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Author Topic: Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20  (Read 2990 times)

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Offline Evie

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Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« on: July 17, 2010, 09:37:29 pm »
Chapter Twenty


   Stefan peered nervously into the polished brass mirror.  He had groomed himself as carefully as he could manage, and found an outfit to wear that he hoped would suit.  The brigands who had attacked his family had stolen most of their goods, but they'd managed to miss a pack or two in the chaos, and these belongings had been returned into his keeping upon his return to Rhemuth.  This particular doublet had not been his very best, but it had been far from his worst, and at least he'd been told that the color was flattering.

   He flicked a speck of lint off his sleeve and turned away, running nervous fingers though his hair for what seemed like the hundredth time.

   “Ready?”  Sir Seisyll asked.  It had been agreed that the King's agent would escort his former squire-brother upstairs to meet his prospective bride and her father in private, and then they would spend an evening in the Great Hall enjoying the night's entertainment and getting better acquainted, allowing Sophie a chance to meet her possible sister-in-law to be.  If, by the end of the evening, all concerned were still willing to consider going ahead with the match, Stefan would return upstairs with the demoiselle's father to discuss the formal terms of betrothal.  

   “As I'll ever be, I suppose.”  Stefan tugged on the bottom edge of his doublet to straighten it, then turned away from the mirror.  “Lead on.”

#

   The door was opened by a young chambermaid who bobbed an efficient curtsey and flashed a dimpled smile at the two men as she let them into the Baron de Courcy's apartment.  “This way, m'lords,” she said, leading them into an adjoining solar before retreating to announce their arrival.

   A few moments later, the Baron himself entered―a tall, dark-haired man with an aura of quiet power he wore like a cloak.  “Good evening, Sir Seisyll.”  His eyes moved to the other man.  “And you must be Sir Stefan de Varnay.”

   “I am, my lord Baron.”

   A coolly appraising look, though not a hostile one, from the girl's father.  “You are Sir Ranulf's heir, then?”

   “Yes, my Lord.  Newly come into my inheritance, I'm afraid.”

   “So I hear.  I'm sorry to hear of your father's passing.  He was a good man.”  He studied the suitor for his daughter's hand.  “I'm given to understand also that you currently find yourself experiencing certain―difficulties?--concerning your inheritance.”

   Having the matter brought up so quickly and bluntly was discomfiting.  Stefan had hoped to ease into the discussion of dowry much later, not wanting to seem more desperate for ready cash than eager to wed the man's daughter.  Still, he knew better than to try to lie before a man who, if seeking a Deryni husband for his child, was likely Deryni himself, and might well be Truth-Reading him.

   “I am.  We had a string of unfortunate events at Kestrel Mote in recent years―first, my mother's long illness and her death, followed by a couple of years of crop blight.   And the manor is an older one.  The monies that had been set aside for its repair ended up having to be used to restore the fields instead.   My father had a plan in place for restoring our fortunes, but upon his unexpected death―well, Kestrel Mote still isn't entirely in the clear.  But it could easily be within a couple of years, barring any more catastrophes.”  Stefan hoped the explanation would suffice.  “I give you my word, my lord, that I'm no wastrel, nor was my father before me.  I know the value of a coin and how to spend it wisely, even if I happen to fall a bit short on them at the moment.”

   The Baron studied him a long moment, then nodded, appearing satisfied.  “So, tell me a bit about yourself.  I understand you were in training with Sir Seisyll?”

   Stefan glanced at his former squire brother.  “Yes, my Lord.  I spent my earlier years in service to the Earl of Carthane as his page, but later entered King Brion's service to train as a squire under Prince Nigel along with Sir Seisyll.  Then, after I was knighted, I returned home to Kestrel Mote for a time.  My mother was in her final illness by then, and Father needed me back at the estate.”

   A fleeting shadow darkened the Baron's eyes.  “Of course.  And so you've been there since?”

   “For the most part, my Lord, when not required elsewhere.”  A wry smile.  “We have had a few military conflicts over the past few years.”

