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:






THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 15, 16

Are you enjoying the story? Would you like more than two chapters a week? Let me know. In this installment, Nadzia moves out of the temple and Perun deals with a suspicious servant amid growing dismay at his deception.

For previous chapters, click here.



The trip from the abbess’s room back to Kaunas was a blur of twisting curves that finally opened near the thrones in Perun’s temple. Veles released Nadzia and moved her aside as the stone floor closed smoothly, leaving no trace of its existence. “I hope you’ll consider me a true friend from now on,” he said, surprising her with a warm smile instead of his usual smirk. “We have a common goal that binds us. I want to help in every way possible.”

“Thank you.” The words felt odd on Nadzia’s tongue. This unanticipated alliance between the convent and the god of the Underworld . . . could she trust what she’d seen and heard or did something dubious lurk beneath their collusion? Perhaps it didn’t matter, given that the directive to enthrall Perun remained. Whatever else, she wanted to test her voice, learn just how much it would take before a god yielded to her magic.

Anticipation chilled her flesh. She moved closer to the fire as Veles shrank into an ordinary garden snake and zigzagged past the thrones to the rear of the temple. He looked back, flicked his tongue, black and forked and surprisingly long, and disappeared into a crevice at the bottom of the wall. Nadzia let out the breath she’d been holding and idly smoothed Mother Gintare’s shawl. Such a pretty wrap, green with white waves embroidered at the bottom.

“Fates be damned,” she muttered, realizing her mistake. Why hadn’t she left it behind? Even if the god of storms paid no attention to his bride’s attire, the handmaiden would spot a new piece of clothing, and Nadzia had no ready explanation for its presence.

She rushed to her room in search of a hiding place. Stuffed under the mattress? No, Gabi would discover it when the bedsheets needed changing. In the dresser, then, along with the belt from the convent. She checked the middle drawer. Everything within the leather strip seemed untouched—the bezoars, the pearl coated with poison, the clay bottle filled with water from Jūratė’s sacred springs. But that was hardly proof it hadn’t been examined by a nosy servant. She set the shawl next to the belt. Safe enough for now.

“Is anything wrong, mistress?”

Nadzia swung about, reaching behind to shut the drawer and giving silent thanks for the well-oiled cabinet that closed without a squeak. “Gabi! I’m well, thank you. Why do you ask? Is anything amiss?”

“You didn’t eat or drink from the tray I left at the temple entrance. I found a squirrel gnawing on the cheese. Was the food you asked for unacceptable?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I sometimes lose myself in prayer.”

Gabi glanced at the dome, her face pinched with annoyance. “I didn’t realize the daughters of Jūratė were so devout.”

The irritation in her voice gave Nadzia pause. She didn’t want to antagonize the girl—she still harbored the suspicion that Gabi was watching her more closely than a servant should—but small piques left unchallenged often festered into large affronts. “Have a care with your tone when you speak to me,” she said, inflecting her words with flinty disapproval. “I am Perun’s bride, not some commoner.”

The handmaiden flushed and dropped her gaze to the floor. “I beg your forgiveness. Shall I ask Ludvika to make you a plate for supper? We’ve roast lamb, new potatoes, fresh beans, and berry pie.”

Nadzia wished she could abandon protocol and treat Gabi as a friend. Gods knew she understood how it felt to be taken for granted. But the admonitions about trust from the Elders and the mermaid goddess, along with the growing awareness that her situation was far more complex than she could have ever imagined, made simple friendship impossible.

She nodded curtly. “You may serve me in the cottage your master has prepared for the two of us. I’d like my things moved there as well. This temple affords little privacy.”

“Yes, mistress. I’ll see to it at once.”

“Just the dresser for now, along with my nightclothes and a fresh gown for the morrow. Leave the chest for Perun. I don’t want anyone to injure themselves trying to lift so heavy a piece. Everything else stays until I see what the cottage can hold.”

Gabi motioned toward the bed. “You’ll want the bell to summon me, won’t you?”

Curse the girl! How could Nadzia refuse? “Of course. Thank you for the reminder.” She waited for Gabi to leave and then retrieved her belt and shawl, wrapping them in her mermaid quilt. What instinct had prompted her to change housing? A lack of prying eyes, certainly. The knowledge that private time with Perun would simplify the work of bending him to her will. Seclusion aided seduction. And—truth be told—after a day of scheming deities and unveiled secrets, she welcomed the chance to gather her thoughts in solitude before trying to gentle an unruly god.


The cottage door opened into a space dominated on the right by a giant oak bed, its thick mattress covered with white linens and plump pillows. Nadzia smoothed her quilt over the top and tucked the belt and shawl into a convenient gap between the headboard and wall. She’d stash them in the wardrobe later.

The far wall beyond the bed was empty. A good spot for her cabinet. She’d claim that side of the bed to ensure Perun had no reason to rummage around her things, ask for shelves to hold the books she’d ask the convent to send, fanciful tales from around the world, often with a romantic twist. Although she knew most by heart, the illustrations were wondrous and after reading them aloud to other novices more times than she could count, Nadzia knew exactly where to pause to heighten the suspense. All part of her plan to entice the god of storms.

On the wall to the left, a neat pile of wood waited to be stacked inside a hearth with a plain mantel. No candles yet, but she’d fix that soon. A corner space beside the door held a round stable with two straight-backed chairs set beneath mullioned windows, a perfect place to sip tea and watch the sun rise. The other corner offered a rocking chair that faced the western sky, slowly darkening now as dusk descended.

Nadzia hugged her chest. This was a vast improvement from the temple. She could read or sit on the doorstep and listen to the songs of the birds frequenting the meadow, maybe add her own. Best of all, no one would come upon her unawares. The walls were thick, too, an added bonus. No need to worry about the sounds within penetrating beyond. Yes, this would do nicely.

Adomas appeared at the doorway with the dresser. Ludvika stood behind him, carrying two drawers, Gabi beside her with a third drawer of neatly folded clothes and the summoning bell. “Where would you like everything?” the gardener asked.

“In that corner, please, just past the bed.”

He rolled his shoulders after they’d finished and gathered together at the foot of the bed. “What about the rest?”

“The fishbowl will go on the table. But that can wait until tomorrow. The net . . .” Nadzia tapped her chin. “Leave it be for now. I don’t need the table or cushions. They’re yours if you’d like.”

“I’ve no use for them.” Adomas turned to the handmaiden and cook. “Ladies?”

“We’d like that indeed, mistress,” Ludvika said. “You are most generous.”

“Excellent. Thank you for your help.” Nadzia cleared her throat. “This is a private space for your master and me. You will knock and wait for an invitation before entering, even if the door is open.”

The servants looked at one another for a long moment. Gabi spoke first, a slight edge to her voice. “The master gave us leave to work in whatever manner we find appropriate. Do you find our presence intrusive?”

“I’m sure she means no offense,” Ludvika said, giving the girl a look that promised a scolding later. “Your arrival is most welcome, and we want to do everything possible to make you feel at home here.”

“Call upon us whenever you wish,” Adomas said, grasping both women by their elbows and escorting them to the door. “We are here to serve.”

