RMCA Fiction:
The Mouse Knight

Cutter Hays

Chapter 8: The Pilgrimage of the Mouse Knight
Of which there are 4 parts
Part III: The Tribes of Nemo

The days that followed turned summer into fall. The air got colder at night, and hot during the day. Water was scarce and food was a huge experiment. Everything was different. They had gone from masters of their own territory to invaders of a harsh and scary world they felt unprepared for.

Traveling so far was tiring, and they were all losing weight, even Bigfat. Squibble grew, but shared in the hunger, so his growth seemed to wait on him patiently, hoping for an endless food supply one day. The heat nearly finished them a few times, and the party was forced to send scouts out during the day (always it was Squibble, being fast and cinnamon colored) to find water. It was by far the most dangerous venture, but here it became terribly apparent that everything was life or death. Nature would not compromise.

From the very first day in the Fields of Fate, they felt a creepy sensation of being constantly watched by something terrible. Squibble felt it the most for some reason and often peered about, but neither saw nor smelled anything unusual. Still, he usually crept with caution, belly low to the ground, ready to dash, for no apparent reason except fear.

It rained on them for the first time, and they had no shelter. They almost drowned finding high ground. Once there, soaked and miserable (Bigfat made 'drowned rat' comments that almost got him bitten by Mike), they had no choice but to let the rain soak them to the bones. Afterward, they all caught colds and had to wait it out, sick and feeling bad except for Squibble who brought them water in a deflated rubber balloon he found and food when he could scrounge it. A week or so later they were ready to go onward, and did so, agreeably not knowing at all where they were headed, and feeling more lost than ever. The city was a hazy memory, but the people they left behind were sharp in their minds. Mike missed his girlfriend, Squibble missed his Momma, whom Mouseknight also missed very much, and Bigfat missed burgers and fries. Often they spoke on the dawn or dusk about how things might be back home. Much time had passed. Almost three months. Things would already be very different.

While walking, one day, Squibble asked Mouseknight how he was doing, since he was slowing down.

"I'm tired, Squib," he said. "This armor is so heavy... I'm not a young mouse any more."

Everyone stopped and suddenly wondered how long it had been. A long time. But time had little meaning any more. It would come to them if they thought about it, but none of them wanted to.

Squibble immediately offered to carry his helmet, or his shield, or to push him along from behind the entire way. Mouseknight laughed and told him he was a magnificent squire, which made Squibble's week.

In the darkness they faced perils. Cliffs the size of buildings, and often forced detours that took days. Frogs told them of houses far away and to the Northeast, so that direction they went. There were days of thorn bushes that would kill them if they fell, and weeks of hunger. Many weeks. When they found food, they ate all they could, and carried what else they could stand. But most of the time they were hungry and thirsty; too hot or too cold. They fought against ants, large bugs, even snakes. In each case, their intelligence and the Mouse Knight's armor made all the difference. They never let the ants take their food, never encountered them en masse. The large bugs were repelled or slain, and the snakes were spotted by their scout, Squibble, long before they were near. Someone was always on watch, day or night. One night a young rattlesnake caught them unawares, but Mouseknight showed the snake his armor.

"Scales of the last snake to cross my path!" He spoke full of defiance and confident strength. The snake was unsure what to do. The others surrounded him while Mouseknight faced him square on, looking him straight in the eyes. "You may get one of us, but this armor will hurt your mouth, and the others will tear you apart. Particularly the big one. Why, he looks like he could fit your head entirely into his mouth! And we are quite hungry."

If snakes could sweat, this one would have. He looked around at the small army of four. Squibble rattled his tail. Quite unusual behavior from prey. Most unusual.

"If all that isn't enough, honorable sir, then know this - I am the Mouse Knight, Sir Mouseknight of the Mouse Kingdom in the city, where KingSnake gave me my title... upon his defeat." And he lifted his hairy chin a little.

That was enough. The young rattler knew about king snakes. And if one of those was beaten by this strange mouse, it would be better to look elsewhere for food. But he went away angry and full of resentment, nonetheless.

Afterward, once the snake was out of sight, the Mouse Knight collapsed, shaking in his armor. Everybody did.

Weeks later, more ants came. They fended them off, but each time there seemed to be more.

So they learned to follow the ants to water, and to food. Lines of ants always meant food or water. Bigfat suggested mugging the insects for their stash, but Mouseknight replied, "There are so many of these in their nest that their populations make ours look puny. I don't want to anger them... do you?"

