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The Wallenstein Gambit: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Sunday, December 14, 2003 22:36 EST



Chapter V: Castling

July, 1633


    For the next two days, while Wallenstein and Pappenheim fought a chaotic and swirling series of small battles in and around Prague with military units who opposed the rebellion—or simply wanted to remain neutral, which Wallenstein wasn't going to tolerate—Morris Roth remained in his mansion. He stayed on the uppermost floor most of the time, except for brief snatches of sleep; moving from window to window, rifle in his hands, keeping watch on the streets below. He hadn't planned it that way—certainly Len and Ellie hadn't, when they purchased the building on his behalf—but because of its location just outside one of the main gates in the ghetto wall, his mansion served the Josefov as something in the way of a ravelin. An exterior little fortress from which enfilade fire could be brought to bear on anyone attempting to assault the fortress itself.

    He only used the rifle once, during those two days. That was on the evening of the first day, just before sundown, when a small band of ruffians—possibly soldiers operating on their own, possibly just criminals; it was hard to tell—advanced toward the ghetto brandishing a haphazard collection of swords, pikes and arquebuses. Morris warned them off when they were fifty yards away. When the only response he got was a small volley of arquebus fire which did no damage at all beyond making a few pockmarks in the thick walls of the mansion, he shot three of them.

    One round each, good center mass shots. Not hard to do, at that range, especially for a good shot like Morris. All of them fell in the street, in the space of less than ten seconds. The rest promptly fled.

    One man had been killed instantly; the other two were mortally wounded, dying within minutes. One of the men managed to crawl perhaps twenty feet before he finally collapsed.

    Morris slept hardly at all that night. Early in the morning, Judith found him back at his post, rifle held firmly in his grip. He avoided her eyes, though, when she approached and placed her hand on his shoulder.

    "Talk to me, Morris."

    "What's there to say?" he asked, shrugging. "I'm a small town jeweler who hasn't even been in a fist fight since I was a kid in boot camp. Over thirty years ago. Yeah, sure, I was in Vietnam. Big deal. I spent my whole tour of duty as a supply clerk in the big army base at Long Binh, and I didn't get there until long after the Tet Offensive."

    While he spoke, his eyes kept ranging across the streets below, looking for possible threats. He never looked at Judith once. "I guess you could call it 'combat duty,' since I always knew that some of the explosions and shots I heard during the night was stuff aimed into the base rather than our own Harassment and Interdiction fire. But nothing ever landed close to me—and I never once had to fire my own weapon at any enemies I could see." Very softly: "I've never even shot a deer before, much less a man. Then stare at their bodies afterward, while they bleed to death."

    Judith gave his shoulder a little squeeze; then, disappeared for a while. When she returned, she had Mordechai Spira in tow along with another rabbi who seemed to be a close friend of his. A man by the name of Isaac Gans. The two of them kept Morris company the rest of the day. There was little conversation, because Morris was not in a mood for talking. Still, he appreciated their presence. Not so much for anything they said or did, but just for the fact of it.

    Neither Spira nor Gans was wearing Jewish insignia. During the afternoon of the day before, just a short time before Morris had his confrontation with the band of thugs, a small squad of soldiers led by a sub-officer had placed posters on buildings near the ghetto—as well as two posters flanking the entrance to the ghetto itself. The posters were proclamations by Wallenstein. The first proclamation announced that he was now the King of Bohemia—and Pappenheim was the Duke of Moravia.

    There were many proclamations on those posters. Among them, Wallenstein had kept the promise he'd made to Morris long months before, in a small house in Grantville. Freedom of religion was guaranteed. Distinctions between citizens (that was a new word, just in itself—citizens) would no longer take religious affiliation into account. And, specifically, all restrictions on Jews were abolished.

    It was pretty impressive, actually. At least, the words were. A lot of the language was cribbed from texts of the American Revolution as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Man adopted in 1789 by the National Assembly during the French Revolution. One, in particular, was taken word-for-word from the French declaration:

    No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

    True enough, there was wiggle room there, if Wallenstein chose to exercise it. "Disturb the public order" could become a weasel phrase easily enough, in the hands of an autocrat.

