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The Voice of the Adalthing

Middanhal

On the morning following the summer solstice, Kate knocked once again on the library door while carrying a bowl of porridge. She waited briefly but had no answer. In the end, she opened the door regardless and stepped inside. She found Quill sleeping across a table with a large book open in front of him. “Master Quill?” she said quietly, but nothing happened. She placed the bowl on the table and stood staring at him until she finally took hold of his shoulder and shook him. He woke with a start, making her quickly step backwards.

“What is happening?”

“It’s morning, Master Quill,” Kate said, pointing at the bowl. “I brought you that.”

“I see,” Quill said, blinking and looking out the eastward window. “Thank you, child.”

“Did you stay awake last night, master?”

“Apart from the end, apparently. Had to reacquaint myself with this one,” he said, tapping the big book in front of him.

“What is it?” asked Kate interested, leaning forward.

“Too difficult for you to read,” Quill chuckled. “It is the book of laws. All the laws that govern Adalrik are written here, including all pertaining to the Adalthing and the election of a lord protector.”

“Oh,” said Kate. “What’s a lord protector?”

“A title that has not been in use for a long time. A lord protector is like a replacement for a king until our heir is old enough to be crowned.”

“Like the seneschal?”

“To some extent. The seneschal, or dragonlord, does have most of the powers of the king. But he is still appointed by the king, acting as his right hand, and he answers to the king. A lord protector takes the position a king would, naming his own dragonlord to serve him. The lord protector answers to none until such time as our prince will be made king.”

“How does one become lord protector?”

“The nobles of the Adalthing choose one. If they can agree,” Quill added with a wry smile.

“That sounds strange,” said Kate. “How can people choose a ruler? I thought you ruled because your father did before you.”

“In cases of nobility, yes,” Quill explained. “But rule through election is not so uncommon. In the villages, if you ever leave Middanhal, they will have their own local things that govern their affairs. Or here, the members of each guild choose one of their own as master of the guild, and they in turn choose an alderman.”

“I never knew,” admitted Kate. “Imagine if we got to choose who was cook,” she grinned.

“In certain special cases even the higher offices are chosen by election. Another example would be the lord marshal,” Quill continued.

“The leader of the Order?”

“The very same,” Quill nodded. “There have been times when both king and lord marshal died, killed in battle perhaps, and the Order needed a leader at once to continue the war. So the seven marshals of the realms would choose the best candidate to ensure that the Order would have a new supreme commander immediately.”

“But what if they can’t agree? Surely that must happen,” Kate pointed out.

“I am sure it does often,” Quill replied. “Usually there are different rules in each case. For instance, if they cannot choose a lord marshal, then the marshal of Adalrik, the knight marshal, automatically assumes the mantle. Similar protocol exists for ensuring a choice of lord protector, I am sure.”

