43. Ifram b’nto Agharan of Rhun
Ifram b'nto Agharan of Rhun
Ifram b'nto Agharan, recently named ambassador to Gondor by his brother, Shkatha Moritum b'nto Agharan, chosen by the folk of Rhun to rule them in the wake of the War of the Ring, watched the party from Gondor approaching from the opposite side of the border between the two lands. Riding before the group from Gondor was what appeared to be their officer, attired as a Ranger of Ithilien, wearing the green, hooded cloak and leather gambeson worn by such, but in his case decorated with the embossed and tinted White Tree, Seven Stars, and Silver Crown denoting his rank and allegiance to land and King. He was accompanied by six armored knights, also mounted, armed with lances and swords; fifteen Rangers armed with bows and swords; and six foot soldiers, knights and soldiers attired in the black and silver of the standard forces of Gondor. He was also accompanied of one of Ifram's own scouts, who looked embarrassed and shrugged as the two parties came forward to their meeting at the border. As the Rhunish party made the last few yards of the no-man's-land between the two realms, five more Gondorian scouts came out of the forest, accompanied by the other two Rhunish scouts. They walked to the center of the border area where the Gondorian scouts stopped, and the Rhunish scouts moved forward to join their own people's party.
There was no animosity on the face of the officer from Gondor. His party stopped precisely within the boundary stones for their land, and only the officer rode forward into the no-man's-land to greet them, signing his own scouts to turn back and stand with their fellows. "I am Morgion of Ithilien, a Captain of the forces of Gondor and kinsman to our Lord Steward, and usually command those who serve in this part of the Wilds on the boundaries of our nations," he said in Ifram's own language. "I am to accompany you along the first portion of your journey in our lands. I hope you take no offense that we have stopped your scouts, although I will allow them to work alongside ours as we go back toward the Road. Although Sauron himself is no more, yet there still remain hidden in the desolation left by his fall many of his creatures who have no love for Men, Elves, Dwarves, or the rest of the Children of Iluvatar. Our own scouts will be watching for any threat such may pose to us." Pleased by this, Ifram indicated the three of his own scouts should move alongside their Gondorian counterparts.
Ifram gave his own retinue a glance--his half-brother Shefti who would serve as his scribe, the ten armed men who would be his personal honor and body guards, the single wagon that carried their personal goods, then looked after the three scouts. At his signal those behind him moved forward to join the group from Gondor.
He had last made this journey five years past when he'd followed his brother to the Black Gate, where the folk of their district were to fight for Mordor against the troupes of Gondor. Their squadron was not sent to Minas Tirith, but instead was held in reserve outside the walls of Mordor, and when the Army of the West approached, again they were assigned to serve as reserve troupes.
His brother Moritum had taken him forward to look down on the forces of Gondor as they set themselves in array to face the Black Gate and the Towers of the Teeth, and it was plain he was deeply disturbed by what he saw before him. "I like it not, for they are too few."
Bravam'to, his brother's chief lieutenant, looked at his commander with surprise. "You have heard what was told by the Mouth of Sauron when he gave us our orders, Moritum--this is all that was sent from their capital, and many have already fallen away, back to the city of ruins or north to their fortified island. Mordor's army can easily fall on them and destroy them--and we have both their king and the king of the Horse People of the north and west also. Then we will have prize picking for our own peoples."
"I like it not," Moritum had repeated. "They are too few, far too few. No matter how great are the individuals who stand there, still the force is not the fullness of their strength. No, I fear if we engage against them we will be destroyed."
"By those few?"
"No, by the gods. The ones who are their Kings come almost alone. It is an act of sacrifice to draw the aid of their gods to their side. Their gods will fight for them, as they did when Morgoth was thrown down so long ago."
Moritum looked down at the forces again, then signaled his own troupe to pull back. He, his brother, and Bravam'to, however, remained where they might watch; and when the great Eagles came Ifram realized that perhaps his brother was correct. His family had held a slave from Gondor when he and Moritum were children, and Staravion had not only taught them the languages spoken in Gondor, but had also told them stories of the history of his people. The coming of the Eagles may not have heralded the actual coming of the gods this time, but to watch the destruction of Barad-dûr and see the shadow of Sauron rise up and then blow away on the West Wind was shocking.
