Tony Pi is a Canadian writer with a Ph.D. in linguistics. While pursuing his graduate studies, he had the chance to observe and spend time with two purported amnesiacs. Those incidents inspired this story. His work can be found in Clarkesworld magazine, InterGalactic Medicine Show, On Spec Magazine, and The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, among others. “Come-From-Aways” was originally published in On Spec, the Canadian Magazine of the Fantastic in 2009.
Madoc was a striking man in his thirties, his eyes bluer than the sea. I could well imagine him as an ancient prince.
I sat next to his hospital bed and smiled. “Siw mae, Madoc.”
He paused, the way I would whenever I heard a phrase in Newfoundland English to make sure I hadn’t misheard. Then he sat up and spoke excitedly, but I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Contrary to what people believe, linguists don’t all speak twenty languages or pick up a new language instantly. Where we excel was figuring out linguistic patterns.
Doctor Liu smirked. “Did you call him pork dumpling?”
I understood the confusion. Siw mae sounded like siu mai in Cantonese, which meant pork dumpling. “It means how are you in modern Southern Welsh. Madoc would have been from Snowdon, Northern Wales, so I should have said sut mae.”
Two weeks ago, on December twenty-sixth, a strange ship had drifted into the Harbour of St. John’s. Found aboard the replica of the Viking longship were four dead men and one survivor. Will Monteith from the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary contacted me to help him pinpoint the man’s origin through his language. Analyzing the tapes of the man’s speech, I came to the strange conclusion that the man who called himself Madoc had been speaking two archaic languages: Middle English and Middle Welsh.
To be certain, I asked Will to arrange a face-to-face interview. Sometimes linguistic evidence was visual. For example, the v sound in Modern Welsh was produced like in Modern English, with the upper teeth against the lower lip, but the v in Middle Welsh was produced with both lips, like in Spanish.
I turned on the tape recorder and pointed to myself. “Kate.” I indicated Detective Monteith and Doctor Liu. “Will. Philip. Meddic.” Doctor, in Middle Welsh. The double dd sounded like the first sound in the English word, they.
He repeated the names and grinned.
Madoc was a puzzle indeed. The theory that made most sense was that he and the other men were trying to recreate the Madoc voyage. Prince Madoc of Gwynedd was a Welsh legend, believed to have sailed west from Wales in 1170. He returned seven years later to tell of a new land of untouched bounty across the sea. Intending to settle the new land, he set out with a fleet of ten ships of settlers, and disappeared from history.
This man could be a Middle Ages scholar with damage to Wernicke’s area. Wernicke’s aphasics had no problems with articulation, but their utterances made little sense. For the most severe cases, sounds were randomly chosen, spliced together to sound real, but contained few actual words. ‘Madoc’ might be suffering from a similar jargonaphasia. However, the MRI and PET scans showed no such damage to his brain’s left hemisphere.
But how authentic was Madoc’s command of Middle Welsh? I had two tests in mind.
I gave Madoc two poems I had found, one by Gwalchmai ap Meilyr, another by Dafydd ap Gwilym, both printed in a font called Neue Hammer Unziale. The font seemed closest to Insular Majescule, the script a twelfth-century prince might have been familiar with. “Darlle.” I prompted him to read.
Madoc read the first poem easily, but tripped over some of the words in the second.
Will raised an eyebrow. “Shouldn’t he be able to read both poems?” he asked, his detective’s instincts coming to the fore.
“I made it difficult on purpose,” I explained. “The first poem was by a court poet who lived around the same time as Madoc. The second poem, however, was poetry written in the fourteenth century, and is usually designated as early Modern Welsh. I expected him to have more difficulty with that one. It’s like Chaucer trying to read Shakespeare, or Shakespeare reading Tennessee Williams; different time, different language.”
“You’re trying to trip him up! Police work and linguistics are a lot alike,” Will said. “Patterns and mistakes.”
