"Good." She worked hard to keep her voice calm and even. "It sounded a little…"
"Violent," Dana put in.
"Yeah, that." Zoe felt better, considerably, when Dana's hand came to rest on her shoulder. "But, it seemed, compared to the others, that my clue was more a lot of questions."
Rowena held out the scroll. "Answer them," she said simply.
* * *
When they were alone, Pitte stood beside Rowena, studying the portrait.
"He'll come after her quickly," Rowena said. "Won't he?"
"Yes. He's had more time to study her, to learn her weaknesses, to understand her fears and her needs. He'll use them against her."
"The boy is safe. Whatever we do, whatever it costs us, we must keep him so. He is a sweet boy, Pitte."
Hearing the pain, the longing in her voice, he drew her close. "He'll be safe. Whatever the cost." He pressed his lips to the top of her head. "He won't touch the child."
She nodded and, turning her head, stared into the fire. "Will she trust, I wonder, as completely as I trust you? Can she, with all that has gone before, and all she has to risk?"
"Everything comes down to the courage of one woman." He tipped her head up, let his thumb graze her jawline. "If she has even a glimmer of yours, we will win this thing."
"She hasn't had you. She's had no one. They've all come to touch my heart, Pitte. I never expected to feel this…" She laid her fingers to her breast. "Attachment. But she most of all, brave little mother, she touches me."
"Then trust in her, and her army. They are… resourceful and clever. For mortals."
With that he made her laugh, and lifted her mood again. "Three thousand years among them, and still you find them a curiosity."
"Perhaps. But unlike Kane, I've learned to respect them—and never to underestimate a woman. Come." He swept her up in his arms. "Let's to bed."
Long after she'd put Simon to bed, Zoe found dozens of things to occupy her around the house. Long after Simon stopped whispering to the dog, long after Zoe heard Moe clamber up on the bed and Simon's desperately muffled laughter, she wandered around, looking for something to occupy her hands, her mind.
Her quest started at sunrise, and she was afraid she was going to be awake to see it, and the day, begin.
It was hardly her first sleepless night, she reminded herself. She had countless others to her credit. Nights Simon had been fussy, or sick. Nights she'd tossed and turned, worried about bills. Nights she'd filled with a dozen chores because the day simply hadn't been long enough to get them finished.
There had even been times she hadn't been able to sleep because she was too happy to close her eyes. Her first night in this house, she remembered, she'd spent hours walking around, touching the walls, looking out the windows, making plans for all the work she wanted to do on it, to make a home for Simon.
This was another big occasion, so there was no point in complaining about a few hours of lost sleep.
At midnight she was still too restless to settle, and decided to indulge in a long, hot shower— one that wouldn't be interrupted by a young boy wanting her attention.
She hung her best sleep shirt, a poppy red one, on the back of the door, then lit one of the jar candles she'd made herself so the room would fill with fragrance as well as steam.
Little rituals, she believed, set the tone for sleep.
She soothed herself with the pulse of water, and the silky feel of the peach blossom shower gel she was considering as stock for her salon. She would let the clue roll around in her head, she decided, try to see it as a whole first. Then as pieces of the puzzle. One piece was bound to lodge itself, and she would pursue that until… until the next, she thought.
Step by step, until she began to see the picture. A painting for Malory, a book for Dana. What did that leave for her? Shampoo and face cream? she wondered with a half laugh. Those were the kinds of things she knew. Those and what was important in a young boy's world. She knew how to make things, she considered. How to build or transform.
She was good with her hands, she reminded herself, and turned them under the water while she studied them. But what did any of that have to do with paths in a forest, or a goddess with a sword?
A journey, she thought as she turned off the water. That had to be a kind of symbol, as she'd never actually been anywhere. And that didn't look to be changing anytime soon.
Maybe it had to do with her coming to the Valley in the first place, or starting her business with Malory and Dana. Or, she mused as she toweled off, maybe it was just life.