Before the sun had set, he was standing on the promontory again, staring at the rising moon. He pushed the urge down to howl as he waited. It was nearly time. The last rays of the sun wrapped their fingers around the mountain, before they yielded to the twilight and the soft silver rays of the moon. As they touched the giant wolf a change began. Slowly he raised himself up on his rear legs and suddenly they were the legs of a man. The front paws became hands before he came fully erect and the wolf face was gone, in its place a clean shaven young man’s face. His hair was gray, like the wolf’s and he seemed to be wearing a loincloth of wolf skin. He looked up at the moon and then turned and quickly ran down the mountain.
It was getting cold again and Tabea felt that she wasn’t ever going to get warm. She brushed one hand over the white nightgown and then leaned over to toss another piece of wood on the fire. She was a beautiful young woman in her early twenties perhaps, with flowing gold-brown hair and soft blue eyes. There had been many men who’d been attracted to her since his disappearance, but she’d sent them all away.
“No, he’s not dead,” she whispered to herself, remembering the day when the news had come. She could still see the staunch and silent Phillip standing in front of her, his eyes on the floor.
“Lady Tabea,” he said haltingly, “I — I’ve come to tell you that his lordship is dead. A wolf attacked him...”
“Did they find his body?” she snapped back, hiding her shock.
“Then he isn’t dead. I don’t know where he is, but he’s not dead.” She remembered turning around and slamming the door in his face before letting the hot tears of anger and terror run down her cheeks. After all she was his woman. Why did I refuse his offer to take me to the castle? she asked herself. Why wouldn’t I admit our relationship openly?
A quiet knocking made her stare at the door. Shall I pretend no one’s home? No, the fire already gave her away. She stood up and picked up the pistol that was lying on the table and cocked it. Slowly she walked to the door and drew the bolt, cracking it open just slightly.
“Who are you and what do you want?” Her voice was hard and businesslike.
“It’s me, Tabea.” Her heart leaped.
“Dylan!” She dropped her gun, threw the door open, and her arms around his massive frame. He stood quietly, his hands gently resting on her shoulders.
“Hello, lady love. It’s been a long time.” She laughed and took his hand pulling him into the warm room. He was wrapped in a warm cloak over a coarse tunic, rough pants and bare feet. He stopped, as if unaccustomed to the house that he had just entered.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“It’s just been a long time. The memories just came alive again.”
“Yes, almost two years — and I’ve waited for you.” A shine had come to her soft eyes.
“But I’m afraid you’ll have to wait some time longer, lady love,” he sighed, sitting down in his old place by the table.
“Why?” She sat down across from him. Looking at his face, she suddenly noticed that his hair had become gray. The rich red-brown was gone and his eyes, they weren’t quite right, either. They were still green, but there was something about the pupils. Weren’t they like — like wolf eyes?
“Yes, Tabea, they are wolf eyes,” he cut into her thoughts. “I’m enchanted.”
“No!” He nodded.
“Yes. You may not believe it, but it’s true. This is the one day of the month on which I can be human again, but not completely. My hair stays gray and my eyes stay wrong. I can’t see in color, even now. Everything’s black and white. I wish I could see your blue eyes clearly just once.” He sighed sadly.
“Is there any way I can help?” she whispered, taking his rough hand.
“No — not yet anyway. I need to find the way out, but I also need to talk to a human being again. If I don’t do that on every full moon, I have trouble keeping my mind during the month. It’s only one night out of thirty. It’s a very hard burden to carry, Tabea, very hard.”
“Who did this to you?” she demanded.
“Can’t you guess?”
“Alick!” He nodded. She grabbed at the empty air as if trying to find someone’s neck.
“If I could get my hands on him, he’d wish he’d never lived,” she growled.
“That’s not the way to go about it, Tabea. There’s only one person who I know can help me right now.”
“And that is?”
“Savoy the Scholar. I’ve been looking for him and have found out that he’s here in Carrock. That’s why I came back. There’s just so much to tell. Will you listen?” She smiled and nodded.
“It was shortly after my birthday two years ago,” he began quietly, lost in his thoughts, “and shortly after I’d sent my father away. I went on a hunt with Onri, Phillip, Tennek, and several others. I remember old Roche being there, too. We were after that boar again, you know the one that I wounded as a boy, but that was always able to get away...”
...The wood was dark as the riders pressed on through the underbrush.
“I see him!” Dylan cried, peering into the twilight. Roche gently rested the iron hook that replaced his left hand on the young lord’s shoulder.
“M’lord, this is an evil place. We shouldn’t go after him.”