Gabi turned and bit her lip, as if swallowing a retort. “I’ll be back soon with supper. Would you like me to start a fire as well?”

“It’s a mild night. I should be fine.”

Nadzia watched the trio depart in the growing gloom, wishing she could just eat, close the door and abandon herself to sleep, then wake early for a swim before facing her tempestuous god. But she had a task to fulfill, and no matter how certain this new plot seemed, she couldn’t leave anything to chance.


After the handmaiden removed the dinner plates, Nadzia leaned against the doorway and watched the sun paint the clouds with swathes of lilac and pink as it slipped beneath the horizon. She searched the sky for Perun. Had he misjudged the distance he had to travel? Impossible, given the countless centuries he’d journeyed across Lithuania creating storms. Die her hold over him lessen with distance? Maybe she’d pushed too hard, too soon, driven him to linger among humans who would never dream of trying to change a god.

She stroked his amber necklace, pulsing steadily in the cleft above her breasts. It was a magical link between them—its true objective, she was certain, not yet revealed. The stone warmed at her touch, sent out waves of comfort and reassurance. Perun would never renege on his promise. Not as long as she wore his jewel.

The heavens were blooming indigo when a giant eagle glided over the meadow and swooped into the god of storms’ temple. Gabi, who must have been waiting in the shadows by the entry, scurried inside. A roar followed moments later, angry words, too rushed and garbled for Nadzia to clearly discern. Gabi rushed out, Perun at her heels. The ground rumbled as he stomped toward the cottage, his flesh suffused with a fiery glow.

Nadzia stiffened as he neared, the heat of his anger reaching her well before he did. She put up a hand to stop him when he was several yards distant. “Come no closer. Not until your temper has subsided.”

“My mother and I spent months assembling the perfect space and you reject it after one night? Ingrate!”

“Call me what you will,” Nadzia replied, her words calm and even. “But hold fast to your promise and let me guide you through this fury to a peaceful state of mind.”

Sweat sizzled on Perun’s brow. “You deliberately provoked me.”

“I did not. But your wrath serves as the perfect start to our first lesson.”

“You want to rob me of my strength.”

“To what end? Do you think I wish to marry a weak god?”

“If it serves your purpose.”

“My purpose?”

Perun twitched and drew back, as if he’d said too much. Nadzia hesitated. He couldn’t possibly know her true plans, yet his fists clenched as he glared at the ground, muttering in a language she didn’t understand. Yet whatever he was hiding, this wasn’t the time to probe. She had to take advantage of what time was left before the wedding to make him compliant.

She folded her arms and infused her words with subtle persuasion. “My wishes are simple: to live in harmony. Concentrate, please. Where is the source of your rage?”

“It begins in my chest,” Perun grumbled. “Like a smoldering coal left in the hearth that suddenly erupts into flames.”

“And you allow it to burn hot, always, however incited?”

Perun frowned and shook his head. “That is my nature. I need the fire inside to call forth tempests. You cannot change how I was made. What Dievas creates is immutable.”

“That may be, but you decide how that power is wielded. Trust me. Trust yourself. You are no one’s puppet, but a divine being, capable of mastering whatever you choose. Muse upon that, what it means to accept that you alone can restrain or release your magic. Do not allow the tumult within to compel you—subject it to your will.”

She ventured a few inches closer as Perun’s fingers relaxed. “That’s good,” she said, her voice as soothing and melodic as the ocean’s tides. “Close your eyes. Let your body unwind.  Breathe deeply and think of something cool and refreshing. The waters of Palanga, a place we both love. Imagine yourself floating in the Baltic Sea, at ease yet secure in the knowledge that you are in command, ready to exert your authority at a moment’s notice.”

Perun sighed, a long tremulous exhalation of warm breath that wafted across Nadzia’s shoulders. The fire beneath his skin faded. His eyes fluttered open, filled with longing as he reached for her. “I see now why some call the daughters of Jūratė witches. Your voice is pure enchantment. I’ve never felt so completely at ease.”

Nadzia snuggled into his arms, careful not to sound overly satisfied with her success. The change she’d worked just now in Perun boded well for the future. “Whatever my gifts, they pale next to the fortitude you displayed tonight.”

“I regret my harsh words. Forgive me?”

“Your fury was ill-matched to the perceived offense, but I hope you appreciate the opportunity it presented.” Nadzia raised her chin for a kiss, somewhat taken aback at her eagerness for Perun’s affection, his tender regard. She wondered again if this might be what the Fates wanted, for her to bring out the best in this god. To show the world the decency beneath the savageness that spurred his storms.

She ran a finger lightly along Perun’s chest, pleased at his quick intake of breath. The night was young and the bed in the cottage beckoned with its allure of physical abandon. “I do appreciate the room in your temple. But the design hampers true intimacy. Anyone could walk in on us unannounced. I want to express my desire freely, without fear of interruption. Don’t you?”

Perun laughed softly and grazed Nadzia’s neck, sending shivers of delight down her spine. “I did not wish to appear unduly bold by suggesting we stay elsewhere before the ceremony. If privacy is what you crave, I am happy to oblige.”

“Then take me inside.”

“As you wish, my love.” Perun swept Nadzia into his arms, carried her across the threshold, and kicked the cottage door closed.



The god of storms’ cottage brightened with the first coral beams of daybreak. He kissed the swell of Nadzia’s hips, smiling when her skin lit up with a pearly fluorescence in response to his touch. He worked his way upward, savoring the fullness of her breasts, the velvety flesh along her neck. “Your body shimmers when you’re aroused. Did you know that? It’s as if there’s a moon glowing within you. I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.”

Nadzia stretched like a well-fed kitten, half asleep and pleasantly sated. She slipped out of Perun’s arms and pulled up her mermaid quilt, leaving her back and shoulders bare. “I wish we could spend the day together,” she said, wriggling toward the edge of the bed, “but Mokosh is meeting me at the temple to discuss details of our wedding, and you have more followers to notify.”

Perun leaned forward and slowly traced Nadzia’s spine. “Duties! Let them wait.”

She playfully swatted his hand and opened the middle drawer of her cabinet. “I left my chest of gowns behind in the temple; it was far too heavy for the servants. You’ll have to bring it here. I only have one clean dress.”

Perun’s throat rumbled with desire. “Stay with me in bed. You won’t need clothes at all.”

“Don’t be selfish. Anticipation makes the heart grow fonder, or so the villagers in Palanga say. We have an eternity to indulge our passion. And while you may not require food, I’m ravenous.” Nadzia motioned toward the bell sitting atop the corner table. “Ring for Gabi while I dress?”

“Not until you answer one question.”

Nadzia retrieved a white chemise and a gown of crimson silk, eased the garments over her head, and then turned to face Perun, a hint of mischief in her eyes. “Only one? Am I so ordinary that you have no interest in probing the depths of my heart and soul?”

