Chapter 5: The Holy Quest of Saint Mouse
It was a giant underground labyrinth. So huge, the Mouse Knight could not begin to guess how many miles. Surely a mouse could wander it and never see it all in one lifetime.
His party and he were escorted deep into the cold, dark mystery for hours before they came to the magnificent central chamber. It was heated, and smelled of food and many mice. Indeed, there were more than a hundred mice present, all engaged in various forms of being mice. There was water in the corner, and guardian mice all around an old figure at the end of the room, sitting on a pillow amongst bundled-up blankets.
His escort led his party through the horde of mice, which stared in silence as he went by. A few tails rattled, but mostly they just stared in awe. When they reached the end of the room, Mouseknight saw that the figure on the pillow, he knew that the mouse was ancient indeed - far more so than the old fighter who had dueled the dragon before. The little mouse just stared back at the old, blind mouse on the pillow. He didn't know what to do.
The silence in the vast room was broken by a mouse to the right side of the old mouse.
"You stand before his eminence, King Arnold the First, King of Mouse City and ruler of the Nest."
All of Mouseknight's family and new friends OOOooed and AAHHhhhed.
The guard went on, "Your Majesty, we have brought you the Mouse Knight as requested by the rat."
Not that they didn't see him before, but now all mouse eyes went to Mike, who was a bit nervous. Teeth were gnashed and eyes squinted down at him. Tails rattled and mice crept toward him low and hostile. "Get the rat!"
"Eat the rat!"
"Came to the wrong place, rat!"
They were almost on him and he was prepared to sell his life at a dear price to these little midgets. But the Mouse Knight intervened.
"Stop!" he yelled, running out in front of Mike. The mice recoiled. What was this? A mouse standing up for a rat? But they did stop. Mouseknight's tail rattled his warning. To get Mike, they'd have to come through him.
"Is this your friend, Mouse Knight?" asked the King.
"Yes, my liege," the little mouse said. "And I won't let anyone harm him, even if it means we have to leave this great Kingdom, or... my life, if it comes to that."
Silence. Then, finally, the King said, "I understand you aren't killable anyway, Sir Mouse Knight. And it appears that you have studied your courtly manners - very rare in mice. So it seems we must bestow your companion with the title of MouseFriend."
Mike smiled nervously. All the little family of Mouseknight came and crowded around Mike, nudging him and licking him.
Some mouse in the crowd, a really big, fat mouse, said, "Who says this guy is a Knight? You didn't make him a knight, my lord! Who did?"
Everyone looked at Mouseknight as he stood up tall (which wasn't very) and said, "KingSnake made me a Mouse Knight."
The crowd broke out in whispers and gasps of breath, as the King's old eyes got wide for a moment as if he were shocked and could still see.
The fat huge mouse snaffed and wiped his nose at Mouseknight anyway. But he no longer looked interested in a fight.
"Well, that's better than me doing it," the King said. "We had reservations about this mysterious mouse who fought snakes and humans and rescued our kind, but here you are. Most astonishing. The very first Mouse Knight."
At that, the King slowly hobbled, inch by inch, down from his pillow and sniffed Mouseknight out of the crowd, and finally reaching him, laid his paw on the small mouse. "You have done well," he said. And smiled.
"Are you really a named mouse?" asked the Mouse Knight. It was probably improper to ask, but he had to know.
The King smiled. "Yes, little one. I was loved and named by my human, who passed away before I did. You may call me Arnie, as he did."
"Then you know what it is to be loved," the Mouse Knight whispered. And although the old mouse was blind, his hearing was quite good.
"There is nothing better," he said. "Nothing better than being held and petted. Fed anything your heart desires and sleeping in warmth. Being kissed and told you are special. It is heaven to us."
Mouseknight looked back at Mike, who was frowning and looking at the floor. But he looked up when he saw Mouseknight and his face was expressionless again. Mouseknight briefly wondered how King Arnie had ended up abandoned when his human had died. Surely a loving owner would have wanted better for his dear pet.
"It is this very thing I seek," said the little mouse excitedly. "I seek to find the kind human."
Gasps filled the room. The King offered the Mouse Knight a piece of corn. Mouseknight took it gratefully and began to gobble it up, which started a chain reaction, and soon everyone was feasting while the meeting had not yet ended.
"The Mouse Knight has a holy quest!" yelled the King.
"Huzzah!" all the mice answered.
"Is he a worthy mouse?" the King bellowed.
"Huzzah!" they answered.
"Then we will help him."
"Tell your holy quest, Knight, and I shall name you a Saint of the Mouse People, and your quest shall be heard by the Mousegod," stated the King.
Everyone stopped eating except for a tiny little mouse with huge ears and bugged-out eyes, which were locked upon Mouseknight without blinking. In the almost silence, Mouseknight stood up (like he remembered they did at the Round Table!), raised his piece of corn, and said...
"My quest... is to see mice everywhere freed from oppression and cruelty, to show them that being a mouse is a beautiful gift, and to find the kind human of myth, so that he will care for us all to the end of our days! I swear upon my title, since I have no name, that I will do this thing, or perish trying!"
The room burst into cheers and hops. The King nodded his head in a deeply satisfied manner, and whispered "Huzzah." The tiny big-eared mouse had dropped the pea he was chewing on and stood stock-still on his back legs, gaping at the Mouse Knight as if he had just seen a true legend - the only one he might ever see.
Many mice came to lick the Mouse Knight clean and to groom him. They even groomed Mike. Everyone agreed that his quest was a righteous one, and that Saint Mouse could achieve it if anyone could.
After the meal, everyone settled down again. The King crawled ever so slowly back onto his pillow.
"There is only one rumor of a kind human," he said. "But he lives very, very far - out beyond the human city, in the Fields of Fate. Past the great barrier of moving mountains, and farther than any mouse has traveled. It is a risky and dangerous venture at best. There are monsters day and night, which will seek your hide, and all the other humans care nothing for us. And there is the hawk."
Everyone shivered visibly at the mention of the name.
"I don't know what that is," said the knight, "but I have to try. I will accept this burden, though I do not know the way."
"You are brave, as the stories claim," said the King. "Will you be going right away?"
The Mouse Knight looked down, thinking - then lifted his head. "No. I need to free my family from the pet store."
More gasps filled the room. (Mice are deeply into gossip and anything exciting, and this beat anything to ever happen in Mouseville.)
The King's old eyes widened for the second time. "Indeed?"
"Yes," said Mouseknight resolutely. "I cannot leave them. My team and I are going back to attempt a rescue!"
The Mouse Knight's "team" of his rescued family and friends looked at each other like, "Who... US?!"
"You'll need more help than that," said the King. "My bravest are at your disposal. Volunteers only." At that, seven large and strong mice stepped forward, willing to follow the Mouse Knight into terrible danger. The tiny mouse that had been gaping jumped forward, too, but was pushed back into the crowd by the larger mice. The big, fat mouse held him down under his foot while the little one squirmed in frustration.
One of the young mice, a brother of the Mouse Knight, inched close to his idol and whispered, "Excuse me, Sir, but... but we're all cowards, remember?"
The little mouse looked at his bigger brother and laughed. "Not any more," he squeaked. "Now you're going to be heroes."
The brother's head perked up and his ears became stiff. Heroes! They all looked at one another. Yeah... Heroes! They began hopping about and rattling their tails. They were sold.