Chapter 13 - The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

Yes, I saw Katla, but I don’t know what happened next. I just sank into the black depths and didn’t wake up until the thunderstorm had passed and light was already beginning to appear behind the mountain peaks. I was lying with my head in Jonathan’s lap, and terror washed over me as soon as I remembered---there, far away on the other side of the river, was where Katla had stood on a cliff, high up above Karma Falls. I whimpered when I recalled it, and Jonathan tried to comfort me.

“She isn’t there any longer. She’s gone now.”

But I wept and asked him:

“How can things like Katla exist? Is it---a monster, or what?”

“Yes, she’s a monster,” said Jonathan. “A female dragon risen from ancient times, that’s what she is, and she’s as cruel as Tengil himself.”

“Where did he get her from?” I asked.

“She came out of Katla Cavern---that’s what people think.” said Jonathan. “She fell asleep down there one night in ancient times and slept for thousands upon thousands of years, and no one knew she existed. But one morning, she woke up; one terrible morning, she came crawling into Tengil’s castle, spurting death-dealing fire at everyone, and they fell in all directions in her path.”

“Why didn’t she kill Tengil.”

“Tengil fled for his life through the great rooms of his castle. As she approached him, he tore down a great battlehorn used for calling up soldiers to help, and when he blew the horn...”

“What happened then?” I asked.

“Then Katla came crawling to him like a dog. Ever since that day, she has obeyed Tengil. And Tengil alone. She’s afraid of his battlehorn. When he blows it, she obeys blindly.”

It was getting lighter and lighter. The mountain peaks over in Karmanyaka were glowing like Katla’s fire, and we were going to Karmanyaka now! How frightened I was, oh, how terribly afraid! Who knew where Katla was lying in wait? Where was she, where did she live, did she live in Katla Cavern, and how could Orvar be there? I asked Jonathan and he told me how things were.

Katla didn’t live in Katla Cavern. She had never gone back there after her long and ancient sleep; no, Tengil kept her tethered in a cave near Karma Falls. In that cave she was chained with a chain of gold, Jonathan said, and there she had to stay, except when Tengil took her with him to instill terror into people he wished to terrorize.

“I saw her in Wild Rose Valley once,” said Jonathan.

“And did you cry out?” I said.

“Yes, I cried out,” he said.

The terror grew in me.

“I’m so afraid, Jonathan. Katla will kill us.”

He tried to calm me again.

“But she is tethered. She can move no farther than the length of her chain, no further than that cliff where you saw her. She stands there nearly all the time and stares down into Karma Falls.”

“Why does she do that?” I said.

“I don’t know,” said Jonathan. “Perhaps she’s looking for Karm.”

“Who is Karm?”

“Oh, that’s just Elfrida’s talk,” said Jonathan. “No one has ever seen Karm. He doesn’t exist. But Elfrida says that once in ancient times he lived in Karma Falls and that Katla hated him then and cannot forget it. That’s why she stands there staring.”

“Who was he that he could live in such a terrible waterfall?” I said.

“He was a monster too,” said Jonathan. “A sea serpent as long as the river is ride, Elfrida says. But that’s probably only one of those old sagas.”

“Perhaps he’s no more a saga than Katla?” I said.

He didn’t reply to that, but said:

“Do you know what Elfrida told me while you were in the forest picking wild strawberries? She said that when she was small, they used to frighten children with Karm and Katla. The saga of the dragon in Katla Cavern and the sea serpent in Karma Falls she’d heard many a time in her childhood, and she liked it very much just because it was so terrible. It was one of those ancient sagas that people have frightened children with in all times, Elfrida said.”

“Couldn’t Katla have stayed in her cavern, then,” I said, “and gone on being a saga?”

“Yes, that’s just what Elfrida thought, too,” said Jonathan.

I shivered and wondered if Karmanyaka was a country full of monsters; I didn’t want to go there. But I had to now. We fortified ourselves with the food sack first, saving some food for Orvar because Jonathan said that starvation reigned in Katla Cavern.

Grim and Fyalar drank the rainwater that had collected in the crevices. There was no good grazing for them up here in the mountains, but a little grass was growing by the bridge, so I think they had had just about enough when we set off.