“The stars will lose their luster the day you become ordinary,” Perun said, matching her playful tone. He smoothed the quilt, embarrassed by the doubt that prompted his inquiry. His pendant sparkled on Nadzia’s chest; he’d checked while she slept. That should be enough to calm his fears, but he understood from talks with his priests that mortals did not always equate sex with love. “Did I satisfy you?”

Nadzia walked to the far side of the bed and took his face in her hands. “You brought me to heights of pleasure I didn’t know possible. I can’t wait to lie in your arms again. But I won’t have the energy to do so without proper sustenance.”

“There’s no reason to call your handmaiden. I’ll bring you breakfast. Strawberries and cream, yes?”

“You remembered,” Nadzia said, surprise in her voice.

“I’m sure Adomas can provide both. He has a cooler down by the dock to keep things fresh. Will that be sufficient? I can stop by the women’s cottage on my way to the garden, ask Ludvika to cook whatever you want, and have her bring you a tray.”

Nadzia ticked off items on her fingers. “Poached eggs with herbs. Fresh bread. And a pot of strong tea. Wait,” she added as Perun donned his robe, slid off the mattress, and headed for the door. “Ask if she has a spare flower vase we can borrow. I can pick some blossoms from the meadow to adorn our table.”

Our table.” Perun bowed. “As you wish, my love. I won’t be long.” He stepped outside, the lively chirps of birdsong greeting him as he ambled down the path to speak with the cook. A soft breeze cooled his skin, fluttered the tall grasses and vibrant blooms blanketing the hillside. He inhaled deeply. Was it the aftermath of a wondrous night that opened his awareness to the glories of morning? He’d always preferred the darker hours, reveled in the ferocity of storms. Now the sun felt like a welcoming friend.

He found Gabi sweeping the porch of her bungalow, a sturdy building of river-washed stone surrounded by beds of herbs that perfumed the air day and night. She set aside her broom as he neared. “Bless the Fates you’re alone,” she whispered. “We must talk about what I saw yesterday in Nadzia’s room.”

Perun looked back at the trail, frustration sullying his mood. He’d hoped, perhaps foolishly, to linger in the afterglow of a glorious evening. To forget that whatever happiness he felt was ill-deserved—the plan to reject his bride after they wed hadn’t changed, despite her prowess in bed.

The handmaiden’s disquiet spoke to a reality he couldn’t ignore. As much as he yearned to believe Nadzia’s sweet words, she was the descendant of a mermaid, gifted with a voice that enthralled. Had she recognized his longing when he asked about her satisfaction, and then told him exactly what he hoped to hear?

He didn’t want to think about duplicity. He wanted two weeks of jubilant days with his disciples and steamy nights with his bride. What was the point of atonement if it led to confusion and agony? But he’d asked Gabi to be his eyes and ears; he could hardly disparage the girl for doing the job he’d asked. He gritted his teeth and nodded. “Wait here while I speak with Ludvika. I want her to prepare a tray for Nadzia. You can accompany me to the garden.”

The cook readily agreed to Perun’s wishes. He returned to the porch with a basket for the strawberries, gave it to Gabi, and escorted her up the hill, steeling himself for unwelcome news. “What happened that left you so agitated?”

“When I came upon Nadzia just before sunset, she was stuffing something in her middle wardrobe drawer.”

“A favorite gown?”

Gabi snorted, startling a grouse feeding on a nearby pine into flight. “All her clothes are kept neatly folded in the chest you had made for her. There’s no reason to move them.”

“What else could it be?”

“I don’t know. But when she turned around and realized I’d seen her . . . well, I know a guilty look when I see one.”

Perun frowned and rubbed his brow. “Did you announce yourself?”

“Of course not. You directed me to stay as silent as possible. It’s hard to spy if someone knows you’re there.”

“Not every action need be suspect,” Perun huffed. “You may have simply surprised her.”

“There’s more to it, I’m sure.” Gabi lowered her voice as Perun opened the garden gate. “I’d barely been there a minute when she decided to move to your cottage.”

Perun’s mouth quirked as he kneeled beside the strawberry patch to pick a handful of glistening red fruit. “A most agreeable situation.”

“And yet the only thing she wanted with her was the wardrobe.” Gabi’s eyes narrowed. “I’d call that suspicious.”

“Did you get a look inside?”

“No,” Gabi answered wearily. “I had to fetch Adomas to carry the cabinet, and the drawers were empty save for the clothes I packed when Ludvika and I carried them to the cottage.”

“Let’s ask if he noticed anything unusual.” Perun shaded his eyes and scanned the yard. “I don’t see him about. Has he gone to town?”

“He’s down at the dock waiting for the morning delivery.” Gabi twisted the cloth of her apron. “Please, master, be careful. She could have hidden anything and now you’re all alone with her in that cottage. There’s no telling what she can do with that witch’s voice of hers. Look at you, on your knees like a common man, picking her food. I’ll wager that’s her bidding.”

Perun righted himself and peered down at the handmaiden as she shifted from foot to foot. Had he blundered in enlisting her aid? Her comments verged on insolence, yet how could she view Nadzia impartially, given her orders to watch his bride like a hawk?

And yet he sensed there was more to her discomposure. “Are you feeling uncertain about your place here, Gabi?”

The flush in her cheeks confirmed his instincts. “I . . . I wish only to serve.”

“Nadzia is more independent than you expected, yes?”

“That doesn’t change what I saw. You mustn’t trust her. Don’t forget what the traders said about the convent.”

Perun studied the girl a moment longer, remembering the easiness between them before the Fates arrived and declared him redeemed. In the short time since, she’d lost her cheerful breeziness, gone squint-eyed and tight with anxiety. He hated to think that serving him had led to such a change, that his aversion to a marriage he never wanted had turned an unpretentious girl into a carping, fault-finding shrew.

His jaw tightened with resolve. When the wedding was over and his novice bride back in Palanga, he’d do whatever it took to restore Gabi’s spirit.

He put an arm around the girl and gently squeezed her shoulder. “Incertitude can color your perceptions. I’m not discounting what you glimpsed,” he added hastily, feeling Gabi stiffen,  “and I appreciate your diligence in carrying out my instructions. But don’t let worry lead to misunderstandings. This is your home. I am eternally grateful you came here. No one will ever send you away. I promise.”

“Will you examine the cabinet?” Gabi wiped at tears sliding down her cheek. “Gods know what she put there. I’d do it myself, but she’s forbidden me to come inside your cottage without permission.”

Perun laughed softly. “She’s rather fierce about her desire for privacy. I’m afraid you will have to accept these limitations now that the two of us are sharing the same quarters.”

“But you’ll search the drawers?”

“If it will put your mind at rest.” Perun checked the sky. “We mustn’t keep Nadzia waiting. Ludvika should have delivered the tray I requested by now. Be a good girl and fetch some cream from the crock Adomas keeps in the river. Bring it to the cottage. The door will be open when you arrive. You may enter freely.”


The morning sun haloed Nadzia in a nimbus of golden light as she sat at the table spearing forkfuls of egg followed by bites of bread. “Bless the gods for the swiftness of your cook,” she said, sipping from a small mug of tea. “I’d have wasted away into skin and bones waiting for you to feed me. Whatever took so long?”

