Finally the three Dogs of the Vineyard, plus one female companion, are nearing their destination of Bridal Falls City and to the Temple of Life. Home to beautiful waterfalls, that is also nicknamed the Four Brides, with lush rivers beginning their journeys from them. The seasons have come and gone since they were last at the capital of the faith, and now it is nearing time for the winter’s grasp. The four travellers have to wrap their coats about them, as the chill air tries to bite through their bones, a sign to those that have lived through it before that it is going to be a harsh winter, a time when the demons like to seek out the weak hearted in this bitter time. Yet this is some time off, as the trees begin to turn to the fiery oranges and reds, another natural cycle coming to an end.
There is still a day’s journey to the city, and the Dogs have a chance to discuss exactly what they plan to do, mainly with Temperance, once they arrive. Temperance is busy off gathering some fruit, herbs, and vegetables for their meal.
As the distance slowly slips away and they draw ever closer to the city, more small shrines and temples become regular sights, and the Dogs see the old training grounds from before they tread the ground as Dogs. Places where they either learned scriptures or places where they can see many lasting marks of bullets shot. Soon they enter within the Four Brides, the dull rumbling sound from them only intensifying as they pass within, finding themselves having to shout to be heard.
A lose town has built up around the temple, more pious than the previous towns they have been to. The buildings showing signs that they have had a better financed construction. People recognise the Dogs as they enter, showing proper reverence, some with their eyes averted down. It has been over six months since these new Dogs had left the safety of the city, going out in to the wild to fulfil their duty.
The large wooden doors, the metal bars pulled out, swing open allowing the travellers to enter the temple complex. They ride in through the wooden gateway, with a lot more air of confidence and authority than they had when they last passed through. Small groups of young trainees can be seen going through their paces, as the older and wiser Dogs watch on. Temperance mouth is open agape at the scene before her, seeing what most people do not get to see, the training of so many people, the quantity of trees around the temple, many of them very old and wizened.
One of the teachers spots the returning Dogs, they remember her name as Sister Damaris, and she was the one that had taught them all aspects of horsemanship. Her coat that she wears is long and worn, it almost looking more like a patchwork. She walks over to them, a puzzled quizzical expression on her face. This old Dog can’t be far from retiring, and there are rumours of her accepting an offer of marriage very soon. She greets them asking what had brought them back so soon, wondering if there may be a problem with the one they brought along with them. Jesse explains that they had come across many problems and a misguided soul, he introduces Temperance, and that they believed they could help. As they were heading back this way, they could stop off back at the Temple of Life. Also they have news and belongings of a once fellow Dog that had retired in a town not so far away, the problems that they encountered along with the outcome.
The Dogs and Sister Damaris talk some more small talk, about how well the new trainees are doing, the coming bad winter, and the fact that there has been more than the usual amount of people arriving in town for a pilgrimage. She asks them before parting whether they would like to have a gathering of the elders, to talk about the situation of Temperance, informing them that she will do what she can and suggests that they could talk with the others too. Damaris also questions their condition compared to their mounts, more or less berating them on handling of their horses.
That night the temple is quiet in remembrance of one that was once theirs, there are few that remember her. One elder is stood, an eye missing and two fingers on his right hand, a strange leer to his face due to the scar that runs from his lip. He comments on Wiltshire’s last few days before retiring, that he had worked along side her on a town, where she was a thing of fury itself. As he says this he looks over at Jesse with respect, having heard that he had gone in on her solo. She had helped a town he was in too deep, it was in his early days and he had made a mistake, and that basically they had burnt the town to the ground, and very few had come out. He then lifts and points to one of his many scars, telling everyone that he had got that at the town from a short range shotgun. “It is a pity that she fell to the demons. I always wondered how one as driven as her could turn her back on it, but I had hoped that she could take that passion and commit it to the man she was with. She did nothing by halves.” He thanks the three Dogs for having to take care of her, and to not have let her sully her legacy further.
The three Dogs turn in for an early night, Temperance off in the unmarried women’s quarter. A first time in a long while that they have had such a quality of sleep and accommodation, no worries of sins to set right, post to deliver or harvest to bring in. Food is brought to them, prepared and delivered by the apprentices. The trainees look upon them with awe, able to see these Dogs that are only a few years older than themselves, instead of the older teachers.
Brothers Ambrose, Jesse and Joshua are awoken early the next day by the sounds of the trainees beginning the mornings training and duty, once more aware of the sounds of the waterfalls rumbling in the background, becoming again accustomed to the constant roar. Once the Dogs have finished their breakfast, they head on out to get organised the meeting that will deal with the situation of Temperance. Asking around and with messages being passed on by word of mouth. Having to wait while the elders finish up their morning duties.
