Pippin's Pack of Pickled Pipers by Dreamflower

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AUTHOR’S NOTE: Do not blame this story on me. I very generously offered this plot bunny to Grey Wonderer during the Twelve Days of Christmas challenge. GW then turned right around and gave it back to me. I thought I would at *least* have until next Christmas to umm...forget about it or stick someone else with it..,I mean, plan for it, but *no*, GW then has to bring it up at ficsharing!

I am unfortunately one of those people who cannot ignore a challenge.

This story is AU. There is absolutely no canonical reason to suppose that King Elessar *ever* came north prior to the visit in SR 1436, which is told about in the Tale of Years, nor that he ever was there at all while Paladin II was still Thain, and definitely no reason to think he did so prior to the Ban in SR 1427. Well, in this story he does. That’s the way the bunny hopped, what can I say?


So, thanks to Grey Wonderer, I now present:

PIPPIN’S PACK OF PICKLED PIPERS

Paladin Took sat back with a sigh at the sound of the tap on his study door, and put down his cup. So much for his idea of getting a bit of work done during second breakfast.

“Enter,” he said, wondering who would disturb him now. The door opened, and his eyebrows rose at the sight of his son and his nephew, both dressed in their Outlandish liveries, and looking as though they had been riding all night--which, come to think of it, they probably had. They stood there formally, and Paladin saw the leather case under Pippin’s arm. He knew what that meant.

“Thain Paladin, as King’s Messenger, I bring to you this message from our Lord King Elessar Telcontar, High King of Gondor and Arnor.” He stepped forward and lay the diplomatic pouch on his father’s desk, and then stood at respectful attention, to most appearances concerned only with accomplishing his mission. But Paladin did not miss the look of curious anxiety in the green eyes, nor the bitten lower lip, which meant he was trying to keep from asking questions.

Paladin suppressed a smile. In some ways, Pippin would never change, no matter how grown-up he seemed to be. “Son, relax, sit down. You’ve done your duty. You, too, Meriadoc.” Merry strode into the room and took the second of the two chairs across from his uncle’s desk, as Pippin had taken the first. Paladin looked at their tired faces. “Have you lads broken your fast?”

Pippin said “No,” at the same moment Merry said “Yes”. Pippin blushed. “We’ve been eating from our saddlebags. I don’t really call that breakfast.”

Paladin nodded. “Nor do I.” He rang the bell by his desk. To the little maidservant who appeared, he said “Moss, please bring breakfast for two here. And I would not mind another pot of tea for myself as well.”

She cast a glance at the two younger hobbits seated across from the Thain, blushed furiously, and said “Yes, sir! Right away, sir!” before scurrying off.

Paladin chuckled. “I do think you lads have made yourselves another conquest.”

Merry rolled his eyes, and Pippin shuddered and said fervently “I hope not!” Then his eyes flicked again to the diplomatic pouch on his father’s desk.

Paladin took mercy on him, and breaking the seal, took out the royal document. In the three years since the messengers had been coming, this was only the fourth official communication, though Pippin and Merry rode to Bree the first week in every other month to meet a King’s Messenger. Though there were often personal messages from their friends in the South, an official dispatch was rare. Paladin quickly and silently skimmed the message, his eyebrows climbing, and then he leaned back and read aloud:

Unto Paladin Took II, Thain of the Shire, are sent Greetings from His Grace, the Lord Elessar Telcontar, High King of Arnor and Gondor, Commander of the West.

The Realm of Gondor, now being established in peace and plenty, We find that We are anxious to now begin the process of re-establishing Our Kingdom of Arnor, and to that end We shall make a Royal Progress to the North, with plans to arrive at the Brandywine Bridge on the first day of the New Year, in the New Reckoning of the Fourth Age. It would please Us then to meet and to greet the leaders of the Shire, and to confirm the Thain of the Shire as the rightful and natural Lord of the Shire.

We shall look forward to that meeting.

Elessar Telcontar

High King of Gondor and Arnor

Merry let out a whistle, and Pippin a whoop of joy. “Did you hear that, Merry? Strider’s coming to see us!”

Paladin snorted. “ ‘Lord of the Shire’? He doesn’t know much about hobbit politics, does he?”

Merry sniggered. Pippin laughed. “Well, technically speaking, Father, by the ways of Big Folk, that’s what you are.”

