When Ignatius woke up, it was and the squirrel was seated on his chest, peering down at him and swaying his now fully healed tail back and forth in a happy manner.
“Why, hello!” Ignatius said, rather surprised to see that he had returned so quickly. “I see Avaline has done your tail some good.”
“She’s fixed it completely, sir!” the squirrel said cheerily. “She’s fixed it completely and fed me so many delicious nuts and oats and gave me a warm bed to nap in and I feel like the wolf never hurt me at all! And I see that you’ve slain him! You’ve slain him, and now he will never terrorize my poor family again! Oh, a thousand thanks, sir! A thousand thanks! I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay a hero of your caliber, which is truly the highest caliber there is! But I promise you, I will repay you one way or another! But tell me, why have you run away from your home in the palace, when it was all too clear to me during my short time there that they deeply care for and value you? Your friend Avaline must’ve begged me a million times to please just tell her where I ran into you, and where you might be found now. But I knew that I could not, and I kept my mouth shut no matter how much she pleaded and cried. I felt terrible, sir, having to see her cry like that, and I wanted so much to tell her where you were, but I followed your directions to the letter.”
“I don’t understand why they care so much,” Ignatius said. “I am nothing special. In fact, I proved to myself today that I am quite an idiot, as I never told you how long you were meant to stay at the palace before returning to the forest. Only an idiot would let such a thing slip his mind so easily.”
“You are not an idiot,” the squirrel told him matter-of-factly, “and it doesn’t matter about that, because I happened to decide for myself when I should come back! And anyhow, I don’t think anyone at your palace cares very much about that. The palace is in a gloomy state, and everyone is so deep in mourning that nothing is really getting done, and palace life appears to have halted completely. I questioned your friend Avaline about it, and she told me that it was because Sir Ignatius, the tenth knight of the king’s guard and the king’s chosen heir, has vanished without a trace. The king has sent out all his knights to search high and low for you, and is even taking part in the search himself, and will not call off the search until you are found and returned. The citizens are in an upheaval; they are truly terrified of the possibility that they have lost their best knight. They…”
“Best knight?” Ignatius interrupted. “You mean they still think of me as their best knight?”
“After what you’ve done for me and my family, without any price or negotiation or hesitation, I can see how they think of you as their best knight, sir!”“No, no,” Ignatius said, shaking his head, “I am not their best knight. I have deserted them! No good knight would ever desert his kingdom and leave everyone in the sorry states they are all in now, and such a thing would be absolutely unthinkable to any they could rightly name their best knight! No, this won’t do at all. I must return home and tell them that they are all mistaken, and that if anyone is their best knight it is most certainly not I! And then I will find the king, and beg him to execute me on the spot for my crime of desertion!”