See disclaimers in part 1
I had received an unexpected invitation from Queen Terreis to visit the Amazon camp. While it was primarily to discuss the treaty, I was looking forward to visiting for other reasons. It was an opportunity to see how Amazons lived and get to know them better. I asked Xena if she'd ever met any Amazons before the treaty negotiations. She said she 'had some dealings' with them, in her usual enigmatic way, and then changed the subject. Xena's past must've been very painful because she rarely spoke of it. Xena believed that 'regrets only serve to make you lose focus, and without focus you can't achieve greatness.'
Before I left to meet with Queen Terreis, I took some time to finish a letter to my sister. I wrote to Lila as often as I could and told her about life in the Empress' court – how satisfying I found my work and how exciting it was living in the palace – nothing too specific. I had to be careful what I said in a letter in case a spy intercepted it or something.
Sadly, I couldn't share the most important thing in my life with my sister. Xena was adamant that we keep our relationship a secret. It was hard, because growing up, Lila and I told each other everything. We weren't just sisters, we were best friends and she knew all my secrets.
Queen Terreis reminded me a little of Lila. Not that they were alike, but Terreis seemed so genuine and approachable, it was like I had known her my whole life. Perhaps Terreis and I could become friends, I thought.
There was a knock on my chamber door. I could tell by the particular 'rap…rap rap' who it was. "Hello Galates. Come in."
"How did you know it was me?" He asked as he closed the door behind him.
"It's a gift," I replied.
Galates strode across my sitting room and came to a stop at the side of my desk where I was working amid a mound of scrolls and parchments. He picked up a scroll that had rolled off the desk and onto the floor, and he handed it back to me.
"Your escort and your horse are ready and waiting for you in the garrison assembly courtyard," he said.
"Thank you." I casually tossed the scroll back onto the pile. "Give me a minute. Let me finish up this letter to my sister."
"Give her my love," he said jokingly.
I pretended to write down what he said. "P.S. Galates sends his love." I read it aloud as I wrote.
Looking over my shoulder He strained to read the parchment. "You're not actually writing that, are you?" There was panic in his voice.
I laughed at him, and I pulled my hands away to reveal no such postscript, much to the Lt. Commander's relief.
I signed the bottom, folded the parchment, and offered it up towards Galates. "Would you mind seeing that this goes out for me, please?"
He took the letter from me. "Certainly. There's a courier leaving for Thrace in the morning."
"Why, thank you, sir," I replied as I stood up.
I moved across to my wardrobe, took out a short-waisted leather jacket that matched the short leather skirt I was wearing, and put it on. "You'll keep an eye on the Empress while I'm gone, won't you?"
"I don't think Empress Xena needs anyone watching over her. She can take care of herself."
"You know what I mean. In fact, you're the only one in the whole world who does know what I mean."
"Yes, I know what you mean." The corners of his mouth curled upward in a slight but knowing smile.
"Will you send word to the my escort commander that I will be there presently? I want to see the Empress before I go. You know, for any last minute instructions."
The corners of my mouth mirrored Galates with the same knowing smile. It reminded me that I indeed had a 'best friend' who knew all my secrets.
Xena was coming down the hallway towards her chambers as I was coming from the other direction where a new staircase had recently been added so I had a more direct route to Xena's apartment from mine. Just the sight of her made my insides flutter like a flock of starlings taking wing. It was all I could do to stop myself from running into her arms.
We met up in front of the doors where two guards stood at rigid attention. Neither guard so much as twitched, not that I expected them to. Galates had trained them well, and he's careful to rotate the guards often to make sure our privacy didn't become a topic for palace gossip. Still Xena and I greeted each other in a professional manner.
"Your Highness, I am leaving to go meet with the Amazon Queen. I wanted to take my leave and see if you had any last minute instructions."
"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Come." Xena said deliberately.
In unison and without looking anywhere but straight ahead, the guards opened the doors for us and closed them behind us. Once we knew we were alone, we relaxed our courtly manner.
"My escort is waiting, but I just had to see you one more time before I left." I put my arms around her waist and leaned in for a kiss.
Xena planted a firm but tepid kiss on my lips. Not exactly the kind of kiss I was expecting – one that said 'I love you…hurry home…I can't wait to have you in my arms again.'
"Is there something wrong?" I asked.
