They called him Grandfather Wolf and he was a traveller. Despite being of such an age that he seemed to creak with every movement, hunched over and always leaning on a branch of polished oak, he walked wherever he went, pounding the earth with bare feet and a purpose to each and every step. Anyone who met him greeted him kindly; there was never a word of ill directed toward him in any way.
He was far beyond his prime in years with a sort of mystic wild look about him. From the thin silvery hair what barely covered the top of his bald head and the scraggly beard what covered his lower jaw to the furs and foliage what covered his fragile frame, carried with a limp of age, he fit the imagery of a Celtic priest of the old world. The picture was complete with a pair of deer antlers set atop his head with brightly-colored threads woven like a spider's web between the prongs, strings of beads and feathers falling from both web and antlers. It was said he was in tune with the realm of the faeries and that accounted for most of his appearance and rather pleasant disposition toward all things living and most things non-living.
Whenever he entered a city or township, he was always taken by one calloused weary hand by the inhabitants who greeted him first and lead to the nearest inn or tavern. He was not only a traveler but a storyteller. He wove stories of such vivid imagery that any listener with an imagination felt as though they were transported into his ethereal tales or felt that he was telling from personal experience, like he had been standing right next to the subjects he spoke of. He told stories for food and shelter and many innkeepers and tavern owners did not mind such a payment. After all, Grandfather Wolf had been around for so long, there seemed no end to his stories so each one was special and unique.
It was his reputation what preceded him as he came to the village of Loche in the Irish countryside, one of the local farmers' children being the first to see the old mystic as he came over the rise in the road to the north. She ran to him, calling over her shoulder to her father toiling in the fields that Grandfather Wolf had come. The news quickly spread, bringing not only the other three children but their parents as well to greet him.
The girl was the first to him, welcoming him to their village. Her older sister arrived not long after and asked if he would like them to take him to the inn. Grandfather Wolf had come hobbling to a stop, charms and trinkets wrapped across his frail frame and made of the bounty of Nature herself clacking against themselves as he did. The antler headdress atop his head gave a faint unearthly hum as he stopped, the sound of air passing through the threads and over the prongs no doubt. A small smile crossed his face as he regarded the pair before him with near-white eyes, leaning on his staff and noticing the remainder of their family coming up to the road as well.
Once more, the sister spoke. "We can send someone ahead to spread the word, if you want. They'll want to celebrate your coming with a feast of the year's harvest..."
She was cut off as the old man raised a hand to stop her. "The ground here is barely good enough to raise crops. It would feel wrong to me to take that from you. It is best if I am just taken to the inn." he replied, his voice crackling a bit but kind all the same. "Perhaps when the ground is good again, I will return and accept your offer."
The rest of the family had arrived, the father speaking as he walked forward. "You are much too humble, Grandfather. But your decline is comforting. You're right in the fact that the crops have been poor this year."
His son added on, "We'll accompany you to the inn. Perhaps a story from you is what is needed to lift all our spirits."
Grandfather Wolf looked to each in turn before nodding his head. "I would much appreciate that, thank you."
He allowed the two girls to take his free hand and lead him on, their eldest brother running ahead to alert the village and the innkeeper of their special guest. As they went, there was much chatter of the old man to his benefactors.
He told of the earth, of what he felt in it and all things connected to it. He told of the air and all who drank of it. But most of all, he told them of the good things that were to come in return for their taking him into their hospitality, of Titania and her court of fae-folk who would thank them for keeping their liaison to the human world safe, even if it were only for a night or two.
"What are these good things, if you don't mind my asking, Grandfather?" the youngest sister, the first to meet him, asked.
He merely shook his head at her. "I cannot tell you the gift to be given until the first transaction is complete. When I leave in the morning, then I shall tell you what to look for."
An acknowledged nod was given between Grandfather Wolf and those who were his companions. They seemed to understand the words he spoke and did not dispute his choice.
When they had finally arrived in the main village, the small party was greeted by a crowd of villagers who had received the news. There were thanks given to the old mystic lead by two young farm girls for coming, welcomes given to him and the family with him. Then, with little hesitation, the crowd moved with the storyteller at the head of them toward the inn.
It was an old building, the wood pocked and stained with years of weather, fair and harsh. The foundation was stone, though the mortar was washing away from between the great rust-red quarry stones that had been dragged and placed with a loving hand where they sat at that moment. The windows were a bit glazed with grime and the front door needed a good push to open, the hinges groaning loudly in protest, but nevertheless, the inside was still kept warm and cozy. Everything from the well-washed floor to the fireplace crafted of the same reddish stone what made up the foundation spoke of years of tender love and care. At least, that was how it felt to Grandfather Wolf; he heard the thrum of the place and knew that was what it was.
The innkeeper was waiting next to the fireplace, having stoked the fire to life and laid down a pile of blankets before it for him. She was a kind-looking stout woman of middle-age, bowing her head and shoulders as the crowd made their way into her inn.
"Welcome to our humble little village, Grandfather." she told him, rising again to stand with a straight back of authority. "The soup will be right out. Would you like some wine to go with it while you wait?"
Grandfather Wolf shook his head as his free hand as it was released finally. "Just water will please these old dry lips, my lady." he replied with a small bit of laughter.
She nodded her head and went off to fetch the water requested while the girls who had lead the old man helped settle him in front of the fire. Orders were placed as the crowd of men, women, and children took their seats wherever they could, the closest to their storyteller being the best seat in the house.
Grandfather Wolf believed that all should hear whatever it was he had to say, therefore when his water was brought him with filled glass and a pitcher for refills, he waited for all orders to be taken care of and his promised bowl of lamb stew to be brought him, watching the innkeeper take a seat before setting his staff down behind himself. This seemed to signal he was ready to start, a hush falling across the room.
There were a few minutes of this quiet, no one daring to speak, much less make a noise outside the occasional bite of food or clatter of cups being drunk from and then set back down. Grandfather Wolf had taken a few good bites of his stew and washed it down with a drink of his water, chuckling some as the first child to meet him refilled the cup for him.
"You will make someone a fine mate someday, child." he told her. This earned a small wave of laughter from his audience. They died down again as he put his bowl down next to his cup and sat back.
"As you all quite well know, I come to you to tell a story gained in my travels." he began. From the stillness in the room, one might have guessed that people barely breathed. "Whilst being escorted into this little town with its good people, it took me a long time to decide which I should tell to you, which story I had yet to tell anyone. I've finally decided on it."
The girl next to him piped up. "Which one have you decided, Grandfather?"
He turned his hauntingly sparkling white eyes toward her then, smiled through his beard at her enthusiasm and curiosity before addressing his audience in full once more. "I have decided to tell a particularly special story, one that is quite close to my own old heart."
The anticipated silence of the people around him was almost deafening, the air heavy with it.
"I do, of course, mean to speak of the faewolves, the ones known as 'the tainted breed'…"