Times are terrible. And when times are terrible, soup is the answer.

“What are you waiting for?” [Cook] said. “Go, go, go. There will never be another opportunity for a mouse to escape from my kitchen unharmed.”

The smell of soup again wafted in Despereaux’s direction. He put his nose up in the air. His whiskers trembled.

“Yes,” said Cook. “That is soup that you are smelling. The princess, not that you would know or care, is missing, bless her goodhearted self. And times are terrible. And when times are terrible, soup is the answer. Don’t it smell like the answer?”

“Yes,” said Despereaux. He nodded.

Cook turned away from him. She put the candle down and picked up her spoon and started to stir. “Oh,” she said, “these are dark days.” She shook her head. “And I’m kidding myself. There ain’t no point in making soup unless others eat it. Soup needs another mouth to taste it, another heart to be warmed by it.”

She stopped stirring. She turned and looked at Despereaux.

“Mouse,” said Cook, “would you like some soup?” And then, without waiting for an answer, she took a saucer and spooned some soup into it and set it on the kitchen floor.

She shares it with the only one who’s there to share it, and he just so happens to be a mouse. And more closely connected to the princess than she’d expect.

Despereaux stepped onto the saucer. Soup covered his paws. He bent his head to the hot broth. He sipped. Oh, it was lovely. Garlic and chicken and watercress, the same soup that Cook had made the day the queen died.

“How is it?” asked Cook anxiously.

“Wonderful,” said Despereaux.

“Too much garlic?” said Cook, wringing her fat hands.

“No,” said Despereaux. “It’s perfect.”

This seems like just the fortification Despereaux needed, provided by his erstwhile enemy.

Cook said to him, “Not done already, are you? Surely you ain’t done. You must want more.”

“I can’t,” said Despereaux. “I don’t have time. I’m on my way to the dungeon to save the princess.”

“Ho-hee.” Cook laughed. “You, a mouse, are going to save the princess?”

“Yes,” said Despereaux, “I’m on a quest.”

“Well, don’t let me stand in your way.”

She opens the door for him and sends him off.

She closed the door behind her and then leaned against it and shook her head. “And if that ain’t an indicator of what strange days these are,” she said to herself, “then I don’t know what is. Me. Cook. Feeding a mouse soup and then wishing him good luck in saving the princess. Oh my. Strange days indeed.”

Next time: To the dungeon once more…

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