Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:22

The Silver Bride

Published in Australia and the United States with different titles. There is also a German edition.

  • Australia (The Silver Bride) ISBN 0 732 91127 3, paperback ISBN 0 330 36403 0
  • United States (Moonlight and Shadow) ISBN TBC, paperback ISBN 0 425 19328 4
  • e-book published by Momentum

  • Author's notes
  • Read an excerpt

A lot of readers have asked me what happened to the real historical people in The Maiden and the Unicorn after the novel ends. Well, some of them are in my third book Moonlight and Shadow aka The Silver Bride, which is set twelve years later during the Buckingham Rebellion of 1483.

The political events of 1483 have always intrigued me. Like 1470–71, this was a year of tremendous upheaval with people changing sides and taking huge risks. Looking back from the 21st century, the truth of what really happened is hard to glimpse. Few records survive from that period and those that do exist have been gone over again and again by historians and writers with truth detectors, hoping that some undiscovered nugget of insight might lie there still. This lack of knowledge, of course, makes it much more exciting for the historical novelist. There is room for conjecture, and because the chief protagonists are shadowy figures, it is very satisfying to try and flesh them out.

While I have enjoyed researching the politics of these fifteenth century dukes, I haven't forgotten that it's a love story as well. Neither Margery nor Richard Huddleston have lost their delight in political intrigue, but it is a different hero and heroine who now take centre stage. Miles Rushden (nicknamed Y Cysgod (the Man of Shadow) by the Welsh, is a close friend and companion of the twenty-nine year old Duke of Buckingham, Harry Stafford, and both men are ambitious and prepared to embark on a ruthless, risk-all bid for political power.

Heloise Ballaster, the, fey heroine, is a maid of honour in the household of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She has the voice of an angel, the face of a Madonna and the hair of a witch. She is also cursed with glimpses of the future – not a blessing in such a superstitious age. But her biggest problem is her father. He's a small, strutting rooster of a man, and a family tyrant. And quarrelsome, too, especially when there is land at stake, which is how he comes to blows with Miles's father and challenges him to a duel. However, what sensible father would put on armour if his adult son is at hand to play his champion? And if Heloise's father turns lily-livered at the thought of combat, which of his daughters is going to defend the family honour? Heloise!

Miles and Heloise, like all my heroes and heroines, are flung into the thick of royal intrigue as Richard, Duke of Gloucester seizes the crown.

Research for this novel took me to Brecon (headquarters of the Duke of Buckingham in 1483) in Wales and to Weobley in Herefordshire. The combat scene between Heloise and Miles was prompted by the Northamptonshire folktale of Skulking Dudley, and the kidnapping of Miles was based on the real-life abduction of Margery Huddleston's son.

And for animal lovers – no dogs or pigs this time but a Welsh mouser called Dafydd (modelled on Cagney, a cat of California) and a noble stallion named Traveller, named after a friendly horse in Dorset, UK, who never said no to an apple.

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Prologue
Yuletide, January 1483, Middleham, Yorkshire

Packed like a row of spoons, the maids of honour to her grace of Gloucester snuggled together in the great bed for warmth against the icy wind howling across the moors of Wensleydale. It should have been impossible for a nightmare to insinuate itself amongst them, but Heloise Ballaster awoke as she hit the floor, bringing the candlestick crashing down with her and bruising her elbow on the wooden bedsteps.

The shriek of her nearest neighbour awoke the others and four faces peered down at her from the edge of the coverlet, their braids dangling like a row of bellropes.

'Your pardon,' whispered Heloise ruefully, goose-fleshed as she scrambled quickly back up into the high bed.

'Was it him again?' asked someone.

The dream of an armoured knight, visor down, thundering towards her with a deadly lance aimed at her breast?

'Yes. And I always fall. Why do I always fall?'

'Mayhap it was not his lance he was aiming at you, Heloise,' giggled the worldliest among them. 'Maybe there is something you are not telling us.'

There was.

Heloise's nightmares always came true.

Chapter One

Bring us in no bacon, for that is passing fat,
But bring us in the good ale and give us enough of that,
And bring us in good ale!
Bring us in good ale and bring us in good ale,
For our Lady's blessed sake, bring us in good ale.

