One More Knight by Cynthia Luhrs

1

Present Day

England

If Lily Jameshad known she’d end up tumbling through time like a leaf in a storm, she might have actually paid attention during history class.

Packed for the journey.

Brought snacks.

Or more likely, run as fast as she could back to the safety of quiet, boring Hillhaven, Pennsylvania.

Happy to be smack in the middle of her dream vacation, Lily wandered through yet another dusty old church, blissfully unaware of what the fates had planned.

What possessed her to agree to an entire day of sightseeing with Amy, best friend, and lover of all things old and falling down?

Oh, right. They’d met in the third grade, bonded over their love of finding wildly inventive ways to get out of gym class, and had been inseparable ever since. Though while her dearest friend loved everything old, Lily adored all things new and shiny.

The thought of camping outdoors where bugs and other creepy crawly things could slither into your sleeping bag, or having to worry about getting poison ivy while you did your business in a bush, made her shudder. Those outdoorsy types could keep their love of roughing it. Give her room service, a cozy down comforter layered over crisp cool sheets, and blistering hot showers any day. And let’s not forget mac and cheese and other delicious treats like doughnuts and pie.

Amy stood in the enormous arched entryway of the church, arms spread wide, looking as if she were planning to move in and call the place home.

“Hurry. You have to see the carvings. They’re even more detailed than the ones at the last church.”

As Amy had agreed to visiting several tech vendors and attending two conferences on artificial intelligence with her over the summer, the least Lily could do was show some enthusiasm for the dusty old statues, though why she had to hurry was beyond her. The old marble statues had waited patiently for hundreds of years as tourist after tourist exclaimed over them. It wasn’t like the statues had a pressing engagement.

Her beloved iPad and Apple pencil, perfect for traveling, went in the padded sleeve in her messenger bag as Lily slid out of the creaky wood pew to join her friend in a corner of the church. And if on the way over, she crossed her fingers that Amy would be ready to go before she expired of hunger, Lily figured Amy had done the same as she’d drooled over robots working as checkout clerks in the grocery stores, and drones to deliver packages right to your front porch. Unlike churches, tech shows had s’mores and other treats to look forward to all day. Tech folks loved their junk food and caffeine.

Her parents kept the kitchen at their tech company stocked with soda, energy drinks, and every kind of chip, candy, and snack food imaginable. They even had a cotton candy machine. No more braving the fair with its scary farm animals every year so she could get her fix.

Though as she looked around, Lily had to admit all those builders back in the day really knew what they were doing, with the soaring ceilings and intricate carvings that were absolutely breathtaking. She snapped a picture of the carvings, knowing they’d be perfect as a planner dashboard in the app she’d been working on for the past six months. The gargoyles made Lily feel like she was being watched, and not in a friendly way, more like a creepy stalker, eat you for breakfast sort of way.

“This church has even more gargoyles than the last one. Why gargoyles and not, say, a cute sheep or a cow?”

Glad she’d brought a sweatshirt, Lily shivered as she peered into gloomy corners at the marble statues keeping silent vigil as the sun shone through the stained glass windows, turning the floor to a mosaic of muted colors.

The muffled answer came from the floor as Amy peered at her from behind the robe of some important dead guy.

“They considered gargoyles to be the spiritual protectors of churches.”

Amy made ghost noises, the sounds echoing off the walls.

“They scared off demons and evil spirits, or at least that’s what people thought back then.”

“Who needed gargoyles when all they really needed was a recording of your ghost impression?” A quick glance out of the corner of her eye confirmed the gargoyles were still watching them.

Unconcerned with gargoyles coming to life and eating them, Amy crawled around to the front of the statue, peering at the bare feet while Lily kept watch for a single twitch. Maybe she’d overdone it on the sci-fi movies over the past few weeks.

“Remember at that party when I tried to scare everyone by dressing up as a ghost and wailing?”

The memory made Lily grin. “All three of their dogs howled.”

Her friend dusted off her jeans as she stood.

“Gargoyles served as waterspouts, used to keep the rainwater from running down the walls and eroding the mortar. It wouldn’t do to have the church fall down on the worshippers’ heads.”

Amy squinted at the carvings that ran around a column.

“I’m going to guess that a sheep wouldn’t have been scary enough to keep the evil spirits away.”

“No,” Lily agreed, a snort escaping. “I’m betting the demons would eat the sheep, then the mortar would wash away, the church would collapse, killing everyone, and we’d be in a post-apocalyptic movie.”

“We really have to talk about your recent taste in movies. Come on, I want to look at the carvings around the altar. Then we can go.”

“Aren’t you tired of looking at churches, museums, and old ruins? Are you sure you want to do this for a living?”

