True Refuge

Here is a 5,020 word story I wrote for a friend's magazine. (She wanted a much shorter story, but... yeah, ok. I got carried away!) Since I haven't done a lot of writing, arty, or musical things lately, I'll post this one. I wrote it about a year ago, so if you see a few sticky/rough spots, it's because it hasn't an editor's eye on it yet.

True Refuge
By BushMaid

Year: 1428. Place: Orleans, France. Jeanne d'Arc has gathered her army and is preparing to defend the town of Orleans from the invading English.


"Don't worry, Mademousielle, the journey is not much farther,"

"Merci - thankyou Richart."

Richart let his troubled gaze linger on the young woman's face. Mounted on her steed, her shoulders were slumped, and her eyes betrayed the weariness she felt. In fact, they all felt. They had been many days travelling. The dreary weather of rain and mud on the road had them all living in wet, bedraggled clothes, slathered in grime. The horses had not faired much better; their legs mud-caked, and the caparisons that covered them stained from the sloppy conditions. Yes, they would all be glad to reach their destination. Night was falling, and the plodding hoofbeats of the travelling horses were the only sound breaking the dismal silence. 

Richart glanced at the sky. "Looks like rain again," he muttered. "Hope we reach town before it starts; we'll all likely drown if it gets any wetter."

"Knowing our luck, it will most likely hail," Casin, the young boy leading the pack horse, stated despondently.

Slowly the passage came to the crest of the hill and paused before descending.

"Finally, we are here," sighed Richart. "The castle in which we are promised protection is on the edge of the city, Lady De La Faloise'. It shan't take us long to get there."

"Oui, Richart. Let us hurry."

Lights shone through several windows throughout the town, but on the whole, it was strangely dark and quiet. Their arrival caused little stir, which was unusal for a town so large.

As they approached the chateau gate, Richart thumped upon it loudly. "Open up! I ask admittance for-"

"Shut up, you fool!" Whispered a nearby guard, harshly. "What are you trying to do? Tell the English where we are?"

He creaked open the gate, and ushered them in, whilst scanning the darkened horizon. As they entered the courtyard, one by one each rider dropped from his horse, landing on unsteady legs.

"Casin!" Richart shouted in a whisper, "Take the horses to the stables, feed and water them."

"Yes sir," returned Casin, leading the animals away to shelter.

"Come,m'lady," said Richart, turning to the woman, still standing by her mount. "Let me show you inside."

They were led inside the large walls by another guard, who showed them up the steps into the library where a few men stood about. One rose from his place in front of the fire, and came forward to greet them.

"Ysabeau!" he cried, "you made it! I was worried, I very nearly went to the border to escort you home myself."

"Estiene," she smiled, "Brother, it is good to see you!" She turned to Richart. "Thankyou, Richart, for accompaning me here, please ask the guard for a meal and room."

"Yes, Richart, many thanks for bringing my sister home safely," added Estiene.

"Oui, Ma'amselle. Always happy to be of service, master." Nodding his head, Richart exited the room.

Estiene helped Ysabeau out of her heavy coat as he introduced her to the other gentlemen. Anthoine Varenne, a battle-hardened knight who had escaped Bordeaux with his troops when the british had taken over the city, and was now preparing to join forces with the army of Orleans. He was tall, well built with dark features, maybe even handsome if it wasn't for his sullen, frowning countenance.

Laurens Forest, the castle owner, was a pompous little man with slightly balding hair and roundish build. He proud of his stronghold since it was a safe haven for noblemen and knights in times of war, who paid good money to stay there.

Nicolas De'Barre was a Bishop who, except for glancing up when the guests entered, had kept his head buried in his long grey beard, bent studiously over a half dozen manuscripts spread out over a table in the corner.

After the introductions and greetings, and when Ysabeau had warmed herself, Estiene suggested, "Let me take you to your room so you can rest for a while."

They hiked the stairs to a chamber on the north side of the tower. Ysabeau settled on the bed wearily as her brother closed the door.

"How was it?" asked Estiene softly, as he sat down beside her. "And how are you? I nearly died when I found out you were gone, and then when the group I sent took so long..."

