Forest Walker

Forest Walker, it was never how he would refer to himself.  It was a matter of convenience for him that this is what the people of Saj-graf called him as he is uncertain as to what name he would call himself while in town. His master had always referred to him as Kit.  He always took that as a way of putting him in his place.  For a while he had gone by Eld, and then Erikahn but those days seem distant and the reasons for those names were gone.

Kit reluctantly walked the streets of Saj-graf looking for someone he did not know.  Twenty days earlier his master had a dream of a noble ghost called out for help.  The ghost was guarded by two knights, one made of wood and another unable to speak, and brought together by a third whose face was obscured.  The ghost was in need of help that the three others could not provide. Kit was puzzled by his master requiting him to investigate.  A Forest Walker had little use in the confusion of the city, best he could do was clean a well that had gone awry with taint or disease.

Out in the woods on a calm day, he could mend wounds and ailments as if it were a tailor fixing a shirt.  He needed the calm of the forest or plains, to hear the wind or water direct the flow of life’s energy.  In the city it was all disjointed, a cacophony of noise and a lack of order in the background hindered his focus.  There Kit could not tell if the life force he felt was from a passing horse or any one of the passing people hurrying by.

Kit looked around and realized he had wandered a bit further from the denser portions of the city, closer to the outer walls.  There sat an old house with many unfortunate souls sitting outside.  He heard a hum from inside something; it reminded him of the spirits outside the city, unbound to a body.  It was a pleasant hum; he could see the pull it had on those around the house.  It was as if it was nourishing or healing those around, but lacked a complete understanding of how they worked.  He gave pause to investigate, and then a small bird chirped. The hum now grated on Kit’s nerves.  He sensed a second energy beyond his ken.  Something that was feeding inside the house, but on what he couldn’t tell.  Kit made a quick retreat back to the better populated portions of the city, scared as to what that may have been and thankful to the bird’s passing.

Catching his breath and orientating himself a passing warrior caught his eye, her equipment was adorned with two trees.  Perhaps this was one of the ghost’s guards.

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Interrogation

Siwaldh looked around the room.  He saw no windows, no decoration, just himself sitting at small wood table and the two women across from him. One a younger woman, with short brown hair dressed in a loose fitting shirt and pants.  Her hands and feet were hidden in worn leather and a small dagger hanging from her hips.  The second woman looked slightly older than the other.  To Siwaldh they looked related by the green tone of the eye and certain curves in the face.  The older one was lither, with longer darker hair.  The younger one he thought looked familiar, as his eyes focused he realized her as the one called Maeve.  He had failed in his contract on her so far and had a glimmer of hope this may say why.

Siwaldh couldn’t quite recall how he ended up here.  He had been walking back from a conference with Eartle in the afternoon and then was here.  He had several enchantments that they should have not been able to bypass, unless one of them was an enchanter themselves.  Yet neither looked the part nor matched descriptions of those in the higher circles.

“Maeve,” the older one said, “I believe your job pays more so, you can go first.  I do so like when we can work together.”

“Very well Cerridwen,” Maeve responded. “Siwaldh, You are a hard man to locate and track so we are holding you here till we have our information.   It has come to my employer’s attention that you are causing problems for several merchants in town.  I am, at my discretion, to find out whom you work for and what your goals are.  If you provide what I need I will release you to Cerridwen who will settle her business with you.”

“You ask for cooperation when I have no guarantee of safety from your sister.  What if she is paid to kill me, where is my motivation?”

“I will not kill you,” Cerridwen commented not masking her disinterest.

“There you have it.  So answer now or we have to step up motivation to talk.”

“Those who employ me cannot be less powerful than the ones who have hired you.  Once they find out that you have taken me captive…”

Maeve cut in, “Yes, yes I get it.”  She walked over and placed the blade of her dagger on his left thumb and nicked it.

“Point taken,” Siwaldh replied. “However I am bound by oath and enchantment to not talk and cannot talk.”

Cerridwen stood up and walked over to behind him.  She reached in amongst his hair, grabbing a tuft close to the neck and yanked.  As he creamed out, she commented, “There, I think the bond is broken.”  She dropped the pile of hairs to the floor.

“Woman, do you know the first thing about enchantments?”

“I know you should answer questions, when a young lady asks nicely.”

