Lightning struck the cliff, illuminating the two figures who stood at its edge.
“Once and for all, brother, with a grasp of our hands a challenge is cast.” A harsh wind blew the woman’s hair from her face to reveal a beauty so stark and cold, it cut. Stepping forward, she extended a hand from beneath the folds of her cloak. “When the Three and Three become One, the judgment will be made for good or evil.”
Caleb stared down at her hand. He remembered a time when it had given succor and comfort. A time when his twin and he had truly each been halves of a whole. Where had that time gone?
“Come now, brother.” At her words, he looked from her hand to her eyes. Eyes so like his own. “Or perhaps you are afraid you’ll lose. Lose everything you’ve fought so hard for all these millennia.”
Caleb’s eyes narrowed with his sister’s challenge. Even knowing she deliberately provoked him, he stepped forward. He would take this contest, and he would win.
With a quick motion, he grasped her hand. The slap of skin against skin echoed over the raging ocean, louder than even the thunder.
“You are correct, Cassandra. It is time our conflict was at an end. When the Three and Three become One, we will know.”
Maya turned to catch the culprit and wasn’t surprised to see Teck standing behind her. The bane of her childhood couldn’t seem to stop himself from picking on her. Her gaze fell, and she turned to continue through the shop. Why couldn’t he just leave her alone?
With an inner sigh, Maya muttered, “Shopping,” and headed toward the front counter. She wasn’t surprised to hear his heavy footsteps on the wooden floor as he followed her.
Causing more irritation than pain, she flinched at another yank on her long crimson tresses. Halting, Maya spun around to confront him, only to be stopped by his pleased expression. He stood, bigger and taller than her, eyes sparkling with humor, hands on his hips, feet planted apart. He did look handsome, she grudgingly admitted.
“Your Names Day is tomorrow, huh? You’ll be sixteen.”
“Yes,” Maya said softly, and a blush colored her cheeks. Tomorrow, she’d be considered a woman to the small community she and her mother lived in, though they lived outside of town in a small cabin. She and her mother had never really belonged to this community. They found her lack of a father ample reason to ostracize her and her mother. Their prejudices didn’t stop them from availing themselves to her mother’s services as a healer, though, as she had an uncanny way with the healing arts. Plenty of them made the distance to the little cabin for her remedies. Maya preferred not to come into town, but today her mother wanted something special—something they couldn’t hunt or forage for themselves.
Once again, turning from Teck, Maya moved quickly to the counter. Her mother sent some rare coins with her for the purchase of the precious sugar for her Names Day cake. She was also to stop at the fish market for their dinner tonight. As she waited for the proprietor to finish with another customer, Maya felt the heat of Teck at her back. Outside, her dog, Rory—a large mix—uttered a yip and planted his front feet on the door. He seemed to sense the confusion she felt when near Teck.
Purchase finished, the townswoman in front of her looked down her nose at Maya, sniffing in disapproval as if she’d caught scent of an unpleasant odor. Maya had an urge to smell herself even though she’d bathed just that morning. With effort, she ignored the woman and stepped around her. A smile split her lips as she faced the owner of the shop, where he stood behind the counter.
“G’morning, Maya. Happy Names Day to yah.”
Mr. Bachmann, who had owned the shop for as long as Maya could remember, was a nice man. He often allowed her mother to barter services for goods and trusted them if they needed to run a tab at his store. His trust was never in vain, as her mother always paid her bill.
“Good morning, Mr. Bachmann. Thank you.” A warm smile touched her lips, and she relaxed.
“Sugar, ayah?” he asked when she told him what she needed. He measured out the amount from a large bin and wrapped it in paper to hand to her. “That mother of yorn making you a cake for your special day?”
“Yes, sir.” Maya reverently placed the packet of sugar within her knapsack for the trip to the wharf, and then home.
When he told her the amount, she opened her hand to reveal one of the coins her mother had entrusted her with. The coin would more than pay for the sugar. The shop owner’s eyebrows rose when he caught sight of it. “Now, Maya. Where’d you get that?”
