by Jacob and Wilhelm
In ancient times a giant was wandering along the highway when suddenly
a stranger jumped toward him and shouted, "Stop! Not one step further!"
"What?" said the giant. "You, a creature that I could crush between my
fingers, you want to block my way? Who are you that you dare to speak
"I am Death," answered the other one. "No one resists me, and you too
must obey my orders."
But the giant refused, and began to wrestle with Death. It was a long,
violent battle, and finally the giant got the upper hand, and knocked
Death down with his fist, causing him to collapse by a stone. The giant
went on his way, and Death lay there conquered, so weak that he could
not get up again.
"What is to come of this?" he said. "If I stay lying here in a corner,
no one will die in the world, and it will become so filled with people
that they won't have room to stand beside one another."
Meanwhile a young man came down the road. Vigorous and healthy, he was
singing a song and looking this way and that. Seeing the half-conscious
individual, he approached him with compassion, raised him up, gave him
a refreshing drink from his flask, and waited until he regained his
"Do you know," asked the stranger, as he stood up, "who I am, and whom
you have helped onto his legs again?"
"No," answered the youth, "I do not know you."
"I am Death," he said. "I spare no one, nor can make an exception with
you. However, so you may see that I am grateful, I promise you that I
will not attack you without warning, but instead will send my
messengers to you before I come and take you away."
"Good," said the youth. "It is to my benefit that I shall know when you
are coming, and that I will be safe from you until then."
Then he went on his way, and was cheerful and carefree, and lived one
day at a time. However, youth and good health did not last long. Soon
came sickness and pain, which tormented him by day and deprived him of
his rest by night.
"I shall not die," he said to himself, "for Death will first send his
messengers, but I do wish that these wicked days of sickness were over."
Regaining his health, he began once more to live cheerfully. Then one
day someone tapped on his shoulder.
He looked around, and death was standing behind him, who said, "Follow
me. The hour of your departure from this world has come."
"What?" replied the man. "Are you breaking your word? Did you not
promise me that you would send your messengers to me before you
yourself would come? I have not seen a one of them."
"Be still!" answered Death. "Have I not sent you one messenger after
another? Did not fever come and strike you, and shake you, and throw
you down? Has not dizziness numbed your head? Has not gout pinched your
limbs? Did your ears not buzz? Did toothache not bite into your cheeks?
Did your eyes not darken? And furthermore, has not my own brother Sleep
reminded you every night of me? During the night did you not lie there
as if you were already dead?"
The man did not know how to answer, so he surrendered to his fate and
went away with Death.
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