Eventually the meeting begins to come together, the elders coming directly from their duties, some from some training. Some elders still have their sleeves rolled up, some with mud and dirt on them, others have bruises welling up, or some the aroma of smoking guns on their clothes. The meeting being held in an enclosed open courtyard usually reserved for meditation, Temperance not being at the gathering but left at the unmarried women’s quarter. The centre piece to this area is a large carved tree of life, carved long ago from a whole piece of a fallen old tree, which had grown so massive that the carving was taken from the trunk. The three Dogs stand together looking out at the surrounding elders, the many different coats and colors telling tales of their lives. It looks like there is a very good turn out for the gathering, as most seem to be here, at least twenty of the elders.
Damaris is also in attendance and she smiles at them, giving them a subtle nod for them to speak. Jesse speaks up, first thanking all gathered for their time, giving him and his fellow Brothers the honour. Jesse tells them briefly of there time since leaving and the run up to their meeting with Temperance in Ashen Ridge, describing the problems their and the situation that faced them with her. Sharing with the elders that they had to deal with local natives of the mountains, and how it was all wrapped up in the sins of the town. He told the elders of Temperance’s virtues, sharing with them what they had witnessed of her usefulness. Ambrose nods along with the tale, agreeing with the sentiments.
One of the sisters gathered, her coat looking rather plain, however along the bottom are symbols that remind the three Dogs of tattoos they saw on the mountain folk, along with one symbol of the King of Life on the back. She carries no gun by her side, instead she has a large bow and quiver strapped to her back. Her head is completely shaved with evidence of burn marks down one side. “The three of you have been with her the longest. When you think she can accomplish something, we can aid, but what do you think will suit her path, what do you believe the King of Life wishes for her that we can help you to do?” Jesse explains that they believe it was best for her to come here rather than leave her in another town, as this will more than likely cause more problems for any town she would live, what with her condition with men and courtship she has previously experienced. He asks the elders whether there is anything that they could offer which would be suitable for her.
“Are you advocating sending this woman out with a pack of the watch Dogs?” the elder with the missing fingers speaks up. Jesse offers that they had thought more of her staying within the city or temple here, so as not to cause any problems with the men folk in other towns. Perhaps she could help with duties for the other Dogs and elders. As the three Brothers discuss possibilities for Temperance, Joshua comes up with an idea. The elders seem to nod along with this suggestion; it is almost as if the elders have been encouraging the three Dogs to come up with ideas themselves.
The idea is that if she can not commit her life to the marriage of a man, that she should commit her life to the King of Life and marry in to the faith. Become a Retainer of Life.
Another elder stands and speaks; he wears an unusual colored coat predominantly of greens. “Sounds like you have a good idea there, even if the lady has had bad experiences with the men in the past. And I do hope whoever done those experiences were taken care of correctly. I can see why it would put off; the sin of others can make it hard for a woman to do what is required by the faith. And I respect you guys for trying to give her another chance, for something to do.” He also offers that some there would gladly help accompany the lady to where she is needed, however he suggests that if they want to take her, they could service two wishes of the King with one journey. He explains to them about a problem of late, a place where Dogs go for meditation and the stewards for their final training, a place called Modesties Retreat. “We have been sending many stewards there, but very few back.” He explains that many towns can’t train their stewards, and now there are places with inexperienced stewards. The elder shares that there will be many more with problems they may want to hear first before deciding, there seems to be many problems about due to the harsh winter coming. Joshua quickly agrees with this suggestion, informing them that he will be willing to take Temperance to Modesties Retreat. The green elder smiles at this telling Joshua that he is glad that he is so keen to jump onboard, but again suggest that he listen to the other problems before deciding. “As the King always said, we must know our actions and claim them, and to know them we must know what we are sacrificing to do them.” He tells Joshua that it is good to see fire in his eyes, and that if any of them are in need of his assistance let him know.
“So do you feel you have come to a conclusion you are happy with.” Sister Damaris asks of them. “A task for this Temperance, or do you wish to consult more with your brothers and sisters.” The three Dogs look at each other and agree with the solution that has arisen. Ambrose suggests that they give Temperance a chance to think about it and the final decision.
The elders look amongst themselves and nod, the one in green speaks once more, “Very well. Most of us will be here over the coming days, a few are heading out back to the tasks and trials. But if we can lend an ear or word once you have spoken to Temperance, then I for one will be more than happy to help you.” Jesse again thanks the gathered Dogs for hearing their plea and the help with the decision.
