Chapter 9 - The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

I can remember a few times when I have been so happy that I have hardly known what to do with myself; once, when I was small and for Christmas Jonathan gave me a toboggan that he had been saving up for a long time. Then that time when I first came to Nangiyala and found Jonathan down by the stream, and the whole of that amazing evening at Knights Farm when I was so happy I could hardly contain myself. But nothing, nothing could compare with finding Jonathan on the floor at Mathias’s place; think, that one can be so happy! It was as if I were laughing aloud in my very soul.

I didn’t touch Jonathan. I didn’t wake him. I didn’t cry out with joy or go wild. I just lay down beside him quietly and fell asleep.

How long did I sleep? I don’t know. All day, I think. But when I woke up---yes, when I woke up, Jonathan was sitting on the floor beside me. He was just sitting there smiling; no one looks as kind as Jonathan when he smiles. I had thought that perhaps he wouldn’t be all that pleased that I had come, that he had perhaps already forgotten he had called for help. But now I could see that he was just as pleased as I was. So I had to smile, I too, and we sat there just looking at each other, saying nothing for a while.

“You called for help,” I said at last.

Then Jonathan stopped smiling.

“Why did you call?” I asked.

It was clearly something he could not think about without being upset. His reply came so quietly it was as if he could hardly bear to answer me.

“I saw Katla,” he said. “I saw what Katla did.”

I didn’t want to torment him with questions about Katla, and anyhow I had so much to tell him, first and foremost about Jossi.

Jonathan didn’t really want to believe it. His face turned white and he almost wept.

“Jossi, no, no, not Jossi,” he said, tears coming into his eyes.

But then he rushed up.

“Sofia must be told at once.”

“How can we do that?” I said.

“One of her pigeons is here,” he said. “Bianca. She can fly back this evening.”

Yes, Sofia’s pigeon, I thought so! I told him that it was because of that pigeon that I was there with him and not in Katla Cavern.

“It was a miracle,” I said, “that among all the houses in Wild Rose Valley I should come straight to the one you were in. But if Bianca hadn’t been outside, I would have ridden past.

“Bianca, Bianca, thank you for sitting there,” said Jonathan. But now he had no time to listen to me any more; haste was important now. He scratched on the shutter with his fingernails, rather like a little mouse scratching, and it wasn’t long before the shutter opened and Mathias peered in.

“And little Rusky, he just goes on and on sleeping...” Mathias began, but Jonathan wouldn’t let him continue.

“Please get Bianca,” he said. “She must leave as soon as dusk begins to fall.”

He explained why, telling Mathias about Jossi. Mathias shook his head in that way old people do when they are sad.

“Jossi! I knew it must be someone from Cherry Valley,” he said. “And that’s why Orvar is in Katla Cavern now. My God, the people there are in this world.”

Then he vanished to fetch Bianca, closing the shutter on us.

It was a good hiding place Jonathan had with Mathias, a tiny secret chamber with neither window nor door; the only way in was though the shutter behind the sideboard. There was no furniture in it, only a feather mattress to sleep on, and an old horn lamp which dispelled the darkness in there a little.

In the light of this lamp, Jonathan wrote a message to Sofia. “The name of the traitor, who shall be cursed forever, is Jossi the Golden Cockerel. Get him quickly. My brother is here now.”

“That was why Bianca came flying in yesterday evening,” said Jonathan. “To tell us that you had disappeared and had gone to find me.”

“Just think, that means Sofia understood the puzzle I wrote on the kitchen wall,” I said. “When she came with the soup.”

“What puzzle?” said Jonathan.

“I’ve gone to find him far, far away beyond the mountains.”

I told him what I had written.

“I did that so that Sofia wouldn’t be worried,” I said.

Jonathan laughed.

“Not be worried---that’s what you think. And me? How calm do you think I was when I learned that you were somewhere up in the mountains of Nangiyala!”

I must have looked ashamed, because he hastened to comfort me.

“Brave little Rusky, it’s wonderful that you were there all the same, and even more wonderful that you are here.”

That was the first time anyone had ever called me brave and I thought that if I went on in this way, then perhaps I would be able to call myself Lionheart, despite Jossi.

But then I remembered what else I had written on the wall at home, about someone with a red beard who wanted white horses. I asked Jonathan to add a line to the message:

“Karl says all that about red beard is wrong.”

I also told him how Hubert had saved me from the wolves and Jonathan said that he would be grateful to him for the rest of his life.

