THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 23, 24

Perun’s anxieties return at the thought of dealing with convent guests, the goddess Rodzenica makes a disturbing demand, and Nadzia’s trust in the god of storms is shattered.

For previous chapters, click here.




Jubilant in the company of a most wondrous companion, Perun thought he’d banished all misgivings about the Order of Bursztyn, only to have them erupt full-blown at the mention of Nadzia’s sisters. He glanced at her as they walked along the river in the fading light and hoped his smile masked the turmoil within, nagging for attention like a pesky fly. She glowed as bright as his pendant, a sure sign of the devotion he happily returned.

He looked away, afraid to speak of his qualms and give them substance. Nothing in her behavior warranted skepticism. Why, then, did he fret? Other than the handmaiden’s gossip, he had no reason to believe Nadzia or anyone from the convent wished him harm. Perhaps centuries-old doubts still taunted him. Perhaps he truly was a monster who didn’t deserve joy.


Yet he could have sworn that Nadzia had tensed at the news as well.

He studied her as they crested the slope leading to their cottage. As lovely as ever, burnished skin glowing in the sunset, lively eyes finding delight in all she perceived. A treasure beyond compare. How could such a woman wish him ill? She caught his stare and tugged him to a stop. “Are my clothes in disarray?” she asked with a playful smile. “My hair rumpled?”

“You are perfection incarnate, my love. Your beauty is even more striking in the sunset. I am the most fortunate of gods.” Perun gathered her black curls in both hands and pulled her close for a long, sweet kiss that sent his heart soaring.

“And I am the luckiest of mortals,” she said breathlessly when they finally parted.

Perun traced the line of her jaw. She leaned into his touch. Weariness etched her face as she yawned, half asleep. He scowled and cursed himself for not perceiving her exhaustion, thinking she clung to him out of affection. “Forgive me, Nadzia. We went too far. I should have turned back earlier.”

“Nonsense. I was bored of being housebound. And I had the best of companions. Even better once Mokosh left us at the dock.” She squeezed his arm. “A quick nap, a small meal, and then the night is ours.”

“At least allow me to carry you.”

“Absolutely not,” Nadzia said with a firm shake of her head. “I’m tired, not an invalid. Lend me your arm and I’ll be fine.”

Perun took extra care to ensure Nadzia didn’t stumble as they began their descent into the meadow, the flowers slanting westward toward the day’s final, golden light. She halted after a few steps, her breath ragged. “Were you expecting anyone?” she whispered hoarsely.

He looked down the path. Rodzenica, dressed in gilded robes, stood at the cottage door. There was no mistaking Nadzia’s distress this time. Perun felt the thundering of her heart as she pressed against him. He answered reluctantly, sensing his response would add to her alarm. “No, I’m surprised as you. Mother rarely leaves the Tree of Life.”

Nadzia’s nails dug into his arm. “Have I offended her in some way? I thought our visit went well.”

“As did I.” Perun used his eagle vision to inspect the queen of the gods from afar. Her posture—the regal bearing she bore effortlessly—suggested nothing out of the ordinary. But a quiet storm raged in her violet eyes. She met his gaze, squinted. The tempest receded. He patted Nadzia’s hand, anxious to put her at ease. “She’s waving, do you see? That’s a good sign. Hold tight, you’ll be fine.”

The goddess greeted them with a strained smile. “I heard my daughter was injured,” she said, her pale forehead creasing. “It appears I was misinformed.”

“Not at all,” Nadzia said with a deep curtsey. “I’m nearly mended, thanks to your son’s excellent care.”

Rodzenica’s brows relaxed. “You’ve brought out his gentler side. The Fates chose well.”

“I would ask you to come in,” Perun said, opening the door, “but Nadzia needs to rest. Let me help her to bed and then we can talk.”


He found Rodzenica wading through the grasses, her arms lifted as if to embrace the growing darkness. “Some say the sun breaching the horizon is a more glorious spectacle,” she said, hugging herself as she turned to face him, “but I prefer the twilight. You can feel magic in the air.”

“I agree, nothing matches the magnificence of the moon and the stars,” Perun hesitated, waited for her to say more, grew impatient at her silence. “Even so,” he said finally, “I’d wager you didn’t come all this way to discuss the heavens.”

Her laugh was short and without mirth. “My clever son. Take me to your temple.”

They walked in the gathering gloom, owls swooping around them in search of a meal. Perun’s mood turned black as the night. Rodzenica had promised to let him know if he faltered in his courtship and then give him a chance to make things right before the wedding. He couldn’t think of any action on his part that might have irked his mother, save that one incident when he lost his temper at the barn. But that happened days ago. Why wait to chastise him?

The granite eagles guarding his temple’s entry shuddered to life, ruby eyes flashing as they came alive and left their posts, preening, a response evoked whenever Rodzenica visited. She murmured, stroked their feathers, and gently urged them back into place, where they settled with contented warbles and turned back into stone.

Inside, a night breeze ruffled the curtains on Nadzia’s abandoned room. Rodzenica harrumphed at the empty bed—she’d helped Perun design the space—and made her way past the central fire. She sat stiff-backed in his throne and motioned for him to take the other. He bit back  his irritation at being relegated to Nadzia’s seat, a chair too small for his bulk, yet knew better than to start a quarrel with his mother. He perched on the edge of one arm. “What brings you to Kaunas? Have I been errant in my wooing?”

“From what I have seen, no, although I confess my observations have been sporadic. Matters other than yours require my attention.” Rodzenica paused and smiled at him fondly, an occasion so rare Perun’s cheeks flushed with pleasure. “You’ve made me proud, my son. You deserve every happiness.”

Her smile faded into silence as she stared mutely at the fire. Flames crackled and sent crimson sparks up through the open dome. She pressed a hand against her brow and gathered breath, as if what she needed to say required uncommon effort. “I have come because Dievas told me about the rumors you shared with him. How the daughters of the mermaid goddess plot against us.”

Perun slapped the side of his chair. “Why would my father speak of that? He mocked me when I shared Gabi’s tale, dismissed it as idle talk, and said my fears were baseless. He gave them no credence and advised me to do the same.”

“I found him in his room, clasping the vial that holds the divine essence he siphoned from Jūratė after the trial. He was grumbling about betrayal. I tried to comfort him, urged him to look forward to the ceremony that would heal bygone sorrows and bring us joy.” Rodzenica sighed, her pale face harrowed. “That’s when I learned of your handmaiden’s story.”

“Surely it’s nothing more than a mortal fiction,” Perun said, struggling to keep his tone light, “a fabrication meant to impress a naïve girl. I believed it once, before Nadzia arrived, but she’s everything I hoped for and more. The idea that she would be elsewise makes no sense. Why would the Fates choose a woman who didn’t wish to be my mate?”

Rodzenica held out her hands, the fingers curved like talons. “I raised the same argument with your father.”


“He laughed bitterly and said the Fates had not foreseen Jūratė death, why should he trust them now?”

“But you examined the pendant when we came to the Tree of Life,” Perun argued, pushing away from his chair and pacing the stones in front of the fire. “You found nothing amiss. Why won’t he accept your judgment?”

“Ah, that first encounter. Dievas says his memory of it is clouded, as is my own.” Rodzenica’s eyes grew hazy, her body soft, as she slipped into the past. “I remember a stillness in the air when Nadzia spoke of her feelings for you. As though time itself was suspended. As though she held us enthralled.”

Perun tamped down a surge of anger. His father had belittled Gabi’s story, why return to it now? To assuage his guilt over banishing the mermaid goddess? Dievas had seen Nadzia but once. He had no business interfering. “You forget, Mother, she is gifted with a mermaid’s voice. I would be surprised if we hadn’t felt charmed.”

“She was lovely to listen to, wasn’t she?” Rodzenica said with a hint of melancholy. “Almost as if my beloved daughter was standing before me again.”

Tears pooled in her eyes. “Dievas has charged me with testing your bride. I wish he would abandon these foolish conjectures and let us move forward in happy anticipation. But he insists. I assure you, I do not relish the task.”

“Nadzia hasn’t the power to overcome the magic you embedded in my stone. Bring the pendant to my father. Show him how brightly the amber shines. What other proof does he require?”

“I can only attest to the stone’s veracity when Nadzia is wearing it.”

“Go to the cottage and look now. She’s fast asleep, she won’t notice you’re there.”

Rodzenica twisted the jeweled bracelets on her forearm. “She must be fully alert for my examination. And she must come to me alone.”

“You can’t . . .” Perun choked. “You can’t mean to stand her before the Creator of all and let him berate her. I won’t allow it.”

“Rest easy, my son. Dievas promised to let me talk to the girl in private.”

“You don’t know what he’ll do once she’s there.”

“Is that not so of any situation, mortal or divine?” Rodzenica’s lips thinned. “Have faith. I have asked the god of the Underworld to distract your father at the proper time, and we are both well aware that Veles is a master at creating turmoil.”

Perun harrumphed and spit in the fire. “A singular talent.”

“Be thankful he has agreed to cooperate. I can count on him to give me the time I need.” Rodzenica stood, shook out her robes. “Nadzia must have no clue as to my intentions. If she asks the purpose of our meeting, say only that I want a chance to know her better before the wedding.”

“Will you keep her long?”

“Until I am satisfied. If I find her free of guile, I will send her back to you. If not . . .” A single tear trailed down Rodzenica’s cheek. She let it fall, shut her eyes. When she opened them, their gaze was hard and cold. “If not, she will be brought before the Immortal Council on charges of treason.”

Perun took his mother’s hands. “Then I will look for her return. I swear on my life, Mother, you will find, as you did before, that all is well. Nadzia’s heart is true.”