Over in the guest quarters of the unmarried women’s quarter, Brothers Jesse and Joshua await outside while Brother Ambrose goes in to speak with Temperance. He finds her with an elderly lady that he recognises from before, a lady that tends to all the cuts and grazes. They are both weaving some lace work, Temperance less skilful in this as can easily be seen. Temperance looks up with a start upon seeing a male presence standing there, before realising it to be a Dogs called Ambrose.
Brother Ambrose knocks on the door out of proper etiquette upon seeing Temperance notice him. “Oh Brother Ambrose, we were just talking about you.” Ambrose raises his eyebrow at this and then looks at the old lady; she just looks back with a neutral expression. Ambrose explains to Temperance that he and the other two Dogs have just been to the meeting, talking about what should be done. Temperance shares that the old lady had just explained to her about a problem with a town far, far east and that she didn’t realise that there was any settles so far out. Telling him her concern of how dangerous and close to the heathens it must be. Ambrose agrees with her, telling her that there are some dangerous town to the far east, asking her which town it was. The nurse looks up and tells him that she was talking about Faiths Frontier, a place that has just been set up recently. “It seems that many of the poor folk who live to the east have finally had their chance to see the shallow emptiness of their decadent and hedonistic lives. And wished for something more and come seeking it. So a steward has set up, nobly at this risky heathen land, of men who take advantage and of drunkenness, those with curse words on their lips, to save their souls.” She carries on with how bad the place and people of these lands are, suggesting how important it would be for a watch Dogs to be there to help with the noble task. Ambrose sympathises with her about how bad the places sounds, and how riddled with sin it must be. He reassures her that the temple will soon sent some watch Dogs as soon as they have some available. Temperance looks a little let down with how Ambrose brushes off the suggestion of going there, it appears that she liked the idea of perhaps going along to this far of place.
Ambrose brings the conversation back to why he is there, that he and the other watch Dogs have heard of a commune called Modesties Retreat that they have been asked to visit, explaining to her that it is a place that the stewards go to train. Ambrose tells her that the place would be a good location for her to go, and tells her of the plan they all have agreed upon, committing her life to the King of Life and the town there. Her eyes light up upon hearing this, but then a frown spreads across her face. “But doesn’t that mean I will not be able to see any of the other towns.” Ambrose asks her if she would like to travel. She stutters her response unsure how to word her feelings and desires, letting him know that she is grateful for the kindness they are affording her. Temperance tells him that she has heard of the place, and that it is an honour she doesn’t deserve. She tells him that it is just a youthful fancy to see the world, but she is very grateful for everything done for her. Ambrose calms her down and tells her that it is not something she has to do, but a choice, if she wishes to explore a different option then so be it. She bites her lip slightly, looking very nervous with the way she has been acting, especially to a Dog and in this most holy of places. Ambrose again reassures that it is not a command, and for her to speak her mind. She explains to Ambrose that she would like to see the other towns that people talk of, and she would not like to turn down the King of Life, she feels that she should put behind her the dreams and make the most of the honour afforded her. Ambrose asks her what she would be willing to sacrifice if she was to travel, what would it mean to her. She stutters unsure what to say, telling Ambrose that she has nothing to give, she has no money, however she would happily give herself to the faith and help out. She asks him what it is that she could give. Ambrose asks her if she would be willing to work and live completely for the King of Life, to which she agrees that she would happily do such a thing. Ambrose nods with this, telling her to think carefully and consider the options that are available to her, while another idea spring to his mind. She thanks him for coming to tell her, that it is easier to talk with him. He assures her that the others are only doing their jobs, to which she quickly corrects him that she is not saying a word against them.
Brothers Jesse and Joshua wait outside the building for Ambrose to speak with Temperance, when they are approached by one of the elder Dogs from the meeting, the one with the shaved head and bow. Joshua steps back slightly with a growl at the back of his throat as she nears. She greets them, “Brother Jesse isn’t it? Your friend doesn’t like me much.” Jesse greets her back and explains to her what had happened back in Ashen Ridge and the mountain folk. She nods and agrees that they can be a bit wilful. “They do not recognise that pride is a sin that they should account for. A pity as they are most spiritual of people, they just need to realise that they are following the wrong path.” Jesse nods and agrees with her. She then moves the subject to the fact that they are going to go to Modesties Retreat, and wishes to know more of their previous travels, especially as they have travelled near where the mountain folk live. She asks them if they ever went near a town called Sandy Spirits, the one that has sometimes been called The King’s Breadland, or had any intention of going there but been put of course. Jesse shares with her where they had been, apologising that they had not gone all that near to that location.