   “Ah, yes.  First Wencit, then Catrin and the continuing Mearan nuisance.  Though Kelson seems to have that well enough in hand now, assuming the Ramsays remain loyal.”  The Baron's golden-brown eyes studied him.  “I've done a few inquiries this afternoon; I learned you acquitted yourself well in Meara.  I wasn't aware you had been involved in the campaign against Wencit as well.”

   Stefan smiled grimly.  “My first.  Though there was little combat to speak of there, as it turned out, by the time I arrived.  The biggest challenge for a fledgling knight was not losing my lunch when we...ah...re-encountered the Cassani army.”  He thought back to those headless bodies on pikes and suppressed a shudder.  “Meara was preferable.”

   The Baron nodded.  “So,” he said after a moment.  “We've no imminent conflicts in sight, and you're newly come into Kestrel Mote, and looking to take up your new responsibilities.  Which brings you to my door.  I expect you'd like to meet my daughter now, to see If she might possibly suit?”

   Again, Stefan was disconcerted by the blunt approach, yet in a sense relieved he hadn't had to broach the subject himself.  “Yes, my Lord, if I may.”

   “A moment.”  He turned slightly towards a doorway to the rear of the room.  Though he said nothing aloud, the demoiselle appeared in the entrance a moment later.  The Baron turned back to Stefan.

   “Seisyll has told me what he shared with you about Lisette.  She is quite fluent at lip reading but prefers Mind-Speech....if that is not a problem for you.”  The golden-brown eyes studied him cautiously.

   Stefan's hazel eyes met his with equal caution.  “It's no problem,” he finally admitted, “though I have little training in...that side of my heritage.  Mind-Speech, I can  manage easily enough, though.”

   Baron de Courcy nodded.  “Good.  And training can be acquired easily enough, given knowledge of the right people.  Lisette, you may enter, sweeting.”

   The demoiselle did, giving the two visitors a polite curtsey before taking a seat next to her father.  She flashed a welcoming smile at Seisyll before giving Stefan a shyly curious study.

   “You're...younger than I expected,” she said quietly.  Stefan had to lean forward slightly to catch what she'd said.  As Seisyll had mentioned, her voice had a slight inflection to it, or perhaps a lack thereof, which gave it an almost foreign sound.  Still, it wasn't unpleasant, simply unusual.  Combined with her raven tresses and olive complexion, she might be mistaken for a lady from some more exotic Eastern clime.  

   “Not too young to interest you, I hope?” Stefan inquired, his nervousness starting back up again.  He hadn't stopped to think, in all his planning, of how the demoiselle herself might react to his courtship.

   Her gold-amber eyes dropped demurely.  “Not too young, my lord.  I had feared you might be...much older.”  Her cheeks colored slightly.

   “Well, I am young, but I'm fairly well experienced.”  Oh sweet Jesú, couldn't that be misconstrued!  “In Court matters, I mean, and on the battlefront.  And with estate management.  I could care well for a family....”  Given the funds to provide for one...oh heavens, how can I convince her?!

   “Sir Seisyll says your manor is called Kestrel Mote?”

   “It is, my Lady.  It's to the south and a bit east of here, in Carthane, a short distance beyond Nyford.” But don't worry, my lady, they've not burned Deryni at the stake there in some years.  Not in the public square anyway.  Maybe in some back alleys.    He erected rock-hard shields around the thought, wishing he could get his jitters under control.  Sweet Jesú, he'd rather be riding into Torenth with a lance at the ready than be sitting here trying to figure out how to make small talk with this demoiselle under her father's gimlet gaze!

   She leaned forward eagerly, holding out a slender hand.  “Would you show it to me?”

   It took him a moment to realize what she was asking, unaccustomed as he was to displaying his Deryni powers around anyone besides blood-kin.  He sent a startled glance at her father, who nodded his permission.  Stefan reached for the lady's hand.  It was soft, resting gently in his as her eyes lifted to his face in curiosity.  He closed his eyes, summoning up a memory of his home and establishing a shallow, tentative link.