Agreement followed, so they studied the ants, but never hurt any.

One evening Squibble found Mouseknight working on something with a thin rubber band and a forked stick.

Squibble poked his nose into it. "Is what?" He asked curiously, his ears a-perked.

"A slingshot," Mouseknight replied, tying one end of the band to one of the stick arms. "It's a weapon. It throws rocks and other objects at high speed. One supposedly can practice and get really good at it." He tied the other end of the rubber band to the other end of the stick. He pulled it back to test it, then loaded a small pebble and snapped it out of sight.

"Coooool!" said Squibble, amazed, eyes huge. "So cool!"

"Glad you think so," said Mouseknight. He handed the new weapon to Squibble. "Because it's for you."

Squibble's eyes almost popped out of his face and he took the weapon with reverence. He looked up at his beloved master with adoration. "Oh,... oh, thank you master! " And from that day forward, practiced every minute of the day as a mouse obsessed. In no time, his aim was perfect. Frighteningly so. Bigfat became nervous and polite. Suddenly, there was another mouse in front of him. (Copyright 2002 Cutter Hays)

One evening, they sat down to eat a rare treat. They had found wild berries, and had a small pile in front of them. The Mouse Knight went to bite into one and suddenly, there was another mouse in front of him. At first he thought it was Squibble, but it was too dark and its face was obviously not domestic.

The mouse smiled, slapped the berry out of Mouseknight's hand, picked it up and vanished like lightning. It all happened so fast the knight hadn't even had a chance to open his mouth.

He stared off in the direction the wild mouse had fled. No sign. He looked back at his party and saw they were all staring where the mouse had gone. All wore expressions of amazement on their faces.

"So fast!" Squibble said.

"Amazing... mice... out here!" Bigfat commented.

"He took our berry!" Mike grumbled.

The next night, they pulled out the berries and the same thing happened.

It might even have been the same mouse. It showed up as if teleporting, just out of nowhere. It grabbed the berry, smiled, an d vanished. Each night they had any sort of unusual treat, they were robbed by a mouse with seemingly supernatural speed. This happened eight times before the Mouse Knight's curiosity was overcome by his irritation at having his dinners removed from his very hands.

Two nights later they found wild pumpkin seeds. They grinned at each other.

"Boy this pumpkin seed sure is good!" Mouseknight said too loudly.

"Yumm yumm" chirped Squibble.

Sure enough, flash! The mouse came and took the seed.

Turning to go, he ran straight into Mike. Mike chuckled, standing on his hind feet and put his hands on his sides. They grabbed the thief by the arms and legs. (Copyright 2002 Cutter Hays)

The mouse turned without even a heartbeat to take another path, which was blocked by Bigfat. Then Squibble yelled a battle cry and jumped on the wild mouse, grappling with him to subdue the thief.

But the wild mouse, incredibly fast and strong, was beating the snot out of Squibble in short order. The squire took eight blows to his thin frame before he could even think to retreat. The Mouse Knight drew his blade and smacked the small wild mouse in the side of the head hard enough to stun it, while the others grabbed the thief by the arms and legs. Squibble shook himself in frustration, unhurt.

Once the mouse recovered from the blow, he squeaked, "Let me go!"

"Ha haaa... not a chance, pilferer," said Bigfat. "You owe me three berries and a raisin!"

"Never mind that," said Mouseknight, "Where do you come from? Why are you after our food? How many are there?"

"We see you," the little mouse said. "We watch you for long time, strange mouse! You act like Nemo and we always see you!" Then it gave a mighty twist, bit Bigfat, bit Mike, and got away, all in under a second.

"Sheeesh!" growled Bigfat, who wasn't really hurt. "What a pest."

But Mouseknight stared off into the dark after the small mouse. Wild mice. They would know how to survive out here, he thought. We're doing such a poor job. We could use some help. And who was Nemo? A named mouse... out here? It was all very strange, but then Mouseknight could imagine how strange four city rodents seemed to the natives.

Squibble and Bigfat hadn't really been injured. The field mouse hadn't been trying to hurt them. That was a good sign.

The next night they came upon the outskirts of a newly build human community, right where the frogs said it would be. All of them became very exited. It would mean food and water - possibly the end to their quest! It was a small community, just a few blocks of large houses. After they had eaten and drank to their hearts' content, they set about looking into the houses for the kind human. Of course, they had no idea what the house would look like, except that Mouseknight guessed the human would keep mice.

