Chapter 6 - The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

“Tengil’s time will come one day,” Jonathan said. We were lying in the green grass down by the stream, and it was one of those mornings when you simply cannot believe that Tengil or any other evil in the world exists. It was perfectly still and peaceful, the water bubbling slightly around the stones under the bridge the only sounds you could hear. It was lovely, lying there on your back, seeing nothing at all either, except the little white clouds up in the sky. You could lie like that and feel happy and sing a little to yourself, not bothering about anything.

And then Jonathan started talking about Tengil! I didn’t want to remember him, but all the same I said:

“What do you mean by that? That Tengil’s time will come?”

“That what’ll happen to him happens to all tyrants sooner or later, said Jonathan. “That he’ll be crushed like a louse and will be gone forever.”

“I hope it’ll happen soon,” I said,

There was a little mumble from Jonathan.

“Though he’s strong, Tengil. And he’s got Katla!”

Again he had said that terrible name. I wanted to ask him about it but I didn’t. I t was just as well not to know anything about Katla on such a lovely morning.

But then Jonathan said something even worse than everything else.

“Rusky, you’re going to be alone at Knights Farm for a while. For I’ve got to go to Wild Rose Valley.”

How could he say anything so terrible? How could he think that I would stay at Knights Farm for a single minute without him? If he was thinking of hurling himself straight into Tengil’s jaws, then I was going to be with him and I told him so.

Then he looked at me very strangely and said:

“Rusky, I have only one brother, whom I wish to protect from all evil. How can you ask me to take you with me when I need all my strength for something else? Something that’s really dangerous.”

That didn’t help at all. I was sad and angry so that everything boiled inside me, and I cried out:

“And you, how can you ask that I stay alone at Knights Farm, waiting for you, when perhaps you’ll never come back?”

I remembered suddenly how things had been that time when Jonathan was dead and away from me, and I was lying in my sofa-bed, not knowing whether I’d ever see him again; oh, it was like looking down into a black hole, just thinking about it.

And now he wanted to leave me again, just disappear into dangers about which I knew nothing, and if he didn’t come back, this time there would be no help and I’d be alone forever and ever.

I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier, and I shouted at him even louder and said as many horrible things as I could think up.

It was not easy for him to calm me down, even a little. But, of course, things went as he wished in the end. I knew that he understood better than I did.

“Silly, of course I’m coming back,” he said. That was in the evening as we were sitting warming ourselves by the fire in our kitchen, the evening before he was to leave.

I wasn’t angry any longer, only sad, and Jonathan knew it. He was kind to me. He gave me newly baked bread with butter and honey on it, and told me sagas and stories, but I couldn’t listen to them. I thought about the saga of Tengil, which I was beginning to think was the cruelest of all sagas. I asked Jonathan why he had to undertake something so dangerous. Couldn’t he just as well stay at home by the fire at Knights Farm and enjoy himself? But then Jonathan said there were things you have to do even if they are dangerous.

“Why?” I asked.

“Otherwise you aren’t a human being but just a bit of filth.”

He had told me what he was going to do. He was going to rescue Orvar from Katla Cavern. For Orvar was even more important than Sofia, Jonathan said, and without Orvar it was the end of Nangiyala’s green valleys.

It was late now, the fire out on the hearth and night had come.

Then the day came, and I stood at the gate and watched Jonathan ride away, disappearing into the mist; there was mist all over Cherry Valley that morning. And you must believe me when I say it was as if my heart would break, when he just became blurred and vanished. And I was left alone. It was unbearable. I was as if mad with grief and I ran to the stable and got Fyalar out and threw myself into the saddle and set off after Jonathan. I had to see him once more, before I lost him forever.

He was going to Tulip Farm first, to get his orders from Sofia, I knew that, and so I rode there. I rode like a maniac and I caught up with him just outside the farm. Then I was almost ashamed and wanted to hide, but he’d already heard and seen me.

“What do you want?” he said.

Well, what did I want?

