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When the time is ripe, Genevieve enters the magnificent world of the French court. ...
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When the time is ripe, Genevieve enters the magnificent world of the French court. With grace to match her ambition, she becomes maid of honor to Anne de Pisseleau, King Francis's mistress. Yet neither the court--which teems with artistry and enlightenment as well as intrigue--nor Francis himself are at all what Genevieve expected. And with her mission, her life, and the fate of two kingdoms at stake, she will be forced to make deadly decisions about where her heart and her ultimate loyalties lie.
Praise for Donna Russo Morin's The Courtier's Secret
"As opulent and sparkling as Louis XIV's court and as filled with intrigue, passion and excitement as a novel by Dumas. . .a feast for the senses." --Romantic Times (4 stars)
"Vivid, delightful, spirited. . .a page-turner as smooth as fine cognac." –Steven Manchester, author of The Unexpected Storm
"A wonderfully spun gem of a story." --Armchair Reviews
Reading Group Guide Inside
—Ignatius de Loyola (1491–1556)
Beneath an unmerciful sun, the squire dropped the flag with a flourish. Riders kicked at glistening flanks; horses charged forward with little between them save the narrow wooden poles of the lists. Hooves thundered upon the jousting field; the pounding boomed in the ears. Dirt clumps flew up into the air as if tossed in celebration. Weighted and encased in full armor, plumes on helmets bobbing with every gallop, the combatants raised their lances with steely determination, eyes locked upon the impending opponent as they cradled their weapons in the crook between bicep and chest.
Nobleman, courtier, commoner, and peasant jumped to their feet in the overflowing, banner-festooned stands, holding their breath as the two kings bore down upon each other. The impact, when it came, burst out like two worlds colliding. Lance met armor, snapping with a riotous crash and a splintering of wood, and the air ruptured with gasps and cheers. Each competitor had broken his lance upon the other; yet both had kept their saddle. The match was a draw, again.
François quit his black steed with deft agility, tugging off the cumbersome helmet with agitation. Beneath it, his thick chestnut hair lay matted with sweat to his face and jawbone.
"Well done, Your Majesty," Montmorency called out as he approached, raising his voice above the unabated cheering. Beside him, a slight man brandished a satisfied sneer as he scissored his short legs, hurrying to keep up.
With a sidelong look of annoyance, the young king of France scoffed, struggling to remove his gauntlets.
"Do not patronize me, Monty." Finally relieved of them, François threw the thick, padded leather gloves to the ground, words slithering out between grinding teeth. "Damn it all, I cannot best the man."
"That is true," Philippe de Chabot said as he picked up the gloves and slapped them together to dislodge the fresh mud. "But neither can he best you. There are worse ways to spend a day of sport."
In the bright sunlight, François squinted slanted eyes at his companions, his valued friends since childhood, his closest advisers since becoming king five years ago, and felt the heat of his ire cool. Perhaps there were other ways to triumph over this adversary yet.
In Henry VIII, François found everything he detested in a king—a hedonist obsessed with the quest for power and pleasure—and yet a part of him strove to imitate this nemesis whom he would never admit respecting, though respect Henry he did. The faults François railed against in his archrival were ones others attributed to François himself. How disgusted he would be to know it.
"Besides," Chabot continued with a shrug of his small shoulders, "you are much better looking."
Monty barked a laugh as François snickered, cuffing Chabot in the arm.
"You must pay your respects to your opponent." The gruff, aged voice doused the conviviality of the young men. Chancellor Duprat approached, skinny legs waddling under a rotund body. "King Henry awaits your hand, Sire."
"Of course." François accepted the intrusion and instruction without argument. Accompanied by his triumvirate of men, he stalked across the rutted tourney field.
"Well ridden, Your Majesty," he called as he approached his challenger, outstretched hand in the lead.
With a devilish smile upon his plump, freckled face, Henry accepted the hand thus offered. "And you, Your Highness."
Cardinal Wolsey, rotund form looming in red cassock and mozzetta, hovered by Henry's side as always, as did the dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk.
