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Wonder and Disquiet
Far enough from his son not to appear to be hovering, while close enough to keep an eye on him, Finarfin glanced anxiously at his mother. ‘He loses himself,’ he muttered. ‘It is unlike Finrod not to be … doing something.’
‘He is doing something.’ Indis remained tranquil. Dwelling with Estë had given her greater insight into the needs of the elves under the Valië’s care, as well as helping her resign herself to her loss of her husband and the absence of her older son and all but this one of her grandchildren. ‘He is not idle, simply because you cannot see his struggles.’ She smiled at her son. ‘Some things shine for him out of the confusion and give him purpose – you, Eärwen, Amarië – but for the rest...’ Indis shook her head. ‘It will take time.’
‘I have to return to Tirion,’ Finarfin said moodily. ‘You would think that the remnants of the Noldor in Aman could rule themselves quite happily for a season or two, but it would appear that, although they can ignore me quite comfortably while I am among them, my absence makes them feel that they have been abandoned.’
Indis gleamed with amusement, raising her face to bask in the glow of Anar’s golden light as if to share the jest with the Maia guiding it. ‘You would feel unappreciated if they did not miss you,’ she said.
Her son looked at her reproachfully. ‘But I cannot be in two places at once. And surely my place right now is at my son’s side. Some things are more important than politics.’
‘I do not think it will matter to Finrod if you are absent for a time,’ she assured him. ‘He is not yet truly aware of the passage of the days. His awareness seems to consist more of … intense moments of sensation, following by periods of struggling to absorb their meaning.’
Finarfin gave her a lop-sided and rather rueful grin. ‘And, in truth, he needs Amarië more than he needs me.’
‘Perhaps.’ Indis did not attempt to conceal her agreement under a shield of reassurance. ‘I suspect that he feels most comfortable with the child he was – you and Eärwen represent the most stable part of his life and just knowing you are unchanged is probably enough for him. Amarië – well, her part in his life is unfulfilled and he is still learning how she relates to him.’
‘I would not say we were unchanged.’ Finarfin suppressed the flash of bitterness that tended to shadow him when he thought of those dark years … and his struggle to rebuild the confidence of the Noldor in the face of Fëanor’s betrayal. Enduring the pain of his kin’s departure … the years of war … the knowledge that his sons and Eärwen’s were lost to Námo’s Halls and that their beautiful Artanis was exiled beyond the seas to a dangerous world. No, not unchanged.
Yet Estë’s acolytes had warned them all against indulging in strong emotion around his son, insisting that it would scar Finrod’s fëa, still not entirely confined within its protective shell. This was neither the time nor the place to allow these feelings to surface. Perhaps he needed to step away for a while, to come to terms with his own emotions, to ensure that he was able to be the father this newly-returned elf needed.
He looked at his apparently full-grown son, who sat motionless on the turf, unbraided hair of pale gold cloaking his slender figure, and his belly twisted with pain. None of them were unchanged and it was folly to pretend that they were.
‘I will be back as soon as I can,’ he said.
It was harder than he had expected. Nothing was real. Nothing that happened now – and nothing that swam to the surface of his mind as having happened in that former life, the life he had now resumed. Nothing from the time in between. This gentle place of dreams seemed detached from anything as … as vulgar as life. These gardens – he looked round him disparagingly – were too perfect. There was no space for the rampant growth of a strong-willed weed or two – anything so coarse had apologetically removed itself beyond the borders of Irmo’s lands. There seemed to be no understanding that, without contrast, perfection was itself diminished.
And people expected so much of him. Not that they said so – they simply looked at him, eyes filled with hope, when all he wanted was to be left alone, so that he could try to meld together all the different people concealed beneath this unscarred form.
He sighed and ran his fingers over the surface of the short turf, losing himself in the fresh acid green of its scent, so that when he blinked again he found that Arien’s voyage across the sky had progressed towards evening.
It had happened again!
He did not like it – he preferred to be in control. That, at least, he knew. The decisions should be his. Even if his decision was to step away from power to fulfil a more necessary destiny.
Finrod stood, swaying very slightly as his body grew accustomed to the idea of movement, and headed towards the water. He would walk round the lake, he decided. They would not let him leave until they felt he was able to control himself – that he had balanced past and present in his head and prepared himself for the future. And if that was so, then he must work to recover more of himself, to pack ruthlessly away the tendrils of drifting confusion and be himself. It should not, after all, be that difficult.
