Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The lead-in to The Peg-Legged Privateer

Coming Soon: The Peg-Legged Privateer: A Tattered Sails Novel. The following is the lead-in, what happens before the book starts. Enjoy!

Approaching Spicer’s Bay

“Put yer backs into it, ye louts! We’re not too far away!” Paulina the Privateer called down to the galley, her hands poised at her hips, her lungs feeling as if she had swallowed sharpened steel; every swallow burned her throat, her thirst for anything spiced and numbing apparent to her mind. “We gots to get the jewels and gold to Weaver, and we gots to do it today. Again, I say, put yer goddess-damned backs into it, or else there’s to be no rum for any of ye, for true this time!”
A muted groan preceded the hard sloshing of vigorously shifting water on either side of the ship. Paulina braced herself for the resulting lurch as Poseidon’s Whelp moved toward its final destination—the dry docks of Spicer’s Bay—of this particular trip northwest across the Sea de Caribe. Satisfied her message had received its rightful due, she grinned; she could have dropped anchor hours ago, but this was the last leg of the trip from the far side of Port Regret, and she would have it made at night. She pivoted to the side and lumbered to the ship’s forepeak.
Stride, clunk. Stride, clunk.
The woman’s smile disappeared as the forged metal sweeping below her right knee met the decking with a hard strike, and dug into the flesh above it as if made of serrated blades. Paulina grunted and continued her walk. As usual, she used a slow, methodical pace, for she did not want to overdo it and end up with a forehead full of slivers; she had done that a few times as she learned how to use the infernal appendage. She yanked warm air in through her nostrils as she willed herself to maintain her speed; hurry was not truly needed—not by her, at least.
And if I didn’t have to implore me men—good for nothin’ louts forced on me person by the Baron, all ‘cause he thinks a simperin’ woman needs handlin’ by supposedly stronger men—to use the extra speed, she thought while wrapping a guide rope around her wrists to aid in pulling her up the steps of this large and truly unserviceable vessel, then I wouldn’t have time to dwell in the irony of me situation, again. O’ course, if me ship had the wind at her back, I’d be able to give these worthless bastards a night o’ rest, and we’d be within spittin’ distance o’ me ship’s berth, me lips wrapped around the mouth o’ a bottle and a pert teat, and me bum in a bed that doesn’t swing and creak.
Paulina felt her ginger-colored hair trickle away from her scalp and tumble into her eyes as soon as she reached the forepeak. Once she had herself steady on her good, hale foot, she brushed her hair out of her line of vision—low as it was anyway. She turned her head right, then left; various shades of purple veiled the eastern horizon, while night still lingered to the west, as dark as sticky pitch. Looking back to the east, she noticed a small sliver of reddish pink had already formed near the edge of the world, but as it was, she still had hours to go until the full sunrise. Nodding, she hoped the sun would pop out faster on this day, if only to give ample light across the watery path which led to her home.
Me second home, she reminded herself. The privateer ambled forward. I don’t remember me first one, supposedly back in the Crownlands. At least that’s what the Baron said when he pickeded me up. She swallowed again; it felt as if she had swallowed fire. She needed rum; even a sip of it would help. I guess this place be as good as any; after all, the rum is good here, and free for that matter, and it will quench me thirst. Aye, me throat hasn’t touched good liquor in days.
Looking across the bow, Paulina saw nothing impeding her or the Whelp as Spicer’s Bay lay not too far to the northwest—they were practically at the mouth of the bay—and she had good reason to believe she had the ship positioned to head into it without having to make any further adjustments. She had plenty of seafaring experience, and she believed her knowledge of the stars would get her anywhere in the Caribe; she knew, though, navigating wasn’t her strong suit, and wished she had a navigator who knew the seas as well as her. She preferred to lead a crew, to put steel to a knave’s neck, to bust arses with her golden appendage, to bed a wench or bed a scallywag—she didn’t care which gender most of the time, although lately she had preferred the touch of a woman—or to tumble naked into a hold full of jewels, if only to feel the cold, hard surfacing poking against her flesh.
