A Return to Ashen Ridge

Brothers Ambrose and Jesse spend a few hours longer at Sandy Spirits, in the separated area while Jesse gains strength to ride once more.  They attend to his head injury and bandage it up to keep clean.  While there Jesse has to burn his jar of consecrated earth as a strange growth appeared within the soil, burying the ashes and losing another holy artefact.

Soon after leaving Sandy Spirits, Ambrose and Jesse come across Brother Joshua, still sat proud upon his horse, his rifle happily sat across his lap and a smile on his face.  Joshua can see that Jesse doesn’t look so good, with a bandage wrapped around his head, a faint trickle of blood noticeable by his ear, and looking rather pale as he tries to keep himself up on his horse.  Jesse ignores recognising his fellow Dog.  Joshua sits there on his horse happily greeting them as if nothing had happened.  Jesse mutters something to Ambrose, something about ignoring him and it may go away.  Ambrose stops his horse next to Joshua and asks him what had happened back there.  Joshua tells him that the guy had gone for his weapon and didn’t want to take no for an answer, he then pulled his own weapon, so Joshua then explains that he had to shoot him.  Jesse carefully rides on by not stopping, muttering something about issues.  Ambrose explains to Joshua that they will have to take him back to that town, but first they have more pressing matters to attend.  “Unless you die before then.  Then we will have to just take your body back there for them to see.”

The journey to Ashen Ridge is uneventful if some what sullen with no one talking.  By the time they make their way back to the town they had once gave judgement in, the place looks less ashen and more white now with all the ice on the ground and a light dusting of snow in places.  No one can be seen out in the now barren fields, on even out on the streets.  The only sign of life so far can be seen from the blacksmith Malakai’s chimney.

As the three Watch Dogs ride close to town now they have the feeling as if they are being watched.  No one can be seen but their hackles are standing on edge.  Joshua’s hand is now resting more firmly upon the grip to his pistol, now not just resting there.  Ambrose reassuringly touches his hand to his Book of Life, and Jesse carries on with his careful riding posture looking like it is difficult for him to stay sat on the saddle, even though after the journey he is feeling more refreshed but not wishing to let on just yet.  Ever now and again they think they see a shadow move.

They finally arrive in town and the bell can be heard tolling from the chapel, no one is coming out to the sound.  There is a thin layer of white powder across everything that has been left outside, creating bright highlights to objects emphasising the shapes.  There is a small plume of smoke up in the mountains across the ravine.

“Well by golly, look whose back.”  A voice can be heard behind them from the blacksmith’s.  A familiar voice to the three Dogs that of Wayne the apprentice blacksmith to Malakai.  However they see an older more mature young man than the person they remember from last time, his hair longer and his cheek less fatty.  He is wearing the thick apron with his calloused hand around a tong, and a big grin across his face.  Pushing his hair out of his face he tells them that he hadn’t expected to see them back.  He greets them and reminds them who he is in case they had forgotten who he was.  Jesse gives a slight movement of his head and a careful smile in greeting.  Wayne asks if he is alright suggesting that he could get a hold of Mather’s replacement, “The man had even sucked the snake bite poison, from a man’s ass.”  He then explains that he could not believe that the man’s animal got a bite on his leg.

Wayne asks them if they are there about the man who is living up in the mountains.  Ambrose asks him what man.  Wayne thinks for a moment trying to remember the guy’s name, and then suggests the name to be Josiah or Elijah or something.  He opens his mouth as if to say something more when he looks past the Watch Dogs, then quickly darts back in to the blacksmith’s closing and bolting the door behind him.  Jesse carefully moves himself around in the saddle to look behind them, the others following suit.

Standing there behind them, his hair long and dark cascading down his back, his chest still exposed even in this climate, and a bow slung over his shoulder.  Sleeping Dog is stood there before them and he leans against a wall, “Huh you took your time.”  He looks directly at Joshua.  Joshua explains that they have been busy.  “Well you’re here now.  Are you ready?”  Joshua explains that they are here for work and that he may be ready later.  Sleeping Dog raises an eyebrow and asks what is wrong wondering if the weather might not be to his taste, “Would you prefer to be inside with a hot woman?”

