Kalveston was tired. He had been traveling, and fighting, for months now, working to subdue those who persisted in the false belief that he was not destined to lead them into a golden age. The forging of the empire was moving more slowly than he could bring himself to believe. Every day he issued new challenges, insults, and even prodded his men forward, yet still the rebels refused to come out to fight, die, and bow before his power, at which time more of them would die anyway, for one can never have enough examples of one’s greatness.
Not so long ago, a month perhaps, it had come to his attention that a northern mercenary was leading his enemies and that it was through this man’s influence that the rebels had adopted the coward’s tactics of hitting, running, and hiding. However, they had had such success with this behavior that Kalveston had condescended to offer the man a captain’s post in the imperial forces. The reply sent back had been...less than satisfactory. In response, Kalveston had placed a bounty on the man’s head, and let it be known that he who handed over the wanted one would receive even more than the original offer. Yet even such profitable terms still had not produced his enemy. Obviously, as Kalveston discerned, the man inspired stronger loyalty than he had thought any other man capable of.
As he thought over these facts from a seat placed just outside his tent, and as he watched his men prepare for another sortie into the hill country in which the rebels had taken refuge, his chief scout approached and saluted.
“Master, there is no sign of the rebels. They have moved on.”
“Are you sure of it this time? Have you stabbed every bush, every tree, every hole in the ground? The last time you said that, we moved on, and they struck our rear as we marched, from the place you had described as deserted.”
“I swear, if you were not the only real tracker I had, I would have hung you out for the carrion birds that day. It is your misfortune that anyone who knows anything of tracking seems to have joined the rebels. If such a mistake happens again I will make my threat good and order your closest companions to carry out the sentence. I will not wait for them, either.”
At being forced to stand and listen to such vindictiveness directed at himself, the scout had grown pale and begun to tremble. Kalveston saw this and snapped at him again.
“Weakness! I may execute you for that, if I do not find a better reason soon. Those who follow me are superior to others. They do not show weakness like the rebel dogs you have failed to find. Get yourself and your men away, and do not bring them back until the campfires are lit.”
The scout immediately hurried off, and Kalveston settled into his observations again. How long had it been? A year? Two? He could not remember and did not care. All that mattered was that all the land be united under one banner. It was amazing that he, previously the conquering general for the man who called himself king, who had destroyed a host of rebels and a fleet of invaders in a matter of weeks, should be obstructed so by the farmers and hunters who made up the riffraff opposed to him. He had shown them already what came of refusing him. He could not count the number of burned towns he had left in his wake throughout the conflict, yet they still persisted in their resistance. He pondered this in his mind as he stalked through the camp, looking for anyone he could punish to alleviate his own confusion.
It was hours later and after dark when the scouts found their way back to the camp and came before him to report the results of the expedition. It was apparent that they had not even paused to acquire food and drink, as they were trembling from exhaustion as they waited until the emperor should see fit to notice their presence.
Kalveston continued to eat his meal at a leisurely pace while watching the assembled group slowly turn pale, possibly from imagining what he was thinking of doing to them. Finally, he finished his drink and thrust everything at his attendant, who was standing nearby. The man promptly left to do his duty, while the emperor looked up to face his frightened scouts.
“Well? Was anybody left? Did you find anything? A broken blade? A bag, a scrap of food, perhaps?”
The scout seemed to be trying to restrain himself from marching off as he answered carefully “Well... We did not find any of those by themselves. What we found was a dead man.”
“What is it that has you so frightened, then?”
Shaking visibly, the man replied “He was not yet cold.”
Kalveston answered without flinching, as if the news he had been given was positively mundane and uninteresting. “Well, you heard my words and it seems that you failed in your one mission. Did you bring the body back with you?”
“No, Master. We did not think that you would require it.”
“Wrong again. I wanted to see if the man was that elusive captain who defied me so foolishly.” Turning to the man who had come before him earlier, he added “I do not go back on my word. You are a dead man. You others, take him back to where you found the body and tie him tightly to the nearest tree. Then leave him and rejoin the ranks.”
As soon as the unfortunate men had left, Kalveston sent for his captains and gave them new orders. “My scouts have stumbled upon signs that the rebels were nearby this day. They have gotten farther away since then, but my men should be able to catch up and kill them all. Is that not true?”
Dutifully, the captains chorused “Yes, they can.”
