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I borrow characters and settings from Tolkien, but they are his, not mine. I gain only the enriched imaginative life that I assume he intended me to gain.
Many thanks to Nilmandra for beta reading this chapter.
AN: I think I need to issue a small warning with this chapter: Legolas was repressing some grim stuff. It comes out here.
I drafted this chapter simultaneously with chapter 5, so it’s done quickly. It’s a present for readers who seem to be a little annoyed with me! It will take me longer to get the next one done because I’m still fluffing out the outline of it.
6. Legolas’s Story
“Legolas, are you ill?” Amdir cried, starting to his feet in alarm. Unable to answer, Legolas gasped for breath, feeling dizzy from the scenes that were now flooding back into his consciousness.
Amdir hesitated for only a second more before rushing to the door and flinging it open. “Help!” he cried. “I need help in here.”
Running footsteps sounded in the hall, and, weapons drawn, two of the guards burst into the room, followed closely by Thranduil. The guards looked hastily around and then stood uncertainly, but Thranduil hurried immediately to Legolas’s side. Legolas grasped at his father’s hand as if he were drowning and a rope had been thrown to him.
Thranduil turned to Amdir. “What happened?” he demanded.
Amdir’s eyes widened at being addressed so brusquely by the king. “I do not know,” he said. “I was telling him what I remembered about the Dwarves and the cave and suddenly he began gasping like that.”
“Get the healer,” Thranduil commanded.
“No!” Legolas managed to choke out. Thranduil turned to him. “I will tell you what the matter is, Adar, but no healer, please! I swear to you I do not need one.”
Thranduil paused, with his eyes narrowed. Then he jerked his head at the guards, who were both staring at Legolas. “Go.” They immediately recollected themselves and faded from the room. “And you,” Thranduil said, turning to Amdir now. “You may go too.” With his face anxious, Amdir hesitated for a second, but fear of Thranduil seemed to overwhelm whatever else he was feeling and he bowed quickly and went out the door, closing it behind him.
Thranduil turned back to Legolas. Still holding Legolas’s hand, he nudged the chair next to the bed into place and then sat down in it. “Now what is this about, iôn-nín?” he asked, in a voice that Legolas had heard from childhood, the one that meant that all evasions should now be put aside and the truth be told, no matter how painful truth might be.
Legolas drew a deep breath and tried desperately to think of how he was going to explain himself to his father. “Since I awakened,” he began and then stopped to steady himself. Thranduil waited, saying nothing yet, but with an implacable look that made it clear that Legolas had no choice but to go on. “Since I awakened,” Legolas repeated, with his heart pounding, “I have been having some trouble remembering everything that happened during the mission. That is why I told Ithilden that I did not want the pain medication any more. I thought it might be preventing me from recollecting events.”
Thranduil blinked at him and then slowly asked, “Do you mean that you have been having trouble remembering every detail?”
Legolas sighed. “No,” he said. “Until now, I have not been able to recall anything at all about what happened. I only knew that it was horrible and that I felt responsible.”
“You cannot remember the mission?” Thranduil cried.
“I can,” Legolas hurried to reassure him. “Now I can, but I could not before.”
Thranduil sat back and drew in his breath slowly. “You have had no memory of events and you have not told us?”
Legolas grimaced. “I was afraid you would not allow me back on duty.”
“No more would I have!” Thranduil exclaimed. “Legolas, that kind of injury is treacherous! You could not have predicted how you would have behaved when memory came back or when you were in situations like the one you could not remember. I am appalled that you concealed such a problem. Doing so was a violation of your commanding officer’s trust.”
“I am sorry,” said Legolas, miserably aware that his father was angry, but so pained by the memories that had come back to him that Thranduil’s fury seemed like a minor matter.
Thranduil paused and seemed to struggle to regain control of himself. Finally, he spoke again, more gently this time. “You say you now have full recall?”
Legolas nodded. “I think so.” He looked pleadingly at his father. “You once said you would be happy to listen to me talk about events. Would you still do that, Adar? I need to talk about this.”
Slowly, Thranduil nodded. “If it would ease your heart to speak of these things, then I am here to listen, Legolas. I have heard reports of what happened, of course, but there are parts of this tale that only you can tell, and I have been reluctant to push you to speak of them. As it turns out,” he added dryly, “I would have learned more than I bargained for if I had done so.”
