THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 33, 34, Epilogue

Perun, god of storms








Nadzia returns from the land of the dead and undergoes an extraordinary transformation. Keslai’s interference is revealed, Veles strikes a deal with his mother, and a new queen of the sea and sky begins her reign.

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For previous chapters, click here. 



Writhing spirits with faces stretched in hellish grins wrenched Nadzia into darkness. She struggled against their hold, screaming, kicking, sobbing. In the lore of the human world, Veles personally escorted the dead to the Underworld, where they would be housed in surroundings based on the quality of their lives. Sending monstrous ghouls boded ill for Nadzia. They’d likely take her to the most horrific of prisons, dump her amidst the apostates and other renegades held captive in the tangled roots of the Tree of Life.

Bitter tears coursed down Nadzia’s cheeks. What a fool she’d been, certain a mortal could triumph over the most powerful beings in the cosmos. Now all she had were the harsh dregs of failure: she’d never roam the skies with Perun, the god she’d grown to love against all expectations; the Order of Bursztyn was more vulnerable than ever; and Veles remained undefeated.

Images of what might have been tortured her. Days and nights with a god she adored. A convent protected by a new immortal guardian. Love overcoming hate. All gone in the heat of a moment. A moment she could never undo.

Gods, what a mess!

She had no idea how long the spirits carried her; time had no meaning here and the gloom was interminable, deepening as she plunged. As best she could determine, they were in some sort of tunnel. But it twisted and turned so many times she gave up trying to determine where in the Underworld she might end up, fair or foul.

Finally, the space around her brightened. Nadzia landed with a soft thump on a patch of sod as green as anything on earth. Their duty apparently complete, the malignant guardians disappeared. She clambered upright, dread clumping her throat, and took stock of her surroundings.

A stone wall at her back, centered by two doors, chained and locked. Nadzia pressed her ear against the wood, listening for a clue to what existed beyond. Demented laughter, the chilling howls of mania, seeped through the barrier. She flinched and rushed in the opposite direction.

The tunnel walls changed from stone to bark, surprisingly smooth to the touch and lit with gnarled sconces. Before long before they opened into a cavern, ending at a balcony rimmed with iron bars. Nadzia stared down at a space she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams.

This Underworld was no dank, dreary domain. It flourished with life, albeit of a most curious kind. Linden trees, limbs aglow with silver leaves, swished with ethereal music, slow and dreamy. A lake rippled with iridescent fish; frogs and toads lurked in the reed-clumped edges. Tiny, ruby-throated birds whizzed through the air. Wings vibrating, one paused to inspect Nadzia and then zoomed away in a blur of brilliant hues.

She exhaled in wonder, astounded that anything associated with so vile a creature as Veles could hold such beauty.

Almost as if her thoughts had summoned him, she felt his wintry breath prickling the back of her neck. “I told you it was lovely, didn’t I, my sweet?” he murmured. “And this is but one chamber.”

He whirled Nadzia about, yellow eyes dancing with amusement. “Shall we visit your new quarters? We have a most luxurious bed. Perhaps you would like to visit Jūratė first. I made a lagoon especially for her. You’ll love it. Just like the ones in the human world.”

Nadzia’s skin pebbled. She might be a prisoner, held against her will, but she didn’t have to act like one. Hoping her voice held as much power in the Underworld as on earth, she pushed back her shoulders and adopted an imperious tone. “You said I would rule alongside you. Where is my crown?”

“I should have known you’d want to assert your authority as soon as possible,” Veles said with a fang-tipped grin. “Such a dear girl. This way if you please.”

He escorted her down a curving stairwell that ended at a copse of linden trees. Their music was more languid close up, as if reminding Nadzia she need not hurry in this place, that she had all the time in the world now for anything and everything. She slackened her pace in response, trying to delay the inevitable, but Veles held tight, propelling her forward.

She walked with him though a moss-filled passage to a room holding a pair of thrones carved of granite, cold and unwelcoming. Nadzia settled into hers, smoothed her wedding dress, and bit the inside of her cheek, forestalling tears. Why had she believed destiny could be altered? Her fate was settled the moment she called out Perun’s enchanted jewel. She was never meant for love.

Veles peered at her, one eyebrow raised. “You can’t be pining over my brother, not after he killed you. He’s a savage, a murderer, hopelessly cruel. And now two lovely sirens have been slain at his hands. You didn’t change him at all.”

“Don’t worry,” he added, stroking her hand. “I intend to make you the most jubilant of queens. Just give me a chance. And Jūratė will be ecstatic to see you. We’re going to be such a happy group, content in our very own little corner of my world.”

“There is no joy for me here,” Nadzia said with a caustic laugh. She leaned forward, stabbing the air inches away from the startled god’s face. “I meant what I said. I don’t want you. I never will.”

A low hiss followed her words. “Careful, my dear. I do adore your resolve, but if you continue to refuse me, I’ll have no choice but to lock you away in a vault. Perhaps a few hundred years with no one but rats to keep you company will change your mind.”

Nadzia shrank back in her chair. So this was her lot, to spend eternity placating a despicable, selfish overlord. If her heart still beat, it would surely be breaking in two.

Veles trailed a black-nailed finger along her forearm, pebbling the flesh. “Which shall it be, my sweet, throne or crypt?”

He took her silence for surrender. A coronet ringed with yellow stones—the colors of his eyes—appeared in his hands. He set it upon her head and brushed cold lips against her cheeks. “This is but a hint of what’s to come. Your real crown is far more glorious. But that will have to wait until I’ve arranged a formal ceremony.”

Nadzia raised her chin, straightened her spine. Whatever Veles intended, she still had a mesmerizing voice. She’d tamed one deity, she could do so again, charm this reptilian fiend into believing whatever she wished. He craved her, that much was obvious. It wouldn’t take much to twist his yearning in her favor, let him think he’d won, never knowing she was spending every moment seeking a way to return to the only god she would ever love.

A familiar voice scattered her thoughts. “Nadzia? Whatever are you doing here?”

“My dear Jūratė!” Veles beckoned the mermaid goddess near. “Come meet your new regent. Doesn’t she look stunning? I’m so glad you’ve come. You can help me plan her investiture.”

The mermaid goddess, dazzling in a gown of teal silk, bits of glowing amber braided within her dark hair, moved slowly, her slate eyes squinting in confusion. She halted a few steps from Nadzia’s throne, reached out a trembling hand and winced. “Is that blood on your dress?”

“The god of storms strikes again,” Veles whooped. “I told you he’d never change.”

“Perun did this? Deliberately?”

“Never!” Nadzia cried. “I was trying to protect the abbess.”

Veles tried to speak, but the goddess held up a hand and shook her head. “This is Nadzia’s tale to tell.”

“Fine, but you need look no further for someone to blame. She’s the one who refused to go along with our plan.”

“Is that true? You accepted your fate?” The goddess rushed to Nadzia’s side. “I don’t understand. What went wrong?”

“She put together a new scheme with Perun and they failed,” Veles said. “The details are irrelevant.”

“I wasn’t speaking to you. I want to hear what my daughter has to say.” Jūratė took Nadzia’s arm and guided her to a bench under a nearby tree.

The leaves rustled with a forlorn melody, as if sensing Nadzia’s distress. She hurried through an explanation: the love that had blossomed, what she and Perun had hoped to achieve, how the god of the Underworld had perverted the final outcome.

At the story’s end, Jūratė leapt to her feet. “You were supposed to protect my daughter.”

“We had an agreement,” he countered hotly. “She’s the one who broke her word.”

“You pressured her, threatened her. What did you expect? Loving devotion?”

“I expect,” Veles said, fangs bared, “some measure of gratitude. I saved her from your father’s wrath. Don’t presume to criticize me. You weren’t there. She’ll have a far better time here than in one of his torture chambers.”

“You dare congratulate yourself?” Jūratė stormed toward her brother, fists clenched.

“I kept her from a fate worse than death. Like it or not, my dear, she’s here to stay.”

Nadzia grimaced as the two bickered. Gods, was this what she had to look forward to, eons of squabbles? She rubbed her aching breast and froze, certain her vision was distorted, as the bloodstains in her gown slowly vanished. In their place a rosy fluorescence shone, the exact size and shape of the enchanted sliver she’d summoned from the Baltic Sea.

She sucked in a breath as her heart began to pulse again. “Dear gods,” she whispered, aghast. “Perun . . . no . . . what have you done?”

Veles stopped arguing and gaped as a golden beam surrounded Nadzia. Invisible forces lifted her toward a brilliance emanating from the top of the cavern. “What devilry is this?” he said, scales rippling with agitation. “Oh no, my sweet, no, no, no. You’re not going anywhere.”

He lunged, but Nadzia drifted beyond his reach. Shrieking, he slithered up the walls after her, hissing and spitting black venom as she soared higher and higher. “This isn’t fair. She’s mine. Mine!”

His screeches rang in Nadzia’s head like the echo of a bad dream. She shut her eyes, folded her arms across her chest, and surrendered to the light.



In the clearing where he’d wed, the god of storms watched for signs of life in his bride, each second an eternity of hope and despair. Why would the Fates bring him happiness only to snatch it away at the last moment? They’d absolved him, or so he thought. “Bring her back,” he pleaded. “Don’t make her pay for my sins.”

Dark clouds blotted the sun. Nadzia lay on the moss, beautiful yet marred, the blood on her bodice a grisly testament to divine fury. Perun gripped his mother’s knife and turned the point inward, determined to carve out what remained of his heart. Better to hasten his demise than continue without the woman who made life worthwhile. Torture awaited him in the Underworld—his brother would make sure of it—but he’d suffer gladly if it meant even a ghost of a chance to see his beloved again.

The blade’s tip pierced his flesh, drawing beads of blood. He pressed harder, grimacing, when a golden light surrounded Nadzia. She stirred and drew a tremulous breath, looked up, bewildered. “Perun, is it truly you?”

“My love!” He dropped the dagger, bent to embrace her, but silken threads shot up from every inch of skin, weaving an ivory husk that hardened about her body. He howled in frustration. Blast the Fates! Was this one last trick to test his resolve?

He looked to the abbess, who shook her head and cautiously probed the top of the carapace. “This is beyond my understanding,” she murmured, brows creasing as she traced the glowing shell, “but I sense life within. We must wait.”

Perun’s followers abandoned their mad rush to escape and drew near, speaking in hushed tones, sharing their awe at this most extraordinary of sights. Elders and novices joined hands and crooned a soft, uplifting melody.

