Maylock walked out the south gate of Rockport with an almost imperceptible stride that made her appear to be floating along the ground. When they were quite clear of the city gates her rat familiar, whom she called Bedřich, darted out from under her quilted silk robe and scurried around the bushes and weeds that lined the south road. Others usually called him Fredric, or simply Fred.
The road followed the line of the beach which quickly narrowed and then rose to a rocky cliff at the water’s edge. After walking for about twenty minutes, she came to the top of a small rise and saw for the first time the south fork of Blood River. Where the road met the river there was a stone bridge. Two hundred yards east of the bridge the river spilled over a small waterfall down to the rocks below. A hundred feet beyond the river stood a twenty foot tall wooden wall that started at the cliff edge, extended past the bridge, turned south for about that same distance and then back west to the cliff at the other end. There were slate roofs on the buildings that attached to the inside of the wall. The road went straight up to the wall where there was a wagon gate. A dirt path ran around the outside of the wall. There was a wagon full of dead animals between the wall and the river. Men were removing the remains and placing them on a large table where other men with large cleavers were working on the carcasses. This was beside a spot on the river where it had been widened to provide a shallow rocky area where others were washing the remains.
All morning there had been a slight breeze blowing in from the ocean, but it suddenly shifted and Maylock was nearly overcome by a terrible odor of manure and rotting flesh mixed with that of other offensive smells that she couldn’t quite identify. Bedřich seemed to be offended by the stench as well. He scurried back under her robe and into the familiar crook in her arm where he liked to snuggle. Maylock cast a quick spell, a sweeting cantrap, on a silk scarf and held it under her nose.
As she drew closer to the bridge she saw two young boys talking to a large man in a dirty leather apron. He gave each of the boys a copper piece and took from them a small dirty sack. Whatever it contained was soaking through. The entire bottom of the sack was dark, oily and nearly dripping. He held the sack away from his body and looked up as Maylock approached.
“I have come to talk to the owner of the tannery,” she said through her scarf. “I believe his name is Ricven.”
The man looked her over, head to toe. “I am Ricven,” he said. “From the descriptions I have heard, you must be the Iron Sodality’s wizard.”
“I am Maylock,” she replied with a slight bow. “I am here to survey your tannery to ascertain your readiness and capability to process the dragon’s body when it is delivered to here.”
Richen grunted and stopped himself just before saying something that he would regret later. He remembered that if she did deliver the dragon to him, he would become a very wealthy man. “I will gladly give you a tour, if that is your desire.” He cleared his throat and stood up as straight as he could. He had been a tanner for most of his life and his body showed the effects of numerous mishaps. His stringy black hair never grew back on the left side of his head and his skin on that side of his face still showed the scar from when he was splashed with acid. He had lost three fingers on his left hand and a large scar on his right leg prevented him from standing to his full height.
“Are you familiar with tanneries?” he asked.
She answered “No, this is the first one I have ever visited.”
“Then you should be impressed with this one. We are much more here than just a tannery. I not only employ the preparers of the raw material — the tanners, curriers, and tawers — but I also have the leather workers who make the actual objects. I have shoemakers, glovers, book binders, and saddlers as well as master armorers.”
Still holding his sack, he turned and they both walked over the bridge. He pointed to the workers at the river bank. “We tended to acquire the hides of cattle, sheep, goat and deer as a by-product of butchery, and the hooves and horns will still be attached. After the removal of the hooves and horns, the hide must be washed to remove any dung, dirt or blood present. That is what these workers are doing.”
Maylock said, “When Abraxas has been killed, I will cast a Gentle Repose spell on the body, so that it will be fresh and whole when you get it.”
“That is excellent,” Richen said. “Often when we get monster hides to process, they are in very poor condition.”
“What types of creatures have you worked on here?
“We have processed many cattle, ox, elk, buffalo, otter, moose, beaver, seals, pig, sheep, goat, horse, dog, goose, red deer, roe, wild pig, brown hare, red fox, wolf and badger. Monsters are usually individual specimens, and often I don’t know what type of monster it is. We have never processed an entire dragon, but I have tanned a fire drake hide.”
