The Next Morning...
The next morning started normal, but only for a very little while. Kaelyn woke up early, washed and brushed her hair, helped Mama make breakfast, all as normal.
“Kay, will you go tell Daisy it's time for breakfast? It's not like her to sleep in this late,”
“Of course, Mama.” Kaelyn said and headed up the stairs to Daisy's room. She knocked but there was no answer. After a second knock she pushed the door open. Daisy's bed was made and her nightgown folded neatly across the back of the chair standing next to her bed.
“She must be out gathering this morning,” Kaelyn said. “She's not in her room at any rate.”
“How odd. She didn't tell me she was going out early, perhaps she went out very early.” Mama said and served breakfast.
While Daisy's absence was noticed at breakfast, it was a matter of concern when it was time to start work. Colm hadn't been told she was leaving either. Colm and his apprentice tried to work for an hour in the morning but it was obvious that they weren't going to get much done that day. Finally Colm said, “Let's go into town, and see if our wandering flower has wandered down there. I'll tell Mama that we're going, unlike Daisy, and perhaps she can talk to some of the other families out here.” Kaelyn nodded and waited outside for her master to emerge.
“Where did Daisy go when you were in town yesterday?” Colm asked. Kaelyn listed all of the stops she knew about, mentioning Brant again and then remembering Daisy's brief discussion with John the longshoreman.
They arrived in town, the presence of the master healer was enough to warrant some discussion, but Colm handled it well.
“It appears my other apprentice took it upon herself to get some early chores in, and is a bit tardy in returning. Also I came to follow up with the young man who was injured in the dry good store yesterday,” Colm said, affably and cheerfully, giving the impression that this was nothing more than youthful forgetfulness, and a visit with a perfectly normal explanation.
But such pretense can only hold out for so long against the collective imaginations of an entire town. Interest seemed to peak when it was discovered that Brant, too, was missing. But speculation rose to a fever pitch when John was found to be equally absent. That the pretty young apprentice healer might wander off with a boy or a longshoreman was interesting, but the flights of fancy about duels and love triangles and revenge that swirled around Kaelyn and her master soon took on a life of their own. Kaelyn heard sources affirm that they had seen Daisy leaving town the night before in the presence of one or the other of these young men, despite Kaelyn's repeated protestations that Daisy had eaten dinner at home, and had walked there in Kaelyn's company and none other.
Others suggested that Daisy had left in the presence of one young man, hotly pursued by the other. Suddenly the sleepy town of Strand was the scene of a wild romance, a maudlin play of passions that grew more heated with each retelling. So it was somewhat of a disappointment when John came rowing around the headland, whistling quietly to himself as he brought in a haul from his early morning fishing trip.
Then things got even more surreal. Though Brant and Daisy had never spent any significant amount of time together, the wild romances were tempered slightly, not dispelled, by the appearance of the supposed other man. Suddenly it was common knowledge that the healer and the shop boy were prone to secret liaisons. Kaelyn tried to refute these, for a time, although it was like holding back the tide. The general consensus wasn't just that the two had effectively eloped, but that it was a good match. Overall the town seemed to wish the young new couple well.
Watching Kaelyn's face through all these discussions, watching her try to do her best work as they visited home after home that told them fantastic new stories about her closest friend in Strand, Colm finally suggested to Kaelyn that they walk out into the woods for a bit, to gather a few necessary ingredients for a specific against fall allergies.
They walked to a small clearing where a stream pooled, on its way to the sea. Sunlight played on the ripples in the stream as Colm settled himself on a stump that had been cut and left there for this very purpose.
“Now then, Kaelyn. We've heard what everyone else in town thinks. Why don't you tell me what you think happened to Daisy.”
“Master, I...I don't think she left with Brant. They've never been close, she's never even really noticed him all that much. I mean, more than we notice every person. She's been polite to him, but to think that she would suddenly run off with him, without telling you, or me, or Mama, it...it makes no sense.”
Colm nodded, moving slowly, as he often did when considering his next move carefully. “In Strand, right now, honest and good people are remaking Daisy's reputation. Yesterday she was a kind, outgoing, friendly girl, but was also respected. She was known to be serious when needed, to be close with other's secrets as befits a Healer, strong as a boy her age, and wiser than one might expect of a woman so young. But now she is turning into a giddy, easily persuaded thing, silly and somewhat short-sighted, having fallen in love with a shop boy and desiring to marry him immediately.” Colm was silent for a moment, looking into to the water but deeper into his own mind.
Well, spontaneous, or seemingly spontaneous elopement does happen, of course. To my certain knowledge there are two settled and respectable families in town that were started when two young people disappeared for a season and returned wed and with child. But Kaelyn, the other apprentice healer, feels that this isn't the story we're seeing played out. Kaelyn, who has been trained to observe, to consider, to know people, feels that this story doesn't work.”
Kaelyn felt, suddenly, that Colm was looking at her heart. He hadn't asked a question but she felt a response was needed.
“Master...I also know what they will say if I object any more. They will say that Kaelyn, the shorter, less-blond of the two pretty apprentices is jealous that her stunning friend is the center of such a lovely story. They will say that Kaelyn's jealousy drove her to invent plots and conspiracies, and the thousand and one conspiracies they themselves invented will be attributed to me.”
Colm laughed gently at this. “As I said, quite the observer. Okay then. Know that your master knows your heart better than that, and has heard the genesis of these thousand stories, and knows that it wasn't with you. Tell me what you think.”
“Master Colm, I honestly don't know. I don't think she ran off with Brant, she has too much respect for you, and for herself, to do such a thing. She is happy but not flighty, not inconsiderate.”
“Do you suspect Brant may have taken her against her will?” Colm asked, quietly, face serious.
“Master...to make such an accusation...”
“You are not accusing, Kay. You are suspecting.”
“Perhaps their disappearances are coincidental, like John this morning...”
“But what do you suspect?” Colm asked again.
“I...I suspect Brant was involved, and that Daisy...didn't accompany him by choice.”
Colm again nodded quietly. “Tell me about Brant. I've seen him, of course. But tell me more. Draw him for me in words.”
“Well, he's pale, freckled, red hair that never quite seems under control, green-gray eyes. He's not very tall, in fact he's a little shorter than me. Or perhaps he is taller than he seems; he tends to walk like he's trying to take up less space. He's skinny, almost scrawny.”
“If here were to try to overpower Daisy...” Colm began and his apprentice laughed.
“Forgive me master, but first, he would never be able to do such a thing, and second, he'd never be able to think about doing such a thing. There was a look in his eyes yesterday, when he looked at Daisy. He...he seemed to think she was...special...deserving of great respect...” Kaelyn faltered, fear suddenly clutching her heart. She had taken Brant's look for mere infatuation, but sometimes infatuation led to other emotions.
“Master...Daisy went to bed the same time as I did last night, after you and Mama, after we cleaned the kitchen. Surely we would have noticed if Brant was in the cottage; or we would have heard if he had tried to get into her room...” Kaelyn was near tears.
“Calm yourself, We need to be calm to help Daisy. Besides, think for a moment. You said yourself that Daisy's bed was made and her nightgown on a chair. This doesn't suggest she was snatched from her bed, unless it was the most polite and orderly kidnapping ever. We don't yet have all the facts, and the answer may be less traumatic than we are imagining. But I want you to know that I believe you. I confess that I would be unsurprised if a young woman ran off with a young man. But if you say Daisy didn't do that then I think you are right.”
Colm stood up and stretched his back for a moment before stooping at the stream to drink a little of the cold water, and to splash some on his face. “Let's head home. Mama is waiting for us and I think there are things we need to do there.”