In the distance, they heard the tolling of the morning bell. “The breakfast!” exclaimed Kate. “I have to get back to the kitchen,” she said and hurried out of the library. Quill turned his attention once more onto the book of laws.

~~~~

Throughout the morning, the nobility of Adalrik gathered at the Citadel, convening in the hall of the Adalthing. It was built much like the throne room, except smaller in size since it was needed for fewer people; sixty-nine currently, though many of these brought attendants and kinsmen.

In the centre was a statue of Disfara, the Judge of Men. A raised chair for the king was placed at one end, opposite the main doors that led into the hall. Apart from those, there were smaller entrances leading to various wings of the castle or to the balconies. To keep the hall from becoming crowded, only members of the Adalthing, their closest kin, and perhaps a servant or two were permitted inside the hall. Others who wished to view the proceedings were relegated to the balconies.

The alderman and some of the guild masters were there as always; although they were forced to use noblemen as their intermediaries, they often involved themselves in the Adalthing. A priest in a black robe was present to report to the Temple. The lord marshal of the Order and the knight marshal of Adalrik were among the onlookers as well, having a particular reason for being interested in the outcome of the Adalthing.

Godfrey was also on the balcony, looking down on the assembly. While he attracted a few odd stares, he did not seem to mind. Doubtless, his presence raised speculations as to why the guards had permitted him entrance; it paid to be on friendly terms with the King’s Quill. Enjoying his vantage point, Godfrey glanced at the faces gathered below him. The four jarls of the realm were there with the margraves from their individual provinces, their vassals, who were expected to vote as their jarl did. Each jarl stood with his attendants and his margraves in a different area of the hall, maintaining distance to his peers.

In between were the mass of landgraves. While the jarls and their margraves were responsible for the border provinces, the landgraves were the feudal lords of the central regions of Adalrik and direct vassals of the king. Whereas the margraves had to keep their jarls pleased, the landgraves were freer in that respect and they could often swing a vote in one direction or another. Most notable among their number was George of Elis, the landgrave who still held the office of dragonlord.

The last two members of the Adalthing were the lords of the atheling houses. There were only two in Adalrik; one was House Hardling, the other was House Arnling. Hardmar of Hardling was present with his brothers, while Adalbrand of Arnling was alone.

With all sixty-nine members present in time for the noon bell to be rung, the Adalthing could begin proceedings. Quill entered the hall and stood on the lower step of the empty chair, where the late King Sighelm had sat in previous years. As keeper of the law, it was Quill’s task to ensure that the Adalthing abided by the laws of the realm.

“My lords,” Quill spoke, and the murmur in the hall died down. In his hands, he held the large book of laws that he had been studying. “Another year has passed, and we gather in this hall to safeguard the law of the land and the peace of the realm. Any breach of either may be spoken today and the Adalthing shall make its decision. Any law felt unfair or decision made unjustly may also be brought before the assembly,” Quill said and paused briefly. “Lastly, the assembly this year is of unusual character. A counting of voices must be held for the office of lord protector.” Some mumbling spread in response to this, which Quill ignored. “First, however, we must consecrate this gathering.”

Quill walked down to the statue of Disfara. It was carved in the likeness of a beautiful woman with dark hair, wearing a sea-green dress that covered her feet and flowed around them to make it look like the tail of a fish. Her eyes were emeralds and her expression stern. In one hand, she held a spear while her other hand was empty and raised in warning. Quill placed the law book on the edge of the base of the statue and called to a blue-robed priestess, who appeared with a deep bowl containing thick, red liquid. The priestess smeared the blood upon the altar while mumbling a prayer. Then Quill called for the first to step forward and participate in the sanctifying ritual.

“Lord Raymond of Ingmond, who speaks in the Adalthing. Do you swear before Disfara, who shall on your last day be your judge, to uphold the laws of Adalrik and the voice of the Adalthing?” asked Quill. The jarl placed one hand upon the book of laws and the other hand upon the feet of the statue so that he touched the blood.

“I swear it, by my name and my father’s name, by the Seven and Eighth I swear it,” the jarl said and leaned forward to kiss the statue on its red-stained feet. As Raymond straightened up, the priestess dipped her fingertip into the bowl of blood and touched Raymond’s brow, leaving a trace of it behind.

“You are marked by the goddess,” the priestess warned him. “She will hold you to your oath.”

After the jarl, each of the margraves in the province of Ingmond stepped forward successively. Quill demanded the same oath of them, and they swore it in the same manner before finally being marked by the priestess. Afterwards it continued with the other three jarls and their margraves, each of the landgraves, and finally Hardmar and Adalbrand as the atheling members.

“The Adalthing may now speak,” said Quill. “Under the eyes of the dragon, the raven, the bull, the horse, the bear, the hart, and the eagle, this assembly is consecrated and its word is law.” The ritual was at an end.

“There will be held up to three countings of voices to appoint a lord protector,” Quill called out to the hall. “The first will take place at once. Should it not be resolved, a second will be held in three hours. Should it not be resolved either, the third counting will be held at the first evening bell. For a counting to be resolved, thirty-five voices must speak in unison.” The scribe looked around, glancing from one jarl to the other. “First we must determine the candidates. Does the jarl of Ingmond speak a name?” asked Quill.

“I do not,” said Raymond.

“Does the jarl of Vale speak a name?”

“I name myself, Valerian of the House of Vale.”

“Does the jarl of Theodstan speak a name?”

“I name Lord Marshal Reynold of Middanhal, son of Balduin, also of that city.”

“Does the jarl of Isarn speak a name?”

“Myself, Isenhart of Isarn,” said the fourth and last jarl.

“The candidates have been determined,” Quill said with a loud voice. “We will hold the first counting to see if the matter can be determined swiftly.” There was a momentary break as Quill cleared his throat and prepared himself. “Lord Raymond, to whom do you lend your voice?” he asked.

“To none,” answered the jarl of Ingmond, which caused waves of murmurs to erupt in the chamber.

“What game is he playing?” whispered Valerian to his brother.

“I do not know,” muttered Konstans. “Something is afoot of which we are not aware.”

“Your attention, my lords, please,” Quill called out. “Does any margrave in the province of Ingmond lend his voice otherwise?” There was no reply, which meant that all eleven vassals of Raymond followed their lord. “Lord Valerian, to whom do you lend your voice?” asked Quill.

“I lend my voice to my own candidacy,” said Valerian. The sixteen margraves of Vale did as their lord. Then came the jarl of Theodstan, who along with his seven vassals spoke in favour of the lord marshal. Finally the jarl of Isarn, who voted for himself with his thirteen vassals following suit.

Afterwards, Quill asked each of the sixteen landgraves. Some supported Isarn, some chose Vale, but none had been persuaded to vote for the lord marshal. It raised further murmurs when George of Elis did not lend his voice to any man. Finally came the atheling votes. Hardmar announced his voice was lent to Vale.

“Lord Adalbrand, to whom do you lend your voice?” asked Quill.

“I lend it to none,” answered Brand and stepped away from the statue of Disfara. It was customary to keep one hand on the altar while answering; in smaller matters, though, such were often overlooked. Quill looked at Brand in surprise at the latter’s declaration and made the final tally in his head.

“Twenty-five voices have spoken for Lord Valerian. Twenty-one voices have spoken for Lord Isenhart.” Quill swallowed before he continued. “And eight voices speak for Sir Reynold. At this assembly, thirty-five voices must speak in unison. They have not done so. The voice of the Adalthing is silent.”

The lords of Adalrik were not similarly inclined, however, and began speaking among themselves immediately to discuss the result. Quill raised his hands and cleared his throat loudly until he had their attention again. “The next counting of voices will be held in three hours’ time,” he said, eyeing the water clock that stood to the side of the hall. “Until then, other matters may be brought before the assembly. In the king’s absence, the dragonlord of Adalrik will preside,” Quill announced, yielding his place to Elis.

~~~~

Other matters were now discussed at the Adalthing. The new tax on salt was disputed by several of the noblemen, who had an interest in the trade; from the balcony, the alderman of the guilds watched the debate unfold. The other noblemen, who only cared about salt when they added it to their meal, meanwhile retreated into the alcoves and staircases.

“Why does Lord Elis not support us?” asked Valerian. “We have offered him all he could want.”

“I am unsure,” said Konstans. “Perhaps he has a similar deal with Isarn and wishes to scout the counting before committing to either.”

“And we cannot ask him,” Valerian grumbled, shooting a glance back at the hall where Elis was engaged in debate. “There are plans in motion of which we are not aware,” Valerian added darkly.

“Which concerns me exceedingly,” Konstans admitted. “Why does Ingmond abstain? When he rejected me, I thought he was bought by Isarn. Does his piety somehow move him to avoid involvement?”

“He has often neglected coming to the Adalthing in the past,” Valerian pointed out.

“But he made a point of showing up,” Konstans said contemplatively. “We need to unravel what is taking place. Moreover, we must persuade Theodstan to join us. Surely he must see now that his plans have failed.”

