As Despereaux recovers from his injury, he begins to ponder his role in the story.
He was wondering not what he would do with his tail, but what he would do without it. He was sitting on a bag of flour high atop a shelf in the pantry, crying for what he had lost.
As another notable mouse once said, a tail is the honor and glory of a mouse!
The pain in his hindquarters was intense and he wept because of it. But he also cried because he was so happy. He was out of the dungeon; he had been recalled to life. His rescue had happened just in time for him to save the Princess Pea from the terrible fate that the rat had planned for her.
So Despereaux wept with joy and with pain and with gratitude. He wept with exhaustion and despair and hope. He wept with all the emotions a young, small mouse who has been sent to his death and then delivered from it in time to save his beloved can feel.
Reader, the mouse wept.
Then, after his good cry (and you know, the whole ordeal in the dungeon, which I can’t imagine was a restful experience), he falls asleep.
He dreamt of the stained-glass windows and the dark of the dungeon. In Despereaux’s dream, the light came to life, brilliant and glorious, in the shape of a knight swinging a sword. The knight fought the dark.
And the dark took many shapes. First the dark was his mother, uttering phrases in French. And then the dark became his father beating the drum. The dark was Furlough wearing a black hood and shaking his head no. And the dark became a huge rat smiling a smile that was evil and sharp.
He’s faced plenty of darkness in his life already. The main difference in the last case is that Roscuro is not threatening Despereaux himself, but someone he loves.
He called out to the knight. He shouted, “Who are you? Will you save me?”
But the knight did not answer him.
“Tell me who you are!” Despereaux shouted.
The knight stopped swinging his sword. He looked at Despereaux. “You know me,” he said.
“No,” said Despereaux, “I don’t.”
“You do,” said the knight. He slowly took the armor off his head and revealed . . . nothing, no one. The suit of armor was empty.
“No, oh no,” said Despereaux. “There is no knight in shining armor; it’s all just make-believe, like happily ever after.”
But in my experience, there are very few things in the world that are “just make-believe”…