The men who’d come to honor their god grew restless as long minutes passed, their voices turning strident as they shouted for an explanation. Perun ignored their calls, not daring to take his eyes off Nadzia, begging silently for her to emerge. Was she caught between life and death? Could anyone, anything, revive her?

A thunderous boom rattled the heavens. The shroud heaved and split apart. Warm breezes, scented with the spices of the sea, drifted through the grove. Nadzia pushed aside the debris of her cocoon and rose in one fluid motion, her bloodied gown now a clinging sheath of tiny, rainbow-colored fish scales. She smiled at Perun and folded herself into his arms.

He smothered her with kisses, certain what remained of his heart would explode with joy. “My love,” he sobbed. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“You saved me, but I fear the price was too high.” Nadzia gazed at him, eyes filled with wonder and pain. “You’ll never be whole, your immortality is gone. How can I possibly match your sacrifice?”

“Stay with me. Nothing else matters. I love you, Nadzia, more than life itself.”

“And I love you, my sweet, tempestuous god.”

The abbess dropped to her knees before Perun. “My daughter told me you were kind and generous. I did not listen. I was wrong. You gave up eternal life for her. There can be no greater proof of love. Forgive me.”

“We are family now,” Perun said. “If you can accept me as I am, I can do no less for you and yours.”

Nadzia helped the abbess stand and then gently embraced her. “I never expected you to put yourself in harm’s way for me.”

“Nor did I,” the abbess said, wiping her eyes. “We take pains to raise children as a group at the convent, but the bond between mother and daughter never breaks. I hope we’ll have more time together when things are settled.”

“I’d like that.” Nadzia pulled back and turned her attention to the gods assembled beyond the arch. “I believe it’s time to deal with Dievas and Rodzenica.”

“Do you think that’s wise, my love?” Perun cast a resentful glance at his father. “They did nothing to keep you alive.”

“Look at them. Their faces are ashen. I’ll be safe.”

Perun fell silent. Nadzia reborn, he thought, could easily strike back at the ones who’d gladly watched her die. Somehow he was certain her voice could inflict a torment far greater than any wreaked by the Elders’ keening. Would she use it for good or ill?

“You have been given a second chance at life,” he said. “Hold fast to what we vowed: love, not hate.”

Her response allayed his concerns. “I’ve seen the damage caused by endless enmity, the constant battle of grievances. If I give in to the temptation to strike back, I won’t have changed anything. We have to learn to live without discord.”

Surrounded by amber light, she seemed to float rather than walk, a low susurrus in her wake. Rodzenica faltered, sputtering as she approached. “This cannot be. No immortal creature was ever made so.”

Nadzia turned her back on his mother and addressed the crowd. “A new breed of goddess stands before you. Mortal born, renewed by divine life, and eternally graced. I am the new sovereign of Lithuania’s waters and guardian of the Order of Bursztyn. All are welcome to honor me in Palanga.”

Perun’s disciples grumbled and scowled at her words. He understood their frustration, the resentment behind their grousing. The pain they’d endured today would have crushed any charitable feelings they’d extended to his bride earlier. They would not accept her gladly. He held his breath, praying she’d find the words to appease them.

“I do not ask you to forsake other gods,” she continued, her voice as tranquil as a bubbling brook. “Our world depends on the special gift each deity brings. I promise never to treat you as pawns or trifle with your lives, as others have done with me and mine. If you seek my blessing, you will have it.”

“Hail Nadzia, queen of the sea and sky!” The women from the convent trilled and entreated others to lift up their voices in tribute. Babilos dashed past the arch, face wreathed in a smile as he joined Mokosh in welcoming their new sister. The crowd waited, trading skeptical glances until the girl who’d given Nadzia flowers rushed forward and joined the Elders in song. Swept up by her exuberance, others followed, ignoring the priests who cursed each time a mortal joined the refrain. Perun laughed at their stubbornness and added his sonorous admiration.

His father’s rage withered the air. “Idiot! You dare abase yourself before this abomination? She is the one who must bend and beg mercy for her betrayal.”

“Do you never tire of anger, old one? Let me guide you to peace.” Nadzia breathed deep and sang an achingly sweet tune, beyond the hearing of humans, full of tenderness and compassion and good cheer.

The harshness puckering Dievas’s face eased into serenity. “I hear music in your voice, pure and divine. You are truly one of us. Welcome, dear Nadzia.”

Rodzenica clapped her hands. “Why do we linger? Our new goddess must be enthroned.”

“I prefer a private coronation,” Nadzia replied. “My first allegiance is to those who nurtured me, however misguided their actions today.”

Mokosh tugged at her arm. “Come back to the Tree of Life with us for a while,” she urged. “You don’t want to miss a chance to meet the Queen of the Fairies.”

“In good time.” Nadzia returned to Perun’s side, placed a hand above his heart, and murmured a series of dulcet notes. The gash in his chest closed. She traced the unmarked flesh and blinked away tears. “What does the future hold for us?”

“Something wondrous, I hope,” Perun said. “Won’t you consider spending a few hours at the Tree of Life? I think you’ll regret missing the festivities.”

“Is the mighty god of thunder a simpleton?” Keslai stormed through the crowd and planted herself in front of Nadzia. “She plotted against you, her affection is false. Take me!”

Perun seethed at the interruption. “You go too far this time. Step aside and remember your place. I will not indulge your fantasies.”

The cook and handmaiden dashed up the aisle. “Go on,” Ludvika said, pushing Gabi forward. “Tell them what happened.”

“Begging your pardon,” Gabi said, clutching the hem of her white tunic, “but I know this girl. She’s the one who stopped me as I was delivering breakfast this morning.”

Keslai looked down her nose and sniffed. “I’ve never seen this fool.”

“It’s the truth, I swear. She . . .” Gabi’s face scrunched at the memory. “She spoke quietly and for a time all I could see was the sun. When she took her leave, I noticed the lid of the teapot was askew and set it right, thinking I must have stumbled. Now I fear something deadly was put inside, something that has yet to reveal itself in the mistress.”

Nadzia folded her arms over her stomach and gaped at her sister. “I remember the bitterness of the brew. You tried to poison me?”

“A drop of wormwood oil,” Keslai said, rolling her eyes. “Enough to disrupt your thinking, cause hallucinations. I’m not a killer.”

“But why?”

“Because the Fates were wrong to choose you instead of me. I wanted to show the gods you were too weak to join their ranks. The wormwood didn’t work, but you proved me right with all this talk about harmony. Haven’t you learned anything from your time at the Tree of Life? The Immortal world is as full of strife as the human one. Peace is for dullards, not gods. You’ll grow stale without passion.”

A whiff of sulfur. Veles surged up from a hole near the arch and whirled himself into godly guise. Perun lurched forward, sparks circling his wrists, but Nadzia pressed against him and shook her head. He relented. His brother posed no threat, not anymore.

“She’s right, you know, about passion,” Veles said. “Win or lose, I have no intention of abandoning my little intrigues. They add such zest to life.”

He eyed Keslai appreciatively, moistening his lips. “So you want to be a divine queen. I can make that happen.”

“I meant Perun,” she said, face scrunched as she swallowed heavily. “A man, not a snake.”

Veles rippled his scales sinuously. “You’ll find me far more skilled at pleasing a woman than any of those village dolts you’ve bedded—I’ve had plenty of practice in my realm. Do consider what I’ve offered while I make amends with my parents.”

He bowed to Dievas and Rodzenica. “Father, Mother, please accept my deepest apologies. My behavior was abysmal, the actions of a desperate, jealous fool. I have shamed our family. Let the Divine Council have its way with me.

“Nevertheless,” he added, winking at Keslai, “it would be a shame to let all these preparations go to waste. I will most happily take this ravishing spitfire as my wife, dusty robes and all. What say you? Is that an acceptable compromise?”

“You can’t!” Keslai cried. “I’m a child of the sea. I won’t be shut away in the earth.”

“A pity. I like saucy women.” Veles appealed to his mother. “She turned me down. What recourse do I have?”

Rodzenica’s eyes glittered. “If it’s the ocean you want—Keslai, is it?—I can have you chained to a rock in the sea and call out the Kraken to greet you. He is, if I recall correctly, quite fascinated by lusty redheads. I suggest you accept my son. The two of you are well matched.”

A dark flush crept up Keslai’s neck. She narrowed her eyes and glared at Nadzia. “And does this sit well with you, my queen? You demand the right to pursue your own desires and then stand silent while I’m given away without my consent?”

“It would be a most fitting end,” Nadzia said, frost in her voice, “one heartless schemer eternally pledged to another. Still, my sister speaks truly. I fought long and hard to determine my destiny. She must have the freedom to do so as well.”

“A noble gesture, my love,” Perun interrupted, “but this girl came to our wedding determined to make trouble. She must answer for her foul intentions.”

Nadzia sighed and turned to Rodzenica. “You told me once that you would not force a loveless marriage. My sister deserves the same consideration. That said, I agree with my husband—she cannot go unpunished. Why not take her on as a servant at the Tree of Life, where the Lord of the Underworld can court her to his heart’s content? She’ll have plenty of time to decide if his proposal has merit.”

“I’m the daughter of the sea,” Keslai said haughtily. “I serve Jūratė and no one else.”

Veles slithered to her side and entwined his arm with hers, ignoring her cringes. “Say yes, Mother, please. I believe she’ll suit me quite well. From what I’ve seen of her behavior here and at the Order, she’s quite the cunning one. I’ll never be bored. And I’m long overdue for a royal consort.”

“Take heed, child of the sea,” Rodzenica said, her voice deceptively calm. “Should you accept my son, I will not grant you immortality along with a crown. You can thank your sister for that. No divinity until you earn my trust.”

“You’ll need to be very, very good, my sweet,” Veles said, buzzing with pleasure. “Don’t fret. I know what Mother expects and I promise not to leave your side until I’ve molded you to her liking.”

His tongue flicked across Keslai’s cheek. “Cheer up, darling. Embrace your good fortune. So few get what they want in this world.”



Early the next morning, before the sun rose, Jūratė anointed her successor in the cave at Palanga, a ceremony attended by the Elders, dressed in shimmering turquoise robes. They kneeled in the torch-lit sand, eyes bright as the mermaid goddess relinquished her crown. She set the amber-and-pearl-studded tiara on Nadzia’s dark curls—long and loose, the way Perun liked them— and kissed both her cheeks. “Rise, my glorious daughter. Be ever mindful of the responsibility you have assumed. Watch over the creatures in your waters and let no one despoil their home. Treat your followers with wisdom tempered by kindness and bestow your blessings freely, for you well know the trials that mortals face.”