“I knew it, but I wish to be sure of it, so there shall be no rests tomorrow. Everyone will march until we find the rebels or to dark, whichever of the two comes first. Those who fall behind shall be left to fend for themselves. To some, that is worse than death, so I expect that every man will be in ranks when we halt. If not, it shall be on your heads. Weapons only. Packs are to be carried by the animals; that is what they exist for. Men in my ranks know that catching the enemy is more important than their own survival. Has there been news from the empire?”
“Nothing of consequence, lord. In Naibern life goes on, and in the territories they are learning how to live.”
“Then everything is as it should be. The men are to be ready at dawn. Go now.”
The captains rose in a body, saluted, and each returned to his own division of the army, which had been growing with every conquest as fortunate young men were conscripted into the imperial forces. Whether it was planting time or not was inconsequential, as the emperor usually burned everything to the ground, preferring to force the decisions of lower men rather than allow them the chance to refuse his will.
Under the last ruler, Naibern had been rather large and complacent, as people were content to take what they could get and leave the next man as much as he needed. But Kalveston needed more. In fact, he needed everything. He needed every land and every nation to bow to his will, because he was a great leader, and it was the task of every man to acknowledge the truth of this. And so he built an army of men who would seek his leave before eating or sleeping, because they knew that Kalveston knew what must be done.
There were still some, however, who dared to think they had a right to be ruled by no one but themselves, or who preferred the previous ruler. These he had to deal harshly with. At every settlement of these people, he would destroy everything they owned to prove to them that they could keep only that which the emperor permitted. Some were killed. Others were sent to labor far from their homes. The fortunate ones were handed a sword and expected to keep up with the rest.
In this manner. the emperor and his forces had moved across Naibern and several smaller countries to the south. Those to the north of his homeland would get their turn to fall under his banner in time. It was a purely a tactical decision to subdue the greater number first, to ensure that no coalition formed behind his back as he moved against the north.
The northerners would fall when he wanted them to. He knew very well that they would not be able to mount a proper defense, as one land was nothing more than a desert, and the other had recently been enduring a golden age under another man. But Kalveston’s men had infiltrated that man’s court, and Kalveston had given the order the previous year that the land was ripe to be overrun. The last news he had heard had said that all was going well. Naiberns roamed freely over Corridane, and the ruling house had been forced out without arousing the suspicion of the people. When his task in the south was done, Kalveston resolved, he would send for Keltran and determine whether it was necessary that the emperor himself come north to establish true order.
On the following day he was up and armed by the time the sun had broken the horizon. Then he mounted his charger and rode from his tent in the center of the camp out to the front lines, his war-banner bearer cantering alongside. This man’s presence was a serious sign in the ranks, for, as veterans of the emperor’s campaigns knew, the banner was never ordered out to the front unless battle was expected that day. From the back of his horse, Kalveston could see men all over the ranks communicating this important fact to those who had not yet learned its significance. The emblem on this herald of fear and death was a cartwheel consumed by flame around its outer edge. The fiery wheel was set upon a black field, so that the sign would be all the more visible to those who opposed it. It was a sign that the destruction that followed could not be stopped.
Kalveston gave one idle wave of his hand and started off in the direction which he assumed the rebels had followed. Behind him, thousands of men immediately began the march, letting no words pass between them. A short time later, the ranks began to pass by the unfortunate scout doomed to death by Kalveston’s order. No one reacted to his presence;those who showed any sympathy might have soon found themselves pulled out of line and made to join the man in his last hours. They preferred to die in battle.
Only moments after the last ranks of the army had left the scene, a man wearing a dusky traveling cloak emerged from his hiding place in the foliage of a tree not far from the path. He approached the astonished Naibern scout without explaining himself and swiftly cut the man loose. Handing the Naibern water and food, he then said “Get that down quick. We’ve far enough to go, and I don’t wish to carry you. The captain will want to hear what you have to say.”
The Naibern took the provisions with all the speed he could muster, as he managed to force out in response “What could I possibly have to say that would interest your captain? I am only a poor scout who has failed to discover you three times already.”
Throwing back his hood, the “rebel” said “I assure you no one your leader sent would be able to see us. Those of us who track your forces are skilled in the art of hiding from our enemies, be they beast or man.”
“Well, I am ready to go. I can not thank you enough for saving my life.”