“Make it so,” Valerian told his brother and returned to the hall.

~~~~

“Twenty-one?” raged Isenhart, who likewise had stepped out with his brother, his sons, and his cousin.

“The southern landgraves have all swung in favour of Vale,” Athelstan said. “I thought we had some of them convinced, but we cannot match the coffers of Vale.”

“Not even Elis is with me? Where is all the support he was meant to bring?”

“We may have thought too highly of him,” Athelstan considered. “Or he is holding back for some reason, waiting until the next counting.”

“What of Theodstan? What is this fool notion of having the lord marshal made lord protector as well?”

“I had heard a rumour,” admitted the jarl’s cousin, Athelbold. “But I dismissed it as such. When I approached him to lend his voice to us, he made no mention of it.”

“Because he knew I would never lend my voice to that,” Isenhart said gruffly.

“Vale does not fare much better than us,” Eumund added his opinion to the discussion. “We must convince Theodstan, and we will have more voices for our cause than him.”

“But not enough,” Isenhart said with gritted teeth.

“If we can gain Theodstan, we are nearly there, and a few of the southern landgraves should return to our fold,” Athelbold speculated. “Marcaster, probably, and some others. There are also the athelings. Hardmar is for Vale, but the other, Adalbrand, he gave his voice to none. I imagine he is keeping himself open to offers from both sides.”

“Is he not your squire, brother?” asked Isenhart brusquely. “How can you not have persuaded him?”

“He is my companion,” argued Athelstan. “Not a footman in a game.”

“But imagine what we may give him in return for his voice. As his friend, surely you are obligated to help him accept our generous offer,” Athelbold retorted, which made Athelstan waver.

“Promise them whatever necessary,” Isenhart commanded his kinsmen. He returned to the hall for the debate while Athelstan and Athelbold sought out their prospective allies. The sons of the jarl, Isenwald and Eumund, remained.

“You are silent, Brother,” said Eumund tentatively.

“I – do not have much – insight with such matters,” Isenwald admitted. “And my mind – is elsewhere.”

Eumund scratched the back of his head. “Isenwald, has Father told you about your engagement?”

“I assume he will announce – it later, when the Adalthing concludes – other affairs,” Isenwald said.

“That is not what I meant,” Eumund said hesitantly, looking at his brother’s innocent expression. “Father does not intend to announce your betrothal at the Adalthing today.”

“Why not?” asked Isenwald with shock on his face. “It was agreed with Jarl Vale! He will not take – this lightly.”

“To be honest, I think Vale has reached the same conclusion our father did. Neither of them intends for this to take place,” Eumund explained. Isenwald did not reply but simply stared in the direction his father had gone. “We should return,” Eumund said quietly and left.

~~~~

Theodoric was moving in the corridors surrounding the hall when he came upon Konstans, who quickly addressed him. “My lord jarl, a word if you please.”

“I intended to speak with your brother, in fact,” Theodoric replied.

“I speak on Valerian’s behalf,” Konstans claimed, which made Theodoric consent. “By now it must be obvious,” Konstans continued, “that your designs concerning Sir Reynold are impossible to fulfil.”

“That is interesting. I was going to inform you similarly that you cannot expect Valerian to be made lord protector.”

“We have a great deal more support than Sir Reynold,” Konstans said with disdain.

“But not enough. You need Elis and Ingmond,” Theodoric pointed out. “Were you aware that Ingmond is bought by Elis?” he asked suddenly.

“I was not,” Konstans said slowly, frowning in contemplation.

“Elis has not been playing fairly with you. Any deal he has made with you,” Theodoric said, “he will have made with Isenhart as well.”

“Is that so,” Konstans muttered.

“I know he has promised you the Mint. But he has made the same promise to Isenhart.”

“Of course he has,” Konstans said derisively.

“Did you know?” Theodoric said in surprise.

“No,” Konstans admitted, “but I have been dealing with Elis for some years now. I never doubted that he would be negotiating with Isarn as well.”

“Then you must know, he is not to be trusted,” Theodoric insisted. “You could end up with nothing if Elis decides to have Ingmond support Isenhart.”

“Or perhaps,” Konstans said with a smile evoking superiority, “I have no need for you. I only need Elis to accept the bargain we struck with him, and we will win the election with him and Ingmond behind us.”

“And what will you do if they end up in favour of Isenhart?”

“It seems more likely they will join us,” Konstans countered. “We are closest to the majority.”

“Is that a risk you are prepared to take? If I switch to Isenhart as well, then he will stand with most supporters. Then he may seem the most attractive candidate.”

Konstans’ eyes narrowed. “You are playing with fire.”

“As are you. But if Valerian throws his weight behind Sir Reynold, the majority will be ours. A field in harvest is better than two under the plough,” Theodoric said, quoting a saying from Korndale.

“Not quite,” Konstans argued. “Even if we raise our voices together, we require two members more. My brother’s supporters and yours combined are only thirty-three. We will still need Elis or Ingmond.”

“Not necessarily. If we are that close,” Theodoric smiled, “I am quite confident we will find two more. Both Linstead and Arnling abstained and can surely be convinced.”

“Surely,” Konstans repeated with what might be a mocking tone. “The only thing that is sure is that you offer my brother nothing at the moment. I have a better idea. Convince Linstead and Arnling to support my brother as lord protector, do so as well yourself, and a chest of golden marks will be yours.”

“As much as I respect such an offer, I must decline,” Theodoric replied.

“Then our goals remain irreconcilable,” Konstans said. “It would seem my time is better spent negotiating with Elis than with you.” Having spoken thus, Konstans continued down the hallway.

~~~~

Theodoric continued on his path as well, eventually walking up the balcony where he found Godfrey and Quill. The scribe gave a small bow while Godfrey nodded. “How goes your plan?” asked the latter.

“Not as well as I had hoped,” Theodoric muttered. “Valerian, or rather Konstans, still thinks they can win if Elis joins with them. The problem is they are right. It seems they are willing to take a bigger risk than I estimated.”

“What can be done?” Quill then asked.

“Linstead and Arnling both abstained. If I can get them on my side, I will have a majority along with Valerian. Maybe then he will reconsider, take the certain deal rather than continue taking the risk.”

“Arnling,” Quill mumbled, looking down upon the hall where Brand stood alone.

“Did I not see him leaving your library?” asked Godfrey, following Quill’s gaze.

“You did. As a page in the Citadel, years ago, he would often aid me in the library. It was before I had my apprentice,” Quill explained.

“Then perhaps you can sway him to our cause,” Theodoric suggested. “Time is running out before the second counting. If we do not act fast, the election may be decided beyond our grasp. Speak with Arnling, promise what you must. I will seek out Linstead.”

Before they could carry out this suggestion, however, there was an interruption, and both the jarl as well as the Quill had to return to the hall. It was time to take a count of the current issue whether the Adalthing should repeal the new tax on salt sold in Middanhal. It was a simpler decision to make; every member simply had to say yes or no to discarding the tax.

Elis had argued forcefully for the need of new income since Heohlond had not paid for the support of Order troops in ten years. Nonetheless, the influence of the guilds prevailed. “Forty voices speak against,” Quill told the assembly. “The voice of the Adalthing has spoken. The tax on salt sold in Middanhal is abolished.”

With this issue resolved, one of the noblemen took the opportunity to announce the betrothal of his son. It was not strictly necessary to mention such matters to the Adalthing, but it was considered prudent. It made the union in question official and harder for other noblemen to oppose such a union or argue its validity, which was sometimes done due to rights of inheritance. Isenwald, who had walked onto the eastern balcony overlooking the hall, watched his father and the jarl of Vale. Yet neither man moved to speak or make any proclamations of his own.

“You are the son of the jarl of Isarn, are you not?” asked Godfrey, who had approached the young man.

“Isenwald – of – Isarn at your service,” the youth replied absently.

“You seem troubled.”

“I had – other hopes for the Adalthing than what – is conspiring.”

“Many will be disappointed today, I reckon,” Godfrey said contemplatively.

“I suspect you are right,” Isenwald mumbled. “Who are you? You – do not wear colours. Are you with the guilds?” he asked as he turned to look at Godfrey for the first time. Godfrey in turn kept his gaze and held it until Isenwald took a step backwards.

“I am of no concern,” Godfrey told him. “But you are a good soul,” he said and moved away to the other end of the balcony, observing the hall while Isenwald stared at him from a distance. From here, Godfrey could watch Theodoric attempting to speak with Linstead while Quill tried to reach Brand. Before he could, however, Athelstan pulled his squire aside. Godfrey glanced towards the water clock; it had nearly filled up the hourly measurement thrice. It was soon time for the second counting of voices.

