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Kit Black

by

Monica Danetiu-Pana


 

Table of Contents

Chapter 1            5

Chapter 2            23

Chapter 3            27

Chapter 4            36

Chapter 5            46

Epilogue            48



Chapter 1

1821 – Ajaccio, Corsica

The pale blue, white-capped mountains rose in jagged layers like shark's teeth straight out of the Mediterranean. I walked the narrow, steep streets along the waterfront's dockside market, not far from the brothel where I lived with my mother. I strained my ears to hear the distinctive sounds of the Corsican language, but only sweet French poured around me. Ajaccio, with its deep harbor, pastel-painted buildings and connection to Napoleon, was Corsica's gateway to the French mainland, a haven for day-trippers from Nice and Marseille.

I could smell rotting fish, the stench of rum barrels and unwashed bodies. I could also smell myself, because it had been quite a while since I had a bath. I didn't bathe much, the dirt kept me from looking like a woman.

It was hot, and I was dressed like a boy because my mother has always dressed me that way to protect my chastity. The linen wrapped around my chest constricted my breathing and made my breasts hurt. I wore pants cut off at the knee, a loose linen shirt, and a battered tri-corn pulled down low over my shoulder length hair, which was yanked back and tied with a piece of leather. My boots were too small for my big feet, and I could feel them chafe my ankles and toes through my coarse woolen socks.

I didn't mind dressing this way; it was something I had done my entire life. Boys had more freedom and they rarely were raped in the street, unless it was by some drunk who had a fancy for young boys. I've had to run like hell from a few of these unnatural men, but I was convinced that being a woman would be far worse.

I lived with my mother in one of the brothel-opium hells frequented by naval men and smugglers. I have blue eyes and a pretty face, but I am very tall, taller by half a head than most men are, and strongly built like my daddy, or so my mom told me. He was a handsome fair-haired man, too pretty for words. I inherited his wide shoulders, slim hips, and his easy smile. I also inherited his temperament. Mom said that I was his spit and image.

My mother, Madeline Culbert, was a prostitute and an opium addict. She used to be one of the most desired courtesans in France, or so she asserted. She'd had a host of lovers, even a Russian prince. That was until she had met my father and let him bring her to Ajaccio. She claimed to anyone who would listen that my father was a swashbuckler Irish man named Walter Black. He was killed in a horrific sea battle off the Corsican Mediterranean coast before I was even born. She has been in a state of decline ever since she got word of his demise and had fallen prey to the evils of the opium dens. If it weren't for my 'uncle' Roger, I would never have survived. He used to sail with my father as his quartermaster, and was the only person who knew my true identity. I had so far been able to escape the life of prostitution because of the efforts Roger had made in order to hide my identity.

But now, I had few choices left. My mom had contracted syphilis years before and the end was near. Either I remained a boy and signed on with one of the slave smuggling ships, or I became a doxy like my mom and likely suffer her fate. I sure as hell didn't want to lie with hundreds of ugly, rutting men only to shrivel up and die like my mother. 

I needed some gold so that I could purchase a sword and a better fitting pair of boots. Real boots up to the knee, made by a cobbler and not bought from a rag picker, or taken from a drunken sailor. And Roger had already agreed to be my fencing instructor.

I was quite interested in the life of the sea, because there were no other occupations for women. Nevertheless, it was a hard choice to make, since I didn't believe in slavery and that's what made up most of the sea trade those days. I liked the idea of plundering and smuggling and being a citizen of the wind and the sea, but I felt too much for the plight of the Africans who were taken as chattel. I had seen them. Proud, but bent and beaten, taken in chains to the ships which would carry them to the sugar cane and cotton plantations on the Caribbean Islands and New Orleans.

I had decided at a very young age that I was going to have my own fleet one day, a virtual armada. Like the legendary Ann Bonny and Charlotte du Berry, I would be a lady pirate. I would run my own life, and I would never deal in human flesh. Just rum, coffee, and spices, and beautiful fabrics. I would never be a doxy like my mother, lying night after night on my back under some sweating, stinking sailor. If and when I wanted a man, he would look good, smell good, and be of my own choosing. I was getting ideas about sex lately. I knew what it entailed because of what I had heard and seen, and I'd heard that it was painful. If some of the screams I'd heard were proof, it didn't sound like a lot of fun for the female. When I mentioned the screaming to Roger, he just laughed and said that it was just an act so the man would pay more. I didn't understand it. I was pretty sure that once I had sex, my curiosity would be staunched and I would never need it again. I never imagined that day so close.