“I know, and I do not require your thanks. I only require your complete cooperation with my plans. Come on, my path will get us back to my comrades before the emperor can get there.”
But the Naibern did not start off right away, instead standing and pondering a question which had just come to him. “But why,” he said “Did I find a man dead here before, and now I see no sign of him anywhere about. Did you move the body in such a short time?”
“Yes, I did. I was the body. By chance you caught me out of cover and I had to do the best I could manage. A true warrior would have attacked me. Have you ever killed a man before?”
“No! I wouldn’t dream of it!”
“Then why are you scouting for the emperor’s army? Has he threatened you?”
“Yes, yes, actually, if you could ask men, you would find that most of them are like me. They are being driven to do this by the will of the emperor, and not by their own. Life was good where I lived before. but it is all gone now.”
“Enough speech. We have a long way to go before we reach my ranks. You may talk then.”
With this warning, the two men increased their speed. The rebel scout did not slow down once as he traversed a series of dips, gullies, and other obstructions he came across. The Naibern put forth all his strength to keep up, but soon tired out, since the small share of provisions he had been given had not been enough to restore his full strength.
“I can not go on at this pace.” He said between deep breaths “How much longer must we go on?”
His rescuer froze in his tracks and came back to the other man’s side. “It is a long way. I am sorry I forgot that you are not ready for this. There should be one of my companions nearby watching your ranks pass.” The man then whistled at a pitch which compelled the Naibern to cover his ears.
In a minute they were joined by another man of greater stature than the first. The rescuer called the larger man to his side with urgent words. “Here, Ralph. I have a man here lately doomed to death by that accursed emperor. I must get back, but he can not come with me. It falls to you to get him back to our companions. How long has it been since the Naiberns passed your position?”
Ralph studied the Naibern as he answered the question. “They are still passing, Will. It will be a wonder to me if there are ranks to return to when they meet in battle.”
“Well then you will be surprised. Can you get this man to our camp in good time? Because I must be off.”
“Aye, that I can do. But how that emperor expects to defeat us with men so small I can’t fathom. How do you suppose he does it?” As he turned to receive an answer from Will, Ralph discovered that the other man was nowhere to be seen. “Well, that’s Will for you. Too fast for his own good. Now you, whatever your name is, hop on my back, and we’ll make good time.”
Will had sped off as soon as he heard Ralph say that he had the task in hand. Leaping over a fallen log, he paused to recover his breath and turned toward the path to confirm Ralph’s statement. Sure enough, several feet below in the marked path, he could see vast numbers of men marching past his position, with no apparent intention of halting. Composing himself, Will hurried off the through the brush, determined to reach his own camp, which was yet some miles distant, before the Naibern horde.
Kalveston, dominator of all he surveyed, still rode at the head of his forces. They had been marching now for three hours, and they were several miles beyond their last camp. In accordance with his orders, there had been no pauses allowed for the whole force. Those who had to pause were expected to resume their place in line with all possible speed.
Without turning his head, Kalveston asked his banner-bearer “What of the ranks? Have they proven to be made of lesser men?”
The standard-bearer looked over his shoulder for just a moment, and then resettled in his seat and reported “They are keeping up as far as I can see, lord. They seem to be repaying your confidence in them.”
“I have no confidence in them. It is their duty to march. I do not rule men through respect, Darren. I rule them through their own fear of death. Give someone your horse and tell him to ride forward to search out the rebels’ camp.”
“My lord, if I may, I would like to go myself.”
“I can not have you let another man carry the banner. Some traitor might spoil it. Neither can I let you ride forward with it or you may be waylaid, the emblem taken from you and you would deserve death. I let you keep it only because you have always been a servant of my house. Do my command.”
Without regard for the situation he had placed his servant in, Kalveston rode on. When the scout was prepared, he called the man to his side. “You are to find the rebels’ camp. When you find them you will hide yourself nearby and signal me when I arrive. I want you to find out how many they have, their position, and who their leader is. Go.”
Snapping a sharp salute, the man rode off without saying a word. As his aide Darren returned, Kalveston gestured toward the departing rider and remarked “There goes a man who lives for the right. I tell him to venture into enemy territory alone and he does it. Those are the men who should live in my empire.”
Darren trudged along beside his emperor, doing as his lord wished in refusing to say a word in response, but letting the end of the staff create a furrow in the trail as he marched.
