The Four Loves of Sigrún Svanhvít


In a time long past there lived one known as SIGRÚN SVANHVÍT, and none would name her otherwise, for her mighty wings were as white and regal as those of the finest swans. She was of valkyrja blood, a battle-maiden and invoker of the runes of Victory, and unto her the gods gave her a purpose – to seek the mightiest champions, and bring them glory in their wars.

 

In a land of rolling plains there lived a warrior, a man to whom none could readily call themselves equal in the dread arts of warfare. Possessed of a fearsome hunger for battle, on one auspicious morning he invoked the Heavens for a boon – that he may be truly undefeated. With a clap of thunder and a flash of lightning, thus did the valkyrja SIGRÚN SVANHVÍT descend from on high, there to devote all her martial prowess to her chosen champion, for in his heart she found a worthy war, and in her heart she felt the heat of love.

It is here that Sigrún, of the spear of death and dread portent, asked of her beloved her Questions Three.

“Were it that I fell, would you die without me?”

“Nay,” said the Warrior King, “for I would fall upon the blade that sets to strike ye, death a mere trifling exchange to spare a single scar upon your perfect skin.”

“Were it that I asked of you a great treasure, what would you grant me?”

“The pickings of all we conquer,” said he, “that we may look upon their holdings with hands entwined, and laugh in their defeat.”

“But one more question, my sweet, my warrior. Who am I?”

“Victory,” said he with a grin of battle-lust upon his face. “That which I love so dear.”

And the Swan-White did smile with her beloved, though hers was of a melancholic mien.

 

It is said that but a single flame roared as fiercely as the inferno of their battles, and that was the fires of their desire. Undefeated in battle upon battle, the King of Warriors pronounced his love for his maiden-of-the-spears in the blood of his conquered foes, carving rich tableaus dedicated to his infatuation in the territory of lesser chieftains. Showering him in both the laurels of victory and her depthless affection, Sigrún doted on her beloved in the way of the valkyrja – in bodies lain at his feet, lesser men kneeling at his passing, a hand upon her dreadful spear and another stroking through his hair.

For many more wars did the Warrior King and his dread spearmistress find unmatched glory, though with each the warrior’s strength faded, hurling himself in front of any blow that dared to strike at his maiden fair, regardless of her protestations. One day, a blow took to him that would not be reconciled, and he took Death by its hand, his life one of vigour, yet not of length. And thus did Sigrún scream tears into the wind, departing this place for the Heavens only upon wreaking a great and terrible vengeance upon those who dared to see her beloved slain, such that we no longer remember aught of their peoples.

 

And thus died the First Love of Sigrún Svanhvít, and how terribly lonesome was she.

 

 

And the years, as the tears of mournful maidens, came to pass.

In a land of hills and mountains there lived an artisan, a man who aspired to greater heights than his station would allow, his works of architecture unrecognised and his genius ignored. With a roar of frustration and the clatter of his drawing tools, he shouted his desires to the Heavens – that he may win his personal war against his peers, and become the finest architect in all the lands. With a peal of thunder and a jagged strike of lightning, thus did the valkyrja SIGRÚN SVANHVÍT descend from on high, there to devote all the wealth of her knowledge to her chosen champion, for in his heart she found a worthy war, and in her heart she longed to love again.

It is here that Sigrún, of the mind of fearsome intellect, once more asked of her beloved her Questions Three.

“Were it that I fell, would you die without me?”

“Surely,” said the Artisan, “for I could not craft a beauty as yours with all the stone in the world.”

“Were it that I asked of you a great treasure, what would you grant me?”

“A hundred castles,” said he, “each grander than the last, fit for a thousand kings, their thrones for you and you alone.”

“But one more question, my dear, my artisan. Who am I?”

“Muse,” said he with a glimmer of inspiration in his eye. “That which I love so dear.”

And the Swan-White did smile with her beloved, though hers was of a gentle sorrow.