These two rivals politely embraced, between them a pull of genuine affection, more potent after the last few days together, yet sharp with the edge of competition, like two loving brothers forever bent on besting the other.
"A worthy match indeed," François conceded. "One deserving of a hearty toast."
"More than one, I should think," Henry agreed. "I will see you at table?"
"It will be my honor." François accepted the invitation with a sweeping bow.
As the men separated and made to quit the field, the crowd erupted into another burst of applause, colorful banners flourishing. With magnanimity, each sovereign acknowledged the accolades with a wave, a nod, and a smile as they quit the field.
A young man standing along the front rail took his pretty wife by the arm, hoisting his daughter higher in his grasp, and began to lead them through the departing congested throng. "Come, mes amours, I must prepare to attend the king at table."
"Of course, my dear," replied the delicate woman at his side, skin flushed from a day in the sun.
The toddler in her father's arms put her head down onto his strong shoulder, blond curls falling on her face as her eyes grew heavy, then closed. Exhausted from the excitement of the long day, she would sleep peacefully tonight.
The royal combatants retired from the tourney field, entourages in tow, each to his own opulent encampment. These men of power and privilege endured no discomforts; though ensconced in makeshift, temporary lodgings, each camp contrived astounding accommodations for this auspicious meeting.
Months in the making, the summit was unlike any conducted before. Leaders who had been overlooked waited with equal amounts of wonder and fear, because any accord between France and England could only spell trouble. The possibility of orchestrating a great peace enticed the English king. The opportunity to bring another to his cause against his rivalry with Charles V of Spain, newly appointed Holy Roman Emperor—chosen by the new pope over François himself—had inveigled the French king forth. A grand meeting, an opportunity to talk; diplomacy and deal making decorated by a grand festival. And yet the undercurrent of competition between the two young and brash chevaliers, the constant quibbling for any modicum of superiority over the other, no matter how miniscule, permeated every facet of this audacious assembly.
In the shallow Val d'Or at the very edge of English-occupied France, near Calais, halfway between the castle ruins of Guînes and Ardres, they had met on an early June afternoon.
Henry would have a castle no matter where he laid his head. In the shadow of the Château de Guînes, the Palace of Illusions had been erected with sections brought from England already assembled. Covering an area of more than two acres, it was a convoluted construction of wood and earth covered with a painted canvas to resemble stone and formed with turrets, parapets, and windows. Within its vast rectangular interior lay a courtyard boasting two magnificent fountains fed by three pipes—one for water, one for hippocras, and one for wine.
In a meadow on the outskirts of Ardres, the French had pitched their tents, almost four hundred of them, some as large as any castle's great hall. Many of the nobles in attendance had forfeited all property, selling their fields, their mills, their forests to attend the event with appropriate honor. Surmounted by pennants of golden apples and emblazoned with their owners' coats of arms, the tents of velvet and cloth of gold spread out across the countryside like wild flowers. The field shimmered as if the gold grew from its earth. But no pavilion rivaled the splendor of François's tent.
Taller than any other and sixty feet on a side, two ship masts lashed together supported the mammoth cloth of gold. Blue velvet lined the interior, decorated with fleurs-de-lis and gold embroideries from Cyprus.
Beyond splendid, yet the kings' accommodations paled in comparison to the events conducted over the course of the summit.
Banquets, dances, and mummings filled the nights; a feat of arms—jousting at the tilt, an open field tournament, a foot combat at the barriers with puncheon spears, swords, and two-handed swords—filled the days. The kings were the most rowdy and jubilant attendants of all. In their company were their nobles, their friends, and their women. François had brought his mother; his wife, Queen Claude; and his mistress, the Comtesse de Chateaubriant. Regal and silent by Henry VIII's side, stood Catherine of Aragon, with countless fair maidens waiting to warm his bed. As the kings made merry, their ambassadors and delegates made diplomacy, Wolsey speaking foremost for England, while the Queen Mother, Louise de Savoy, spoke for France. Many words passed between these two equally keen minds, but little of lasting consequence was said.
