Chapter no 8

Sword Catcher

Sitting at her kitchen table, Lin turned Petrov’s stone over in her hands.

Books and papers were scattered all about, as always—from heavy bound tomes to thin sheets of vellum covered in delicate illustrations of anatomy from the Book of Remedies. When Josit was here, he made her put them away as he said they gave him nightmares, full of peeled-back skin and lidless eyes. (Lin knew this was partially her fault. As a child, she had enjoyed terrifying him with tales of skinless shedim who carried off

troublesome little boys.)

With the shutters closed against the dark night, and the fire lit, the house became a cozy little cave. It was Lin’s favorite time for studying, but tonight she could not keep her mind on her books. She could not forget what Chana had said to her in the garden, that she was treating Mariam as a patient, not a friend. That Mariam needed something to look forward to other than a life of dutifully swallowing the tisanes and powders Lin mixed up for her.

The words had made Lin cold inside. She had treated enough dying

people to know they often held on to life through sheer force of will, just long enough to see one last beloved face, or realize one last wish. It was good for Mariam to have something to look forward to, but what if, once the Festival was over, she let go? Stopped holding on? Would she hold on for Lin, or was that unfair to ask? Would she wait for Josit, to see him

again? But who knew when Josit would return? All sorts of things could delay a caravan: bad weather, shortages of goods, or problems at the caravansary, the way stations along the Roads.

Ugh. Lin rolled Petrov’s stone into her palm. The firelight caught it at strange angles, picking out shapes in the depth of the rock, like shadowy figures concealed by a screen.

Of course she had buckled to Chana’s pressure, agreed to attend the Festival and help with the preparations. So much for her stubbornness. Chana knew how to bend her will like a broken branch.

Something seemed to rise to the surface of the stone as she turned it and Lin stared. It almost looked like a letter, or a number, some kind of legible shape—

A loud pounding on her front door sent her scrambling to her feet. It was late; she’d heard the Windtower Clock chime midnight some time ago.

Only if a patient was in desperate need would someone trouble her at this hour.

Mariam? Heart pounding, she threw her front door open to find her neighbor Oren Kandel standing on her doorstep. “You’re needed at the gate,” he said. “There’s a carriage waiting.”

Lin bit back a sharp comment. Oren had never forgiven her for the fact that he’d offered to marry her, and she’d said no. He was one of the Shomrim now, a gate guard. She saw him often when she came in and out of the Sault, and always greeted him politely. He always glared back with a look that said he wished he could take her medical satchel and toss it over

the wall.

He had asked her to dance once, at the Goddess Festival two years past.

She’d said no, claiming she was tired. The truth was that there was something about Oren that frightened her. A pinpoint spark of hatred

always burning in the depth of his dark-brown eyes. It had only flamed brighter since she’d turned him down that night.

“A carriage?” she echoed. “Is it one of my patients from the city?”

His thin fingers played with the thick metal chain around his neck; it bore the Lady’s Prayer on it in fancifully engraved words. “I can’t say. I was just told to escort you. And that you should bring your satchel.”

“It would help if I knew what the problem was—” He regarded her sourly. “Don’t know.”

He was enjoying not telling her what she wanted to know, that much was clear. “Wait here,” Lin said, and closed the door in his face. She hurried into her room, where she unfolded her physician’s clothes and dressed carefully in the blue linen tunic and trousers, tucking Petrov’s stone into her pocket.

She bound her hair into a single braid, and fastened the chain of her mother’s necklace around her neck. The familiar gold circle felt comforting

as it settled into the hollow of her throat. Lastly, she dragged her satchel— always packed and at the ready—out from under her bed.

The moon was high in the sky when she joined Oren outside. He spit a thin stream of brown patoun at the ground when he saw her, before setting off without another glance. His pace was long and quick, making no

allowance for her shorter stride; Lin was tempted to tell him she didn’t need an escort and could make her way to the gates on her own. But he would protest, which would only cost her time getting to her patient.

Whoever they might be. Lin pondered the possibilities—Zofia? Larissa, the retired courtesan whose hypochondria meant she thought every slight sneeze heralded a case of plague?—as she traversed the Sault some yards behind Oren, following the curve of the eastern wall.

Night in the Sault was divided into four Watches. The first one began at sunset, the last ending at dawn, when the aubade, the morning bell, rang out from the Windtower Clock, signaling the beginning of the workday. The Ashkar were forbidden to leave the Sault itself during the night hours, save for those physicians whose skills were urgently needed to save a life. Even then, they were required to wear their Ashkari blue or gray, and were often stopped by Vigilants, demanding to know what they were doing outside their walls. Saving the lives of people like you, Lin always wanted to snap, but so far she’d managed to hold her tongue.

Then there was Mayesh. An exception to all rules, as usual, he was allowed to come and go freely in the night hours; the Palace needed him, and that superseded all other Laws. But when royal business was done, no matter the lateness of the hour, Mayesh could not remain at Marivent, nor make use of its lavish guest rooms. He was still Ashkar. He would be returned to the Sault like an unwanted package, to seek the solitude of his small house on the Kathot. It would make even a good man angry, and Lin did not think her grandfather was a good man.

She and Oren had reached the city gates, which had been propped open. Mez Gorin, the second gate guard, waited there, his polished wooden staff in his hands. (Staffs had been chosen as the weapons of the Shomrim long ago, since they looked harmless to the malbushim, but were deadly in well- trained hands.) Mez, always kind, had a tangle of brown hair and caterpillar-thick eyebrows. He smiled when he saw Lin, and gestured that

she should pass through the gates.

She approached, leaving Oren behind to sulk. Lin could glimpse the

bustle of the Ruta Magna through the stone arch, which was etched with a line of a prayer in Ashkar: DALI KOL TASI-QEOT OSLOH DAYN LESEX TSIAGrant us pardon in this hour, as Thy gates are closed this night. The lines referred to the gates of Haran, the great city of Aram, but gates, Lin supposed, were gates, all the world round. Through these particular gates, Lin could see a scarlet carriage waiting in the road, its doors blazoned with golden lions.

A Palace carriage. Just like the one that had fetched her and Mariam from the square a few days past, but why on earth was it here now? She stared at Mez, puzzled and incredulous, but he only shrugged and nodded, making a shooing gesture, as if to say: Go on, then, get in.

