Chapter 7 - The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

I told Fyalar what it felt like to be me, just me, out on a long ride in the mountains.

“Do you realize what an adventure this is for me? Remember that I’ve done nothing but lie on a sofa-bed nearly all my life! You mustn’t think that I forgot Jonathan for one single minute. But otherwise I’d shout so that it rang around the mountains, just because this is so wonderful.”

It was wonderful. Jonathan would understand that. What mountains; just imagine that such high ones existed, that so many clear little lakes and rushing streams and waterfalls and meadows full of spring flowers existed, right up in the mountains. And there I was, Rusky, on my horse, seeing it all! I didn’t know that anything in the world could be so beautiful, so at first I was quite dizzy.

But gradually it changed. I had found a little bridle path, probably the one Jonathan had told me about. Through twists and turns, that’s how you get to Wild Rose Valley, he had said. Twists and turns there certainly were. Soon I had twisted and turned my way away from the meadows, and the mountains became wilder and more and more terrible and the path more and more dangerous to move along. Sometimes it climbed steeply, sometimes it plunged down, sometimes it wound its way along narrow rock shelves alongside huge precipices, and then I thought I would never manage. But Fyalar must have been very used to making his way along dangerous mountain paths. He was fine, Fyalar.

Toward evening, were tired, both I and my horse, so then I made camp for the night on a little green patch where Fyalar could graze close to a stream where we both could drink.

Then I made a campfire. All my life I had longed to be able to sit by a campfire, for Jonathan had told me how wonderful it was; and now at last I was.

“Now, Rusky, at last you’ll know what it feels like,” I said out loud to myself.

I collected some dry branches and twigs into a large heap and lit a bonfire, which burned and crackled, so that the sparks flew, and I sat by my fire and felt that it was exactly as Jonathan had said. I felt wonderful as I sat there, looking into the flames, eating my bread and chewing on my smoked meat, which was so delicious I only wished I’d been given it by someone other than Hubert.

I was happy and I sang to myself a little in my solitude. “My bread and my fire and my horse! My bread and my fire and my horse!”---I couldn’t think of anything else.

I sat like that for a long time and I thought of all the campfires that had burned in all the wildernesses of the world since the beginning of time, and how they had all gone out long ago. But mine was burning here and now!

It grew dark around me. The mountains grew black---oh, how dark it was and how quickly it happened. I didn’t like having my back to all that darkness. It felt as if someone might come at me from behind. Anyhow, it was time to sleep now, so I stoked up the fire well and said goodnight to Fyalar and rolled myself up in my blanket as close to the fire as I could. Then I wished I could just fall asleep at once before I could frighten myself.

Yes, I could frighten myself, only too quickly. I don’t know anyone who can do that as quickly as I can. My thoughts began to grind around in my head---there was sure to be someone lurking out there in the darkness, and Tengil’s soldiers and spies were sure to be seething all over the mountains here, and Jonathan was sure to be dead long ago; that was how my thoughts went, and I didn’t sleep.

Just then the moon rose behind a mountain peak; it probably wasn’t the same old moon, I suppose, but it looked just the same, and I had never seen such moonlight before. But then I’d never seen moonlight over high mountains.

Everything became so strange; you were in a mysterious world of nothing but silver and black shadows. It was beautiful and a little melancholy in a lovely, strange way, but creepy too, for although it was light where the moon shone, among the shadows any number of dangers might be hiding.

I pulled the blanket over my head because I didn’t want to look any more. But then I heard instead, yes, I head something; a howl far away in the mountains, and then several howls a little closer. Fyalar whinnied; he was afraid, and then I realized what it was. Wolves howling.

Someone as timid as I am could easily have died of fright, but when I noticed how anxious Fyalar was, I tried to put on a brave face.

“Fyalar, wolves are afraid of fire, didn’t you know?” I said. But I didn’t really believe it, and the wolves had never hear it, either. For now I could see them; they were coming closer, horrible gray shapes which came streaking out into the moonlight, howling with hunger.

Then I howled, too. I shouted to high heaven. Never have I let out such a shout, and that frightened them a little, I think.

But not for long. Soon they were back again, even closer this time. Their howls made Fyalar quite wild. And me too. I knew we were going to die now, both of us. I should have been used to that since I’d already died once. But then I had wanted to, then I had longed to, and now I didn’t want to. Now I wanted to live and be with Jonathan; oh Jonathan, if only you could come and help me.

The wolves were close now. One was larger than the others and more insolent, probably the leader. He was the one who would get me, I knew. He circled around me and howled, howled so that my blood froze. I threw a burning branch at him and shouted loudly, but that just annoyed him. I saw his open jaws and his terrible teeth that were straining to get at my throat. Now---Jonathan, help! Now he’s leaping!

But then! What in the world happened then? In the middle of his leap, he gave a yelp and fell down at my feet. Dead, stone dead, and straight through his head was an arrow.