The sister shares with Jesse and Joshua, about what had happened when she was heading there. She had been near the place when someone had come out to her and told her about a problem in a near by town, so of course she had gone to this town instead never actually visiting Sandy Spirits. Since coming back she has heard at least four others have had the same experience with travelling to that town, all similarly being waylaid. It is good that the town cares for its neighbours, but it seems a bit odd. She shares her concerns about the town, and what they may be hiding. The sister asks of them that if they hear anything of the town, or do indeed go to investigate it themselves, if they could let her know she would be most grateful. Jesse confirms exactly what she has said about the place, asking if they have a steward. She tells him that last she heard they did indeed have their own steward. Jesse tells her that if they do decide to go that way, that he will let her know and if she so wishes she may come along. She thanks them wishing that the King of Life walk with them on their travels, as she toys with the burnt scar on the side of her head with a finger. She turns and walks off just as Ambrose reappears from the building.
Jesse shares with Ambrose about what the sister had wanted. Likewise Ambrose shares his conversation he had with Temperance to the other two, telling them that she was grateful but not over enthusiastic. Jesse questions her consideration. So the three Dogs discuss the situation with Temperance and what is to be done, Jesse unsure of her convictions, Ambrose backing her actions, while Joshua is indifferent and would be happy to just be shot of her. Then Ambrose drops his idea he had to the other two, suggesting that it may be better for her to become a Watch Dog. Jesse doesn’t believe she has the character to become one. Joshua believes her to be too old to enter in to the training. Ambrose believes the training will do her good, and if it can crack her timid exterior then she could become a good Dog, she has to potential. Jesse suggests that he should take it to the council.
The three Dogs approach the elder sister Damaris, they find her busy tending to her horse, picking and grooming the coat. She greets them as the walk up to her, asking if Ambrose has come for advice on how to look after his mare. He ignores the remark telling her that he wishes to discuss with her about Temperance. Ambrose talks with her while Jesse stands back slightly and Joshua behind him. She asks him if there is an issue. Ambrose shares with her how Temperance was honoured with the choice, but telling her that he believes it to be wrong for her. Damaris believes that some people can find it difficult to give their lives to such a commitment, but Ambrose tells her that he does not think this to be the case, but more of a life style that she can commit to. He shares that she would like to travel. Damaris states that this is an unusual trait to find in a woman, and they will have to be careful with this as this can lead to unfavourable paths, “As a ladies place is in the home.” Ambrose raises an eyebrow at this. “You raise an eyebrow at me?”
“You seemed to have made a good life of it.”
“I am a watch Dog.”
“That is more or less what I was thinking.” Upon hearing this Jesse takes a small step back from them.
“That is what you’re thinking. Really?”
“I think so.” Hearing this confirmation she asks if the Dogs are three in this. Ambrose turns to face his fellow Dogs, “Definitely.” Jesse stands there not reacting or saying anything. Joshua gives a quick “Whatever.”
“Are you all in three? If the watch Dogs come in three with the decision then it is the right decision.” Damaris asks them, and then turns to Jesse, “Jesse?” With some reluctance Jesse agrees with Ambrose’s choice. Damaris asks him if he lacks faith in his fellow Dog, to which Jesse quickly confirms that it is not faith in his fellow Dog he lacks. Ambrose asks if it his choice he doesn’t believe in, again Jesse quickly reassures him that it is not the case, but with Temperance taking advantage in their good faith being his concern. Damaris then turns to Joshua, and he gives a straight yes answer. Damaris asks him which traits had lead him to the decision. Joshua lists that he believes in Temperance’s faith, “and her caring nature to a degree as long it is tempered by an ability to know and what to do is correct.”
“My concern is the fact that she is not very happy with how we deal with situations. She has shown this to me, and more recently with Joshua too.” Jesse adds. “This is what my concern is. The fact that she may not be able to carry through with a judgement.”
“She disagrees with the judgement of a watch Dog. That is quite a proud stance to hold is it not?” Damaris suggests.
“I not so sure she disagrees with necessarily the judgement, possibly more the handling of it.” Adds Joshua. Ambrose defends suggesting that Temperance is probably just squeamish, and that she will soon get over it, that everyone starts out a little like that. Damaris states that it seems that they have the three, just, and asks Ambrose if there is anymore he wishes to add. Jesse quickly clarifies to Damaris that he has full faith in Ambrose’s choices, and only wishes to share with her is thoughts on Temperance.
