Once upon a time. No. Wait. Before that. This story I want to tell you begins before the invention of time. Some well-read people will have you believe that time wasn't invented at all, that it was merely harnessed like a wild horse and we just measure the falling of its steady hooves on the cobblestones of life, except of course they would say it far less frivolously than that.
The truth, as it so often is, is a great deal more improbable.
Many dreams ago there was a girl. Her name was Syncratica, and she was born one early morning in the wild grass of a valley, which was still sodden from the warm breath of the summer thunderstorm that had rattled the world the night before. She was a loud baby, with strong lungs and wide eyes and she grew up, on sturdy legs, into an inquisitive child who liked to take things apart and then try to put them back together, again.
Her mother and her father both left her to go to war and they did not return, so it was her grandfather who raised her. He was quiet and patient. He often had dye or ink or strange grease on his hands, because he worked with them constantly and every good thing he did seemed to come about as a result of them. Whether it was the juicy courgettes and potatoes from the garden, or the soothing medicines he mixed for the villagers, or the steady, comforting grasp he offered his grand daughter as he taught her to walk.
They marked their lives by the sun and the moon and by the day turning into night, so there was change, but Time had still not been born.
Syncratica was nearly full grown when she made her first clock. She didn't name it that, but that is how you and I would recognise it. It had elegant numbers, two hands, and a perfect mechanism that ought to have worked, but didn't because It did not have any life in it, yet.
Syncratica lived a life that didn't scrimp on joy or on suffering. She had experiences. She found deep friendships, she fell in love and was both mended and broken by it. She raced rivers and climbed mountains. She conquered the dragons that were in herself from the beginning, as well as the ones who came to call on her, rearing up out of nowhere, and threatening her safety.
Once, she led a raid on a pirate ship that kept docking nearby for the crew to steal from her village. Afterwards, she sat in the cool luxury of the Captain's cabin, eating the biscuits he had kept hidden in his writing desk.
Another time, she made love to a highwayman after he tried to accost her, and left him in the small hours without his own steed or his cloak.
As she aged, she grew more interesting and more of an oddity. She did not abide by rules that failed to be sensible, and it is astonishing how many of those we humans like to invent. She sold her clocks as decorative curiosities. Many a rich and important person had one of her ornately carved wooden works in their home, and each one came with a story. Some feat of daring that had led to her being able to make it, or some tale of a place that had inspired this flourish or that style.
Eventually, change, as it always does, began to win the biggest battle she had been fighting with it. It made her grow old and she grew tired, too. Waking up began to be something she did with regret, because the last sleep was calling to her.
One night, there was another storm, in another summer. The trees swayed with it. It was hard to know if they were dancing out of sheer gladness, as they waved their branches to the music of the rain, or if they were being forced into it, like children being forced to eat their greens because it is good for them.
She listened to the thunder and watched the flash of the lightning in the sky. Somewhere, a god was angry. Perhaps he had run out of milk, or he was being prayed to less than he felt he ought to be. The gods are remarkably petty creatures.
Syncratica saw very clearly, beside her makeshift bed, the form of her grandfather working on something. He had been dead so many years, she had forgotten the faint smell of cedar he brought everywhere with him and the jovial half whistling he did under his breath as he beavered away. Yet, here he was, and so she watched him, scarcely wanting to move in case she broke the spell.
After a few moments he looked up at her, his hands pausing in their diligent work with some small piece of wood.
"It's time to go home" he told her softly, and she knew that the home he meant was not here, anymore, at all.
Her heart, full as it was with her lifetime, stopped beating.
There was a space. A gap wide enough to hold a few missing beats, as the world accepted the silencing of her presence, and, then, tick tock, tick tock, tick; every clock she had ever made began its rhythm. On mantel shelves and bedside tables, in pockets and on walls, they kept her heartbeat as though it was their own.
They came alive and began whirring and coughing their polite chimes at the start of the hour, or simply dividing the day into pieces we could manage.