Did the people buried beneath the floors care that millions of tourists walked on them every year? Lily lifted her foot in the air as she pondered the thought, and just in case, jumped over to what she hoped was a safe spot.

Amy held up her phone, taking picture after picture. Then she put an arm around Lily to snap a few of them, grinning and making faces.

“I’m happiest in places like this. The older, the better.” Her best friend shot an accusing glance her way. “You’re to blame.”

Lily blinked. “Me? You know I hate dust, it makes me sneeze about a thousand times. Then I have to blow my nose and sound like a sick goose.”

“You’re the one who took me to that camp to look for dinosaur bones after you watched that old Jurassic Park movie. You wanted to sneak into your parents’ company when we got home to create your own dinosaur. I found that piece of an insect in amber and you found an emerald.”

“How could I forget? You came home and told everyone you were going to be Lara Croft. My grandfather wouldn’t let me in the lab for a year after I cut through the steel doors with a laser.”

Lily pulled the necklace from her shirt, looking into the green depths of the stone.

“I still have the emerald.” Her throat closed up. “You’re going to be an amazing archeologist.”

“Lara Croft. Minus all the crazy stunts.” Amy reached out and touched the necklace, before turning it over to read the date inscribed on the back of the gold pendant.

“The guy at the camp tried to buy it from you, but you said no, it was your good luck charm.” She rubbed the stone before letting go. “I have a feeling this will be a year we never forget.”

Something across the church caught Amy’s eye as she made a beeline over to a column covered in carvings of fruit and animals.

“I can’t believe our trip is almost over. It feels like we just got here. There are so many castles I haven’t even had time to visit yet.”

“You are a pertinacious woman some days.”

“You and your favorite words. I’m guessing tenacious?”

Lily tried to hide her grin and failed as it escaped.

“Stubbornly tenacious. Perversely persistent.”

It was Amy’s turn to smile.

“Yep, that’s me.”

A sneeze sounded, followed in quick succession by two more as Amy took yet another picture. Thank goodness she had plenty of storage on her phone. Lily swore her friend must have easily taken over a thousand pictures this summer.

“You can almost feel all the people that came before us. Imagine all the things these walls have seen.”

Amy let out a longing sigh.

In Lily’s opinion, once you’d seen one church, castle ruin, or museum, you’d basically seen them all. Give her the latest phone or gadget to make life easier, along with an icy cold lemonade or root beer. That was all she needed to be happy.

Someone to share it with would be nice, but after the soul-crushing experience of dating during college, she wasn’t holding out any hope. Most guys thought she was too geeky for them, and the nerdy guys were intimidated by her and her last name.

James Technology was famous for coming up with inventions to make life better. They’d invented the robots being used to deliver food in restaurants. It wouldn’t be long before the robots would take orders as well.

Her pet project was an app to make people’s lives easier. A digital planner and calendar with AI built in. When someone made a grocery list and put the list on Wednesday, the artificial intelligence would place the grocery order and have it delivered on the day the user placed the list on the calendar. Same with making appointments. The AI would communicate with your car, set up the maintenance appointment and put it on your calendar when it knew you were free.

Her app would free up so much time for people to do other things, not to mention it would be pretty with all the fun electronic stickers, dashboards, and other planner features people loved. There would also be a plain or minimalist version for those who weren’t into the whole pretty thing.

She had spent part of this trip visiting vendors and listening to different accents. Lily loved a Yorkshire accent, so she had it as a choice for the AI voice along with a stuffy upper crust English accent. So far, she had fifty different voices for the user to choose from.

The stone cool beneath her fingertips, Lily ran a finger over the face of a knight.

Why couldn’t fictional book boyfriends step off the page, and offer to be there forevermore? To love her more than sports or the amount of likes they racked up on social media?

A flash of pink caught her eye as her friend crawled on her hands and knees on the floor, the sunlight streaming through the windows turning the dust motes floating in the air to gold.

A muffled voice bounced off the stone.

“You should see the back of this statue. The folds of her dress are so realistic it’s like they’re moving with the breeze.”

Dark jeans, now covered in dust and cobwebs, appeared from behind a pew followed by the rest of Amy. There was a smudge of dirt on her nose as she stood, and a look of utter enchantment on her face.

While Lily escaped with science and science fiction, Amy preferred non-fiction books about all things old and dreary. She claimed her love of history came from dinosaur camp and living in a small town where nothing ever happened.

It was true, their hometown was quiet, which was why Lily yearned for adventure. Well, let’s not go crazy… More like a change of scenery, so she’d worked two jobs to save spending money for the trip. Too bad they didn’t have time to visit a few more countries before they went home.

They’d started in Ireland, then Wales, then on to Scotland, and ended up in England, where she’d met with vendors and attended a tech conference while Amy had gone to a couple of classes at the museum. If only Lily could invent a device to stop time, because once they went home, everything would change.