I had been sent to the market that morning, when I saw him, the man who finally moved me to reveal my womanhood. He was with another officer, a good-looking man with a mustache and soft black eyes. I heard his voice before I saw his face. He was speaking in French, asking the other man if he wished to have a piece of the pear he was eating. Up until that point, I was just eavesdropping on their conversation. I suppose it was the mention of doxies that got me interested.

“I won't be coming along to The Three Horseshoes, Damien,” he said.

“Oh, come on, Armand. We have an evening to kill, and I hear this place is unbelievable. The whores are beautiful, the rum is flowing, we could have a great deal of fun.”

“You know I'm betrothed to Sandrine,” Armand said simply.

“So, what's new about that? You've been betrothed to Sandrine since you were children, and you've been with other women before this.”

“I'm turning over a new leaf,” Armand said with a grin. “No more women of easy virtue. Even if it was an arranged marriage, I intend to be faithful until our wedding. Besides, this fooling around with doxies is dangerous, Damien. You and Gerard are going to end up with a pair of shriveled pissers. I personally intend to keep myself whole for a long time to come.”

“But you would like to be with a woman if the right one happened to come along.”

The young officer called Armand laughed. “I suppose that if she were pretty enough, I wouldn't say no. It's been a long time…too damn long.”

“When we set sail out tomorrow, it might be a year until we even see a woman.”

Armand smiled and nodded. “Alright, I admit it. If right now, right this minute, an angel came and offered herself to me, I might say yes.”

The officer named Damien just laughed. That's when they turned and I got a better look at the two men. I felt all the air drain from my lungs when I saw Armand's face. My limbs seemed to go weak and limp, my heart fluttered wildly in my chest. I think I fell head over heels at that moment. If there was ever a man to quench my curiosity and divest me of my cumbersome virginity, it was he. And I was sure that he would pay good gold for his night with an angel. I might get my boots and sword after all.

He wasn't a huge man, but tall enough. He was smaller than his friend, leaner, more elegant. He was likely only an inch or two over my height, but he was wide shouldered and lean of hip. He had a powerful physique that owed everything to smooth, long muscles, gracefully sculpted over his perfectly proportioned frame. Even his hands were exquisite. I watched as he cut pieces of the bright yellow pear and carried them to his mouth on the end of the knife. His nails were clean. Oh, and his mouth. Pink and smooth and bow shaped, the full lower lip glistening with the juice of ripe fruit. I felt a weird stabbing ping from my suddenly aching breasts all the way to my groin. Having lived my entire life in a brothel, the unruly sensation jolted me. I knew exactly what it was. Lust, something I'd believed myself immune to.

He, like his friend, was dressed in the uniform of the French Navy. The white buckskin breeches fit his muscular thighs like a second skin, tucked into knee high boots with gold tassels. The blue jacket was fitted perfectly to his broad shoulders and trim waist. His tri-corn hat lay on the crate beside him, allowing me to see his hair. He didn't powder his hair or wear a wig, but wore it swept back from his handsome face and tied with a narrow black ribbon. The chestnut brown, slightly curling locks picked up glints of the sun in red and gold. I had never seen a man so beautiful. His face was tanned, his eyes a light jade green with blue and gold flecks, his nose Roman, his jaw lean, and his chin cleft. He was perfection.

Suddenly, I couldn't remember what I needed to buy. Roger was off getting the rum kegs loaded onto the wagon, and I was going to catch hell when I didn't show up with the goods. What was it? Molasses. Vinegar. Coffee. I'd think about it later. This was too important.

So this man wanted an angel, did he? That's all I could think about. He was an answer to my prayers. Maybe we could do each other a service. I needed the sword and the boots, and it really wouldn't be the same as my mother did. If I only did it once, it would be fine.

I could feel my knees knocking as I approached them.

I kept my head down and my eyes on the ground. “Sir,” I said, keeping my voice deep. “Did I hear you mention that you might be interested in a night with a young woman?”

The one called Damien laughed. “That's what he said. You know of someone who fits that description?”