Dusk was falling over Wild Rose Valley as we went to release Bianca, and lights began to go on in all the houses and farms on the slope below us. It looked so calm and peaceful that you might have thought people were now sitting down eating their good evening meal or perhaps just talking to each other and playing with their children or singing little songs to them and enjoying life. But you knew it wasn’t like that. You knew that they had hardly anything to eat and that they weren’t calm and happy, only unhappy. Tengil's men up on the wall with their swords and spears helped you to remember how things were, in case you might forget.

There were no lights in Mathias’s windows. His house was dark, and everything was silent, as if there weren’t a living soul in it. But we were there, not in the house, but outside, Mathias standing guard at the corner of the house, and Jonathan and I crawling among the wild roses with Bianca.

There were thickets like that all round Mathias’s place, and wild roses are something I like, for they smell so sweet, not strong, just sweet. But I thought to myself that I would never again be able to smell the scent of wild roses without my heart thumping, and remembering how we crept among the bushes, Jonathan and I, so close to the wall, where Tengilmen were listening and watching, perhaps most of all for someone with the name of Lionheart.

Jonathan had blackened his face and pulled a hood right down over his eyes. He didn’t look like Jonathan, I must say. But it was dangerous all the same, and he was risking his life every time he left his hiding place in the secret chamber, his hideout, as he called it. A hundred men were searching for him day and night, I knew, and I had told him so, but all he said was:

“Yes, they can carry on doing that, I think,”

He had to release Bianca himself, he said, because he wanted to be certain that no one saw her as she flew away.

The guards on the wall seemed to have a piece of it each to guard. There was a fat one patrolling up and down all the time on the top of the wall just behind Mathias’s place, and we had to watch out for him.

But Mathias was standing at the corner of the house with his horn lamp, and he arranged with his how he would signal. This is what he said:

“When I hold the lamp down low, then you mustn’t even breathe, for then Fatty Dodik is quite close. But when I hold the lamp up high, then he’s over where the wall curves away and he usually talks to another Tengilman there. That’s when you must let Bianca go.”

And that’s what we did.”

“Fly, fly,” said Jonathan. “Fly, my Bianca, over the mountains of Nangiyala to Cherry Valley. And watch out for Jossi’s arrows.”

I don’t know whether Sofia’s pigeons really did understand human speech, but I think perhaps Bianca did, because she laid her beak against Jonathan’s cheek as if wishing to calm him, and then she flew away. She glimmered white in the dusk, so dangerously white. How easily Dodik could have seen her as she went flying over the wall.

But he didn’t. He was probably standing there talking, neither seeing nor hearing anything. Mathias was keeping watch, and he did not lower the lamp.

We saw Bianca disappear and I pulled at Jonathan because I wanted him to go quickly back to the hiding place. But Jonathan didn’t want to. Not yet. It was such a lovely evening, the air cool and pleasant to breathe. He had no desire to creep back into a stuffy little room. No one could understand that better than I, who had lain for so long in the kitchen at home in town.

Jonathan was sitting in the grass with his arms around his knees, looking down toward the valley quite calmly. One might have thought that he was considering sitting there all evening, however many Tengilmen were patrolling the wall behind him.

“Why are you sitting there?” I said.

“Because I like it,” said Jonathan. “Because I like this valley at dusk. And the cool air on my face---I like that too. And wild pink roses that smell of summer.”

“So do I,” I said.

“And I like flowers and grass and trees and fields and forests and beautiful small lakes,” said Jonathan. “And when the sun rises and when the sun sets and when the moon is out and the stars twinkle and a few other things that I can’t remember at the moment.”

“I like those things too.”

“Everyone likes them,” said Jonathan. “And if that’s all people ask for, can you tell me why they can’t have peace and quiet without a Tengil coming along and destroying everything?”

I couldn’t answer that. Then Jonathan said:

“Come on, we’d better go in.”

It had gown dark. You couldn’t see Mathias any longer, only the light from the lamp.

“He’s holding it up high. No Dodik there,” said Jonathan. “Come on.”

But just as we began to run, the light from the lamp sank like lightning and we had to stop suddenly. We heard horses approaching at a gallop and then how they slowed down and someone spoke to Mathias.

Jonathan gave me a little nudge in the back.

“Go on,” he whispered. “Go over to Mathias.”

Then he threw himself straight into a wild rose thicket, and trembling and afraid, I walked toward the lamplight.

“I just wanted a bit of air,” I heard Mathias saying. “It’s such lovely weather this evening.”

“Lovely weather,” replied a rough voice. “There’s the death penalty for being out after sunset, didn’t you know that?”

