Chapter 11

by Cassia and Siobhan

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The night was dark and quiet. Tarcil stirred the embers of the fire in the pit that he and a few of the others sat around.  Captain Thorongil had returned with the rest of the army some days ago.  The harbor from which Umbar was massing its attack was still busy as a beehive.  The brazenness of the Corsairs was almost startling.  Their earlier victories against the unprepared troops of Gondor must have affirmed their beliefs that the Gondorians were not prepared, nor equipped to deal with their impending invasion.  

They were about to find out how wrong they were. 

Tarcil laid aside the stick he had stirred the embers with.  Thorongil had sent fifteen of them on ahead to spy out the lay of the harbor and to see if they could discover what, if any, weaknesses the Corsairs had overlooked in the small makeshift town and harbor they had thrown together on the edge of the Anduin.  

The men around him shifted quietly, unwilling to settle down for the evening.  They all knew that the safety of Gondor lay with them. The wars with Harad had left their army weak.  If they could not stop the Corsairs, then it would be up to the remainder of the contingent they had left behind on the fields of Pelargir.  

And if they should fail... 

It was best not to think such thoughts.  The Gondorian soldier glanced up into the darkened sky, noting the small pinpoints of light in the black canopy.  Even the stars held their breath. 

Thorongil had thought it wise to split up the large contingent that Lord Ecthelion had sent with the captain.  He felt that stealth would more easily overcome their enemy instead of sheer mass.  The harbor’s defenses were broad and wide-flung to prevent against any mass attacks.  It was Thorongil’s opinion that the Corsairs would never expect a small group of soldiers from Gondor to infiltrate the harbor and so the element of surprise would be on their side.  The men around the Gondorian soldier were merely the forerunners in the attack that Thorongil had planned. 

Sighing heavily, Tarcil shook his head.  He just hoped it was enough.  He hoped they would be more successful in this than they had been in finding the Captain’s elf friend.  Tarcil had done his best and searched for leagues in each direction, but there had never been even the slightest trace of Legolas.  The elf had vanished as if he had never been.  Telling Thorongil that hadn’t been easy, but as always, the Captain was a just and a kind man.  He did not fault Tarcil for being unable to find what was not there.  But the soldier could still tell that the news had disturbed his commander deeply.  Tarcil sighed again.  Now was not the time for such thoughts; they could afford no distractions. 

The main body of soldiers would join them when Thorongil brought them up.  They expected their commander to arrive any time now.  A few of the company would remain behind, near Pelargir, setting up camp and readying for the return of the taken population of Lithiant.  The Corsairs, it was well known, sold most of their wartime prisoners into slavery and they did not expect the people to return unharmed.  

Pelargir was many miles to the north of the destroyed city of Lithiant.  From there, the people would be taken home to Gondor’s capitol and then they would be relocated or, if Lord Ecthelion saw fit, he would send them back with help to rebuild their ruined city; depending on how safe the surrounding area was. 

The men across the fire from the commander jumped, reaching for their weapons and quietly gasping in shock as the form of a man stepped into the ring of light the fire shed in the small corner of the woods they had encamped in for the night. 

Tarcil stood and turned quickly towards the disturbance, letting his breath out in a loud sigh as Thorongil raised his empty hands slightly, a huge smile spreading across his face. 

“I didn’t scare you, did I?” The northerner chuckled softly before grasping Tarcil’s arm in greeting and motioning the man back down to the seat he had left only moments before.  “Please, be at ease.”  

Thorongil seated himself on a log that had been pulled up next to the fire, the space recently and quickly vacated for him by the men. 

“How is it you do that?” Tarcil leveled his commander with a stern glare. 

“Do what?” Aragorn laughed lightly knowing full well he had scared the men out of their wits by approaching them so silently.  Secretly he had enjoyed himself and even more so he was glad he was still able to walk with such stealth. Although men were easily distracted and not as keen as elves, it was nonetheless no simple feat among these skilled warriors. 

“You know exactly of what I speak.”  Tarcil smiled in return, shaking his head, “That...” He raised his hand and gestured towards Thorongil, “That sneaking up on us like you do.” 

“You should constantly be aware of your surroundings, Tarcil,”  Thorongil admonished lightly. 