But none of the houses had mice. They checked all the houses. No mice.

One of the houses, however, had a cat, which none of the rodents saw. But the cat saw them, and looked at the mice with predation in its eyes. Worse, the cat knew how to get out through an open window.

The rat and mice were well outside the human community an hour later, despondent and depressed. Would they ever find the kind human? They could feel age creeping up on them. And they had no idea of where to begin looking. The world was turning out to be millions of times bigger than they had imagined.

The cat came up behind them and snapped a twig on purpose. Being used to hunting wild mice, he figured these slow, strange rodents would be easy prey, even if they knew he was there. In fact, that might be more fun... to watch their horror.

The party stopped cold and froze at the sound. The hairs on the backs of their necks prickled and they knew. They knew that cats and dogs came with humans.

Mouseknight spun and drew his blade. A paw slammed into him just as he got his shield up. He flew eight feet, out of sight.

Squibble, the fastest of the bunch, dropped to grab pebbles. Bigfat glanced at Mike, then turned and ran. Mike caught the cat's gaze straight in the eyes and held it there with a stare of serious intent.

"Playthings," the cat mocked.

"Last chance to run, cat." said Mike, deadpan.

Instead, the cat crouched in front of the insolent rat and prepared to pounce on the biggest toy before he could run like the big (probably tasty) one had.

SNAP! The cat recoiled in pain as a rock hit him square in the eyeball. In that moment, Mike lunged and took a chunk out of the cat's face, then immediately dodged as the claws came up to end his life. The claws instead struck the cat's own face, further enraging it. It began to go wild, striking at anything it could see. But Squibble wasn't there any more, and neither was Mike. Bigfat, however, had come up behind the cat and rammed into his back legs with his famous 'mouse-bounce' bowling ball trick - all of his weight, at great and unhindered velocity. T he cat went down.

The Mouse Knight broke forth from the weeds at a dead run toward the cat's face, which was in shock at the sudden turn of events.

"Squire! Sword!!" He yelled. And, true to his faithful service, Squibble had an extra sword already prepared for his master, who had lost his in the first blow of combat. Mouseknight grabbed its handle on the run and leapt onto the cat's nose, right between the eyes. He immediately pointed the sword downward - raised and ready. "Surrender, cat, and no more harm need be done!"

The cat finally had a moment to gather its wits. Bigfat was down by its tail. Mike was behind its head, ready to remove an ear. And that terrible little runt was standing right next to his good eye, ready with another rock in the slingshot. It was horrible. Beaten by mice! He would never live it down. Never. He glared with his eye at the mighty mouse in armor standing over his nose.

"You know I can't do that," the cat explained.

Mouseknight nodded. "Yes, I understand."

"To the death then?" the cat offered. 'To the pain!'  (Copyright 2002 Cutter Hays)

"No," The Mouse Knight answered, "to the pain!" and he dropped the point of the sword with all his strength right into the cat's sensitive nose.

The howl of pain was heard all through the small community. The cat jumped straight up four feet and landed running away from the terrible foursome as fast as he could go. The cocktail sword stuck straight up out of his nose, right between the eyes. Mouseknight flew through the air but was ready this time and landed on all fours, nimble and balanced as a mouse, even in his bulky armor. He stood up straight and yelled, "Do not come back, cat - tell the others of your defeat by three city mice and a rat!"

Then they broke into raucous laughter, Bigfat even rolling on the ground with Squibble. They laughed until their bellies hurt. Then the strange mouse came out of the grass.

Their laughter stopped immediately as they stared at the thief mouse (if it was the same one) and the strange field mouse stared back in awe.

A long moment of silence passed between them.

Finally the small mouse approached just a few steps closer and offered the signs of submission to the Mouse Knight... lowered tail, baring the throat, ears back.

"What do you want?" said Mouseknight. "We have no more berries."

"You... you beat the monster!" it whispered.

Mouseknight gestured back toward town. "You mean him? We simply outwitted him, that's all. We had it all planned."

But the little mouse would not stop deifying the group. He bowed and scraped. "You are amazing warriors... amazing!"

"Listen... we aren't anything special... we're mice, just like y-"

At that moment a shriek peeled through the air unlike anything the mice or Mike had ever heard. It was horrible. The ultrasonic sound of death.

