The Only Way of Leaving
“Come on Fia, stop daydreaming. We have to have that chair done by dinner” my Dad shouts at me. I jump and go straight back to work on the leg of the chair I’ve been turning. My father wanders over to me and looks at my handy work. “That looks good, a chroí” dad says, his face beaming with pride. “I think you’re almost done. All we need to do now is sand it.” My 10 year old brother, Oisín, comes in from the yard. “I’ll do that” Oisín chirps, eagerly running over to the sand paper. “Fia, can you get started on dinner please” dad asks. I run into the kitchen and I’m just about to start on chopping the carrots when I hear a knock on the door. “Answer that will you, a stór” dad shouts. I swing open the door and look up. Two men in uniform tower over me. I back up in shock. It’s rare to see two soldiers from the castle here in Rathcoole. I snap myself out of my trance. “Can I help you gentlemen” I croak. “Is your father home dearey” one of the soldiers says. “He is, just one moment.” I whisper, terrified. I’m just about to let a roar out when I see dad standing in the doorway of the workshop. His face is as pale as the snow on the mountains. “C – can I h – help you?” he stammers. My blood runs cold. Everyone knows about the rumoured orc invasion and that the king has passed a law saying that all able bodied men must fight. I just hoped they’d forget about us. “Sir, as you know, there is a war to be fought and we need you to enlist in the army.” “No!” I roar. “Dearey, how old are you?” one of the soldiers asks. “I’m sixteen and I’m well able to take care of myself and this house.” I answer. I know what will become of dad when he enlists. I’ve heard the stories from the frontlines. The army kills more troops in training than they do on the field of battle. “Where’s your mother?” the soldier sneers. “Dead” dad says abruptly, signaling for me to cover my pointed ears. I don’t know why I have these but I know that it puts me in danger. “I’ll go” dad says. “No, you can’t!” Oisín comes thundering in. “This is your brother?” the soldier asks. “Yes, and you’re not taking our father.” Oisín says through gritted teeth. “I’m afraid we are and we’re taking you both with us.” the younger solder sneers, picking me up by the scruff of the neck. “No!” I shout and I kick him. He grunts and hits me over the head.
I wake up to the smell of rot. I open my eyes. I forget where I am for a moment until I see Oisín with his head down, sobbing. “Oisín, what happened?” I croak. “Oh Fia,” Oisín jumps up and lays down next to me. “It was awful, they took dad and set the place on fire. Then they threw you and me into a crate and brought us here, the Round Tower.” Oisín cries. My blood runs cold and my heart sinks. I’ve heard of the Round Tower from a friend. It’s worse than hell. The Round Tower is a work house that children with no parents are sent to. It’s a place crawling with disease. More people die in here than come in. The only way of leaving is in a coffin. I hug Oisín and whisper in his ear, “I promise you, on mammy’s grave, that I will get us out of here”. “But how?” Oisín whispers. Before I get a chance to answer, a woman walks in with a white coat on. It’s hard to see in the faint glow of the candle, but once my eyes adjust to the darkness, I get a chance to take in my surroundings. I’m in a cold, damp room and all the windows are blocked up. All the walls around me are made of concrete. I hear a child scream and jump. The woman in the white coat stands there, writing something on a clipboard. She must be a doctor. She’s very pale, almost ghostlike, with a thin, boney face and a crooked nose. She suddenly looks at me with piercing blue eyes. “It seems the swelling has gone down” she says, coming over and sitting on the edge of the bed. I’m suddenly aware of the throbbing pain in the my head. “You seem well enough to work now, girl. Come along.” she grabs my arm and pulls me up.
The concrete is freezing on my bare feet and I’m lead to a metal door. The doctor opens it and I’m shocked at what I see. A whole room full of coffins. “Your father was a carpenter, is that correct?” she asks. I shiver at the word “was” and slowly nod. “Excellent, we need a new coffin maker so get to work”. The doctor turns on her heels and shoves Oisín in before bolting the door. A lightbulb goes off in my head. “Oisín, this is our way out!” I whisper. “What?” Oisín says, looking confused. “The only way out of here is in a coffin, right?” I say. “Yes but Fia, one of us would have to stay here” Oisín says. “People die here everyday, Oisín.” I say, getting confused. “Fia, I have to tell you something. The work boys do here is training for the army” Oisín trailed off. My heart sank.
I heard the bolted door opening, it was now or never. “I promise I’ll come back for you” I whisper, planting a kiss on his forehead before dropping to the ground. Oisín starts wailing just as the door opens. “What happened?”, it’s the doctor backs again. I hear a wagon being rolled in and the smell of rotting bodies burns my nostrils. I try not to breathe. “She… she just started coughing and then went really pale and dropped,” Oisín cried. The doctor checked for breathing. “She’s dead,” the doctor said cooly. “One less mouth to feed. Put her in coffin and wheel it out the back, good lad.” Oisín sniffs and gathers me in his arms. “I’ll be ok, don’t worry,” Oisín whispers. He drops me in a coffin and nails it shut. I feel the coffin move and I hear the opening of the door. I drop down suddenly and feel the sway of a cart underneath me. Too late to turn back now, I think. I mustn’t fail now. I need to save my brother and father. I remember dad told me about the Gods that lived in the Dublin mountains. He told me that they would only help those who had the heart of an elf and the soul of a human. What that means, I don’t know, but I have to get to the Dublin mountains. They could give me the keys to ending this war.