“Aware?!  How can one be aware of what one cannot hear?  Even the woods did not silence for your approach.”  Tarcil’s eyes narrowed as he taunted his superior, “Makes me wonder if there isn’t elvish in that blood of yours.” 

Aragorn laughed aloud, his mirth contagious in the men around him.  He had never spoken of his past or his upbringing and it pleased him that Tarcil had made the connection on his own.  Yes, this one would make a good leader.  He made up his mind to appoint his second-in-command over his men when he left; the Gondorian soldier was respected and well liked. It would be an easy transition. 

Ignoring Tarcil’s comments, Thorongil quickly changed the subject as he accepted a warm mug of mead from the soldier on his left.  Taking a small drink he swallowed the heated liquid, feeling its warmth down into his stomach.  

With a nod of thanks he turned back to Tarcil. “What of the Corsairs?  How is their encampment laid out? Can we approach the ships undetected?  How many have they moved to the harbor?  Is there no weakness, no lax that we can exploit?”  The questions tumbled out as his war-honed mind, focus sharpened to the impending conflict and he easily switched into his role as commander. 

The change was not lost on his friend who couldn’t help smiling at the deft switch.  Answering quickly, Tarcil began to fill his captain in on the lay of the land around the harbor and the exact times when the guards were changed.  It seemed that the main contingent of the Corsair forces slept in barracks they had crudely fashioned near the wharf.  The officers and shipwrights could often be found in the evenings enjoying the bounty brought in by their latest raid and strategizing on the forward-most vessel.  The other ships were occupied only with the crewmembers and the craft’s builders.  The time was nearly upon them when the ships would be completed and readied.  According to Tarcil, they had already been loaded with a complete armory; they only awaited the command to set off and begin their invasion. 

Thorongil’s second-in-command continued describing what they would find down to the smallest detail; he had been thorough.  The ranger found his description of the harbor master intriguing.  The fellow sounded imposing and he hoped they would be able to take him out first.  If not, he could prove a serious problem.  Tarcil was sure he would be in the forward boat as well, as he often occupied himself with the mead that was fully stocked aboard the officers’ ship. 

Aragorn stiffened visibly as the soldier continued to fill him in on what they had discovered in the days they had been down here on their own, and a plan began to form in his mind. 

“Thorongil,” Tarcil glanced worriedly around the small group of men.  He leaned forward, his voice falling quietly. “The slaves have all been loaded onto one of the ships.  We saw them just last night.  They were in chains and were herded below deck.  Men, women and children; they do not care - they took them all.  Not just those from Lithiant either, but many others.  The Corsairs have been busy since our last battle and the countryside around has felt the ravaging touch of their raids.  Some of the slaves are not Gondorian, but I would wish the Corsairs on no one, for they are without mercy.  The ship is readying to leave at a moment’s notice.  Why they have tarried I know not, but they will not remain much longer.  If we wish to rescue our people we must move quickly.” 

The tension rose in the small glade as Aragorn took in the new information.  Hot anger burned in his heart and he had not dropped his gaze from that of Tarcil’s as he worked through this news.  He hated slavery and those who enslaved others held no special place in his heart.  His own slavery, years ago, had been cruel and degrading enough to put a life-long disdain of it inside him.  His thoughts fell back to another time when he had endured chains and the shame of being sold as nothing more than a possession, easily tossed aside. 

Rising swiftly from his seat, he crossed the camp and picked up his pack from where he had dropped it on the edges of the ring of light the fire spread. 

“My lord?” 

When Thorongil’s gaze rested on his second-in-command the man knew without a word that they were leaving at once.  Ordering the men up and the camp stricken, Tarcil set his full attention on his commander. 

“You said there were still vats of pitch near the ships?”  Aragorn focused once more on the Gondorian soldier he trusted so much. 

“Yes.” Tarcil’s eyes narrowed, trying to follow where his commander was going with the information he had been given.  The pitch was used for sealing the great ships.  Once they were made seaworthy it was sometimes necessary to patch here and there, so the large vats had been moved onto the platform that created the harbors edge, off of the main walkway but within easy reach of the ship builders. 

Pulling several burning limbs from the fire before it was put out; Thorongil passed the flaming torches among the men.  