From what bow did the arrow come? Who was it who had saved my life? Someone stepped out of the shadows behind a rock. Who but Hubert! There he was, looking slightly contemptuous as usual, and yet I still wanted to rush up to him and put my arms around, I was so glad to see him. At first. But only at first.

“I seem to have come just in time,” he said.

“Yes, you certainly did,” I said.

“Why aren’t you at home at Knights Farm?” he said.

What about? I thought---for now I remembered who he was. What cunning treachery was to happen here in the mountains tonight? Oh, why should it be a traitor who had saved me? Why must I be grateful to Hubert, of all people, not just for the meat, but also for dear life?

“What are you doing by yourself up here in the middle of the night?” I said surlily.

“Shooting wolves, as you see,” said Hubert. “Actually, I saw you when you rode away this morning, and I thought perhaps I’d see that nothing dangerous happened to you. So I followed you.”

Yes, lie away, I thought. Sooner or later you’ll Sofia to deal with, and then I’ll be sorry for you.

“Where is Jonathan?” said Hubert. “He, who’s supposed to be hunting wolves, should have been here to shoot a few.”

I looked around. The wolves had disappeared, every one of them. They had probably been frightened when their leader had fallen dead, and perhaps they were grieving, too, for I heard plaintive little howls far away in the mountains. “Well, where’s Jonathan?” persisted Hubert, and then I had to lie, too.

“He’s coming soon,” I said. “He went after a wolfpack over there,” I said, pointing up the mountain.

Hubert grinned. He didn’t believe me, I could see that.

“Shouldn’t you perhaps come with me back home to Cherry Valley, all the same?” he said.

“No, I must wait for Jonathan,” I said. “He’ll be here any minute now.”

“Oh, yes,” said Hubert. “Oh, yes,” he said, looking strangely at me. And then---then he drew out the knife he had in his belt, and I let out a little cry. What was he going to do? As he stood there in the moonlight with the knife in his hand, he frightened my more than all the wolves in the mountains put together.

He wants me dead, went through my head. He knows that I know that he’s the traitor, so he’s followed me and now he wants to kill me.

I began to shake, my whole body began to shake.

“Don’t do it,” I cried. “Don’t do it!”

“Don’t do what?” said Hubert.

“Don’t kill me,” I cried.

Then Hubert turned white with rage and rushed at me, coming so close that I almost fell backward, I was so scared.

“You little scamp, what are you saying?”

He grabbed me by the hair and shook me.

“You silly dolt,” he said. “If I wanted to see you dead, I could have left that to the wolf.”

He held the knife right under my nose, and it was a sharp knife, I could see that.

“I use this to skin wolves,” he said. “Not to kill stupid kids.”

I got such a kick in the backside that I fell on my face, and then he set about skinning the wolf, swearing all the time as he did so.

I hurried to mount Fyalar, for I wanted to get away from that place; oh how I wanted to get away.

“Where are you off to?” shouted Hubert.

“I think I’ll go and meet Jonathan,” I said, and I could hear how scared and feeble I sounded.

“Yes, do that, you oaf,” shouted Hubert. “Just go and kill yourself, I won’t stop you any longer.”

But by then I was already riding away at full speed and could ignore Hubert.

In front of me in the moonlight the path wound its way farther up the mountain. Gentle moonlight it was, almost like daylight, so that you could see everything. What luck! Other wise I would have been lost. It was like riding in a dream, for there were precipices and chasms which made you dizzy; how terribly and beautiful it was! It was like riding in a dream: yes, that moonlight landscape could only exist in some lovely wild dream, I thought, and I said to Fyalar:

“Who do you think is dreaming it? Not me. There must be someone else who has been able to dream up something so unnaturally terrible and beautiful; perhaps it was God?”

But I was so tired and sleepy that I could hardly stay in the saddle. I would have to rest somewhere for the night.

“Preferably where there aren’t any wolves,” I said to Fyalar, and I think he agreed with that.

Who, then, had tramped up the mountain paths between Nangiyala’s valleys from the beginning? Who had thought out how this path to Wild Rose Valley should go? Was it necessary to let it curve its way along such miserable little outcrops, beside such terrible precipices? I knew that if Fyalar as much as put one foot down wrong, then we’d hurtle down into the depths, both of us, and then no one in an eternity of eternities would know what had happened to Karl Lionheart and his horse.

It got worse and worse; in the end, I didn’t dare keep my eyes open, for it we were going to plunge down into the abyss, then I didn’t want to see it.

But Fyalar didn’t put a foot down wrong. He managed, and when I eventually dared to look up again, we had come to a little glade, a fine green glade which had the high, high mountains on one side and a steep precipice on the other.

“This is the place, Fyalar,” I said. “Here we’re safe from the wolves.”

It was true. No wolf could come climbing down from the mountains since they were too high, and no wolf could come climbing out of the depths, for the cliffs were too steep.

