Chapter 16 - The Brothers Lionheart Fairy tale by Astrid Lindgren

No, Jonathan didn’t kill Katla. Karm did. And Katla killed Karm. In front of our very eyes. We saw it. No one else but Jonathan and I had seen two monsters from ancient times destroy each other. We saw them fight to their deaths in Karma Falls.

When Katla let our that scream and disappeared, at first we could not believe it. It was impossible to believe that she was really gone. Where she had sunk, we saw nothing but whirling foam. Nothing more. No Katla.

But then we saw the serpent. He raised his green head out of the foam and his tail whipped up the water. Oh, he was terrible, a giant serpent, as long as the river is wide, just as Elfrida had said.

The sea serpent of Karma Falls that she had heard sagas about when she was small was no more a saga than Katla. He existed and was a monster as horrible as Katla herself, his head swaying in all directions, searching...and then he saw Katla. She floated up out of the depths and was suddenly in the middle of the whirlpools, and the serpent threw himself headlong at her and coiled himself around her. She spurted her death-dealing fire at him, but he squeezed so hard that the fire went out in her breast. Then she snapped at him and he snapped back. They snapped and bit, both of them wanting to kill. I suppose they had longed for this since ancient times. Yes, they snapped and bit like two raging creatures, hurling their terrible bodies at each other in the swirling water, Katla screaming between bites, Karm snapping quite silently, black dragon blood and green serpent blood floating out into the white foam, coloring it dark and sickly.

How long did it go on? It seemed to me as if I had stood there on that path for a thousand years and had never seen anything else but those two raging monsters in their ultimate battle.

It was a long and terrible battle, but it came to an end at last. A piercing shriek came from Katla, her death cry, and then she was silent. Karm had no head left by then, but his body did not let her go and they sank together, closely intertwined, down into the depths. And then there was no Katla and no Karm; they were gone as if they had never existed. The foam was white again, and the poisonous monster blood was rinsed away by the mighty waters of Karma Falls. Everything was as before, as it had been since ancient times.

We stood gasping there on the path, although it was all over. We could not speak for a long while, but at last Jonathan said:

“We must leave! Quickly! It’ll be dark soon and I don’t want night to fall on us in Karmanyaka.”

Poor Grim and Fyalar. I don’t know how we got them to their feet or how we got away. They were so tired they could hardly life their legs.

But we left Karmanyaka and rode for the last time across the bridge. Then the horses could no take another step. As soon as we reached the other side of the bridge, they sunk down and just lay there, as if they were thinking, now that we’ve helped you into Nangiyala, that’ll have to do.

“We’ll make a campfire at our old place,” said Jonathan, meaning the cliff here we had been during the thunderstorm night, when I had seen Katla for the first time. I still shuddered when I thought about it, and I would have preferred to camp elsewhere. But we couldn’t go any farther now.

The horses had to be watered first before we could settle down for the night. We gave them some, but they didn’t want to drink. They were too tired. I was worried.

“Jonathan, there’s something peculiar about them,” I said. “Do you think they’ll be better after some sleep?”

“Yes, everything will be better when they’ve had some sleep,” said Jonathan.

I patted Fyalar, who was lying with his eyes closed.

“What a day you’ve had, poor Fyalar,” I said. “But tomorrow, everything will be all right, Jonathan says.”

We built a fire on exactly the same place where we had made our first one, and the thunderstorm cliff was indeed the best place you could think of for a campfire, if only you could forget that Karmanyaka was so near. Behind us there were high mountain walls, still warm from the sun, and shelter from all winds. In front of us, the precipice fell straight down into Karma Falls, and the side nearest the bridge was also a steep slope down toward a green meadow, which from here looked like a tiny green speck, far, far below.

We sat by our fire and watched dusk fall over the mountains of The Ancient Mountains and the river of The Ancient Rivers. I was tired and thought that I had never lived through such a long hard day in my life. From dawn to dusk, there had been nothing but blood and fear and death. There are adventures that shouldn’t happen, Jonathan had once said, and we had had more than enough of that kind that day. The day of the battle---it had indeed been long and hard, but now it was over at last.

Yes our grief had not ended. I thought about Mathias. I grieved for him very much, and as we sat by the fire, I asked Jonathan:

“Where do you think Mathias is now?”

“He’s in Nangilima,” said Jonathan.

“Nangilima, I’ve never heard of that,” I said.