“I’m going back to retrieve the main contingent.  I left them stationed not a mile from here.  You and the men go ahead of us.  Find the vats and soak your arrow tips in them.  As soon as you see us, light them on fire and shoot them at the ships.  We will burn them down where they rest.  While you are about that, the others will secure the Corsair soldiers.  Do nothing but focus on those ships; we must not allow them to leave.  I will take care of the rest.”  He grabbed Tracil’s arm as he stepped past the man heading back to the encampment where he had left the main body of warriors. “Do not let that slave ship depart under any circumstances.  Do you understand?” 

“Yes my lord, I understand.” 

“Good.”  Aragorn nodded curtly, smiling gently when he noted the tenseness in the other, “It will go well for us, Tarcil, you will see.  We will not let them take our brothers with them.”  He tightened his grip on the man’s forearm quickly before running back into the woods the way he had come. 

It was time. 

Tarcil turned and stared at the men waiting on his command.  He sighed deeply and nodded at the soldiers; in moments the small contingent of warriors was moving stealthily through the darkened woods towards the harbor. 


The moon was a mere sliver in the dark sky that overshadowed the Anduin.  The large Corsair ships sat in the harbor, gently swaying with the river’s eddies.  The sails were set on two of the great boats near the northern part of the docks.  A stillness lay over the land as a warm, gentle breeze caught and rippled the white canvas squares.  Lights burned brightly through the portals set horizontally, high in the ships' bellies, attesting to the fact that there were some who were not yet asleep.  The false sense of peace had lulled the enemy warriors into a lax state, feeling overly confident in the power they had amassed.  Their plans were fool-proof, they felt, and their recent victories against the Gondorian Army near Lithiant only served to bolster that confidence. 

Aragorn crouched in the shadows near the edge of the shantytown, his sharp eyes scanning the dock-ways.  Here and there a scattering of men walked or stood around small fires haphazardly built on the wooden planking.  One man leaned drunken-like against a huge vat of pitch; near his feet the ranger could just make out the shape of a quiver lying against his legs – it was Tarcil.  The men were in position, they were just waiting.  Now that he had found one of them, Aragorn easily spotted the rest of his disguised soldiers, standing in darkened corners, milling near the pitch vats, their makeshift torches set into tall metal shafts that were used as crude sconces. 

A small sigh of relief escaped the captain’s lips and the soldier next to him glanced warily at the man in charge. 

“They are ready,”  Thorongil whispered.  “Follow me, the barracks are this way.”  He backed slowly away from his vantage point and motioned to the men hiding in the woods behind him heading for the area Tarcil had described to him.  In seconds the harbor town was seething with a black carpet of Gondorian soldiers as they swept towards the unsuspecting Corsairs. 

Quietly rounding the corner of the barracks, Aragorn eased up behind the nearest man on patrol.  Moving too quickly for the guard to report any trouble, the ranger grabbed the soldier from behind and disposed of him.  Handing the lifeless body back to his men they raced forward, taking out the Corsairs who were on duty that night.  

The Gondorians poured into the barracks as Aragorn stepped aside.  Although the element of surprise was on their side the ranger heard the alarm being raised.  

Corsairs spilled out of the windows and fought their way out the front door, struggling against the overwhelming odds of the Gondorian soldiers, taking the fight into the muddy streets.  Those who weren’t killed outright were taken as prisoners of war; those who resisted joined the dead. 

Fighting his way from the front of the melee, away from his men, Aragorn exited the chaos and turned his attention to the harbor.  He watched as Tarcil lit another arrow and released the flaming projectile against the bulk of the nearest ship.  

The fleet of the Corsairs was in flames and his advance team was moving rapidly down the harbor, making sure that there were no survivors. 

Grabbing one of his men who stumbled closely towards him, Thorongil righted the soldier and yelled instructions at him, “Find me one of them alive and bring him out here.  I want to know what the compliment of each ship is.  We can ill afford any surprises.” 

Raised voices calling his name caught the commander’s attention and he glanced sharply to his left in the direction his men were pointing.  A group of three shipmates sprinted from a far building heading towards the first of the great boats.  The ship's hull was on fire but their intent was clear, they were trying to get the attention of the men inside. 

They were calling for help. 

