Good morning everyone, and thanks for stopping by to read Chapter Forty of The Cursed King. It’s been a bit of a draining week, in truth, and I am, as usual, feeling the tiredness. However, the writing continues and this week I finished writing Chapter Forty-Seven. This means that there are just five chapters left to write, and the light at the tunnel is beginning to get a little bit brighter. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed writing this story, it’s just that it has been such a big project and has taken so long, that I am glad to have a big chunk of text to finally sit down and edit.
In today’s chapter, Riechard is reunited with his father as their armies descend upon Silver City. With the tides of war in their favour, they plan their final assault on a city that no one has ever managed to successfully siege. Thank you for reading, and Chapter Forty-One will be posted on 25th September.
“He didn’t respect you until he beat you senseless?” Prince Charles asked whilst holding Riechard’s scarred face between his forefinger and his thumb.
“I still don’t think he really respects me all that much,” Riechard joked.
“Enough to get you and your army all the way here,” Charles replied, removing his hand. “Nothing wrong with a face with some character, lad.”
“I’d exchange that for a few extra teeth.”
“It just means the cooks will have to cook your meat extra tender.”
Riechard and Charles led their joint force of almost seven-thousand men through Hazelfield towards Silver City. It had been such a long time since he’d had a conversation with his father, particularly one that had lasted so long. Side by side their horses moved over the sodden ground as winter finally moved into spring and the rays of the sun warmed them. The plains of Hazelfield began to beam with life once again, and despite the fact that they were tired and war-torn, there was a joyousness and a calm surrounding them. Their stocks had been replenished and the war had almost been won. Riechard had never felt as challenged or as tired, but he also thought that the war would have tested him more than it had. It seemed more and more like everything was opening up in front of him where he was expecting to have to break down doors. Though Ismann and Dawnmount both tested his ability to lead, he could not help but wonder if he had been able to do it had he not greatly outnumbered his opponents. He had sold his marital bed for victory, and whilst he had not known Hilde long, he could not help but think that he had been given a very fair deal.
“How did you get to Hazelfield? We have heard little of your progression.”
Charles looked up to the sky as if he was wondering the same thing himself. “It was as if there was no one in either Hillhold or Hunter’s Valley at all. We simply progressed through. Of course, we took the towns, and we kept the castle under siege, but in truth, there was no need to take them. Their armies hid behind their walls, and stayed there. I am sure they have stores for months, after the harvest The Twin Kingdoms had last year, but my word, I expected something, and yet…they just seemed to let us through.”
“Is that not strange?”
“Terrifically so…I have never known anything quite like it – so much so I left more men back than I perhaps should have, but I could not shake the feeling that it was some kind of trap. Though I do not expect Prince Asher and King Aron to be so light-handed. We should expect a fierce battle even if we do manage to break through their walls…and that is a big if. There is not an army in history that has ever successfully besieged Silver City, let alone Harthelm itself.”
Before long they reached the precipice of the hills that overlooked Silver City to the south. Sir Gavon had scouted ahead and greeted them gravely. “My Prince…my Lord,” he greeted the father and son.
“What is it?” Prince Charles responded, quickly picking up the tone.
“The forests my lord…they have been burned to the ground,” Sir William told him.
Charles pushed past them towards the summit of the hill and overlooked the horizon and Riechard followed. All around them was greenery, the growing blossoms of Spring and dewy wet grass. Silver City was surrounded by large walls, which were not easy to scale, moreover it had a highly-defended river that ran through the city itself. Their main hope of attack had been besieging the South Gate, which was close by a large woodland, but was now nothing but brown grass and ash. Riechard could not help but question whether or not all he had heard about King Aron was true. He had heard that his uncle was quick to react and a poor strategist, and yet he had just removed his army’s best mode of siege by cutting off their source. Now if they wanted to build siege weapons, they would need to venture back into the hills where the closest woodland would be, and then carry that lumber all the way back. It would be foolish to wait outside the walls without siege equipment and even more foolish to attempt the back-breaking labour that would be required to make the constant trips. By burning down his own forests, King Aron had made The Blacklands army impotent.
“What do we do?” Sir Gavon asked hopefully to Riechard.
“We will need time to think.” Charles answered before Riechard could move his lips. “Tell the men to set up camp here for now. We will strategize this evening and make our arrangements for tomorrow.”