“Daydreams,” Perun replied, offering his basket. “I imagined kissing full, sweet lips stained red with juice. Shall we make that vision come true?”

“With pleasure.” Nadzia toyed with a strawberry, her tongue lingering over the tiny indentations before she bit into the flesh with a wicked smile. She brought a second piece of fruit to Perun’s mouth, mashing it softly as she traced his lips.

He devoured it greedily and pulled her into his arms with a low throaty growl. “Your skin is lustrous again. Shall I send a raven to Mokosh with a message to postpone your discussion?”

“That would be impolite. The goddess of the earth has many other obligations. It is most generous of her to help me plan divine festivities. We had plenty of celebrations at the convent, but I’ve no idea what the Immortals want or like.”

“They aren’t so different from humans in that respect. Food, plenty of wine and nectar—see if you can persuade my father to part with some of his special vintage—music, dance.” Perun’s voice roughened. “You might want to ask Dievas to post guards as well, to keep a lookout for my snake of a brother.”

“He swore he wouldn’t attend.”

“Never trust a god with a forked tongue. Veles has a well-earned reputation for saying one thing and doing the opposite.” Perun released Nadzia reluctantly and claimed the second seat at the table. “Let’s not waste the morning with talk of a scoundrel. I have a most wondrous maiden to keep me company.”

Nadzia laughed. “Watching a woman eat must be heavenly indeed.”

“Begging your pardon, master. I have the cream you asked for.” Gabi hesitated in the doorway, her pale cheeks splotched with pink. At Perun’s beckoning, she hurried to the table, curtsied, and deposited an ebony bowl by Nadzia’s plate.

“You said Adomas would provide that.” Nadzia smiled as her servant retreated, but Perun saw no mirth in her eyes. “Was he away? This girl has more important duties. She’s responsible for keeping your temple clean, is she not?”

“She is your handmaiden first and foremost,” Perun said evenly. “Thank you, Gabi.”

“Yes, of course, thank you.” Nadzia dipped a berry in the bowl and chewed thoughtfully. “I hope you’ll come along and greet Mokosh before you depart. I’m sure she’s eager to congratulate us.”

“If it pleases you, although we should go there now if I’m to complete my tasks before sunset. I’m looking forward to our next lesson.” Perun stood and waited for Nadzia to take the arm he extended. “Gabi, tend to the room once we’ve departed. My sweet bride is far too busy for such matters. Air out the bed linens. Dust. Sweep the floor and clean the windows. Don’t forget the wardrobe. Each drawer should have fresh lavender sachets.”

Nadzia froze at his words. Panic flickered across her face before she regained her composure and leaned into him. “This is our home,” she said, her voice low and beguiling. “Let me see to its keeping.”

“Chores are a job for a servant, not the daughter of a goddess.”

“Consider it a token of my affection.” Nadzia snuggled closer and toyed with the copper-colored hairs on Perun’s chest. “Another way for me to please you.”

“If you insist. Gabi, you may leave the care of this cottage to my bride. Bring her meals and nothing more.” Perun nodded at the handmaiden and blinked away the mist in his eyes as a flash of understanding passed between them. She’d spoken the truth. Something was definitely amiss. The euphoria of the morning vanished, a dour resignation taking its place.

“That’s better,” Nadzia said after the girl rushed outside. “Just the two of us.”

Perun ushered her through the door and shut it firmly behind them. She chattered about small gifts for wedding guests—commemorative candles or spiced sea salts—oblivious to his sullen disregard as they walked uphill. He was a god with fraudulent designs, he couldn’t complain that the Fates had sent him a devious, manipulative creature.

So why did his heart feel so empty?

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski






THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 13, 14

In this week’s installment, Nadzia exacts a promise from Perun, and her relationship with Veles takes a surprising turn when he takes her to Palanga to meet with the abbess, who has a surprise of her own. Meanwhile, Perun visits one of his temples and discusses his concerns with a priest.

For previous chapters, click here.



Perun bowed to his parents and whisked Nadzia out of the throne room, rushing her back down the hall and through the golden doors leading outside to the branch where her horse was tethered. Had she not witnessed his brutal fight, she would never have guessed that he’d engaged in combat—his skin was smooth and clear, the marks left by Veles’s fangs completely healed. He shimmered with energy and light and walked so vigorously she struggled to match his giant strides.

The day had grown warm, the air humid and close. “Stop,” she said finally, stopping to rest against a tiered fountain surrounded by ferns. The events in the throne room had left her parched, her energy sapped. She filled her palms with cool water, drank deeply, and wiped her mouth with a corner of her sleeve. “I can’t match so quick a pace. Why are you in such a hurry?”

“We wed in two weeks. My followers must be given ample time to travel.” He paused, tugging at his robes. “I expect they will want to celebrate our betrothal.”

“Do you intend to linger for their festivities?” Nadzia drank again, her vigor returning.

“It would be rude to decline an invitation. Gods need mortals who believe in them. Without their prayers, we would cease to exist.”

Nadzia stroked the amber dangling on her chest. Since his mother’s examination of the pendant and her pronouncement that all was well, Perun seemed more at ease, his stance looser, the lines on his face less harsh. A relaxed god, more amenable to her seduction—or so Nadzia hoped. But weeks of revelry with his followers presented an unforeseen complication. Better to stake her claim to his time before his absences became too frequent, too long.

She pitched her voice so that it trembled with allure and a hint of vexation, a combination she’d found useful when dealing with recalcitrant humans. “What about us? The promise you made only hours ago, to let me help you control your rage? I have no quarrel with your followers. Accept their good wishes, they are well deserved, but honor your vows to me if you want a happy bride.”

“What?” Perun scowled in confusion. “You just told my parents you were content.”

“I was, until you fought with Veles.”

Perun flushed and gazed at a spot above Nadzia’s head. “I tried not to lose my temper. Your words did soothe me.” His fists clenched. “But the Lord of the Underworld—”

“Is a master of manipulation,” Nadzia finished with a huff. “He knows exactly what to say to provoke you.” She held up her hands as Perun tried to speak. “If you want me to enter gladly into this marriage, if we are to live in harmony, I will need you in Kaunas every night, as we agreed. Or do you expect me to indulge your temper without question? ”

The scowl returned. “What do you hope to achieve? To change my nature? Impossible. I am a god of fire and fury, I won’t let you sap my strength because you can’t stomach conflict. My brother and I have fought for millennia. We will continue to fight. As you can see, there’s no lasting harm.”

Perun folded his arms and looked at Nadzia with a hint of scorn. “Perhaps you need to be stronger instead of expecting me to back down.”

Nadzia unclasped her necklace and held it out, willing her arm to remain steady. She didn’t know what magic the amber contained, beyond the spell that bound her to the god of storms when she summoned his stone, but she suspected there was something more. Something crucial that gave her an unknown advantage. “If that’s how you feel, take this. I refuse to wear the jewel of a god who cares so little for my welfare and considers me weak.”