Aragorn raced towards their position, flanked by two of his own soldiers.  As they gained on the fleeing Corsairs, he recognized one man as the Harbor Master.  Tarcil had described him correctly.  They had watched the man for some time learning his ways and patterns.  Tarcil said he was called Raldush by those around him, and he stood out strikingly among the Corsairs.  A tall muscular man, he was patterned on his face and arms in the tribal ways of some of the fighting Haradrim.  His dark hair was tied back from his face in a long braid and a scar ran the length of his face, marring the tattoos that decorated him forehead to chin. 

Arrows split the air on either side of Aragorn as he chased up the gangplank nearly catching Raldush.  The weapons found their marks in the backs of the ship crew that ran next to the Harbor Master.  One crewmember fell from the top of the gangway, his body carried off by the river, the other slipped back onto the plank, tripping up Aragorn.  Clumsily he threw the dead man’s body out of the way and leapt onto the ship’s deck, frantically seeking which direction the Harbor Master had fled.  If he got away and rallied his men, it could be disastrous. 

Raldush stood near the anchor winch, winding the thick, wet rope on a huge wheel as he shouted in his native language to the men below. 

In moments the deck would be full of Corsairs and Aragorn stood alone mid-ship, staring at the hatch, his mind working furiously.  The ranger glanced up at the huge sails over his head, the soft snapping of the wind against them attracting his attention.  Ignoring Raldush for the moment, he ran to the edge of the railing and shouted down at Tarcil.  His second-in-command was interrogating a prisoner and quickly searched about him for the source of the sound of his name. 

“Tarcil, here, up here!” Aragorn motioned with his hands, “Light an arrow and put in the ship's main mast!”  The northerner didn’t wait to see his commands carried out but raced back to the large vertical shaft.  Unsheathing his elven blade he began to cut through the thick cords that held the sails furled. 

The mainsail fell first, the white canvas falling in on itself and folding down to the deck covering the ship with its heavy fabric.  Seeing Thorongil’s intent, Tarcil shouted to the men around him to target the ropes and bring the sails and spars down upon the deck.  Aragorn was hoping their weight would be enough to pin the hatch closed beneath them. 

Seeing his men trapped below and his exit from the ship cut off as fire raced towards the prow, Raldush gave up on the anchor and stalked back to the Gondorian commander with death in his eyes. 

The fire was racing out of control.  Aragorn had to leap aside to avoid a flaming sheet of canvas as it fell to the deck with a crash, sending up a biting shower of sparks and heat.  Before he could react or even fully register the threat, Raldush was on him. 

The swiftness and surprise of the Harbor Master’s attack left Aragorn reeling.  He found himself driven to the deck as Raldush slammed his fists down between the ranger’s shoulder blades.  Pain lanced across Aragorn’s back and he gasped raggedly for air as his lungs attempted to recover from the shock of the blow. 

Tarcil saw Raldush’s intentions but his attempts to stop the Corsair failed.  He watched in helpless horror from the dock as the Harbor Master drove Thorongil to the deck of the ship, out of their line of sight, his voice drowned out by the chaos around them. 

Before Aragorn could recover, Raldush grabbed the Gondorian commander, hauling him to his feet by his hair.  His large, thick hands wrapped around Aragorn’s neck and pinned him to the main mast, choking him.  Flames leapt high behind the fighting silhouettes, sending sparks flying far up into the backdrop of the star-flecked sky. 

The ranger twisted in the vice-like grip, trying to pry the man’s fingers from his neck.  He lashed out at the Corsair who neatly moved out of reach of the short elven blade, slapping the weapon out of the captain’s hand. 

Behind the fighting men, the foresails fell to the deck, their main boom crashing down upon the top of the hatch and sealing it shut even as the men below pressed their combined strength against the weight of the collapsed mainsail’s rigging.  There was no escape for them now.  The white fabric fluttered to the deck of the ship as the aft sail’s halyards snapped, cut clean through by the hail of arrows that Tarcil’s men fired repeatedly at them.  

Maintaining his grip on the Gondorian commander, Raldush punched the soldier brutally in the stomach, forcing all the air from Aragorn’s lungs.  The ranger’s eyes widened at the new punishment and he felt panic begin to flood through his being when he couldn’t get his diaphragm to cooperate.  

The sound of an arrow cut close by his face, causing him to move as much as he could to the left as one of the projectiles impacted the mast to the right of him, splattering burning pitch against the wood and dripping the thick substance down onto the sail beneath their feet.  Aragorn flinched as a splatter of pitch streaked across his cheek, burning the soft skin. 