 

It is said that but a single light shone as brightly as the light of brilliance in the Artisan’s designs, and that was the glow of their infatuation. Waging a war of vellum where quill ink ran as blood, the higher mysteries of architecture eagerly opened their arms to his questing mind, a matchless tutor by his side. Weaving rich tapestries of foundations and sagas of stone and mortar, soon no king could call himself such if his keep was not fortified by the Artisan’s design, and no queen could sit comfortably atop their throne if its artifice was not born of his genius. Shudders of ecstatic inspiration would wrack his spine at the merest whisper of his spearmaiden’s words, and soon in every keep there stood a statue in finest, polished marble – of a winged goddess, her wings the white of snow, so achingly real as to almost be warm to the touch. Ever would she plant kisses upon the nape of his neck, watching from his shoulder as he worked the magic of his plans and charts.

And yet, for all the beauty in the hundred castles built in her name, Sigrún could do aught but find them unaccountably lonely, an entire keep’s worth of servants no fit match for the presence of her beloved, he who slowly became ever more distant as he immersed himself completely in his designs. Possessed by the mad and terrifying spirit of Muse, one eve he locked himself in his drawing chambers and never returned, consumed utterly by his last, greatest work – a work left unfinished, its Artisan dead of fatigue and stress before even half its design touched paper. And thus did Sigrún howl mournful cries that shattered windows and brought walls down to their foundations, her return to the Heavens shrouded in a storm of hitherto unmatched ferocity, a hundred empty castles no compensation for the loss of her love. In this age no king yet calls any of those forlorn, crumbling keeps their home, cold and empty places one and all, whose magnificent statues – once the brilliant white of polished marble – lie ashen grey, tears of soot streaked upon their silent faces.

 

And thus died the Second Love of Sigrún Svanhvít, and how terribly lonesome was she once more.

 

 

And the years, as the wails of melancholic grief, came to pass.

In a land set upon a glittering coast there lived a merchant of prodigious talent, one who could cast his vessels to the oceans almost empty and return with riches untold. Of an ambition that surpassed even his own riches, one night he let slip a slightly drunken plea to the Heavens – that he may at last win the Wars of Trade, and become a merchant baron above all others. With a snarl of thunder and a blinding crash of lightning, thus did the valkyrja SIGRÚN SVANHVÍT descend from on high, there to devote all her fierce and keen cunning to her chosen champion, for in his heart she found a worthy war, and in her heart she longed to love once more.

It is here that Sigrún, of an aspect of craftiness and merchant’s guile, again asked of her beloved her Questions Three.

“Were it that I fell, would you die without me?”

“Certainly,” said the Merchant, “for in your eyes I see a glitter unmatched by any gemstone, a gleam that renders this world unbearable without it.”

“Were it that I asked of you a great treasure, what would you grant me?”

“Riches,” said he, “beyond count, beyond measure. Treasuries upon treasuries, filled to bursting with whatever you desire.”

“But one more question, my love, my merchant. Who am I?”

“Success,” said he with a merchant’s unceasing smile. “That which I love so dear.”

And the Swan-White did smile with her beloved, though hers was of a soft woe.

 

It is said that but a single glimmer was as magnificent as the sun shining upon the Merchant’s hoards of coinage, and that was the glimmer of love in the eyes of he and his dear Svanhvít. With the aid of his battle-queen turned to the wars of Trade and Commerce, the Merchant made not idle killings in the markets, but slaughters, his profits higher than the tallest spires of his city. Exotic treasures from distant lands filled his coffers, and the sonorous laughter of his merchant queen let the cup of his heart runneth over, a hand of hers ever wrapped through his even as the other leafed through his ledgers to expose another avenue of profit. Though no matter the wealth of treasures bestowed upon her, no matter the fineries that she wore with her swan-white mantle of feathers, Sigrún cared for but one prize – the smile of her love, warmer than the glow of any coin.

But Wars of Trade are not called so idly, and while their highs are beyond any man’s counting, their lows can spell a nation’s doom as easily as any battle. The capricious whims of Fate, ever the bane of man, saw the Merchant’s prized fleets cast upon the sea floor by foul weather, an enemy not even a valkyrja could easily raise a spear against. With the keystone of the Merchant’s complex web of debts and investments torn out from under him, and denied loans from those who had suffered in his times of unmatched success, the tradesmith became unaccountably distraught, maddened by the thought that the death of his fortune would lead to loss of his wife, believing her divinely tied to his financial accounts – for indeed, was love not a profit of the heart? Driven utterly mad with grief at the prospect of losing both of his loves at once, the Merchant hurled himself into the seas that he might swim to the ocean floor and recover his sunken fortune piece by piece, succeeding only in dashing himself against the rocks below. And thus did Sigrún, beside herself with anguish, hurl her spear into the cruel seas with a rage that boiled metal and caused gold to run as rivers of argent, the force of her thrust so fearsome that a whirlpool rages at that place even to this day, the uncovered skeletons of long-sunk ships exposed at its lowest depths, their lost coinage glittering in the sun.