“Ha,” the young man laughed, “there’s nothing that can stop me this time!” He shook off the old man’s gentle restraint and pressed forward, out of sight of his companions. He could see it well, but it could only smell him, his green and brown clothing blending in with the trees and the dappled horse looking like a shadow. It squealed and ran from him.
“On, on,” he urged his steed and leaped forward. In the same instant his head hit a low branch and he found himself sprawling on the ground. The world was spinning, black and white. He felt like his limbs had been twisted off and put back on in the wrong places. Slowly he rolled to his feet and tried to stand up, before he realized that he was standing on all fours. Now why would I be doing that? he wondered, but couldn’t get up on his feet the way he should. He also realized that, though his vision was impaired, his hearing and sense of smell were much stronger. He knew the smell of horses and heard them crashing through the underbrush. Suddenly they broke from the thicket. It was Onri and Phillip.
“A wolf!” Onri cried, pulling his gun out of its holster on the saddle.
No, it’s me, Dylan, he tried to say, but only heard yips and howls.
“I’ll get rid of that thing before he charges us,” the man with the rifle cried, putting it to his shoulder and squinting down the barrel. I’ve got to save myself. The thought shot through the enchanted lord’s mind and in the same instant he leaped into the underbrush. A loud bang echoed in the wood, but the bullet missed, embedding itself in a tree. He could hear Onri cursing behind him. Just get away...get away...
...”It took a while for me to realize what had happened,” Dylan continued. “I had always known that Alick had strange powers, but until it was full moon I wasn’t able to know that he was behind it for sure. I hid in the woods for the month, living like a wolf. You can’t understand what it’s like to suddenly do things that would be natural for a wolf, like marking your territory. It was without thinking, just done, but it shocked me that I should be doing that. After all, I still have a human mind.” He shook his gray head slowly. “But when the curse is gone, I know I’ll be okay. Anyway, shortly before full moon, I felt a change beginning in me...”
...A quiet, dark shadow stopped near the gate to the castle of the Lords of Carrock, waiting. As the moon touched it, it rose up, taking on the shape of a man. He only wore a loincloth of wolf skin. He looked around quickly and darted through the shadows of the open gate. He knew this ground by heart. There, the storage chambers of the soldiers’ clothing. He stole into the dark, his keen wolf eyes not bothered by it. He chose a wide cloak, a tunic, and short breeches, quickly pulling them on. They felt strangely uncomfortable, but he knew that it must be. He put up the hood of the cloak and slipped back into the shadows. There were men sitting around a fire in the courtyard a good ways away. His sharp ears could barely make out the guttural conversation. Suddenly he heard a quiet whisper behind him.
“Roche, is that you?”
“Sh, not so loud, Tennek. They might hear us.” The wolf-man slipped up behind them, silently listening in the shadows.
“That old wizard really chose an excellent time to get rid of Dylan.” The old man’s hushed voice was bitter. “I have this feeling that everything will become worse now.”
“I’ve heard rumors that the wolf Onri and Phillip saw was not responsible for his lordship’s ‘death.’ Some people are saying that Alick has the power to change people into animals.”
“Bah, old wives tales. I bet he’s got his highness in one of the secret dungeons here in the castle. We must be very careful. Alick must be toppled before it’s too late and the lord is really killed.”
“What about the other two?” Tennek whispered.
“Don’t trust Onri, whatever happens. He’s in with the wizard. I saw him pay a visit to his highness’s woman. You can guess what he wanted from her.” The other man nodded almost invisibly. Old Roche looked up at the bright moon uncomfortably.
“It is an evil night, my friend, and I’m afraid that the wizard’s watchers are about. I’ll see you in the next meeting place in four days.” With that they parted. Dylan stood in the shadows, holding his breath. So Alick was at the bottom of this. He should have known. Silently he slipped out into the shadows and walked along.
A thin wailing caught his sharp ears. It was a little child near the side of the road. He quietly stopped beside it, laying his hand on the child’s shoulder. It jumped and tried to pull away.
“I won’t hurt you,” came his gentle voice. “What are you doing out here all alone?”
“I’ve lost my way,” she cried. “I want to go home.”
“Where do you live?”
“Near Will’s tavern.” It ended in a loud sob. Dylan gently picked her up and threw the folds of his cloak around her to keep her warm against the chilly wind. Quietly singing, he rushed through the night. The little girl clung to his heavy tunic, first growing quiet, then slowly falling asleep. Other than the light in the tavern, only one other house had soft illumination coming from under the shutters. He quickly steered towards it, knocking on the door with his free hand. The child stirred uneasily under his cloak, finally sticking one small thumb in her mouth, and continuing to sleep. The door was opened by a large, beefy man.
