This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series

 

The Pirates' Prisoner

Once upon a time there was a band of evil pirates whose stronghold was a great sailing ship which lay anchored in a shallow rocky harbor in a hidden swamp. The pirates had one little servant girl, named Nella, whose only friends were the wild animals the pirates had caught and trained to work for them.

One day the pirates brought home a new captive: a giant green cockatoo with an orange crest. After making sport of him till midnight, they locked him in a cage on the deck, then retired below to drunken slumber, as is pirate custom. When all had become quiet, Nella tiptoed to the cage and gave the bird some sunflower seeds and water.

"Bless you," said the giant bird. "I am the King of the Cockatoos. If you will unlock my cage and fetch me a sword, I will reward you."

"But the captain has the only keys and the only sword," she said, "and he keeps them with him always."

The King opened a locket which hung round his neck, and gave her three tiny acorns. "Open these, and put on what you will find in them."

Nella opened the first acorn. Inside was a suit of black polished armor. It instantly grew to just the right size to fit her, though it remained as light as ever. Inside the second acorn was a pair of small wings, which fitted right on the back of the armor. Inside the third was a coral ring. "This will enable you to breathe water," said the King.

Nella put them all on. "Go, now," he said.

Wondering what these treasures had to do with getting the key and sword, Nella tiptoed downstairs to the captain's room. For getting away afterwards, maybe, if she was caught....

But as it happened, no one caught her, and the captain was snoring so loud she just walked up to his table and picked up his sword and his whole key-ring and left, without him even stirring. She tiptoed back up to the deck, not even using the wings to fly up the stairs, in case they couldn't unfold wide enough.

The King of the Cockatoos was hopping up and down in the cage. Nella tried one key after another in the dark till one fitted and opened the door.

Instantly the King sprang out with a war-cry. The pirates rushed on deck. Flying up and down in the air, crowing horrendously, the giant bird set about with the sword till not a single pirate was left alive on the ship. Then, with a final cry of triumph, he flew away, and was never seen again.

Nella could scarcely believe her eyes. She flew up to the crowsnest and looked around from there in the bright moonlight. No pirates stirring on deck, though a few were in the water swimming away as fast as they could. The night was damp and chill. She settled down to rest in the crowsnest, and soon fell asleep.

Next morning Nella woke thinking the whole thing had been a dream. But there she was in the crowsnest, still wearing the armor and wings and ring. And the deck was running red with gore, but no live pirates anywhere. The only creature moving on the deck was a great barbary ape which the pirates had trained to do the chores in the prisoners' quarters below, where Nella had never been allowed to go.

Nella tossed the captain's keyring to the ape, calling, "Let all the prisoners go! We're free!"

The ape caught the keys, waved his arm in salute, and hurried below. Soon the prisoners, all apes and peacocks, came up and they too swam away as fast as they could, in all directions.

For a while Nella sat in the crowsnest, looking around, free and with the world all before her. Then she decided that the woods looked prettiest toward the east, so she took wing in that direction and flew away too, never even looking back at the ugly ship.

She flew and flew, over beautiful meadows, occasionally alighting on the top of tall trees which were full of nice fruit, or drifting down to the ground to drink from a spring. Finally she came to a glen full of flowers with a waterfall at one end, whose spray made many rainbows in the morning sun. A group of little sprites were dancing there, round a maypole with colored streamers.

When they saw a girl flying by, they all waved and called to her, and threw her some streamers too, so she could join the dance. After a few minutes she lit on the ground and they all gathered round and made friends with her. "You are so nice," they said. "Will you live here and be one of us?"

"Oh, I'd love to--" said Nella.

But just then they heard an ugly squawking, and gobs of swamp mud began falling all over. "Pieces of eight, pieces of eight, blow the man down, keelhaul the yardham...." It was the pirates' tame cormorant, whose wings were always muddy from flying underwater, flapping after her and dripping mud all over the sprites' playground. "There's that lazy cabin-girl! Back to work, back to work, don't give up the ship!"

The sprites ran in all directions, trying to protect their pretty things from the mud. The cormorant landed on Nella's shoulder and hooked his cold wet wings round her neck.

"What do you want?" she whispered. "Why don't you go free like the other animals?"

"Don't give up the ship! Don't give up the ship! Pieces of ship, keel the eight! Captain must go down with the ship!"