 

And thus died the Third Love of Sigrún Svanhvít, and how unaccountably lonesome was she once again.

 

 

And the years, as the waves upon the ocean in stormy seas, came to pass.

 

 

In an isolated homestead by a forest there lived a lone farmer, a man who aspired to naught but to revel in the dawn-light of a new day, and to see his work done with satisfaction. A fellow not given to invoking the gods’ wills needlessly, on one morning he beheld a sunrise over his field so fine that it drew a tear to his eye, and in that moment he gave a small prayer to the Heavens – that perhaps if all men could see what he had seen, there could be peace in their hearts. Content to continue his work and tend to his crops, there resounded no growl of thunder nor charge of lightning, only a light mid-morning rain shower that watered his lands most delightfully.

It was in a visit to the river to clean his clothes that the Farmer beheld a swan, lying limp upon the shore as if near-dead, its breathing ragged. Aghast, he carried the poor creature to his house cradled in his still filthy clothing, nursing the magnificent creature as best he could with the little food he had to spare. Sitting it at the foot of his bed for the night, the Farmer awoke to a most unusual sight – a woman where the swan once lay, her tall and muscular figure contrasted by a distressing emptiness in her eyes, the swan-white wings at her back lustreless and ragged. Alarmed, certainly, but not so much as to render him struck dumb, the Farmer rushed this way and that, fetching drinking water, a damp cloth for her head, his most comfortable blankets – this, and more besides. Only when he was certain she was well cared for did he presume to ask of her the name by which she was known.

“Sigrún,” said she, with a gentle smile tinged with sorrow. “Sigrún Svanhvít.”

 

For many days, which came to weeks, which came to months, the Farmer and his unexpected assistant kept their little estate in order, during which she uttered no further words. Questioning not her solemn aspect and content to simply eke out any smile he could from that downcast face of hers – a well-made meal, a success at fishing, or a simple viewing of a dawn-light sunrise – the man soon found that he wished to know more about his mysterious companion, though knew not when or how to ask.

One morning the light of dawn was particularly fine, as fine as the day the Farmer first met the curious Sigrún. This he divulged to his companion, confiding in her his morning prayer so many moons ago that had precipitated her arrival. Sharing in the sun’s rise together, he was surprised when the mysterious woman – easily a head taller than himself – spake softly, whispered as if by forbidden utterance.

“Who… am I?”

“I confess I know not, my lady Sigrún,” said he. “But, if you wish it, I would like to know.”

The stranger smiled weakly, as if at some jest only she knew. Tears flowed gently from her eyes, but whether they were of happiness or sorrow, he knew not.

“…you would, would you not?” The Farmer thought he may have heard more, though it was so quietly he was uncertain. But perhaps it had been…

“…thank you.”

There were no further words that day. But, more and more by each sun’s set, the occluded Sigrún Svanhvít spake – of her past, precious little, but the Farmer did not ask it of her. He grew fond of the otherworldly lilt of her voice, her increasing smiles, the return of lustre to her swan-white wings. That she was indeed a valkyrja hardly surprised him in time, and soon he came to dislike his visits to the distant hamlet for trade and supplies, for they parted him from his companion. Inevitably there would be little arguments or disagreements, as indeed there are in all things, yet by the rise of the moon in the evening all would be well once more, settled and agreed upon in unison. As both came to understand one another’s likes, dislikes, mannerisms, and all the minute details, the Farmer realised that he perhaps loved her – however, the mere mention of the word ‘love’ cast dark shadows across his dear Sigrún’s face, and her past remained locked to him, for he dared not offend her by asking. Often she would sink into a melancholy from which little could rouse her, almost always after times where they shared fleeting moments of happiness together.

 

One cool spring evening, however, the Farmer could contain himself no further. Concerned that his companion’s increasing bouts of sorrow must have in some way been his fault, he freely let forth his emotions as they sat beside one another.

