Ten-year-old Hamesh sat at a table in his grandmother Bibi’s kitchen. He was reading one of Bibi’s books on magic, a subject Hamesh’s parents never allowed him to discuss while he was home. “Bibi is a powerful and wise sorceress,” they told him, “but her power comes from the Old World, which even she knows is dying. There is a reason she did not teach magic to her children.” Bibi didn’t teach magic to Hamesh either, but she did let him read her tomes and patiently answered his questions. He knew never to tell his parents about what he learned during his visits to Bibi’s cottage in the enchanted forest, but this silence with his parents was worth the treasure of the times he spent with his grandmother.
Bibi, who always looked much livelier in her cottage than she did when visiting Hamesh’s home, was preparing dinner at the oven while Hamesh read. He was reading about a rare lizard whose scales could be used to fashion impenetrable armor when heard a wooden spoon clatter on the floor.
“Bibi!” Hamesh cried, dropping his book and racing to his fallen grandmother.
The old woman clutched her chest. “I must rest,” she whispered as Hamesh led her to the bedroom.
“I’ll run to town and get a doctor,” Hamesh said after he put her to bed.
“No,” she commanded. “I know what sickness ails me, and it can’t be healed by any human medicine. There is only one cure – you must find moldunberries in the forest.”
“Moldunberries,” Hamesh whispered. Earlier that evening he had read about the miraculous healing properties of these berries. “Where do I find them?”
The old woman shook her head. “I have seen moldunberries in this forest so I know there must be a bush somewhere, but I’ve never found it. Only the woodland creatures know where it is, and they are too scared of my power to reveal their secrets to me. But you… yes, you.” Bibi smiled at Hamesh. “They won’t be afraid of a small boy like you. You must convince them to tell you where to find the moldunberry bush.”
“How could I do that?” Hamesh asked. His grandmother’s books hadn’t told him how to talk with animals. “It’s impossible!”
“You’ve been listening to your parents too long,” the old woman said as she patted Hamesh on the head. “Listen to the voices of the woodland creatures and allow them to speak. The words will come to you.” Bibi shuddered and pulled the blankets up to her chin. “You must go, now. Find the moldunberries, before it is too late for me.”
The boy stepped back from the bed, afraid yet somehow certain his grandmother was correct. Had he not read about wonderous powers in her tomes? Learned about potions that could give strength to the feeble and speed to the halt? Spells that could allow men to fly like birds or swim with dolphins? Herbs and roots that could make men fall in love or heal a broken heart? If Bibi could do all the things in this book, as Hamesh’s parents had attested, why should he doubt her if she believed Hamesh could accomplish this task?
Taking a pouch from the kitchen, Hamesh went into the forest. He walked until he came to the log of a fallen tree, the top portion scarred by a lightning strike during a storm the previous night. On top of the log was a squirrel, running down one end to the other. On hearing Hamesh approach the squirrel turned to the boy and chittered loudly, but did not run.
Hamesh stopped and closed his eyes. He remembered from his grandmother’s book that each creature in the woods had a secret name. He then began to chant:
Squirrel, master of tall trees,
tell me your name, so that I may speak with you
“I am Scurry,” the squirrel told him. “And who are you?”
“I am a boy who seeks to cure his sick grandmother. She needs moldunberries, but I don’t know where to find the bush that bears them. Do you know where I can find it?”
“I would help you,” replied Scurry, “but I must help my family. We had been storing nuts in a drey on one of this tree’s branches before the tree was struck by lightning last night. My family and I were able to escape, but when the tree fell it landed on top of our drey. Our food is now gone, and we must find more before we perish.”
The boy looked at the fallen tree. One of its branches had broken off during its collapse and lay nearby on the forest floor. One end of the branch had split into a jagged point, resembling a spear. “Scurry, I can help you recover your family’s store of nuts from under this tree.”
“Impossible!” cried Scurry. “The strongest man in the world couldn’t move this tree on his own, much less a boy like you!”
“I shall move this tree,” said Hamesh, “and then you shall tell me how to find the moldunberry bush.”
The boy lifted the branch, carrying it to the fallen tree. He then dug the spear-pointed end of the branch deep into the dirt beneath the log and pressed his shoulder into the underside of the branch’s other end. Pushing forward, the boy used the branch as a lever that rolled the fallen tree aside.
“The drey!” exclaimed Scurry. “And my family’s store of nuts! You have saved us, boy.”
“And I must now save my grandmother. Tell me, Scurry, where to find the berries.”
“I will tell you,” said Scurry, “though I wish I had better news for you. The moldunberry bush is guarded by a bear who will slay anyone who enters his lair. Turn around, boy, for your grandmother is doomed, as you shall surely be if you continue this foolish quest.”
“I can’t let my grandmother die,” Hamesh protested. “There must be some way to get to the bush without being killed by the bear.”
Scurry thought a moment. “I’ve heard that the rabbits in the fields adjoining these woods can grab moldunberries from the bush without being captured by the bear. Go seek them.” Hamesh thanked Scurry for his help, then ran off.
Hamesh then came onto a large meadow, where he found a colony of rabbits. All but one turned and fled into the high grass as Hamesh approached. The boy stopped and chanted:
Rabbit, master of broad fields,
tell me your name, so that I may speak with you
“I am Burrow,” the rabbit told him. “And who are you?”