He escorted her through the open gate in the wall. The foul odor was much stronger here. She could see that most of this large area surrounded by the wall on three sides was filled with a great number of circular pits. Many of them were brightly colored. Each pit was about ten feet across and lined with stones and about half of them were empty. The stones extended up out of the ground making each pit about three feet deeper and allowing the workers easier access. The buildings all shared a wall with the exterior wall of the enclosure. They were the same height as the wall and extended across the entire north and west side of the enclosure. Some were two stories, but most consisted only of the upper story, providing a covered workspace below, supported only by the wall on one side and a series of wooden columns on the other. These were all connected by a wooden walkway above. There were stairs at several places along the walkway allowing access to the courtyard.
They walked to the cliff edge, where she could see steps down to a wooden dock. “This is where ships from as far away as the seven cities come bearing unprocessed hides and leaving with leather goods of all kinds. With all of the dragon trouble here lately, the number of ships has decreased to only one every month or so. After the attack yesterday, I am afraid there may be no more ships until the dragon is killed.”
Turning back to the pits, Maylock asked, “How exactly is the tanning done? Could you walk me through the process?”
“Of course,” Richen said as he walked her to a nearby pit. “After the skins are cleaned, the next process in the manufacture of leather requires the fat, hair and flesh to be removed. This process begins by the submergence of the hide into a urine solution like the one we have here.” Then he pointed to a man sitting on a stool with a wooden beam between his legs, one end on the stool and the other end on the ground in front of him. Over this beam was a damp hide that he was scraping with a large curved two-handled knife. “When the hair is loosened sufficiently, the hide is spread over wooden beams and both sides are scraped. The hair or grain side is scraped with a blunt single-edged unharing knife. This is also where the last of the dragon scales will be removed from the dragon hide. The flesh side is scraped with a sharper two-edged fleshing knife. After more soaking, the skin is scraped with a blunt scudding knife.”
Maylock looked a little surprised, “You don’t leave the scales attached to the dragon hide?”
“No. That is not possible,” Richen said. “Most of the scales would fall off during tanning even if we tried to keep them attached. Also the hide cannot be properly tanned and conditioned with the scales attached. But don’t worry, the scales are too valuable to be lost or damaged. They will be processed separately from the hide, sorted and graded as to size and condition. Then they can be re-attached to the hide for those items that require it, such as dragon scale armor.”
Richen walked with her over to a different vat and continued, “After the hair, or scales, are removed we soak the hide in a solution of crushed animal brains and emulsified oils, like the one here. The hide is then rewashed and the skins opened.” He then walked with her over to a different vat, where he dumped the contents of his sack. “The skins are immersed in a warm infusion of dog dung which removes the lime and gives the hide structure a softer, more flexible grain.” He smiled at her and said, “It is the nature of the materials used in these processes that make us unpleasant neighbors.”
“So that is how you tan leather?” she asked.
“No, it is only after this and after a final washing of the hides and division of the skin into its different qualities that the tanning process can begin.” He escorted her over to yet another vat. The contents of this vat were bright red and there was a worker stomping around it, up to his knees. “The hides begin by being immersed in a solution of crushed oak bark and water. Then the skins are soaked in these vats filled with natural pigments.” He pointed to other vats as he continued, “red from poppies, orange from henna, brown from cedar wood, or white from mint. They are moved around in the pits continuously to ensure an even spread of color. The workers must knead these skins by foot. Due to the constant need for the tanner to move the skins, the pits are referred to as ‘handlers.’” He then led Maylock to a group of pits near the far south wall. “Following this, the hide goes through a process of alternative layering with ground oak bark and then these pits are filled with a weak tanning solution. The length of time for this process will vary, depending on thickness of the hide, and for what purpose it was intended. The hides are often left in the solution for a year and a day.”
“You mean that it will take a year to tan the dragon’s hide?”
