The World of DaNar
Gedding Gaol (Drakkenmire Prison)
Deep within swamp country, beyond the Urhlan Marsh, on a man-made island at the edge of a slow, winding river, is Gedding Gaol, also known as Drakkenmire Prison, or the Island of Lost Souls. The prison was built to house the most nefarious criminals and political prisoners. Accessible only by boat, this formidable structure is known far and wide for its main claim to fame: no one imprisoned here has ever survived an escape attempt.
The early lawlessness of the Vilholman frontier posed a problem for new settlers in the realm. With criminal activity widespread, farmers and their families had a difficult time forging safe and secure lives for themselves. To alleviate the problem, the settlers banded together, forming small communities that grew as the region became more developed. In the early days, laws were strictly enforced: Some communities considered any criminal act more severe than petty theft to be punishable by hanging or some other means of execution. Justice for lawbreakers was swift and merciless.
As the population of the former frontier increased and the area became more civilized, settlers and their descendants adopted a somewhat more tolerant approach toward wrongdoers. Only the most heinous crimes, such as murder and treason, were still punishable by death. People found guilty of lesser crimes, such as thievery and assault, were imprisoned. City jails served this purpose initially, and larger prisons were built later to meet an increased need. Gedding Gaol is one such complex.
Since its completion more than a century ago, Gedding Gaol has stood as the most effective prison in the realm. The place has never been the site of a riot, and no prisoner has ever succeeded in escaping from Gedding Gaol. The reason for this astonishing success is twofold: the prison’s isolated setting and the fiercely autocratic people who run it.
The River, Lake, and Swamp
Gedding Gaol is built far from civilization, near Vilholm’s troublesome, ill-defined western border. The prison’s location is a secret known only to a handful of people: Gedding’s staff, The Chancellor-General, Field Marshall’s, and a special detachment o f guards who transport prisoners to the Island. None of the inmates knows the prison’s location; once a criminal boards the jailer’s cart, he is hooded for the entire journey into the wilderness.
Gedding Gaol is located along the Gundahar River, at a point where four other major rivers and tributaries meet. This confluence forms a large lake known as Lake Azan. Even though the lake is shallow (average depth 30 feet), it is nevertheless noted for its swift, ever-changing currents and strong undertow. It is also noted for the Drakkenmire, a nearly impassible swamp that surrounds the lake for miles on all sides. The waters of the Drakkenmire are thick with roots and weeds, making passage difficult by any means other than a flat-bottomed boat.
Gedding Gaol is located deep within the isolated reaches of the Drakkenmire, on Gedding Island (or “the Mound”, as the prisoners call it). The island is man-made, constructed of landfill, and surrounded by deep-dredged waters (to a depth of 60 feet) on all sides. Slow, strong currents curl and roll through these deceptive depths.
It’s not impossible to get off the Mound, though few if any would-be escapees ever make it any farther. Part of the reason for Gedding Gaol’s perfect escape record lies in the prison’s isolation, dangerous surroundings, and secret location. The Drakkenmire is full of predators. Stirges and large bats live in the cypress that hangs from every branch, and alligators bask on many muddy banks. Rumor has it that the swamp is home to other forms of life as well- creatures too horrible to describe except in hushed tones.
The dismal route for every prisoner begins with being blindfolded and hooded, then loaded into the back of an armored cart. The cart is made of wood, with steel reinforcements, barred windows, and benches to which the prisoners are chained. The largest vehicles of this type can transport as many as eight passengers; no voyage to Gedding Island is ever undertaken with fewer than two prisoners. The driver and jailer sit up front. When the prisoners are locked and loaded, their dark passage begins as the cart driver takes them overland, through the rough, VIlholman frontier, to a simple cottage on the shore of the Gundahar River, at the eastern end of Lake Azan. It is a four day ride to the river. During that time, the driver and jailer take turns driving, stopping at night to camp while the prisoners are kept locked in the back of the cart.
The cottage serves as the launch point for the second half of the journey. At sunrise of the day after they arrive here, the prisoners are loaded onto a skiff, a flat-bottomed boat built specially for navigating shallow streams and bogs. Each boat will hold up to four prisoners, who remain blindfolded and hooded, and are chained together. The chancellor’s guard (originally the kaiser’s guard) return to the city, and two specially appointed river pilots take over. The journey from the cottage to Gedding Island takes at least half a day, often longer.
Following the slow, powerful current of the Gundahar River, the skiff moves out into the lake. The river pilots struggle through the waters, rowing and poling as they make for the north-eastern bank of Lake Azan.
After hours of effort, the pilots come to the first leafy shoots and floating bogs that mark the beginning of the Drakkenmire. The river pilots must make it to Gedding Island before late afternoon. Though strangely picturesque by day, the swamp becomes a different setting after dark, when the creatures of the night come out of hiding. Some denizens are noticeable by daylight: stirges and large bats lurk in the cypress that hangs from every limb, waiting for the dark to begin their search for prey. Other creatures live during the day deep in the bogs, away from all navigable routes, or waiting on the surface of the muck that passes for a lake bottom.
Tales are told of mysterious lights and horrendous creatures that prowl the bogs at night, and it is certain that not all these tales are imaginary. Many a river-man has disappeared attempting a night crossing of the Drakkenmire; becoming lost in the swampy labyrinth that stretches for miles, or having his boat capsized by some force beyond his power to fight. No one who has spent a night alone in this place has ever returned to tell about it.
The Drakkenmire is a subtropical/temperate swamp. As is true of any swamp, the place is alive with all varieties of flora and fauna.