At night, when the city was dark, Marivent glowed upon the Hill like a second moon. In its light, Lin made her way to the carriage—she could see a driver in red livery, perched high on the seat in front—and opened the door, clambering a little awkwardly inside. She was glad for her

comfortable tunic and trousers. How noble ladies in all their layers of skirts and petticoats managed these things, she had no idea.

The inside of the carriage was red and gold velvet. Candles in bronze holders were bolted to the inside walls, but only one was lit. And sitting

across from Lin, beetle-browed and scowling, was her grandfather Mayesh. “Zai?” Lin cursed inwardly; she had not meant to use the old nickname.

“What on earth—?”

The carriage lurched forward, swerving into the traffic on the Ruta Magna. The Broken Market was in full swing, the glare of naphtha torches turning the stalls to indistinct shadows.

“There is a patient who needs your help,” Mayesh said mildly. “At the Palace.”

“So that’s why all . . . this was necessary?” Lin waved her hand as if to encompass the whole of the last fifteen minutes. “Why you had to send

Oren, instead of coming to my door yourself? You knew I wouldn’t want to treat anyone at Marivent?”

“No,” he said. “I assume your Oath of Asaph means something to you.

For a Physician should mind not rank, wealth, or age; neither should he

question whether a patient is enemy or friend, a native or a foreigner, or what Gods he worships. To heal is as the Goddess commands.

His tone made her bristle. “I know the words,” she said. “Had you bothered to attend my Oath-Taking ceremony—”

She broke off at the scratch of a lucifer. It flared up with a small flame, which Mayesh used to light another of the tapers inside the carriage. The new light illuminated Mayesh, and the dark red-brown stains smeared

across the chest and sleeves of his usually immaculate robes.

He said, “I sent Oren because the blood would have excited comment. I did not want that.”

Lin had gone tense. It was a great deal of blood—a dangerous amount. “Whose blood is it?”

Mayesh sighed. Lin could see two instincts fighting inside him: the first, to tell her nothing at all, as he always had. The second, that he could not hold back if he expected her to treat this mysterious patient. Lin sat without moving, enjoying his conflict. “Sieur Kel Anjuman,” he said, at last. “He is a cousin to the Prince.”

Surprise stiffened her spine. “The Prince’s cousin?” she echoed. “Is there not a Palace chirurgeon to treat him? Some Academie graduate with a bowl full of leeches and a leather strap for patients to bite on?”

Mayesh smiled without humor. “You paint an unpleasant portrait, but I assure you the reality is worse. If Gasquet treats him, he will die.

Therefore . . .”

“Therefore, me,” Lin said.

“Yes. Therefore, you. The Prince will welcome your presence,” he added. “He is fond of his cousin.”

The Prince is a corrupt idiot, she thought, and his cousin is probably much like him.

“And what if I can’t heal him?” Lin said. They had left the Broken Market behind and were passing through the streets near Valerian Square. Here the stucco walls were painted with advertisements for public events, from Academie lectures to fights at the Arena. The bright colors swirled together as they passed, a mix of gold and emerald, saffron and scarlet. “What if he dies?”


“What of Asaph?” she interrupted.

All Ashkar knew the tale of Asaph the physician, after whom the Oath was named. He had been famous, a healer respected inside and outside the Sault for his wisdom and skill. None of that had helped him when he delivered twins for the wife of King Rolant, in the time of the Red Plague. It had been a difficult birth—breech, and the Queen had labored for hours.

Thanks to Asaph’s skill, one twin had been born alive. The second had been dead—dead in the womb for days, long before Asaph had been summoned. Not that it mattered. He was put to a traitor’s death: flung from the Hill into the sea, where he was torn to pieces by crocodiles.

It was not a story that would have endeared the Palace to anyone— especially someone already disposed to dislike the residents of Marivent. “I am not powerless in the Palace, Lin,” Mayesh said. “I will not let

anything happen to you.”

The words left her mouth before she could stop them. “I am your flesh and blood,” she said. She recalled the words of the Maharam, so long ago, the way her grandfather had turned away from them. They are flesh of your flesh, those children, blood of your blood. “Yet how long has it been since we have spoken, Mayesh? Months? A year? You have always put House Aurelian and its needs and desires before me, before Josit. Forgive me, then, if I have no reason to believe you will change that now.”

Mayesh raised his gray eyebrows. His eyes, despite his age, were clear, their gaze piercing. “I did not realize you thought me such a villain.”

“I did not realize you thought of me at all.” The carriage had begun to

make its way up the steep rise of the Hill, Castellane falling away below. “I suppose you came to me because you think I can be trusted to keep my mouth shut.”

“I came to you,” Mayesh said, “because you are the best physician in the Sault.”

You did not even want me to become a physician, Lin thought. I never had your support. And yet—Chana’s words, spoke so recently, rang in her mind. Your grandfather was never opposed to you becoming a physician. There is much he has done that has earned your anger, Lin. But that was one thing he did not do.

Maybe he meant it, she thought. Maybe.

She interlaced her hands in her lap. “Very well,” she said. “Tell me of his injuries, this Kel Anjuman.”

The story came out as the carriage wound its slow way up the steep rise to the Palace gates. There had been a meeting that day, of the Charter Families. Afterward this cousin of the Prince’s had left Marivent for the city. No one knew where he had gone, specifically. (The Temple District, Lin thought. Drinking, whoring, like his cousin. What else did nobles do?) Mayesh had been working late into the night, some issue with the Treasury, when he had seen a commotion at the front gate. Arriving there, he had found that Anjuman’s unconscious, bleeding body had been dumped at the threshold of the Palace. The guards had not seen who had left him: He had appeared between one moment and the next, they swore, as if carried there by a ghost. Mayesh had been forced to half carry, half drag the young man’s limp body to the Prince’s apartments, where the extent of his wounds

became clear. Soon after, Mayesh had left for the Sault.

Probably stabbed by someone he cheated at gambling, Lin thought. Or a courtesan he’d wronged. But she quickly told herself not to judge this Kel Anjuman. He was her patient, and besides, he was not responsible for Mayesh’s injustices toward her. He was not an Aurelian.

By this time they had reached the North Gate of Marivent—the threshold Mayesh had spoken of, where Anjuman had been dumped. It certainly did not look as if acts of high criminality and drama often played themselves out here: It was a quite ordinary stone arch, with lion flags flying from the vaulted top. Torches burned along the ramparts of the white walls surrounding the Palace. They illuminated the night, blotting out the stars.