    Which, Wallenstein would be. His proclamations, needless to say, did not include the political aspects of the French and American declarations. The rights and liberties of citizens would be respected—or so, at least, Wallenstein proclaimed. But political power would remain in the hands of the new king. There was a provision for the formation of a National Assembly, but it was obvious that Wallenstein intended it to remain purely advisory.

    So be it. What Wallenstein intended was one thing; what eventually resulted, another. And, in the meantime, at least Jews no longer had to wear badges or distinctive yellow hats whenever they left the ghetto. They could build synagogues anywhere in Prague—in all of Bohemia and Moravia, in fact—and could henceforth own the guns to protect them, if need be.

    There was one part of the proclamation which almost made Morris laugh. Wallenstein had also ordered the dismantling of the wall of the ghetto. And, sure enough, Dunash and his firebrands immediately began eagerly tearing down one little section of the wall near the quarter of the ghetto where they lived—ignoring the protests of most of their neighbors.

    Their Jewish neighbors, for whom the wall was something of a comfort as well as a curse. The neighbors had even gone to register a protest with the rabbis.

    The chief rabbi had hemmed and hawed. But most of the other rabbis—led by Spira and Gans, according to Jason—decided soon enough that the wisdom of the ancient Babylonian sage still applied: The law of the land is the law.



    So, Dunash and his men had been able to proceed in the work cheerfully and unmolested.

    But only for two days. In mid-afternoon of the third day, having established their control of Prague itself, Wallenstein and Pappenheim took most of their soldiers out of the city. Marching to the southwest, to meet an oncoming army dispatched by Ferdinand II.

    There was to be a second Battle of the White Mountain, it seemed.



    The day after Wallenstein and Pappenheim left, Holk—who had been ordered to guard the northern frontier against any possible Saxon interference—announced that he was marching into Prague instead. "To secure the city from disorders," he was reported to have said. Or words to that drunken effect.

    Whether he had decided to throw his lot in with Emperor Ferdinand, or simply couldn't resist the opportunity to loot a major city, no one knew. To the inhabitants of Prague, it hardly mattered. Not even the still-considerable body of residents who were Habsburg loyalists wanted Holk around. Nobody in their right mind, except his own thugs, wanted Holk anywhere nearby.

    Morris got the news from Red Sybolt and Jan Billek.

    "Is it true?" he asked.

    "Seems to be," said Billek. "There is already a small stream of refugees coming into the city from the north. They believe it, certainly—that is why they are trying to get out of Holk's path."

    Morris leaned out the window, scowling toward the north. "What does Holk think he's doing? If Wallenstein wins, he's dead meat."

    "Does Holk 'think' at all?" Red shrugged. "He's a drunk and a thug, Morris. For all we know, he didn't decide anything at all. Maybe his own soldiers put him up to it, and he doesn't dare refuse them. Sacking a big city like Prague when it's got no real army to defend it is the kind of opportunity every mercenary dreams about in the Thirty Years War. Look at it from their point of view. At the very least, they'll have two or three days to plunder and pillage before Wallenstein and Pappenheim get back and they have to run for it. You think the average mercenary—sure as hell in Holk's army—thinks in the long run? 'Planning for the future' for guys like that means 'gimme what I want—now.'"

    Morris brought his head back, still scowling. "All right. It'll be up to you and Jan, then. Wallenstein didn't leave more than a thousand soldiers here. Good thing he didn't take your Brethren volunteers with him, too."

    Red smiled lopsidedly. "Pappenheim still doesn't trust us. Not our loyalty, just how much use we'd be in a battle. He's more set in his ways than Wallenstein, you know—and with Wallenstein in the shape he's in, Pappenheim will have to do the actual commanding on the battlefield."

    Morris' smile was even more lopsided than Red's. "I never thought I'd say this, but I really wish—really wish—Wallenstein had stayed behind. What a world! To think I'd ever find Wallenstein's presence a comfort." He shook his head. "But... there it is. I surely would."

    He glanced up at the Hradèany. "What about the soldiers he did leave behind?"

    "Oh, I think we can count on them, well enough," Billek assured him. "Pappenheim left one of his protégés in charge—young Kastner, I do not think you know him. His unit is one of the best, actually. Wallenstein and Pappenheim want something to return to, assuming they win their battle. There are still plenty of Habsburg loyalists in the population, especially among the Catholics."

