Together, the three mice traveled down, down, down.

This, thought Despereaux, was the world he was leaving behind, the world that he knew and loved. And somewhere in it, the Princess Pea was laughing and smiling and clapping her hands to music, unaware of Despereaux’s fate. That he would not be able to let the princess know what had become of him seemed suddenly unbearable to the mouse.

“Would it be possible for me to have a last word with the princess?” Despereaux asked.

You’re a sweetheart, but this is exactly what got you in trouble in the first place. And it prompts a familiar reaction from one of the hooded mice…

“Geez,” said the first hood. “Cripes. You can’t learn, can you?”

The voice was terribly familiar to Despereaux.

“Furlough?” he said.

“What?” said the first hood irritably.

Obviously, Despereaux takes it hard that his own brother is leading him to his death – but then he takes heart, thinking that surely this isn’t what Furlough wants, either.

“Furlough,” Despereaux said, and he took one of his brother’s paws in his own. “Please, let me go. Please. I’m your brother.”

Furlough rolled his eyes. He took his paw out of Despereaux’s. “No,” he said. “No way.”

“Please,” said Despereaux.

“No,” said Furlough. “Rules are rules.”

Because he always did care more about his standing in the mouse community than his little brother’s happiness and well-being.

“Perfidy” was certainly the word that was in Despereaux’s mind as the mice finally approached the narrow, steep stairs that led to the black hole of the dungeon.

They stood, the three mice, two with hoods and one without, and contemplated the abyss before them.

And then Furlough stood up on his hind legs and placed his right paw over his heart. “For the good of the castle mice,” he announced to the darkness, “we deliver this day to the dungeon, a mouse in need of punishment. He is, according to the laws we have established, wearing the red thread of death.”

“The red thread of death?” repeated Despereaux in a small voice. “Wearing the red thread of death” was a terrible phrase, but the mouse didn’t have long to consider its implications, because he was suddenly pushed from behind by the hooded mice.

It is fascinating how the mice have arranged that they never have to execute one of their own themselves – they leave the dirty work to the rats. But we’ll get into that in the second book.

As he tumbled, whisker over tail, through the darkness, there were only two words in his mind. One was “perfidy.” And the other word that he clung to was “Pea.”

Next time: Darkness…

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