From a distance the Ellwood family look reasonably respectable. They appeared a little out of place as they made their way along the damp road towards the Kirkstone Pass one rather wet and windy summer’s afternoon but only a few people stared. The rather formal dress of the heavily built Peat Ellwood made him appear a little unusual. It was no doubt the fierce expression on his face that prevented more people from staring. His wife Daisy had trouble keeping step with his energetic stride though her shorter limbed daughter Poppy, appeared to manage.
‘Come along Mother’ said Poppy. The girl’s soft features hid a strong competitive streak. She was not going to let her father claim superiority in the walking stakes.
‘This is not a competition’ exclaimed Stig, Poppy’s older brother, who found walking fast a little tedious. ‘We should wait for the dogs.’
Peat Ellwood stopped but did not look back. Stig could feel his father’s displeasure but persisted in his request for a moment to rest and wait for the dogs.
‘The dogs know the way. They do not need us to wait for them’ said Peat firmly.
‘We must arrive before dark.’
‘Why?’ asked Stig.
‘Don’t annoy your father’ said Daisy, calmly. ‘We must keep going.’
Peat grunted and began walking again, his stride even more determined.
‘Thanks Brother’ said Poppy sarcastically, ‘great help you are!’
The rain began to fall heavy again as it had done for most of the day. The mountains were shrouded in a silver mist that moved gently along the ridges spilling sometimes into the valley. This was a peaceful place with only the odd walker disturbing the tranquillity. Daisy had been here once before when she was much younger. She had come here as a troubled adolescent carrying the ashes of her beloved mother.
Peat stopped and smiled. ‘The Manor is ahead’.
Daisy sighed and walked over to her husband taking his arm and resting her head on his strong shoulder. She looked to where Peat was pointing and saw the big old house resting neatly amongst the hills and mounds that surrounded it.
‘I remember this place’ she said. ‘I never thought I would come back’.
Peat grunted as he knew his wife had been reluctant to make this journey. ‘The time has come. We cannot wait any longer.’
Daisy squeezed her husband’s arm. ‘But nothing has been decided yet, we must let the elders determine what is best’ she said. ‘Once it is done it is done.
There will be no going back’.
‘I want to go back home’ moaned Stig who shivered as the rain fell vertically past his face. ‘I like things the way they are’.
Poppy shook her head in despair. ‘I can’t believe you are my brother!’
Stig shrugged his shoulders. ‘A hot bath might help’.
Daisy turned and looked at her children. ‘You are both too young to realise just how important these days are. Whatever the Elders decide, things will never be the same again not least for us Elves’.
Stig rolled his eyes. ‘I don’t believe in Elves. I am not an Elf. And you are all mad.’
Peat turned and walked over to his son and grabbed his sodden hair. He pulled his head back angrily. ‘This is why we cannot wait any longer. Even my own flesh and blood has lost faith’.
‘Ouch let go’ Stig demanded ‘what do you want?’
Peat let go of his son’s hair and looked towards his daughter. ‘Do you think I am mad too?’
Poppy shook her head. ‘No, I don’t.’
Peat smiled with satisfaction. ‘We are different and that is nothing to be ashamed of. Soon, when order is restored we will be kings’.
Stig was about to roll his eyes again but thought the better of it. ‘Right’ he said, trying to remain calm. ‘I know plenty of people with pointy ears. Some like us with very pointy ears and others with mildly pointy ears but that does not make us Elves. Dr Wilson explained to me that what I have, what we have, is a genetic disorder called Auribus Alienis or something like that. Now, you may be happy pretending you are Elves’ and raising his voice he shouted ‘but I AM NOT!’
A short silence followed.
‘We had better get moving’ said Daisy quietly, ‘I think we are all tired and need a nice, hot bath’.
‘Oh, yes please’ exclaimed Stig brushing his thick hair away from his face.
Stig’s father looked at him angrily and his sister shook her head. But Stig ignored the scorn focusing his mind instead on the thought of hot water against his skin rather than the cold rain he was now experiencing.
Peat regained his place at the head of the group and looking at his wife smiled.
‘I have waited so long for this’.