“Are you sure you’re coming back?” I mumbled. It was all I could think of saying.

Then he rode up beside me and our horses stood side by side. Jonathan wiped something off my cheek, tears or something, with his forefinger, and said:

“Don’t cry Rusky. We’ll meet again--I promise you. And if it’s not here, it’ll be in Nangilima.”

“Nangilima?” I said. “What’s that now?”

“I’ll tell you another time,” said Jonathan.

I don’t understand how I withstood being alone at Knights Farm, or how I got the days to go by. I looked after my animals, of course. I was in the stable with Fyalar most of the time, and for long spells I talked to my rabbits. I fished a little and practiced shooting with my bow and arrows, but everything seemed so pointless when Jonathan wasn’t there. Sofia brought food for me now and then, and we talked about Jonathan. I kept hoping she would say, “he’ll be coming home shortly,” but she didn’t. I also wanted to ask her she didn’t go herself to try to save Orvar instead of sending Jonathan. But why should I ask, I knew the answer.

Tengil hated Sofia, Jonathan had explained to me.

“Sofia in Cherry Valley and Orvar in Wild Rose Valley, they’re his worst enemies, and you can be sure he knows it,” Jonathan had said when he was telling me how things were.

“He’s got Orvar in Katla Cavern and he’d like to put Sofia in there too, to pine away and die. The wretch, he’s fifteen white horses as a reward to the person who hands over Sofia dead or alive to him.”

Jonathan told me that. So of course I understood why Sofia had to keep away from Wild Rose Valley and why Jonathan had to go instead. Tengil knew nothing about him, they though, or so they hoped. Though there was someone who had realized that Jonathan was not just a gardener’s boy: the person who had come to our place in the night, the person I’d seen over by the sideboard. Sofia couldn’t help worrying about him.

“That man knows too much,” she said.

She asked me to send a message over to her if anyone else came snooping around Knights Farm. I said that it was no use anyone trying to sideboard again, because we had moved all the secret papers to another place. Now we had them in the oat bin in the harness room, in a large snuff box which was hidden under all the oats.

Sofia went with me to the harness room and dug up the snuff box and put another message into it. It was a good hiding place, she thought, and I thought so too.

“Stick it out if you can,” said Sofia as she was leaving. “I know it’s difficult but you must stick with it.”

It was difficult, too, especially in the evenings and at night. I dreamt terrible dreams about Jonathan and worried about him every waking moment, too.

One evening I rode down to the Golden Cockerel. I couldn’t bear just sitting at home at Knights Farm, it was so quiet and my thoughts could be heard only too well; they weren’t the kind of thoughts that cheered you up.

They all stared at me; yes, they did, when I came into the inn without Jonathan.

“What now?” said Jossi. “Only half of the Lionheart brothers! What have you done with Jonathan?”

It was difficult for me. I remembered what Sofia and Jonathan had preached to me. Whatever happened, I must not tell anyone what Jonathan was doing and where he had gone. Not a single living person! So I pretended I hadn’t heard Jossi’s question. But Hubert was sitting there at his table, and he wanted to know too.

“Yes, where’s Jonathan?” he said. “Surely Sofia hasn’t got rid of her gardener’s boy?”

“Jonathan’s out hunting,” I said. “He’s up in the mountains hunting wolves.”

I had to say something and I thought that was a good invention, for Jonathan had said there were a lot of wolves here and there in the mountains.

Sofia wasn’t at the inn that evening, but otherwise the whole village was there, as usual. And they sang their songs and enjoyed themselves, as usual. But I didn’t sing with them because, for me, things weren’t so usual. Without Jonathan, I didn’t like it there, so I didn’t stay long.

“Don’t look so sad, Karl Lionheart,” said Jossi as I was leaving. “Jonathan will soon have finished hunting, and then he’ll be home.”

Oh, how I liked him for saying that! He patted my cheek, too, and gave me a few delicious cakes to take home with me.

“You can put those inside you when you’re sitting there at home, waiting for Jonathan,” he said.