Nadzia tearfully accepted the embraces and good wishes of her witnesses. They raised glasses of mead, toasted the happy occasion, and eagerly set upon plates of freshly baked pastries. While the Elders celebrated, Jūratė beckoned Nadzia to a corner where jewel-studded goblets and a jug of nectar rested on a stone platter. “A gift from our brother, Veles,” she said with a low laugh. “He is most contrite. I trust you will find it in your heart to forgive him, as I have.”

“He wanted a daughter of Jūratė, and his wish was granted,” Nadzia responded blithely. “I’m sure he’ll be delighted with Keslai. Their lives will never be dull.”

Warm tranquility wafted through her body as she sipped the golden brew. No wonder the gods relished it so. She made a mental note to reserve extra vats for the dedication of her temple. Construction would begin soon, along with the restoration of Jūratė’s—now Nadzia’s—undersea palace in the cove.

Her homecoming had gone smoothly. The Elders were ecstatic over her divine stature and the novices treated her with friendly reverence. Villagers crowded the convent, eager to show their homage. The abbess was putting together a list of stonemasons and other craftsmen ready to earn coin. Already they were drawing up plans for her shrine.

There was some discussion over Nadzia’s official status. Who would the Order of Bursztyn worship now that there were two Immortals consecrated to its welfare? The solution proved remarkably simple. Jūratė would continue to mark her descendants and accept their veneration as the Blessed One, mother of all. As the newest goddess in Lithuania’s pantheon, Nadzia would receive formal worship, hence the shrine.

One question lingered. Nadzia had returned to the convent via the River Nemunas, swimming the entire distance underwater. Obviously, her lungs were no longer human. The rest of her body displayed subtle changes. She showed them now to Jūratė: the fish scales from her sheath that had melded with her skin, giving it a phosphorescent shine; the tiny gills on her neck; the faint webbing between her fingers.

But no sign of a tail. “Will I ever be a real mermaid?”

“I cannot say,” Jūratė answered. “Your creation was most unique. I suspect your final form will reveal itself in time.”


Nadzia waited at the shore of Palanga under a crescent moon. The vernal equinox began tonight. New season, new stars. A goat with the tail of a fish, a swan, an eagle. Perun’s constellation still shone overhead, as it did all year, but now a queen’s crown blazed beside it, a gift from Dievas and Rodzenica to celebrate their new daughter.

In the far corner of the cove, the amber walls of her palace—slowly coming together with the assistance of mermen from countries bordering the Baltic Sea—shimmered beneath the waters. On the public side of the beach, a rock-walled shrine sparkled with candlelight. Its formal dedication had been scheduled to coincide with the summer solstice, the day when Nadzia’s life had forever changed; the weather would be more favorable then, a boon to those traveling.

She rolled out a crick in her neck, wearied by her tasks. The sea was vast, and many sought to plunder its treasures—stealthy, crude, foul-smelling pirates. Their minds, thankfully, were easily controlled. Yet the news of her palace’s reassembly was an irresistible lure to thieves, requiring daily vigilance.

Beyond the need to mesmerize barbarians, Nadzia spent hours each day exploring the vast network of rivers and streams and lakes within Lithuania. She settled squabbles about fishing boundaries and made sure no one harmed a drop of her precious waters.

The convent, to Nadzia’s surprise, needed little supervision. Or perhaps not so surprising. After centuries of fending for itself, the Order thrived under a well-structured system of rules and expectations. She hadn’t had much time yet to linger with the abbess yet, a situation she hoped to remedy in the months and years to come.

A flash from the stars caught her gaze. Minutes later, Perun landed his ox and chariot in the gleaming white sands and reached for her. Nadzia’s heart fluttered at the sight, as it did each evening. Would she ever grow tired of seeing his face light up the moment he set eyes on her? She hoped not, just as she prayed her pulse would always quicken at his approach.

She took the hand he extended, welcomed his passionate embrace. His eyes burnished with desire when they stopped for breath. “Dearest Nadzia,” he said, kissing her fingers, “may I never forget the good fortune that brought us together.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, nipping at his ear. “I have it on good authority that the Fates are prepared to rectify any lapse on your part.”

Perun threw back his head and roared with laughter. “I doubt they’ll have to intercede, not when you stand ready to remind me of my proper station.”

He lifted her chin for another kiss. “Have I told you how much I adore you?”

“Hmm.” She pursed her lips, pretending to consider his question. “Not since yesterday.”

“Then I will remind you.” He turned Nadzia until she rested against him, nestled in his arms. “I love you, dearest Nadzia. More than I ever dreamed possible.”

She sighed, savoring his touch. “And I you.”

They stood in silence, watching ribbons of clouds drift across a midnight sky sprinkled with stars, their hearts beating as one until Nadzia roused, an unwelcome thought casting a pall over her happiness. It had been nagging at her for months, but she hadn’t wanted to broach the subject again and spoil their bliss. Yet her concerns would only build if she said nothing.

She gripped his hands with a strength that would have left a human gasping in pain. “The sliver from your enchanted stone saved me, but we both know that means you’ll never be whole. You won’t live as long as a true Immortal. How many years will we have?”

“As many as we are granted, my love,” Perun replied, his voice hoarse with emotion. “And I will treasure every single one.”

He released Nadzia and took hold of the reins. “It’s a glorious night. Where would you like to go?”

Nadzia gazed at him, her heart full. Why worry about what was to come? It wouldn’t change anything. Better to seize the moment and indulge in the joy it offered. She leaned against the railing and tapped the edge, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth. “Actually, I think it’s time your ox learned to follow my lead. May I have the reins?”

“As you wish, my love.”

She grinned and then called out a command, whooping with delight as the chariot rose in a brilliant flash of red.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Nadzia: 

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8


THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 31, 32

Perun, god of storms

The wedding day is finally here. Will Nadzia honor her vow of vengeance, take her place beside a god she was never meant to love, or …?


For previous chapters, click here. 



When the sun crept over the horizon, Nadzia sent Perun to the cook’s cottage for her morning meal with special instructions for a bracing tea. She draped a shawl loosely around her nightdress and lingered in the doorway after he left, watching the day bloom in glorious colors of crimson and violet, copying birdcalls, all in a vain attempt to ease the worry roiling her stomach.

She’d gone over her plan with the god of storms until he could recite it without error. That gave her comfort. Yet she was keenly aware of elements beyond her control: Veles, the abbess, her sisters, the gods in attendance at the ceremony. Any one of them could frustrate her goal, intentionally or not.

At least she could count on her thunderous god. Nadzia brushed a finger across her lips, recalling his kisses, soft and then filled with passion, after they discussed what must be done. Strange, how learning of each other’s artifice should lead to a new intimacy, a new level of trust. She took it as a sign the Fates favored their quest and prayed their benevolence would hold through the day.

She pulled back from the doorsill in surprise at the sight of her servant bustling up the path with a tray until she remembered—Mokosh had promised the girl would recover in time to attend the wedding.

But Gabi looked far from well. Her eyes were glassy, and a drop of saliva slid down her chin. “I beg your pardon, mistress,” she mumbled. “I didn’t mean to be late with your breakfast. One of your sisters stopped me to ask about the wedding and . .  . I don’t recall much after that.”

“Don’t concern yourself about me. You look exhausted. Please, come sit for a while.” Nadzia took the tray and placed it on the table, settled her handmaiden in a chair, and brought her a glass of cool water from the pitcher kept atop a stand near the wardrobe. “I wasn’t expecting you,” she said, pulling up a seat beside her. “Has Perun gone elsewhere?”

“Ludvika wanted to talk to him about the feast. They sent me instead.” Gabi drained the glass, her color returning as she finished. “I don’t know what came over me. I felt fine when I set out.”

Nadzia’s brows crimped. Though it wasn’t a far walk from the servants’ cottage, the day already shimmered with heat. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you’ve been out in the sun too long. I’ll ask Adomas to reserve a spot in the shade for you in the grove. I want you to be comfortable at the wedding. You’ve been a faithful servant.”

Gabi crossed and uncrossed her legs as she eyed the open door. “I should be going, there’s so much to do.”

“Hasn’t Ludvika hired people to help today?”

“Yes, but . . .” Gabi stared at the floor, hands clenched so tight her knuckles bulged. “The master told me you know I spied for him. I’m sorry.”

Nadzia gave the girl’s shoulder a friendly squeeze. “Believe me, I understand what it means to follow orders. You proved your loyalty. I won’t fault you for that.”

“May the Fates bless you today, mistress,” Gabi said, sighing with relief as she scrambled to her feet with a genuine smile. “A long and happy life to you.”

Perun strode in as she rushed out the door. “I’ve rarely seen that girl in such high spirits. Whatever did you say to her?”

“That she’s blameless for anything done on your behalf. I think she’ll be more at ease with us in the future.”

He nodded and uncovered the tray, filled with blini, salmon, sour cream, fresh strawberries, and a pot of black tea. “I suspect you’re anxious. Still, you need to be strong for what lies ahead. A good meal will sustain you. Let’s begin with the drink you requested.”

Nadzia took the stone mug he offered, sipped, and shuddered at the bitterness. “Ugh. I know I asked for a strong brew, but this is vile.”

“A bit of honey should fix that.” Perun reached for the small jar of golden syrup. His hand lingered above several pieces of beeswax piled on a plate next to it. “Ludvika was puzzled that you wanted both until I explained you intended this for Babilos, to thank him for the sustenance he provided when you visited the Tree of Life.”

Nadzia’s eyes flicked to the hearth and then back again. “I know he has his own hives, but I thought he’d enjoy something regional.”

“He has a robust appetite,” Perun agreed, moving to sit beside her. “I’m sure he’ll appreciate the gesture.”

Nadzia speared a forkful of pancake and paused. “You don’t eat much human food. Does it take on a different flavor when you’re divine?”

“A question only you can answer, as I’ve never possessed a human palate. I suspect, given how much Babilos enjoys his meals, that you will continue to find it delicious.” Perun stretched, deftly palmed a slice of beeswax, and moved to the dresser, rifling through the drawers. “Have you chosen today’s gown?”

“The convent brought one. It’s ivory silk, quite plain.”

“Hardly adequate for so wondrous a bride. You deserve better.”