We rode across the bridge toward Karmanyaka, the country of Tengil, and the country of monsters. I was so frightened that I was shaking all over. That sea-serpent---perhaps I didn’t seriously believe that he existed, but all the same, suppose he suddenly flung himself up out of the depths and pulled us down off the bridge to perish in Karma Falls? And then Katla; I dreaded her more than anything. Perhaps she was waiting for us now, over there on Tengil’s shore, with her cruel fangs and her death-dealing fire. Oh, how frightened I was.

But we crossed the bridge, and I saw no Katla. She wasn’t on her cliff, and I said to Jonathan:

“No, she isn’t there.”

And yet she was there. Not on the cliff, but her terrible head was protruding from behind a huge block of rock by the path up toward Tengil’s castle. We saw her there. She saw us and let out a scream that could demolish mountains, jets of fire and smoke pouring out of her nostrils as she snorted with rage and jerked at her chain, jerking and screaming over and over again.

Grim and Fyalar were so beside themselves with terror that we could hardly hold them, and my terror was no less. I begged Jonathan to turn back to Nangiyala, but he said:

“We can’t let Orvar down. Don’t be afraid. Katla can’t reach us, however much she drags and pulls at her chain.”

And yet we had to hurry, he said, because Katla’s screams were a signal that could be heard as far as Tengil’s castle, and soon we would have a swarm of Tengil’s soldiers on us if we didn’t flee and hide in the mountains.

We rode on. We rode along wretched, narrow, steep mountain paths, riding so that sparks flew from us, riding hither and thither among the rocks to lead any pursuers astray. Every moment I expected to hear galloping horses behind us and shouts from Tengil’s soldiers trying to get us with their spears and arrows and swords. But none came. It was probably difficult to follow anyone among Karmanyaka’s many cliffs and mountains, where it was easy for the hunted to evade his pursuers.

When we had ridden for a long time, I asked Jonathan:

“Where are we going?”

“To Katla Cavern, of course,” he said. “We’re almost there now. That’s Katla Mountain straight in front of you.”

Yes, it was. In front of us was a low, flat mountain with steep slopes dropping straight downward. Only in our direction were they less steep and there we would easily be able to make our way up if we wanted to, which we did, for we had to get right across the mountain, Jonathan said.

“The entrance lies on the other side toward the river,” he said. “And I must see what happens there.”

“Jonathan, do you really think we can get into Katla Cavern?” I said.

He had told me about the huge copper gate across the entrance to the cave, and about the Tengilmen who stood on guard outside day and night. How on earth were we going to get in?

He didn’t answer me, but said that we would have to hide the horses now, for they couldn’t climb mountains.

We led them into a sheltered crevice immediately below Katla Mountain and left them there, horses, packs, and everything. Jonathan patted Grim and said:

“Wait there. We’re only going on a scouting trip.”

I didn’t like the idea because I didn’t want to be separated from Fyalar, but that couldn’t be helped.

It took us quite a time to get up on mountain plateau, and I was tired when we eventually reached it. Jonathan said we could rest for a while, so I at once threw myself full length down on the ground. Jonathan did too, and we lay there, up on Katla mountain, the wide sky above us and Katla Cavern directly beneath us. It was strange to think about; inside the mountain somewhere beneath us was that terrible cavern with all its passages and caves, where so many people had languished and died. And out here butterflies were fluttering about in the sunlight, the sky above was blue with small white clouds, and flowers and grass were growing all around. It was strange that flowers and grass grew on the roof of Katla Cavern.

I wondered, if so many people had died in Katla Cavern, whether perhaps Orvar were also dead, and I asked Jonathan whether he thought so too. But he didn’t reply. He just lay there staring straight up at the sky, thinking about something, I could see. Finally he said:

"If it’s true that Katla slept her ancient sleep in Katla Cavern, then how did she get out when she awoke? The copper gate was already there then. Tengil has always used Katla Cavern as his prison.”

“While Katla was sleeping inside?” I said.

“Yes, while Katla was sleeping inside,” said Jonathan. “Without anyone’s knowing about it.”

I shivered. I couldn’t imagine anything worse; think of sitting imprisoned in Katla Cavern and seeing a dragon come crawling along just like that!

But Jonathan had other thoughts in his head.