“If I am at fault for your woes, then do not hold yourself back in telling me of my mistakes – I would sooner be chastised for a year and a day than see you suffer a single moment more. And if it be so that I am not the source of your anguish, then say whatever must be said to me, for however long it takes. To see you pained, dear Sigrún, is for me to be pained also.”

For a time, the spearmaiden lay quiet, her gaze cast down, but the Farmer was true to his word and would not leave her side. When she spake, it was with a quiver in her voice, a susurration of caged emotion.

“Every morning you show me the sunrise, whene’er it can be seen. Every day you ask less of me than I am capable, for you dare not split the load of work unfairly in your favour. Every evening you serve me a meal that, no matter how bland the ingredient or scarce the portion, you pour your heart into. Every day you do this, even though you owe me nothing, for from the moment I came into your life I was a burden. For moons I did not speak a word, and still you treated me such! What right have I to this?”

Her voice rose, and in this the emotions of Sigrún Svanhvít broke forth, as an ocean wave over a river’s dam.

“How dare I continue to rely on your generosity? What right have I to the warmth of your hearth after all the misery I have wrought in the lives of Men? Terrible things have I wrought, and yet even now, a part of mine wretched self is allowed to be happy in your care. I have no right! No right to such kindness, no right to such a wonderful existence, and no right to say that I lo-”

A cold iron spike sent chills into the fair maiden’s heart as she bit the words back.

Love.” The word on her tongue was as the ash of coals, hot and angry. “What a terrible, terrible thing! To say I love you may as well be a condemnation for your death. You are a good man, and do not deserve whatever cruel injustice my love would bring.”

Love, the forbidden word, the taboo thus unspoken.

“I should think that were you to love me, it would swell my heart to burst.” The Farmer did not think it fair to mask his own thoughts when his companion had opened her own heart to him. “For I think I have come to love you, in turn. You have brought a light into my life as the sun comes to shine in the morn, when I did not realise I had lived in night. The more I learn of you, for good or for ill, the more I am certain that this be true. It would be fell deceit for me to pretend otherwise any longer.”

The valkyrja paused, for a time. Then her laughter resounded, cold and empty and self-deprecating.

“Know now that I have sworn away from love,” said she, her voice bitter and dejected. “‘Tis a cruel and thankless mistress, fit only to ruin myself and all I come to hold dear. All whom I love, and love me in turn, find naught but misery. Let the name of Sigrún Svanhvít be accursed, and fade into history! Better that you had left me in that river, that I would drown and rid the lives of Men of my sorrow!”

“Love and sorrow are as one, I think.” The Farmer set a hand upon the valkyrja’s own. “To accept one is to accept another. Look upon my fields, if you would like.”

And thus, fair Sigrún did, and before her lay fields of crops.

“In some years I will raise a fine crop, healthy and hale, and this will see me well. But in other years I may run afoul, and the crop will be no good. Though this will bring me misery, I know that I will still plant another field next season, for in the end I will not harvest a good crop if I never plant one again.”

“No crop given life by my hand lives, my dear.” The warrioress of swan-white pinions smiled bitterly. “All my loves, given to ruin! If you heard of their miseries you could do naught but hate me, and rightly would you cast me out, that you would never bring their hardships upon yourself.”

“I would still hear them of you.” A smile, this one soft. “If you wish to tell me of them, that is.”

 

And thus, despite her ostensible protestations, the forlorn valkyrja told her saga of tripartite woe long into the night, of three beloved men whose desires came to ash on the wind, whom she loved so deeply, yet in turn was not loved as she had wished. Victory, Muse, Success – from the very beginning they had declared their undying love for what she represented, but, on bitter reflection, had not loved her as her, losing themselves to their passions completely. Three tales, of the lost loves of Sigrún Svanhvít.

Of a Warrior King who brought conquests all in her name, who devoted every blade he drew to her. But she was his Victory, his conquests incarnate. He chose to die rather than see her slain, and yet in doing so left her alone in the world.

Of an Artisan who dedicated fortresses to her, all of unmatched splendour, her very touch inspiring him to acts of masterful craft. But she was his Muse, his inspiration in the flesh. He gave her cold and empty castles, none filled with the simple warmth of his presence.