Nadzia shrugged. “Unless you have a seamstress at your beck and call, it will have to suffice.”

“Nothing so pedestrian, my love. Ah, at last!”

Nadzia followed his gaze. A whirl of black, two giant ravens, flew near and hovered above the cottage door. Perun stepped outside and caught the two parcels they dropped—one wrapped in white linen and tied with red ribbons, the other a roll of parchment. He carried both packages to the bed, tore open the message, and cursed softly. “My parents insist you prepare for the wedding alone. I must wait with them until the ceremony begins.”

“It’s a common practice. The groom isn’t meant to see the bride until she joins him at the altar. Anticipation makes the heart grow fonder, or so I’ve heard.”

Perun’s eyes grew misty. “What a glorious sight you will be. Mother assured me the gown she commissioned from the Laumes is like no other.”

“She asked the fairies to make me a wedding dress? Oh, it’s bound to be lovely.” Nadzia pushed back her chair and sprang to her feet, eager to see what they’d devised. A surge of dizziness swept over her. She sat down heavily, panting, and waited for the room to stop spinning.

Perun was at her side in a flash, his face dark with concern. “What’s wrong? You’ve gone pale.”

“I’m fine,” she said with a tiny laugh. “Too much excitement, I think. You must thank Rodzenica for me. I never expected so wondrous a gift.”

“You can show your appreciation in a few hours. We will be waiting at the grove when the sun peaks.” Perun bent down and kissed her cheek. “If we fail,” he murmured, “I fear no one will survive my father’s rage.”

She rose and folded herself into his arms, speaking in a voice too soft for anyone else to hear. “Then we must hope the Fates grant us success.”

He held her until the ravens began to squawk, and then stepped outside. With a wink, he morphed into an eagle and took to the sky, the glossy, black birds flanking him.

Nadzia watched until he was a mere dot and then sat down again, staring blankly at her plate. No wonder she felt weak. She’d barely touched her food.

She ate slowly, washing down each mouthful with a swig of honey-laced tea. Finally unable to swallow another bite, she left the table, settled in the rocking chair, and listened as the camp came alive. She wished she had enough wax to stop up every mortal’s ear once the abbess and her sisters began keening. It didn’t matter that Veles had promised a remedy for them afterwards. They’d still suffer.

The rhythm of rocking lulled her into a light sleep. She woke suddenly, startled by movement in the cottage, and glimpsed Gabi leaving with her breakfast tray. By the angle of the sun, she judged it late morning. She rose slowly, her head buzzing. If this was nerves, she had time for one last remedy: a long swim. Swapping her nightgown for a simple linen shift, she headed for the river.

Perun’s followers called out from their campsites, wishing her all the best. She waved to them, her limbs as loose and wobbly as a marionette. The path lengthened and then shortened as she walked. Each step demanded her full attention, one false move certain to send her tumbling.

As she passed the garden, Adomas tossed an apple over the fence. She caught it and then cringed as the red skin split open and revealed a swarm of maggots. Fighting back nausea, she let the fruit fall and trudged on, willing herself forward in the heat.

Her spirits revived at the sight of the dock. The shorebirds scattered as she sloshed through the reeds and dived into the blessedly cool water. Every pore drank in the soothing moisture. She drifted along the river bottom, letting the water restore her senses, marveling at the way the sun sparkled underwater, delighting in the currents that carried her southward, when a huge black-and-gold snake shot into the river from a hole in the banks and flashed its fangs.

Gods be damned, would Veles never let her be?

He herded Nadzia like a sheepdog, forcing her back until they were at the dock. Words rippled through the water, echoing in her mind. “This isn’t the time for a random journey, dear girl. Once you are my queen, we will explore the river to your heart’s content. Go back to your cottage and make yourself pretty. It’s almost time for your next performance.”

Nadzia waded through reeds and climbed up the banks, awestruck by the brightness and clarity around her. The air glimmered with a colorful sheen. Vibrant auras encased Perun’s followers. Rainbows arced over the high priests’ tent. She opened her arms, embracing the world, certain that the wonders at hand were a sign she was attuned to the glory of life, her endeavor blessed.

Her newfound joy evaporated at the sight of a golden-haired figure clasping a bag outside the cottage. “Have you lost your mind?” Keslai snapped as she approached. “We have to get you ready.”

“I can take care of myself,” Nadzia groused, her tone as peevish as her sister’s.

“Mother Gintare insists. She isn’t completely sure of you. With good reason, I’d say. You should be here, praying for success, not disappearing without a word.”

“I needed to swim. It relaxes me.”

“You’ll have plenty of time for that later,” Keslai sniffed. “Come inside, it’s time to dress you and fix your hair. The ceremony begins in less than an hour.”


The fairy-crafted gown was everything Nadzia could have imagined and more: silk the color of a storm-tossed sea, a bodice embroidered with tiny pearls, a hem that shimmered like the stars when she twirled.

Keslai eyed her with open malice, lips drawn back in scorn. “Good thing they gave you such a fine dress. It’ll draw attention from how drab you are. I would have made a beautiful bride no matter what I wore.”

Though the words stung, Nadzia wished she could offer solace, knowing how desperately her sister had wanted to be the thunder god’s mate. Yet she knew too well that any sign of empathy would elicit even more venom. She pulled out a chair from the table and sat, careful to pull the gown around her so the train wouldn’t get trampled, and hummed while Keslai tended to her hair, braiding, coiling, and pinning stray curls in place with tiny white starfish.

“I suppose you’ll do,” Keslai said finally, putting down her comb with a huff. “Not that it matters. You’ll be a mess by the time we’re done.”

Nadzia’s skin prickled. She shook away the disquiet. She wouldn’t fail. She couldn’t.

The ravens returned, screeching. “That must mean it’s time to go. Shoo them away, would you, Keslai?”

“Afraid they’ll ruin your precious gown with droppings?”

“I don’t think they care whose clothes or hair they ruin. There’s a poker by the fireplace if you need it.”

While Keslai banished the birds, Nadzia rushed to her dresser. She grabbed the wax Perun had stashed there, rolled it into two balls, and hid them in her bodice.

“Let’s be on our way,” Keslai called impatiently. “Time to show these gods what the daughters of Jūratė can do.”


A relentless sun blazed in the white-hot sky. Overhead, eagles circled, whistling shrilly. Specks of colored light danced across the path. Nadzia snuck a glance at Keslai, walking alongside her with a curiously smug look, and steadied her breath, determined to overcome any lingering stress.

At top of the hill, a mossy aisle led to the clearing circled by Perun’s sacred oaks, each tree adorned with black ribbons. Dievas and Rodzenica, dazzling in golden raiment and wreathed in smiles, stood beneath a gigantic white arch. The thunder god’s fragrant purple roses rambled up its sides and across the top. Deities who had chosen to attend—the same thirty or so who’d shown up for Nadzia’s presentation at court—clustered behind them. Her groom paced on the right, gripping ebony robes.

Mokosh, stunning in a forest-green gown, greeted the sisters. She instructed Keslai to continue ahead and join the other novices to the left of the arch, then gave Nadzia a bouquet of orange blossoms, lilies, and white roses—a traditional Lithuanian bridal spray. “No veil or ornaments for the head. Not when there’s a crown waiting for you.”

She kissed Nadzia on both cheeks. “Bless you for helping us find vengeance at last.”

Nadzia’s face grew hot. She longed to speak freely, tell Mokosh that she’d chosen a different path, but the words lodged in her throat. There’d be time enough for explanations later. If she survived.

The flowers in her hands bloomed and faded and then bloomed again. Her spine was slick with sweat. Nadzia pinched her forearm to steady herself. Heat and nerves, that’s all this was, just like when she called out Perun’s stone. With luck, the wedding would be over quickly. She hadn’t thought to ask earlier. “Will the ceremony take all afternoon?”

Mokosh used the sleeve of her gown to dab at the beads of sweat peppering Nadzia’s forehead. “We gods aren’t particularly fond of overlong rituals. Not when there are festivities awaiting. The Great Hall is ablaze with jewels and candles and gold-threaded tapestries. The tables are set with the finest pitchers and goblets. It’s even rumored the Queen of the Fairies will come and dance in your honor.”

A rousing strain of music blared from the heavens. “I must join the others,” Mokosh said with a comforting smile. “Be strong and remember those who are with you.”

Nadzia gulped a mouthful of air and stepped onto the moss, imagining it as a flat field of cooling, soothing kelp. The exhilarating notes transformed into a melody sweeter than a dove’s coo. Heart in mouth, she proceeded up the deep green path, her slow, deliberate steps matching the music’s gentle cadence.

The servants, dressed in white, greeted her from the back rows. Nadzia quailed as they briefly transformed into long-beaked storks. Gods, what was wrong with her? She hastily returned her attention to the ground. Perun’s followers cheered as she continued toward the arch. They tossed grains of wheat, carpeting the path with tokens of prosperity. Nadzia choked in revulsion as the tiny specks wriggled to life and squished under her sandals.

Desperate for assurance she wasn’t losing her mind, Nadzia searched for the Elders. She spotted them, cloaked in gray and interspersed amongst the crowd, the abbess studying her with grim wariness. Wondering why they weren’t closer to their targets, she saw that Perun’s priests had appropriated the front rows. It didn’t matter, she decided. A siren’s voice would resound throughout the clearing.

She’d almost finished her promenade when Keslai leaned into the aisle. “You look terrified,” she said, a sly shine in her eyes. “It isn’t too late to admit this is all too much. Just say the word and I’ll take your place.”

Nadzia clenched her jaw and walked proud, her sister’s gall erasing every last bit of nervousness. She stopped under the arch and breathed in the fragrance of Perun’s flowers, relishing their sweet aroma. The god of storms moved to her side and tucked her arm under his elbow. “You are a vision, my love,” he said, bending down to graze her cheek. “Fates grant us victory.”

The pendant at her neck pulsed so fiercely she feared it might burst. She drew courage from that, knowing that his heart beat with equal fervor, that they were bound together in desperate hope. She sent a final prayer to the goddess he once loved. Watch over us, Blessed One. Help us triumph.

Perun bowed to his parents. “Dearest Mother and Father. I thank you for the precious gift of life, for your care and guidance. If I have been ungrateful, if I have caused you pain, I ask your forgiveness. Grant me your blessing.”

“I have nurtured you through times of toil and years of longing,” Rodzenica said, her violet eyes awash with tears, “certain you would find happiness one day. My wish for you is a love that grows ever stronger and sustains you through difficulties. Marriage is a daily tangle of wills. Do not fear compromise. It is a sign of strength, not weakness.”

