There was a wolf outside. Again. Agnes sighed.
"Perdita is brewing as fast as she can. The unbane will be done in about three hours, so there's no point howling about till then. There will be plenty for everyone."
She popped back into the largely-empty workshop to oversee it.
There had been both good and bad results from Agnes's move to Uberwald.
The bad were mainly focused on the cold, the intermittent dangers of dealing with an undead clientèle, occasional loneliness, and Fatsup. (Which she would never become accustomed to.)
And Perdita. But then, Perdita was always a problem.
The good results were numerous: an opportunity to develop a mail-order herbalist business well away from competitor witches. Being on the spot to help out with some really nasty mining accidents, and knowing she'd saved a few lives as a result. A workforce of highly efficient Igors, who were keeping productivity jolly high and always willing to experiment: employees who really put their heart and kidneys into the work. A chance to reinvent herself far away from Lancre and its long memories. Pretending that Perdita was a real person, and there being no one to gainsay her: so she could keep her two personalities nice and separate now, and Agnes sometimes had a chance to make up her own mind about things. Being able to go jogging occasionally in the mornings, knowing that no one local would be up at that hour to point and laugh.1 And…some other things.2
So, on the whole, not a bad choice to have made. whatever Some People might have to say about forsaking her cottage in Lancre. And, if you were going to live a double life, this was probably the simplest way to do it. None of that sneaking around or strenuous dashes from town to town pretending to be a commercial traveller to your dozens of wives. No, Agnes simply had two clacksmails (perditaxpotions@uberwald and agnes.nitt@lancrastriansabroad), and had let it be known to the head Igor3 that Miss Perdita was a little bit Traditional Inventor in the brain department. So 'she' kept to her tower bedroom, which was tastefully appointed in black, with lashings of black for variety. Meantime, Agnes ran the workshop, filled the orders, kept the house and inhabited a nice bright bedroom on the first floor with yellow curtains and the occasional hilarious hedgehog postcard to show how totally normal she was, okay?
Agnes wondered sometimes how she'd ended up with all the drudge work, while her imaginary friend swanned around being cool and taking all the profits. Then Perdita tended to remind her that her imaginary friend was imaginary, and on that account couldn't be expected to scrub floors or keep the finances straight. Agnes still felt bitter.
The unbane was sticking a bit. Agnes added more pauncefoot, and a splash of water, and kept pondering. The Igors were off at a religious festival,4 and it was supposed to be a closed day at the workshop. But they were worryingly low on unbane, and the thought of leaving a werewolf without it on a full moon night was not something Agnes was about to accept. If there was one real thing that Perdita's Potions had achieved, it was the taming of werewolves who wanted to be tamed. She was late with this batch, but so long as it was brewing the wolves outside would be slightly under its influence – enough to help them keep control as they wanted.
A knock at the door didn't sound wolfish. "Hello?" Agnes hadn't lived in Uberwald for almost three years without learning not to offer an open invitation to all visitors. There hadn't been any thunder today, which was a good sign, but you literally could not be too careful in these parts.
"Oh good, come on in." Bardolph wandered in, looking large and dusty and distinctly more tired than he had three weeks and three days ago. Not that Agnes was counting. "Would you like some tea?"
"Love some. It's been a rough month."
Agnes hadn't liked to ask. Wereman etiquette was tricky. Once, she'd been so pleased to have human company that she'd tried a little joke about favourite foods with Bard, and he'd looked at her levelly and said, "People? Delicious. I've eaten twenty or thirty, I think. It gets a bit fuzzy, but I'm pretty sure I remember their screams."
But, Agnes firmly reminded herself, Bardolph was good now. He had a sheep-keeping job most of the time, and four days a month was a fine bailiff for a few outlying farms that only needed occasional visits. He had also developed a real love of strong tea, which she found oddly reassuring. Tea had vanquished the vampyre menace, and a wereman who was gasping for a nice cuppa did not belong in Agnes's book of enemies.5 Besides, Bardolph was friendly, and very good at fixing things about the place, which made up for the Igors' disdain for non-scientific practical work. And he seemed genuinely to like her company, which was more than could be said for certain 'heroic' Omnian axe-preachers she could name.