“I said before I cannot say that the Prince and Earlte…”

“I think you fixed his problem,” Maeve smiled.  “Go on, you were saying?”

Siwaldh was flummoxed as she had broken the enchantment.  His protection was gone and he said more than he had ever planned too.  He paused weighing his situation, then responded. “They have odd jobs for me to do.  I don’t ask for their motives as that lowers my pay.  I am here for two weeks of service than gone.  Cerridwen are you an Enchanter?”

“That is all I needed,” Maeve answered.

“I need only one thing from you Siwaldh.” Cerridwen stated. “Where do you keep your enchantments?”

Before he could stop himself, he answered, “Various places, a few on me and others hidden in the room, each a puzzle to open and each with a different puzzle to use.”

All went black for Siwaldh after he spoke.  When his vision came back in focus he stood in the middle of the street on his way back from Eartle.  He tried to recall who he talked to and it faded like a dream on waking.  As he tried to grab details they pulled back faster.

The Grousing Porcine

The Grousing Porcine is a small tavern just west of Saj-graf.  It has been handed down for three generations now and each has had the privilege of expanding the building to accommodate more people.  It was two days after the tournaments that Einden was starting to hope the crowds would ebb soon.  They had more than broken in the new tables in that time, but he did not care as he had more than made back any damages he would find.

The stories going about how a Forest Walker by the name of Arkith defeated Sir Corvus in the final were the excitement.  Following it in popularity was how Lady Kala had to bow out after Arkith had a word with her.  Einden had missed the fighting, as he was not one for a regulated fight.  Yet in the past two days he could have recreated the whole situation as the town remembered it.

“Another round here for us,” Jaspert called over to Einden. “To the rest of you I have now told you the story of the Incursion of Port Gertrude.  And if you had not all been at the fight yesterday I would entertain you with that. Yet I now need a new story, so let me tell you of the old man in Anjin Col. He lived up in a cave in the mountains east, with few trusted contacts practicing in the forbidden art…”

Eiden did not have time to listen to stories, but Jaspert did seem to have some good ones and patrons kept buying him drinks.  Eiden was waiting for someone else to show up. Crevan was to show up and give him guidance for the future.  Crevan’s advice was not cheap, but the man was accurate.  He could read your future with a few questions and a short consultation of the heavens.  He would show you the path you were on and tell you when to change.  What Eiden wanted to know was if his fortune was tied to Saj-graf or if he should sell the place and move on from here.  Ertle had given him a nice offer that he could live on the rest of his life.

Saj-Graf Tournament

The Saj-graf games are a series of tournaments one might expect from warriors trying to compare there skills with one another.  Though out right killing of one’s opponent is forbidden, mistakes happen and at least one unfortunate person has a brush with death.  That dual is a private fight with the results known by all.  The events culminate with a dual by those that have won the most events.  Usually a fight between three to four of the best, in the past it has had as many as tent men on the field at once.  The city uses this time to celebrate and feast before the start of the planting season.  The weeks following find the city empty as those who were once idle return to the fields. Also this is when merchants deem the roads best for travel and set out with trade to their neighbors.

Sir Corvus looks forward to these times as he once again looks to maintain his reputation.  He has heard a few new challengers are attempting to take the title from him including Lady Kala, his friend Sartow, and Zahar from the Ardent Order.   He would rather dual each of them outside the games, yet laws prevent each of them fighting him without provocation.

Jaspert looks up from his drink to see Sir Corvus stroll by.  He is sitting taking a break from retelling the story of the Incursion of Port Gertrude.  The story makes him a decent number of drinks as people gather around to listen.  Each time he adds his own flourishes to the fights. At times he make it seem as though the pirates had taken more of the city before the Prince’s reinforcements show up to save the Saj-graf forces from humiliation.  He is learning what details people want to here about and draw them in.

Cerridwen sits two tables over finished listening to Jaspert’s fiction.  She likes how Jaspert now refers to her as a spirit of mercy when he retells things.  “Flying past after the bell sounded three, an ancient spirit of Gertrude set out to call others to help.”  She was a whisper on the wind, but not the influence he thought she was.  Cerridwen thought about correcting the young man, but instead tossed a couple coin on his table and the few words, “Thanks for the story.”  Jaspert would realize only later who she was.