Dievas clamped a hand on Perun’s shoulder. “My son, it gives me the greatest of pleasure to see you wedded at last, and to such a charming girl. May she bring you everlasting joy.”

His tone became solemn. “What is joined together today shall not be torn asunder by mortal or god. Do you pledge to hold this union sacred?”

“I do.” Perun’s assent boomed over the gathering.

Dievas turned to Nadzia, his gaze piercing. “Daughter of Jūratė, your presence here is a balm to our spirits. Do you give your assent on this hallowed occasion?”

Nadzia swallowed in a mouth gone dry as bone. “I do.”

Perun gathered her in an embrace, his kiss long and fervent. Cloaked by his robes, she reached into her bodice and then raised her arms, seeming to caress his ears as she plugged them with wax. “May the Fates watch over us and keep us safe.”

He swiveled and presented her to the crowd. They shouted huzzahs and whistled their approval, stomping the ground. As they cheered, a servant appeared with a thick scarlet cushion, a jeweled knife resting on its top.

Nadzia watched, heart banging against her ribs, as the goddess took the dagger and pulled aside her son’s robes. He stood unflinching while she slashed open his chest, exposing his massive heart. The assembly quieted, struck dumb by the divine force pulsing before them.

The giant red muscle swelled and ebbed, pumping in a hypnotic rhythm echoed by the jewel at Nadzia’s breast. She inched closer, breath hitching, unclasped her necklace and placed the amber in Rodzenica’s hand.

The goddess drew a slit into the pendant, gently drew out the fragment inside, and lifted it high, for all to see. “Now shall the god of thunder be made whole again.”

She lowered her hand and whispered. “Bless you, dear Nadzia, for loving my son.”

A harsh wailing, as keen as the blade in Rodzenica’s hand, ruptured the air. Perun’s disciples crumpled to the ground in agony. Dievas and his children clamped their hands to their heads and fell to their knees, howling. Rodzenica’s face twisted into a furious grimace. She lost her grip on the knife and sliver. Both fell to the moss as she lurched, shrieking, into the rows of high priests.

The Elders and novices pushed past writhing bodies. Their voices rose in increasing fervor as they strode toward the arch, arms linked. Perun scrabbled at his ears, floundering under their assault. He gave Nadzia one last, searching look, and then toppled, crashing to the ground with a dull thud.

She moved as if in a dream. The crimson lump of Perun’s heart, inches away, quivered as she reached for it with a trembling hand. Her fingers went numb, and she clutched without finding purchase. Blessed One, help me!

Haunting cries at her back cut through the stupor. She snapped to attention, her mental fog vanquished, and grabbed, blood squishing in her palm as she captured the divine essence that meant life or death.

The piercing wails ceased. Gods and mortals staggered about, moaning. This was the time to speak out, while everyone was still reeling from the attack. Nadzia called upon the power within, searched for the abbess, and addressed her in the boldest, most confident tone she could muster. “I will not let you hurt him. We are meant to be together, to rule the sea and sky.”

“Hold true to your vow,” Mother Gintare shouted, striding forward. “We must avenge the Blessed One.”

Veles whirled into place next to the abbess and slithered close, his words hushed and fearful. “Come along, my sweet. We must leave before my parents regain their senses and punish you. Once you’re mine, I’ll keep you safe.”

Nadzia recoiled from the scaly god’s rancid breath. “I don’t want you,” she said, all but spitting in Veles’s ashen face. “Go back to your foul realm. I’ll never be yours.”

The slits in his eyes widened in surprise. “Think carefully,” he warned. “Wait too long and you’ll suffer. The gods don’t take kindly to tricksters.”

“Perhaps not, but they’ll listen to me as long as I hold Perun’s heart. It’s time to end this. We have to live for the future, not fester over the past. I won’t relent until your father makes me a goddess and agrees to forgive everyone who has plotted against him.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Veles pleaded.  “Jūratė’s children cannot sing forever, and my mother is looking particularly fierce. I expect she’ll have no problem convincing my brethren to pin down your sisters while she cuts out their tongues. Not a pretty sight for such tender eyes.”

“She won’t.”

“Oh, she will, my dear. In a heartbeat.” Veles grinned, black fangs flashing in the sunlight. “Then I expect she’ll want to torture them. I know you’re not ready for that.”

Mother Gintare stroked her throat. “Heed his words, child. Our voices are strong, but they will not withstand a continuous onslaught if Dievas fights back. Nor was that our intent. Go with him while you still can. What happens to us is not your concern. We are prepared for whatever the gods inflict as long as we know Perun will not live forever.”

“There’s no need for anyone to be harmed.” Nadzia turned her attention to Veles. “And you forget: if Rodzenica punishes the convent, your cabal will be next.”

Rasping laughter greeted her words.  “Once the convent’s traitors are silenced, who will speak of our conspiracy? You can’t possibly believe my parents will give credence to anything you say.”

“They will. They must.”

Veles’s mocking smile vanished as he pointed to the crowd. “Look, do you see? Rodzenica is coming back to herself. If we aren’t gone by the time she reaches us, I’ll have to spin a tale, just as I promised when we sat together in the thunder god’s temple. You do remember, don’t you? A simple story about how you seduced me with your voice and then persuaded me to conceal Perun’s heart, all to avenge the Order of Bursztyn? It won’t take much to convince my mother, I assure you. I’ve never seen her so livid.”

“She won’t dare cross me. Not while her son’s life is in my hands.”

“I don’t know what led you to betray your sisters, but I assure you, the gods will prevail. They always have, they always will. Steal away with me before my mother smites you.”

Rodzenica towered above the fallen priests, her face cold and bleak as death. Dievas and his children roared with outrage as they stumbled upright behind the arch and formed a mass of seething divinity. Veles tugged at Nadzia’s arm. “You’re running out of time.”

Perun leapt to his feet, eyes red as coals, and pointed a smoldering arm at his brother. “You shall not have her.”

Before Nadzia realized what was happening, Veles was clasping her before him in a divine grip, impossible to break. “Oh, what a clever farce. You aren’t hurt at all, are you? However did the two of you manage that?:

“Uh, uh, uh,” he cautioned as Perun advanced, sparks coursing from his hands. “Careful now, brother. Mustn’t hurt the bride.”

Mother Gintare gaped at Veles, her face etched with revulsion as understanding dawned. “You would dare use my daughter as a shield? Leave her be!”

“Bend your head, my love,” Perun called out as balls of fire appeared in his palms. “I don’t want to harm you.”

Veles’s tail snaked around Nadzia, pinning her in place. His hands circled her neck and squeezed. “I can take your charming bride alive or claim her as a corpse. The choice is yours, brother.”

The god of storms took aim. Nadzia, gasping, shook her head, silently pleading with him to stop. But he was too consumed with fury, blinded to all else, and she had no way to tell him that as long as she drew breath she wouldn’t rest until she found a way back to him.

She choked as the abbess darted in front of her, arms spread wide in protection. “I said, leave my daughter be!”

“Gintare, no!” Veles’s tail loosened as he cried out in dismay. Taking advantage of his distraction, Nadzia slipped free and pushed the old woman out of harm’s way.

Perun saw her too late. He shouted in horror as his flaming missile pierced Nadzia’s chest. She peered down in disbelief at the blood seeping into the pearls of her bodice and collapsed.



“Gods save us, what have I done?” Perun pulled out the clumps of wax blocking his ears and raced to Nadzia’s side. He kneeled, gathered her in his arms, rocking her as he wept, grief-stricken. “Why did you move?”

Nadzia coughed and wiped her mouth. Her fingers came away streaked with red. “We promised not to hurt anyone.”

She traced the slit in Perun’s chest, her voice a wisp of sorrow and longing. “You must swear to protect the Order in my stead. Do you promise?”

“Always. Forever.” Perun closed his hand over hers and searched the crowd for Dievas, found him leaning against the arch, his face stippled with indignation. “Father, there must be something you can do. Help me!”

Dievas snorted and extended a hand to his wife, making her way to him among the groaning mortals. “I offer no assistance to anyone who betrays me, and neither will your mother.”

“This is a plight of your own design,” Rodzenica said, her posture rigid as she joined her husband. “Do not look to us for compassion. Nadzia violated our trust, fed us lies. I shall take enormous pleasure in watching her perish. She won’t survive much longer.”

“Stay with me, my love,” Perun sobbed, cradling her. “Don’t leave me alone.”

Veles sidled closer. “How unfortunate. I would have preferred her unmolested.”

“This is your fault!” Perun growled. “My bride and I would be celebrating our union had you not meddled. I swear you will not live to see the night.”

“Come now, brother, you haven’t the power to slay another Immortal. Haven’t our battles taught you as much?” Veles gave a derisive bow. “I never thought I’d be grateful to you, but thanks to your rage this little darling will soon be at my side forever. The dead can’t return to life, no matter how much you wish for it. What a delightful turn of events.”

“Silence!” Dievas flung a bolt of white light that sent the god of the Underworld sprawling. “You will explain your part in this treachery later. Return to your domain—unless you wish us to pass judgment on you while our heads still ache.”

“I’ve broken no laws,” Veles remarked casually as he rose, flicking off bits of moss stuck to his scales. “I simply gave the poor girl a better choice. I’m happy to go, as long as she comes with me.”

Dievas stomped his foot. The earth beneath him quaked and split open, releasing clouds of sizzling mist. “She is worse than Jūratė, for she hid her deceit behind the guise of innocence. I warn you, do not interfere. She will remain here until we decide her future. Depart now, of your own accord, or I will imprison you in one of my dungeons and forget I have the key.”

Veles hissed and fled through the crowd. Perun’s disciples clambered to their feet as he passed. “Give her to the god of the dead,” the priests shouted. “She’s a traitor, a liar, a cheat. She deceived the one who loved her. She deserves to die!”

“A murderous beast beguiled her,” Mother Gintare cried, storming toward Dievas. “He is the one who should perish. How many times will you let him kill without consequence?”

Mokosh stepped forward, green eyes sparking. “If Nadzia has been false, you need look no further than yourself and the Divine Council as the cause, Father. You forced her into a situation without ever considering what she wanted.”

“Mortals,” Dievas countered savagely, “are bound to obey the will of the gods.”

“What proof is there that Nadzia—not the convent—meant to harm you? You have none.” Mokosh turned to Perun. “Obviously, you did not plan for this. What was your intent?”