Daylight spilled into the cottage, accentuating the copper gleams in Perun’s hair. Nadzia watched from the bed as he sat hunched at the corner table, his fingers drumming against the top, oblivious to the field outside their window springing to life with radiant blossoms. What had made him restless? She thought back to the odd scene yesterday at sunset, Rodzenica waiting at their door. If the greatest of the goddesses rarely left her home at the Tree of Life, as Perun claimed, something momentous must have spurred a visit to Kaunas. Something that had turned Perun’s gaze inward.

She rustled the sheets to draw his attention and stretched languidly. “I didn’t mean to sleep all night. Did you have a pleasant visit with your mother?”

Perun swiveled and stood, his smile at odds with the fire smoldering in his eyes. He walked to the edge of the bed, let Nadzia draw him down for a kiss, and settled beside her atop the quilt. “She was pleased that we are getting along so well.”

Nadzia reached up to smooth his forehead. “Then why are you frowning?”

He took her hand and gently traced the lines in her palm. The tension in his face eased for a moment, then returned. “Dearest Nadzia. Are you content?”

She puzzled over his response, the quiet distress behind his words, what Rodzenica might have said or done to kindle his doubts. “Of course I’m happy. I thank the Fates each day for my new life.”

“They gave you no choice. They forced you to accept me. How could anyone want to spend eternity with a killer?”

An ache began in the back of Nadzia’s throat. She heard guilt in his tone, recalled how he chastised himself for always causing harm, whatever his intent. Either she’d failed to convince him that atonement expiated his sins and offered new hope, or Rodzenica had somehow dredged up the past and plunged her son back into remorse.

“I thought you understood. I grieve for Jūratė, but I accept her death. It was an accident. Why does it trouble you so?”

A flame of color reddened Perun’s cheeks. He cleared his throat and spoke so softly she had to bend close to hear the words. “Because I don’t want you with me against your will.”

Nadzia drew back, struck dumb with astonishment. He cared about how she felt? She studied him through her lashes, taking note of how he waited, barely breathing. As if what she said next might break him. This wasn’t the belligerent monster the convent had taught her to despise. This was an uncertain god, vulnerable, needy.

Before Kaunas, when her goal was avenging the mermaid goddess, when all she had to guide her was an abbess consumed by bitterness, Nadzia might have celebrated Perun’s anguish, used his pain to strengthen her hold over him. Now she only wanted to comfort  him. She lifted his chin and waited until his eyes met hers. “I’m here, now and always.”

He nodded, expelled a shuddering breath, and opened his arms to embrace her. “And I with you, my love.”

She snuggled against him, her skin heating as he stroked the top of her shoulder and planted soft kisses along her neck. Anticipating a morning of pleasure, she arched against him. He threw aside the covers, grinning, pulled off his robes and loin cloth. Their limbs intertwined, grew slick with sweat, the rhythm of their coupling at a fevered pitch when a strident caw pierced the wall.

Perun looked up, growling, and then flinched. Nadzia followed his gaze, confused. An enormous bird with glossy black feathers and a long, wedge-shaped tail hovered outside the window. It rapped the glass three times with a curved, bristled beak, and flew off.

Nadzia tugged back the sheets, suddenly chilled. Only the gods used giant ravens as messengers. But this one left without delivering a note. She curled forward and looked questioningly at Perun as the grooves in his brow returned, twice as deep. The amber at her chest tingled. “Why,” she asked, wishing the question could remain unanswered, “was that bird here?”

Perun bolted from the bed, gathered his clothes, and headed for the door, his cheeks newly inflamed. “A reminder. My mother would like to see you today. I’ll get your breakfast.”

He dashed out like a man with a wildcat on his tail. Nadzia swallowed, her mouth dry as dust. First Rodzenica showed up unannounced, now a summons. She reached for the pitcher kept on top of her cabinet, poured a glass of water, sipped until her throat was soothed, then kneeled against the mattress with a pillow against her mouth and screamed.

But not for long. She needed to keep her voice supple, ready to temper the goddess’s suspicions. If not for Perun’s agitation, she might have believed this a social call, mother and daughter getting to know one another better. His nervousness was a clarion trumpeting bad news. Well, there was nothing for it. She could hardly refuse.

She yanked open her cabinet, chose a gown red as blood, and fixed her hair, braiding it with a white ribbon. Perun came back, holding a tray with plates of eggs and cheese and bread, a jar of honey, and a pot of tea. He placed the food on the table and gazed at her wistfully. “You look stunning, my love. Do you need anything else before I leave?”

Nadzia swayed, her muscles suddenly weak. “You’re not coming with me?”

“Mother wishes to see you alone.” Perun tugged the sleeves of his robes and stared at the stone floor. “I must return to my duties, as well as consult with Adomas and Mokosh about accommodations for our wedding guests. We want to be certain there are sufficient provisions for all.”

“Of course.” Nadzia sat absently in the chair Perun held out for her, her mind lost in supposition, and picked at her food. The cook, bless her, had provided ginger tea, good for settling nerves. Nadzia drank one cup, then another, her anxiety ebbing. Whatever lay ahead, she could always wield the magic of her siren’s voice. She’d pitched her words carefully, intent on mesmerizing, and seen Rodzenica’s eyes cloud during their first encounter at the Tree of Life. She could enchant the goddess again in a heartbeat if needed.

If? She stifled a caustic laugh. Whatever Rodzenica’s concerns, they would most certainly have to be appeased, as sweetly as possible. Nadzia filled a spoon with honey and licked it clean, readying her throat for a prolonged conversation.

Perun pecked at her cheek. She gave him a half-smile as he fled, and then stood, pulled back her shoulders, and made her way to the barn. Minutes later, she was in the sky, her heart thudding with every sweep of Salomeya’s wings.


The Tree of Life emerged from a bank of fluffy clouds. Nadzia guided her horse to the same landing as before. A soothing melody filled the air, a steady hum that reminded her of the hives Sister Bronis tended at the convent. Bees symbolized friendship among mortals in Lithuania. Perhaps their music was also a sign of goodwill from the gods. But Nadzia didn’t see any nests. Was this an enchantment meant for her ears only?

She tethered Salomeya to a post bordered by magenta roses with six petals. Perun’s flowers. Their heady fragrance left her dizzy, as it had on the beach when he first arrived. She paused at a nearby bench and pinched her arm until pain sharpened her senses. She was not about to engage the gods with anything less than a clear mind.

The golden doors opened silently as she approached. Babilas, the fat, hairy god of beekeeping and fertility, greeted her with a slice of honeycomb, the bottom wrapped in white linen. “Welcome, daughter of Jūratė! I thought you might like a little treat.” He patted his bulging belly. “Can’t keep up at court on an empty stomach.”

“Thank you.” Nadzia eyed the golden sweet dubiously. It looked harmless, yet she hadn’t forgotten Jūratė’s counsel to treat everyone with suspicion. “Forgive me if my question seems brash, but I thought the gods didn’t eat.”

“It is a matter of personal preference,” Babilas said. “We are allowed to partake in the offerings left by our disciples. Most of us are content with nectar, but I see no reason for good food to go to waste.”

He bent closer and lowered his voice. “A bit of advice if you don’t mind. My brethren await inside. They—”

“What?” Nadzia peered into the empty hall. “I’m here to see Rodzenica.”

Babilas cleared his throat. “My apologies for the confusion. When word got out that you were coming, my brethren insisted on being in attendance. Try not to worry. Just remember to show respect, however an Immortal treats you. Although I’m happy you’ve joined us—the more the merrier, I say—there are those who have not forgiven Perun for killing Jūratė, and they begrudge him any happiness.”

Nadzia’s stomach dropped like a stone. “But the Divine Council found him innocent. Why would anyone take issue with me?”

“Perun was spared exile and death because Dievas refused to condemn him,” Babilas explained. “That decision did not meet with universal favor. Some believe he never suffered for his actions. They will be quick to disparage you.”

“You don’t?”

“Jūratė was a true friend to me. I can do no less for her daughter. Take a bite of my honeycomb if you feel weak. A little crunch of sweetness will help take the sting out of any insults, although I expect those who truly despise Perun will make their displeasure known by simply keeping away. Ready?”

Nadzia clung to Babilas as he escorted her through the hall, the white walls like sheets of ice chilling her blood. They stopped at the door that opened to the throne room. Her knees buckled at the sight of so many Immortals in one place. She nibbled at the honeycomb. A surge of strength followed. “Thank you,” she said, “wiping her lips. “I do feel better.”

Babilas patted her arm and announced their arrival in a booming voice. “Brothers and sisters, I give you Nadzia, the newest member of our family.”

About thirty gods and goddesses were in attendance with perhaps a dozen or so seats unoccupied. They crowded the aisle as Babilas guided Nadzia to the main dais. She smiled at them all, determined to ignore any hostile mutterings. Her resolve wavered when she passed the Zoryas, the hauntingly beautiful architects of dawn and dusk, one clad in orange robes, the other swathed in purple.

The morning goddess wrinkled her nose. “She isn’t half the beauty Jūratė was. No luster to her skin.”

“What did you expect?” her sister said with a sniff. “Our brother is so desperate he’ll take anything the sea spits out.”

Mokosh pushed past them and raised her flower-tattooed hands. “A new goddess is a treasure,” she said, her voice as sweet as a lark’s trill. “A blessing to us all. Welcome, Nadzia. May you know peace and harmony in our world.”

Nadzia’s eyes brimmed at the applause and cheers that followed Mokosh’s words. “Almost there,” Babilas said, beaming. “You’re doing well.”