The sprites were starting to cry. Quickly Nella followed the bird away, so he wouldn't ruin their party.

The cormorant led her straight back to the pirates' harbor, which now was a more terrible place than ever. The gore had run from the decks to the water and made it all slimy, and slimy things were walking around on it! But it was clear that the cormorant would not leave her in peace; so, following him, she flew across to the ship. There he led her down the stairs into the dark slave quarters below decks, till at last they came to a cell made all of black iron bars, with no door at all.

Inside, chained by a band round her waist, stood a beautiful noble lady!

Even in dirt and rags, her beauty filled the chamber. Her dark shining curls seemed to float on the air, and her movements were quick and graceful; though her eyes were over-bright with fever.

Nella bowed. "Milady, how can I free you?"

"It is not possible," the lady said. "Scuttle this cursed ship and I will gladly sink into the abyss with it. Only clean water fathoms deep, can drown my disgrace."

"I can't," said Nella. "There's a rock floor under the harbor."

The lady burst out laughing. "Then what do you suggest?"

"Well," said Nella, "I know where some sprites are, maybe they could help you."

She smiled sadly. "They fly overhead occasionally, but the pirates chase them away."

"The pirates are all gone. At least, they left."

The lady's eyes flashed with hope. "Then please ask the the sprites to come at once!" She swayed, and sank to the floor.

Nella fetched some clean water and fruits from the forest and left them by the sleeping lady, then flew back to the sprites' glen and told them the story.

"The lady prisoner is still there? Of course we'll help her!" The little sprites flew at once to the ship and hovered outside the porthole nearest the cage, till Nella got it open. Then they zoomed into the ship and flew right inside the cage, flying round and round the lady to comfort her and stir the air, and lighting the chamber with the bright flashes of their wings. But no one could find any door to the cage.

After a few minutes the lady woke and sat up.

"Who are you?" a sprite asked, settling on her shoulder.

The lady rubbed her brow. "I cannot remember. The fever...."

"Never mind, never mind," they comforted her. "How can we open this cage?"

"You can't. The pirates built it with no door." She spoke with such horror that no one wanted to ask her anything more.

"We have heard," said one sprite, "that the mermaids have a magical scroll which can free any prisoner."

"Where can I find the mermaids?" said Nella.

The sprites pointed at the sea. "They live deep below the coral lagoon over there."

So Nella flew over the sea till she came to the coral lagoon, and dove deep below, using her water-breathing ring. Here she found twelve beautiful mermaids wearing long flowing dresses, singing sweetly and combing each other's hair.

Woops, thought Nella, and here I am wearing armor and looking a fright....

But the mermaids didn't mind. They swam toward Nella in welcome, singing to each other: "Look, look, here comes Valerie!" ... "No, look, it is a little girl..." ... "In a space-suit..." ... "A girl from outer space...".... "Dear child, are you well? Do you need any space, any vacuum, any void, any nothingness, any bubbles, any what-do-you-call-it?"

"Air, they call it, up there," said another.

"No thank you," said Nella. "But do you have a magical scroll which can free any prisoner?"

"No, we don't," said the mermaids. "You might ask Valerie. She lives on a green island further east. But what is the matter?"

Nella told them the story.

"A lady prisoner?" The mermaids set off for the ship at once, while Nella flew on further east, till she came to the green island. Here a school of big girls, all wearing armor rather like Nella's, were playing by the beach, fencing with practice swords and riding seahorses and playing water-polo and other sports.

They gathered round Nella in welcome. "I'm Valerie," said the tallest. "Would you like to play with us?"

Nella sighed. "I'd love to! But I have to rescue someone. Do you have a magical scroll which can free any prisoner?"

"No, we don't," said Valerie. "You might ask the Sea-Cave Queen. She lives in an amethyst palace far below the ocean. But what is the matter?"

Nella told them the story.

"A beautiful dark-haired prisoner?" said Valerie. "With fever?" The big girls changed their practice swords for real swords and set off for the ship at once, while Nella swam down far below the ocean to the amethyst palace. "Do you have a magical scroll which can free any prisoner?" she asked the Sea-Cave Queen.

"Yes," said the Queen, and gave it to her. "But what is the matter?"

Nella told her the story.

