Moving quickly and silently, the Wolf was nearly at the great promontory. The sun was going down in the west already. He didn’t have much time to find the place he’d hidden his clothes. This would be the last time. Now he’d break the power of Alick.
“The Word is with me,” he repeated to himself. The assurance of that small sentence gave him confidence. He would make it, fatigued as he was. Six days of non-stop running. Twice he’d been spotted by men, but they hadn’t been able to get him. Now he had very little strength left, but he knew he must get to the promontory first. He looked up, there it was. He painfully climbed the slope. There was still an hour till sundown. He’d made it! Slowly he laid his weary bones down beside the small cave where his clothes lay. He could rest until the sun disappeared.
Tabea had been impatiently waiting since noon, watching the east for any sign of the Wolf. She was certain that he’d arrive soon and wanted to be the first to see him. Still, idling makes one bored and it is often difficult for some people to do nothing but watch for someone when bored, so Tabea did what would be natural to a cat — she began to wash herself. She finally got so engrossed in her project that she missed the gray shadow sneaking by below the great rock and away to the small cave that she knew nothing about. When she was finished, she turned and watched east again. There was no sign of the Wolf. Slowly worry began to creep up in her, along with that pins-and-needles sensation. What if he didn’t make it? Where would he take on his human form? Could she find him in time? While she was pondering these questions the sun vanished behind the mountain The prickling suddenly became a white-hot flame and she cried out, a high-pitched cat-wail echoing among the cracks of the mountains.
Slowly she pushed herself up, rising on her feet, straightening, a full woman again. For an instant the moon caressed her supple form before she bent to retrieve the clothes that lay beside her. She dressed quickly, feeling the warming comfort of the rough cloth on her skin. It was not very chilly, but she knew that she was now fully human again and that ran icy thrills of joy up and down her spine. She stood hugging herself, looking out at the wide valley in front of her. Suddenly she heard a silent footfall and turned. A tall figure peeled itself out of the shadows, coming towards her in a stride she knew so well. She rushed into his arms with a little cry of joy.
“Dylan, you made it!” He just silently stroked the long, golden-brown hair, his eyes closed. Tired, just so tired! was all that passed through his dulled mind.
“I’ve missed you so much,” the girl in his arms was whispering.
“So did I, Tabea,” he managed to say, finally letting go of her and sinking on to a large rock behind him. She caught the fatigue in his green eyes and haggard face.
“You need to rest, Dylan,” she told him, suddenly worried that he’d collapse on her. He just nodded and rose again with extreme effort.
“Come.” She slowly led him down the hill to where Stev had hidden two horses. They mounted and quickly moved towards the Pulleny’s farm, some miles north and west of there. As they rode, the young lord told his lady what he’d found out.
“This is going to be a battle between me and Alick, Tabea,” he sighed wearily. “No one else will be able to help, except in keeping everyone else away.” She just nodded silently. Finally the winking lights of the farm were in front of them. He reigned his horse to a halt in front of the house and climbed off, putting one hand against the wide flank of his steed to steady himself before slowly proceeding up the steps to the porch. Someone must have heard his heavy footfalls, for the door swung open and a slight figure rushed through it, throwing her arms around him. After a moment of surprise he recognized her.
“Alisande!” She stepped back and regarded him in a shy fashion. “What are you doing here?”
“I ran away from Lady Roanna,” she said, a silent sob shaking her body. “She — she killed our father.” Now he took her in his arms to comfort her.
“It’s all right, little sister. Father is probably happier where he is now than when he was here.” He released her and then turned to Tabea, who was just behind him, taking her hand to show that actually they belonged together. With utmost effort he walked into the room and sank down on a bench, leaning his back against the wall.
“Hello, sir,” he heard Stev say. He just barely nodded back.
“He needs to sleep,” Tabea announced, trying to cover her shock over the pallor of his face. She gently ran her hands through his thick red-brown hair. He managed to give her his winning smile. With united strength they were able to heave him up off the bench and lead him into the spare bedroom where Alisande had slept the night before. He collapsed on the bed, not even bothering to remove his cloak and sank into blissful night.
The sun was already peeking through the window when he awoke. Someone had taken the time to undress him and carefully cover him up. Now he rose, finding new clothes on a low chair beside the bed. He pulled on the pants before going to the low wash basin and splashing his upper body and neck with the cool, refreshing liquid. It’s just what I need, he thought. Somehow the exhaustion had totally vanished through those short hours of sleep. It couldn’t be more than two hours past sunrise. Now he finished dressing in the wide, soft tunic and pulling on the rough socks and heavy boots. There was also a light belt with a holster on it. The pistol was lying on the night stand, wrapped in a soft, white cloth. He unwrapped it and checked its function, then wrapping it up again and putting it back down. He left the gun belt lying on the chair and went out into the main room. Everyone but Stev and Alisande were there, busy with various chores. His clearing his throat made them notice him.