The flash of fear in Perun’s eyes assured Nadzia she’d guessed correctly. He knelt down, closed his hands over hers, and sighed. “Forgive me. I spoke without thinking. You speak a truth difficult to acknowledge. I need to master my emotions instead of letting Veles continually aggravate me. We can begin the lessons tonight and continue each evening after I’ve returned from my temples and other duties. Will that satisfy you?”

Nadzia leaned forward and kissed Perun’s brow. “As long as you’re home by sunset.”


The transformation from god to eagle took mere seconds this time, enhanced by what Nadzia assumed was the Tree of Life’s inherently divine magic. The bird circled above, screeched, and flew east. A wise choice, Nadzia thought, given that his followers there would have the longest trek. When he was swallowed by clouds, she gathered the reins of her horse, looking forward to a long swim when she returned to Kaunas.

“Not so fast, my dear.” A black-and-gold snake wriggled out from behind the fountain and whirled into Veles’s godly form. “You’ve taken on a gargantuan task, trying to tame a god. But that’s exactly what the convent trained you for, isn’t it?”

He grinned at the shock on Nadzia’s face. “Surprised? I’m delighted. Your reaction means the Order of Bursztyn can keep a secret. I’ve known its true purpose for ages.”

Nadzia remembered his boast, that he could breach any door. “You spied on us?”

“Nothing so crass,” he said, preening. “Remember, I’m the one who fought for the god of storms’ demise. Your current abbess, like all those before her, trusts me to continue that battle on behalf of Jūratė’s daughters. We’ve been working together for centuries.”

“You know how we can defeat him?”

Veles placed a finger on Nadzia’s lips, chilling her flesh. “Not here,” he said, glancing back toward the golden doors. “I don’t sense anyone listening at the moment, but that can change in a heartbeat. I’ll meet you at my brother’s temple.”

“You can’t get past Perun’s spells.”

“That’s what he thinks.” Veles waited for Nadzia to settle atop her steed and then retreated, giving Salomeya room to spread her wings. “See you soon.”

Nadzia would have preferred a day to herself, time to make sense of everything she’d endured, a long, private swim. But if Veles was a legitimate ally, if he truly could help, she had to give him a chance to share his information. She bent forward and whispered to her horse. “Home, my friend. As fast as you can take me.”

They sped through the clouds, startling flocks of geese that honked in annoyance but swerved out of their way. Nadzia indulged in the joy of flight, relished the sight of fields and forests passing beneath, the freedom of solitude. If only she could go wherever she chose.

She pushed aside the thought. Her personal desires weren’t important. Veles, on the other hand, had blithely turned her world upside down. If he really knew Perun’s frailty, why not use it to trounce him, settle their enmity once and for all, establish dominance? More importantly, why keep his knowledge secret? Her task would be infinitely easier if she understood exactly what to do. Perhaps he wasn’t as generous a friend to the convent as he claimed.

She’d be a fool to shun him. He was the Blessed One’s champion, after all, there was no denying that. Yet he also bore an unremitting grudge against Perun. His actions might be driven by personal animosity, not justice. Did his assistance spring from charity or spite?

Jūratė’s words echoed in her mind: Do not trust appearances. And yet she’d followed that almost immediately with a disclaimer, that Veles was the sole exception. But a dead goddess couldn’t know everything her ardent defender said and did outside his realm. If he was pursuing his own purposes he wouldn’t tell her—or anyone else.

Gods, how Nadzia wished she didn’t have to view everything through a veil of suspicion! She gazed down at the River Nemunas, its sparkling waters leading to the coast, to her real home. Her breast heaved at the thought of returning to the ocean, basking in its salty waters. Home.

Salomeya landed in the grasses outside the barn. The groom came running to help Nadzia dismount. She thanked him and followed the gravel path to the temple entrance, steeling herself for another encounter with the enchanted granite eagles. She’d forgotten to ask Perun if they judged every visitor, every time. Whatever the case, it wouldn’t hurt to keep her thoughts pleasant.

Gabrielle appeared at the top of the steps with a basket of bed linens. She curtsied and looked at her oddly. “You’re alone.”

“Perun has gone to inform his followers of our wedding.” Nadzia’s stomach rumbled. “Would you ask Ludvika to make me a pot of tea and a small plate of food? Cheese and bread, some fruit as well. Leave it here on the steps, please. I’m going to pray and don’t want to be disturbed.”

“Yes, mistress. Right away.”

“Thank you, Gabi.”

When the handmaiden was out of sight, Nadzia filled her mind with images of sunshine and chirping birds as she walked past the stone sentries. The eternal fire inside roared as she entered, infusing the clouds above the open dome with shimmering golden light—visible, she expected, for miles around, perhaps even further with a god’s supernatural vision. She paused, wondering if her presence had stoked the flames or if they erupted for anyone who ventured within the temple.

She hurried to Perun’s shrine and lit a candle. The fire subsided. So it was a signal. Clever. She’d do well not to underestimate this hulk of a god. He might look like he had more brawn than brains, but he was savvy enough to construct a system that apprised him of a visitor’s intent. At least his granite guardians had let her pass.

Veles was nowhere in sight. She took advantage of his absence to study the space devoted to Perun, hoping to gain some insight that might help with her quest, make her less reliant on others. An enormous portrait hung from the granite wall: Perun standing next to an oak tree on a cliff as he looked down on a river beneath a twilight sky of purple-rimmed clouds.

He wore a white tunic inscribed with runes, a sky-blue cloak, leather sandals, and a fur vest belted with a horn. Glittering bangles adorned his massive arms. A silver helmet with winged ears crushed his golden-red curls. In his right hand, he held a silver axe. His left hand rested on a shield etched with jagged thunderbolts. An eagle perched on one shoulder, its wings outspread.

A flattering depiction, although empty of clues. Beneath it were offerings left by pilgrims: charred bits of trees stuck by lightning; acorns salvaged from sacred oak groves; ox and ram horns; cockerel feathers; smoked fish and meat; crude reproductions of Perun’s magic axe. She grimaced at the testicles severed from bulls and bears sacrificed each year on the thunder god’s feast day and hoped she never had to witness such barbarity.

She pursed her lips, frustrated. There was nothing unusual to be found here, although she supposed that wasn’t a complete surprise, given the safeguards Perun had installed. A wily god wouldn’t leave anything of importance where a mere mortal could find it.

What about the thrones? Nadzia sprinted down the central corridor to the end of the temple. The angle of the late afternoon sun highlighted carvings she hadn’t noticed in her nectar-induced daze: fire and lightning bolts for Perun; water and fish for his bride. She felt along the undersides of both chairs, impatience growing as her fingers probed the smooth wood and came up empty.

Time to visit Jūratė’s altar. Prayer always gave her strength, helped her sift through the clutter in her mind. She chose the aisle opposite the one passing Perun’s shrine, moving past the fire to a small area lit by tiers of squat candles. Here, the painting showed a green-tailed mermaid riding a dolphin under a brilliant full moon, her waist-long, ebony hair blowing loose and wild, the water churning as she raced across foam-flecked waves.