He was kind, the Golden Cockerel. It seemed almost slightly less lonely just because of that.

I rode home with my cakes and sat in front of the fire eating them. It was warm spring weather now in the daytime, almost summer, and yet I still had to light our big fire, for the warmth of the sun had not yet managed to get through the thick walls of our house.

It felt cold as I crept into my cupboard-bed, but I soon fell asleep. And I dreamt about Jonathan, a dream so terrifying that it woke me up.

“Yes, Jonathan!” I cried! “I’m coming!” I cried, and I rushed out of bed. In the darkness around me, there seemed to be echoes of wild cries, Jonathan’s cries! He had called to me in my dream that he needed help. I knew it. I could still hear him, and I wanted to rush straight out into the dark night to get to him, wherever he was. But I realized how impossible that was. What could I do? No one was so helpless as I was! I could only creep back into my bed again and lie there trembling, feeling lost and small and afraid and lonely, the loneliest person in the whole world, I thought.

Neither did it help all that much when morning came and it was a bright, clear day. Of course, it was harder to remember exactly terrible the dream had been, but that Jonathan had cried out for help I couldn’t forget. My brother had called for me, so didn’t I have to go out and try to find him?

I sat for hours out with my rabbits and thought about what I should do. I had no one to talk to, no one to ask. I had to decide for myself. I couldn’t go to Sofia because she would stop me. She would never let me go; she was not that foolish. For it was foolish, I’m sure, what I wanted to do. And dangerous too. The most dangerous thing of all. And I wasn’t at all brave.

I don’t know how long I sat there, leaning against the stable wall, tearing up grass. I tore off every blade of grass round about me, but I didn’t notice until afterward, not while I’d been sitting there being tormented. The hours went by; perhaps I would be sitting there still, if I hadn’t suddenly remembered what Jonathan had said--that sometimes you have to do things that are dangerous; otherwise you weren’t a human being but a bit of filth.

So I decided. I banged my fist down on the rabbit hutch so that the rabbits jumped, and I said out loud so there would be no mistake.

“I’ll do it! I’ll do it! I’m not a bit of filth.”

Oh, how good it felt to have decided!

“I know I’m right,” I said to the rabbits, for I had no one else to talk to.

The rabbits--well, they’d have to become wild rabbits now. I took them out of the hutch and carried them in my arms to the gate and showed them the lovely green Cherry Valley.

“The whole valley is full of grass,” I said, “and there are lots of other rabbits you can be with there. I think you’ll have much more fun than in a hutch, but just watch out for the fox and Hubert.”

The three of them seemed a little surprised and scampered about a bit as if they were wondering whether this could possibly be right. But then they made off and vanished in a flash among the green hummocks.

Then I hurried to get things ready, gathering together everything I was to take with me. A blanket to wrap around me when I had to sleep. A tinderbox to make a fire with. A nosebag full of oats for Fyalar. And a sack of food for myself. Well, I had nothing but bread, but that was the best bread, Sofia’s ring loaves. She’d come over with a whole pile of them, and I stuffed the sack full. That’ll last a long time, I thought, and when it’s all gone, I’ll have to eat grass like the rabbits.

Sofia was going to bring some soup the next day, she had promised, but by then I would already by far away. Poor Sofia, she would have to eat her own soup, but I couldn’t let her just wonder where I’d gone. She would have to know, though not until it was too late. Too late to stop me.

I took a bit of charcoal from the hearth and write in large letters on the kitchen wall: “Someone called me in my dream, and I’ve gone to find him far, far away beyond the mountains.”

I wrote it in that funny way, because I thought that if someone besides Sofia came to Knights Farm, someone snooping, then he wouldn’t know what it meant. He would perhaps think I had tried to write a poem or something. But Sofia would at once understand what I meant; I’m away looking for Jonathan.

I was glad and for once felt really strong and brave. I sang to myself.

