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Author: Gene (Rick) Maze
Title: Knight & Maiden [Part II of IV]
Creation Date: 10 JUL 2002
Revision Date: 21 September 2002
Click here to start at Chapter 1……
Upon the heights she still awaits, a child of man to breach the gates.
An Elven Queen of gold and light, from ages past, in dire plight.
In a tower dark, ensorcelled strong, she weaves with light and sirens song.
Like a golden bird trapped in a cage, she sits above her curse to play.
The rhythm of her heart to weave sent forth in song her soul bereaved.
With sirens voice and moonlight gleaming, fingers playing, music streaming.
The keys, they dance, the light to gather. Cast far below they beckon, hither.
Come to me, my saviour seeking. Set free this heart so long near breaking.
Where art thou Knight? Do you yet hear? Will you come at last my tears to bear?
And so the maiden remains, forever playing the melodies of her heart, forever calling forth into the night her message of both hope and despair, unknowing that the music of her soul is fast flying forth with each strike of the keys as they dance beneath her fingertips.
* * * * * * * * * *
Waves crash disconsolately upon a lonely strand. A solitary figure lying among the flotsam and jetsam stirs awake as the tide slowly rushes in claiming its rightful place upon the shore. Cool ocean swells wet his naked body, the salt searing his wounds and encouraging him in his desire to move along. He struggles to his knees, weak and worn, his throat aching and horribly parched.
Confused, he attempts to gather his mangled memories, placing them into some semblance of order. The attempt is futile, leaving him with no understanding as to who or where he is, nor can he recall how he has come to this strange and lonely place. Tilting his head, he gazes further up the beach, and sees a small palisade sitting solitary and high above the water line.
As he shifts his body a small chain about his neck swings forward, the medallion it carries swinging with it –slapping lightly against his chest. He mutters in confusion not understanding his predicament nor this strange device hanging about his person. Too tired to examine it closely he instead struggles upright and wearily stumbles his way up the beach.
The sun newly risen warms the chill in his body and helps to loosen the stiffness of his muscles as he carefully makes his way along the shore. Further ahead, and now quite close, resides the palisade. Instincts ingrained since birth force him to pause –no matter his condition– and survey the structure just ahead.
Ornate and built of stone, it stands proudly upon the rise. An edifice clearly designed and built with feminine grace and beauty in mind. As he gazes upon it, an errant memory surfaces through the confusion of his thoughts and the words “Tomb” and “Mausoleum” briefly come to mind, yet as quickly as they occur so too do they flit away.
Approaching further he sees two great doors standing open, as though awaiting any erstwhile traveler that may have need to grace its shadowed arches. Peering within, there stands an ornate and effervescent fountain, spouting water in great abundance. Below this, in ready acceptance, sits a huge circular basin overflowing into a pool of deepest blue. This too waits, seemingly eager to slake the thirst of any wanting soul that may have need of its cool crystalline bounty.
Along the walls vines hang in riotous array, overflowing with grapes and dates and other fruits unknown to his experience. Wherever he looks there beckon tantalizing pleasures and cooling waters.
Overwhelmed by this bountiful display, he stands reeling and dumbstruck, the heat of the sun now bearing heavily upon him. Tossing all hesitation to the winds, he quickly enters the shade of the archway, heading with reckless abandon toward the only source capable of fulfilling his hunger and slaking his urgent thirst.
Crossing the threshold he rushes the basin, tipping precariously forward, submerging his upper body in the blue depths of the healing water. Gulping with wild abandon, he relinquishes all control and allows himself to tumble forward fully into its cooling fastness. With body cleansed and thirst quenched, he rises easily to the surface, gasping huge lungfulls of air. Languishing peacefully, he relaxes, as the early morning rays softly illuminate the shadowed alcove.
Blood, sweat, and grime, wash away as the spouting water cascades over his weary form. Tranquil and soothing, the rampant burning along the length of his body ceases its nagging cry. The aching of his wounds subsiding. Gently dwindling in the serenity of the moment.
Over a span of minutes all remnant of his previous trauma miraculously fades. Startled by the wonder of this event –he sits up– carefully reviewing the landscape of his body. Feeling along the length of his arms and legs –touching his chest. Sighing in relief as the scars of a lifetime remain in abundance all about him. Unsure why, he is comforted by this mysterious roadmap clearly garnered over many years. Most assuredly an integral piece to the puzzle of who he is, and what he has become.