Lin watched silently as Mayesh leaned from the carriage window, exchanging words with the Castelguards who stood ranged at their posts like stiff wooden statues painted in red and gold. Lin tried and failed to imagine her grandfather kneeling here at the gate, amid the green grass, cradling the body of the Prince’s cousin. Getting bloodstains all over his

Counselor’s robes. It did not seem possible, unless Mayesh was leaving out some part of the story.

And no doubt he was, she thought. If he did not need her help, he would have told her nothing; as it was, he was surely only telling her what he felt he must.

The carriage rattled through the archway. The gate was behind them; they were in the Palace proper. Much as Lin did not want to be excited about it,

she felt her pulse jump: She was here. Here, inside Marivent, the beating heart of Castellane.

Long ago, Lin and Mariam had followed the tale of a particular Story- Spinner on the Ruta Magna, an unfolding fable titled The Taming of the Tyrant. Lin still remembered the moment the story’s heroine had entered the Palace for the first time. How a gasp had run through the listening crowd.

Most people lived all their lives in Castellane, with Marivent shimmering above them like a star, knowing they would never enter its gates. Knowing that beyond those gates lay a sort of a magic, of a type that had not been lost in the Sundering. The magic of power, of glamour and riches, luxury and influence. The destinies of nations turned on House Aurelian’s whim. That was itself a kind of sorcery.

Various of the smaller palaces rose around them, white in the moon. Lin knew a few of their names, from stories: the Star Tower; the Sun Palace, shaped like a rayed orb; the Castel Antin, where the throne room resided. To the southwest, at the edge of the sea cliffs, rose the black needle of the Trick. Many a Story-Spinner’s tale involved a daring escape from the Trick, but in reality no one had ever managed the feat.

They rolled through a second archway, this one a vine-wrapped trellis, and into a courtyard surrounded on three sides by stone walls. Mayesh murmured that this was Castel Mitat, where the Prince lived. The carriage drew to a stop near a tiled fountain and they disembarked quickly.

The moment they were out of the carriage it sped away. Lin only had

time to note that the walls of the Castel were set with great, arched windows and embellished with long balconies, before Mayesh hurried them through a double door set below a wall-mounted sundial.

Inside was a steep staircase of old marble, the center of the steps worn to deep indents by the passage of feet through the years. Few lamps were lit. They raced upstairs through the shadows, their footsteps echoing. Nearly empty at this hour, the place felt oddly abandoned, the air catching chill from so much marble cladding.

They reached the final landing and turned onto a hallway of more white stone. Rugs from Marakand unrolled in deep jewel tones all down the passage. Arched windows cast back Lin’s own reflection as they approached a pair of double doors made of wood and hammered metal. An intricate pattern of crowns and flames had been etched into their design.

Mayesh put his hand to the door, paused, and looked at Lin. “These are the Crown Prince’s apartments,” he said. “He shares them with his cousin.

They have lived in the same rooms, like brothers, since they were children.”

Lin said nothing. It struck her as odd that Conor Aurelian was willing to share his rooms—or share anything, for that matter—but she supposed he liked his cousin’s company, and the apartments were surely vast. The Prince likely only noticed his cousin’s presence when he felt like it.

Mayesh rapped hard on the door before swinging it open and ushering Lin inside. Tense as a bow strung tight, she stepped into the Crown Prince’s apartments.

It was a large space, though not as enormous as she’d imagined. The floor was made of alternating squares of marble as if it were the board of a Castles game: black and white, with an occasional splash of red quartz.

There was a raised dais in one corner of the room, on which rested a vast bed with black and white velvet hangings. Another bed, smaller, had been set near the steps of the dais, and all around the room were ranged massive divans piled with cushions gloved in raw Shenzan silk. Marakandi lamps of hammered silver and stained glass shed a warm light over the room, and as Lin’s eyes adjusted to it, she saw a tangle of bloody sheets on the smaller bed, where the figure of a young man lay motionless. Beside the bed, another young man, this one wearing black and silver, paced back and forth almost frenetically, muttering what sounded like curses under his breath.

“Conor,” Mayesh said sharply, and Lin felt a faint surprise that her grandfather would call the Prince by his given name. She was heartened to hear no sound of fear in his voice. She had always wondered if he was different in the Palace; if the proximity of royal blood and power cowed him. It seemed not. “Where is everyone?”

Prince Conor’s head snapped up. He looked nothing like he had in Valerian Square. There was an ashy tint to his light-brown skin, and his

features seemed drawn too tight. “I sent them away,” he said. “They weren’t helping, they—” He narrowed his eyes at Lin. “Is this the physician?”

“Yes,” Lin said. She did not offer her name; let him ask for it. As he looked at her, she was aware of a dark thrill through her nerves. The Prince of Castellane was studying her. This was someone who held power in his hand as if it were a child’s toy. There was a tangibility to such power; she felt it like the leading edge of a storm.

“She looks very young, Mayesh,” he said, his tone dismissive. “Are you sure . . .?”

He didn’t need to say the rest of it. Are you sure she’s the best in the Sault? She’s just a girl. Surely there’s a wise, bearded old man you could lay hands on who would do a better job. Lin wondered what the punishment

was for kicking a Prince in the ankle. The Trick, no doubt.

She itched to get to the young man lying on the bed. She did not like how still he was. At least the Prince had sent the chirurgeon away; a bad doctor was worse than no doctor.

“Lin is twenty-three,” said Mayesh. His voice was even. “And she is the best in the Sault.”

The Prince rubbed at his eyes. There was black kohl smeared around them. It was a style Lin had seen on nobles before: Both the men and women darkened their eyes, and wore paint on their nails and jewels on their fingers. The Prince’s hands glittered with rings: emeralds and sapphires, bands of white and rosy gold. “Well, then,” he said impatiently. “Come and look at him.”

Lin hurried across the tiled floor to the low bed, setting her satchel down on a wooden table nearby. Someone had placed a silver bowl of clean water there, and a cake of soap. Mayesh must have asked for it. Castellani doctors did not clean their hands before they worked, but the Ashkar did.

She cleaned and dried her hands, then turned to look at her patient. The bed was a mess of bloody, tangled sheets; the young man her grandfather had called Kel lay unconscious among them, though his hands moved occasionally at his sides in the rough, spasmodic twitches that were

indicative of being dosed with morphea for pain. Gasquet must have done so before Conor had sent him away.