Quickly grabbing the weapon, Aragorn awkwardly jerked it out of the wood piling and shoved the flaming arrowhead into his opponent’s abdomen.  

Raldush fell back, releasing his grip on the ranger.  A second flaming arrow sent him stumbling forward as it embedded itself into his back, rupturing his heart.  His gaze locked onto Aragorn’s as he fell forward and the young commander pushed him into the midst of the pile of white fabric that lay in mounds on the decking.  Already the sails were on fire and the flames raced up the halyards that had caught in the rigging, hanging up on the disjointed spars and booms that had fallen with the sails. 

Aragorn stumbled backward towards the aft of the ship.  He could hear the crewmembers and soldiers trapped below but he found that he had no pity for them as he moved away from the spreading flames.  These men built their lives on the broken backs of cruelly subjected slaves; they massacred women and children and mutilated the dead.  Fire had engulfed much of the ship by this time; there was nothing he could have done for them now even had he wanted to. 

Quickly recovering his breath, Aragorn raced to the edge of the ship.  Most of the railing and the whole side of the great boat was aflame.  Looking over to his men below he heard them shouting, but the roar of the fire and the wind that whipped up from the flames cut off the exact words.  Following their frantic pointing he saw a large ship edging slowly past the boat he stood upon. 

This ship was smaller than the one he was on and carried no complement of soldiers.  Its hull was black and its markings were foreign.  With a start Aragorn realized it was the slave ship and it was making a run for it.  Using the burning hulks of the Corsairs' warships as shields, the slavers were attempting to escape. 

Glancing down the line of ruined vessels, Aragorn noted that there was no way his men could stop the ship.  He couldn’t let them get away.  The deck behind him was partly on fire, the flames edging closer to where the ranger stood.  A tattered rope hung just above the back of the aft deck.  It had caught on the main mast high above the ground and swung freely.  

The slave ship had nearly passed; it was picking up speed as its sails caught the strengthening winds.  Shaking his head as he thought through his options and finding his only idea to seem completely foolhardy, Aragorn raced up the short stairway to the aft of the ship, grasping the trailing rope and pulling himself onto the edge of the rail.  Taking a deep breath he kicked off of the railing and swung in a large arc towards the passing ship, releasing the edge of the rope as he was thrown across the deck. 

Landing on his shoulders and rolling up onto his feet, Aragorn pulled a small knife from the back of his belt. The thin, tapered blade screamed through the air, embedding itself in the neck of the captain who was steering the vessel down the wide, deep channel.  The man fell forward onto the large wheel, inadvertently causing the ship to steer to the right.  The hull of the slaver craft scraped against the burning hulk of one of the warships that listed on its side in the river, pressing the dead ship out of its way as it churned towards the shore.  

The rending sound of wood on wood drew the Gondorian soldiers’ attention and those who were not guarding prisoners or chasing down stragglers ran to the edge of the harbor where the ship slammed forcefully into the harbor deck, breaking the planks easily and grounding its hull on the rocks beneath.  Lacing their hands together the soldiers lifted their own up to the top of the railing and the warriors swarmed the deck, quickly subduing the slave master’s crew.  The shipmates gave up without a fight, seeing their boss and captain killed so skillfully by the irate commander and noting the swift destruction of the warships all around them.  

Aragorn raced to the hatch and beat the lock off of the wooden door with the handle of his sword, flinging it open.  Kneeling on the deck he called for a torch and leaned down into the large pit of the hold.  He could hear the people below, their soft cries of fear and distress mingled with the distinct rattle of chains. 

Tarcil knelt next to his commander, his eyes quickly assessing the man and passing him a torch.  Thorongil had been known to continue on even when seriously wounded and it had fallen many times to his second-in-command to know when to the pull the higher ranking officer out of the fray.  The northerner’s neck was red and bruises and welts from the near choking he had taken were beginning to appear.  There was a nasty burn on his cheek that would need to be seen to and he had sustained several cuts and bruises.  Nothing life-threatening, Tarcil sighed softly in relief before returning his attention to the hold.  

“Shh... be at peace.”  Thorongil spoke loudly enough for all to hear but his voice carried a tenderness and gentleness that had a calming effect on the people below, “We are here to free you.  Be still, we’ll be right down.” 