Sir Gavon and Sir William descended the hill, leaving Riechard alone with his father. Riechard was pressing his mind, trying to find a solution to their predicament, unsure of how they would threaten the city without siege weaponry. “We could try to lure them out. Face them on an open field…with our numbers-”
Charles scoffed. “With our numbers they would never dare such a stupid move. You are as bad as your grandfather for underestimating people. King Aron may be a hothead, but he learned Kingship from one of the greatest men to ever do it. He would not risk such a move. He does not need to. His Kingdom has already been taken. The capital city is all that he holds. He will not let that go. Moreover, they have siege equipment. We cannot get near that city without it, it would be suicide.”
“Then what do we do?”
“We wait,” Charles said flatly.
“Wait for what?”
“We wait until we think of a way to get into that city.”
Riechard found himself becoming agitated. He knew of all of the ins and outs of Steelmont, and had learned many passageways in Duncath. There must be thousands of ways into the city. “Why do we not destroy their siege equipment? They want a stalemate, let’s give them one. If they do not have siege engines, then we do not have to fear waiting outside their city. We can cut off their supplies and choke them out until they surrender.”
“Break into the city? And who would do that? They will have men shoulder to shoulder on those walls. Anyone we send in there would not last a moment before having their throat cut. Their siege machines will be protected night and day too. We could not get so close.”
“I can get in. Just myself and a few more. Once we know the points of entry we could-”
“Enough. I will not hear such nonsense, and I will not give up my only son for such folly. Do you understand me?”
“You gave me up for a decade, father.”
Charles eyes burned right through him. Riechard had been away for his father for most of his life, and for much of that time, all he had heard of his father were placid words of favour that scarcely drowned out the overheard whispers of his detractors. Riechard knew the man as a painter and a writer, not as a warrior or a Prince. Now though, as he looked into his father’s grey eyes, he saw an anger in him that he had never seen before. With his greying hair now cut short and his jawline visible from his military diet, he looked every bit as authoritative as a King. Riechard prepared himself for a bollocking, but instead, Charles turned away from him and took in a deep breath before turning back towards his son.
“You are right,” Charles said, to Riechard’s surprise. “I should never have let you go. I should have protested your grandfather’s decision to send you away. He was insistent. He…did not want you to be raised by me, truth be told. I suppose that I had been such a disappointment that he did not want you to follow my path.”
“I didn’t…I’ve never painted anything in my life.”
Charles laughed. “That puts you ahead of m in the pecking order then.”
Riechard laughed too, but only for a moment. “I am sorry. I spoke to mother before I left…she misses you.”
Charles smiled. “I miss her too. She is a wonderful woman, your mother. Which is why, no matter what happens, we cannot hurt her family…Asher and Aron. Defeated or no, they cannot come to our swords.”
“If Grandfather wants them dead…” Riechard began.
“Then we must be the ones to change his mind.”
At the meeting, Karlon was still eating a leftover lamb leg from dinner. He held it up like a lantern and occasionally tore at the meat with his sharp teeth. Hilde seemed completely oblivious to the fact that this was not respectful behaviour in front of a Prince, and herself sniffed at her hairy armpits and winced before taking a swig of wine. Riechard knew, however, that neither of them was oblivious and were completely aware that Charles looked at them as savages. Riechard knew this because he heard them laughing about it beforehand. He was constantly listening to them laughing and joking with each other, and he often felt that he was the butt of their jokes. Charles looked at Riechard and cringed, to which Riechard responded with a forced smile, knowing that Charles was really the one being mocked.
Hilde lifted her goblet and eyed it thoughtfully. “This wine is delicious,” she said, mocking Charles’ dialect.
“Mighty fine meat too, but nothing beats the taste of human flesh,” Karlon echoed with a growling tone.
Riechard was worried that this attempt at intimidation would dominate his father, but Charles just sat patiently. He did not try to talk or interrupt them, but he did not respond to them either. After a few moments, Charles stood up, cleared the table piece by piece, including sweeping some crumbs onto Karlon’s lap and rolled out a piece of parchment upon the deck. He held out his hand and looked at Hilde, then glanced at her goblet. He filled it up with wine and placed it on one of the corners. Once the parchment was laid out, Riechard saw that it was a map of Silver City and the surrounding area.
