Chapter 6: The Squire Squibble
Preparations were being made for the grand rescue, for such an amazing and daring thing had never been attempted by mousekind. Firstly, they had to find out exactly which pet store had his family. He gave the scouts descriptions in detail, including the manager and the library of fantasy books in the back room. Then, they had to plan how to get there - what if it was all the way across town? They would take the bus. It could be done. After that, they would return, hopefully with many more of their kind, and then the Mouse Knight would prepare for the real danger - the quest into the unknown Fields of Fate.
Mike went and made a deal with the rats. They too were interested in freeing their kin, so they agreed to do scouting as well, and come along with a temporary truce. Of course, they had heard about this strange mouse myth, and asked Mike if it were true. He said yes, indeed, and then proceeded to blow it all out of proportion and make the little mouse out to be a god. The rats, deeply respecting Mike, bought it all.
The huge fat mouse came and made up with the Mouse Knight, the whole time saying that he could take the little guy, and even rattling his tail just a twinge to make his point. The huge mouse had an ego equal to his bulk, but Mouseknight liked him. He even volunteered to go on the rescue mission and seemed offended when the Knight was concerned that he would slow everyone down. Proving his worth, he propelled his mass, thundering comically, from one end of the room to the other and bounced a helpless (much smaller) mouse off the stairs, who vanished with an "EEE!"
"Don't worry... blankets down there. Brawling pit for the guys," the fat mouse said. Mouseknight nodded, looking worried at the big mouse. "So... I'm a fast mouse, ya?" Mouseknight nodded. He wasn't that fast, but he would surely be useful for his strength alone. "And I get to be a hero, ya?" He was close, and breathing hard from the run. Mouseknight leaned away from the smelly mouse and nodded. "Cool. Thanks, man," breathed the smelly big mouse, and he licked Mouseknight, who immediately began grooming himself.
As for the actual rescue, there wasn't a plan yet. But Mouseknight had one in mind. A tricky one. Mice were small and weak (compared to people and cats), but they were fast and smart. They had to make up for it somehow. He was working on his plan when a very young mouse darted right up to him. The tiny mouse was barely five weeks old, and even smaller than the Mouse Knight. His frame was much too thin, and longer than most mice. He stood up on his hind legs and slid his head side to side in excitement. He was rather a light cream color, with huge ears and big eyes. The mouse who had the pea. Mouseknight remembered him now.
"Hi," he said real fast. "I'm Squibble!" He kept moving, like a hyperactive kid, shifting his feet and looking all around. He was smiling in a shy kind of way. Mouseknight thought he was very cute.
"Oh, a named mouse - another one! Imagine that." he said, humoring Squibble.
"Yeah... named. Yeah." said Squibble.
"And pray tell, brave young mouse, how did you come by this name?" Mouseknight inquired, amused.
The tiny kid mouse looked down at the floor, guilty, but then thought twice of it and his head snapped up. "I gave it to myself!" he chirped loudly.
Mouseknight raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Oh?"
"Yeah!" Squibble said fast. "Yousaidwecoulddoanything (breathe!) causewe'remicesoIwentaheadand (breathe!) namedmyselfcauseIcan!"
"HA HA HA HA!" Mouseknight laughed. "Well, I don't think anyone ever thought of that before! I like it!"
"Then I'm not busted?" Squibble asked.
"No. Not busted. Commended for your initiative."
"Then I can be your squire, right?"
"Say what!" Mouseknight exclaimed.
"The ... The KingsaidImightbeabletobe (breathe!) yoursquirewhateverthatisandlearntheways (breathe!) of themightymiceofold... (breathe!)... like you!"
"Squibble," said Mouseknight, grabbing the moving munchkin, "SLOW DOWN."
Squibble stopped and stood still. It clearly required Herculean effort. "Okay."
"What did the King say?"
"He said to come over here and ask to be your squire."
"Oh did he now," said Mouseknight, and looked over at the old King, who raised a raisin at him in a smiling toast.
"Did he tell you it's dangerous and hard and painful?" asked Mouseknight.
