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crowd. "I bought it from a trader. He said all the prizewinners in the city eat this. Gives them better color."

"This food has made Des sick."

"No." The hair on Farmer Jae's head stood up on end. He was horrified.

"You endangered his life to win a prize. You did not know this stranger, yet you trusted him. You know your neighbor, yet you accuse him."

Farmer Jae crouched beside Des, cradling the swug's head in his hands. "Will he live?"

"You must feed him only the chal root for three days. Then he will stand. And for each of those three days, you must sit with Farmer Nee and drink three mugs of his brew."

Farmer Jae licked Des' cheek. "My boy. You'll be all right. My large flower." The townspeople laughed. Farmer Jae noticed Elric's stern gaze still on him. He stood and approached Farmer Nee. "I wrongly accused. It is a mark against my own name. I apologize."

Nee had retrieved Jab from outside. He pointed down to the animal. Stiffly, Jae crouched, and his voice quivered. "I wrongly accused. It is a mark against my own name. I apologize."

Jab's nostrils widened, and her head lowered. Galen knew that look. Jab's sting shot out to full extension, and with her powerful legs she lunged at Jae. Galen grabbed Jae's arm, yanking him back. He stumbled and fell, Jab's sting passing only an inch from his leg. Galen pinwheeled his arm for balance, but it was too late. He was pulled down with Jae. He landed on Des, eliciting a sonorous belch.

Jab made aborted lunges at the end of her leash while Nee held her just out of reach of Jae, a satisfied smile on his face. Farmer Jae raised his head. It had landed in the bowl of foul-smelling glop.

"We erase the mark," Nee said. He turned and dragged Jab out. The townspeople began to follow, stopping to give Elric
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