   It's seen better days, he silently apologized, but hopefully you can see its potential. He showed her images of his home, both from earlier years when his mother had still been alive and the estate had enjoyed better fortune, with bountiful harvests making it easier to keep the property maintained.  Then, with some hesitancy, he showed her the manor as he'd seen it more recently, beginning to show signs of disrepair here and there, as well maintained as could be managed with the reduced household they'd limited themselves to after their first major losses.  The changes Alienora had added to the manor, many not to Stefan's taste, that he hoped to change back as they once were, or at least change to something different from what they were now.

   You don't get along with your father's second wife?
the demoiselle asked.  He felt no judgment in the question, just inquiry.  He sent  her a few impressions of Alienora―her aloof superiority towards Stefan, her waspishness towards Sophie, the imperious way in which she sought to control her husband's household. Oh.  Well, I suppose one could hardly blame you!

   Stefan studied the young woman gazing shyly at him.  From up close, her lashes seemed impossibly long, a dark fringe accentuating those shiral eyes.  He broke his gaze away.  She was more beautiful than Seisyll's portrait had shown.  Or maybe she'd just grown into her beauty since then.  

     He realized that he still held her hand, and that her father was still watching them both quite intently.   Stefan reclaimed his hand a bit self-consciously, clasping his fingers together in his lap, and glanced  over at Seisyll.  He could swear the man was masking a faint grin.  Damn you for putting me in this position!

   “Does the tower at Kestrel Mote face east, my lord?” Lisette asked.  

   “Why yes, it does, my lady,” Stefan answered.  “How did you know?”

   She shrugged. “From the position of the sun behind it in your memory.  It looked to be a sunrise rather than a sunset.  The upper room is quite nice; what was it used for?”

   “In my mother's day, it was her solar.  Lately....”  He sighed.  “Storage, mostly.”

   “A pity.  Still, the building looks sound, for the most part.  I had feared it might be in worse shape.”  

   “If you...ah...cared to come there, you could fix it up as you please.  I know Alienora's décor might not be to your taste....” Let's hope!  “My mother enjoyed gardening...there's a small garden out back...not much of it left now...if you like flowers and that sort of thing....” Good God, man you're babbling now, just shut up shut up shut UP!

   She giggled. I'm nervous too.  I was terrified when you knocked on that door!  Even though Seisyll assured me you weren't, I was half afraid you were going to be another....  Instead of finishing the thought, she sent an small assortment of images of various other men, presumably earlier suitors.  One looked to be well into his sixties, with a florid face and such a large girth Stefan wondered how he'd planned on sharing a bed with his young bride without snapping the mattress support ropes.  

   Sweet Jesú, lady, if I ever approach your bed looking like that, I give you leave to hold up my sword so I can fall upon the point of it and spare you further agony!

   She laughed, a merry sound that caused her father to gaze questioningly at her.  She glanced at him, shaking her head with a dimpled smile and giggling again.

   Stefan felt a bit more heartened.  “My Lady, I'm told there are jongleurs in the Great Hall tonight.  Perhaps you and your father would care to come down for the feast, and my sister could join us?   I'm sure she'd like to get to know you as well.”

   She glanced at her father, the question in her eyes.  “Yes,” he responded.  Her cheeks glowed as she accepted Stefan's offer on their behalf.  

#

   A short while later they were seated in the Great Hall, Seisyll having gone slightly ahead to collect Sophie and secure a place in the Hall where Lisette would have a good vantage point of the night's entertainment.  

   Stefan and Lisette shared a trencher, with Sophie sitting on Lisette's far side, positioned to get to know her better, while Stefan found himself with the Baron de Courcy seated to his left, still watching him avidly with what Stefan had come to think of as an eagle's stare.  The two young ladies were engaged in a quiet, occasionally completely silent, conversation, punctuated by the occasional soft laugh or peal of giggles.  Stefan was dying to know what they were talking about, but the question merely sent both ladies into bursts of laughter again. He hoped Sophie wasn't sharing anything too damning.