They drank tea, and chatted about local affairs6 for a while, but Agnes could tell that Bard had come for something specific. He kept shifting his feet, ill at ease, which wasn't at all usual among werekind and was particularly unusual in this calm wereman. Finally, with Perdita screaming at her from upstairs to take some bloody action right now, Agnes got herself together and dared to ask. "Is there something you wanted, Bardolph?"7
Bardolph looked gruff. Amazing how a face could express a vocal tone, but it matched his voice when he finally spoke. "I wondered if you'd ever thought about making a wereman version of unbane?"
Agnes had never thought of Bardolph as shy. He'd introduced himself the first full moon after she'd moved in, fixing her water pump in the process and getting her to talk more about herself than she had done since leaving Lancre. Since then, he'd been a cheerful fixture in her world. Yet now he was shuffling in his chair, and picking at his fingernails devotedly, as though he might find something less than disgraceful under there. "I mean, I know it wouldn't be a huge seller, we're not nearly so numerous as werewolves, but it would be nice to have the option…"
This was an important moment. Agnes mentally shut the door to Perdita's tower, because this was also a moment when over-dramatic hussies shouldn’t get in the way of real people and real problems.
"Well, I'd miss you, of course…" It was true, she realised. Very true indeed. Wolf-Bardolph was a nice wolf, but she'd come to depend on Human-Bardolph for more than handyman skills.
But, "No, no, didn't mean that, sorry. Wanted to be a man, all the time, or most, or some of the time, when I choose. Sorry." Agnes was comforted by Bard's sudden and complete loss of habitual calm. It was nice to see others fluster, now and again. She wished she could give him a more definite response, though, since it had given him so much trouble to ask.
"I've never even thought about it. And you'd have to take a potion all the time, pretty much. It would be an awfully big commitment. But I'll ask the Igors to look into it, if you like, or maybe Perdita could-"
"Agnes," said Bard, softly, and she was suddenly very warm and rather flustered herself. Perdita was howling for freedom, because this was too important to be left to Agnes. But Bard had said Agnes, and he deserved to talk to her.
"Agnes. There is no Perdita, is there? Or she's just part of you, as the wolf is of me." Agnes blushed (dammit) and nodded, and failed to speak. "Well, I've decided that it's time to stop being two beings, if I can. Don't you want to be one person again?"
More blushing. More nodding. Perdita's tower was being nailed shut. With really big nails and crooked pieces of wood and everything. Agnes didn't want Perdita involved in this conversation. Or possibly, her life any more. Because Bard was big, and kind, and practical, and was telling her he wanted to give up the wolf to be human with her.
And, however things went with the potion problems, Agnes rather thought this new twist in her life would go better without Perdita.
1 The occasional run had yet to reveal Agnes's inner Thin Girl. But it did keep the Fatsup at bay, up to a point, or so she told herself as she bounced sportily into snowdrifts and came home early because her socks were wet.
2 Which did not include occasional visits from the Mighty Mightily Reverend Oates, the Apostle of the Uberwaldians. Oh no. (Besides, he only popped round for a cup of tea and some more boil ointment. So it wouldn't have counted as a very exciting benefit even if it had counted. Which it did not. Are we clear about that?)
3 Igors have a non-hierarchical social structure, in fact, and Agnes generally thought of this one as Igor-the-Ears rather than Head Igor. They all had heads, more or less, but some had distinctly more ears than others. Nonetheless, if her Igors had a chief, this Igor would be it. He generally managed to run things, anyway.
4 Agnes had very carefully not asked for details of the rites. She wanted to sleep again.
5 Agnes's book of enemies was small, practical and focused sharply on people who had tried to eat her, or brain her, or to eat or brain someone else who didn't deserve such a fate. Perdita's book of enemies, on the other hand, ran to several volumes and included anyone who had ever looked funny at Agnes, and anyone who had ever said anything annoying, and people who wore yellow hats and Janet Henshaw who used to answer the itinerant teachers with a coy simpering smile and- There were also a lot of crossings out and rewritings. Perdita was good at enemies.
6 Who kept the sharpest silver ready for Act of Wolf. Who was keeping company with the vampires. Which dwarves had newly come out as female. The usual village gossip.
7 Yes, of course she had a silver blade in hand when she asked. Just in case. This was basic Uberwaldean Self-Defence.