Henry rubbed at his midsection, a replete, resounding belch coaxed forth from the embroidered brocade–covered protuberance. Attendants scurried around him, cleaning the remnants of the evening's festivities like ants upon an abandoned picnic ground. He watched them from his elevated perch on the velvet chair in the corner of the vast room; watched, but cared little about their performance. The last of the guests had retreated in the early hours of the morning, leaving the king in the company of his most reliant confidants.
"Have we found out who the young women are?" Henry spoke to his men, but his unfocused, bloodshot eyes never strayed from the buzzing workers before him, mesmerized, in his hazy stupor, by their tedious, repetitive movements.
The bearded Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, stepped forward, if a bit unsteadily, wine sloshing in a tightly gripped chalice. "They are Thomas Boleyn's daughters, my lord, Mary and ... and Anne."
Henry pulled himself up from his slump and whipped round, all at once full of eager attention. "Certainly not?"
"'Tis true, Your Highness, they have been in the French queen's company for some years and are quite soon preparing to return to our homeland."
With sensual, languid movements at odds with his rugged physique, the king reclined once more. "Be sure to send them a personal invitation to court."
"Of course, Your Highness. As you wish," Suffolk assured him, but not without a roll of his eyes and a salacious smile at the small group of men gathered in duty and imbibing.
"Are we done here, Wolsey? I tire of these games." Sounding like nothing so much as a spoiled, petulant child, Henry's bulbous bottom lip stuck out in a pout.
"I believe we have done all we can here, Your Majesty," the cardinal said with neither enthusiasm nor disappointment. "You have done well to sign the treaty."
Henry snarled at him. To make peace with the posturing François rankled; the hand that wielded the quill itched.
"You will see great results from this, I assure you," Wolsey pacified.
It was the slightest of changes, but the king's pout reformed, a devilish grin blossoming in its stead. In that moment, Henry found the joy of the situation in which he found himself: As the lesser of the three world powers, both France and Spain courted him. A master manipulator, he intended to exploit the state of affairs for all it was worth.
"Send a message then, would you, Wolsey? Tell the emperor I would like to talk. He should know of the ostentatious display we have witnessed here. A man with so much to prove as our François, putting on such a show, must have something to hide."
"Of course, Majesty, but per—"
When the hand of his king flicked in his face, the cardinal's thoughts froze on his tongue. Henry leaned forward, resting his free hand upon one knee, eyes fixed upon the young man rushing toward him. The pale, snaggletoothed youth approached his sovereign, lips forming words aching to launch from his mouth. Henry's quieting hand flicked from Wolsey to the approaching squire, who clamped his mouth shut, eyes bulging in fear at the abrupt command.
"Cease and desist." The king's booming voice pummeled the air. "You are all relieved. Make for your beds."
Every manservant and chambermaid dropped whatever lay in their hands, and took themselves off without thought or question. The small gathering of courtiers drew closer to the king, put on guard at once by the abrupt change in his tone and demeanor.
"Speak," Henry barked the instant the last servant had quit the chamber.
With a twitch and an Adam's apple–bobbing swallow, the young man made his report.
"Your fears have been confirmed, Your Highness. The man in question has indeed been seen in clandestine conversations with members of the French contingent."
"Bastard!" spat the king, pounding a fist on the arm of the chair and spewing upon the floor, as if the word and gesture were not enough to rid him of his venomous rage.
The messenger quaked in his worn leather boots, bulging insect eyes once more protruding from his long face. Only Suffolk remembered him.
"You may leave us, good sir. You have done well. Have no fear." With a calming hand upon the youngster's shoulder, the duke turned him toward the door, helping him away with a firm yet gentle nudge. Turning back, Suffolk met with the king's blazing stare.
"You know what to do?" Henry moved not a bit, his voice low and quiet, yet his rage was there for any to see did they know what to look for.
Suffolk's full lips thinned in a grimace, but he bowed, spun on his heel with determination, and left; not a one questioned his compliance with whatever the king demanded of him.
