"Just enough thread for the neck," the old threadmaster nodded, "You don't want the condemmed slipping away, do you?" He slipped the white thread over the thimble, and it was white, yes, it was white instead of the ceremonial red, for red thread was sacred and was not to be wasted on the training of a new treadmaster. The thimble was there for measure, to represent a mouse's neck. But then again, not many a mouse had such a small neck, and therefore, Hovis thought the thimble to be quite useless. He had suggested perhaps finding an object in a human's room for the perfect scale, but the theadmaster, celery heavy in is breath, had merely breathed and said "There is no need to uneeded contact with humans. Are you looking to be killed? Is it not enough that we have the thread?" And, of course, Hovis was forced to agree, even though he doubted a mouse would ever have such a small neck.
Of course, he didn't know Despereaux.
He must of done his job wrong. The small mouse should have been dead. Hovis remembered the last mouse sent to the dungeons to be eaten alive, and shuddered. The last mouse was big enough to be a rat, and had killed three mice. He didn't survive the rat's undying thrist for blood, at least, Hovis knew that. The Mouse Council might of disagreed, but Hovis knew. The rat was dead. The old threadmaster had done his job well. His eyes rested yet again on Despereaux, who stood in front of him, silent, wating, quiet. How did this pint sized, elephant earred mouse escape the dungeon without so much as a scratch? The thin piece of string still circled his neck like a thin trail of blood. Hovis swallowed.
"So, the brave mouse who loved the princess, returned from the dungeon in one piece! A miracle, perhaps. Maybe I didn't tie the string correctly? You untied the knot? But it is not so. How do I know this? The string still hugs your neck like a shadow." He smiled, and produced a piece of celery out of his pocket, eating it in one bite.
"I need the rest of the string."
"To hold together what must be left of your neck, I assume."
Despereaux attempted a weak laugh. Being prone to sickness, he sneezed instead. "The rats did not get to me. I need the string to save the princess. See, she's in the dungeon and the path to her is twisted and turned-"
"Like a maze." Hovis interrupted.
"Like a maze, exactly. Please, let me use the string."
"Well, I just can't give it to anyone." Hovis fingered the thread. Each inch of the red rope was a memory. He groped for the end of it. Memories. Memories. Memories...
"For allowing Maxfield N. Kermit to escape from the dark dungeons, the penalty, as you know, threadmaster, is death. New threadmaster... I'm sorry, your name escapes me." The Judge's cold eyes fell on him.
"Hovis," the much younger threadmaster swallowed, "Hovis is my name, sir."
"Ah, Hovis. Welcome to the buisness of threading. I wish you luck in your profession unlike..." The mouse judge's stare fell on the previous threadmaster, whose arms who forced behind his back by two mice, one of which who sported a deep red scar over his eye.
"Hovis, the red thread."
His paws were shaking so much, it was a miracle he could of unraveled the thread correctly. He snapped the thread with his teeth and felt the simple scratchiness of it before he hurried over to the threadmaster, who stood on his hind paws with his little pink feet in the air. Red thread was much different than the regular white practice stuff. It seemed heavier, carried more than just pretend.
It smelled of death.
"Enough for the neck," the old master joked as Hovis wrapped the thread around him, "Remember what I taught you. Oh, the irony! The threadmaster, the one in charge in sending prisoners to their death, being killed himself!"
"Quiet the prisoner!" the Judge yelled, and a mouse with red fur ran over and slapped the master across the face. Hovis winced, though it was not he who took the blow.
"Lead him down to the dungeon!"
"Remember what I've taught you," he said as he was dragged away by mice in armor, "Avoid my fate... Hovis... avoid it..." The last he had seen of the mouse was his tail, disappearing slowly into the candlelight corridor...
"Roll her away. Who am I to stand in the way of a quest?" Hovis was brought back into reality, and he jumped off the spool, gestering the small mouse to push the thing away. Despereaux waved as he rolled it away, out the mouse hole, out into the light. So many memories. They were being rolled away by the small mouse. Gone. Would he come back? Possibly. But when he came back, the thread would be different. A new memory connected to it.
Some people have soup. One rat named Chiarosco had the light. Hovis, however, had thread. Thread were his memories, his pain, his life. It was more than just profession. And maybe it was time to associate something positive with it. The rescue of a princess. The creation of a hero.
Despereaux. Despereaux. That was his new memory, but more than that, a new legend. Despereaux. The legend had a name.