Like the raging thirst of a few moments before, he is deluged with raucous hunger. The perfumed scent of succulent honey wafting thickly across the room. Heady with desire and mouth salivating with overwhelming need he deftly leaps from the basin. With quick strides, he approaches the abundant fruit, hanging within easy reach all about the palisade.
Trembling in anticipation he reaches out grabbing a huge succulent date and attacks it with ravenous fury. The sweet tangy pulp coating his hands with its syrupy richness. Luscious crimson grapes fast follow, their juices flooding his chin, leaving bright burgundy trails. A cluster of oranges catch his eye, and in a blink rinds litter the floor. Crisp apples at last satiate his ravenous appetite, his swollen stomach bringing him to his knee’s –now gorged and exhausted.
Cool marble beckons, and he leans back, his naked form luxuriating in the warmth of the sun’s rays. Filled to excess, he closes his eyes, thinking to rest for but a brief moment. Unaware, he rapidly transitions into a much needed, deep and dreamless, slumber.
* * * * * * * * * *
As daylight fades, the device awakens sensing its new host has rested and is full ready to begin the labors soon to be placed before it. With patient indifference it slowly comes to light, warming appreciably, gradually increasing in temperature in the hope of prodding its host into an alert yet restful awareness.
* * * * * * * * * *
A finger of discomforting heat presses firmly upon my chest –awakening me abruptly. Confused, my eyes spear open attempting to adjust to the amber glow as it radiates softly below the cleft of my chin. Rolling swiftly to my knee’s I rapidly attempt to stand, stiff and sore from my long nap on the cool stone. The source of this mysterious light stays with me as I reposition, and with sudden insight I realize it is the device still present about my neck.
Reaching up, I clasp it in my hand, the heat steady and sure, the glow continuing to radiate through the gaps in my fingers. Now awake and aware, I stop and examine this strange item pulsing warm and bright against my palm. The glow diminishes as I open my fist, what light remains, twinkling within the blue of the twin gems embedded deeply upon its surface.
Delicate and beautiful, I gaze upon a face in the likeness of an angel, one so perfect I can envision no being more worthy of heaven. Eyes of tragic blue gaze back impassioned and sorrowful, their siren-call beckoning me forward. Consumed by my need for answers and overwhelmed by a sudden desire to seek out this heavenly woman, I unknowingly allow myself to be drawn within their mystifying depths.
In the space of a heartbeat I am spirited away, my thoughts traversing inwardly to a place of which I can tie no reference, nor mark the passing of time.
Huge white ships shaped in the likeness of swans gracefully ride the ocean swells. While foam-topped waves froth agitated upon their bows. Gusting wind speeds their exit, their great wings slicing through the darkening water as they depart the mighty bay.
A keening in the distance catches my ear and suddenly I’m soaring above, circling anxiously. A premonition of dread causes me to scan the skies, all the while aiming for a tall spar of rock standing brazen and solitary high upon the cliff face.
Of a sudden I break, diving once again, the spar of rock now clearer, the mystery of its nature revealed and portentous. A tower it is, standing alone and foreboding. Tall, smooth, and ebony black, it points skyward like an accusing finger –radiating dark enchantment.
As I attempt to circle inward I can feel its aura like a congealing viscous wind, thickening and pushing outward, working to repulse my approach. Cursed, it wards off all comers, while striving to conceal itself with many forbidding paths and countless treacherous ways.
Closer I swoop as storm clouds gather darkly, the sky thundering in ready threat. A last ray of sunlight spears through the developing gloom, shining brightly upon a figure standing forlorn and alone upon its single balustrade.
Diving swiftly, I wing perilously near, observing at close range her tall slim form standing rigid in distress. The pale of her skin, and her Eldritch features, clearly marking her as one of the elder races. I dip and soar upon the wind heart-struck and fallen, fighting to maintain my position as I watch her gazing far below.
Gusting wind falls willfully upon her and she raises a delicate hand in regal protest, brushing back the loosening weave of her long golden hair. Futilely, she attempts to tuck it behind the elegantly curved points of her elven ears. The wind, sparing no effort, places it once again in disarray, unraveling it thickly about her shoulders.
