Wolves at the Door (part 119)

As it turned out, the water-clock caused no problems. Gil experimented with it on their next trip, with some success. The water drained gradually from the punctured bowl into the undamaged bowl below. The process was slow enough that he was sure it must have taken more than an hour, though it was hard to judge accurately. That would be the trick: calibrating it so he could be confident exactly what portion of a day it measured. It was certainly long enough to be useful. The downside of that was that by the time it had fully emptied, his arms ached from holding one bowl above the other.

When the last of the water had emptied from the top bowl, he dropped it, finally letting his arms relax. It was not that the bowl was heavy – the thin copper weighed very little, and its contents had grown lighter as the experiment progressed. But the effort of having to not only hold the bowl, but hold it steady, level and in one place was excruciating. Now it was over he lay down, letting his arms flop on the ground like dead weight as he considered how to avoid this pain in future attempts. Perhaps he could build a frame to hold the bowl in place so he would not have to. Some kind of tripod might work, as long as it did not obstruct the flow of water in the centre. He should start looking for some suitable sticks to build it with, but that would involve moving his arms.

Eventually he found the will to get up and move again. But as soon as he started, he stopped again. Not out of tiredness this time, but curiosity. Some of the water had splashed out of the lower bowl as the one above had dropped down on it, but that was not what drew Gil’s attention. What was interesting was that while he had been resting, the process had begun again, but in reverse. The empty bowl was sinking, ever so slowly, as the water gradually drained back in through the tiny hole in its base. If this approach worked just as well, it might turn out to be more practical. It may look less dramatic than the small but steady stream from above, but it had the advantage of not leaving Gil’s arms feeling like jelly.

Had the timekeeper’s stall had any clocks that worked in this reverse fashion? Gil did not recall seeing any, but for all he knew there could have been dozens of them there, quietly doing their thing while the more spectacular and visible cascades of water drew the eye. The more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that the display had been more showmanship than engineering. Which was not to suggest that the timekeeper’s clocks had not been remarkable and accurate. But it was not enough to be remarkable. The customers had to feel how remarkable it was. Somehow Gil could not help thinking that the timekeeper may have had fewer customers if all there had been to see was a single bowl, sinking with imperceptible slowness into a bucket of water.

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