“She must have come out another way,” he said. “And I must find that way even if it takes a year.”

We couldn’t stay any longer because Jonathan was so restless. We were heading for Katla Cavern, which was only a short walk across the mountain. We could already see the river far below us and Nangiyala over on the other side. Oh, how I longed to be there.

“Look, Jonathan,” I said. “I can see the willow where we bathed. There, on the other side of the river.”

But Jonathan made a sign for me to be quiet, afraid that someone might hear us because we were so close now. This was where Katla Mountain ended in a perpendicular cliff, and in the mountainside below us was the copper gate into Katla Cavern, Jonathan said, although we couldn’t see it from up there.

But we could see the soldiers on guard, three Tengilmen; I only had to see their black helmets for my heart to begin thumping.

We had wriggled on our stomachs right to the edge of the precipice, to be able to look down at them; if only they had looked up they would have seen us. But they could not have been more useless as guards, for they did not look in any direction, but just sat there playing dice, not bothering about anything else. No enemy could penetrate beyond the copper gate, so why should they keep watch?

Just then, we saw the gate swing open down there, and someone came out of the cave---another Tengilman. He was carrying an empty food bowl which he flung to the ground. The gate fell back behind him, and we could hear him locking it.

“Well, now that pig has been fed for the last time,” he said.

The others laughed and one of them said:

“Did you tell him what a remarkable day it is today---the last day of his life? I suppose you told him that Katla is expecting him this evening when darkness falls?”

“Yes, and do you know what he said? ‘Oh, yes. At last,’ he said. And then he asked to be allowed to send a message to Wild Rose Valley. How did it go, now? ‘Orvar may die, but freedom never!’ “

“Ha!” said the other man. “He can tell that to Katla this evening and hear what she has to say.”

I looked at Jonathan, who had turned pale.

“Come on,” he said. “We must get away from here.”

We crept away from the precipice as quickly and quietly as we could, and when we knew we were out of sight, we ran. All the way back, we ran without stopping until we got back to Grim and Fyalar.

We sat in the crevice with the horses because now we didn’t know what to do. Jonathan was so sad and I could do nothing to comfort him, only be sad too. I realized how much he was grieving for Orvar. He had thought he would be able to help him, and now he no longer believed it.

“Orvar, my friend, whom I never met,” he said. “Tonight you will die and what will then happen to Nangiyala’s green valleys?”

We ate a little bread, which we shared with Grim and Fyalar. I would have liked a gulp or two of goat’s milk too, because we had saved some.

“Not yet, Rusky,” said Jonathan. “Tonight, when darkness has fallen, I’ll give you every drop. But not before.”

For a long while he sat there quite still and dispirited, but in the end he said:

“It’ll be like looking for a needle in a haystack, I know. But we must try, all the same.”

“Try what?” I said.

“To find out where Katla got out,” he said.

Though I could see he didn’t really believe in it himself.

“If we had a year,” he said. “Then we might. But we’ve got only a day.”

Just as he was saying it, something happened. In the narrow crevice where we were sitting, a few bushes were growing at the far end by the mountain wall, and out of those bushes a terrified fox suddenly appeared, slunk past us, and was gone almost before we had time to see him.

“Where on earth did that fox come from?” said Jonathan. “I must find out.”

He vanished behind the bushes. I stayed where I was, waiting, but he was so long and so quiet, I grew uneasy in the end.

“Where are you, Jonathan?” I cried.

And then I really got an answer. He sounded quite wild.

“Do you know where that fox came from? From inside the mountain! Do you see, Rusky, from inside Katla Mountain! There’s a big cave in there.”

Perhaps everything had already been decided in the ancient days of the sagas. Perhaps Jonathan had been named as Orvar’s savior even then, for the sake of Wild Rose Valley. And perhaps there were even some secret saga-beings who guided our footsteps without knowing it. Otherwise how could Jonathan have found a way into Katla Cavern precisely where we had happened to put our horses? It was just as strange as when among all the houses in Wild Rose Valley, I happened to find Mathias’s and none either.

Katla’s exit from Katla Cavern; that must be what Jonathan had found; we could not believe otherwise. It was a passage straight into the mountainside, not at all large, but large enough for a starving female dragon to make her way along, said Jonathan, if she had awakened after thousands of years and found her usual path closed by a copper gate.