Legolas knew that he had leaned on Thranduil’s strength from the time he was small. He thought that he did it less often now, as he moved slowly toward standing on his own two feet in full adulthood, but at a moment such as this one, he was deeply grateful for the rock-like figure of his father, even when Thranduil so plainly disapproved of the concealment that Legolas had practiced.
He leaned back against the pillows, keeping hold of his father’s hand, but not looking at him. He thought the story might be easier to tell that way. “I was angry at Eilian, I am afraid,” he began. “When Eilian went into the Dwarves’ cave and did not choose me to be one of the party, I finally lost my temper about his refusal to let me do anything even remotely dangerous. Beliond tried to tell me to get hold of myself, but the best I could manage to do was wait until we camped for the night before I approached Eilian.”
With his temper damped down but still smoldering, Legolas waited while Eilian issued orders for the night’s camp. “Stay close to camp,” Eilian said. “And keep your weapons to hand. We need to be ready if an unwelcome visitor or two appears.” Almost as one, the warriors around Legolas dropped their packs and started toward the stream, intent on washing off some of the day’s filth.
Legolas had enough control to wait until everyone around Eilian had walked off, but then he could wait no more. Resolutely, he approached his brother, who was starting toward the stream too. “Eilian,” he said, stopping him, “I would like a word with you.”
Something about his tone must have told his brother that Legolas was angry, for Eilian’s face immediately became cautious. “What about?” he asked.
“About the way you have refused to allow me to take part in any of the forward scouting. I am an effective warrior and a good scout, and you keep me as far from the action as you possibly can. That is not right, Eilian.” Legolas kept his voice low but he knew it sounded heated.
“I owe you no explanation for how I arrange the patrol’s responsibilities,” Eilian said, his voice containing an edge of menace, “but surely you can see that I give the more dangerous tasks to the more experienced warriors.”
“Do not try to claim that your choices are simply based on my inexperience,” Legolas responded sharply. “You took Galelas with you today!”
Eilian flushed and then snapped, “This discussion is closed. You need to remember that I am your captain here, Legolas. It is not your place to question my orders.”
Legolas was opening his mouth to protest further, but someone caught at his arm. He whirled to find that Beliond stood behind him. “Come,” his keeper said. “You need to dunk your head in the stream for a while.” He pulled firmly on Legolas’s arm, making it impossible to resist him without making a public scene.
Legolas glanced back at Eilian. “We will talk of this more later.”
“No, we will not.” Eilian turned his back and walked off in the other direction.
“Just what do you think you are accomplishing anyway?” Beliond asked in a disgusted voice as he dragged Legolas off toward a part of the stream that was slightly screened by a thicket of brambles running down to its edge.
“He is being unreasonable, and you know it,” Legolas responded heatedly.
Beliond shoved him toward the edge of the stream. “So are you. Splash some of that water over your head and cool off.” Still fuming, Legolas crouched down by the edge of the stream to wash. When he tried to rise, Beliond shoved him down again. “You are not ready to go back yet,” he announced. Legolas glared at him, filled with some of the same helpless fury that he felt toward Eilian. Beliond gazed back at him and then made an exasperated sound. “Do you want to provoke your brother?” he asked.
Legolas thought for a second. Did he want Eilian to be angry with him? “No,” he admitted reluctantly.
“Good,” said Beliond. “Then we will stay here until you calm down.” Ignoring Legolas, he too crouched by the stream and began to wash. Legolas watched him for a moment and then turned away, finding that his anger was already beginning to abate. He blew out his breath in a noisy sigh. His chances of making a dent in Eilian’s protectiveness were not great, and when you came down to it, Eilian was his captain. Legolas had never yet served under a captain who responded well to angry words from a warrior.
Having cleaned ashes from every surface he could reach, he stood. “I am ready to go back if you are,” he said resignedly. Beliond nodded and the two of them returned to camp to find that Amdir had managed to create a meal that smelled quite tempting. Scanning the camp for Eilian, Legolas found him on the other edge of it, conferring with Lómór and Nithron. Sinnarn’s keeper had been to this part of the world before, and Eilian had been making use of whatever knowledge Nithron could provide to shape their scouting. Legolas took a bowl of the stew and went to sit as far away from Eilian as he could get and still be in camp. When he finished, he lay down on his blanket and flung his arm over his face, still trying to talk some sense into himself. The sounds of the evening camp routine rose around him. People finished eating and began spreading their blankets; Sinnarn and Amdir took the dishes off to wash.