Anjuman had also been stripped down to his trousers and a cambric shirt, soaked through with blood. Most of it seemed to be on the right side of his abdomen, but there were dark patches over his sternum, too.

She could see the family resemblance between her patient and Prince Conor. They had the same light-brown skin and fine features, the same curling dark hair, though Anjuman’s was sweat-darkened and sticking to his neck and temples. Anjuman was breathing hard, his lips purplish blue, and when she briskly lifted his hand, she saw that the beds of his nails were the

same color. Though he was gasping for air, his chest rising and falling, he was suffocating.

Everything went very still around her. She knew these symptoms: He was dying. There was little time. “Move out of the way,” she said, and thought

the Prince’s eyebrows rose, but she did not stay to see his reaction. Her brain was ticking ahead like a clock, sorting her next steps, deciding what her patient needed. She took up her satchel, upending its contents onto the bed; she caught up a thin-bladed, sharp knife, and bent over Kel Anjuman.

“What are you doing?” The Prince’s tone was sharp. Lin looked up and saw him staring at her, his arms crossed. His smoke-black hair was in tangled disorder, she noted, as if he’d run his fingers through it too many times to count.

“Cutting away his shirt. I need to see the wound,” Lin said. “It’s an expensive shirt.”

Which is already ruined with blood. Lin paused, the tip of the blade against the cambric. “Between this shirt and your cousin, which one would you say you like better?”

His mouth thinned, but he gestured for her to go on. She sliced away Anjuman’s shirt, revealing a long gash along his side. It had bled freely, though it was no longer: His chest and belly were half covered in patches of drying blood. Lin could tell at a glance the gash was shallow enough. It was the puncture wound just to the left of his sternum, surrounded by violet- black bruising, that was cause for concern.

“Hold him down,” she said to the Prince, as she gathered what she needed. Her movements were automatic, swift but unhurried. There was a strange calm that came upon a physician in these moments, when quick action was needed to save a life.

What?” The Prince looked stunned, then furious as she slid a bellied scalpel from its leather holder and laid the sharp end between two of Anjuman’s ribs. “At least give him some morphea if you’re going to cut him—”

“He’s had morphea already. And more will stop his breathing,” she said. “Blood is pressing on his heart, crushing his lungs. I have to drain it.”

“Gasquet was going to put leeches on him—”

“And he would have died.” Lin kept her hand steady; still, she was reluctant to cut with no one stabilizing the patient. He was likely too

drugged to feel the pain, but if he did, and jerked with movement, the blade would skid, perhaps even nicking an artery. “Are you going to help me or


When the Prince did not move, she glanced toward her grandfather, who stood a few feet from the end of the bed, his face mostly cast in shadow. His arms were crossed; he looked grim, inexorable.

“I could get Jolivet,” he said, in response to a swift look from Prince Conor, but apparently that was not a pleasing suggestion. The Prince swore, clambered onto the bed, and put his hands on his cousin’s shoulders, holding him firmly against the cushions.

“If you kill him—” he began, but Lin was not listening. Anjuman’s lips were cyanotic blue. She began to cut—a short, precise incision—working the tip of the scalpel between his ribs with a practiced accuracy. Blood welled, spilling quickly down his side; his body jerked reflexively, but

Prince Conor’s arms flexed, keeping him still.

The Prince was stronger than Lin would have guessed.

Among her tools was a bag of treated reeds, hollow and flexible. Lin transferred her scalpel to her left hand and picked one up. The Prince was looking over his shoulder at her, his gray eyes narrow. The lace cuffs of his shirt were smeared with blood.

Lin began to insert the reed, feeding it carefully through the incision. She felt it hit the rib and angled it upward, away from bone, toward the cavity of the chest. She could sense the Prince’s gaze on her like the pressure of a knife’s tip, sharp and searching. The back of her neck prickled as the reed slid in farther—

There was a rush of air from the wound. A moment later, blood poured through the reed. Lin snatched up a bowl from her satchel, but it was already too late for her clothes: Blood drenched her tunic, wetting her sleeves. She maneuvered the bowl to catch the liquid, vaguely aware of the Prince shouting something at her about how if she was going to bleed Kel, they might as well simply have kept Gasquet.

She ignored him. With the scalpel, she cut the reed so only a millimeter or so protruded from Anjuman’s skin. “You can stop holding him down

now,” she said quietly, and the Prince shot her a blazing look, his hands still on his cousin’s shoulders.

“Have you ever done this before?” he asked, in a tone that indicated he felt this was very unlikely. “This ridiculous procedure—”

“I have,” Lin said, and did not add that one of the aspects of it that she found most satisfying was how quickly it worked. Kel Anjuman sucked in a breath, and the Prince sat up, looking down as his cousin’s eyelids fluttered. Anjuman’s face was speckled with blood, but he had stopped gasping. His breaths were deep and regular, his lips no longer blue.

His eyes opened—slowly, as if the lids were weighted. “Conor,” he said, tiredly, like a child asking for its mother. “Are you—” He blinked. “Is that you?”

The Prince shot Lin a quick, worried look. “He’s still in shock,” she said, “but the blood is no longer crushing his heart and lungs. He will live.”

She heard Mayesh make a restless movement; she knew he disapproved.

It was never a good idea in medicine to promise life. Anything could happen.

“Did you hear that?” the Prince said, catching at his cousin’s hand. Their hands were very similar in shape, though the Prince’s glittered with rings, and Anjuman’s were bare. “You idiot. You’ll live.”

Anjuman whispered something in response, but Lin was not listening; blood had stopped draining into the bowl. She set it aside, knowing her work was far from done. Anjuman was no longer in danger of suffocating, and that was a relief, but his wounds still required treatment. Puncture

wounds especially held a terrible risk of infection, which could take hold deep within muscle tissue. Wounds could swell from within, bursting their stitches, the skin turning black and putrid. Death came soon after.

Now that there was time, she began to organize her spilled tools, setting out what she would need on the table beside the bed: glass jars of tinctures, ampoules of medication, bandages of soft cotton spun from reeds.

After washing her hands again—turning the water in the bowl to a deep pink—she returned to her patient. She gently probed around his wounds, checking for broken bones, contusions, while the Prince held his cousin’s hand in a death grip. “Kellian. Where were you?” he demanded roughly. “Who did this to you? Were you wearing the—your necklace?”

Necklace? Lin wondered. Aloud she said, “Do not interrogate him.”