“My mother’s been saving for my Names Day.”
Taking the coin from her palm, he turned it over before he placed it in a lockbox.
“Will you be runnin’ a credit for the extra, or you needin’ something else today?”
“No, sir. Just a credit.”
With a nod and a quick glance at her, he turned toward the jars of sweets along the back wall. “Go ahead and pick yourself a treat, why don’t you Maya.” When she began to shake her head at him, he put up a hand to stop her. “My gift to you . . . for your special day.”
Surprised and pleased, Maya selected a hard candy, and when he handed it to her, she placed it with the sugar. “Not gonna enjoy it now?” he asked.
“I thought I’d share it with my mother,” she explained, another blush coloring her cheekbones.
With a stretch, the owner patted her hand and said, “You’re a good girl, Maya. You have a nice day now and tell your mother ’ello.”
“Thank you,” she murmured. As she turned toward the door, she couldn’t stop herself from risking a glance at Teck. Confusion filled her head when her pulse quickened. He’d stood still and quiet the whole time she made her purchase. As she passed through the door, she could hear Mr. Bachmann ask him what he needed, but she didn’t wait to hear his response.
Outside, the sun fell on her face, causing her to squint against the brightness. In its welcome warmth, she had a moment of bliss before the bell above the shop door jingled and Teck stepped out. She tried to ignore him and, with a gesture at Rory, stepped down onto the dirt street and headed toward the lake.
“Maya, wait.” She heard him plain enough but kept walking. She really needed to get away from Teck. He grabbed her arm and spun her around but broke the contact quickly as if she were hot to the touch.
With another sigh, she asked, “What, Teck?” Impatient, and not wishing to make a scene in the middle of the street, she looked left and right, making sure they weren’t being watched. She wished he weren’t so good-looking. A couple of years older than her, he was already a man in their community. He came from stock that stood tall and strong—even now, his broad shoulders blocked out the sunlight. Standing in his shadow made Maya feel even smaller and more vulnerable. As she waited for him to get on with whatever he thought he had to say, a breeze lovingly lifted his thick black hair and pulled it across his forehead. Her fingers itched to push back his hair, but she snapped her mind back to the present. As if offended by her thoughts, the same breeze snapped her skirt around her legs attempting to drive her away from him.
“Will you be coming into town for the harvest celebrations?” Had his face not been in shadow, and if she didn’t know him better, she’d swear she saw a slight flush come to his skin. Almost as if he were at a loss for what to do, he reached a hand to pet Rory but stopped when the big dog issued a warning growl low in his throat. Maya placed a hand on her companion’s head to calm him and gave Teck a look of dismissal.
“No, Teck. I have work to do and no time for the frivolousness of a celebration.” Maya turned and walked down the street, pushing her relaxed stride to hurry. A few blocks away, she chanced a look back, a sigh bowing her shoulders when she saw he hadn’t followed her. Teck confused her. She just needed to get the shopping done and get home. Looking down at her pet, she gave him a pat on the head. “Good boy, Rory,” she cooed, causing the dog’s tail to wag.
As Maya continued through town, she couldn’t help but notice the looks that came her way. She was used to it, but no matter how hard she tried to rise above it, the townspeople’s disapproval continued to wear at her. She’d give anything to take her mother somewhere where they could truly be part of a community. Accepted and loved. She’d asked her mother why she insisted on staying in the home they now occupied—why couldn’t they move to another place? A place where the people didn’t know them. They could be whomever they wanted, and no one would be the wiser—but her mother refused. She wouldn’t speak of it and simply stated she would be staying here. Maya could find another home for herself. Now that her sixteenth birthday had arrived, her options were open. With a shake of her head, she gave a small chuckle at her foolishness. She would never leave her mother. They were all each of them had.
As Maya neared the wharf, she could hear the faint echoes of men’s voices as they shouted back and forth at each other. Above her were the sounds of water birds. Their calls mimicked the working men. The fish markets weren’t even within view when her nose told her she was almost there.