Chapter 8: The Pilgrimage of the Mouse Knight
Of which there are 4 parts
Part I: Departing Company
The great hall stood silent and respectful in the wake held for the departed mothers and warriors who perished buying the freedom of their kin and children. T he old King bowed his head and all were quiet. There were no bodies; only memories. Many stood and told tales of those who died. Their lives, their good times and best moments. It was a custom among mice to remember only the good in a mouse, and quickly forget the bad (if there was any). So the good was celebrated, and the mice ate and chattered all about those heroes who gave their lives in valor. The Mouse Knight was showered with praise and hailed as their savior, as usual, but it was clear that he blamed himself for the deaths of the valiant ones, the warriors and mothers. After speaking a few words about how brave and magnificent were the final moments of these great rodents (so unlike their usual ends), he retreated to a far corner of the room and would not let anyone know where he was.
Of course, that didn't fool Mike, who found him in short order.
Mike didn't say anything, just sat beside his friend and rested. Conveniently, he sat blocking the large room's view of the Mouse Knight, so no one would bother the little mouse.
After a while of silence, Mouseknight sighed.
"Somehow I thought no one would suffer," he said, and his head drooped sadly.
"The world will never be without suffering," answered Mike. "But to choose the form of it - that is a great thing. They had the freedom to choose the way they went, little one. No snake, no accident or disease. They were not victims. You gave them that freedom."
Mouseknight looked up at his big companion. "But they still died. All those moms and strong mice..."
Mike gently grabbed the mouse's head with his teeth and turned it so he looked under Mike's neck into the room, then released him. "Look."
There were other mothers taking in the orphaned children. There were many mice befriending the previously caged feeder mice and rats. There were rats gently moving wounded mice to where they could be comfortable; near food. And the King was appointing new warriors, made of young and eager mice who were lined up as far as mice could see to take the job with gratitude and awe.
Despite himself, Mouseknight smiled. He looked up at Mike. "Thanks, buddy. I needed that."
"It all works out in the end, Sir Knight," said Mike. "No matter how hard the going gets, remember that, and teach it to those that follow you."
After the ceremony, the Mouse Kingdom had never been stronger. The rats and mice agreed that the two kingdoms would ally against the hostility and abuse of humankind, under the Mouse Knight as their symbol. Many rats came to the small mouse and had to see him, thank him, and lick him in person (it took several minutes!) All were agreed that because of one mouse daring to dream of the impossible, things had never been better. The rats had no King, but most agreed that Mike was their rightful leader, though he chose to wander instead.
Among them it was a true democracy, with each one having their say. Anyone could leave at any time, but each one of them (over 100) stayed and helped build the mouse nest bigger and stronger. The work went quickly with the aid of the rat's strength.
Mike spent time with his friends and with his lady, whom he introduced to the Mouse Knight. She had no name, not being a pet. He called her 'Baby,' and she seemed to like it. She was very polite, young, and kind. She liked the Mouse Knight, and he liked her. She was a brown rat, with light golden tones on her fur. She had dark, deep eyes, and she spoke with intelligence. Mike clearly liked her very much. They spent much time together.
Just a week later, the King held a convocation in the grand hall, and all attended. It was time for the Mouse Knight to leave on the final and most dangerous part of his holy quest. No one dared beg him to stay... though all of them wanted to.
Again, the hall was silent. Then the King spoke.
"No one has ever survived the journey t o the Fields of Fate. No one has ever returned from past the Moving Mountains. It is a terrible and deadly thing you choose to do, brave Mouse Knight. Domestic mice cannot survive in the wild. The Kingdom would ask you stay your quest and remain with us. Perhaps we could free more pet store mice."
The Mouse Knight bowed his head and his brow furrowed. His whiskers twittered in deep thought. Then he raised his head, his eyes a little sad.
"My liege, I would encourage more rescues," said the little hero. "Not every store will have a late night no life manager, or a demon. But I cannot stay. The Kingdom will someday fall unless I go."
Gasps and cries of surprise filled the room. But not from the rats, and not from the King. They knew what he spoke of. He was simply speaking in the best interest of the Kingdom.
"The rats know this," Mouseknight addressed the mice. "Great floods come. Disease comes. Humans rip up the earth! There will be no place to hide... someday. The only chance we have to keep this great union we have is with a human on our side. And if there is one, I will find him. Or die trying. That was my oath, and I mean to keep it."
The room fell silent at the strength and resolution in his words. There would be no more words of staying. The King nodded, slowly.
"Then let us bid farewell to you, our Saint Mouse," he said. "The journey is so long that most mice die of old age before they can ever reach that far. I have faith in you. We all do. But again, you attempt even farther to push the boundaries of what Mousekind can accomplish."
The Mouse Knight stiffened his tail and raised his furry chin. He tried to hold back tears. He was small and afraid. Suddenly, he felt he was pushing his luck - perhaps being unreasonable. Why shouldn't he stay? Had he not done more than any mouse ever? Had he not earned the right to some happiness? A respite from pain and loneliness? Oh, how he wanted to stay with Tree! Oh, how his heart hated him for going!
"There is no limit to what even a single mouse can accomplish if they are determined," he said in reply. His voice did not shake even a bit.
Squibble looked at his mentor without blinking. His face shone with admiration and respect. His mother next to him put her paws over her heart and softly cried out of her love for the Knight and her grief at his going.
The King was not wrong. Mice did not live a long time. Two years, if they were above average. To mice, their lives were plenty long, but now the Mouse Knight was taking his quest into the timeline of humans. Human distances. Human difficulty. And human time. The King would certainly not see another summer. Tree herself stood a very good chance of not being alive when the Knight returned, if he did. And the Knight, most of all, risked his life and limb every second he was outside the protection of his beloved Kingdom. It was unnatural for a mouse to do this. No mouse that any of them knew had ever traveled any great distance.
