Although it was dangerous, I had no choice. We needed to eat and there was nothing left in our old habitat. I kept guard while my pack spread out over the woods and fields, their noses close to the ground to pick up a scent. The water chilled my paws but at least the swirling mist offered some protection from prying eyes.
I stiffened as I caught the aroma far off in the forest which had caused my mate to emit her warning howl. My ears strained as I heard her yowl of pain followed by a whine then silence. Although my impulse was to run and protect my partner, the odour of humans was overpowering, and my instincts commanded me to gather the others and remain at large if we were to help her.
With a soft growl to summon the group, I led them through the stream to mask our scent before we retreated to the cover of the trees, staying downwind of the dogs whose cries were now clearly audible.
As we waited for nightfall some of the youngsters became restless and wanted to rush the camp and carry out the rescue. My years had brought me wisdom and with a few nips, I persuaded them to delay until the odds had improved.
I sent out scouts so I could plan the strategy to release my mate. I knew I needed to be patient and tried to pay no attention to her plaintive calls, however much they made my hackles rise.
There were three men and three dogs camped out in the woods. My mate had been shackled and tethered to a tree, out of reach of the canines who were bound by long leashes on the far side of the camper van. With no reason to set a guard, the humans had retreated inside the vehicle to have a few beers and eat their meal.
I was proud of my group. Despite the enticing aromas of meat and their own hunger they had resisted the urge, stayed hidden and merely carried out their reconnaissance before reporting back to me.
It had been late afternoon when she had been taken but in these parts, night fell quickly. Although the mist had dispersed, the sky was heavy with clouds and a light drizzle soaked our fur when we ventured from the shelter of the trees. Keeping to the shadows we crept closer, using the cover of the vehicle to hide our physical presence.
"Did you hear something?"
At the sound of the voice, the whole pack froze and remained motionless while the seconds ticked away in the silence that followed.
"It's probably just the dogs moving about. Shall I go out and check?"
"Why bother? No one would come out this far unless they were hunters like us. It was probably just a nocturnal animal attracted by the smell of the food. Are we going to finish this game or not? It's your deal."
"Too much for me, I'm out."
As they resumed, I signalled my group to spread out in a semi-circle but to remain this side of the van, away from the dogs that were starting to pick up our scent. The moon was now breaking through the clouds and patches of light broke up the pitch black of the forest.
Under cover of darkness, I moved closer to my female and nuzzled her gently, warning her to stay quiet while I planned her release. My anger flared as I saw the deep wheals across her back, caused when the men had beaten her with their rifle butts before chaining her up. The iron manacle dug into her front leg allowing her only a few yards of motion, and I knew it would be beyond the scope of even my sharp teeth and claws to gnaw through.
It would need the key to the padlock to set her free. Time to call in some favours. It was only a short while before an owl silently swooped overhead and dropped the key at my feet. The humans had left a small window open to clear the air from their cigarette smoke, and the intelligence and dexterity of a squirrel had succeeded in retrieving the key from the window ledge.
Neither of my animal allies had the strength to open the lock and my paws were too large and clumsy.
"Have patience, my love. Another hour and you will be free."
The rain storm had now cleared and the moon was nearing its zenith. The howl that surged unbidden from my throat was a mistake, but one that was impossible to resist.
"I told you there was something out there." The noise as the door slammed open broke through the peace of the night. One of the men held a flashlight while the other pointed his rifle in our direction.
"It's only the bitch. We'll be out of here by morning. Stop being a scaredy-cat."
Just in time. The moon was now full and I felt the familiar pain as my body began stretching and rearranging into its natural form. With shaking fingers I unlocked the clasp as my mate became a woman again. The others of the pack followed suit and the hunters became the hunted. Only the dogs survived as we threw them the bones of the hunters when we had eaten our fill.
By the time the police investigated the abandoned vehicle three days later, we were back on all fours and miles away, waiting for the next full moon and our next meal.