Chapter One - A TANNER'S DESTINY

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It was hot in the tannery even though the doors and windows allowed constant airflow. Unfortunately, in the first months of the renewal, the air in the Canyons of Panjurub was already hot and dry. In the workshop, the fetid scent of dead flesh and tannin permeated everything. Even the hevelens' sensitive noses could hardly distinguish the odor of their own sweat from the all-encompassing smells of the tannery.

The only clothes worn by the six tanners as they cut the hides and tanned them were loincloths and light sandals. Like the majority of their fellow citizens living in Durepeaux, the six had shorn heads. Sweat glistened from their coppery skin, and ran into their globular eyes, but did not slow down the activity of their four-fingered hands in the slightest.

The youngest of the tanners was named Pelmen Arimal. Over the years, the flint he was using had gashed his hairy skin and covered his hands with scars. He mopped his brow, watching his father Zenel from the corner of his eye. Zenel, a hevelen with a wrinkled face and yellow eyes, was busy plunging pelts into the tannin baths. His gestures were precise and sure.

Pelmen sighed. Sometimes, he envied the serenity which never seemed to abandon his father. He was far from feeling it himself. On the contrary; when he pictured his father's life, the life of a simple laborer, living and dying a tanner, he could not help feeling sick at heart. The idea that such a destiny might be his was almost more than he could stand! So many things in the world waited to be discovered, and yet he was expected to remain here, practically cloistered in this miserable stinking place?

Zenel's response to his son's discontent was one of disarming simplicity: "I don't know how to do anything else." A casual observer might have believed he was simply resigned to his fate, but the truth was even worse. Pelmen knew that his father loved his job, what he couldn't get his head around, was why? Perhaps he delighted in the stench which enveloped him every morning when he went into the workshop and, from then on, assaulted the nostrils at the slightest movement... Maybe he had come to appreciate the company of the parasites infesting the nidepoux hides, which covered him with lumps all day long, making his skin almost as hard as wood. That did not even make Zenel blink. It often felt as if Pelmen and his father had been cast from two completely different molds.

The hours went by, interminably, and Pelmen summoned up an image of Alicene, as he often did, just to get him through the day. Her delicate features, her pretty hooked nose and her rounded cheeks represented the ultimate island of beauty to which he could cling. She was so far away, and as inaccessible as the Goddess Tinmal, and yet she lived so close at hand!

Galn Boisencroix, the girl's father, was a carpenter and master craftsman in Falsine, the next town over. If the order of things had been respected, a simple tanner, a Disinherited like Pelmen, would almost never have had the opportunity to even cross his path, but...

***

After work, Pelmen has come to watch the son of the carpenter of Falsine, as has become his habit since the day when Zenel first took him in search of tannin. Teleg, with a smile on his lips, is plying his flint in a lively manner, and the wood chips are piling up at his feet. Pelmen is happy. Teleg knows that he is only a Disinherited, and yet he welcomes Pelmen's company, letting him watch as he cuts or polishes the wood. Some time ago, the young hevelen with the blond curls doubtless guessed that Pelmen would have preferred working with wood instead of bloody flesh and hide. Pelmen would never admit that, of course. To do so would be improper, not to mention downright rude. He simply considers himself lucky to be here and very lucky that Teleg takes an interest in him, asking for details of his activity at the tannery.

Pelmen finds himself wondering whether Alicene will turn up today. Teleg's sister seems to spend most of her time inside the Boisencroix house; he only catches fleeting glimpses of her while she is gardening-with two exceptions, at least. Twice, she has come nearer to greet him, and twice surprise and emotion have prevented Pelmen from replying. He feels troubled and stupid just thinking about it. She is so beautiful, and so refined in comparison with the girls in Durepeaux. Pelmen wishes with all of his heart that there is a way in which he could watch her for hours without her being aware.

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