We get a picture of the princess’s heart, and a little reflection on empathy.

The princess was led to her fate as around her, everyone slept. The king slept in his giant bed with his crown on his head and his hands crossed on his chest, dreaming that his wife, the queen, was a bird with green and gold feathers who called his name, Phillip. Phillip, Phillip, without ceasing.

Cook slept in a too-small bed off the kitchen, dreaming of a recipe for soup that she could not find. “Where did I put that?” she mumbled in her sleep. “Where did that recipe go? It was for the queen’s favorite soup. I must find it.”

And not far from Cook, in the pantry atop a bag of flour, slept the mouse Despereaux, dreaming, as you know, reader, of knights in shining armor, of darkness, and of light.

And in the whole of the darkened, sleeping castle, there was only the light of the candle in the hand of Miggery Sow. The candle shone on the princess’s dress and made it sparkle, and the princess walked tall in the light and tried not to be afraid.

It seems that all of the dreaming people are dreaming of what they must do – the queen seems to be trying to wake the king up.

In this story, reader, we have talked about the heart of the mouse and the heart of the rat and the heart of the serving girl Miggery Sow, but we have not talked about the heart of the princess. Like most hearts, it was complicated, shaded with dark and dappled with light. The dark things in the princess’s heart were these: a very small, very hot, burning coal of hatred for the rat who was responsible for her mother’s death. And the other darkness was a tremendous sorrow, a deep sadness that her mother was dead and that the princess could, now, only talk to her in her dreams.

And what of the light in the princess’s heart? Reader, I am pleased to tell you that the Pea was a kind person, and perhaps more important, she was empathetic. Do you know what it means to be empathetic?

I will tell you: It means that when you are being forcibly taken to a dungeon, when you have a large knife pointed at your back, when you are trying to be brave, you are able, still, to think for a moment of the person who is holding that knife.

You are able to think: “Oh, poor Mig, she wants to be a princess so badly and she thinks this is the way. Poor, poor Mig. What must it be like to want something that desperately?”

That, reader, is empathy.

In that description of her heart, you might ask “Why does she not extend the same empathy to Roscuro?” The answer is twofold. First, she doesn’t know Roscuro’s story – she just assumes he’s evil like all rats. More importantly, Roscuro hurt her, badly. It’s hard to refrain from villainizing a person who traumatized you, so I don’t blame her for hating him.

Until next time…

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