The Queen looked thoughtful, and handed her also three bean seeds: one blue, one pink, and one golden yellow. "Give these to the lady prisoner to plant, first thing. Then in her hour of greatest need, bring her to me."

Nella thanked her and headed straight back to the rocky harbor, wondering what the sprites, the mermaids, and the big girls were doing all this time.

When she got to the ship, she found them all having a party for the prisoner. They had cleaned and decorated the prison chamber and tied ribbons all over her cage, and were singing and dancing inside the cage and out. Valerie was sitting next to the cage with her arm through the bars, hugging the prisoner. "She is my older sister Priscilla," Valerie explained. "She has been lost for a long time. Have you got the scroll?"

Forgetting all about the three bean seeds and the Queen's instructions, Nella gave Priscilla the scroll.

Priscilla unrolled it, and for a moment it looked as though it just had an ordinary story written on it, with plenty of pictures and conversation. Then suddenly a magic portal opened in the middle of the scroll, and through it they saw a beautiful island, which looked a little like Valerie's. A fresh wind blew toward them through the portal, and for a moment they all breathed the air of that country.

Valerie said, "I know that place. It lies beyond my island, and it is very safe. Step through the portal, and we will all meet you there."

While Valerie and Nella reached through the bars and held the scroll open, Priscilla stepped through the portal. She vanished, and the scroll rolled itself back up.

Then Nella remembered. "Oh, dear, I forgot, I was supposed to give her three bean seeds."

"You can give them to me now," said a rueful voice behind her. It was Priscilla, standing just outside the cage. "I didn't get very far."

"At least you're out of the cage," said Valerie, hugging her with both arms.

Nella hugged her too, selfishly glad Priscilla was still there, and gave her the three seeds. "The Queen said for you to plant them first thing."

Priscilla looked around. "I wonder where?"

Valerie grimaced. "First thing, the Queen said? If you had planted them first thing, it would have been in the cage."

Priscilla shuddered. "There was dirt enough there, till you cleaned it--! But if the Queen said so...." Some sprites flew to the forest and brought a pot full of good clean dirt and set it in the cage. Priscilla reached through the bars and planted the seeds in it.

They all watched for a few minutes, but nothing happened.

Priscilla asked, "What else did the Queen say? I hope I'm not supposed to wait here for them to grow?"

"All she said was, you should plant the beans first thing, and then in your hour of greatest need, I should bring you to her."

Valerie sighed. "Magic, riddles, phooey! Let's just take the pirates' lifeboat and get out of here!"

So they lowered the lifeboat and Priscilla and Valerie and the big girls got in, and Valerie rowed, and Nella and the sprites flew along beside. But scarcely had the boat left the shadow of the ship, when it suddenly jerked to a stop!

All the girls rowed, and Nella and the sprites all gathered round it and pulled, but the boat would go no further. They seemed to be tied to the ship by an invisible rope.

"I've got a bad feeling about this...." said Priscilla, and jumped into the water.

The rowboat immediately shot forward; it was free now!

By feeling around and experimenting, they soon discovered that the invisible rope was attached only to Priscilla. As long as she was on the ship or nearby, the rope could not be felt. But as soon as she tried to leave, it became solid and pulled her back. "Very well," said Priscilla, "I will try the scroll again."

So they went to look for the scroll, and found it still in the cage. Valerie pulled it out and Priscilla unrolled it again.

But this time the scroll showed only a few words, in a strange language: no pictures or conversation or magical gate. "I think," said Valerie, "it says: Error. No prisoner to free."

"But I'm right here!" shouted Priscilla, and rolled the scroll up and shook it and unrolled it again.

The scroll just said the same thing again.

Priscilla sat down on the floor and wept.

"Do you think," Nella said, "that this is your hour of greatest need?"

"I doubt it," Priscilla said sadly. "Things will probably get worse." Then her fever returned and she fainted.

Hastily they all cleaned up the pirate captain's cabin. The sprites fetched flowers and clean linens and lace curtains for it; and they put Priscilla to bed there, taking turns who stayed by to nurse her. "If she can't leave the ship, then we won't leave either!" said Valerie, and she and several of the big girls cleaned up other cabins and moved into them. The mermaids tried to set up camp in the water below, but complained that the harbor was much too shallow. "That stone floor is not natural!" they said. "The pirates must have built it." So they went home to their lagoon instead.