Nadzia blinked away tears at the reminder of home and lowered her head. “Blessed Jūratė, Mother of all. You choose a life other than the one the gods ordained for you. I wish to do the same. Help me find the path to victory.”

“A pretty supplication, but you needn’t pray for a guide.” Veles said, his breath chilling her neck. “I’m happy to show you the way.”

She flinched and turned, grudgingly impressed that he’d managed to find a way inside. “How did you manage it?” she asked. “I was sure the eagles would scorch you.”

“My tunnels traverse the Tree of Life, including this temple. I don’t need a door, a fact my dull-witted brother has failed to grasp. I can enter from below.”

“The fire didn’t blaze stronger.”

“It only reacts to the presence of humans. A more intelligent god would have addressed that flaw. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. We must hurry to Palanga, now, while my brother’s attention is elsewhere.”

“How can I travel? The servants will tell him I left.”

“My dear girl, I leave nothing to chance. They’re fast asleep, sedated by my venom.” Veles’s words quickened at the look of horror Nadzia couldn’t hide. “A small bite, nothing fatal, just enough to keep them indisposed for the time we’ll be gone. Come along. Gintare is expecting you.”

Nadzia recalled how long it took to reach Kaunas by chariot. Her throat clogged with despair. “We’re over a hundred miles away and it’s already late afternoon. We don’t have time. Perun will be back at dusk.”

“Don’t tell me you’re as dense as the god of storms,” Veles said with a sour laugh as he led her back to the thrones. “What did I just say about tunnels? We’ll be at the coast within an hour. I travel faster than humans, so you’ll need to hold tight.”

Nadzia pulled back. “I’m a child of the sea. I hate confined spaces.”

“Not to worry, sweetling. Just relax and dream about the home you love. You’ll be there before you know it.”

He opened his arms. “Ready?”

Nadzia stepped into the scaly god’s embrace, turning until she faced away from his chest, swallowing her revulsion as his tail coiled around her leg and squeezed.

He hissed a command. The tiles in front of Perun’s throne rumbled and then slid open, revealing an inky chasm. “Dark, but not dank,” Veles said, his tongue flicking against Nadzia’s ear. “Like its creator.”

Nadzia shuddered, closed her eyes, and fell into the black.


By the time they emerged from a corner of the abbess’s room, Nadzia was chilled to the bone and dizzy. Mother Gintare stood by her table, cleared of its usual books. She motioned to a pot of tea, steam wisping through its spout, and a plate of golden biscuits slathered with jam. “Sit,” she said, draping a thick woolen shawl over Nadzia’s shoulders. “Take a moment to refresh yourself. You’ve had quite a journey.”

Nadzia greedily fell upon the food and drink. “Thank you,” she said, wiping crumbs from her lap. “I feel much better now.”

The abbess took a seat across from Nadzia and grasped her hands. “Our strength lies in secrecy. What you learn today cannot go beyond the boundaries of this room. The gods must never know what we are contemplating. Do you promise to keep this knowledge close?”

“You can trust her,” Veles said, settling next to the abbess. “She was a model of decorum with my parents, and they’re frightening enough to shake any young woman’s resolve.”

Nadzia studied the old woman’s face, tight with expectation. Whatever awaited, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Yet how could she refuse? She’d grown up vowing vengeance, already taken steps to bend Perun to her will. “I swear.”

Mother nodded grimly. “Have you secured an invitation for us to attend the ceremony?”

“I have, for the Elders and novices.”

“Excellent. Then there’s no need for disguises.”

“You meant to come all this time?”


Nadzia tilted her head. “To what end?”

“To free the daughters of Jūratė from the tyranny of the gods.”

“Don’t look so skeptical, my dear,” Veles said. “We’ve worked out a way to disrupt the ceremony.”

“I don’t understand.”

Before she realized what he was doing, Veles had lunged across the table toward Nadzia, his fangs bared. She screamed in terror, her cry so sharp and strong it left him writhing on the floor. “Oh, gods . . . I didn’t mean . . .” She turned to the abbess. “What’s happening?”

“The magic of our voices. We will use it to cripple the gods.”

“Not all of them, surely? I’ve just met Dievas and Rodzenica. I can’t believe they would succumb. Surely they’re too powerful.”

“Yes, sweetling. Even my parents.” Veles shuddered and forced himself upright. “Not forever, it’s true, but long enough for you to grab Perun’s heart.”

Nadzia held out her jewel. “I already have it.”

“You have a necklace that can only be opened by my mother,” Veles said, returning to the table. “After the ceremony, she’ll remove the sliver of heart inside and return it to Perun’s chest. That’s his weakness. Until my brother is made whole again, he isn’t fully immortal. I would have told everyone sooner, but I only just learned the secret today. My parents had quite an interesting conversation after you left.”

Nadzia’s pulse quickened. This was what she’d hope to unearth, the means to vanquish a killer. “You mean he’ll die?”

“Not for eons, but yes, his powers will fade and so will he. The Divine Council will assign another to his domain.”

The snake god’s eyes glittered with a zeal that sent tremors of unease down Nadzia’s spine. She gripped the sides of her seat and wondered again what Veles intended, why something felt amiss. Jūratė said she could trust him, so why did his words fill her with foreboding?

His black lips stretched wide in an eerie smile. “When Rodzenica cuts open my brother’s stone, the Elders will begin keening. Your task, while everyone is weakened, is to seize that tiny piece of his heart and bring it to me.”

Nadzia rubbed at the ache spreading across her forehead. The plan sounded simple enough, but her body was protesting, a sign that all what not as it seemed. A piece was missing, she realized, a flaw so obvious she didn’t understand how Veles could have overlooked it. “You aren’t coming to the wedding. Isn’t that what you promised?”

“I won’t be at the ceremony. I’ll be at Jūratė’s altar. A minor difference,” Veles added with a careless smirk, “but it does make me true to my words. Now, once I have the stone, I’ll slip away to the Underworld and bury the jewel deep in one of my dungeons. They’ll never find it. And they’ll be so addled by your voices no one will remember how it vanished. All you have to do is look confused until the mayhem dies down. Then you can rejoin your sisters and sail back to the coast. ”

“How can you do anything if you’re as helpless as the rest?”

The abbess handed Veles a lump of beeswax from her robe pockets. He separated the wad into two pieces, rolled them into small balls, and pushed them into his ears. “There, you see? You can howl to your heart’s content, I won’t be affected. Go on.”

Nadzia drew back from the table, wary of deliberately inflicting pain yet thrilled at the idea that her voice could actually bring gods to their knees. “You’re certain?”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Give it a try. Think of something absolutely horrid, like sharing your bed with a murderous god.”

But the memory of Perun’s flesh and the passion it ignited in Nadzia left her unable to utter more than a mild shriek. The abbess clucked her tongue and wailed a note that should have left the god of the Underworld prostrate. He shrugged and pulled out the waxen clumps. “What did I tell you? Not a scale out of place.”

Nadzia hesitated, unsure if this was cause for celebration or concern.  If all of Jūratė’s daughters possessed this talent, then they had a chance—a real chance—to thwart the gods. But there was one aspect that Veles had failed to address, a danger so obvious Nadzia chafed at its omission. “What of the convent? Surely your mother and father will hold everyone here accountable.”

