As Despereaux comes to, he can hear Lester beating an ominous rhythm on the drum. Mice continue to chant that Despereaux belongs in the dungeon as a mouse pushing a spool of red thread shouts for people to move out of the way. Still on his back, Despereaux wonders where this all went wrong. In the book, love was good—love was why the knight saved the fair maiden. They lived happily ever after. But did another mouse perhaps eat the real ending of the story? Is there such thing as a happy ending?
Now that Despereaux is being punished essentially just for falling in love, he’s questioning everything. As he does this, he starts to come of age—part of growing up entails thinking critically about things like this. He’s realizing that the story is fictional, and that life isn’t guaranteed to turn out well just because someone falls in love.
Despereaux whispers “happily ever after” to himself as the threadmaster and his spool of red thread reach him. The threadmaster asks Despereaux to stand, and then he loops a length of red thread around Despereaux’s neck. As the threadmaster leans in close to secure the thread, he quietly asks if she—the Princess Pea—is beautiful. Despereaux says she’s lovely. The threadmaster pulls back and says the Pea is lovely, just like in a fairy tale—and Despereaux loves her just like a knight. Despereaux asks how he knows about fairy tales, but the threadmaster shushes him. He leans in close again and tells Despereaux to be brave for the princess. As the crowd of mice cheers, Despereaux vows to be brave for the princess—even if happily ever after doesn’t exist.
Despereaux may have more friends in mouse society than he realized; the threadmaster seems sympathetic toward, if not supportive of, Despereaux’s unconventional choices. The threadmaster also seems to propose that even though things seem guaranteed to go badly right now, it’s still important that Despereaux not give up and just let himself die. Rather, he should use his love for the Pea to motivate himself to live. Moreover, the threadmaster subtly implies that Despereaux himself might be more powerful than he thinks—he himself could be a knight of sorts, if he remains hopeful.