"COOL!" said Squibble, and began moving to and fro again in anticipation of his training.
Mouseknight slapped a paw on his forehead. He really did like this little guy, but he couldn't let him toss his life away on such a dangerous quest.
"Squibble, I can't let you..."
His thought was interrupted by a bump on his hindquarters by another mouse. He turned around.
He was facing the most radiant beauty he'd ever seen. She was bigger than he by much, with a long, sleek tail, full ears and a smooth, silky coat of cinnamon. Her eyes were dreamy and he loved looking at them instantly.
"I see you've met my son," she said. "Is he troubling you, Sir?"
Mouseknight was speechless. Then she waved a whisker in front of him and he came back to his senses. "Oh, um... no. Not at all... he's really cute."
Squibble grinned broadly and nuzzled his mom. She smiled and the room lightened. "Yes, he is."
"Mom and I are homeless," Squibble blurted out, as if it weren't important, just trivia. The girl looked ashamed, and turned with her boy to go.
"Wait," Mouseknight said. She stopped and turned around, interested. "If you are homeless that means you once had a home?"
"Oh yes," she said. "I was a pet, but I got pregnant and then my owners tossed me out into their yard just before I had my babies."
"Oh, that's so terrible," Mouseknight said, coming close to the girl. "I'm sorry. They don't know what they're doing - they're quite ignorant and uncaring sometimes."
"Most of my babies died, because I couldn't feed them, or myself," she went on, clearly needing someone to confide in. She had been through a lot. "I struggled to save them, but they died hungry and cold, one by one..." She began to weep gently. "I watched them all go... and couldn't help them. It was unbearably sad. I couldn't help them."
Squibble, sensing his momma was upset, laid down over her and put his nose on her head. Mouseknight looked at Squibble. So that's why he was so small. Undernourished. He groomed the crying mother mouse. "But you saved this one," he said, as cheerfully as he could.
She looked down at Squibble and licked him behind the ears. "Yes," she said with pride. "Yes, this one made it. The only one."
Squibble looked at him pleadingly. It was all clear now, why he wanted to be a squire. He wanted to protect other mice from what happened to his poor mother.
"Then you found this place?" Mouseknight asked. She nodded.
Mouseknight tilted his head sideways and peered at her. "If you were a pet then you have a name."
She looked away, being shy (and pretty). "Yes, I have one."
"May I inquire it, my lady?" The Mouse Knight stuck his head out toward her nose.
"Tree," she said. "Because I like to climb."
"Did you know your son asked me if he could follow me and fight by my side?" Mouseknight said.
"Yes, the King asked me if I would let him."
"I don't want to take your only son from you - and I'd feel terrible if he got hurt, which he very well might! What I do is insanely dangerous, Miss."
She giggled a bit. "He's tougher than you think, Sire." She nuzzled up to him and he felt a pang of loneliness vanishing like smoke. "And someday I hope to have more children, with all my heart."
So they both looked at him, and she said, "You will keep him safe, won't you?"
Long moments passed as the Mouse Knight struggled with his morals. The King was looking at him. The beautiful girl actually wanted her son to be a squire! And on Squibble's face was the most wanting, pathetic look he had ever seen. To top it off, Mike had just come back from negotiating with the rats, and had heard the whole thing.
"Every knight in the stories had a squire..." he mumbled under his breath, pretended to cough, then waddled away.
Mouseknight winced. "... Okay," he said.
Squibble hopped so high he might have gone through the roof - but instead caught himself on a pipe and scrambled back down in an instant. "YAAAYYY!"
The girl kissed him and groomed him under the chin. "Thank you," she said. "I know he's safe with you."
Squibble snapped to attention and saluted his Knight. "Sire!"
The King nodded contentedly and went back to his raisin. Word rippled out through the mouse city that the runt child of Tree had just become Squire to Saint Mouse.
Mike laughed, that warm 'I know everything' laugh that the Mouse Knight was coming to love so much.
Mouseknight shrugged and ruffled Squibble's fur. Some things were meant to be.