Moritum's entire troupe returned unscathed to their own land, and in the end the people of Rhun elected Moritum Shkatha for his wisdom.
As they rode further west toward the River Anduin and they moved through areas patrolled by different squadrons, the troupes surrounding them were changed frequently, although Morgion indicated he would remain with them until they reached the city of Osgiliath. Ifram and he spoke together in both the Common Tongue and Rhunic as they rode, each pleased to have a chance to practice speaking the other's language. Ifram had many questions about the government of Gondor. Morgion's answers were selective, but still instructive. The Lord King was happy in his marriage to the Lady Arwen, and they looked forward to the birth of their first child. He was a good king, a fine lord for all his people, and he was most beloved. He was the greatest swordsman in Middle Earth, and was as good as a Ranger as he was on horseback or leading a charge on foot. He was a skilled bowman, and could center a knife on a target consistently. His friendships were broad and varied, and the people of his land rejoiced to receive the teachings and assistance of the Dwarves and the Elves. His people in the northern kingdom missed his presence, but his kinsmen from the northern kingdom took pride in serving him in Gondor. He was a skilled healer as well as a warrior and a scholar. He read the hearts of his people, and had compassion for those who needed it. Representatives of both the northern and southern kingdoms sat on his Council, and all were respected for the wisdom they shared. The city of Minas Anor was renewed, and grew in splendor and beauty. The lands of Gondor and Arnor grew in glory, and their people flourished.
As they approached the southern borders of what had been Mordor, Ifram began to feel tense, remembering his last time looking down on the Black Gate. But things were far different than they'd been there. No longer was all dark, dead, and drear--now there was grass beginning to grow in the hollows, saplings on the sides of the hills, brambles and shrubs along the margins of the mountains. Ifram was shocked to see life coming back to a land he remembered as stark and dead. No walls stood in the gap in the mountains, no gates surmounted by troupes of orcs, no towers lit with the light of the Red Eye. Even the mountainsides seemed to have softened from stark black to a more dreary greyish brown touched by early hints of golds and greens. To the north, in the distance could be seen grass growing around the margins of what had been the Dead Marshes--dead no longer. Reeds and sedge now grew green between the pools; blackbirds sang in the now flowering shrubs; ducks and geese rose from the water to fly, calling over the water; mink and weasels waddled across the raised ground, fish flashed in the water. No longer were travelers drawn after the dead lights; the faces of those who had died so long ago were no longer seen lying beneath the surface of the pools, and their spirits were at peace.
Morgion looked about and smiled. "Even here Sauron failed in the end, for life has begun to return to these lands in spite of all he did. The King and his Lady came here, a year after the Ring went into the Fire and Mordor fell, to give thanks and to pray that the Valar and the One would grant these lands full life once more. We give thanks daily for the faithfulness of the two who entered those lands to take Sauron's Ring back to Orodruin, and for the healing our lands now experience." His expression as he looked southward into what had been Mordor expressed honor.
They turned south not far beyond the gates, traveling along the north-south road that ran parallel to the Ephel Dúath. They stopped for the night at a rest house built not far west of the road on the edge of a large open area. Morgion indicated the large field with its scattered copses of trees and flowering bushes. "This is the Field of Cormallen. Here the armies of Gondor and Rohan retired after the battle before the Black Gate, for the wounded to receive treatment and to recover, and to await the awakening of the Ringbearers," Morgion said. "It is now a place of pilgrimage for many who served then in our forces, and so a rest house was built here for those who come to honor those who labored against the Enemy of all." Their quarters were spacious and comfortable, and the meal they were served included two dishes that were Rhunish in origin. Ifram was again impressed--their hosts had taken time to learn the ways of their expected guests, obviously, and they sought to offer them honor at the same time they invited the Easterlings to explore the cuisine of Gondor.
After an early dawn meal they set off southwards again, headed for the Crossroads and then for Osgiliath. Morgion pointed out, far to the south, the site of the growing town of Emyn Arnen on the ruins of the old city which had been abandoned generations before, the habitation of the Lord Faramir, Prince of Ithilien and Lord Steward of Gondor under the Lord King Aragorn Elessar Telcontar. Ifram had not traveled this road before, and was amazed by the greenness of the countryside, the constant sound of rushing and falling waters. Morgion and his men all were obviously quite familiar with their surroundings, he noted, and smiled constantly as they listened to the singing of birds and breathed in the sweet odor of growing things.
