Chapter 10 - The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

I had never seen a really cruel person until I saw Tengil of Karmanyaka.

He came across the river of The Ancient Rivers in his golden sloop and I was standing there waiting with Mathias.

It Jonathan who had sent me. he wanted me to see Tengil.

“Because then you’ll understand better why people here in the valley toil and starve and die with but one thought and one dream---to see their valley free again.”

High up in the mountains of The Ancient Mountains, Tengil had his castle. he lived there, only occasionally crossing the river to Wild Rose Valley to strike terror into the people, so that no one would forget who he was or begin to dream too much about freedom, Jonathan said.

At first I could hardly see anything, because there were so many Tengil soldiers in front of me, rows of them, to protect Tengil while he was in Wild Rose Valley. He was afraid, I suppose, while he was in Wild Rose Valley, that an arrow might come whistling out of some hidden corner. Tyrants are always afraid, Jonathan had said, and Tengil was the worst of all tyrants.

No, at first we could see nothing, neither Mathias nor I, but then I fount out what to do. They stood there so cocksure, and with their feet wide apart, Tengil’s soldiers, that if I lay down flat on my stomach behind the one with his legs farthest apart, I could see through them.

But I couldn’t get Mathias to do that.

“The main thing is that you see,” he said. “And that you never forget what you see today.”

And I saw---a beautiful great gilded boat coming toward us out on the river, black-clad men at the oars. There were a lot of oars, more than I could count, and the blades flashing in the sun each time they were raised out of the water. The oarsmen had to work hard, for there were strong currents pulling at the boat. Perhaps it was the suction from a waterfall farther down the river, for I could hear the thunder of mighty waters far away.

“That’s Karma Falls that you can hear,” said Mathias, when I asked him. “The song of Karma Falls. That’s our cradle song here in Wild Rose Valley, which the children lie and listen to before they go to sleep.”

I thought about the children of Wild Rose Valley. They must have run about and played and splashed and had fun down here by the riverbank before. Now they couldn’t because of the wall, that dreadful wall which enclosed everything. There were only two gates through the whole length of the wall, the one that I had come through, call the main gateway, and then another here by the river, with a landing stage outside it, where Tengil’s sloop was now moored. The gate had been opened Tengil, and through the archway and between a soldier's legs, I saw the landing stage and Tengil’s black stallion waiting there, a fine horse with its saddle gleaming with gold and its harness gleaming with gold. And I saw Tengil step forward and swing himself up into the saddle and riding through the gateway. Suddenly he was quite close to me and I saw his cruel face and his cruel eyes. Cruel as a serpent, Jonathan had said, and that’s what he looked like, cruel though and through and bloodthirsty, too. The costume he was wearing was as red as blood, and the plumes on his helmet were also red, as if he had dipped them in blood. His eyes started straight ahead; he did not look at the people, just as if there were nothing else in the whole world except Tengil of Karmanyaka; yes, he was terrible.

Everyone in Wild Rose Valley had been ordered to come to the village square, where Tengil was going to speak to them. Mathias and I went there too, of course.

It was such a fine and pretty little square, with beautiful old houses all around it, and there Tengil had them all now, all the people of Wild Rose Valley, exactly as he had ordered. They were standing quietly, just waiting, but oh, how you could feel their bitterness and sorrow. Here in this square they must have enjoyed life before, perhaps danced and played and sung on summer evenings, or perhaps just sat on a bench outside the inn and talked to each other under the lime trees.

Two old lime trees grew there, and Tengil had ridden up and placed himself in between them. He remained mounted and stared out over the square and the people, but he did not see a single one of them, I’m certain. He had his chief adviser beside him, a proud man called Pyuke, Mathias told me. Pyuke had a white horse almost as fine as Tengil’s black one, and they sat there like two potentates on their horses, just staring straight ahead. They sat like that for a long time. The soldiers stood around them, on guard. Tengilmen in black helmets and black cloaks, their swords drawn. You could see that they were sweating, for the sun was already high in the sky and it was a hot day

“What do you think Tengil will say?” I asked Mathias.

“That he’s dissatisfied with us,” said Mathias. “He never says anything else.”