“A disobedient old grandfather, that’s what you are,” said another voice. “Where’s the boy, anyway?”

“He’s just coming,” said Mathias. I was now quite near him, and I recognized those two on the horses, I did. It was Veder and Kader.

“Are you off up into the mountains to look at the moonlight tonight, then?” said Veder. “What was your name, now, you little rascal? I didn’t catch it.”

“I’m just called Rusky,” I said. I dared say that because no one knew that name, neither Jossi nor anyone else, only Jonathan and I and Mathias.

“Rusky, indeed,” said Kader. “Now listen, Rusky, why do you think we’ve come here?”

I felt as if my legs would give way beneath me.

To put me into Katla Cavern, I thought. They must have regretted letting me go, of course, and now they had come to fetch me. What else?

“Well, you see,” said Kader. “We ride around this valley in the evenings to see that people are obeying what Tengil has decided. But your grandfather finds it hard to grasp; perhaps you could explain to him how bad it would be for both of you if you don’t stay indoors after dark.”

“And don’t forget,” said Veder. “You won’t escape a second time if we find you where you shouldn’t be; remember that, Rusky. If your grandfather lives or dies; it’s all the same to us. But you, you are so young, you want to grow up and become a Tengilman, don’t you?”

A Tengilman, no, I’d rather die, I thought, but I didn’t say so. I was terribly anxious about Jonathan and I dared not annoy them, so I answered very meekly:

“Yes, I do.”

“Good,” said Veder. “Then you can go down to the big landing stage early tomorrow morning and you’ll be able to see Tengil, the liberator of Wild Rose Valley. Tomorrow he is crossing the river of The Ancient Rivers in his golden sloop and is disembarking at the big landing stage.”

Then they prepared to leave, but Kader reined in his horse at the last moment.

“Listen, old man,” he shouted at Mathias, who was already halfway to the house. “You haven’t seen a handsome fair-haired youth called Lionheart anywhere, have you?”

I was holding Mathias’s hand and I felt how he trembled; but he answered calmly:

“I know no Lionheart.”

“Oh, don’t you?” said Kader. “But if you happen to meet him, then you know what happens to anyone who gives him shelter or hides him? The death penalty, you know?”

Then Mathias closed the door behind us.

“Death penalties here and death penalties there,” he said. “That’s all those people think about.”

The sound of horses’ hoofs had hardly died away when Mathias was out with the lamp again. Jonathan soon appeared, his hands and face scratched by thorns but glad that nothing worse had happened and that Bianca was now in full flight over the mountains.

Later on, we had our evening meal in the kitchen at Mathias’s, with the shutter open so that Jonathan could quickly disappear into his hiding place if anyone came.

But first we went out to the stable, Jonathan and I, and fed our horses. It was wonderful to see them again, standing with their heads close together. I suppose they were telling each other about everything that had happened. I gave both of them some oats. At first, Jonathan tried to stop me, but then he said:

“Yes, let them have some for once. But you don’t give oats to horses and longer here in Wild Rose Valley.”

When we went into the kitchen, Mathias had put a bowl of soup on the table.

“We haven’t anything else, and it’s mostly water,” he said. “But at least it’s hot.”

I looked around for my sack, remembering what was in it, and when I pulled out all my loaves and my smoked meat, both Jonathan and Mathias gasped, and their eyes began to shine. It was a marvelous feeling to have what was almost a feast to offer them. I cut thick slices of meat and we ate soup and bread and smoked meat; we ate and ate and ate. No one said anything, not for a long white, then at last Jonathan said:

“Oh, to have had enough to eat! I ‘d almost forgotten what it was like to be full!”

I became more and more pleased that I had come to Wild Rose Valley; it felt more and more right and good. Then I had to tell properly about everything that had happened to me from the moment I had ridden away from home until Veder and Kader had helped me into Wild Rose Valley. I had already told them most of it, but Jonathan wanted to hear it several times, especially about Veder and Kader. He laughed about that, just as I had thought he would. And Mathias did too.

“They’re not all that bright, those Tengilmen,” said Mathias. “Although they think they are.”

“No, even I could trick them,” I said. “Just think if they’d known that the little brother they wanted to get hold of so much was the very one they’d help into Wild Rose Valley and let go just like that.”

When I had said it, I began to think. I hadn’t thought about it before, but now I asked:

“However did you get into Wild Rose Valley, Jonathan?”

Jonathan laughed.

“I leapt my way in.”

“What do you mean leapt...surely not with Grim?”

“Yes,” said Jonathan. “I haven’t any other horse.”