    "Why'd they take almost everybody with them, then?"

    "Morris, be realistic," said Sybolt. "If you were Wallenstein, you'd do the same thing. If he loses this upcoming battle against the Austrians, he's finished. He's burned all his bridges behind him, now. It's not as if he figured on Holk running wild, after all—and even if he did consider the possibility, so what? If Wallenstein whips the Austrians and comes back to a wrecked and plundered Prague, he's still the King of Bohemia. Cities can be rebuilt, too, you know. Look at Magdeburg."

    Morris took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "True. Tough on the people living in the city, though."

    "Yup. Unless they protect themselves. Speaking of which, what are your orders?"

    "My orders?" Morris stared at him. "I'm not in charge here."

    Red chuckled. "Morris, sometimes you're a real babe in the woods. What does 'in charge' have to do with anything? Nobody put Holk 'in charge' either—but he's still on his way."

    Sybolt stepped up to the window and studied the Hradèany for a moment. "Kastner's just a youngster, Morris. He hasn't got the confidence to take charge of the whole city. What he'll do is fort up in the Castle and the key buildings in the Malá Strana below the hill—including Wallenstein's palace, of course—and just be satisfied with fending Holk off."

    "He is right," said Billek. "And Holk will make no real effort to take the Hradèany. He and his men are looking for loot, not a protracted siege." He came forward and joined Sybolt at the window, examining the city. "From the direction they are coming, they will strike Prague on the west bank of the Vltava first. Then, they will recoil from Kastner's men in the Hradèany and the Malá Strana and head for Stone Bridge. Most of Prague is on this side of the river. Not the richest part, to be sure, but Holk and his men are not fussy looters. And this is the soft part of the city."

    Billek glanced at the two rabbis standing not far away. The faces of both Spira and Gans were calm enough, but tight with worry. "Especially the Josefov. Jews are not armed and everyone knows it. They will begin their plunder and ravages in Old Town and move north to the ghetto."

    Morris was no military man, but, as he studied the layout of the city, he decided that Red and Jan were right. Given the nature of Holk and his army, that was exactly what they'd do.

    "We should try to trap them on the Stone Bridge," he said abruptly. "Never let them get across at all."

    Then, a bit startled by the sureness with which he'd spoken, Morris added: "I think."

    "Well, so do I," said Red. "So does Jan—we talked about it on our way over here. Good thing we've got a smart boss."

    "Who made me the 'boss'?" Morris demanded. "I still don't understand—"

    Billek interrupted him. That was unusual, for the normally reserved and polite leader of the Brethren. "Do not be stupid, Morris," he said forcefully. "Don Morris, rather."

    Billek nodded toward the two rabbis. "The only way this plan will work is if the Jews hold the eastern side of the Bridge and keep Holk pinned on it. While we Brethren and Red's CoC volunteers hammer them from fortified positions in the Malá Strana. We have most of the guns and will do most of the killing. But the eastern end of the Bridge must be held—and firmly."

    Spira and Gans looked startled. Billek shook his head. "As Red says, we must be realistic here. Who else except the Jews will hold the eastern end of the Bridge from Holk—hold it at all, much less firmly? Except for the Brethren, the Christian population on the east side of the river is still confused and uncertain. They won't fight—not most of them—not against such as Holk. They will simply flee the city."

    Morris felt his jaws tighten. "Whereas the Jews don't have any place to run to. If they try to leave the city, in this chaos, they'd likely be plundered by"—he almost said the stinking goyishe villagers on the way, but didn't—"you know, everybody. Just about."

    Billek said nothing. After a moment, to Morris' surprise, Red grinned cheerfully.

    "Hey, Morris, look at it this way—it happened once before, didn't it? Well, in a manner of speaking."

    Morris couldn't help but smile himself. Talk about a topsy-turvy world! In the universe they'd come from, in the year 1648, a Swedish army had marched into Prague and taken the Hradèany and the Malá Strana on the west bank of the river. Convinced that they'd do better even under the heavy hand of the Habsburgs than at the hands of a conquering Swedish army—by the end of the Thirty Years War, Swedish armies were no more disciplined than anybody's—the Jews of Prague's ghetto had joined with Catholic students and burghers to fight off the Swedes when they tried to cross the Stone Bridge and pillage the eastern half of the city. It had been the last major battle of the Thirty Years War, in fact. It didn't end until nine days after the Peace of Westphalia was signed—and the Swedes never did make it across the Bridge.