And as it just so happens, I has a hold full of jewels and eights and Latin gold below me feet, she thought as she felt her nipples hardening, a gust of warmth slipping under what served as her bodice, and I has a special somethin’ in me cabin for the Baron. Do I has the time for a dip? She frowned as soon as the thought left her mind. Nay. No time. Need to make sure the crew be ready to disembark, and to get the holds emptied as soon as they get the Whelp into the dry dock. I be sure they’ll want their tithes so they can cavort and be lively. She shrugged at that; the pubs of Spicer’s Bay paid favor to the Baron, ran his rum and whiskey, and the Baron did not appreciate more noise than necessary. It wasn’t Port Regret, but then again, there wasn’t much to compare with those salty establishments anyway. She had to allow herself a grin as she thought of her old friend Bettina Brewer, now a barmaid at—
“My captain.”
Paulina turned.
“Aye, Mr. Little.”
“You’ll be happy to know,” Little said, “that we are making good time, despite the lack of wind.” He didn’t have the tone or breeding of a pirate; he had the accent of Londonium, capital of the Crownlands, and he was—allegedly—the Baron’s nephew, his sister’s child, beget from a relationship outside the marriage bed.
Another bastard the bloody Baron has shoved on me without me consent, Paulina thought, one who thinks just ‘cause he has a willy means he be superior to one without a dangler ‘tween the damn twigs.
“Aye, we are. If me calculations be correct, we’re drivin’ right into the heart o’ yer uncle’s household,” she said aloud. Little nodded. “Hopefully we’ll be home soon, and I’ll be able to get somethin’ good to drink, finally, and maybe a wench ‘tween the sheets; there be a wench in yer future, lad?”
She watched as Little’s cheeks morphed from a sun-licked brown to a darker shade. His lips parted as he inhaled before he closed them just as fast: he seemingly held it as he looked at her.
“The Baron has promised me to a lass back home,” Little said. “She’s supposed to be sailing here now, as long as the winds hold.”
“She be a pretty thing?” Paulina asked with a certain, teasing inflection in her voice, all while knowing what the last half of his statement meant; the lass may not get here if the winds die down, and the privateer wondered why the Baron wouldn’t utilize a ship with a set of galley slaves to counter the lack of wind. Shaking the thought away, she wondered if Little’s heart raced with his growing anticipation; even with the thought, she didn’t understand why a person would allow their heart to go on such a radical course. She didn’t believe in the notion of true love, or in the silly, contrived notion of an arranged marriage, either.
She believed in getting her jollies taken care of, whenever she wanted.
Little shrugged.
“Don’t know, to be honest. Never seen the lady before. But she’s from a good family, as I understand it. Has a dowry, as long as none of the seamen steal it from her in the crossing. I also understand she is a delicate thing.” He cleared his throat. “We should be comfortable.”
Even in the thinning darkness, Paulina had no difficulty in determining Little’s desire for a comfortable life; the question of whether or not they would live off her dowry or anything else provided to him by the Baron remained in the ethereal part of her brain. Then again, she had decided, quite quickly in fact, she didn’t care if he wanted to ride the wave of wealth his intended brought to Spicer’s Bay. She only cared what wealth he brought her, and that he made sure the crew followed orders. For a first mate, the thin man served his purposes well; right from the outset, he had taken a solid load of certain commands off her shoulders and delivered them to the crew with a panache she knew she herself would have difficulty in replicating. He demanded just as much respect from the other lads as she did, maybe even more so, and when one has the power to withhold a sailor’s wages with a word to one’s uncle, it usually accorded him a certain edge with an all-male crew.
Still, he had wanted no part of this life, and she knew it; standing next to him several months ago, he had begrudgingly taken on this job for his uncle—the promise of a new bride hadn’t been known to her until now, and must have been a gift given privately—and Paulina, while she tolerated this short-term intrusion, also knew she would take great joy in saying good bye to him for the last time. She knew the reasons for Little’s presence, and all had to do with the vessel and the goods she now hauled: she had already lost two ships to the deep, and she had somehow survived both sinkings and told the tale of each instance in Weaver’s presence. Now, Little was there to make sure she did things right, and if things went awry, to report her failings back to the Baron via a dinghy hanging off the stern.
He didn’t belong on a ship, but she also knew his relation to the Baron kept him alive. If it wasn’t for Weaver, Little would have found himself dumped overboard, or tied to a post on some tiny, uncharted island to the southeast of Port Regret, the birds feasting on his eyes.
The thought made Paulina smirk.