Tankards slammed bawdily upon the trestle tables and the great hall of the Duke of Gloucester's castle at Middleham guffawed with Yorkist laughter as the cockatrice, a gaudy, four-legged monster with the head of a rooster and the tail of a crocodilus, capered round among the revellers. By rights, the legendary creature should have had a piglike rear but no one could be bothered arguing. It staggered and swore with two voices as someone grabbed hold of its scaly tail.

'Ouch!' spluttered Heloise Ballaster, who was playing the head. She recovered her balance and craned the cumbersome beak round to see which drunken lout was impeding her progress. The merrymaking had become suddenly too boisterous and some of the more unruly youths were trying to discover who owned the cockatrice's legs.

'I'll deal with this knave,' exclaimed the cockatrice's tail. Will, the duke's jester, loosened his arms from Heloise's waist and jabbed two fingers out the rear end of the costume into the fellow's nose, and then he squirted the contents of a leather bladder after it. The onlookers collapsed in fits of raucous laughter as the esquire staggered back in humiliated surprise, his face dripping with pudding ale.

'We must end this, Will!' Heloise muttered, lurching away as a reveller tried to peer inside the beak. Thank heaven she wore a black mask as well. Yes, definitely time to make their exit. This prank was growing far too perilous. God's mercy! If it should be discovered that one of the duchess's maids-of-honour was prancing in doublet and hose – with a man's arms and face against her waist (not that the jester ever showed any interest in women) – her virtue would be put to the question. Besides, it was not just fear of disgrace that was fraying her wits but a gnawing sense of evil about to happen.

'Shall we make for the great chamber then, mistress? Mistress?'

Heloise did not answer. She swayed as the rush of blood that precipitated a vision flooded her mind. Not now, please God, not now! But it came unwanted – the nightmare image of the duke's son choking for breath, writhing upon the floor.

'Mistress?' Will's arms shook her back to the reality of the smoky hall. He turned her towards the dais, for the great chamber where they had left their outer garments lay beyond the high table – the high table where the duke's heir, a giggling ten year old, was reaching out to the golden platter of wafers and sugar-coated almonds. Almonds that could choke a laughing child!

'Jesu!' Fear of discovery, not just of shamefully playing the cockatrice but her terror that the entire castle might shrink from her as a witch-warred with her duty. But how could she risk the life of Richard Gloucester's precious only child?

'No,' Heloise exclaimed. 'No!'

The cockatrice hurtled up the hall-its rear staggering-dived under the cloth of the high table and heaved. It reared up to grab the platter of almonds and tripped. Silver dishes skidded, sweetmeats flew as if magicked, goblets splashed their contents down the sumptuous cloth, the central trestle tumbled, crashing down the steps and the duke and his guests sprang up.

The music and the laughter stopped in mid-breath. Heloise, blanching behind her mask, took an anguished look at the coloured shards of costly glass spattering the tiles, and gazed up wretchedly at his grace's astounded face. But the boy was safe. Uncertain, surprised, but beside his father, safe.

Silence, growing more menacing by the instant, surrounded the grotesque cockatrice. Heloise backed into Will, wishing the floor would swallow her up. For an instant, it seemed to the onlookers that the monster's back and front legs were trying to go in different directions and then the creature shook itself into some sort of unison and hurtled out the nearest door.

'That was impressive,' commented a female voice, laced with humour. 'We shall have to remember that for next year as well.' Lady Margery Huddleston, the creator of the costume, had hastened after them into the great chamber. Briskly, she gripped the painted edifice that had been stifling Heloise and wriggled it free. Already there were raised voices beyond the door.

Heloise blinked at her helplessly, wishing desperately that she might turn time backwards. How could she possibly explain? 'I am sorry, madam. I am so sorry.' Here was the last person she wished to anger; Margery, the duchess's bastard half-sister, had been a good friend to her.

'They will want to understand.' Margery tilted her head towards the great hall. 'I want to understand? God's mercy, where –' Scanning the chamber, she snatched up Heloise's discarded over gown. 'Quickly!' Hastily, she tugged it over Heloise's head, struggling to hide the shirt and borrowed hose just as the door opened.