“This is Silver City,” the Prince began. “In over five-hundred years, there has not been a single army who has gotten inside it by force alone. Not with siege weapons, not by luring them into the field, not by starving them out. Not in half a millennium has anyone achieved it. But if we want to win this war definitively. If we want to end the bloodshed and go back to our homes with our King and a peaceful rule, we have to do what no one has ever been able to. Now, you can sit here and play your games like infants or you can help me plan a way to take the city. Riechard tells me you are both capable leaders. He tells me that you were invaluable in the capture of Dawnmount. Do you wish to contribute your thoughts?”
Karlon looked at Charles thoughtfully for a moment and then scoffed. “I have nothing to prove to a man like you,” the General picked the fat out of his teeth and spat it on the floor. “But I do like a challenge.” Karlon rose to his feet and towered over his father as he did most people. He had not truly appreciated the size of the man until he had felt his fist in his mouth. Each punch felt like a giant was using a tree trunk as a battering ram against his face. Riechard ran his tongue across his broken teeth and shuddered again. Thank the Gods he is on our side, he thought.
Hilde followed suit. Riechard had noticed that Hilde and Karlon seemed to have a signal to the other. If one agreed, the other would follow. It was rare that they did not share a united front, which made Riechard think that they were under strict instruction to do so, even if they did not feel the same. “We could sneak in. I have never seen a city so big, they could not possibly have every section guarded. There must be a weak point.”
“The walls stetch almost three miles from coast to coast,” Charles explained.
“What about the cove?” Riechard asked. “There must be a way into the city from there.”
“Perhaps, but if there are more than a few men on the beach, then someone will soon raise alarm. Besides, without knowing the entrance whoever we send could easily be trapped.”
“My Prince?” A voice came from outside of their tent.
“What is it?” Charles asked.
It was Sir Gavon, who held in his hands a piece of parchment. He hurried over to the table. “Sorry to interrupt, your highness, a message…from Harthlem.”
“Harthelm?” Charles asked incredulously. Riechard father opened the parchment and gazed at it before breaking into a disbelieving smile. “I do not believe it…I knew the old man had men in the castle, but this is remarkable.”
“What is it?” Riechard asked.
“Son…I think we have our way into the city.”
“I should be the one to go,” Riechard told Sir William as their small retinue of twenty rode their horses down the hills towards Silver City. Riechard and Sir William had ridden off ahead, with Riechard keen to vent his frustrations to his friend. Sir Gavon scouted a league ahead of them and would soon arrive on the outskirts of Silver City, still far enough away from arrow fire. Prince Charles hung back with Karlon and Hilde, with the two Ismann warlords showing an interest in Charles that Riechard had not expected. There seemed to be some common ground between them which Riechard did not understand. The rest of the men followed closely behind them.
“I agree. You are the least important. If it is a trap, then we would not miss you,” Sir William laughed.
“This is serious. My father does not trust me with this.”
“Did he say that?”
“He did not have to. I immediately asked to do it, and he told me that he would assess the situation, which means that he does not intend to let me…do you really think this could be a trap?”
Sir William shook his head sincerely. “Not really. Your grandfather has been getting messages out without interception for months. Besides, King Aron would have to be smart enough to set this trap, which he is not.”
“He managed to trap my grandfather in his castle.”
Sir William smiled wryly. “Only because King Aedvard allowed him to. Make no mistake, if King Aedvard did not want to be captured, then he would not have allowed it.”
“Why on earth would he want to be caught?”
“Men let their guard down when they believe they are safe. It is also easier to tear something down from the inside than the outside.”
As they rode through what used to be the forest towards the coast, they passed the stumpy trunks of the felled trees and Riechard could smell the salty air of the sea. Once they arrived at the cliff, they waited with Sir William and Sir Gavon until the rest of their entourage arrived. Prince Charles descended his horse and surveyed the surrounding area. They were a league west of Silver City and the chosen man would make their way to the cove described by King Aedvard through the sand with the two knights. Riechard looked to his father expectantly.
“General Karlon. You will travel three miles east until you reach the cove. It should be between five-hundred and a thousand yards of the river mouth. Stay close to the cliff edge so that you are not spotted, and leave Sir Gavon and Sir William at each mile marker so that they can reach you if anyone happens to be passing. We will meet back here at mid-morning,” Charles commanded.
