In ancient times a giant was once traveling on 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 whom I can crush between my fingers, wants to block my way. Who are you that you 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, violent battle, in which at last the giant got the upper hand, and struck death down with his fist, so that he collapsed by 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, who 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 whom 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 that you may see that I am grateful, I promise you that I will not fall on you unexpectedly, but will send my messengers to you before I come and take you away. Well, said the youth, it is something gained that I shall know when you come, and at any rate be safe from you for so long.
Then he went on his way, and was light-hearted, and enjoyed himself, and lived without thought. But youth and health did not last long. Soon came sicknesses and sorrows, which 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 once more to live merrily.
Then one day someone tapped him on the shoulder. He looked round, and death stood behind him, and said, follow me, the hour of your departure from this world has come. 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 you, and cast you down. Has not dizziness bewildered your head. Has not gout twitched you in all your limbs.
Did not your ears sing. Did not tooth-ache bite into your cheeks. Was it not dark before your eyes. And besides all that, 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.