Her eyes anguished and haunted –mist. Closely following the last great ship. Tracking it as it makes quick exit and departs the bay, heading westward into the setting sun.
A single tear forms slowly, then releases, trailing along the curve of her cheek. Swiftly it falls, sparkling in dismay as if cast in defeat from the vaulted halls of heaven far above. Squaring her shoulders, she hesitates, pausing before the onset of the storm, her eyes at long last lifting to mine. She abruptly freezes –caught in surprise– watching as my fluttering form struggles feebly to remain in her presence.
Helpless before her, I become lost and enchanted, captured by the angelic perfection of her alien beauty. Strangely enough I see sudden hope flare brightly within her eyes as she turns with all speed facing fully toward me. Moving quickly, she lift’s her arms and beckons me closer.
With dawning insight, she realizes I am unable to draw nearer. So instead she raises one hand high, holding forth a pendant shining brightly in the hollow of her palm. She brings it to her lips seemingly praying as she does so, and with a single cry flings it high, watching as it rises arcing and then plummets directly in my path.
The compulsion to retrieve this gift is more than I can bear and I fight the wind and building storm in my desire to obtain it. With heart near bursting I dart ahead and snatch it as it tumbles before me. As I do so, I see the woman’s hands come together in evident relief. She observes me closely now, her sorrow ringing forth like song, the deep blue of her eyes striving to relay a message of great import and the intent of her desires.
The weight of her gift burdens me and I know I must soon leave seeking shelter from the coming storm. As she gazes above a sudden look of despair settles heavily upon her and she quickly turns away. Confused and tiring, I’m forced to depart, alarmed by the fierce wind and leaden nature of the skies. Diving quickly, I seek the safety of distance and lower altitude.
Without warning a huge shadow engulfs my tiny form, diving swiftly upon me in accompaniment to the beat of mighty wings. Hot gusts of air swirl furiously, sending me tumbling, the reek of sulfur riding thickly upon the wind.
A roar thunders aloud, my vision now swirling and chaotic, and I see a huge gaping maw darting forward ready to receive me as its prize. I swerve desperately, diving low, but I am too late, and instead stare in terror as my doom fast approaches.
A bolt of lightning explodes the air directly before me, striking my attacker and sending us both tumbling apart! I struggle to regain control, pin-wheeling down and down towards the tumbled rocks below! Desperately I attempt to brake, massing what little strength I still possess, struggling to slow! Fighting to save myself, and the precious gift I carry!
Crosswinds undercut my plunging form and I am born aloft barely escaping impact with the sodden ground. I swing away, staying low and tight to the coastline, advancing into the scrub as quickly as I may. Even as I recover, I can hear the rage of my pursuer roaring above still searching blindly for my fleeing form.
The pendant swinging from my beak warms upon my tongue and a small burst of energy enlivens me and gives me strength. I fight for distance flying arrow-straight, racing against the storm. My ability to do so the gift of the precious token I carry.
Thunder grumbles far overhead, the clouds leaden and gray. Rain begins to fall, its weight swiftly adding to that of the burden I bear. A roar of frustration echoes loudly, rising easily above the volume of the storm. Alerted, I realize my enemy remains in dogged pursuit, my survival in jeopardy.
My heart beats anxiously as my pursuer roars again, this time much closer and I realize I’ve been discovered. Once again I am overshadowed, the stench of my enemy somehow immune to the winds, easily encompassing my form. I flutter in fear as a huge head sweeps past. A single eye gazes upon me, slitted and phosphorescent, its aura hypnotic, easily drawing me within.
The jaws open, swinging my way, teeth like spears descending on either side. Helpless, I cling to my gift unable to squawk for fear of losing it –now thoroughly terrified and fluttering in place. With spirit cowering, I watch as its long barbed tongue darts forward. Full ready to impale me and swallow me up!
Without warning, my gift ignites, blazing in fury! Searing my tongue and welding my beak firmly in place! Again I find myself tumbling! Now swirling beneath bright blue cloudless skies! I’m swift to recover in the warmth of the sunlit air. The echoing roar of rage and pain fading swiftly as I find myself, somehow free again, and riding high upon the wind.
