Twilight was settling and Dylan was now feeling very edgy. It seemed that he could almost feel the powerful fingers of the enchantment playing over him. It sickened him to think of it, but it would be over — he would make it. But now there was Roanna to worry about also. Well, Alisande would take care of her, right? Dylan was not so sure. It was difficult to stay optimistic about this whole thing. But I’ll make it, he decided. I can do this! Suddenly he remembered what Savoy had told him.
“He is the one who deserves credit for your disenchantment, Lord Dylan, he and no other.” The Word. Have I been forgetting him? he wondered silently. Go with us, he then prayed and rose to enter the castle.
Alick uncomfortably shifted his weight in the high-backed chair. He could sense the presence of the true Lord of Carrock. Just be able to stall him until the sun came up. Roanna would help, he knew. It would be difficult to take care of the other traitors, but he would manage. There was no way that Dylan à Carrock could break the enchantment while he, Alick, still lived. And when he died, the young lord would die also. The wizard laughed at the thought, forgetting to add one vital constant to the equation — the Word.
The ten conspirators were standing in the shadow of the outer gate. Dylan looked up at the high arch above him, remembering all the times he’d been here before. The sun was setting, playing its last rays around the mountain and letting them fall into the shadow of the giant doors.
“Well, people,” Dylan said slowly, “is everything ready?” They nodded silently.
“Then let’s do it.”
“Dylan.” Tabea caught his arm. Her eyes looked liquid in the failing light.
“You aren’t going alone, are you?”
“I am, lady love. It’s the only way. This is between me and Alick.” He brushed her cheek gently. “Remember, you’re the only one who can take care of Onri.” She nodded. “Then let’s go.”
Tabea enchanted. It was his only thought. Onri dazedly stared into the empty goblet in front of him. He’d stopped thinning down the wine hours ago. Only a few personal servants were around him at this hour, knowing that only strong drink would satisfy him now.
“I’ve tried women,” he drawled, “and I’ve tried wine. I think the only thing left would be death, hm?” He poured the goblet full again and rose, swaying back and forth. He turned towards a large picture of Dylan that hung on the wall.
“You know, Dylan, you’re damn lucky.” It ended in a drunken chuckle. “You got the girl that I’ve wanted since I saw her. Well, here’s to ya!” He raised the large, golden cup towards the painting and then lifted it to his lips.
“No, Onri, you don’t need that!” He turned and saw a swimming picture in front of him. He passed one hand in front of his eyes. Was he dreaming?
“I’m here all right,” the image laughed. It reached out and took his hand drawing him back to the tall, winged chair at the end of the long table. The dream perched itself on the arm beside him.
“Tabea?” He giggled like a delighted child. “So you really came, you’ve decided that I am your destiny. Ha, ha!” Behind the amused smile, Tabea wanted to spit on that bloated face with the red nose and liquid black eyes. His hand was already looking for her. She knew what he wanted. But he’ll be out before he can take it, she decided and leaned forward, capturing his eyes with her own. In the same instant she let a white powder fall from her fingers into the cup. He was pawing her now, making her wish she hadn’t come.
“Come on, Onri, drink up and we’ll find a more private place,” she whispered seductively. He obeyed and then tried to launch himself out of the chair, but collapsed in it, snoring peacefully. She should have let him just drink that last cup, not put the drug in it. She untied the rope that was around her waist and fastened his hands and feet to the chair, finally putting a gag in his mouth. Then she picked up the candle hat and put all of the lights out, save a single candle stick. Now Alisande would need her help.
Roche weighed the sword in his hand. He didn’t know why he had decided to use it instead of a gun. Still, they must start the attack as soon as they were sure that Dylan was inside. It would keep the guards from trying to help the wizard. Maybe they didn’t want to either. He looked up and suddenly saw a slight figure at one of the large windows. The light of the torch in her hand was a clear sign. The battle was on.