The Prince shot her an incredulous look. “I need to know who did this to him—”

“Not this very moment, you don’t.” She seized up a towel and began to mop away the dried blood on Anjuman’s chest and stomach. As she did, she inhaled and was relieved to find no telltale stench emanating from his wounds; it seemed the viscera had not been punctured. Things were not as bad as she had feared. Still, there was much to be done.

“You said he would be fine—”

“Not if you exhaust him,” Lin said sharply. As she cleaned the last of the blood from Anjuman’s chest, she saw something gleam at the hollow of his throat. The necklace the Prince had asked about?

“He’s strong,” the Prince said, not looking at her. “He can endure it. Kel, tell me. What happened? Who would have dared to touch royalty like that?”

“Crawlers,” rasped Anjuman. “It was Crawlers. Jumped down on me from a warehouse roof. No chance—” He winced, his gaze flicking to Lin. His pupils were blown wide with pain.

The Prince flushed scarlet along his high cheekbones. “I’ll have Jolivet go down into the city. Burn the Crawlers out of the Maze—”

“No,” Anjuman said sharply. “They had no idea who I was. Leave it, Conor.”

His right hand scrabbled among the bedclothes, fretfully, as if he were searching for something. When he lifted it, she saw that a talisman on a chain hung, jangling, from his fingers. An Ashkar talisman. Mayesh must have given it to him, for healing.

She moved to gently take the amulet from her patient. As her fingers brushed the silver, she felt a sharp pain at her side, like a bee’s sting. She jerked her hand away, and the talisman fell back among the bedclothes. Drat. Probably the sting had just been a muscle cramp, but Lin had no attention to give it right now. She could feel the rage emanating from Prince Conor, like heat from a fire. And she could tell it was bothering her patient. Anjuman might be in pain, but the tenseness around his eyes and mouth had nothing to do with physical discomfort.

“Monseigneur. I am going to have to ask you to leave,” she said, half to her own surprise.

The Prince’s jaw tightened. “What?

Lin stared down at her patient. Now, with the blood cleaned away, she could see the expanse of his chest. He seemed healthy, with good color, his skin drawn taut over hard muscles beneath. But the slashes at his side and

chest were not his only wounds. White lines crisscrossed light-brown skin, some thin as pale string, some thick and corrugated. She had seen scarring like this before, but usually only in those who had once earned their living fighting in the Arena.

“This is delicate and careful work,” she said, fixing the Prince with a level gaze. “I need to concentrate, and Sieur Anjuman needs to rest.”

“It’s all right,” Anjuman protested, but his free hand was clenched in the bedclothes.

“Hush,” Lin said to him. “You must keep calm. And Monseigneur, you will have to ask him questions later. For now, you must leave me alone with my patient.”

The Prince seemed torn between shock and anger. His mouth had flattened into a hard line. Lin was aware of Mayesh, watching them with an irritating calm. She was even more aware of the time, minutes ticking by— minutes during which infection could be spreading in her patient’s blood.

The stiff brocade of the Prince’s shirt rustled as he crossed his arms. “If I am to leave, you will need to promise me you will save his life. He will not die. Not now, and not a few days hence.”

It felt like swallowing a cold penny. Lin said, “I cannot promise that. I will do everything I can to prevent infection—”

The Prince shook his head, dark curls falling into his eyes. “I require you to promise.”

“It is not me you are making demands of, though you might think so,” Lin said. “You are trying to give orders to Life and Death, and they listen to no one, not even an Aurelian.”

As the Crown Prince looked at Lin, without speaking, she could see in

his face the hardness of a nature unused to refusal. How did her grandfather manage it, she thought, each day spent with people who never heard the word no—or if they did, were not required to heed it?

“Conor,” Mayesh said. It was gently spoken, not a reprimand. “Let her work. It will be best for Kel.”

Prince Conor tore his eyes away from Lin and gazed almost blindly down at his cousin. “If he dies . . .”

He didn’t finish, only spun on his heel and stalked out of the room. Mayesh nodded once at Lin and followed him. The door clanged shut behind them, plunging the room into a terrible silence.

Lin could feel her heart pounding somewhere in the region of her throat. What had she just done? She had just insulted the Crown Prince. She had ordered him out of his own room. She felt a sickly horror: What had she been thinking? But she could not fall to pieces over it now. Her concentration must be on her patient, who was moving restlessly on the bed.

“Hold still, Sieur Anjuman,” she said, bending over him. Like Prince Conor’s, his eyes were gray, fringed with velvet-black lashes.

“It’s Kel. Not Sieur anything. Kel. And if you come at me with leeches, I’ll bite,” he said, with an energy that surprised her.

“No leeches.” She shook the ampoule and tipped up Kel’s head with a finger under his chin. His skin was faintly rough with the beginnings of stubble. “Open your mouth and hold these under your tongue.”

He did as she asked, swallowing as the grains of morphea dissolved.

Almost instantly, she saw the tight cast of his face ease, the taut line of his mouth relaxing as he exhaled.

Morphea could suppress breath, but he was breathing easier now. And shock could also kill. Pain loosened a patient’s hold on life; some raced toward death just to escape agony.

“That,” he said, “was surprising.”

“The morphea?” she asked, discarding the empty ampoule.

“Not the morphea. You made Conor leave,” he said. And, despite everything, he grinned. In that moment, he looked like a mischievous boy, like Josit after he had successfully poached apples from the Maharam’s garden. “Not many people can do that.

“It was awful.” Lin had moved to the table. “I am sure he hates me.” “He only hates being told what to do,” said Kel, watching her as she

returned with a small metal clamp, an ampoule of lunar caustic, a demiard of water infused with levona and mor, and a steel needle and silk thread.

“Alas,” he said, glumly. “Needles.”

“If it hurts, tell me. I can give you more morphea.”

“No.” He shook his head. “No more. I don’t mind pain, as long as it’s within manageable bounds.”

Manageable bounds. That was interesting—a dissonance, like his scars. What did young nobles know of pain, and what amount of it they could or could not manage?

“You said you were bleeding out on the Key.” She spoke evenly, calmly, more to distract him than anything else. Having removed the bit of reed still in his side with the clamp, she moved to disinfecting his other wounds with herb-water. She knew it would hurt, despite the morphea. “But you were found at the Palace gates. You had been dumped there—”

He winced, his back arching, and muttered something that sounded like the arrows, and then a name, Jeanne. So had he been visiting a girl in the city? And been robbed, perhaps, on the way back?