Unsure why, I feel like I’m now home. The leaden skies of that dead alien world no longer oppressing, nor weighing upon me with such overbearing dread. Although my form feels weary and distraught –foreign to this new land– I know I am right. The very scent of the air, the blue of the sky, and the colors –vibrant and stretching below– awakening something distant and vague within me. The horribly bleak and timeless emptiness of that other place no longer present.
My burden again flashes brightly and I feel my awakening focus rapidly dwindling. I know I must fly and fly with all due haste before my body fails and my quest is doomed. This compulsion to press on settles heavily on me, and so I swing into the wind soaring onwards trailing along the coast. In reward for my dutiful efforts the pendant quickly fills me with a blinding and resplendent joy, blanketing any dissenting thought.
The sun already at its apex begins its slow decline into the western horizon. My tiny form –flying throughout the end of day– continues onward into the dark of night soon passing into the gray of early morning.
Dawn gently breaks, and I am now world’s away from my terrifying encounter. My weary form is quickly failing and no matter the assistance granted me I know it cannot continue as it has. With no understanding as to why, I suddenly feel the urge to fly inland away from the ocean coast.
The pendant encourages my efforts by filling my aching needs with healing bursts of soothing energy and I soon find myself flying low across a desert waste. I survey the land beneath and see a small oasis glittering far below. Residing there, alongside, sits a caravan watering its animals, no doubt in preparation for their coming trek across the dunes.
I swoop low my tired form aiming for the life-giving water, and brake clumsily upon the flat ledge of the fountain –fighting to maintain my balance. Releasing my burden on the broad lip, I lean forward anxious for my reward. Instead I am gifted with searing pain, my form tumbling in the dust, the shaft of an arrow protruding from my chest.
As my heart slowly falters, my life’s-blood emptying upon the sand, I see a small turbaned boy standing near yelling excitedly to his fellows. Pointing with pride, he grins at my broken bloody form. The sound of running footsteps soon follows, and then I thankfully know no more.
* * * * * * * * * *
In the space of another heartbeat I am spirited back, my thoughts once again focusing and distancing themselves from that vision of long ago. With my return, that earlier feeling of being home abruptly departs, replaced instead with that weighted alien emptiness so oppressive and unnatural, so very indicative of this foreign place. Shaking slightly, I calm myself and concentrate on the needs of the moment. My hands slowly steadying as I review the vision granted me by this magical token.
No wonder the aura of this artifact felt so terribly fated. The story of its past was clearly complex, with many aspects remaining convoluted and incomplete. Undoubtedly it had traveled far, and past through many admiring hands, both good and evil. What more yet remained unknown regarding this portentous tale? Who was this Queen of ancient times? Of the Eldritch no less! And, why was she so trapped and desperate, her very people abandoning her upon these foreign shores?
* * * * * * * * * *
Still pondering these thoughts I moved forward to the edge of the basin, thinking to quench my rising thirst. As I reached down cupping my hands I saw in the dim light of the setting sun my reflection staring boldly back. My hair astray, mid-length and tangled, my features dark with eyes to match, my face encompassed by a short beard and mustache –overgrown and in dire need of grooming.
Who was I? And why did so much seem so very familiar and yet new and distant at the same time? Who was this woman that had so easily captured my heart? Why was I here?
I allowed my hands to strike the water sending my reflection scattering outward in broad circular rings. Scrubbing furiously, I washed my body as best I could, removing the multitude of sticky juices adorning my chin and hands. My bladder, in dire need of release, helps focus me on the present and so without further delay, I stride rapidly outside the pavilion and squat upon the sand, purging my bowels in the light of the setting sun.
Much relieved and with bodily necessities now in abeyance, I turned and re-entered the structure. The urge to pray came upon me then and so I chose that moment to kneel in supplication, silently asking for forgiveness for my many sins and further guidance from God above. In my heart of hearts, I was hoping for some miracle or sign that might clarify my situation and in so doing promote my continued survival. A gift from the heavens, a miracle which if faithfully acted upon might assist me in my efforts to win the day for my lady of the dark tower.
* * * * * * * * * *
Rescuing her was now paramount, of this I was sure, for what other reason could I have been spirited away to this barren place? Spirited away?! And what did I mean by that? From where?
Hmmm… I felt as though many of the answers I yearned for regarding both my recent past and identity lay hidden behind a maze of twisting corridors and spiraling stairwells. These tantalizing moments of lucidity, randomly rising to the surface without rhyme or reason. Leaving me thirsting for the key to place them together as a whole and unlock their mystery.