He hesitated, knowing his sister had supported the Order’s rebellion. He could accuse her of complicity, but he had no assurance anyone would corroborate his claim, which she was certain to deny. Perhaps this was a ruse meant to focus attention on him instead of the conspirators.

Whatever her objective, he had no choice but to answer. “We were going to demand she be made immortal before my heart was restored. We thought it would keep the convent safe and prevent Veles from claiming her.”

He appealed again to his father. “Do something, I beg you. I can’t bear to lose her.”

“Never. You cast your lot with a renegade. I owe you nothing.” Dievas addressed the crowd in his mightiest voice. “See now the fate of those who provoke the gods,” he roared. “Heed my words: I shall strike down any deity or human who dares intervene.”

Rodzenica, mouth twisted in a feral grin, placed a hand on his arm. “Perhaps we need do nothing. Recall, if you will, what the girl said: she doesn’t want to go to Veles’s ‘foul realm.’ What better reward for her treachery than to send her to a place she dreads, where every day will be a reminder of all she has lost?”

 “So shall it be. Death and despair.”

Nadzia uttered a harrowing cry. She tugged Perun close and whispered in his ear. “I won’t give myself to Veles. You’re the only one I’ll ever love.”

She kissed his cheek, gave him one last look full of love, and then sagged, lifeless.

Rodzenica flung out her arms. “Heed what you have witnessed, mortals. The justice of the gods ever triumphs. Return to your homes and spread the tale of what has transpired. It is futile to defy us. All who try are doomed, as these vile creatures from Palanga will soon learn.”

Fresh wails arose from the daughters of Jūratė as they moved to surround their sister. The god of storms’ followers stumbled over each other in their haste to break away, keeping clear of the women from the convent. Perun entreated his father a final time. “Spare her, please. She is not to blame for the actions of her sisters. She wanted to join us.”

“Did that scheming siren drain your manhood?” Dievas sneered at his son. “Stop blubbering. You were bewitched. A clever ploy, but it failed.”

The abbess, hunched with grief, motioned to the Elders. “We must hasten to the river and find a boatman to transport my daughter home.”

Perun clung to the body in his arms. “You cannot have her!”

“She is a child of the sea and deserves a proper burial. Do not think to stop us. Our resolve is newly stirred. We will sing until your heads burst.”

Perun’s vision turned red. These harridans would not take his beloved, not while he still lived and breathed. He lowered Nadzia to the moss, sat back on his heels, and summoned more balls of fire. “And I will burn your tongues to ash. She will lie within my temple, with full honors, as befits the maiden I cherished.”

The air grew heavy with the promise of battle. Birds ceased their chirping and took flight. The abbess and her retinue began a low hum. Perun closed his eyes, wearily imagining the world Nadzia wanted. A world of peace, not strife. A world made better by their love. She’d been ready to risk her life for that. They both had.

His eyes flew open. Where was the missing piece of his heart? He searched frantically and found it, blessedly untouched, mere inches from Nadzia’s body, along with his mother’s knife. Rodzenica startled and pressed forward, seeming to guess his purpose, but he seized both, leaving her grasping at empty air. “This is my heart,” he said, meeting her gaze with steely determination, “my choice.”

He carefully positioned the dagger, opened the spot where his fiery bolt had penetrated Nadzia’s breast, and eased the red sliver inside. “Come back to me, my love. I don’t want to live without you.”

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Nadzia: 

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8


THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 29, 30

Perun, god of storms

Nadzia reveals her change of heart to the abbess, tours the guest camp with Perun, and finally tells him the truth about the convent’s plans.


For previous chapters, click here.



The waning moon, a crescent of amber light, hovered above Perun’s temple. Below the open roof, flickering candles at the mermaid goddess’s altar cast eerie shadows across Mother Gintare, head bowed in prayer. Kneeling beside her, Nadzia echoed the words of supplication and gratitude she knew by heart. She cringed when the abbess included special thanks for the brave and dedicated novice here to avenge them, knowing such praise might sour when the Chosen One revealed her hopes for a different end.

The Order of Bursztyn cautioned all against forming emotional attachments. Their hearts and devotion belonged to Jūratė. Nonetheless, some women maintained relationships for decades, liaisons tacitly sanctioned as long as they didn’t interfere with convent duties. Was the abbess one of them? Her office bordered the back gate; a midnight lover could slip in and out undetected.

Nadzia glanced at the old woman, in her nineties and still darkly beautiful. Had she ever given her heart to a man? Craved a bond that transcended the flesh? Something, anything, that would ease the task of asking her to spare the god of storms.

The abbess finished her benediction, touched her fingers to forehead, lips, heart. She rose with ageless grace and took Nadzia’s arm. “Let us see what your fiery god calls a temple.”

She covered her nose with a sleeve at the sight of bear and bull testicles in Perun’s shrine. “Bless the Fates you moved into that cottage. This is too vile for words.”

“Lower your voice.” Nadzia pulled the two of them back into the central aisle and waved at two husky young men stumbling into the temple. “You mustn’t reveal how you despise him.”

“We despise him, child. All of us.”

“Come, let me show you where I will sit with my husband.” Nadzia spoke loud enough to earn lopsided grins from the visitors. She steered the abbess past the central fire, directed her attention to the carvings on both thrones just beyond. “Fire and water in happy communion.”

“All praise to Perun and his bride,” the men shouted, their voices thick and slurred.

The abbess stroked her throat and grimaced. “I believe I’ve seen enough.” She started down the other side of the aisle and stopped abruptly at Nadzia’s former room. Her mouth opened and closed in a strangled gasp. “Tell me you didn’t bed that beast in full view of the Blessed One’s sanctum.”

“I would never dishonor her so. You trained me better than that.” Nadzia urged the abbess forward, conscious of stares from Perun’s followers. “Let’s go outside and sit on the steps. You look as if you could use some fresh air.”

“I’d prefer a more private spot.”

“There’s a bench on the hill by the clearing where I’m to be wed. We can talk there.” Nadzia leaned close and whispered. “Clear your mind of any harsh thoughts before we pass the granite eagles. Their eyes glow red in the presence of ill intent.”

“They did nothing when we entered.”

“You weren’t upset then. Please, we’re being watched.”

Mother Gintare drew back her shoulders, nodded at the men with a strained smile. They passed the stone guardians without event, walking quickly, Nadzia anxious to put the temple far behind them before the old woman spewed more venom. Night owls hooted from old pines. Nadzia took a deep breath of sweet evening primrose and led the way to the seat looking down upon river and meadow. “Better, yes?”

“You’re looking well,” the abbess said, ignoring the question. “Shall I attribute that to a successful seduction?”

“My time here has been most rewarding.”

Mother Gintare surveyed the land below. “A pretty place, but I miss the sea. Thank the goddess we’ll return home soon. You’re probably eager to go back, too,” she added, patting Nadzia’s knee. “Living with a monster can’t be easy or pleasant.”

“It hasn’t been so terrible. The river is nearby and Perun . . . .” Nadzia wet her lips, her mouth dry as dust. “He’s not what I imagined.”

“Indeed?” The warmth in Mother’s voice vanished. “Pray tell.”

Nadzia took a calming breath, met the abbess’s frosty gaze. “He isn’t a beast. He’s kind and considerate and full of love.”

The old woman sputtered in disbelief, her skin mottling with shock and rage. She studied Nadzia with narrowed, blazing eyes. “What has that villain done? You are the Blessed One’s champion, honed to a fine steel of vengeance. Have servants and fine silks turned you soft?”

Heat burned Nadzia’s cheeks. “My voice revealed a kindheartedness in him that took me by surprise. When you met, did you notice how he strove to make you feel welcome, asked after your comfort?”

“After a night that left us more exhausted than when we arrived.”

“A regrettable incident, but his remorse was genuine, I assure you. He truly wants for us all to be happy together. I’d like to give him that chance.”

“You would forgive him and abandon your vows?” Mother Gintare stared at Nadzia as if she were a toad. “Do I speak with a traitor?”

Nadzia hunched forward. “Dievas and the Fates accepted his atonement. Who are we to claim elsewise and seek vengeance?”

“Dievas? Ha! He’s a doting father who indulges his son’s foul deeds.”

“You haven’t met him, Mother, I have. He mourns Jūratė, so does Perun, but they understand that we must move forward, that we can’t spend our lives mired in grief or regret.” Nadzia clasped the abbess’s hands. “Don’t you see? This is a chance for everyone to heal, to unite with open hearts, to show that love can truly conquer all. We can rise above old grudges and create a world of harmony. I’m content with Perun, as I should be. This is what the Fates intended.”

Mother’s lips curled into a sneer. “Had I known how weak you were, I would have cut out your tongue rather than let you summon Jūratė’s jewels. The god of storms is beyond contempt, he will say and do anything to make you desire him and you . . . you cannot see the wickedness of his ways. He is using your innocence for his own, despicable means. The Blessed One spurned him, he will stop at nothing to ensure you do not reject him as well.”

“It’s different this time. He’s different.”

“Do you think you have changed a killer, made him honorable, worth loving? Stupid, stupid girl!”


“I warned you, child. Pride makes you blind.”

Nadzia flinched at the accusation, hating the abbess for sparking doubts. In her short time with the gods, she’d seen ample evidence of intrigue and treachery. Could Perun have purposely misled her so she’d trust him? What if his behavior amounted to nothing more than cunning tricks meant to gain what he wanted at any cost? He’d kept the truth of his jewel secret, perhaps he had more hidden intrigues.

She pictured him laughing in his chariot as they shared the glory of the heavens, the moments when he gazed at her as if she were the most captivating creature alive, his lingering touches that promised more, the anguish on his face when he spoke of Jūratė’s death. How was she to know if any of it was real?

The abbess put a hand to her mouth, eyes studded with horror. “Dear gods, tell me you have not renounced your oath. That you will support us on your wedding day. We must give Veles a chance to hide the evil one’s heart.”

“Veles?” Nadzia choked on the name. “Look no further if you want proof of betrayal.”

“Impossible. He is our dear friend and colleague.”

“Then why has he changed the outcome of our plan?”

The abbess frowned. “He’s said nothing to me.”

“Why would he?” Nadzia shuddered, remembering the scaly god’s leer. “You’re not the one he intends to make his queen.”

Mother Gintare sat back, her gaze turned inward. She tapped a finger against her chin, lost in thought, finally turning to Nadzia with a curious smile. “Is that not a fitting reward for his aid? I should think you’d feel honored.”

