The queen of the wood looked on, the long, exposed bones of her sinuses glinting by the light of the robs that danced about her. Her eyes, pinpoints in the doe skull that served her for a temporary head, burned with intelligence.

“I have spoken the truth, as best I know it, and I have come before you with words of apology, as best I could speak them,” I added. “If you know the truth to be otherwise I beg your pardon; if you cannot accept my apology, I understand. But please know that I sought only to do what was best and speak my right words, as I best saw them.”

“Such politeness in your transgressions.” This time, her voice was ice crackling across the surface of a spring brook, the snap of a dry bough falling to earth. “Would that they sufficed. I appreciate your forbearance, but I cannot allow you to escape without punishment. All who would travel my wood must know that right words alone will not spare them justice.”

“Lay your punishment upon me, then,” I said as bravely as I could muster. “And I will tell all who will listen.”

“Will you, now?” Amusement in her voice, like a playful wind among the boughs. “We shall see.”

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