Out in the street there was commotion to distract everyone for now, Sir Corvus being slapped by a woman unwelcoming his advances.  “Sir we can settle any grudge you keep with me if you make it far enough in the tournament.”  Martell spoke, not knowing who he was.  She walked on unaware the curses Sir Corvus uttered under his breath.

Artron

Artron the silversmith is used to requests for cups and serving utensils.  He does not bat an eye at inlaying silver to accentuate pieces of armor and swords.  When the choice is given he would rather do a casting of a spoon over the fine work of jewellery chains or setting gems.  Today’s request has caught him off guard.  He is uncertain as to why the young man before him wants arrowheads made of silver.  They would be far superior made of iron and at a cheaper price.  Artron even was willing to give recommendations, but the young black haired lad insisted they had to be made of silver.  Asked if he planned on hunting some beast outside the city barriers, the patron smiled and said not this time.  Artron tried and poked at his customer’s business but not a clue was given to him. Artron took the coin and gave him a time to come back for his order at.

The next person in the shop was Sir Corvus, “A very odd boy there,” he spoke.

“Indeed, he was in once before, wanted some ruins written in a dagger.  He pays well, but gods know what he does.  You are here for your gauntlet I take it?”  Artron went to a corner of the room and looked through some shelves before coming back with a left glove.  “As requested, the black outlined silver dragon here on the wrist and the gold flames up the back of the hand and down the fingers.”

Corvus picked up the gauntlet and tried it on, tightening various straps to improve the fit.  “Artron you have outdone yourself.  This will look perfect at the games next week.  They are expecting more competitors this time.  I am hoping not to be disappointed.”

“Sir, I think you will not be pleased till you met your fate on the fields of valor.  Not that I mean ill for you, sir.”

“Relax Artron, no offense taken.  I do love a good brawl, but I cannot harm someone that has your skill.  Who else could I trust to do this level of detailing?”

“Pardon,” a young voice spoke up behind Sir Corvus.  “My name is Kaisu, I am here to pick up a cup made for Lyph.  I am sorry to break up your conversation but she has me on a tight schedule for her today.”

Corvus looked over at Kaisu, he wondered of this was the lady that had snubbed Ertle.  He had said it was a young lady in the employ of Lyph.

“I have the remainder of the payment right here,” she said handing over small bag to Artron.

“Oh yes, it is ready, give me a moment young lady.  Sir Corvus, just a moment and I will be back with you, sir.”

Kaisu gave a slight curtsy to Corvus.  “Sorry my lord, forgive me for not recognizing your lordship.”

“Not an issue young lady,” Corvus reached down and kissed her hand. “I have time to spare, yet you seem very busy.  Perhaps you could come by if Lyph does not keep you too busy. I may have easier tasks for you to do.”

The Gardens

The Saj-graf gardens are large enough that there are many corners that allow a respite from the city and let one forget about the thousands of people in the city. The path ways are such that if you know where to turn you could have a small clearing to yourself. Though they started off as well manicured gardens for the Whistrach Estate, over the years they have expanded and enveloped additional city blocks as either the mayor or lords felt.

The Whistrach Estate lays somewhere in the maze of trails, currently used as a greenhouse by the Erush Order. The perimeters of the gardens are maintained by the city these days and certain endeavors are made by families to periodically bring order to regions of the gardens. Yet the gardens themselves have pushed back and there are areas within most folk know better than to go. In these areas one would think animals would thrive, yet they too have determined they should keep their distance.

Stories are that people have been buried in these parts of the gardens. Other people tell of ghosts or spirits that haunt the place. It is in one of these spaces Zahar sits and waits for his meeting with Lord Elwin. He does not like meeting Elwin alone as he always fears the Lord may no longer favor him. Zahar sits quiet, in a corner, like a well discipline child waiting to be given freedom to move. As far back as Zahar can recall this is how he has always waited to see Lord Elwin. If he knew how to, Zahar would curse and confront Lord Elwin for his late arrivals.
Meanwhile in another part of the garden, Kadin walks pondering things that have building. Kaisu has been spending more time around Maeve and they have grown secretive about their latest project. He wonders if it was wrong of him not to let Ertle at least meet Kaisu a few years back, she would have been well cared for. Sudeman was to return this next month and he is curious on the man’s take on things.
It was during his walk in the garden Kadin met a lady who approached him. “I am Captain Katranna of the Ardent Order. I am looking for one of my men, have you seen anyone else this evening?”