Ysabeau gave a sigh. "I must admit to you, it wasn't very nice." She stated simply. "After the English had kidnapped me from home, we travelled almost directly to the north coast, where we boarded a ship and crossed the channel. When we finally reached Hastings, they kept me in a small room; thinking me too much above the common prison, which was fortunate. Your men arrived; how they tracked me down I have no idea. They helped me escape, and we have been heading home for the last week."

Estiene was silent. It had been a nerve-racking time for him while his sister was in the hands of the English. The relief he felt was acute. All he wanted now was to both be safe at home; an impossiblity he had yet to break to her.

"Ysabeau," he began, choking on the bitter news he had in store for her. "we... we can't go back home."

Her eyes widened in shock. "Estiene-!" she gasped, but her brother cut in.

"We can't! It's impossible! I wanted to try and break this to you as gently as I could, but there is no way we can get back home. The English armies have mobilised their troops in an effort to attack Orleans. Joan thinks-"

"Joan?" Ysabeau started. "The peasant girl who thinks she is capable of leading an army?"

"She is capable!" Said Estiene heatedly. "Look, these differences of opinion aren't going to help, but Jeanne D'arc believes she can neutralise them if they attempt an assault on the city. I have seen her military units, I'm convinced it will be enough to hold them off."

Ysabeau just groaned and lay back on the bed, frowning. Estiene sighed, but as he watched her tears squeezed out beneath her clenched eyelids and began to roll down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry, Izzy," Estiene murmured.

"It's ok, Estiene, I'm just tired now." Keeping her eyes closed, Ysabeau smiled slightly. Her brother wiped away the tears clinging to her face and, kissing her cheek, left her to sleep.


The following morning, Ysabeau came down from her chamber to the dining room where she found her brother and Anthoine already at the table.

Estiene got to his feet. "Did you sleep well?" He asked, solicitously.

"Yes, thankyou." she smiled at him, and Estiene realized their former dispute was mutually forgiven.

"Good morning, Monsieur Varenne," Ysabeau said, turning to the other gentleman. She was rewarded a stiff bow.

"Later this morning, Mademousielle de'Arc's head captain, Balthazar Pissote is coming to discuss plans," stated Estiene as they were seated and the meal progressed. "I am led to believe that Jeanne's captain is to stay in town with his own division for the purpose of defending the castle."

"Very generous of him, I'm sure." respoded Anthoine sourly.

"What do you mean by that, Anthoine?"

The man threw down his serviette. "The whole idea is pointless." he began. "For one thing, this castle is in a position so that any attack made on it would have to come through the front Mademousielle de'Arc has stationed. Secondly, if- and that is a big if- any amount of soldiers are lucky enough to get through, the castle's own archers would be more then enough to take them on. Therefore Balthazar's ridiculous scheme to stay in town proves he is either a coward, or has his own motive for staying in town."

"Upon my word, Monsieur!" Exclaimed Estiene. "I hope you are exaggerating. What kind of motive would persuade Balthazar to stay behind? If any, I pray it's the fact that he is not so inclined to face the devant."

Anthoine stood up from the table in disgust. "Front or not, he's a soldier!" He growled vehemently. "It's his duty to fight where he's needed; not to hide his cowardly spirit behind a farce like that." He jerked his head in a nod and left the room, shoulders hunched in evident temper.

Estiene turned to Ysabeau, who had been the silent onlooker of the exchange, and arched his eyebrows.

"Well!" He said. "This morning's proceedings will definately be interesting with that kind of atmosphere."

"Gracious!" Ysabeau declared. "Why should he be so suspicious of Balthazar? And if he is so up in arms about 'duty' as he put it, why isn't he out there fighting now?"

Estiene gave her a sidelong glance. "When the English eventually attack, Anthoine will be on the battle front alongside Joan."

While Ysabeau still sat surprised, Estiene rose to direct the arriving captain to the discussion in the library.


That night, there was an erie and unnatural silence. It boded no good; if anything, it was nearly a certainty that the British were stirring in their ranks not far from the city.

Ysabeau gave a bored sigh. She was confined to the castle, and was lounging in the library where Nicolas was still busy at his books. Ysabeau rolled her eyes at him. What on earth could he find so interesting in his writings and scrolls? Estiene and Anthoine had been out with Balthazar to inspect the troops, so there was no one with whom Ysabeau could have companionship for the evening. She looked again at Nicolas. She might as well give him a try at being conversational.

