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

Image of Scheherazade:

THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 17, 18

We’re halfway through the story! In this week’s installment, Nadzia discovers a new ally, takes a much-needed break in the river, and uses her wits to convince the gardener that all is well.

For previous chapters, click here.


Chapter 17


As goddess of the earth, Mokosh ruled over its groundwaters, a jurisdiction that included the sacred springs flowing to the Order of Bursztyn’s fountain. She visited the convent often, not just to confirm the purity of its water, but to monitor the rearing and education of her sister’s children, a task she’d accepted with sorrowful determination after the mermaid goddess perished. Novices and Elders alike felt a special kinship with her, trusted her as someone who wanted only the best for them.

Did that affinity, Nadzia wondered, extend to confiding their plan to vanquish the god of storms? Perhaps each abbess had kept that information private for over five centuries, showing Mokosh what she expected to see and nothing more.

How was Nadzia supposed to know?

She pushed down the anxiety clamping her stomach like a vise as she walked with Perun in the morning breeze. Best to maintain her façade of contentment while watching the goddess for clues.

If Mokosh knew of the Order’s conspiracy, she gave no outward sign, greeting the couple at the bottom of the temple steps with a warm embrace redolent of pine and apple-scented briars. She wore a simple gown covered by forest green robes lined with pockets that held various objects and small creatures she kept for company. Flowers vined through her russet curls, crowned by a tiny nest of hummingbirds. “Good morrow, my dears,” she gushed. “May the Fates bless your union with joy and tranquility.”

“Happiness I gladly accept,” Perun said with a boisterous laugh. “We shall see whether I am suited to peace and quiet.”

Mokosh pinched his cheek. “It looks like the change has already begun. You appear more at ease, if perhaps a tad tired. Busy night?”

She turned her attention to Nadzia. “How lovely you’ve grown! I hope my brother appreciates your charms.”

“Indeed I do.” Perun kissed both women and stepped away. “It is good to see you, sister. I hope you have a productive day. Nadzia, I look forward to our evening.”

He moved back several yards, morphed into eagle form and flew off with a high-pitched whistle of farewell. Mokosh waited until he was a speck in the sky and then linked arms with Nadzia. “It’s far too fine a morning to talk inside. Let me show you the grove where the ceremony will be held.”

They followed a path behind the garden that led to a hilltop clearing surrounded by shrubs and giant oaks. The trees provided a welcome respite from the summer heat. This far south there was no soothing ocean breeze to counter the sun’s intensity. Nadzia wiped away a bead of sweat trickling down her brow. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be here long—she yearned for a private, cool swim.

Mokosh guided them to a bench that overlooked the meadows and river and gave an unrestricted view of the cottage. “We hope everyone will be in place no later than mid-morning. Although Immortals are immune to heat, mortals are not, especially those coming from the coast.”

“They can always cool off in the Nemunas. I’m looking forward to a dip later.” Nadzia peered down at the dock, where a boatman chatted with Adomas as they unloaded cargo from a small vessel tied to the pier. “Look,” she said, rising halfway from her seat. “That box . . . it has turquoise mermaids stamped on the top and sides . . . it’s from the Order of Bursztyn!”

A baby fox peeked out of Mokosh’s robes and barked. “Hungry are you, my little one?” The goddess held out her hand, murmured, and offered the kit a palmful of ripe blueberries. “Yes, the convent has shipped a parcel to you.”

“You’re not surprised.” Nadzia fell back onto the bench  “It’s here at your behest?”

“I have heard the prayers of many a woman who has left home. It is a grievous experience even when done for noble purposes.  Small comforts can ease the transition, help you stay strong. I spoke with your gardener, too. He mentioned your desire for certain items. Sister Ramuna and I filled a carton with your favorite books. For solace and entertainment.”

“Thank you.” Nadzia dabbed at her eyes. She hadn’t expected anyone, let alone a goddess, to understand the sorrow she felt at leaving her family, no matter how righteous the cause. What good would it do to speak of her loneliness? She had a task to fulfill. Her feelings didn’t matter.