    Less than a hundred years later, under Empress Maria Theresa, the Habsburgs repaid the loyalty of Prague's Jewry by expelling them from the city.

    "Right," Morris growled, his smile fading. "Let's do it again—and we'll hope, this time, it turns out better in the long run."

    He turned away from the window and faced the two rabbis. "Will you agree?"

    Spira and Gans looked at each other. Spira nodded. Gans shrugged. "Do we have a choice? Not that I can see. And I am sure all the other rabbis will agree."

    "You will be in command, yes, Don Morris?" asked Spira. He gave Billek and Red a somewhat apologetic glance. "Our people will follow you. Not... others."

    "See?" Red demanded, smiling wider than ever. "Like I said, you're the boss."

    "Make sure you are on a horse," Billek added. "Biggest horse you can find. And wear something suitable."





    Morris had been prepared for a brawl with Dunash. He was sure the young militant would try to insist that he and his men should remain with the other Jews on the east bank, rather than fighting with the Brethren as they were supposed to do.

    But, to his surprise, Red Sybolt scuttled the problem before it could even emerge.

    "We may as well keep me and Dunash and the katyusha on this side anyway, Morris. Those rockets are about as accurate as spitting in the wind. If we fire them at the Bridge from the Malá Strana, we're as likely to kill our own people over here as Holk's people on the Bridge."

    Red pointed across the river. "The Brethren will be sheltered in fortified position over there. At the beginning, for sure. So they'll be safe enough from friendly fire, since those warheads really aren't that powerful. We designed them as anti-personnel weapons. A small charge and a lot of shrapnel, basically."

    "Jan's okay with that?"

    "Yeah, he and I already talked it over." Red's easy grin was back. "Besides, the truck's in your basement, remember? That was the only place secret enough to assemble it under Wallenstein's nose. Well, under Marradas' nose. I'm pretty sure Wallenstein knows we have the thing. It'll be hard enough to haul it out of there, much less try to get it across the river and under shelter. The Malá Strana doesn't have too much in the way of garages, you know."

    After he thought it over, Morris decided Red was right. If nothing else, even if the katyusha proved ineffective in the battle, just having a fabled American war machine show up in the midst of the motley "army" assembling on the eastern end of the Bridge would do wonders for morale. Especially with Jews manning the thing.

    Besides, he was tiring of fighting with Dunash.

    "Okay, done."



    He had a bigger problem with the horse. Big enough that he even lapsed into profanity for a moment. "Where the hell did you get this thing? I didn't think Clydesdales even existed in this day and age." A little whine came into his voice. "And how am I supposed to even get onto it, anyway? Especially wearing this stupid get-up. With a winch?"

    He was coming to detest Red's grin. "Why not? According to a movie I saw once, that's how the old knights got lifted onto their horses." Red gave the horse in question an admiring look. "And quit exaggerating. It's not a Clydesdale, not even close. Just the second biggest horse Pappenheim owns. He took the biggest one with him."

    Morris grimaced. "Oh, swell. Now I'll have Pappenheim furious with me, on top of everything else. Do they hang horse thieves in Bohemia? I'm sure they do."

    Red shrugged. "If you keep Prague intact, I really don't think Pappenheim's going to mind much that you used one of his horses to do it. Look, Morris. Nobody ever said being a champion wasn't risky."

    "Champion." Oh, swell. Like I need a hole in the head.

    Gloomily, Morris went back to studying the horse. He was a good horseman, to be sure—within the limits of what "good horsemanship" meant for an American whose experience was almost entirely with the sort of horses one encountered on riding trails and pack stations. Whether that would translate into being able to control a 17th century warhorse...



    A bit to his surprise, it did. The warhorse was more spirited than Morris was accustomed to, but on the other hand it had been trained to remain steady in the middle of a battlefield. Once he got accustomed to it, in fact, he found himself enjoying the experience. It really was quite a horse.

