We get another item from the list in the long title…
The threadmaster was sitting atop his spool of thread, swinging his tail back and forth and eating a piece of celery.
“Well, look here,” he said when he saw Despereaux. “Would you just look at that. It’s the mouse who loved a human princess, back from the dungeon in one piece. The old threadmaster would say that I didn’t do my job well, that because you’re still alive, I must have tied the thread incorrectly. But it is not so. And how do I know it is not so? Because the thread is still around your neck.” He nodded and took a bite of celery.
Of course, the only reason why he’d want to talk to the threadmaster is to see about the spool of thread (although it’s also telling that this is also the only mouse he deems helpful).
“Well, I can’t hand it over to any old mouse,” said the threadmaster. “They say red thread is special, sacred; though I myself, after spending so much time with it, know it for what it is.”
“What is it?” said Despereaux.
“Thread,” said the threadmaster. He shrugged and took another loud bite of celery. “Nothing more. Nothing less. But I pretend, friend, I pretend. And what, may I ask, do you intend to do with the thread?”
“Save the princess.”
He explains that he got the idea from Gregory and his rope, but he intends to use thread for the purpose of knowing the way back out of the dungeon.
The threadmaster nodded. “I see, I see,” he said. He took a meditative bite of celery. “You, friend, are on a quest.”
“I don’t know what that is,” said Despereaux.
“You don’t have to know. You just have to feel compelled to do the thing, the impossible, important task at hand.”
“Impossible?” said Despereaux.
“Impossible,” said the threadmaster. “Important.” He sat chewing his celery and staring somewhere past Despereaux, and then suddenly he leapt off his spool.
“Who am I to stand in the way of a quest?” he said. “Roll her away.”
This why he’s the only other mouse worth anything in this story. And of course Despereaux asks his name: Hovis. And he also arms him with a needle, the better to swing around and protect himself.
“Wait,” said Hovis. He stood up on his hind legs. put his paws on Despereaux’s shoulders, and leaned in close to him. Despereaux smelled the sharp, clean scent of celery as the threadmaster bent his head, took hold of the thread around Despereaux’s neck in his sharp teeth, and pulled on it hard.
“There,” said Hovis when the piece of thread and dropped to the ground. “Now you’re free. You see, you’re not going into the dungeon because you have to. You’re going because you choose to.”
“Yes,” said Despereaux, “because I am on a quest.” The word felt good and right in his mouth.
“Goodbye,” said Hovis as Despereaux pushed the spool of thread out of the threadmaster’s hole. “I have never known a mouse who has made it out of the dungeon only to go back into it again. Goodbye, friend. Goodbye, mouse among mice.”
Interestingly, this seems to imply that some other mice have survived the dungeon, while the mouse community universally regards it as a death sentence.
Until next time…