   The jugglers and acrobats began their portion of the show, drawing Lisette's attention back to the center of the Hall for the next few minutes, but once the minstrels began to sing, she lost interest after a few minutes, turning her attention back to her food.  Stefan, with a shock, realized why―from this distance, she probably couldn't read their lips well enough to tell what they were singing.  And of course she couldn't hear the music at all.

   It was a pity, for these minstrels were quite talented.

   With a sudden burst of inspiration, he touched her hand.  I'm sorry, my lady. Would you like to hear them?

   Yes, she responded, her eyes lighting up. Would you show me?

   He focused on the music and the singers' voices, opening up his senses to her so she could experience the music for herself.  Her eyes widened with delight, then fluttered closed as she began to tap out the rhythm with her foot. I love music. I so rarely hear it anymore, though.  My mother played the harp and the vielle.

   He watched her quiet joy, continuing to share the music as he did so, and experiencing her pleasure at the sweet refrains.  It was an odd sort of intimacy.  Remembering Lisette's father suddenly, Stefan cast a somewhat wary glance at him, only to find him watching them both with a satisfied gleam in those golden eyes.

    She likes to dance, her father informed Stefan.

    She does? Stefan turned his attention back to Lisette. I look forward to dancing with you some evening.

   Her eyes sparkled.  And I look forward to hearing the dance music through your ears.

   Stefan entertained a brief vision of himself palm to palm with the maiden beside him, spinning her graceful form away from him, then drawing her back into the protective circle of his embrace.  That led to other, more intimate thoughts which he hastily shuttered away lest she catch a glmpse of them and grow alarmed.  The sudden demure lowering of her eyes made him wonder if he'd managed to shield the thought in time.  Music, best to keep his thoughts on that for the moment, and nothing else.  Jesú, the Hall was warm tonight!

    Have you been married before, my lord?

   No, my lady.  I've not looked to do so until now.


   She smiled back up at him.  He smiled back, reaching for his wine goblet.

    Have you any children?

   He swallowed quickly to avoid spewing wine across the table. I...No, my lady.  Not that I kn―um, no, I don't.... He felt his cheeks growing hot.

   A mental laugh. I'm sorry!  I suppose that was rather indelicate of me.  Some men do, though. She glanced up at him shyly.  I didn't want to assume.

   So, what else do you enjoy besides music and dancing? he asked somewhat desperately, eager to change the subject.

   I paint.  I collect art―it's not a large collection, but I collect as I can.  I like sculpting clay, though I'm not all that good at it.  It's fun, though. She mused on the question for a bit.  And I love glass.  The way the light shines through it, the colors.... Oh, and I love to ride!  It's the closest we can get to soaring, I suppose. She gave him a sidelong glance through her lashes.  Do you ever wish you could fly?

   I've...actually never considered the idea before, my lady.  But it does seem like it would be  an enjoyable pastime.  

   She smiled.  I love high places.  I like to see all the sights below.  That's why I asked about your tower; it looked like it would have a lovely view.

   He studied the demoiselle's upturned face.  Have you ever seen Rhemuth from the top of one of the Castle's watch towers?

   Her features lit up.  No, but I'd love to sometime.

   Stefan smiled.

#

   Sir Seisyll escorted Sophie back to her own apartment, leaving Stefan to follow the Baron and his daughter back to theirs.  The two looked to be engaged in a silent conversation during the walk back.  Once they arrived, the demoiselle gave Stefan a smile and a quiet “Good evening, my lord,” and retreated to her chamber.

   “Have a seat,” Baron de Courcy said.

   Stefan did so, his earlier trepidation starting to return.  

   “Are you still minded to ask for my daughter now that you've met her and formed an acquaintance?”

   He nodded.  “Yes, my Lord, she's...even more delightful than I'd dared to hope, sir.”