Gravel edging the water crunched beneath his feet, stone moving against stone to settle into a solid surface – and he was suddenly a child again, small enough that he reached only halfway to his grandfather’s shoulder. He could feel his excitement as Finwë’s long fingers curled around his chubby hand and showed him how to feel the flat pebble in his palm, how to draw back his arm and flick the stone so that it bounced again and again across the still surface of the water. His father had laughed, his face bright with pleasure and, in the distance, among the reeds on the far side of the lake, a duck had quacked indignantly in protest at their game.
‘Finwë,’ he murmured, and his throat ached as he recalled the appearance of messengers from Formenos and the discovery that the evil that permeated the darkened land had stolen his grandfather’s life and robbed Aman of its innocence.
Yet the air was warm and silken over his skin and the rustle of the trees soothed his ears. Golden flowers exuded a comforting fragrance that promised … that promised reconciliation and harmony. He resumed his walk, his long robe catching on the longer grasses and tugging gently so that the fabric pressed against his skin and reminded him that the flesh had its own pleasures.
It was this exposure to sensation, he thought, that was most disconcerting him. He had always been Finrod, even when his spirit drifted in the cool emptiness of Námo’s Halls, but he had forgotten what it was like to feel – to smell, to taste, to have something – someone – touch him.
He felt her rather than saw her. A young oak, green and strong and straight – an oak at the heart of a sheltered forest, weighed down by his parasitic presence. He was like ivy twining round her, using her for support, bearing her down. A wave of shame flushed through him.
She enfolded him in her arms and held him close. ‘You are nothing of the sort,’ she whispered fiercely. ‘You are part of me and I would not let you go. It takes time to recover from any injury – to regain your strength – and what injury could be worse than death? And, at that …’ She stopped, drawing down blinds so that he should not see her thoughts.
Such a death. The words trailed across his mind, light as a cloud drifting across a summer sky and as ephemeral, but he frowned, uncertain. How could she know anything about the manner of his …? Only Beren had survived to know of it – and, of all those east of the sea, Beren would be the least likely to have had any chance to tell his family in Aman of the end he made.
He tangled his fingers in the spring sunshine of her hair – a net to hold him safe from the darkness. ‘What do you know of …?’ He let the query dangle. He wanted to know, but not enough to speak of it. Not here, where Irmo’s gardens rested in the perpetual tranquillity of unchanging beauty. This was not the place for shadows.
She stroked his cheek. ‘Does it matter?’ she asked. ‘I know enough that you do not need to hide it from me.’ She smiled and a tendril of warmth curled itself round him. ‘Release it, my heart.’
‘I took the creature into the dark with me,’ Finrod told her. It seemed important – if only barely – for her to know that his death had not been in vain.
‘And Beren survived,’ she assured him. ‘To wrest one of Fëanor’s jewels from Morgoth’s crown. His granddaughter and Lúthien’s risked the passage west to bring home the Silmaril that now graces Eärendil’s brow as he sails the night sky.’
Finrod blinked. Time was an obsession that belonged to men – whose lives passed so rapidly in those dangerous lands – yet he wondered for the first time how much of it had passed while his fëa healed in Námo’s care and how much had happened of which he was unaware. A sprout of curiosity unfurled, like a green leaf in a bright spring.
Amarië laughed and he bathed in the sound. ‘That is more like the Finrod of memory,’ she said. ‘You have always wanted to know – to see, to understand, to offer friendship and support.’
His grin was mischievous, apologetic, warm - present. ‘I am sorry,’ he apologised. ‘I cannot help it.’
She drew her fingers along his jaw to outline his mouth. ‘I would not have you any other way,’ she said.
The day beyond the silken pavilion gleamed with a dream-like splendour. In fact, when Indis came to think about it, she was sure she could recall the precise day that was being recreated for her …
The Valië smoothed one pearl-white hand over her forearm and lifted it to look between the long fingers. ‘If we decide to wear a physical form,’ she said, ‘it is simple – it is a mere appearance that confines us not at all.’ She paused, gazing contemplatively at the elegantly-wrought table and the steaming cups of fruit tea. ‘I spent some time in converse with Melian,’ she went on. ‘A body is apparently more real to a Maia – they take on the characteristics of the form worn until they shed it, but releasing it does not bring about any end and they can resume a familiar form. It would seem that returning to a body is more complicated for an elf.’