Tengil didn’t actually speak himself. He wouldn’t speak to bondsmen. He just spoke to Pyuke and then Pyuke had to proclaim how dissatisfied Tengil was with the people of Wild Rose Valley. They didn’t work hard enough and they protected Tengil’s Enemies.

“Lionheart has still not been found,” said Pyuke. “Our gracious sovereign is dissatisfied with that.”

“Yes, I can see that, I can see that,” I heard someone mumble just beside me. There was a poor man standing there, dressed in rags, a little old man with tangled hair and a tangled gray beard.

“Our gracious sovereign’s patience is almost at an end,” said Pyuke. “and he will punish Wild Rose Valley severely, without mercy.”

“Yes, he’s right there, he’s right there,” whined the old man beside me, and I realized he must be a simpleton, not quite right in the head.

“But,” said Pyuke, “in his great goodness, our gracious sovereign will wait a while longer before issuing his punishment, and he has even offered a reward. Twenty white horses will be given to the person who captures Lionheart for him.”

“Then I’ll get the little fox,” said the old man, nudging me in the side. “Twenty white horses I’ll get from our gracious sovereign; oh, that’s good payment for a little fox like that.”

I was so angry I would have liked to hit him; even if he was a simpleton, he was talking stupidly.

“Have you no sense?” I whispered, and then he laughed.

“No, not much,” he said. Then he looked straight at me and I saw his eyes; Jonathan was the only person in the world with such beautiful shining eyes. It was true, he really did have no sense. How could he have the nerve to come here right under Tengil’s nose! Though of course, no one would recognize him. Not even Mathias did, until Jonathan slapped him on the back and said:

“Old man, haven’t we met before?”

Jonathan liked dressing up. He used to playact for me in the kitchen in the evenings, when we lived on earth, I mean. He could make a real fright of himself and be so funny that I laughed so much sometimes my stomach used to ache.

But now, here, in front of Tengil, it was almost too bold.

“I must see what happens, too,” he whispered, and he wasn’t laughing then, for there was nothing to laugh at, either.

For Tengil made all the men of Wild Rose Valley stand in a row in front of him, and with his cruel forefinger, he pointed out which of them were to be taken across the river to Karmanyaka. I knew what that meant, for Jonathan had told me. None of those whom Tengil pointed out would ever come back alive. They would have to toil in Karmanyaka and haul stones up to the fortress which Tengil was having built on the top of the mountains of The Ancient Mountains. A fortress that could never be conquered by an enemy, it was to be, and there Tengil was to sit in his cruelty, year in and year out, and at last feel safe. But a great many bondsmen went into building such a fortress, and they all had to toil until they fell.

“And then Katla gets them,” Jonathan had said. When I remembered that, I shuddered in the warm sunlight. Katla was still only a horrible name to me then, nothing more.

It was quiet in the square while Tengil was pointing, only a little bird high up in the top of a tree above him singing and a trilling beautifully, unaware of what Tengil was doing down there under the lime trees.

Then there was the weeping, too. It was pitiable to hear how they all wept, all the women who would lose their husbands and all the children who would never see their fathers again. Everyone wept; I too.

Tengil did not hear the weeping; he just sat on his horse and pointed and pointed and the diamond on his forefinger flashed every time he condemned someone to death. It was terrible; he condemned people to death with nothing but his forefinger.

But one of the men he pointed at must have gone mad when he heard his children crying, for suddenly he broke out of the line, and before the soldiers could stop him, he had rushed up to Tengil.

“Tyrant!” he shouted. “One day you’ll die, too, have you thought about that!”

And then he spat on Tengil.

Tengil did not move a muscle. He just made a sign with his hand and the solider nearest raised his sword. I saw it flashing in the sunlight, but just then Jonathan grasped the back of my neck and pressed me to his chest, hiding my face, so that I saw no more. But I felt, or perhaps I heard, the sobs in Jonathan’s breast, and as we walked home, he was weeping, which he never usually does.

They grieved in Wild Rose Valley that day. Everyone grieved. Everyone except Tengil’s soldiers. One the contrary, they were pleased every time Tengil came to Wild Rose Valley, for then he gave all his Tengilmen a feast. The blood from the wretched man who had been killed had hardly dried in the square when a huge vat of beer was brought there, and pigs were roasted on spits so that the fumes lay thick over Wild Rose Valley, and all the Tengilmen ate and drank and boasted about Tengil, who gave them so many good things.