“Very well then, if the Dogs are in three then this bodes well. But please Ambrose if you have any concerns, be honest, all may have flaws when they come in, it is only when we do not attend to them that they become dangerous. Do you have anything that will lead you to think that there may be issues with this lady?” Ambrose tells her no, and she asks him if there are any character points that need to be address during training. Ambrose goes over the points of her squeamish nature and the necessity the Dogs sometimes have to make, but assures her that Temperance can learn. Damaris tells them that it is expected in a woman to be like this, the only concern is if he believes that she can not transcend. “To be not like you a man, or like me a woman, but like us a Watch Dog.” Ambrose confirms that he believes Temperance can do this, so Damaris asks him if Temperance wishes this. Ambrose shares that he has not told her yet of this option, as he wanted to consult with the other Dogs first before lifting her in false hope, but he believes that she does.
Before the Dogs leave Damaris tells them of another town that has been experiencing problems, telling them that she doesn’t get the chance to go out so often now, and that she still gets letter. “Tempted by the desires of demons fire up within them, but to get it twice in one town, within a very short time seems unusual.” She tells them that some friends of hers at a town called Stubborn Mount, mention of two girls unmarried who she believes to be with child and the father being unknown. She tells them that she has watched them while in their training, and that she trusts them with their judgement, the balance they have between the three of them. Telling them that if they were to go there she would appreciate it, if it was them that would go and not any of the others, believing them to have the right balance of delicacy and fire. Jesse agrees to give it thought along with the others they have to think on, and as soon as they know they will let her know. She also asks to be told of what the young Temperance thinks on the new suggestion.
The three Dogs head back to see Temperance, this time both Jesse and Joshua go in with Ambrose. This time Temperance is sat alone, away from all the others as she concentrates on the lace work before her. She is only aware of them there when she pricks her finger, blood rushing to the spot and she bites back from saying a rude word. “Oh Umm, is there a problem?” Ambrose asks her if she is alright, seeing her nurse her finger. She admits that she is not very good at the lace work, and that it will heal. Ambrose tells her that he has had a word with sister Damaris about some other opportunities that she may be more suited to. Temperance jumps to the conclusion that it is something to do with looking after horses, telling them that she is quite good at looking after horses. Ambrose tells her that she could do that if she would like, but no that is not it. Her only response to this is oh and a look of being crest-fallen. “It is the possibility of training to be a Dog.” Suddenly the room feels deadly silent as everyone, even those at a distance, stop what they are doing and look over. All that can be heard in the room is the needle drop to the floor that Temperance was holding; she quickly picks it back up. She looks at Ambrose, then at the other two Dogs stood behind him, unsure how to act or what to say, trying to read within them about the situation she is now in. Temperance is silent for a short time, trying to find words but only odds sounds escape her lips. “You obviously think so.” She then looks past Ambrose and glances to Jesse then to Joshua, before she decides on Jesse being the less she likes of the two and asks him, “Do you think I could?”
“I would like you to prove me wrong, but I don’t think you have the stomach for the job of judging people. Especially after seeing how you react to when we have to judge people. You have been anti me for some time now because of this, and now more recently even Joshua.” Temperance nods along to this statement, thinks on it then quickly states, “Of course your acts as watch Dogs were completely correct.” She then turns to Joshua looking for his opinion. “I think that if you are able to harden yourself, then yes I don’t see why you couldn’t become a Dog.” Again Temperance nods along to this statement. She then mutters more to herself than to the Dogs, “To travel, to do the Kings work.” Then she addresses them with the next statement, “Would it be a sin to fail or a bigger sin not to try.” Joshua tells her that only she can make that choice. “The test begins now.” Jesse adds. Temperance nods to this then asks him of a further question of him. “Brother Jesse, if I managed to do this, I have no one who would make a coat for me. I know where you are from, from what you have said, if I were to make it would you willing to be the one who makes my coat?”
“It will be an honour.”
“Then I will try my very hardest.” Jesse stands there and says no more, she thanks them again, for giving her this chance telling them that she will do her very best. Suddenly applause breaks out from all the women in the room.
It has been many days now since the three Dogs arrived back at the Temple of Life, and they have spent time considering which town they should travel to next. During their time at the temple some of the Dogs, staff and people notice that Jesse seems to be angrier than when he had left, and one or two of the elders tell him that he needs to control the fire in his heart, to keep it for the correct moment when he can release his righteous fury.
Time moves ever closer to the white veil that will soon come and spread its icy grasp across the land, and it is time that the three Dogs should make a move once more. The Dogs plan is to move on out for a weeks journey to Modesties Retreat, to find what is happening with the stewards sent there, before moving on to the next nearest town, and the next problem awaiting.