“So, tell me, dear,” Mokosh urged. “Has it been difficult?”

“It’s hard, being away from the sea,” Nadzia admitted. “But I’m going to be made a goddess. I’ll protect the oceans and rivers for eternity, leaving you with one less task. Knowing that helps.”

“You are in an extraordinary position. The pressure to succeed is enormous. I imagine it’s most wearying. Don’t forget the flask Sister Bronis gave you. The water within is most refreshing, and I enchanted the vial so that it never runs dry.”

“The flask,” Nadzia echoed dully. Was Mokosh hinting at something more?

Mokosh stroked the fox until it purred. “And those books from the convent. You have a penchant for stories about love and adventure. An interesting array, well suited to your purpose. My brother will enjoy hearing them. You have such a dulcet voice. He’ll be so enamored he’ll never guess your true goal.”

“My flask . . . my goal.” Nadzia studied her companion. As much as she would love to have Mokosh as an ally, she didn’t want to reveal secrets only to discover she’d been tricked. “You mean—?”

“I know what the convent intends, yes, and I support them whole-heartedly.”

“But it’s contrary to what your parents want. How can you act against them?”

Mokosh’s fists clenched. The fox yelped in protest and retreated to the safety of her robes. “They did not find Jūratė clinging to life in her cave. They did not watch her essence fade after she gave birth, hear her beg me, as she lay dying, to watch over her daughters and keep them safe from the god of storms.”

“The Order’s rebellion was your idea?”

“You can thank Veles for that. As part of the council deciding Perun’s fate, he argued for death—expulsion, at the very least. Wasted words. Dievas has always indulged the fiery god he created. He refused to consider so harsh a sentence and coerced the other members into ruling as he wished.”

“The Fates accepted his judgement.”

Mokosh laughed bitterly. “What else could they do? Faeries are proud beings. They would rather agree to absolve a murderer than admit he’d taken them by surprise.”

Nadzia reached for the goddess’s hand, kneading the warm flesh until it relaxed. “It must have been agonizing to watch him walk free.”

“A pain shared by others, as Veles and I soon discovered. Many of my brethren agreed that killing one of our own was unforgivable, that justice had not been served. And so our cabal began.”

“Is it a large group?” Nadzia felt a stirring of hope. With a phalanx of deities supporting her, success was more likely.

“We have not kept our resistance unknown by spilling names. I have shared this much only so you will not feel so alone. Continue with your mission. It appears you’ve done well so far. Perun looked almost peaceful before he flew off.”

“We had an incredible night.” Nadzia blushed at the memory. “But I’m worried he’s using my handmaiden as a spy.”

“His servants are loyal. There’s little they won’t do for him. Tell me, how has this girl drawn your suspicions?”

Nadzia squinted, remembering the unease she felt in the temple. “She creeps up on me like a mouse, as if she wants to catch me in a mistake. I’m certain she knows I hid something in one of my wardrobe drawers yesterday. A shawl I forgot to leave behind when I visited the convent with Veles. I was stuffing it inside when Gabi startled me.”

“I spoke with the girl at the temple before you arrived this morning. She did not seem happy about your switching domiciles.”

“At least now there’s a door I can close. And all the servants have been instructed to knock before entering.”

Mokosh snorted lightly. “Which works only when you’re inside. Isn’t it part of Gabi’s job to keep all the buildings clean?”

“Not anymore. I told Perun I wanted to take care of our cottage.”

“A wise decision, yet it won’t deter the girl if she is my brother’s emissary. You can’t possibly stay confined in a stone house with a killer, no matter how lively his ardor.”

Nadzia rubbed at an ache in her temple. She hadn’t considered all the repercussions of moving. “I just wanted someplace to bewitch Perun without worrying about spies, but all Gabi need do is watch and wait for me to leave. It won’t take long for her to realize I enjoy swimming every day. I suppose I should find another place to keep my belongings, especially the belt from Sister Bronis, although gods know where that might be.”

Mokosh grinned as the fox peeked out again. “Gabi won’t be able to work if she’s stricken with a rash,” she said blandly, offering the animal more fruit. “You have patches of stinging nettles nearby. I can arrange for the girl to stumble into them.”