Paladin shook his head in amusement. “I will be looking forward to meeting this King of yours. Let’s see--that’s the twenty-fifth of Rethe--this is the twelfth of Blotmath--it gives us about five months to prepare.” He sat forward and looked at Pippin, who was still chortling in glee at the prospect of seeing his King and friend once more. “Since you know him so well, I think that I will put you in charge of preparing a fitting greeting for his arrival, Peregrin.”

Pippin stopped laughing immediately. “In *charge*, Father?” he squeaked.

“In *charge*,” Paladin repeated. “And I expect something impressive.”

__________________________________________

A few hours later, after a bath, a meal and a nap, the cousins found themselves in The Leaping Hare (also called The Bouncing Bunny) in Tuckborough, enjoying an ale.

“ ‘A fitting greeting’!” Merry snorted. “You’re in for it now, Pip.”

Pippin poked his cousin with an elbow. “It’s not funny! It’s going to be a good deal of work,” he said glumly.

“Strider won’t expect a lot of ceremony. You know that.”

“No, *Strider* would be happy with “ ‘Hullo, Strider! Good to see you again, how’s the wife?’ But you know as well as I do that won‘t suit my father.”

“You Tooks and your love of pomp.”

“Why do you think I live in Buckland?” Pippin slumped down and took another sip of his ale.

Merry took a sip of his own. “Just sing him a song.”

“That’s not--” Pippin stopped. “Maybe--” he stopped again and pursed his lips. “Maybe something to do with music…” his voice trailed off absently.

“Of course,” muttered Merry. “Just so long as you don’t expect me to play the tambour.” He still had not quite forgiven Pippin for Tom and Marigold Cotton’s wedding.

Pippin flapped a hand at him. “Oh, do be quiet Merry. I’m trying to think.”

Merry shook his head, and bit down on the obvious retort. No use wasting his wit. Pippin wouldn’t hear it anyway if he were thinking about music.

Pippin’s brow furrowed, as he planted his elbows on the table, and his chin on both hands. “Hmm…” he murmured. “I wonder how many pipers there are in the Shire, anyway?”

Merry rolled his eyes, and took another sip of ale.

_______________________________________________

It was after late supper in the main dining hall of the Great Smials. “Cousin Ferdinand?” Pippin approached his elderly cousin respectfully.

“Aye, Pippin-lad?” The old hobbit turned his gaze up at Paladin’s son. He could not quite get used to the idea that the sickly and under-sized tweenager who left the Shire had returned as this hardy and confident young giant.

“I’ve a bit of news for you. You’re the first, after the Thain and Meriadoc.”

The old hobbit’s eyes lit up. He did love a good bit of gossip, and to be among the first to know-- “And what is that, lad?”

“Well,” said Pippin, leaning in conspiratorially, “it seems that the King is coming North, to the Shire.”

The old eyes gleamed. “The King, you say? The King of the Big Folk, that you knew away South?”

Pippin grinned. “He’s King over the Shire, as well, you know, Cousin Ferdinand, for all that he has left the authority with the Thain.”

Ferdinand nodded. He was Took enough to understand that. The old traditions said the Thain held the Shire for the King, even though no one had ever thought the King would come back. He gave his younger cousin a shrewd look. “And so why have you come to me with this news? I’m sure there are others who would be glad to know.”

Pippin laughed. “I’m sure you are right, and the Thain will be telling them as soon as may be. But he has given *me* the task of making a fitting welcome to the King when he comes, and that is why I have come to you. How many pipers do you think there are in the Shire?”

Now Ferdinand grinned outright. “So you think to welcome him with pipers?”

“They don’t seem to have pipers in the South. They have them in Dale, or so I’ve been told; but they do not seem to be known in Gondor at all.

And a band of pipers--doesn’t that sound grand?” His green eyes glittered with enthusiasm.

The old hobbit nodded. “That does sound grand indeed. We’ve not had a gathering of pipers though, since before the Troubles. Last time was the Free Fair at Michel Delving in 1418. But all told, I’d say there are a couple of dozen pipers in the Shire at present, though only half that many are good enough to play for a King.”

“Twelve pipers?” Pippin nodded. “Well, I had better start getting in touch with them. We’ve only until the twenty-fifth of Rethe to get ready.”