‘We are composed of both hroa and fëa,’ Indis agreed. ‘It is hard to imagine existing as one without the other.’
‘That,’ Estë stated, ‘is not the problem. The fëa continues to exist in Námo’s care. But the promise is there – that elves might return to life in Aman when their fëar are healed.’ She looked over the shimmering surface of the lake. ‘It would seem that it will take more care to bring about than we had thought – and that those who return need more than a swift release into the care of their families.’
She lapsed into silence, but Indis felt herself subjected to a keen interest that did not require the eyes of the Valië to be upon her. ‘You mean…’ she said slowly, then hesitated. Did Estë mean what she thought? She turned doubtful silver-grey eyes on the shining Valië.
‘Many are the fëar within the bounds of Mandos,’ Estë said simply, ‘and many there are that are ready for release – but the Gardens of Lorien cannot hold the newly-restored indefinitely while they ready themselves to resume their lives.’
‘You want the elves to … to establish a system for preparing elves to live here in the Blessed Realm.’ Indis felt rather than saw Estë’s approving smile – and the gentle encouragement to take the thought through to its natural conclusion. ‘And you want me to do it.’
Estë’s esteem bathed her in warmth, but Indis could not quite suppress a flash of despair. Who better, since Finwë would never be among those fëar passing back through the doors of Mandos’s Halls? Who better, since Eärwen ruled at Finarfin’s side in Tirion? Who better, since she had none who depended on her for their happiness?
‘They would listen to you,’ Estë said. ‘You have the ear of those who rule in Valmar, in Tirion – even in Alqualondë. They would provide all that you need.’ She looked at Indis speculatively.
‘And the Valar could not set this in place?’ Indis lifted her chin. ‘Would Ingwë and Olwë not respond more swiftly to Lord Manwë’s request than to mine?’
Estë watched her hands spread, palm up, in a gesture of deprecation. ‘There is no rush,’ she hedged. ‘Better to move slowly and be right.’
‘And elves should provide for themselves…’ Indis looked at the Valië with apparent innocence. ‘We have a better understanding of the trials of hroa and fëa than can the Ainur – we are better able to bring them back into balance.’
Estë’s smile made it seem as if the whole garden had brightened and Arien’s chariot blazed above them. She shook her head. ‘All true,’ she said, ‘yet you are right – there is more than that. It will give you purpose, child. You cannot mourn Finwë’s absence until Arda ends. He will not return – not soon, at any rate – but there are others of your blood who may. Why should you not ensure that their path is smooth and their troubles eased?’ She raised her cup and sipped speculatively at the cooled liquid. ‘Finrod has shown us that the process takes time and care. He is fortunate that he has you and his parents and his beloved. Not all will be so blessed. Would you have them held in my brother’s care until there are those present who will tend them? What of those families brought to ruin in the Hither Lands? Should they never be released to dwell in peace?’
Her stomach tensed and Indis closed her eyes to absorb the intensity of the stab. Not just those who had chosen to leave the safety of the Valar’s haven, but those who had never reached it. Those whose life’s blood had been spilled on distant shores – whose hope was eventual freedom in a world of tranquillity. ‘What must I do?’ she murmured, bowing her head to accept the burden placed upon her.
Finrod linked his fingers with Amarië’s. ‘How long has it been?’ he asked.
She clutched her skirt in her free hand and bunched it up to scramble after him up the steep hillside. ‘How long has what been?’
He stopped and turned towards her, drawing her close, his hand on her back. ‘Do not evade my questions,’ he protested. ‘I need to know.’
Amarië dimpled, her smile still enough to enchant him, but he fought off his wish to drown in the softness of her lips. ‘How long since we left the pavilion?’ she asked. ‘How long since the gates of Mandos closed behind you? How long since your fëa fled to Námo’s care? How long since Anar rose? How long since we last stood on a bed of pine needles overlooking still water? There are so many questions – I cannot answer them all at once!’
‘All,’ he demanded, his clasp on her firm and confident.
She searched his eyes. Do not volunteer information, she had been told. When Findaráto is ready to remember, he will remember. But these, surely, were questions to which he could not retrieve the answer?
