Six years ago:
“I want a wife who understands what it is I do and is more than a housekeeper. Tinuvist… please say yes.”
She twisted her hands uncertainly in her lap. ”I’ve got to concentrate on my master’s work, Derrek.”
“Oh, of course! I as well. That’s why this will be such a wise arrangement, even if you won’t marry me now. You know I’m near defending, and then you can help me meet the right people and secure a good posting. By then, you’ll be ready for your turn at the master’s bench, and I’ll be able to help you. I understand you because I want what you want. We’ll share a house and pool our stipends to keep a maid, so we can concentrate and advance. We’re both neo-Cennanists, so it will work. I’m not Finubar, you know. He was a Gondorian pig.”
She gave him a sharp look. ”Not all Gondorians are like that. Be fair.”
“It just wasn’t right, what he did, telling everyone about what ought to be personal. If you wish to take a lover, it ought to be your choice, same as anyone. But I’m different. We’re friends. You know me. You know I don’t think you’re a whore because you did as all the other mastery candidates do when nature makes its demands.”
She didn’t like that word. Even with him denying she fit its definition, it still was in his vocabulary. But she was tired of fighting, tired of arguing, and tired of her parents giving her worried looks and discussing personal responsibility. ”You have to court me first. And I won’t marry you until we’re both masters. Equality, or nothing.”
He said earnestly, “I’d have it no other way. It’s the way of order and harmony, Ja? But it will settle talk if you’re known to be my betrothed, even if we just say it.”
“All right.” She looked back to him. ”That’s rational. We have to work within the rules even as we advance a more enlightened world.”
He grinned and took her hands. ”We do.”
Her heart skipped a beat, and she began to breathe again. Some men could be trusted. Some men understood. The world would be fair, and she could be both person and scholar.
Two years ago:
She walked into the rooms they’d decorated together. She hooked her stiff, new robes over the hook by his. And what should have been a day of triumph turned to ash in her mouth as she saw him at his desk, and not delayed by some perfectly reasonable errand.
“Ah, Tinuvist. Good, you’re in time. I’ve invited a few of the faculty here for supper.”
Her spirits rose a little. ”Oh! For the defense. That’s kind of you.”
He turned, blinking. ”Wait… no. Was that today?” He looked dismayed. He always looked dismayed. He’d looked dismayed when she’d taken the summer to gather samples, and he’d looked dismayed when she’d said she was too busy for children right now, and he’d looked dismayed when she reminded him that he’d scheduled yet another dinner during her award banquet. She was always dismaying him by behaving exactly as she’d said she would. ”Oh twinkle-star, I’m sorry! I should have been there. Was it very awful?”
“Not really. They just want me to add a table to illustrate my controls.”
He was quiet. It was an angry quiet. ”You passed?” he asked finally.
“Aye. I did.” She understood, really. He hadn’t passed his first round, and wouldn’t have even if he hadn’t been sloppy with his counter-arguments. His committee had a sour member, and that’s beyond anyone’s control. She’d listened to him cry and held him into the night. She’d encouraged him to try again and spent hours reading drafts and suggesting changes. He’d called her his treasure. His clever little dragon. She’d watched him defend again and baked a cake when he succeeded. And so … no, she didn’t understand why he was looking at her with anger and resentment. Or rather, she did. And she couldn’t ignore the data that presented itself. In the seam holding them together some last thread broke, and her future began to unravel from his.
Heedless, he said, “You slept with Master Thurion, didn’t you?”
Another stitch came undone. Threads gapped between them. She felt herself going calm. ”Why on Arda would you say that, Derrek?”
“He was telling everyone your methods lacked refinement only weeks ago. So you must have done something.”
“You don’t own my body. I may use it as I see fit. If I choose to use it for professional advancement, it’s better than using it for sating lust alone.”
“I was drunk! You forgave me!”
“I said no. You heard me say it.”
“This again? Come on, Tinuvist. We’re betrothed. We’ve been lovers for years now. But this! I never was false to you, at least.”