~~~~

“I am glad we could speak,” Athelstan said. “Politics and friendship rarely make good companions, but I must raise the subject with you.”

“I expected you would at some point,” Brand claimed. “You are raising support for your brother, I take it.”

“Exactly,” Athelstan nodded. “You have not lent your voice to any man. My brother would greatly appreciate if you stand by him.”

“It grieves me to deny you anything, Sir Athelstan,” Brand replied. “But I have already promised my support elsewhere.”

“But you have abstained so far,” Athelstan said. “I can offer you fair compensation. You know my brother’s wealth. Any debts you might have will be of no concern.”

Hearing this, Brand stiffened. “I have no need of such aid.”

“Certainly,” Athelstan was quick to answer. “What I said was meant in kindness. It can be advantageous to be in good standing with my brother. Especially if he is lord protector.”

“That is understandable,” Brand replied. “But I struck a bargain and must keep to it. My word is my honour. I cannot break it.”

“I see,” Athelstan said slowly. “I will not encourage you further.” The knight walked away, leaving Brand in the hallway.

~~~~

In the back of the hall, Theodoric had approached the landgrave of Linstead. “My lord,” Theodoric said quietly. “I noticed you abstained in the counting.”

“How observant,” Linstead said. His attention was on the debate that now took place concerning a ban on selling iron ore out of Adalmearc, which Isenhart was forcefully arguing against; secondary only to silver, the iron mines were his source of wealth. Noblemen in service to the guilds were likewise against it. On the other hand, Jarl Vale, who usually spoke in favour of trade and was often aligned with the guilds, seemed inclined to support the ban.

“What is your price?”

The blunt question had the effect that Linstead deigned to turn and look at Theodoric. “Plainer words than I have ever heard before from you.”

“Time is short,” Theodoric shrugged.

“I have no price,” Linstead said disdainfully.

“In my experience, when men say such, it is merely to drive the price up,” Theodoric remarked.

“You mistake me. It is merely you that I will not barter with like some vulgar merchant.”

“So you are aligned with someone,” Theodoric said, his eyes looking around the hall.

“Does it matter? I have no interest in whatever you propose. I have not forgotten your days as seneschal,” Linstead added.

“You did not lend your voice to Valerian or Isenhart,” Theodoric continued his comments, glancing at either jarl. “But there is another force in the field,” Theodoric added with the beginnings of a smile.

“You are disturbing me, my lord jarl,” Linstead told him, turning his attention to the debate.

“You are bought by Elis,” Theodoric said, looking sharply at Linstead. An expression ran across the latter’s face.

“It is time for the counting,” Linstead said quickly, and his claim was supported by the water clock. For the second time that day, the voices of the Adalthing were to be counted.

~~~~

Quill had not had time to speak with Brand, but he could not delay the counting either. He took position in front of the throne, where Elis had been standing just before, and cleared his throat. “It is time to count the voices of the Adalthing and hear whether they speak as one. The question is who should take the mantle of lord protector. Lord Raymond, to whom do you lend your voice?”

The jarl of Ingmond stepped forward and placed his hand on the altar. Theodoric stood surrounded by his vassals, his cheeks flushed from the heat of the room so full of warm bodies. With a loud voice, Raymond gave the same answer as last. He declared for no candidate. A loud sigh of relief came from Theodoric as it became apparent Valerian had not reached an agreement with Elis. There was still time.

The three remaining jarls and their vassals did likewise as Raymond had, declaring the same way they had at the last counting. Then came the landgraves, including Elis, and finally the athelings, Brand of House Arnling and Hardmar of House Hardling. None had changed their answer. Quill did not need to do any mental arithmetic this time but could simply repeat the result from the first counting.

“Twenty-five voices have spoken for Lord Valerian. Twenty-one voices have spoken for Lord Isenhart, and eight voices speak for Sir Reynold. The voice of the Adalthing is silent.”

Quill stepped away to let Elis once more continue the proceedings of the Adalthing. Margrave Alexander of Jaunis wished to dispute a punitive geld of ten crowns, which he was to pay because his son had broken the peace and engaged in fighting at the Temple square. As his jarl, Valerian was obliged to speak on his behalf and plead his case, while Elis defended the decision made by the captain of the city guard. Finally, Quill was able to speak with Brand.

Brand sent the law keeper a questioning look as the latter approached him. “Is something the matter, Quill?” the squire asked quietly.

“I come on behalf of the jarl of Theodstan,” Quill explained. “He hopes you will lend your voice to his cause in the third counting.”

“Why are you doing the jarl’s bidding?” Brand asked confused. “You are not his servant.”

“I support his attempt to have Sir Reynold chosen as lord protector.”

“I did not know you interfered in matters of politics,” Brand said, narrowing his eyes. “But you are not a member of the Adalthing. You are keeper of the law, however. Should you not remain neutral in these matters?”

“This is a matter that will affect us all,” Quill countered. “You did not give voice to any candidate. Has not any of the jarls persuaded you to their cause? I imagine they promised to be generous.”