Amy would go back to college to finish her advanced degree while Lily would go to work for her family. While she worked in a cubicle finishing her app, Amy would traipse across the world, doing what she loved.

“Let’s go see the monastery and castle ruins I was telling you about. After that, we’ll head back to the bed-and-breakfast.” Amy grinned, the wind tousling her short hair.

“Or we could go spend the night at that glamping place those guys from Norway told us about. Remember that time your dad decided he needed to be more outdoorsy and took us to that awful campsite?”

“Funny, very funny. But no way.” The thought made Lily laugh. Her poor dad had been so inept.

“The wind blew the tent on top of us. Dad forgot to bring a stove, so we had cold hot dogs, and we all came home with poison ivy. How could I forget? It’s no wonder I hate roughing it.”

The memory of that disastrous camping trip in the Appalachian mountains warmed Lily from the inside out, then faded away like a summer breeze.

“That was a long time ago, wasn’t it? He tried, but like me, dad is most comfortable in a climate-controlled building, not at the mercy of the elements.”

She pulled her hair back with a clip, then rummaged around a bit more in her bag until she came up with a couple of wipes for Amy to clean the dirt off her face.

Her friend scrubbed her cheek, tucking the wipes in a pocket to dispose of later.

“We couldn’t get the fire going, and neither one of us would bait the hook to catch a fish.”

Lily eyed the gargoyle one last time as she pulled the heavy wooden door of the church open.

“Nothing beats the modern comforts of home.”

Amy stepped out of the dim church and into the cloudless day, blinking as she searched for her sunglasses.

“I would never survive in the wilderness. Who could kill their own dinner when it has such a sweet face?”

Her friend frowned as she searched through her bag again. She never remembered to pack the essentials, like sunglasses or sunscreen, even though she wrote them down on one of her many lists.

“Here. I brought an extra pair.”

Lily handed Amy a pair of pink sunglasses before sliding her own black shades on her face, giving her eyes time to adjust from the darkness of the church to the clear sunny day. They’d better enjoy it before it rained this afternoon.

“We’re lucky to have grocery stores, otherwise we’d have to hunt our own food. Though I have to ask. You’re going to be working on digs in faraway places. Do you think you’re going to get a hot shower every day? I’m guessing it will be like camping, if not more rustic.”

Amy wrinkled her nose.

“No way. Most of the time I’ll be locked away in a museum basement, in some dusty corner with the spiders and scorpions, sifting through old papers. When I do travel to a dig site, I plan on staying in a fancy tent or, even better, an RV or a local home. This is the twenty-first century. No need to rough it.”

She ran a hand over short brown hair, making Lily wish she had the courage to go for such a dramatic haircut. Amy looked like a happy pixie with the short cut and big blue eyes. But nope, Lily wore her long hair in a braid or pulled up in a ponytail or bun. It was a dull dishwater blond, halfway down her back, wavy and unruly.

As they meandered through the village, back to the bed-and-breakfast, Lily inhaled, turning her head left and right, trying to figure out where the delightful scent was coming from.

“I smell books. Old books.”

This time it was Amy who rolled her eyes.

“You’re going to be over the weight limit on your luggage for the flight back with all the books you’ve purchased. Why do you carry around that tablet when you have an entire suitcase full of dusty, old, smelly books?”

“My tablet holds not only my drawing apps, but it has internet access, and holds thousands of books, perfect for traveling… though there’s something about an old book… the feel of the paper, the sound as you turn the pages, the smell, and the weight when you hold it in your hands. It’s like how you felt when you went on that dig over Christmas and found that old broken pot.”

She pulled a container of lip balm out of the pocket of her bag.

“I already budgeted for the fee the airline charges for the extra weight.” Lily grinned. “Why do you think I packed two empty suitcases inside my enormous suitcase?”

“For someone who loves modern inventions, you sure like old books.”

A bell tinkled over the door as they made their way inside the tiny bookshop with an enormous picture window full of books. The shop was tucked in the middle of the street between a bakery and a pizza place.

“Books first, then let’s try the pizza place next door for lunch, my treat.”

Amy looked unconvinced. “Remember your book spending limit. You’ve ruthlessly analyzed every expense and entrance fee, but the moment we see a bookstore, you lose your mind and spend money like a clotheshorse at a sample sale.”

“It’s the smell.”

Lily inhaled again, letting her nose guide her. “That old book smell makes me forget all about budgets. Anyway, I might find another book with old drawings of how they created mills or ancient weapons, or things that made life easier.”

It was true. She’d been so careful with money all summer, getting the most out of the trip so she could buy whatever books caught her eye.