Finally, he sat up and looked toward Eilian again. He probably should make his peace with his brother, he thought. He hated being at odds with him. Eilian was still talking strategy with Nithron and Lómór, however, and Beliond had now joined them too. Legolas was interested in that. Beliond had spent years conducting special missions for Thranduil, and the fact that he had been included in the planning session suggested that he had been to the Grey Mountains before.
Legolas idly scanned the camp and suddenly became aware that Sinnarn and Amdir were not yet back from washing the dishes. Surely they should be back by now, he thought. He felt a momentary alarm over their safety, followed quickly by the certainty that the two of them had simply become distracted by some scheme. Unreliable as they sometimes were, they were still Elven warriors and it was unlikely that something could have silently harmed the two of them within a few dozen yards of camp.
They had better return soon or they were likely to be in even more trouble than they were in currently, he thought. He glanced toward the group around Eilian again and then rose to his feet. He had better retrieve the two young fools while he had the chance to do so discreetly, he thought.
He slipped quietly away and soon found himself staring down at a pile of clean dishes, neatly stacked on a rock. Where were Sinnarn and Amdir? Idiots! he thought and began to follow the light traces of their passage along the stream bank. It soon became obvious to him that they were heading for the waterfall, and he remembered Amdir saying that it would be nice to swim there. I will haul them back by their hair, he thought grimly. Eilian will kill them if he finds out they have wandered off.
When he got to the waterfall, however, neither Sinnarn nor Amdir was in sight. Trying to see which way they had gone, he peered at the confusion of tracks in the wet soil next to the waterfall and suddenly he stiffened. For the last two days, the northern Border Patrol had been examining prints similar to those he now saw mixed with Amdir’s and Sinnarn’s. A Dwarf. A Dwarf had been here, and while there was no sign of a struggle, both the Dwarf’s prints and those of the two missing Elves suggested that they had been running when they left the waterfall.
Fighting down his alarm, Legolas stared at the prints and tried to decipher what might have happened. Dwarves were known to be in the area, so in one way, the appearance of a Dwarf here was no surprise. And while the Elves and the Dwarves were not friends, neither were they enemies, so he had no reason to suppose that the lone Dwarf had done harm to Sinnarn and Amdir. Indeed, the two of them had plainly been well enough to run when they left the waterfall. Had they been chasing the Dwarf? Had they perhaps gone somewhere with the Nogoth? He recalled Sinnarn’s wish to talk to a Dwarf and drew in a sharp breath. Surely they had not been so stupid as to follow a Dwarf simply to satisfy his nephew’s curiosity?
He looked back downstream toward where his patrol was camped. He knew what he should do now: He should sound the signal that something was not right. He hesitated. Eilian was already angry with the two young ones and was likely to report their unauthorized trip to Ithilden rather than simply deal with it himself. Legolas did not like to see them get into a great deal of trouble if all they were doing was satisfying their curiosity. And Eilian was likely to be unhappy enough with Legolas, who had set off to retrieve them without telling anyone. This little jaunt would not help Legolas’s argument about being allowed to participate in the more exciting parts of the mission.
There was no choice really, he thought resignedly. He was a warrior with a warrior’s obligations. With a sigh, he put his hand to his mouth and whistled the signal. Then he turned back to the tracks, intending to examine them further as he waited for other warriors to arrive. As he did so, his eye was caught by something in the sky in the direction toward which the tracks led. A red light flickered momentarily and then disappeared. He blinked, apprehension suddenly making him stiffen. Far too often, he had found that unfamiliar things turned out to be dangerous. He waited, watching tensely, and suddenly the light flared again. And then he waited no more, but, bow in hand, started at a run along the trail that Amdir and Sinnarn had left. Whatever the light represented, he could not risk waiting for the patrol to arrive before he went after the two missing ones. His own trail would be easy enough for his fellow warriors to follow.
Moving as quickly as he could, he followed the tracks. The moon was up now, and while the rocky ground slowed him a little, the passage of the three was relatively easy to trace. He scrambled up the second rocky slope, entered a narrow passage, and slid silently along it to emerge on a rock- and tree-studded plateau. Watching the ground, he moved hurriedly to the right.