I had seen and knew what great leaps Jonathan could do on Grim, but to leap over the wall around Wild Rose Valley was more than any human being could believe.

“You see, the wall wasn’t quite finished then,” said Jonathan. “Not everywhere. Not to its full height, though it was high enough, you can be sure of that.”

“Yes, but the guards!” I said. “Did no one see you?”

Jonathan took a bite of bread, then laughed again.

“Yes, I had a whole swarm of them after me, and Grim got an arrow in his rump. But I got away, and a kind person hid both Grim and me in his barn. And that night he brought me here to Mathias. Now you know everything.”

“No, you don’t know everything at all,” said Mathias. “You don’t know that the people here in the valley sing songs about that ride and about Jonathan. His coming here is the only good thing that had happened in Wild Rose Valley since Tengil invaded us and made us bondsmen. ‘Jonathan our savior’ they sing, because he’s going to liberate Wild Rose Valley, believe you me; I believe that too. Now you know everything.”

“You don’t know everything at all,” said Jonathan. “You don’t know that Mathias is the one who is leading the secret struggle in Wild Rose Valley, now that Orvar is in Katla Cavern. They should call Mathias the savior, not me.”

“No, I’m too old,” said Mathias. “He’s so right, that Veder. It’s all the same whether I live or die.”

“You mustn’t say that,” I said. “Because you’re my grandfather.”

“Well, then, that’s what I shall stay alive for. But I’m not fit to lead a struggle any longer. You have to be young for that.”

He sighed.

“If only Orvar were here. But he’s in Katla Cavern, until he’s given to Katla.”

I saw that Jonathan’s face had turned quite white.

“We’ll see,” he mumbled. “We’ll see whom Katla gets in the end.”

But then he said:

“Now we must set to work. You don’t know either, Rusky, that here in this cottage, we sleep in the daytime and work at night. Come on, and I’ll show you.”

He crawled ahead of me through the shutter into the hideout, and there he showed me something. He threw aside the feather mattress which we had slept on and took up two wide loose floorboards under it.

There I saw a black hole going straight down into the earth.

“This is where my underground passage starts,” said Jonathan.

“And where does it end?” I asked, though I could almost guess what his reply would be.

“In the wild country on the other wise of the wall,” he said. “It’ll come up there when it’s finished. A couple more nights and then I think it’ll be long enough.”

He crept down into the hole.

“But I must dig a bit farther,” he said. “For you must see that I don’t want to pop up right under Fatty Dodik’s nose.”

Then he vanished and I sat there waiting for a long time. When he came back at last, he was pushing a trough full of earth in front of him. He heaved it up to me and I dragged it through the shutter to Mathias.

“More earth for my field,” said Mathias. “If only I had a few peas and beans to sow and plant there, that would the end of our hunger.”

“Do you think so?” said Jonathan. “Tengil takes nine out of every ten beans in your field; have you forgotten that?”

“You’re right,” said Mathias. “So long as Tengil is alive, there’ll be hunger and need in Wild Rose Valley.”

Mathias was now going to sneak out and empty the trough on his field and I was told to stay by the door and keep watch. I was to whistle, said Jonathan, if I noticed the slightest thing that might be dangerous. A special little tune, I was to whistle, one that Jonathan had taught me a long time ago when we lived on earth. We used to whistle a lot together at that time, in the evenings after we had gone to bed. So I’ve always been able to whistle.

Jonathan crawled down into his hole again to go on digging, and Mathias closed the shutter and pushed back the sideboard.

“Get this into your head, Rusky,” he said. “Never, never let Jonathan be in there without the shutter being closed and the sideboard pushed across. Get it into your head that you’re in a country where Tengil lives and rules.”

“I won’t forget,” I said.

It was dim in the kitchen, a single candle burning on the table, but Mathias put it out.

“The night must be dark in Wild Rose Valley,” he said. “For there are so many eyes wanting to see what they shouldn’t see.”

Then he took the trough and vanished, and I stood at the open door to keep watch. It was dark, just as Mathias wanted it to be. It was dark in the houses, and the sky over Wild Rose Valley was dark too, no stars twinkling and no moon. I could see nothing at all. But all those eyes of the night that Mathias had talked about, they couldn’t see anything either, I thought, and that was a comfort.

I felt miserable and lonely, standing there waiting, and it was creepy, too. Mathias was taking so long. I grew uneasy, more and more uneasy every moment that went by. Why didn’t he come? I stared into the darkness. But it wasn’t quite so dark now, was it? Suddenly I thought that it had grown lighter. Or was it only my eyes getting used to it? Then I saw what it was. The moon was coming out through the clouds, which was the worst thing that could happen, and I prayed to God that Mathias would get back in time while it was still dark enough to hide him. But it was too late, for now the moon was shining brilliantly and a river of moonlight was flooding the valley.