“Someone called to me in my dream, and I’ve gone to find him far, far away beyond the mounta-a-a-a-ains,” and oh, how good it sounded. I would have to tell Jonathan all this when I found him, I thought.

If I find him, I thought then. But if I didn’t...

Then my courage ran out of me all at once. I was a little bit of filth again, a scared little bit of filth, as I’d always been. And then I longed for Fyalar as usual. I had to go out to him immediately. That was the only thing that helped a little when I was sad and anxious. How many times had I stood with him in his stall, when I couldn’t bear to be alone? How many times hadn’t it comforted me just to look at his wise eyes and feel that he was warm and his nose was soft? Without Fyalar, I couldn’t have lived though that time when Jonathan was away.

I ran to the stable.

Fyalar was not alone in his stall. Hubert was standing there. Yes, Hubert was standing there, patting my horse and grinning when he caught sight of me.

My heart began to thump.

He’s the traitor, I thought. I think I’d felt this for a long time, and now I was certain. Hubert was the traitor. Otherwise why would he come snooping around Knights Farm?

“That man knows too much,” Sofia had said, and Hubert was that man. I realized that now.

How much did he know? Did he know everything? Did he know what we’d hidden in the oat bin too? I tried not to show how frightened I was.

“What are you doing here?” I said as assertively as I could. “What do you want with Fyalar?”

“Nothing,” said Hubert. “I was on my way to you, but I heard your horse whinny and I like horses. He’s fine Fyalar.”

You can’t trip me up, I thought, and I said:

“What do you want of me, then?”

“To give you this,” said Hubert, and he handed me something wrapped up in a white cloth. “You looked so sad and hungry last night that I thought perhaps you were short of food here on Knights Farm, with Jonathan away hunting.”

Now I didn’t know what to say or do. I muttered my thanks. But I couldn’t take food from a traitor! Or could I?

I fumbled with the piece of cloth and found a large piece of mutton, dried, smoked mutton which is so good, spring fiddle it’s called, I think.

It smelled wonderful. I felt like sinking my teeth into it at once, though I should really have Hubert to take his spring fiddle away and himself with it.

But I didn’t. It was Sofia’s task to deal traitors. I would have to pretend that I knew nothing and understood nothing. Actually, I very much wanted the meat because nothing could be better than that for my food sack.

Hubert was still standing Fyalar.

“You really have got a find horse,” he said. “Almost as fine as my Blenda.”

“Blenda is white,” I said. “Do you like white horses?”

“Yes, I like white horses very much,” said Hubert.

Then you’d like to have fifteen, wouldn’t you? I thought, but I didn’t say it. Instead Hubert said something terrible:

“Shouldn’t we give Fyalar a few oats? He should have something nice, too.”

I couldn’t stop him. He straight into the harness room and I ran after him. I wanted to shout “Stop it,” but couldn’t get a word out.

Hubert opened the lid of the oat bin and picked up the scoop that was lying on top. I closed my eyes because I didn’t want to see him scoop up the snuff box. But then I heard him swear, and when I opened my eyes I saw a little rat come diving over the edge of the bin. Hubert tried to kick her, but she ran away across the stable floor and disappeared into some secret hole.

“She bit my thumb, the wretch,” said Hubert. He standing there, inspecting his thumb, and then I took my chance. Quickly, quickly, I filled the scoop with oats and then I slammed down the bin lid right in front of Hubert’s nose.

“Fyalar will be pleased,” I said. “He’s not used to getting oats at this time of day.”

But you’re not quite so pleased, I thought, as Hubert curtly said good-by and slouched off through the stable door.

He didn’t get his paws on any secret messages that time, but now it was necessary to find a new hiding place. I thought for a long time and in the end buried the snuff box in the potato cellar, inside the door on the left.

And then I wrote on the kitchen wall a new puzzle for Sofia. “Red beard wants white horses and knows too much. Watch out!”

I couldn’t do more for Sofia.

At sunrise the next morning, before anyone in Cherry Valley was awake, I left Knights Farm and rode up toward the mountains.