She let the thought drown as she swung her left foot around to her help face him.
“Good. Ye deserve to be comfortable, lad.”
“Are you just saying that because of who—”
“Nay,” Paulina countered; she noticed the slight angles his eyebrows now made, and saw quite plainly his frustration at the way some treated him. “I’m not sayin’ that ‘cause ye be the Baron’s sister’s whelp; ye don’t choose who ye be related to. I say that ‘cause I truly believe it. E’ryone deserves to be comfortable in whatever life they choose.”
“Even you, captain?”
She nodded.
“Aye. This is where I’m comfortable. I been devoted to the sea and to the goddess Amphitrite for over a decade or so, lad. This,” she said, running her hands along the ropes, “this be where I breathe best.”
Little seemingly accepted her line of bullshit; she watched as his jaw had turned rigid before he gave a stiff nod, his nose barely moving. He took a deep breath and looked out over the Caribe. Paulina heard displacement along the water’s edge; they were still moving forward, but the front looked almost glass-like.
“A calm night,” he observed.
“Aye. We be lucky we be in the Caribe and not the Norte Atlantis, comin’ down from the Crownlands.”
Little swallowed.
“The ice.”
Paulina heard the trepidation settling on his heart.
“Ye didn’t come down that way, aye?”
Little gave a little shake; Paulina thought his powdered wig would fly off and land in the water.
“No; when the Baron called for us, he explicitly wanted us to take a more circuitous route to avoid the ice floes.”
“So ye traveled due south and came from the east,” Paulina determined; Little nodded. “And ye missed the pirates?”
He nodded again.
“When you have your cannons loaded and readied at all times, and you have two other boats as your guard, the pirates know to keep their distance.”
Paulina wanted to snort, but she held it in. There were two pirates, she knew, two rather foolhardy, pig-headed associates—and by calling them associates raised their standing by all of half a notch in her eyes—who wouldn’t have let a silly thing like an escort ship, or two of them, stand in their way of trying to collect booty and plunder. She prayed to Amphitrite they would make the attempt, if only to give her a happy thought once in a while.
Still, she didn’t want to argue with the Baron’s representative.
“O’ course. O’ course, lad.”
“Do you think I should—” Little cut himself off, stopping short.
Paulina blinked.
“Should ye… what?”
“Catch a little sleep? Everything seems fine up here,” Little said, turning his head. “It seems the men have everything under control.”
Aye, they do, Paulina thought. They always do, even though they’d rather think with the hangin’ brains most o’ the time.
“It’s none o’ me affair if ye want some kip, lad. Just will throw off yer cycle, whatever the bloody hell that means. Some cuntish fellow in Port Regret told me ‘bout that ‘bout a year ago, ‘fore I slit his throat for talkin’ rubbish.” She watched as he stiffened at the last, until she finally barked a laugh at his expense. “I not be serious, Mr. Little. I not be that bloody hasty.”
Even as she watched Little sway where he stood, she knew her last was a falsehood: she had killed the man for what she called being too smart, doing so in the same manner she had described before she then dropped his body somewhere along the backroads—the paths—of Blackmoon Island. She suppressed her grin at the memory, especially with Little still standing here; she didn’t want to lead him on to her fib.
“I just wanted to check in and make sure it was fine to sleep,” he said.
Paulina gave him her leave with a nod.
Still, he made no effort to leave her side, and Paulina gave him a few furtive, sidelong looks as the tangible awkwardness of the moment festered in the space between them. Silence, with the exception of the rowing, lingered on the forepeak.
Slight gurgling slurps over to starboard met the privateer’s ears a few minutes later, and she immediately felt the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickle, all while nervous energy surged from her heart. Even as she felt a vicious, cold sweat lathering her brow which coupled a shiver wriggling up her spine, a light, burning tingle from the trinket around her neck—a trident pendant she wore in her ever-lasting devotion to the goddess—gave her limbs and torso enough motion to pull herself away from the spot. She turned her head only a few millimeters, and she noticed Little still standing there; he elicited no reaction to the sucking, which now grew louder—and closer.
“Mr. Little, do ye hear that?”
