The Tanneries of Akorros are unpleasant enough for those who visit or work there. Surely no-one and nothing is desperate enough to try to live there? Surely?
The Tannery Rats
Mounds of refuse by the side of the alley are live with maggots, squirming through the putrefying flesh, and flies are everywhere. A mound shifts and a pair of beady eyes look at you, unafraid, then the rat scurries off, blood damply streaking its sides.
The Tanneries of Akorros are unpleasant places for the human and humanoid workers and visitors, but one animal which is right at home is the rat. The process involves a lot of waste – scraps of flesh which still adhere to the skins and need cutting off, the fat and hair follicles which have been scraped off after the urine bath which loosens them, discarded bones, horns and hooves, trimmed edges of skin, discarded udders and other parts unsuitable for turning into leather.
Most of these end up in the vast refuse pits to the south of the tanneries, bubbling and suppurating with clouds of flies and crawling with maggots, and this is a great hunting ground for the rats as well. They scurry back and forth, picking over the scraps and scurrying back to their nests with mouths full of choice scraps for their young.
They always don’t have to go as far as the refuse pits. Even in the best-kept tannery yards scraps end up in corners, and not all the tannery yards are so well-kept. For the lazy worker, it can be very tempting to just sweep them out into the street or a nearby alley, providing the rats with forage nearer to their nests. The ground beneath the yards, softened by all the run-off from the different vats, offers good digging for excavating nests and extensive networks of tunnels. These allow the rats to come up in almost any of the yards or buildings they choose, to disappear beneath the ground and come up again tens of yards away.
The local residents “the ghosts”
The Tanneries of Akorros are an unwelcoming, dispiriting place, everywhere off the main thoroughfares calf-deep in mud mixed with blood and urine from the vats, with a foul, malodorous miasma combining the smoke from the heating fires and skin-smoking huts with the acrid tang of the urea and faeces in the vats always curling round, clinging to clothes and skin.
In the back alleys behind and between the sheds, however, you can find families of unfortunates, unable to afford the prices of living in the city, huddling in lean-to shacks and beneath grubby canvas. They live off stolen scraps scraped off the skins, off the marrow of bones, off the plentiful rats running around the tanneries. They dress in sacking stolen from the yards or in skins stolen from the vats and floor their ramshackle dwellings with more stolen skins to keep down the omnipresent mud.
Always on the brink of starvation, they are stunted, with stick-like limbs and skin and hair bleached a pallid white from all the noxious overflow they have to wade through, stained yellow in patches.
Because of their colouring and the way they are only visible briefly as a pale form crossing an alley or ducking behind a shed, the tannery workers refer to them as “the ghosts”, generally viewing them as benevolent spirits and doing their best to protect and look out for them (particularly since workers and sheds who have maltreated such individuals have found themselves targetted with the effluent as they walk about, or have found vats tipped up and the skins lying rotting on the ground).
Everyone else names them after the rats which also infest the tanneries, so they are more widely known as The Tannery Rats.
The Tannery Terriers
In The Tanneries of Akorros, the rats are rife. They dig beneath the fences and walls of the buildings, chew the skins curing and foul them with their waste, dig nests underneath the compounds causing subsidence and collapse.
The people who live in the tanneries have it even worse. The rats steal their food, foul their water, gnaw through the boards they put down to protect themselves from the mud, and even nibble on people in their sleep.
No-one knew where they came from, but the workers started noticing dogs chasing among the back alleys, terriers with thick wiry coats and long legs, mud flying from beneath their feet as they scurried about chasing after the rats. And the rat numbers started going down in the areas where the dogs had been, and although the corpses were seldom to be found, a smell of roasting started to mingle in with the less pleasant odours of the tanneries.
Some of the premises started leaving out food to attract the dogs, and the workers would try to encourage them in, but the dogs were wary. However, wherever the dogs were, there always seemed to be one or more of the ghosts hanging about in the shadows.
And so the workers started leaving out food for the humans as well, along with clothing and blankets, and those premises which did so, found the depredations of the rats much reduced, and the tunnels the rats had dug into the enclosure sealed up again, and their profits rose. And they would arrive in the morning to find their enclosures swept, and the scraps of skin and flesh from the skins carried away. And the gulleys outside would be cleared of mud so they could flow freely.
But those premises which teased the dogs or chased the people, or worse put down poison, found their premises overrun with rats, and the rotting flesh would pile up in their yards – so much so that it must have been augmented with that taken from other yards, and their gulleys would be constantly clogged so that the overflows would back up into the yards forcing them to dodge puddles of blood and urine and soaking solution.
And so over time the superstition grew and the workers shunned anyone who mistreated one of the dogs or their owners, and any yard that didn’t show its respect would find it very hard to keep their staff.