The Great and Terrible Quest by Margaret Lovett, 1970.
This story takes place in a fictional kingdom during the Middle Ages. Trad is a ten-year-old boy who has lived most of his life with his abusive grandfather. He barely remembers his parents, who died in a plague when he was only four. This grandfather consorts with robbers and evil men. Trad often pretends to be stupid to avoid their notice and warns travelers away from their territory.
One day, he rescues a man who has been badly wounded and cares for him in a secret cave. This man, whose white hair makes him seem elderly, insists that he is on a mission, a great and terrible quest . . . but because of a head wound, he can’t remember what his quest is. All that he knows is that time is short, and he does not have long to complete his quest to find something very important.
Trad soon learns that his grandfather’s wicked friends are the ones who attacked this mysterious stranger. Taking Trad’s father’s old lute, a couple of coins, and a mysterious ring dropped by one of the robbers which seems to have once belonged to the stranger, Trad and the stranger embark on a journey across the land, making friends and pursued by enemies as they go. While the stranger struggles to remember his identity and the nature of his mission, Trad begins to learn a few things about his own forgotten past and the nature of his family. Nothing is what it seems. Their country is in trouble because of the evil men who have been controlling it. Everything depends on the success of the stranger’s mission, and Trad has a much larger role to play than he had ever dreamed.
It’s a beautiful and fascinating story about good and evil, loyalty, friendship, and determination to do the right thing, even against the odds. There are parts that might frighten younger readers. The fights are violent and bloody, and there are a couple instances of cruelty to animals (partly, it seems, to show how truly evil Trad’s enemies are). Still, it’s a great story for tweens and teens, and readers will want to cheer Trad on as he struggles to help those around him and find his own destiny.
Although the kingdom is fictional and the themes are similar to fantasy stories, there is no actual magic in the story.