He had just found the place where the tracks entered the underbrush along the cliff wall when he became aware of an odd whooshing noise from far off to his left. He slipped into the cover of the bushes and then turned to scan in that direction. And there at a distance in the sky, he saw again the red light, and this time it was traveling rapidly in his direction. For a moment, he stood frozen in confusion. What was that? Foreboding filled him as the light sped toward him, growing gradually larger, and he drew back deeper under cover. Now he could see that it was some sort of flying creature, but one whose huge size meant it was nothing Legolas knew.
Concern for Amdir and Sinnarn suddenly flooded him, and he once again put his hand to his mouth and sounded one of the calls used by the warriors of the Woodland Realm, the one that meant that serious trouble was at hand. He only hoped the patrol was close enough to hear it. Legolas was confident of his ability in battle and believed that Eilian wronged him by keeping him from taking part in all aspects of the patrol’s mission, but he knew that he was now in a situation for which his experience had not prepared him. Amdir and Sinnarn might be in danger, and he was appalled by the thought that they had only him to help them.
Keeping one eye on the sky, he turned and began to track the two wanderers rapidly through the underbrush. Wind from the flying creature’s wings was now swirling about him, although the thing was sailing toward the cliff at perhaps half a mile’s distance from him. And then, with startling suddenness, the creature spat forth a torrent of flame that raked along the cliff. Legolas gaped, shocked into immobility. A dragon! That was the only thing the creature could be: a dragon. The dark flying shape rose so as not to crash into the cliff and then whirled away in a large, lazy circle.
With a gasp, Legolas leapt into motion again. His heart pounded and his stomach twisted, but he ran quickly along the trail that Sinnarn and Amdir had left. And there, ahead of him, he saw where they, and probably the Dwarf too, had undoubtedly gone, for the mouth of a cave was discernible through the undergrowth. Drawing on every bit of warrior training and experience he possessed, he forced himself to stop and listen outside the cave. The dragon was sailing away from the cliff just now, and Legolas needed to know what he was likely to find in the cave. The only sound that reached his ears puzzled him, for it was remarkably like the muffled sobs of a child. He could not wait to learn more, he thought desperately. With a last glance at the dragon, he drew his bow and slid like a shadow into the cave.
Startled faces turned toward him, and it took him a minute to sort out what was happening in the scene before him. Sinnarn and Amdir stood with bows in hand, although Sinnarn’s weapon was lowered. Amdir, however, had his bow pointed straight at a Dwarf who stood in front of him. And on the ground were two more Dwarves. For a minute, Legolas stared at these two, for here was the source of the sobs he had heard outside the cave. With his fists knotted in the larger Dwarf’s beard, a child leaned against him, while the adult stroked the little one’s hair and murmured what were obviously soothing words. The adult shot Legolas a fiercely protective glance, startling him by the accusation his eyes held.
“It is all right, Legolas,” said Sinnarn, his voice shaking slightly. “They are unarmed.”
And, indeed, Legolas could see that Sinnarn was right. Slowly, he lowered his bow, but he did not take the arrow from the bowstring. He glanced at Amdir, who reluctantly lowered his bow too. “What is going on here?” Legolas asked. An edge of hysteria bubbled up in him and it was all he could do to keep from laughing at his own question. There was a dragon outside the cave; what did it matter what was going on inside it?
Sinnarn began to answer but the Dwarf who was standing interrupted him. “Keep your voice down, you fool!” he hissed in a low tone. “Dragons have excellent hearing. I assume you did not miss seeing the one that is circling outside?”
Legolas blinked at the sarcasm in his voice. “No, I did not miss it,” he snapped, although he heeded the Dwarf’s warning and lowered his voice.
“They are hiding from it,” Amdir said. He turned to Legolas, his face pale. “The dragons are the reason that the Dwarves have been fleeing to Erebor.”
The sound outside the cave changed, and all three of the Dwarves flinched. The child began to cry again, and the Dwarf who sat next to him pulled him into his lap and began to rock him. Legolas stared at them for a moment, trying to identify what had struck him about the gesture. It was maternal, he suddenly thought, and then another realization dawned. This was a family in front of him. Despite the beard and the deep voice, the Dwarf who held the child was his mother, and the one who was standing was trying to protect his wife and son, with his bare hands if necessary.
