Confused, Zoe pressed her fingers to her temples. "You were in the woods, watching out for me. The buck… it had your eyes."
He smiled when Rowena came back into the room. "I might not have been there, if Rowena hadn't nagged at me."
"Would he have killed me?" "He has spilled human blood." Pitte settled into a chair. "He might have spilled yours."
"Would he—could he have killed you?"
Pitte's chin angled just enough for arrogance. "He would have tried."
"Might have been a bit more effective to come as yourself, with a shotgun," Brad pointed out.
"I can't battle him in human form while he takes the form of an animal."
"You were badly hurt," Zoe remembered. "Your side was gouged."
"And has been tended. Thank you."
"Ah, here's the tea. He grumbled when I tended him." Rowena scooted forward to lift the teapot the servant set on the table. "Which is a good sign. Were Pitte seriously wounded he would say nothing."
"I was right to go back there. I feel, most of the time, I feel I'm not doing enough. But I was right to go back there."
"The path is yours to take." Rowena offered Zoe a cup. "Your man is worried for you. I understand," she said to Bradley and poured a second cup. "I can promise you we'll do all we can to keep her safe."
"You put protection around Simon. Put protection around her."
Rowena's face mirrored sympathy as she held out the second cup. "There is no key without risk. There is no end to risk without the key. She needs your faith in her. It's as vital as a shield and a sword."
"I have all the faith in the world in Zoe. And no trust whatsoever for Kane."
"You're wise on both counts," Pitte acknowledged. "He may be licking his wounds for the moment, but he's not finished. With either of you."
"He hasn't bothered with me," Brad pointed out.
"A canny foe chooses the time and the field. The more she cares for you, the harder the blow. After all, the surest way to the soul is through the heart."
As Zoe's cup rattled in its saucer, Brad nodded to Pitte. "Let's worry about what is for now, and handle what comes as we get to it. You're the keeper of the keys," he said to Rowena. "The rules have changed, you've said so yourself. Give her the key, and end it."
"He negotiates." Obviously pleased, Pitte sat straighter. "There is a contract."
"Which stated nothing about danger to life and limb," Brad said easily. "The terms of which were voided when attacks were made on the people involved."
"They waived recompense for any injuries beyond our control."
"There wasn't full disclosure."
Rowena let out a sigh. "Must you get him started?" she said to Brad. "I'm sure both of you would enjoy a good wrangle over contracts and terms and what have you. And the fact is, I would agree there would no longer be the penalty of a year of your lives, as stated in the contract, if Zoe decides to end her quest. Pitte would agree as well, though he would enjoy arguing the terms first for form."
"And entertainment," he added.
"I can't give her the key," Rowena continued. "Once the quest was accepted, once it was begun, it was out of my hands. I can't touch the keys until they're found by the ones chosen to find them, or until the time has elapsed. Such is the nature of this."
"Then tell her where it is."
"Because it's not anywhere until I find it," Zoe said softly as it settled clearly into her mind. "It's not there," she said, looking over at Rowena now, "until I know."
"You have all the power in this, and have only to understand how to use it."