Chapter 5 - The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

But then the day came when I found out what was special about Sofia.

One morning, Jonathan said:

“We're going over to the Queen of the Pigeons for a while today.”

“That sounds grand,” I said. “What kind of queen is that?”

“Sofia,” said Jonathan. “The Queen of the Pigeons--I call her that for fun.”

I soon knew why.

It was quite a way to Tulip Farm, where Sofia lived. Her house was on the outskirts of Cherry Valley, with the high mountains just behind it.

We rode over there in the morning, and Sofia was standing there feeing her pigeons, all her snow-white pigeons. When I saw them, I remembered her, that white one that sat on my windowsill, at least a thousand years ago now.

“Do you remember?” I whispered to Jonathan. “Wasn’t it one of those pigeons that lent you the protection of its feathers when--when you came to me?”

“Yes,” said Jonathan. “How could I have gone otherwise? Sofia’s pigeons are the only ones that fly through the skies as far as they like.”

The pigeons were like a white cloud around Sofia, and she was standing there quite still in the middle, surrounded by the flapping of their wings. It was exactly what a Queen of the Pigeons should look like, I thought.

Then she caught sight of us. She greeted us kindly, as usual, but she wasn’t happy. She was quite sorrowful and at once said in a low to Jonathan:

“I found Violanta dead with an arrow in her breast last night. Up in Wolf Gorge. And the message had gone.”

Jonathan’s eyes darkened. I had never seen him like that, never seen him so embittered. I recognized neither him nor his voice.

“That means it’s as I thought,” he said. “We’ve got a traitor in Cherry Valley.” “Yes, I think we have,” said Sofia. “I didn’t want to believe it. But now I see that it must be true.”

You could see how sad she was, and yet she turned to me and said:

“Come, Karl, you must come and look around my place all the same.”

She lived alone at Tulip Farm with her pigeons and her bees and her goats, with a garden so full of flowers that you could hardly make your way through it.

While Sofia took me around, Jonathan started digging and weeding in that way you have to in the spring.

I looked at everything, Sofia’s many beehives and her tulips and narcissuses and inquisitive goats, but all the time I kept thinking about that Violanta, whoever that was, who had been shot up there in the mountains.

We soon went back to Jonathan, who was on his knees weeding so hard that his fingers were black.

Sofia looked sorrowfully at him and then said:

“Listen, my little gardener's boy, I think you’ll soon have to get to work on something else now.”

“I can see that,” said Jonathan.

Poor Sofia, she was more worried than she wished us to see, I suppose. She went and gazed up toward the mountains, looking so troubled that I grew anxious too. What was she looking for? Who was she expecting?

We were soon to know, because suddenly Sofia said:

“There she is! Thank God, there’s Paloma!”

It was one of her pigeons that came flying in; at first it was nothing but a little speck against the mountains, but soon she was with us, landing on Sofia’s shoulder.

“Come, Jonathan,” said Sofia quickly.

“Yes, but Rusky--I mean Karl,” said Jonathan. “He must be told all about it now, mustn’t he?”

“Of course,” said Sofia. “Hurry now, both of you.”

With the pigeon on her shoulder, Sofia ran ahead of us into the house. She took us into a little room off the kitchen, and then she bolted the door and closed the shutters. I suppose she wanted to be sure that no one could either see or hear what we were doing.

“Paloma, my pigeon,” said Sofia. “Have you a better message than the last one with you today?”

She thrust her hand under one of the pigeon’s wings and brought out a little capsule. Out of it, she took a tiny roll of paper, just like the one I had seen Jonathan take out of the basket and hide in the sideboard at home.

“Read it quickly,” said Jonathan. “Quickly, quickly!”

Sofia read it and let out a little cry.

“They’ve taken Orvar, too,” she said. “Now there’s no one left there who can really do anything.”

She handed the piece of paper to Jonathan, and as he read it, his eyes darkened even more.

“A traitor in Cherry Valley,” he said. “Who do you think it is that can be such a wretch?”

“I don’t know,” said Sofia. “Not yet. But God help him, whoever he is, when I find out.”

I was sitting there listening and not understanding a thing.

Sofia sighed and then said:

“You must tell Karl. I’ll go and get some breakfast for you in the meantime.”

She vanished into the kitchen.

Jonathan sat down on the floor with his back against the wall. He sat there in silence, looking at his muddy fingers, but finally he said:

“Well, I’ll tell you now. Now that Sofia has said that I may.”

He had told me a great deal about Nangiyala, both before I had come and afterward, but nothing like what I was told there in Sofia’s room.

“You remember what I said,” he began, “that life here in Cherry Valley was easy and simple. It has been like that, and it should be like that, but it is not likely to be like that any longer. For when it’s miserable and difficult over there in the other valley, then life becomes difficult in Cherry Valley too, you see.”

“Is there more than one valley?” I asked, and then Jonathan told me about Nangiyala’s two green valleys that lay there so beautifully in among Nangiyala’s mountains--Cherry Valley and Wild Rose Valley, deep valleys with mountains around them, high, wild mountains that were difficult to cross if you did not know the twisting dangerous little paths, Jonathan said. But the people in the valleys knew the paths and could travel freely to see each other.

“Or to put it more accurately, they used to be able to,” said Jonathan. “Now no one is allowed out of Wild Rose Valley and no one can get in there, either. Only Sofia’s pigeons.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because Wild Rose Valley is no longer a free country,” said Jonathan. “Because that valley is in enemy hands.”