So there were no words or noises that could express the heavy air of emotion that fell upon the room then. All of them knew they were probably beholding the miracle mouse for the last time.
The knight turned to go, full of sadness and heartfelt pain, before his heart failed him and he lost his integrity. But the rats got in his way. In particular, one of Mike's friends who was very big and strong, with a scar over one eye.
"Where do you think you're goin," he said in a Scottish accent, "an' without any proper supplies, he thinks!" He jibed his other rat friends.
The little mouse looked up and around for Mike, who stood over by the door. Mike nodded to the mouse. It was okay. Listen to them.
The rats dragged a large bag full of things forward. From it, Scareye produced a grayish-red, shiny set of plate mail - made from lobster shell and snake scales! It was tied together with strong fishwire and bent in all the proper places so it fit the small mouse. They laid it at his feet.
"No knight goes forth without his armor," they said. They all smiled. This had been planned! The mouse looked back at the King and saw that he was grinning too. Planned hard.
So they put it on him, and it fit perfectly. It was flexible enough with the lobster-belly part underneath that he could run, jump - do most everything. It was light and did not feel bulky. The back was spiny and spiked naturally to ward off hungry teeth. Two huge dagger-like spines came off the back and sat on either side of his neck. If anyone came at his head, they'd get those in the eye! It was ingenious, he told them.
"You haven't seen nuthin yet," said the rat.
From the bag came a great many plastic cocktail swords in assorted colors. You know, the kind they use at bars (like the one the rats eat out back of each night) that go in the human drinks. Well, next time you see one, hold it and se e if that wouldn't be just the perfect weapon for a little mouse. They were strong, to a small animal - and sharp! And there were close to twenty of them. Being plastic, these too weighed next to nothing. And they came in a set of saddlebags built to Mike's size that would also carry spare food.
The Mouse Knight hefted a sword and practiced a few lunges like he had read about.
"Hiiii-ya!" he said. Everyone in the room clapped.
"Next," Scareye said, and pulled forth a bottle cap made into a mouse shield. It had arm bands and a handle on the inside. Outside, it had been painted (rather crudely) in the visage of a dancing mouse with big ears and whiskers. This piece, now, was rather heavy, being made of metal.
"Your squire painted the crest on it, Sire," said Tree. Squibble smiled from ear to ear and his big cheeks puffed out enormously.
Mouseknight could not hold back tears any longer. "Oh, it's wonderful," he chirped. "Wonderful - so wonderful... all my friends... I am so sorry to be leaving you. I love you all so. Thank you so much."
There was also a helm, made of tough plastic, from a child's knight figurine. It had a pointy visor that went up and down, like the knights of old, and fit the Mouse Knight just so, because the rats had chewed ear holes in the top.
"May it protect you in your hour of need," said the King.
The rats were very pleased with their work, and the Mouse Knight took time to thank each one of them that had worked on his magnificent armor. Then he turned and took a long, anxious look back at the warm, beautiful room.
"Well..." he stammered. "Goodbye."
So, lugging his stuff to the door, he set forth and was met by Mike on the other side of the very portal. For some reason, Bigfat Mouse and Squibble were there too.
"An where do ya think yer goin?" said Mike, imitating his one-eyed friend's accent.
"To find the kind human, Mike," said Mouseknight seriously, looking him in the eye. He knew what they were up to. Smart mouse.
"Well," wasting no words, Mike took the Knight's saddlebags and strapped them across his shoulders, where they obviously had been designed to fit perfectly. "We're goin with you."
Mouseknight shook his head rapidly and tried to get his bags back (to no avail). "No, Mike. Too dangerous. Nope. No, no, no."
Mike held the pipsqueak mouse back with one hand and yawned. "What chance have you without us, brave Knight? Your horse and squire?"
"I'm not going to get anyone else killed!" Mouseknight angrily chirped. "Tree would be heartbroken without her only son! Your girlfriend... she'd miss you! And what the heck is this huge guy doing here!?"
Bigfat Mouse looked offended. "I'm the cannon fodder, dummy!" He said happily. "Brave mouse, remember? I wanna go. And... I need to lose weight." The room laughed.
Mouseknight sat down in exasperation. "I can't believe this!" he squeaked. "You're ganging up on me!"
"You bet," said Mike. "Listen, Tree wants Squib to go. And my girl knows what she signed up for with me. And so did you!" He eyed the mouse squarely. "If by my life, or my death, I can aid you, I'm gonna. And you got no say in it, Sire."
"Yeah!" Said Squibble, moving around finally (he had actually been still for a full minute!) "Stuck with us! No way we ain't goin!"
The Knight laughed in happy surrender. "Mike is teaching you bad English, squire."
Squibble stood very still, head down. "Sorry, Master."
The Mouse Knight got up and brushed himself off. "Okay. You can all come. You're big boys... well, most of you." He looked back at Squibble and Tree was there handing her son a peanut wrapped in a leaf of lettuce. Probably the family fortune.
Mouseknight edged up to Tree. She smelled so good! He loved her smell.
"Are you certain this is okay? You would risk your only son on this lunatic quest?"
She licked his face in genuine affection. "It's not a crazy quest, my lord," she said with a smile. "It's the bravest, most magnificent thing any mouse has ever done. I am honored that you would have him along. And I promise - he will surprise you with his strength of character. What he lacks in size he makes up for in willpower."
The Mouse Knight blushed and licked her back.
"I swear I will return for you." he said.
"I will wait," she answered.
She kissed Squibble goodbye, and waved at them as they passed under the archway and out into the great open world, taking the first few steps of an epic journey.