Next morning Nella and Valerie woke early and went to check on the bean seeds.

"Look at that!" said Valerie.

Overnight the beans had sprouted and grown into large vines: one with blue flowers, one with pink, and one with golden yellow. The vines were reaching out of the cage and wrapping round the scroll, as though they wanted to open it.

Gently Nella took the scroll, opened it, and held it up by the cage.

As before, for a few moments the scroll showed a story, then a portal opened to the beautiful island!

Quickly the bean plants sent their vines through the portal. Their ends dug into the soil of the island and took root there. They grew and grew. Soon Nella could turn loose of the scroll, because the plants were supporting it themselves.

"Maybe that's how it was supposed to work," said Nella. "The scroll plus the beans...."

"Well," said Valerie, "Priscilla is out of the cage now, and she's not going back in, that's sure! We'll just have to wait and see what happens...."

For the next few days, as Priscilla lay in her cabin sleeping, birds and butterflies from the island wandered through the portal into the cage, bringing other seeds. Sunrays from the island shone in through the portal. Soon the whole cage was a garden just like the sprites' own glen; then the whole prison; then the cabin deck, where Priscilla lay. So next day she woke to find herself in the captain's bed (which was quite nice now that it was clean), on a floor of grass under an arbor of green grapes.

Priscilla got dressed (in clean clothes which the sprites had brought) and went upstairs to the main deck. Beanstalks had grown out through all the portholes and up all the stairwells, and were holding the scroll, now also grown to giant-size, open beside the ship. The portal leading to the beautiful island was now quite large. Sprites were flying back and forth through the portal, and Nella and Valerie were walking around on the island!

Priscilla ran to join them -- but just as she stepped through the portal, the invisible rope pulled her back to the ship. Priscilla sat down in dismay, and Nella and Valerie jumped back onto the deck to join her.

"That settles it!" said Valerie, when they had all finished hugging. "Priscilla just can't leave the ship. So, we'll have to rescue ship and all. Sail the whole thing somewhere. Nella, is it seaworthy?"

Nella, watching them, wished she could think of a solution. "Mm, not really. The pirates could never get it to sail where they wanted it to. So finally they just moored it here permanently, for headquarters. And there's no wind here anyway." Then, looking at the tendrils of the beanstalks which were reaching through the portal and taking root on the island, she had an idea. "Maybe if we all went to the island and pulled, we could pull the ship somewhere."

So they tried it -- and immediately the ship began to move! The portal moved too, staying just ahead of the ship.

"Hurrah!" cried Valerie. "The scroll plus the seeds was what we needed! We can use the vines through the scroll to pull the whole ship to the island!"

Girls and sprites got on both ends of the beanstalk, and both pulled. The ship glided smoothly toward the island. And it almost felt like the island was also gliding toward the ship. It moved faster and faster--

But just as they neared the exit of the harbor, the cormorant, who had been fishing in the swamp, returned and saw the ship leaving. Flapping wildly, slinging mud all over, he flew in circles over and under it. "Pieces of eight, pieces of eight, lowdown dirty yellowbellied deserters, mutiny mutiny! Stop theives! Lazy girl, crazy girl, follow me, follow me, get to the bottom of this!"

"That noise will bring the pirates, if they're still around!" said Priscilla.

Nella sighed. "I suppose I have to follow him."

Flying underwater, the cormorant led her to the back of the harbor. Here, in a dark muddy cave, were chests of treasure the pirates had hidden. "Well, well, gooood cormorant!" Nella whispered as best she could underwater, then swam back up to the surface and flew to the ship.

"There's treasure down there!" she said.

Everyone stopped pulling on the beanstalks. They made a harness of ropes and vines and fishnets, and Nella swam back to the treasure and looped the harness around the chests. Then the ship started forward again, more slowly, towing the treasure chests along under the water.

For a short time the cormorant followed calmly, but as they neared the harbor exit, he began squawking again louder than ever. Just then, with a jerk, the ship stopped moving. "Oh, dear," sighed Nella, "what is it this time?"

Diving after the cormorant once more, she found what was holding the ship: more of the same invisible rope that held Priscilla. From Priscilla's waist it led to the bottom of the ship, and from there it led down into a little hole in the stone floor of the harbor.

