Set in an ancient time, featuring two competing wizards, and turning on the deeds of two brave young boys, this book provides all the adventure of a fantasy novel but pushes magic completely out of the picture, replacing it with the real conditions of the Bronze Age and fact-based conjecture about the earliest human scientists. The fictional characters, who live in a time before recorded history, include Cristo, an orphan who has grown up in the court of King Adolphus, and Lord Allard, the king's wizard, who makes Cristo his assistant in a quest to perfect a water clock and use it to set up a calendar. All is well until they discover that Duke Nextor, the king's unscrupulous rival, and his wizard, Boltair, are also intent on inventing a calendar and have dispatched Grigor, a peasant boy, to spy on Lord Allard's work. The two young boys join forces, and the action becomes a race between two scientific teams to acquire the strategic advantage of a new technology.A particularly tricky feat concerns recording data in a world without a counting system or written symbols.
Lord Allard's solution to this problem results in versions of what are usually thought to be the earliest tools of timekeeping: a bead calendar for recording the readings of a water clock and a shadow clock, the precursor to the sundial.