In which a feast is held, and several characters consider their situations.
The feast was every bit as splendid as one would expect from the Mountain King; every meal that one could imagine was offered, and all dishes prepared with only the finest ingredients. Such feasts were known and admired from far and wide, and not simply among those of the upper class who would be more likely to find a seat at one. With the amount of food used in each feast, it went without saying that not every dish could be eaten by the honoured guests. Rather than allow such delicacies to go to waste, the leftovers would be shipped within the hour to a dozen different town halls scattered across the kingdom, offering a free banquet to countless peasants.
Many leaders rule through fear, others are welcomed for simply not screwing up things in the kingdom too much over the course of their reign. The Mountain King was one of the very few who was genuinely loved by all, who was honestly a nice person, even to those of a class below him. He had always been November's favourite uncle, and without his influence it was likely she would never have handled her excursion into the world with as much ease as she did. Her chair was waiting for her from her prior visits, a seat of cunning construction that contained no hard bits at all. The silk covering had been woven into shape by trained silkworms one of his allies had offered as a gift from the Far Lands, keeping out any seams that might irritate November's sensitive skin, and stuffed with fine-combed cotton. November was able to fully relax into a seat for the first time in weeks, and far longer since she was able to do so out of anything but sheer exhaustion.
She turned to Perrault and smiled. He tended to be finicky at mealtimes, making a show of grudgingly accepting whatever was available, even if she knew it to be a food he was genuinely fond of. But even the pickiest of cats couldn't turn down the delightful product of her uncle Alistair's kitchens. The world in the regions they had travelled through thus far had been mostly long stretches of woodland with the occasional meadow or town breaking the continuity, and the only streams far too shallow for the tastier variety of fish to thrive. Some fish merchants would dig ponds to raise fish in, and go on quests to find anyone who could sell them the right kind of eggs. These fish would be tasty, but could rarely grow to a decent size.
The rapidly vanishing fish that sat before Perrault, however, was a whole wild salmon, smoked to perfection and displayed artistically on a bed of lemon seasoned rice. She could tell he was enjoying it greatly; Perrault's tail was twitching rapidly back and forth, and he couldn't seem to decide if he wanted to eat it quickly before anyone else could snatch it away or carefully savour every bite. November was enjoying her own meal, a Boneless Quail stuffed with grated rice. She had seen the section of her uncle's aviary where they were raised, and even the side of her that was highly sympathetic to every animal couldn't take issue with it. Boneless Quail had to be raised with great care and delicacy, and this one had undoubtedly had the most restful life possible for a creature with no natural defenses.
It took some time, as full meals are few and far between when you spend much of your time on the road, but eventually their stomachs were comfortably full. Scraping the last bite of food from his plate, Perrault felt ready to curl up in front of a fire, regardless of how it might look.
Ever attentive to his niece, the Mountain King made his way over to the pair. "I trust the meal was satisfactory?" he said, beaming.
"It was wonderful, Uncle Alistair. You've really outdone yourself." November beamed and looked to Perrault.
He seemed to be having trouble moving far enough out of his foody bliss to respond, but spoke up. "Absolutely superb. I can honestly say that I have never had finer."
Alistair grinned. "Wonderful, wonderful. Now, if you're up to it, shall we retire to my lounge? I must admit, I'm curious to hear of your quest."
November nodded. "Of course. It's been quite the adventure, and our other companion will no doubt be berating us when we meet up again, since we chose the longer path."
A frown at that. "You can't honestly tell me that you've found someone who would rather go through the Dark Forest than take the safer path? Even trained warriors won't take that route unless there is dire need to do so."
Perrault gave him a lazy smile. "Red will no doubt put further fear of the forest into any unfortunate warriors she might encounter on the way. She is not the timid type."
"Ha! You've chosen your crew well for this quest, November. Let's be off now, I wish to hear the whole thing from the start . . ." With that, Alistair started off in the direction of the lounge. Perrault stood and offered his hand to November. She accepted it with some confusion as she rose. The confusion was furthered when Perrault wrapped his arm around her as they started off behind her uncle.
He leaned close and whispered to her, "We must be keeping up appearances, after all. It wouldn't do to give him the wrong impression."
She smiled and wrapped her own arm around him. Appearances, yes. And it wasn't a situation she felt any need to argue, besides.