"The meeting this morning with Balthazar was rather interesting, wasn't it eveque?"

The Bishop merely grunted, still shuffling through his mountain of parchment. Ysabeau tapped her fingers on the small book table, the only sound breaking the monotony.

"Monsieur Varenne wasn't very happy with the scheme of things, barely said a word to Balthazaar. Mind you, he probably would have brushed off any of his comments the same as he did Estiene. He seemed so sure of himself and his plan..." Ysabeau drifted off as she realized Nicolas wasn't paying any attention.

Reviewing the morning in her mind, she felt uneasy thinking of Balthazar again. Very tall, solidly built, and richly dressed for his rank, he had blonde hair with a mostache. His eyes seemed to gleem dishonestly and his suave attitude made Ysabeau wary. Perhaps Athoine could have been correct in doubting him... she thought to herself.

Shaking off these gloomy thoughts, she got up and stood by Nicolas' elbow.

"What are you doing?" Ysabeau asked.

Nicolas looked up, seeming for the first time. His eyes were a bright greyish-blue, almost white, but so fiery that he looked twenty years younger.

"Transcribing," he said, becoming talkative for the first time.

"What are you transcribing?" Ysabeau replied, curious.

"The Bible." Nicolas tapped a huge finely bound book on the edge of his desk.

Ysabeau's eyes grew wide. "The Bible? You have a Bible?"

"Yes, I rescued it from the monastary before it was burnt to the ground by the British, a few months back."

"Why are you transcribing it?"

He turned his icy eyes upon her. "To give it to people! Anybody who doesn't know the good news!"

Ysabeau was astounded the passion in his words.

She swallowed, hesitantly. "Good news?" She asked.

Now Nicolas looked at her with incredulity. "You haven't read it? The princess- the niece of the King has not read the Bible?"

Ysabeau shook her head. "Well- I- I've heard that God forgives and is merciful towards the repentant- that much my parents told me- is that the Good News?"

Nicolas' eyes sparked. "Yes, but not all of it. God loves anyone who believes that Jesus died for them and when they believe, they can live eternally with Him when He returns. I am transcribing these words for those who have not heard that there can be life after death." He spoke with adament conviction.

The young woman stared as the old man smiled up at her. "How do you know this?" She asked, hoarsely.

"Many prophets, from centuries ago, wrote of this great event to come. These writings have been saved, and are now contained in the Bible." He tapped the cover of the large book again. "Anyone who has read these things cannot doubt it's truth. And anyone who believes, will not need to fear death, for God is like a fortress, a stronghold; for whoever runs to Him shall be saved."

A shadow fell across the table. "Truer words were never spoken," a masculine voice murmured the words, above where Ysabeau was bending over the table. She turned, and Anthoine stood just behind her. So intruiging was the conversation they had not noticed him enter. He was gazing past Ysabeau into the eyes of Nicolas, a look of tender earnestness on his face. His lips parted as though about to say something, but he noticed Ysabeau, and stopped abruptly, his expression returning to it's sullen mask.

"Estiene's compliments, he hoped to have your company during his meal." Anthoine muttered stiffly to Ysabeau, before turning on heel and heading up the stairway. Ysabeau turned her gaze back to Nicolas.

"You seem... doubtful, ma'amselle," Bishop De'Barre stated softly. "Take this," he said, handing her a sheaf of papers, bound together by leather thonging. "read, and learn for yourself." He then bent his head to his work again, scribbling down the words as fast as he could.


It was dark and cold when Estiene and Anthoine finally trudged back from the barracks. They had been with Joan and Balthazar discussing the British tactics, where each military division was stationed, when to strike, and other orders that needed to be fulfilled. Estiene's gaze kept drifting back to Balthazar, and his mind back to Anthoine's previous assumptions. Did Balthazar really have a motive? Looking at him now, his scrutinous gaze was going over every detail of the plans, but his nonchalant manner was a contradiction. Did they really need his protection at the castle? He voiced this to Joan. "Wouldn't Monsieur Pissote be of more use to you on the field?"

Balthazar's head snapped up in surprise. Anthoine, rigid and sullen - like always - glanced swiftly at Estiene. Joan however noticed none of this.