    And, there was no doubt of one thing: as silly as he felt, riding a horse while wearing the fancy garb of a 17th century nobleman, his appearance before the crowd now erecting barricades at the eastern end of the Stone Bridge had an impact. He even got cheered. A very big cheer, in fact. Jason had told Judith that the story was already widely spread of how Don Morris had slain goyishe bandits seeking to victimize the ghetto, with his powerful American arquebus. As many as ten bandits, in one version of the story.

    As big a cheer as it was, though, it was not as big as the cheer the katyusha received, when Red and Dunash's people finally managed to get it out of the basement—they used thirty people with ropes to just lift it out—and Red drove it slowly forward onto the little square abutting the Bridge.

    Morris was startled when the initial cheer evolved into a chant: APC! APC! He wouldn't have guessed that the population of far-off Prague—certainly not the Jews in its ghetto—would have ever heard of that acronym. It was ironic, of course, since the "APC" was nothing of the sort. True, Red had mounted some thin armor plate to protect the engine and the driver and gunner in the front seat. But the thing was no solid and heavy coal truck. It was just an old Dodge Ram with a jury-rigged and flimsy-looking rocket launcher fixed in the bed.

    It didn't matter. None of Prague's civilians had ever seen an American war machine before, but they'd heard the rumors. For them, "APC" was more in the way of a spoken talisman than anything else. And this was an age when most common folk believed in the power of talismans and amulets. That was as true for the Jews as the Christians, although the forms were different. The so-called "Book of Raziel the Angel"—the Sefer Raziel ha-Mal'akh—hadn't been produced yet in printed form, but parts of the ancient manuscript went back to Babylonian Talmudic times. It had drifted around the world's Jewish communities for centuries, never really approved by the rabbinate but never banned either. Morris wouldn't have been surprised to discover that a goodly percentage of the Jews building the barricades had little metal or paper amulets under their clothes, using the formulas of the Sefer Raziel.

    When Red finally brought the pickup-cum-katyusha to a halt, after positioning it in the firing slot left open in the barricades, he rolled down the window and gave Morris an admiring look.

    "I do declare, perched way up there on that great big horse—hell of a nice plume to the hat, too—you look like the spittin' image of a hidalgo. Damn near a conquistador, in fact."

    "My family came from Krakow," Morris groused. "The closest I ever got to Spain was eating tapas once in a restaurant in Philadelphia."

    "Don't knock it, Morris. All that matters is that you look and act the part. They've got a recognized leader now, instead of everybody fumbling around wondering who's in charge. That'll help steady everybody's nerves—a lot—as long as you don't get yourself shot."

    For some odd reason, the warhorse had a delayed reaction to the Dodge Ram. It was accustomed to the sounds of gunfire, not internal combustion engines, to be sure. But Morris never did figure out why the blasted critter chose the moment when Red turned off the motor to start getting jittery.

    Very jittery. Morris had a few tense and interesting moments, though he managed to stay in the saddle. He did lose the hat, though.

    "Or fall off the horse," Red added sarcastically.





    That evening, after looking for Len all over the Hradèany, Ellie finally figured out where he'd be. She realized it within seconds after she returned to the rooms in the Castle which the young commander Kastner had assigned to them. Kastner, worried lest Wallenstein's precious American technical experts might get hurt in the fighting, had insisted that Ellie and Len move from Wallenstein's palace into the greater safety of the fortress above.

    There'd been no point arguing with him. Kastner had no idea how the telephones worked, so he had no intention of trying to use them. In what was coming, Len and Ellie would just be fifth wheels on a cart. So, Len grumbling the whole time, they'd spent the morning hauling their belongings up the hill. Then, having made the last trip alone for a few final items while Len stayed behind in order to arrange their new living quarters, she'd come back to find him gone.

    She'd spent most of the afternoon searching for him, growing increasingly worried. But when she finally returned, half-exhausted from endless hiking, she noticed that the lid to one of the chests was cracked open. That chest was normally kept locked, because it was the one where they kept their personal weapons.

    She opened the chest and looked. Len's 12-gauge was missing.

    What could he possibly--?

    --I'll kill him if the idiot--!


    It all fell into place. Not sure whether she was more relieved than exasperated, Ellie closed the chest and sat down on it. For a moment, half-slumped, she tried to decide what to do. For that matter, what to think.

    Then, shrugging, she got up and left. That was her man, when it was said and done. Quirks and foibles and all.