“Except for the thinner, lighter parts, yes. Perhaps the wing and some of the other thinner hides won’t take as long, but the process cannot be rushed, or the resulting leather will not be good.” He then walked over to a large bench. “After they are tanned, the shaved hides are once again washed clean and worked on this flat wooden bench with the stones, slickers and brushes you see hanging on the wall there to flatten the leather and stretch it. It is then stuffed or impregnated with a warm dubbin of mixed tallow and lush oils that we keep in these barrels. After the skins have been piled up to allow the fats to penetrate evenly, they are hung in this room over here.” He opened a heavy wooden door to reveal a large dark room with hides hanging from ropes strung from one side of the room to the other. “Here the surplus grease is removed. If a firm leather product is required for shoe soles, harness, or other purposes, the hides are simply left here to dry and season. If a softer, finer product is required, further operations such as ‘boarding’ are carried out.” Maylock looked at him questioningly, and he explained “That is simply rubbing it down on a smooth table.” He closed the door and continued, “The leather is then colored or the surface polished using a smooth stone.”
“If you would like to see what we can do with the leather we make, follow me.” He started up the nearest set of stairs. Maylock followed.
As they climbed the open wooden stairs, Maylock said, “Why haven’t you built your tannery of stone, and have ballista towers, like the rest of Rockport? Aren’t you afraid of dragon attacks?”
Richen answered, “Of the three times Rockport has been destroyed, Abraxas has never attacked the tannery. However, there is not much that fire can do but destroy the wall and the buildings. They can be re-built easy enough. Most everything of value here is in the pits, and they won’t burn. That is not to say that we don’t have a plan if we are attacked.” He stopped at the top of the stairs and pointed down at a heavy wood door that Maylock hadn’t noticed before. It looked like it was mounted into a stone frame that was lying on the ground next to the south wall. “That opens to our escape tunnel. It extends to a series of natural caves that open onto the side of the cliffs over the water. It is a rather easy climb up to safety from there.”
He turned and started along the walk in front of the upper buildings. “We make everything from shoes, saddles, harness, leather bottles, chests, books, coffers and containers, sheaths and belts, gloves, armor, great tankards and drinking vessels, bottles and buckets.”
Several men looked up momentarily from the tables where they were cutting sheets of leather into various shapes and designs. “This is where the final cutting is done. The correct cutting of the skin or hide provides adequately sized pieces of material of the right thickness without blemish.” He walked over to a table which had many different knives laying on it and picked up a large bladed knife. “Several kinds of knives are used for leather cutting. One of the most distinctive is this half-moon knife.”
They walked to the next building, “This is one of the assembly rooms.” There was no one in this room at the time. He walked around the room, point out various items on tables and shelves as they passed. “Leather objects are assembled by a number of techniques. Stitching is the most common. This thread is made from flax yarn rolled with beeswax. Hot animal glue is used for box covering and attaching leather to other structures. Objects such as armor, great tankards, drinking vessels, bottles and buckets are made by molding. This is done by soaking the leather in cold water until it is thoroughly saturated. It can then be modelled over molds of plaster, wood or metal.”
He took them to the next building. “This is where ornamentation is applied,” he said as he opened the door. “Ornamentation of the leatherwork is quite common. This is done in a variety of ways. Incising with blunt or sharp tools. Punching or stamping with a variety of iron and bronze tools. Stamping is used widely in book binding. Modeling, to leave the important features in low relief. Embossing, which is performed with a ball tool from the backside of the leather.” He pointed out the various tools as he described them.
He opened a door to another room in this building. There were tables and many brushes and pots. There were various colored stains on the tables and floor. “The final process for many objects is adding decoration with colored dyes and paints. Some small sections may even receive gold leaf, which is adhered to the surface under the heat and pressure of this book-binding tool.”
They left that building and continued on. “This next building is our kitchen. You are welcome to join us for lunch.”
“I am afraid that I have lost my appetite for some reason,” Maylock said from behind her scented scarf.
“No one ever wants to eat with me,” Richen said with a grin. “I don’t suppose that I can blame you. Most of the workers here prefer to wait until they get away from here before they eat. It takes a long time to grow accustomed to the smell. It even keeps the rats away. I hardly notice it anymore.” They came to the last building. “This is my office. Come in and we can discuss any issues, or questions you may have.” He held open the door and Maylock glided in.