The screams of human and animal mixed in a grotesque chorus, filling the predawn hours with their horror and revulsion. The monstrous flames rose into the black sky, roaring like cannon blasts in the day's most hushed hours. Men, women, and children fled from the orangey blaze in fright while soldier and guard ran toward it. But it was too powerful, too repulsive, and it was impossible to break through to its heart, to penetrate the barrier and save those trapped within. They stood at the aperture of the tent now fully ablaze in the apex of the English camp, waiting to catch those fortunate enough to escape from the fiery cataclysm.
The pandemonium swirled about the inferno like the oxygen that fed it so splendidly. For within every neighboring tent, the brilliance of the flame appeared alive upon the walls, the nexus of its glow indistinguishable through the pale canvas. In terror they ran out of their tents, into the fray; haphazard, undirected commotion. No matter how removed from danger, they ran and screamed, the sickening scent of burning flesh fueling their fear.
"Help us, please," one foot soldier yelled to a passing nobleman, a young man of strong arm and back, capable of hoisting a bucket of water as well as any. But the pampered gent continued his furious retreat, sparing not a glance at the soldier begging his aid.
Coughing and sputtering, survivors staggered from within, but the child emerged without a sound—without a scratch—as if oblivious to the danger she escaped, her long, curly blond hair wafting upward in the rushing air of the blaze at her back. From behind the soldiers, a woman clad in a silk nightgown flung herself forward, as if waiting for this very moment. Snatching the child in her arms she ran, a silent angel intent on her mission.
"How many billeted here, do you know?" one guard called to another as they stood together before the blaze. Few of them remained, so many of them had already rushed toward the physician's tent, the wounded leaning on their shoulders or cradled in their arms.
"No idea," his companion struggled to answer, the flames devouring all the air in and around the tent. "Can't be many. So many ... already out."
The first soldier acknowledged him with a squinty-eyed nod, holding up a hand in a vain attempt to block the heat from his face, feeling his eyebrows singeing upon his skin. With a hue and cry, both jumped back. The tent, devoured by fire, pitched toward them, collapsing forward with nothing but ash left at its base. Within the crumbling of the remaining wood frame and disintegrating canvas, a whoosh of flames rose higher as one wrenching, agonizing scream roared above the din.
For one suspended moment, the men stood motionless. In the next instant, they moved. Without word or gesture, each bent his head down and charged.
"Could we not have devised a less overt manner in which to deal with this matter?" Henry hissed into Suffolk's ear.
Outside, the smell of burning rubble clung to the air like the desperate grasp of a scorned lover. Dawn's pale gray light tickled at the edge of the earth. In this broken place, physicians and surgeons attended to the wounded while soldiers and servants tread warily through the charred ruins in hopes of finding other survivors. Inside the king's pavilion, the tension clung to every tendril of smoke that slithered in.
Excerpted from To Serve a King by DONNA RUSSO MORIN Copyright © 2011 by Donna Russo Morin. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted November 13, 2011
I read this book for my book club. Let me preface by saying I am not a fan of historical fiction or romance!! However, I felt this book was very well written. I felt the author interwove enough intrigue, storyline and characters to make this an interesting read--not just a romance novel and not dry history. I thought the protagonist was very well developed and I found that I liked her! I may actually check out another of this authors books. Wold recommend, even to those who are not great fans of historical romance--try it you might like it!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 9, 2011
In the "Century of Giants," Henry VIII of England, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Spain, and King Francois of France engaged in a game of treachery, using all who stood to serve them in their "struggle for power and glory at all levels." The least of their pawns was little Genevieve de Hainaut Gravois, an infant orphaned by an act perfidious politics. Sent to the care of her French aunt, Madame de Montlhery by King Henry VIII of England, she was taught the arts of espionage and warfare to the purpose of bringing down the house of d'Orleans and ensuring a permanent division between France and Spain.
From a young age, Genevieve had a deep seated hatred for King François planted and nurtured. Told that Francois was the cause of her parents' deaths, she never questioned her allegiance to Henry of England nor the long paternal letters of support and love she received from her Sire. With a life's mission in her mind and the love of a benevolent king in her heart, she learned to shoot arrows with accuracy, to bring down the largest of animals in a hunt, and learned how to be a courtier in order to be placed right in the heart of her enemy's court. Coming of age, Genevieve's efforts come to fruition as she is taken into the service of Anne de Pisseleu d'Heilly, Duchess d'Etampes, King Francois' mistress and advisor.