Tabea quickly closed the window and hurried from the room. Where, oh were was Alisande? Her feet quickly guided her up the dark stairs. Above her she suddenly heard voices — women’s voices. One was fairly deep and very commanding, the other was an excited girl’s voice. She’d found them! She paused and slipped one hand under her dress to free a light pistol she’d hidden there. It only had two shots, but they should be enough. Stealthily, she continued her way up the steps and peeped through the open door. Roanna was standing with her back half to the door, Alisande in front of her, gray eyes wide with hate and fear.
“You wouldn’t dare,” she whispered, trembling.
“Oh, yes I would, child,” the lady said with a laugh. “I’ve waited for this moment so long. I won’t do so any longer.” She stepped forward to grab the girl, who seemed rooted to the spot.
“Excuse me,” came a sharp voice from behind her. She turned and saw Tabea standing tall in the doorway, her little pistol pointed right at Roanna’s face.
“So we have a third,” she remarked with a smirk. “That makes this even more fun.”
“Let her go, Roanna.”
“Do you honestly think you can hurt me, Tabea à Carrock?” the older woman mocked. “Today is not my birthday and I am not so scrupulous about keeping the rules as my brother is.” She laughed as the young woman’s eyes widened an instant.
“Oh, yes, Tabea à Carrock, I am a sorceress. How else do you think his highness, Colyn, your dear father-in-law, would have fallen for me.” She slowly took a step forward, one hand reaching towards the gun. “A few charms here, a little potion there and a powerful spell on our first night together was all it took. Colyn à Carrock was hooked and you will soon be also, my pretty. You will be under my enchantment.” It was like a heavy blanket was wrapping itself around Tabea’s head. She couldn’t see straight, she couldn’t even feel straight. All she could see were those brown eyes. While Roanna spoke her arm slowly lowered and she began to sink into something like a trance — until the words “my enchantment.” Something in her snapped. You can only be under one enchantment at a time, Tabea, a gentle Voice whispered to her. She can’t harm you! The gun came back up and the blue eyes were clear again.
“Wrong, witch, I can only be under one enchantment at a time. You can’t harm me. Alick has me under his control.” Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Watch yourself, Lady Roanna, your are playing with a black panther who is ready to spring any moment.” There was something like the spitting of a cat in those words and for an instant the sorceress thought the blue eyes had taken on the form of those of a panther. Involuntarily she took a step backward.
“Alisande,” the cat-girl commanded, “come here.” The blond girl suddenly shook off her stupor and tried to slip by Roanna, but the witch was faster, grabbing her and using her as a live shield.
“Now, Cat,” she mocked, “try and get me now!”
Where is he? Dylan wondered silently. Surely the wizard wouldn’t be in his quarters, would he? It was worth a try. He remembered being to Alick’s great room only once, when he was five. It was in the big tower, the windows facing north and west. The wizard rarely got the sun into it, but he didn’t care.
The young lord quickly and silently made his way through the halls of the castle of the Lords of Carrock. He had the distinct feeling that someone was there beside him. He paused twice, looking around, trying to find that someone, but he was alone. Still, the Presence did not scare him, no, on the contrary, he felt that if it were with him, he could destroy anyone who came into his path. He rushed up the stairs and suddenly stopped. There was the door, flanked by two huge statues of men with drawn swords. One had the head of a lion and the other the head of a vulture. The bodies of both were just barely human. Dylan hesitated.
“I — I can’t go through there,” he whispered to himself.
Yes, you can. He looked around, bewildered. Who said that? Yes, you can! There it was again. It was as if the voice had come from inside of him. Do it, Dylan, the Voice commanded. He squared his shoulders and set his jaw with determination, striding forward to the door. He grasped the handle and pulled.
Alick spun around. The door suddenly opened as if someone wanted to tear it out of its hinges. A tall and broad young man was standing in the doorway. The light of the fire reflected off his powerful arms and wide chest, making his determined, squarish face seem like stone and his red brown hair glow with majesty. The green eyes were burning with righteous anger. The wizard shrank back against his desk.
