THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 15, 16

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

For previous chapters, click here.



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

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

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

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

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

“Is anything wrong, mistress?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to rob me of my strength.”

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

“If it serves your purpose.”

“My purpose?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I regret my harsh words. Forgive me?”

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

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

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

“Then take me inside.”

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not until you answer one question.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A favorite gown?”

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

“What else could it be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you get a look inside?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you’ll search the drawers?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“He swore he wouldn’t attend.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why did his heart feel so empty?

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski






THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 13, 14

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

For previous chapters, click here.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was, until you fought with Veles.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“You know how we can defeat him?”

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

“You can’t get past Perun’s spells.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, mistress. Right away.”

“Thank you, Gabi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The fire didn’t blaze stronger.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He opened his arms. “Ready?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have, for the Elders and novices.”

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

“You meant to come all this time?”


Nadzia tilted her head. “To what end?”

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

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

“I don’t understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the wax?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Perun sputtered in surprise. “You know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know me well, old friend.”

“What gives you pause?”

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

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

“It pulses steadily.”

“Then her words are true.”

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

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

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

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

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

“She did.”


“She said things were as they should be.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We haven’t been together long.”

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

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

“An excellent start.”

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

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

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

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

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image source:

THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapter 11, 12

At the Tree of Life, Nadzia meets the greatest of the gods, but their encounter is sullied by a divine intruder.


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Confident she knew how to proceed, Nadzia entered a corridor of white marble with walls that soared to a dizzying height, their tops veiled in mist. Sconces ignited as she passed, lips pursed in anticipation. Dievas and Rodzenica would find her modest, reverent, open to their counsel. A novice perfectly willing to accept her fate, never giving the slightest hint she was on a hunt to discover their son’s fatal flaw.

Watch and learn.

The stirring music from outside diminished into a low vibration, a hum that resonated in Nadzia’s bones. Despite the cool air, lightly scented with mint, Perun rippled with heat as he walked beside her. A strange, different kind of warmth. Not passion—that had a sultry languorous feel she thoroughly enjoyed. This was sticky and moist, a layer of nervous sweat that stoked her curiosity.

If anyone had cause for alarm, it was Nadzia. No mortal had ever stood before the greatest of the gods, and she was embarking on a journey with an undetermined, potentially lethal end. But Perun . . . what did he have to fear? Hadn’t the Fates given him exactly what he wanted?

They neared a bench surrounded by pots of lemon trees. “Should we rest a bit?” she asked. “You seem ill at ease.”

Perun laughed sourly . “When my parents request your attendance, it is wise to appear as quickly as possible. Their wishes are paramount. Had they not allowed you the night to settle, we’d have already come and gone.”

“But you look out of sorts. Surely they’ll notice.”

Another laugh rattled Perun’s chest. “My appearance doesn’t matter. You’re the one they want to meet. Leave it be.”

They strolled down the seemingly endless hall. Nadzia lost count of how many doors they passed—large, small, boxy, round, wood, stone, curtained, a few with windows. Did they lead to private areas for each god? Perun had no interest in them. He rushed her along, finally stopping in front of an archway that revealed a chamber filled with grand chairs and a black marbled podium. “This is the Throne Room,” he explained. “The chairs are magic portals linked to our realms. We can gather at a moment’s notice if necessary.”

“You needn’t fly to get here?”

“No, and neither will you after we marry and you’re made divine.” Perun hesitated and cleared his throat. “I hope you will not abandon Salomeya. The skies are full of wonder. There is much I wish to show you and she is a most trustworthy mount.”

“I would love to see the stars up close,” Nadzia said. “But how can I, if my horse will only travel between the Tree of Life and your temple?”

“When you become a goddess, she will take you anywhere.”

Nadzia fell silent. There was no point in getting angry about things she couldn’t change. She studied the room ahead. Gilded tapestries of each god and goddess covered the walls. Sunlight sparkled through a glass-domed ceiling. She counted sixty linden chairs arranged in three rows, separated in the middle by a scarlet rug. None were presently occupied. “The seats are vacant,” she said. “Is that by chance or design?”

“By my father’s command.” Perun used the hem of his sleeve to pat his face. “This is a private audience. You will be introduced to my brethren another time.”

He let out a ragged sigh and escorted her down the carpet, their destination a raised platform bearing two jewel-encrusted thrones, both empty. It didn’t provide the intimacy Nadzia preferred—the room was too enormous for that—but at least she’d only have to deal with the four of them. Smaller gatherings didn’t take as great a toll on the voice and mind.

She steeled herself for the task ahead. Humans were easy to mesmerize—especially if they already lusted after the one bewitching them. Immortals? Unknown.

Except for Perun. His ties to her were so fraught with emotion he couldn’t be considered an example of how other gods might respond.  She was treading in new territory here.

Fates be kind, let me stand fast.

