As if to underscore his point about maintenance, the timekeeper paused to transfer some of the water from one of the lower vessels to one higher up. Given enough time, all the water would drain down to the lowest level, but it did so in such a controlled fashion that it would be quite a while before he needed to repeat the procedure. It was nothing like the punctured buckets or cracked pots that Gil had experience with back home. The water streamed forth from holes that were tiny, probably small enough to be stopped up by a single grain of sand. The flow was constant, but so slow that it might take hours to empty even the topmost vessel. To traverse the multiple layers to the lowest level might take days.
The while thing was fascinating, almost hypnotic. While the timekeeper dealt with a customer, Gil stared at the tiny jet of water pouring from the highest vessel. It had grown much stronger after the refill. Gil tore his attention away when the timekeeper addressed him again.
“So, do you want to know the time or not?”
“More than anything. But I don’t think you can help me with that. Even if you showed me, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t read it. This isn’t the doorway I came in by; I don’t even know what language all these signs are written in. But I wish there was a timekeeper like you where I came through.”
“I’m sure that’s very touching, but heartfelt words don’t feed my belly. If you’re not buying, then scram.”
As Gil walked away, he kept looking back over his shoulder at the fascinating mechanism. Before coming here, such a thing would have seemed like an expensive and useless novelty. Never mind that the water in it would be frozen solid for half the year. Nobody needed a clock to tell them when the sun rose and it was time to begin work. Sunup, sundown, morning, afternoon – who needed to know more than that?
Here, of course, things were very different. Not only was there no sun to tell time by, but there was a reason to divide a day into smaller parts. Come here in summer, spend a day, and you would return to the outside world in the middle of winter. A timekeeping mechanism could be invaluable. Gil need never again be ambushed by an unexpected full moon, and Alfvin would always be able to time his arrival back in the forest to coincide with sundown.
The timekeeper’s equipment had been complicated, but Gil wasn’t sure if that made it more accurate, or just helped the customers feel they were getting their money’s worth. The principle was simple enough: a large vessel of water, and a small hole to drain it slowly. Perhaps Gil could build his own. How hard could it be?