Chapter 1- The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

Now I’m going to tell you about my brother. My brother, Jonathan Lionheart, is the person I want to tell you about. I think it’s almost like a saga, and just a little like a ghost story, and yet every word is true, though Jonathan and I are probably the only people who know that.

Jonathan’s name wasn’t Lionheart from the start. His last name was Lion, just like Mother’s and mine. Jonathan Lion was his name. My name is Karl Lion and Mother’s is Sigrid Lion. Father was Axel Lion, but he went to sea and we never heard from him since.

But what I was going to tell you was how it came about that my brother Jonathan became Jonathan Lionheart, and all the strange things that happened after that.

Jonathan knew that I was soon going to die. I think everyone knew except me. They knew at school too, because I was away most of the time, coughing and always being ill. For the last six months, I haven’t been able to go to school at all. All the ladies Mother sews dresses for knew it too, and one of them was talking to Mother about it when I happened to hear, although I wasn’t meant to. They thought I was asleep. But I was just lying there with my eyes closed. And I went on lying there like that, because I didn’t want them to see that I had heard that terrible thing--that I was soon going to die.

I was sad, of course, and terribly afraid, and I didn’t want Mother to see that. But I talked to Jonathan alone about it when he came home.

“Did you know that I’m going to die?” I said, and I wept. Jonathan though for a moment. Perhaps he didn’t really want to answer, but in the end he said:

“Yes I know.”

Then I cried even more.

“How can things be so terrible?” I asked. “How can things be so terrible that some people have to die, when they’re not even ten years old?”

“You know, Rusky, I don’t think it’s that terrible,” said Jonathan. “I think you’ll have a marvelous time.”

“Marvelous,” I said. “Is it marvelous to lie under the ground and be dead?”

“Oh,” said Jonathan. “It’s only your shell that lies there, you know? You yourself fly away somewhere quite different.”

“Where?” I asked, because I could hardly believe him.

“To Nangiyala,” he said.

To Nangiyala--he just threw out then word as if it were something everyone in the world knew. But at the time, I had never heard it mentioned before.

“Nangiyala?” I said, “Where’s that?”

Then Jonathan said that he wasn’t quite certain, but it was somewhere on the other side of the stars. And he began to tell me about Nangiyala, so that I almost felt like flying there at once.

“It’s still in the days of campfires and sagas there,” he said, “and you’ll like that.”

All the sagas came from Nangiyala, he said, for it was there that everything of that kind happened, and it you went there, then you could take part in adventures from morning till evening, and at night, Jonathan said.

“You know, Rusky,” he said, “that’ll be different from lying and coughing and being ill and never able to play, won’t it?”

Jonathan always called me Rusky. He’d done that ever since I was small, and when I asked him why once, he said it was because he liked rusks so much, especially rusks like me. Yes, he liked me, Jonathan, and that strange, for I’ve never been anything but a rather ugly, stupid and cowardly boy, with crooked legs and all. I asked Jonathan how he could like such an ugly, stupid boy like me, with crooked legs and all, and then he said:

“If you weren’t such a nice, ugly little paleface with crooked legs, then you wouldn’t be my Rusky, the one I like.”

But that evening, when I was so afraid of dying, he said that as long as I got Nangiyala, then I would at once be well and strong and even beautiful, too.

“As beautiful as you?” I asked.

“Much more beautiful,” said Jonathan.

But he shouldn’t have tried that on me, because there’s never been anything so beautiful as Jonathan and there never will be.

Once, one of those ladies Mothers sews for said:

“My dear Mrs. Lion, you’ve got a son who looks like a prince in a saga.”

And she wasn’t talking about me either!

Jonathan really did look like a prince in a saga. his hair shone like gold and had beautiful dark blue eyes which really shone, and beautiful white teeth and perfectly straight legs. And not only that. he was kind and strong, and he knew everything and understood everything and was tops in school, and all the children in the yard hung around him wherever he went, wanting to be with him, and he found amusing things for them and took them on adventures, and I could never go with them, because I was lying on my old kitchen sofa-bed day in and day out. But Jonathan told me everything when he came home, everything he’d been doing and everything he’d seen and heard and read. He would sit for ages on the edge of my bed and tell me. Jonathan slept in the kitchen, too, in a bed which he had to get out of the clothes closet in the evenings. And when he had gone to bed, he went on telling me stories and sagas, until Mother called in from the other room:

“You two must be quiet now, Kalle must sleep.”

But it is difficult to sleep when you are coughing all the time. Sometimes, Jonathan got up in the middle of the night and boiled honey water for me to soothe my cough. He was kind, Jonathan was.

That evening, when I was so afraid of dying, he sat with me for several hours, and we talked about Nangiyala, but very quietly so that Mother wouldn’t hear. She was sitting sewing as usual, but she has her sewing machine in her room, the room where she sleeps--we only have one room and the kitchen, you see. The door into her room was open, and we could hear her singing that old song about a seaman far away at sea; it was Father she thinking about, I suppose. I don’t remember very well how it goes. I only remember a few lines which go like this:

If I die at sea, dear

perhaps there’ll be a day

when a snow-white pigeon comes

from far, far away

then hasten to the sill, dear

it’s my soul that’s there,

wanting to rest a while, here

in your arms so dear

It is a beautiful and sad song, I think, but Jonathan laughed when he hear it and said:

“You know, Rusky, perhaps you’ll come flying to me one evening. From Nangiyala. And please don’t forget to sit there like a snow-white pigeon on the windowsill will you?”

I began to cough then, and he lifted me up and held me in his arms as he usually did when it was worst, and he sang:

My little Rusky, I know, dear

that your soul is here

wanting to rest a while here,

in my arms so dear.

Not until then did I begin to think about what it would be like in Nangiyala without Jonathan. How lonely I would be without him! What good would it be to be where there were lots and lots of sagas and adventures if Jonathan were not there too? I would just be afraid and not know what to do.

“I don’t want to go there,” I said, and I wept. “I want to be where you are, Jonathan.”

“But I’m coming to Nangiyala, too, don’t you see?” said Jonathan. “After a while.”

“After a while, yes,” I said. “But perhaps you’ll live until you’re ninety year old, and in the meantime I’ll be there alone.”

Then Jonathan said that there was no time in Nangiyala the way it is on earth. Even if he did live until he was ninety, it wouldn’t seem like more than two days at the most before he came. That’s what it’s like when there isn’t any real time.

“You could manage on your own for two days, couldn’t you?” he said, “You could climb the trees and make a campfire in the forest and sit by a small stream and fish, all those things you’ve longed to do so much. And just as you’re sitting there, catching a perch, I’ll come flying in and you’ll say ,’Good heavens Jonathan, are you here already?’”

I tried to stop crying, because I thought I might be able to last out those two days.

“Just think how good it would be if you’d gone there first,” I said, “so that it was you who was sitting there fishing.”

Jonathan agreed with me. He looked at me for a long time, kindly as usual, and I noticed he was sad, because he said very quietly and rather sorrowfully:

“But instead I’ll have to live on earth without my Rusky. For ninety years perhaps!”

That’s what we thought!