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Tugg could feel the room shrinking with each word he spoke, as if even the walls were leaning in to hear the fantastic nonsense he was spouting.

"I seen what I seen," he abruptly concluded, hoping that Lord Boris wouldn't press him further.

His interrogator eyed him with a mix of curiosity and disgust before releasing a sigh. "You simple boy, I've no doubt that you think you saw these things, but let me assure you: you imagined a great deal of this. Possibly all of it. And by taking down your complete account, with all of its asinine details, I hope to come up with a realistic explanation for this, er, apparition that has shocked you so profoundly."

Tugg averted his eyes and began chewing on his thumb.

"Now, let me see if I fully understand your report. You say that last evening, you slipped out of the servants' quarters--a transgression that shall not go unpunished, by the way--and wandered into our woods in order to retrieve a small hoard of sausages that you had smuggled from the kitchen--another behavioral misstep, I might add."

Tugg winced with each aside but nodded to confirm Lord Boris's version of events.

"And then you heard some noises coming from the heart of the forest, yes?"

Tugg felt a chill and tried to shake it away. "Yes, m'lord."

"And upon following these noises to"--Lord Boris checked his notes--"to a glade, you saw...what, exactly?"

Tugg squinted as if to purge the images from his mind, but the memory came all too easily.

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"Wizards and mages, m'lord. Dueling in the forest. They were throwing bright blue flames about, cackling. A demonic light came from their eyes."

Lord Boris took this in just as he had the previous two times, with a furrowed brow and a weary patience. His mouth twitched. "You can think of no other explanation than magic for what you saw? Hear me. What about fire dancers rehearsing? Drunkards at a campsite? Or perhaps even wild creatures with bright, bizarre colorations, like peacocks? Have you given any thought to these explanations?"

Each of these possibilities had indeed already occurred to Tugg, but he knew how this exchange was destined to conclude. He decided to speed the process along. "M'lord, I suppose I hadn't thought of those. You're right. It was probably fire dancers. But I mean it when I say that I thought it was wizards dueling in the glade, sincerely. Most sincerely."

Lord Boris rubbed his belly with satisfaction. "Now you're making some sense! I think you've finally seen my point, young man. There are no wizards in the forest. There are no wizards in the entire world, in fact. You've made it up!"

Tugg nodded.

"I can't say I entirely blame you for trying to stir up a little controversy among the other servants--they really are so excitable--but please, please keep these fantasies to yourself in the future. As regards your punishment: I think a night without your porridge should teach you well enough about telling stories."

Tugg didn't understand why Lord Boris believed a reduced portion of porridge to constitute some kind of punishment, but he did his best to look chastened. "Yes, m'lord. May I go now?"

"Yes, boy, you may go."

With that, Tugg stood and made his way out of the chamber. As he exited, he heard Lord Boris chuckle and mutter to no one in particular, "Maybe I'll go poking around in the forest tonight."

Tugg didn't think that was a very good idea.

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