Daisy stretched out her arm and gently touched her husband’s shoulder. ‘I know’ she said tenderly, ‘I am proud of you’.
As they approached Kirkstone Manor, Peat slowed his pace and took off his leather cap revealing the flesh coloured dome of his shiny-bald head. This was an act of respect for a building he believed to be sacred.
The rain began to ease as the Ellwood family stood at the open gates and looked down the long tree-lined driveway to the main entrance.
‘It’s a bit creepy’ suggested Stig as he moved closer to his sister. ‘Are we actually going to stay here?’
It was beginning to grow dark. The Manor looked imposing in the shrinking light. Many of the windows were radiating the flickering glow of candles and fires. This was a building that had ignored progress and remained content with its original features.
Poppy grabbed hold of her mother’s hand and squeezed tight. ‘Is this it’ she asked.
Daisy nodded. ‘This is it’.
Peat placed his cap back on his head and continued his march towards the old house. Daisy and Poppy followed quickly behind. Stig was left standing shaking his head. ‘Am I missing something?’
He was about to move off when he heard the sound of something coming up swiftly behind him. His heart began to race. He let out a rather pathetic sound which startled his mother and made her turn around. When she saw the fear on her son’s face she burst out laughing. ‘The dogs have caught us up’ she said.
Stig sighed deeply as the three dogs and their cart sped past him and ran to his father, their master. Peat pated each on the head, checked the cart and its contents and then pated them again. ‘Well done’ he said firmly. Peat turned to his family and then with a smile, walked towards the rather elegant, pillared entrance of the Manor with the dogs walking just a few feet behind him.
As the family approached the grand door swung open and a pretty young girl stepped out towards them and held out her arms. ‘You must be the Ellwood family?’ she said in the sweetest of voices.
Peat nodded. ‘That is correct young lady you were obviously expecting us’.
As Peat spoke a rather tall, lanky woman appeared from inside the Manor and after staring at the bedraggled people for a moment, signalled to the dogs that they were to go to the back of the house. The dogs obeyed. Stig was rather impressed at this as he had never been able to get the dogs to do anything.
‘Well’ said the lady after looking up at the early night sky, ‘you all look very wet and very tired. Come in and warm up. And Stig,’ she said looking directly at the teenager, ‘I have prepared a hot bath for you just as you requested’.
The young girl at the door giggled and then walked over to Stig, took his hand and led him away. ‘You are funny’ she said.
It was as Stig had feared; another pointy ears convention. The Manor seemed to be full of them. Usually, whenever his parents attended these weekends he had been allowed to remain at home with his sister. Stig had always assumed that these events were those weird hush-hush parties that adults attend when they are middle-aged and bored. But the Manor appeared to be full of very serious looking adults and innumerable children.
As Stig was led up a rather wide stairway, he was passed by two extremely pointy eared people who appeared to be in a hurry. As he stepped aside he thought he heard one of them say: ‘That’s the Ellwood son’ at which point the second turned and looked at him in a more or less unfriendly manner.
The girl led Stig to a rather ornate bathroom that was lit by dozens of candles standing in small recesses around the walls. To the left of this large room was a small alcove which housed a large steaming bath surrounded by fine transparent curtains tied up with silver ribbons.
‘Wow’ exclaimed Stig.
‘You have a change of clothes in there’ said the girl pointing to a chest at the far end of the bathroom. She let go of Stig’s hand, walked across the room and opened the chest. The girl pulled out what appeared to be a costume; colourful, expensive and silly.
‘I will just put these back on’ suggested Stig referring to the clothes he was wearing.
The girl giggled. ‘They are all wet’ she said. ‘Anyway, these are the clothes of a Prince and you are a Prince are you not?’
Stig was a little startled and then laughed. ‘Oh, we are dressing up?’
The girl giggled again. ‘I am Anna Orwick’ she said walking back towards the bathroom door. ‘Our fathers hate each other but we can be friends.’ Anna walked gently out of the door and closed it, leaving Stig momentarily bewildered. That was until he caught site of the bath again, and then he had just one thing on his mind; a long hot soak.