When they at last reached Osgiliath Ifram saw that the city was beginning to grow once more. The great bridge had been rebuilt, and even most of the minor bridges were now intact. Walls of damaged buildings had been cleared away, and many houses and buildings had risen from what had been rubble, the pavements of squares had been laid anew, trees and flowers now bloomed. They were led to a fine house on the west side of the city where they were to be housed for the night.
Morgion bowed as he saw them into their quarters. "You will shortly be joined by the embassy from Harad, which is to enter the capital alongside you. I now surrender my escort duties to Captain Mablung. I welcome you again to Gondor, and wish you a pleasant stay in Minas Anor." With a deep bow, the Captain of Rangers took his leave. Ifram bowed back, and gave his attention to Captain Mablung, who stepped forward to take Morgion's place.
Mablung wore the full uniform of an officer of Gondor, the black and silver of the Army. "I welcome you, Lord Ambassador. It is an honor to welcome you to Osgiliath. Tomorrow we will finish the journey to Minas Anor. The two embassies will travel side-by-side, literally side-by-side, from here to the capital, and enter the city in that manner as well. We cannot and will not offer more honor to one than the other. The King and Queen will rejoice to welcome you on the level of the Citadel on your arrival in the city, and on the following evening there will be a feast to welcome you to Gondor. The evening meal will soon be offered you here. Would you prefer to come to the dining room or receive it in your quarters?"
Ifram and Shefti and the captain of the guard consulted briefly, and chose to eat in their quarters. Mablung bowed. "So it shall be then, my Lord Ambassador. I will let the staff know your preferences."
Again the meal included both Rhunish and Gondorian dishes, and Ifram saw that most of his guards were relaxing more in their strange surroundings. He only hoped they did not relax into unwarranted complacency. Not long after their meal was served they heard the arrival of the Embassy from Harad, and soon dark-skinned Men in the red, black, and gold of the Southlands could be seen being led to their quarters in the southern wing of the guesthouse.
Again they set out fairly early at an easy pace. They could now see clearly the rising wall of the White Mountains, and what seemed a hill of shining white on the near spur of the range, a hill that as they approached resolved itself into a shining city built in tiers on the side of the mountain spur. Ifram looked up at the White City of Gondor, its capital Minas Anor, Tower of the Setting Sun, with awe. Never had he seen such a great city, and he was amazed his folk had assailed it alongside the forces of Mordor in the great war. How could any hope to enter such a place through force of arms, he wondered?
The gates of the city were closed, he saw as they came closer, great gates of steel faced with silver--no, he'd been told it was not silver, but instead mithril, that most rare and strong of all metals, more precious than gold, even. The escorts for the two embassies drew in closer to their wards as the gates opened soundlessly, welcoming them into the heart of the two realms of the Sea Kings. He looked at the figure over the arch of the gate, and the three on the leaf to his left. Mablung explained: "The founders of the realm and three first co-rulers of Gondor and Arnor together--Elendil the Tall and his sons, Anárion and Isildur, their wives, and their principal heirs," as they passed through the gateway, pointing up, left, and right.
As the two columns entered the city, it could be seen the way was lined by the populace of Minas Anor, while inside the gate stood a double line of grey-cloaked archers, tall and straight, each armed with a long knife as well as the great bow carried at the ready. Mablung again explained, "You are greatly honored. The Queen's own kin serve here as our escort, for these are the archers of the Galadhrim and the Imladrim. Seldom do the Elves serve so. There are none more accurate with a bow, or more deadly in the use of their edged weapons."
Ifram felt alarmed until he saw that the eyes of this troupe were aimed outwards as they moved into place to flank the columns as they started upward through the city, watching for any sign of threat in the watching people--not that he could see any hints of threat there. The people among whom they passed might look in many cases guarded, but none appeared threatening or angry; and the eyes of the children were not fearful in the least, but instead curious and aware. Everywhere he saw signs of prosperity--clean streets, shops with full windows and open doorways, women with bundles of packages or fascinated small children in their arms, groups of workmen and merchants mingling together. He smelled no sewage, but instead the odors of flowers from the myriad of gardens, the scents of spices and rich food from market stalls and eating-places. He heard in many places the sound of water in fountains and the songs of birds and the laughter of children. He glanced across Mablung's horse and saw that his opposite number from Harad was also surprised at the peace and prosperity he saw in the eyes and attitudes of the folk of Minas Anor.