The small wild mouse froze in horror and looked upward. The city rodents followed his gaze to a pair of wires that crossed the sky high above them. They couldn't make anything out for certain, but there looked to be a great, stooped shape, balanced on the wire, glaring down at them all. The power of that glare filled them with primal terror. Squibble shuddered violently. The shadow in the sky shrieked again, sending ice through the blood of the fellowship, then spread great wings and departed from the wire, and from their limited sight.

In a flash unlike any before, the wild mouse was gone.

Dreadful moments passed while Mouseknight gripped his sword hilt with a shaking paw.

"Is that what I think it was?" Mike croaked.

"I fear so," Mouseknight replied, quietly. "The hawk."

"It's been watching us the whole time we've been here," Squibble said, the horror dripping from his voice. "I've felt its eyes before. It hates us."

"We're food to it," Bigfat said, his voice shaking.

"We can't fight that," Mike turned to face Mouseknight, his face aghast.

"I hope sincerely we won't have to," answered the scared little mouse. For a moment, he was tiny again, in the cage, trapped and at the mercy of cruel masters. Losing his momma and daddy. He felt helpless. Then he caught himself and stood up straight. "We will sneak. We will use stealth. They aren't usually hunting at night. At night its owls, which are... just as bad..." he trailed off.

"What are we gonna do!" Bigfat blurted. "We're food!"

"We are not food!" The Mouse Knight declared. "We're already covered in mud. We skulk and sneak everywhere we go - it must have heard the fight with the cat, or seen us checking the houses for mice."

"It's known!" said Squibble with a dread reverence. "It's been watching since the first day."

"Oh, dear Mousegod!" Moaned Bigfat, putting his head in his paws.

"Squibble, you're scaring everyone," said his master.

"It's true," whined the skinny mouse. "I swear- I can feel its gaze."

Bigfat recovered and waddled up to put a paw on his small friend. "A bit of instinct left in those genes of yours, eh, Squib? Heh heh... could be you got a little wild mouse in ya?" His voice still shook, but he was giving it his best to help.

Everyone relaxed at the diffusion of the tense moment. But as usual, the Mouse Knight's eyes were creased by his frowning brows, deep in thought. If it knew they were here, why hadn't it struck yet? Everything he had read about hawks said they were fast, strong, and smart. The worst kind of enemy. What would they fear from prey? They didn't have a plan against a hawk. How could they? Now they needed one, and right quick. The rest of the night they spent in deliberation as they found a place to hide for the day. Finally, they drifted off to sleep. Except for Squibble, who would not close his frightened eyes. He said he had bad dreams when he tried... of hawks, and broken armor... and bloody fields of grass.

The battle ensued. (Copyright 2002 Cutter Hays)

One evening a week later, after no sign of any hawks or owls, they happened upon honey at the bottom of a tree - a rare and precious find indeed to starving tummies. They checked Squibble's Extra Sensory Perception to see if they were being watched, but nothing came of it, though they remained still for an hour. Finally, they were simply too hungry, and they ran forward to claim their luck. They were busy licking to their hearts' content when the Mouse Knight heard a steady buzzing noise and without hesitation pushed Squibble out of the way before an angry bee could sting him in the back. The battle ensued - the knight drew his blade and grasped his shield. Michael bit bees in half over and over... Bigfat slammed them and Squibble dodged them, but there were too many. Mike was stung, just once, and immediately began to visibly slow down from the poison. Within seconds he was covered by the attacking insects. Slain and stunned bees littered the ground among them, with hundreds more coming, and soon they would sound the alarm. Then there would be nothing for the rodents. Mouseknight's armor had protected him already from several stings, and it seemed to make him invulnerable. He could swing and swing until his arm fell off and still not kill them all. It was hopeless, so he sounded the retreat.

"Flee now! We cannot win!"

They ran and ran with bees on their heels for minutes. Mike was in obvious pain, and Mouseknight fell behind to cover their escape. Slash! Slash! Smack! The bees fell back, astounded at this armored mouse. The Knight took the opportunity to run again. This maneuver repeated itself several times, until the entire party was tired and in pain, and Mike limping deliriously with venom in him. At last, the bees turned back. Slash! Slash! Smack! (Copyright 2002 Cutter Hays)

An hour later it was quickly clear Mike was having trouble. He had several stings, and each one could be deadly. Even one sting would have finished off a mouse, except maybe Bigfat, who might take two. They carefully pulled out the stingers (with the poison sacks attached) and kept them for future use. But Mike was unwell. There was only one thing to do, and only one person to do it. It was something that had been growing in the Mouse Knight's head anyway, this idea. Now it would be forced on him, but just as well. Mike's breathing was getting raspy and shallow. He might not live through the night.