“No I am looking for a man.”  Sleeping Dog raises his other eyebrow, not realising that the Watch Dogs would allow that and suggests that he would know a man in the mountains called Dancing Deer that would give him a good seeing to, “And then we can sort out our business afterwards.”

Silence sits there more less than a second while the realisation crosses Joshua’s mind.  “I didn’t think that you would be the person who would have turned away from a challenge.  I guess the time has changed you.”  Joshua explains that he is not turning away from it but will have to put it on hold until his business is finished.  Sleeping Dog shakes his head stating that it is always the same with old loves, when they come back it is never the same.  He then laughs and fades back in to the shadows, only his laugh mockingly echoing through the street.

The three Watch Dogs carry on to the town’s chapel and meet up with the steward Cresse once more.  It is not too late in the day but it is already turning to winter night.  Storm clouds are riding the sky hiding any residue light from the sun.  The breath from the horses is visible on the air as the Dogs tie them up outside the chapel.

As they swing open the doors to the chapel, a warm air buffers them and a smell of burnt embers invades their noses.  In the centre they can see a ring of stone surrounding a fire, casting long flickering shadows up the walls.  A bent over figure knelt before it, that of the steward Cresse.  His head now completely shaved as it rest upon his chest before the symbols of the King of Life and Tree of Life.  He seems to be speaking in tongues, with scratches on the backs of his hands, and scratch marks on the stone floor.  He pulls his nails across the floor as he speaks, a nail ripping off and flying across the fire, a blood trail following and spits as it hits the heat.  As he rolls his head back looking up to the sky, his eyes can be seen to be rolled back in his head only the whites are visible.  Ambrose goes and grabs his blanket from his horse to place on Cresse.  And just as he returns the steward throws his hands out and about to plunge in to the fire, but Jesse manages to stop him as Ambrose covers him in the blanket.  “Watch Dogs. Watch Dogs.  They come in threes, they do.  Do you know?  Do you know!  Watch Dogsssss…….” He collapses in to a heap in Ambrose’s arms.

Ambrose checks to find that the steward Cresse is okay and in fact is breathing very peacefully, his chest raising and lowering in a steady deep sleep.  The steward huddles himself up in to a ball.  Marks and scares can be seen over his hands and arms, some of them looking new and others aged.  Eventually he slowly opens his eyes and starts as he sees the three familiar faces of the Watch Dogs.  He asks them if he is hallucinating, whether it is a vision, and if they have a message for him from the King of Life.  Ambrose cuts him short and asks him exactly what it is that he thinks is a vision and a hallucination.  Cresse explains that they are visions of the Watch Dogs that had come to his town many months back and had purged his town of the sin, and had made him see the light when he was becoming too prideful.  Ambrose reassures him that he is not hallucinating, and the fact is that they are three Watch Dogs.  Cresse reaches out and begins to carefully pat at Ambrose’s hand.  “Watch Dogs!?”  His eyes clear, he then sits up and reaches around Ambrose embracing him, “It is good to see you again.”  He then stands and goes to embrace Jesse, however Jesse backs away placing his hands up in front of him, pointing out his condition.  “Oh the King of Life’s Watch Dog has been injured in the line of duty.”  He then quickly turns to Joshua and throw his arms around him.  Joshua just stands there stiff and ridged allowing him to embrace him.