'Aye, Mistress Ballaster!' exclaimed the jester crawling with sweating pate and scarlet face from the beast's entrails. 'Would you care to explain what in hell you were about? Oh, lordy, here is the judge and jury.'

Despite his thirty-one years, Duke Richard of Gloucester was not a tall man but being a brother to the King, his authority gave him the extra stature and he was looking stern enough to hang a man-or woman. His brown eyes took in the discarded skin of yellow fustian, the scaled, flaccid tail, and rose questioningly to the scarlet-beaked head that his sister-in-law was hugging to her bosom. Margery gave a tiny shrug and the duke stared beyond her to his wife's crumpled maid-of-honour.

'Close the door!' he ordered grimly.

Heloise's face burned with shame as his shocked gaze fell upon the ungirded gown with its collar slatternly awry, and the loosened ginger legs of the cockatrice puddled around her ankles. Gravely, she removed her mask. At least her accursed hair, bonneted into a coif, was out of sight. They had been so courteous and decent to her, these people, and this was how she repaid them. All the warmth and respect she had sought to kindle in her few months atMiddleham was turning to ashes. Controlled though it now was, Gloucester's voice was like a lash to her already bruised morale.

'Since you seem to be the brains of this creature, mistress, perhaps you would care to enlighten me as to why you upset our table?'

Others had followed the duke in; the chamberlain and his grace's chaplain, and she could hear an inebriated crowd gathering outside with the excitement of carrion crows anticipating a killing.

'I thought my lord your son was about to choke.' It was the truth. 'I was wrong. I beg your pardon, your grace.' Please do not send me home, your grace, her eyes beseeched him. Not to the beatings and the anger.

'How could you discern such a thing?' Dr Dokett, the chaplain, stepped forward, his huge black sleeves aflap with malevolence. 'You were at the end of the hall. How could you possibly see?'

'I –' The right words evaded Heloise. How could she tell these noblemen of her premonitions without making them loathe her, fear her? Even Duke Richard, sensible as he was, would send her away. People did not want to hear. It terrified them. Dear God, it terrified her.

Then suddenly there was shouting and the oaken door was wrenched open. The throng crowding its portals separated as Anne, Duchess of Gloucester, eyes awash with tears, pushed through to sag against the doorway.

'What is it?' Gloucester asked, his voice serrated with the edge of sudden fear.

'Our son,' whispered the duchess, fingers pressed against her lips. 'He choked on a sugared almond but Richard Huddleston turned him upside down, thank God, and he is restored. Oh, my dearest lord.' With a sob of relief, she flew across the chamber to the comfort of her husband's arms. Although Gloucester lovingly stroked the back of his fingers down his wife's cheek, above her head he was staring at Heloise.

'When? Just now?' he asked his duchess.

'It was probably the excitement. Foolish child.' Anne of Gloucester raised her head cheerfully, knuckling her tears away, and then she sensed the tension around her and recognized Heloise and Lady Margery, snared in the midst of it. 'Let us not spoil the feast,' she said quietly, receiving a plea from her half-sister. 'I pray you, my lords, let us return to the merrymaking.'

The duke hesitated, confusion behind his frowning brow. The duchess drew him away, but he was still glancing back at Heloise as the company thronging the dais drew aside deferentially to let their lord and lady pass.

'Cockatrice!' sneered Dr Dokett, delaying to cast an evil look at Lady Margery and her accomplices. He drove a sandalled foot savagely into the belly of the carcass. 'A work of the Devil! And that foul Fiend already has your soul! Cavorting shamelessly and you a maid. You should be dismissed!' He hurled the words at Heloise over his shoulder like salt as though she was a demon. And, perhaps, thought Heloise, shaken by the ugly hatred, perhaps she was.

