It was past her bedtime, but she wasn’t about to point it out. Nights without bedtimes were the most interesting.
“Six degrees… and time.” Father’s voice to her was just father’s voice. Other people said he had a Gondorian accent. His heavy robes fluttered in the high observatory breeze as he adjusted the armature on the astrolabe.
“One. Two. Three. Four.” Mother’s voice counted the drops from the waterclock. She trusted it for small times over the newer Erebor clockwork. Her stylus wore grooves into the mesh-cut grid of her waxed tablet.
“Mark. Retrograde one degree.”
“Five drops. Assuming an Arda-centric model.” They exchanged a smile over the old joke.
“What else would it be? An elipse?”
“There is nothing wrong with an elipse.”
Tinuvist spoke up from her corner by the sand-table, “It isn’t imperfect. Numbers rule it, and numbers are perfect.”
“Trust her to find a middle way.” Mother’s smile was a serene thing, passing briefly as she looked back to her work.
Father shook his head, sounding proud as he said, “Come here, daughter. Up on the box. Sight on Earendil, measure the azimuth and altitude.”
She proudly worked the small brass disk-arm, having to squint hard to see the fine lines marking the rim. “Thirty-two degrees, seven degree altitude. Mark…”
“One. Two. Three. Four.” The Breeland boy shivered in his triple-coat layers atop the archive roof. It was all boys in this class, the recent achievements of Miss Taylor notwithstanding. Same everywhere.
“Mark!” Squeaked the plump fellow operating the astrolabe. “One degree, four seconds. Ah…? Miss Tinuvist?”
She didn’t correct him, though it had been Master for a good three years now. “Retrograde.”
His expression cleared. “Retrograde.”
“Does it hasten or slow? How can we tell?”
They still giggled when her ‘we’ came out ‘vee’. They were children. Giggling kept them warmer. The shy one with the stutter got out, “H…hasten. Yesterday, it w…was five seconds.”
“The e…epicycle? Epicycle nears midpoint.” As the lad spoke, she drew it on her large slate. At night, she used white chalk with mica to catch the eye. She had her spectacles strapped firmly to her face. They’d gotten bored of laughing at those.
“So, tomorrow, you will come and tell me where Earendil will be, and how fast he will sail.”
“Why does Earendil sail in circles?”
“Because he’s an elf and got distracted!” One bold fellow suggested.
“Or because of waves on the ocean!” Another put in.
She smiled serenely and said, “You assume he is an elf in a ship.”
They gasped and looked worried, and she knelt. “Perhaps he is a story to help you imagine reality. If I say a sandstone layer is like pastry-layers, I’m not lying, am I? I’m explaining. So. When we say Earendil is a ship, we begin to explain to ourselves why he wanders the sky unlike other stars. He is sailing somewhere. Like a ship, he seems to turn and weave. But what that is up there? The bare eye cannot see, though in Dale, there is a new invention that makes him appear bigger, and he seems to be a blue disc. But we know where he is, and where he will be, and that he always goes in the same path. This means there are rules, even for stars, even if the star seems to break the rules. Rules for the stars. Rules for the land. Nature is nothing but motion and rules, all perfectly balanced as it is made. Now, we can ask, “Are we another ship, or are we the land?” That is what we do next week, once you have all shown you understand how to calculate planetary motion with an astrolabe.“
They nodded and put what they didn’t want to hear away… for now. It was fine. They would ask questions later.
“Tomorrow, you will each bring me your slate with this problem, and a rock from your house with your best guess as to what sort of rock it is. To your beds, now.”
“Thank you, Miss Tinuvist,” came the chorus, then they scampered off. It was not so bad. Other masters would be insulted to have the elementary class in natural philosophy, and perhaps she should too. But where was the point? So she taught children the same basic things over and over. But she also taught them that people named ‘Miss’ could explain the stars. Perhaps it was better than giving them this ‘Master’ word that could be used to put her into a smaller box, easily stacked away.
Soon, the holiday. Soon, a week climbing the bluffs and collecting samples. The stars didn’t care if people thought they moved around Arda and not the sun, or the other way around. She would not care if her students saw her imperfectly.