“My sister. She'd be willing.” I looked up at the handsome officer. “But just with him, and only for one night. For two pieces of gold.”

“What?” the man called Damien cried. “That's ridiculous. Get out of here before I kick your ass.”

“I wasn't talking to you, you bleeedin' blowhard.”

Armand placed his hand on my shoulder, his firm touch burning me like fire. Maybe this was not such a good idea.

He lowered his head and stared at my face. Then he smiled. Such a smile…the sweetest I'd ever seen.

“She's a virgin,” I stated with a gulp. “And she'd more than make it worth your while, sir.”

“Yeah, stab you through the heart in bed. Come on, Armand. We're late,” Damien tugged at Armand's sleeve.

“Please, sir. We need the money,” I tugged at his other sleeve. My fingers left a dirty smudge on the fine white linen at his wrist.

“So you've come out to procure for your sister. Does she know of this?” Armand asked looking at me strangely, as if he could see through my disguise.

Maybe he was one of those perverts who liked boys. Oh, God, please don't let that be so.

“You don't like boys, do you?” I blurted.

“No!” he rasped. “And I'm not in the habit of sleeping with innocent young girls, either.”

“She's not young, sir. She'll be twenty next birthday, sir. She's…uhm…been saving herself. So to speak.”

“Really? She's that aged.” He gave me that smile again, showing rows of perfect, white teeth.

Was there nothing that wasn't godlike about this male? I just swallowed hard and tried not to swoon. My chest bindings were feeling about to burst.

“So she'd been saving herself. Yet, she'd be willing to sacrifice herself for one night? One entire night?”

“Yes, sir, she's willing. Most…uhm…willing. How old are you, sir, if you don't mind my asking?”

“I'm twenty-eight.”

“Come, Armand,” Damien insisted.

“You go on. I'll meet you later.”

“Don't cry to me if the angel picks your pocket.” The dark eyed officer went on his way with a dismissive wave of his hand.

“What's your sister's name?” Armand put his hand on my shoulder again, searching my face with eyes the exact color of the Mediterranean during a thunderstorm.

I could smell him, clean and cool. Like the sea and fresh pears. He smelled divine. I wriggled out of his grasp. 

“Isabelle, sir. It's Spanish, so my…uhm…our mother says. Our father was from there,” I tried to hide the surprise in my voice at how easy and well I could lie. But I wasn't going to tell him that even if my real name was Kaitlin, nobody ever called me that way. Nor that I was born in London under a deserted bridge. Not that I felt like I belonged anywhere.

“And what's your name?” he asked in that softly accented voice.

“Kit, sir. It's Kit Black.”

“Well, young Kit Black, tell your sister to meet me at twenty bells. Can you do that?” Armand gave me the address of an inn in a good neighborhood. “You'll be coming along, I assume?”

I swallowed hard. “I shall drop her off, just to see that she's safe. I have other business, sir. You won't be seein' me. But if you agree with the price, I want to be paid up front. Uhm…I mean, she wants that.”

“Of course.”

I nodded. “Good.”

“Tell her to take a bath; I wouldn't want her to smell as ripe as you do.”

I flushed. “She'll be clean, sir. With clean hair and clean teeth an' all…”

“Is her hair long, Kit?”

Oh, no. My hair was only shoulder length, but it was a nice color. “It isn't too long, sir, but she…uhm…curls it in rags. Most say it's pretty. Yellow, like mine.”

“Is that what color your hair is? I'd have said it was much like dishwater.” Armand smiled again. The little divot above his lip was so deep, the most beautifully sculpted I had ever seen. There was the slightest cleft in his chin. He really was most breathtaking. “She doesn't drink rum, does she?”

“No drinking, sir.”

“And no perfume. I can't endure the stuff.”

“Yes, sir. I'll tell her that, sir.”

He smiled and gave me a wink. I watched him walk away. Maybe it was the uniform, but I doubted it. He had a loose hipped prowl that seemed to steal the rational thoughts right out of my head. I watched him until he disappeared behind a pile of wooden crates. My God, he was lovely. This Sandrine, whoever she was, was a very lucky woman.

And so, it seemed, was my dear sister. At least for one night. For a moment, I had quite forgotten the prospect of new boots and a fencing sword. I sighed and then nearly leapt out of my skin as Roger stepped up behind me.