“Good morning, people,” he laughed as Tabea flew at him in a joyful embrace.
“Oh, Dylan, you’re finally up,” she whispered.
“Yes and feeling better every minute, lady love,” he answered, putting one arm around her shoulders and directing her to the kitchen table in the middle of the room.
“Where’s Stev?” Tabea giggled to herself before answering.
“He went out to do some chores in the yard and Alisande followed him.” The young lord raised one eyebrow. “I think she’s fallen for him,” his lady surmised.
“It very well could be. I just hope that she won’t keep him from doing his chores and that he will have a clear head to help me in my last battle against Alick.” The mention of the wizard suddenly sobered Tabea, who sat up straight and stared out the window.
“But I could use a little breakfast,” he announced with a smile. Mother Pulleny just laughed and placed a hunk of bread, a bowl full of butter, some jam, and a mug of fresh milk in front of him. He busied himself with the good food and after a short time was finished. He rose, wiping his hands on a wide cloth napkin.
“Now to find Stev,” he said and left the house, trailed by Tabea. After some searching they found the two young people in the barn, the girl milking the cows and the young man getting hay out of the loft for their morning meal, before being let out to pasture.
“I see you’ve put her to work,” Dylan called to announce himself.
“She wanted to,” came Pulleny’s voice from above.
“I would rather say that she did not want to let you out of her sight,” the young lord explained with a wink. “But we have to get going and find the others.”
“I’m coming,” Tabea announced.
“Me, too,” Alisande chimed in. The young lord shook his head.
“No, you’re both staying here. We’ll be meeting at my log hut this afternoon around four. You can come there if you want to — but no disguises, okay?” They both nodded. Tabea put on a pretty pout and wound her arms around his neck.
“Are you sure, love?” she asked.
“About your staying?” She nodded. “Absolutely.”
“All right, I’ll stay here, after all I am a farm girl.” Dylan laughed quietly and planted a kiss on her forehead.
Finally Dylan and Stev were alone again, riding through the woods towards the little log hut that had been the young lord’s favorite hunting place. The horses needed little guidance, being Dylan’s own dappled gelding and Stev’s black mare. They’d been here often by many, many different paths. The young lord smiled at his one-time playmate.
“You’re quite thoughtful, Stev,” he remarked.
“Huh?” The other shook his sandy head. “I can’t get that girl out of my mind,” he admitted with a grin.
“Alisande?” A nod answered.
“Hm,” Dylan mused, “she did have quite a dreamy quality about her when she looked at you. Have you spoken to her about it?”
“I’ve only known her for a couple of days. I don’t want to jump on her in that way.”
“You don’t believe in ‘love at first sight’?” Stev shook his head.
“No, I believe that there is infatuation at first sight, but love has to develop — like it did with you and Tabea.” The young lord smiled sadly.
“I didn’t have the courage to ask her to be my wife until some time after we’d slept together. I feel rather bad about that, considering all the trouble that my father caused by a similar action. Maybe I should be the one to go into exile, Stev. I just don’t understand it.”
“Forget it for now. You first have a bone to pick with Alick and then I thought you were going to have your wedding.”
“But don’t tell anyone about that yet, okay?” Dylan commanded with a grin. “I’m not even sure if Tabea is aware of my plans.”
“Oh, she’s aware all right. She told me herself.”
“Good, that simplifies things for now. But here we are.” They’d just broken from the wood and come into the small clearing where the little block hut was standing. Dylan dismounted and stretched his legs before tying up his horse next to the others that were already there. He surveyed the area, realizing what a security risk he was taking. There would be watchers about, he knew that and Alick knew that he knew it. It made him grin to himself as he entered the room. The six men and two women were already there.
“My lord!” The first that came forward was loyal old Roche. He looked as if he’d had a rough time since Dylan had seen him last.
“Are you all right, old man?” he asked affectionately.
“As well as anyone who escapes Alick’s prisons, sir,” he answered with a straight face. Dylan looked around at the others. All but one were of the Gentry of Carrock. There was Phillip and Poul, Enfer and Galbin. Last of all, Will Michou was standing behind all the rest.
“So here’s my informant, eh, Will?” The barkeep just smiled quietly. “But I know that you can rally more men than any of the others here.” He looked at them silently, thinking for a long moment. Finally he leaned on the table and looked each of them in the eye. “I have a plan, ladies and gentlemen, and all of you have to help me with it, otherwise Alick will have his power in full. We must be finished by midnight tonight. Now this is what we’ll do...”