“I’ve never quite heard it put that way, but you’re right.” Will and I shared a smile.
Second test was a production task. I took out a colour pictorial of England, and opened it to a photograph with nine men in a pub.
“Gwyr. Pet?” Men. How many?
I shook my head. “Naw wyr.” Nine men. I prompted him to use compounds, as I wanted to test a phenomenon called lenition or mutation. In Welsh, if a word came after a number, the first sound sometimes changed or was dropped, as in the case of gwyr to wyr. Mutations appeared elsewhere as well, but seeing as I was only dabbling in Celtic, I kept it simple for myself.
Madoc caught on fast; we went through the book counting people and things. When we came to a picture of a boat, Madoc pointed to it, then himself. “Gwyr. Pet?” How many survived from his ship?
I cast a sidewise glance at Will.
“Un,” I answered. One.
A shocked expression overtook Madoc’s face.
“That’s enough for today,” I said. I gave him a bottle of ink, a sketchbook, and a seagull feather I had cut into a quill pen, and mimed writing motions. I wanted to analyze his writing.
Madoc took my hand and drew it close for a kiss.
Will smiled. “He might not be able to say it, Kate, but I think you’re after making a friend for life.”
* * *
A week of interviews later, at Detective Will Monteith’s request, I presented my findings to the other experts at the R.N.C. Headquarters downtown: Doctor Birley from the Provincial Coroner’s Office; Rebecca Shannon, a lawyer working pro bono for Madoc; and Professor Connon from the Department of Anthropology at Memorial University.
I had reservations about coming. My linguistic analysis had led me to a strange and inescapable conclusion: there was no doubting Madoc’s native fluency in Middle Welsh. Even if a hoaxer had learned Middle Welsh, he might pronounce words wrong, or not know the words for common things. Madoc never tripped over syntax or vocabulary, except when it involved a modern object. Could he be the genuine Madoc, lost at sea over eight hundred years ago, found at last in St. John’s?
Was it a mad fancy? Perhaps. The academic in me scoffed at the idea. But the romantic in me wanted to believe. Here in Newfoundland, it seemed like anything was possible. I didn’t know how to describe it, but there was something magical and mystical about this place. I wouldn’t be surprised to find a leprechaun at my house, for instance. Time had stopped this winter, snow falling every day like the weather was stuck and couldn’t move ahead to anything different. I felt like I was living in a snow-globe, and the same guy kept turning it upside-down and shaking it. In his world it was only five minutes of playing; but inside the snow-globe, an entire month passed.
But could I convince the others?
“He’s a native speaker of Middle Welsh, with some training in Middle English,” I said. “He did quite well on the reading passages, and the way he pronounced his vowels and consonants were consistent with my expectations. The written evidence further supports it.”
“Preposterous!” Connon said. “A good scholar could learn a second language well enough to fool you. It’s a hoax by someone in the Society of Creative Anachronism, I wager.”
“We spoke to the Seneschal at Memorial University and contacted everyone on their Shire Roll, but no one from their group is missing, and no one heard about any re-enactment of the Madoc voyage,” Will said.
“I hear he’s learning English,” Connon continued. “How do we know that it wasn’t his plan, fake the Madoc story long enough to ease back into English?”
“You can’t stop someone from learning a new language. He’s a human being, not an artifact from some dig!” I said.
“‘Ang on, ‘Arry,” said old Doctor Birley. He had that Newfoundlander tendency to drop his h’s and add them back on words that shouldn’t have them. “It might be plausible that h’one man didn’t ‘ave vaccination scars or dental work.
I meself was vaccinated in ‘72, but I don’t ‘ave a scar. But h’all four bodies, plus Madoc? The h’odds of that are right slim. Unless they were h’all raised in the backwoods, of course. But a person who ‘as the wherewithal to pull off an ‘oax like this wouldn’t be so isolated from society. Or do you think someone planned this for forty years?”