“Yes, you have,” said Jonathan. “Don’t you remember that morning when I left Cherry Valley and you were so afraid? Don’t you remember what I said then? ‘If I don’t come back, we’ll meet in Nangilima’ That’s where Mathias is now.”

Then he told me about Nangilima. He hadn’t told me stories for a long time because we had had no time. But now as he sat by the fire and talked about Nangilima, it was almost as if he were sitting on the edge of my sofa-bed at home in town.

“In Nangilima,” said Jonathan in that voice he always used when he was telling stories. “It’s still in the days of campfires and sagas there.”

“Poor Mathias, so there are adventures there that shouldn’t happen,” I said.

But Jonathan said that Nangilima was not in the day of cruel sagas but in days that were happy and full of games. The people played there; they worked, too, of course, and helped each other with everything, but they played a lot and sang and danced and told stories, he said. “Sometimes they scared the children with terribly cruel sagas about monsters like Karm and Katla and about cruel men like Tengil. But afterward they laughed.

“Were you afraid, then?” they said to the children. “They’re only sagas. Things that have never existed here. Not here in our valleys, at least.”

Mathias was happy in Nangilima, Jonathan said. He had an old farm in Apple Valley, the most beautiful farm in the loveliest and greenest of Nangilima’s valleys.

“Soon it’ll be time to pick the apples in his orchard,” said Jonathan. “Then we should be there to help him. He’s too old to climb ladders.”

“I almost wish we could go there,” I said. I thought it sounded so pleasant in Nangilima and I longed to see Mathias again.

“Do you think so?” said Jonathan. “Well, we could live with Mathias. At Mathias Farm in Apple Valley in Nangilima.”

“Tell me what it would be like,” I said.

“Oh, it’d be fine,” said Jonathan. “Well, we could ride around in the forests and build campfires here and there---if only you knew what the forests around the Nangilima valleys were like! And deep in the forests lie small clear lakes. We could build a campfire by a different lake every evening and be away for days and nights and then go back home to Mathias again.”

“And help him with the apples,” I said. “But then Sofia and Orvar would have to look after Cherry Valley and Wild Rose Valley without you, Jonathan.”

“Well, why not?” said Jonathan. “Sofia and Orvar don’t need me and longer. They can put things right for themselves in their valleys.”

But then he fell silent and told no more stories. We were silent, both of us, and I was tired and not at all happy. It was no comfort to hear about Nangilima, which was so far away from us.

Dusk grew deeper and deeper and the mountains blacker and blacker. Great black birds swayed above us and cried so dismally that everything seemed desolate. Karma Falls was thundering away and I was tired of hearing it. It made me remember what I wanted to forget. Sad, sad, everything was, and I’ll never be happy again, I thought.

I moved closer to Jonathan. He was sitting very still, leaning against the mountain wall, and his face was pale. He looked like a prince in a saga as he sat there, but a pale and exhausted prince. Poor Jonathan, you’re not happy either, I thought. Oh, if only I could make you a little happy.

As we were sitting there in silence, Jonathan suddenly said:

“Rusky, there’s something I must tell you.”

I was afraid at once, because when he said that, it was always something sad he had to tell.

“What must you tell me?” I said.

He stroked my cheek with his forefinger.

“Don’t be afraid, Rusky...but do you remember what Orvar said? I tiny lick of Katla’s fire is enough to paralyze or kill anyone---do you remember him saying that?”

“Yes, but why talk about that now?” I said.

“Because...” said Jonathan. “Because a little flame of Katla’s fire touched me as we were fleeing from her.”

My heart had been sick all day with sorrow and fear, but I hadn’t wept. Now tears came from me almost like a cry.

“Are you going to die again, Jonathan?” I cried. And Jonathan said:

“No. But that’s what I’d like to do. Because I’ll never be able to move again.”

He explained the cruelty of Katla’s fire to me. If it didn’t kill, it did something that was much worse. It destroyed something inside so that you were paralyzed. You did not notice it at first, but it crept up on you, slowly and inexorably.

“I can only move my arms now,” he said. “And soon I won’t be able to do that.”

“But don’t you think it’ll pass?” I said, weeping.

“No, Rusky, it’ll never pass,” said Jonathan. “Unless I can get to Nangilima.” Unless he could get to Nangilima. Oh, now I understood! He was thinking of leaving me alone again, I knew it! Once he had vanished to Nangiyala without me...