“Who was that?”

I turned, looking into his wrinkled face. His pipe was hanging out of his mouth and his bandana was askew. I knew he was trying really hard not to twist my ear for the missing supplies. Roger didn't punish me too often any more, not since I had grown a few inches taller than him. He was the only father I'd ever known. He had taught me to read and to do sums, and for that, I'd be forever grateful.

“A man I met. A Frenchman.”

“What were you doing talking to the likes of him? He's too damned pretty to survive long around here.”

I sighed. “Do you think he's pretty, Roger? I would call him manly. Quite manly.”

“Good Lord, child. Is he one of those men? Does he like young boys? The French navy's full of those queer types.”

“No.” I bit my lip and told him what I'd done.

Roger just stared at me.

“It's not the same as mom,” I hurried to defend myself. “It'll be this once and never again.”

“You tell yourself that.”

“I need a bath, Roger. I don't think I bathe enough.”

“Well, hell. I've been telling you that for years. The man must be pretty special if you'd take a bath for him, Kit.”

“And a dress. I suppose one of mom's will do. I think she has some older ones that don't fit her any more,” I mused.

Roger grinned. “Don't let Madame Evangeline to get a look at you when you're wearing the dress. She'll put you to work flat on your back in the brothel.”

He was right about that.

“Why are you doing this, Kit?”

I told him about the sword and the boots I'd planned to purchase, but he just laughed at me.

***

My mom was asleep when I went into her room. It was a small room, more like a wardrobe in size. Madame Evangeline had allowed her to stay, as there was nowhere else for us to go. I earned my keep helping Roger and the cook, and took no wages so that she would keep us. My poor mom's body had nearly wasted away from the syphilis. Her dark eyes were sunken in her head, her lips drawn back over her teeth. She'd been a beauty in her day, a spy, she told me, during one of the French wars with Spain. She bragged about a lot of things. Ties to the Russian empire, dalliances with the bloody pope in Rome…but I never knew if I ought to believe her.

I wanted to tell her about Armand, not for advice, but perhaps for reassurance that I was not making a mistake. I was afraid that I would lose more tonight than my maidenhead. Perhaps my heart.

I had lived in a whorehouse long enough to know about sex and what happened. I knew it would hurt me the first time. I knew that it would be quick and that he might grunt and roll off me and fall asleep. I knew it wouldn't be fun for me. It was never fun for the woman. Sometimes I heard the girls talk. They said that a woman usually had to fake her release, so the man on top of her would hurry the hell up and be done with it. Whatever that meant. One of the whores swore that in twenty years she had never had one. At least I knew a little about preventing a pregnancy. I wasn't about to be bearing any babies yet, though I smiled at the thought of a baby as beautiful as the Frenchman was. Having a baby to love seemed a wonderful thing if a woman was ready. Even Anne Bonny had borne a child, but that was after she'd become a pirate. I might have one after I had acquired my own ship, as well.

I had to admit that for a girl raised in a house of ill repute, I didn't know as much as I claimed I did about the act itself. Well, I'd know by tonight what these men came here for in droves. And at least the man who would be on top of me would be clean, good smelling, and as beautiful as one of the saints painted in the church up on the hill.

I found a dress that fit in my mother's wardrobe. It was a bit musty, but it was clean and had no wine stains on the skirt. The neck was low, as my mother's bosom had been larger than mine, but the drawstrings gave it a modicum of modesty. Roger helped me to carry the bath water and left me to my ablutions.

It felt delightfully good. Good enough to make me wish I could bathe in hot water more often. By the time it was over and I dried myself, I was pink as a new-shorn lamb. The water in the wooden tub was black. I looked into Roger's cracked mirror, pleased with the way my hair had dried into wavy locks the exact color of wheat. My skin looked smooth and pale as cream. The only thing wrong with me were my ragged nails, which I tried to pare clean with Roger's knife.

He knocked and came in at my hesitant reply. I was just squeezing my feet into a pair of my mother's slippers, not sure about how to tie the laces around my ankles. The skirt of the dress was about three inches too short, but it would have to do.

Roger just stared at me. “My, God, Kit. Look at you. You're beautiful. I can't believe it.”

I felt myself flush to the roots of my hair. “Am I really pretty, Roger? Am I?”

