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The Brothers Lionheart

Astrid Lindgren

  Brothers Lionheart

  Astrid Lindgren

  Chapter 1

  Now I’m going to tell you about my brother. My brother, Jonathan Lionheart, is the person I want to tell you about. I think it’s almost like a saga, and just a little like a ghost story, and yet every word is true, though Jonathan and I are probably the only people who know that.

  Jonathan’s name wasn’t Lionheart from the start. His last name was Lion, just like Mother’s and mine. Jonathan Lion was his name. My name is Karl Lion and Mother’s is Sigrid Lion. Father was Axel Lion, but he went to sea and we never heard from him since.

  But what I was going to tell you was how it came about that my brother Jonathan became Jonathan Lionheart, and all the strange things that happened after that.

  Jonathan knew that I was soon going to die. I think everyone knew except me. They knew at school too, because I was away most of the time, coughing and always being ill. For the last six months, I haven’t been able to go to school at all. All the ladies Mother sews dresses for knew it too, and one of them was talking to Mother about it when I happened to hear, although I wasn’t meant to. They thought I was asleep. But I was just lying there with my eyes closed. And I went on lying there like that, because I didn’t want them to see that I had heard that terrible thing--that I was soon going to die.

  I was sad, of course, and terribly afraid, and I didn’t want Mother to see that. But I talked to Jonathan alone about it when he came home.

  “Did you know that I’m going to die?” I said, and I wept. Jonathan though for a moment. Perhaps he didn’t really want to answer, but in the end he said:

  “Yes I know.”

  Then I cried even more.

  “How can things be so terrible?” I asked. “How can things be so terrible that some people have to die, when they’re not even ten years old?”

  “You know, Rusky, I don’t think it’s that terrible,” said Jonathan. “I think you’ll have a marvelous time.”

  “Marvelous,” I said. “Is it marvelous to lie under the ground and be dead?”

  “Oh,” said Jonathan. “It’s only your shell that lies there, you know? You yourself fly away somewhere quite different.”

  “Where?” I asked, because I could hardly believe him.

  “To Nangiyala,” he said.

  To Nangiyala--he just threw out then word as if it were something everyone in the world knew. But at the time, I had never heard it mentioned before.

  “Nangiyala?” I said, “Where’s that?”

  Then Jonathan said that he wasn’t quite certain, but it was somewhere on the other side of the stars. And he began to tell me about Nangiyala, so that I almost felt like flying there at once.

  “It’s still in the days of campfires and sagas there,” he said, “and you’ll like that.”

  All the sagas came from Nangiyala, he said, for it was there that everything of that kind happened, and it you went there, then you could take part in adventures from morning till evening, and at night, Jonathan said.

  “You know, Rusky,” he said, “that’ll be different from lying and coughing and being ill and never able to play, won’t it?”

  Jonathan always called me Rusky. He’d done that ever since I was small, and when I asked him why once, he said it was because he liked rusks so much, especially rusks like me. Yes, he liked me, Jonathan, and that strange, for I’ve never been anything but a rather ugly, stupid and cowardly boy, with crooked legs and all. I asked Jonathan how he could like such an ugly, stupid boy like me, with crooked legs and all, and then he said:

  “If you weren’t such a nice, ugly little paleface with crooked legs, then you wouldn’t be my Rusky, the one I like.”

  But that evening, when I was so afraid of dying, he said that as long as I got Nangiyala, then I would at once be well and strong and even beautiful, too.

  “As beautiful as you?” I asked.

  “Much more beautiful,” said Jonathan.

  But he shouldn’t have tried that on me, because there’s never been anything so beautiful as Jonathan and there never will be.

  Once, one of those ladies Mothers sews for said:

  “My dear Mrs. Lion, you’ve got a son who looks like a prince in a saga.”

  And she wasn’t talking about me either!

  Jonathan really did look like a prince in a saga. his hair shone like gold and had beautiful dark blue eyes which really shone, and beautiful white teeth and perfectly straight legs. And not only that. he was kind and strong, and he knew everything and understood everything and was tops in school, and all the children in the yard hung around him wherever he went, wanting to be with him, and he found amusing things for them and took them on adventures, and I could never go with them, because I was lying on my old kitchen sofa-bed day in and day out. But Jonathan told me everything when he came home, everything he’d been doing and everything he’d seen and heard and read. He would sit for ages on the edge of my bed and tell me. Jonathan slept in the kitchen, too, in a bed which he had to get out of the clothes closet in the evenings. And when he had gone to bed, he went on telling me stories and sagas, until Mother called in from the other room:

  “You two must be quiet now, Kalle must sleep.”

  But it is difficult to sleep when you are coughing all the time. Sometimes, Jonathan got up in the middle of the night and boiled honey water for me to soothe my cough. He was kind, Jonathan was.

