Javelin- introduction to being a skirmisher

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After a long winter hibernation, it is high time for another post on the blog. This time, I am going to talk about a weapon which is not seen very often on the battlefield. It does however have a huge potential and is tremendous fun to use- the javelin.

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For thousands of years Javelineers were used in armies throughout the world and the dark age armies were no different. Javelins have been used by skirmishing units to harass the enemy, kill or encumber them and their mounts and in outflanking maneuvers. Mainline units also utilized the javelin, be it just prior to engaging in combat, or as a weapon of opportunity throughout the battle.

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Javelin is a very effective weapon, when used right. Heavier and larger than an arrow, but smaller than a spear, javelins could inflict some serious damage, even on an armoured foe. It did have it’s limitation: a shorter range and less power than an arrow or a sling, you could only take a limited number on a battlefield. It did have some serious advantages though, mainly that it was capable of rendering enemy shields near useless by getting stuck in them. It was good for killing horses, due to it’s superior weight. A man throwing a javelin could still benefit from a shield and fight in a shield wall, whereas an archer could not. Also, a javelin took a lot less practice than a bow and it did not require such strict maintenance, so it was easier to equip large number of warriors with them.

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But enough of a historical note- time to consider how a javelin is used in reenactment combat. The most important thing about it, is that a javelin IS NOT a competitive weapon. It is used FOR DISPLAY only and javelineers will never aim to “kill” their opponent- they will only ever throw their missiles against a shield. Why do they not use their javelins in competitive combat? The reasons for this are pretty obvious. A javelin is essentially a small spear, with a lot of weight behind it compared to an arrow or a slingshot. As opposed to reenactment arrow, it has a metal head. Even when used as a hand weapon it can cause grievous harm. In order to hit a target, a javelin must be thrown with a considerable force, otherwise it will fall short or loose direction. When thrown properly,  a javelin has enough force to easily break bone and pierce flesh. No one wants to be at a receiving end of a metal-tipped projectile, weighing some 2kg, moving at a speed approaching that of an arrow. In addition to that, a javelineer, once he has loosed the javelin, has no control over the projectile. This means, if anything untoward happens, there is no way to pull or stop the blow. It is for these reasons, that javelins are restricted as “display” weapons, only used against shields, in order to demonstrate a missile attack. It is also perhaps why javelins are seldom seen, as many warriors sadly deem them redundant.

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Despite the fact that it cannot be used in competitive battles (until the reenactors find a way to use a javelin safely, which we are working on for some time now and may eventually find an acceptable solution), a javelin is huge fun to use. It gives an extra dynamic to a fight, with a “missile” phase of the battle sometimes being just as exiting to watch and to participate in  as the hand-to-hand combat. Imagine advancing towards your enemy, as their archers loose waive after waive of arrows, and the slingers hurl their shots at your line. As you get closer, lightly armoured skirmishers approach and hurl javelins, which thud heavily against the shields in your line, only to retreat after discharging their missiles. Finally, as the lines are about to clash, more missiles come your way, with arrows flying high, slingshots going past your heads, or thumping warriors on their bodies and last of the javelins hitting your line, with maybe some even piercing weaker shields and getting stuck for good.

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It is a whole battle onto itself, never mind the combat! I know from experience, that a determined javelin assault can slow down, buckle or disrupt an advancing line, even though all those involved know that javelins cannot be used to score valid Kills. The sheer mass and force of the javelins, together with psychological effect of their use is enough, especially against less experienced warriors. Also, let’s not forget, that a javelin can achieve some impressive distances, up to even 25 meters (usually it is thrown from 4-7 meters) which is not that far off a small bow. Some of the best javelineers can even achieve longer distances, approaching those of actual athletes. Using a javelin is a test of skill, accuracy, daring and stamina. Not only that, you also get to show off some more, as javelineers often skirmish ahead of the main army and form a focal point of early stages of the battle. Javelin display is also one of the more impressive elements of a battle, with onlookers frequently excited (or frightened!) by a well done display. No longer are you confined to being just another shield in a wall! Instead you are a daring, dashing skirmisher, you dart in and out in front of your hapless foes, and pepper them with missiles, that often cause an advancing line of steel, wood and flesh to buckle, slow down or even retreat under fire. You get to be a hero for a short moment and you get the rush and the joy of standing out from the crowd, whilst performing some of the most dangerous and demanding tasks on a battlefield.