Of peril and danger there was no doubt. Of great enemies to be faced there was no question. No matter the dire nature of my lady’s message, I knew I could not help but rise to this challenge. With heart now in turmoil, lovesick, and overwrought with emotion, I silently swore to seek out this heavenly queen and rush to her salvation.
As though tuned to my thoughts, the pendant about my neck magically rose from my chest. Tugging insistently, it urged me ahead, held back only by its chain. The metal of its making began to glow brightly as I promptly responded to its direction. Stepping forward, I turned slowly, allowing the medallion to guide me along. It’s somber radiance increasing as I made my way straight-ahead to the very center of the furthest wall. As I drew closer –with no more than three or so steps remaining– the abundant ivy coating its broad surface gently parted, the spidery whisper of its leaves sighing almost regretfully as it did so. Revealed beneath lay a hidden alcove.
There, now unveiled behind the copious greenery, lay a shallow altar, and resting within a pair of marble hands –palms held forward as though in supplication. I stared at them unsure what was required of me, or the import of this querying gesture. What did they wish? Some tithe or other precious token? As I considered this question, the Medallion, its desire seemingly satisfied, relinquished its incessant tugging, and fell slack, dimming to a more somber glow.
Still confused and not quite understanding why, I reached down and grasped it gently, turning it this way and that, pondering the implications of this hidden alcove and the evident unspoken desire of its makers for me to place it –this token– within the palms of the waiting hands.
Wary, naked, and weaponless, I clearly sensed that this next action on my part would set in motion a series of events of which I would be helpless to control, nor stop once begun. Sensing no threat, and with no sign of danger in evidence, I stepped forward raising it over my head, and like an alm, dropped it gently upon the waiting palms.
Landing with an audible click, the medallion flared brightly –the outline of a door rapidly glowing in ready response. As quickly as this occurred, it opened, sliding back and away, revealing a chamber somberly lit and patiently awaiting my entrance. Striding boldly, I stepped within not sure what mystery may await, yet somehow certain my instincts were true and no threat stood ready to hinder my passage.
Circular and domed, the chamber softly brightened as I entered. Along the walls hung shield after shield, their heraldic crests foreign to my experience. Yet too, I could not deny they felt somehow familiar and comforting in a distant and vague sort of way. Their design, although clearly functional, seemed antiquated. Yet no dust or tarnish was resident within. Nor did I witness any wear or corrosion indicating the passing of time. A rich red carpet led ahead, stretching forward to a three-tiered landing along the very back. Residing at its top stood an armor-stand and adorning its frame were all the accoutrements of an Amazon Warrior-Queen.
Pausing and turning, I looked about the room. My impression, that of a staging area for one of great might or wealth. Almost certainly belonging to a King or lord of some renown, yet the armor on display confused me, for it was a woman’s garb and out of place in this foreign abode. I warily advanced walking along the carpet –hoping upon examination I’d better understand this perplexing mystery.
To the right, resting upon the rack was a powerful spear, long and golden, the tip gleaming and razor sharp. Looking further, I saw that its head was barbed, artistically shaped and spread in the form of a large broad leaf. Alongside it, resided a full brace of javelins, balanced and ready, their points needle sharp and gleaming. Strung below, and polished to a fine sheen, hung a buckler. Banded in bronze it was, and heavily studded, its face marked with an intricate and complex sigil.
Lastly, and mounted directly center was a hardened leather cuirass, the front curving forward –the steel cups to either-side rune covered and sizable. Capping all of this was an elaborate winged circlet, this too constructed of bronze. Embedded within its face, a huge flawless sapphire.
Upon every item the sigil reoccurred –deeply etched– its color a bold and vibrant blue. Its significance was evident, for its repeated presence radiated feral power. So too did the sapphire, its faceted surface gleaming and mirror bright. The magical properties of both, no doubt intended as wards. Powerful they surely were, and capable of doubly-protecting their wearer from any evil magic’s or sorceries in play upon the field.
Directly below, upon the base of the dais, lay a pair of thigh length leather boots, their appearance that of delicate strength and supple grace. They were small and thin, their design again indicative of a woman, and one who well knew the rigors of the warrior class. Also, lying further left was a pair of gauntlets, their backs exposed –the sigil witnessed above again brazenly displayed. These too, appeared slim and delicate, the width of the palms and the length of the fingers proving long and narrow. Lastly, and completing this ensemble were a set of folded undergarments –brilliant white, silken and luxurious.