“Dylan!” he cried, his face going white.
“Yes, here I am, Alick.” The voice was angry and the older man thought he could detect a spark of hatred in it.
“What do you want from me?” he demanded, hedging for time.
“You know exactly what I want, wizard,” the young lord said, taking two long strides into the room. Now he was towering directly over Alick. It seemed strangely that he had shrunk and that the Lord of Carrock had grown taller. A commanding presence was all about him and also a great power that the wizard knew only from those who had close fellowship with the Word.
“I have come to break the enchantment.” Alick spread his blue-black robes wide to hide the table behind him.
“But why would you do that, m’lord. You are perfectly happy in the woods as a wolf, aren’t you. I mean life couldn’t be better.” He chuckled a bit lamely, the feeble attempt at mirth vaporizing under Dylan’s scorching glare.
“No, Alick. This life was hell for me. I can’t think straight, I can’t feel straight and most of all I am losing myself to the wolf inside of me. This is the end of it, Alick. Tabea and I will be free.” He reached out one hand and unceremoniously pushed the wizard aside. There on the table in front of him were the two figurines, a book, and the crystal ball. He instantly picked up the smooth glass object and weighed it in his hand.
“Don’t, please don’t,” wizard suddenly wheedled. “Don’t destroy it, Dylan à Carrock, I beg you. Take my life instead.” The young lord smiled sadly.
“Don’t you think I know that when you die, I will die, too? And Tabea will go along with us. That would be worse than any of your other crimes, Alick.” He slowly turned towards the fire.
“Wait, wait,” Alick cried, still trying to buy time. “I’ll take the enchantment off you — and your lady. I’ll teach you the secrets of my power. I’ll make you as great as I am. Just don’t destroy my ball!”
“It’s the end, Alick the wizard,” Dylan said evenly and hurled the shining globe into the flames. The old man let out a cry of dispair and collapsed on the floor, staring towards the fire. Suddenly an explosion boomed and bright light shot from among the flames tearing Dylan’s feet from under him. For an instant he felt the immense pain of the transformation. He was a wolf again. He pushed himself up on all fours and slowly rose to his full height. As he did, the wolf skin fell from him like a veil and he was as he was before the enchantment, dressed in the brown and green hunting costume, his horn, pistol, and hunting knife on his belt. He breathed a sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Word,” he whispered. Suddenly something shot out of the shadows, bowling him over. The maddened face of Alick was over him a black dagger in his right hand. The young lord caught the wrist as it descended.
“You will die for this, Dylan à Carrock,” the wizard screamed. Slowly the young man’s grip tightened around the wrist until there was a cracking of bones. The hand opened and Dylan jerked his head to the side, the blade embedding itself in the floor only millimeters from his head. He pushed himself and the wizard off the ground and plunked the old man in the chair. He was now whimpering over his broken wrist. Dylan quickly knelt and picked up some loose pieces of wood by the fire. He then tore some of strips from the black table-cloth. With quick precision he splinted the broken arm.
“I’m sorry I had to do that, Alick,” he said sadly, “but it’s not my turn to die yet.” The old brown eyes looked at him with malice.
“I bet you’re sorry, Dylan à Carrock,” he growled. “I will get even somehow.” His head sank down for a moment. “Just answer me one question.”
“Go ahead,” the lord prompted. Alick’s head came up again and his eyes bored into the gentle green ones across from him.
“Tell me when I stepped across the line. Where did I break the laws set up? Why do I deserve to fall?”
“You broke the laws the day you stopped using your great powers for good, Alick. Any who do that are bound to fall sooner or later.” With that he rose and stood above the wizard. “You are not to leave this room on penalty of death until I call for you, is that clear?” he commanded. The old man nodded his head sullenly.
“Good.” Dylan bent and picked up the dagger from the floor, sticking it into his belt. At the same moment Stev Pulleny burst through the door. There was a wound on his forehead and he held one arm tightly to his chest, as if hurt.