“Hear what?” he replied, just as a ghostly shadow swung up from the starboard side. Paulina gasped at once, but Little didn’t notice; she felt the blood stampede away from her face, the muscles and jaw not responding to her mental commands. She had wanted to speak, to say something in warning, but her lips, though open, couldn’t conjure words; her throat burned. “I can’t hear anything when I have such a wonderful vi—argh!”
Little jerked, his reply cut short as what looked like a pockmarked tentacle slashed from over his right shoulder and grabbed him by the face, the slimy flesh clamping down across his mouth with a vicious strike. She watched as his eyebrows shot toward his hairline all while the tentacle tensed and flexed around his mouth and face, the markings along its length seemingly winking at her, until she heard the undeniable, sickening crunch of bone shattering mere heartbeats later. She winced and jerked backward, while his body slouched, as if his legs gave way underneath him. The tentacle of whatever had grabbed her first mate’s now lifeless corpse lifted the body and flung him backward off the starboard bow as if he were merely refuse instead of a living, breathing person.
She didn’t even try to wager a guess as to how far he flew; even with her chest slowly aching thanks to her rapid heartbeat, she hadn’t heard a resounding splash even after thirty beats had elapsed. Paulina grit her teeth as the tentacle slipped away and out of sight for the time being—but she knew deep in her heart they were no longer safe.
Safe from pirates, yes. No pirate—not even those two dunderheads, wherever they were now—would come near her.
Safe from the creatures of the deep, no.
And even though she didn’t want to vocalize it, to give it truth, she had a good idea what had just killed Little—and more than likely postponed the incoming lass’s nuptials until Weaver found her a suitable replacement for a husband.
The thought of this particular beasty anywhere near Spicer’s Bay, though, froze her down to her five remaining toes.
Well, we’re right and truly fecked now, aren’t we? she thought.
“Oy, ye lot!” she called, finding her voice finally pried from her throat. “Get the guns! Avast me feckers, and get to firin’!”
“At what?” one called from near the mizzen mast.
The sound of planks snapping off the starboard bow, the screams of the galley slaves, and the sudden tilt of the deck to starboard told Paulina one thing: the creature had just created a massive breach in the Whelp’s hull. Adding it up quickly in her mind told her the third ship the Baron had given her would soon founder. It was a mathematical certainty, even though she barely knew her numbers.
“At that,” she said, raising her voice. “Get on it, lads. Get the muskets and plenty o’ buckshot to kill whatever the feck it is!”
The lads rushed about immediately, a little more urgency behind their steps, their running either helped or hindered depending on which side of the ship they stood. Yells permeated the gloaming around them, yet those screams, for reasons she didn’t quite understand, came through her ear canal at a slightly lower pitch than half a heartbeat earlier: she suddenly felt warm—warmer than normal, she noticed, for the Caribe—but all of the sweat which had built during Little’s untimely demise seemed to curiously dissipate even as the heat spread across her chest. Her heart still thundered away, but an inexplicable utter calm had passed over her.
Get the trinket, she heard in her mind. The important trinket. Do it now, before it’s too late. You have no weapon, you are useless in a fight. Get off the ship now! Do it before you go down!
The voice had an ethereal quality to it, she immediately noted, one with such lilt and resonance to its substance—one she dared not ignore. Blinking, she nodded to herself and trudged down the stairs, the metal jabbing into the flesh underneath her right knee.
The thick aroma of gunpowder quickly settled over the heads of her men, but she sniffed a trickle of it as she lumbered across the deck. She grunted the pain away as her nostrils flared in her everlasting anguish. Still, her eyes remained focused on a door—the door to her cabin—as she walked closer. More yells for more guns came, and she saw several of her men, naked save their night shirts, pour out of the ship’s guts, cold muskets in their hands. They hurried to the starboard side; out the corner of her eye, she saw them nod as they acknowledged an order—“Fire into the sea, ya scrubs!”—before they all pointed their weapons toward the water.
Another layer of cordite and gunpowder smoke rose into the night, the muskets firing as one.
Two tentacles shot out from the Caribe’s face in an instant, jerking two of the sailors off their feet and pulling them overboard; their high-pitched screams died with a resounding splash and gurgle. Another pair of tentacles sprang over the starboard side in the heartbeat before the splash and wrapped around the masts, freezing Paulina in place just before the beast followed, appearing over the ship’s edge with the mightiest roar the privateer ever recalled hearing. Her jaw tumbled as she caught sight of the creature, one with the ovoid head of a tremendously-sized shark but the body and soul of an octopus. The Lusca hadn’t seen who had shot at it, but it didn’t truly matter: Paulina caught sight of several rows of sharp, triangular teeth in its gaping maw, and for the second time in a few minutes, felt fear flooding her to the point where her bowels had turned from solid to water in mere seconds.