The noise of the dragon was growing again. It was returning, Legolas realized, trying not to panic. He looked at the Dwarf who stood before them. “Is it hunting you?” he asked, and the Dwarf nodded.
“It knows we are here somewhere,” he said. He looked anxiously at his wife and the crying child and then said something in his own tongue. The mother rose and carried the child further back into the cave, hushing it as she went. She was worried the dragon would hear the child, Legolas suddenly realized.
And now the sound of the dragon had risen to a roar, and once again the thundering noise of its fire filled the air. From where he stood in the cave, Legolas could see the light of the fire hurtling against the cliff face a short distance away. “It was closer that time,” he breathed.
“It will be back,” the Dwarf said grimly.
Legolas glanced again at the Dwarf woman and her child, huddled in the back of the cave. Then he looked at Sinnarn and Amdir, who were watching him, as if waiting for him to direct them. These two think I know what to do, he thought with a shock. He nearly laughed, but he stopped himself in time. He needed to be calm and rational, or none of them was going to survive long enough for Eilian to discipline. How he wished now that he had gone to fetch Eilian and the rest of the patrol when Sinnarn and Amdir had first turned up missing. If he had, two dozen Elven warriors would now be waiting to shoot the dragon on its next pass.
“We need to draw the dragon away,” he told Sinnarn and Amdir. “It does not know we are here, and its underbelly will be vulnerable to arrows. But the most important thing is that we need to get it away from the cave.” They both nodded, but their frightened young faces were pale. Legolas supposed he did not look very different himself.
“Give me a sword, and I will come with you,” the Dwarf cried.
Legolas blinked at him. “A sword will do you no good,” he said, knowing he sounded confused. “And your family needs you.”
“I will not cower here while something menaces my wife and son!” the Dwarf cried.
Legolas hesitated for only a second and then, from its tooled scabbard, he drew the sword that his father had given him the day he came of age. He reversed it and extended its hilt to the Dwarf, who took it eagerly. Legolas now turned to the mother and child in the rear of the cave. “Stay in the cave,” he said. “You will be safer here than anywhere else.” He glanced at the Dwarf. “Do they understand?” he asked.
The Dwarf said something to his wife who nodded, and then turned back to Legolas and spoke in Common. “If the dragon finds the cave, they will not be safe here, no matter what you have told them.”
Legolas bit his lip. “The dragon will not find the cave,” he promised grimly and then turned to lead the way out into the night. A distance off to his right, where the dragon’s last attack had occurred, the bushes were burning. Legolas scanned the sky but could see no approaching fiery light. “When I saw the dragon, it came from that direction,” he told the Dwarf, pointing. “And it sounded as if it came that way the last time too. Is it likely to come that way again?”
The Dwarf hesitated. “Perhaps,” he said doubtfully.
Legolas despaired at the uncertainty in his voice, but he had to act on the shaky knowledge he had. He turned to Sinnarn and Amdir. “You two go that way,” he said, pointing in the direction from which the dragon had come. “Shelter in the rocks and wait until it is overhead. Then shoot and move immediately. You do not want it to turn and breathe fire at you.” They both nodded and ran off to take up the positions to which he had sent them. For a second he paused. What in Arda would he say to his family if something happened to Sinnarn? He shoved the thought from him. Nothing will happen, he told himself grimly, but he was not sure he believed it.
He turned to look at the Dwarf, valiantly and foolishly holding a sword with which he intended to defend his family from a dragon. “Stay in the rocks nearest the cave,” he said and the Dwarf nodded and moved off. Perhaps he could be useful if they all had to find new shelter at short notice, Legolas thought and then ran to take up his own position.
Every nerve alert, Legolas stared off into the night sky, trying to see if the creature was circling around for another attack, but it was his ears that told him that the dragon was coming again, for long before he saw it, he heard the roar of its wings. He crouched behind the rock, his arrow nocked and ready.
His heart quickened and his breath came in shorter gasps as the roar of the dragon grew, and suddenly, off to his left, he saw it, coming, to his dismay, from an angle he had not expected. Sinnarn and Amdir would have no chance of hitting it before it reached the cave. He was going to have to do this on his own, he thought grimly, for there was no one else with any hope of success.