  That evening, when I was so afraid of dying, he sat with me for several hours, and we talked about Nangiyala, but very quietly so that Mother wouldn’t hear. She was sitting sewing as usual, but she has her sewing machine in her room, the room where she sleeps--we only have one room and the kitchen, you see. The door into her room was open, and we could hear her singing that old song about a seaman far away at sea; it was Father she thinking about, I suppose. I don’t remember very well how it goes. I only remember a few lines which go like this:

  If I die at sea, dear

  perhaps there’ll be a day

  when a snow-white pigeon comes

  from far, far away

  then hasten to the sill, dear

  it’s my soul that’s there,

  wanting to rest a while, here

  in your arms so dear

  It is a beautiful and sad song, I think, but Jonathan laughed when he hear it and said:

  “You know, Rusky, perhaps you’ll come flying to me one evening. From Nangiyala. And please don’t forget to sit there like a snow-white pigeon on the windowsill will you?”

  I began to cough then, and he lifted me up and held me in his arms as he usually did when it was worst, and he sang:

  My little Rusky, I know, dear

  that your soul is here

  wanting to rest a while here,

  in my arms so dear.

  Not until then did I begin to think about what it would be like in Nangiyala without Jonathan. How lonely I would be without him! What good would it be to be where there were lots and lots of sagas and adventures if Jonathan were not there too? I would just be afraid and not know what to do.

  “I don’t want to go there,” I said, and I wept. “I want to be where you are, Jonathan.”

  “But I’m coming to Nangiyala, too, don’t you see?” said Jonathan. “After a while.”

  “After a while, yes,” I said. “But perhaps you’ll live until you’re ninety year old, and in the meantime I’ll be there alone.”

  Then Jonathan said that there was no time in Nangiyala the way it is on earth. Even if he did live until he was ninety, it wouldn’t seem like more than two days at the most before he came. That’s what it’s like when there isn’t any real time.

  “You could manage on your own for two days, couldn’t you
?” he said, “You could climb the trees and make a campfire in the forest and sit by a small stream and fish, all those things you’ve longed to do so much. And just as you’re sitting there, catching a perch, I’ll come flying in and you’ll say ,’Good heavens Jonathan, are you here already?’”

  I tried to stop crying, because I thought I might be able to last out those two days.

  “Just think how good it would be if you’d gone there first,” I said, “so that it was you who was sitting there fishing.”

  Jonathan agreed with me. He looked at me for a long time, kindly as usual, and I noticed he was sad, because he said very quietly and rather sorrowfully:

  “But instead I’ll have to live on earth without my Rusky. For ninety years perhaps!”

  That’s what we thought!

  chapter 2

  Now I’m coming to the difficult part, the part I can’t bear thinking about, the part I cant help thinking about.

  My brother Jonathan; it might have been that he was still with me, sitting talking to me in the evenings, going to school and playing with the kids in the yard and boiling honey water for me and all that. But it isn’t like isn’t.

  Jonathan is in Nangiyala now.

  It’s difficult, I can’t, now--I can’t tell you. But this is what it said in the paper afterwards:

  A terrible fire swept through the Fackelrosen building here in town last night. One of the old wooden buildings was burned to ground a life was lost.

  A ten-year-old boy, Karl Lion, was alone when the fire broke out, lying ill in a second-floor apartment. Soon after the outbreak, thirteen-year-old Jonathan Lion, returned home, and before anyone could stop him, he had rushed into the blazing building to rescue his brother. Within seconds, however, the whole of the staircase was a sea of flames, and there was nothing to do but for the two boys trapped by the flames to try and save themselves by jumping out of the window. The horrified crowd that had gathered outside was forced to witness how the thirteen-year-old unhesitatingly took his brother on his back, and with the fire roaring behind him, threw himself out of the window. In his fall to the ground, the boy was injured so badly that he died almost instantaneously. The younger brother, on the other hand, protected by his brother’s body in the fall, was uninjured.

  The mother of the two boys was on a visit to a customer at the time--she is a dressmaker--and she received a severe shock on her arrival home. It is not known how the fire started.

  On another page of the newspaper, there was more about Jonathan, which the schoolteacher had written.

  This is what it said:

  Jonathan Lion dear, shouldn’t your name really have been Jonathan Lionheart? Do you remember when we read in the history book about a brave young English king whose name was Richard the Lionheart? Do you remember how you said, “Just think of being so brave that they write about it in the history books afterward; I’d never be like that!” Dear Jonathan, even if they don’t write about you in the history books, you were just as brave at the critical moment and you were a hero as great as any other. Your old schoolteacher will never forget you. Your friends will also remember you for a long time. It will be empty in the classroom without our happy and beautiful Jonathan. But the gods love those who die young. Rest in Peace, Jonathan Lionheart.


  She’s pretty silly, Jonathan’s schoolteacher, but she liked Jonathan very much, just as everyone else did, and it was good that she thought up that business about Lionheart. That was really good.

  There probably isn’t a single person in town who doesn’t grieve for Jonathan, or who doesn’t think it would have better if I had died instead. At least, that’s what I gather from all the women who come here with their materials and muslins and stuff. They sigh and look at me when they go through the kitchen, and they say to Mother, “Poor Mrs. Lion! And Jonathan too, who was so exceptional.”