If he were to come, the wolf, then he would have to make his way like us along the precipices on that wretched path. But they were probably not that cunning, I decided.

Then I saw something really good. There was a deep cleft right in the mountainside. A cave, you could almost call it, for there were great blocks of rock like a roof. In that cave we could sleep safely, with a roof over our heads as well.

Someone had rested in this glade before me, for there were ashes left from a campfire. I almost like lighting one, but I didn’t have the energy. Now I only wanted to sleep. So I took Fyalar by the reins and led him into the cave. It was a deep cave, and I said to Fyalar:

“There’s room for fifteen like you here.”

He whinnied a little. Perhaps he was homesick for his stable. I asked his forgiveness for dragging him into this kind of hardship, and I gave him some oats and said goodnight to him again. Then I rolled myself up in my blanket in the darkest, darkest corner of the cave and fell asleep like a log, before I had time scare myself one little bit.

I don’t know how long I had been asleep, but suddenly I sat up and was wide-awake. I heard voices, and I heard horses whinnying outside my cave.

It was enough. The great wild terror swept over me again. Who knows, perhaps those people talking out there were worse than any wolves?

“Drive the horses into the cave, then we’ll have more room,”

I heard a voice say, and then two horses clattered inside. They whinnied when they noticed Fyalar, and Fyalar whinnied back, but then they were quiet and they must have become friends in the darkness. They people outside couldn’t have realized that it was a strange horse they had heard, for they calmly went on talking to each other. Why had they come? Who were they? What were they doing up in the mountains at night? I would have to find out. I was so scared that my teeth clattered and I wished myself a thousand miles away. But I was there, and quite near me were some people who might be friends, but who might just as well be enemies, and I would have to find out which, however, terrified I was. So I lay down flat on my stomach and began to crawl toward the voices out there. The moon was right in the cave entrance and a ray of moonlight fell straight down onto my hiding place, but I kept in the dark at the side, and wriggled slowly, slowly, nearer to the voices.

They were sitting out in the moonlight and were building a fire, two men with coarse faces and black helmets on their heads. It was the first time I’d seen any of Tengil’s soldiers, and I knew what it was I was looking at. I knew that here were two of those cruel men who had joined Tengil to destroy the green valleys of Nangiyala. I didn’t want to fall into their hands; I’d rather the wolf took me.

They were talking quietly to each other, but inside in the darkness I was so close to them that I could hear every word. They seemed to be angry with someone, for one of them said:

“I’ll hack his ears off, if he doesn’t come in time this time either.”

And then the other man said:

“Yes, he’s got a lot to learn. We have to sit here waiting in vain, night after night. What use is he, anyhow? Shooting carrier pigeons, that’s all right, but Tengil wants more than that. He wants Sofia in Katla Cavern, and if this man can’t fix that, it’ll be the worse for him.”

Then I realized that the man they were talking about, and whom they were waiting for, was Hubert.

Calm down a bit, I thought. Just wait until he has finished skinning the wolf, and he’ll come, believe you me! Then he’ll appear over there on the path, the man who can catch Sofia for you.

I burned with shame. I was ashamed that we had a traitor in Cherry Valley. And yet I wanted to see him come, because now at last I would have proof. It was one thing to suspect someone, but now I would know certain, so that I could say to Sofia:

“That Hubert, get rid of him! Otherwise it’ll soon be the end for you and for the whole of Cherry Valley.”

How horrible it was, waiting, when there’s something horrible to wait for. A traitor is something horrible; I felt that, so that my whole body crawled with it as I lay there. I almost stopped being afraid of the men by the fire because of that awful thing---that I was soon to see the traitor coming on his horse, just where the path came around the cliff. I was terrified at the thought, and yet I stared so that my eyes smarted, toward the places where I knew he would appear.

The two men out by the fire were staring in the same direction. They also knew which way he would come. But none of us knew when.

We waited. They waited by their fire and I waited flat on my face in my cave. The moon moved away from the cave entrance, but time, that stood still. Nothing happened, we just waited, waited until I longed to jump up and down to put an end to it. It was as if everything were waiting, the moon, the mountains roundabout, as if the whole terrible moonlight night was holding its breath, waiting for the traitor.

He came at last. Far away on the path, right in the middle of the moonlight, a rider on his horse was approaching; yes, now I had him exactly where I knew he would appear, and I shuddered when I saw him---Hubert, how could you? I thought. My eyes were smarting so much that I had to close them. Or perhaps I closed them so that I shouldn’t see. I had waited so long for this wretch and now that he was actually coming, it was if I couldn’t bear to see his face. So I closed my eyes and just heard from the clump of the horse’s hoofs that he was approaching.

At last he arrived and reined in his horse, and then I opened my eyes, for I had to see what a traitor looked like, for he betrayed his own kind; yes, I wanted to see Hubert as he came to betray Cherry Valley and everyone who lived there.

But it wasn’t Hubert. It was Jossi! The Golden Cockerel.