"What makes you think that something's wrong?"
"Because that kiss had all the passion of kissing my brother – if I had one."
"Well, let's see if I can kiss better than your brother – if you had one."
Xena closed the distance between us until we were so close I could almost hear her heart beating. She brought her hands up to my cheeks – her fingers enlaced in my hair – and slowly deliberately guided my face towards hers. I closed my eyes with eager anticipation, waiting to feel her demanding lips crushing against mine, her tongue exploring my mouth with urgent lustful purpose. Closer. My pulse started racing and my body tingling as her lips continued their unhurried approach. Closer. I could feel her warm exhalation brush across my cheek. Closer. I felt the barest tip of her tongue lightly graze the corners as it traced the contour of my mouth. Closer. I was almost delirious from desire. Another moment longer and she would've had me to the point of begging – treaty or no treaty. Closer. Finally I felt the soft fullness of her lips press against mine. The subtlety of her kiss was so passionate it left me breathless and trembling. Now that was real power.
As Xena slowly untangled her fingers from my hair, she said, "Your hair seems to be getting blonder."
"And you're just noticing it now?" I exclaimed. I had been letting it grow out a bit, and I also had it gradually lightened from strawberry-blonde to a much lighter, golden blonde. I was beginning to wonder if Xena's keen powers of observation were beginning to lose their edge.
"So you don't mind?" I asked, running my hand through the strands of hair that came to rest on my shoulder.
"Gabrielle I wouldn't care if you were bald."
That didn't come out right but I knew what she meant. "I'll take that as a compliment."
Xena dipped her head and gave me a look as if to say 'of course I meant it as a compliment, silly.' Xena was the only person I knew who could express a vast range of moods and emotions with just the arch of one eyebrow.
"Now, remember to keep your guard up around Terreis. She is a smooth talker and cunning. Don't agree to anything without my express approval. Got that?"
"Yes, Xena. But I think you're mistaken about Queen Terreis. I found her to be quite charming, gracious – genuine."
"That's the trouble. Anyone who is that 'charming, gracious, and genuine' is up to something. I just have to figure out what her angle is."
"Not everyone is like Caesar, Xena."
Xena's jaw muscles tightened and her Aegean-blue eyes turned to steel-grey at the name 'Caesar'. "Well, Terreis better not be trying to play me; otherwise she will end up like Caesar."
A sense of foreboding swept over me as Xena's mood suddenly became dark and brooding. It reminded me that this was a high-stakes gamble with more than my reputation on the line. Her comment drove the point home that the fate of the entire Amazon Nation might very well rest on the success of this treaty.
"Xena, promise me one thing."
"Promise you'll give this treaty a fair chance," I replied.
Xena looked at me with no emotion. "My patience is not limitless," she said flatly. After a few moments, the dark cloud that was her mood lifted and a wry grin spread across her face. "But I am willing to see how far that limit is."
I smiled and breathed easier.
"I know the treaty means a lot to you," she continued. "And I can promise to give it every chance to succeed. However if I run out options…" she let her voice trail.
"What do you mean?" My expression changed from relieved to bewildered.
"I mean, Terreis better sign this treaty soon."
As my escort and I set off for the Amazon encampment, it dawned on me that I didn't know where it was. So I asked the officer in charge of my escort, Glaphyra, a blonde-haired woman whose scars and twisted nose were the rewards of a soldier's life.
"It's about a mile and a half due east from the city, ma'am," she replied.
"Oh good. I was thinking for a moment that Solari didn't tell anyone where it was."
"Who, ma'am?" Glaphyra queried.
"The Amazon that brought the invite, Solari. She must've told you where it was."
"No, ma'am. Commander Galates already knew the location."
"Oh?" I found that surprising.
Glaphyra explained. "When the Empress heard that the Amazons weren't going to stay in the palace, she gave orders to track their whereabouts at all times."
I should have guessed that Xena would know where a potential enemy was in her empire. I hoped that my mission would make these potential enemies our allies.
Just over a mile outside the city Glaphyra led the group off the road into the woods.
"Where are we going? No one is in these woods."
"Stop ma'aming me please. The name's Gabrielle." I hated titles.
"Sorry, ma— Gab — ma—" My escort commander faltered uncomfortably.
