“Absolutely delightful. A mouse is going to kill a rat.”
Mig chopped off Roscuro’s tail as well rather than killing him (maybe she needs glasses, too), but this distracts him enough that Despereaux is able to level his needle at the rat’s heart.
“Don’t move,” said Despereaux. “I will kill you.”
“Ha-ha-ha!” Botticelli laughed from the sidelines. “Exactly.” He slapped his tail on the floor with approval. “Absolutely delightful. A mouse is going to kill a rat. Oh, all of this is much better than I anticipated. I love it when mice come to the dungeon.”
Despereaux held his trembling needle against Roscuro’s heart. The mouse knew that as a knight, it was his duty to protect the princess. But would killing the rat really make the darkness go away?
At the end of the day, Roscuro is as much a victim as anyone else in this story. He managed to (briefly) exact his vengeance, but much like with the cloth, he’d gradually come to realize that wasn’t what he really wanted, or at least what he really needed.
Then, he gets a whiff of Despereaux’s whiskers…
“What . . . is that smell?” he asked.
“Mousie blood!” shouted one rat.
“Blood and bones!” shouted another.
“You’re smelling tears,” said Botticelli. “Tears and thwarted love.”
“Exactly,” said Roscuro. “And yet . . . there’s something else.”
He sniffed again.
And the smell of soup crashed through his soul like a great wave, bringing with it the memory of light, the chandelier, the music, the laughter, everything, all the things that were not, would never, could never be available to him as a rat.
“Soup,” moaned Roscuro,
And he began to cry.
“Kill me,” said Roscuro. He fell down before Despereaux. “It will never work. All I wanted was some light. That is why I brought the princess here, really, just some beauty . . . some light of my own.”
That’s all he’s ever wanted – it’s just that reality had crushed that dream, and people like Botticelli turned him to wanting more attainable things, things more befitting of a rat.
“Please,” shouted Botticelli, “do kill him! He is a miserable excuse for a rat.”
“No, Despereaux,” said the princess. “Don’t kill him.”
Despereaux lowered his needle. He turned and looked at the Pea.
“Boooo!” shouted Botticelli again. “Kill him! Kill him. All this goodness is making me sick. I’ve lost my appetite.”
They’re still playing a rat’s game, the game of misery. But the princess is determined to have something better.
“Roscuro,” she said to the rat.
“What?” he said. Tears were falling out of his eyes and creeping down his whiskers and dripping onto the dungeon floor.
And then the princess took a deep breath and put a hand on her heart.
I think, reader, that she was feeling the same thing that Despereaux had felt when he was faced with his father begging him for forgiveness. That is, the Pea was aware suddenly of how fragile her heart was, how much darkness was inside it, fighting, always, with the light. She did not like the rat, but she knew what she must do to save her own heart.
And so, here are the words the princess spoke to her enemy.
She said, “Roscuro, would you like some soup?”
It won’t make all the darkness go away, but it’s a start.
“Soup in the banquet hall?” Roscuro asked the princess.
“Yes,” said the Pea.
“Truly. I promise.
“Gor! shouted Mig. “Soup is illegal.”
“But soup is good,” said Despereaux.
“Yes,” said the Pea. “Isn’t it?
The princess bent down before the mouse. “You are my knight,” she said to him, “with a shining needle. And I am so glad you found me. Let’s go upstairs. Let’s eat some soup.”
And, reader, they did.
Until next time…