“What do you want?” he demanded, letting the barrel of a shotgun become visible.
“Are you missing your daughter?” the wolf-man asked.
“Maybe,” the other answered, dark eyes narrowing. Dylan threw back his cloak to reveal the sleeping girl. The man suddenly put his gun away and opened the door.
“My little Stella,” he whispered, reaching out to take her from the young lord. There was a cry from inside and a slightly disheveled woman came flying up to take the child in her arms. She looked shyly at the shadow in front of her.
“Thank you, sir,” she laughed.
“You’re welcome.” His voice was soft and pleasant.
“Who are you?” the father asked in wonder.
“Just call me the Wolf...”
...”I heard that story from Mahesh and his wife some time ago,” Tabea said softly. “They’d given up all hope, thinking that Alick had taken their daughter to sell her as a slave.”
“I heard that later, too. But the story goes on. Shortly before sunrise I went to the great promontory and hid my clothing in a small, dry cave, covering the entrance with a rock. Then I waited for the sun to rise and became a wolf again. In the next weeks I began to look for the Gray Pack, you know, those almost human wolves. I sensed that they were in the area again. Finally one day, shortly after the full moon, I found their trail...”
...He laid low in the thickets, all senses awake. He could see and hear them among the trees, the Gray Pack. There were about fifty of them, the Royal Wolves of Carrock, as intelligent as man, but unconcerned with anything but keeping themselves alive. No one had been able to kill one of their number in years and the legend had it that they were ghosts of the Kings and lords of long ago, come to haunt the woods in the shape of a wolf. Dylan knew, though, that these were flesh and blood. He could smell them, see them and feel them and he was certain that they knew where he was. Slowly he rose to his feet, a peaceful look in his eyes. Instantly the leader of the pack, Scarface, leaped to his feet, growling. A strange yip and howl came from him, that Dylan instantly understood to be wolf-speech.
“Who are you?” Scarface seemed to say. Several long scars on his muzzle gave him that name, memories of fights as a young wolf. His golden eyes glinted with an evil light. He was lord of his wolves and none would challenge him. The enchanted lord knew that.
“I am a Wolf of Carrock,” he tried to say and realized that the other understood him. “I wish to join your pack.” The leader looked up to him, since Dylan was bigger than any of the other beasts that now had risen up to watch the challenge.
“You want my place,” Scarface snapped.
“No, I just want to join you.”
“You want my place, but you won’t get it.” It ended in a snarl. The leader’s ears had gone back, his lips curled up, showing the white fangs. The wildness of the challenge heated the young lord’s blood and he could restrain himself no longer. He snarled back, green eyes taking on a deadly shine. Scarface didn’t wait, but launched himself at the bigger wolf, trying to go for his neck. Dylan ducked his head, catching the sharp teeth just above his ear. He shook himself, knocking his smaller adversary to the ground. The old wolf was on his feet again instantly and renewed his charge. Biting and leaping they circled around in front of the others of the Gray Pack. Scarface launched himself in the air, landing on Dylan’s head with his forelegs. The great Wolf shook his head once and Scarface landed on his back. The lord pounced, burying his teeth in the soft neck of the leader of the Grey Pack. He could taste the blood in his mouth. Scarface struggled weakly and then lay still. Dylan slowly let go and raised his head in a howl of triumph. In an instant the wolves came around him, greeting their new leader...
...”Sometimes I wish a man could have seen that fight. It would be something for the songs of the bards.” He laughed just slightly savagely, but then became thoughtful. “That was the only time I killed another wolf and it was also the only time I really let my instincts go. My mind is still stronger than my gut, but it’s becoming weaker. If I don’t find a way out of my wolf form soon, I will become one completely. It has become more painful to change back into my human form lately. And it’s so hard to resist when the wolf-maids come into heat.” He shuddered at the thought and so did Tabea.
“But you’ve controlled yourself?” It sounded hopeful.
“Yes, lady love, I have, but mainly by leaving the pack for those weeks. It’s also during that time that I visited my father...”
...He was away from the pack for three weeks now. The heat would be ending soon, but he needed to find someone. He knew a special time of the year was coming, though he couldn’t tell how he knew. He’d crossed the border of Carrock some days earlier and now was nearing the city of Enfurt. He knew his father was in exile there, sent there by Dylan himself. Slowly night came on and suddenly he felt the heat before the change, but it wasn’t full moon yet. He bounded on, meaning to reach the city by twilight. Then he saw the high, fortified walls before him. The transformation came over him like a burning wave and suddenly he howled. He put his head down and rose to his feet, a full man. His hair was now a deep red-brown and his eyes a clear, clean green and he could see in color. A cold wind whipped by him, making him realize that he had no clothes on. He stole into a small farm just a short ways ahead of him and found that the woman there had forgotten some clothes on the line. He would just borrow them for the night. Quickly, he took the rough, brown breeches and beige tunic. He remained barefoot. Slowly he turned towards the city.
