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Death’s Messengers

Once in ancient times a giant was travelling along a great highway, when suddenly an unknown man sprang up before him and said, “Halt, not one step farther!”

“What!” cried the giant, “a creature that I can crush between my fingers wants to block my way? Who are you to dare to speak so boldly?”

“I am Death,” answered the other. “No one resists me and you also must obey my commands.” But the giant refused and began to struggle with Death. It was a long and violent battle, in which at last the giant got the upper hand and he struck Death down with his fist, so that he collapsed like a stone. The giant went his way and Death lay there conquered and so weak that he could not get up again. “What will be done now,” said he, “if I stay lying here in a corner? No one will die in the world and it will get so full of people that they won’t have room to stand beside each other.”

In the meantime a young man came along the road. He was strong and healthy, singing a song and glancing around on every side. When he saw the half-fainting one, he went compassionately to him, raised him up, poured a strengthening draught out of his flask for him, and waited till he regained some strength.
“Do you know,” said the stranger, whilst he was getting up, “who I am and who it is that you have helped on his legs again?”

“No,” answered the youth, “I do not know you.”

“ I am Death,” said he. “I spare no one and can make no exception with you — but to show you that I am grateful, I promise to send my messengers before I come to take you away.”

“Well,” said the youth, “it is good that I shall know when you are coming and, at any rate, I shall be safe from you for a long time.” Then he went on his way and was light-hearted. He enjoyed himself and lived without thought.

But youth and health did not last long. Soon sickness and sorrows came and they tormented him by day and took away his rest by night. “Die, I shall not,” said he to himself, “for Death will send his messengers before that, but I do wish these wretched days of sickness were over.” As soon as he felt himself well again, he began to live merrily.

Then one day someone tapped him on his shoulder. He looked round and Death stood behind him and said, “Follow me, your hour of departure from this world has arrived.”
“What,” replied the man, “will you break your word? Did you not promise me that you would send your messengers to me before coming yourself? I have seen none!”

“Silence!” answered Death. “Have I not sent one messenger to you after another? Did not fever come and smite you and shake and cast you down? Has dizziness not bewildered your head? Has not gout twitched you in all your limbs? Did not your ears sing? Did not toothache bite into your cheeks? Was it not dark before your eyes? And besides all this, has not my own brother Sleep reminded you every night of me? Did you not lie by night as if you were already dead?”

The man could make no answer; he yielded to his fate, and went away with Death.

— Author unknown

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