“I’ll admit the boat is the work of a meticulous forger.” Connon passed out some photographs of the ship and items found aboard. “The design’s consistent with what we know about twelfth-century ships. A Viking longship with a high prow, carved with a lion’s head. That’s an interesting point. You might have expected the red dragon typically associated with Wales, but the Lions of Gwynedd were in use in the Gwynedd arms, up until the time of the Tudors.”
I set aside a picture of a twisted iron nail and studied the weather-worn red lion’s head that Professor Connon described.
“I was expecting a coracle,” Philip Liu interjected. “I was reading Severin’s The Brendan Voyage about the seaworthiness of oxhide boats, and whether they were used to reach North America.”
Connon shook his head. “That was sixth-century Ireland. By the twelfth century, the Welsh made alliances with Norse raiders, and there were Norse settlements in Wales. Legend has it that the Gwennan Gorn, Madoc’s ship, was made from oak, but held together with stag’s horn instead of iron. The seafaring myths of those times warned of magnetic islands, which would have spelled doom to ships built with iron nails. The ship’s authentic in that respect. Nice touch, that. However, I have concrete proof that it’s all an elaborate hoax.” He showed us a photograph of a pipe. “One of the artifacts recovered from the ship. Note the five-petal white rose on top of the five-petal red, stamped on its heel.”
Philip recognized it. “A Tudor rose.”
“Right! Henry the Seventh created it to symbolize the union of the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York. But the Tudors didn’t begin their reign until 1485. If Madoc’s from the twelfth century, where did this anachronism come from?” Connon asked.
“Maybe he stopped off to have a smoke,” Rebecca joked.
Everyone laughed, but an intriguing idea came to mind. “Why not?” I said. “We’re thinking a single trip. Maybe it’s not his first and only trip through time?”
Connon snorted. “We’re scientists! The very idea of time-travel…”
“It’s not impossible,” Philip said. “Einstein’s theory of relativity allows for time-travel in the forward direction. Time dilation will keep a man from aging as fast, if he’s too close to a serious gravity well. Who knows? I’m starting to wonder if he isn’t the genuine article!”
Connon shook his head. “You’re on your own. I won’t jeopardize my reputation with a cockamamie time-travel theory. I’m denouncing him as a fraud, Detective Monteith. Good day.” He grabbed his photos and stormed out.
Connon’s departure left us all in a state of unease. Will sighed. “He’s right. If we announce that Madoc is a time-traveler, they’ll call us crackpots.”
* * *
Rebecca, Will and I went for muffins and coffee at Tim Horton’s after the meeting. The line took forever. The girls at the counter made one thing at a time, but by George they made it right. People didn’t hurry here.
“Linguistics is the best evidence we have, Kate. Without you, Madoc will look like a fraud,” Rebecca said.
I picked at my partridgeberry muffin. “I know. His future’s in my hands. Where does he stand, legally?”
“If he’s a fraud, he could be charged with public mischief,” Rebecca answered. “Maybe breaking immigration laws, if we can establish that he isn’t Canadian. If he’s a real time-traveler, well, I don’t think there are laws that are applicable. But as a Newfoundlander, my instinct’s to welcome him to the Island, not lock him up.”
“The press will eat us alive,” Will said.
“I know a way to appease the press. A screech-in,” Rebecca suggested.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You don’t know what a screech-in is?” Will asked. He laughed. “We’ll have to initiate you too, Kate!”
“It’s a grand old Newfoundland tradition,” Rebecca explained. “It’s a ceremony to initiate a CFA to honorary citizenship. CFA stands for ‘Come-From-Aways’, or people who aren’t from Newfoundland. Like mainlanders and time-travelers.”
“What do you do at a ‘screech-in’?”
“We drink ‘screech’ – that’s Newfoundland rum. Kiss a cod, dip your toe into the Atlantic. Good fun for all,” said Rebecca. “Then you become a proud member of the Royal Order of Screechers, and get a certificate to prove it.”
“Kiss a fish?”
