It was nearing full moon again. Dylan could feel it in his bones. It was also nearly heat time. The first wolf-maids were flirting around and he had to get out. He roused himself and slowly left the pack. Only Brownie would know where he was going. His favorite wolf. The one who would be the leader when the spell was broken. He remembered that night when Brownie had witnessed the change. They knew he was different, perhaps enchanted, but only this one knew for sure. Dylan had explained it to him in wolf speech. It wasn’t quite full moon yet, but he needed to get away. First to the promontory.
He got there quickly enough and opened the hiding place to where his clothing was. He’d gotten it ready this way last time, with a rope around it to carry it. He slipped his head through the loop and slowly trotted off towards the small farm nearby.
Tabea thought she heard a scratching and whining at the door. But I don’t have a dog. Was it a ploy? She put down the stitching she was doing and picked up her pistol. Cautiously she opened the bolt and looked out. In the same instant a big wolf nosed its way in the door. She screamed and backed away, leveling her gun at it, but it calmly sat on the floor and howled one solitary note. The girl suddenly relaxed.
“Oh, Dylan, you scared me,” she laughed and put her arms around the big beast’s neck. He just growled softly and lay down beside the fire. She noticed that he’d dropped something on the floor and picked it up. It was a bundle.
“It’s your clothes. Right, it’s nearly full moon and you’ll change back again.” He shivered slightly.
“I’ll be so happy to hear you talk again, but now it’s my turn.” And so for the next few hours she talked to the wolf, telling him of things like Onri’s visit (which interested him very much) and of her chickens (which he thought to be quite boring).
“Okay, I’m going to bed,” she said finally. He gave her a watchful look and thumped his tail on the floor. I’ll stay here.
“Good, then see you tomorrow.” And she blew out the candle. Dylan rested peacefully that night. The next day he tried to help as he could, carrying pails for her and digging a new row to plant sweet corn in the garden. They also played tag together and had a lot of fun walking along the edge of the woods.
“It’s nice that I get to spend one day with you like this,” Tabea laughed. “It’s different and not quite as nice as when you’re a man, but it’s still fun.” He just grunted in return. That evening she sat on the floor and read to him out of a big book her father had once read to her out of, one arm around his neck. A quiet knock sounded, then two more.
“Stev?” she called.
“It’s me,” came the muffled reply. Tabea got up and opened the door. The young man hurried in, his cloak on and his hat pulled low into his face. He breathed heavily and took the heavy hat off.
“Roche just told me where we’ll be tomorrow. We meet at ten.” A quiet, friendly growl from the fireplace alerted him. The Wolf got up, came over, and sat down beside Tabea.
“What’s he doing here?” Pulleny gasped.
“He’s my guest for a while, at least until he decides to go, right?” The Wolf seemed to smile and thumped his tail on the floor, but in his eyes there was a look of royalty and freedom, making Stev realize that this Wolf was a lord in his own way.
“Where are we meeting?” the girl asked, cutting into his thoughts.
“At Dylan’s old block hut. We don’t go there often since they surprised us a year ago, but now it’s safe again.” She nodded and offered him some of her fresh milk and bread before he left.
“No, I still have to find Tennek and the others,” he answered and disappeared into the night. Dylan strolled back over to the fire and laid down, his head between his paws, a thoughtful look in his eye. Suddenly he sprang up and scratched at the door.
“You have to go?” she asked sadly. The royal head went down once, sadly, and the eyes seemed to say, not for long. She sighed and opened the door. The big animal vanished into the night, leaving her alone and forlornly standing on her porch.
A howl outside her house woke her. It was the darkest part of the night, shortly before dawn. She got out of her bed and wrapped her robe around her against the chill of the night. She rubbed her eyes, shuffling to the door. She opened it carelessly and the great Wolf bounded in with something in his mouth.
“Oh, you’re back!” was all she realized, closing the door behind her. She sat down next to him, where he was lying by the dying flames and rested her head on his back. The next thing she knew, something soft and wet was tickling her ear. She looked up to see the Wolf’s friendly face right by hers, the head cocked to one side. He gave a quiet yip, as if saying, come on, get up, girl! Slowly she sat up, drawing a hand across her face and then pushing it through her tousled hair.
“Where did you come from, Wolf?” she asked sleepily. He just tugged on the edge of her robe with his teeth, green eyes serious. Then he turned to something on the floor and nosed it lightly.
“What is that?” Tabea bent and picked it up. It was a piece of embroidered cloth, probably from the tunic of a very rich man.
“Whose is this?” The green eyes of the Wolf narrowed and a low growl escaped his throat.
“I see, someone you hate. A traitor, maybe?” He just stared at her silently. She sighed and brushed through her hair again, dropping the cloth on the rough table.
“I’m going to get dressed and take care of the cows and the chickens,” she announced. “Then I’m going to the pond for a bath and then we’ll be on our way to your log cabin.” Said and done. After her bath she dried and dressed, finally lounging with the Wolf, staring out into the shady woods. Her hands hardly rested, weaving daisies together in a chain. Yes, spring was here again.