They were nearing the aisle’s end when Veles glided into their path. He toyed with a small chunk of amber dangling from a leather thong around his neck. “Pretty, isn’t it? A gift from the collection I’ve allowed Jūratė to keep within my realm. She does love her jewels.”

He leaned forward, baring a fang-tipped smile. “You’ll need a champion at court while your husband is busy with his cloudbursts. I’m happy to offer my assistance. If you can’t find me here, simply call my name three times. I’ll be at your side before the last note ends.”

“You can travel that fast?” Nadzia struggled to keep her tone light. If Veles could come and go in the blink of an eye, he could continue spying undetected. She bit her lips, itching to know if the cabal had come to a decision, yet unable to ask in so public a venue.

“Never doubt the power of the gods,” he replied with a smirk. “We don’t.”

Babilas frowned and drew her forward, beyond the carpeted area onto the marble floor inset with gems. “Mustn’t tarry. Your hosts will be offended.”

He positioned her before the royal thrones, kissed her brow, and moved aside. Dievas and Rodzenica glowed so brightly Nadzia wondered if the divine honey she’d tasted had distorted her vision. Wasn’t she supposed to be meeting with one, not both? She dropped into a deep curtsey and arranged her face into what she hoped was a servile expression, calm and detached. “Your majesties. To what do I owe this pleasure?”

Rodzenica waved an arm. “Your brethren have waited long for your coming. They badgered me to allow them a glimpse before the wedding. I trust their curiosity has been sated, for there is a matter I would discuss with you in private.”

Cries of indignation filled the room. Rodzenica held out her hand, silencing the clamor. “Indulge me, my darlings. I suggest you prepare for the wedding. Your father and I expect to see you attired in your finest garments. Do not disappoint us.”

A conciliatory Dievas led his grumbling children through a set of side doors into another chamber with glowing lamps suspended mid-air and long tables bearing pitchers of nectar. Veles lingered at the doorway. He held up three fingers, mouthed his name, and blew a kiss. Moments later, he burst out, Dievas’s crown in hand, his father shouting in heated pursuit.

Rodzenica smoothed her robes. “You must be parched from your journey. My son tells me you are fond of our brew. I keep a private vintage for special occasions. Will you join me?”

A pale servant emerged from the shadows carrying a pair of ruby-studded goblets on a crystalline tray. Nadzia accepted one, took the tiniest of sips. She’d barely swallowed when the walls lurched. She stared at the glass in her hand, watched the red jewels billow and recede. Exactly what did this private brew contain?

Drops of honey slid down her fingers. She licked them clean, an awkward motion that earned a disapproving tsk from the queen. The swaying eased. Invigorating warmth oozed through her. She wondered, briefly, if Babilas belonged to the cabal working with the convent. He’d certainly anticipated the need for an antidote to Rodzenica’s brew. Strange, how her allies showed their support. She roused herself, remembered her manners. “Thank you, Your Highness. This is delicious.”

Rodzenica drained her cup and waited for the servant to remove it. “You need not stand on ceremony with me. Call me Mother, and please, make yourself comfortable.” She curled a finger. The mermaid goddess’s throne rose above the others, drifted through the air, and settled behind Nadzia.

“I’m not divine,” she protested, reluctant to take a chair she didn’t deserve. “This belongs to Jūratė, not me.”

“You will soon join our ranks,” Rodzenica insisted. “Best learn how to comport yourself from a seat of honor. We expect a regal demeanor.”

Nadzia set her goblet on one armrest, fully covered her honeycomb before placing it on the other, and then eased into the seat, keeping her spine erect. A goddess didn’t slouch.

Rodzenica folded her hands in her lap and studied Nadzia with lively violet eyes. “Are you comfortable? Good. I want you to always feel at ease with me. No need for a performance like the other morning.”

Nadzia swallowed in a throat gone dry. She grabbed the nectar and gulped a mouthful, heedless of drops dribbling down her chin. Waves of heat rippled through her body, turned her limbs to rubber. She dropped the cup and groped for the honeycomb. Rodzenica knocked it out of reach. “Enough! You have partaken of my elixir and cannot lie. Tell me truly—do you care for my son?”

Fire raged through Nadzia’s veins. She summoned an image of the sea and breathed deep, fighting the magic that threatened to consume her. Don’t give in. Use your voice.

The haze dimming her thoughts lifted. She searched her mind, seized upon an indisputable response, and laced her words with loving sincerity. “He attends to me as no other has. I am moved by his ardor.”

A black cloud streaked with lightning seeped out from Rodzenica’s skin and surrounded the goddess. “Do not mock me. Mortals corrupted Jūratė. She broke my son’s heart. I will not allow her daughter to do the same. Perun deserves a wife who loves him. You came of age amongst a coven that prays for his downfall. How can you rise above such animosity?”

The air crackled around the queen. Tiny sparks swirled across her throne. Nadzia grabbed Perun’s jewel, determined not to show fear. The amber warmed to her touch. She took comfort in its steady beat, allowed herself precious moments to consider a reply. The future of the Order depended on her answer—not to mention her own safety. “You misjudge me, Mother,” she said in the most persuasive tone she could muster. “I’m not filled with hate. I swear by all I hold holy that Perun arouses deep emotions in me.”

“I know of the Order’s ritual for mating. It is forbidden to love your partners.”

“Perhaps, but our hearts don’t answer to rules,” Nadzia said, pressing a hand to her chest. “A novice who is drawn to one particular man learns to hide the truth of her sentiments.”

Rodzenica settled back in her chair with a mordant smile. “Then you are well practiced at deception.”

Fates be damned, she’s as bad as Veles at twisting words! Nadzia pulled back her shoulders and focused on a spot just above Rodzenica’s brows. “Your son is the only partner I will ever have, there is no reason to shield my feelings with him. I may lack the eloquence of the gods, but you have my word, I am bound to Perun as no other. Trust in the divine design that brought me here. I’m the one you’ve been waiting for, the one who will bring him joy.”

Rodzenica squinted at Nadzia’s pendant for a long moment, then closed her eyes and breathed a command. The tempest vanished. Her servant returned with two more goblets. The goddess drank deeply from one and settled the other in her lap. Her lips quirked. “I’m sure you understand the necessity of testing you, although I should have known the one chosen by the Fates would appreciate my son’s gentle side.”

“Yes, yes,” Nadzia agreed, anxious to keep the goddess content. “The calm between his storms.”

“It must be Jūratė’s blood in you, one divine nature attuning itself to another. Mortals are too fickle. Oh, they pray for our intervention, but they want to feel themselves masters of their own destiny.”

The chamber rang with the goddess’s derisive laughter. “Can you imagine the chaos if humans were free to lead lives they chose? No, the world is best ruled by the Immortals. Only fools resist.”

Nadzia pushed down the fury swelling in her breast. This wasn’t the time to argue about the wisdom of the gods. The nectar was loosening the regent’s tongue. She pretended to sip and waited for her to continue.

Rodzenica finished her third goblet and licked her lips. “You certainly made it easy. I told Perun if he treated you badly I would not make him whole again, but you have a wonderfully obliging disposition. It took little effort on his part before you were smitten. If I harbored misgivings, you have eased them. Bless you, my daughter. You have saved my son.”

Nadzia lowered her eyes, focused on the jewels sparkling on the goddess’s fingers. The words Gabi had overheard sprouted fresh in her mind: She must love me before it’s too late.

Blood pounded in her ears. She recalled their days together: his easy affection, the pleasure he took in her company, his devotion to her wellness after she was injured. She’d sensed no guile or dishonesty in him, assumed his endearments were heart-felt, even found herself warming to him with a genuine affection that put her at odds with the convent’s goal.

Yet all along he’d been playing her, his performance as skilled and proficient as any actor from the troupes that visited Palanga during its yearly festival. How could she have been so blind? The god of storms didn’t care for her, he only wanted his divine life back.

And she’d just ensured his immortality.


The Tree of Life disappeared behind its cloak of dense mist. Nadzia emerged into a pristine blue sky, the afternoon sun at her back, shrieking and sobbing. Lies, schemes—how could she trust anyone? She gritted her teeth at the irony. A novice trained to deceive could hardly cast stones at others. True enough, but that didn’t stop the tears coursing down her cheeks. She’d actually believed Perun had genuine feelings for her, never dreamed he would assume a role to further his own ends.

Her chest burned with shame, anger, grief. Under the influence of Rodzenica’s elixir, she’d spoken her heart: after twelve days with Perun, she truly felt a bond with him, thought him a kindred soul longing for love. Stupid, stupid girl!

She could thwart everyone’s plans right now, release her hold on Salomeya’s mane, and plummet to the earth in a final act of defiance. But the gods would surely punish the Order of Bursztyn if she took her own life. She couldn’t put her sisters at risk simply because she despised her fate. Heartsick or not, she still had an oath to fulfill.

Eyes streaming in the wind, she seized the stone at her breast. The daylight shimmered and a vision appeared, edged in black: Nadzia on a pyre, consumed by flames and then rising again, renewed, like the legendary Firebird. When the image vanished, she wept with gratitude. She wasn’t an ordinary novice, she was Fates-chosen, a woman capable of breaking through pain and betrayal to forge a new path. If Perun was a master of delusion, she would use the power of her voice to unmask him.

The sword of destiny has two edges. You are one of them.

Time to sharpen the blade.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski



THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 21, 22

The god of storms and his bride grow closer as he devotes himself to her healing, Veles’s surveillance is questioned, and Nadzia receives an unpleasant reminder that her sister Keslai will attend the wedding.

For previous chapters, click here.