“I did not say I had been, nor have I given myself to any of the others you’ve cornered and given threat to. Oh, you didn’t know I knew you’d been waving your fist at my colleagues? I know. They blame me, and then they stop discussing work with me.” She drew in a breath. Stay on topic. Stay on topic while you carefully dissolve four years of carefully constructed life. ”Has it occurred to you that I may have convinced him on the merits of my work alone? That all of these men are simply colleagues with whom I argue and engage in scholarly process?”
He calmed, still sulking as he said, “It’s only that you’re so beautiful. It makes me jealous, seeing how they look at you.” He drew in a breath, then another. ”I’m sorry. That was my cultural conditioning. Of course you own yourself and are not oathbound to me. I haven’t a right to hold you. And of course your work is good. I… bah. I forgot what day it was. Honest, Tinuvist, I did! I’m happy for you. Now we can marry, and it’s even better. We’ll settle all this arguing and get on with our lives. We ought to be having children and hosting dinners as we get on with our lives.”
“And teaching and conducting research.”
“We’ve been doing that already. This was the plan, wasn’t it? And look how well it’s worked for you. You’re a master! That’s wonderful.”
It was the same tone he used when the cat brought him a bird. ”So had we not been partners, I’d not have attained mastery?”
He reddened. ”I didn’t mean that! Why do you always do that and twist my words up?”
“You’re a linguist. You should take responsibility for your statements.”
“And you should be rational. Our connection saved your reputation, you know. People overlook it if a betrothed woman gives her future husband favors. I made you seem less threatening to the traditional elements in the faculty, and I kept the house going when you went off on your little jaunts to the wastelands. And it works both ways, because you reassured the hiring committee that I needed my stipend raised to support a family. Don’t dismiss everything we’ve done for each other in the name of principle.”
The last stitch slipped. He was making sense, in a way, but as she looked at him, she didn’t see the man she used to see. So she prodded it again to be sure the connection was well and truly severed. ”If I publish more than you?”
The red ears said more than the words he found. “Then I’ll be happy for you.”
“If I must travel for a year to collect samples away from the Lake?”
“Before the children come? I suppose you may.”
“Will you abandon them for some rocks? We have rocks right here in Erebor!”
“So my work comes secondary to my role as a mother.”
“We’ve been over this, Tinuvist! We’ll share duties and run a rational, equal home. You’re just angry about the defense and you’ve a right to be. I made a mistake. I lost track of time.”
She let her eyes go to the calender and the note posted in red ink reminding him of the day. She looked back to his red face. And she said what she felt, for the first time in a long time. “Enough. I have done enough, and had enough. Your words and your actions fail to match.”
He slammed a hand into his desk. ”Have you no heart, woman? I said I was sorry!”
“You said. But if you truly believed I was your equal, you would have been there to watch. You wouldn’t constantly see me as someone whose primary purpose is bedplay and baby making. You wouldn’t obsess about whom I may or may not be playing in bed with, and you would instead obsess about how much time I’ve spent climbing walls and collecting samples. You would obsess about how worried I was that the committee member who rejects an old-Arda model would toss my work out because of our differing beliefs. You might have found a way to include me in your conversations at the faculty boating trip last week other than waxing eloquent about my baking. You wouldn’t have referred to my application to the junior position in the natural sciences as ‘brave for a woman.’ You look at me, and you see a walking, talking womb. I will not marry you.”
He stood, fuming. ”What, now? Now, when we have guests? Now you want to walk away? Who is he? Who are you seeing? Is it Master Fletcher?”
The thread was pulled. The union dissolved, like limestone in acid. ”You are a master of philosophy and language. Read yourself for once, and read yourself carefully.” She turned, took her new robes, and left. Her parents lived at the other end of the university hill, and it was raining. When her father came for her books, he found them dumped on the doorstep.
One year ago:
We regret to inform you that another candidate has been chosen for the permanent lectureship in Natural Sciences. Although your work is promising and your peer evaluations positive, we feel that you are not as good a fit for our needs at this time. We encourage you to apply again, and meanwhile we will, of course, continue to pay you for your service courses to the community….
