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a hand over Des. "He has not been stung."

Farmer Jae pulled unhappily on his facial hair.

"I knew it," Nee said. "My little Jab wouldn't have that fat carcass."

The townspeople quieted him, anxious to hear what Elric would say next.

Elric had surely known Jab's innocence since the beginning of the argument. One of the many probes Elric maintained on Soom was attached to Jab. She had such a nose for trouble, Elric had said she gave him more useful information than all his other probes combined. The microelectronic device transmitted images and other data to Elric's place of power, where he could access them as needed. If Jab had violated Des, Elric would have a record of the crime. But if Jab was innocent, then what was wrong with Des?

Elric stood. "You have changed his food."

"No," Jae said. "I feed him only the best. Sea spree gathered from the caves." Jae had asserted this with pride many times.

Elric produced a large bowl from his robes, making the townspeople gasp. "This is not sea spree." The heavy earthen bowl was filled with a foul-smelling glop. "This comes from the city."

Galen was angry at himself for not anticipating Elric's action. He was supposed to know by now how a mage worked: information, preparation, control. He played back events, trying to figure out when Elric had concealed the bowl in his robes. He had arrived before Galen. He must have gone into the barn first to examine Des, found the odd food, and placed it near the barn door, where he could easily grab it and conceal it when he led the group inside. A quick chemical analysis could tell him the food's composition, and he could cross-reference that with information on the care of swugs. His sensors could reveal any intestinal upset or blockage.

Jae appealed to the assembled
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