“That is my concern,” Brand said with a quiver of anger. “Now for the sake of our friendship I think this conversation should end,” the squire added and distanced himself from the law keeper.

~~~~

From the balcony, Theodoric and Godfrey watched as Brand abruptly stepped away from Quill. “That did not seem fruitful,” Godfrey remarked dryly.

“About as much luck as I had with Linstead,” Theodoric muttered.

“Is it impossible to sway Elis to our side?” asked Godfrey.

“There is nothing I may offer him which Valerian and Isenhart cannot improve upon,” Theodoric explained. “He is holding the cards at this stage. Not only Ingmond and his margraves but Linstead as well. He can demand anything.”

Quill joined them at the balcony. “I am sorry,” he mumbled. “Brand would not even speak to me of his choice.”

“Neither would Linstead,” Theodoric said. “He still gave away his allegiance to Elis though.”

“Could the same be the case for your friend?” Godfrey suddenly asked. “Is his reluctance to speak perhaps born of the same reason?”

“Perhaps,” Quill said, gesturing with open hands. “I truly do not know.”

“It seems excessive,” Theodoric remarked. “Elis already has Ingmond, who is worth twelve voices.”

“Unless he needed a specific number,” Godfrey muttered.

“But he could not have known who would vote for whom beforehand. Could he?” asked Quill.

“He could have made the same estimation I did,” Theodoric said quietly. “Valerian is the most likely candidate and certain to win if the entire South supports him. So Elis takes Ingmond away. The northern landgraves support Isenhart. That leaves nine southern landgraves apart from Elis himself,” Theodoric summarised. “But if I supported Valerian, and one of the two atheling members did as well, that makes thirty-five. Exactly the majority.”

“So Elis gains one of the athelings to his side,” Godfrey said, looking down upon Brand. “And one landgrave,” he added, looking at Linstead.

“So even if the rest of the South, the other atheling member, and I should lend our voices to the same candidate as Valerian, it would still not be enough,” Theodoric realised.

“Without Lord Elis’ support, none can win the election,” Quill said as his eyes widened.

“I miscalculated,” Theodoric admitted. “Elis outwitted me.”

“But it is so close,” Quill argued. “Can you not sway some of the northern landgraves? It must be certain that Jarl Isarn cannot win.”

“I do not think Elis was merely lucky in his calculations,” Theodoric said darkly. “If I were him, and he certainly seems to be as sharp as I am, I would have something in reserve. Some of the landgraves to pretend supporting the jarls, keep them hoping they can win, yet suddenly switch sides should Elis need them to.”

“Such intricate webs,” Godfrey commented. “All to control the outcome of the Adalthing.”

“He is not dragonlord without reason,” Theodoric said. “I would have done no less had I been able to. It is ingenious. He decides who will become lord protector.”

“Except for himself,” Quill added. “He still must choose either Jarl Vale or Jarl Isarn.”

“But in either case, he retains his position as dragonlord,” Theodoric said. “No matter who wins.”

“But why wait?” asked Godfrey. “He could have decided the matter at the second counting. What does he gain from postponing choosing between the jarls?” Neither of his companions had an answer to this. “What if he did not have to choose,” Godfrey muttered in continuation. “What happens if the election remains undecided through all three countings?”

“The Adalthing will convene next year no matter what,” Quill informed him, “and they will attempt to reach a decision again. Of course, in circumstances such as this, a special assembly should be called or the Adalthing simply extended and meet tomorrow.”

“And who has the power to call for a special assembly or extend the Adalthing?” asked Godfrey.

“The king,” Quill answered. “In his absence, the…” He did not finish the sentence.

“Elis has the deciding numbers, but he chooses not to use them,” Godfrey said. “Because he does not need to win. As long as nobody wins.”

“He continues as dragonlord. With no king, no lord protector above his authority,” Quill added.

“The pieces fall into place,” Theodoric said with an echo of hollow laughter. “My compliments, Lord Elis. But the day is not over yet.”

~~~~

Below, Valerian had finished speaking on behalf of the margrave of Jaunis. Quill returned to the hall to prepare the counting for and against Jaunis paying the geld he owed. Valerian moved over to his brother, having a moment’s time. “Are there any more members we might gain to our side?” he whispered.

“Perhaps,” Konstans replied. “I cannot speak with Elis while he is engaged in the debate, and Ingmond refuses to negotiate. But Theodstan must realise he should side with us. If I have him and can convince two more, it will be enough.”

“Do what you can,” Valerian told him and turned to give his vote in the matter of Jaunis.

Konstans hurried out and nearly rammed himself against Theodoric. “My lord,” said Konstans. “Have you reconsidered my brother’s offer?”

“I have not,” Theodoric said. “It is void, in any case. Even if Valerian and I stand together, we lack two for the majority.”

“Two landgraves and one atheling are undecided,” Konstans said. “Knowing how close my brother is, they will lend their support.”

“You are deceived, my lord,” Theodoric said. “We all are. Those undecided voices, along with Ingmond and probably others, are bought by Elis.”

“Are you certain?”

Theodoric nodded. “This is his ploy. He has ensured that neither your brother nor Isenhart can gain a majority. He knows neither of them would ever support the other. The Adalthing concludes in less than an hour with no decision,” Theodoric said, glancing inwards at the hall. “At other such times, the king has always extended the assembly until the next day, and the next day, for as long as needed. We all assumed this would happen here.”

“But only Elis can prolong the Adalthing,” Konstans realised, “and he has no cause to do so when its only purpose is to rob him of his power.”

“Exactly. He has devised a stalemate, pitting southerners against northerners. Unless we take a third option,” Theodoric pointed out. “One that both Valerian and Isenhart can agree to.”

“Sir Reynold,” Konstans said in bitter acknowledgement. “Does your promise to my brother still hold? Guardianship of the prince?”

“It does,” Theodoric said. “Tell Valerian to lend his voice to Sir Reynold as candidate.”

“You will still require Isarn’s support,” Konstans reminded him. “And you are running low on time to convince him.”