“Yes,” he said. “I know who left me outside Marivent. It wasn’t the person who stabbed me.”

She laid the washcloth aside and reached for the lunar caustic. It would stop any further bleeding. It would also hurt. Kel was looking at her quietly.

A surprising level of acceptance, she thought. The richer the patient, the

more difficult they generally were, complaining about every discomfort. He really was not what she had expected, this cousin of the Prince.

“Right. That was Crawlers,” she said, smoothing the caustic over the wounds. “I was surprised you’d heard of them.” They didn’t seem the sort of city dwellers of whom nobles would be aware.

He smiled wryly. “We all live in the same city, don’t we?”

The bleeding had stopped; the wounds glittered with caustic, a peculiarly beautiful effect. “Do we?” Lin said. “I have lived here all my life; this is the first time I have been on the Hill. Most people will never come here. The

nobles and the ordinary people of Castellane—they may all live in the same

place, but it is not the same city.”

He was silent. Sweat had broken out across his skin, pasting his hair to

his forehead. The caustic would feel like fire on his skin, Lin knew; she had to do more to ease the pain.

Use me.

Lin started. For a moment she thought Kel had spoken aloud, but it was only a whisper in the back of her head. That second voice that all physicians seemed to have, that advised them in times of urgency.

She quickly reached for a salve made from feverfew, whitewillow, capsicum, and a dozen other ingredients sourced from the corners of Dannemore. It was difficult stuff to make, especially when she had only the kitchen at the Women’s House to work in, but it would numb his skin for

the stitches.

She began to smooth it gently over his cuts. She heard him sigh; he was looking down at her through half-closed eyes. She capped the salve and reached for her needle and silk. Kel watched her warily—then relaxed as

the needle pierced the skin and she began to sew.

“I cannot feel it,” he said, wonderingly. “Truly, that is magic.”

“It is medicine.” She tucked a stray lock of hair behind her ear. Once, they were the same. No longer.

“The ordinary folk of Castellane may not come up on the Hill,” said Kel, “but the nobles here would be lost without the city. Not only does it provide them their fortunes, it is their playground. They would die of boredom if confined to the Hill.”

“You speak as if you were not one of them,” Lin said. Taking some herbs from the bag, she sprinkled them on the puncture wound before making another stitch.

“Perhaps I would rather I weren’t.” Kel glanced down and took on a slightly greenish tinge. “I see you are seasoning me like a chicken.”

“The herbs will keep infection away. And don’t look.”

He yawned. Morphea and blood loss were making him tired, she thought.

She concentrated on what she was doing. After a few moments, he spoke again. “When I was younger, I thought the Ashkar must be very dangerous, to be kept within walls.”

“When I was young,” Lin said, reaching for bandages, “I thought the malbushim must be very dangerous, for us to have to keep them out with walls.”

“Ah,” he said, and yawned again. “Perspective is everything, isn’t it?”

Having put away her things, Lin took several hammered-silver talismans from her satchel and slid them between the layers of his bandages. “These will help you heal, and sleep,” she said. “What you need is rest, to let your body knit itself together. I will be back in three days to see how you are getting on.”

“Wait,” he said, as she turned to go. His voice slurred with weariness. “Your name, physician?”

“Lin,” she said, as his eyes fluttered shut. “Lin Caster.”

He did not respond; he was breathing deep and steady. As she was about to leave, she saw something glitter among the tangle of his sheets. The

talisman he had held so briefly earlier. She plucked it free and was just setting it on the nightstand when something unusual about it caught her eye.

She stood for what felt like a long time, looking at it, before placing it carefully in Kel’s palm. Mayesh, she thought. Mayesh, what have you done?

Lin had expected to find her grandfather waiting for her outside the door. He was not there, and neither, to her surprise, were the Castelguards. The corridor was empty save for Prince Conor, sitting in the embrasure of an arched window, gazing stonily out at the city of Castellane. It was little more at this hour than a collection of flickering lights in the distance.

Damn Mayesh for having wandered off. There was nothing Lin wanted less than to be alone with the Prince. But there was no help for it. She approached him, painfully aware of the blood on her tunic, and said, “It is done, Monseigneur.”

The Prince looked at her in a sort of daze, as if she were someone long forgotten who had turned up unexpectedly in a dream. Tiredness had scrubbed away the harsh lines of his face; he looked gentle, which Lin

knew he was not. “What?”

“I said,” Lin repeated, “that it is done—”

He sprang down from the window, swift and graceful; Lin took an involuntary step back. “What does that mean? Is he alive?

“Of course he’s alive,” she snapped. “Do you think, if he had died, this is how I would choose to relay that information? Kel needs to rest, and eventually to have his bandages changed. But rest first, and dry bedding and clothes. He will get no good sleep lying in his own blood.”

He looked at her, his black hair ruffled like the fur of an angry cat.

Name of the Goddess, Lin thought. She had snapped at the Crown Prince.


Then he smiled. It was not a cold smile, or a superior one, though it was touched with self-mockery. The relief in his eyes was real. It made him seem human. In the small hours of the night, between the watches of sickness, between fever and recovery, perhaps everyone was a little bit the same. “Such an intemperate doctor,” he said, with a touch of amusement. “Am I to understand you are giving me orders again?”

“Well,” she said, “I did not think you would change the bedding yourself.

I just thought that . . . you would want to know what needed to be done.”

He only grinned. “Indeed. It seems your grandfather was right. You are

the best in the Sault—perhaps the best in Castellane.”

The grin was disarming. It flashed white teeth and lit his gray eyes to silver. For the first time tonight, Lin could see the Prince of Hearts in him, the one the city sighed over. Something about it irked her, like being stuck with a pin. Perhaps it was that to be the King’s son was one kind of power,

to be beautiful was another, and to be both was entirely too much power for any one person.

Besides, Conor Aurelian held himself as someone who knew he was beautiful. Even his disarray did not mar his looks. His rich clothes might be crumpled, his sleeves of ivory silk spotted with blood, but his beauty was not the sort that required orderliness. In fact, it benefited from some dishevelment, being the kind that came from strong contrast: black and silver, fine features and untidy dark hair.

“Where is my grandfather?” she inquired, suddenly wanting very much to be away. “I ought to go; he might be waiting for me.”