His office was spacious and had large windows that could overlook the yard below. There was a large, leather topped desk, and several chairs made from horns and antlers, upholstered in the finest leather. To one side there was a wooden frame that contained the preserved skin of a fire drake. This was complete with outstretched wings and complete head. “I am quite proud of that one,” said Richen as he sat down behind his desk “The owner has never returned to collect it. I am afraid he may have come to an untimely death. Such is the fate of many an adventurer.” He paused to allow Maylock to examine his trophy. “Would you be interested in purchasing this perhaps? I can let you have it at a preferred client price.”
“I am not here to talk about fire drakes, but red dragons,” Maylock said. “I am satisfied that you can handle the dragon’s hide, but there is much more to be considered when dealing with the carcass of a colossal red dragon.”
Maylock motioned to one of the chairs and it moved to a position across the desk from Richen. She settled into it and said, “It will all depend upon how much damage is done to the body before it is killed. For now, let’s assume the best.” Richen nodded and Maylock continued, “I have determined, conservatively, that a properly preserved and carefully processed Colossal Dragon should be able to provide a minimum of 8 vials of Blood, 4 vials of Stomach Acid, 3 vials of Gall, 3 vials of musk, 8 sets of scale male sized for medium sized creatures and 16 shields. The armor created has no special properties other than being extremely tough and its masterwork quality. However, a spell caster with the proper Dragoncrafter training can imbue even greater powers into the armor. The carcass can provide not only armor, but also weapons, rings, rods, staffs, and other wondrous items created from various dragon parts.”
“Now let’s discuss each of the major parts in detail.”
“Fine,” said Richen as he noticed a black rat’s nose twitching as it poked out from one of Maylock’s large sleeves.
“First the head,” Maylock said. “Skulls are more expensive than any other bone inside a dragon’s body, believed to be the seat of their intelligence and spellcasting power, not to mention that there is only one per dragon. If the skull is too badly damaged to sell intact, you should carefully remove each of the teeth, to be fashioned into weapons or sold separately. The brain (which is surprisingly small), eyes, and tong must each be carefully removed and preserved. If the head is in reasonably good condition, the church requires that it be mounted on its skull for display in a location of their choosing. You must carefully remove and tan the skin. All of the larger scales must be removed and carefully marked so they can be re-attached in their original locations. The same goes for all of the horns and spines. Plaster can then be added to the skull where needed before gluing the skin back in place and re-attaching the scales and horns. Perhaps glass eyes and a replica tong can be added, if we can find someone with the proper skill to create these.”
“I know just the man to create those,” said Richen.
“Good,” said Maylock. “Now special care must be taken with the eyes. Dragons tend to lose the pupil as they age, turning into glowing slits of molten metal. The eye of a dragon can be turned into a powerful scrying device or become the ingredient of items that bestow the user with the dragon’s acute and supernatural senses. Even as baubles, dragon eyes are impressive to behold, and are among the most expensive ingredients found in dragoncraft.”
“Dragon tongues are a soft yet extremely tough material, for they must withstand the dragon’s breath weapon while still serving as a very sensitive sensory organ. The tongue is an organ heavily laden with magical energies as the dragon uses it for spellcasting. It also resonates strongly with the energy type of a dragon’s breath, which makes it useful for items that grant an attack with or protection from that energy type, fire in this case.”
“Next let’s discuss the neck,” she said. “A dragon’s neck is not as useful as other parts of the body, mostly salvageable for the spine, bony ridges, crest and flesh. Red dragons have the organs for their breath weapon located in the neck, so that must be removed and preserved.”
“After that comes the dragon’s torso. This contains the bulk of usable hide, the largest scales, the thickest part of the spine and ridges and last but not least, the internal organs. It also contains the powerful musculature that moves the wings and limbs. The internal organs found in the torso of a dragon vary in size and function, not to mention the prices they accrue. Hearts are perhaps the most coveted of a dragon’s internal organs but you can also find good use for the liver, lungs and stomach of a dragon. The liver can be used for Dahak’s fire, a volatile alchemical reagent. Their stomach acids are powerful and could be used for quite a few things. All of these things must be carefully removed and preserved. I will be here to direct and help with magics where required.”
“I will be glad for the help,” Richen said. “I have been offered the assistance of every butcher in Rockport, but they have limited knowledge of internal organs.”