Steward Cresse explains to the three Watch Dogs that he had a vision of them returning to his town and freeing his town of the evil once more.  Ambrose asks him to explain the situation to them, Jesse adding that they want him to tell them what it is and not to worry about his vision.  Cresse explains to the Watch Dogs that there is a new comer to the town, and that everyone had welcomed him with open arms.  That the guy has convinced the easily swayed of his flock and set himself up in the mountains.  Cresse carries on stating that the man is probably right now mixed up with demonic and erotic orgies with the weak minded.  That they are more than likely writhing about in a mass of naked bodies, biting and licking each others forbidden areas.  Ambrose again cuts him short and tells him that they are there to investigate a man that has sinned in previous towns, and that they will look in to this matter.  Cresse tells them that the man calls himself Elijah, and that the members of his flock are called Elifal, a young lady, and Gracie the young man.  He explains that there was an old man that had joined them called Ebonisa, “he passed through with green lust in his eyes.”  Cresse tells them that there were others too, like Cornelius, Cyrus, Cybina and that all their names are now lost to him since they had gone there up in the mountains.  Ambrose asks him if anyone had consulted with the Mountain Folk, however Cresse spits at this saying that they will not consult with those that do not know the way of the King of Life.  “We have a”, he spits, “peace with them, but we will not step willingly in.”  He explains that the only one would be Honora, but he distrusts her so the way she converses with them.  He believes that she is almost pagan how she deals with them.  Ambrose shares with the steward Cresse that the Mountain Folk have much that they can teach, even if they are not wise in the way of the King of Life.

Ambrose asks Cresse if the town has been fairing well.  Whether it is only the lost souls that are now a problem.  The steward shares that the town has been strong, even only recently he passed on the blessing of the King of Life to Emmett, Honora’s husband, who got the privilege and permission to take a second wife.  Joshua asks him who the second wife would be, and is informed that her name is Kisiah, a dedicated and beautiful young woman.  He also expects that with his recent activity she would be soon with child.  They are also told that she is a new member of the town, all but six months past since she arrived.  Jesse asks who had given Emmett permission to take a second wife.  They are told that they had a travelling man pass through, which had transpired to be a high priest travelling incognito.  Emmett had given him shelter and the full run of his house and food.  Upon returning back to Bridal Falls the priest was taken by the generosity of the man that he sent a message accompanied by a Watch Dog, to inform him that he could take another wife.  “Upon hearing this my heart leapt with joy of such a blessing.  I then purified myself in the fire and went and told Emmett of the great news.”  Jesse asks for the name of the holy man that had sheltered at Emmett’s, and is told the name to be Herzus.  He also explains that the Watch Dog that had accompanied the messenger was a strange one.  He wore a long green coat with strange patterns, which made it hard to see him from a distance.  Also the Watch Dog had mentioned the three Watch Dogs by name, and that he had talked with them back in Bridal Falls.  His name was Brother August.

After leaving the spitting town steward Cresse, who is very incensed with the situation with the man and the straying flock in the mountains, the three Watch Dogs agree that they should go talk with Honora next to see what they can learn from her.  They remember their way over to her house.  They leave their horses where they are as someone has been kind and put them in to stable for them.  The surroundings seem a little strange in this light with the white blanket draped over almost everything.  They arrive at the house and knock on the door.  After several attempts, and the knocks getting louder, the door is eventually answered.  A frantic scrambling can be heard within the house just before the door opens.  A man still busy doing up his belt buckle opens the door to the Watch Dogs, and trying to do up his shirt at the same time, sweat can be seen beading and trickling down the man’s forehead.

Emmett greets the Watch Dogs, straightening himself and pulling his cap over his head.  He lets them know that he had heard that they were back in town.  Breathlessly he apologises for keeping them waiting, informing them that he was just busy having a wash.  He asks them if he could have a moment just to tidy the place up before they enter.  Ambrose quickly agrees turning to the other two and waits outside until allowed in.

After probably around five minutes the door opens once more and Emmett allows them in apologising for having to keep them outside.  He then quickly turns and introduces his wife to them, telling them her name as Kisiah.  She stands there with a bob over her hair as she peers around the corner of a door, her face all flushed with color.  As she steps out from behind the door they can see that compared to how Honora dressed, Kisiah is very traditional in her very long black billowing dress.  Everything neatly tied up and revealing nothing, no flesh on show except for her hands and face.  They soon notice that there are no sign or sound of the kids that have normally been there, nor any sign of Honora.  Kisiah offers them some drinks of herbal tea.  Ambrose thanks her and informs her that they have come to have a word with Honora.  A frown barely noticeable crosses Kisiah’s face before she quickly hides it once more.  Emmett explains that she is out at the moment and Wayne has been kind to offer looking after the children for now.  Honora had gone out when the sky was clear, to gather some herbs for the night’s meal.