Someone’s goin’ to die on those teeth tonight, she thought, her face trembling, her arse clenching tight under her breeches. The sailors, she took note, quickly pushed whatever fear they felt aside and raised their muskets toward what served as the beast’s chin as she turned and moved as fast as her fake appendage allowed; she heard the partially-muted gunshots, then heard the buckshot tinkle off the planks. She paused and turned her head toward the beast again; the Lusca didn’t have a single mark on it. She shook her head in disbelief, then recalled her earlier thought about dying. It can’t be me. No, Amphitrite, it can’t be me.
“Captain,” a sailor said as he approached; she saw his hair had matted against his scalp. Whether it was nervous sweat or blood from a wound, she couldn’t tell; in all honesty, she couldn’t have cared less. “It’s a Lusca, damn it. A Lusca! Our weapons be no match against—”
“I know,” she interrupted, pushing her way past. “Do what ye can to slow the fecker down. And I’ll do what I can to remember yer sacrifices.”
She didn’t look back as she limped away, dooming her crew to whatever fate—and she had the feeling she knew it—lay in store for them.
She snorted anyway.
They be dumb men anyway, the privateer thought as she trudged against the steep incline to starboard. Worthless pieces of shite men.
Paulina heard another round of buckshot go off followed by a squeal; she didn’t stop to see if it affected the Lusca in any deep way. Its unnatural wail told her they had hurt it, but she didn’t hear a resounding splash and cheer.
She drew closer to her cabin, and as she did she looked toward the well leading to the galley; the fact none had tried to make their way to safety nor had she heard any pleas for help told her all she needed to know. She didn’t let a sigh escape her; they were already dead, drowning from the initial ramming.
That’ll teach me to chain ‘em down, she thought. Won’t do that again, for true.
Paulina flung the cabin door open, stepping in and closing out the tumult. Exhaling hard, she ambled over to where she kept the valuable possessions—maps, trinkets, a gold necklace once worn by her mother; she had worn it the night she had snuck up to the deck and watched the men work, the night they hit rocks and tore a hole right in the bow, right above her parents’ cabin—and ripped the cabinet door away from the rest of it. She let her eyes dangle over the necklace for a moment and grunted. She grabbed it and another item in the cabinet, a golden chalice which sparkled in the dim candlelight. It was the prize the Baron had wanted most of all; there was no way to save the rest of her plunder in time, especially with a beast gnawing on her crew. She snatched the chalice up as well as a burlap sack; it would do for the voyage deep into the bay proper.
As she turned with another grunt, she noticed the pitch of the Whelp had grown deeper to starboard; so deep in fact that she watched helplessly as the candle slid off her desk in the corner and tumbled to the floor. The flame caught instantly against the floor, turning the spot black and spreading to the nearest wall.
She didn’t let her eyes widen as she turned on the spot with her false foot and exited her cabin for the last time, her precious trinkets in hand, saved from turning to ash. Paulina limped away, taking several strides before turning to the left. She grumbled through gnashed teeth as she plodded up the steps one at a time. She slipped the chalice into the bag.
“Get to the dinghy,” she muttered. “Get to the damned dinghy. This be why Little had the feckin’ thing here, for an emergency escape. Get to the dinghy, and we’ll be away from here right quick.”
She let a long, throaty croak emerge as soon as she reached the stern deck, then resumed her walk, the chalice clutched in her left; the necklace in her right. She didn’t look back when she heard a roar and a resounding crack; she flinched, though, at the crack, the mizzen mast snapping at what she figured came as a result of the Lusca’s mighty tugging.
Then, with her hearing amplified, she heard the prayers of her men as she felt her tears welling, each one more chilling than the last.
“Amphitrite, mighty Amphi-ahhhhhhhh!” The prayer had ended with a sickening crunch; she heard the telltale sounds of something liquid spraying against the decking.
Her upper lip flared; she felt grief welling in her chest. She pushed it aside with a thought and stepped closer to the stern.