The gates were on the verge of closing when he got there, because in peacetime they remained open until midnight. He rushed forward to make it through.
“Who are you?” the guard demanded as he tried to pass.
“My name is Dylan. I am looking for Colyn à Carrock.” The guard looked over his disheveled appearance.
“It looks to me more like a beggar trying to get some wages than anything else.” He laughed coarsely. “Get yourself in there. His highness lives in the White House below the castle.” The young lord thanked him and ran up the rough, smelly streets. There was loud laughter out of many taverns and he could also see couples walking along the side streets to some more private places. His thoughts suddenly turned to Tabea. How was she? Had she kept her promise? He sighed and walked along, finally reaching the gate to the castle. It was shut tight, but light came from slits in the shutters of a large house that had a whitewashed front. That must be the White House. He slowly walked up and knocked on the door. A young maid eventually came to the door, her blonde hair tousled and her dress hurriedly thrown on.
“Yes?” she asked, not one bit pleased to be roused out of her bed.
“I am Dylan à Carrock. I would like to speak to my father.” She eyed him for a moment.
“Come in while I announce you.” She sounded like she was speaking to a beggar. He smiled to himself a bit ruefully, realizing that he looked the part. She vanished through the door to a lighted room. He could hear quiet voices speaking and then she came out again.
“His lordship will see you,” she announced without a curtsey. The young man stepped through the door and instantly felt the warmth of the fire and was glad to really feel it for the first time in a year. He turned slowly to see his father sitting in a chair. His hair was white now and he was dressed in a rich silk tunic and wine-colored breeches. A beautiful woman stood next to him, one hand resting on his shoulder. Her hair was like deepest night, but her skin white. The brown eyes gazed at Dylan with anger. His father’s green eyes were full of pity. Dylan bowed low.
“Sir, I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour,” he began.
“My son, you are welcome at all times, even after what you have done to me.” The old man’s voice was rich and clear. He turned to the maid who was still standing at the door.
“Alisande, get my son a chair and clean yourself up a bit before getting something to eat. You will join us.” The girl curtseyed and brought a stool-like chair without a backrest for Dylan before rushing out of the room.
“That is my foster daughter, son, and you should treat her like your sister. She is the only servant we have and it is her own wish.”
“You mean, you live alone here?” Dylan asked.
“Yes, it’s easier for Roanna and me.” The old man patted the woman’s hand gently, before carefully appraising his son. “And what brings you here, my son?”
“I need your help, father. You see, I’m enchanted.” At that moment Alisande came back into the room, her dress now properly put on, carrying a large tray with fruit, meat, and wine. She placed it on a low table between the men and drew up a chair for the Lady Roanna, poured wine for the three of them, and then remained standing.
“Come sit at my feet, my daughter,” Colyn prompted and the girl obeyed. “Now, my son, tell me your tale.” Dylan quickly recounted his fate during the last year. The old man sat quietly, stroking his white beard thoughtfully.
“I knew Alick had something like that planned,” he finally admitted. “That’s what kept him from doing it. When you sent me away you took away the protection that my knowledge gave you. I knew that he was a wizard from the time he began to work in our house. I would have told you at the right time, but you sent me away beforehand.”
“Why did you keep him then?” the young lord demanded, a bit shocked.
“Because it was a promise to his father — and I don’t break promises. Now he is at the pinnacle of his power. Only you can topple him and you have little time. But first, rest here for the night, we will see what else comes tomorrow.”
“But, sir, at sunrise I will become a wolf again.” The old lord laughed.
“No, my son, tomorrow is Alick’s birthday. For that day his power over any living thing that he has enchanted is broken. That is why you are fully human. At sunrise on the day after tomorrow you will take your wolf-shape again. So now rest, my son.” He nodded to the girl at his feet. “Alisande will show you your bed.”
He followed the girl up the stairs and down a long hall. She opened a door to a chamber with a large bed in it.
“Here is your room, my lord,” she said quietly.
“Alisande, you don’t have to talk to me like that.”
“It’s okay, sir. It’s just that I’ve never called any man by his first name ... and I never knew my real father.” He nodded and followed her into the room. She quickly lit the candles and then began to leave. As she was in the door she stopped and turned back to Dylan.
“Why did you send him away?” she asked.
“My father?” She nodded. He sighed, letting himself sink onto the big bed.
