The moon shone high and bright over Boscra and bathed the deep forest in silver light. Oldur had left the Andal River shortly before, having hidden his raft in thickets where the water was shallow. His lord's instructions had not been specific, but only that he should remain due north.
The wind picked up and rustled through the top of the gnarled trees. The wolves would surely find him, Rodan had said. A cold shiver ran down Oldur's back. He had been afraid of the wolves all his life, as they had always battled fiercely against the Nagrims for the rule over Boscra. And here he was, walking all alone through the dense undergrowth with no other choice than to wait for the encounter. He would be completely and utterly at the mercy of Tamir and his bloodthirsty followers. One false word or sudden movement and they would tear him to shreds. Oldur trembled with fear.
He had been expelled by his own people years before and fair game for the shadow wolves, which loved chasing him through the forest and would have eventually torn him to pieces, had it not been for his encounter with Rodan.
Rodan had saved his life. He would therefore be grateful to his lord for all time, serving him devotedly and would never disappoint him. Actually he was more afraid of encountering a Nagrim than dealing with Tamir and his pack. He brushed the thought aside, looked around and tried to get his bearings. An owl screeched and Oldur jumped in fright. There was a rustling at his feet and a mouse scurried over his boots, fearing for its life. Oldur stepped quickly aside and landed on a branch. The snapping of the dry wood sounded like the lash of a whip in the still of the night.
Except for the rushing sound of a stream and Oldur's rapid breathing, nothing else could be heard. He stood frozen among the high trees and listened to the forest, paralyzed with fear. Wasn't there a rustling noise in the understory? "Oh, it's only my imagination", he thought and set out again northwards, as his lord had commanded.
Oldur marched through the forest for many hours, always careful not to draw the attention of some creature of the night with a careless step here or there. Time and again he would pause and listen anxiously into the stillness of the night. He couldn't rid himself of the feeling that he was no longer alone. Something or other was observing him and seemed to be feeding on his fear and helplessness.
He heard a noise in the bushes and Oldur was sure that whoever was lurking in the dark was drawing closer on quiet paws.
The clouds gave way to the shine of the moon for a brief moment. A large black shadow flitted pass Oldur in the thicket and the howl of a wolf came from deep within the forest. Cold sweat appeared on his forehead and Oldur looked around in every direction. Again he caught a glimpse of the black creature's shadow and glowing eyes stared at him from out of the darkness.
They were here! Tamir's wolves had found him. The dreadful howling broke the stillness again, at once answered by the shadow that had been following him. Suddenly Oldur was surrounded by the bloodthirsty howling of wolves. The hunt had been opened and the Nagrim, mortal enemy of the wolves, had been chosen as the prey. Oldur heard rustling nearby in the bushes and his pursuer showed himself. He approached Oldur with slow and smooth movements. He had never before stood face to face with a shadow wolf. He felt so small and lost. Was this the way it would all end? Hounded to death and torn apart by wolves?
Orange-red glowing eyes stared at him. His scrubby black fur standing on end, the wolf lowered his head and got ready to attack. Angrily, he showed Oldur his sharp teeth and flattened his ears. A threatening grumble came from deep within his throat and turned into an angry growl.
"No Nagrim can intrude the kingdom of the shadow wolves and go unpunished."
"I..., I'm looking for Tamir", Oldur stammered fearfully.
"Tamir? What do you have to do with Tamir, Nagrim?", asked the black creature warily.
"Rodan has sent me to remind Tamir of the promise he made to stand by him in his battle to rule Morana", Oldur explained anxiously, hoping to gain a little time.
"I see", snarled the wolf. "Be that as it may, Tamir is far away and my brothers and I have been in search for a big chunk of meat for some days now. I know nothing about a promise made to Rodan. Let's play a game", the wolf suggested and shortened the distance between himself and the hated Nagrim. Oldur carefully took a couple of steps back, never taking his eyes off his dangerous adversary.
"A game, what kind of game?", he asked and the sweat soaked through his shirt.
"Oh, I hope you like games. It's a surprise", the wolf laughed grimly. "It's a very old game that has always been very popular among us wolves. It's called 'catch the Nagrim'!"
"I've never heard of such a game", stuttered Oldur, fully aware that a gruesome end awaited him as the loser of the game.
"How could you? Not one of your brothers ever survived the game to tell about it", the wolf laughed and drew closer again.
Oldur slowly retreated.
"I don't want to be a spoilsport, though", the wolf said. Every muscle of the beast was tensed. He could have jumped on his victim as quick as lightening and that would have been the end of Oldur. For the moment, however, the creature enjoyed terrifying Oldur.
"I'll give you a generous head start. Don't be a fool, this is your chance", he snarled and took a step toward the Nagrim.