“Dylan, where are the girls?”
“You mean they aren’t back with Roanna yet?” the young lord demanded, grabbing his friends shoulders. The other shook his sandy head.
“Then let’s find them and fast.” With that they stormed out of the wizard’s chambers in search of the sorceress.
“I believe we are in a position to do some bargaining now, Tabea à Carrock,” Roanna hissed, her long, fine fingers wrapped around Alisande’s arms like white pincers. She was still holding the girl to her to ward off Tabea’s bullets.
“Give me free passage and I will let her go.”
“Right and Colyn died of old age,” the girl snorted in disdain. “There is only one deal we will make. Let Alisande go, now, and then submit to custody. Dylan will judge you like he will Alick and Tennek.”
“Do you think I’m so naàve, Tabea à Carrock?” the sorceress mocked. “I believe you would not be so careless if you knew my power.”
“You may have power, Roanna, but you can’t use it on me.”
“But on Alisande.” She leaned forward and whispered into the girl’s ear. The gray eyes widened for an instant and then the pupils shrunk down, almost vanishing.
“Go and kill her, girl,” she commanded. Slowly the girl moved forward, mechanically, as if being controlled by another. Tabea’s hand suddenly became uncertain again. The light hand closed about her wrist like a vise. An instant later the pistol was on the floor and Dylan’s lady was holding her wrist in pain.
“How do you like that?” Roanna asked with a smirk. Tabea’s only answer was a growl, so real and cat-like that even the sorceress took a step backward. In the same instant the girl fell forward on all fours and a huge black Cat was in the room. She leaped forward, passed Alisande and felled Roanna, pinning her down with her weight. In the same instant the cat-face folded back into that of an angry young woman. She was wearing a dress with a huge tear down the front — the one she’d worn at her enchantment. Her hands now closed around the sorceress’ neck and began to tighten. In the same instant someone jerked her head back painfully, yanking her to her feet.
“Well done, Alisande,” Roanna laughed, getting up also. She looked Tabea over for an instant.
“I believe, Lady Tabea, that now I do have power over you. You, see the enchantment has just been broken.” She passed one hand down the girl’s side. “I think I will have another very competent servant here, what do you say?”
“I don’t think so, Roanna,” came a commanding voice from the doorway. The witch looked over to see the broad form of Dylan à Carrock standing there.
“You?” she gasped.
“Let go of her, Alisande,” the young lord commanded. Even through the enchantment the girl obeyed and Tabea fled to Dylan’s side.
“You are under arrest, Lady Roanna. The charges are high treason and murder, not to mention adultery and witchcraft.”
“And you, Lord Dylan, doesn’t one of those apply to you and you lady?” the sorceress asked, not losing her composure for a second.
“Ah, you mean my sleeping with Tabea?” the young man asked. “That was not exactly adultery and though it isn’t right, I did not touch another woman, ever. For that reason I am free of any charge, except that of impatience.” The woman gritted her teeth and suddenly nodded her head. Alisande flew at Dylan, her fingers like claws. He caught her arms and looked into the maddened eyes for an instant.
“Alisande, come out of it,” he commanded. In the same instant her eyes cleared, the pupils dilating.
“I — Dylan!” She looked passed his shoulder to where Stev was leaning against the wall, blood running down the side of his face.
“Stev!” she screamed and tore passed the young lord to her beloved. Dylan now turned his attention back to the sorceress.
“It’s over Roanna, surrender.” The brown eyes were livid.
“No, Dylan à Carrock, it has only just started!” With that she turned and rushed to the window. She threw it open while running and didn’t stop. Tabea and her man hurried after her and stared out into the darkness. There was no sign of her. The girl pulled her lover back from the window.
“It’s over now, isn’t it?” she asked, putting her arms around him. He slowly drew her into his own embrace.
“No, Tabea, she was right. The second half of our problems are only just beginning.”