Colors were largely muted, but fabrics were rich. There were many men among the populace who bore the scars of war in missing limbs, disfigurement, and so on; but they stood as tall as those they stood among, clothed not as beggars but as equal citizens. Great ladies and more humble housewives stood side by side; those attired in silks and brocades alongside those in more simple hand-woven or knit shawls. This was a city no longer on guard for itself. No fear did he sense anywhere.
The winding way was lined, he realized, throughout all of the levels of the city. Up and up the column wended its way, watched continuously by the citizens of Gondor. Throughout the entire ride they continued to be flanked by the tall archers, and never did he see any sign that this guard was needed. Folk stood along the street, looked down from balconies on the walls and tall houses, sat even on patios of eating establishments and watched them go by. Such he saw repeatedly. He saw scaffoldings on which Men stood side-by-side with heavily bearded smaller figures he realized must be Dwarves, and now and then other Elves alongside women and older children would rise from gardens to look after them, pride in the beauty of the city reflected on all sides. He saw little in the way of horses or draft animals, although in the fifth level he saw an open cart of sorts intended to carry people rather than goods, and on the sixth another wagon loaded with freight, both waiting in side streets for the main way to open again once the procession was past at last.
Finally they came to the ramp to the seventh level, and Mablung halted the double column, swung down from his horse, and gave it over to a waiting soldier in the black and silver of the realm, and then indicated to the rest they should do the same. Ifram felt reluctant to leave his horse in the care of strangers, but did as indicated, snapping free his saddlebags and dispatch case as had been advised before they left Osgiliath earlier. Shefti signaled one of the soldiers forward to take Ifram's bags as well as his own, and so with only the dispatch case was Ifram burdened as they paced alongside the Gondorian captain up the steep ramp to the level of the Citadel.
Waiting near the top of the ramp stood the King of Gondor and Arnor, wearing a formal black robe embroidered with the White Tree and Seven Stars done in silver thread and gems. He wore not the Winged Crown, but instead a mithril circlet set with a great single gem, and his white mantle was held fastened by a great brooch set with a shining green gem. He was tall and straight in his carriage, and the pommel of his great sword was ready in case he needed to use it. At his side stood a woman of such beauty it caused Ifram to catch his breath, hold it in awe, and let it go in a great sigh. She was heavily pregnant, yet stood tall and proudly nonetheless. Flanking them were six others, two Elves with hair as dark as that of the Queen of Gondor and Arnor; another Elf with hair golden as the dawn and eyes more ancient than the Sun; a tall, regal Elf whose hair was as pale as moonlight; a fifth Elf with hair like a raven's wing and a face that seemed youthful by comparison with those of the others; and a Dwarf with fair hair and beard, both elaborately braided. Behind them stood six Men, three in the black and silver of Gondor, and three in grey cloaks closed with silver stars on their left shoulders, each of these armed with bow and quiver as well as swords and knives. To their right stood three other Men, tall, bearded, their hair gold as ripe grain, each holding helmets under their arms, the one held by the central man surmounted by a horsetail. Their cloaks were of a rich green, clasped with golden horse head brooches, and the pommels of their swords were decorated also with horse heads.
The King and Queen bowed, the King deeply. "We welcome you to Gondor and to Minas Anor, my Lord Ambassadors," he said in the Common Tongue, then said this again in the tongues of Rhun and Harad. "I am the King Aragorn Elessar Envinyatar Telcontar, King of Gondor and Arnor. My wife, the Lady Arwen Undómiel. Her brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, sons of the Lord Elrond Peredhel formerly of Imladris. Her grandsire, Lord Celeborn, Lord of the Galadhrim. Lord Glorfindel of Imladris. Prince Tharen Thranduilion of the Forest of Green Leaves. Dorlin son of Dwalin of Erebor. Lord Elfhelm, Second Marshall of the Riddermark, ambassador from Rohan. That your nations have chosen to honor the birth of our first child with your presence has caused us great joy."