“But not again,” I cried. “Not without me! You mustn’t vanish to Nangilima without me!”

“Do you want to come with me, then?” he asked.

“Yes, what do you think?” I said. “Haven’t I told you that wherever you go, I’ll go to?”

“You’ve said that, and it’s a comfort to me,” said Jonathan. “But it’s difficult to get there.”

He sat silently for a while, and then he said:

“Do you remember that time when we jumped? That terrible time during the fire and we jumped down into the yard? I went to Nangiyala then, do you remember?”

“Of course I remember,” I said, weeping even more. “How can you ask? Do you think I haven’t remembered it every single moment since?”

“Yes, I know,” said Jonathan, stroking my cheek again.

And then he said:

“I thought perhaps we could jump again. Down the precipice here---down onto the meadow.”

“Well, then we’ll die,” I said. “But would we come to Nangilima then?”

“Yes, you can be sure of that,” said Jonathan. “As soon as we land we’ll see the light from Nangilima. We’ll see the morning light over Nangilima’s valleys, because it’s morning there now.”

“Ha-ha, we can jump straight into Nangilima,” I said, and I laughed for the first time in a long time.

“Yes, we can,” said Jonathan. “And as soon as we land, we’ll see the path to Apple Valley, too, right in front of us. And Grim and Fyalar are already there waiting for us. We would only have to mount and ride away.”

“And you wouldn’t be paralyzed then?” I said.

“No, I’ll be free of all evil and as happy as anything. And you too, Rusky, you’ll be happy too. The path to Apple Valley goes through the forest. What do you think it’ll feel like, riding there in the morning sun, you and I?”

“Good,” I said, and laughed again.

“And we’ll be in no hurry,” said Jonathan. “We can bathe in some small lake, if we want to. We’d still get to Mathias’s before he has the soup ready.”

“How glad he’ll be that we’ve come,” I said. But then I felt as if I had received a blow from a club. Grim and Fyalar---how could Jonathan think that we could take them with us to Nangilima?”

“How can you say that they’re already there waiting for us?” They’re lying asleep over there.”

“They are not sleeping, Rusky. They’re dead. From Katla’s fire. But what you see over there is only their shells. Believe me, Grim and Fyalar are already down on the path to Nangilima, waiting for us.”

“Let’s hurry then,” I said, “so that they don’t have to wait too long.”

Then Jonathan looked at me and smiled slightly.

“I can’t hurry at all,” he said. “I can’t move from the spot, don’t forget.”

And then I realized what I had to do.

“Jonathan, I’ll take you on my back,” I said. “You did that for me once. And now I’ll do it for you. That’s only fair.”

“Yes, that’s fair,” said Jonathan. “But do you think you dare, Rusky Lionheart?”

I went over to the precipice and looked down. It was already too dark and I could hardly see the meadow. But it was so far down that it made you gasp. If we jumped down there, then at least we’d be sure of getting to Nangilima, both of us. No one need stay behind alone and lie grieving and weeping and being afraid.

But it was not we who had to jump. It was I who was to do it. It was difficult to get to Nangilima, Jonathan had said, and now I knew why. How would I dare, how could I ever dare?

Well, if you don’t dare now, I thought, then you’re a little bit of filth and you’ll never be anything else but a little bit of filth.

I went back to Jonathan.

“Yes, I dare,” I said.

“Brave little Rusky,” he said. “Let’s do it then.”

“I want to sit here for a while with you first,” I said.

“Not too long,” said Jonathan.

“No, only until it’s quite dark,” I said “So that I see nothing.”

And I sat beside him and held his hand and felt that he was strong and good though and through and that nothing was really dangerous so long as he was there.

Then night and darkness fell over Nangiyala, over mountains and rivers and lands, and I stood by the precipice with Jonathan holding on to me hard with his arms around my neck, and I felt how he was breathing on my ear from behind. He was breathing quite calmly. Not like me---Jonathan, my brother, why am I not so brave as you?

I couldn’t see the precipice below me, but I knew that it was there, and I needed to take only one step out into the dark and it would all be over. It would go so quickly.

“Rusky Lionheart,” said Jonathan. “Are you afraid?

“No---yes, I’m afraid. But I’ll do it all the same, Jonathan, I’m doing it now---now---and then I’ll never be afraid again. Never again be afr---”

“Oh Nangilima! Yes, Jonathan, yes, I can see the light! I can see the light!”