But, much to Genevieve's dismay, King Francois' court and the king himself do not match the stories she had been told all her life. Unsure which is reality, Genevieve must make a choice that has the potential of changing the European political landscape for generations to come.
In To Serve a King, Donna Russo Morin paints a very vivid portrait of the royal struggles that plagued Europe during the times of Henry VIII and Francois I. While Genevieve is a fictional character, she fits right in with the historical players in this saga and depicts clearly how the giants of Europe fought their game of crowns, enveloping even the least of their subjects into the struggle. Well written and intriguing, Morin proves that she is a contender in the wildly popular historical fiction genre.
Posted January 30, 2011
Author Donna Russo Morin brings intrigue to the court of King Francois I of France in her third historical novel, To Serve a King.
Young Genevieve's life changes when her parents are killed in a fire at the Field of the Cloth of Gold and King Henry VIII decides she is to be reborn as a spy, his own "beautiful weapon". Raised in seclusion, by a cold and callous woman she knows as her aunt, Genevieve is taught how to decipher messages, weaponry and languages. Also brainwashed into believing King Francois I killed her parents and that King Henry VIII is an all-powerful supreme being, she would do anything to avenge her family and please her benefactor, which means infiltrating the court of Francois I as a lady in waiting to Anne d'Heilly, the king's mistress.
But Francois I is not the monster she had been expecting. A learned man and patron of the arts, Francois is a true Renaissance king and the fact that he is also charming, generous and sincere is unarming to Genevieve. She had been bred to believe the worst of this man and here he was slowly becoming a father figure to her, causing Genevieve to question her mission and torn between the two biggest forces in her life.
To Serve a King is a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing read! I loved the quotes that began every chapter, the characters were well developed and the descriptions of Francois' opulent court were breathtaking. I loved reading about Francois I and now want to know more about him. A fast paced read with a clever and tenacious protagonist, I found it hard to put down! Any fan of historical mysteries will love this exciting read by Donna Russo Morin!
Posted January 28, 2011
Just released in bookstores everywhere as of January 25th 2011 in paperback this one is meant for the intrigue lovers. "To Serve a King" delves into the notably renaissance inspired court of King Francis I of France. His court was overflowing with spies, beautiful women, men, and artists. I love the French court and this novel covers many of the aspects I so dearly enjoy reading. I really was fascinated with Donna's previous novel "The Secret of the Glass" but I found this novel distinctly different from her previous release. I much enjoyed the change of pace and bravo Donna for adding twists that this must know it all reader never saw coming. Genevieve Gravois tragically lost her parents in a fire at the glorious once in a millennium meeting of two of history's most monumental kings of Europe. King Henry VIII of England and King Francois I of France meet in the event known as "the field of cloth and gold" it was meant to strengthen the friendship between the two kings following the Anglo-French treaty of 1514. Left parentless under abnormal circumstances Genevieve is taken in by her aunt who from what I summarized was one of King Henry's spies. Henry's brilliant plans for the two year old orphaned child was for her to become his stealthiest and deadliest spy he ever deployed against his longtime friend enemy the King of France Francois I. When the timing was perfect Genevieve was sent to the French court leaving behind an emotionally frigid aunt on her death bed. The French court was where her duties lie and Genevieve found ease in infiltrating Francois' most beloved courtier's lives. Being sent to court under the pretense that her grandmother paid for her a position at court, Genevieve became lady in waiting to the stunning king's mistress the Duchess Anne de Pisseleau. In France it was customary for the mistress to be the leading lady at court that was nothing new. The mistresses were the ones with all the real power and they possessed more pull than even the queen. Genevieve never expected to become a real part of the elite royal click. No matter what she had a mission to serve her true king and nothing not even the people she grew to love would stand in the way of her duty. Heart and mind torn asunder Genevieve was torn between two worlds. Turn her back on Henry or love the man she was brought up to despise, she had to make her bed and lie in it. There was only one choice; she had to decide if she was French or English and there would be no going back.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 29, 2010
To Serve a King by Donna Russo Morin is a novel of 16th century France. The heroine, Genevieve Gravois, believes she is the sole survivor of a fire that killed both her parents. Her aunt and King Henry VIII of England both tell her the fire had been set by the King of France, Francois I, and from that moment on, a deep hatred for the French king takes root inside the young girl's soul. As she grows to womanhood, she swears fealty to King Henry, and in return, he educates and trains her to one day become his spy. Genevieve learns to cipher and decipher secret codes and learns to skilfully arm and defend her life with various weapons. Finally, Genevieve is sent to take her place in the court of her enemy, King Francois. There, she immerses herself into the highest levels of the French court, and begins her secret duties as a spy for the English king, sending him secret missives about politics and the actions of the French king. As her life becomes more and more immersed into the opulence and intrigues of the court nobility, Genevieve slowly comes to the realization that all is not as it seems - those who she believes are enemies are not always adversaries and her friends cannot always be trusted.