__________________________________________________

“Thanks for helping, Merry,” said Pippin as the two of them sat in Cousin Ferdinand’s quarters waiting for him to bring them tea.

“I shall help all you like with organizing things, Pip, just so long as you don’t have any expectations of my actually *taking part* in this thing.”

Pippin laughed. “You have my word as a Knight of Gondor that I shall not expect you to play *anything*.”

Ferdinand brought the tea into the small sitting room, and sat down across from them to pour out. “Now let’s see who we can think of.” Merry took out his silverpoint stylus and a small notebook, both of which had been Yule gifts from Pippin, and prepared to write down the names.

Pippin nodded. “Start with here in Tookland--”

“*Not*” said the older hobbit, “my son Ferdi.”

“Goodness no!” Pippin gave a shudder. Ferdi was one of those players who gave the pipes a bad name, and led to jokes about them. He was aware of that, and seldom played anymore. But he would often jokingly threaten to--he said it was a good way to keep his own brood of young ones in line.

“But there’s Hildibold, your Aunt Peri’s oldest, and his son Helinand.”

Merry wrote the names down.

“Then, there’s Marco Goodbody--” said Ferdinand.

“That’s Milo’s older brother,” said Pippin to Merry as he wrote the name down.

Ferdinand pursed his lips, and began muttering. “Him…hmm…no, not good enough. No. No. Ah! There’s Lott Brockhouse!”

Pippin nodded. “Yes, that’s Master Dodd’s brother, isn’t it?”

“That’s only four,” said the older hobbit, shaking his head.

Merry looked up from where he had been writing down the names. “No, sir, that’s six--assuming that you and Pip both think yourselves good enough.”

He laughed. “Cheeky young Brandybuck! But you are right! Pippin-lad that gives us half the pipers right here in Tookland.”

Pippin looked hopeful. “This just might work out.” He glanced at Merry. “Any pipers of note in Buckland, cousin?”

“Just you,” reminding Pippin that’s where he lived now most of the time. “Though I do seem to recall old Denham Banks plays. I don’t know how good he is.”

“He’s quite good, as I recall” said Ferdinand, “though I don’t know as he’ll have time for it, now he’s head of the Bankses.”

“I think he’d be pleased to be asked,” said Merry, and wrote that name down as well, with a question mark by it.

“That’s seven,” said Pippin. “Who else in the Shire? Oh, I know! Rose Gamgee’s uncle, Wil Cotton! He’s very good indeed! And he’s had the teaching of her brother Jolly, though I’ve not heard him play. But if old Wil taught him, he‘s sure to be good.”

“We should be able to think of at least three more,” said Ferdinand. “Ah! Gil Chubb from Whitfurrow!”

Merry and Pippin looked at one another. Merry scowled, and Pippin said “That troublemaker? I don’t think so, not unless we get desperate.”

“He’s a good piper.” Ferdinand was not sure why the younger hobbits objected.

“But he’s a loudmouth, and not too bright,” said Merry. “Trust me, we’ve seen enough of him to know.”

“Well,” said Pippin, “stick his name on the list and we’ll keep him for an emergency. I don’t like him any better than you do, Merry, but if Cousin Ferdinand thinks he’s a good piper, we should keep him in mind.”

“I can’t think of anyone else at the moment, young Peregrin, but I suggest you ask old Wil if he can think of anyone, and we will see if we can fill out our tally at twelve at least. Now, what tunes do you have in mind?”

____________________________________________________

The cousins left the next day, and decided to go the long way back to Buckland, so they could swing through Bywater and talk to Wil Cotton. They’d stay at Bag End and visit Sam and Rose for a day as well. As Sam was Deputy Mayor, they could leave the Mayor’s copy of the King’s dispatch with him. Then they would take the Master’s copy to Saradoc at Brandy Hall. Pippin had some letters to attend to.

_______________________________________________

Wil Cotton had suggested a cousin of Sam’s, Carl Roper of Tighfield, and Rufus Tunnelly, who lived in the Bridge Fields area, as well as Sandy Heathertoes, of Michel Delving. This would give them twelve without the need of calling on the detestable Gil Chubb, or so Pippin hoped. He sent the letters out, stressing the honor that it would be to play for the new King, and how much this would be appreciated by the Thain.

