Despite the high ceiling and multiple ventilation slits cut across the roofing panels, it was still painfully obvious to my nose and eyes that Tamac was a tanner. Shadowy figures moved about behind canvas partitions, their movements becoming more agitated as our gnomish host began to bark orders. Several shorter gnomes, their hair more gray than white, appeared from the gloomy depths of the tent, squares of slate and chalk in their hands, scratching at them as Tamac called out measurements.
He gestured for Varis to step towards a carpeted corner of the tent’s entryway. The gnome then clambered atop what I’d taken for a low shelf for ledgers. He produced a knotted string, which he held up, using it to measure along the warrior’s arms, across his shoulders, and from shoulder to the ground. He did this for each of us, the other gnomes scratching at separate slates. Once of us was measured, another gnome appeared to scurry back into the depths of the shop, slate full of measurements in hand.
Yet another appeared some minutes later with a leather mockup of a heel-length, deep-hooded cloak. Yet more measurements were taken, and marked made on the rougher side of this sample cloak with different colored wedges of chalk. Through this whole procedure, Tamac and another of the gnomes chattered back and forth in mostly gnomish ‘gnimble,’ — a mixture of verbal shorthand mixed with various facial expressions and hand movements. Occasionally, I also caught an out-of-place word in the same old dwarvish tongue that was so commonly spoken in these caverns.
This measuring and refining process took several hours. We each tried on two different cuts of the cloak. I could not tell what the differences were between the two, but the gnome had us turn full circles in each, arms at our sides, and then outstretched. More notes went onto the slates, which were passed back to the depths of the shop, along with the bulky mockups.
At last Tamac clapped his hands. “Well, now if you’ll give me a turn of the daywheel, I’ll—“
“Half a turn,” Grellk said, crossing his big arms. “I have other contracts in the City, and can’t be babysitting these surfacers out here in the fringes for an entire day’s turn. ”
I’d read accounts of tribes on the Serpent Peninsula and the Thaneigoth Archipelago wearing cloaks made of the hides of great lizards, terrible beasts that towered over even the tallest of men. Those hides turned aside all but the most finely honed obsidian spear heads. Even blades of Ispan steel had a difficult time piercing those creatures’ tough skin.
Tamac’s cloaks seemed to be made of stuff just as thick and resilient. They dragged at each step like sodden wool in icy water, draped heavily across the shoulders. It was not easy, freeing an arm to draw a blade, much less freeing both to use a bow or staff. We would be fighting the cloaks as much as any adversary we might encounter, should combat break out.
The deep hoods brought on all manner of neck aches and cramps after a few hours’ wear. Varis likened it to a skirmish he’d been in, in which kobolds dropped from ledges above, to cling relentlessly to his and the other soldiers’ heads and backs.
A length of thick, spongy reddish fabric was apparently also part of the extravagant price we’d paid for these cumbersome cloaks. These, we were told to wrap about our mouth and nose, like a scarf in the coldest part of winter, once past the checkpoint between the warehouse quarter and the true merchant’s sector.
I did not really think we would have any trouble keeping ourselves warm, between the relative warmth of the city and the cloaks’ ability to trap heat and try to stifle us beneath their folds.
To our misfortune, we found that the scarves did nothing to filter out the acrid stench the clung to the cloaks. Indeed, they had their own musty sweetness that made my vision swim if I breathed too deeply.