“But they’re Wild Rose Valley’s pigs they’re eating, the bandits,” said Mathias, “and Wild Rose Valley’s beer they’re drinking.”

Tengil himself was not at the feast. When he had finished pointing, he had gone back across the river.

“And now he’s probably sitting contentedly in his castle, thinking he’s struck terror into Wild Rose Valley,” said Jonathan, as we walked home. “He probably thinks that there is nothing left here but terrified bondsmen now.”

“But he’s wrong there,” said Mathias. “What he doesn’t understand, that Tengil, is that he can never subdue people who are fighting for their freedom and who stick together as we do.”

We went past a little house with apple trees all around it, and Mathias said:

“That’s where the man they killed lived.”

A woman was sitting on the steps outside. I recognized her from the square and remembered how she had screamed when Tengil had pointed at her husband. Now she was sitting with a long pair of scissors in her hand, and she was cutting off her long fair hair.

“What are you doing, Antonia?” Mathias said. “What are you going to do with your hair?”

“Bowstrings,” she said.

She didn’t say anything else, but I’ll never forget the look in her eyes when she said that.

Many things brought the death penalty in Wild Rose Valley, Jonathan had told me, but the worst offense was to carry weapons; that was forbidden more than anything else. Tengil’s soldiers went around looking everywhere in houses and yards, hunting for hidden bows and arrows and hidden swords and spears. But they never found anything. And yet there wasn’t a house or a yard where there weren’t weapons hidden and weapons forged for the battle that had to come in the end, Jonathan said.

Tengil had also promised white horses as a reward for those who revealed secret weapon hoards.

“How foolish,” said Mathias. “Does he really think that there’s a single traitor here in Wild Rose Valley?”

“No, it’s only in Cherry Valley where there’s one,” said Jonathan sadly. Yes, I knew it was Jonathan walking there beside me, but it was difficult to remember it, the way he looked with that beard and those rags.

“Jossi hasn’t seen what we’ve seen of cruelty and oppression,” said Mathias. “Otherwise he could never do what he’s doing.”

“I wonder what Sofia’s doing?” said Jonathan. “And I’d like to know if Bianca got there alive.”

“We must hope that she did,” said Mathias. “And that Sofia has put a stop to Jossi by now.”

When we got back to Mathias’s house we saw Fatty Dodik lying in the grass, playing dice with three other Tengilmen. They must have been off duty, I think, because they lay there among the wild rose bushes all the afternoon. We could see them from the kitchen windows. They played dice and ate meat and rank beer, which they had brought from the square, whole pails full. Gradually they gave up playing dice. Then they ate the meat and drank beer. Then they just drank beer. And then they did nothing, just crawled around like beetles in the bushes. Finally, they all four fell asleep.

Their helmets and cloaks lay in the grass where they had flung them, for no one could drink beer in a thick woolen cloak on such a warm day, could he?

“But if Tengil knew, he’d have them flogged,” said Jonathan.

Then he vanished out through the door, and before I even had time to be afraid he was back with a cloak and a helmet.

“What do you want those dreadful things for?” said Mathias.

“I don’t know yet,” said Jonathan. “But a time may come when I’ll need them.”

“A time may come when you’ll be caught too,” said Mathias.

But Jonathan tore off his beard and rags and put on the helmet and cloak, and there he stood, looking just like a Tengilmen; it was horrible. Mathias shuddered and asked him for God’s sake to hide those dreadful things in the hideout.

Jonathan did so.

Then we lay down and slept for the rest of the day, so I don’t know what happened when Fatty Dodik and his companions woke up and started sorting out whose helmet and whose cloak had gone.

Mathias was asleep too, but he woke up for a while, he told us afterward, to the sound of shouts and swearing from out in the wild rose thickets.

That night, we went on working on the underground passage.

“Three more nights,” said Jonathan. “no more.”

“And then what’s going to happen?” I asked.

“Then what I’ve come for will happen,” said Jonathan. “Maybe it won’t be successful, but I must try anyhow. To free Orvar.”

“Not without me,” I said. “You can’t leave me behind again. Wherever you go, I’m coming with you.”

He looked at me for a long time, and then he smiled.

“Well, if you really want to, then that’s what I want,” he said.