The fog hung low in the forest, obscuring Grimpow’s way. The boy trudged through the deep snow, alert, despite the haze, but he didn’t notice the body until he’d already tripped and fallen on top of it. He gazed into the face of the dead man lying next to him. He appeared so peaceful, it almost seemed as if the man was just sleeping. Horrified, Grimpow jumped up and ran back to the cottage, pant- ing like a deer being chased by hungry wolves. He raced up to the door and pounded on it with the full force of his body.
When the door cracked open, Grimpow almost fell into the modest home. “Grimpow?” Durlib asked, surprised by the boy’s sudden return.
But Grimpow could barely speak. “There is a . . . a dead man,” he stammered, and pointed toward the forest of fir trees behind him.
Durlib turned pale. “Are you sure, boy?” he asked, sounding alarmed.
Grimpow nodded, then dropped the rabbits he was clutching onto a nearby tree stump.
Durlib motioned for the boy to wait, then turned back into the cottage. He grabbed his fur cloak and paused at the door to take down a long sword he kept there and attach it to his belt.
“Let’s go, Grimpow. Show me where you found him.”
And, like ghosts in the fog, the two left to search for the body.
Grimpow walked fast, with his bow in his left hand and a quiver full of arrows hanging from his back. He was determined to use them if even a shadow moved around him. His heart drummed in his chest as he retraced his steps. The snow was so deep that the footprints Grimpow had left were hard to miss.
“There it is!” he said, pointing at the dark lump half hidden in the snow.
Durlib stopped. “Stay here and don’t move until I tell you,” he ordered.
The dead man lay on his side with his eyes facing the foggy sky, as if his last wish before dying had been to say goodbye to the stars. He looked to be around sixty years old and, judging from his clothes and the thick cloak on his back, there was no doubt he was of noble lineage. Durlib slowly walked closer to the figure and knelt by his side. He closed the gentleman’s eyes. Small icicles hung from the man’s long white hair, beard, and eyebrows. His complexion had turned bluish and his dry lips seemed to be smiling.
“He is frozen,” Durlib called back to Grimpow, motioning for him to approach. “I don’t see any wounds—no rips in his clothes or signs of struggle. He was probably away from his horse and got lost in the dense fog last night. The cold penetrated his veins and froze his blood. He had a peaceful end,” Durlib concluded, “in spite of his unfortunate death.”
As he stood surveying the body, Grimpow thought again that the man did seem to be sleeping. Perhaps death is nothing but a calm and eternal dream, he thought. Then he noticed something odd. The man’s right fist was clenched, as if holding something so valuable he didn’t want to part with it even in death. He pointed it out to Durlib, who took the man’s stiff, frozen hand and wrenched apart each finger until the hand revealed a polished, rounded stone the size of an almond. Durlib plucked it from the gentleman’s palm and held it up close to his face to study it. It was a strange color that seemed to change as he turned in the light. Durlib was mesmerized.
“What is it?” asked Grimpow curiously.
“A stone,” Durlib answered, tossing it to Grimpow. “He might have used it as an amulet when it was time to entrust his soul to God.”
Grimpow turned the stone in his hand.
“Keep it,” Durlib instructed mysteriously, eyes wide as full moons. “From now on, this stone will be tied to your destiny.”
Grimpow held the stone and felt the mineral’s warmth in spite of the cool mountain air. “What do you mean, the stone will be tied to my destiny?” he asked, confused. He’d never heard Durlib speak so enigmatically.
But his friend merely shrugged. “If it is an amulet, I suppose it will protect you from evil spirits and bring you good luck.”
“But I already have an amulet,” said Grimpow. He opened his doublet# and showed Durlib the linen pouch filled with rosemary sprigs his mother had given him to wear around his neck when he was a child.
“Well, you have two now,” Durlib chuckled. “There will be no evil eye, curse, or poison that can harm you. Though, as you can see from this gentleman, you can’t trust the cold. . . . The amulet doesn’t seem to have helped him much there.”
Grimpow stood in the snow and thought of his mother and what she’d always told him. She’d said that he had been born with the fourteenth century and, according to the roundness of the moon on his birthday, the future would bring him all the luck and good things it had denied her.
As he touched the polished stone’s surface he sensed that his mother’s predictions were beginning to come true. Yet, at the same time, something inside him was fearful. He thought his unease was due to having discovered the body at his feet, but despite his young age, this wasn’t the first corpse he had seen. The images of dark and disfigured bodies of numerous children and old and young men and women piled up like scarecrows at the gates of the cemetery haunted his memory. During epidemics hundreds of people from his home in the Ullpens region died.
“Look at these wonders!” Durlib exclaimed excitedly, breaking Grimpow’s trance. The boy watched in surprise as his friend took off his fur cloak, laid it on the snow, and poured onto it the contents of a strange leather bag he’d found under the man’s body. Two daggers of different sizes glimmered under the pale midday sun. Their handles were studded with sapphires and rubies. Silver coins and jewels lay glinting in the folds of the coat. A letter sealed with wax sat next to it, along with a carved wooden box holding a heavy gold seal bearing the same image that was impressed into the wax.
Grimpow had never seen such a treasure.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Grimpow by Rafael √Ābalos. Copyright © 2007 by Rafael Abalos. Excerpted by permission of Listening Library (Audio), a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.