It was the middle of Foreyule by the time he heard from everyone; to Pippin’s immense relief, all of them agreed to participate. Setting a time to get together and practice, however was more problematical.

Finally, it was agreed that they would have to practice separately for a while. Pippin would travel to see them, to make sure they knew the music he wanted to have played.

“You’d make life easier for yourself, Pip, if you would just use songs everyone knows.”

“I am. We’re doing ‘Down the Green Hills’, ‘Shire Sunset’ and ‘On the Banks of the Brandywine’. But I *do* want them to learn ‘When the King Enjoys His Own Again’.

“Travel safely, Pip. We have to go to Bree again right after Yule, you know.”

_________________________________________________

In Afteryule, Pippin went back to the Great Smials for a visit. All of the Tookland pipers were able to be there, so the six of them were able to practice together. Even with only six pipes, Pippin was pleased at how impressive they sounded. Paladin came out to listen, and praised Pippin for his ingenuity.

“I think your King shall like this very much, Peregrin.”

Afterward, he stopped in Bywater, to see how Wil and Jolly were doing. The three of them played together, and Pippin was glad that things seemed to be progressing well. Of course, he’d had no chance to visit Michel Delving or Tighfield, but he thought he’d be able to check in with Denham Banks and Rufus Tunnelly on the way back to Crickhollow. He also wanted to stop at Budgeford to see how Diamond was doing. He had been too busy to see much of her at all since his father had given him this task.

He made his way to Mistress Lavender Bunce’s smial, where Diamond lived as apprentice to the healer. But he was surprised when Lavender called Diamond to the door to see a glint of anger in his lass’s eyes.

“Peregrin Took!” she poked him in the chest with a sharp finger. “I have had no more than four letters from you since Blotmath! And *now* you show up on the doorstep!”

Pippin flushed. He had made a habit of writing to her nearly every day in the past, but now, with all this looming over him, he had rather forgot. Clearly that was a mistake.

It took a long walk and a generous application of Tookish charm before she would consent to forgive him.

____________________________________________

In Solmath, several of the pipers were able to attend Merry’s birthday party, and they performed the songs which they planned to do for the King. Only Carl and Sandy were unable to make the journey. Pippin wrote to them. Carl agreed to meet Pippin in Hobbiton. He’d pay a visit to his cousin Sam at Bag End, and the two could practice together for a while.

But the news from Sandy Heathertoes was not so good. He was having second thoughts, and now decided that he would bow out. His wife was too nervous of Big Folk after the Troubles, and did not want him to take part.

Pippin flung the letter down. He looked at Merry and Estella across the breakfast table. “You know what that means, don’t you Merry? I shall have to ask Gil Chubb.”

Merry made a face. “Better you than me, cousin.”

Gil Chubb was rather offended that he had not been asked to take part to begin with, and Pippin found himself in the unenviable position of having to coax him. Finally, he lost his patience. “You can take part or no. It would be better with twelve, but we can make do with eleven. It’s a shame you won’t have a chance to make a good impression on the King. My father won’t be best pleased either. Perhaps the Thain might have a word with the head of your family.”

Chubb immediately began to change his tune, and quickly agreed to take part. Fortunately, he *was* a very good piper, and it did not take him long to learn “When the King Enjoys His Own Again”.

______________________________________________

Rethe came.

For once, Pippin was too nervous about the present day to suffer much over the past. His nightmares now were of showing up at the Bridge before his King, with no pipers, and his own pipes unaccountably playing out of tune. And then his clothing would vanish, and he would find himself trying vainly to protect his modesty with his pipes. Or all the pipers were there, but had completely forgot all the songs, and instead played “One Hundred Apple Pies”. Badly.

He was smoking constantly.

He had written to all the pipers, insisting that they must meet him at the new Bridge Inn no later than noon of the twenty-third of Rethe.

____________________________________________________

He checked into the new Bridge Inn on the afternoon of the twenty-second, pleased to find that Carl Roper and Rufus Tunnelly were already there. Perhaps things were going to go well after all.

The following morning, Wil and Jolly arrived; but as noon neared, none of the others had made an appearance, and Pippin’s stomach was churning. He paced about the common room of the inn, muttering imprecations on everyone involved: his father, for getting him into it, the other pipers, who’d yet to show, Merry for not talking him out of doing it in the first place. His vocabulary was quite extensive--he’d paid a lot of attention to the soldiers in Gondor. Eglantine would have taken him by the ear and washed his mouth out with soap, for all that he was about to come of age.