   The golden eyes studied him.  “I'm glad you think so.  She seems to be quite taken with you as well.”  He sighed.  “How does ten percent sound?”

   “My Lord?”  Stefan was genuinely puzzled.

   “My understanding is that you are in immediate need of funds.  However, I would feel easier about a marriage between you and my daughter if you had a bit more time to get to know each other before you exchange vows.  I'm willing to pay an advance of ten percent of her dowry, with the condition that you will allow Lisette that extra time.”

   Stefan was stunned.  “I...well...Yes!  I wouldn't want your daughter to feel rushed....”

   “Good.  Here are my conditions.  I will give you the advance; in return, we will draw up the betrothal contract tonight.”  He reached into a cabinet, pulling out a sheaf of documents.  “I have a contract partially drawn up, though of course we will need to fine-tune the particulars, and the signatures will need to be witnessed.”

   The young knight stared at the Baron.  “I'm quite willing to sign, of course.  But...I thought you just said you didn't wish to rush your daughter into anything binding?”

   A dark brow rose.  “What I meant was, I don't wish to rush her into the final marriage vows.  I mean for her to have at least a little time to adjust to the idea of wedding you between the betrothal and the bedding.  But my daughter needs a husband as much as you need a wife, and I mean to see her future secured before I'm gone.”  He looked down at the papers he held, then back up at Stefan.  “I'm not likely to last long enough to see the spring flowers come into bloom,” he said simply.

   “You....”  Stefan dropped his eyes to the contract.  “I'm sorry, my Lord.  I didn't realize.   You don't appear at all infirm....”

   “One of the advantages of being Deryni, Stefan.  I'm calling up a lot of strength right now that, trust me, I shall greatly answer for tomorrow.  If you should come calling tomorrow, don't look for me to emerge from my bedchamber.”   

     “Does Lisette know?”

   “She does.”  He smiled sadly.  “She's a courageous little bird.  I'm certain she'll be fine.  Just give her a little time to adjust to you, though on the other hand, I wish to see her safely wed before I die, so not too much time.  I am heartened by one thing already.”

   “What's that, my Lord?”

   The Baron smiled.  “When I offered you ten percent of her dowry in advance, you didn't think to ask me 'ten percent of what total?'  Do I dare to hope you find my daughter at least as desirable as the dowry she'll bring you?”

   Stefan blushed.  “I...ah...don't think I'll encounter any difficulties with getting heirs, my Lord.”

   The Baron chuckled.  “Good.  All right, let's see if we can agree on terms....”

#

   Stefan and Lisette stood in the center of the small chamber, their betrothal vows to be witnessed by Sir Seisyll, Lady Sophie, and Bishop Duncan, who had been requested to perform the short betrothal ceremony in the Baron's chambers.  

   “Sir Stefan Michael Ranulf de Varney, will you take this woman....”

   Stefan watched the play of candlelight on Lisette's face.   He squeezed her hand as the Bishop finished repeating the short passage.

   “I will”

   “And will you, Lady Lisette Aurelia Michonne de Courcy, take this man....”

   Her eyes shone up at him, bright with trust, mingled though it was with a few tears.  She gave her father a trembling smile.

   “I will,” she whispered softly.

   Stefan bent to kiss his future bride.


Chapter 21:  http://www.rhemuthcastle.com/index.php?topic=565.0
« Last Edit: January 10, 2011, 03:26:30 pm by Evie »
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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Offline Alkari

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Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2010, 10:01:07 pm »
Quote
Instead of finishing the thought, she sent an small assortment of images of various other men, presumably earlier suitors.  One looked to be well into his sixties, with a florid face and such a large girth Stefan wondered how he'd planned on sharing a bed with his young bride without snapping the mattress support ropes.

   Sweet Jesú, lady, if I ever approach your bed looking like that, I give you leave to hold up my sword so I can fall upon the point of it and spare you further agony!