“To spend eternity with a liar?”

“You are well-matched in that regard.” The abbess held up a hand, forestalling argument. “We will proceed as planned, my child, with or without your help. You cannot stop us unless you tell Perun the truth, and I doubt he will be quite so amiable when he learns how you’ve deceived him. Are you so sure of his affection that you will risk his wrath when he discovers his beloved bride meant to destroy him?”

Nadzia shrank into herself, gnawed her lips to keep from shouting in frustration. She should have realized convincing the abbess was futile. Admitting how she felt had only strengthened the woman’s resolve, driven a wedge between them. “Will you tell the others?”

“I can hide my disappointment better than most, I won’t endanger our mission by speaking recklessly. There is still time for you to see the error of your ways.”

She stood and shook out her robes. “I urge you to pray for clarity. We have waited centuries for justice and now a devious god has manipulated your feelings for his own ends. I am no stranger to love, surprising as that may be, but I have lived long enough to know desire can rob a woman of her senses. Look beyond your selfishness, your lust, and consider what is best for all.”


A shout from above, Perun charging back to earth, drowned out Nadzia’s reply. She pulled up the hem of her dress and hurried down the hill behind the abbess, storming toward the grasses outside the barn where the carriage landed.

Keslai stepped down gingerly, clutching her stomach and moaning.

The abbess rushed to her side. “What happened? Did he hurt you?”

“He was a perfect gentleman. The heights made me nauseous, that’s all. I’d like to rest if you don’t mind. I feel a headache coming on.” Keslai latched onto the abbess, pulled her down the path toward their tents, craning her neck as they descended to call out, “Well done, sister. He’s quite smitten with you.”

Perun drew Nadzia into his arms, kissed her passionately. “She’s persistent, that one, but I think she finally understands. You’re the only one I want or need.”

Nadzia returned his kiss with a desperate fervor. “And you’ll love me always, no matter what happens?”

“Nothing you say or do could ever change how I feel, my love.”


“Never doubt it. You are a jewel beyond compare.” He nuzzled the top of her head and released his hold. “Bernardo!”

The groom staggered out of the barn, yawning. “Sorry, sir. I fell asleep in the loft.”

Perun rumpled the boy’s hair, dislodging pieces of clover and alfalfa. “You’ve been helping the other servants prepare for our guests. I don’t begrudge you a nap now and again.”

“Will you be flying again tomorrow night?”

“Yes, to gather my priests. We’ve only a few days until the wedding. I want everyone in place and comfortably settled by then.”

“Don’t forget, Sister Saule wants to see the stars,” Nadzia reminded him. “She’ll be far more appreciative than your last passenger. And I’d like one last trip before we marry.”

She stooped down and picked a handful of wildflowers, giving herself a few moments to blink away tears. She could blame the Fates, she supposed, for thrusting her into such a difficult situation. But no divine spirits controlled her heart. She’d given her love freely, gladly. And she refused to believe Perun’s affection was false.

She had to tell him the truth, despite the peril. She couldn’t let him come to harm.

He lifted her with a sensual growl. “If I’m to be a ferryman of the sky, I should take advantage of what time we have together, wouldn’t you agree?”

“Every minute.”

Perun laughed and nodded at the groom. “Sleep while you can, Bernardo. Things are about to get very busy.”



Woodlarks heralded the dawn with a chorus of carefree trills as they circled the landscape, their flight a pleasing pattern visible through the cottage window. Perun gazed at his bride, asleep under the mermaid quilt, his heart bursting with gratitude and love. Before she came, he’d viewed her as a means to an end, a novice chosen without his consent yet necessary to help him regain immortal life. A relationship he would pretend to cherish and then abandon once Rodzenica made him whole again. Now he couldn’t imagine a world without her at his side.

He might have been wholly content, were it not for the frown marring her brow as she slept. What disturbed her rest? Did she harbor last-minute doubts? She clutched the quilt, mumbling. “I can’t . . . I must . . . gods save me.”

“Nadzia?” He shook her gently. “Nadzia!”

She startled awake, her face sallow and haggard, closed her eyes until her breath steadied, opened them with a hesitant smile. “Was I talking in my sleep again?”

“A bit.” Perun stroked her hair. “Is there something you wish to tell me? Have I displeased you?”

“Never.” She slipped out of bed, pulled on her robe, and moved to the window. The first blush of morning light filtered through the glass, illuminating her in a golden nimbus. “Such a beautiful place.”

Her shoulders rose and fell as she shook with muted sobs. Perun rushed to hold her, laid his head atop hers. “What troubles you, my love? Please tell me. I can’t bear to see you so unhappy.”

“I’m fine, really. Brides get quite emotional before they wed, or so I’ve been told. I suppose it’s hard for me to believe all this is real. That I deserve so much joy.” She smiled and traced his lips. “That I could ever love you so much.”

“You’re not keeping anything from me? I want us to be honest with one another.”

Nadzia lifted the pendant she wore every hour of the day and night. “You said nothing about the enchantment in your jewel.”

“That was not my secret to share. Please, my love, I don’t want to fight, not with our wedding in three days.”

Nadzia let the necklace fall. “Three days,” she whispered, her voice hollow. “Is that all the time I have?”

“Time for what? Do you want to marry or not?” Perun braced himself for the answer. He’d been so sure of her love. Why did she hesitate?

“More than you’ll ever know, my sweet god.”

“Then what—”

She reached up and pressed a finger against his mouth. “Don’t ask me to explain. I can’t. Not yet. Just remember I love you and always will.”

A voice cried outside the door, followed by rapid knocking. “Master! Are you there? We need you.”

Perun released Nadzia with a snarl and opened the cottage door. Adomas stood outside, his hair and clothes mussed. He blanched and then bowed. “Forgive the intrusion, but we’ve a crowd of newcomers and they’re arguing over space for their tents. I hate to disturb you, but they won’t listen to me, and I don’t want to get in the middle of any more fights.”

Perun looked back at Nadzia, already rifling through her cabinet for a gown. She turned, all traces of sadness gone, and motioned for him to leave. “Go, but please stop at the servants’ cottage on the way and ask Ludvika to bring me breakfast. I’ll join you later.”

He nodded his assent, unwilling for his gardener to glimpse any hint of discord. “As you wish, my love. I’ll have those ruffians under control by the time you arrive.”

“Yes, I expect you will. We owe you many thanks, Adomas, for braving an unruly mob, and hope it won’t be necessary again.”

“Not to worry, mistress,” he replied, standing taller. “I know how to defend myself.”

“But you shouldn’t have to. Our guests should be courteous and considerate of others.”

Perun gripped the old man’s shoulder. “You have proved your worth many times over. My disciples will recognize your authority or leave.”

He cast a final glance at Nadzia, put a hand to his heart, and left.

Wisps of smoke drifted from his fingers as he strode toward the meadow. He cleared the top of the hill and stared down at a field swarming with people. Loud, querulous voices rang out; men pushed and shoved and traded punches while their wives and children huddled. Perun ground his jaw, embarrassed and angry at their behavior. Sparks coursed through his veins. How dare his followers act like brutes? He let out a roar that flattened the grass.

The furor stilled. Mouths fell open as he stomped into their midst, his flesh smoldering with inner fire. “This is my home,” he bellowed. “I will suffer no insult or injury to its inhabitants or guests. If my groundskeeper,” he added, gesturing for Adomas to step forward, “advises me of even one transgression, I promise you, punishment will be swift. Do you understand?”

The hushed crowd murmured its assent. Perun stood rigid, allowing his rage to subside while bruise-cheeked men shook hands with grunts of apology. “You have come to celebrate my good fortune. Do not spoil it with trifling squabbles. Be glad in each other’s companionship, for the chance to witness a ceremony no mortal has ever seen. Relish your time here. It will end far too soon, and I want you to return home with fond memories.”

A hulking man at the edge of the group kneeled and put a fist to his chest. “All praise to the god of storms!”

Perun waited until all were stooped in obeisance. “See that your actions match your words. If you wish to honor me, conduct yourself with care.”

A young woman holding an infant rose to her feet. She stepped forward, her face bright with joy and wonder. “Will you bless my son? I want him to do well in life.”

Perun reached out, his heart skipping. He’d granted such favors before in his travels across the land, but today he gazed down with a new awareness of the love that had brought this child into being. He stroked the boy’s auburn hair and rosy flesh, smiled at the coos that followed his touch. “May you grow strong and your crops flourish.”

The woman placed a hand on his forearm and peered at him with shining eyes. “And may the Fates grant you healthy sons as well.”

His vision blurred as he returned the yawning babe to its mother. When he blinked his sight clear, a line of women and men with children had formed. He blessed them all, delighting in the pleasure it brought, the tranquility that settled over the camp as families returned to their tents with broad smiles.

“Look,” a voice cried. “It’s the thunder god’s bride!”

Faces filled with awe watched Nadzia descend the hill, draped in a green gown and haloed in golden morning light.

Perun swiveled, his pulse pounding. He greeted Nadzia with a chaste kiss. “Everyone here is going to love you. I trust I won’t have to compete with them for your affection.”

“My heart is yours. That will never change.”

A chestnut-haired girl, arms laden with ribbon-tied wildflowers, raced to the edge of the field. She thrust her gift at Nadzia, lowered her head and sank into a deep curtsey. “For the mermaid’s daughter. We bid you welcome.”

Nadzia waited for the girl to rise. “If everyone here is as sweet as you, then I will feel very welcome, indeed. What should I call you?”

“Mielas. I’m from Palanga, just like you.”

“A long journey. A few of my sisters from the convent are here as well.”

Mielas nodded, eyes gleaning with excitement. “I’ve seen their white tents.”

“Would you like to meet them?”

“Oh, yes, yes, please! Do you think . . .” Mielas gnawed on her lip. “Could they teach me to sing like a siren?”

“I’m afraid that isn’t possible, but our voice instructor might be willing to give you a few lessons. I’ll see what I can arrange.”

The girl curtsied again and ran off whooping as Perun’s followers began to form a new line. He waved them back. “Go about your business. We will come to you.”


Some seventy or so campsites dotted the vast meadow, some with simple cloth tents, others with canopied wagons. A few had bedrolls spread on the ground for stargazers. Perun escorted Nadzia about the area over the next two days, introducing her, pleased at how warmly she greeted everyone, how readily they received her. She hummed and sang as they strolled, lilting melodies that lingered in her wake, generating goodwill.