Every time he heard hooves, or waggon wheels he rushed to the window. He didn’t dare take a drink to calm his nerves, as he was afraid he wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t get drunk. Merry wasn’t there yet. He and Estella would not arrive until the next day.

Denham Banks showed up right at noon, and Pippin was so pleased to see him that he hugged the old hobbit. But there was still no sign of the Tooklanders.

It was one o’clock when the sounds of both wheels and hooves were heard, and Pippin ran to the window, to see his father’s coach arriving, followed by several hobbits on ponyback. He raced outside. There were Ferdinand, Hildibold, Helinand--all Tooks, Marco Goodbody and Lott Brockhouse. Everyone had arrived save Gil Chubb, and he had only to come from Whitfurrow.

Pippin alternated between pleasure that he finally had everyone else in one spot, and fuming that Chubb had not arrived. Finally Chubb made an appearance, at nearly three o’clock. Pippin badly wanted to give him a piece of his mind, but refrained. Time was wasting. He marched all his pipers out to the inn’s courtyard and began to put them through their paces.

He kept them at it until teatime. Considering that they were playing for the first time with all twelve of them, they did quite well.

____________________________________________

After elevenses the next morning, Merry and Estella arrived, accompanied by Saradoc and Esmeralda. As Estella was expecting, her mother-in-law took her upstairs straightaway for a nap before luncheon, and Merry set about calming Pippin’s jangled nerves.

While they lunched, Sam arrived, with Rosie and Mayor Whitfoot. The Gamgees had left the children in Bywater with Tom and Marigold. After luncheon, Pippin marshaled his pipers together, and once more they began to practice. They were soon sounding very good, and Pippin began, finally, to relax. When the coach from Budgeford arrived, with Freddy Bolger and his parents, along with Miss Diamond, Pippin was feeling confident enough to dismiss them.

“All right, everyone! We will gather after second breakfast here in the courtyard for one more rehearsal before we meet the King at the Bridge on the morrow!”

He was looking forward now to spending the afternoon with his lass, and to a nice dinner with his family in the inn’s private dining room. Then he’d see to his armor and livery before he retired for the night.

And that was pretty much the way things went.

He was busy checking over his mail for any rust spots when there was a rap on the door.

“Come in, Merry!”

Merry entered, bearing a cup of tea. “Hullo, cousin. Feeling better about things?”

Pippin nodded. “Somewhat. I’ll feel a good deal better when it is all over. I *hate* being in charge of things.”

Merry chuckled. “I do get the idea. You’re doing very well, though. And your pipers are all in the common room making merry. Diamond sent this tea up for you, by the way.”

“What is it?”

“She said it’s chamomile, and just a little valerian. She wants you to sleep well tonight. She worries about you, you know.”

“Does she now? Isn’t that nice?” If Pippin’s smile was a little silly, Merry refrained from commenting. He was glad Pip had found a lass as level-headed and intelligent as Diamond.

Pippin took the tea, and sipped it, and he and Merry chatted for a while, talking about the King, and reminiscing about the Quest. When Pippin began to nod, Merry bid him good-night, and went to join Estella.

Pippin got into his nightshirt, climbed into bed, and soon was sleeping as soundly as Sam Gamgee ever had.

_______________________________________________

In the public room of the inn, the pipers had gathered. They were mostly having a good time with the ale, and with talking to one another. The older pipers, Ferdinand Took, Wil Cotton and Denham Banks were sitting at a table together, and comparing the worst students on the pipes they had every had.

Only Gil Chubb was sitting by himself, drinking ale after ale, and staring glumly at the door to the inn’s private room, where he had watched the Thain and his family, the Master of Buckland and his family, the Mayor, and Sam Gamgee and his wife go in. After a while they all came out, and made their separate ways to their rooms.

Rufus Tunnelly had brought with him a cask of his own brew, rather stronger than what the inn usually served, and persuaded the innkeeper, his second cousin once removed, to allow him to broach it. It was dark and rich and heady.