“No, you are the first person I have seen this evening. It is late and most are at home,” responded Kadin. “Perhaps I may walk with you for a bit if we are headed in the same direction. I could use an opinion not my own on something.”

Katranna replied, “It may be short, but I see no reason not to. Depending on where you are headed, it may be slightly safer for both of us.”

Nyo-ji

In a small one room house along the outer wall of Saj-graf lives Nyo-ji. The house is forgotten among the other buildings except those that come across it in their desperate search for salvation. The interior of the house contains an altar several rows of wooden benches and along the walls many piles of sheets where the unfortunate visitors recline waiting for Nyo-ji to help restore their strength.
Nyo-ji does not venture out of the house as the spirit has long since forgotten about interacting with the existence outside. Those that are left here are dropped off by believers that the house will heal those in their worst place. Sometimes it is a friend of someone that has felt Nyo-ji’s hand upon them. Other times a person is dropped off by people that have taken all they can from the person and want to let them whither at the house in their final days.

This is where Nyo-ji met Crevan who sometimes leads others back. The ones he leads here are not famished physically; they need the nurture and reassurance no sane mind has patience for. Nyo-ji will heal that which is broken if his patient allows it. Occasionally Nyo-ji will finish the ending started elsewhere as all cannot be fixed. Nyo-ji feeds on that and then passes its wisdom and strength on to those it can assist, but Nyo-ji does not let Crevan know or else Crevan would bring no one else.
It was twenty days after the meteor shower when Nyo-ji was introduced to albino. He showed up in the middle of the night as is often the situation with these meetings. This one looked important, as if he had a purpose in the world. The albino should not have been dropped here, yet Nyo-ji does not discriminate and therefore tried best to fix the bones and seal the cuts. Nyo-ji used a rare spell that it once learned from a poor enchanter, it would strengthen the body of the albino and let him live. The spell though took a few years off the albino’s expectancy and would torment him with nightmares once a year. The exchange to live and play his part was a reasonable exchange to Nyo-ji.

Nyo-ji poked at the memories of the barely living one. Nyo-ji cringed and shuttered at the abuse suffered in the hours before his arrival here. Riddled with questions he could answer, this albino had not said a word more than a blessing upon his assailant, Sartow. That name rang through Nyo-ji’s own memory. He often brought ones here that Nyo-ji could not fix. No this albino would not be healed with enchantment. Nyo-ji would pamper this soul and make him stronger. This one would live and if he was lucky Sartow would return here in his place.

Negotiations

There was a web in the corner of the room. A fly lay stuck in it, long dead and forgotten by the web’s creator. The three doorless walls of the room lay covered in tapestries to keep out the wind of a cool evening. There is no method to the haphazard patchwork other than keep the room warm. Hanging from the ceiling in each corner are candles surrounded by frosted glass to dim and protect the light. There is a fireplace at the far end of the room with the last of its embers still emitting a pale read light.

In the middle of the room is a table made of mahogany, smooth as ice on the surface. The legs reach down to the ground with space for its three chairs to comfortably sit around it. On the table rest two empty bottles of wine, A full glass, a half full glass and an empty glass. There are numerous papers scattered about on the table all not part of what the three are talking about. In a tall wingback chair Ertle sits alone next to the full glass.

In a short-back chair with the empty glass sits Sir Corvus. He has just taken his last sip, but is infuriated with Ertle’s denial of his request. In the other short-backed chair sits a man who will never to finish his drink. He is but a humble servant of Corvus. At the end of his one arm is a metal fixture with a stylus that he takes notes of the dealings that have transpired. His other hand perfectly capable of taking another drink, but he knows the tone has changed and it would be a mistake to partake in any further hospitality of Ertle.

“Perhaps if I were to say I owed you a favor in the future,” Corvus offered, with the tone of annoyance that only a deaf man could miss.

“Favors are tricky thing,” Replied Ertle after some calculation. “What do you have to offer?”

“A place to hide, next time you need it?”

“You know I cannot be seen with you. I have a reputation that does not need your association.”

“True,” Corvus laughed. “Then perhaps funding next time you need a backer for one of you expeditions.”

Ertle thought a moment before replying, “What I really need is an enchanter from a different land, someone with discretion. Do you have someone you can send my way?”