So he picked up all his things, and took another sword from the saddlebags.

"Squibble, watch over camp until I return. If I don't come back... turn around and head home," said the Mouse Knight.

Squibble looked scared and worried, but nodded his big head, trying to be mature and responsible in the way he imagined a hero's squire might be. But he couldn't resist asking, "Where are you going, master?"

Mouseknight turned his head in the direction of the honey tree.

"I'm going to make an appointment with royalty."

"Your majesty," said the warrior bee to the Queen.

"Speak," said the busy Queen.

"The strange mouse from the earlier battle has come and requested audience with you," said the warrior.

"Alone?" she said. "How brave. It is the same mouse, you're sure?"

"No other mouse has ever felled so many of us in combat. He wears armor and bears a sword. Yes, your majesty, it is for certain the same mouse."

So, surrounded by an entourage of her finest guards, the Queen came out of her hive and onto the tree branch where the Mouse Knight sat waiting for her, surrounded on all sides by black and yellow.

The mouse bowed low and polite. "Hail to the glorious and beautiful Queen of the honeybees," he said, and flashed a charming smile. At first the Queen had been astounded that a mouse would demand her attention outside the hive, and considered having him eradicated, but apparently he couldn't be eradicated. Seeing the small gentleman for herself, she decided that he was rather adorable, and chivalric to boot. None of the field mice knew chivalry. This display was the first she had ever seen from anything but another bee. She liked him right away, but couldn't play it too easy on him. He had until now been an enemy of the bees.

"What do you want, Sir Mouse?" she asked, head held up high, her body supported by her drones beneath her. "You risk much coming here."

"This I know, my Queen," Mouseknight replied. "I have a proposition for you. And I need your help."

"What could you offer me that we do not already have? We need nothing that we cannot provide ourselves," she regally commented, as if she were talking to the air.

"Winter is coming," said the mouse. The queen was silent. She glared at him.

"Yes," was all she said.

"Winter kills your kind, mine, and the ants alike," the Mouse Knight said.

"You can offer me a way around this?" she said incredulously, clearly not believing it. But the mouse just smiled.

"Meet me at the small pond tomorrow at dusk, O Queen. If you feel unsafe, bring the entire hive. I will explain all there."

The queen cocked her head; her antennae moved rapidly. "I will consider it, but do not leave without explaining why you came back here."

The mouse went down to one knee before the Queen, drawing his sword. The Drones and guards buzzed angrily, but the Queen held up a wing to stop them. The Mouse Knight turned his sword upside down, balancing it before him, opened his mouth and spoke clearly.

"In truth I came because my best friend is dying of your brave warriors' poison. But before we happened upon your tree unknowing, and drank your precious and delicious honey, I had a plan in mind that will save everyone in this field from the cruel winter. If everyone will cooperate, I can teach you how to survive."

The bees buzzed loudly.

The Queen silenced them, smiling. "There was another once who tried to do the very same thing," she said.

"Nemo," The Mouse Knight said.

"Yes," she said in a voice soft with reverence. "You've heard of him."

"He seems to be a legend. Who was Nemo?"

"I was not here at the time. It was several years ago. But I know he was a prophet of sorts, and he suggested that we band together and have peace."

"Why did you not?"

"He was very short lived. He vanished shortly after appearing, and without his words, no one would listen to talk of peace. We did not know what to do. He was with us only a few days."

The Mouse Knight pondered.

"I can tell you what to do," he said. "But I need your trust. How may I earn it?"

The Queen leaned forward and fixed her faceted eyes on the white puffball. "You already have, partially. By coming here. We prize bravery... But I will commit the hive only if the other races will also commit. The pond, at dusk."

"I will be there," said the Mouse Knight, "and hopefully not alone."

The Queen rubbed her wings together and the drones brought a thick pink substance forward to lay on the ground at the Mouse Knight's feet. There was a lot of it - a quarter the size of the mouse.

"Royal jelly," she explained. "Combined with two other agents we do not know of, it is the cure for our poison."