"Pirates did it, pirates did it," gurgled the cormorant. "Rope goes to the Sea-Queen's Cave, pirates built the stone floor around it."

Nella went back to the ship and told everyone about it. "I am going to visit the Sea-Queen again. If the rope leads to her cave, maybe she will know what to do."

Then she flew outside the harbor, swam under the stone floor, found the rope where it came out, and followed it down to the Sea-Queen's Cave.

"Welcome back," said the Queen, and led her to a scented bath with beautiful clothes laid out.

No sooner had Nella bathed and rejoined the Queen, than the cormorant caught up with her again, squwking and throwing mud all over the Queen's parlor.

But as soon as the Queen saw the cormorant, she ran joyfully toward him and took him in her arms, mud and all; and he squawked and squawked in her ear. "He is my dear pet," the Queen explained. "He was trapped above the stone floor, and all this time he has been trying to find his way back to me! How may I reward you for helping him?"

"Just please don't let him out again! --Er, I mean, can you help us with this invisible rope?" And Nella explained everything and guided the Queen's hand to the rope.

"Ah," said the Queen, "I know this sort of rope." They followed it to an open court near the palace ship-yards. Here a large golden lamp was glowing, and in its light the rope could be seen (just as cobwebs can be seen when the sun shines on them); along with a great many similar ropes which all met in a fountain in the middle of the court, like the strings of dozens of balloons. "Shipmaster!" the Queen called. "What can you tell us about this rope?"

The Shipmaster came out and examined the rope. "It is the sort that the Duchesses of Venice attach magically to their merchant ships. It binds the ship to its course, and binds the captain to the ship."

"The captain?" said Nella "But this was holding a prisoner!"

"Most irregular!" sniffed the Shipmaster.

"In any case," said the Queen, "this rope has been tampered with by the pirates, so please fashion a replacement for it at once."

The Shipmaster set to work and fashioned a new rope, larger and of bright gold color. One end he fastened in the fountain, and the other end he gave to Nella. "Just splice it in at the bottom of the ship, Missy," he said.

Nella thanked them both and set off for the surface. At least they were rid of the cormorant!

***

Now while Nella was gone, the surviving pirates, who had found allies among the outlaws in the swamp, saw the ship preparing to escape; and plotted to capture it again. Sneaking through the bushes, they made their way to the harbor exit and blocked it with sand and mud. "Now," they said, "let us scuttle the ship and drown all these trespassers, then raise it again as our own." So they paddled out in canoes, surrounded the ship, and attacked!

So, when Nella reached the surface, she found the harbor exit blocked with sand, and a fierce battle going on inside the harbor. The ship was sinking fast! Half of Valerie's people were fighting and the other half were bailing water. "Escape with your lives!" Priscilla was shouting. "Though I must go down with the ship, you all need not!"

Nella ran across the sand, dived into the water, and swam down below the ship, still holding the new invisible rope. Hastily she found the center bottom of the ship and spliced in the new rope. The old rope fell apart. At once the ship righted itself and Valerie's people gave a great shout of courage.

The pirates fell back for a moment, but then reattacked. Valerie shouted, "They've got us outnumbered!"

Nella swam to the surface, flew to the crowsnest, and rang the ship's bell. With pirate arrows bouncing off her armour from all sides, she shouted: "We're not tied! We've got a new rope! Ram the sandbar!"

Cheering, Valerie's crew obeyed.

The ship pushed half way through the sandbar, then stuck fast.

Everybody pulled on all the ropes and vines. Even Priscilla jumped off and pulled with the invisible rope. But it was no good. The ship was stuck tight in the sand.

"We've got them now!" the pirates shouted, gathering round from all directions.

Nella flew to Priscilla. "Is this your hour of greatest need?"

"I certainly hope so!"

"Then come down with me to the Sea-Queen."

Together they dove below the stone floor. The invisible rope on Priscilla's waist seemed to merge with the ship's invisible rope, and down they slid smoothly, down and down, deep and deep, taking turns who wore the water-breathing ring and who held her breath.

They came down in the Shipmaster's court, where all the workmen were also pulling on the ship's rope. Priscilla knelt before the Sea-Queen for her blessing.

