Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda
Rowan of Rin is the exciting fantasy adventure of a boy's unexpected quest to save the village of Rin and his beloved herd of bukshah animals. The people of Rin are hardy, brave and strong, but Rowan doesn't really fit in with them. His job is to take care of the bukshah herd, like a shepherd, even though it is supposed to be a task for younger children. These animals provide the village with milk, cheese, wool for cloth, and help plow the fields, but they can only drink the water of the stream that comes from the nearby mountain.
When the stream dries up, the people of Rin decide to send a party up the mountain, where no one has ever gone, to find out what is blocking the stream. The bravest and strongest people in the village volunteer to go on this quest, but they have to ask the scary old witch Sheba for a map. Rowan is terrified, but sent along to carry a gift for her anyway. She refuses to help, only offering up a riddle:
"Seven hearts the journey make,
Seven ways the hearts will break.
Bravest heart will carry on
When sleep is death and hope is gone.
Look in the fiery jaws of fear
And see the answer white and clear,
Then throw away all thoughts of home,
For only then your quest is done."
This is a frightening foretelling of what may come, but Sheba snuck a map to Rowan which only he can read. Trying to be brave and to save the bukshah, Rowan decides to go with the six adults from the village to climb the mountain. Will Rowan be brave enough during the journey to save his village? Seven hearts are going up the mountain: what will they face if their seven hearts will also break?