Lott Brockhouse was telling a story about the first time he had heard Pippin play, when he was just a young tween, there was a chorus of toasts to “Captain Peregrin” and then another to “Captain Merry”. Then there was another chorus of toasts to the Travellers and to the new King they would be meeting on the morrow.

Carl Roper called for a toast to Samwise Gamgee, who had made the Shire green again.

As all the rest drained their tankards, Gil Chubb shoved his away, muttering “Nothing but a gardener, married to a jumped-up farmer’s daughter, pretending he’s gentry--”

Unfortunately his mutters came during a lull in the conversations, and was all too clear to the rest in the room.

He suddenly found Jolly Cotton staring at him, inches from his face. “What did you just say?”

______________________________________________________

There was a persistent knocking at his door. Pippin opened one eye muzzily, and took in the fact that he was neither at the Great Smials nor Crickhollow--ah, yes, was it morning already? He glanced out the window; dawn was peeping in.

“I’m awake!” he called.

Merry stuck his head in the door. His face was serious. “Pip. We have a problem.”

_______________________________________________________

Pippin looked at the row of pipers standing before him, each and every one of them obviously in the grip of miserable hangovers. Gil Chubb had a black eye and a swollen nose. Jolly had a lump on his brow not at all concealed by his mop of curls. “What am I going to do with the lot of you?” he asked angrily. “The King will be here at noon, and we are to meet him on the bridge. Forget about second breakfast, we are going to practice, now!”

“Captain Pippin,” moaned Jolly, “I’m not sure I could eat breakfast if I had it.”

At the second mention of breakfast, Hildibold Took and Marco Goodbody bolted for the door. They barely made it outside before they could be heard being noisily sick.

Pippin looked at Merry. “What happened?” he asked miserably.

Merry rolled his eyes. “Rufus Tunnelly’s home brew and Gil Chubb’s big mouth.”

Pippin glared at Chubb. He should have known.

“What did he say?”

Carl aimed a venomous look at the subdued Chubb. “He insulted Sam and Rosie.”

Pippin turned bright red with anger. He walked over to Gil Chubb. “So you found something to say about our Sam and Rosie, did you?” he yelled right into the hung over hobbit’s face.

Chubb flinched. “I’m sorry, Mr. Pippin.” he whined, “It was the ale as was talking.”

“You’d better be sorry! And you’d better play your heart out today to make up for it!”

“Ooh, my head!” the hapless Chubb moaned.

_________________________________________________________

Two hours later, Pippin sank down dismally on a bench by the inn door. They were terrible. They were awful. He’d never heard pipers sound worse. And these were supposed to be the best pipers in the Shire.

They had stumbled as they tried to march. Once, Marco, Hildibold and Lott had marched in the opposite direction than everyone else. And they would get halfway through a song, and just fade out one at a time. They could not keep the rhythm. All of Pippin’s nightmares seemed about to come true.

Merry sat down by him sympathetically. “Maybe you should just play for Aragorn, and leave the others out of it.”

Pippin moaned. He might just have to do that. He felt an abject sense of failure. His father had entrusted him with an important task, put him in charge of this, and he had messed it all up.

Merry patted him on the back sympathetically, for once at a loss as to what else was to be done.

“Pippin--”

Pippin looked up to see Sam, Rose and Diamond standing there. Rose had a tray with cups on it, and Sam and Diamond between them were carrying a good sized kettle.

“--I have some of the Gaffer’s morning after remedy mixed up here. Bring ‘em on over here, and we’ll dose ‘em.”

“Oh, Sam!” Pippin’s face lit up. “You *are* a genius! And too kind, after that one’s remarks!”

“Well now, Mr.-- I mean, Pippin, you know I’m not one to hold a grudge.”

“Besides,” giggled Diamond, “it’s going to taste *really* nasty.”

Rose grinned. “And you know what finishes off the Gaffer’s remedy!”

Pippin gave her an evil grin. Ah, yes! Cold water poured over the head.

________________________________________________

King Elessar sat among those of his court who had traveled with him, and watched the twelve hobbits, as they piped and played and marched in precision. They sounded stirring and grand, and every time Pippin passed he caught his King’s eye with a gleam of pride.

He could not help but wonder, however at the story behind the obviously bruised faces on a couple of them, and why they all appeared to have wet heads.

He grinned. He’d hear the tale sooner or later.




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