The Queen blessed her, hugged her, and gave her a little gold nugget. "To get the ship out, you must swim up outside the harbor and throw this nugget in the water. It will grow into a boulder. You must stand on the boulder, grasp the invisible rope, and pull the ship toward you."

So they thanked the Queen, and did as she said. They swam up outside the harbor, and Nella threw the nugget in the water. At once it grew into a golden boulder, which was heavy and solid, but did not sink. Standing on the boulder, they found that when they moved, it moved, so they always had something solid to stand on. Carefully they got in just the right place, grasped the invisible rope, and pulled the ship toward them.

The ship popped right out of the sand! It glided toward them, making a big wave that washed the pirates and their little canoes aside in all directions, capsizing them.

Nella and Priscilla jumped off the boulder, Nella grabbed it as it shrunk back to small size, and Valerie and the crew pulled them aboard. They all jumped up and down laughing and hugging each other for a whole hour while the ship sailed free, out of the harbor and into the clear ocean, leaving all the pirates far behind.

This time there were no more interruptions! Really not! They sailed hours and hours with the wind, with the new golden cord guiding the ship steadily in the right direction, all that summer's day.

That night they reached the beautiful island, and dropped anchor in a sheltered bay on its lee side. "We cannot go further without repairs," said Valerie. "What shall we do? There is no drydock here to make them."

"Think about it tomorrow," yawned Priscilla.

While they slept, the Sea-Queen caused great trees to grow up from the water on all sides of the ship, arching over it and forming a wicker cage. More branches grew level with the ship and lifted it clear of the water, making a sort of giant birds-nest under it.

Then the Queen's own Shipmaster and his workers climbed up, bringing their tools and cutting off chips of the great limbs as needed for wood, and made the whole ship clean and bright and twice as good as when it was brand new, before the pirates had ever captured it.

Next day the ship sailed on, pulled by its invisible rope, and pushed by a gentle wind that filled the sails from behind, so softly that little breezes could still blow its colored flags in all directions; and the sprites played maypole round the masts.

Finally someone remembered the treasure chests, which they had hastily hauled aboard and stowed below. They brought them on deck one at a time, opened them, and hung up all the treasures on the masts to dry. So next day they sailed on with the long masts looking like clotheslines hung with billowing tapestries, and the short masts looking like vineyard trellises hung with crowns, bracelets, and chalices instead of grapes.

Thus, pulled by the invisible rope, at high tide they arrived at a beautiful city of towers that rose straight out of the water, in all colors of rainbow stone. Waiting on the marble dock was Priscilla's mother, who was the Duchess of that city, and took Priscilla in her arms before the ship had even touched the dock.

"How did you know we were coming today?" Valerie asked, after they had hugged also.

"I didn't know it," the Duchess said. "I have waited here every day."

As soon as the ship was safely moored, the Duchess untied the invisible cord from Priscilla and wound it round a special golden post set in the marble dock. Then they took Priscilla home and laid her on a couch and gave her some pears and green figs which completed the cure of her fever. After they had all had hot baths and new clothes, the rest of them lay on couches to keep Priscilla company while they all told their stories.

"You were the captain of that ship," her mother told Priscilla. "You went to capture the pirates who had been plundering our trading ships, and who had captured your baby sister Elenora."

"And instead, I was captured and lost my memory to the fever," sighed Priscilla. "And all I have brought back is a few jewels and such."

"I think," said her mother, smiling on Nella, "Priscilla has brought back much more. Nella, child, can you remember anything at all, from your life before the pirates captured you?"

Now Nella's lost memories came back also, of a clean beautful time she had thought must be a dream; because how could it have been true for a pirates' servant?

"Nella, Elenora ..." the Duchess said softly "...look at our hands, the same birthmark is on yours."

Nella looked, and it was true. Her rough little hand bore the same strawberry mark as the Duchess' soft hand which was holding it, and Valerie's and Priscilla's when they crowded round to see.

And so, in great joy and celebration, the whole family was reunited, and lived happily ever after.

The End

All mine (except the traditional motif of 'freed captive gives armor'). --RL

 

This story is copyrighted by Rosemary Lake. All Rights Reserved.
The Once Upon a Time When the Princess(tm) series
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Rescued the Prince,
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Beat the Dragon
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Cast the Spell
Once Upon a Time When the Princess Got the Treasure

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