It occurred to me that as much as I wasn't comfortable being called "ma'am", I had to accept it graciously. "Never mind. Call me whatever makes you are more comfortable."
"Yes, ma'am," Glaphyra replied with noticeable relief.
"These woods are undisturbed, there can't be any Amazons in here."
The soldier laughed. "You don't know Amazons very well, do you?"
I was about to reply when my escorts suddenly tensed. Four masked Amazons unexpectedly appeared out of the bushes and blocked the path, which startled me. My honour guard immediately took up defensive positions around me.
Since their faces were covered, I couldn't immediately tell who was who. The masks they wore helped make the Amazon warriors appear even scarier, which no doubt was the point.
Queen Terreis removed her mask and the others followed suit. "Welcome Gabrielle," she said warmly. "We are honoured by your visit to our humble camp."
I bowed courteously and replied, "The honour is all mine, Your Highness. Empress Xena sends her regards."
"Thank you," the Amazon Queen replied. "Please, come with me. Solari will make sure your honour guard are made comfortable and your horse is watered."
Glaphyra stood her ground and looked at me for my orders.
"It'll be fine, Lieutenant. Go with Solari."
Terreis and I walked along a well-concealed path for another five minutes before we came to a small clearing. At first I didn't see any sign of their encampment until Queen Terreis pointed out the well-camouflaged tents.
"This one is mine," said Terreis directing me to a tent that looked indistinguishable from the rest.
I stood in the entry and took it all in. The Queen's tent was simple; there were no trappings of royalty to speak of. There were no furnishings in the tent, except for a large sheepskin and blanket for bedding and a few cushions scattered about the floor for seating. A log served as a table, with a single candle in an oyster shell as its centrepiece. It was 'Spartan' even by Spartan standards.
"Make yourself comfortable," Terreis gestured to the cushions on the floor. "Would you like a drink?"
Not wanting to refuse her hospitality, I said 'yes' and then sat down on one of the cushions nearest the table.
The red-haired Amazon Queen brought a wineskin and two wooden cups with her and sat down next to me at the table. She poured us both some wine and raised her cup. "Here's to friendship and the success of this treaty."
"Cheers," I replied and took a sip. "Hmmm, very good. Thank you, Your Highness,"
Queen Terreis finished her cup of wine and said, "Call me Terreis. After all, we're going to be working closely together on this treaty. I don't want formalities to get in the way. Besides, I find titles a bit stuffy."
"As you wish, Your – Terreis," I corrected myself. I smiled to myself, because now I knew how Glaphyra felt when I asked her to stop calling me ma'am.
"How long have you been working for Empress Xena?" she asked.
"Just over a year," I replied. "I started out as her personal assistant."
"Personal assistant? What does one do as a personal assistant?"
I chuckled inwardly as I recalled the trouble Xena had deciding exactly what a personal assistant was supposed to do. "It was more than just being a servant," I explained, "I helped the General organise her schedule and took notes during meetings."
"How did you go from being an assistant to an advisor in the space of a year?" Terreis asked.
"When she became Empress Xena, I became a kind of unofficial advisor in civil matters. Then shortly after we arrived in Corinth there were problems..." I hesitated a moment, unsure if I should be discussing the topic of the dissidents. "Well, let's just say Empress Xena recognised my talent for dealing with people and promoted me to Civilian Affairs Advisor."
"Then my estimation of Xena has gone up, if she recognises your talents."
"She's not the tyrant that most people think she is." My response was more in defence of the woman I loved than my boss.
"Your loyalty to her is admirable. How did you come to be in her service? If you don't mind me asking?"
"Not at all. I'm from a small village in Chalcidice – Potidaea. You've probably never heard of it."
"No, can't say that I have," Terreis said apologetically.
"That's okay, not many people outside of Thrace have heard of it. That's one of the reasons I left it behind and joined General Xena's army. But there was another, more important reason." I paused to judge Terreis' reaction, but the expression on her face remained neutral. "This may sound silly," I continued, "but a travelling seer once told me I was fated to meet a mighty warrior, who was destined to unite this land and bring order and stability to the region, and that I was meant to help them."
"Xena is a mighty warrior in the sense that she's a good fighter," said Terreis. "But I don't think she's mighty in the moral sense."
"I believe she's misunderstood," I countered. "I've seen a side of her that you haven't. She's wants a better world. She also wants peace with the Amazons – hence the treaty."