“Convince your brother,” Theodoric told him, “and I will handle Isenhart.” The jarl wasted no further time but hurried away.

~~~~

Inside the hall of the Adalthing, the last debate had concluded. Elis yielded the floor to Quill, who slowly walked into position. His eyes ran over the crowd; Konstans entered and joined his brother, whispering in Valerian’s ear, but Quill did not see the jarl of Theodstan. “It is time for the third counting,” Quill said and spent a few moments clearing his throat and coughing loudly. “As before, three have been named and all must decide to whom they lend their voice. Should any need to know, the names are Lord Valerian of the House of Vale.” Quill took a pause, his eyes still searching the room. “Lord Isenhart of the House of Isarn.” Another pause. “And Sir Reynold, who also serves as lord marshal of the Order. If any should have forgotten.” Finally, Quill saw Theodoric enter. He moved towards the jarl of Isarn, placing documents in the latter’s hand and speaking quietly, urgently. Upon seeing the jarl of Theodstan, Quill continued. “Lord Raymond, to whom do you lend your voice as lord protector?”

“To none,” answered Raymond. His margraves were silent with nobody going against their jarl.

“Lord Valerian, to whom do you lend your voice?”

Valerian stepped forward, touched the altar of the goddess, and spoke loudly. “I lend my voice to Sir Reynold to become lord protector.” Ripples of murmurs went through the gathering as Valerian walked away from the statue.

“Does any margrave from Vale lend his voice otherwise?” Valerian turned and sent a glare at his vassals, none of whom spoke. Meanwhile, Theodoric had finished speaking to Isenhart and Athelstan, and he turned to cast his own vote.

“Lord Theodoric, to whom do your lend your voice?”

“To Sir Reynold.” When asked, none of the margraves of Theodstan said otherwise.

“Lord Isenhart, to whom do you lend your voice?”

Isenhart took a few steps and slammed his hand down upon the altar. “To Sir Reynold,” Isenhart exclaimed with wrath in his voice. In his other hand, he held two pieces of parchment, which he ripped apart and threw on the floor. They were the legal documents Elis had drafted; one that promised control of the Mint to the jarl of Vale, and one that promised it to the jarl of Isarn. Waves of panic rushed over Elis’ face as he, along with every other nobleman who could add numbers in his head, realised what this meant.

Quill continued the count, but now it was merely formality. With three jarls in agreement, the majority was safely on Reynold’s side. Some of the landgraves realised this and declared their support for him as well while others stood befuddled and continued to lend their voice to Vale or Isarn. As the last, Brand’s voice quaked as he declared that he supported none. Then he retreated out of the hall with speed.

“Five voices have spoken for Lord Valerian. Two voices have spoken for Lord Isenhart. And,” Quill said with a triumphant voice, “Forty-seven voices speak on behalf of Sir Reynold. The voice of the Adalthing has spoken, its word is law. From this moment on, Sir Reynold is named lord protector of the realm.”

Sir Reynold descended from the balcony and entered the hall of the Adalthing, where he was met with applause. He smiled, walking up to the altar and placing a hand upon it. “As my first act, I name the knight marshal, Sir Roderic, as dragonlord of Adalrik. Lord Elis, the ring if you please,” he said, stretching out his hand. Elis stood dumbstruck; within moments, he had gone from being dragonlord of Adalrik to being merely another landgrave.

He did not react to Reynold’s request; eventually, Richard of Alwood walked over, grabbed Elis’ hand, pulled off the signet of the dragonlord, and dumped it into the lord marshal’s hand. Reynold in turn gave it to Roderic, and the knight marshal placed it on his finger. From the balcony, Godfrey let out a sigh of relief.

~~~~

With the Adalthing concluded, the noblemen left in every direction. A few servants entered and began to wash the bloodied statue of Disfara as well as removing scraps of parchment from the floor. Quill joined Godfrey on the balcony. “All is well?” asked the scribe.

“Hardly,” Godfrey replied. “But it is a beginning for Adalrik.”

“And the rest of Adalmearc?”

“That is an entirely different situation. I must leave for Hæthiod soon and beyond. Affairs in the Reach await me.”

“You should not mention that place,” Quill said, looking around nervously.

“Because none of your people would dare venture beyond the walls? It must be done one day,” Godfrey told him.

“Maybe,” Quill accepted. “But I was not even born in Adalmearc and I share their fear.”

“They are only men who live in the Reach,” Godfrey said sharply. “Well, most of them,” he amended. “Perhaps your fears are justified, but they must be overcome nonetheless.”

“It will not be by me,” Quill was happy to admit. “The more I learn of what lies to the southeast, the more I hope we shall never know of it in my lifetime.”

“I think you will be disappointed,” Godfrey warned him. “Alcázar preparing for war in the west – do you think they would dare go against Adalmearc alone? Consider whose support they might have to lend them such courage.”

“What do we do about Alcázar?” Quill asked.

“What can we do? I have warned Thusund as best I could. Would the lord marshal believe you or me if we told him such tidings?”

“Perhaps if it comes from the jarl of Theodstan,” Quill considered. “If I can convince him, surely he can convince our new lord protector.”

“Pursue that,” Godfrey told him. “I, however, should not waste more time. Hæthiod awaits, and then…” To Quill’s apparent relief, Godfrey did not finish his sentence.

Isenwald’s family had left without him while he lingered. Now he walked down to the courtyard to have his horse saddled.

“Isenwald,” a voice called to him, though not too loudly.

“Lady Valerie,” he said as he turned and saw her.

“I am here waiting for my father, officially,” she said with a wry smile, standing near the carriage with the insignia of the House of Vale. “But I told the stable hands that the harness for the horses seemed worn, so they are replacing it, giving me some idle time. I was looking for you.”

This made Isenwald give a half-hearted smile, which faltered soon. “My lady, you – do know, I presume. Of what – did not happen at the assembly.”

Her smile faded as well. “Yes. More or less.”

“I had an – inkling that – I was the last to know,” he said with another faint smile.

“I am sorry,” Valerie told him, wringing her hands. “Perhaps I should not have encouraged you to write, but I enjoyed reading your letters so much, I did not want it to end.”

“It had to,” he said with a shrug. “I was a fool to think – otherwise. But – I am happy – if my letters brought some comfort to you.”

“More than comfort, they brought me joy,” she insisted. “You bring me joy, Isenwald.”

“Valerie, our carriage is ready,” Valerian said to his daughter.

“Please,” she said as she walked away. “Write to me again.” Somehow, watching the carriage drive away, a smile clawed its way onto Isenwald’s face, making him oblivious to his surroundings until a stable boy practically had to place the reins of Isenwald’s horse directly into his hands.