“Cuts from nettles heal in a day or two,” Nadzia replied, her shoulders drooping in disappointment. “And if they don’t, the cook has a large herbal garden. I’d wager she has a balm for everything.”

“Then I will ensure the girl rubs up against one of my plants. Something prickly, to match her temperament. Look, there she is now, sneaking toward your house.” Mokosh flicked her fingers; red rose bushes appeared on both sides of the cottage’s entry. Gabi’s dress snagged on thorns as she reached for the doorknob. She tried to dislodge the fabric but caught her hands in the briar. Her shriek carried up the hill.

“You needn’t worry about that one again,” Mokosh said, her lips twitching. “Those scratches will blister and weep; her recovery should take some time.”

Nadzia squirmed at the girl’s obvious pain as she fled back to her home, calling for the cook. “She’ll get better eventually, won’t she?”

“Not until the day you marry.”

“Who will tend Perun’s temple in the meantime? I don’t want Ludvika to take on more duties.”

The goddess stood and stretched. ““Let me handle the matter. Now, we’d best talk about your wedding. That is,” she said with a wink, “why I’m here, after all.”

 “Of course. I want to be able to answer any questions, should Perun ask.”

“I’m sure he’s been informed and already forgotten the details. He tends to focus on his own concerns. Come.”

Mokosh guided Nadzia to the middle of the clearing. “The two of you will stand beneath an arch here, the gods on one side, mortals on the other. Dievas and Rodzenica intend to speak briefly at the onset. My father will conduct the marriage ceremony and then make you a goddess.”

“And your mother will liberate Perun’s heart from this stone.” Nadzia toyed with her pendant as doubt flitted through her mind. “Are you certain my sisters’ keening will immobilize all the gods? Your parents are formidable.”

“We need only a few moments. You must act without delay. Hesitate and all is lost.”

“Everyone will be in attendance, is that right? Even the gods and goddesses who wish Perun ill?”

Mokosh knelt, beckoned to a rabbit sniffing the base of a tree, and fed it a handful of sweet-smelling grass. “Of course. Our absence would draw suspicion.”

“I hate to think that anyone who sides with the convent will suffer, even briefly.”

“Veles has everything under control. The mermaids’ screeches won’t harm us. We’ll have stuffed our ears with beeswax, we’ll only pretend to succumb.”

“The humans will have no such protection.”

“An unfortunate consequence,” Mokosh said, lifting her shoulders in a half shrug. “One we cannot avoid. Don’t fret overlong over their discomfort. Veles will leave a basin of magicked bellflower tincture outside the cook’s cottage with instructions for its use. A drop in each ear and the pain will vanish.”

Nadzia fell silent, remembering her unease around the god of the underworld. That he despised his tempestuous brother was beyond dispute. Just how far he’d go to exact revenge was the mystery yet to be solved. She sensed that Mokosh would not welcome comments or questions casting doubt on Veles’s motives. Not after half a milennia of plotting together. If there were puzzles to be unraveled, she’d have to find the solutions on her own.

She returned the discussion to the ceremony. “It sounds as if the whole event won’t  last more than a few minutes.”

“Happy as most are to see Perun wed,” Mokosh replied, nodding in agreement, “they are even happier for a chance to revel.”

Nadzia laughed at that. “I believe the mortals are looking forward to a party as well. What should we serve?”

“I’ve already spoke with Ludvika. She’ll arrange for tables, tents, platters, utensils, and such. I’ll provide ample food and drink, make sure this area is properly festooned.”

“What about the Immortals?”

“Rodzenica is planning a most exquisite affair at the Tree of Life. Endless nectar, strolling musicians, a rare appearance by the Queen of the Fairies—I understand she’ll perform a song written in your honor.”

Nadzia plucked a blue-petaled wildflower and twirled the stem. “I wonder if anyone will even want to celebrate. What happens after Rodzenica realizes her son’s heart is gone? Won’t she be furious? Dievas, too?”

Her heart thumped wildly in sudden fear. “My sisters! They’ll be punished!”