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So, now that I had have you hooked (hopefully!), time for some practical considerations. How does one use a javelin effectively? See some pointers below:

  1. Forget the usual stance and combat style. Whilst throwing a javelin, you will inevitably end up out of balance, not covered by shield, not facing the enemy the right way etc. This is fine. All you need to do, is be able to get away, or resume your fighting stance fast in things get too close and personal.
  2. Hold it right. Hold your javelin either like you would a dart (with tips of your fingers), or as athletes do, resting it on the palm of your hand. Hold the javelin at the balance point, or just behind. If throwing long distance, you might want to hold it slightly further back, this will allow you to generate more energy with same motion (try it as an experiment- hold the javelin close to its tip, then throw. With each throw hold it further back, until you hold it just a foot away from the end. You will notice, that the throw gets easier and the distance increases the further back you hold the javelin).
  3. Aim. Always keep eye on your target, but do not aim for too long, as this will throw you off. Just like with a bow- nock, draw, loose, no faffing about. Eye on the target, set and throw. Remember, that over distance javelin will tend to dip down, until it hits the ground, so take it into account (Personally I find it helpful to see the very tip of my javelin in the corner of my eye as I aim, but some find it distracting).
  4. Use the Force. A javelin must be thrown hard, in order to fly straight and true, otherwise it will fall short of it’s target, or change it’s course too easily. Do not be afraid to put some considerable force in the throw- after all, there is a plank of wood (also known as the shield) between you and your opponent, so they should be safe. It helps if you manage to put a spin on a javelin (especially for longer throws) as it flies more like an arrow, straighter and more accurately.
  5. Assess the risk. As a javelineer, you must be conscious that you can easily injure someone, especially if you take them unawares. ALWAYS make sure your target knows they are about to receive a javelin (usually a short moment of eye contact and a nod suffices). Do not throw, if you feel unsafe about it, if the target is too far, moving too fast, or does not know you are about to throw. Consider weather conditions, slippery grass, slope etc. and make your assessment. If in doubt- DO NOT THROW. And, just to reiterate, ALWAYS make eye contact with target before throwing. If your intended target indicates that they are not ready, or do not wish to receive the javelin, move on to someone else. Due to the nature of the weapon you could easily kill or maim with it, and each time you use it, you must use common sense and judgement. This is why javelin requires skill and experience and not many warriors choose to use it.
  6. Be like a flowing stream. By which I mean, move fast, with fluidity and try to avoid getting into sticky situations. Javelineers usually serve as skirmishers, so they move a lot, run fast, hit hard and retreat quickly. You are there to run around flanks, harass a main line, protect your archers, or delay an enemy. This is not the tank core! Welcome to the skirmishing world, where melee is avoided and keeping in line doesn’t matter. It is a different type of fight altogether and not suitable for everyone.
  7. Show some panache! Scream, make faces, shout insults and make as much noise as you like. Move fast and hit hard. You are there to make a show and to distract, so do it in style!
  8. Do not overburden yourself. Carry no more than 3-4 javelins, and do not bother with more than two other weapons. Not only does it look silly, it also impedes your own moves and effectiveness.
  9. Release the javelin at the right moment. Draw your arm back, stretch it out, then bring it forwards and throw. Release just as your hand passed your shoulders, and keep your arm straight as you do so. You do not want to send your javelin spinning to the side, but keep it flying straight, so make sure your arm moves in a straight line and not in a curve.
  10. Use your wrist. By giving the javelin a “flick” or a “push” with your wrist just as you release it, you add power to the throw. It is a hard move to explain, but see someone do it, or watch athletes compete in javelin throw and you will see what I mean.
  11. Aim at shields only. Never aim anywhere else than an opponents shield (ideally just under the boss) or just short of your opponent. Safety first!
  12. Make sure you have plenty of practice, to co-ordinate your arm and your eye. Just like when throwing a dart, the eye picks a target and the arm should adjust the height, angle and force of the throw to hit the intended target. Also make sure you practice in your wargear, as throwing a javelin while wearing a helmet, gauntlets and a shield is a lot different to what you may know from your sports class.

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Using a javelin is a demanding task, as it is actually a lot more dangerous than other weapons we use, due to the fact that it is being thrown and not directly in your control. It requires skill, co-ordination and practice, but it is HUGE fun to use. It is a different kind of a fight. Personally, I would like to see more javelins used on the battlefield, as they make for a great show and add great dynamic to any fight. The biggest reason why we do not see many javelineers, is the fact that a javelin cannot be used competitively- a fact that hopefully may change in the future. In the meantime, I would like to encourage everyone to give javelin a go and see for themselves what a great weapon it is to use.

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Kelmarsh- History Live!

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So, last weekend I have attended my first ever Major reenactment show- Kelmarsh History Live festival. It was an amazing event, there was so much to see and so much to do, it felt like the standard 24 hour day was much to little.

