Early evening was settling again and Tabea had decided that she wanted to take a short snooze in the bough of a tall tree some ways away from the pack. Something inside her was moving, even though she didn’t know what it was. Just an uneasiness, as if something special was about to happen. It reminded her of the times when Dylan came to visit her. Shortly before he arrived, after all the work was done and she had made herself pretty, when she had nothing left to do, the expectation of his coming was thick in the air, making it impossible to sit down and do anything for even a minute. Even through the cool, collected feline nature of her enchanted form, she was giddy. What was going to happen? Why did she feel like this?
She stared down from the bough of the tree she was reclining in and suddenly noticed that the Wolf was slowly walking away from the others. Curiosity pricked her and she silently bounded from her comfortable perch to another tree some ways away. Then came the next tree, and the next. She finally decided that going along the ground would be easier and launched herself out of the branches and onto the small path that Dylan was following. The going was not easy, even for a Cat, but she somehow managed to follow him as he moved quickly through the woods.
The terrain was changing, becoming more rocky. Until now she’d been able to hide herself from the probing green eyes of the Wolf as he looked back. She knew that he’d sensed her following him. The trees had thinned out and she was quite certain that they were close to the promontory overlooking the Lands of Carrock. The Wolf stopped and gazed up at the fingers of the sun that were still clinging to the sides of the mountain. Then he looked east and eyed the place where he knew the full moon would be rising. He threw his head back in a solitary howl. Tabea could sense his melancholy attitude as she crouched among some large rocks.
The sun went down and suddenly she felt like her arms and legs were filled with pins and needles, pricking her in all places. There was also a strange sense of freedom, like when your hands were untied from behind your back and you were let go. She pushed herself back, rearing up on her hind paws and suddenly stood straight and tall, no longer a cat, but a beautiful woman clad in what seemed to be a singlet of cat skin. Her arms and legs were bare as was her neck and a small part of her chest just below it, forming a decently cut collar. The soft fur came down just a short way down the top of her legs. It was not immodest, but it would pass more for an undergarment than as a dress she’d want to wear in public. She sighed and brushed one hand against it, staring out to where the Wolf had been. She just noticed Dylan’s tall figure standing there before he turned and saw her.
“It’s full moon,” was all he said. She nodded and he quickly whisked down to the side of the hill to his hiding place. A few moments later he returned, dressed in the tunic and trousers, the cloak over his arm. He stepped up to her and gently laid it around her shoulders.
“That should do for now, but we have to get some real clothes for you.” She nodded slowly.
“Let’s go to your farm,” he suggested. “Stev will be waiting for us there.”
“Really?” she asked, speaking clearly for the first time since her enchantment. “How does he know about that?”
“Haven’t you guessed?” he asked, giving her a gentle look of reproach. “Stev can talk to animals and understand them. He’s been looking for Savoy for me.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” He shrugged.
“Yes, but he knows how to do it without gathering any suspicion.”
“Oh.” They continued their way in silence.
Stev was sitting uncomfortably at the table of Tabea’s empty house. He’d repaired the door and his little sister had come to take care of the chickens. The cows were now at his farm. The house itself was in good condition, carefully cleaned and set in order by his mother once a week. Tabea would be happy to see it again — if she was alive.
He remembered the short talk he’d had with Dylan two days after the meeting.
“Find me Savoy,” the Wolf had commanded. And Stev had. It hadn’t been easy, but he’d done it. Dylan would be really happy tonight. There was a quiet rapping on the door that shocked him out of his reverie.
“Come!” he called, rising to his feet. The door swung open and Dylan walked in, followed by a slightly smaller figure with black hair. Pulleny blinked twice before recognizing the pale face of the woman with the cat-eyes.
“Tabea, you’re alive!” he cried and rushed forward to hug her. She didn’t resist it, but he also sensed that she was very uncomfortable about it.
“Are you okay?”
“It’s — it’s just this enchantment,” she sighed. “I’m going to get some real clothes on.” With that she disappeared into the small bedroom and closed the door after her.
“How’s she taking it?” Stev wanted to know. Dylan sighed, sitting down across from him.
“Okay, I guess. This is the first time she’s been human and when she realizes...” He trailed off sadly. “It’s just going to be very hard on her. She’s a lot more sensitive than I am.” He sighed to himself. “Sometimes I wish I could give her some of my strength of mind.” He shook his head and then regarded his young friend carefully.
“I’ve found him,” he said with a laugh. Dylan instantly leaned forward.
“He’s living a good ways east of here in Wiston. Four or five days on a horse if you really push it. You should be able to do it in maybe a week.” The wolf-man leaned back and put his head down, stroking his chin thoughtfully. Pulleny could almost hear the complicated circuits clicking audibly.