In the novel, To Serve A King, Donna Russo Morin brings to life the affluence and magnificence of the 16th century French court. Important persons of the era make appearances in the story; from Nostradamus and the infamous Diane de Poitiers, to Catherine de Medici and Anne d'Heilly, lending credibility and historical detail to the story. As the tale unfolds, the heroine progresses from a determined young woman obsessed at revenge, to one who begins to question her own values and beliefs as loyalties are tested and secrets revealed. Numerous interesting character interactions and intrigues hold the reader's interest throughout the story. The chapter endings are exquisite, and hook the reader to turn the page to read more.
This novel sweeps readers into a turbulent time and takes us into the court of King Francois of France who surrounded himself with the best art, music, and artists of the time. What I enjoyed is although the Tudors are part of the story, they, for once, are not the focus. I liked the author's portrayal of the King of France's portrayal, for even though he is the heroine's nemesis, he comes across as kind hearted, heroic, and magnaimous, which is how I believe he truly was viewed by his people.
Impeccably researched, and strewn with delightful descriptions of clothing, furniture, and the aromatic foods of the period, one cannot help but truly enjoy the experience that comes from reading this novel. The reader is drawn by the strength and determination of the affable heroine. From laughter and joy, to sadness and fear, the reader experiences a realm of emotions as the heroine outwits her adversaries and dodges danger as she learns the real truth about her past. For anyone who loves historical fiction with feisty heroines set in majestic surroundings, this make a very satisfying, enjoyable read. Like all of Donna Russo Morin's novels, this one is sure to entertain.
Posted December 28, 2010
In the sixteenth century, King Francis I of France killed the parents of Genevieve Gravois. Her acrimonious aunt raised the orphan with one thought: how to hate the monarch across the Channel. She loathes the French ruler, which fuels her thirst for vengeance by training in male activities like using a bow.
King Henry VIII of England believes the girl is a perfect tool to assassinate a rival across the Channel. He encourages her to be the best agent and she swears her loyalty to her liege. Believing the time is right, he sends his top trained spy to France to preferably kill his royal rival or if that is not possible to provide valuable information to the English ruler. However, instead of an amoral despot, Genevieve, who obtains a position as maid of honor to the royal mistress Anne de Pisseleau, finds the French king honest, fair and pushing the renaissance across a court filled with art and artists. The king feels the Renaissance movement will be good for all of Ftamce. The English spy feels a dilemma as the king she pledged loyalty to turns out to be an immoral beast while the king she vowed to murder is a benign ruler.
This is a fascinating look at a rarely seen Tudor rival, King Francis (Francois) of France who pushes the Renaissance to enlighten France. The glimpse at his court is refreshing as sixteenth century focus is normally on the Tudor monarchs (see Robin Maxwell's Mademoiselle Boleyn). However, Genevieve's conflict between royals is not on a par with the French court background; as the King of France comes across as a heroic enlightened ruler while the King of England comes across as a villainous avarice despot.
Posted May 15, 2011
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Posted September 30, 2011
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Posted February 11, 2011
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Posted March 14, 2011
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Posted July 26, 2011
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