Not having a car, I have managed to catch a lift, with a few good friends from Y Ddraig- Thorstein, Thorkell and Yngvar ( I am using authentic names here). After a merry drive in Thorstein’s fab Ford KA, we have arrived at Kelmarsh on friday evening, just in time to pitch out tents and go for a quick visit to a local supermarket, for supplies.

In the meantime, I have managed to take a quick photo of the campsite, which was really huge and jam-packed full of reenactors (there were two camp sites actually – “plastic” and “authentic”, both huge and both lots of fun):

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We have pitched our tents just before dark, and just in time to enjoy beer and snacks, before tomorrow. Also, just to make my point, my tent is not a “Hovel”, regardless of what Yngvar says. It may not be a “Love Palace”, as there are only two tents in Y Ddraig to have earned that name, but I will not have my tent insulted thus!

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In the morning, after we woke up and recovered from last night’s merriment, it was time to kit up, and get ready for battle! This year, our group was to take part in two battles, one called the Battle of The Standards, fought between the Scots and the English Normans, and the second The Battle of Stoke Field, fought in 1487 during War of the Roses. No actual Viking Age battle for us, but it was no obstacle whatsoever. In the first battle we appeared as Scottish rabble, and in the second as Irish Kern and Gallowglass mercenaries (after appropriate kit modifications of course).

First came the Battle of the Standards, where we would fight against Normano-English scum, in a suitably undisciplined and mob-like fashion. Unfortunately, the Scots have lost the battle and so we were destined to die or rout off the field. We fought hard none the less, and being a rabble proved hugely entertaining! WE screamed, we taunted, we were shot at with arrows, we charged down hill and run back when met with stout resistance, than charged again, until defeated. The only downside was the lack of fighting spirit from the Normano-English side, who were reluctant to advance or turn on their savage side. If only the fight was competitive, we would own them… One can dream, right?

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And, after a quick change of kit (only 30 minutes before the next battle!) we were ready to play the part of Irish mercenaries:

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This time, unfortunately we were yet again on the loosing side, as the York followers were beaten by the Lancastrians. Regardless of that fact, we still had huge fun, me especially, as it was my first time fighting against Medieval reenactors, who use different weapons, different armour and different rules. The battle was immense fun, with tonnes of shouting, charging, retreating, and facing off against men so heavily armoured, they seemed like actual tanks. Plus, we were peppered with arrows, shot at with cannons and hand guns, and even charged by cavalry! And, in the midst of it all, young members of Y Ddraig shouted defiantly their mysterious warcries (Euthanize!!! Forth Eorlingas!!! For money, money, more money and grapefruit!!!), while fighting savagely until their eventual deaths.

And, once the battles were done, and we have had our rest, it was time to explore the event. There was so much to see, so much to do! Trading stalls, lecture tent, beer tent, every possible kind of reeactment, from Romans and World War II to Victorian prisoners and the Suffragette movement. As soon as we were able, me, Yngvar, Thorstein and Thorkell went on a shopping/tourist spree amongst all the chaos:

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What have we seen, what have we heard, what delicacies have we tried? I could talk for days and days, and still not finish. Let us just say, we have seen it all, and still wanted more. Two days of glorious battles and incredible shows, visiting stalls and enjoying the amazing event that is Kelmarsh History Live.

And then, there was of course, the Saturday Beer Tent party, with live band, endless beer and cider, fancy dress and several hundred (or did we reach over a thousand?) reenactors having jolly good time. Cue Star Wars cosplay, 80’s dress up, mandatory man in a mankini, mosh-pit full of mead-crazed Vikings and all sorts of party craziness, carrying well into the night. Only one word describes it- epic.

I can only look forward to the rest of the season, and hope I can have at least half as fun as I had at Kelmarsh. Huge thank you to all involved, high-five to Thorstein for giving me and the rest of our gang a lift, and massive thanks to Baggsy for taking all the great photos of our group when I was too busy swinging an axe. Hail!!

 

 

 

 

A bit about Living History

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If you have ever attended a reenactment show, you will surely have seen something like this before:

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This is what we call a Living History display. It is a big part of our hobby, and for a great many fo us, an essential one. Living History is not that easy to define actually- but let me give it a try. We always learn the most through personal experience. Something we have seen or touched will be remembered and understood much easier than something we have only read about. That is why museums are such a great asset. Living History, is as close to time travel as we can go- people recreating lives of the people of the past, in as much detail as practical.

In almost every reenactment show, there is some sort of Living History. An event with nothing but battles and duels would quickly bore the public, and not much would be gained from just watching a bunch of guys trashing each other with swords and axes.