"You make her sound very noble – that's certainly not the Xena known to the Amazons."
"What do you mean?" I asked as impassively as I could.
"You'll have to ask her. Suffice it to say that she didn't earn the name "Xena the Conqueror" through diplomacy."
I so wanted to challenge Terreis' perception of Xena and show her the side of Xena that I had grown to love and admire. It was very frustrating not to be able to say what was in my heart, but I couldn't think of a way to say it without giving away too much. So, I steered away from it. "Wars are rarely waged without shedding blood," I said. "You're a warrior, so you know the costs. And that's why this treaty is so important."
Maybe Terreis saw that I had become uncomfortable with the conversation, because she dropped the subject. "You're right, Gabrielle. Enough talk of war, we're here to talk about peace."
Terreis pulled out her copy of the treaty. "I've come up with some proposals for the treaty."
Terreis started going through her proposals some of which I knew Xena wouldn't like. "Here in section two, where it says 'Amazon Territory would become a province within the Greek Empire…'"
"Hang on," I said as I scanned my scroll looking for where it said that. "Yes, I see it."
The Amazon Queen continued, "I want it changed to read 'Amazon Territory will continue to be a sovereign state within the Greek Empire…' and here where it says that the Amazons will recognise the Empress as official head of state…' This is something we cannot agree to. Only an Amazon with Right of Caste can rule the Amazon Nation.'"
Before I could ask what a 'Right of Caste' was, Queen Terreis pointed to section three and said "and here, where it says Amazons shall serve in the Greek Army…' it needs to read 'Amazons shall not be compelled to serve unless in defence of Amazon Territory and only under direct command of the Amazon Queen…"
I knew Xena and General Darnell would never agree to that, but I wasn't about to tell Queen Terreis that. I needed to come up with a compromise that would suit both sides. "The Empress has great respect for the skill of the Amazon warrior, but you must concede, Highness, that your warriors would have a difficult time defending against an invading army. If Amazon Territory were to be designated a protectorate of the Greek Empire, you would have the might of the Greek Army standing with you in defence of your homeland."
Terreis paid close attention as I spoke.
"And as a protectorate, Amazon Territory could retain its autonomy of its internal affairs and relations with other nations, with the exception of declarations of hostilities." I waited for Terreis to counter my proposal and continue the debate, but she disarmed me.
"You have a way with words, Gabrielle," Terreis said. "Clearly you are a skilled negotiator. Have you ever considered becoming a poet or an orator?"
"Who me? No, though I do like to write poems and stories. It's just as a hobby, mind you. And these days, I haven't had much time for writing."
"I'd very much like to read some of your poems and stories. Better still, I'd love to hear you recite some of your poems and stories for me."
"Perhaps," I said shyly, "but for now let me recite your proposed changes in section four."
Time passed quickly as we went through each section of the treaty in the same manner. It wasn't until the strong aroma of rabbit stew wafted into the tent that I realised we had been talking for more than three hours.
"I think we've made a good start, Your Highness, but I've taken up enough of your time and I should be getting back to the palace."
"You can't leave now. You must stay for dinner. I don't have that many more changes. We can discuss the treaty further while we eat."
"Please," she said softly and laid a hand on mine. "It's not often I have such delightful company to share a meal."
"Well, I…" My cheeks blushed from her compliment. "Very well." I accepted her invitation. It was an opportunity to get to know Terreis better.
As we ate our meal, I asked Terreis all sorts of questions. She talked about the Amazons, how she became queen, what a 'Right of Caste' was, and she shared her thoughts on peace and war.
"Strength is measured in knowing when not to fight. A warrior will tell you that words can start a war and weapons can end them, but the first blood spilled in a war is always with a weapon, not a word. Words can end wars, weapons only prolong them," Terreis said. "And that is why I came here to Corinth. I saw this treaty as a chance to preserve the Amazon way of life – to end the threat of war with words, not weapons."
"How do you reconcile these beliefs as queen of a warrior race?" I asked.
Terreis nodded thoughtfully. "That's a very good question. I believe everyone has a path they must follow in life. One skill or talent that stands above others they possess. This talent defines their path. Some people are strong and can handle a weapon, others may have a skill with building houses, or making bread, or… or writing poetry. All these people are needed to make a complete society.