“I am a boy who needs to steal moldunberries from the bear so that I can heal my grandmother’s sickness. But I don’t know where to find the bear, or how to stop him from killing me.”
“Even if I told you our secret, it would do you no good,” Burrow replied indignantly. “Only we rabbits are able to defeat the bear.”
“If I beat you in a footrace, will you tell me?”
“Impossible!” said Burrow. “The fastest man in the world can’t outrace me, much less a boy like you!”
“I shall beat you to the river,” said Hamesh, “and then you shall tell me how to defeat the bear.”
With a laugh, Burrow raced ahead of Hamesh. Both Burrow and Hamesh knew the fastest way to the river was through the woods, but the trees that had fallen during the storm blocked Burrow’s path. The rabbit was delayed as it had to go around, climb over, or slither under the obstacles. The boy, on the other hand, was able to leap between the fallen logs without once breaking his stride. When he reached the river he turned and balled his fists into his hip, waiting for Burrow to arrive.
“You are a swift lad, and clever,” Burrow said. “But you lack the speed and wit to defeat the bear.”
“But I must save my grandmother,” Hamesh demanded. “Tell me, Burrow, how you defeat the bear.”
“The bear is fast and powerful, but not smart,” Burrow explained. “My people force him to chase us, and we struggle to stay outside the reach of his terrible claws. Fortunately, we are small and difficult to catch, and the bear’s strength eventually fails him. He then naps, and that is when we take from the moldunberry bush. But you are too large, boy, and the bear will have no problem catching you. Turn around, for your grandmother is doomed, as you shall surely be if you continue this foolish quest.”
“Tell me where to find the bear,” Hamesh demanded.
“I shall honor my promise,” Burrow explained. “Follow this river upstream until you come to twin boulders. Go west from the boulders for half of a league until you see a barren hill. Under that hill is a cave with the bear and his berries.” Hamesh thanked Burrow for his help, and began walking upstream beside the river.
Hamesh found the twin boulders and headed west. The forest grew darker with each step he took, but in the twilight he was able to find the barren hill.
Hamesh then heard an awful growling, and knew he had arrived at the right place.
A massive black bear rumbled to the entrance of a cave. Hamesh closed his eyes and chanted:
Bear, mightiest beast of the forest,
tell me your name, so that I may speak with you
“I will not tell you my name,” the bear replied, “for I am hungry, and shall eat you now for my supper!”
The bear charged at Hamesh, who ran away with all his speed. Yet the boy knew the bear was faster and would certainly catch Hamesh before it grew tired and needed to nap. Hamesh thought of the magic he had learned in his grandmother’s books… surely he must have read of some spell that could help him escape the bear.
“Grumble rumble stumble!” yelled the bear. “I’ll cut off your head and cook it in the oven, boy!”
“I’m hungry too,” said a small voice from the bear’s cave. Hamesh looked back, and saw Scurry nibbling on a berry. “These moldunberries are delicious!”
“Grumble rumble stumble!” yelled the bear. “I’ll tear your tail off and boil it in a stew, squirrel!” The bear charged at Scurry, who climbed up a tree and out of the fearsome creature’s reach.
“Now there’s a sight,” proclaimed another small voice. Hamesh looked and saw Burrow perched on top of a rock. “A boastful bear, defeated by the smallest of creatures.”
“Grumble rumble stumble!” yelled the bear. “I’ll rip your ears off and fry them in a pan, rabbit!” The bear charged at Burrow, who was just fast enough to stay out of his reach. Hamesh rested and laughed as he saw the bear’s gait slow with weariness.
“Be gone from me,” the bear finally said to Burrow. “You’re too small for my supper anyway. I’d rather feast on this boy!” The bear chased after Hamesh again, but the boy knew now that the creature did not have enough energy left to capture him.
“Grumble… rumble… stumble…” the bear moaned. It was now walking, head hanging low. “A squirrel, a rabbit, and a boy, defeating a bear. It is –” the bear fell to the ground – “impossible.” And then the bear’s eyes closed.
“Hurry!” Burrow cried, running up beside Hamesh. “The bear will not long slumber.” Scurry met them at the cave’s entrance and led them to the moldunberry bush. After Hamesh filled his pouch with moldunberries he gathered more for Scurry and Burrow.
“We have food enough to feed our families through winter,” the animals said when they were finished. “Thank you, boy.”
“My name is Hamesh,” he told the creatures. “And thanks to you, my grandmother will be well.”
The journey back to Bibi’s house was long, and Hamesh had more adventures before he finally stepped back into the cottage. His grandmother was still lying in bed, her face pale as she slept uneasily.
Hamesh shook her shoulder. “Bibi,” the boy whispered. “Wake up. It’s Hamesh. And I’ve done what you’ve asked.” He took one of the moldunberries from the pouch and placed it on his grandmother’s dry lips.
Bibi’s eyes opened, and her lips drew the moldunberry into her mouth. She then crushed the berry with her teeth, and Hamesh could smell the sweetness of the juice that coated his grandmother’s tongue. “You’ve done well, my boy,” Bibi said, color returning to her face. “You’ve done very well.”