I saw Mathias in that light; far away, I saw him coming through the thickets with his trough. I looked wildly around, for I was supposed to be keeping watch, and then I saw something else, too---Dodik, Fatty Dodik, climbing down the wall on a rope ladder, his back to me.

It’s very difficult to whistle when you’re frightened, so it didn’t sound too good, but I more or less managed to get that tune out, and as swiftly as a lizard, Mathias vanished behind the nearest wild rose thicket.

By then Dodik was already upon me.

“What are you whistling for?” he shouted.

“Because---because I learned to today,” I stammered. “I couldn’t whistle before, but just think, I can suddenly do it today. Do you want to hear me?”

I started whistling again but Dodik stopped me.

“No, shut up, now,” he said. “Not that I know whether it’s forbidden to whistle, but I expect it is. I don’t think Tengil likes it. And anyhow you should keep your door shut, you know.”

“Doesn’t Tengil like you leaving your door open?” I said.

“Mind your own business,” said Dodik. “Do as you’re told. But give me a ladle of water first. I’m dying of thirst up there on that wall.”

I thought quickly; if he comes after me into the kitchen and finds Mathias isn’t there, what’ll happen? Poor Mathias, the death sentence for being out at night; I’d heard enough about that.

“I’ll get some,” I said quickly. “Stay here and I’ll get you some water.”

I ran inside and in the dark fumbled my way to the water barrel. I knew which corner it was in. I found the ladle, too, and I filled it with water. Then I felt someone standing behind me; yes, he was standing there in the darkness just behind my back, and I’ve rarely felt anything so creepy.

“Light the candle,” said Dodik. “I want to see what this kind of rat hole looks like.”

My hands shook; I was shaking all over, but I managed to light the candle all the same.

Dodik took the ladle and drank. He drank and drank as if he were a bottomless pit. Then he flung the ladle down on the floor and looked around suspiciously with his horrible little eyes. Then he asked just what I had expected him to ask.

“That old Mathias who lives here, where is he?”

I didn’t answer. I didn’t know what to answer.

“Didn’t you hear what I said?” said Dodik. “Where’s Mathias?”

“He’s asleep,” I said. I had to think up something.


There was a little room off the kitchen and Mathias had his bed in there, I knew, but I also knew he wasn’t asleep in there now. I pointed toward the door and said:

“In there.”

I squeaked it out, almost inaudibly. It sounded feeble and Dodik laughed mockingly at me.

“You don’t lie very well,” he said. “Wait while I look.”

He was so pleased, knowing that I had lied, and I expect he wanted to arrange Mathias’s death sentence and perhaps be praised by Tengil.

“Give me the candle,” he said, and I gave it to him. I wanted to rush away, just bolt out of the door and get hold of Mathias and tell him to flee before it was too late. But I couldn’t move from the spot. I just stood there, feeling sick with fear.

Dodik saw this and enjoyed the sight. He was in no hurry; oh no, he grinned and dallied just to frighten me more than ever. But when he had stopped grinning, he said:

“Come on, lad, just show me where old Mathias is lying asleep.”

He kicked open the door of the room and pushed me so hard that I tripped over the high step. Then he jerked me up again and stood in front of me with the candle in his hand.

“You liar, show me, now,” he said, raising the candle to light up the room.

I didn’t dare move or look up; I would have liked to dissolve into nothing, I was so desperate.

But then, in the middle of my misery, I heard Mathias’s angry voice:

“What’s going on? Can’t a man even sleep in peace at night?”

I looked up and saw Mathias; yes, he was sitting there in his bed in the dimmest corner of the room, peering at the light. He was wearing only a shirt and his hair was untidy, as if he had been asleep for a long time. Over by the window was the trough, leaning against the wall. This grandfather of mine must have indeed been as quick as a lizard.

I felt almost sorry for Dodik. I’ve never seen anyone look so utterly stupid as he did, as he stood there glaring at Mathias.

“I only came in for a little water,” he said sullenly.

“Water, oh yes, that’s a good one,” said Mathias. “Don’t you know that Tengil has forbidden you to take water from us? He thinks we’ll poison you. And if you come and wake me up again, I will too.”

I don’t know how he dared talk like that to Dodik, but perhaps that’s the right way to speak to a Tengilman, for Dodik just grunted and disappeared out to his wall