Surprise Number Two
The next day, after dawn, I woke to a silent house. Amber sunlight filtered in through the windows. Everyone was asleep. I cursed at myself for oversleeping - I had forgotten my appointment with Nemo!
I raced down the empty hall (boy it was weird being up in the day) and into the human's room. He had already left for work. Nemo was waiting for me, in a blanket by his cage. Sitting next to him was that lanky, female mouse I had seen around. She was wearing armor and a sword. She had a cape on, like Percival had. It was blue. I was going to have to speak to her about that. She didn't know it 'cause I was gone, but that's my color, dearie. You can't have it.
"Sorry I'm late," I said.
"When you're late it shows disrespect for the waiting party," Nemo said. "And damages your honor."
I grumbled something under my breath which he definitely heard with those enormous radar-dish ears.
"Do you disagree?" he said.
"Nah. My master says the same thing."
"Okay then." He preened his whiskers. The female mouse was unnaturally still. She seemed nervous. "Shall we start?"
"Okay. Impress me," I said.
"You know that training is not easy," he said. "And first you must face some things. Do some homework."
"What's that mean?" I said, not liking it.
"Get things out in the open, face facts, deal with stuff."
"Yeah - I do that alright."
Nemo scoffed - out loud - at me! I was setting myself up to be offended when he waved his hand. "Don't bother," he said. "You're as wrong as a mouse out in daylight."
I was trying to figure out whether he'd insulted me again when he got serious and stared me in the eye. "Squibble, this is going to be hard to hear. But you need to hear it, and we can't start until you do. I'm sorry to add to your troubles, but it must be done. It can't wait any longer."
"Oh, that's just great..." I began.
"Will you hear it willingly?" he asked. "If not, you may go and hear it from someone else."
I grimaced. I could see Scratchy holding up a darn sign with something horrible scrawled on it. "I'll hear it...I guess."
"Okay." He shifted his weight. "You want it nice and easy or short and fast?"
"Short and fast," I said, not meaning it.
"Very well," he said. "You know that the first several raids that hit the house took us completely by surprise. We lost about a hundred lives to the enemy."
"Yeah and we're gonna lose hundreds more unless we hunt them down and kill that stupid black mouse. We're trapped in this house like sitting ducks," I said.
Both Nemo and the girl looked at each other in surprise.
"I am very impressed that you know that," Nemo said. "That is great wisdom." I smiled. "But it's not the point," he said. I stopped smiling. Get it over with, furface.
The female mouse said, "The enemy soldiers came into the house on the first attack, after killing many on the porch, and no one was ready." She looked ashamed of it. Maybe she had been a knight on duty...nah...she was way too young. "Of those hundred, the enemy selectively killed mice who were not albino. They ignored the albino mice."
I cocked my head. "What does that..."
"They were looking for brown mice," she continued. "And they went right to the correct cages. They knew the layout of our house already."
I started to get that sick feeling again. I wanted her to shut up now, but she didn't.
"They went straight to your cage, Squibble. It was surrounded only by a few mice. Nobody guessed they'd head straight for it. Only four mice stood in the way of sixty insane lab mice. They were lab mice. What they were doing out in the middle of the Fields of Fate was anyone's guess."
"My cage?" I hissed. "Mine?"
She nodded. "Of the four mice that defended your cage in those desperate first seconds, only one barely survived. But he couldn't stop them from getting to your family."
"My ...you mean Favorite...but she's..."
"You had a family, Squibble." Her eyes were tearing up. This was as hard for her to say as it was for me to hear. Nemo put his paw on her. It seemed to give her strength. My eyes were saucers. My darned heart went through my stomach again. I hated the feeling by now.
"Favorite had ten kittens after you left," she said. "Eight boys and two girls. She herself fought with the ferocity of a mother mouse," she lowered her head. "She killed half their number with the last surviving defender mouse, but it wasn't enough. She was crippled. Paralyzed by a spinal bite, and when the last defender was bashed unconscious, the enemy began killing the babies as she watched. All of this happened before most of the Kingdom even knew we had been invaded at all. The attackers went straight for your cage."
I heard it all. I heard everything she said, but it was as if it wasn't happening to me. There was a high pitched buzzing in my ears. I felt lightheaded.
"My...my master..." I whined.
"He came as quick as he could - with BJ and Nemo, and the others, but he was too late to save most of them."
"He...he wouldn't let that happen..." I said.
"He had no choice," she said. "It all took only sixteen seconds!"
Sixteen seconds...Favorite and some poor fighter had lasted sixteen seconds against sixty insane mice. That by itself was amazing. But not amazing enough.
"How many...how many..." I couldn't finish. It was just beginning to sink in that Favorite had given birth once I'd left. I had missed it. I had missed it all.
"All of the babies died," she said. "Except one. Your master and the cavalry saved one baby, Favorite's life, though she regrets it now, and the last defender."
"Why...why isn't ...why didn't...why didn't my master tell me all this?" I whispered.
"I wanted to do it," she said.
"Why?" I asked. "Why do you know so much of it?"
"Because I was there," she said.
I stared like an idiot.
Nemo leaned forward and gently said, "This is your daughter, Squibble."
She stood there before me. My daughter. My only child. The blue...her lanky shape...her big eyes.
We stood there a long time.
At last, I said, "What's your..."
"Squibette," she said. "Your master named me after you, father."
We both rushed toward each other at the same time and almost knocked ourselves out meeting in the middle. I held her close. She smelled just like me. She looked just like me. Oh, how had I not noticed? My only daughter.
In that moment, she was the most precious thing to me in existence. Overwhelming sadness filled me from top to bottom. I felt my soul fall farther, held up only by the thin cord that was Squibette. It was all too much to bear, too much to take in. Nemo, knowing this, left us to our grim reunion, and went back into his cage.
I held onto my daughter for hours, there in human's room, soft golden sunlight drifting down in beams around us. Neither of us spoke. I just held onto her. She was so skinny. Under the armor, she was too skinny. Of course, I had been too.
Favorite hadn't been playing games with me. She couldn't move from her spot without dragging her body by her front arms. Oh, how sad. And how poorly I'd treated her.
It all made sense now, how people had looked at me funny. How no one knew what to say to me. I had thought they saw me as a lunatic, and in that presumption had created that reality. But I had been partly wrong. It was pity. Pity they were all staring at me with. I don't know which was worse.
But above all the turmoil, chaos, and dark thoughts, above all the regret and remorse, I was reminded that here, in my hands, I had my daughter. The one who saw it all, and lived to tell about it. Here...in my hands. Living and breathing. My daughter.
It was my anchor to sanity, I tell you.
Eventually she fell asleep in my arms. I lay back on Nemo's cage and cradled her in my lap. As she slept sweetly, I gazed down at her with wonder and awe on my soul. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever beheld. I stared and stared. I had missed her growing up. I would never see her as a baby. I didn't get to teach her to read, or to fight. I didn't get to hear her first words or watch her crawl for the first time.
I stared until dusk. I stared until I fell asleep from exhaustion and overload.