"Imagine a world without summer or winter, or a world without night or day. Life needs balance: summer and winter, night and day, strong and weak, warrior and poet.
"It's the diversity of a society that lets it live and grow. If the world were made up of poets, we'd starve because no one could make bread. Or if the world were made up of bakers, our lives would have no poetry to move us. And if the world were made up of warriors, then after a while only one would be left.
"So, we need all these people. As long as they're working for the same goal and respect each other's choices, then that will only benefit a society. Do you see what I'm saying?"
"Yes," I whispered. "Perfectly." Terreis had so eloquently given voice to my own thoughts and feelings.
Our food got cold as we talked all through the meal and long afterward about a whole range of topics, except the treaty. It was only when Ephiny interrupted us that I realised another two hours had passed.
"Pardon the interruption, My Queen, but her guards are insisting that it is time to return to the palace," Ephiny said with an exasperated tone. She obviously thought that she had better things to do than pass messages from my guards to me.
Glaphyra appeared at Ephiny's side. "Beg pardon, but we really should be returning to the palace, ma'am."
"Of course," I said to my escort commander. I quickly got to my feet and stood up. "Thank you very much for your hospitality, Queen Terreis."
Terreis stood and gave me a quick, gentle embrace. "It was my pleasure. I thoroughly enjoyed your visit. We shall have to do this more often after the treaty is concluded."
"I look forward to it."
More than ever I wanted this treaty to succeed, because if Terreis made an enemy of Xena then we could not be friends.
I arrived back at the palace and was greeted by a concerned-looking Galates. The first thing he did was order a guard to inform the Empress of my arrival and then dismissed the rest of my escort unit – all except poor Glaphyra. He pulled the Lieutenant aside, out of earshot, and from what I could tell, gave her a good dressing down. After Glaphyra retreated towards the barracks, Galates approached me and he didn't look at all pleased.
"Don't be too hard on Glaphyra. It wasn't her fault. I just lost track of time," I said.
"I'm just thankful you are all right," Galates replied as he took my arm and guided me across the courtyard.
"You needn't have worried. I was perfectly safe."
"The Empress has been asking after you at least three times an hour," he said as we crossed the courtyard. "As you can imagine, an agitated Empress was not easy to deal with."
"I know, poor man," I joked. "Don't worry, your sacrifice was not in vain." I patted the satchel that contained my copy of the treaty.
As we entered the palace's main hall, the guard Galates had sent to inform Xena hurried towards us and saluted.
"Sir, the Empress is not in her study or her quarters," the soldier said breathlessly.
"Have you tried the throne room?"
"Try there then."
The soldier saluted and hurried off and Galates and I walked up the main stairs to the first floor.
Galates paused at the foot of the stairs that led to Xena's apartments on the top floor. "Are you going up?"
I shook my head. Judging from Galates' state, I was not looking forward to Xena being found. "No, I think I'll go to my own quarters and freshen up first."
"That's probably a good idea," Galates replied.
As we rounded the corner and headed towards my quarters, the guard came running down the hallway after us. He looked flustered. "Sir, the Empress is not in the Throne Room either, sir."
"Pull yourself together, man!" Galates barked and the soldier snapped to attention. "The Empress must be somewhere in the palace or the palace grounds. Find her now, or you will be mucking out stalls the rest of your military career!"
"Sir, yes, sir!" The soldier saluted and jogged away.
"Sorry about that." Galates said as we watched the soldier disappear around the corner. "Come, I'll escort you to your rooms."
As we walked, Galates chatted about his hectic day. "It's days like these that has me sometimes wishing for the simple farm life again," he lamented.
"The Empress once told me about a land far to the east. They have a curse there: May you live in interesting times. Perhaps we are cursed," I replied.
"If we are, then at least we're in good company," Galates said with a grin.
"Couldn't ask for better," I said as we arrived outside my quarters.
I pushed open the door and entered. "If you see the Empress, tell her I'll be— Oh!" I was shocked into silence by the sight of Xena standing in my room.
"Gabrielle?" Galates moved in front of me with his sword drawn to see what had startled me.
"It's only me, Commander. Return to duty," Xena replied.
Galates apologised, saluted and quickly left the room.
Xena gave me a curious look and then looked down. I noticed she was holding one of my scrolls. "I, uh…I didn't mean to pry." Xena started to apologise, but I cut her off.