She looked up and saw Master Thurion watching. He came over to speak to her in public as few would these days, and said ruefully, “I tried. You were a strong candidate, and you made excellent suggestions in your interview.”
She bit back tears. She wouldn’t let them see her hurting. She would not let them see her crying like a girl. ”They say it was an issue fit with the departmental culture.”
He nodded. ”The dean removed you from the list of finalists, if you want to know.”
“Derrek’s friend the dean. Of course.” She hated how much she sounded like a bitter, discarded lover. Even now, a year later, Derrek found ways to force her into feminine cliches.
“That dean, yes. He said you would detract from the dignity of the faculty.” Master Thurion showed emotion enough for her. ”That little weasel has been busier knocking at you than doing his own work. Not that it’s a loss. Funny how poor his essays have gotten since you left him.”
She nodded, and tried hard to focus on the positive. Master Thurion saw how she’d gotten to this pass, so surely others did too. Or perhaps they simply bought the stories and drooled after the next salacious detail from the secret life of Tinuvist: heartless strumpet. Every one of her most private eccentricities, confidences whispered into the night, lovers who existed only in Derrek’s imagination, even affairs with students were now bread and butter gossip at the faculty tables. Men who had slept with every female student to step into their lecture halls looked at her like a cheap piece and tried to arrange evening assignations. Had she been inclined to whore herself, she could be rich by now.
She did not want to be a whore. She was not rich. Bitterness made her words brittle as she spoke to the man who had remained her ally and her bright light of hope for the male sex, “I make them nervous. No matter how much I try, they see a woman before they see a scholar.”
He nodded. ”It would be easier if you swore off men or married one. Even the ones who prattle about equality of the minds would find that less disturbing.” He admitted sheepishly, “I would have been among them at one time.”
“But you aren’t.” She said it fiercely. ”Thurion, I know we disagree on much. And I value that more than I can say.”
He looked at her evenly, then nodded. ”I’m not perfect, dear. But…” He pulled a thick envelope from his jacket. ”I know this is beneath you. It’s not a university posting, and it’s not the sort of thing that brings prestige per se. But I’ve called in on some old favors with a few trusted colleagues. Bree is near enough to the Beleriand rift, and it’s got a young group of scholars producing quality work in the natural sciences. Nallo the Ethnographer is there, as well as my old classmate Erlina. It’s near Kapheim, and you know the dwarves will be fair to you. Rumor has it Celeveren of Menegroth has directed a mastery piece in recent months, even, so you may manage to find better patronage there than I can provide. They’ll give you a stipend and support your research. I want you to go and be better than that pipsqueak candidate they picked.”
She regarded the man who’d begun their acquaintance by asking whose wife she was and what she was doing at a junior faculty meeting. Over the years, he had ripped holes in her work, tasked her every scholarly failing, and given her sleepless nights that her male counterparts had never suffered at his hands. He had declared, once, that to hire a woman to a permanent position was to court disaster when she left to have a family. And this past year, he had read her every manuscript and threatened to quit if she wasn’t chosen to oversee the seniors working at their first thesis. She took the envelope and said, “I suddenly find myself very interested in the Beleriand rift.”
He said, gruffly, “That’s my girl. I’ll pay your travel – no argument now. I’ve got money and my son won’t spend it so well as you. Your parents will see it my way.”
She nodded, swallowing. That was the worst of it, having her parents shamed because she dared act on the principle that female desire was just as natural as male. They never blamed her, but… it hurt her father. It hurt them both. They had wed, after all, and she had not. And thank goodness for it, or she would have no options now but poison in the soup. ”It’s for the best. I cede the field. Derrek Hendriksson wins.”
“He only wins this round, Master Tinuvist. Life is long, and you have the better mind. Use it, or I’ll come after you myself.”
Reputation be damned, she hugged him, and he patted her head like her grandfather used to do. Bree it was. On to Bree.