“One week,” Dylan mused. “It might just work. It will be murder on me. I hope Tabea will stay here.”
“Why?” She just came out of the back room in time to hear what he’d said. He reached out and took her hand.
“Lady love, I’ve got to go away to the east and it will be very hard traveling, even for a wolf. I know that I will be nearly dead when I arrive back here, because Alick’s birthday is only six days after full moon this year. If I leave Wiston before sunrise, I’ll make it to the promontory an hour before sunset, but only if I can move unhindered.” He put up his free hand to shush her protest. “I want you to stay with Pulleny and protect them, Tabea. They will need someone strong there, who isn’t afraid of Alick. Will you do that?” The wolf-eyes stared into the blue depths of hers for a long moment. She nervously shoved at her long, tangled, black hair. Then she dropped his gaze.
“Yes, Dylan, I will — if —” She looked away.
“If I stay with you as long as possible?” A quiet nod.
“All right, lady love, I will stay for a week, but then I really must leave, so that I can save my strength for the fast return. Is that okay with you, Stev?” He just nodded with a bright smile on his face.
“Good.” The young lord was smiling thoughtfully. “I have one more thing to tend to before the night is up. I’ve got to go back to the promontory. When I get back, I want to talk with Tabea alone.” Stev nodded and got up to leave.
“See you in the morning,” he yawned. “It’s still a good way to the farm from here and my mother will be waiting. Anyway, I’ve got a bed to go to.”
About an hour and a half later Dylan returned to the farm. Tabea was sitting there forlornly picking at the arm of her mother’s rocking chair. The big man entered silently and pulled a chair up across from her.
“It’s hard isn’t it?” he asked sadly. She nodded, the tears nearly spilling over.
“I can’t understand it, Dylan, but —” A silent sob shook her body. “— but I can’t love you anymore. Not the way it was before Alick did this to us.” She pressed both fists into her eyes. “It’s like — like trying to love an animal. You feel affection and maybe — care for it, but nothing more, nothing like we had.” Suddenly the sobs broke out loud. She couldn’t control her shaking anymore. He reached out and pulled her to him, like a father comforts a crying child.
“Now you know how I felt all those nights when I thought of you, lady love,” he told her, his own voice cracking. “There’s nothing I miss more than that sense of belonging.”
“Why couldn’t I be a wolf, too, why?” she demanded, pounding at his broad chest.
“It’s your character.” His voice was smooth again, though his eyes still showed his pain. “You are free, wild, cunning and smooth, just like a cat. My character is like that of a wolf, that’s why I am what I am and that’s why you are what you are. It’s hard to realize how different we are, but that’s the way we were born — and look, we’re still together.” She nodded almost invisibly.
“Now, do you want me to carry you to the Pulleny’s?” he asked gently. “We should get there before sunrise.”
“No, I’ll walk,” she said, her voice resolute. They left the house a few minutes later, hurrying into the night, just two black shadows in a world of even less light. The full moon was hidden behind the clouds now, making them invisible to all who were going along.
“Tabea,” he whispered, catching her attention, “I have to tell you something.”
“What?” She sounded breathless.
“In one month and one week, we will be fully human for one day and two nights — I mean fully human, nothing about this enchantment bit. Your feelings are free, too, but that can be very dangerous. You will have to control yourself until after the enchantment is broken.” She nodded silently and they pressed on for a while.
“What’s it like to suddenly have your feelings free again,” she finally asked.
“Like a landslide, very hard to control, but easy to get out of the way. That’s what you should do, get out of the way!” She nodded again. Slowly her movements were beginning to feel unnatural. The enchantment was taking over again, she knew it. There were only a few hours left. She stumbled and fell with a cry and suddenly found herself swept up in Dylan’s strong arms. His jaw was set and he suddenly increased his pace to a run. Only an hour, must hurry! Suddenly they broke from the forest on the edge of the Pulleny’s farm. It was dark and seemed empty. He sighed, set her on her feet and began pulling off his clothing. She did the same and then they waited. Suddenly she gasped and fell forward on all fours. The pain, it was all she could think about. She threw back her head and a mournful cat-scream came from her black lips. In an instant it was gone, but she still felt unnatural.
“It will go away soon,” the Wolf said quietly. He gathered his clothes carefully in his teeth and padded into the yard, finally lying down and resting on the porch. The sun rose on them from behind the clouds. Tabea turned her blue eyes to the shine and for the first time in her life despised its light, knowing what it had stolen from her. She stared out towards the north, where Alick’s castle lay. He was going to pay when she got her claws on him.