Turning back to his men he ordered the keys to the chains be found and in short order a small man was pushed to the front of the press of soldiers.  He was obviously a member of the slavers.  Hesitantly he held the keys out to the Gondorian commander. 

The contempt in Aragorn’s eyes caused the slight man to flinch visibly.  “Throw him down there and make him unlock them himself.  When he is through, bind him in his own chains and bring him out. I want all the slavers locked in their own iron collars so they can see first hand how it feels.”  Thorongil growled as he pushed the man towards one of the soldiers, instructing a few standing around to climb below as well and help release the prisoners. 

The ship listed heavily onto its right side, its hull having been compromised when it grounded itself.  The boards in the bottom gave way and water began to seep into the compartment that held the slaves.  The situation had changed immediately and Thorongil was pulled away from the hatch as soldiers quickly shimmied down the ropes, handing freed slaves out through the small portal as fast as they could. 

Tarcil led his commander off the ship and out of the way of the stream of people that was exiting the sinking vessel.  Pity rose in Aragorn’s heart as he watched the men, women and children being led safely away from their captivity.  Some were injured, some were carrying others but most wore lost looks of fear and shock was written on every dirty, tear-stained face. 

“We need to get them away from here, Tarcil.  They need food and blanket. Look at them.”  He motioned toward a small child that clung to his mother’s leg.  The woman’s left hand touched the matted hair of the youngster and she fearfully followed the soldiers to join the others.  

Aragorn moved from where he stood and scooped the small boy into his arms, quieting his mother’s fears as she turned towards the soldier with a small cry.  He led the group of refugees away from the ships to the edge of the woods were his men were caring for the wounded among them.  The former slavers, now prisoners, had been shackled and contained in their own chains and were being led back to the main camp ahead of those they had claimed as slaves.  There was no need to torment the freed people with the sight of their captors any longer.  Few were the Corsairs that had survived the raid and when Aragorn inquired about how his men had faired he was pleased to learn that they had only lost a small handful of men, although they had quite a number more who were wounded.  He would see to them all later and make sure they were well taken care of. 

A shouted warning drew his attention and he glanced up quickly from helping an elderly man down onto the grassy knoll.  The slaver ship, having taken on too much water, listed dangerously on its side.  The last of his men and the freed refugees jumped from the side of the ship as it rolled completely over in the riverbed, its main mast sinking into the soft mud of the waterway and holding fast.  With an inhuman groan the ship broke apart and dipped beneath the top of the water, submerging in the deep swirls of the river. 

“What do we do with the harbor, sir?”  Aragorn recognized the man as one of the commanders under him. 

“Torch it,” he answered quietly. “Burn it all, burn it to the ground.  Take a small contingent and destroy it utterly. I want them to know they have been completely defeated.  Return to the rendezvous when you are through.”  He smiled tightly as the man nodded and ran off to obey, taking a group of ten soldiers with him to accomplish Thorongil’s commands. 

Aragorn started to walk to the front of the column of people that was beginning to assemble as the soldiers started the refugees heading back towards camp.  He wanted to make it there by morning; these people wouldn’t be able to travel much farther. 

A small commotion to the rear of the company caught his attention and he stopped, wondering what the shouting was all about. 

“Adrar!  Adrar!” a voice was calling. 

That name... 

Whipping quickly around, Aragorn made his way to the back of the column of newly freed slaves.  A young, dark-skinned man was being restrained by Tarcil and another soldier. 

“Adrar!”  The youth’s frantic cries increased when he saw that he had garnered the commanding officer’s attention. 

Frowning slightly, Aragorn stopped in front of the young man and ordered his men to release him.  Few were the people who knew him by that name and none of those who did should have been in this place.  The dark-skinned youth, nearing the end of his teenage years, smiled widely, his eyes glittering with excitement.  The face was strangely familiar but... the name escaped Aragorn.  He tipped his head slightly to the right as he looked the young man up and down. 

“You don’t remember me?”  The boy’s accent was thick, although his common was easy to understand, “You promised you would never forget me.” 

“Kidrin?!”  Aragorn whispered the name in disbelief.  The small child he remembered in his mind’s eye had grown and changed much.  “Is that you?” 

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