While some had to travel back to their estates, Theodoric had a short walk back to his chambers. Entering the parlour, he found his sister busy in conversation with a young woman. Both of the women looked up, and Theodwyn gestured towards her companion. “Theodoric, dear, this is Arndis, my friend.”

“A pleasure, milady,” Theodoric said with a bow. “Of House Arnling, I take it?”

“The very same,” Arndis replied. “Perhaps you know my brother, Adalbrand.”

“I have seen him,” Theodoric nodded. “He was at the Adalthing today.”

“How did it go for you, Brother?” Theodwyn asked pleasantly.

“As it should,” Theodoric answered. “The lord marshal is now lord protector of Adalrik as I intended.”

“How well for you, dear,” Theodwyn said absently.

She turned her head to speak to Arndis but was pre-empted by the younger woman. “If I may ask, my lord, if the lord marshal has taken that title, who is now dragonlord?” asked Arndis.

“The knight marshal, Sir Roderic. A sensible arrangement since they already have the same relationship in the Order. And like Sir Reynold, Sir Roderic is a reliable fellow, dedicated to the Crown.”

“Sir Roderic? Not Lord Elis any longer?” Arndis asked with her heart beating faster.

“No, the days of his rule are ended,” Theodoric said with satisfaction.

“If you will pardon me,” Arndis said as she stood up, bowed, and left the jarl’s chambers with haste.

“Theodoric, you frightened her away,” Theodwyn scolded him.

“I? What on earth did I do?”

“It is how you look. So thin, I wish you would eat. All black clothes without your cloak, though you should wear red and white. And you could wear a glove on your hand and conceal that,” she continued her scolding, pointing at his left hand with its missing little finger.

“I will apologise at supper,” Theodoric muttered and entered his bedchamber.

Inside he found his servant Holwine waiting for him, leaning against the opposite wall. “Does my sister not mind that you loiter around my personal chambers?” the jarl said, though only after closing the door.

“She is not nearly as tightly wound as you think,” Holwine argued. “She is just very mindful of appearances in public. But tell me how you accomplished your feat. Rumours are spreading through the castle and soon the city, no doubt.”

The jarl sat down on his bed, stretching his neck. “In truth it was much closer than it should have been. Elis is far more cunning than I thought,” Theodoric admitted. “Valerian sided with me as I planned, but in the end I had to get Isenhart with me as well. Which I had not planned,” the jarl added dryly.

“How?” Holwine asked with eager eyes, stepping forward.

“Isenhart is vindictive,” Theodoric said. “Once I could prove that Elis had deceived him, that he would win the election without even being a candidate, the good jarl of Isarn would have done anything to spite him. Including allowing another to win the title as long as it meant Elis did not,” Theodoric smiled.

“Beautiful,” Holwine smiled. “How did you prove Elis’ deception?”

“I took the documents from Elis’ lockbox, those concerning the Mint. Showing that Elis had promised Valerian the same as Isenhart was enough.”

“Those documents, the whole affair with the Mint seemed a dangerous play,” Holwine argued.

“It was,” Theodoric granted. “But Elis needed to keep the feud stoked between Valerian and Isenhart. He saw quite rightly that if they were kept on opposite sides, his plan was certain to succeed. Or maybe,” Theodoric added, “maybe it was his secondary plan. Should something unforeseen happen, should Ingmond or others fail him, he could still bargain the Mint to either jarl in exchange for remaining dragonlord. Whatever his intentions, it was one step too many,” Theodoric mused. “Now what of your task?”

“It has only been a day, I have not learned much. This traveller you’re interested in, he stays at a cheap inn in Lowtown. He moves through the city as a native, though I have not seen him meet with any who might be a kinsman to him. Nor could any I asked tell me much.”

“With whom has he met?”

“He spent last evening in the Temple complex after the lighting of the fire. The Templars blocked my path, so whoever he met with would be a priest of some rank.”

“Could his employer be one of the priests?” Theodoric speculated.

“Could it not be the Quill?” asked Holwine. “He spent most of his time with the Quill today during the assembly.”

Theodoric shook his head. “They came together to seek my assistance with having the lord marshal elected. If this man were subordinate to the Quill, the scribe would simply have come to me alone. No, this stranger came to the Quill, who in turn gave him access to me. Question is if the Quill takes orders from him, or if they both receive their orders elsewhere.”

“If you are so suspicious, why did you agree to their plan?” asked Holwine.

“Because it was good,” Theodoric admitted. “Keeping both Vale and Isarn in check, balancing their power against each other. Not to mention, the lord marshal, our new lord protector, is more favourable towards me. This gives me an opening.”

“An opening for what?”

“Many things can happen in ten years,” Theodoric smiled slyly. “At some point, I predict Reynold will need a more capable dragonlord, someone skilled in politics. Someone who can control the Adalthing, who has proven his ability to do so already. It would have been too obvious to press the issue now, but in a year or two, who can tell?”

“Clever,” Holwine acknowledged with a smile.

“Therefore, while I agreed with this Godfrey’s goal, I am troubled that I do not know his motive. If the priests are behind this, if they are involving themselves in matters of state, I wish to know.”

“I will continue to follow him while he is in the city,” Holwine said and left.

In another part of the castle, Arndis had returned to the quarters she shared with her brother. She knocked on the door to his bedchamber but received no answer. Cautiously, she stepped inside and found her brother sitting on his bed, staring at the empty wall. “Brand?” she said carefully. Receiving no reply, she stepped around to stand in front of him. “Brand, speak. What happened?”

“Elis had a plan,” Brand mumbled. “He was to remain as dragonlord, and I would be captain of the thanes.”

“I have heard the news. Sir Reynold is lord protector, they say.”

“They say it true,” Brand answered. “My hopes are dashed.”

“How much do we owe to the moneylenders?”

Brand swallowed. “Eight crowns.”

“Eight!” Arndis exclaimed, turning away. “Eight,” she repeated more softly. “You can still become one of the kingthanes,” she suggested. “It will take a long time, but it is a beginning.”

Brand shook his head. “Lord Berimund has heard that I wished to replace him. I doubt he will be inclined towards accepting me as a thane. I am out of options.” Arndis sat down next to him, but words failed her, and Brand spoke again. “I was a fool. I swore I would do better than our father, I would not make the mistakes he made. Fall into disgrace, leave his children with nothing. I have less than nothing now,” he said bitterly.