And large enough for us. I stared into the dark hole. How many sleeping dragons would there be in there, who would wake if you went in and happened to step on them? That was what I wondered.

Then I felt Jonathan’s arm around my shoulders.

“Rusky,” he said. “I don’t know what’s waiting in there in the dark, but I’m going in there now.”

Jonathan stroked my cheek with his forefinger, as he used to do sometimes.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer to wait here with the horses?”

“Haven’t I told you that wherever you go, I go, too?” I said.

“Yes, you told me that,” said Jonathan, and he sounded quite glad.

“Because I want to be with you,” I said. “Even if it’s in an underground hell.”

Katla Cavern was an underground hell. Creeping along that black hole was like creeping through an evil, black dream which you cannot wake up from; like going from sunlight into eternal night.

The whole of Katla Cavern was nothing but a dead old dragon’s nest, I thought, reeking of wickedness from ancient times. No doubt thousands of dragon’s eggs had been hatched out there, and cruel dragons had crawled out in hordes to kill everything in their way.

An old dragon’s nest was just the kind of place Tengil would think of as suitable for a prison. I shivered when I thought of everything he had done to people in here. The air seemed to me to be thick with old dried wickedness, whisperings from far away inside the cave, which seemed to be about all the torment and tears and death which Katla Cavern had experienced during Tengil’s reign. I wanted to ask Jonathan if he could hear the whisperings too, but I didn’t, because I was probably imagining them.

“Now, Rusky, we’re going on a walk that you’ll never forget,” said Jonathan.

It was true. We had to get right through the mountain to reach the prison cave where Orvar was just inside the copper gate. It was that cave that people meant when they spoke of Katla Cavern, Jonathan said, because they didn’t know of any other cave. We didn’t even really know whether it would be possible to reach underground. But we knew that the way there was going to be a long one, for we had walked that stretch before up on the mountain, and it would be seven times worse making our way down here though dark rambling passages, with only the light from the torches we had with us.

Oh, how terrible it was to see the torchlight flickering over the cave walls, only lighting up a little of the great darkness around us, and so everything outside the light seemed even more dangerous. Who knows, I thought, perhaps there were dragons and serpents and monsters galore lying in wait for us in their dark caves. I was also frightened that we would lose our way in the passages, but Jonathan made black soot marks with his torch as we went on so that we could find our way back.

Walk, Jonathan had said, but we didn’t do much walking. We crept and crawled and climbed and swam and jumped and clambered and struggled and toiled and fell, that’s what we did. What a walk! And what caves! Sometimes we came to huge caverns so vast that we could see no end to them, except for the echo which told us what huge rooms they were. Sometimes we had to go through places where you couldn’t even stand up but had to crawl on your stomach like any other dragon. Sometimes the way was barred by underground streams which we had to swim across. And worst of all, sometimes great gaping chasms appeared at our feet. I nearly fell into one of these. I was carrying the torch and I tripped, dropping the torch. We saw it falling like a stream of fire, farther and farther and farther down, until at last it disappeared, and we were left in the dark, the worst and darkest darkness in the world. I dared not move or talk or even think I tried to forget that I existed, standing there in the black darkness on the edge of a chasm. But I heard Jonathan’s voice beside me. He lit the other torch we had with us, meanwhile talking to me, talking and talking quite calmly, so that I wouldn’t go mad with terror I suppose.

So we toiled on, for how long I don’t know, for in the depths of Katla Cavern there was no time. It seemed as if we had been wandering around for an eternity, and I began to fear that we wouldn’t get there until it was too late. Perhaps it was too late already, perhaps darkness had already fallen out there, and Orvar...perhaps he was with Katla now?

I asked Jonathan if he thought so too.

“I don’t know,” he said. “But don’t think about it now if you don’t want to go mad.

We had come to a narrow, twisting path, which never seemed to come to an end, but simply grew narrower and more confined, bit by bit, shrinking in height and width until we could hardly go on, and finally it became just a hole into which you had to crawl to get through.

But on the other side of the hole we were suddenly in a large cavern, how large we couldn’t tell, for the light from the torch did not reach very far. But Jonathan tested the echo.