The armor though unsuited to my needs, was clearly of the highest quality, the weaponry of superior craftsmanship, and the ensemble as a whole, powerful and daunting. Arrayed before me stood no standard warriors garb, but a vestment of great power, and one fated to be worn by a being of equal majesty. I couldn’t help sighing in frustration as I looked upon it, knowing it was not I that was intended to bear its weight.
Who it might have once been commissioned for, I couldn’t imagine. Regardless, a woman I was not, and the weaponry on display –though of the highest quality– was thoroughly unsuited to my training and much larger physique. Hesitating, I stepped up and reached for the spear, knowing it was the only item holding any hope of assisting me in my cause. Even as my hand began lifting it from its mount, the armor blazed forth, my movements halted, my body instantly frozen in place.
Swirling tendrils of light swiftly filled the room, holding me in a cyclone of living energy. The armor shimmered and flexed, warping and changing as I stood their captive. Slowly it faded, becoming transparent, losing all bond with the physical world as I knew it. I watched as it was spun away, rotating into a multicolored maelstrom of pulsing energy, adding itself to the whirlwind holding me firmly in its embrace.
In a moment it was over, the chamber once again returning to its previous state. The rack skeletal and empty, my body now clothed and thoroughly encased in a suit of armor well suited to my desires. Where there had once stood a spear –about my waist now hung a sword. Where there had once been a brace of javelins –adorned about my body were secreted a brace of daggers. The buckler too, now rested as a shield, fastened high upon my back.
All the items once resident upon the rack had been transformed, easily adjusting to my physical makeup and needs. I reviewed my armor noting that the sigil, once so prevalent, was no longer in evidence. Instead born upon each item, artfully contrived, was the sign of the cross, a symbol of my own beliefs –and I felt– a true testament to my faith. Sensing a grave pressure to move swiftly, I turned, advancing rapidly to the entrance, and exited the chamber.
Whether through an act of God or by the wish of some other unknown and mysterious benefactor, my needs had been most assuredly met. I felt certain my presence there in that magical place would soon end. My true quest revealed and rapidly unfolding.
The door whispered shut as I left the room, all evidence of its existence now hidden, its mysteries again concealed. A glittering upon the altar alerted me to my lady’s gift –it lay there sparkling patiently, as though having awaited my return. Like a language expressed in varying colors and pulsing whispers of light, I could feel its urgent desire (or was it a demand?) for me to retrieve it from the altar.
Unsure why, I felt hesitant, my mind seeming so much clearer without it. All the drifting memories relating to my past –these too– seeming sharper and less entangled. Hmmm… I couldn’t quite name why I felt such foreboding at the thought of placing it about my person, yet the thought arose that I might not succeed in my coming trial without it.
The pendant flashed again, this time far more insistently, and I gazed down upon it as it rested within the palms of those gracious hands –two flecks of blue sparkling brightly. I found myself entranced staring in fascination upon the beauteous face of the woman carved there. Without further delay, and with all doubt now removed, I reached down grasping it securely.
Confusion came upon me then, that previous moment of clarity fading away and becoming distant. All my convictions and direction again tangled, growing more vague and grayer by the moment. A bell began tolling in the distance, church-like, resounding deeply and echoing as though across a great distance. From whence the sound came I could not say, yet it helped to draw me away from the spreading confusion of my thoughts allowing a certain degree of focus.
Brilliant blue beckoned again. A newer different music quickly suffusing and drowning out the diversion caused by the resounding sound of the bell. My hand now felt very warm, the heat of my prize radiating through the steel and leather of my gauntlet. Her eyes called to me then, saddened and fearful, and I knew she wished to be placed about my neck.
Not wishing to cause her further distress I removed my helm settling her firmly in place, her fear of a moment before now absent –the pendant somehow expressing both relief and gratitude at my decisive response. Strangely enough the chain seemed smaller now. Fitting easily within the constraints of my armor, bringing no discomfort with its presence. Replacing my helm, I turned and stepped away, knowing I must be swiftly gone, the passage of time, an enemy not to be ignored.
End of Chapter 2……