Corvus smiled the type of smile you know to be on the right side of. The servant reached over and took a sip from his glass and scribbled down a few things and handed a paper to Ertle.

“There you are Ertle, he is the best I know.”

A flame blazed up in the fireplace, letting off more smoke than usual before turning a faint green and dying. The three of them missed its occurrence, busy congratulating a done deal with a new bottle of wine.

Kala and the Sprite

There is a field north of Saj-graf that is level in a twenty by twenty foot square. On it are the remnants of a wooden structure complete with trap doors and a couple broad beams running across the top. The place is often used by children, climbing up and down the stairs on the far sides of it or jumping down to the ground from the platform while their parents usually cross the field at a slower pace. The older ones will jump up and hang from the beams which groan with the weight which would have once caused only a shrug.

It is called Butcher’s Field from the days when there were executions preformed daily at the platform. The rule of the town Lord was feared during that time. He had no tolerance for breaking the law with punishments usually outweighing the crime. It was not that the laws were unjustly enforced, in fact they were weighed through a system of three judges and if all three found you guilty then you were to take your sentence no question. Most crimes involved incarceration, but just a second offense and society was deemed better off without you.

It was on Butcher’s Field that Knight Commander Kala encountered the sprite. It glowed with a faint orange light and floated in the air without a care for the wind. It was fascinated by the children and kept floating by to watch their reactions, while parents fretted about what it may do and tried to sneak off when it was distracted by another soul.

Kala kept her distance initially to study such an odd critter. She was not certain as to if it was toying with the people or was something that had no power to control them. She could hear the sound of horses approaching; likely the town guard uncertain of what they were coming to handle as there were never sprites in the cities. Communication with the sprite may be possible if Kala were one of the few that knew how to. Weighing her options she felt drawing a weapon may only escalate the scenario.

Her plan of action came together amongst the chaos. First she saw a clay jar on the ground, the water it held had flown out. She grabbed it and the top for it an deftly made her way in the sprite’s direction. Seeing the fascination with a child’s apple, she grabbed one from among the scatted items laying strewn on the field. She then whistled a happy tune to get the creatures attention, letting it see her place the apple in the jar. She took a step away from the jar. The sprite saw with delight the easily gotten food and flew over and on to the jar. As it bent over to get the apple a bolt flew through the air piercing its back.

“No need to thank us my Lady,” Spoke one of the guard as slung his bow back over his shoulder, happy in his done duty. “The sprite will harm no one any further.”

“No, it shall be no further problem,” She replied, looking at the twitching creature. “You have done well protecting the people.”