“Perhaps even slain.” Mokosh’s breath caught. She took a moment to compose herself. When she spoke again, her voice was clear and steady. “They know the risks. Their commitment has not wavered. But never forget that those of us who support their defiance will do everything in our power to keep Jūratė’s daughters safe from harm.”

Nadzia shivered at the idea of possible death and destruction. “You’ll expose yourselves in the process. Maybe even start a war amongst the gods.”

“We have honed the art of hiding our actions in plain sight. We do not anticipate chaos, at least not for long. Dievas craves order. We expect him to direct the council to convene at at the Tree of Life, summon his children and listen to our accounts. Which, I assure you, will be quite muddled and uncertain. He’ll never learn what really happened.”

Nadzia tore at the blossom in her hand, shredding the petals. “I didn’t expect things to be so complicated. So much could go wrong.”

“That is true of any undertaking.” Mokosh said softly. “But if we do not seek justice, none will. Remember, you are a child of the earth and sea, graced with strength from both elements. We believe you will triumph, and I am but a prayer away should you need reassurance.”

Nadzia’s eyes welled as the goddess embraced her and then disappeared into the trees, trailed by a fawn. The knots in her stomach loosened, and she made her way down the hill to the dock, ready to let the river work its magic.

Chapter 18


Beads of sweat trickled down Nadzia’s back as she descended the hillside and crossed a meadow of knee-high flowers, stopping occasionally to rub wild rosemary between her palms and inhale its glorious scent. A trio of golden orioles passed above, flying through a brilliant blue, cloudless sky, their paths straight with a few shallow dips, their song a fluting weela-wee-ooo.

She waved to the gardener sorting boxes on the dock, her spirits high now that Gabi was indisposed. A temporary solution, true, but she had Mokosh’s assurance that the girl would make a full recovery. No lasting harm, no scars. Best of all, no more worries about spying or churlish behavior from a servant whose loyalty would never extend to the god of storms’ bride. Nadzia was free to continue her seduction, bolstered by the surprising news that a secret league of gods and goddesses supported the convent’s quest for vengeance, not just the slippery Veles—whose motives still gave her pause. She didn’t question his hatred of Perun, the evidence for that was indisputable. She simply couldn’t shake the feeling that his true intentions remained hidden.

Adomas greeted his mistress with a stiff bow, kept his eyes lowered and fixed on the newly delivered parcels when he straightened. He pointed to the crate stamped with turquoise mermaids. “There’s one for you today. Shall I open it here for your inspection or do you trust me to deliver the contents to your cottage undisturbed? I don’t want to intrude on your privacy.”

His bristling tone took Nadzia by surprise; he’d shown no sign of ill-humor after her directive the previous night. She bit back a retort. This was his home, after all, and he’d welcomed her warmly, without suspicion or petulance. He deserved respect and honesty—as much as she could manage, given the circumstances.

“My desire for solitude was not meant as censure,” she said, keeping her voice warm and friendly. “There have been no misdeeds or improprieties on your part. The temple is simply too open, too exposed. Everyone else here can shut a door, seal off the world when day is done, and find rejuvenation in whatever manner pleases them. I deserve the same courtesy, a place to rest and reflect.”

“Were you not surrounded by others at the Order of Bursztyn?”

“I shared a room with my sisters, yes, but it was closed to outsiders.”

Nadzia reached out to the gardener, waited for him to take her hands and meet her gaze. “You remind me of one of my favorite Elders at the convent,” she said, running her thumbs lightly over his fingers. “Sister Bronis is her name. She oversees our gardens and meadery. I have complete faith in her discretion, her honesty, her virtue. Though we are but newly met, I sense similar qualities in you. Believe me, a request for seclusion on my part was meant neither as a personal affront to your character nor a sign of displeasure. It was simply the wish of a somewhat overwhelmed novice for time alone to contemplate the vast changes in her life.”

Adomas nodded, his eyes glistening. “Forgive me. Perun and I took such joy in preparing your part of the temple, we gave no thought to the concerns you’ve raised. Although, come to think of it, I do recall Ludvika remarking at one point that thicker curtains might be wise.”