"Yes," She said evenly, still gazing at a map. "but the captain pointed out that a goodly amount of protection for the town would be a good backup in case things turned bad, although I doubt that. With Anthoine's men joining mine, there should be no possibility of failure."

Balthazar resumed his blase' pose, smiling, but through the guise his eyes glinted evilly in Estiene's direction. Even now, he felt uneasy at the memory.

Entering the castle, Estiene made his way to the dining room.

"Anthoine," He said over his shoulder, "if you see Ysabeau, can you tell her I would enjoy dining with her this evening?"

Anthoine nodded and headed for the stairs.

"Estiene, do you believe in God?" Ysabeau posed the question over dinner.

Her brother looked up, his countenance puzzled. "Of course, Mother and Father taught me all about what Christ has done for us, and had me read the Bible. Why- don't you?"

Ysabeau stirred her tea moodily. She really wasn't sure what to believe. Of course, she had grown up in the same household as Estiene, heard the words of truth, believed that Jesus died for her sins so she could go to heaven, but the idea of putting your future and life into the hands of the unknown was almost frightening. 

"How do you know that it's true? That God really is looking after you?" She replied evasively.

Estiene looked surprised. "I just do. I read the Bible when I was at home, everything made perfect sense to me. God has always watched over us. Just see how he brought you safely home!"

She shifted in her chair. That wasn't God, it wasn't even luck, it was the skill of Richart and his men that had delivered her here in safety.

Ysabeau pondered, silently. There was one thing that Nicolas had said which stuck in her mind first and foremost: For God is like a fortress, a stronghold; for whoever runs to Him shall be saved.

"I don't believe it!" She burst out suddenly. "How can God be like a fortress or tower? How can he protect us from what happens in the world? How can he be as sure and safe as this stronghold we are in?"

Estiene flinched at the sudden torrent of questions. His mind scrambled for a legitimate answer. "He just is," he replied, helplessly. "and He just does. God loves those who believes in His Son, Ysabeau. So when we believe, we can be sure- "

"But how can we be sure?" Ysabeau moaned. Nothing had ever affected her this way. Why was this disturbing her so badly? She felt afraid to trust God; an invisible force to protect her from every visible danger.

Estiene stood up, and drew Ysabeau to her feet. Looking into her eyes, he said softly. "Sister, this is a decision, you, and only you can make. I made mine on my own, I cannot choose for you." He kissed her gently. "Go to bed, you will think clearer in the morning." And Ysabeau was left standing in the dining room on her own.

Climbing the stairs wearily to her own chamber, she walked in, closed the door and leant back on it, closing her eyes. As she moved, she heard a crackling sound of paper bending. Standing upright again, Ysabeau pulled out the transcription of the Bible Nicolas had given her. opening it randomly as she sat on her bed, her eyes caught a verse: "The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble." Ysabeau let out another moan.

"This is absurd; it's reading my mind." She reached out and shoved the book in the pocket of her coat hanging beside the bed. "How?" Her mind whirled as she tossed and turned through the night. "How is God a refuge, fortress and stronghold to those in need? How can he protect us from death?" It was long time before she fell into an uneasy slumber.


Ysabeau jerked awake. The room was pitch black, except for a slight glow beyond the threashold. There was an incessant pounding on her door, and she hastily leapt out of her bed and grabbed her cloak on the way to open it.

Estiene was standing in the doorway, dressed, but dishevelled and holding a freshly lit lamp. "Quick," he panted. "come down to the library; I need to talk to you."

"What's happening? What's going on?" Ysabeau cried, scrambling into her cloak whilst hurrying down the stairs beside Estiene.

"Someone is attacking us. We aren't sure who it is, but we are pretty certain that it's a British division. Strangely enough, Balthazar's army has disappeared. We think he may have got fed up standing around and gone to join the battle."

"The British have made their move, then?"

"Yes, at about an hour before midnight Joan led her forces to the front. She sent Anthoine back here to check on things half an hour ago, and he's staying to help our defense."

They had reached the library, and Anthoine was leaning against the window overlooking the courtyard. Still in full battle armour, he was slightly muddied from fighting and he was bleeding from a wound in the head. Nicolas stood by talking quietly with him. They both turned as brother and sister entered.