Ifram and his opposite number from Harad looked at one another, and Ifram indicated he was willing for the representative from the south to go first. The Man smiled, gave a short bow, and turned to their host. "I am Rustovrid of Harad, Captain of the Hosts, sent by our King to represent our people at the birth of your first child. Our King sends his greetings to you, and this as a gift for the child to be born." He signaled two of those who followed him to come forward carrying between them a heavily carved cradle, which they placed at the feet of the Queen, who leaned down with pleasure to examine it. The two men stepped back into place and together the party from Harad bowed in respect to the sovereigns of this nation that had once been Harad's greatest enemy.
The King of Gondor and Arnor bowed in return. "We thank you for your gift, which is of great beauty and workmanship. We thank the people of Harad, and are grateful for their friendship after so long in enmity." The Queen also inclined her head gracefully in thanks, smiling fully in recognition of the gift.
Then Ifram stepped forward. "We have not come only to witness the birth of your first child, Lord Elessar," he said, opening the dispatch case, removing a rolled parchment and proffering it to the King. "We seek to place a permanent embassy here in your capital, that we may have open communication between our two nations.
The Lord Elessar's eyebrows raised, and he accepted the scroll with an inclination of his head, examined its seal, then producing a small knife from his belt lifted the seal, which he caught and handed to one of those who stood behind him, unrolled the parchment, and read it. Finished, he raised his eyes to those of Ifram, and examined his face at length. Ifram stood still, his face carefully neutral, caught in spite of himself by the intensity of the gaze that searched his visage. The King's eyes were grey with a hint of blue and green, and Ifram sensed that this was a Man well schooled in recognizing the natures and motivations of those who faced him. Well, let this King search his visage as he would, he'd see no lies in the face of Ifram b'nto Agharan. Or, was the Man looking for something other than lies? At last the King of Gondor appeared satisfied, and handed the communication to the golden haired Elf, who read it and then handed it back to the King, who then gave it to the same guard who had received the wax pressed with Moritum of Rhun's seal.
"We are pleased, honored, and humbled to receive your embassy to our city on a permanent basis, my Lord Ifram," the King said at last. He then spoke to both parties equally. "While you are within the city, you may have the choice of being quartered within the Citadel itself or accepting the use of one of the guest houses in the Sixth Circle." Again he turned specifically to Ifram. "As you have indicated the will of your people to establish a permanent embassy, we suggest you will be more comfortable in such. One of the two houses prepared for your coming is particularly apt for such usage. There are rooms suitable for entertaining as well as offices on the main floor, and lesser offices on the upper floors along with chambers appropriate for private quarters."
Ifram again bowed. "That would be most acceptable indeed."
The King indicated the guard in the grey cloak and silver star to whom he'd entrusted the writ establishing the embassy from Rhun. "Lord Hardorn is my officer of the Privy Purse as well as chief of my personal bodyguards. He will meet with you in two hours' time to discuss your further requirements. And you, my Lord Rustovrid--where will your people rest while you remain in Gondor and the city?"
"I think we will take the house, my Lord Elessar," the Southron replied.
"Very well, then--Lord Hardorn will accompany your party, Lord Ifram, while I will accompany the party from Harad to the house most likely to please you, Lord Rustovrid. If there is anything else that we can do for either party this afternoon and evening? Would you prefer to eat alone in your houses this day, or to return here later in the day? We have given orders to the cooks to be prepared to fix food to be sent down to the Sixth Circle at the time for the meal at sunset. We will allow you time to rest, perhaps see some of the city if you will, and to accustom yourself to your quarters this day. Tomorrow is our High Day, and many of the notables of our realms are scheduled to arrive during it or the following day. We will host an evening feast tomorrow starting shortly after sunset, and several of our Guild Masters, who are most anxious to question you regarding trade, have accepted invitations to join us as well. We would have set it later to accommodate the return of our Lord Steward from Ithilien, but I suspect that we will be otherwise occupied at that time." He shared a smile with his wife, whose own smile was a thrilling match to that worn by her lord husband.
"Oh, I suspect that we will indeed be otherwise occupied, Beloved, for this one is becoming impatient to see the world." She caressed her belly gently, and the King's own smile softened as he looked down at the evidence of the small life readying to emerge into the richness of Minas Anor.