Living history has two purposes. First- to give us, the reenactors, opportunity to leave our modern lives behind, and become Vikings or Saxons or medieval knights or Napoleonic soldiers for a couple of days. I can only tell you, how immensely fun it is to be able to live like a Viking for a weekend, eat and drink and fight and sleep and dress exactly like they would. Second purpose- is to entertain and educate the public.

Reenactors would talk, answer questions, produce artwork, demonstrate various crafts. The public can take a “peek” at what life would be for the people of the Viking Age. Through such personal experience they would gain much more understanding and knowledge than by just reading or watching a TV programme. Plus, it is always fun to see a Viking camp, or a village, and watch the people in it go about their day. It is like a museum come alive.

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I myself was only really exposed to this concept, after becoming a reenactor myself. I have embraced it totally and I am ever eager to learn more and take as much part in any Living History event as I can. Through the use of living history, we are able to create a link with the past. We come to understand the people who lived in those times, we become connected. Living History is also a great resource for historians and scholars. Practical experiments, such as building Viking longships, or reconstructing houses gives us much insight into many questions. Sometime, it is only by practice, that we can find out how certain things were made, or how they were used. In this way, Living History makes a great contribution to our knowledge of the past.

Not to mention, that most reencators acquire new skills as well. Dress making, metalworking, woodcarving- these are just examples of crafts many of us learn and utilize, as part of our hobby.

Some people push the concept even further, turning it into a lifestyle. Just look up stories of Kassa Lajos, who has alomst single handedly brought back the art of horse archery through his living history lessons and everyday practice. Or the enthusiasts from Wolin in Poland, who are reconstructing a Viking Age settlement, to use it as a living museum, complete with 27 houses, a palisade, port and a shipyard and workshops for crafts of the Viking Age.

http://www.lovasijaszat.hu/volgy/?lang=2 – look at the story of Kassa Lajos, hungarian horse archery master, who made Living History into his lifestyle

http://www.jomsborg-vineta.com/- webpage of the Association of Slavs and Vikings Wolin-Jomsborg-Vineta who are reconstructing 10th century settlement and also organise the annual Wolin festival, one of the biggest reenactment events in Europe. Website unfortunately unavailable in English, but check out the gallery!

 

I am looking forward to the summer season, where hopefully I will attend a good few shows and when I will be able to tell you more about the Living History experience, as it is for the reenactor!

Making My Own Gambeson

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Hello!

As promised, today I will show you, how I have made my own Gambeson, or as it is otherwise known- padded armour. It was a type of light armour, worn underneath chainmail, or as main armour by poorer warriors. It consisted of many layers of linen sawn together, to cretate protection capable of absorbing shock of the blow and stop cuts and thrusts. It is in some ways similar to modern day Kevlar armour.

Historically, early medieval gambesons would have been made of many layers of linen, usually between 17 and 21. For the purposes of reenactment however, it is just as good and far more practical to use linen as outer fabric, with woolen or similar padding inside.

So, what materials do you need? Here’s the list of what I have used:

  • cheap woolen blanket/mixed wool fabric
  • linen and or coarse linen/felt
  • strong sewing thread, preferably linen
  • quality needle
  • pins (lots)
  • chalk, pencil
  • measuring tape and LOTS of patience

I have made my gambeson in a simplest design possible- a vest with laced arms. Such desing would be common place in Viking times, and is far more practical, than sewn-on arms (and much easier to make too).

I have designed my pattern by looking at many, many pictures online, to get a good idea of what a gambeson should look like. I have looked at other people’s projects and finally, I took my own measurements. I also used my own T-shirt as a base shape, modified to look like a gambeson. Here’s the basic pattern I arrived at:

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I then adjusted the measurements, making it bigger and leaving more space. Trust me, it is infinitely easier to make your garment too big and then cut it down, than to make it bigger once you find it’s too small! The pattern includes the front and back piece, and an arm. Front piece would be cut into two pieces, allowing it to be laced together when put on. Arms would be detachable and laced on to the vest once the gambeson is complete.

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ImageAs you can see, I have used three layers of wool, to create padding for my gambeson. It is a good balance between protection and weight, and provides a better, more realistic look to my gambeson, than thinner padding would. The choice is entirely up to you. Remember, the more layers of padding you add, the heavier and hotter the gambeson will be!

ImageHere is the front end, cut into two even halves.

ImageHere is the back part of the gambeson, with split in the middle. This split provides better movement, and improves your agility, it is essential if your gambeson is any longer than down to waist. My gambeson goes down almost to my knee, to protect my thighs, and this split reaches to just above my tailbone.