Karlon nodded and took the note from Charles’ hand. All three men walked to the beach without word or question. Riechard stepped forward, but Sir William grabbed his wrist and pulled him back. “Not now,” he whispered.
“I brought an army of over four thousand men to this point. Why should I not meet the contact?” Riechard growled at Sir William.
“Your father does not mean to slight you. He means to protect you.”
“Do I look like I need protecting?” Riechard bared his splintered teeth at Sir William. “I made it this far without protection. I can make it to the other end of a beach.” Riechard stepped forward towards his father. “Father…I would like to accompany General Karlon to meet the contact.”
Charles took a moment to consider him. “Lord Riechard,” he said pandering, “you are too valuable to be sent on such an errand. I need you here with Hilde to lead your army. If it were up to me, you would still be at home in Duncath.”
“I am not in Duncath, and it is not my home. I have spent more time in the Hartlands as a man than I have ever spent in Duncath,” Riechard spat.
“You have not spent a day anywhere as a man,” Charles said sternly with a lowered voice so that only Riechard could hear him. Riechard was affronted, but did not have a word to say back to his father. Charles leaned in close. “You have proven yourself. More so than you ever needed to in my eyes, and let me be the one to tell you, it will never be enough for your grandfather whatever you do…believe me on that. When we go back to the camp, then we will plan ahead.”
Riechard felt his nerves calm, which agitated him even more, but he had nothing left to say. To continue to argue would seem petulant, and his annoyance was beginning to be noticed by his betrothed. “Okay,” Riechard said. As they waited for Sir Gavon and Karlon to return, Riechard stared out over the ocean. He watched as a fleet of ships passed the horizon. He wondered where they were going, where they were from, and if Neville was aware of them. Hilde sat beside him in silence, sharpening her sword on her whetstone and whittling some arrow heads. Charles did not take his eyes off of the walls of Silver City, as if at any moment he expected them to fall.
When Karlon returned, it was with a piece of parchment. The General handed it to the Prince. Charles looked at it strangely. “This is the seal of the Arkgodson,” he said.
“The contact assures me the note has been written by King Aedvard himself,” Karlon replied.
Charles opened it and read the note aloud. “We will find our strength inside,” Charles said. “This is it? This is the note my father sends us? Words of hope and inspiration? This is not like him.”
“No…” Riechard said, “it is not like him at all.”
In his tent, Riechard lay on his bed whilst Hilde sat on the end of it as she ran the sharpened blade of her dagger across the top of her head to trim her hair. Riechard watched as the veins twitched in her biceps as she focussed and made the entire process look easy. At the same time, Riechard ran his fingers through his own long, oily hair and the straggly hairs that now adorned his chin and wondered if he might be better off doing the same thing as his betrothed. He had heard that King Aron kept his hair long too, but he had also heard of his uncle’s great beard and shining locks. According to his mother, he had always looked every bit the King, but on the inside, he could not be further from what one should be.
“What do you think it means?” Riechard asked Hilde as he stared at the roof of his tent. “We will find our strength inside.”
“Southerners think they are poets. It is no more than encouragement. Like when mothers tell their children they can do something even when they cannot,” Hilde replied, still focused on trimming her hair evenly.
“You do not know my grandfather…and apparently neither does my father. He does not write poetry. He writes instructions. Clear and concise.”
“There is nothing clear about his message.”
“Perhaps not…but perhaps he also considered the message may be intercepted or that the messenger might betray him.”
“It means nothing anyway. Even if we worked out what he was saying, we cannot get our army near the castle without siege equipment. We will be ripe for the picking.”
Riechard thought for a moment and suddenly the idea struck him like a lightning bolt. “Our strength is inside,” Riechard repeated. The city’s strength is inside the city walls, all of their siege equipment. What if we can destroy it from the inside? What if the meeting place was our entry way to the city, so that we could sneak in and destroy their war machines?” Riechard sat bolt upright.
“You got all of that instruction from four words?”
“Think about it. In the dead of night when the walls are less protected, when the men are drunker and more tired. That is the best time. Under the cover of darkness. We do not even need to destroy all their equipment, just enough on the north side of the city where we can gather our army and begin running in supplies for building our own siege. With any luck, any fires we start will spread and we’ll cause bedlam. We might even draw them into a fight, which would play to our advantage.”
