He dispatched the aide-de-camp to take his orders to the head of the convoy, orders that could be summarized in three almost synonymous words, speed, alacrity, haste, allowing, of course, for the delaying effects of the snow that had begun to fall more thickly now, and the state of the roads, which, normally bad, were now even worse. It may only be a journey of ten leagues, as the helpful sergeant had informed the mahout, but if, by current calculations, ten leagues are fifty thousand meters or some tens of thousands of paces in old measurements, there’s no avoiding the facts, numbers are numbers, then the people and animals who have just set off for yet another painful day’s journeying are going to suffer greatly, especially those who are not blessed with a roof, which is most of them. How pretty the snow looks seen through the glass, the archduchess maria remarked ingenuously to her husband, the archduke maximilian, but for those of us outside, our eyes blinded by the wind and our boots sodden with snow, with the chilblains on our hands and feet burning like the fires of hell, it would be timely to ask the heavens just what we did to deserve such a punishment. As the poet said, the pine trees may wave at the sky, but the sky does not answer. It doesn’t answer men either, even though most of them have known the right prayers since they were children, the problem is finding a language that god can understand. They say that the cold, when it’s born, is intended for everyone, but some get more than their fair share of it. There is a vast difference between travelling in a coach lined with furs and blankets fitted with a thermostat and having to walk along in the flailing snow or with your foot in a frozen stirrup that feels, in the cold, as tight as a tourniquet. What did cheer them up was the news the sergeant had passed on to fritz about the possibility of having a good rest in bressanone, news that spread like a spring breeze throughout the convoy, but then the pessimists, singly and altogether, reminded the forgetful of the dangers of the isarco pass, not to mention another still worse that lies ahead, in austrian territory, the brenner pass. Had hannibal dared to go through either, we would probably not have had to wait for the battle of zama in order to watch, at our local cinema, the last, definitive defeat of the carthaginian army by scipio africanus, a film about the romans produced by benito’s eldest son, vittorio mussolini. On that occasion, the elephants proved of no use to the great hannibal.