Ambrose thanks him and asks whether he may be able to help them with some information about the guy they have heard about, who is now living up in the mountains.  Upon hearing this Kisiah takes Emmett’s hand and he gently squeezes it.  He agrees that it is a horrid thing, and since had heard talk of him from other towns.  People calling him the devil’s child and such like, and about the guy doing un-wedded activity.  Spends all his time up in the mountains and never coming in to town for supplies, but someone usually takes things up for him.  Emmett stops and looks at Kisiah, explaining that it is not talk that should be spoken in front of ladies.  He admits that the guy was a very friendly man, even got along well with Wayne, filling the lads head with tales of where he had been.

Emmett suddenly remembers that Temperance was travelling with them and asks after her.  Ambrose tells him that they had left her at Bridal Falls.  This impressed Emmett greatly, saying he would love to make a pilgrimage there himself.

Upon being asked, Emmett shares that no one has gone up to confront the man, especially as it is so close to the Mountain Folk and not wishing to start something so soon after the last time.  Ambrose assures him that it was the correct action, to be more concerned with the town than this one guy.  Kisiah smiles hearing this praise being placed on her husband.

The Watch Dogs traipse back to see Wayne, the weather has closed in now and they have to fight through the fallen snow.  By the time they get to Wayne’s house their coats have a coating of white.  As the door opens they find poor Wayne dealing with the children that Honora looked after, not the normal circumstance a man of the courting ages should be in.  The children are busy climbing all over him as he tries to keep them under control.  He smiles as he sees the Watch Dogs enter, greeting them and asking if Emmett has done with redecorating the house.  Not being sure that he can keep the kids under control much longer.  He turns to the children telling them that they are now in the presence of three Watch Dogs, and that these are the people that help keep things in order.  The children suddenly stop what they are doing and calm down.  Wayne looks surprised by this action, unsure that this would have worked.

Jesse asks Wayne how Honora is.  He informs them that she is fine, and she must be very proud of her husband have such a privilege.  “I’m sure her big ol’ heart must be bursting with pride.”  Sharing that she has looked down occasionally, what with Temperance gone now, but he usually goes over to try to cheer her up.  Wayne seems to look off in to the middle distance.  Suddenly he remembers and asks where Temperance is.  Ambrose tells him the same as he told Emmett.  Wayne also looks very impressed with this.  He carries on saying that Emmett must have the loveliest food, having Honora spend so long up there in the mountains gathering the herbs.

Wayne asks what it was that they needed, whether they needed somewhere to sleep.  He confesses that there isn’t a lot of space, but he will accommodate they the best he can.  Ambrose tells him that they are interested in the guy Elijah.  Wayne looks slightly confused with this, turning the name over in his mouth before realising who they mean.  “I can never remember the man’s name, for some reason I keep thinking it is a different name.”  He blames himself for the confusion.

Wayne admits that he has heard bad things about the guy, but had not found this of the man.  He shares with the Watch Dogs the poor man’s tale a girl that he had been courting in a previous town, which it seemed that he was sad and missed her.  Joshua asks what town it was, but Wayne admits that he didn’t ask.  Wayne continues to tell them that Elijah had something go wrong back then, and that he had gone courting in another town.  “You know how I am with girls, because he must be the same.  He kept every now and again saying a different name.  He must be just getting mixed up.  Apparently something went wrong in the town and he had to leave in a hurry.  So he never got a chance to court properly.”

After having their talk, Wayne remembers that Sleeping Dog had left a present for Brother Joshua so goes and retrieves it for him.  Wayne hands over to Joshua a single white feather, “He told me to give this to you.”  The feather looks an awful lot like it belongs to a chicken.

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