While her parents had container ships full of money, and she had an enormous trust fund waiting for her as soon as she turned twenty-five, Lily wanted to prove to her parents she could pay for this trip with money she’d earned working part-time jobs.

Maybe if she showed them she was no longer a child, they’d understand when she told them she was moving out of their house and into her own place. Sure the pool house was fabulous, but she wanted her own space, to decorate as she pleased without coming home and finding that her mother had redecorated and disposed of all of her stuff, or Sally Ann had come in to clean and rearranged the books and drawings she was working on for her app.

When she moved into her own place, she wanted two bedrooms so she could turn one into a home office slash library. Of course, she’d have a pullout sofa for when Amy came home from traveling the world and stayed with her. Amy’s three brothers were older than her. They constantly showed up at their parents unannounced, with their wives and kids, driving Amy crazy with all the noise and chaos.

By the time she left the bookstore, Lily was proud of her restraint. She’d only purchased two books when she could have easily left with twenty. A tidy little park with a monument to some dead guy was across the street from the bookstore, and that’s where she found Amy, poring over every inch of the statue.

“I’m starved.”

Amy tucked yet another list away in her bag.

“I think we better stop by the bed-and-breakfast and drop off your books.”

She pointed to the bulging bag Lily had slung over her shoulder.

“There’s no way you can drag those around all day. What if we have to run from an angry sheep?” Amy peered around the park as if a gang of sheep might be lurking behind the bushes waiting for unsuspecting tourists.

“An angry sheep? That’s something I would have never thought of, but you’re right, we should make a stop. Mrs. Chatworth was nice enough to let us leave our stuff there. She’s probably hoping we’ll stay another night.”

They found a table at the pizza place with an extra chair for her bag of books. The mix of old books, pizza, and the overpowering cologne of the guy who worked there filled the air as they debated whether to order thin crust pepperoni or a white pizza with spinach.

An hour later, full of pizza, they wandered along the picturesque street, on their way to drop off Lily’s books, when someone yelled out a van window.

“Hey. Remember us?”

It was the three guys from Norway. They were on summer break and having a blast. All of them had blond hair and blue or green eyes. Tall and good-looking, they enchanted Amy. She couldn’t understand why Lily wasn’t interested. Then again, Lily didn’t know why either, only that she had a feeling there was someone out there waiting for her. If only she could find him.

“They’re going back to the bed-and-breakfast and offered us a ride.”

Amy’s eyes were shining.

“I’m going to invite them to the ball.”

The delight on her friend’s face lifted Lily’s spirits.

“That’s a great idea. You’ll have plenty of guys to dance with.”

They climbed into the big blue van; the guys laughing and talking, telling them about a club they’d gone to the night before.

The owner of the next bed-and-breakfast they’d booked had texted Lily that they’d had an outbreak of food poisoning, so she and Amy had stayed at their current B&B for one more night, to the delight of Mrs. Chatworth, who insisted they were both way too thin and told them she would whip up a feast for dinner.

Lily listened to everyone talking and laughing as she looked out the windows at the verdant countryside.

The guy tapped her on the shoulder.

“Where’s Ayrwick Castle?”

“It’s in Northumberland.” She pointed straight ahead. “North.”

One guy, Eric maybe? Let out a hearty laugh.

“North is that way.” He pointed left.

But Lily shook her head, unable to keep the laughter in.

“North is always in front of me. West to my left, east to my right. And south is most certainly behind me.”

She dug in her bag and came up with a compass.

“My awful sense of direction is why I always carry a compass.” With a grin, Lily looked at it, then shrugged.

“You’re right, north is that way.”

The guys groaned.

Amy sneezed as she nudged Lily. “Thank goodness we don’t have to navigate by Lily’s directions or we’d probably end up in Scotland.”

That comment prompted the guys to try out their best accents for the rest of the short drive to the B&B.

The slam of the van door made her jump. They said goodbye to the guys who had agreed to drive them to the castle in the morning.

The guy with green eyes held the door for her as she climbed out of the van. He hefted her bag with a grin.

After the party at the castle, the guys would head to Scotland for a month before they returned home.

“I’ve seen you with your tablet, scribbling away like some mad scientist, so why all the heavy old books?”

Amy groaned and rolled her eyes.

“Don’t even get her started. She’ll rhapsodize the rest of the day about the delights of old books.”

Eric’s brother winked at her.

“Those old books won’t keep you from getting lost. Better make sure besides your compass, you always have a map and compass app on your phone. We’d hate for you to fall into the sea because you were so busy thinking up ideas, you walked right off a cliff.”

Lily laughed along with them. Yes, she was awful with directions, always had been. It didn’t bother her. Getting lost could be an adventure. Who knew what you might find or who you might meet?