Prince Conor said, “Before you do. Bensimon said you wouldn’t require payment, but I’d like you to have this.” He slid a ring from his right hand and held it out to her, with the gesture of one bestowing an expensive toy upon a child.

The ring was a plain gold band, set with a flat sapphire. Incised into the sapphire was the rayed sun of House Aurelian. A signet ring.

For a moment, Lin was ten years old again, flinging the gold necklace Mayesh had brought her, with its Aurelian stamp, at his feet. She heard Josit, protesting—just take it—and saw the stony look on her grandfather’s face as she turned away.

She did not reach out for the ring. “No, thank you. I don’t want it.” He looked taken aback. “You don’t want it?”

The quick flash of memory was gone, but the anger remained. Anger at Mayesh, she knew, but here, made flesh, was the very reason Mayesh had abandoned her, arrogantly offering her what would be a year’s salary for herself, but was plainly nothing to him. “What am I meant to do with it?” she asked, her voice brittle as glass. “Sell it at a pawnshop on Yulan Road?

I’d be arrested. Wear it? I’d be robbed by Crawlers, like your cousin. It has no value to me.”

“It is a beautiful thing,” he said. “That has its own worth.”

“For those wealthy enough to sit about contemplating an item they can neither eat nor sell,” Lin said acidly. “Or do you think I wish to keep it in a box and pine over the time I met the Prince of Castellane and he deigned to tell me I was a halfway-decent physician?”

The moment the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. His face had gone taut. She was aware suddenly of how much bigger he was than she—not just taller, but broader in the shoulders and larger overall.

He moved toward her. She could feel the force that radiated off him, even as disheveled as he was. A disheveled prince was still a prince, she supposed, with all the careless power that blood and privilege had conferred on him. It was a quality all the stronger for the fact that he had never had to consider that he possessed it, never wonder if there might be some reason for him to hold back.

He could pick her up with one hand, she thought, and toss her against the wall. Break her neck, if he liked. And his power came not from the fact that he had the physical strength to do it, but from the fact that there would be no repercussions for him for the act. No questions asked.

He would not even need to question himself.

He was looking down at her from an uncomfortable height, his gray eyes unwavering. They were like and yet unlike Kel’s. But of course they would be. “How—” he began.

A sharp voice cut him off. “Lin!”

She whirled. She had never been so glad to hear her grandfather approaching. He was at the far end of the corridor; Lin hurried toward him, aware of the Prince behind her, his gaze burning a hole between her shoulder blades. She could feel him watching her, even as she quickly explained Kel’s condition to Mayesh.

Her grandfather nodded, clearly relieved. “Well done,” he said. “Now wait for me in the carriage downstairs. I must have a word with the Prince.”

Lin did not stay to hear what the word was. She inclined her head in

Prince Conor’s direction and murmured, “Monseigneur,” before making her escape.

The Prince said nothing in response, and offered no farewell, though she noted that he was still holding the signet ring in his hand. He had not put it back on.

Outside, the sky was lightening in the east, over the Narrow Pass. Just

before dawn was the coldest time of the day in Castellane. Dew sparkled on the grass, wetting her feet as she approached the waiting carriage. (The driver, a dour-faced Castelguard, gave her a single dark look as she clambered in; perhaps he did not relish being awake so early.)

She was grateful to find that someone had placed a box of heated bricks, wrapped in soft linen, on the bench seat. She retrieved one, rolling it between her palms, letting her skin soak up the warmth. She wondered if Mayesh had requested they be put there.

She thought again of the talisman in Kel’s hand. Mayesh, what have you done?

There was a rap on the door and Mayesh appeared, folding himself inside the carriage. With his height and long limbs, he made her think of an elongated bird—a heron, perhaps, picking about in the shallows when the

tide was exceptionally low.

He glowered at her as the carriage began to move. As they rolled beneath the trellised arch, he said, “Would you prefer to hear the good news first, or the bad?”

She sighed, folding her hands tighter around the hot stone. “Both at the same time.”

“Hmph,” he said. “You do seem to have worked wonders with Kel. I looked in on him briefly. That ought to dispose the Prince well toward you. But,” he added, and she assumed this was the bad news, “it seems not. He has forbidden you to return to the Palace grounds.”

She jolted upright. “But I need to—I must examine Kel again, in no more than three days—”

“Perhaps you should have thought of that.” The North Gate passed by

above them. They were leaving Marivent. “I cannot help but ask: What did you do to offend Conor so badly? He said, if I recall correctly, that you

were a rude and peculiar girl, one he did not wish to see again.”

“I did nothing.” When her grandfather only raised his eyebrows in response, Lin said, “I refused his offer of payment. I want nothing from House Aurelian.”

She turned to stare out the window. As quickly as she had come to the Palace, she had left it. And would, it seemed, not be returning. The heroine of The Taming of the Tyrant would be very disappointed in her, but then she had not had Conor Aurelian to deal with.

“Everyone in Castellane accepts something from House Aurelian, every day,” said Mayesh. “Who do you think pays the Vigilants? The Fire-Watch? Even in the Sault, it is Treasury money that provides the salary of the


“To protect us, or to protect them against us?” she said, recalling Kel’s words: When I was younger, I thought the Ashkar must be very dangerous, to be kept within walls. “Anyway, it does not matter. I may have offended the Prince by refusing his signet ring, but I could have done worse.” Her

brick had gone cold. She set it down beside her and said, “I could have said I knew perfectly well that Kel Anjuman is not the Prince’s cousin.”

Mayesh’s eyes narrowed. “What,” he said, “makes you say that?”

Lin could no longer see their reflections in the window. It had grown too light outside. The sky over the city was turning from black to a pale blue, streaked with feathery gray clouds. There would be movement down at the harbor, and shipbuilders beginning the trek over the rocks to the Arsenale. Seabirds would have begun to circle, filling the air with reedlike calls.

Lin said, “He is covered with scars. Not the kind of scars a noble might get from the occasional duel, or even piffling about drunkenly on horseback. I have seen nothing like these, save on the bodies of those who used to be fighters in the Arena. And don’t try telling me he was an Arena fighter when he was twelve.” (It had been a decade since King Markus had outlawed gladiatorial combat, calling it inhumane.)

“Oh,” said Mayesh, “believe me, I wasn’t going to. But I see you haven’t finished?” His tone was one of polite inquiry. Do go on.

Lin went on. “He had a talisman in his hand. An anokham talisman. I know enough of gematry to know what it does.”

