed gecko who had eaten all the flies dancing on the surface of the water) and he was forced to turn heel and find another path. This happened too many times to count. Juan wished he’d never heard the dulcet tones of the Princess or agreed to be her hero. Juan could not face another river monster. Nor could he hold on to her any longer as she now weighed as much as a small horse. He was so confused, so tired, and so scared of the monsters, that he didn’t know which way led to the river any more. His knees buckled and he fell to the ground, dropping Zulaida The burden of breaking the mighty King’s curse and being responsible for releasing the Princess was far too heavy for him to bear. He died. When the Princess realised her hero had failed her, she sobbed uncontrollably and crawled back to her hole in the mountain where she waited for another monotonous 365 days before trying to break the curse again.

Who knows how many families suffered because of Zulaida and her father’s curse? How many families had their hearts broken because their gorgeous sons failed to come home on San Juan Night? Come the next San Juan will her next victim be able to lift her curse? Well, it hasn’t happened in the past 500 years. Maybe young men have got wind of the Legend of La Encanta the enchantress – as she is now called. Maybe now they avoid walking home alongside the river during San Juan. Who knows! As we think of poor Zulaida and her victims it makes you wonder. Parents are now keen to ground their children when they do something they disapprove of but should they be talking to them more, reasoning with them?

Was Zulaida really in love or was it just infatuation?

If her father had left her alone would she have become tired of her Prince? Is out of sight really out of mind? Is banishing’ things or people you disagree with the right way forward? Could the Princess have won her father around by using reason rather than fake tears? It§ an interesting tale. No wonder the Legend of La Enca.nta has inspired many artists. She stars in a novel by Fausto Cartagena, a play written by Salvador Garcia Aguilar anddirected by Alberto Gonzalez Vergel and a short film called La Leyenda de la Encanta by Francisco JorgeMora Garcia and Joaquin Manuel MurciaMeseguer produced in 2002.

Composer Francisco Jorge Mora Gar-cia has composed various pieces of music and songs inspired by her legend and San Juan. You can also see an incredible reenactment of the legendary La Encanta story to launch the start of the Moors and Christians fiesta every July. It is held in front of Guardamar Ayuntamiento and the
stunning performance is an amazing spectacle of light, water and fire. Now in the following chapter, we shall go and visit Guardamar del Segura and Rojales to see how the Legend of La Encanti and other famous legends from this de-lightful region are remembered today.