“Don’t knock it till you try it,” said Rebecca, with a wink.
“What you said, about Madoc’s multiple trips in time?” Will said. “Maybe this isn’t the first time he’s been to Newfoundland. Maybe he stopped in Avalon.”
“You might know it as Ferryland, a historical site about an hour-and-a-half away, halfway to Trepassey,” explained Rebecca. “It’s a tourist stop, but I go out there to collect rocks, sometimes. The beach is amazing. Lord Baltimore set up the Colony of Avalon there in 1620, before he moved to the States because of the cold.”
“Maybe he’ll recognize the area? Will, can we bring him to Ferryland?”
“If my superiors say it’s fine, we can go tomorrow. But I think Professor Connon should come along,” Will said.
I didn’t like the idea, but we did need a historian. I nodded. “Tomorrow.”
* * *
On our way to Ferryland, Harry Connon went on and on about Sir George Calvert, Lord Baltimore. I sat with Madoc in the back of the car. Will had taken him to a barber and dressed him with modern clothes, so he wouldn’t look out of place. Madoc watched in wonder as we passed cars and trucks on the highway. I had half-expected him to react with fear and horror at the strange technology, but he seemed fascinated instead. He truly had the soul of an explorer!
Madoc was skimming through time like a skipping stone, and I wanted to know how he was doing it, and why. I had cobbled together some simple questions in Middle Welsh.
Did he know where he was? Yes.
Did he know what year it was? No.
Did things change when he sailed? Yes.
How many times did things change? Eleven.
Eleven! Assuming he first set sail around 1179, and that each trip shunted him forward the same number of years, that would average seventy-five years per journey. His sixth stop would have been 1629, around the time of the Colony of Avalon.
What was he looking for? The end of the whale-road. To learn. To see if it takes me back home to my people, my brother, he said.
I recalled that in the legend, his brother Rhiryd went with Madoc to settle the new land.
How did he travel through time? Storm comes every eighty-three days. Help me, Kate.
I checked my datebook. Madoc arrived on Boxing Day. Eighty-three days from that would place the next storm on March eighteenth.
Poor Madoc! I thought my first winter in Newfoundland was long, and I’d only lived a couple months of it. He arrived from each journey in winter, only to leave at winter’s end for a future winter. That was at least two years of fog and snow.
“Will, is there any significance to March eighteenth in Newfoundland?” I asked.
“The day after Paddy’s Day? Yeah. Sheila’s Brush. That’s a big snowstorm that always happens on or around St. Patrick’s Day. Not quite the same as Paddy’s Broom, another storm that also comes around then. Sheila is Patrick’s wife, see. She’s always mad at him, chasing after him with her brush and painting everything with ice. Why?”
“Because that’s the day the time portal opens again, to seventy-five years in the future,” I said.
* * *
The dig was closed on weekends, but Connon had research privileges here, facilitating our visit. To my surprise, the anthropologist was getting along with Madoc. As we traipsed through the snow at Ferryland, he spoke to Madoc in English, taking for granted that he would understand. Madoc was animated, pointing to places, speaking to me in Middle Welsh, but I caught only a few words. Clearly he had been here before. Frustrated, Connon put a pencil in Madoc’s hand, and made him draw in his sketchbook.
Madoc led Connon through the dig, sketching out a map of Avalon as he remembered it. “His sketches seem consistent with the buildings we know to be in the Colony at the time. These buildings he drew are the bakery and brewhouse, which don’t exist today. They tore them down in 1637 to build Kirke House,” Connon explained. “You’ve done your homework, Madoc.”
Will and I left them to their explorations for a quiet stroll along the shore. Like Rebecca said, the rocky beach had some beautiful stones. I knelt and picked up a smooth green stone. I showed Will the lovely lines in the rock.
“That’s what we call a ‘salt water rock’,” said Will. “Rounded and smoothed by the sea.”
A tall, elderly gentleman down the beach waved at us. “You two look like a charming couple,” said the man, smiling.