With more bows all round and indications that both ambassadorial parties would prefer to dine in their own quarters, they separated into two groups. The King came forward first to Ifram, and offered his hand to grasp, again welcoming the folk from Rhun to the capital of Gondor. Then the Lord Hardorn came forward, his grey cloak thrown back to show he wore under it a fine coat of mail under a grey leather gambeson embossed with the sign of the Seven Stars. They were quickly led back down the ramp to the Sixth Circle, then shown a street out to the walls and the house on the end on the left, a large, three-storied structure taking up much of the street.
Before it was a garden full of flowers and formal plantings of sweet-smelling herbs and shrubs. The windows were shaded by young, shapely trees that still managed not to block the view unnecessarily. The house was detached and surrounded by a low wall surmounted by an iron railing. A servant stood in the doorway, waiting to admit them. Ifram and Shefti and their guards examined the entire building under the guidance of the servant, Lord Hardorn having taken his leave temporarily while they became acquainted with their quarters. Finally they felt they had a good feeling for the building, and could see no sign there were hidden passages or other means to spy on them, and they returned to the front room of the house, a very formal sitting room. Ifram looked out of its windows, feeling decidedly odd, for his people never built such great buildings as residences. This was going to require some time for him to adjust to living in such a place, one so different from the flat and sparse lands of Rhun.
"If the furnishings are not to your liking, they may be easily changed to make things more in keeping with your own ways, my Lords," the servant said.
Ifram shrugged. "I think we will want some changes, but hopefully not many. Tell me of the others who live on this street."
"The house just opposite the doors belongs to a family whose members serve in the Citadel and the Houses of Healing, which are on the southern side of the Sixth Circle. The house to the left, there on the end, is now empty, but will be inhabited by the sculptor who works on the King's Commission which will grace the area between the Court of the White Tree and the Court of Gathering before the Citadel. Master Sculptor Ruvemir is to be married next week, and he and his bride will first go south to Lebennin and Belfalas, and they will take up residence, I believe, on their return--although they may spend their wedding night there, if that is their choice. The house to the right holds the quarters for the Lord Hardorn--for when he leaves the King's side, that is. They are kinsmen and cousins. The house further on is another guesthouse, one that is now empty. The one house beside this one houses the widow of one of the guards of the Lord Denethor from the time before the coming of the King."
"I see, and thank you."
"We have brought in foodstuffs such as the Lord King indicated are commonly eaten in your lands, enough for fifteen for five days, I believe. After that you may arrange for your own shopping to be done in accordance with your ways. Will you require servitors? I can recommend a few who are available at this time. My own place is within the Citadel, so I will not be able to serve you myself."
At last the servant departed back to his own duties, and a ring at the bell indicated the arrival of the promised meal, followed at last by the return of Lord Hardorn.
He remained with them for an hour and a half, by which time Ifram was content that the King was indeed concerned with the comfort of his outlands guests and intent on seeing to it they felt welcome. The other thing of which he was convinced was that the folk of the city and the land loved their King.
Finally they placed the empty dishes on the trays as they'd been directed and set them on the heavy table that sat on the porch for servants of the Citadel to remove, and they examined the stores that had been provided for them. All were amazed to see that the food was indeed of the sorts they were most accustomed to, but of better quality than most folk of Rhun would ever see. There were three sets of dishes, one of which was made up of serving dishes and implements commonly used in Rhun. There were two casks of wine, and another that they'd been told was of the juice of apples. In a cold room hung a side of beef and another of mutton, and in bins were stored vegetables and a tub of butter and a basket of eggs and other perishables. They had sufficient rice and other grains to meet their needs.
Together with the captain of the guard they decided how the watch would be kept. While they were meeting they heard the rumble of a wagon out in front of the residence and realized their goods had been brought up to them. Ifram, Shefti, and the captain chose their own quarters, Ifram choosing a suite on the third floor; and once the members of the guard detail and the scouts had chosen theirs, all began to settle in.
The bed was far softer than he'd ever slept on before, and Ifram lay long awake in it. He was now in Gondor, the home of Staravion, who so long ago had watched over him and his brothers, had taught them his languages, his stories, his histories--until the day when Ifram was fourteen and came to find that during the night Staravion had finally managed to escape his quarters, and had chosen to return, if he could, to his own people. Once again he wondered if he would find his family's one-time slave now that he dwelt in Minas Anor. He rather hoped he would.
He'd opened the window, and from the house opposite he heard the voice of a woman singing. He smiled as he let himself fall at last into his rest.
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