Nadzia’s injury compelled the god of storms to stop visiting his temples, a choice that nagged at him until Adomas announced he’d found a villager who could send news of the wedding via messenger pigeons. Relieved of that burden, he devoted himself to his bride’s welfare, bringing her meals, bathing her with cool cloths, wrapping her ankle to minimize the swelling.

At her request, he kept their cottage door open at all hours so she wouldn’t feel confined. When she grew restless, he moved the rocking chair outside and—per Ludvika’s instructions—kept her supplied with fluids while she basked in the sun.

The days grew warmer, the meadows flourishing with a rainbow of blooms: yellow-flowered rues and yarrows, purple alliums, red and orange dahlias, white irises. Perun spent hours with Nadzia watching butterflies and bees dance around blossoms in search of nectar. She often entertained him by closing her eyes, listening to a bird’s song, and then repeating the notes perfectly. He looked forward to each new day, content to do nothing more than sit with her and enjoy the world around them.

Despite her injury, Nadzia continued her stories, nestled in his arms at night. Such tales she told! Forty thieves hiding a cave full of treasure, opened with a secret phrase. Magic lamps that granted wishes. Kings eaten by mice. Dragons and dwarves and all kinds of magical creatures.

“Your writers have lively imaginations,” he said one evening after she finished a story about a hedgehog who became a prince. “I wish I could be as clever.”

Nadzia stroked his arm, tickling the auburn hairs. “The gods have no legends they tell one another?”

“We have our duties and court.”

“That sounds dull. No songs?”

“The faeries visit from time to time and entertain us with music.”

“What about Jūratė? She had an exquisite voice, or so I’m told.”

A familiar ache began in Perun’s chest, triggered by an image of the mermaid goddess on the shores of Palanga, serenading him, transporting him to ecstasy. He squeezed his eyes, banished the vision. That time was best forgotten. Only this moment mattered. “She did,” he said, kissing the top of Nadzia’s head, “but not as lovely as yours.”

Nadzia shifted and gazed at him in surprise. “Truly?”

“Yes, my love, truly. Every word you speak is filled with delight.”

“So sweet,” she murmured, resting her head against his heart. “What about your parents? Did Rodzenica never sing you to sleep?”

Perun sputtered with laughter. “I was created fully grown. It would have been most awkward for my mother to treat me as a newborn. And you forget, the gods don’t slumber.”

“Lullabies can soothe anyone, young or old, divine or mortal. And you needn’t be on the verge of sleep.” Nadzia pushed herself into a sitting position, bolstered by pillows. “Let me teach you one.”

“I am ill-suited to the task. Besides, there are no infants here for us to silence.”

“Do you want children?”

“What?” Perun’s face flooded with heat. “I never thought I’d have a wife, let alone a family. Few gods have one.”

“What about your brother, Mėnuo, and his wife, Saulė? They begat the Žvaigždės. We studied them at the convent. The moon and the sun and their daughters, the stars.”

“A rare exception granted by my father. He prefers to be the sole creator.” Perun squinted. “I don’t recall the star goddesses as infants. If so, they matured swiftly.”

He shuddered, a slow ripple that crimped his flesh. “I’d prefer that. My ears ring for hours whenever squealing babes are brought before me at my temples.”

“They don’t cry all the time,” Nadzia said. “I’ve yet to bear my own, but every novice helps out in the convent’s nursery. It’s not so difficult a task if you know what to do. Keep them clean and warm and fed, croon a bit if they’re fussy. They just want to feel loved and safe.”

“A mermaid’s daughter has the voice for that, the patience. Mine would wear thin. No child wants to see its father aggrieved.” Perun stared into the distance. “It’s a memory that lasts forever, knowing you’re a disappointment to the one who sired you.”

“I think everyone feels pressure to live up to expectations, parental or otherwise. We’re quick to berate ourselves for what we perceive as failings.” Nadzia frowned, as if her words had triggered a personal quandary. “We can strive to be more. I’ve seen you master your emotions once and I’m confident you can do so again. For all time, if necessary. We’ll practice as often as you like until you’re certain.”

“I might strike out in anger.” Perun’s voice grew hoarse. “I’ve done so before.”

Nadzia reached up and pushed a stray lock of his hair back behind his ear. “Jealousy and grief have shadowed your loving nature. Give it time to grow.”

“Then you would have no objections to bearing my seed?”

“None at all, if the Fates—your father, I should say—so bless us. But that’s yet to come.” Nadzia caressed his cheek. “Indulge me. You should know at least one song.”

She put a finger on Perun’s lips when he began to protest. “Don’t tell me you’re not capable. I refuse to believe that. You can achieve whatever you want with the proper guidance and the will to succeed. We’ll start with an easy one. Listen.”

She lowered her voice and infused it with tenderness as she sang:

“Hush-a-bye, my little one,

 My beloved.

 How many times during the day

 Have I already picked you up?

 I’ve already picked you up and carried you,

 Put you down in your cradle.

 Hush-a-bye, my little one,

 My beloved.”

She guided him through the melody. Although he fumbled at first, embarrassed by the scratchy noises that issued from his throat, she urged him to continue, praising each line he mastered. By the time night relinquished its claim to the sky, he was singing with a tenderness that filled his eyes with tears. How did she know him better than he knew himself?

“I told you,” she said, kissing him gently. “You can do anything.”

Sighing, she smiled and fell asleep.

He kissed her brow, tucked the quilt around her, and eased out of bed, moving to the doorway to witness another miracle: his sister, Aušra, goddess of the dawn, painting the heavens with swirls of lavender and pink as she prepared the world for the sun’s emergence. The fields slowly brightened and came alive with chirps and rustling. From the garden, a rooster heralded the day with strident crows. A grizzled yellow-brown hare bounded out of the grasses and sat up on its hind legs, nose twitching as it surveyed the area.

Perun kept still, careful not to startle the animal into fleeing, curious as to what the furry creature might do next. He’d never realized so many small pleasures existed around his home, never bothered to acquaint himself with terrestrial wonders. What could match the glory of his beloved skies? Now he was discovering a new world, one waiting to enchant him.

The hare trembled, shed its fur and grew, morphing into his sister, Mokosh, attired in a moss-green robe embroidered with daisies over a plain beige gown. Perun checked to make sure his loincloth was in place, left the cottage, and greeted her with a warm hug. “Have you come to judge how well I’ve been tending Nadzia?”

“I’m sure she’s in good hands.”

“It’s been almost a week. I thought she’d be up and about by now.” Perun shook his head. “Humans are such frail creatures.”

“More so when they’ve been uprooted from their homes.” A birch mouse scurried out of Mokosh’s pocket and settled on her shoulder, wrapping its tail around one of her waist-long braids. “I wouldn’t worry overmuch. Remember, she’s half-divine. She’ll regain her stamina soon enough. I can look in on her if you like.”

“I’d rather you didn’t. She needs her rest and only just now fell asleep.” Perun studied the ground, for some reason hesitant to mention his concerns. “Her slumber is erratic and fitful, never more than a few hours at a time. And she talks.”


“While she sleeps.”

Had Perun not been standing so close to his sister, he might have missed the emotions that swept across her face—shock, followed by fear, both replaced almost immediately by a deliberate calm. “Indeed,” she said, tilting her head. “When did this begin?”

“The night of her fall, when I returned to the cottage with Ludvika, I heard voices. When I opened the cottage door, Nadzia was alone, dozing. She looked at me strangely when I roused her and asked if she’d had a visitor. But every night since, she’s thrashed in bed and muttered.”

Mokosh leaned forward, her breath hitched. “What does she say?”

“He’s here, he watches.”

“He . . . yet she’s seen no one but you and Ludvika?”

Perun scratched his chin. He couldn’t shake the idea that Nadzia had been talking with someone, most likely a god or goddess. No human disappeared at will. But why would anyone come to her in secret? And why had his sister suddenly gone pale? “As far as I know.”

“But you’re not certain.” Mokosh turned her gaze to the meadow, her face inscrutable, her shoulders stiff with tension. “Has she been feverish?”

“Yes, from time to time.”

Mokosh whooshed out a breath. “Fire in the blood often causes mortals to hallucinate. Pay her ramblings no mind. The visions will cease once she’s well again.”

It was a credible explanation, although Perun wondered if his sister’s relief was tied to something more. Yet he had no reason to mistrust her. She’d supported him after Jūratė’s death, ensured the mermaid goddess’s daughters thrived over the centuries while he atoned. Why would she lie? “Your words are a comfort, sister. I feared Nadzia might have sustained more damage than anyone realized.”

“I confess that was my thought as well when you first mentioned the matter. Thank the Fates that it is nothing more than a febrile disease.” Mokosh smiled and tweaked Perun’s ear, laughing as he swatted her hand away. “You’ve changed, brother. I would never have believed you capable of showing concern for another.”

“It must look strange,” he agreed. “The mighty god of thunder reduced to a nursemaid. Truth be told, I enjoy attending to Nadzia. Not that I want her helpless forever. I prefer a strong mate. But caring for her gives me a renewed sense of purpose.”

“What about your followers and their needs? Is that not purpose enough?”

Perun crossed his arms. “They shower me with praise for the rains that keep their crops flourishing.”

“And you tire of their exaltation?” Mokosh’s brows rose. “We wouldn’t exist if they stopped believing in us.”

Perun scratched his chin. “Yes, I know that, and I even consider some of them friends. But I’m simply discharging my divine obligations. Mortals had no need of me elsewise. With Nadzia, it’s different. I want her to thrive. Seeing to her welfare is a pleasure, not a chore or a duty.”

His eyes misted. “She arouses emotions I thought buried long ago, the urge to meld with another soul.

