Despereaux finds King Phillip in the Pea’s room, sobbing and holding the tapestry of her life to his chest. He’s crying so hard that there’s a puddle of tears at his feet. The narrator notes that it’s terrifying when powerful people, like the king, are revealed to be weak and human. Despereaux is frightened, but he addresses the king anyway. The king doesn’t hear Despereaux—instead, he drops the tapestry, removes his crown, and beats his chest with it. As the narrator has already explained, the king has several faults, one of them being that (like Mig) he’s not the most intelligent. But his best quality is that he’s willing and able to love with his whole heart. He loved the queen and his daughter deeply, and now the Pea is gone.
Describing the king like this, and making note specifically of how overwhelmed with love and grief the king is, highlights the power differential between him and Despereaux. Despereaux is upset too about the princess’s disappearance, but he’s keeping it together—and he’s also a tiny fraction of the king’s size and has nowhere close to as much power. He’s clearly set up as an unlikely hero confronting the very person who should be able to help. But note that rather than trying to figure things out, as Despereaux is doing, the king is wallowing in his emotions.
Despereaux tries again to get the king’s attention. He doesn’t know how to address a king, so he calls King Phillip “Most Very Honored Head Person.” When the king discovers he’s speaking to a mouse, he bellows that mice are almost rats—but Despereaux says he knows where the Pea is. The king leans close, and two of his tears land on Despereaux, leaving two stripes of clean brown fur. Despereaux says the Pea is in the dungeon, but the king says this can’t be true, since his men have searched. Despereaux says the rats are the only ones who know the dungeons, and they could keep the Pea hidden from the king’s men.
Readers, of course, know that Despereaux is telling the truth. But the king is far too caught up in his vendetta against rats to consider a new perspective, especially when it comes from someone the king despises. The two stripes of clean fur that the king’s tears leave on Despereaux suggest that as Despereaux stands up to this powerful figure, he starts to step into his own and become his true self: someone who’s brave and willing to stand up for those he loves.
At the mention of the rats, the king covers his ears, says that rats are illegal, and that they don’t exist in his kingdom. Despereaux tries to tell the king about Roscuro, but the king hums and says that since Despereaux is a rodent, he’s lying. There are magicians on the way, and they’ll tell the king where the Pea is. The king refuses to listen. Despereaux sits back, pulls at the thread still around his neck, and remembers his dream about the knight and the empty armor. Despereaux wonders if perhaps the armor was empty because it was waiting for him. Despereaux tells himself he’ll be the knight in shining armor, and he leaves to find the threadmaster.
Note that the king sounds an awful lot like the Mouse Council members, as well as like Lester. He believes something is true (such as that rats don’t exist in the kingdom), and he’s not about to listen to anything that contradicts this belief. This is a shock for Despereaux, as he thought the king would be able to use his power to step in and make things right. But the king’s unwillingness to do so gives Despereaux the opportunity to come of age and realize that if he wants things to change, he must be the one to make the change happen. He's small, but he’s not powerless.