“They want me to build a what.”
My assistant looks to me with an expression of misery and exhaustion, clutching his tricorn hat with both hands, sighing deeply before he continues, his muddy boots still oozing on the parquet floor, reeking of the five days spent on the road from the building site to my offices.
“It seems that they’re stuck on the matter, my lord. Utterly unable to see reason. I’ve tried to tell them, it just.. we can’t make this..”
He trails off, hardly able to hold back his tears of frustration and pent-up rage, unwilling to lose face in the eyes of his employer.
I pat his shoulder as I walk beyond him, looking out over the window that displays the factory floor below, a hundred and fifty workers toiling night and day to fulfill orders and requests from a dozen build sites, most of them pleased with the challenges presented.
“Take the month off, Kip. You’ve more than earned the privilege.” Without looking back, I move beyond him, tossing a heavy bag of coins to the desk in front of him, knowing how much of it is destined to fill the coffers of the closest pub.
On my journey to the surface, I pass the smelters, the forges, the tanneries and the smithies, each one populated with busy, exceptional workers – I demand top coin and I pay for quality work, giving out holidays longer than some careers have full-length busy seasons.
My people are my family and I am as welcome in their homes as they are welcomed by the dozens and scores of still-standing redoubts, castles and keeps, all of them testimony of our shared works. There’s not a job nor task that can be done under my roof that is out of my personal purview – the best teach me, I school the next batch. So it’s been since I took over from my previous employer, Angat the Bitter, and I hope that someday I will earn a name beyond my current sobriquet.
As I walk, I point to several people, inducing them to join me, matching me stride for stride, soon accompanied by a full dozen of my best. My engineers, scholars of note of metal and wood, and my quarry-masters, none questioning my course, only choosing to follow it.
We walk to my summoning house, the place only to be used in an emergency, an evacuation or for exceptional business matters – such as today’s issues.
I inform them of our destination, my hopes of the conclusion to be reached and of contingencies to be explored if it falls short of the goal.
A flash of blue-green light, a tugging sensation, a whiff of oleander, and we have arrived at our destination, my first step to the edge of the grand halls that house our hosts planning and execution chamber.
The posted guards take note of our arrival and stay inert, looking only straight ahead – most of them employees of the same union that guard and protect every development and work site that I have toiled at, receiving curt nods of acknowledgement as we hustle off and away.
The gathered wizards don’t even look up when we enter the room, still examining the diagrams and blueprints for the planned expansion of their shared domains, soon to be connected by tunnels, mazes and labyrinths, all filled with traps of the most horrifying designs imaginable.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I will have words with you now.”
I then drop a heavy chest of coins and gems, produced from the endless pocket ensorcelled into my belt, my displeasure evident in every syllable and the tone.
“We’re not obligated to receive your company, Lord Alec Bitterson. Do see yourself out, by your leave.”
A few of them chuckle at this. My workers spread, moving to the table, whistling a work song, casually removing the table itself and heading back to the summoning circle of the castle, ignoring all of the growing displeasure of the robed men and women gathered around it.
“That’s your deposit and that’s my table. We’re leaving one and taking the other. Do not approach my firm nor my employees again. That story doesn’t end well.”
I then smile to them, drinking in their shocked faces, the muttered gasps and sentiments of quiet rage. It’s been generations since anyone stepped against them and they’ve forgotten the sensation of losing their footing.
“This is an outrage!” one of them shouts, a green-red flicker of lights dancing between her fingers, a spell on the cusp of casting, her lips peeled back in scarcely contained ire, eyes alit with the powers that elevated her from student to warlord.
More join her, some of them already casting protective spells, their bodies readying for a fight, more curses muttered and aimed solely at me.
“If you can’t abide by the contract, you simply can’t be trusted. Thus, our business is concluded. Do keep well in mind that I have the plans for this castle, its support structures and most of your homes, towers and schools.”
Their leader, my point of contact for the initial contract, raises a hand and gestures with it, aiming for his compatriots, disarming most, dispelling others, his tone conciliatory and genuine.
“Lord Bitterson, please – see reason. We only asked your associate to construct a simple, small ..”
I negate his next words with a raised finger, shaking it from side to side.
“You asked him to plan, devise and build you lot a prison big enough for generations of prisoners. You.. you asked him to make sure that it couldn’t be escaped from by any children born inside of it.”
There’s a long, unhealthy pause.
The room goes quiet. I capitalize on this.
“Our statement of purpose when planning, devising and constructing a prison complex is never changing, not for you, not for anyone nor anything. We build a rehabilitation center, never a place to destroy the souls of those it contains. On their journey to the door, they’re to learn the appropriate moral and values-centric lessons to become better people. If you don’t like that, dig a hole yourself. I’m sure that you lot can eventually figure out which end of the shovel goes where.”
As I walk to the front gates, skipping the summoning house entirely, I pass by the guards, the kitchens and the other employees of the castle, stating the same lines to one and all:
“This company is in breach of articles five and eleven for the Just and Fair Punishments and Corrections Act of the year 588. You are being informed that further work here is a breach of your contract and bars you from legal protection from the Union to which you belong.”
Soon, I am leading an army of uniformed personnel, most of them abandoning their tasks, others performing the required work to shut down their site before hustling along with the group.
Word spreads as we move, the walls no longer guarded, kitchens empty and cold, stables devoid of handlers and keepers, a husk of life now sans any of it, save for the impotent rage of its owners.
It’s said that the keepers of the castle lasted six days before they were besieged by the first of the three armies and that it fell on the seventh. That they were plucked from their final redoubts by a group of mercenaries armed with a set of amended blueprints for the place, and finally hung from the rafters as a warning for future prison owners determined to set benchmarks for cruelty and sadism.
In time, I did earn my own name and my business flourished for it. For standing up for the rights of those not yet incarcerated for their crimes. The name is barely a good fit, which I think is how it is supposed to work.
Throughout the land and across the years, those making amends for their sins still see, printed on every brick, on every flagstone, woven into the fabric of their own clothes, my full and earned name: Alec the Unforgiving.
And hopefully, if they escape, they seek me out for a job, having learned moral lessons through surviving the traps, pitfalls and monsters that guarded them.
As I did and those who came before me.
We’re always hiring.