"Where might I find the other two agents, my Queen? My friend is very sick."

"Exactly where you are going," she replied. "To the ants and the mice."

The Mouse Knight smiled. "Then... by your leave?" he asked.

She nodded; he was off, carrying the jelly in a wrapped up leaf.

Zooming back into camp, he dropped off the jelly by Mike, who was feverish and weak. He told Squibble to guard Mike and the jelly, then took off again without another word.

He met with the Queen (Copyright 2002 Cutter Hays)

Granted audience by his stature and polite words, he descended into the earth, met with the ant Queen, and explained enough to convince them that he meant business. She also mentioned Nemo.

"Stories are still told of him," she said.

"What do they say?" Mouseknight asked.

"That he was kind and gentle. That he did not know the ways of the field. That he was beyond his years in wisdom."

"But he is dead now?"

"No one knows, but how could a domestic animal survive long out here?"

The knight nodded. "May I have one of the ingredients to heal bee poison? I have a friend who is dying from stings." He asked.

The Queen said, "You have not made an enemy of us, mouse. We are a trusting people. We have noticed that you took pains to avoid killing our workers. You may have it, and we will come to your meeting."

So they gave him a leaf full of sweet nectar from ants that hung by the ceiling and swelled with the pure juice that sustained them all. And away he went. Back to the camp to drop off the treasure, and then off again.

But the field mice were apparently nowhere to be found. After searching for an hour, the Mouse Knight was frustrated and desperate. He sat down. Scratching his head with his hind foot, he said to himself, "Think, Mouseknight, think! Be smarter than the problem! What would the legendary Sir Percival do?"

Then he smelled something and stood up quickly on his legs. Sniff.

"You see me always!" he chirped out. "You always see me!"

No response.

"I want to see you too!" he yelled. "I call you forth! Come out!"

Nothing. A long silence through the field passed.

He stamped his feet - jumping up and down. "Darn it, I am not from here! I don't know the secret password! I came to offer you something that..." he stopped and his eyes grew bright.

"I summon you, mice of the field, in the name of Nemo!" he called.

From only a foot away, a brown mouse poked its head out of the grass. Then another, and another. At last there were at least a hundred. They came from all over - from near and far, to see the armored mouse that had defeated the cat.

At last, the Mouse Knight was surrounded by field mice. He told them of his plan. They listened in silence. He asked them if they would meet by the pond, and they nodded. Not much for words, h e thought. He asked them for the third ingredient to the poison antidote, and they brought him a small flower. Then he asked them, "What was Nemo?"

One of them, a bit older than the rest, came forward. "Chinchilla." it said.

"A chinchilla?" Mouseknight said, surprised. "What was a chinchilla doing out in the middle of a field thousands of miles away from its native homeland in Chile?"

They looked at each other, puzzled. But the older mouse pointed into the early dawn and said, "Human."

The Mouse Knight's ears went straight up. His eyes got wide. "Nemo was a pet!?" he exclaimed.

The mouse nodded.

It all made sense. A pet. The kind human. Nemo must have somehow come from the kind one's house... been stuck in the field... and spoken to the animals just like he was going to. The kind human existed! And could not be too far away. The quest was not in vain. He thanked the mice, and ran back with the flower to tell the others.

The anti venom worked; Mike began to recover. Mouseknight told a captive audience what he had figured out about Nemo and the house. It had to be close. Maybe within twenty miles. They were so close - and hadn't gone the wrong way! They stood on the edge o f their grand goal. If his plan worked, they would have a lot of help. He was so excited he couldn't sleep. He paced back and forth under the cover of bushes all day, working out what he was going to say to the great gathering that night. He paced and thought, paced and thought, paced and... fell asleep, finally, tucked in by Squibble.

The next night at dusk, the three field races held true to their word and met by the pond. It was magnificent. Thousands of ants, bees, and even mice. More mice than the Mouse Knight had ever seen in his life.

His entourage was with him, trying to act important and regal. Squibble couldn't sit still enough; Bigfat just looked amazingly proud of himself; Mike was still tattered and worn, his legs trembling. But the Mouse Knight was the one everyone had their eyes upon.