“Continuing on,” said Maylock. “The dragon’s extremities are extremely valuable as well. They contain the strongest and largest bones in a dragon’s body, suitable to be made into weapons or even building materials. The muscles and sinews are also very strong. The paws of a dragon are nimble and strong. The bones are well suited for crafting small magical items.”
“The tail suffers from much of the same stigma as the neck, except that it has no internal organs apart from the musculature and the skeleton. The muscles are, however, as strong as those from the limbs”
“Dragon wings are mainly exploited for their leathery spans, used to craft clothing and sometimes leather armor. The ‘fingers’ that hold the wings together serve the same purpose as the fingers from the paws. A dragon wing can be rendered flexible enough to wear as a cloak, but on older dragons it often has many large holes and scars.”
“You mentioned the blood,” said Richen. “We normally just drain it all and wash it away. Is it worth trying to save some?”
Maylock could hardly believe he was asking this question. “Of course you must save as much as possible. The blood of dragons is said to have powerful properties. It can be used as the component of potions and unguents. It could also be smeared over any other kind of magic item, along with the proper incantation, to imbue it with a portion of the dragon’s nature. Common folk believe that bathing in red dragon’s blood can bestow upon someone a gift of protection against weapons or the dragon’s fire breath. This may not be true, but it is a common belief.”
She realized that she needed to go into as much detail as possible, so she continued, “The hide, of course, has many uses. The most obvious use for dragonhide is the crafting of armor and shields but several other types of worn magical items can be made from dragon hide.”
“The bones must all be saved. They have many uses depending on the caster who gets his hands on them and even the kind of bones they are. They can be used as the frame for a magical item, powdered into spell components or ingredients for balms, potions, inks and other minor but not less powerful items. A weaponsmith could craft the bone of a dragon into the haft of a weapon or even fashion it into a weapon itself. Dragon knuckles have been known to serve as scrying and fortune-telling devices, while the bones from the limbs of great wyrms are a much coveted architectural material.”
“The softer tissue must also all be saved. The softer tissue of a dragon’s body has more value than its bones, as it decays quickly unless magically treated. Construct builders can use a dragon’s flesh to create very strong golems, although it could also serve well as an offering to summoned outsiders, particularly to those of evil inclinations. The sinews and ligaments have proven to be extremely strong and make for very good ropes, cords, belts and similar items. It is said that nothing can escape from a net of dragon sinews, and a bowstring of dragon tendons can surpass the strength capabilities of a mighty bow. Dragon flesh must be cured or kept fresh before it decays, or it becomes worthless. The torso and tail provide most of the meet. There is no recorded benefits from eating dragon meet, but it always sales at a premium because of its rarity. Selling dragon meet for consumption is extremely insulting to dragonkind, so care should be taken to keep secret the identity of those who purchase it.”
“The dragon’s ‘pointy bits’, the claws, teeth, bony ridges and horns are ideal for making weapons, although they also see use as charms and ornaments for wizards’ staves. The horns are also the best part of a dragon to build blowing horns to summon and/or control dragons, although smaller specimens find their way to a fighter’s helm all too frequently.”
“We discussed scales earlier, and I must stress the need to save and preserve as many of them as possible. Dragon scales vary in size according to the part of the body where they are taken from, not to mention the size of the dragon in question. A single scale may be fashioned into amulets or small carvings, or a collection can be used to make armor.”
“Yes,” said Richen. “And any remnants that are not of a quality to be sold to users of magic, or to the trades, can be sold to the common people. Some popular beliefs are that dragon liver can cure a cold, dragon powder grows hair, with dragon blood you’ll never grow old, dragon cartilage keeps you thin, dragon fat is for burns, and that a dragon tear will clear up your skin.”
Maylock objected, saying “magical and alchemical study has not confirmed the truth of any of these.”
“No,” said Richen. “But they can be exploited in the sale of these items to the uneducated.”
Maylock stood and her chair moved back out of her way. “I believe the dragon body will be in good hands here with you. You can rest assured that I will give you a good report to the church elders when I meet with.”
Richen rose and said, “It was a pleasure to have met you.”
With that Maylock and Bedřich left the tannery and returned to Rockport.