“Men are used to shaping things as they see fit, eschewing women’s counsel,” Nadzia said with a wry smile, releasing his hands. “Consider this a gentle reminder rather than a rebuke. Now, you have chores and I’m dying for a swim. Is there someplace secluded nearby where I can disrobe?”

“You’re going into the river naked? I don’t think the master would approve.”

 Nadzia laughed at the shock on the gardener’s face. “Don’t worry. I’m not of a mind to bare all around strangers. I can swim in my chemise, but I’d rather not leave my gown on the pier.” She shaded her eyes, scanned the area. “Perun said you had a food locker. I don’t see one.”

“I keep it under the dock,” Adomas said, pointing to a ladder that descended to the riverbank. “Your clothes will be safe inside, albeit a tad cold.”

“I’m a daughter of the sea. I’ve yet to encounter a chill I can’t handle.”

“Then I will see to my work.” Adomas paused, seemingly at a loss for words. He let out a long breath and put a hand to his heart. “Thank you, mistress. I will try to do better.”

“And I will strive to make my intentions clear so that we always understand one another,” Nadzia said, echoing his action. “Please set my package on the floor next to my rocking chair. I shouldn’t be gone more than a few hours.”

“I imagine you’ll be famished by then. Help yourself to whatever you like from the cooler. I stock it daily.”

“I’ll do that.” Nadzia slipped off her sandals, laced them around her neck, and climbed down to the end of the ladder. She stepped into ankle-deep water surrounded by clusters of reeds, a haven for carp and catfish hiding from hungry predators. Adomas’s rock-walled chamber nestled against the riverbank beneath the back dock pilings. A clever arrangement. The water chilled the food and the stones kept out scavengers.

She slid aside the thin top stone, revealing several earthenware crocks. Curious, she checked each one. Boiled eggs, cheese with caraway seeds, strawberries, a flask of mint tea. A perfect repast after a hearty excursion. Adomas might be a bit thick-headed when it came to women, but he certainly knew his food.

After easing off her gown and carefully folding it atop the crocks, she replaced the cover and tied her footwear to the ladder’s middle rung. Within moments, she’d slipped into the river, blessedly alone in her element at last.

Relief surged through her veins, melting away the tension that lingered in her shoulders. She dove deep, seeking stillness and sanctuary, a respite from the day’s stifling heat. Gills opened on both sides of her neck, webs grew between her fingers and feet. With strokes swift and sure, she swam against currents that—if offered no resistance—would carry her westward to Palanga, a temptation best ignored. These waters were crystal clear, the risk of being seen by a fisherman too great. As much as she preferred the salty swells of the sea, she would have to make do with what was at hand, never give anyone reason to question or remark upon her presence away from Kaunas.

After a few miles, she surfaced to better appraise her surroundings. Each bend of the river brought new pleasures: dragonflies flitting near the shore, their orange wings flashing in the sun as they cruised for flies and gnats; a white stork prowling amid cattails for spiny-finned zander fish; turtles sunning on logs; fire-bellied toads serenading her with throaty songs.

 Next time out she’d spend more time above water and appreciate them more fully. Follow one of the numerous tributaries leading to places unknown. With so much to explore, this month away from the coast might actually prove pleasant, and the younger novices at the convent would definitely relish hearing about places they’d never seen. Maybe she’d even catch a glimpse of the colorful yet reclusive vagabonds who lived in caravans and camped outside Palanga each year, venturing into town to sell their wares at the Harvest Festival.

The sun blazed straight ahead, perhaps halfway on its path between the crest of the sky and the horizon. Time to turn around if she wanted to be ready at the cottage before twilight’s gloaming. She sank down into the water and changed direction, marveling at the way the sun sparkled underwater. Something shiny glimmered from a hole in the river bottom. Nadzia ventured closer and reached out, curious. The hole shook and widened. She backed away, readied a note in her throat that would immobilize any creature and allow her to escape—if her voice crippled monsters of the deep, it should be just as effective here.