Oldur screamed and fell on his back. Keeping his eyes on the wolf, he scrambled to his feet and started running for his life. The sounds of breaking branches and rustling leaves were all around him. Here and there he noticed eager eyes staring at him from the thicket.
The game had begun. The pack of wolves spread out to chase Oldur like a rabbit, deeper and deeper into the woods of Boscra.
As hopeless as his situation was, he nevertheless ran faster than he ever had before in his life. Twigs whipped his face and thorns scratched his hands. Whenever Oldur looked behind him, he could see the dark shadows of the wolves drawing closer and hear their terrible howls. Before he could even consider which way to turn, he suddenly slipped and fell through some thick bushes and down a steep slope.
Briefly stunned, he came to himself again quickly at the triumphant howling of the wolves. He was finished, he thought. Out of breath, he opened his eyes.
He had fallen into a pit, the rock walls of which were covered with moss, thus making escape impossible. But Oldur was not ready to give up. Although the bones of his humpy body were in pain, he quickly got to his feet and ran to the other side of the pit, hoping to find some way to escape his fate.
He couldn't lose any time. He glanced back nervously and could see the huge shadow wolves, one after the other, jumping into the pit. They knew that they had won the game and calmly followed Oldur.
Finally Oldur found a spot in the rugged rock to grasp that might just help him climb the pit wall and make his escape. He skilfully started his climb. A few feet below him, his pursuers gathered and followed his every move with their eager eyes.
Growling angrily, some of them jumped up the wall in an effort to sink their teeth into the Nagrim's legs, thus bringing him to fall. But the fangs missed their target and Oldur kept on climbing. He saw with relief that the upper rim of the pit was within reach and it occurred to him that he would be the only Nagrim to ever win this game.
Just as he was relishing his triumph, a piece of rock under his right boot came loose from the wall. Oldur lost his grip and fell backwards into the pack of hungry wolves.
"Nice try", Oldur heard the mocking voice of the wolf that had spoken to him before in the woods. "But as I said before, a Nagrim has never won this game", his laugh was nasty. "Bon appétit, my brothers!", he invited the rest of the pack to enjoy their meal.
They encircled Oldur. Escape was no longer an option. They came closer and closer to him, growling hungrily. Their sharp teeth flashed in the moonlight and their breath smelled of death and rot.
They pounced on him and tore his cloak to shreds. Oldur screamed. Just as one of the monsters tore into one of Oldur's boots, the deafening howl of another wolf sounded from far above them.
Oldur looked up to the rim of the pit. A huge black wolf, bigger than all he had ever seen, caused his attackers to pause and slowly retreat. In one step, the mighty animal jumped into the pit and placed himself protectively in front of Oldur.
"Tamir, how nice of you to join us for this meal", Oldur heard the fawning voice of the pack's leader. "I could never forgive myself for not saving the first bite for you, my friend".
"This Nagrim is off-limits for all of you, Grimloh!", the voice of Oldur's rescuer echoed on the walls of the pit. "He is the servant of the mighty Rodan and none of you are to touch him!"
"So it is really true then?", Grimloh continued. "The shadow wolves are making a pact with Rodan of Xuria, a moor elf!", he said with disdain. "I would advise you to negotiate a good price for our people. Otherwise you have forfeited your right to lead the pack", he glared at Tamir, showed his teeth and lowered his ears.
In a flash, Tamir pounced on his antagonist, grabbed him in the neck with his mouth and flung him into the midst of the other wolves, who pulled in their tails and retreated some more.
"Keep one thing in mind, Grimloh", Tamir grumbled angrily at his opponent. "Any of you who stand in my way will not go unpunished. Your place is in the group and not at the head of the pack. Never forget that! Otherwise you will pay for this pact with your miserable life. Rodan will soon be ruler over Morana and we will support his authority. In return he will leave me the rule over Boscra and remove the curse that has been on us for centuries now.
And now to you, Nagrim", Tamir turned to Oldur, who had meanwhile got back on his feet. He looked up anxiously to Tamir, who was drawing near to him.
"As long as we are waiting for the news that Asragur's spell has been broken, nothing will happen to you. Should the pact with your lord however not come about, my hungry friends here will cause a massacre from which even you will not escape.
"Many thanks, noble Tamir. I appreciate your protection and the hospitality of the wolves", Oldur stammered, relieved to be alive and bowed humbly before the leader of the shadow wolves.
"This pact means a lot to my lord, I can assure you. The time to join forces is imminent and soon the ravens will bring us the glad tidings of Rodan's freedom".
"The sooner the better for you", Tamir snarled.
So Oldur had no other choice than to hold out with the wolves, more as a prisoner than as a guest.