“Aye, lass. Any man would fall flat on his face just to see you coming down the walk. Are you sure you want to do this?”

“I want the boots, Roger. New boots. And I want the sword.” I didn't say that I wanted to see him again. But I did. All the time I was bathing and dressing, I was thinking only about him. About his hair, his eyes, and that beautifully honed, muscular body. I ached to be touched. By him. By those clean, elegant hands. And by that carnal mouth. I knew I ought to feel ashamed of myself, but I did not.

“I'll take you over there.”

“I can go myself.”

“You'll never make it looking like that, Kit. I won't have any arguments. Sneak out the back, so Madame Evangeline won't see you. And put the shawl over your head.”

***

My heart was pounding as I climbed the stairs to his rooms. The landlady stared at me like I was something she dumped out of the slop pot. I wanted to shove her, but I pretended to be a fine lady and held my temper in check.

“No screaming, mind you.” She held her block like fists on her ample hips. Her breath smelled rankly of garlic and wine. “We have paying guests here.”

“I assume he pays his rent on time.”

“Aye,” was her reply.

“Then he can do whatever he wants, you old sot,” I said in a soft hiss. “I'll bet you're wishing you were me.” And with that, I flounced up the stairs like the finest lady she'd likely ever see. Except for the fact that my heels had broken out in blisters that hurt like hell. She huffed off as I tapped on his door, my heart pounding despite my false aura of bravado.

He had just finished his own bath. I gasped when he opened the door. He was dripping wet, his lean hips covered with a linen towel that reached his knees. If he was beautiful in his uniform, he was even more so half-naked and dripping wet. He stole all of the breath from my lungs.

“Isabelle?” he inquired, looking me up and down. “Is it twenty-one bells?”

“You said twenty, sir. At least that's…uhm…what you told Kit. I came on time.”

He smiled and ushered me in. “I'm sorry, I was bathing. I meant to be dressed.”

“It's not a bother, sir. You'll just be taking off your clothes anyway, to my thinking.” I nervously played with the ends of my shawl. There was something about the look he was giving me. I tugged the shawl a little tighter over my breasts, trying not to look at his flat light-colored male nipples. I'd seen many a naked man before, but none as finely built as this one. “I hope I'm not a disappointment, sir.”

“A disappointment?” He gave a soft chuckle. “No, you're not at all. You're more than I expected you to be. You're very tall. I don't think I've ever been with…met a woman as tall as you are.”

My heart plummeted. “Am I too tall?”

“No, not at all. No, Isabelle, you'll do very nicely.”

I was breathing hard now. Just the smell of him. Clean and fresh, like a morning in the woods. I wanted to drink him in. To lick the droplets of water from those wide shoulders, that awesome expanse of smooth chest. He wasn't hairy either, not like some of the men I had seen. Like great monkeys they were.

“Would you like some wine? To relax you?” He indicated a decanter on the table.

“No sir. I don't drink spirits. But I would like the gold first. I want to put it in my slipper, sir.” I felt terrible saying it, but that was what I was there for. I had a feeling my mind was going to get quite foggy.

“Of course.” He gave me a slow, seductive smile. “Three gold pieces, was it?”

“No, sir. Two.”

He nodded, prowling to the dresser and removing two from a bulging purse that lay there. Lord, to have all that gold. Well, one day I would have chests of it. He put them into my hand. I felt the weight of them and sighed. I was not so rude as to bite them to check that they were not bronze.

“Are you in a hurry? For two gold coins I'll expect you to stay the night.”

I nodded. “Yes, sir.”

I hoped he didn't expect me to be the one to start things. I didn't have a clue as to what I ought to do. I guessed it would be kissing. That was how it started with most of the doxies in the brothel. A round of slap and tickle. I had seen the doxies take the men's tongues into their mouths and had always thought it abhorrent. The idea made me want to wretch, but this man… Perhaps having his tongue in my mouth would be good. Maybe even delicious. I jumped a little as I felt him come up behind me, wondering if he knew what I'd been thinking.

His fingers were at my shoulders. “Can I take your shawl? It's warm in here, but I could still have a fire lit.”

“No, sir. I'm fine.” I released the knitted shawl.

He looked down at my breasts, and I suddenly wished I'd worn stays. My waist would have looked better, I think. He smiled at me.