  We live in the building next door to our old building now, in an apartment exactly like the old one, but it’s on the ground floor. We have been given some second-hand furniture by the parish, and the women have also given us some things. I lie in a sofa-bed almost identical to my old one. Everything is almost like it was before. And yet everything--absolutely everything--is not like it was before. For there’s no Jonathan any longer. No one sits with me and tells me things in the evenings. I’m so lonely that it hurts inside me and all I can do is to lie and whisper to myself the words that Jonathan said just before he died, that moment when we lying on ground after we had jumped. He was lying face down, of course, but someone turned him over and I saw his face. A little blood was running out of the corner of his mouth and he could hardly speak. But it was as if he were trying to smile all the same, and he managed a few words. “Don’t cry, Rusky. We’ll meet in Nangiyala.”

  He said just that and nothing more. Then he closed his eyes and people came and took him away, and I never saw him again.

  I don’t want to remember the time just afterward. But you can’t forget anything so terrible and painful. I lay here in my sofa-bed and thought about Jonathan until I thought my head would burst, and no one could possibly long for someone as I longed for him. I was frightened, too. I kept thinking, suppose all that about Nangiyala wasn’t true, suppose it was just one of those things that Jonathan used to think up? I cried and cried.

  But then Jonathan came and comforted me. Yes, he came and oh, it was marvelous. Everything was almost all right again. He probably knew over there in Nangiyala what it was like for me without him and thought he ought to come and comfort me. So he came to me and now I’m not sad any longer; now I’m just waiting.

  It was one evening a little while ago that he came. I was alone at home and I was lying in bed crying for him and I was more frightened and unhappy and ill and wretched than I can say. The kitchen window was open because it’s fine arm spring weather now. I heard the pigeons cooing out there. There are lots of them here in the backyard and they coo all the time in the spring.

  Then it happened.

  Just as I’m lying there crying into my pillow, I hear a cooing quite close to me, and when I look up, there’s a pigeon sitting on the windowsill, looking at me with kind eyes. A snow-white pigeon, please note, not one of those gray ones like the ones in the yard. A snow-white pigeon; no one can imagine how I felt when I saw it, for it was just like in the song--”when a snow-white pigeon comes.” And it was as if I heard Jonathan singing all over again; “my little Rusky, I know, dear, that your soul is here,” but now it was he who had come to me instead.

  I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. I just lay there and listened to the pigeon cooing—or who shall I put it?—I heard Jonathan’s voice, though it didn’t sound as it usually did. It was just whispering all over the kitchen. Perhaps this sounds a bit like a ghost story, and perhaps I should have been frightened but I wasn’t. I was just so happy, I could have jumped up to the ceiling, for everything that I heard marvelous.

  Then it was true, all that about Nangiyala. Jonathan wanted me to hurry there, because everything there was good in every way, he said. Just think, there was a house waiting for him when he arrived; he had been given all his own in Nangiyala. It’s an old farm, he said, called Knights Farm, and it’s in Cherry Valley. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? And, just think, the first thing he saw when he got to Knights Farm was a little green notice on the gate, and on that notice was painted: The Lionheart Brothers.

  “Which means we’re both to live there.” said Jonathan.

  Just think, I will too be called Lionheart, me, when I get to Nangiyala. I’m glad about that, because I’d prefer to have the same name as Jonathan, even if I’m not so brave as he is.

  “Come as quickly as you can,” he said. “If you can’t find me at Knights Farm, I’ll be sitting fishing down by the stream.”

  Then it was quiet and the pigeon flew away, right over the roofs and back to Nangiyala.

  And now I’m lying on my sofa, just waiting to fly after it. I hope it’s
not too difficult to find my way there. But Jonathan said it wasn’t at all difficult .I’ve written down the address, just to be sure: The Lionheart Brothers, Knights Farm, Cherry Farm, Nangiyala.

  Jonathan has lived there alone for two months now. For two long, terrible months, I’ve had to be without him. But I’m soon going to Nangiyala. Soon, soon, I’ll be flying there. It feels as if it’s going to be tonight. I’ll write a note and put it on the kitchen table so that Mother finds it when she wakes up tomorrow morning:

  Don’t cry, Mother. See you in Nangiyala.

  chapter 3

  Then it happened. And I’ve never been in on anything so strange. Suddenly I was standing in front of the gate, reading that green notice: The Lionheart Brothers.

  How did I get there? When did I fly? How could I find my way without asking anyone? I don’t know. The only thing I know is that suddenly I was standing there, looking at the name on the gate.

  I called to Jonathan. I called several times, but he didn’t answer, and then I remembered—of course, he was sitting fishing down by the stream.

  I started to run down the narrow path to the stream. I ran and ran—and down there by the bridge was Jonathan. And if I tell you this, I still can’t tell you what it felt like to see him again.

  He didn’t see me coming. I tried to call “Jonathan,” but I think I was crying, since nothing came out except a funny little noise. But Jonathan heard it. He looked up and saw me. Then he cried out and flung down his fishing rod and rushed up to me and hugged me, just as if he wanted to feel that I had really come. Then I cried just a little. Why I should be crying, I don’t know, but I had longed for him so much.

  Jonathan laughed instead, and we stood on the slops and hugged each other and were happier than I can say, because we were together again.

  And then Jonathan said:

  “Oh, so you’ve come at last, have you, Rusky Lionheart!”