“If it means gaining an advantage and doing some action, I will join, I am becoming incredibly bored waiting. My blade has not known blood in weeks. Will your father allow this? He is a cautious man of what I have learned.”
Riechard felt a sting as Hilde spoke of his father. I led this army here with Karlon and Hilde, not my father. Riechard stood on his feet and put on his scabbard and his cloak. “He does not need to know. By the time we have finished, he will not even know we were gone.”
“You mean to do this now?”
“Why not? It is the dead of night. We’ll need ten men. Sir William and Sir Gavon are loyal to me and will join me. Can you find another six?”
Hilde nodded. “With ease.”
“Then let’s go.”
The Great Galla lit their path down the hills and back towards the city. Riechard tried to squint to see how many men manned the city walls, but the light of the half moon was not enough to bring the City Guard into vision. Their group moved silently across the sand of the beach, covered in black cloaks and sticking close to the cliffs. Riechard had not ever spent much time on the sand, but he did not care for it. When the sand was soft and dry, his ankles sunk in as if it was snow, but was much more difficult to remove. Once they had walked the several miles to the cove, his calves and ankles ached.
The cove was little more than an angled crack in the cliffs where a small stream of water broke through, the stream was connected to the river that ran through the city. If they would follow the stream, it would bring them directly into the city centre. “We will go in twos,” Riechard told them. “Karlon and Sir William, Sir Gavon and Arnuld, Hilde and I, the rest of you pair up. One Ismann. One Blacklander.”
“Why are we split like this? My cousin Arnuld and I would be most effective together,” Karlon protested.
“Our dialects. A Hartlander knows a Blacklander when he hears them. You should not be speaking at all, but at least if you are caught. The Ismann can do the talking. They are far less likely to become suspicious of an Ismann. Stay in your pairs. Walk to the North Gate as quickly as you can, but do not run. Stay in the shadows and do not allow yourself to become pulled into trouble. Once there, kill the guards quietly and use their gas lanterns to set flame to their siege. Make sure you put the lanterns by the hinge mechanisms. That is all we need to destroy.”
When the group nodded their agreement, Riechard and Hilde set off first through the cave. It was dank and damp, and smelled as though the Hartlands army had already died in there. They made their way through the wet sand until they reached hard, jagged rocks. They climbed them cautiously and helped each other up through the darkness. After a few slips and scrapes, they eventually reached a tunnel. Riechard gazed into it and held their lantern up close. “This is man-made,” Riechard pondered. “It could lead us straight to Harthelm. Perhaps this is what my grandfather meant…perhaps he wants us to rescue him from Harthelm. Our strength is inside, what if he meant him? What if he is our strength?”
“We cannot change our plan now. Besides, he is locked in a cell and will be highly guarded. If we are caught then the war will be as good as lost, when it is so close to being won,” Hilde argued. “Come, Riechard. We must continue. Let us do what we set out to do.”
It was not long before Hilde and Riechard reached the end of the tunnel. They had taken pains to remain as silent as possible as they walked through it, and eventually came within fifty yards of a lantern. They approached cautiously, but soon realised that the entrance to the tunnel was unguarded. The tunnel ended with a ladder, and after looking upwards, Riechard could see the Great Galla again. Carefully, Riechard climbed the ladder and poked the top of his head out from the hole. He looked around him, and could not see a single soul. Before signalling to Hilde, Riechard pulled himself from the hole and noticed that they were beside the river, tucked between the trees that grew along the riverbank.
“It is clear,” Riechard whispered into the hole and heard his voice echo lightly.
Hilde soon climbed up behind him and performed the same surveyance as Riechard had done. “This is strange,” she whispered. “Why is this not guarded?”
“I don’t know, but let’s not hang around and ask why. We need to find our way to the North Gate.”
Riechard walked ahead, but was immediately knocked to the floor. He scrambled back on his hands and looked up. Hilde gasped at the figure hanging in front of them. She held up the lantern to the figure and saw that it was a person, hanging by the neck from the tree. Once Riechard’s heart had settled, he gently took the lantern from Hilde and inspected the body. There was a purple heart on the man’s surcoat, the emblem of House Hartlin. On the man’s shoulders were symbols that had been embroidered, not too dissimilar from the ones on Duncath’s own City Guard uniforms.