“Am I pretty enough, sir?” I was getting worried. He hadn't said a word, just looked at me with those half closed, heavily lashed eyes.

“You're perfect,” he said. “An angel. But then, I knew you would be.”

With a heavy swallow, I said, “Thank you, sir. You know, I have to tell you that I don't really know what to do. Where to start...”

In a way it was true, but in a way I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to follow my heart, my instincts, but I did not know if they were accurate. I wanted to touch his chest and see if it were as hard and smooth and damp as I imagined. I took a deep breath and lifted my hand, laying it on the heavy curve of muscle just above his heart. I could imagine I felt the heavy pound of his blood beneath my fingers. I let my fingers trail down the indentation of his sternum, toward his navel, just to the edge of the towel. His body felt hot and hard and velvety. I could see the outline of his manhood thrust beneath the damp toweling. That made me smile. Made me want to giggle. Then I felt the panic rise.

He took a deep breath and grasped my hand, lifting it to his lips. He kissed the backs of my fingers. The gesture surprised me. “I think you know exactly what to do. You can start by calling me Armand. You don't have to worry, we have all the time in the world. The whole night.”

I nodded. Suddenly, one night didn't seem like enough time anymore.

“I think we'll start with a kiss. Shall we?”

“If that's what you'd like, sir…Armand.”

“Yes, I'd like that very much.” He stared into my eyes, and I was amazed by the color of them, so pretty surrounded by that thicket of lashes.

I ran my tongue along the edge of my lips to moisten them. I had that odd feeling again…that strange tug from breast to thigh, the inexplicable sense of tightening, of wanting to burst out of my skin as if it didn't fit me any longer.

He pulled me toward him, and I gasped as the blisters on my feet brought me back into myself.

“Are you alright? Am I going too fast?”

“It's my feet, they hurt. These shoes are too small. May I take them off?”

He smiled and led me to the bed. I bent to remove the shoes, but he stilled my hands. He dropped to one knee and began to untie the laces. It was shockingly intimate, having his warm, long fingered hand wrapped around my ankle.

“This must hurt you,” he said, touching the spot where my half boot had rubbed at my ankle.

“I got used to it. All my shoes are too small, sir. Mostly I try to go bare foot, but last year I stepped on a nail and it got putrid. I was lucky I didn't lose my…” I stopped short. “I'm sorry.”

He nodded, as if he could not imagine being so poor. And I was not half so poor as most. I didn't want to see the glaze of pity in those handsome eyes. Desire was something far more easy to accept.

“After today, I can buy proper boots.”

He winced. And then, he came up on his knees so that he was kneeling between my legs. We were face to face. He took my face in his hands, and I could feel his long fingers at my ears, his thumbs near my throat. He drew my face close to his and he kissed me. It was a dulcet kiss. A drugging, gentle kiss that stirred my very soul. I could smell his hair and his skin. It smelled of fine milled soap and lemons, and his mouth was delicious. Hot, spicy, sweet like the candied ginger that Roger had once brought me as a present. I waited for his tongue to invade my mouth. I prayed for it to happen with my eyes closed.

“Are you sure about this, Kita?” he whispered against my lips.

“Yes, oh, yes. I'm sure.”

“You feel so good, but I want you to want this, too. I want you to want me, too. As I do you.” His tone was husky, sensual, but there was an underlying note that I didn't want to dwell on. Had he called me, Kita? If he had, I didn't care. I suppose I hadn't fooled him with my disguise. He'd seen through it. He could probably see that I was half in love with him already. Something that he was used to having happen, I'm sure.

“I do. I can't think of anyone I'd rather be with than you.” I smiled at him and touched his smooth shaven cheek.

“I'll teach you all you need to know. I hope I can go slow, it's been a long time for me.”

I felt his hands at the ties to my bodice. He released the ties and pulled the garment from my skirt. I helped him pull it over my head. He looked at my breasts beneath my sheer chemise, his depth of concentration causing me to smile. He looked like Roger's dog when he was expecting the cook to give him the soup bone. My nipples were plainly visible and hardened to points beneath the thin cloth. I felt no shame, just a heightened awareness of my womanly self. It was wonderful. I had denied it so long. I was stunned by the look on his face, the same torturous need that I seemed to be feeling.


END OF SAMPLE



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