It was some time past midday when Kalveston and his forces stopped in their tracks at the sound of the sentry’s voice hailing the emperor. Kalveston immediately directed the man to come down and make his report.
Saluting, the scout said “My lord, the rebels’ camp is less than an hour’s march from here, over those hills you see behind me. I could not discover who the leader is. It appears that the man you seek has run, like a coward, and left his followers to die.”
“Their position, and can it be breached with speed?”
“No sir. They have set up on the opposite side of a river. There is high ground behind them, but the only crossing for miles is directly before their camp.”
“How many men do they have?”
“One, maybe two thousand. They are not well-armed. I could see no one who looked like a real soldier.”
“You are not a real soldier yourself, are you? And yet you fight. I have the men, and I want the ground as quickly as it can be taken. Resistance to my rule is futile, and they shall learn that. Darren, go with this man and plant the banner in the best ground in sight of their camp. I do not care if their shots can reach it, for they will be too cowardly to try to kill me.”
Dutifully, Darren raised the banner and went off ahead with the scout. A mile ahead, they crested the rise and were able to see the whole panorama spread out before them. Below them, a river valley a mile wide spread out on either side of a river which appeared to be no wider than the height of a man. The green valley stretched out for miles to the left and the right. On the left, Darren could see an abrupt bend in the river’s course which would make it difficult to cross there. On the right, a forest was growing some distance away which would also hinder the passage of large groups of men. Just as on his own side, the enemies’ camp was backed by low hills. As he observed these details, Darren also became aware that a shadow had fallen over the land. A glance upward confirmed that the sun had been overtaken by a large cloud, which was only the vanguard of several more coming in over the western horizon.
“We must get back to the ranks with all speed. There is a storm brewing that the emperor will not appreciate.” Wrapping the banner of the fiery wheel around its staff, Darren turned back the way they had come to make his report.
Halfway back to the original position, he met the emperor and the ranks, who had continued to follow him as he walked. Setting the standard down and saluting, he made his report.
“My lord, there is a storm moving in over the valley where the rebels have made their camp.”
“Well then my men will walk faster. My tent must be erected with all speed.”
“It shall be done, my lord.” Without another word, Darren resumed his position alongside the emperor’s mount.
Only minutes more had passed before they were back on the hilltop Darren had just left. This time, he planted the standard firmly in the high ground and left it there to see to the arrangements of the emperor’s personal quarters. This tent he directed to be brought alongside the banner on the hilltop, but any others were sent to the bottom of the hill, so that the emperor might have a clear view of the field.
While his aide was looking after his affairs, Kalveston himself had taken two men down into the valley with the intention of scouting for himself, for he rarely trusted that which he had not seen himself. They rode to the left side first and found it just as Darren had described: a sharp bend in the river, which appeared dangerous to cross. Pulling up a blade of grass from the ground, Kalveston let it fall into the head of the current and watched as it spun crazily about on its way down the river. Kalveston shrugged. Men would lose their footing if they were told to cross there and the surprise would be lost. He gestured that they should try the other direction.
As he had been warned, to the right there was a thick forest which would also hinder the passage of large groups of men. However, there were many trunks to be had if one wanted a raft, even though building rafts would force him to spend more time than he wanted close by, yet so far from the rebels and their destruction. Scowling, he directed the men to return to camp and take their rest.
“Eat and rest while you can. You know my command. The wheel is rolling. There must be battle before nightfall. Make your peace with death as you see fit.”
The two men saluted and went to take their own rest, while Kalveston went to his own tent, which had already been set up. Once there, he commanded his aide to bring his battle armor and help him get into it. The emperor’s battle armor was a sight to behold. He had ordered it built wider than he needed to enhance the illusion of great size. Spikes three inches long protruded from the top of the helm. Before donning his armor, he always pulled on a tunic which had been made two inches thick on his orders. The armor plates went around this cloth, which served the double purpose of enhancing his presence and protecting his life better than a shield. The whole outfit was a great weight to carry, which few men were capable of. Kalveston, emperor of Naibern, was one of those. When his sword was finally strapped on, he marched out of his tent and surveyed the field.
“Darren! Where are the troops? There is to be a battle before the sun goes down!”
“They are moving into position now, sir.”
“I have never seen them so slow. This is not a May Day outing! Tell them to move!”