His smile melted her. ‘Save the first,’ he conceded. ‘I recall that we began our explorations some three hours since – give or take a handful of moments. I am … bemused – not stupid.’
She stood on tiptoe and kissed him. He was, she was ashamed to confess, even to herself, irresistible when he looked at her like that. And his muscles – remarkably for one who had only recently been restored to the possession of a body – felt toned as he held her more tightly against him.
‘But,’ he murmured, his breath warm against her mouth, ‘I am easily distracted.’
‘Not here,’ she said firmly. ‘It would not be suitable.’
His kiss was decidedly more demanding than she expected and she found herself forgetting to breathe as he tilted his face better to gain access … ‘Enough,’ she gasped.
‘These are gardens of healing,’ he teased. ‘Where better to …?’ He laughed as she pressed a finger to his lips and kissed it gently. ‘Surely Lady Estë would not begrudge us a little pleasure after so very long apart?’
‘She might not,’ Amarië informed him. ‘But I do not intend to be the first to bond precipitately in the Gardens of Lórien! We would probably set back by centuries the cause of those fëar that are ready to return!’
Finrod was suddenly serious. ‘Anything that would lead the Lady to feel that I am not yet ready to leave here, I will not do,’ he said. ‘It is time for me to depart – to take up again a place in the world.’
Amarië cupped his cheek and gazed intently into his gleaming eyes. ‘You are better,’ she admitted, ‘but I do not know if you are yet prepared for the cacophony of the outside. You are not, perhaps, as ready as you think you are.’
‘We will not discover that until I am allowed to try my wings.’ He sounded a little impatient. ‘There are those who would like, it seems, to keep me cosseted away from the world until another age has passed.’ Amarië raised a golden eyebrow at him and he looked a little guilty. ‘Not you,’ he said. ‘I did not mean you.’ He drew a deep breath of the pine-scented air. ‘I need to … to be – doing things. I am not an elf to sit and contemplate indefinitely – I need to see and hear and learn. Be part of the world.’
She allowed her head to rest on his shoulder. She had always had to share him – always would. It was the way he was made. He could not hold back and let others take the chances – he wanted to experience everything he could. At least, she consoled herself, she shared him with the living world, not with a passion for cold jewels – and he was generous to a fault. No Fëanor, he, to close his treasures away and hoard them against all comers. ‘You must speak to Lady Estë,’ she said. ‘If she gives her consent – then we will go home.’
The eyes watching him were grey as the sea, and, like the sea, concealed immeasurable depths.
Finrod remained gracefully on one knee, his robes puddled into a shimmering heap that only permitted one unclad foot to peep out. He would not beg, he decided uncomfortably. He had put his request – and the Valië would take what time she wished to consider it. He breathed as he had been taught, drawing serenity around him like a cloak.
‘You are very young, child,’ Estë observed.
He felt tempted to protest, to say that he had been born while the Two Trees filled the land with glory, he had witnessed their destruction, been caught up in the Noldor’s response and endured much that came of it before his sojourn in Námo’s Halls – but he had the feeling that that was what she expected, and that saying anything of the sort would only prove her point.
‘And the world seems wondrous to you.’
It was true, he thought, feeling as if the air had been sucked out of him. Despite his experience, it was as if he had been given back the sight of a child. Anor was brighter not just because this was the Blessed Realm, but because he saw it afresh. The air he breathed was heady with the intoxication of life not just because these were Lórien’s gardens, but because he was here to smell it.
He raised his face unthinkingly and found his sight caught by the Valië’s face, drowning in the fluid gaze, making no attempt to shield himself from her understanding.
‘The world is wondrous, my lady,’ he said.
‘But are you ready to face its challenges?’ she asked. ‘There are some who will not welcome the return of an Exile to the woods and ways of Aman.’
‘That is, no doubt, true, my lady,’ he agreed. ‘And there are those whose forgiveness I will never earn – but that does not mean that I should not try.’
‘Is not their inability to embrace forgiveness more their problem than yours?’
She left him prodding tentatively at the thought. It yielded beneath his touch, changing shape under his attention. ‘I am not responsible for the charges borne by others’ fëar,’ he said, knowing it to be true, for he had been told this many times. ‘Only for mine. It is important to me to do what I can to right any wrongs I have committed.’