“Why does it feel like our path has already been cleared?” Riechard asked.
“Either that or we picked an extremely fortunate night to break into the city,” Hilde replied.
Hilde and Riechard continued into the city. They were cloaked in black from head to toe, and made sure to stick to the darkest allies as they followed the towering walls. When they got close to the walls, Riechard noticed some of the siege equipment peaking over houses and buildings. The walls were heavily manned, and the streets were busy with drunks, beggars and whores. Towards the end of the last alley, Riechard and Hilde found themselves a dozen yards from the main gate. Hidden in the darkness, they spotted a guard on each side of the gate. The walls had steps leading up to the parapets, but between the wall and the buildings was a wide walkway which contained the siege equipment. There must have been eight trebuchets on this stretch of wall alone, and other catapult type machinery. Alongside the walls were lanterns and torches, perfectly capable of setting light to the wooden siege engines that would be their army’s end should the Hartlanders find a way to use them.
“How are we going to get to them?” Hilde asked.
“We cannot sneak towards them…there are too many of them. We must avoid all suspicion.” Riechard did think about taking the hanging guard’s uniform, but the thought of robbing a corpse of its clothing turned Riechard’s stomach. “We will need City Guard uniforms…or at the very least the surcoats.”
Before Riechard could even consider the option, two cloaked figures appeared behind the men at the gate and quickly cut their throats. It happened so fast, that Riechard almost yelled out in terror. The lanterns were extinguished and the murderers dragged the bodies across the way towards the alley where Hilde and Riechard stood. When they were safely hidden in the darkness, the figures took off their hoods. It was Sir Gavon and Sir William with triumphant smirks on their faces.
“Are you insane?” Hilde growled. “What if you were caught?”
“Not much chance of that,” Sir Gavon said. “Did you not hear the commotion?”
“Sounds like some sort of riot. There’s fires burning all around the walls,” Sir William advised.
The group stepped out of the alley and saw the flames climbing up the walls. There were men and women frantically rushing in and out of houses throwing buckets of water over the flames. “This is not our doing…” Riechard said. “Karlon and the rest of the group are not even here yet.”
“Then we’ve either got fucking lucky or King Aedvard had this planned,” Sir William speculated.
Then Riechard thought again about the note. We will find our strength inside. Riechard felt stupid for breaking into the city, for going to all this trouble, when his grandfather had already arranged for the damage to be done from the inside of the city itself. He had never felt so stupid. “We have to find our way out.”
“What?” Hilde challenged. “We have just arrived. We will never have a better opportunity to hurt them. Let us finish the job. Let us destroy all we can whilst they fight the fire. We can burn this city to the ground.”
“We want to rule the city, not destroy it!” Riechard argued.
“Then let us finish what has already begun. This is just one gate, let’s go to the others and spread the flames across the walls.”
The group walked across the parapets completely un-harassed. Almost all of the City Guard had raced towards the fire in an attempt to put it out, but every time their group of infiltrators found a lantern, they dropped it in a pile of hay or, when they found one, beneath a siege engine. By the time they reached the West Gate, there was a trail of flames behind them like beacons. The siege machines were ablaze and the night sky above Silver City was shrouded in thick, black smoke. The West Gate was near-abandoned, but when the group descended from the parapets, they were met with a group of surly-looking City Guardsmen with their swords drawn.
“Do not dare move a muscle,” one of them said. This man was pot-bellied with thick eyebrows and straggly hair that hung over his shoulders. He stepped forward cautiously and put his sword beneath Riechard’s chin. “Who are you? I want to know the name of the man I am about to kill.”
The group held their hands up in surrender. They had nowhere to go but either into the steel of their enemies or into the fire they started. In that moment, Riechard accepted his fate, removed his cloak and spoke clearly. “My name is Lord Riechard of House Byrne.” Then, as if Riechard had willed it to the Gods themselves, the City Guardsmen laughed between themselves. The only one who didn’t was the pot-bellied man who held the sword to Riechard’s throat. In a moment of confusion and distraction, the man turned to his men and his eyes burst wide out of his skull as the blade poked through the man’s fat stomach. The group all simultaneously stepped back from the scene. Pulling the sword from the man’s stomach, the one who killed him looked directly into Riechard’s eyes.
“I think it’s time for you to go, my Lord. Don’t worry…we can take it from here.”