Chapter 19

The clearing they stopped at was large enough for the three to spread out and sleep with a fire going. Martell liked that there were a few downed trees to act as short walls and block the wind from two sides. Oren was able to catch a rabbit for dinner. While they prepared it and the fire, Tabia chanted a prayer over the camp asking for her goddess’s blessing and protection.
Oren took the first watch. Uneventful, it allowed him to finish reading the Meditations on Umbra and start Penumbra of Nature. The new book theorized that out in the wild there were far more spirits to call to your assistance, despite not being able to sense their presence. Further, sometimes you could seek out a spirit that may be more inclined to assist in the task you desire to accomplish. For example, if one wanted to send a message a long distance, charging the right spirit could cut the transmission time down or could delay the message to the point it may not be delivered in the recipient’s lifetime. Finally, he stopped on an entry that theorized, if a method were deciphered on how to talk to the spirit directly then the person could get a spirit to do anything he imagined as soon as he found the one capable of doing the task. These were all great ideas to Oren, but far beyond what he felt capable of. He would for now focus on being able to see those spirits which may not be readily seen and focus on calling them close and repelling them back.
Martell was woken up to relieve Oren. “Time for you to watch over the rest of us while we sleep”
“Already?” Martell commented groggily.
“Yes, you are as bad at getting up in the middle of the night as Sonia was.” Oren sat down near Martell.
“Really? You are going to compare me to your wife?”
“You would have liked her,” Oren gave a slight smile. “She wanted me to go into my father’s business. I was set in my ways and comfort was an easier route than the adventure on the roads. I also didn’t want to be away from her.” Oren paused taking a deep breath. “Looking back I think she would have gone with me, but I never asked her.”
“You should have. The roads are not as bad when you travel in a group with others.” Martell sat up and moved a little closer. “In large caravans, and definitely with what I saw of your father’s, the two of you would have been safe.”
Oren got silent, her words pounded on the pain of regrets he still held tightly to.
“She would be proud of you now. You have done what she requested, and more. Not all men are suited to leave their home. You are no longer the humble shop keeper I met back in Aleto.”
“I suppose I am not.” Oren went over and tossed some more wood on the camp fire and then got into his bed roll. “You are not the same person I met in Aleto either.”
Martell thought for a moment and was going to add to his comment but Oren had drifted off to sleep.
While on her watch for the night, Martell saw a few different animals look curious or aggressive and approach the camp. Whenever they got within the light of the camp, they seemed to relax or mellow. It was as if whatever urged them to approach the camp had faded and they had lost interest in it and its inhabitants. She was curious if this was due to the prayers of Tabia or if she had a talisman that kept their camp safe. Martell knew the question would be just as futile to ask of Tabia as it would have been to Rowenn. The priestesses maintained a certain amount of ambiguity in where the powers of the goddess began and ended. She recalled asking Rowenn how the temple maintained the candles lit in such quantity and at a constant height. The only answer she received is it had always been that way and was just unknowledgeable as Martell to if it were an enchantment or her goddess that had an ability to do so. She spent the rest of the time listening to the creaking of the woods as the wind pushed branches slowly against one another and watching as Oren slept a peaceful rest.
Tabia took the final turn watching the camp. She woke up before Martell had gotten to her. Across the fire Martell could see she looked troubled. “Varelle is concerning me. She sends signs in my dreams that a problem will befall me in the days ahead. I do not know if it is inevitable. I do know it is where she directs me. I wonder if it is, why she let me linger for over a thousand years, was it for this.”
“How did you end up trapped in the shadows?”
“I was at the temple near Abbysta. Back at that time, there were usually three priestesses at a time. They were stationed such that the novice was at the temple in Avo, the junior in Drémore Court, and the senior at the temple near Erridda, then Abbysta. I had just finished five years of training the novice, and moved out to the temple at Abbysta. Initially, all was calm in the area, but then raiders started to assault the logging camps in the area. The soldiers requested I move into the stronghold for safety. I disregarded their request and obeyed what I thought was Varelle’s will. I stayed at the temple as many still visited seeking her blessing. One day, my visitor was one of the raiders. He wielded a maul and attacked the altar smashing a bowl that had been there. When it shattered, the place started to darken and a mist settled in. The assailant died from what looked like the vapors seared his lungs. I feared for my life then and recited my prayers to Varelle. She appeared to me and told me to not fear. She would take care of me and I would live to serve her another day. But my body faded. I was there but not there. I saw time pass and I witnessed changes always trapped in the temple. I heard the fall of the world and the tranquility of nature take over the temple. I saw as those seeking riches came and left disappointed by the empty chamber. Then earlier this year I heard from Varelle. She spoke to me and said it was time to serve again. She would send her priestess Rowenn to free me before the first winter’s snow. As it got closer I got antsy, I desired to move in the world, and I wanted to feel the cold of a snow fall for the first time in forever. I was tired of seeing shadows shorten and lengthen with the passing of days. I wanted to live.”
After a pause to take it in, Martell finally spoke “That is a long time to wait. I do not know if death would have been better after so long.”
“Now she tells me it might end soon. I had hoped to open the temple and again minister to her followers. It feels unfair, but I did reach out to her for help and she did answer.”
“Sometimes prayers are better left unanswered. She spoke to me when I wanted to leave the Tethinger Order. She showed me that this was the path to take when I asked. If she had not showed me which way to go, I would have the ease of being in the King’s court. I would be comfortable advising his knights and have a warm bed, not out in the cold…” Martell spoke calmly. She looked over at Oren and smiled to herself. “I cut many bridges when I left the order. But those I have met since have made the trials easier. I now also know I would be restless at the beck and call of the king, serving his interests only.”
“I see,” Tabia thoughtfully spoke. “In hindsight, you see the wisdom that Varelle had in sending you on this difficult path. Perhaps it is not my end she is foretelling, but preparing me for a change I would not otherwise make. Thank you Martell, I will meditate upon this while on watch tonight.”