"No, that's fine. I've wanted to show them to you, I just didn't know whether you'd be interested." I moved towards Xena. "So what did you think?"
Xena seemed relieved that I wasn't angry or upset. "It was good," she said.
"But?" It sounded like there should be a 'but'.
"I don't remember it happening quite that way," said Xena with a faintly uncomfortable look on her face.
"Well…" I grasped for the words as I felt the heat in my cheeks. I didn't know which scroll Xena had, but some of my writings extended the truth to a conclusion that was a little more romantic than reality. "Perhaps I used a bit of artistic licence to make some parts a little more epic," I mumbled.
"I didn't say I didn't like it," Xena assured me. "It was very good."
"What took you so long?" Xena abruptly changed the subject, which she tended to do when the conversation got too mushy.
"Sorry, I stayed for a meal. Terreis offered and it seemed rude to refuse."
Xena looked a bit sceptical but willing to forgive. "Right. I was… how did it go with the treaty?"
I realised that very little of the time I'd spent at the camp had been devoted to the treaty. To me, the time spent talking to Terreis about other things was just as important – building friendship and trust would help finalise a treaty in the end. However, I knew Xena was impatient to get the treaty signed and I didn't want to give her the impression I wasn't up to the job.
"Slowly. We managed some progress," I replied vaguely.
"Do you think the Queen will sign?"
"Yes—" I stopped myself. I wanted to tell Xena about Terreis the woman, not Terreis the Amazon Queen. I wanted to tell Xena about the sensitive woman who ruled a noble warrior race, and that being kind didn't mean being weak. But I knew this was not the right time. "Yes, I think she will."
"Come on," said Xena. "Let's go back to my rooms."
"I'll be along soon. There are few things I must attend to first." I gave her a kiss. "I won't be too long. Promise."
"I will hold you to that." She returned my kiss.
After Xena had left, I went to my desk. I had spent so long at the Amazon camp that there was still some paperwork I needed to catch up on. I tried to read a proposal for a new hospice, but my mind kept drifting back to the treaty negotiations with the Amazons.
Gratefully, I was interrupted by a knock. Thinking it was Xena, I jumped up to answer the door. As soon as I opened it, Darphus pushed past me and entered.
"Come in," I offered with little enthusiasm.
Darphus turned and looked at me. His face was pale and serious, even for him. This can't be good, I thought.
"Darphus, what is it?"
"There was an incident at the agora this afternoon," he said sombrely.
"Was it serious?"
"Oh, no, what happened?"
"A merchant was robbed by a man with a knife. Two officers tried to apprehend the robber. One of them was stabbed. He is now dead." Darphus' anger was barely controlled.
"By the gods," I whispered in disbelief. The protection force was barely up and running and already there were casualties. This wasn't the start anyone wanted.
"If I had armed, veteran soldiers under my command instead of a bunch of inexperienced do-gooders, this would never have happened!" Darphus glared defiantly at me.
"You don't know that for sure. If the officers were armed we could have ended up with more dead."
"We'd have a dead robber and two live officers. I'd guarantee you that!" He said vehemently.
"But that isn't what the Civil Protection Force is about. It's about protecting people, even criminals. What sort of justice system is it if all the criminals are killed while being arrested?"
"An effective one," countered Darphus. "What better message to send potential law breakers? Break the law and suffer the consequences."
"And we'd have a terrified population who'd fear the very force that's meant to protect them," I replied.
"Do it my way and you'd soon have a city without crime."
"We'll continue things as they are, understand?" I had to stand firm in this decision. I couldn't let the first setback destroy the ideal by which the force was created.
"You're in charge, ma'am," Darphus replied flatly.
"Did the dead officer have any family?"
"A wife and four children."
"See that his family receive one half of his wages until such time as they have another source of income."
"What?" Darphus looked at me incredulously.
"I don't want his family starving. He joined the force to make a difference. His family shouldn't suffer because he died protecting this city. In fact I'll make that a condition for all those join the force."
"Shouldn't you clear this with the Empress first?"
"I'll inform the Empress of my decision. I'm sure she'll endorse it."
"Humph." Darphus turned on his heel and walked out, emphasising his frustration by slamming the door hard behind him.
"You may go," I muttered to the empty room.
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