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craftily holding one final clot of excrement behind his back, and he now flung it at Jae. It hit Elric in the side with a loud smack. The clot tumbled to the ground, leaving a splotch on Elric's robe. Galen gasped as the crowd around him yelled insults at Nee and laughed. Elric lowered his head, but Galen could tell he was smiling.

Galen didn't understand it.

Nee gave a short nod. "My apologies, Honored El."

When Elric raised his head, Galen was glad to see the look of grave disappointment. "You will deliver three casks of your finest for the festival in two months' time."

Nee's face contorted at the thought. At last he gave a reluctant nod, and the crowd laughed.

"Have you a side, Farmer Nee?"

"My Jab didn't sting his Des. Wouldn't want to."

"Well said. Now we will examine Des." With a flourish he extended an arm toward Farmer Jae's barn.

The crowd parted, and Elric proceeded into the stone barn, followed by Galen, Farmer Jae, and most of the town. There was some controversy about Farmer Nee entering; he was forced to leave Jab outside. They crouched around the swug, who lay on his side in a bed of freshly cut kew grasses. A suffocating putrid odor suffused the air. Elric conjured a few small balls of light. The townspeople had seen him create light displays in the night sky, so this was little more than a curiosity. What most interested them, Galen knew, was who was right, how Elric would discover this, and how the farmers would react. This day would be a hot topic for months to come.

Elric bent over the vast expanse of swug. He placed his hands high on her mottled side, stepped them down slowly and methodically as he made his examination. If Jab had stung Des, that meant the swug would have tiny jabs growing beneath his skin. Jab reproduced
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