"How is it?" Estiene asked.

Anthoine shook his head. "They aren't using torches, purposefully, so we can't tell who they are."

"Doesn't matter who they are, they're obvious enemies and if nothing is done, they will break into this castle before the night's over." Nicolas stated matter-a-factly.

Ysabeau's head was spinning. "B-break in? B-but I thought this fortress was... was safe," she whispered unintelligably.

Estiene turned. "Ysabeau, come on," He said, exasperatedly. "Of course a castle is supposed to safe, but when you haven't enough defense forces, and you are being attacked in the middle of the night.." he trailed of dejectedly, and looked to Anthoine. "What can we do?" He asked.

Anthoine shrugged, his armour clanking. "Not much I'm afraid." He responed. "Pray, and and fight the onslaught when it comes." He motioned towards the table where Nicolas' papers were. "I suggest you hide your work, Nicolas. I wouldn't like to see them burnt."

Nicolas nodded, and moved to stack the leaflets neatly.

"I suggest you strap on some armour yourself, Estiene. Won't be long and you'll wish you had it." Anthoine added, as he straightened and headed for the stairs. The banging sounds and shouting was growing louder. 

"I'll call up all the servants and stable hands, can't leave them to be massacred." And he disappeared through the doorway. Estiene left as well, to arm himself. Monsieur Forest came in blustering about it being impossible that his fort could be broken into, but the others ignored him. For all his talk, he knew it was a sure likelihood.

Ysabeau gave a moan. The one thing she placed the safety of her life in was about to be torn down. Nicolas patted her arm. "There now, Ma'am," He murmured comfortingly. "God is with us."

"If only I was so sure," Ysabeau whispered.

It wasn't long before Anthoine and Estiene returned, and with them all the fort's occupants. Richart moved through the small crowd with Casin and stood by Ysabeau.

"My oath, Mademousielle Faloise', that crew out there are sure fired up about getting in here!" He wiped his forehead nervously. Casin was equally afraid; eyes wide and frightened.

Ysabeau gave a fleeting smile. "Let's hope that reinforcements come soon to our aid."

"Yes, and pray." Richart murmured looking up, and Casin's gaze lifted hopefully also. Yet another reminder of my shallow faith, Ysabeau thought, miserably.


They didn't have long to wait. With a howl of victory, the gate was broken down, and the milita surged through the space and on into the castle, looking for the people they knew it contained.

As they heard the noise, Estiene and Anthoine rose, and stood in readiness at the door to the library.
"Estiene!" Ysabeau choked. "Come away! I don't want you hurt-"

"Ysabeau! Talk sense! If it isn't me, it will be all of us, so leave me to do my duty!" Her brother shouted. Ysabeau sobbed, and Estiene ran over to her and hugged her tight. "Trust in Him, Izzy, it will be alright. I love you." He kissed her cheek and returned to his post. Anthoine looked over at Ysabeau, and the tender look that on his face that appeared when he was talking to Nicolas earlier, returned as he smiled at her.

At that moment, the door burst open and the the sound of the roaring crowd filled the room. The first person to enter was recognised in an instant.

"Balthazar you traitor!" Anthoine roared as he leapt onto the unsuspecting man, and he fell to the ground. Drawing his dagger, he held it against his throat. "Give me one good reason why you don't deserve to die," Anthoine snarled into his face.

Balthazar smiled that elusive smile, and merely stated, "You were right, Varenne, that I should be doing my 'duty', as you put it yesterday, as we studied the plans. And now you know that I was," his eyes took on an evil gleam of triumph. "I die for England."

There was pandamonium all over the castle. Men were everywhere, and the clash of swords resounded with the shouting and screaming throughout the night. Ysabeau was huddled in the darkest corner, trying to shut out the sights and terrors that she was a witness to. Suddenly someone appeared by her side.

"It's no use, Izzy, we have to run." Estiene yelled over the clamour. "We don't know where to, but we have to get out fast if we are going anywhere with our lives. Anthoine is coming, he knows a way out. Come on! Let's go." Grabbing her hand he dragged her towards the stairs leading to the tower. Anthoine soon appeared behind them, still fending off following swordsmen, and hurrying other servants up before him has he ran.

