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The Seven Messengers

The Seven Messengers

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Published by Rebecca Heath
This is one of Buzzati's best known short stories and is arguably the most representative of his work.
This is one of Buzzati's best known short stories and is arguably the most representative of his work.

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Published by: Rebecca Heath on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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 The SevenMessengers
Having departed to explore my father's kingdom, every day I am gettingfarther from the city, and the news that reaches me is getting rarer and rarer.I began the trip when I was just over thirty and more than eight years havepassed, exactly eight years, six months and fifteen days of uninterrupted travel. Ithought when I left that within a few weeks I would easily reach the boundary of the kingdom, but instead I have continued to find new people and countries andeverywhere men who speak the same language as I, who say they are my subjects.I believe sometimes that my geographer's compass has gone crazy and thatthinking I am always traveling south, we are perhaps going in circles without everincreasing the distance that separates us from the capital, which would explain why we have not reached the frontier yet.But more frequently I am tormented by the doubt that this border evenexists, by the thought that the kingdom extends without any limit whatsoever,and that no matter how far I travel, I will never be able to reach the end. Istarted on my trip when I was little more than thirty, too late perhaps. Friends,even my family, scorned my project as a useless waste of the best years of my life.In reality, few of those loyal to me agreed to leave. Although carefree - a good deal more than now! - I worried how I was goingto keep in touch with my loved ones during the trip and I chose from among my escorts, the seven best to act as messengers.I thought, in all innocence, that having seven of them might be too many. With the passage of time, however, I realized that seven was ridiculously too few:and this although none of them ever fell ill or encountered bandits or wore outtheir mounts. All seven have served me with a tenacity and a devotion that I willnever be able to repay.In order to tell them apart easily I gave them names in alphabetical order: Alessandro, Bartolomeo, Caio, Domenico, Ettore, Federico, Gregorio.Unaccustomed to being so far from home, I sent the first one, Alesssandro,on the evening of the second day of the trip when we had already covered someeighty leagues. The evening after, to ensure the continuity of the communication,I sent the second, then the third, then the fourth, consecutively, until the eighthevening of the trip, when Gregorio left. The first one had not yet returned.He reached us on the tenth evening while we were setting up camp for thenight in an uninhabited valley. I learned from Alessandro that his speed was lessthan what I had foreseen; I thought since he was alone and riding an excellenthorse, that he could cover twice our distance in the same amount of time;instead, his speed was only one and a half times ours so that in one day, while wecovered forty leagues, he could traverse sixty, but no more.So it was with the others. Bartolomeo, who left for the city on the thirdevening of the trip, reached us on the fifteenth; Caio, who left on the forth,returned on the twentieth. I soon realized that I had only to multiply the numberof days traveled by five to know when the messenger would catch up with us. As we got farther from the capital, the messengers' route becameincreasingly longer. After fifty days of travel the interval between one arrival andanother began to spread out noticeably; while before I saw one arrive in campevery five days, this interval became 25; in this way the voice of my city was
 becoming increasingly feeble. Whole weeks went by without my receiving any news at all. When six months passed - we had already crossed the Fasani Mountains -the interval between one arrival and another increased to a good four months.Thus I received news that was already out of date; the envelopes reached me wrinkled, sometimes water-stained from the nights the bearers spent out in theopen. We kept going. In vain I tried to persuade myself that the clouds passingover me were like those of my youth, that the sky of the distant city was nodifferent from the blue dome that towered above me, that the air was the same,that the murmur of the wind was the same, that the voices of the birds were thesame. The clouds, the sky, the air, the wind, the birds, all seemed to me new anddifferent and I felt like a stranger.Forward, forward! Vagabonds we met in the plains told me the border wasclose. I encouraged my men not to rest; I snuffed out the discouraging words thatissued from their lips. Four years had already passed since my departure; what along struggle. The capital, my home, my father - they had become strangely remote; I hardly believed in them any more. Some twenty months of silence andsolitude passed between the arrivals of the messengers. They brought me strangeletters yellowed by time and in these I found forgotten names, figures of speechthat seemed unusual to me, feelings I was not able to understand. The nextmorning, after a single night of rest, while we getting ready to resume our travel,the messenger departed in the opposite direction, carrying to the city the lettersthat I had ready for a long time.But eight and a half years have gone by. This evening I was dining alone inmy tent when Domenico arrived, still managing to smile despite being overcome by fatigue. I had not seen him for nearly seven years. For all this long time hehad done nothing but ride, across prairies, woods and deserts, changing mounts who knows how many times, to bring me that package of letters that as yet I havehad no desire to open. He has already gone to bed and will leave tomorrow atdawn.He will leave for the last time. In a notebook I have calculated that if all goes well, if I continue my road as I have done until now and he his, I will not seeDomenico again for another 34 years. I will then be 72. I am starting to feel tiredand it is likely that death will take me first. And so I will never see him again.In 34 years (before that, indeed much before) Domenico will unexpectedly catch sight of the fires of my campsite and will ask himself why, during hisabsence, I have made so little progress. Like last night, the good messenger willenter my tent with letters yellowed by the years, full of absurd news of a timealready buried; but he will stop on the threshold, seeing me immobile, stretchedout on my pallet, with two soldiers bearing torches at my side, dead.Nevertheless go, Domenico and do not tell me that I am cruel! Take my final greeting to the city where I was born. You are the last remaining link to the world that was also once mine. The most recent letters have told me that many things have changed, that my father is dead, that the crown has passed to my older brother, that they believe I am lost, that they have built tall stone palaces inthe place where I once used to play under the oak trees. But it is still my old

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