The water trembled, the river grew thick with silt, clouding her vision. Nadzia held her breath and then sputtered in surprise as the sludge cleared and a dappled snake burst upward with bared fangs.

She shot to the surface, furious. Fates be damned, was there no respite from the lord of the Underworld?

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Veles said, joining her with a grin that suggested otherwise. “Still, you must agree, this is a most opportune place to meet, a good distance from my brother’s temple. Even if we’re seen, there’s no reason for anyone to go squealing to Kaunas. For all anyone knows, we’re simply two friends—even lovers—enjoying the pleasures of the Nemunas.”

“A fiction possible only if you keep your torso above water and your scales hidden.”

“And you refrain from waving your webbed fingers.” Veles circled Nadzia, his movements slow and sinuous. “Let’s not argue. That isn’t why I’ve come.”

Nadzia eyed him warily. He might be a stalwart ally in the abbess’s eyes, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was much more than he appeared. “What do you want?”

“Such a suspicious girl—you’d think we were foes rather than allies. I assure you, there’s nothing sinister about my presence. You’ve traveled far today. I simply thought to suggest turning back so you weren’t overly tired. This is a lovely reprieve, but you should save your energy for my brother. Gods know he can be exhausting.”

“And you should pay more attention. I was heading toward Kaunas before you interrupted me.”

“Indeed.” Veles flicked his tongue and grinned again as he gently nudged Nadzia. “Come along, my dear. I’ll happily escort you.”

Nadzia gritted her teeth. “That isn’t necessary. I know the way.”

“Indulge me, dear girl. This is a welcome break from my realm.”

“You don’t like ruling the dead?”

“I might have chosen another domain, but I’ve made the Underworld my own. Besides, Jūratė is there to brighten my days and nights, I can’t complain about that. Which brings me to more pressing issues. Mokosh told you of our consortium?”

Nadzia sighed and gave herself over to the natural pull of the river. She needed to put aside the personal reservations she had about Veles—if the goddess of the earth trusted him, she could do no less. “Yes. I’m heartened to know of their support.”

“Remember us if your spirits flag. We are most willing to help our champion.”

Mercifully, Veles fell silent as they continued down the river, rousing from time to time to point out colorful fish or a wonderfully variegated stone. The sky paled, took on the first hues of dusk, casting the dome of Perun’s temple in rosy light. Veles veered toward a hole in the riverbank. “A delight, as always,” he said, blowing a kiss. “Until we meet again.”

Nadzia eased her body toward the bank and emerged, dripping. She wrung out her braid, gathered her gown from the cooler, and made a nest to hold a late lunch of eggs and cheese—no berries, they’d stain the fabric. With eventide approaching, she looked forward to a quick bite on the pier, drying off in the last rays of the sun with only birds for company.

At the top of the ladder, she found Adomas waiting, a thick towel in hand. “I’ve a good view of the dock from my cabin,” he said. “Thought you might want this.” His voice dropped, became somber. “Your handmaiden should handle such a task, but she’s been injured. Badly, Ludvika says.”

Guilt tugged at Nadzia. She shunted it aside, knowing the girl would heal. “I’m so sorry. Should I stop by and offer my help? I know a few songs that are good for soothing pain.”

“You might want to keep your distance,” Adomas said with a quick jerk of his head. “Gabi was raving when I visited. She called you a witch, claimed you want to ruin Perun. Said the roses that pricked her fingers appeared out of nowhere, like an enchantment.”

 “Oh, well, that much is true.”

Adomas backed away, anger flashing in his eyes. “You hurt Gabi?”

“No, no, it isn’t what you think.” Nadzia pointed toward the end of the pier and imbued her voice with sweet persuasion. “If you would set down the towel over there, I’ll use it as a cushion while I explain.”

She followed his halting gait, breathing deeply as she gathered her thoughts, and then settled at the edge of the pier with her legs dangling, her meal untouched in her lap. “Sit with me, please,” she said, patting the boards. “It’s a simple misunderstanding.”

Adomas frowned and positioned himself several feet to Nadzia’s side. “What’s simple about maiming a servant?”