The simplest questions were always the hardest. It had been the same in his youth, when his mother had attempted to extract the reason behind his foolhardy behaviour from her firstborn. He had always been able to explain almost anything – except what had made him want to accept the challenge in the first place.
‘Because it is.’ It was not an answer – the answer was because it was part of him. His people, his duty, his responsibility. He had striven to do all he could to live as his father’s son, scion of a proud house – descendant of more than one proud house – but he had made mistakes. Of course it was his task to do all he could to atone for his errors.
Estë moved to join him in kneeling on the dense grass, the alabaster of her hands on his arms sending little shivers to his core. ‘You would not be here, Finrod Finarfinion of the line of Finwë, if you did not merit a place among your kin.’
‘It is hard to believe, my Lady Estë, that I am any more estimable than others who remain in Lord Námo’s care.’
‘Perhaps not,’ she said easily, ‘but this is your time – and it is not yet theirs.’
He smiled, the open smile of a child in the company of one he trusted to tell him the truth. ‘Is it not right, then, that I should return to the world?’
Her cool fingers cupped his cheek. ‘We do not wish to hurry you,’ she admitted. ‘We wish this to be done in such a way that your recovery is smooth and without any setbacks.’ She inspected him affectionately, so that he almost stopped breathing with the wonder of having the Valië focus on him. ‘You are something of an experiment, child of Finwë’s house. Where you lead, many more will follow.’
Finrod paused, allowing himself the time to explore the thought.
‘To whom will they give their allegiance,’ Estë mused, ‘with their lords abiding still behind the walls of Mandos?’
Finrod blinked. His awareness of the world had not yet led him to the contemplation of political manoeuvring – that was, in truth, something he would happily leave as part of his former life. But implicit in every end was a beginning – and elves sought development as fresh tendrils of spring green sought sunlight. ‘My father is High King of the Noldor,’ he said. ‘I kneel to him. Ingwë rules in Valmar – while Olwë still holds Alqualondë.’ A brief qualm shook him. He supposed that was the case – but what if the fair city on the coast had been abandoned to be a mausoleum to those slain there? What if Olwë, like Finwë, had spilled his blood in defence of what he held? His sight darkened, as if the red fires burned again behind the salt-white walls and the cries of those left bereft rang in his ears.
‘No, child,’ Estë spoke insistently, her hands tightening on his arms. ‘Release the memory. It is past – and no regret will change what happened. Olwë dwells still in Alqualondë – and the harbour is white with the gathering of the Teleri’s ships.’
‘Have they not returned?’ he asked, his low tone not concealing his anguish. ‘What right have I to walk the ways of the Blessed Realm while the dead of Alqualondë remain in Námo’s Halls?’
‘The fëa cannot be rushed.’ Estë sighed. ‘And we are learning as much as you are. The … the logic that the first to pass to my brother’s care should be the first ready to return simply does not …’ She stopped. The incomprehensible difficulties that elven fëar seemed to have in coming to terms with their past was not something she should lay on this ellon’s shoulders. Although it was not simply elves who caused concern. Melian, too, seemed unable to bear the weight of her pain – and she required more careful watch even than the tormented fëar of elves freed by death from Morgoth’s wiles.
Námo had been surprised, she knew, that it was this elf whose spirit had … had coalesced to the edge of awareness so swiftly – but she had not. There was an innocence to Finrod – a purity – that made him an obvious candidate to be the first … and, of course, he had sacrificed himself willingly in the advancement of Eru’s incomprehensible plan for Arda’s future.
She smiled at the elf. ‘Not Tirion, I think,’ she said. ‘Not yet. But perhaps you are ready to move beyond these gardens.’
It felt – odd – to be breeched and belted, soft boots pressing against his bare feet. Part of him wanted to tug at the confining fabric and return to the comfortable weightlessness of the mist-grey robes. It reminded him in some vague way of the elfling he had once been – taken from the comfort of the nursery to become his father’s son, to learn what it was to be an ellon. The warm smiles of approval and the sounds of adult praise – words that concealed maternal anxieties and covered sentimental tears – echoed in his ears as if time was repeating itself.
Finarfin’s hand rested on his arm, comfortingly masculine and reassuring. ‘We will not be away from them for long,’ he said. ‘Amarië will be fine with your mother until you are ready to rejoin her.’