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Reproduced with the kind permission of Pan Macmillan Australia. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Sunday, 09 December 2012 06:21

The Lady and the Unicorn

Published in Australia and the United States with different titles

  • Australia (The Lady and the Unicorn) trade paperback ISBN 0 733 80144 7, paperback ISBN 0 733 80199 4
  • United States (The Maiden and the Unicorn) published by Berkeley ISBN 0 553 58168 6
  • e-book published by Momentum

Audio edition published by Bolinda ISBN 9 781 74317897 3, read by Rebecca Macualey

  • About the book
  • Author's notes
  • Read an excerpt

In 1470 the Wars of the Roses between the house of York and Lancaster threatens to tear England apart once more. In the middle of the conflict is a most unlikely heroine. For Margery, the beautiful and spirited ward of Warwick the Kingmaker, freedom is the only prize worth having. But it is a prize that could cost her her life. Sent to France on a mission for King Edward IV, she finds herself the target of a man who may be one of the king's most dangerous enemies.

Richard Huddleston is bold, enigmatic and devastatingly handsome. He is used to getting what he wants, and he wants Margery to be his wife. Margery suspects that Richard has abandoned the king and the House of York and is conspiring with the rebel queen and the traitorous House of Lancaster. Caught between her role as a spy and a fierce passion that neither she nor Richard can deny, Margery finds her heart exposed to the ultimate danger: falling in love. Yet she cannot admit her real mission to Richard. For if she stays true to her noble cause, she'll save many men ... and lose the one that matters most.

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This was the novel I always wanted to write. When I was fourteen I came across the mention of a woman spy in the Wars of the Roses, and I promised myself that one day I would write a novel with her as the heroine. Imagine my delight when I came across the mention of Warwick's bastard daughter, Margaret Neville, and her husband being present at the coronation of King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville, her half-sister. It made sense that the woman spy mentioned by the Burgundian Chronicler, Philippe de Commynes, was Margaret and now I had a name for her and for my hero – Richard Huddleston! As a historian, it was a joy to use real people and it gave veracity to the story.

While the main plot is the relationship between Margaret and Richard, the subplot concerns the intrigue and turmoil of 1470–71. This required a supporting cast of some of history's most intriguing characters: the overmighty earl, Warwick the Kingmaker, the gorgeous womaniser, Edward IV, and his treacherous young brother, George. Then there's his tenacious, ruthless enemy, Queen Margaret of Anjou and her wily cousin, the 'spiderking', Louis XI and, of course, the young Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III.

I never dreamed this novel would win the top awards for romance writing in both America and Australia and I am not only in the debt of my wonderful critique group for all their help and encouragement but above all grateful to editor Fiona Henderson and the publishing team at Transworld Australia who believed in the story so wholeheartedly.

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The banns were called at mass again next morning, sending Margery into such a state of inward panic that she was scarce aware of the buzz of conversation about her or a page's tug at her sleeve, summoning her to attend my lord of Warwick straightway.

The Earl was waiting for her in his solar.

‘My dear Margery,’ he exclaimed as made obeisance to him. ‘I am so pleased at your change of heart that I have decided to hold your wedding this week. Since your bridegroom is busy on my behalf, it will be more convenient to have it all signed and sealed immediately.’

‘My lord, you ride roughshod over my feelings. I am against this marriage. What makes you suddenly think otherwise?’

Her guardian gave a snort of disbelief. ‘Ah no, you merely flirt and dance with the man as if you care for him. Have you no shame?’

‘I danced with one man last night. Ankarette danced with him t–’ she faltered and her eyes flew to Warwick's as shock and disbelief flooded across her face. She wanted to sink down onto a stool; surely her legs would collapse beneath her.

‘Come let us be done with this fast-and-loose nonsense. You are marrying Richard Huddleston tomorrow and have done. Ah, Richard lad, Margery is a little overcome at the haste of all this but I have explained the situation.’

Richard Stone came through the doorway, removing his plumed beaver hat, and bowed to the Earl. If he knew Margery's appalled eyes were upon him, he seemed unruffled.

‘My lord. I think it may be the matter of my horse's tail.’ He looked round at her now. Did the Devil look so on the acquisition of a new soul? Oh, Jesu, how could she be so stupid? His name was not Stone. Agnes Guppy had told her wrongly. All that time he must have thought she had been deliberately calling him so to rile him. He was Richard Huddlestone.

Be calm, talk yourself out of this, an inner voice advised. Calm? When the deceitful knave was deliberately reminding her who had won all their past battles!