“And that must be very hard on you, dear,” she whispered, stroking the great shaggy head.
The afternoon was nearly gone when the Wolf suddenly jumped up and nudged Tabea’s sleeping form. She blinked her eyes open, unsure at first where she was. Slowly she sat up and looked at the slanting rays of the sun that broke through the trees.
“The meeting!” she suddenly cried, leaping to her feet. Now you’ve got it! Dylan thought and raced through the woods to the farm. He got there first, sitting on the porch with his long tongue hanging out, panting. She came up, went in, and picked up the bundle of clothes and the piece of cloth he’d brought her. Then she changed into a pair of pants and a tunic, throwing a light jacket on over that and stuffing her feet into heavy boots. She strapped her holster around her waist and checked her pistol before sticking it in its place. Next she picked up an unadorned, broad-brimmed hat and hid her hair under it. Finally she was ready to go and Dylan was a bit amused at the way she looked now. That is quite different than I’m used to seeing her, he laughed silently.
They went off through the woods, the sun slowly drifting down along the horizon. Not much time left. Must warn the Pack. The great Wolf paused and gave a long, solitary howl. It was answered close by and another wolf bounded from among the ferns. This one had a brown spot between his pointed ears.
“Brownie, get the pack to the block hut and set up a guard tonight,” Dylan ordered in wolf speech.
“But it’s heat time, Dylan,” he whined. “The wolf-maids will distract us.”
“Control yourselves just for tonight! It’s important. Now get moving!” The last command sounded like a sharp growl to Tabea, who was standing there, a bit afraid. The smaller wolf bowed its head and dashed back into the forest and the two travelers hurried on their way.
Tabea noticed that the Wolf’s step was becoming uneasy, as if he were in pain. He constantly grunted and yipped to himself, stopping to look behind him, to the west. The sun was nearly gone and suddenly it vanished. In the same instant the Wolf rose up to become the tall and solemn Dylan à Carrock.
“Hello, lady love,” he said, smiling. He quickly dressed and they hurried on through the woods, the girl trying to match her lover’s long, measured strides. He caught her several times as she stumbled over the rough terrain. His keen wolf-sight made it easy for him to see the path. They reached the little block hut shortly before midnight, with only one short rest for Tabea. Suddenly Dylan stopped, still hiding in the trees.
“Come on, what are you waiting for?” she demanded, tugging his sleeve.
“I want to see who is coming,” he returned quietly. And so they waited. Old Roche arrived first. Dylan could tell by the glint of the hook in the moonlight. Several more cloaked figures arrived in the next minute. The wolf-man sniffed the air as each of them passed close to their hiding place. Finally two men hurried along. They seemed to be the last ones. The young lord instantly recognized Stev Pulleny’s hurried gait. The other one — yes, that was him! A slightly savage grin played across the wolf-man’s face, before he silently broke out of the bushes, pulling Tabea along after him. The other two had entered the house, closing the door behind them.
“So we’re all here,” old Roche said with a grin. “Finally at our favorite place again.” He quickly counted the heads there. Eight, one too few.
“Okay, who’s missing?”
“The kid is,” Phillip returned quietly.
“And he’s never late,” someone else remarked.
“Pulleny?” The young man shrugged.
“I went to pick him up, but he’d already gone.”
“Great!” the old man snapped. “There’s our hole.”
“No, I’m here all right!” A slim figure stepped through the door, followed by a massive, cloaked one.
“Finally, Yon!” Roche was clearly relieved. The “kid” kept himself out of the light of the lantern on the table, as did his big friend.
“And who is that?” Tennek questioned.
“They call me the Wolf,” came a low growl. Tennek shivered. It sounded wolf-like enough. Roche elbowed Stev in the side, as if to say, “I told you so.”
“Why are you here?”
“Because of what Alick has done to Dylan à Carrock.” The old man’s black eyes narrowed pensively.
“Very well, you may stay for now, Wolf.” Then he turned to the others. “We have a leak. I don’t know who it is or where, but that person better beware when I find him!” His voice was menacing.
“I know who it is,” Tennek suddenly snapped. He turned around and pointed a finger into the shadows, where the two unknowns were standing.
“It’s that ‘kid’ of yours. He — or should I say she — is the one you’re looking for.” A quiet gasp went through the small group.
“Yon, come here,” Roche ordered calmly. The “kid” slowly stepped forward into the light, head lowered. Tennek suddenly reached out and grabbed the wide hat off her head. Long, golden-brown hair cascaded around her shoulders.
“There I’ve told you!” he laughed. “She and Pulleny are in this together. It was him who brought her to the meetings.” The girl raised her head and looked straight at Roche.
“Who are you going to believe, Roche? Me or him?” she asked evenly.
“I know that you would never betray Dylan, but a woman is not allowed in this circle. You have to go home.”