“Most of the men have never marched through the day before. We picked them up as we came through, and they are weak.”
Even as he spoke, Kalveston began making his way down to the level ground to join the ranks. “There is no weakness here. If they can not fight, they will die. Those who can fight will win the battle and go on. That is how it is, how it will be, and how it ought to be. The strong will rule, and I will be at their head for ages to come.”
Once he had reached the level ground, Kalveston advanced quickly through the ranks of saluting farmhands holding weapons, until he reached the front ranks at the river’s edge, where his fully armed professionals had mustered.
“You need no explanation. Attack and kill them all. Are the archers ready?” he asked Darren, turning back toward the standard bearer, who was standing behind him.
“Yes, my lord. They are hot to begin. It seems that our enemies have decided not to meet us in the field. Their camp is still.”
Kalveston took note of this point with singular satisfaction. “One does not show one’s hand to the emperor so easily and expect to live through the day. Send men to cover both flanks, start the fire arrows and send the front ranks forward.”
Nodding his understanding, Darren stepped back and waved the flaming wheel from side to side twice, at the same time relaying the orders at the top of his voice. “Archers to fire at will! Front to advance and attack. One hundred of you each to the left and the right.”
Just as the army began following his orders, the storm which had been brewing since they arrived broke overhead. The archers got off two rounds of fire arrows, and then the rain smothered their fires, so they continued to fire plain iron. Kalveston watched contentedly as swarms of shafts struck every tent within reach of a bow, and his professional front ranks advanced without a hint of opposition, despite the storm. And then his mood soured.
As soon as the first two ranks had crossed, archers sprang suddenly out from behind tents and wagons out of reach of Kalveston’s bowmen. They made swift work of those Naiberns in their camp, and then began to deal death to those still in the water, who could do nothing to their own aid. Now, the emperor watched in shock as his men began to die by the dozens to enemies they were helpless to stop. By the time he managed to call out “Get out! Halt! Fall back!” at least a score of his best men were dead in the water, and many more lay dead or dying on the opposite bank. He had lost the first assault, for the first time in, he knew not how long it had been, but he had lost.
Even as he began to fall back alongside his men, even more shafts began to come out of hidden positions on both sides of his ranks, where he had guessed from the start that squads of rebel soldiers would be waiting. He had been correct, but there was no consolation in the fact, in the face of the humiliating loss of so many of his best men. It would have been wise to stay back until his men had built bridges to cross over. This he had known as soon as he had seen the land. But he had not anticipated that the rebels would make the wisest move in the face of his ranks. They must have had some warning. Men would die for this; those miserable scouts had let their companion escape, and he had joined the enemy! They would die, once the storm had cleared.
Seated in his tent, he removed his helm, but refused to remove the rest of his gear. As he looked toward the ground and shook his head at his humiliation, he noticed a shaft protruding from his breastplate. Extending his arm, he jerked it out with one pull. With a sigh, he contemplated what it represented.
“Those rebels have had the best fortune of their lives. No one has struck me in years. And it will be years more before another man thinks of it.” Suddenly, he hurled the shaft away, watching as it nearly embedded itself in the side of his tent. Calling Darren to his side, he asked him “Do you know of those men in my ranks posing as scouts?”
“I think I would soon find them, my lord. Should I fetch them for you?”
“No. Just tell them off to be executed. they have failed me, and those who fail me do not live.”
“As you say, my lord. Are you hungry?”
“Just carry out my orders. If the rain has passed order the ranks out again. I am hungry for victory.”
Stepping to the opening and pulling back the flap, Darren said “The storm has passed, my lord. Should I fetch your helm?”
Hands on his knees, Kalveston pulled himself upright. He took two steps toward his aide, and then pointed and said “There is my helm not three feet away! Do you think I am a creaking old man? Just follow my orders!”
Darren rushed out of the tent as if he had just remembered something urgent. Kalveston settled back into his seat to await his aide’s return with the announcement that preparations were complete. But he was tired. The whole campaign, and the whole day, had worn him down more than he had ever expected. It had only been eighteen months since he had started out on this grand quest, but every delay seemed to add a month or more, even if it was only a day. Thus he felt that he had been at it for far longer. Why would not give up? What did they have to live for outside the life he wished for his empire? It was a question he would never answer to his own satisfaction, contenting himself with the idea that the rebels’ beliefs on everything were mistaken and that he held the answers.