“You’re aware that Mokosh came today?”

“Yes, she called on me this morning.” Adomas smiled faintly. “She likes my garden.”

“As well she should. You’ve done a marvelous job. But her purpose was to go over the details of my wedding. She took me to the clearing where the ceremony will be held. It has a marvelous vista. When I mentioned that I’d moved to Perun’s cottage, she decided the front looked bare and conjured up roses on either side of the door. So, you see, there was enchantment involved, but not on my part. Gabi must not have been paying attention when she brushed up against them later.”

Adomas looked at her blankly. His mouth opened and closed, as if he was battling over how to phrase his response. He took off his hat, ran a hand through his hair, huffed. “If Mokosh is the cause of the wounds, then shouldn’t she mend them?”

“Are you blaming the goddess for a mortal’s clumsiness?” Nadzia broke off a piece of cheese, chewing slowly and deliberately while the gardener considered her question. “I can’t believe she would take kindly to such a charge. But you are free to petition for her aid.”

The gardener smoothed the brim of his hat, seeming to weigh Nadzia’s suggestion. She waited a moment more and added a note of caution. “Before you act, be sure to reflect on the consequences of such a request. Ludvika has a yard full of healing herbs, does she not?”

“She does.”

“And she knows how to tend to Gabi’s injuries, has done so even as we speak?”

“She has.”

Nadzia pursed her lips. “Then you would be asking a goddess to forgo her endless duties to the earth and attend to a situation already under control. Is that wise?”

“I suppose not,” Adomas said, his shoulders drooping. “I just hate to see Gabi suffer.”

“She’s lucky to have you as a friend.” Nadzia brightened her tone. “Cheer up. I’m sure she’ll be better before long. Why not bring her some flowers or a bowlful of berries from your garden? Tell her how the roses came about so she doesn’t fret over nonsense.”

Adomas straightened, his face set with determination. “I’ll put together a bouquet now. Unless you require my assistance? Your box is in the cottage.”

“A cottage you entered and left without mishap.” Nadzia leaned over and gently grasped Adomas’s shoulder. “Be gentle with Gabi. I think my arrival upset her. From what I’ve seen, she’s accustomed to Perun’s undivided attention. Losing that can’t be easy.”

“Even so, it was wrong of her to accuse you of sorcery.”

Nadzia waved her hand in dismissal. “Think no more of it. I won’t. Thank you for delivering my parcel.”

“A heavy load.” Adomas winced and rolled his shoulders.

“I’m sure Ludvika has something to help ease your aches.”

“She has plenty of balms for old bones and joints like mine,” Adomas agreed. He scratched at the stubble on his chin. “May I ask what you received?”

And there, Nadzia realized, was the solution to her dilemma. With the box’s contents a secret, she could add her belt and the shawl she’d forgotten to return to Palanga, and no one would be the wiser. “Gifts chosen by Mokosh and Sister Ramuna, our librarian. Books, mostly—those account for the weight—but I was told to expect a few surprises as well.”

Adomas perked up at her reply. “If one of them is a bottle of mead, I’d be happy to share a glass with you.”

“I’m not much for wine, but I can write to Sister Bronis and ask her to send some. She’ll be delighted to hear that another gardener is interested in her vintage.”

“Sounds like a woman I’d like to know better,” Adomas said with a wink. “Will she attend the wedding?”

“I’ll be sure to introduce you the moment she arrives.” Nadzia smiled as the old man bowed and sauntered away, a new lightness in his step. She imagined him with the Elder, deep in discussions about plants while they sampled various bottles of mead. They’d make a fine couple.

And then the image faded, replaced by a scene of chaos, Adomas and all the humans in attendance at the wedding doubled over in agony as the daughters of Jūratė keened. Nadzia fought back tears. This wasn’t one of her books, a happy ending guaranteed. Everything she said and did in Kaunas had one purpose, and when that goal was met, this good man—a man who under any other circumstances she’d be honored to call “friend”—would realize how ill he’d been used and curse the day she came into his life.

And she would deserve every bit of his condemnation.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Mokosh: