Twilight was settling over the forest. Dylan moodily trotted back from the farm. He’d come too late. The front door was shattered. Tabea and the men were gone. The only things he’d found were a piece of cloth from her dress and the torn chain of the whistle. And there was that stench — the smell of Alick, the wizard. He growled quietly to himself, the green eyes smoldering. He knew that if he met Alick in this form, he would not be able to control his instincts and would kill the man. It would be the end of a lot of pain, but not of the enchantment, he was sure of that. I can only confront him in my human form, he decided. That’s the only time when my mind really rules over my guts. He trotted on, heading for the Gray Pack again. The heat was over, the wolf-maids having found their mates. Soon there would be more pups to take care of, but he, Dylan, would not be there to do so again. By that time he would be free from his enchantment.
A fresh scent caught his delicate nose. No, he hadn’t smelled that before, or had he? It reminded him of Tabea, only much wilder. He put his nose to the ground, following silently. His human mind now supplemented the instincts with a double watchfulness. The gray world around him would dislodge its secrets soon enough. He continued on, noticing that he was going in the general direction of his block hut. For a man it would be a good four-hour hike. A wolf might make it in two, if he were moving quickly, but this was no wolf. He knew that. The scent had a different quality — a bit like a common house-cat’s, but still very different from that. Suddenly he stopped, sensing that he was being watched. He continued with his nose to the ground, purposely turning from his trail, back into the ferns. As soon as he was certain that the feeling had vanished, he turned back, slinking among the trees. The green eyes had become curious now. He crouched down, surveying the trees around him. A stray ray of the setting sun pierced the thick leaves and rested on a dark shape calmly reclining in the boughs of one of the trees. The green eyes narrowed slightly, slowly recognizing it. It was a large cat, contentedly washing its glossy black fur. These black panthers were thought to be dead, he remembered. Where did this one come from? The Wolf slowly began to sense the challenge of an exciting fight rising in him. He sprang up and gave a loud howl. The cat started, leaping to its feet, ready for the pounce.
Suddenly, it came, amber claws unsheathed, blue eyes livid. He leaped to the side, letting it land on the ground. His fangs were showing now, the green eyes menacing. The large cat drew back one huge paw, baring the claws again, but suddenly let it drop to the ground, straightening up and purring softly. The dark tail flicked back and forth in the underbrush. The sudden lack of fight in this animal shocked him, calming his boiling blood. For an instant he thought it was talking to him, it sounded almost like it had said his name.
“Who are you?” he yipped in wolf-tongue. The cat just purred and came closer. He almost wanted to turn and run. The furry face closed in on his and for an instant their noses touched. The cat sat back and looked at him. Finally the truth struck him — Tabea! She’d been enchanted, too. There was all of her air around this beast. It smelled like she did, though a bit different — more wild, perhaps. He let his tongue hang out to cool off a bit and looked at her thoughtfully. She would not understand wolf-speech, but he would have to take care of her anyway. She had plenty of fight in her and he knew that. She could take care of herself, but these black panthers were very rare and someone would be likely to kill her if she were alone. Best let her join the Pack. It was only two months anyway, before the spell would break and she’d become human once more. They would have to bide their time.
He rose slowly and looked back at her, his eyes inviting her to follow. He then turned and walked off. The Cat leaped to her feet and with two silent bounds was beside the Wolf. Together they melted into the darkness of the coming night.
The wolves were restless that night. Dylan knew that the heat was over. Why wasn’t he coming? Yashira, the leader of the wolf-maids, was angry again and Brownie was quite certain that he couldn’t control her.
“It was a mistake taking him as our leader,” she barked at him. “You should depose him now, while the time is ripe. Maybe then he’ll get some sense in his head.”
“And mate with you?” Brownie’s yips were ironic. “Don’t be a woman, Yashira. You are a wolf, and a lot smarter than that.” The other just growled at him, her golden eyes narrowing.
“If you weren’t my brother, I swear I’d kill you, Brownie, and Dylan would not be able to stop me.”
“Your being a wolf-maid and pregnant will make no difference to him, when he finds me dead and my blood on your fangs. You saw what he did to Scarface.” She slowly began to circle him menacingly.
“That was the only time he showed his strength. He is nothing but a weakling, not wanting one of his own pups to rule the Pack when he is gone. He is a weakling, I tell you!”
“Really? Then perhaps you misunderstand me, Yashira.” In the heated conversation neither of the wolves had noticed their leader’s arrival.
“Then make me understand,” the wolf-maid snapped, unruffled at the sudden appearance.
“You know that I am enchanted. Brownie has told you so. If we look at it from my point of view I’m being strong, not weak.” Dylan took a few steps towards her, making her retreat.
“You are nothing but a man!” she snapped.
“You’re right and I have no intention ending as your grandfather did. He was turned into a wolf as well and you know that.” His barking was slowly becoming more threatening. Yashira saw the angry look in his eye and suddenly rolled on her back, bearing her neck. Dylan gently closed his teeth around the soft fur, signifying that he accepted her apology and subordinance. He stepped back, beside the black Cat that the rest of the Pack was nosing around. She just calmly lay on the ground, blue eyes half shut, purring contentedly. Yashira rolled back to her feet and stared at the intruder.
“What is that doing here?” she howled.
“That is also an enchanted beast. It happens to be a woman called Tabea. Show her respect.” The Wolf’s tone was a measured yip. “She will be staying with us for some time.”
“You can’t be serious!” the wolf-maid growled back.
“I am and now be quiet or I might not accept your apology.” He then looked around at all of his wolves and gave a solitary howl.
“We are leaving this place, get ready.” The Pack complied silently. The big Cat fell in line with the Wolf.
“We have work to do,” he growled, more to himself.
“Then let’s do it,” the Cat purred back. It sounded like someone speaking with a heavy foreign accent.
“Tabea — you —”
“Can understand most of what you say, if you speak slowly. That was rather fast back there, but I got the gist of everything. Cat-tongue is not so different from wolf-speech as you imagine.” The Wolf smiled and howled into the night. The others imitated him, Tabea’s bright blue eyes staring at the waning moon through the trees.