About half an hour later Darren returned. “My lord, there is little more than two hours left of the daylight. Do you want the attack or the execution?”
Crossing over to the table where sat his helm, Kalveston put it on as he replied “Tell those men to the front ranks and we shall have both at once.”
So they descended to the field and began the whole ordeal again. This time Kalveston told his men not to wait for anything and charge ahead quickly. To ensure that they would follow his orders, he marched into the river himself in full armor, and made himself the first man to stand on the opposite bank. Even as he led the men in the direct assault, he sent another company around to cross under the cover of the forest. Their surprise attack was a complete success, as they captured every man who had opposed them earlier resting in their shelters. Most he personally watched die before him. But a few he took back to his tent under guard, to answer the questions he could only put to his enemies. He had food brought in during the interrogation, in part because he really wanted it, but also because he knew it was likely to loosen some tongues.
“Tell me why you oppose me. You may think me a brutal tyrant, but I simply want to make our people a great nation. So great that all men are part of it.”
One man who looked to be possible officer material glared from where he sat on the ground, his hands tied. “I can not answer as you want me to, because you would not understand that the answer I gave was a true one.” he said “Men like you, who want to be the greatest they know, arise in every age. Always they are killed because they do not understand. Men do not like being ruled. Not by a man with such a high opinion of himself as you have. When that ruler is a wise man who cares for the people, they are content to go about their lives without bothering about others’. When a man like you, who cares first fort his own good, takes power, he wants more of it and inspires men to hate him and oppose him at every turn. You have your answer.”
Kalveston had been chewing slowly as he listened with half-closed ears. Now he finished and replied “But I have said I desire to make a great nation of all the lands, the greatest there ever was.”
“What you really want is that all men should fall down and do you homage. No man really deserves what you seek, and my companions and I know this.”
Silently, Kalveston signaled that the man should be killed. The guards followed the order without elaborating, as the man’s companions watched in shock. Thinking he had dispensed with the most assertive of them, the Naibern turned to the rest.
“This time, tell me who your leader is. Speak quickly, or you will die too.”
“You have killed our leader already.”
“That one? What of the northern mercenary I have seen before?”
“The northman never asked to be our leader. He asked to be a captain only. He was an easy man to follow, and he kept us alive longer than we might have managed.”
“So he is not among you any more? Where did he go?”
“I am not one who had the privilege of learning that. One day he simply was not in our camp and could not be found.”
“Ah, so he is a coward. I thought as much. How did you discover my plans?”
“We did not. We knew that you would be after us and we have been tracking your army for days.”
That is a lie! You have had a traitor in your camp! I know it!” Kalveston sprang to his feet, advancing toward his prisoner as if to strike him.
The prisoner replied as coldly as before, secure in the knowledge of the truth. “We tracked your army and we know the ground. You may kill me, but it will not make my spirit unsay my words. There was no spy.”
Kalveston retreated to his seat, baffled by the man’s unwavering statements. Wiping his brow, he ordered all the prisoners taken out of the tent and seated outside, to be kept alive until he gave further orders.
Now the truth was that there had not actually been any spy in the camp. Ralph the rebel and his baggage, the condemned Naibern scout, had not made it to the camp before the first attack, as they had some distance to traverse and both grew weaker every moment, as is natural. They had, however, arrived in time to be killed after the second attack, so that now both were dead, and any who remained could safely claim that there had never been any spy or deserter in the camp, as most had not had time to see the man himself.
By the time Kalveston had sent the prisoners out of his tent for the first time, it was after dark, but he refused to take any rest, cheered as he was by the total success of the second attack and his subsequent dealings with the choice prisoners. After he had left them in the chill for several minutes, he ordered that only one should be admitted and gave the man this proposition: To answer his questions or to die.
The first one they brought in gave answers much the same as those the emperor had heard earlier, and stoically refused to answer any further. He was taken out and executed shortly afterward. In short order, Kalveston had the remaining four prisoners brought in one by one and put various similar questions to them. All four of them were eventually executed without a struggle, leaving Kalveston deep in the dark with no new information except that perhaps he had not gotten everyone, and that he could expect resistance everywhere he went with his usual tactics. It was nearly midnight when he retired, as frustrated as he had been in the past year.