And of her Merchant, her dear, sweet tradesmith, who plucked fortunes from the air in the name of their love. But she was his Success, the profit in his heart. That he thought her tied to his fortune, and not to him alone, pained her beyond words.

 

The misery in the fair spearmaiden’s heart flowed forth as a tide, and though by tale’s end she was as solemn as before, perhaps there was a lightness in her wings that had not been there before, a weight removed from her mighty pinions.

“See now the woe of Love,” said she. “No man will yet love me, and no man yet should. If all I am to be loved for what others wish me to be, then surely they see nothing in what I am – indeed, I must be a truly miserable thing to behold! I beg of ye, banish me from this place, that I may not visit my miseries upon you. If I truly love you, then to see you prosper is my sole wish.”

There was a silence then, long and pregnant. The Farmer sat for a time in his own thoughts, yet for all of Sigrún’s pleas he did not bid her leave, nor did his hand leave hers. Turning words and thoughts around in his mind, he only spoke when absolutely certain of what it was he would say, for his companion deserved no less.

“He who says he tends his crop, yet does not give them water, will find his work will be for nothing if the rains cease to come. Is the crop at fault, that which cannot but need water, yet is only granted it from circumstance? Nay, I say! Nay! I say that that man cannot rightly call himself a farmer, if his crop suffers for his inattention!”

The man almost shouted, such was his conviction, clasping Sigrún’s hand fully in his own, speaking directly to her as draw all the melancholy from her body through force of gaze alone.

“What care I for Victory, or Muse, or Success? That I can arise in the morning knowing that you arise with me is enough. I would ask of the gods a long life if only to give you as many years of happiness as possible. Even when you have been with others you have been alone, my dear Sigrún, my swan of brilliant white. If there is anything you be no right to, it is to be alone. If you were never lonely another day in my life with you, then I would die the happiest man in the world. I love not the harvests you bring me, or any such things – I love you!

Sigrún Svanhvít – of the blood of gods, a valkyrja spearmaiden given writ to shatter walls and crush armies, to whom entire peoples had once bent the knee – was utterly unprepared for the Farmer’s embrace. Wrapping his arms around her and drawing her close, he clutched as tightly as he dared, as if she would vanish were he to let go. For a moment, silence – then, a wail of tears, as the mighty warrioress cried freely into his shoulder, returning his embrace in kind. Her wings, great pinions of feathers and strength, wrapped around him so fast as to knock over anything left loose in the room and blow his door open, such was the force of their gusts. Such was the length of their tearful hold that the moon descended from its throne in the sky, and the sun threatened to breach the horizon before they at last withdrew, and spake once more.

“I have but one last thing.” The spearmaiden’s aspect was quiet, yet serious. “I would ask of you three Questions, and three alone. Such is the way of my kind. Long have I wished to ask them, though only now do I have the spirit to do so.”

“Ask of me anything, my dear. Deceit shall not cloud my answer, nor shall it revoke what I have already said.”

The warrioress stared into his eyes, piercing and keen, as if to flense the mortal body from his soul and speak directly to the core of his being. “Once asked, I cannot unspeak them. Once my Questions are uttered and their Answers given, Fate will set its hand in motion. I do not wish any misfortune upon you – I beg of ye, if there be any misgivings, bid me leave, and I will carry myself out of your life for ever more.”

“I could no sooner see you leave now than exile myself from my own home.” The Farmer remained resolute under her gaze. “Hold back no longer. Speak what you wish freely, now and for ever more.”

It is here that Sigrún, wary of love’s cruel ways yet nevertheless longing for its embrace, at last asked of her beloved her Questions Three.

“Were it that I fell, would you die without me?”

“Nay,” said the Farmer. “I would climb the tallest mountain and shout your name to the Heavens, that all who hear will remember you.”

“Were it that I asked of you a great treasure, what would you grant me?”

“All that I can,” said he, “though I cannot give much, beyond my deepest love. I would ask only that my love be returned, and for that I will be the happiest man alive.”

“But one more question, my heart, my dawn-light.” There was a pause, auspicious and pregnant. “Who am I?”

“Sigrún,” said he with a gentle smile. “My beautiful Sigrún. That which I love so dear.”

And the Swan-White did smile with her beloved, gleaming as the summer sun. When dawn’s first light at last crept above the distant horizon, they met it with hands entwined.

