9. The Vankila
The Vankila was the White Queen’s abominable house of horrors where she housed those who committed high treasonable crimes against herself or her kingdom. The foreboding prison chamber has been known to be overcrowded to the point that at times the prisoners do not have room to lie down to rest. At times the chamber is filled, ankle-high with thick, salty water that is contaminated with excrement waste that aid in spreading diseases and sickness from one prisoner to another.
Daily violence is rampant inside the prison, with a hierarchy of prisoners called captains who have formally organized to rule the chamber with a strict, heavy hand. They make the rules for other prisoners to follow, and if they fail or challenge the captains’ authority, then swift, harsh punishments are carried out.
The lucky ones are those who die quickly in their sleep. Many men of good health entered the Vankila only to fall ill from disease within days or weeks. Prisoners flailing about in agony from the flesh-eating disease that eat away at their limbs, or those prisoners screaming for someone to kill them because they cannibalized a diseased body and the sickness has entered their head driving them stark, raving mad is an everyday sight within the Vankila.
A detachment of six Varyagi guards and four guards from the Vankila warmly greeted Captain Rostya of the royal guards of Vehkajo, handing the captain a parchment with the stamp of the queen’s insignia upon it.
“It is the orders of the queen that the Bloodaxe is to be turned over to Skur the Warden of the Vankila. We have been given orders to take charge of your prisoner at once for transfer,” The senior Varyagi guard informed Rostya as he reviewed the parchment.
“I serve the queen and her words are law. You are more than welcome to the pig called Thorgil Bloodaxe,” Rostya said, handing the parchment back. “My men will assist in the transfer. This Bloodaxe is not one to be taken for granted. Today in the lower quarters, he nearly killed my brother-in-law, and there were a company of armed riders around him.”
“My men are more than adequate in handling the transfer. Your men will not be needed.” The Varyagi guard stated to Rostya, ignoring the captain’s warning.
Thorgil was stripped to the waist, exposing his scared body to the amazement of the wide-eyed guards as he was patted down by the guards and then he was given back his tattered shirt, but his cloak was taken by Captain Rostya, who stated that the cloak would be given to General Vlastimir as compensation for almost being killed by the red-haired giant. The guards transferred the large Viking from the compound holding cell to the Vankila by way of a caged wagon. The trip was non-eventful since Thorgil did not want to be beaten into unconscious again. He wanted to remain conscious to get his first view of the sprawling stronghold with his own eyes.
The wagon slowly traveled on a back road that gave Thorgil a great view of the city’s walls and the numerous sentry posts that were positioned inside the compound and on the wall. Thorgil surmised that each sentry post housed six to eight guards that shared the watch-duties of their assigned sectors. If an alarm was sounded from one post, that sector could be aided by the flanking sentry posts. The security was very adequate for a fortress city, but usually the security is set up to defend the city from threats outside of the walls, denying them access to the compound, not defending from threats already inside the walls. He could tell that the stronghold was built gradually and by different craftsmen hands. The walls and buildings were rebuilt upon structures that have decayed or been destroyed over time.
Thorgil relaxed his large body against the cage’s bars as the wagon bounded down the road toward the looming mountain range. At this time all he could do is sit back and relax, and hope that Vlastimir did not betray them to the White Queen. This was not how he expected the plan to kill the White Queen to unfold. It seemed Vlastimir’s plan to get him and Arto into the queen’s chamber failed. Now it was a waiting game to see what may unfold in the upcoming days.
The wagon came to a stop at an opening that leads into the cavern, two brawny guards stood watch at the opening. Thorgil was ordered out of the wagon cage and forced to kneel on the ground. Four men came out of the cavern’s opening, two were carrying chains and another had a blacksmith’s hammer. The fourth had an air about him as if he was of importance.
“I am Skur, the warden of the Vankila. This is the end of your road. You will be housed in the Vankila until you travel to the otherworld,” Skur announced as he stood in front of Thorgil. The men who accompanied the warden, cut Thorgil’s boots off and secured the shackle chains around his ankles and then on his wrist. The iron cuffs of the shackles cut deep into his flesh as he stood up. “There is only one rule to remember___ my word is law. When my guards issue orders, it is as if those orders were spoken by myself. In the Vankila, survival is all upon you. I have seen grown men break down within days and take their own lives. I am sure a man like yourself may last a week or two before the sickness ravages your body.”
Thorgil just glared at the stocky, dark-haired warden who had a jagged scar that ran from the corner of his mouth to his ear. He did not waste his time to engage the warden with talk. Skur had that air about him that he was the high-lord of his fiefdom that was the Vankila, and those sentenced to the Vankila were his subjects to control and dominate as he seen fit.
Walking into the cavern, Thorgil could feel the damp, coldness of the rocks travel up from the bottom of his feet to his leg muscles. Jolts and spasms of pain caused the large Viking to grimace with each step that he took. The shackles restricted his steps to an awkward side to side shuffle that intensified his discomfort. All the way down the cavern corridor, the Vankila guards vigorously berated the large Viking for dragging his feet. They took great pleasure in Thorgil’s very visible pain and discomfort. Under his breath he cursed the guards and the warden. If the opportunity was ever to rise, Thorgil thought to himself that they would be amongst the first to feel his fury, and die by his hands.
Halting in front of an iron door, the overpowering stench of putrid human stink overwhelmed Thorgil’s senses, threatening to suffocate him. One of the guards boldly laughed at the chocking Viking, in a rude jest he informed the Bloodaxe that the fresh air he was accustomed to breathing was now just a distant memory.
“What of the shackles,” Thorgil asked, raising his arms to his waist. The guards just laughed at the red-haired warrior.
“That is a privilege you will have to earn. That is if you live long enough,” Skur said with a snicker.
Excerpted from "Thorgil Bloodaxe: Enter the White Queen" by Ralph E. Laitres. Copyright © 0 by Ralph E. Laitres. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.