My private place was a small indention in an overhanging rock face, covered over by ivy and tall grass. It was low enough to the ground that someone could step over my hiding spot and be none the wiser, but also open enough that I could get in quickly and easily. I slid in quickly, pressing my belly as low as I could to the dirt. A feral howl rang out desperately. The cicadas no longer chirped. Everything was still but for the running of paws and the desperate call of the unnatural creature that seemed to be drawing ever nearer.
Seasons ago, when my mother called me Cana and nursed me through my pup stage, she told me of the ones who were different. They weren’t born of the fur and traded pain for the freedom of the hunt. I could only guess that this creature was one of those wretched beasts. My mother had once given them a name, but I struggled to remember it. In the near distance, perhaps a mile from my secret place, I heard the final cry of a deer. Conriocht: that was the name of the cursed ones. Men-wolves.
My ears remained perked, twitching to the sounds of the forest. I heard the conriocht howl. His heady musk, wolf with remnant hints of the outside, still filled my nose, and I knew that he could smell me. He was a stranger to this forest, and he called to me to join him. He was like an infant, calling to the pack, and I was the nearest to his senses. I knew it would not be long before he stopped waiting and sought me out.
A worried whimper barely escaped my throat. I was conflicted. I had not known the ungrudging presence of another wolf since my mother left me the spring after my birth. The local pack would tolerate me, but only for so long. They warned their pups against me, and those pups grew, and warned their pups against me. I was lonely. I longed for a pack that would not have me. I stuck my nose out through the hanging ivies and gazed out into the forest.
The moon was now full and high above the trees, casting steady beams of soft light through the gaps in the trees, including one that fell just outside of my den. A moment of panic gripped me, and I noticed, probably too late, the fallen limb that had once filled in the gap in the treetops above my secret place. I retracted my head and backed as far as I could into my den, flattening my ears and tucking my tail as close to myself as I could without actually sitting on it. I was going to have to find a new den after this night was over.
A breeze wafted through the ivies, carrying the scent of the kill on the wind. I knew better than to attempt to hunt amongst the moonlight and therefore had hunted before the sun left the sky. Nevertheless, my ears perked to the aroma, even if it was accompanied by the nearing musk of the conriocht.
Leaves crunched outside my den, and I pressed further to the inside. I was trapped. I could not escape into the moonlight. My only hope was the shadows of my shallow cave. A grey muzzle, tinged with the ocher of remnant blood, poked in through the tall grass and ivies and rudely intruded into my space. He whimpered at me, chastising me for not answering him while he rubbed his sides against mine.
Once I realized that I was safe from the moon for the time being, I found myself annoyed with the intruder. A low growl rumbled in my chest, but it was half-hearted. For an unfamiliar wolf to intrude upon another’s den without welcome was impertinent, but it did not take me long to recognize the reason behind this conriocht’s behavior. He considered himself an alpha. He nuzzled my side and then plopped down beside me, knocking down the tall grass and pulling down a plug of ivy while he did. He was quickly asleep.
I was given to believe that this was often the case with his kind. They embraced the wolf and the hunt for a few brief hours during the full moon, only to fall prone once their hunger and curiosity had been sated. I attempted to rouse him with a nudge of my muzzle, but he remained unresponsive. I huffed through my nose and laid my head on my paws, watching the cursed one sleep.
The moon crept through the sky, and I watched the moonbeams shift with it, inching closer to my paws. The conriocht slept on, as I knew he probably would until morning, and I was thankful for it. The gentle glow crept over his sleeping fur, and touched mine. I sighed in resignation and embraced it as the moonlight pooled, pouring over my skin, enveloping me like a moth’s cocoon. My fur melted away into smooth skin as I metamorphosed painlessly and gently. The glow faded away into the normal shallow rays of wispy moonbeams.
A tear ran down my woman-face, and I whimpered while I ran my reshaped paws through his fur. The sound was odd from my reshaped throat, but his fur was warm and comforting. I hated this new shape. Every sense was dulled, and I felt ungainly. At least I had no need to move for some time. I remembered from experience that my legs would feel as unsteady as a newly calved deer. I laughed, which was probably one of the few human actions that I had a firm grasp on, at the irony of a conriocht curling up next to a faoladh on the night of a full moon.