She found herself smiling at his compliment. Between the lethargic horse and her awkward saddle, Magda had lagged behind the men on the road to Aberdeen. James had circled back to check on her frequently, and his tireless attentions were chipping away at Magda's reserves. She was finding it difficult to maintain formality around his amiable chatter, and the two of them slipped once again into easy conversation.
"Of course I can play," she replied dismissively. "A talent for worthless pursuits was the currency in a family like mine. Golf, horses, skeet, you name it, we prized it."
Though, hearing herself say it, Magda realized how different the situation would be in the seventeenth century, where an ability with horses and guns would've been a matter of life or death.
"Horses!" he exclaimed. "So you say, hen, but I've yet to see your skill as an equestrienne. Though"—James pulled his reins, swinging his mount toward Magda to more fully examine her—"you do sit a horse quite prettily."
"You try riding this silly thing," Magda scowled. Despite her protests, everyone had insisted she ride a ladies' sidesaddle. Though beautiful, she considered it to be an entirely preposterous contraption, featuring an uncomfortable hook from which to dangle her leg, elaborate baroque stitching, and to top it off, a small, red leather-lined pocket she was informed could be used to store a handkerchief.
James nodded, gesturing his hand to her, palm up, as if to say she'd won on that point.
Magda gave him a warm look in return. She didn't know what dark magic it was that had brought her to this man's side. Or. she mused, what brand of sorcery was casting a spell on her now, because home sure was a blurry memory at the moment. She supposed she loved her parents, and was fond of her job. She certainly knew she missed hot showers—yesterday's dunk in a frigid stream hadn't even begun to touch the soil that clung to her skin like an extra layer.
Magda reminded herself that life for seventeenth -century women wasn't all tea biscuits and silk duvets, and that it was James's wealth and status that cast her new surroundings in an unrealistic light.
She knew she wanted to return to her world in Manhattan, had to return, but the urgency she'd initially felt paled when compared to the fantasy she was fulfilling. The art historian in her was thrilled to be getting such a detailed, real-life glimpse back in time. History was alive around her, with a cast of characters and costumes like something from a movie set, and with a previously unimagined depth that no painting she'd ever seen could bring to life.
Magda had landed in a world where the pace was slow, and yet the stakes were dramatically heightened. Minor injuries could be fatal, a simple change in weather could pose an inordinate obstacle, and people regularly staked their lives for the things they believed in.
And James Graham was about to do just that. She knew in her head that he was just a man, but she marveled at the invisible thread that had pulled her through time to him. A bond that she could just almost feel tied snug around her heart, continuing to draw her close to his side.
Something had happened between them yesterday. First while she studied that broad back during her bath, then later, under the stars. She'd felt the heat of his body radiate to hers and sensed his face turned to her, so close. She shivered, remembering the feel of his breath on her cheek. She'd been so afraid to look back at him, to meet his gaze and the intensity she knew she'd find there.
What would it have been like if she'd turned to him? To be held in his strong arms, feeling that breath mingle with her own, leaning her body into his, hearing his passionate whispers for her alone?
Like a dramatic punctuation to her thoughts, the clock tower of King's College Chapel peeked through the trees in the distance, and the sight took Magda's breath away. "Magnificent, aye?" James pulled his horse to a halt. He seemed pleased by her awe.
Unlike the predominantly granite buildings that made Aberdeen city proper feel so stolid and uniformly gray, the chapel was constructed of sandstone, and from a distance appeared a warm, mottled yellow and brown. Inexplicably delicate prongs and ornate embellishments topped a gigantic stone crown at the top of the tower.
"How did they do that?" she gasped.
"With great precision, I imagine. It's said there's a sundial up there somewhere, though you'll not be able to see it from the chapel itself."
"And you think Brother Lonan is there?"
His voice was suddenly subdued. "I'm told he's somewhere about, aye."
Something in her heart clenched at the realization that this was almost good-bye. Magda looked down, studiously examining the reins in her hands. Anything to avoid catching James's eye.
"So, hen, shall we?" He kicked his horse to a slow trot. "Let's be off with you then."
Off with her?