As they reached the top, Anthoine hurried in, and closed the door, just before a barrage of clanging met the outside of it. 

"This way," Anthoine gestured and, moving a cupboard, revealed a small stairway winding down the inside of the castle wall. 

"Back exit in case of seige." he shrugged in a way of explanation as they began the descent. "Seemed like an appropriate time to use it." He said wryly, and Ysabeau was fleetingly surprised that he had a sense of humour.

When they arrived outside dawn was approaching, and they hurried to get into the cover of the forest a mile or so from the castle. Without warning, a rain of arrows shot past them, burying deep into the ground ahead of them. They had been spotted.

"Hurry for the trees!" Estiene called and turned with Anthoine to fend off the attackers, whilst still running. As they approached the cover, Estiene stumbled as an arrow caught his side. Anthoine turned back and half dragged his friend into the shadows the woods provided.

As Anthoine lowered him to the forest floor he began to remove his armour to se the extent of the wound. Ysabeau knelt beside him, and took his hand. "Estiene..." she couldn't speak.

He was bleeding profusely, but he sat up and shoved away Anthoine with what little strength he had left.

"It's no use, Anthoine, I know. The marksman found his mark," He laid back again; his pallid face white in the forest shadows.

"Ysabeau," He said slowly, deliberately, "you go with Anthoine now, you hear? Anthoine, please take her somewhere away from all this." Anthoine nodded.

Ysabeau, weeping now, buried her face against her brother. "You be strong," he whispered, his voice now rasping. "and... trust God. Your true refuge." He smiled.

"I love you, Estiene." Ysabeau smiled through her tears; the last face Estiene gazed upon.


Anthoine - true to his word - took Ysabeau and the rest of the servants that survived the raid across the country to a small town he knew would be safe for the remaining part of the unrest in France. They travelled on foot for a portion of the time till they came across a caravan, who kindly took them in for the remaining trip.

Ysabeau hadn't spoken in days. It felt as though something had died in her. Curled up in the back of the lumbering cart, she kept her eyes closed, and tried not to think. Anthoine had been nothing but kind, and she knew he was hurting too.

"Here," he handed her a mug of soup.

She shook her head.

"You need to eat, Ysabeau," It was the first time he'd called her by name.

She sat up, dazed. As she moved, she heard the crackle of paper in her cloak. Anthoine heard it too, and looked across at her with a puzzled look on his face. She reached her hand into her pocket, and drew out the transcription of the Bible that Nicolas had given her. They never found out what happened to him, or where he had hidden his works. Maybe he had got away.

Ysabeau slowly opened the booklet to a random page. "...The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence... In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple and my cry did enter into his ears... He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them that hated me... God is my strength and power: He maketh my way perfect." As Ysabeau read, tears began to roll down her face. She could not deny the truth now. Could not put her faith in anything else. The last thing she had put her trust in was nothing like the protection she knew God offered her. She glanced up, and noticed Anthoine had read the script too. There were tears in his eyes as well.

"It's- it's true, isn't?" Ysabeau asked him.

"Yes," he answered simply. "Your brother- was the one who showed me the truth. His faith and courage astounded me, and I knew that whatever he had, I wanted too."

"As do I." She said. Reaching for Anthoine's hand, the pair raised their faces to heaven, and thanked God for His eternal protection, and unfailing love.


Jeanne De'Arc, better known as Joan of Arc, won her battle at Orleans'. She was France's heroine, and led them to victory before her death. Joan, the brave peasant girl, was instructed by God to lead France against England, and through all her battles, dangers and hardships, God was with her to the end.

Not too many years later, during the late 1600s, was a period which we now call the 'Renaissance', a time which meant 'enlightment' or 'rebirth'. The reason for this wonderful era of artistic, musical, and inventing talents was because of God's Word finally being released to the public. Gutenberg's printing press made Bibles cheaper to buy, and many people - who knew little of our Saviour - were now able to learn about the Good News. The oppressive, dark years of ignorance were finally over. With a new understanding of God's love and protection, the people went on to create one of the most memorable periods in history.

~The End~

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  1. Wow, what an interesting piece, thanks for sharing.

  2. Thankyou! And thankyou for reading. :)


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