Arndis sat in silence, and Brand spoke no further. Finally, she stood up. “This will not do! I will gather every coin we have not spent, and we will pay some of the debt with that. It will buy us time. We have lost nothing, Brother, we are merely at a standstill. Ye gods, Brand, one setback and you are defeated?” She pushed him on the shoulder. “If Arn had such an attitude, he would never have been king! You claim we are dragonborn, yet there is nothing kingly in your demeanour.”

Brand stood up and shot his sister an angry look, but it was quickly replaced by a relieved laughter. “You are right, oh much wiser sister of mine. Of course you are. Forgive me, a momentary spell of ill mood took me.”

“That is better,” Arndis said relieved. “There are other ways. We just need to consider our options. I am sure we will find some.”

“I may not be able to match the achievements of Arn of Old, but I shall try,” Brand said, now smiling. “By the Seven and Eighth, I shall try.”

“Good. I have become very friendly with the jarl of Theodstan’s sister. She led me to understand that it was his will that the lord marshal should become lord protector?”

“That seems to be the case,” Brand nodded. “He was the jarl who named Sir Reynold for the title.”

“Then we do have friends here at court, friends with influence. Imagine what he might do for us.”

“You are right, again. Continue to seek her out,” Brand instructed. “If it should come to the worst, I must leave Middanhal and buy some time from my creditors. Come, let us eat. I am famished.”

The last to return to his chambers after the Adalthing, walking with slow steps, was George of Elis. In fact, they would soon cease to be his quarters since he could not stay in the wing reserved for the dragonlord of Adalrik. Whenever he encountered someone in the corridors, they would instinctively shy away, even the servants. His own personal attendant seemed to have left as well, for those quarters were quiet. Elis increased his pace as he saw the door to his study stood open. Striding inside, he found the shattered pieces of the lock on his strongbox.

~~~~

Between the first and last evening bell, Kate knocked on the library door and waited until Quill gave her entry. She found the scribe standing in the middle of the bookshelves, holding a scrap of parchment. Kate stood still, waiting until he acknowledged her. “A message from Egil,” Quill said, looking up. Immediately Kate’s eyes widened, but she did not speak. “Would you like to read it? Well, as much as you can,” Quill offered.

“May I?”

“It contains no great secrets,” Quill smiled, extending the letter to her. “He is merely letting me know of his whereabouts.”

Kate took it and began to read aloud what words she recognised with Quill assisting her. “So he’s arrived with who?”

“Ælfwine,” Quill said, pointing to the name in the letter. “His travelling companion.”

“And they are in…?”

“Heohlond,” Quill muttered. “They have arrived in Heohlond.”

“I don’t know anything about that place except Egil’s from there.”

Quill moved over to a shelf and picked out a large scroll. He gave one end to Kate and unfurled it, which showed it to have a length equal to a man’s height. It was a map of Adalmearc and what lay beyond – all the known world. Quill placed it on a table and lay a few books on one end to keep it from rolling together, and Kate mirrored him at the other end.

“The Seven Realms of Adalmearc,” Quill explained. “This is the Weolcan Mountains that divide the northern realms from the southern. They break only in one place, here,” Quill said and touched the exact centre point of the map with his fingertip. “Where we are, Middanhal, the centre of the world.” Kate leaned forward and listened with interest. “And here, the north-eastern corner of Adalmearc, we have Heohlond. The highlands,” Quill continued, “where Egil is. Some weeks’ worth of travel.”

“When will he return?”

“I do not know, child.”

“What’s up here in the north?” Kate asked, pointing. A large forest had been drawn upon the map, indeed so long that it stretched along the entire northern border of Adalmearc and continued beyond the edge of the map.

“That is the Alfskog,” Quill explained, pointing to the letters on the map that named the forest.

“I’ve heard of that,” Kate said with a shudder. “They say it’s a bad place. What is this thick line at the bottom?”

“It is the Langstan. The long line of fortifications that run for hundreds and hundreds of miles. From the sea in the west all along the southern border of Adalmearc and up the eastern boundary until it reaches the mountains.”

“What lies beyond?”

“Here, to the southwest, is Alcázar. My home,” Quill pointed. “None may pass the Langstan. So to enter Adalmearc, people travel to Alcázar and then north by ship until they reach Thusund. The realm of a thousand islands, the western part of Adalmearc.”

“Are there really a thousand islands?”

Quill laughed. “I do not know if any have counted them. There could be.”

“What is this empty part here, below?”

“The southern wastelands. They lie between us and the Mydlonde Sea further south at the edge of the map. They say it was once lush and that great cities lie hidden in the sand and dirt. Though I think if you went there, you would only find Bedouins and most likely death by thirst.”

“What’s here?” Kate asked, pointing to the southeast. Like the desert, it was devoid of markings except for one; a dragon had been drawn onto the map.

“It has no name as such,” Quill said, his voice growing quieter. “Men call it the Reach. It is a barren place where our people never go.”

“I’ve heard that is a bad place too,” Kate said with another shiver. “But what is the Langstan for? If there’s desert here, and this place is empty, why do we have the wall?”

“I did not say it was empty,” Quill muttered. “Only that we do not go there.” A silence spread, lasting a few moments until Quill dispelled it. “Enough questions for tonight,” he said and rolled the map together. “It has been a long day, and I think we will skip the reading lesson for tonight. But,” he added and walked over to a desk. He opened a drawer, took out a small purse of silver, and then counted ten pieces into his hand. “You will wear your fine dress out if you are to use it every night when we read,” he said and placed the silver pieces in Kate’s hand. “This should suffice for some modest clothes, and you can use them for this purpose only. Keep them clean,” he told her sharply while Kate stood uncertain.

“But Master Quill, I don’t do any work for you. I haven’t earned this.”

“It is the master’s responsibility that his apprentice is suitably dressed,” the aged librarian mumbled and turned away. “Now go, child, let me get some sleep.”

“Yes, master,” Kate said with a smile that Quill could not see, only hear resonate in her reply, before she left the old man alone in the library tower.

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About the author

Quill

Bio: Indie writer with various projects, though The Chronicles of Adalmearc is the one dearest to me. Because of this, I have decided to make it free to reach as many readers as possible. If you enjoy it, I would ask you to consider joining my Patreon; all tiers from $5 and above will earn towards receiving the full series as hardcovers. Advance chapters are available from $2 and upwards. See also my website for more information on my work and world.

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