Will furrowed his brow.
Embarrassed, I corrected him. “Thank you, but we’re not together.”
“Take it from a man who’s seen much in his lifetime. You two belong together.” The old man tipped his hat and continued along the shore.
“Did you know him?” I asked.
Will shook his head. “He reminds me of my father, is all.”
“What will happen to Madoc?”
Will sighed. “He has no money, no citizenship. Kind folk like you’d find anywhere in Newfoundland will help him out, but he’ll be a burden unless he learns some English. Maybe he could sell his story; I don’t know. But he’ll end up in limbo, without Canadian citizenship.”
“I have an idea about that, but I need to discuss it with Rebecca first,” I hinted. As Madoc’s pro bono lawyer, she would know whether the legal loophole I saw would actually work. “But in the end, wouldn’t it be simpler to let him go back on his ship? Imagine finding out what the world would be like in seventy-five, a hundred-and-fifty, three hundred years from now. See how future generations live!”
“He’ll be adrift and alone.”
“No one needs to be.” I took a risk and took Will’s hand. He didn’t pull away.
“Have dinner with me tonight, Kate?” he asked sheepishly.
“I’d like that.”
* * *
“Come in, Kate, and shut the door.” Professor Claudia Seif had recently been appointed the Chair of Linguistics at Memorial.
I knew why she wanted to see me.
“I had a call from Harry Connon,” she said. “When I recommended you to the detective, I was expecting diligent, responsible analysis. Instead, you’ve made yourself a laughingstock of the field. It reflects badly on the department.”
“I stand by my judgment, Claudia. It’s not the orthodox answer or the safe answer, but it’s what I believe. I won’t lie.”
“Watch what you say to the press, Kate. Think about your future.”
I sighed. “What future? I’ve been paying my dues for the last five years, moving from city to city, and I’ve yet to make any short lists for tenure-track positions.”
“Kate, you’re a good linguist.” Her voice was softer now. “The breaks will come. Drop this ‘Madoc’ madness.”
There would be no convincing her. “Thanks for the talk, Claudia. You’ve given me much to think about,” I said, and left.
* * *
O’Reilly’s Irish Pub was packed for the screech-in/press conference, and the journalists were chattering excitedly among themselves. Claudia stared daggers at me from the back row.
Will introduced himself, then began, “On December twenty-sixth, a Viking longship was discovered in the Harbour of St. John’s. Five men were found aboard, but only one was alive. Autopsies by the Coroner’s Office indicate that the men died of hypothermia. The survivor was in quarantine for fourteen days as required by the Quarantine Act, but showed no signs of disease. However, when the man regained consciousness, we discovered that he didn’t speak English, French or any other modern language.
“Several experts examined the body of evidence about our mystery man. The ship and his language point to the man’s identity as Prince Madoc of Gwynedd, a twelfth century Welsh legend.” The journalists whispered and chuckled when they heard this. “Whether this is a hoax or a case of time-travel, remains in dispute among our experts. At this point, I’ll yield the floor to them: but please save your questions until they all have had a chance to speak.”
We each took a turn presenting the evidence. Connon expounded on the hoax hypothesis, while the doctor and the coroner expressed ambivalence. When it was my turn, I glanced at Claudia. What if she was right? Was I throwing away my career by standing behind what I believed?
I looked at Madoc, wondering what would become of him. He smiled.
I was as alone as he was. My feeling of being disconnected wasn’t because of the fog and the rain. If I really looked, that sense of not belonging stretched back for years. We were two of a kind: I too wanted to see the future and start afresh. I knew then that I couldn’t hedge like the others did. I had to be Madoc’s voice in this matter, even if it meant my career. I took a deep breath, and spoke.
“Based on the linguistic evidence, I must conclude Madoc is truly a man out of time.” I went on to discuss why it was nearly impossible to fake pronunciation and grammar as consistently as a native speaker. “Given his native fluency in Middle Welsh, I must conclude that he is, indeed, from the twelfth century.”
