“I’ve been waiting for you.”
Despereaux suddenly realizes what I’m sure many readers did already – he should’ve tied the thread around himself before descending into the dungeon. But it’s no use now that the thread is at the bottom of the stairs, and he is not.
Despereaux’s dire situation suddenly became quite clear to him. He was a two-ounce mouse alone in a dark, twisting dungeon full of rats. He had nothing but a sewing needle to defend himself. He had to find the princess. And he had to save her once he found her.
“It’s impossible,” he said to the darkness. “I can’t do it.”
He stood very still. “I’ll go back,” he said. But he didn’t move. “I have to go back.” He took a step backward. “But I can’t go back. I don’t have a choice. I have no choice.”
Once he finally gets down the stairs, Botticelli is there to welcome him to the dungeon.
“Ah,” said Botticelli, “there you are. Exactly. I’ve been waiting for you.”
Despereaux saw the dark shape of a rat, that thing that he had feared and dreaded for so long, finally step out of the gloom and come greet him.
“Welcome, welcome,” said Botticelli.
Despereaux put his paw on his needle.
“Ah,” said Botticelli, “you are armed. How charming.” He put his paws up in the air. “I surrender. Oh, yes, certainly, exactly, I surrender!”
“I . . . ,” said Despereaux.
“Yes,” said Botticelli. “You.” He took the locket from around his neck. He began to swing it back and forth. “Please, go on.”
“I don’t want to hurt you,” said Despereaux. “I just need to get by you. I . . . I am on a quest.”
“Really?” said Botticelli. “How extraordinary. A mouse on a quest.” Back and forth, back and forth went the locket. “A quest for what?”
“A quest to save the princess.”
Obviously, despite his needle, Despereaux is really at Botticelli’s mercy – or rather, his whim.
“How inspiring,” said Botticelli. He lazily took a step to his right, blocking Despereaux’s way. “Why the hurry, little friend?”
“Because,” said Despereaux, “I have to -“
“Yes. Yes. You have to save the princess. Exactly. But before you save her, you must find her. Correct?”
“Yes,” said Despereaux.
“What if,” said Botticelli, “what if I told you that know exactly where the princess is? What if I told you that I could take you right directly to her?”
“Ummm,” said Despereaux. His voice shook. His paw on the needle trembled. “Why would you do that?”
“Why would I do that? Why would I help you? Why . . . to be of service. To do my part for humanity. To aid in saving the princess.”
He says that he wants to clear the name of his species, but we know Botticelli well enough by now to know he doesn’t have a problem with his kind’s bad rap.
Botticelli did not want to be of service. Far from it. You know what Botticelli wanted. He wanted others to suffer. Specifically, he wanted this small mouse to suffer. How best to do that?
Why, take him right directly to what he wanted. The princess. Let him see what his heart desired, and then, and only then, faced with what he loved, would Despereaux die. And at the end of it all, how tasty the mouse would be . . . seasoned with hope and tears and flour and oil and thwarted love!
Botticelli is a master tormentor, after all.
“Come, come,” said Botticelli, “let go of your needle. Take hold of my tail. I will lead you to the princess. I promise.”
What, reader, in your experience, is the promise of a rat worth?
Zero. Zip. Nada. Goose eggs.
But I must ask you this question, too. What else was there for Despereaux to hold on to?
You are right again.
And so the mouse reached out. He took hold of the rat’s tail.
Until next time…