“Shall we attribute that to love?”

Perun fell silent. The warmth Nadzia kindled in him went beyond simple lust, beyond words. She touched him to the very core of his being, allowing him to believe that they did belong together, just as the Fates intended, that things might work out for the best after all. “If you wish,” he said, reluctant to speak openly of his feelings lest he unwittingly jeopardize this newfound happiness. “She’s a most endearing woman.”

“And you are a most charming god.” Nadzia blew a kiss from the doorway. “Mokosh, what a lovely surprise. I’m healing well if that’s why you’ve come. Watch.”

She pulled up her nightgown and lifted her leg, rotating the ankle effortlessly. “The swelling and pain are gone. I feel wonderful and I owe it all to your brother’s tender, loving care. Will you join us for a walk?”

“You’ll want to change out of those bedclothes,” Mokosh said. “Let me assist you.”

“No need,” Perun objected. “I can do that.”

Nadzia winked as the goddess approached and took her by the hand. “It won’t take long.” She nodded at Perun and pointed eastward, her nose twitching. “You’ve neglected the summer storms that keep you cleansed. Why not refresh yourself in the river while I dress? We’ll meet you at the dock.”

Perun stood slack-jawed, his anger rising as the door closed and locked inches away from his face. This was his reward for dedicating his days and nights to a helpless mortal—insults? He raised his arm, ready to shatter the wood into splinters to gain entry and caught a whiff of musk so potent his eyes watered.

Coughing, he stepped back and made for the path that led to the pier. Perhaps a dip in the water wasn’t such a bad idea.



Inside the cottage, Mokosh crouched near the east-facing window and peeked over the sill as Perun departed. “Wait until he can’t hear us,” she whispered when Nadzia tried to speak. “Choose a dress for your walk. Rattle the drawers in case he’s listening.”



Lips clamped into a thin line, Nadzia rummaged through her wardrobe cabinet, pulled out an ivory chiton, and slammed the drawers shut when she’d finished. She noted with satisfaction how Mokosh cringed at the noise and hoped that Veles’s ears were ringing as well. A just reward for a devious spy.

She turned her back to the hearth where the god of the Underworld lurked and quickly exchanged her nightgown for the dress. It smelled of lavender, courtesy of sachets sprinkled throughout the drawers. The scent eased her irritation. She perched on the edge of the bed, hands clasped in her lap. Better to remain calm until the goddess was ready to talk.

Mokosh finally turned, rubbing her brow. “He’s gone. I apologize for my rudeness.”

“I’m sure you had good cause,” Nadzia said with a forgiving nod. She shouldn’t have been so quick to judge an ally. “But I’m curious. Why are you upset?”

“Because Perun told me his bride talks in her sleep.”

Nadzia gripped the bedsheets, her heart thudding. She’d known a few sleep-talkers at the convent, girls who spilled secrets while they slumbered yet had no memory of doing so when awakened. The abbess, once informed, summoned them to her room. No one knew exactly what transpired within, only that, after a visit with Mother Gintare, the night-time jabbering ceased. “Did I tell him what we plan?”

“Bless the Fates, no.”

“Then what troubles you?”

“You claimed someone was watching. I can think of only one reason why you might cling to such a belief.” Mokosh glowered and crossed her arms. “I know you’re here, brother. Come out and explain yourself.”

Sibilant laughter filled the room as a tiny snake wriggled out from the corner and expanded into godly form. “Delighted to oblige,” Veles said with a sweeping bow. “Although I see no need to justify my actions. Can you imagine the chaos had this dear girl revealed our scheme? Centuries of work destroyed. Not to mention the repercussions from our father. Be thankful for my vigilance.”

“What could you have done?”

“Alerted you at once, of course. You’re so good at alleviating suspicion. As you did just now with Perun when he told you his concerns.” Veles switched his yellow-eyed gaze to Nadzia. “She dismissed your words as feverish ravings. A simple interpretation, easy to accept, hard to disprove.”

“Perhaps,” Mokosh sniffed. “However, as you note, I took care of things. No intervention on your part was necessary. Indeed, none would have been necessary but for your subterfuge. Which brings me to a more pressing concern: this surveillance has not been sanctioned by the other members of our group.”

Nadzia went numb with cold. She turned on Veles, her breath heavy and uneven. “You acted on your own?”

“I created our league of conspirators,” he answered, black-and-gold scales rippling with umbrage. “I don’t require permission to pursue its goals.”

“That isn’t true. Mokosh helped form that alliance. The least you could do is advise her of your intentions.” Nadzia slipped off the bed and stood tall before the goddess. “You need to call a meeting of the cabal. I’d have nothing to reveal if Veles hadn’t insinuated himself into my life. I don’t require constant scrutiny. I know what I’m doing. Leave me be.”

Mokosh peered at her brother. “A sensible request. She can proceed far better knowing we trust her to do what’s best.”

“We’ll let our brethren decide,” Veles said, the slits in his eyes narrowing. “I’m not convinced she won’t forget her purpose. You haven’t seen how she glows when they’re alone together, away from public scrutiny. My brother can ooze charm when it suits him.”

Mokosh snorted softly. “A trait you both share. Unfortunately, I’ve promised to walk with the two of them. I can’t leave without kindling Perun’s suspicions. Will you arrange the gathering?”

“Of course, although I’m certain to prevail.” Veles blew a kiss across the room. “Fare well, beautiful maiden. I look forward to our next encounter.”

Mokosh grumbled as he shrank and disappeared behind the hearth. “I’m afraid he’ll do his best to sway everyone against me.”

“Then we must get you back as soon as possible. I don’t want him around anymore.”

“Try not to fret. My brethren know his perspective is skewed by hatred. Besides, whatever he argues, I have a strong rebuttal—his presence here means he’s left the Underworld without an overseer. That should convince most of my brothers and sisters to take my side. We have little patience for those who neglect their duties.”

“I suppose that gives you more of a case against Perun,” Nadzia said, wishing it wasn’t so. “He hasn’t seen to his summer storms since I was injured.”

“Oh, I’ve taken care of that.”

“You can create tempests?”

Mokosh laughed and drew Nadzia into a brief hug. “Hardly. However, I can raise groundwaters. A temporary measure, to be sure, yet sufficient to keep the crops irrigated.”

She opened the door and motioned to the path. “My brother should be clean by now. Shall we join him?”

They linked arms and strolled down the hill to the pier. Nadzia listened with half an ear to Mokosh’s comments about the glorious flowers blooming in the meadow. She trusted the goddess to do her best. Whether Veles would abide by a vote to abandon his prying remained to be seen. She hoped the cabal would give extra credence to his animosity toward Perun when it deliberated and discount any charges that she was overly affectionate.

Because—scoundrel or not—Veles was a keen observer. She did feel more radiant around Perun. The tenderness she’d coaxed out of him had sparked a mutual warmth. But she didn’t dare speak of her feelings. Better to be thought pure in her resolve than someone beginning to consider a different future. One the Order of Bursztyn never intended. A destiny built on love, not hate.


They found Perun stretched out on the dock. He lay on the boards with hands atop his chest, eyes closed, his chest gently rising and falling. Nadzia studied him and then looked quizzically at Mokosh. “I thought the gods didn’t sleep.”

“We don’t. But we can enter into a form of what mortals might call regeneration. Our bodies slow while we replenish our powers from within. I suspect my brother is somewhat fatigued from caring for you.”

Nadzia bit her lip. “I didn’t mean to sap his strength. Is he vulnerable? Can a human sneak up and hurt him?”

“Only another deity can approach him unawares when he is in this state, and even then he would be quick to respond. I’ll show you, although I suggest you keep your distance. He might not appreciate being roused.”

Mokosh poked the resting god with the tip of her foot. He sprang upright at once, wild-eyed, fists clenched, steam pouring from his knuckles. “Who dares disturb me?”

“Gently now, brother,” Mokosh said, hands raised in supplication. “All is well. We’ve come to stroll with you, as promised. There is neither threat nor danger here.”

Perun shook out his arms until the vapor dissipated. He ran a hand through damp hair and turned to Nadzia, his gaze softening. “You are a sight to behold, my love. I hope I didn’t frighten you.”

“Not at all.” She moved forward to kiss him and linger in his embrace. “I was intrigued to learn how the Immortals renew themselves. We never learned that at the convent.”

“We wouldn’t be gods without a bit of mystery,” Perun said, wriggling his brows. “Where shall we go today? You’ve already seen much of the terrain that leads to Kaunas. Why not take the opposite direction?”

“An excellent idea,” Mokosh said. “There’s a lovely trail that follows the river, with birch and pine trees to keep us shaded.”

Despite assurances that she felt fine, Perun insisted Nadzia hold onto him while they walked. “I was lax once,” he said, tucking her hand into his elbow. “That will not happen again. No running or scampering. Besides, I’ve found that a measured pace allows better appreciation of your surroundings.”

“Who is this god beside me?” Mokosh teased, taking his free arm. “The Perun I know does nothing in moderation. He charges ahead, heedless of others. What can I expect of him next? Poetry?”

“I shall gratefully cede that task to our sister, Lada, who is far more eloquent.”

“Why not seek her counsel?” Mokosh asked “A poem dedicated to the one you love would be most sweet. You could recite it at the wedding reception.”

Perun grew so pale and stiff that both women burst into laughter. Nadzia leaned into him and smiled impishly. “It would be sweet. But I won’t insist, not if the mere thought turns you ashen and rigid with dread.”

“Do what you will, brother.” Mokosh appraised him with a hint of challenge in her eyes. “It may be too difficult a task, given you’ve little time to accomplish it. Perhaps Lada can compose a verse in your stead. She is always glad to write about affairs of the heart.”

