Gil wasn’t a lot wiser for the discussion. Mostly he had learned that the grumpy customer didn’t want to be here. At least one of them had got what they wanted.
He had learned a couple of things though. He knew that his translator still worked well enough to allow conversation, if not eavesdropping. He had learned that his guesses about this stall and the runners dispatched from it had been correct. And he had learned that the man with the many little waterfalls was a timekeeper. Of course, he still wasn’t sure what that meant.
There was one person who could definitely enlighten him, if he chose to do so. The timekeeper himself did not appear to be terribly busy. When a customer approached him, the interaction was over much more quickly than at the other merchants’ tables. No haggling, no selection of merchandise. Apparently he had only one thing for sale, but it was quite popular. After taking payment, he would let the customer look at something that he kept carefully out of sight at all other times. Out of sight, but not locked away: it was always close at hand, and even when there were no customers, he would frequently bring it out and update it. Gil assumed he was writing some kind of runes, though he couldn’t see enough to be sure.
As Gil approached, he looked up from his writing.
“Are you the timekeeper?”
“That’s right. You want to see the time, it’ll cost you a pebble full.”
“What do you mean, see the time?”
The timekeeper sighed.
“What are you doing here if you’re not buying what I’m selling?”
“How do I know if I want to buy it, until I know what it is?”
“Fine, here it is: you pay me, I show you what day it is in the outer world. Then you know how long you’ve been here, if you can afford to stay longer, what sort of mess to expect when you get back there.”
The timekeeper barely looked at Gil as he talked. Instead he kept glancing back at the various vessels and the water streaming between them.
“And… all this tells you what time it is?”
“Sure does. Haven’t you ever seen a clock before?”
“Of course. Just not one that works without the sun.”
“Oh, you mean a clock. No, this is a clock. Much more accurate, but needs a bit more maintenance.”
Evidently Gil’s translator had its limits. Whatever the timekeeper had called his apparatus, Gil had no word for it. But whatever its name, it was a whole lot more elaborate than poking a stick in the ground and seeing which way its shadow falls.