He looked at me as if he were sorry to have frightened me.

“And no one knows what will happen to Cherry Valley.” he said.

I was afraid then. I had been going around so calmly, thinking that there was nothing dangerous in Nangiyala, but now I was truly frightened.

“What sort of enemy is it?” I asked.

“His name is Tengil,” said Jonathan, and he spoke the name so that it sounded horrible and dangerous.

“Where is Tengil?” I said.

Then Jonathan told me about Karmanyaka, the country up in the mountains of The Ancient Mountains, beyond the river of The Ancient Rivers, where Tengil ruled, cruel as a serpent.

I grew even more afraid but I didn’t want to show it.

“Why can’t he stay there in his ancient mountains?” I said. “Why does he have to come to Nangiyala and destroy things?”

“Well, you know,” said Jonathan. “The person who can answer that one can answer a great deal. I don’t know why he has to spoil everything there is. It’s just like that. he begrudges the people in the valleys the life they lead. And he needs bondsmen.”

Then he sat silent again, staring at his hands, but he did mumble something and I heard it.

“The monster has Katla too!”

Katla! I don’t know why that sounded more horrible than everything else that he had said, and I asked him:

“Who’s Katla?”

But Jonathan shook his head.

“No, Rusky, I know that you are already scared. I don’t want to talk about Katla, because then you won’t sleep tonight.

Instead he told me what it was that was so special about Sofia.

“She is the leader of our secret struggle against Tengil,” said Jonathan. “We fight against him, you see, to help Wild Rose Valley. Though we have to do it secretly.”

“But Sofia,” I said. “Why just her?”

“Because she’s strong and knows about things like that,” said Jonathan. “And because she’s not the slightest bit afraid.”

“Afraid? But you’re not afraid, either, Jonathan., are you?”

He thought for a while and then he said:

“No, I’m not afraid, either.”

Oh, how I wished that I could be as brave as Sofia and Jonathan. But instead I was sitting there so terrified that I could hardly think.

“This business with Sofia and her pigeons flying with secret messages over the mountains, is that something that everyone knows about?”

“Only the people whom we can definitely trust,” said Jonathan. “But among them there’s one traitor, and that’s enough.”

Now his darkened again and he said sorrowfully:

“Violanta had a secret message with her from Sofia when she was shot down last night. And if that message has fallen into Tengil’s hands, that means death for many people over in Wild Rose Valley.”

I thought it was horrible that anyone could shoot a pigeon which came flying by, so white and innocent, even if she did have a secret message on her.

And suddenly I remembered what we had in the sideboard at home. I asked Jonathan why we should have secret messages in our sideboard. Wouldn’t that be dangerous?

“Yes, it’s dangerous,” said Jonathan. “Though it’d be even more dangerous to keep them at Sofia’s. Tengil’s spies would search there first of all if they came to Cherry Valley, and not the house of her gardener’s boy.”

That was what was so good, Jonathan said. No one except Sofia knew who he really was, that he wasn’t just her gardener’s boy but also her closest man in the struggle against Tengil.

“Sofia decided that herself,” he said. “She didn’t want a single person here in Cherry Valley to know, and so you must swear to keep quiet until the day Sofia tells everyone about it.”

And I swore that I’d rather die than betray anything I had heard.

We had breakfast at Sofia’s and then we rode home.

There was someone else out riding that morning, someone we met on the path just as we were leaving Tulip Farm. The man with the red beard--what was his name, now? Hubert?

“Oh, so you’ve been to see Sofia,” said Hubert. “What have you been doing there?”

“Weeding her garden,” said Jonathan, holding up his muddy fingers. “And you, are you out hunting?” he said, for Hubert has his bow in front of him on the pommel of his saddle.

“Yes, I’m going to get myself a couple of rabbits,” said Hubert.

I thought of our small rabbits at home, and I was glad when Hubert trotted his horse away, so that I no longer had to see him.

“Hubert,” I said to Jonathan. “What do you think of him?”

Jonathan thought for a while.

“He’s the best marksman in the whole of Cherry Valley.”

He didn’t say anything else but urged on his and we rode on.

Jonathan had taken Paloma’s message with him, pushed into a little leather bad under his shirt, and when we got home he put the piece of paper into the secret drawer in the sideboard. But first I was allowed to read what was on it, and this is what it said: “Orvar was caught yesterday and is now imprisoned Katla Cavern. Someone in Cherry Valley must have betrayed his hiding place. You have a traitor there. Find out who.”

“Find out who,” said Jonathan. “I wish I could.”

There was more in the message but it was written in some secret language that I didn’t understand, and Jonathan said I needn’t know it. It was just something Sofia had to know about.

But he showed me how to open the secret drawer. I was allowed to open it and close it several times. Then he closed it himself and locked the sideboard and put the key back in the mortar.

All the day I thought about what I’d been told, and that night I didn’t sleep very well. I dreamt about Tengil and dead pigeons and the prisoner in Katla Cavern and I cried out in my sleep, that it woke me up.

And then--believe it or not--then I saw someone standing in the dark corner over by the sideboard, someone who was frightened when I cried out and vanished like a dark shadow through the door, before I’d even woken up properly.

It all happened so quickly that I almost thought I’d dreamt it all, but Jonathan didn’t think so when I woke him and told him.

“Oh, no, Rusky, that was no dream,” he said. “That was certainly no dream but the traitor!”