History was made that evening. The Mouse Knight explained that with the speed of the bees, the strength of the mice, and the numbers of the ants, they lacked nothing. They had air power, land power, and underground power as well. Nothing could stand in their way. All they had to do was find a place where all three of the races could dwell together in the winter. A place with heat, water, and food. So the Mouse Knight explained about houses, and heaters, and plants that lived all year around. He told them about bees that were kept by humans, about trash that any ant hive would love, and about humans that kept mice as pets. He told them about people that fed the wild animals in the park back in the city. All they had to do was find the human that would let them all live in peace, together, near his house. With the power of flight, and the networks of mice and ants, it would be simple. It couldn't fail. Nemo had come to do that very thing, he told them - he was sure of it. To invite them to come live with his human friend. But something had happened before he could tell them where it was. So, in his honor, they would become the Tribes of Nemo, pledging allegiance to one another, always to aid each other in need. If winter came before they found the human, he would teach them to build a house of sorts, to stay warm and protected from the weather and predators.

They all loved it. Everyone unanimously voted to become the Tribes of Nemo. The Mouse Knight had accomplished yet another never performed feat: he had united the field.

So the bees set off to find the house by air, the ants sent scouts in every direction by land, and the mice went forth as well to find still more mice, who would find more mice, and so forth. In short order, the Mouse Knight's team was alone, walking in what they hoped was the right direction - away from the pond.

The bees had given them honey to carry. The ants gave them nectar and bits of chocolate they found by roads. And the mice returned their sun flower seeds and berries tenfold. There was so much that they could not carry even one hundredth of it. Thus laden down with fresh supplies, happily eating their wonderful dinner, they set forth on the (potentially) last leg of their journey. Every one of them was elated and merry; even Mike, weak as he was, was laughing.

When dawn came, they were still walking and chatting, happy and full, with renewed energy and hope.

Then suddenly, Squibble wasn't happy any more. He stopped and fell behind. It took Mouseknight a full minute to realize he was gone. Turning around, he saw Squibble sitting there, in the early daylight, four feet away.

"What is it, Squib?" he said, smiling. "Eat too much?"

Bigfat and Mike went onward, merrily yapping about old times back in the city, and barely noticed that the Mouse Knight had stopped. The look on his face was pure fear  (Copyright 2002 Cutter Hays)

Mouseknight edged up to Squibble, looking around for anything obvious. He was suddenly on edge for no reason. His hackles went up. The look on Squibble's face was pure terror. And the squire was shaking like a leaf.

"Mike!! Bigfat!" he yelled, at the very moment before he saw the shadow flicker over them like a ghost.

He shoved Squibble out of the way and drew his sword as fast as he could.

Mike and Bigfat turned just in time to see and feel the enormous impact. The giant bird of prey crashed down on the Mouse Knight squarely from a terribly rapid stoop; the crack of armor echoed into the open field underneath dust and spraying of sand. Squibble flew mere inches from the wings as they hit ground. The hawk had landed.

Eyes wide as saucers, Mike and Bigfat screamed their battle cries and flung themselves toward the mammoth shape of the feathered beast, knowing they would never reach the scene in time. Squibble lunged for a plastic sword but was battered aside by a heavy wing - it was like being hit by a wall. The tiny mouse sailed away through the air, limp and lifeless.

The beak came down on the Knight. Twice. They heard armor snap; saw scales fly apart. Still the Knight's sword came up. Out of a ragged cloud of earth the rat and fat mouse saw the Knight's sword break against the side of the hawk's head, inflicting no damage at all. They heard the metallic sound of bone against steel. The shield flew skyward, ripped away from the still fighting Knight. They stopped running when the dust settled - revealing a scene of horror.

Both claws gripped the Mouse Knight's cracked shell of armor. His eyes were bulging from his skull. Blood spattered from his mouth and nose. Terror distorted his face into a tortured visage - telling them he was in agony. His tail writhed uselessly in circles. His back legs twitched.

"The field united by prey!!" Boomed the voice of the hawk, mocking them. "What on the earth made you think I would allow such a thing?!"

Mike and Bigfat held their fighting stance a foot away from death. The Mouse Knight was turning blue from lack of oxygen; blood ran freely from his face. The hawk had him. And them.

"Pathetic rodents," Hawk shrieked, staring them in the eye with its dread gaze. "It was I that killed Nemo!" Mouseknight's mouth opened desperately gasping for breath as the hawk finished, "And now I shall kill YOU!"

Chapter 8: The Pilgrimage of The Mouse Knight, Part IV: Their Darkest Hour