"β€”and then once the children were safe, Red had nothing to say on the matter beyond expressing a desire to clean her axe properly," November finished with a smile.

Alistair laughed heartily. "I can see why she gained a place on your quest with such ease. You must give her my regrets that she could not visit with you, when you reunite."

"We certainly will. I doubt she'll regret missing this – castles and finery don't tend to be her taste." Well, better to phrase it that way then mention her prior counts of property damage.

"More than my regrets – it's better to prepare a pack now before it slips my mind. You'll need supplies for when you continue your journey in the morning." Alistair grinned and rose.

Perrault, following suit, offered November his paw to help her up. She had sunk quite far into the soft material, and things could get awkward otherwise.

Alistair lead them out of the study and through a series of passages. Perrault did his best not to gawk and stare at the numerous wonders that they passed on their way. Finally, they reached a door at the end of a hall. It was fairly unremarkable, for the castle. Sturdy wood with iron trim, set into stone. But when he opened it, a vast array of travelling suppies was set on display. Any supplies a quester might need, from a journey in the dead of winter to facing desert sands. All were of only the finest construction and expertly maintained.

Running a hand along one rack about halfway down one wall, Alistair finally settled on one sword. Taking it down, he passed it to Perrault. "Here, test how this one feels for you."

Perrault pulled the sword from its sheath with great care. The blade was shining and perfect, unadorned with any of the fancy carving and gems that were found in the more ornamental blades. Quintuple-folded steel, polished until it shone like silver. It was undoubtably the work of a Master swordsmith. Examining the grip, Perrault found that it was't a nice coincidence that it fit his paw so comfortably. It had, in fact, been designed for one such as him. Grinning, he slid the blade into place. The case itself had only a dark beast twining around the black metal. A panther, he thought. "It's perfect."

"Excellent, excellent. Only the best to protect my favourite niece, after all. Now, let's see about some rations for your group . . ."

Over the next half hour, a medium-sized pack was prepared for Perrault. It was a given for all concerned that November wouldn't have one of her own, as even the smallest would bruise her shoulders badly before they got very far. Rations that tasted wonderful but would still keep well on the road, flint and steel, a few knives and a full coin purse to cover the cost of a stay in an inn or five were only the start of the treasures they packed. Perrault would not admit this to anyone, but he had begun to realize that, just perhaps, he should have prepared a bit more for the journey.

"Now that that's sorted away, I doubt you'd protest a change of travelling clothes . . . November, your shoes are perfectly suitable for the palace, but you'll need something sturdy and more comfortable if you're to be walking everywhere." With that, Alistair led the way over to another room.

This one was filled with boots. Rain boots, snow boots, summer boots, boots that would barely cover the ankle and boots that went to the knee. The leathers were perfectly tanned, and came from a wide variety of animals. Each pair was perfect and exquisitely crafted before being polished to a shine and lined neatly on the shelf with its mate.

Alistair was showing November a nice pair of cotton-lined ankle boots with good support, a conversation Perrault might otherwise find interest in. But he was lost to the world.

He was in heaven.

Even barely out of kittenhood, when he had to talk that idiot Pierre into getting him his first pair, boots had been a fondness of his. There was just something about them . . . the way they allowed him to stand taller than before, to command attention, to achieve whatever he wished.

As for the boots themselves – a miller's son wasn't able to afford anything too fancy, and the small village where they had lived wasn't the sort to offer a great deal of selection, even if there had been money to burn.

Once the 'Marquis de Carrabas' had his rule established for him, Perrault had called upon the cobbler as soon as they had one. Many very fine pairs had been crafted for him, but each one in this room put even their best work to shame.

King Alistair finished with November and looked to him with a smile. "I know a connoseur of boots when I see one. Pick what you like, and I'll have the royal cobbler adjust them to your feet."

Perrault was just aware enough of his surroundings to nod and voice his thanks, but his higher brain functions had blissed out at the concept.

He would gladly make his courtship of November real, even putting up with the hubub of a full royal wedding if it meant getting a collection of boots like this.

Much later, Perrault had managed to snap out of his boot-induced bliss and settled on one pair. He promised the others he'd be sure to at least visit them.