Now, using safety pins, I have put the front and back parts together, and put it on for a try, to see if I needed any adjustments. Once I was sure, the gambeson fitted ok, I was ready to sew the padding together. Remember, to check the fit of the garment at each stage of making, so that you can make necessary adjustments. I have made several to mine through the whole process, to make it fit better. Remember, measure twice, cut once!

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ImageI have used rough, undyed linen for both the facing and the shell of my gambeson (inner and outer layers of fabric, between which the padding is “sandwiched”). It is authentic and very durable material, and as I portray a warrior with limited money, undyed material made more sense than dyed one, which would have been more expensive. If you want a coloured gambeson, do it by all means, just remember to us authentic colours and shades, and aboce all keep in mind that it was a piece of armour, not a fashion item and practicality is the top priority.The linen facing/shell is about 5cm bigger than the padding, as you can see This is because I fold it on top of the padding and then sew it together, like on the pictures below. It is important to leave a little bit of space with no padding in it, just the folded edge of the facing. It will be important, when putting the whole gambeson together later.

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ImageI left about 5mm of hanging edge, for stitching the pieces together later on. The stitch you can see runs about 3cm away from the edge, this is deliberate, as it makes it easier to put them together later and provides better resilience to the finished piece.

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ImageOnce the facing was sewn on, I started on the outer shell, using exactly same method as before, with a larger in size linen piece, folded and sewn on to the padding, creating a finished piece.

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ImageYou can see that again, there is about 5mm left of just linen edge.

ImageAs you can see, there are two lines of stitching on this side of the piece- this is deliberate, as separating the stitching provides for a stronger edge of material. It is also easy to tell the facing and the outer shell apart, as the double stitching only shows on one side of the piece. This way, when you are putting the gambeson together, you can readily assemble ot the right way, without wondering which side is which.

I achieved this effect by stitching the outer shell on only about 1.5cm away from the edge, instead of 3cm away, like I have done with the facing.

Now, after making and finising the separate pieces, I had three pieces of gambeson which needed sewing together. I did it by sewing the edges of the pieces together, like so:

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Note, that this time I have made my stitching close to the edge of the material. This was why I have made the linen parts bigger than padding, so when I sew it together, the linen can be sewn together separately, without the need to punch the needle through the padding, This creates a tighter, stronger stitch and makes it far more elastic and easy to move, once the armour is finished.

ImageOnce the stitching is done, I flip the joined pieces over. I have stitched it together, when they were “inside out”, so that when it is “outside out” the seam is hidden away, like with all clothing.

Now, that I have out the three pieces together, they looked like this:

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I have made the arms in the same way, only not attatched them on to the main part of the gambeson- they would be laced on instead.

Laced on arms are much easier to make (I am no tailor but I had no problems with them at all) and far more durable than thse pernamently sewn on. There is also greater freedom of movement, without any restrictions on your arms. They also provide a convenient ventilating system, something very important when wearing armour!

To create lacings, I had to make what is called “agilet” holes, through which the laces would go.

I have made them with a nail, and then widened the holes using a pencil:

ImageRemember to make the holes at least 2cm away from the edge! This is to make sure they are not going to create a rip through your armour, which is what will happen if you make them too close to the edge.

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Then, I used linen thread to sew around the hole, using jumping stitch- this way the hole was made larger and more durable, but not only that- it is now better looking too! Same lacing were put on the front piece of my gambeson as well, to lace it together. You can use straps instead, but lacings are much cheaper and so I went with this option instead.

Before lacing the pieces together, I had one more job to do- quilting the material, to give it the characterictic “striped” look and stiffen it up, creating better armour.

Now, usually the quilting is done BEFORE the pieces are sawn together, because it may cause shrinkage. I did mine after instead, because my stripes were spaced wide apart, thus creating no shrinkage on the material. The reason why I spaced my straps wide apart was twofold. Firstly- it was easier and took half the time, than if I did it closely together. Secondly- as a poorer warrior I look appropiately in armour which took less time to make and would be therefore cheaper.

I created the quilting, by frst drawing straight lines on the material. Then, I stitched along those lines, making sure that the fabric did not shift, while I did it. Tight and strong stitches made the armour stiffer, more resilient and provided the final look. Simple!

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Finaly, using leathern shoe laces available from any cobbler/shoe repair point I created the lacing and put all of my armour together, to create a finished gambeson.

It took almost two months to make and was a right pain in the thumb, but it was all worth if, for now I have my own, authentic gambeson, ready for battle!

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I hope you enjoyed this post- until next time!!!