ROFL - I do like your Stefan!   Poor guy - what a terrible social situation, with both of them having to look over each other as though they're at the meat market.  And LOL at her bluntness - this is classic:

Quote
Have you any children?

   He swallowed quickly to avoid spewing wine across the table. I...No, my lady.  Not that I kn―um, no, I don't.... He felt his cheeks growing hot.

   A mental laugh. I'm sorry!  I suppose that was rather indelicate of me.  Some men do, though. She glanced up at him shyly.  I didn't want to assume.
Poor kids - I really felt for both of them in this chapter.


Offline Elkhound

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Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2010, 10:02:20 pm »
Oh, very nice indeed.

We are so used in our society to having marriage being a matter of mutual desire; the idea of marrying for anything but love to us sounds horrible.  It has only been comparatively recently in human history that it has been so, and still is not so on many parts of the planet.

I remember when I was in graduate school, my neighbor was from India, and he told me he was going home over break to get married.  I asked him about his fiancee, and he said, "I don't know; I haven't met her yet."  I expressed shock and said, "Well, what if you don't like her--or she doesn't like you?"  He replied, "Oh, my father and my older brother have been looking on my behalf.  They know what sort of girl I like, and I trust them to pick out someone suitable.  But if I don't like her or she doesn't like me, they won't force us!"  I must say that this seemed quite odd to me.
« Last Edit: July 17, 2010, 10:08:00 pm by Elkhound »

Offline Evie

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Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« Reply #3 on: July 18, 2010, 08:03:59 pm »
No new chapter tonight; been too busy to write one. *sigh*

My folks used to play "parents away from home" to international students from a nearby university.  One Nepalese guy they befriended told them that when he went back to Nepal after graduation, he was blindsided by the news that his family had a bride waiting for him.  He had become pretty Americanized and was NOT happy!  Didn't even get to meet the girl until the wedding day, which just added to the stress.  Fortunately they picked well, and the two are still married (and happily so) 20 years later.

I want to explore arranged marriages more in my novel's universe someday (the non-Deryni one), since that would be more the norm in that culture.
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

--WARNING!!!--
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Offline Elkhound

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Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« Reply #4 on: July 18, 2010, 08:30:17 pm »
My folks used to play "parents away from home" to international students from a nearby university.  One Nepalese guy they befriended told them that when he went back to Nepal after graduation, he was blindsided by the news that his family had a bride waiting for him.  He had become pretty Americanized and was NOT happy!  Didn't even get to meet the girl until the wedding day, which just added to the stress.  Fortunately they picked well, and the two are still married (and happily so) 20 years later.

I'm glad it worked out for him.  Personally, if that had happened to me it would have been, "Run, don't walk, to the nearest monastic community."

Offline Evie

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Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« Reply #5 on: July 18, 2010, 09:34:19 pm »
LOL!  I can't argue with that!

My mom is from the Philippines, raised there in the 1940s-1961, which is when she married my dad and moved to the US.  She didn't have an arranged marriage (though some of her friends did...she came from an island that was half Christian and half Muslim, and I think the Muslim girls' marriages were mostly arranged), but she had a chaperone on all dates until her wedding day.  I don't think that's the custom now, but then again, my grandparents on that side of the family were born in the late 1800s.  My mom's oldest siblings were around the same ages as my dad's parents.  She used to tease me that it was a good thing I was born in America so she didn't have to go on all my dates with me, since I had no big sisters or brothers to do the job.   ;)
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

--WARNING!!!--
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Offline DerynifanK

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Re: Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2016, 07:39:37 pm »
what a,ovely story

Offline Evie

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Re: Maidens of Mayhem Chapter 20
« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2016, 08:02:55 pm »
Glad you're enjoying it!
"In necessariis unitas, in non-necessariis libertas, in utrisque caritas."

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[November 17, 2017, 10:55:59 pm]


Re: Happy birthday, Laurna! by Laurna
[November 17, 2017, 09:58:24 pm]


Re: Happy birthday, Laurna! by Shiral
[November 17, 2017, 07:49:06 pm]

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