Perun’s throat rumbled. “I prefer to express my devotion in private. There’s no need for a public spectacle.”

“If you insist.” Mokosh placed a hand against her heart and gave a long, exaggerated sigh. “I suppose I’ll have to settle for watching you kiss after your vows.”

She tilted forward, grinning at Nadzia. “Don’t disappoint me.”

The wide path accommodated the three of them side by side. Perun kept an even pace, checking often to make sure Nadzia hadn’t tired. She breathed deep, ecstatic to be outside and moving again, delighting in the egrets that dove into the pools in search of fish, the dragonflies darting through reeds. When they came upon a length of trail open to the sun, she stopped and insisted everyone join her for a quick swim. Dripping and laughing afterwards, they continued south, their clothes and skin drying quickly in the mid-day heat.

Perun called a halt when they rounded a bend and came upon a copse of oak trees circling a small patch of grass. “That’s far enough for today,” he said, settling Nadzia on the ground. “Rest a while, and then we’ll turn back.”

He scratched his head and frowned. “I should have thought to bring sustenance. You must be famished.”

“A problem easily solved,” Mokosh waded into the river and emerged with a wriggling pike and a half-dozen cattails. She handed them to Perun, along with a flask of water she pulled from her robes. “I’ll gather herbs and wood for a fire.”

Soon Nadzia was eating a hearty lunch of roasted fish and roots seasoned with rosemary. She held out a morsel for Perun. “I know the goddess of the earth doesn’t eat flesh, but would you like a taste? It’s quite good.”

He grimaced and drew back, swallowing audibly. “Fish are slimy creatures. Their scales stick in my throat.”

“All the more for me.” Nadzia took a bite and chewed with gusto.

They sat under the trees and watched the sun arc towards the horizon. Nadzia lazed in Perun’s arms, muscles relaxing as he massaged her scalp. She hummed a lazy tune. If only she could share the joy flooding her heart. Surely this was the life the Fates intended for the two of them.

Mokosh wandered off and returned with an armful of vibrant wildflowers. She wove them into fragrant garlands, lizards darting up and down her sleeves as she worked, looping each strand around her neck when finished.

“Why don’t we make more of those?” Nadzia suggested. “The meadows around Perun’s temple are bursting with blooms. We can pass them out to the women who attend the wedding.”

“That would be lovely,” the goddess said, nodding in agreement. “Your guests from the Order of Bursztyn will look especially nice with a touch of color livening up their robes.”

She put down a string of yellow rue mixed with lavender hepatica. “Have you chosen a site for their tents, Nadzia? I’m sure they’ll enjoy being as close to you as possible.”

“Not yet. I have time.”

“Don’t take too long to decide. Mother Gintare is most anxious to see how you’re faring. She says they should be here within the week, earlier if she decides to enchant the currents to move in her favor.”

Nadzia’s stomach curdled. She didn’t remember discussing exactly when the abbess and the others would arrive, but she’d expected—given their disgust for the god of storms—that they would spend as little time around him and his followers as possible, a day at the most. Her voice came out a croak. “So soon?”

Something in Perun shifted at the news. A catch in his breath, a hold that tightened and then released, flesh that tingled with new heat. “I’m sure they’ll want a spot by the river,” he said, a shade of apprehension in his tone, “but they are welcome anywhere save the field nearest the temple. That is reserved for my priests.”

Nadzia stretched and slipped out of his arms, studied him from under her lashes as she shook out crumbs from her gown. The scowl was back, his face pinched. Did he fear the abbess’s displeasure?

Mokosh rose, festooned with flowers. “I agree with my brother. Your family is accustomed to a cooler clime. I can help you mark out and prepare a space with plenty of trees, privacy, and easy access to the water. You want them as comfortable as possible, don’t you?”

“Will Keslai be there?” Nadzia asked, hoping the Fates would keep them apart, even though the abbess had already decided. She’d pushed the terror of that morning on the beach—the hate-filled curse—to the back of her mind. The memory spewed forth and taunted her now: Keslai’s face, twisted with spite, wishing her dead.

“She is most aggrieved by her harsh words,” Mokosh replied with a hint of impatience. “The abbess believes the two of you should reconcile. There is no malice in the poor girl’s heart, and her voice is exceptionally strong.”

“But . . .” Nadzia let her objections subside, not wanting to press the matter in front of Perun and spark his curiosity, even though she longed to argue. Why couldn’t Mother Gintare see that one singer alone wouldn’t determine victory or defeat? Any other novice would work as well. It didn’t have to be Keslai.

Did her sister truly wish her well? Nadzia doubted it yet hid her misgivings behind a bright smile. “You’re right,” she said, earning a satisfied nod from the goddess. “My guests’ well-being is most important.”

She rose and stretched and let Perun guide her back to the path. She might lack the power to stop Keslai from attending, but at least the convent’s camp would be well away from the cottage, a distance she hoped to use to her advantage.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Jurate and Kastysis:


THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 19, 20

As the story continues, Perun hears the story of a murderous sultan redeemed by love and wonders if there might be hope for him, while a freak accident sidelines Nadzia and brings her face-to-face again with the god of the Underworld.

For previous chapters, click here.



After a day-long visit to his main temple in the south, Perun hoped to find his bride naked in bed, eager to engage in sensual delights. He didn’t want another lesson on controlling his rage. The suggestion she’d made, to imagine himself floating on the ocean’s chill waves, would serve him well enough in the future. Tonight, he needed a distraction from the agonizing proof of the handmaiden’s claims, that Nadzia couldn’t be trusted. Even if he never learned what she’d hidden in the wardrobe, her quick actions to keep him away from it confirmed his worst fears.

He flung open the cottage door, his loins tight with anticipation, and scowled at the sight that greeted him: Nadzia on the floor with a book in her lap. More were packed within a wooden container stamped with the image of a mermaid. She leaped up to kiss his cheek. “Presents from the Order of Bursztyn. And not just stories to entertain us.” She lifted a large triangle of green fabric from the box and tied it around her shoulders. “A woolen shawl for when the evenings begin to cool.”

He nodded absently, his attention drawn to the cabinet in the corner beside the bed. Gabi had insisted something mysterious was concealed inside. Now he had an unexpected opportunity to learn the truth. He loosened the shawl and smiled at the heat that rose from Nadzia’s flesh as they embraced. “You’ve no need for cloaks. I can keep you warm whenever you wish. Let me put this away for you.”

He moved swiftly, before Nadzia could object, his pulse thundering with dread and anticipation. Loath as he was to discover evidence of treachery, he had to know for certain. He felt Nadzia’s gaze, heard the quickening of her breath as he carefully opened each compartment. Nothing in the first drawer. The middle was empty as well. He hesitated, clenched his jaw. One more to go. A space that would either confirm his suspicions or calm them.

“The top one is fine,” Nadzia said, her words thick and laced with an emotion that could only be dread. “Come back, I’m feeling cold.”

“I think the bottom is best for things you’ll rarely use.” Perun hesitated, his hand upon the last drawer knob. They had but a fortnight together. Why not leave matters as they were, take what pleasure Nadzia was willing to give until he was made whole again, and then send her back to the convent?  He was a god, there was no way she could harm him.

Could he forge ahead, ignore his misgivings and unanswered questions? No, better to make sure, whatever he might learn. He yanked the last drawer until it nearly fell out and hissed in anger at what lay inside. “Did these,” he said, holding up a black leather belt and pouch, “come in your crate as well?”

Nadzia eased off the bed to stand beside him. A muscle in her jaw twitched. “No.”

“Then you are keeping secrets, just as Gabi insisted.” Perun’s skin darkened as fury flushed his veins. Steam hissed from his fingers. He was a fool, a thousand times over, for believing the spawn of a traitorous goddess could be faithful and true.

“Did you tell her to spy on me?”

Perun faltered, taken aback by Nadzia’s accusation. How could she know about the handmaiden’s clandestine assignment? “She . . . she is dedicated to her work.”

“And yet, when told specifically to leave us alone, she tried to sneak in here.”

“What? Impossible. She would never defy me.”

“I saw her from the hilltop. She was quite clumsy for someone trying to meddle unseen. Scratched herself, badly, on the roses Mokosh gifted us. She’ll be healing for weeks to come.” Nadzia’s voice lowered, turned skeptical. “Odd, don’t you think, that a servant would decide to pry on her own, outside of her master’s directions?”

“She . . .” Perun startled as he realized the cunning behind Nadzia’s remarks. She was trying to confound him by diverting his thoughts. He tossed the drawer’s contents on the bed. “You haven’t answered my question. What is the meaning of this? Why did you conceal it?”

Nadzia seemed to fold into herself. Shoulders drooping, she plodded to the table and sat down heavily, looking out at the darkening sky as she spoke. “I did not wish you to think me weak.”

“Why would I believe such a thing?”

“Open the pouch. Be careful, please. I’ve only the one vial.”

Perun squinted at the glass. “Water?”

“From Jūratė’s sacred springs, the ones that supply our convent’s fountain. The abbess gave it to me should I ever pine for home.” Nadzia turned, her face streaked with tears. “I know that becoming your queen—a goddess!—is the greatest honor ever given a mortal, and I’m grateful beyond measure to have been chosen. But my life before the day you came for me was simple. I’m not used to being showered with attention.”

She wiped her cheeks. “I meant no disrespect. Husband and wife should always be honest with each other, no secrets. And I shouldn’t crave the old when the new is so incredible. But there have been moments when I felt ill-suited to my new status. A sip of the goddess’s water fortifies me, reminds me that I can be everything the gods expect.”