“Save us, Amphitrite, don’t let us die here in the sea; my family, my family…”
Even from thirty feet away, the privateer heard heavy flatulence as the man’s bowels loosened on deck. She swallowed, thanking the goddess she stood no closer; she feared she would wrinkle her nose more now than she ever had in his presence.
Paulina recognized the last; it was the scream of her cook, one who had come up with the others, armed and ready to defend the sinking Whelp. He made a good stew; now he was Lusca chow.
Without looking at the devastation, she bade them all a heartless adieu as she finally reached the davits—only to find the dinghy wasn’t in its place. Someone had already lowered it; even over the calamity behind her, she heard oars dipping in the water somewhere off to the starboard-stern corner, safe from the Lusca’s flailings. She drove the meaty slab of her palm against the wood; she winced as she felt slivers poking her.
“Damn it, ye cunt, whoever ye be,” she said, albeit not letting her voice rise any further than her own hearing; she looked behind her and noticed no one else heard her, for the Lusca owned their attentions. Beyond them, the bow had already dropped below the surface, the Caribe encroaching the deck with its might, crawling ever faster as it dragged the Whelp toward the dirty depths of the Locker.
Paulina grimaced. Her transportation options cut short, she only had one choice now. It was either swim and live, or sink and die.
She had to swim for it.
Aye, she thought, it be the only way to save meself and the trinket for the Baron, and he’ll want to hear ‘bout all this. Aye, he will.
Swallowing her fear, she slipped the golden necklace into her pocket and set the burlap-covered chalice on the edge; it stayed there, even with the pitch of the Whelp growing deeper. She reached down and yanked the false foot off her right leg; she hopped as gracefully as possible in place on her left. The pain in the stub beneath her knee, she felt, had dissipated. Relief washed over her.
Put the foot on your back, my servant, the voice whispered, and I will not let it go. Trust in your Goddess.
Steadying herself against the stern’s sidewall, Paulina did as the voice asked: she hefted the foot and slung it across her back. Warmth immediately spread across her breasts, wrapping around her lattisimus. She lurched forward an inch or two as she felt the foot bond to her back. Her flesh tingled as the magic took hold.
“Wee, that be somethin’ I didn’t expect,” she said, before she scooped the burlap sack up and hefted herself up and over the stern in one smooth motion. She inhaled deeply as the distance between the edge and water disappeared in a blur.
Paulina tried to hold in her groan as she hit the water shoulder-first; not only that, her left knee scraped against the stern on the way down. Opening her eyes, water had flooded her vision; she didn’t panic, though, instead letting her body go light. She rose to the surface almost at once; she grabbed the sack tighter against her bosom.
Air nibbled at her face with tiny teeth, and she gasped as she came up for air. She looked around and saw the stern next to her; she kicked away from it twice, sending two footfulls of water a few seconds apart. Pale gray smoke, she noticed, rose into the air from the ship proper near her; the fire in her cabin had grown.
Still, though, the sounds of sailor screams had died off, Paulina noted as she swam away from the doomed ship; if that was true, then the entirety of her crew had perished.
Then, without any warning, she watched as the Lusca’s tentacles wrapped around the port side; with a tremendous tug, the Whelp, broken, gave a grunt just as the beast pulled it underneath the surface of the Caribe, doing so at a much faster rate than nature intended.
Exhaling, Paulina felt her flesh ripple as the ship disappeared.
Then, she felt her body tense without warning. She felt water rushing past her only a few seconds later, the presence pausing to seemingly look her up and down; she felt its eyes lingering over her leg, a tasty morsel, and she had to close her eyes as she moved it to keep herself afloat. She tried to form words in her subconscious, to be like the men on the Whelp’s decks as they prayed for Amphitrite to protect them, but no words, no prayers, came to mind. She felt sure it would take a nibble out of her and leave her a bobbing, bleeding corpse in the Caribe—but the Lusca, for some strange reason, didn’t even make a move for her. It soon swam under her and departed, heading off toward the west and even warmer water.
Gulping in air, she let her bladder release into the sea, not worrying for catcalls and embarrassment any longer.
She grunted.
“Oh, for feck’s sake, I’ve got to finish the damned job now,” she muttered as she began half-swimming toward the bay proper, her left arm pushing the water behind her.


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