The air rang with joyful chatter and the clinking of mugs raised in honor of immortal love. Mothers swapped stories while they cooked flatcakes and soups and stews. Giggling children played among the grasses and flowers, wove garlands and wreaths. Those who’d fished in the River Nemunas marveled at the abundance it provided. “I’ve never had such luck,” a grizzled man told Nadzia as he wolfed down a fillet of golden-fried bream, fresh from the pan. “Truly, you are the goddess reborn.”

“She is a font of blessings.” Perun’s chest expanded, drawing in deep, satisfied breaths. A wonderful woman loved him, a community of supporters had gathered to witness his wedding. The young woman who’d tried to seduce him remained out of sight, as agreed. Peace and harmony prevailed.

They visited camp each morning. In the afternoons, while Nadzia rested in their cottage, Perun transported his high priests, one chariot full at a time. He lodged them in a black silk pavilion set up near the temple’s entrance. Once settled, they mingled with the common folk and joined in songs of tribute while sampling the convent’s mead. Much to Perun’s surprise, the abbess promised bottles of the amber wine to all who asked, after receiving assurances that each recipient would make a toast in honor of the mermaid goddess.

At night, the visits resumed. Hymns rang out clear and strong at the campfires. Eager to prove their allegiance to the god of fire, men staged competitions, stretching hands over candles or fireside flames. Whoever lasted the longest without flinching was hailed the winner and received a friendly clap on the shoulder from the one they worshipped.

Boys with no interest in scorching their flesh walked with rosy-cheeked girls along the river and stole kisses under the pines. Perun watched them, his eagle eyes piercing the dim light, ready to intervene should they lose control. He needn’t have worried, as Nadzia pointed out. Chaperones lingered behind the young couples, discreet, yet near enough to break up any improper fondling.

He enjoyed every moment of it, his pride swelling as he showed off Nadzia, yet he chafed inwardly, impatient to hear what bothered her to the point of weeping. How long would she keep him in suspense?


On the eve of their wedding, after they finished their nightly circuit of the camp, Nadzia reminded him of her earlier request. “One last trip to the stars above Palanga.”

“Why do you call it the last?” he asked, anxiety cramping his heart. “We’ll have many more in the years ahead.”

She laughed, a high-pitched giggle that died as quickly as it began. “I want to see them once more as a human.”

Her eyes darted from corner to corner, as if searching for a hidden observer. “And . . . we must talk someplace where no one can intrude.”

Every one of Perun’s apprehensions surfaced, leaving him breathless. This was the moment he’d feared, when he would finally learn his happiness was nothing more than an illusion, that even if Nadzia cared for him, her ardor would never match his.

He studied the stone at her breast as they walked to the barn. It blazed brightly as ever. Her affection, at least, remained strong. She took her place beside him in the chariot, impassive, mute as stone, until they reached his constellation.

“I’d almost forgotten how lovely they are,” she said, basking in their light and heat. “Such dazzling colors.”

“Soon you will be able to venture closer. There’s nothing quite like being surrounded by a pulsing star.”

Perun struggled for words to put them both at ease, found he had none. Chafing at the need to learn what troubled his bride, yet unwilling to provoke her, he twisted a thick armlet etched with images of his axe—given to him by an admirer that night—until his flesh was rubbed raw.

“Nadzia, please, tell me what’s wrong.”

She curled forward, arms crossed against her chest. “I came to you under false pretenses,” she said at last, anguish in her eyes. “I never wanted to be your bride.”

A wave of dizziness swept over Perun. He gripped the chariot’s railing, jaw clenched so tight his teeth ached, the memories of his maidservant warning him of duplicity battering his mind. Fool of a god, to be led astray by the yearnings of his heart! “Then Gabi didn’t lie. The Order of Bursztyn schemes against me.”

Nadzia hung her head. “I’m so sorry. But you must understand—”

“Understand?” The word exploded with such force Nadzia shrank into herself. “What is it you wish me to perceive? That every moment with you has been a lie? That I gave my heart to a charlatan?”

“We were trained to hate you, to pray for your downfall. How could I not consider you a beast?” Nadzia’s voice shook. “To discover all my assumptions were false, that changed everything, don’t you see? Once I spent time with you, once my heart opened . . . I may have come to Kaunas determined to honor my vow of vengeance, but I changed. I fell in love.”

“You dare speak to me of love?” Fury enveloped Perun in flames, yet for all his pain and misery, he could not lash out at Nadzia. He thrust his arms upward, unleashed his rage in bolts of lightning. And still he fumed. How could he have expected anything less from a daughter of the one who’d defied the gods and chosen a mortal? Damn the Fates and their twisted destinies!

“I tried to tell my father,” he said, his words clipped and biting. “Humans hold grudges. For 500 years I prayed to be forgiven, and all that time your convent conspired to ruin me.” 

Nadzia inched closer. “They don’t have to succeed. I begged the abbess to abandon her plans, but she refused, and I knew I had to tell you, come what may. Please believe me, I want you to survive.”

Lights flickered from the convent below. Perun blew into his palm and formed an orb of fire. “I could destroy your home, make you watch as the buildings turn to ash. We’ll fly lower first. I want you to hear the screams of your sisters as they burn to death.”

“I’ll throw myself off this chariot before you have a chance,” Nadzia said, her voice deadly calm. “What will you tell your mother then?”

“My . . . what?” The blaze in Perun’s hand sputtered.

“She said if you treated me ill she wouldn’t make you whole again. How do you think she’ll respond when she sees my broken body?”

Perun shouted and flung his fiery sphere into the sky, where it slowly dissipated. “You say you’ve changed, yet even now you seek to manipulate me.”

“I only want your attention. Listen to me, please.” Nadzia wiped her hands on her robes. “The Order knows you need the sliver I wear to regain your full godhood. They’re going to disrupt the ceremony so Veles can steal and hide it. You won’t die for eons, but when you do, Jūratė’s death will finally be avenged.”

Perun scowled and shook his head. “That’s madness. Even my brother would not be so bold. And the gods will strike you down.”

“They’ll be immobilized while the theft takes place.”

“By your abbess?” Perun snorted. “I’d like to see her try.”

“She’ll lead the keening. It will paralyze them long enough.”

“A rash assumption.”

“It worked on Veles. He crumpled when I screamed.”

Perun’s blood simmered with fresh indignation. “You plotted with my immortal enemy. You beguiled Dievas and Rodzenica. How can I trust anything you say?”

“Because of this.” Nadzia pulled off her pendant. “I have a mesmerizing voice, but I cannot overpower a goddess’s enchantment. This stone gleams because I love you, with all my heart and soul. Condemn me as a liar if you must. I deserve your disdain for my part in our conspiracy. But never doubt the emotion that stokes this jewel.”

The amber throbbed in her hand and his own heart matched it, beat for beat. He took the jewel, knew finally that it held not just his longing but hers as well, a bond of body and spirit. Even so, her betrayal stung. He closed his eyes, anger flaring again only to sputter out when he considered his own actions. He’d started off with ulterior motives. How could he denounce Nadzia for doing the same?

A tear slipped down his cheek. Soft fingers wiped it away. He opened his eyes and beheld not a traitor, but the woman he adored. A brave woman prepared to risk his wrath by telling him an unpleasant truth. He couldn’t let her continue thinking she was the only one at fault.

“My love.” He pulled her toward him with infinite care. “What a pair we make.”

Nadzia leaned into him, trembling. “Do you forgive me?”

“I’ve been absolved of actions far worse. It is not my place to criticize, not when I’ve withheld my own secrets.”

The quivers ceased as Nadzia drew back, her face wary. “Haven’t I learned them all?”

“You know about the magic in the amber, how I need a full heart to continue as an Immortal.”

Nadzia’s fingers dug into his arms, her nails scraping flesh. He accepted the pain, knowing he deserved every torment she inflicted. “There’s more,” she said, her voice sharp as a dagger. “What?”

He hesitated, then lowered his head. “I didn’t want a wife. Once my heart was restored, I was going to reject whomever the Fates sent me.”

Gods, the look she gave him! Shock, outrage, agony, a face pinched with grief. Her eyes welled. She blinked them dry, gave a weak laugh. “So we are evenly matched in guile.”

His fists closed and then opened. “I did not think you unworthy, Nadzia, I simply believed myself a monster. How could anyone care for me? But then we grew close, and I resolved to earn your affection, for I realized my life would be empty without you.”

Perun moved closer, placed his hand over Nadzia’s. “You are a vibrant, wondrous, magnificent woman. My heart is yours, now and forever. I cannot imagine a more delightful future than one with you at my side.”

She turned, face full of despair mixed with yearning. “Deceit is a pitiful foundation for marriage. How can we trust one another?”

“I suspect it will take time. But I would like to try.” Perun dropped to one knee. “Be my wife, dearest Nadzia, and I swear to do everything in my power to make you content.”

“I will hold you to that promise, and vow to do the same.” Nadzia sighed and motioned for him to stand. “We are a pair, aren’t we?”

“For better or worse.”

They came together in a quiet embrace. “I wish this moment would never end,” Perun said, caressing Nadzia’s hair, “but we have to find a way to avoid chaos at our wedding. If I tell my parents of the Order’s plans, you and your sisters will be brought before the Divine Council, as Jūratė was, and my father can be most exquisite with his punishments. He’ll devise something that fits the crime, centuries of torment, perhaps. If he doesn’t slay you all outright.”

“No, we can’t warn them. But I don’t want you to perish.” Nadzia paused, swallowed. “And I don’t want Veles to claim me.”

Perun squeezed Nadzia so tightly she whimpered. He loosened his hold and spoke through gritted teeth. “What did you say?”

“He wants me to be his queen.”

Ages-old rancor scalded Perun’s veins. “Not while I live and breathe.”

“It isn’t that easy. He’ll reveal the convent’s plot if I reject him. He expects us to be killed and then I’ll wind up in the Underworld. I’m his either way.”

Perun tilted his head back and cursed. “That slimy, stinking bastard. I’ll rip every scale from his body.”

“I’d join you gladly, for all the good it would do. No, we can’t let on that we’re privy to his designs. We have to outwit him.”

“It seems you’ve already begun,” Perun said with a nod of appreciation. “You brought me to the skies, the one place he can’t follow.”

He peered down at Nadzia. “I suppose you have an idea in mind?”

“Kiss me and I’ll tell you.”

Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Nadzia: 

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