“Perhaps. But by then you’ll have been anointed its immortal guardian. Remember what my brother said before he flew off, how we can’t exist without mortals? Not even the greatest of the gods are willing to risk a bloodbath that might turn the whole of humankind against us.”

“So I just pretend to be happy about things until my wedding day?”

“Not quite.” The abbess leaned forward. “We want the god of storms as pliant as possible. Carry on with your seduction until he is as content as a kitten with a bowl of cream. His distress at your betrayal will be all the more satisfying.”

Nadzia moved to the window and basked in the familiar scent of the salt-laced breeze, the comforting sounds of gulls and waves. Surely this was a sign she was bound to succeed. Why else would she have been graced with a skill unlike any other? Yet for all of Perun’s flaws, she’d sensed there was more to him, an amiability that had led to his friendship with the mermaid goddess. Was it disloyal to think that, given time to gain his confidence, she could bring out his better side and change destiny so that there was no risk of anyone being harmed?

“I’m curious,” she said, turning so that the late afternoon sun warmed the back of her head. “How did you discover we had this . . . proficiency?”

“A quirk of fate,” Veles said, grinning at the memory. “I was drowsing on your beach, covered in sand—save for my head—when a comely redhead chanced upon me unawares and screamed so long and loud I fainted. When I came to, Gintare was at my side. We discussed what had happened and realized your mermaid voices were far stronger than anyone ever suspected. Strong enough to fell a god.”

“And the wax?”

“Trial and error,” the abbess replied. “We thought to use the seaweed given to villagers on Summoning Day, but a god is more resilient. Sister Dain recalled a legend in which sailors used wax against sirens. It had proven most effective.” She bestowed a rare full smile on the deity beside her. “Veles has been most accommodating.”

“Yes, well, anything to avenge the goddess, I always say. And that lovely novice? She’ll be next to Gintare at your wedding. I wouldn’t think of attempting this without her.”

Dread lanced Nadzia’s veins. She walked woodenly to the table and sat down with a thud. “Keslai’s coming?”

“This matter goes beyond any discord between the two of you,” the abbess said with a crispness that declared the matter settled. “She is eager to do whatever we ask. And, as Veles noted, exceptionally adept with her voice.”

“She cursed me.” Nadzia’s jaw tightened at the memory.

“You must forgive the harshness of her words. She was burned, not thinking clearly. Her remorse is genuine, and she longs to reconcile with her sister.”

Nadzia swallowed a retort. If the abbess believed Keslai penitent, nothing said against her would find a hold. “When do you expect to arrive in Kaunas?”

“A few days before the ceremony, perhaps less. We don’t wish to be near Perun any longer than necessary.”

“I’ll make sure you stake out a good spot for your tents, near the river.”

“This is all fascinating,” Veles said with an exaggerated yawn, “but we should get you back soon. Don’t want your beloved to find you missing.”

Nadzia glanced out the window and found the sun slipping westward. Where had the time gone? She stood and accepted the abbess’s stiff hug and then fit herself into Veles’s embrace. This time, she vowed, her eyes would remain open.




Currents of warm air buoyed the god of storms as he flew on eagles’ wings toward Aukštaitija, a northeastern province and home to Lithuania’s oldest tree —one of his sacred oaks. A fitting place to begin spreading the news of his forthcoming marriage. He’d have to thank Rodzenica when next they met, for he now understood the wisdom in delaying the ceremony. His disciples deserved a place at such an important event. He owed them courtesy and gratitude, at the very least.

The people of Aukštaitija were known for beer and songs that mixed music with poetry. Whenever he visited, temple patrons honored him with long serenades delivered in the rich, sonorous language distinctive to the region. A pleasurable way to spend a few hours or more. He wished he could linger among them, but this wasn’t a day to indulge. Not with Nadzia expecting him at sunset.

He glided over a gigantic lake, the waters sparkling like clear jewels in the afternoon light. High above, a shooting star flashed across the sky, a rare phenomenon. Perun gave a low kuk-kuk-kuk of delight. This was a good omen, most likely sent by his father as a symbol of the coming change.

A clearing that held a nine-sided temple came into view. Like his own, this one had an open roof and central fire. A silver-haired man dressed in black robes stood upon the steps, his arms extended in welcome at the giant bird soaring above the trees. Perun swooped down to the base of an oak, morphed into his godly form, and strode forward. “Greetings, Mykolas. I bear good news.”

“Have the Fates provided a wife from the Order of Bursztyn?”

Perun sputtered in surprise. “You know?”

“A star streaks across the sky while the sun still shines. You appear on its tail. We have been waiting centuries for such a sign.”

“Yes, my friend, I have been judged worthy at last. The wedding shall take place in Kaunas on my feast day, two weeks hence. Advise your people. Those who wish to attend must leave soon if they are to arrive in time.”

“Of course. I will instruct the temple assistants to pack my things at once.”

“You are a priest, not a commoner. I will come for you in my chariot a few days before the ceremony. My servants will see to your care in a special pavilion set up for the elite—feather beds, silk sheets, food and drink. Whatever you require for comfort.”

“I am to journey in the heavens with a god?” Mykolas bowed so deeply his spine creaked. “That is an honor beyond compare.”

He resumed an upright stance, grunting at the effort. “You have made a lengthy trek. Rest a while. We have freshly brewed ale, the finest in all Lithuania, as well you know. Let me send for singers to entertain us while you tell me of this woman you will marry.”

“One bottle only, I’m afraid,” Perun replied. “My bride is waiting in Kaunas. I have promised to return by twilight.”

The priest stroked his beard. “Not yet your spouse and already she controls when you come and go. Forgive me for speaking plainly, but the mighteous god I serve would never let a mere novice dictate his actions. A hen should not rule the roost.”

A mortal judging a god? Perun’s nostrils flared at the affront. He steadied his breath, careful not to display even a hint of agitation. As much as he liked Mykolas—they’d been friends for decades, their affinity so strong that Perun felt safe sharing the truth about his enchanted jewel—some secrets were best kept private. This man had no idea what he was enduring, the artifice necessary in order to regain his full immortality. The conflicting desires that called every move into question.

“I am no one’s drudge,” he answered evenly. “But Nadzia is my betrothed and I will not deny her when she has requested my attendance.”

His mouth curved into a knowing grin. “You are an old married soul. I trust you’ve not forgotten the pleasures of early passion.”

“By the breath of Dievas, may they continue,” Mykolas said with a wink. “Will you grant us an hour?”

Perun nodded, giving no indication that the priest’s words had stirred resentments he thought suppressed. Nadzia should be thanking the Fates for the life they’d granted her instead of saddling him with constraints. He shouldn’t feel compelled to obey the girl’s commands, adjust his behavior to suit her whims, change his nature because she found it too fierce. But how could he not, when she threatened to give back his necklace if he refused?