His fingers tightened on his bowstring, and he struggled with an impulse to jump from his hiding place and begin loosing arrows, but he would have no chance of killing it or at least driving it off if it saw him, so he forced himself to wait until the creature sailed directly over his head. With an immense sense of release, he leapt to his feet and drew and fired into the dragon’s unprotected underbelly quickly enough that he had time to draw and fire again as the creature tore past overhead. It gave a terrifying cry and then something thick and black rained down onto Legolas’s shoulder. Blood! he thought exultantly. I hit it.
He spun to watch the dragon's course and saw it wobble slightly. He felt a spurt of exhilaration, but then, to his dismay, it steadied itself and continued its course. With a guttural roar, it opened its mouth, and, to Legolas's horror, raked a breath of fire across the entrance to the cave where the mother and child were sheltered. The brush and trees covering the entrance burst into flame as the dragon wheeled and turned to approach again. It is coming back, Legolas thought, fear flowering in his guts. He scrambled from his position to a different one behind a pile of large rocks that was now in the beast's path.
Suddenly, his attention was caught by cries from the mouth of the cave. He turned to see two figures, one large and one small, silhouetted in the flames and struggling to get out of the cave as if they feared being trapped there. "No!" he cried, starting toward them and trying to make himself heard over the noise of the dragon and the fire. "Go back inside!" Surely they realized that they would be safer where the dragon would not see them!
The noise rose to a crescendo as the dragon sailed overhead and then hurled a tongue of flame toward the two figures in the cave mouth. It flickered over them, and the hair of the smaller figure burst into flame. "No!" Legolas cried again, as fire seemed to spring from everywhere around the two. Even from where he stood, he could hear the mother Dwarf scream as her beard and clothes, too, blossomed with fire. From somewhere not far away, the father gave a loud wail. Legolas’s stomach turned, and his heart froze in horror.
And then, suddenly, more arrows flew toward the dragon, coming from his right. He had time to wonder how Sinnarn and Amdir had managed to get to that spot and then to realize that there were far too many arrows for them to have come from only two warriors, when in the course of its turn, the dragon's tail swept through the rocks over his head and knocked them down upon him.
Legolas was crying unashamedly, and Thranduil had moved from the chair to the edge of the bed and drawn him into an embrace. “I am sorry. I am sorry. I am so sorry,” Legolas gasped, over and over again.
Thranduil stroked his hair. “You are not to blame, Legolas. You did what you could.”
“If I had gotten Eilian earlier or if I had been clearer in telling the Dwarves to stay in the cave or if I had positioned Amdir and Sinnarn differently, it might not have happened!”
“You could not have known. You did what you could.” Thranduil’s voice was low and soothing, and Legolas could not help being reminded of the voice of the mother Dwarf.
“I am supposed to be such a good archer. Why did I not kill it?”
“Legolas!” Thranduil sounded firm now. “Listen to me! You must stop this fruitless wishing that you can alter what is past. I know this temptation, iôn-nín, for I have felt it many times in my life, and I tell you that you cannot give in to it. You did what you could to protect them. You could not have done more. And now you have to let it go.”
Legolas turned his face into his father’s chest and breathed in his woodsy scent. Gradually, he began to regain control over himself, although he knew that he was only dulling his grief, not curing it. Exhausted, he pulled away from Thranduil and lay back against his pillow, gazing at the ceiling and thinking.
“How was Beliond burned, Adar?” he finally asked.
Thranduil hesitated, and Legolas turned toward him. “Truth for truth, Adar,” he said with a twist of his mouth that he meant to be a reassuring smile.
Thranduil sighed. “The Dwarf rushed into the fire after his wife and child, and Beliond pulled him back. The Dwarf’s clothes and beard were on fire, and I gather Sinnarn arrived in time to slap at the flames and try to put them out while Beliond attempted to go to your aid.”
Legolas grimaced. “Is the Dwarf all right?”
Again his father paused. “No,” he said finally. “He died of his burns.”
Legolas closed his eyes and felt tears beginning to leak from under his eyelids again. He flung his arm across his face. “I wanted to remember,” he said bitterly. “What could I have been thinking? You can call the healer now, Adar. He can give me whatever drugs he likes.”
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