    Although even for Len, this is a doozy.



    She found him where she'd thought she would—the one place it had never occurred to her to look the entire afternoon. The place she must have circled at least four times while she searched for him. Impossible not to, of course, since it dominated the Hradèany.

    Len was sitting in one of the rear pews in the huge Gothic cathedral. Just staring at the altar, his shotgun across his knees. Ellie was sure he'd been there the whole afternoon. The handful of priests watching him were still nervous, clearly enough, but it was the kind of nervousness that had worn itself down after a few hours. A few hours while the bizarre intruder—monster from another world, with a monstrous weapon—just sat there and did nothing.

    She slid into the seat next to him. "You might have left me a note, dammit!"

    Len looked uncomfortable. "I started to write one, but... I don't know. I didn't know what to say. How to explain it."

    Ellie sighed. Then, felt all her exasperation going away. That was the nature of the man, after all. She reached out her hand and stroked the back of his neck.

    "S'okay. I shoulda figured you'd unlapse your own way. You weird duck. What? You figure on protecting the cathedral all by your lonesome?"

    She gave the priests a skeptical glance. "I don't think they'd be much help, if Holk's hordes came pouring in. Not that they will, without taking the Hradèany from Kastner. Which they won't."

    Len flushed. "It's the principle of the thing, Ellie. Kastner's people didn't want me underfoot anyway, so I figured... Look, religious freedom's for everybody. That means Catholics too, even if the bums running the show here screwed up. And this cathedral's ancient. It's a holy place, even if I don't think much of the current tenants."

    His hand tightened on the stock of the shotgun. "So anybody tries anything..."

    "Ha! St. Len and the Dragon, is it?"

    Len's flush deepened. His eyes now seemed riveted on the altar.

    "Will you marry me?" he asked abruptly. "I've been thinking about it all afternoon."

    She studied him for a moment. "I'm not getting married in a fucking church, Len."

    "You shouldn't swear in here."

    "Not in a fucking church. I can't stand churches."

    Len took a deep breath, sighed. His hand finally left the stock of the shotgun and came up as if to stroke his absent mustache.

    Feeling the bare skin, he sighed again. "You are one hard woman, Ellie Anderson."

    There was nothing much she could say, since that was true enough. So she said nothing.

    Neither did he, for maybe five minutes. Then, finally, he looked at her.

    "Was that a 'yes'?"

    Ellie chuckled and went back to stroking his neck. "Yes, Len, that was a 'yes.' Just not in a fucking church. If you can't live with that, you can't live with me."

    She looked at the altar, then at the priests. "But I don't mind if you decide to pull crazy stunts like this, now and then. So I figure we're square."

    "Okay." He stroked his non-existent mustache. "I can live with that."




    The first detachments from Holk's army started showing up in the outskirts of the city early the next morning. By mid-morning, they were exchanging shots with Kastner's men forted up in the Hradèany; by noon, with his men forted up in the Malá Strana. By mid-afternoon, most of Holk's ragtag army had poured into the city's west bank—as undisciplined as you could ask for—and decided they'd had enough of cracking their heads against Kastner's troops.

    Holk himself showed up then, on his own big warhorse, and led the charge. He waved his sword to the east, very dramatically. That way! To the Stone Bridge!

    Tanner stayed in the cathedral the whole time, Saint Len faithfully at his post in case the dragon showed up.

    Ellie, on the other hand, joined the soldiers on the walls of the Hradèany. She had a better vantage point to see what was happening than Morris and Red did, across the river. So, using her CB, she kept them informed all day of the movements of Holk and his men. Insofar as that rabble could be said to have "maneuvers" at all, other than the mercenary equivalent of Brownian motion.

    When Holk showed up, though, waving his stupid sword, she put down the CB and drew her pistol. Then, cursing a blue streak, clambered up on the wall and emptied the entire clip at him.

    "Where'd you go?" Red asked her, when she got back on the CB. Ellie explained in a few curt sentences, about every other word of which was short and had an Anglo-Saxon pedigree.

    "Fer chrissake, Ellie—with a 9 mm. automatic? What're you, nuts? That's gotta be at least six hundred yards. You'd be lucky to hit the river at that range."

    "It's the principle of the thing," she stoutly insisted.

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