And then the impossibility of such an act on her part struck him with such force his blood simmered. Fool of a god! Even if she wanted to, Nadzia couldn’t set aside his pendant—Rodzenica had directed her to wear it always. Why, then, would his bride try to subdue him? Maybe the girl didn’t realize the emptiness of her threats. Maybe she was testing his devotion. Should he quash this futile attempt to intimidate him, or maintain a façade of obeisance and wait to see what happened next? How could he know which course of action was the right one to pursue?

He studied the light filtering through the ancient pines that surrounded the temple. Dusk was hours away. He’d make good on his pledge and return to Kaunas tonight. For now, the company of good men and a healthy dose of spirits were exactly what he needed, a respite from endless questions that left his brain addled.

“Bring out your goblets,” he said, heading for the throne that each temple provided. “I feel a great thirst coming upon me.”

He’d barely settled into a seat worn smooth by his bulk when a young flame-haired acolyte dressed in a charcoal tunic and leggings dashed up the temple steps with a tray of beer and chalices. “I don’t recall your face,” Perun said, motioning for the boy to set the platter on a high table next to his chair. “Are you newly sworn to my service?”

The boy nodded shyly, removed a clay stopper from one bottle, and carefully emptied the contents into the largest vessel, tipping the mug to form a perfect head of foam. Beads of sweat dripped down his face. “I took my vows this very month, the day I turned twelve,” he answered, offering the cup with shaking hands. “I . . . I wish you every happiness.”

Perun accepted the brew and took a long swallow. “Well poured, my boy. Thank you for your good wishes. I shall convey them to my bride as well.” He smiled as the youth flushed bright red, bowed, and scampered away. Seasoned devotees were necessary to keep temples functioning, their familiarity a comfort, but he always enjoyed meeting fresh converts and watching them grow into self-assured young men.

The priest returned with a snub-nosed youth who set up a folding stool close to the god of storms and bent low. “May your new life be full of blessings,” he whispered before fleeing like the first boy.

“I am both pleased and annoyed,” Perun said ruefully. “My godliness inspires awe and yet I do not wish these children to fear me.”

“Reverence includes both,” the priest replied. “You cannot have one without the other.”

“I sense no discomposure when we meet, Mykolas.”

“You did not see my knees quaking when I spoke of Nadzia earlier—I am grateful you took no offense. If I seem comfortable elsewise, that is due to your generous nature. Other gods, I am told, are not so accommodating. The camaraderie you offer disciples is a rare beneficence.”

Mykolas raised his mug. “Sveikata! To your great and good fortune. Ah, our musicians have arrived. We have many new songs. I hope they meet with your favor.”

Perun enjoyed the first performer’s ballad, a lively salute to the joys of coupling, but the droning voices that followed lulled him into contemplation. His eyes glazed over as he mused, lost in his thoughts until the priest gently nudged his elbow.

“I see that our singers have failed to capture your interest,” Mykolas said. “Thinking of your chosen one? I’m curious. You haven’t spoken much about her. Who is this woman destined to be your queen?”

Perun’s cheeks warmed. “She is a most amazing creature. Beautiful, but then you’d expect that of any girl with Jūratė’s blood. Raven black hair, eyes as grey as the sky before a storm, sun-kissed flesh. Demure when the occasion merits, lively when free to express herself. Sensuous, as befits a mermaid’s daughter. A very keen mind.”

“She sounds intriguing.” Mykolas paused and cleared his throat. “And yet I sense some hesitation behind the acclaim.”

“You know me well, old friend.”

“What gives you pause?”

Perun squinted at his goblet. “I’m not sure of her affection. She scolds me in private about my temper and then tearfully insists she had genuine feelings for me when brought before my parents. I want to believe she cares. But doubt pricks at my confidence.”

“Like the thorns that mar the beauty of a rose,” Mykolas said. “I understand. You loved the mermaid goddess, and she pierced your heart by choosing another. But you have the means to determine the truth of one special woman’s feelings. What does the necklace show?”

“It pulses steadily.”

“Then her words are true.”

“Yes, but there was a peculiar vibration in the air as she spoke at the Tree of Life, a resonance ebbing and flowing like the tides. An invisible, irresistible force.” Perun shook his head. “When I try to recall details of the scene itself, my mind feels cloaked in cobwebs.”

Mykolas frowned. “A siren’s voice mesmerizes. She might have bewitched you all, even altered the godly magic within your jewel to make it do her bidding.”

“It hardly seems possible. She’s only half-divine.” Perun fell silent. Divine, seductive words coupled with hidden loathing might result in a power beyond any the gods had ever encountered, a strength no one knew how to repel. Nadzia could lie with impunity, and no one would suspect otherwise.

He downed his drink in frustration, wishing he’d never talked with the handmaiden, never heard the rumors about the Order of Brusztyn and its secret plots.

Mykolas filled the god’s cup again. “Has Rodzenica inspected the amber? It was her spell after all, was it not?”

“She did.”


“She said things were as they should be.”

“Then trust in her judgment and let yourself enjoy what the Fates have provided,” Mykolas said. “She sounds like an intriguing young woman. I can’t wait to meet her.”

Perun nodded and sipped at his beer. He couldn’t deny his own fascination with Nadzia, how she stirred a glimmer of hope for a different future than the one he envisioned. Had he not already vowed to live alone, she would make a most stimulating companion.

His chest clenched with an unexpected pang of guilt. What if Nadzia was telling the truth and harbored real feelings for him? She could be deeply hurt once his heart was whole and she discovered he had no use for any woman, let alone the spawn of a fisherman he despised.

He wished he could spare her that pain. It wasn’t her fault that he’d sworn never to love again. She wasn’t responsible for the crimes of her ancestor or the tainted blood that flowed through her veins.

Bah! The girl was making him soft. Why bother with regrets? The situation called for daring and determination, whatever it took to keep Nadzia convinced he wanted this marriage, although, truth be told, he had little idea of how to proceed.

“Advise me, Mykolas,” he said, holding out his goblet to be filled anew. “I wish to be a loving husband. What would you counsel me to do?”

The priest burst into laughter. “Women are a mystery. Capricious, erratic, boldly amorous one day and as chill as the mountain snow the next. Watch yours carefully, make note of her choices and reactions. Don’t err—as I did, in all innocence—by asking your wife what she wants. She’ll use that as proof you lack a true commitment to her happiness.”

“We haven’t been together long.”

“Come now. Surely there’s something that stands out.”

“Hmm. Now that that I think upon it, Nadzia delighted in the trip from Palanga in my chariot.”

“An excellent start.”

“Yes, yes.” Perun grew more animated as he talked. “I’ll take her out every night, show her the inner beauty of the stars that brighten the heavens. And not just the sky. We’ll travel the length and breadth of Lithuania each day, sample the delights found in towns large and small. Fly over the sea and savor the pearly luminescence of the waves in moonlight.”

“It sounds perfect. Every woman should be so fortunate.”

Perun fell back against his throne and finished his drink. He might not want Nadzia with him forever, but he’d give her a fortnight of memories no human experience could match. Fates willing, it would be enough.

But did he want to lighten her suffering, or his shame at deceiving a daughter of the goddess he’d loved?

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

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