The tenderness that had claimed Magda just a moment ago was doused by the cold truth. James was all handsome ease, his blithe flirtations without thought. She recognized his type. James was nothing more than a rich playboy. One who just happened to make her blush every time he directed his attentions her way. The episode on the golf course, with those experienced hands of his doing what they did. Then she'd thought they'd shared a moment gazing at the stars. Of course her feelings had gotten muddled.
The remorse she'd felt at leaving crystallized into anger. What could she have been thinking?
Magda did not relish strife, and before meeting this man, she'd led a peaceful life. After her brother died, she'd put away once and for all the last of those crude and messy bits of herself—her passions, her desires, anything that required her to relinquish her practiced armor and bare the vulnerability beneath.
It had been the reason she'd fashioned herself into something more like a courteous associate of her parents rather than a loving daughter. The reason the most exhilarating moments of her life took place alone in a darkened room with nothing but her tools at her side.
There had been times, perhaps, when she'd not stood up for herself enough, but all in all, Magda's little world had been calm and conflict free. How could she have let that world recede so far into the corners of her mind?
She'd reclaim it. It was back to reality now. They'd find this Brother Lonan and solve the mystery of what brought her here and how. He'd paint a picture of her, or do whatever it was he needed to do to get her home. He had to.
She realized there was a part of her that hadn't fully accepted the reality of her situation. It was that part she clung to now, refusing to entertain any doubts that this Lonan could—would—help her find her way home.
That would be Magda's single focus from now on. Not James, not his politics, and definitely not his easy chatter. Off with her indeed.
"Notebooks?" Magda exclaimed. "That's all he left behind? Page after page of doodles and ramblings?"
Hurt sharpened her voice. She was impatient and just wanted to get home, and now this. The monk had disappeared again, and all that was left of him were some small bound notebooks, a sheaf of yellowed vellum, and innumerable bits of scattered sketches and papers.
It seemed the men of King's College had more than heard of Brother Lonan; they'd housed him for a number of weeks prior, as they did many of the scholars who came for study, drawn by the silence of the vast library collections, or the academic camaraderie of noisy philosophical arguments over meals. Lonan had favored the former, sticking primarily to the library and to the dimly lit cell that was his temporary bedroom.
"Now, hen, don't lose heart. There may be some clue, aye?" He sat next to her, Lonan's thin woven cot creaking under the added weight. The room was a cramped rectangular space with walls of damp stone, lit by a single small slit open to the outside. The only furniture besides the cot was a rough-hewn oak desk.
Lonan's fellows had been baffled by the man's sudden disappearance, and more so by the fact that he'd left behind his prized journals. Magda pored through them, both baffled and increasingly enthralled by what amounted to hundreds of pages of cramped writing. Despite the thick blots of black ink that stained most every page, his notes were remarkably legible, if not utterly coherent tracts on everything from Greek musical scales to cycles of the Viking calendar.
But it was Lonan's sketches that transfixed her. She recognized a number of patterns plucked straight from ancient art history. Chevrons rimmed many of the pages, the tightly drawn arrows stacked atop each other, hemming in his notes with their mad repetition. Many sheets bore what Magda knew were meanders, interlocking lines and boxes looking like miniature mazes that intertwined and repeated with seeming infinity. There were other maze shapes as well. Sanskritic swastikas—like those the Nazis had subverted—marched across the pages . Lines branched out from many of the swastik shapes, forking off at right angles to create elaborate labyrinths.
And over and over the same image appeared amongst the patterns. That of a snake eating its tail.
"He's mad." James's harsh whisper echoed off the dank cell walls.
"Or brilliant. Look"—excitement twinged Magda's voice—"maybe it's just because I'm looking for it, but"—she riffled through the pages with increasing speed—"all these symbols represent time. Like the swastika here: for many ancient peoples this was a sacred symbol of the equinoxes, or a representation of the sun, moon, and stars, or the passing of the seasons.
"Or these Egyptian symbols: the obelisk, this crescent moon, all represent the passing of time."
"What of this? It's common for the old Scots." James pointed to an elaborate interweaving of vines and dragons.
"I've seen its like on the old stone crosses."
As she flipped further along in the notebook, the Celtic designs that James had noted began to lose their detail. Drawn in an increasingly primitive manner, they eventually morphed in the final pages into the single image of a serpent swallowing its tail.
"Or this." Magda ran her finger over the circle made by the snake's body.