Long ago, in a little town not so far away, three young men sat outside a tavern. They saw a funeral procession passing by. They asked a young man who worked in the tavern to find out the identity of the dead person. The boy returned and said, “It is your old friend Lively. He was murdered by a thief named Death.”
The oldest man in the group turned to his friends and said, “Who is this fellow Death? Why is everyone so afraid of him? I am not scared. Let us find this Death and get rid of him.”
The three men agreed. They shook hands. They were going to find Death and put an end to his evil deeds. They went into the tavern and asked the keeper where they might find this fellow called Death. The man said, “Ten miles down the road there is a village. Recently, a plague went through there. Men, women and children all died. I am certain you will find Death in that unhappy place.”
The three men got up and set off to the village. They were in high, good spirits. They had only gone a few miles when they met an ugly old woman. They laughed at her wrinkles and her wispy grey hair. They made fun of her old, torn clothing. They would not let her pass even though she looked frightened.
“Please, please, get out of my way,” the old lady cried. “I tell you Death is following me. I must get away from him to survive. I do not want to die. Get out of my way!”
“We will not let you pass,” the leader of the three men said. “Tell us where we can find this Death. He has murdered our friend. When we find him, we will kill him.”
“Gentlemen,” said the old lady, “if you want to find Death, all you have to do is look under that old oak tree, up there at the top of the hill.”
On hearing this, the three men allowed the old woman to pass. They ran up to the oak tree. When they got there, they did not find Death. Instead, they found a chest filled with gold coins! They sat down to count their newfound treasure. They quickly forgot about finding Death.
Finally, the leader said, “We must be careful with this gold. The townspeople will say we stole it. We will be hanged as thieves. Let us draw straws. The one who draws the shortest straw will go back to town and get some food. The other two will stay and keep watch over the gold. Tomorrow we will divide the treasure and go our separate ways. That way no one can accuse us of being thieves.”
They agreed to this plan. They drew the straws. The shortest straw was drawn by the youngest of the three men. The other two gave him a few gold coins. He went off to town to buy some food.
The two men guarding the gold quickly made a plan. They decided to kill their friend when he returned with the food. First, they would eat the food. Then they would divide the treasure two ways instead of three.
The youngest man walked into town. He thought, “I will buy the food. I will also buy poison and put it in the food. My two friends will die and I will have all the treasure to myself.” So he bought a strong poison. He put it into the food and the drinks he purchased. That night he went back to his friends.
When he returned, his companions jumped on him and murdered him. They quickly buried his body. “Now,” the leader said, “let us relax and eat. We are very wealthy men.” They spread out the food and drink. They ate their dinner with satisfaction, not noticing any strange taste. In a few minutes, both men were dead from the poison.
So it came to be that the three men found Death – just the person they had been looking for. And they found him under the old oak tree, just as the old woman they had tormented had promised.
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