“It is rare magic. Powerful,” said Mayesh. “That talisman dates from before the Sundering.”

“It is illusion magic,” said Lin. “It ties Kel Anjuman—or whatever his name is—to Conor Aurelian. It makes him look like Conor Aurelian when he wears it.”

“Your study of gematry has been more comprehensive than I realized,” Mayesh said. He did not sound displeased. Only thoughtful, and a little curious. “Has this been part of your quest to cure Mariam Duhary?”

How do you know about that? Lin thought, but she did not ask. She had only this one chance to question Mayesh about what she had witnessed; she would not squander it. “It has been part of my general studies,” she said.

“Mayesh.” (He looked at her sharply from beneath his heavy brows, but said nothing.) “I didn’t take the ring because I didn’t want payment from House Aurelian. I do want payment from you, however. I want you to tell me who my patient is.”

“Was,” said Mayesh.

They had reached the Ruta Magna. The Broken Market had been cleared away as if it had never existed, and the shops were beginning to open. They passed a group of merchants from Sarthe and a Chosean girl with foxgloves pinned in her glossy black hair; all paused to look curiously at the carriage with the royal seal upon the side.

“He isn’t dead—”

“No, but it does not seem you’ll be treating him again. Lin, I am sworn to keep the secrets of the Palace. You know that.”

“I could make a great deal of trouble with what I already know,” Lin said, almost in a whisper. “Is he a sort of whipping boy? Is he punished in Conor’s stead? Or is he a bodyguard? I will find out, you know.”

“I do know. I’d hoped you would accept the story that Kel is Conor’s cousin, for all our peace of mind. But I suspected you would not.” Mayesh templed his fingers under his chin. “If I tell you this, you must swear a binding oath, that it will go no further than between you and me.”

Imrāde,” Lin said. “I swear.”

“At the Malgasi Court, for many years, there was a tradition,” said Mayesh. “When the King had only one son as heir, a boy would be chosen from the city. A neglected child, with no parents, no family that might miss him or complain. They called the boy the Királar, the King’s Blade. Here,” he said, “we call him the Sword Catcher. Kel was brought to the Palace to serve the Prince when he was ten. And I will tell you what he does.”

Dawn had passed by the time Lin had returned, alone, to her little house. Sunlight streamed through the curtains. Everything was where she had left it the night before: papers, books, stone-cold mug of tea.

Utterly exhausted, she drew the curtains and began to undress for sleep. At least she did not have patients to see today; that was a small mercy. The watches of night had ended; the Shomrim would be returning home to sleep their odd daylight sleep. Strange dreams came to Lin when she had been up all night, dreams in which she wandered a world where it was always night, the darkness spangled with gleaming light that was not stars. She wondered if it was the same for the watchmen. Or for Mayesh, who also had not slept.

“Don’t you ever wonder?” she had asked her grandfather, after he had explained to her what a Sword Catcher was—and who Kel Saren was, truly. Not the Prince’s cousin at all, but his bodyguard, his double, his shield.

Even the nobles did not know, he had said. Only House Aurelian. And now, her. “Who his parents are? Who gave birth to him, before he ended up at the Orfelinat?”

Mayesh had barked a laugh. “There is no need to make a mystery of it. There are hundreds of abandoned children in Castellane. One imagines he was unwanted for any of the ordinary reasons.”

Unwanted. She, too, had been unwanted, Lin thought, untying the cord at the waist of her trousers. But she had had the Sault, where children were treasure, even those who had no family. Every Ashkari life was valuable.

Every Ashkar born repaired the breaking of the world and brought the Goddess closer to returning.

In Castellane, it was different. Unwanted children were vulnerable refuse, prey for the unscrupulous, invisible to the respectable. She thought of Kel Saren, the way his smile had reminded her of Josit. She wondered whether he minded being Sword Catcher, or perhaps, as soldiers did, he accepted the danger of his life with equanimity.

She would find out, she thought. He was her patient. Conor Aurelian could not keep her from discharging her duty to her patient, no matter what he said.

She kicked her trousers off and winced. That pain in her side she’d felt at the Palace—what was it? She pulled her tunic up and saw, there on her hip, a red mark like a burn. But what could have burned her? Had a wasp been

caught in her tunic? She drew it off and shook it. No insect fell out. Instead, she heard a soft thunk.

Of course. Petrov’s stone. She reached into the tunic’s pocket to pull it out and realized three things immediately: One, there was a hole in the pocket where there had not been before. Two, that the hole was surrounded by scorched fabric, as if the hole were the result of a flame. And three, that the pocket, with the stone in it, had rested just over her left hip when she

wore the tunic.

She gazed at the stone. It was unchanged: smooth, round, milky pale.

Cool to the touch. Yet somehow, and for some reason, it had burned through the pocket of her tunic and scorched her skin, at the very moment that she

was treating Kel Anjuman.

She heard again the whisper in the back of her mind, clearer now. Use me. She had thought she was simply remembering to use the salve, but now that she held the stone in her hand, the voice was louder, the memory sharper. And there was that burn, on her skin . . .

She felt as she had before she had ever read a single medical book, when she had desperately wanted to heal but lacked the tools or language. She brushed the stone with her fingertips, knowing she was groping in the dark. Answers existed, but where? Petrov might have had them, but he was gone. His books and belongings had disappeared into the Maze, a place no lone Ashkari woman would dare to go.

When she finally slept, she did not dream of darkness. Instead, she knew she was in a high place, and around her were flames, growing ever closer.

The wind howled past her, but did nothing to quench the fire. When she

woke in the evening, her muscles ached, as if she had been running through the night.



Suleman set out to charm the Queen. It was not hard for him to do. His hair was black as raven’s wings, his body hard as if it had been carved from stone. No

other Sorcerer-King was as admired. He arrived in Aram on the back of a dragon and found Adassa to be beautiful as well as young and impressionable. He set about trying to convince her to ally with his own country. He spoke of the power of the Source-Stones and their ability to make land fertile and heal mortal wounds. Adassa fell in love with Suleman, and for some time they were lovers. He showed her how to bring prosperity into Aram using her Source-Stone. But despite all this, she refused to marry him, not wanting to give up the independence of her throne. Eventually he prevailed upon her to visit him in his own kingdom, so that she could see all that might be hers if she agreed to marry him.

Tales of the Sorcerer-Kings, Laocantus Aurus Iovit III

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