“Oh, my love.” Perun rushed across the room and gathered Nadzia in his arms. “Never doubt that you are the answer to my prayers,” he murmured, stroking her hair. “A woman who has brightened my life. I’m not worthy of your regard.”

“The Fates would argue otherwise.”

Perun pulled off Nadzia’s dress and threw aside his robe. “Then let us show them the wisdom of their ways.”


The moon had lost some of its luster, but none of its majesty. Creatures of the night sang throaty choruses under its waning glow, took shelter in the long grasses from birds of prey swooping across the meadow in search of food. Perun watched from the cottage doorsill as a tawny-feathered owl plunged and then flew off with a hapless mouse fixed in its talons. He breathed deep, relishing the nip of the evening air.

So many things made sense now. While the news of Gabi’s injuries saddened him, he admitted to relief at her confinement. She had done all he asked, but stoked his natural wariness as well, kindled the shame he carried at having killed the one he’d loved. His obsession with the idea that the convent plotted behind his back, his belief that Nadzia should be grateful for having the chance to join the gods, had blinded him to all else. He’d never considered how coming to Kaunas and leaving the only family she’d ever known might have been difficult for her.

He looked over his shoulder at the woman slumbering in his bed. Their bed. Black hair spilling over the pillows, mermaid quilt modestly covering her voluptuous, sun-bronzed curves, chest rising and falling evenly as she slept. Did she dream, he wondered, of life at his side, sitting in a throne, a new goddess of the sea? Or was her mind filled with images of the coast, the ocean that was as much a home as the convent?

Perhaps it was time to seek out Dievas and urge him to lift the restrictions placed on the enchanted mare so it could fly to the convent. He snorted at the thought. That was a task easier contemplated than done. Centuries after Jūratė’s death, the creator of all remained heartbroken over her betrayal, although he would never admit as much—at least in public. But Nadzia was entitled to judgment on her own merits, not the actions of a goddess who’d abandoned her own kind for a lowly fisherman.

Were it not for his own hesitance at showing up unannounced in Palanga—the Order of Bursztyn favored his snake of a brother, who no doubt had poisoned every abbess’s mind against him—Perun would transport Nadzia there in his chariot. Every day, if she wished, if that brought her comfort. Still, he knew better than to cross his father.

Maybe he should leave things as they were. Once she became a goddess, Nadzia could travel without constraints. And once he confessed his own desires, that he neither wanted nor needed a wife, that no matter what the Fates decided he could never forgive himself for his deadly wrath, she would most likely return to the convent for good. Far from the craven god who’d used and then discarded her.

But that was yet to come. He hadn’t forgotten his vow, to make Nadzia’s weeks with him a memory capable of alleviating any pain at his deceit. He could start tonight with a trip to the stars. Their charms would soothe and gladden them both.

Moist lips grazed his neck from behind. “It’s a beautiful night,” Nadzia said, easing herself into his arms. “Let’s take a stroll.”

“I thought we might explore the heavens. Would you like that?”

“I’ve had such a busy day, I’d rather relax on the hilltop and share one of my novels with you. There’s plenty of light.”

“Enough for you to read?”

“I know the stories by heart—the best ones, at least.” Nadzia gave Perun a quick squeeze. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” She returned with a book bound in rich leather and set it in his hands. “One Thousand and One Nights, tales of adventure and passion to last us for years to come.

Perun swallowed a lump in his throat. Nadzia was so eager to share, he had to match her zeal. She could never suspect their time together would be much shorter. He ran a finger across the richly embossed cover. “Passion and adventure, you say?” He waggled his eyebrows and winked. “Lead on, my love.”

Nadzia giggled like a young girl and grabbed his elbow, pulling him outside. She chattered about her plans for decorating the cottage as they walked uphill to his sacred grove. Perun pretended to take interest in the details, nodding from time to time, murmuring agreement. He steered her toward the bench when they reached the clearing, but she pulled him away. “On the ground if you please. So I can lie against your chest.”

Perun removed his robe, leaving only his loin cloth, and spread it on the grass. When he was settled, Nadzia snug within his arms, he placed the book in her hands. “I’m curious. Who writes 1,001 tales?”

“It’s a collection from other lands: Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia, to name a few. This is only one of the volumes. There’s twelve in all.”

“A disparate assortment, then?”

“They all stem from the same beginning. It’s rather violent, I’m afraid, but you need to understand the circumstances from which the stories emerged. Shall I begin?”

Deep within, something stirred inside Perun, told him to beware. Yet he had no logical reason to deny Nadzia. “As you wish, my love.”

She rested her hand atop the book. “Once there lived a monarch named Shahryar who discovered his first wife was unfaithful to him. Enraged, he killed her and vowed to marry a virgin of noble blood every night and then have her beheaded the next morning before she could dishonor him. When there were no more virgins left, the vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offered to become the king’s next bride.”

Perun sputtered in disbelief. Did Nadzia not see the similarities of this story to his own, or was she deliberately testing his temper with a tale about a man betrayed by his true love? “I don’t like the sound of this tale,” he grumbled.

“Oh, the king was horrid at first,” Nadzia agreed. “But Scheherazade believed that he was in pain, that his jealousy could be overcome, his good heart restored. Much as the Immortal Council did with you.”

“And you liken yourself to her?”

Nadzia held up his pendant. “That’s why I was chosen. To bring your virtues to light and show the world that you are more than fire and fury.”

“It is a remarkable coincidence.”

“There are hundreds of tales with similar narratives. A man whose base instincts compel vicious deeds. A woman who sees beyond the beast and allows his better nature to prevail.”

Perun fought the urge to push Nadzia aside and withdraw to his constellation until the wedding. He’d thought the worst of her, been prepared to expose her artifice. He was a beast. He had no better nature to reveal. Hadn’t he come back tonight, determined to use his lust to escape the guilt he harbored for letting a daughter of Jūratė believe he welcomed her presence?

He felt a tug on his arm, looked down into Nadzia’s lively eyes.

“Shall I continue?” she asked. “I think you’ll enjoy what’s to come.”

“Of course, my love.”

She kissed him lightly and nestled closer. “Once in his chambers, Scheherazade pleaded for one last farewell to her beloved younger sister, who requested a story, one that recounted the first voyage of a sailor named Sinbad. As the night passed, the king became enraptured by Scheherazade’s voice, the way she conjured images with her words. When dawn broke, she stopped, the story unfinished. She thanked the king for allowing her to be with her sister, and said she was ready to meet her fate.”

“A clever ruse,” Perun said. “A man so enthralled could not send his wife away to be executed, not if he wanted to hear the rest of the tale.”

“You grasp the nuances.” Nadzia had a smile in her voice. “I thought you might. Yes, the king spared Scheherazade’s life so she could finish the story when he came to her the next night. She did so and began a second, more exciting tale. As before, at daybreak, she stopped, unfinished. Once again, she was spared.”

“And this continued for 1,001 nights?”

“Until she told him she had no more tales.”

“A brave woman, this Scheherazade.”

“She believed she could appease the king’s anger, lay bare the kindness within, and she did. When the storytelling ended, he realized he loved her and made her his queen.”

“As you will become mine, dearest Nadzia.” Perun closed his eyes and buried his face in the soft flesh of her neck, savored her sweet scent. She stroked his arms and began humming softly. His spirits soared, buoyed by elation, a sense of peace he’d never have believed possible before this night. If one woman’s devotion could save a murderous king, surely a brutal god dared hope for the same. He offered a silent prayer to the Fates for giving him a second chance at love.

And the ice around his heart began to melt.



Every year during the Harvest Festival, novices from the Order of Bursztyn erected a tent on the public beach in Palanga and mesmerized crowds with stories—fantastic adventures during the day, ribald escapades at night when the children were safely tucked in bed. From long experience, Nadzia recognized the signs of a spellbound audience: clouded eyes, faces soft with dreamy smiles, long sighs followed by thunderous applause when the teller of tales finished. Such was the magic of a siren’s voice.

She’d expected a similar reaction from Perun tonight. He surprised her, asking questions and adding comments that showed he discerned the subtleties of her narrative. Only at the story’s end did she feel him relax, as if he’d found solace. Perhaps he saw a bit of Scheherazade in his bride. A woman who redeemed a killer and became his loving queen. A woman destined to love a man others loathed.

He sat quietly with her now in the clearing where they would wed, his throat rumbling with a deep vibration that held its own enchantment. Nadzia leaned into his warmth and imagined an eternity of nights like this, glorious sex followed by walks, stories, serene companionship. She lazed against him, at ease with the world, content to simply sit with him and marvel at the sky.

He stroked her hair, lulling her into a half-sleep, and then nudged her lightly. “My legs grow stiff. Shall we continue our walk?”

They passed through the circle of oaks, their lobed leaves silver in the moonlight, and emerged into a meadow. Perun picked a yellow evening primrose and blushed as he presented it to Nadzia. “For a woman as bright as the sun.”

She smiled at his shyness, inhaled the sweet scent, and tucked the flower behind her ear. “Where are we headed?”

“I’ve journeyed all the way to Kaunas some nights. Few are awake at so late an hour, but sometimes I’ll encounter a midnight rambler or a restless shepherd who loves nothing better than to talk about his flock. Did you know that Skudde sheep come into heat out of season?”

“So the lambs are born any time of year? I’d love to see one.”

“I can’t promise you that, but it’s a fine walk and not too far.”

The night was warm, the moon still full enough that Nadzia strolled without the worry of having to pay attention to the ground. The River Nemunas sparkled to her right, always a welcome view. “I’m curious. Mokosh visits my convent, you mingle with your followers. What about rest of the gods? Why don’t we see more of them?”