“Let her stay,” came the wolf-voice from the corner.
“No. I can’t, it’s against the rules.” The old man stared hard into the corner, quietly tapping his hook on the table.
“Even if I asked you?” The voice suddenly changed, becoming the gentle, royal tone that all of them had missed. The big figure stepped into the light, drawing back the hood. There was a gasp.
“Dylan!” Stev cried joyfully. All of them sank to one knee. The lord waved one hand and all of them stood slowly, stiffly.
“M’lord, you should preside over this meeting,” the loyal old man said, bowing his gray head.
“I will, my old friend,” Dylan answered, “and I will let Tabea stay. I want all of you to know that she will be my wife when I take my rightful place again.” She bowed her head to hide the joyful red that was creeping into her face.
“First point, the traitor.” The young man suddenly looked at Tennek and held out a piece of cloth.
“Do you recognize this, Tennek?” The man blanched. “Answer me!”
“Yes.” His voice was almost inaudible.
“What is it?”
“A piece from my tunic. How did you get that?” Dylan smiled sadly.
“Argentis was none too gentle when he ripped that off your arm some days ago, as you were leaving the castle of Carrock. I smelled you the instant you walked by with Stev.” Suddenly Tennek drew his pistol.
“You are dead, you wolf-man,” he screamed and fired. The young lord fell to the ground, a hole in his tunic.
“I’ve got you now!” Tennek laughed.
“I don’t think so.” Dylan slowly regained his feet and opened his hand. The bullet was in it. “You happen to forget that in my human form I am immune to all weapons. Alick should have told you that you can only kill the wolf, not the wolf-man.” He shook his head sadly as Poul and Enfer took the shocked man’s arms and tied his hands behind his back.
“Alick knows who all of you are, my friends,” the lord said quietly, “except for Tabea, but he has his sights set on getting her out of the way soon. I don’t know how, but all of us must protect her and her farm.”
“But what happened to you, sir?” Stev blurted, unable to contain his impatience.
“And what is this about a wolf?” Roche demanded. Dylan just picked up the lamp and hung it where it belonged, a hook dangling from the ceiling. Then he turned to the old man.
“Look at me.” The brown eyes widened slowly, taking in the shaggy, gray hair on the lord’s head and the beast-like eyes.
“I am the Wolf, Roche,” he intoned gently. “I am the leader of the Gray Pack and the beast feared most by Alick the wizard.”
“I always thought wolves were a wizard’s friends,” Enfer commented.
“No beast is a wizard’s friend. The wizard bends the rules of power to his own ends. There are some wise ones, who use their powers as the Word has purposed them. But there are very few of them. The rest hoard the powers, pushing against the Word’s Law. One day they step over it and are destroyed. I believe that has happened now.”
“You mean Alick made you a wolf?” Pulleny asked. The lord nodded silently.
“I become human once a month, at full moon,” he explained, “and during that time I cannot be harmed by any weapon — only by a wizard’s power.” He bowed his head, leaning his weight on the rough table. “Listen, we are getting into some rough times,” he said, looking into the circle. “Tennek will be silent until I can judge him openly. My will is growing weaker, but there is not much time until Alick’s birthday. There are two more full moons before then. I have to find Savoy the Scholar. If any of you know where he is, please tell me. My whole plan hinges on that day, when Alick has his birthday. I hope — no, I pray that I will have the knowledge of how to break the spell.” He paused for a moment. “I want you to be ready on that day, with weapons and warriors. We might have to fight.”
“Do you have a plan, Dylan?” Roche asked gently.
“Not yet, but I believe I will have one soon. Until then, no more meetings. Act — well...” His face suddenly became sad. “Act like loyal subjects of Alick. It will make him less suspicious of you.” He finally glanced out the window. The moon had run its course and was now behind the mountain.
“I have to go before the spell takes effect again.” He bowed his head, as if under a great burden, then straightened. “Tennek, come here.” The bound man came and stood before his lord.
“I am sorry to see that Alick had you in his councils. I had once thought you to be my best friend.” He looked at the ground sadly. “Tennek, I too command some power, as was given to the Lords of Carrock.” He looked up, his wolf-eyes boring into the other man’s. “You will not be able to speak an intelligent word until I call you for judgment. This is for your good and for the good of all that are here. Understand?” Tennek nodded, hate in his eyes, and opened his mouth.
“Nga arrah sskth,” was all that came. He stopped and tried it again, spouting even more horrible sounds, before he fell silent, the hate turning to astonishment and fear.
“I will see you all at the appointed time,” Dylan said finally, turned, and left the hut. Tabea hurried out to see where he’d gone.
“Dylan!” she screamed.
“Remember the whistle! I’ll be there for you, lady love!” she heard from the woods and then he was gone. A gentle hand rested on her shoulder. Stev looked away to where the shadow had been.
“He will be back, my dear cousin,” he whispered.
“I hope so,” she answered with a sob.