‘Planning the wedding,’ Finrod said seriously.
The silence that greeted his words told him that he had said something unexpected. Something that caused those easing him back into the resumption of his life to feel concerned.
‘It is too soon,’ Amarië informed him.
‘Do you not wish to wed me?’ He could not keep the hurt from his voice.
Amarië stepped instinctively towards him before forcing herself to wait. ‘I have always wished that,’ she said. ‘I always will – but I will not take advantage of you when you have not had time to become fully yourself. We will wed, my love, but not until the time is right.’
Finrod reached out to link his fingers with hers. ‘We are the closest there is to experts in this business, my heart,’ he told her. ‘What feels right to us is all we have to help us judge.’ He smiled at her before transferring his gaze to his mother. ‘I suppose it was too much to hope that I would be able to escape the persecution inherent in organising an event so long delayed,’ he said philosophically. ‘I tried.’
‘Indeed,’ Eärwen flashed him a fleeting smile. ‘You owe us all a splendid wedding, my son – if only to pay for your sister’s dereliction.’
Artanis … A thousand thousand memories slotted into place as if they had merely been waiting to be awoken. ‘You would like her husband,’ Finrod said seriously. ‘He is strong and resilient – like a great forest – and he hides within himself an enduring power. True kin to Olwë he is, yet bound to the land rather than the sea. She will not break him.’
His father glanced at his son before turning his attention to his wife. ‘Nor will he break her,’ he declared. ‘Elmo’s grandson loves and accepts her for the elf she is.’ He grinned wryly. ‘Or I might have felt forced to drag her on the ship against her will.’
Finrod frowned. He had missed much, it would seem – and would spend the next age tripping over gaps in his understanding of what had happened while he was immersed in the cool timelessness of the Halls. ‘But her task is not yet complete,’ he said and the ring of truth sounded, bell-like, in his words. ‘For her to return before the time is right would be to embrace failure and condemn the Hither Lands to darkness as surely as ever Morgoth could want.’
‘She cannot return,’ his mother told him. ‘Not now.’
‘Not yet.’ Finrod was undisturbed by his parents’ grief. Whether because he understood less than they did – or because he comprehended more – he was not entirely sure, but he had no doubt, at the moment, that, when his sister had fulfilled her purpose in those distant lands, she would return home in triumph.
The fingers linked with his tightened and his attention was diverted to the Vanya who held his heart. ‘Are you sure you cannot come with us?’ he asked. He found it difficult to grasp why both his parents had declared firmly that it would not be suitable for Amarië to wander with him in the peaceful lands beyond Lórien’s gardens. His grandmother had laughed, but, when he questioned her, had agreed with Eärwen and told him that his father would make a much better companion.
‘Not this time.’ Amarië smiled at him, squeezing his hand comfortingly. Her voice was gentle and sure and he basked in its warmth. ‘I will be waiting for you when you are ready to return,’ she said. ‘Have no doubt of it.’
A bubble of excitement began to stir in him. It had been a long time – a very long time – since he and Finarfin had spent much time in each other’s company. This was not what he had expected on asking the Lady Estë to release him to his new life – but he could not deny that the thought of having the freedom to wander over new lands was exhilarating – if somewhat alarming. He leaned forward just enough to touch his lips chastely to hers in farewell and promise, before allowing her to draw her hand away so that he could pick up the pack so carefully prepared for him.
She continued to smile as his tall figure passed through the wide expanse over which the soothingly-manicured lawns and flowers of the gardens grew wilder and less neat, watching him pause to exclaim over brambles and pushy saplings. He turned once, the sun catching the gold of his hair, a shining elf, to gaze intently at them as if to impress them on his memory, then disappeared into the trees.
Amarië’s expression remained frozen in place a while longer, breaking suddenly as a sob shook her from head to heels.
‘Oh, do not weep, my dear!’ Eärwen clasped the elleth in her arms. ‘It is not the same – it is not! He will return to us unharmed. I am sure he will. This time – it is different.’
‘He may not be ready …’ Amarië sniffed back her tears, ‘but in case he is …’
‘We will make sure that we can hold a wedding at a moment’s notice,’ Eärwen promised. ‘You have been betrothed more than long enough, my dear, and you both deserve the happiness that is to come.’
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