“Most return to the Tree of Life when their duties are done.”

Nadzia recalled the numerous doors she’d passed on her way to meet Dievas and Rodzenica. “Each deity has a room there?”

“Yes, but there are also halls and chambers where they gather.” Perun huffed with scorn. “Their petty quarrels sicken me. They argue over which realm is most important, who’s more beautiful or beloved, weave plots to lessen the influence of others while bolstering their own. I have no use for their intrigues. I show up when summoned and gladly keep away elsewise.”

Nadzia pulled her hand from Perun’s, her pulse racing. She should feel relieved at his derision. A god who sneered at the schemes of his brothers and sisters would likely dismiss rumors of one involving him. But nothing was certain. Although Nadzia had professed ignorance of the divine world in the hopes of discovering new information, every daughter of Jūratė learned the history of the gods. They were inconstant, capricious, willful. An imprudent slip of the tongue in their presence could spell doom. “Sounds horrible. We won’t have to go there often, will we?”

“Only when called. And I’ll be at your side. No one will bother you.” Perun stretched and blew out a husky breath. “Enough about my brethren. Tell me of your conversation with Mokosh. Are the arrangements satisfactory?”

Nadzia struggled to keep her face calm. She didn’t want to think about the Order’s conspiracy to avenge the mermaid goddess, how Veles planned to finally trounce his brother and rob him of eternal life. She hadn’t forgotten her vow of vengeance, but there had to be alternatives to mayhem and death. Jūratė wanted her children to thrive. Why not heed her wishes instead of seeking retribution?

Mokosh claimed that the goddess’s daughters were ready to die to avenge her. Nadzia wasn’t sure she agreed. Her sisters were strong-willed and vibrant, unlikely to welcome a premature visit to the Underworld no matter how honorable the cause. It didn’t make sense to risk lives and leave no one to oversee the Order of Bursztyn. Or was the abbess willing to perish because she assumed Perun’s bride would take on that duty?

Nadzia rubbed the hairs rising on her arms. She’d counted on becoming immortal before the keening started, but just now she couldn’t quite recall the specific order of things. Was it the exchange of vows first, then Dievas bestowing divinity, and the god of storms’ heart restored at the end?

Or had she remembered it wrong?

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful ceremony,” she answered, her voice deliberately casual, “but I’m not sure I remember the sequence. When will your father turn me into a goddess?”

Perun laughed, a gravelly sound filled with delight. “Not soon enough. I can’t wait to see you in full immortal glory.”

“Nor I.” Nadzia joined the laughter with a melodic trill. “So, we wed, I become a goddess, and you’re made whole?”

“I’m sorry, my love, I can’t say. Would you like me to ask?”

Nadzia hesitated, torn between needing specifics and arousing suspicion. Perun might consider her request an innocent inquiry. His father? Too many unknowns. “No, don’t bother. I suppose I’m a bit nervous. Will it hurt?”

“Perhaps. You are the sole human to be granted this honor. Try not to worry. I expect any discomfort will pass once you are fully divine. I will comfort you as best I can.” He stopped and peered down, his face lined with concern. “You look fatigued. Are you weary? We can turn back.”

Nadzia grinned and scampered ahead of him. “Catch me if you can.”

He loitered behind. Did his bulk, Nadzia wondered, prevent him from moving with speed or grace on land? He usually traveled by chariot, barreling through the sky. She turned to wait for him, tripped over a hedgehog darting out of its burrow, and fell, twisting her ankle. “Oh!”

Perun was there in a heartbeat, moving faster than she would have believed possible. “What happened? Are you injured?”

“I tripped and hurt my foot,” Nadzia said, wincing against the pain. “Bring me to the river. The cold water will reduce the swelling.”

Picking her up as if she weighed little more than a feather, Perun strode carefully, his face tweaked with distress. “I shouldn’t have let you rush ahead. These fields are rife with holes and uneven ground.”

“It’s just a sprain.”

“You don’t understand,” Perun insisted, his eyes darting between the pendant at her breast and the ground. “I need to keep you safe. If any harm should come to you before we wed, if your affection erodes because I’ve been negligent in some way. . .” He fell silent, his face shuttered and grim.

The silence stretched out between them. He needed his heart, that much was certain, but Nadzia had never sensed that her feelings made any difference when it came to their marriage. She wondered anew at the exchange she’d witnessed at the Tree of Life, when his mother assured him—after examining the pendant—that all was well. Why did that matter?

Perun cleared his throat, then gently deposited her at the edge of the riverbank. “Shall I remove your sandals?”

“Yes, thank you.” Nadzia gasped as he unlaced the ties and bathed her foot with water. The injury was more profound than she’d realized, the skin turning blue—a fracture, not a mere wrenching. She reached for the hem of her dress and lifted it toward Perun. “You need to tear off a strip, douse it with water, and bind the ankle. I think the bone may be broken.”

Perun muttered under his breath as he followed Nadzia’s instructions. “My fault, always my fault. Why did I think that would ever change?”

“Stop blaming yourself!” Nadzia snapped. “You don’t dictate my choices.”

The grousing stopped. Perun reached for Nadzia, stroked her cheek. “What did I do to deserve such a treasure?”

“Something good, I’d say,” Nadzia replied with a weak laugh. “Take me home, please. I need to rest.”

She slipped in and out of consciousness in his arms, roused from time to time by the sound of his continuing recriminations. Too tired to protest, she returned to dreams of a joyous god and his bride frolicking with lambs in moon-dappled meadows. A happy ending, free of strife.

When she came fully awake again, she lay in bed covered with the mermaid quilt, her foot atop pillows, candles burning on the fireplace mantel. Perun kissed her brow. “I’m off to fetch Ludvika. Do you need anything before I go?”

She grabbed the edge of his robe as he turned to leave. “I do feel safe,” she whispered. “More than you know.”

He nodded, gave her a look full of longing, and left.

Nadzia closed her eyes, grateful for the quiet. She inhaled and exhaled, deeply, slowly, focusing her attention on her breath instead of the throbbing in her foot. She’d achieved a steady rhythm when a long hiss from the shadows broke her concentration.

“Splendid work, my dear. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you had genuine feelings for the brute.”

Nadzia jerked toward the speaker and squealed at a fresh spasm of pain. “What are you doing here?”

“Keeping an eye on our champion, what else?” Veles emerged, a snake barely a foot high and sandy-colored, nearly invisible against the stones surrounding the fireplace. He writhed and swelled until he gained his regular black-and-gold form. “Truly, you are even better than we expected. My brother is completely in your thrall. This,” he said, motioning at her foot, “is a nice touch.”

“I didn’t fall on purpose.”

“Of course not.” Veles winked and slithered to the cabinet by the bed. “Nonetheless, just think of how attentive your stormy god will be while you’re bedridden. Wait and see. I expect he’ll finish his temple visits in a few hours, not days. No more dancing girls or drunken jags with his priests. Not when there’s a lovelorn girl pining for his care.”

Nadzia stared at the flickering candles. She didn’t mind Perun hovering over her—his concern was rather sweet. Endearing, if she was being honest. But her skin crawled at the thought of Veles making note of her every move. She sucked in a breath, horrified at the idea that he’d positioned himself in the cottage without her knowledge. “You . . . you haven’t been here . . . not while . . .?”

“Please.” A slow shudder rippled across the god of the Underworld’s scales. “I’d rather gouge out my eyes than watch the two of you mate.”

“You might have told me this was part of the plan. I don’t like being kept in the dark. And I don’t like being shadowed. Don’t you trust me?”

Veles flicked his tongue over black lips. “Peevishness doesn’t become you, my dear. Suffice it to say that we have too much invested to leave anything to chance. Besides, the abbess tells me you’re quite the sensual creature. Can’t have you mistaking lust for true affection, can we?”

“I know the difference.”

“Do you?” The slits in Veles’s eyes narrowed. “Then we needn’t worry that you’ll lose yourself playing his bride? We’re counting on you to weaken him, not fall in love. Don’t forget he’s a killer.”

Nadzia matched his gaze. Maybe his group of conspirators really did want someone to keep track of her. She had their support, they deserved to know if she was making progress in return. Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that Veles had chosen to spy on his own. His raging hatred for the god of storms took precedence over all but the urge to see his brother destroyed. A brother, she was learning, who possessed qualities that Veles could never appreciate. “I know what he did, and I haven’t forgotten my promise. That doesn’t give you the right to pry.”

“Think of me as a friendly overseer,” Veles said with a fang-tipped grin. “We’ve little time left, and we need assurances that all is progressing as it should.”

Nadzia traced a dolphin on her quilt. “Have I given you reason to think otherwise?”

“In words, no. You do seem more . . . comfortable than I’d like.”

“I won’t get far if Perun thinks I’m ill at ease in his company. He’s supposed to want me, desire me to the point of abandoning caution. Isn’t that the plan? I can hardly break down his barriers by keeping my distance.” She pursed her lips, allowed herself a small measure of annoyance. “You would do well to keep in mind my years of training at the convent. I’m well prepared. I know what I’m doing. If you can’t see that, then you are blinded by animosity. My actions speak for themselves.”

Veles’s lips twitched into a familiar smirk. “Such a dear, dear girl. I can’t wait for the moment my brother realizes you’ve betrayed him.”

Voices neared. Two figures—one large, one small—passed the cottage window, dimming the moonlight filtering through the panes. Veles slipped back to his shadowy corner, shrinking as he moved, his scales changing to match the color of the hearth stones. “Continue as you will. Just remember, I’m here.”

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

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