Claudia stood, shook her head in disappointment, and left.
All eyes were on me. I felt like The Fool on a tarot card, about to step off a cliff.
Rebecca saved me from the press. “I’m representing Madoc pro bono, ensuring that his rights aren’t being violated. Currently, we’re unable to ascertain his nationality. But suppose that he really is Madoc. He would have been among the first Europeans to settle in Newfoundland. There’s no disputing that he’s Welsh; all the evidence pointed to that. But is he Canadian? Ah.
“The legend tells that Madoc set out with settlers to a newly found land across the sea. We know he was at the Colony of Avalon. Even Professor Connon admits that Madoc knew things about Avalon only an expert would know. And later this spring, archaeologists will begin excavations at a previously unknown site, to see if Madoc was right about a hitherto undiscovered building that existed in Calvert’s time. If he lived in Avalon, then by the Newfoundland Act that admitted Newfoundland to Confederation in 1948, that would also make him a citizen of Canada.”
“But he wasn’t alive at Confederation, was he?” a reporter shouted.
“Well, he certainly wasn’t dead.” Laughter. “He truly is one of the first immigrants to Newfoundland. I say we, a people known for our hospitality, take him in with open arms. To that effect, we’re throwing a ‘screech-in’ here at O’Reilly’s, and you’re all invited!”
The question period was chaotic. I thought I handled most of the questions well, but the ones that asked if this was all a joke were frustrating. Will finally announced it was time for the screech-in. As a native-born Newfoundlander had to perform the ceremony, Will would do the honours. They dragged us to the center and crowned us with yellow, plastic sou’wester hats. Then, we were given a full shot of screech rum.
“Hold your screech up high and repeat after me. Long may your big jib draw!” shouted Will.
“Long may your big jib draw!” I yelled, even though I had no idea what that meant. I only knew I needed a stiff drink. I squealed when the rum hit my taste buds and gut.
“That’s why they call it screech!” someone shouted. The crowd laughed.
They prompted Madoc to repeat the same. “Long mei ywr bug si’ib dra’?”
“Close enough! Bring out the cod!”
* * *
I woke in my bed with a hangover and an upset stomach, not remembering how I got home. Rum and fried baloney definitely didn’t belong together.
I found Will asleep on my couch. He must have driven me home.
Not wanting to wake Will, I went into the bedroom and called Rebecca. “I think we need to help Madoc back on his journey. And I’m seriously thinking about joining him.”
“You mean, going to the future?” Rebecca asked. “Kate, think it through! What would you do there? End up like him, a living museum?”
“I’ll find something,” I said. “Imagine, a chance to put theories of language change to the test!”
“What about your classes?”
“I doubt I still have a job.” I twisted the phone cord. “I’d like to leave instructions to take care of unfinished business.”
“Kate, give it more thought! People died on that last voyage.”
“I thought of that. We can stock up on supplies, prepare ourselves better.”
Rebecca sighed. “You’re serious about this? What about a crew? And a ship?”
“I’ll think of something.”
After the call, I gently woke Will. “Good morning, sleepyhead. Thanks for looking after me.”
“My pleasure,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “Can I make you breakfast?”
I smiled to hide my troubled thoughts. “Know how to make peach pancakes?”
I told Will about my plan as we ate. “We need to give him back his ship, Will, by St. Patrick’s Day.”
“What? We can’t.”
“It’s his property. His destiny. His journey doesn’t end here, I know it.”
“The brass will never allow it!”
“One day, that’s all I ask. Call it a re-enactment of the Madoc voyage, a heritage moment, something. If it doesn’t work, you can repossess the boat, and us.”
“Us? What are you saying?”
“I’m going with Madoc.”
Silence hung between us.
“I’d like you to stay, Kate,” Will said at last, taking my hands.
I squeezed his hands. “Come with us.”