‘No, sirrah, it is the matter of you! I had rather wed a heathen than be yoked to you in matrimony. As I have made very clear, my lord of Warwick, one, I do not want to marry; two, I do not want to marry this week; and, three, I do not want to marry Master Richard Sto – Huddleston.’

‘At least you have finally gotten my name right at last.’ Richard laid his hat and gloves on the table. ‘My lord, there has been some misunderstanding. It seems the lady thought that she was marrying someone else.’

The Earl, appearing half-irritated, half-indulgent at their quarrel, glanced sharply at Margery. ‘Is this true, child?’

‘Yes, my lord.’ Her fingers writhed in front of her. ‘You led me to expect it was someone of your lordship's years. Old was the word, you used, I recollect.’

‘Old!’ Richard regarded the Earl with polite astonishment.

Warwick snorted, ‘So now he's not old, he's known to you and he wants to marry you, though why I cannot imagine, and I want you off my hands, Margery, so there's an end to it. What pleases me and Master Huddleston shall satisfy you. I have two emissaries arriving from the King of France the day after tomorrow. You will be wed before mass and I shall feast you together with the French lords. Tomorrow, Huddlestone, we shall hunt.’

Margery fleetingly closed her eyes and gave an angry sigh, prepared to sweep away in dignity before tears overwhelmed her. Huddleston stepped to block her way. She refused to look at him.

‘My lord,’ he said across her shoulder to the Earl. ‘Permit me to speak to my betrothed privily. This is obviously a shock to her.’ She flinched at the word betrothed, recoiling as if he had struck her.

The Earl shrugged, ‘Well, I suppose there is no impropriety in that since you will soon be man and wife. You may speak with one another here but there is the contract to draw up so make haste.’

Huddleston bowed as the Earl passed them but remained an obstacle between Margery and the door. She turned away from him, her eyes on the ceiling. It was pain enough to endure being married to a stranger but that it was Richard Sto ... Huddleston. She cursed herself for a blind and stupid fool.

His voice was kind. ‘Mistress Twynhoe told me last night that you did not realise that my name was Huddleston. I had no intention of misleading you, believe me.’

Margery took a deep breath, her shoulders proud. ‘Master Huddleston, I value my freedom. I repeat that I do not want to marry anyone. I will not be sold like some Paynim slave to a harem. I came here this morning expecting a public apology and instead’ She waved her hands in despair.

‘If it is the business of my horse's tail that still angers you then I admit my error. You have my belated but humble apology.’ The humility in his voice sounded genuine enough but she turned to see if the sincerity was in his eyes. It was, but he was playing kind, of course.

‘No, it – yes, of course it is your horse's tail and all your insults. How dared you abuse me so for your amusement because I am a landless woman and lack a father's name! Do you imagine I have no feelings because I was born in some unblest bed?’

‘Lady, you shall have land, name and your bed will be blessed.’

The blood flooded into her cheeks at the thought. ‘Blessed, sir, with you in it? I do not know why you have chosen me as a butt for this madness of yours but please change your mind. It will not suit. It will be a marriage made by the Devil.’

He laughed and half-seated himself on the edge of the table, one leg swinging. ‘I am resolved on it.’ He selected an apple from the silver platter and bit into it with his fine white teeth.

Margery's hands curled into fists at her side and she paced the room before she swung back to confront him. ‘Why do you want to enslave me? What have I ever done to you? Why should it be your choice? Why cannot it be mine?’

‘Because I know what is best for you.’ Warwick's voice came from behind her. Huddleston slid off the table respectfully to face the Kingmaker. The Earl's hands settled upon Margery's frozen shoulders, his breath was upon her cheek. ‘I make this marriage for you out of loving kindness, child. Trust me in this.’ He put a finger beneath her chin and made her look at him. ‘A firm hand is needed on your bridle, Margery. Once you start bearing you will no doubt calm down and become a sensible wife and mother.’

‘I am not a horse!’ she exclaimed hotly, and snatching up her skirts, she fled.

Richard left the Earl some half hour later well pleased with the bargain. Everything was going according to his plans. Warwick's fondness for the girl and his determination to dispose of his defiant ward had permitted Richard to demand a higher dowry. Of course, it was all on paper but six manors definitely made it worthwhile.