“Ho-ho-ho,” he called, and we heard the echo replying “ho-ho-ho” many times in many different directions.

But then we heard something else, another voice far away in the dark.

“Ho-ho-ho,” it mocked. “What do you want, you who come in such strange ways with torches and light?”

“I’m looking for Orvar,” said Jonathan.

“Orvar is here,” said the voice. “And who are you?”

“I am Jonathan Lionheart,” said Jonathan. “And with me is my brother, Karl Lionheart. We’ve come to save you, Orvar.”

“Too late,” said the voice. “Too late, but thanks all the same.”

Hardly had the words been uttered when we heard the copper gate opening with a screech. Jonathan threw down his torch and stamped on it so that it went out; then we stood still and waited.

Through the gateway came a Tengilman with a lantern in his hand. I began to cry silently to myself, not because I was afraid, but for Orvar’s sake. How could things be so cruel that they were coming to take him away at this very moment!

“Orvar from Wild Rose Valley, prepare yourself,” said the Tengilman. “In a moment you’ll be taken to Katla. The black escorts are on their way.”

In the light of the lantern, we could see a large wooden cage made of rough timbers, and we realized that inside that cage, Orvar was imprisoned like an animal.

The Tengilman put the lantern down on the ground by the cage.

“You may have a lantern for your last hour. In his mercy, Tengil has decided that, so that you will get used to the light again and be able to see Katla when you meet her, which I’m sure you want to.”

He cackled with laughter and then vanished through the gate, which fell back behind him with a crash.

By then we were already up to the cage and Orvar, and we could see him in the light of the lantern, a wretched sight, as he could hardly move, but he crawled up to the bars and stretched out his hands toward us through the timbers.

“Jonathan Lionheart,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about you at home in Wild Rose Valley. And now you’re come here.”

“Yes, now I’ve come here,” said Jonathan, and then I heard that he too was crying a little because of Orvar and his wretchedness. But then he whipped out the knife he kept in his belt and began hacking at the cage.

“Come on, Rusky! Help, now,” he said, and I hacked with my knife too, though what could we do with two knives? What we needed was an ax and saw.

But we hacked away with our knives until our hands were bleeding. We hacked and wept, for we knew we had come too late. Orvar knew it too, but perhaps he wished to believe that it wasn’t true, for he was panting with excitement inside his cage, mumbling now and again:

“Hurry! Hurry!”

We hurried so that the blood ran. We hacked away wildly, every moment expecting the gate to open and the black escorts to come in. Then the end would have come for Orvar and for us and for the whole of Wild Rose Valley.

They won’t be fetching only one, I thought. Katla will have three tonight.

I felt that I couldn’t endure much more; my hands were shaking so that I could hardly hold the knife, and Jonathan was shouting with rage, rage against those timbers that would not give way, however much we hacked at them. He kicked them, shouted and kicked and hacked again and kicked again, and then at last there was a crash---at last one timber gave way. And then another. It was enough.

“Now, Orvar, now!” said Jonathan, but there was nothing but a gasp in reply. So Jonathan crawled into the cage and pulled out Orvar, who could neither stand nor walk. Neither could I, almost, by then, but I reeled ahead of them with the lantern, and Jonathan began to drag Orvar away toward our rescue hole. He was tired now and panting, too; yes, we were panting like hunted animals, all three of us, which was exactly what we felt like, too; at last I did.

However he managed it, Jonathan succeeded in dragging Orvar right across the cavern, squeezing into the hole and in some amazing way taking Orvar with him, now more dead than alive, as I felt then, too. Now it was my turn to creep through the hole, but I didn’t get that far, for then we heard the screech of the gate and it was as if all the energy ran out of me and I couldn’t move at all.

“Quick, quick, the lantern!” gasped Jonathan, and I handed it to him, although my hands were shaking. The lantern had to be hidden; the slightest glimmer would betray us.

The black escorts---they were already in the cavern, and more Tengilmen with lanterns in their hands. It grew terrifyingly light, but over in our corner it was dark and Jonathan bent down and grabbed my arms and pulled me through the hole into that dark passage behind, and there we lay, all three of us panting and listening to their cries.

“He’s gone! He’s gone!”