“‘Now’ is enough for me, Kate. Is it for you?”
“A chance like this comes once in a lifetime. I think there was a reason I met Madoc, here and now. He’s the adventure I’ve been looking for.”
“That, too,” I admitted. “Perhaps I can’t have both, not yet. Maybe there isn’t a bright future seventy-five years from now. But to give up a chance to experience something extraordinary? I don’t think I can.”
“Isn’t that what love can be?”
I looked into his eyes. He was the sweetest man I had met in a long time. I didn’t want to break his heart. “Help us.”
Will sighed. “You’re a stubborn one, Kate Tannhauser. Very well, the future is yours. But for now, the present is ours.”
He leaned over the table and kissed me. It was a long, unhurried kiss, just as I imagined.
* * *
The media frenzy that followed in the weeks after was not unexpected. Our time-travel theory was portrayed as ridiculous by most, praised by few, and always controversial. I had a spate of invitations for television, newspaper and radio interviews, and I agreed to the reputable ones, but ignored the sensational ones. The consensus was, this could only happen in Newfoundland.
Rebecca and her husband opened their guest room to Madoc, after he was discharged from the hospital. I met with him to discuss joining him on his journey. “We will return you to your ship, to your storm,” I said in his language. “I am coming with you.”
There was a look of surprise and joy on Madoc’s face. “I am honoured, Lady Kate. But we need more men.”
“I will find them,” I said.
Madoc nodded. “Bring no iron. Mistake. Danger.”
As far as I could tell, the phenomenon that allowed him to travel through time was based on powerful magnetic fields. Passing through such a gateway with ferrous metals over a certain size either disrupted the field, or made the transition dangerous. He had discovered it on his first journey, finding that objects made of iron aboard their ship burned with canwyll yr ysbryd, ‘spirit candles’ or what we called St. Elmo’s Fire, followed by a sudden snowstorm. Although they tossed all their iron off the ship, he still lost two men to the waves. On his last journey, someone must have accidentally brought iron onto the Gwennan Gorn, a theory supported by that twisted iron nail found aboard the ship.
We still needed a crew.
I met with the Society of Creative Anachronism Seneschal of the Shire of An n-Eilean-ne, which was Scots Gaelic for ‘an island of our own’, and gave him the details of my plan. “Imagine, a chance to see the future, a one-way trip. I know it’s a lot to ask, leaving this time behind. But I need people who are willing to take a risk, and soon.”
“It’s an unusual request, but let me send out a notice. You never know, with us lot. We mostly look to the past, but some of us also look to the future. After all, what could be more appealing than becoming anachronisms ourselves?” He smiled. “But it seems to me, you could do a great deal of good for people who have lost hope.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are some diseases modern medicine can’t cure, but what about future medicine? Some people don’t have seventy-five years, but they hang on to hope.”
He was right. There might be new cures in the future. Then again, there might not be. All I could promise them was a gamble.
* * *
Slowly, the calls and emails came. People had heard about the opportunity through the SCA. I told them it might be a dangerous, one-way trip, but the journey would be the adventure of a lifetime. I never heard back from the majority again; but to my surprise, some were serious about joining the crew.
Though he disapproved of my plans, Will helped weed the jokesters and the dangerous from the list of volunteers. “It’s not cheap to fly to Newfoundland. Only the serious ones will come,” Will said. We whittled the list to twelve, ten men and two women. Four had sailing experience, and one was a Welshman who offered to expedite translations with Madoc.
The crew arrived a week before St. Patrick’s Day. They were a diverse crowd: fisherman, physicist, historian, ex-marine, writer, student, trucker, doctor, and more. They all had their own reasons to come with us.
We prepared provisions, avoiding ferromagnetic materials altogether. The SCA rallied and made period clothing appropriate to Madoc’s time. We chose the four lions of Gwynedd for our symbol, stitched onto white and green cloth.
Madoc and I continued teaching each other our languages. “It’s not too late, Lady Kate. You can stay with good Will. I promise to see them safely into the future.”