 

 

And the years, as the sun’s warm glow at dusk, came to pass.

 

 

In a time long past there lived one known as SIGRÚN SVANHVÍT, and none would name her otherwise, for her mighty wings were as white and regal as those of the finest swans. She was of valkyrja blood, a battle-maiden and invoker of the runes of Victory, and unto her the gods gave her a purpose – to seek the mightiest champions, and bring them glory in their wars. In wars of all kinds she found success – of battle, of trade, and of the struggles of the artistic soul – yet it was in her fourth and final war that she fought the longest, nearly a century at the side of her last, greatest champion, before Death at last took to him in his age as a friend comes to greet a distant companion. And thus did Sigrún Svanhvít at long last ascend back into the Heavens, a bolt of lightning under a clear dawn sky.

In the highest realms of the Heavens lie the realms of the valkyrja, the afterlife of those deemed worthy by their hand, a realm of battles and war and glory. Warriors of all kinds clash in eternal conflict, screaming themselves hoarse in roars of victory, before returning to their feasting halls to gorge themselves on food and fine drink. Insults and boasts are exchanged, mighty challenges resound, and all settle their ails and pains in raucous bouts of feasting and camaraderie, before slumbering in preparation for tomorrow’s battles. It is not the Heaven for all – of which there are many under the gods’ auspices – but for those who are so chosen, it is Paradise.

Of course, not all wars are those of battle, and not all warriors fight in the realm of combat. Doctors who wage war against the ills of their patients, chaplains who drive back the terrors of trauma and anguish with their words, heroes of quills and ink who fight injustice in words when they cannot in action – the valkyrja have their tastes, and do not discriminate in their boons. The victor of one such unusual war came to this plane in exactly these circumstances, and it is by their hand that much of the succulent ingredients for the great feasts of the Realm of Battles are cultivated.

What war did this man win, this fellow going through his divine gardens, watering them with a care honed by a life of practice, forever blessed to live on in his prime? There he goes, crop to crop, as he always has and likely always will, perfectly content in his corner of Paradise. A warrior missing his head gives a jolly wave as he passes, which the man returns, chuckling as a second warrior runs after the first with his head under the crook of her arm.

Make sure you stick it back on nice and tight, he says. We’ve got soup tonight, and I’ll not have you leaking my hard work on the floor! 

Going back to his work with timeless abandon, one once again wonders what brought this man to the realm of the valkyrja, humbly doting on his plants. Then, the rush of wings, and the dull thud of someone being abruptly landed on.

“Little black swan!” The formerly airborne spearmaiden’s joyous shout resounds as she ruffles the man’s hair – for, indeed, it is a brown so dark as to almost be black. Brought off-balance by this unexpected marital assault, the fellow clutches at his companion and turns into his unbalanced stumble, spinning her around in a manner that elicits melodious giggles of glee.

“Darling, be careful! The crops!” The man’s protestations are muffled as he lowers his beloved from being wrapped around his back, her wings fluttering magnificently. “What if you made me step on them?”

“Oh, be well, my little swan! Ráðgríðr shall not miss a beet or two, I’m sure.”

“You’re not the one she throws spears at when she’s angry, dear.”

“You’re getting very good at dodging them, my love. Oh, how proud I am!”

“They sting!

The exchange turns to jibes, then to laughter, the routine well-practised by now. In this it becomes clear precisely which war this Farmer won, a war without equal, its outcome evident in the sun-bright smile of the mighty valkyrja before it vanishes behind a long kiss – the war of a maiden’s turbulent heart.

 

Thus lives the Fourth and Final Love of Sigrún Svanhvít, and how magnificently besotted with love they are, for now and ever more.

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3 thoughts on “The Four Loves of Sigrún Svanhvít

  1. Excellent. It’s written in a style reminiscent of an old saga and executed so well as to be very immersive and lacking in pretentiousness. Far above mediocrity.

  2. Very well written! The diction is like that of an old story, but is modern enough to be a straightforward read. It’s has enough evocative words to paint an image without any pretentiousness or thesaurus abuse where I must console look up a word every other line (though I do enjoy learning new words.) The story structure reminds me of the old fables I used to read. If it was your intent to capture that impression, than I think you did an excellent job. Unfortunately, I am only marginally familiar with the ring, so any allusions have likely gone over my head. Great job!

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