Beauty depends on size as well as symmetry. – Aristotle
Maeve resisted the urge to hurl the abacus against the far wall of the library. It might have given her a little momentary satisfaction, but it would do nothing to remedy the situation and would, in fact, make it slightly worse because she would then have to buy another abacus. She had carefully checked her figures three times, and found no errors; for the first time since she had become a courtesan, her expenditures for the month had exceeded her income. And given that she had been cutting back on those expenditures for over a year now, that was a very bad development indeed.
She hastened to her looking-glass and closely examined her face in it. She was still a very beautiful woman, but the encroaching signs of age were unmistakable and even the expensive cosmetics she purchased from a talented alchemist could only delay the inevitable. Sooner or later she would begin to display the grey hair and wrinkles she had evaded for decades, and then her income would dry up along with her body. Maeve sighed deeply; she was not an especially wise woman nor a frugal one, and though she had known for half her life that this day would eventually come, she had failed to make even the most rudimentary investments for her retirement. And while most women could count on children and grandchildren to support them in their dotage, Maeve had traded away her ability to have them many years ago, in a bargain that seemed sensible at the time. Her only hope was the Potion of Youth that the alchemist said he could make for her, but its price was so high she dared not spend the money unless she was absolutely certain it would buy her many years of good income again.
No, she was in a fine stew indeed, and thinking her way out of things had never been her strong point. So she instead retired to her private shrine to Venus and began to pray for either divine inspiration or (preferably) a new and generous patron who would consider her maturity a plus rather than a minus. When she was finished with her prayers, she found her maid Elise waiting for her in the anteroom with a rather odd look on her face. “Ma’am, you have a visitor downstairs.”
“How wonderful! Perhaps the goddess has answered my prayer already!”
Elise’s mien grew even stranger, but Maeve did not notice; she was already halfway down the stairs in less time than it takes to tell, and her maid appeared in no rush to keep up with her. Reaching the door to her parlor, she took a moment to check her hair and teeth in another glass, then swept gracefully into the room in a way calculated to impress any but the dullest of clients. It is a testament to her years of experience that she did not gasp out loud when she saw who was waiting for her in the room, but no mortal could have kept at least a momentary reaction from being reflected in her visage. Because seated on the couch, drinking her tea and eating her cakes, was someone she at first took to be a very small boy until she realized that he had a beard.
He immediately stood up and bowed deeply; even though he was standing on the couch, his head was yet below the level of her bosom when he returned to an upright position. “Allow me to introduce myself, dear lady; I am Ulwin O’Meglyn.”
The room grew quiet for a moment; Maeve was completely at a loss for words. And even when she found her tongue at last, what came forth would not have won marks for elocution. “Unless I very much miss my guess, good sir, you are a leprechaun.”
“I am not!” he said with controlled indignation. “I am a brownie. Leprechauns are about six inches taller and generally dress in tasteless green outfits, though I must admit they make some very fine shoes.”
Maeve was beginning to wonder what she could possibly have done to offend her goddess enough to deserve this joke being played upon her. “Good Sir Brownie…”
“Ulwin. I apologize for my reaction, but, ah, I expected a different kind of visitor. If you are seeking a position here, I would be happy to have you under the traditional arrangement.”
The little man looked at her with a rather annoyed expression. “Madam, it is clear that you are rather ill-informed about developments in the relations between our races over the past several generations. While it is true that in the past most of my people worked as servants in human households and refused to take formal payment, that has long since ceased to be the rule; I am the owner of an agency which places brownies in service in the very best households in the kingdom. And as you can see, I have done quite well for myself.”
Now that he mentioned it, Maeve noticed that his clothes were impeccably tailored and his hat, boots and walking-stick new and of the finest craftsmanship. “Pardon my ignorance, Sir Brownie…”
“Ulwin. I’m not especially interested in hiring additional paid servants at this time, but if I change my mind…”
“Dear lady, at the risk of being indelicate…I am not here to offer the services of those I represent, but to hire your services.”
Maeve could not help but laugh, though she had no desire to offend the polite little gentleman. “You must forgive me, sir, but…well, it seems the difference in our statures might make that sort of activity rather difficult.”
“You disappoint me, madam. Surely you do not think me a schoolboy who considers mere coupling to be the be-all and end-all of the time a man spends with a woman?”
For the first time, she realized he was absolutely earnest; exactly three seconds later, she began to consider his proposition. She cautiously sat down beside him; he was still shorter than her despite the fact that he was standing on the seat. “You’re serious?”
“But, don’t I seem…well, rather huge and grotesque in your eyes?”
“I would not be here if I felt that way.”
“I suppose not. But why…I mean, how…that is…”
“I hardly thought I would have had to explain the strange mysteries of humanoid desire to an expert in the field.”
Maeve knew he was right; there was no predicting what strange permutations would arouse the ardor of one man or another, and in her many years of experience she had found that no less true of dwarves, elves or other near-human people. And it was obvious he had a great deal of money; perhaps Venus had heard her prayer after all. “Your suggestions intrigue me, Ulwin,” she purred in her most charming manner; “Let me pour you some more tea and we’ll discuss it further.”
His smile let her know that she had already dispelled whatever bad feelings her clumsy and unprofessional reactions had engendered, and as they chatted she envisioned a profitable association with him and perhaps other little men who might share his tastes. Nor was that the limit of the possibilities his visit had opened her mind to; one of her regular gentlemen had told her that only two days’ ride into the mountains, there was a village of friendly giants.