He was not expecting a slender female hand to reach out from behind a curtain and grab the coney-fur tip of his hanging sleeve. His right hand flew to the handle of his sword as he whirled round.

‘By Christ's blessed mercy, lady!’ He slid the sword back into its black scabbard as he recognised that the blue brocade enclosing the feminine arm belonged to the gown Margery had been wearing.

Her face peeped out at him. ‘Could we please speak about this matter?’ Pink tinged the white around the delightful blue of her eyes, hinting at angry tears. He hated seeing her distressed but you needed to break eggs to make a custard. What was the little witch up to now?

‘Right willingly, mistress, but it seems there is little more to say unless you have changed your mind. This curtain is mighty dusty. Do we have to stand behind it like lovers? Is this locked?’ She gave an angry growl. He rattled the door ring. It opened onto a small storeroom stacked with broken benches, brooms and buckets. ‘Hardly something out of a French romance. Would you prefer somewhere with tapestries?’

His betrothed stamped her foot at him. He grinned at her, revelling in his consistent ability to arouse the desire in her to hit him.

‘I think we should discuss this marriage in a sensible manner, sir. You will have to persuade my lord to reconsider this match.’

‘You want to marry someone else?’ If she did, would he change his mind? There went that little foot again.

‘'No, Master S–Huddleston, I thought I made it clear I do not want to marry anyone.’

‘Least of all me.’' He allowed the good humour to fade from his voice.

‘ Thank goodness, you are intelligent enough to see that.’

‘May I ask why?’

‘Why’' she spluttered. ‘Because we do not like each other.’

‘I am sorry I teased you.’

‘Teased me! You taunted, insulted and riled me. Your arrogant behaviour was insufferable. Just because I have no parents–’

‘–and a doubtful reputation.’

‘Exactly! I am quite unsuitable for you. I am sure your parents - if you have not annoyed them to an early grave – would not approve.’

‘I admit, lady, your besmirched reputation pleases me not one whit but as to your lack of parents, I am pleased to disregard the fact. Besides you come to me with a substantial dowry. I shall be wealthier by several manors.’

‘Dowry!’ He could not decide if she looked like an owlet or a kitten at that point. Tendrils of honey hair were rapidly escaping from her embroidered cap. ‘How many manors?’

‘Five so far, one more to be arranged. Now what's amiss?’

‘Can you not see he's only doing this to mend my reputation and wash his hands of me. You have no need to marry me.’ His patient expression must have exasperated her further for she stuck her hands on her hips like a little fishwife. ‘Jesu, you are not prepared to make him change his mind, are you?’

‘No, mistress, for his mind is fixed like the north star.’ He curbed the desire to pull her across the pace of flagstones between them so he could slide his hands down over her lower curves and cradled her hard against him. ‘You must be a heavy responsibility, Margery. Perhaps I should have bargained for seven manors. The sixth is for your little sin with the King.’

‘If were a man, I should run you through for your continual insults’'

‘But you are not a man, my mistress, so why not try your woman's wiles on me instead?’ It was time he showed her what he wanted from her. By all the Saints, he had been waiting long enough.

‘To Hell with you, Master Huddleston!’

She ran out and down the passageway before he could stop her and flung open the Earl's door. ‘Sutton Gaveston! Let the sixth manor that you sold me for be Sutton Gaveston!’ Then she grabbed up a fistful of her skirts in each hand. ‘You said you did not want used goods. You said I was a bad bargain,’ she snarled at Richard as she hurried back towards him. She would have torn past had he not seized her arm. He was about to kiss the anger out of her when the Earl loudly opened the door of the antechamber.

Warwick's face struggled in a contortion of anger interbred with laughter. ‘Margery, enough!’ he thundered.

Richard's fingers bit into the top half of his betrothed's sleeve. It was like trying to hold onto a spitting cat but he had a point to make and he made it loudly. ‘You said you wanted me shackled and bound. Well, I shall be, for all eternity.’

Margery gave Warwick a deadly glare before she wrenched her arm from Richard's grasp.

‘But I did not mean to me, Master Huddleston, not to me!’

Copyright Isolde Martyn
Excerpted by permission of the Transworld Division of Random Australia Pty Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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