Behold, the third story! (If you missed the previous one, it’s right here.)
Once upon a time there was a very tiny mouse named Perchi. She had fierce green eyes and a fierce green scarf that she wore around her neck.
Perchi lived in the city of Mouse Place, which was the largest mouse city any mouse from Mouse Place had ever seen (although Mouse Place was the only place many mice from Mouse Place had ever seen).
The motto of Mouse Place was “A Place for Every Mouse, and for Every Mouse a Place.” When each mouse came of age, the council assigned them a place. For some mice, their place was to build homes. For others, their place was to study books and become very wise. Some delivered mail, some created beautiful works of art, but every single mouse had a place.
Even before her place was assigned, Perchi knew for sure what it would be. Perchi knew it was her destiny to be a guard mouse.
Guard mice dressed in armor and patrolled the upper ledges to keep Mouse Place safe from rats, cats, and other terrors of the night. They wore thimble helmets and wielded shining swords made of long, hammered needles.
Ever since she was young, Perchi had known she wanted to be a guard mouse. She practiced her swordsmanship with a splinter she’d found, and of all the mice her age, she was the very best at sparring.
When the morning of Assigning came, Perchi sprang from her downy matchbox bed with shining eyes and tail alert. She picked up her worn, blunt practice splinter and went through her exercises with it one last time. That evening, she knew, she would be putting down that wooden sword forever in exchange for a proper silver blade.
While she was waiting to go into the Assigning, Perchi could hardly contain herself. The line into the council chambers seemed to move so slowly. To pass the time, Perchi tapped her feet and mentally went through her fighting techniques.
…deflect, parry, riposte…
When her turn finally came, Perchi leaped to the center of the room.
The council looked at her dully. “Name?” said the High Councillor.
“Perchi,” said Perchi. “Soon to be the best guard in all of Mouse Place!”
The council chuckled. “You’re far too small a mouse to be a guard,” one said.
At this, Perchi felt her cheeks get hot. “I am not,” she said. “And what’s more, I’m the best sword fighter of all the new Assignees.”
The High Councillor snorted. “While that may be, it’s not the place of a girl mouse to be a guard. And even if it were, you really are quite small. Even for a girl mouse! No, no. Your place is to be… food management.”
Now Perchi’s cheeks were practically on fire. “Give me a sword,” she said, “and I’ll prove I’m good enough to be a guard mouse.”
“Perchi,” said the High Councillor, “the line is very long. It’s nothing against you personally; you just aren’t built to be a guard mouse. We need the biggest and burliest mice protecting Mouse Place, and you’re simply not that. Food management. Next, please.”
“No,” Perchi said, her eyes gleaming. “Not until I’ve had a chance to prove myself.”
The High Councillor sighed. “Alright.” He looked to a nearby guard. “Let’s see what she can do.”
The guard mouse tossed Perchi a sword, and she caught it in one hand. She was surprised at how heavy and long it was–far heavier and longer than the splinter she had practiced with for so long.
The guard mouse stepped forward, drawing his own needle. He towered over Perchi. “I’ll be careful,” he said.
Perchi narrowed her eyes. “So will I.”
The guard raised his sword, and Perchi slipped into her techniques.
But the needle seemed clumsy and slow in her grip. She barely lifted it in time to catch the guard’s attack.
The sound of their blades rang out in the council hall, and all the mice from outside peeked in to see what the commotion was about.
The guard advanced again.
But again, the blade was too unwieldy. The guard hit her needle so hard she had to use her other hand to steady it.
Perchi pulled the heavy blade around in a desperate arc, aiming to take the guard in the shoulder.
To the big guard, needles were as light as fluff. He disarmed Perchi as easily as he might a child. Her sword clattered on the chamber floor, and Perchi stared at it in disbelief. All of the council and every mouse peeking into the room began to laugh.
The High Councillor clucked his tongue and scribbled in the Book of Placements. “Food management,” he said.
But Perchi wasn’t a mouse to be gotten down so easily. From then on, she began to live two lives.
By day, she held a scrap of paper and worked at Food Supply, doling out rations and keeping track of the cheese and bread inventory. However, by night she donned her green scarf and took up an old, battered needle she had “borrowed” from the armory, and she patrolled the upper walls of the city on her own.
Mouse Place lay inside an abandoned basement, so the most vulnerable area was the upper ledge that ran along the narrow windows to the outside. As Perchi walked the perimeter, little glowing mouse homes made of old books, playing cards, tin cans, and pipes sprawled over rickety desks and tables below her. Even further below, the city of Mouse Place crammed the floor with streets and blocks.
On bitter nights, when the wind from the cracked window tugged at her scarf and the metal of the needle was cool in her paw, Perchi felt like a real mouse guard.
One dark and stormy night, Perchi saw a gang of rats sneaking out of Mouse Place with bundles of stolen food over their shoulders. They were headed toward the narrow cracked window, so Perchi cut them off at the pass.
“Halt!” she shouted, raising the cold hammered steel. “That food doesn’t belong to rats like you.”
At first, the rats drew back, for the guards of Mouse Place are renowned for their swordsmanship. But then the lead rat, a burly, smelly beast of a rodent, narrowed his black eyes at her. “Wait a minute,” he said. “This ain’t a real guard. This is just a little girl mouse!”
The others laughed.
Perchi jumped a step closer and brandished her blade menacingly. Outside, lightning cut through the rain in a jagged bolt, and her needle flashed in the white light. “I am so a real guard,” she said. “Put that food back, or else. It’s ours, not yours.”
The lead rat set down his sack of food and drew a heavy wooden club. “I don’t have time for a mouse playing pretend. Get out of our way, or this is going to get ugly.”
Perchi said nothing. Her eyes hardened, and she tightened her grip.
“Fine,” said the rat.
He reared back with his club.
Perchi tried to interrupt his attack with a quick thrust, but the steel was just too heavy and cumbersome in her grip. Too slow. The club cracked against the side of her head, and she went sprawling. Her helmet came off and rolled gently off the ledge, down to the city below.
Perchi felt dizzy and disoriented from the blow. Before she could pick herself up, the rat kicked away her sword. “Stay down,” he snarled. “Or it’s going to get a lot worse for you.” The other rats laughed wickedly.
“We could add her to the loot,” one of the rats suggested.
“She’s too small and scrawny,” the lead rat said. “She’d barely even make one meal, and not a very tasty one at that.”
Perchi tried to stand, but her head swam too much. The lead rat went back and picked up his bag of stolen food. Then all the rats climbed out the cracked window and into the rain.
After a while, Perchi managed to sit up again. There was something wet on her cheeks, but she wasn’t sure if it was blood or tears or rainwater blown in by the wind.
She looked at her sword where it lay, and she put her face in her paws.