“He took another woman before my mother died. She was sick for a long time, but he still should have waited. It is the law of our fathers and it hurt me to pronounce it on him. If I’d known better I think I would have let it pass.” He sighed again. “The Lady Roanna will never forgive me for that.”
“She doesn’t understand it very well, sir,” the girl returned. “Your father says so anyway.”
“He’s your father, too, Alisande.” She smiled a bit sadly at that.
“Perhaps. Good night, Dylan — sir.”
“Good night, sister.” With that she turned and left the room.
The morning came and Dylan found new clothing lying for him in his room. He quickly pulled the fresh-scented things on and went to have breakfast with his father. Afterwards he went with Alisande to see the city. She proved to be a capable and witty guide, but it didn’t escape the young lord that near the end of their time that day, her eyes had become filled with a strange adoration and her face was quite flushed as she spoke with him. The evening came, but he did not have the chance to talk to her, since after dinner his father asked to speak with him. His father pulled his high-backed chair up to the fire and Dylan seated himself on a stool. The old man took plenty of time to fill his pipe and when it was finally going he spoke to his son.
“I have been thinking a lot about your problems, Dylan. There is only one person that can help you now. His name is Savoy the Scholar and he is said to be very close to the Word. Even when I was young he was a great man. He still lives, though no one knows where. Perhaps in Carrock, perhaps elsewhere. But you must hurry, my son, because with each month that passes the enchantment takes a greater hold on you. You must keep your mind strong, because if you let your instincts win, then you will become a wolf completely and being human will be torturous to you.”
“I can’t let that happen, Father. For me, for Tabea, and for Carrock. I’ll find a way to break this and topple Alick. And when I do...”
“Don’t promise anything too early my son.” Colyn noticed that a strange shine had come into the young man’s eyes. “It is getting towards midnight, and if you want to be in the woods before dawn, you should leave soon.”
“Thank you for everything, Father. I promise that when I have my place again, I’ll bring you back to Carrock.”
“We will see what the council says, my son. After all, they agreed to your step.”
“We’ll see, but I don’t want to leave any bitterness between us.” The old man smiled and his son rose and embraced him, before running up the stairs and into his room to change back into the clothes that he’d “borrowed.” There was a good pouch of money for the family now, too. He turned to leave and saw Alisande standing in the doorway, dressed in a white nightgown and holding a candle in her hand.
“Are you going away?” she asked, just a bit frightened. He nodded.
“I’ll miss you,” she whispered, put down the candle, ran, and hugged him. He suddenly realized that this was not a sister’s love.
“Alisande,” he said sadly, stepping out of her embrace, “I already have a woman in Carrock.”
“Are you married?” she asked.
“Not yet openly, but as soon as the enchantment is broken...”
“But can’t you have two, like your father?” she blurted, then putting one hand over her mouth.
“No, it’s against the law, but I couldn’t marry you anyway, since you are my sister.” There was a gentleness in his voice, but she didn’t want it to be true, not this.
“Only — only your foster sister.”
“Still, before the law you are like my real sister.” She sat down on the edge of the bed, pressing one hand to her mouth, tears flowing silently. He stroked her hair gently, thinking, She’s only a child, falling in love with the first stranger she meets.
“I promise you that there is someone waiting for you, Alisande, but it’s not me. I will take you back to my land with my father when the spell is broken and then you’ll see what I mean, hm?” He searched for her soft gray eyes and found them. They were still unbelieving, but the admiration had changed. She nodded silently.
“I have to go, but we’ll see each other again some day, little sister.” With that he took her hand and kissed it. Then he turned and went away...
...”So she knows?” Tabea asked, a bit shocked.
“My father knew all along,” he sighed. “I never kept it secret from him. He just said, ‘As long as she’s your only one,’ and left it at that. Then he took Roanna.” He shook his gray head and looked towards the window.
“Lady love, it’s turning towards dawn. I have to go ... oh!” He pressed one hand to his chest, a wave of agony sweeping through his body.
“I’ve waited too long already. I only have a half hour,” he gasped and reached into the folds of his cloak, retrieving a small whistle on a golden necklace. “My father gave me this for you. If you ever get in trouble, blow it, and the Wolf will come to help you.” The cramps assailed him again.
“Farewell, sweet maiden,” he moaned, jumped up, tore the door open and ran out into the black. Tabea stumbled after him, watching his form disappear into the last hours of night.
“Dylan!” she screamed, put one hand to her head and stumbled back into the house, closing the door behind her. Tears of exhaustion and unhappiness flowed down her face and she fell into her bed, silently sobbing for a while before sleep and the first rays of dawn overtook her. She did not hear the mourning howl of the Wolf that went up from the promontory of the mountain.