I shook my head. “It’s what I want.”
Alas, St. Patrick’s Day came all too soon. Tomorrow, we would set sail.
I spent that night with Will, cradled in his arms.
I asked him one last time. “Come with me.”
He held me tighter. “I need certainty.” He reached for his coat by the bed, and took out a small black box from his pocket. My heart pounded. A ring?
No. Inside the box was a golden necklace, its pendant adorned with the salt water rock I had so admired at Avalon. He put it around my neck and fastened it. “It’s not iron, so it’s safe. Something to remember me by. I love you, Kate.”
I couldn’t hold back the tears anymore. “And I you. Remember me, Will.”
* * *
The next morning, the harbourfront was packed with students, strangers and friends who came to see us off. Most of them expected the whole thing to be a publicity stunt. I saw Rebecca, Philip, and Harry Connon, but there was no sign of Will. Was it too hard for him to see me off?
It had been Will who convinced the Coast Guard to return the Gwennan Gorn to us temporarily. High-prowed, she creaked as we set foot aboard her. The sound was strangely reassuring. This ship had survived many journeys and the test of countless years. She would serve us well.
What would the world be like, seventy-five years from now? Would Newfoundland be exactly the same as now, as though no time had passed? I didn’t know. All I knew was that the Will I loved would not be there, waiting for me.
I distracted myself from that thought, focusing on our preparations. We loaded food and other supplies onto the ship, within the roofed enclosure built into the center. We checked and double-checked the manifest, and we swept the ship and crew with a metal detector, looking for forgotten iron. The last crew might have been lost because of a nail. I didn’t want to make the same mistake.
When we were fit to launch, I stood at the head of the boat with a hand on Madoc’s shoulder. “Fellow travelers!” I shouted. “I trust you’ve said your goodbyes. We might go into the storm and go no further than today. We might meet with disaster. Worst of all, we sail into uncertainty. But throughout history, haven’t there always been men and women with adventurous souls, who have left behind loved ones to find new horizons? In the future, men will build ships to the stars. They will choose to do as we do today, to leave behind everything we love to explore the unknown.”
I paused and met the eyes of my shipmates. “It’s a frightening prospect, I know. But I know if I never took this chance, I will regret it for the rest of my life. I hope you all feel the same. Let’s make history!”
My crew cheered.
The snow began to fall, and the wind picked up. Sheila’s Brush was on its way.
Upon Madoc’s signal, the crew began to row. The Gwennan Gorn glided through the harbour waters past the ice floes. I looked for Will and spied him pushing through the cheering crowd, an old man following behind. It was the gentleman Will and I had met on the beach at Avalon.
Will waved from the docks, wearing civilian clothes. “Kate! Wait!” He leapt onto the ice floes, the pans, between the docks and the ship.
“Stop rowing!” I cried.
Will leapt from pan to pan, ignoring the danger. He clambered into the boat, took off his watch, and dropped it in the water. “My last piece of iron.”
I embraced him. “What made you change your mind?” I asked.
“Madoc convinced me,” Will said.
I looked at Madoc. Had he learned enough English from me to talk to Will? Or had he been a fraud, all this time?
Will saw my confusion. “No, not him. The man we met at Avalon? Madoc Monteith. Our son.”
It took a while for it to sink in. “How?”
He showed me the golden pendant he wore beneath his clothes. The stone was identical to the one he gave me, striations and all, but old and worn. My hand flew to my neck. Mine was still there!
“They did find another way back. Remember I told you about Paddy’s Broom, the other storm that comes around the same time as Sheila’s Brush? Our son came back through that gate, and gave me this as proof. It’s the certainty I need. Let’s face the future together, come-what-may.”
Madoc hollered. Ahead, a rainbow halo appeared in the whiteness of snow and fog. The gate!
There was no turning back. Into the storm and into the future.
“Come-what-may,” I said, and kissed Will.