The back of each chair bore carvings that heralded its occupant. She recognized several as Perun pressed her forward. Sheaves of wheat symbolized Mokosh, the goddess of fertility. Ships on stormy waters stood for Girdaitis, patron of sailors. The woman sleeping on her side? That was Breksta, goddess of twilight and dreams. Lightning bolts—Perun, of course. A serpent for the god of the Underworld. Lesser deities were relegated to the back, the more exalted closer to the dais.

Her breath hitched as they neared the front and she caught sight of dolphins engraved in wood. Jūratė’s throne. Forever empty because of the beast that walked beside Nadzia. She shuddered and blinked away tears. Not here, not now. She wouldn’t snivel before the gods who thought the mermaid’s daughters their playthings.

Perun, so consumed by his inner demons he didn’t detect her response, brought her to the foot of the platform and motioned for her to kneel. Placing a hand on her shoulder, he bowed deeply and addressed the largest throne. “Father, we have come for your blessing.”

Nadzia gasped as the greatest of the gods shimmered into view, twice the size of an ordinary man. Light spilled out from runes adorning his purple robes. He held a scepter topped with a crystal orb and wore a crown of amber. A pure white beard fell to his waist. He said nothing to Perun, only looked at him a long moment, his brows rising in confusion or derision—Nadzia wasn’t sure which—and then turned his attention to the mortal awestruck at his feet.

He was beyond magnificent, possessing a glorious aura that completely dominated space and time. Nadzia faltered under his scrutiny. How could a mere human hope to overcome so imposing a force? He would ferret out her lies the moment they were uttered, unmask her deception in a heartbeat. Defeated before she’d even begun.

Or perhaps that was part of his power, to instill doubt, to have mortals look upon him and cringe at their insignificance, never dreaming they could oppose him. Nadzia steadied her breath and let her mind settle, as the convent had trained her. She kept her eyes downcast, properly devout, her pulse racing as she waited for Dievas to acknowledge her.

The air quivered. “Rise, child.”

Nadzia obeyed at once, coming to her feet in one fluid motion. Such a voice! Had she thought Mother Gintare irresistible? The abbess was a mewling babe compared to Dievas. The air practically danced as he spoke, his words thrummed with power that prickled Nadzia’s flesh. She raised her chin and looked into the darkest eyes she’d ever seen—black, fathomless, inscrutable.

Yet perhaps not as secret as she first imagined. Beneath his stoic gaze Nadzia saw joy mixed with pain. She was his daughter, his own divine blood reborn. But she wouldn’t exist if Jūrate hadn’t defied him and mated with a fisherman. He might receive her with open arms or treat her with icy disdain.

Watch. Learn. Let him show you the way.

“I see a divine spark in you,” he said finally. “Welcome home.”

Acceptance. A good sign. “Thank you . . . Father. I am honored to have been chosen.” Nadzia crooked her head in the direction of his companion’s throne. “Your wife is not attending?”

“She will be here soon.” Dievas reached for Nadzia’s hands and squeezed them softly. “I must tell you, this union gives me the greatest pleasure. The mermaid goddess resurrected and joined with the one who never ceased to love her.”

Nadzia’s blood roared in her ears at his touch, throbbing with a divine vigor that shivered her flesh. “As the Fates intended.”

“Some might think it odd, a marriage of fire and water,” Dievas said, releasing his hold. “I consider this a most excellent match. My son is volatile—I made him so. He needs the soothing calm of a siren’s voice to temper his wildness.”

Nadzia toyed with her braid before speaking, careful not to seem too pleased. Dievas wanted her to coo sweet nothings in the god of storms’ ears? Perfect. No one would blink an eye as she tamed his son. She was, after all, acting as the Divine Creator wished.

She smoothed the folds of her gown. “The daughters of the sea are no strangers to passion. It is our nature as well. Perun and I are more closely matched than you think.”

“Perhaps.” He glanced again at his son. “It must have been difficult to leave your sisters.”

“I will see them again, won’t I?” Nadzia kept her tone casual. Dievas had already banned her from traveling to the coast. Would he do the same in days to come no matter what Perun claimed about her independence as a deity? “You’re making me a goddess after all, a guardian of the sea. My duties will bring me to Palanga on occasion.”

Dievas’s brow creased. “Take care with your visits. Humans have been known to corrupt gods, as your presence here attests.”

“My convent is forever beholden to you for allowing us to thrive,” Nadzia said with a quick dip of her head. “We have no desire to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors.”

The lines deepened. “Then you have no allegiance to the mortal world?”

“Only that which compels me to protect its waters. I wish to maintain their glory and ensure the creatures who inhabit them are not harmed.”

“A noble goal,” Dievas said with a hint of pride. His face softened. “Why speak of the past when your future is so bright? This is a day to rejoice and my wife yearns to greet you. Ah, here she is now.”

Rodzenica was almost too beautiful for words, her skin a caramel sheen. Waves of silvery hair tumbled past her shoulders onto pale green robes. She had a full sensuous mouth, the edges lifted in a regal smile, and violet eyes that took in everything from behind hooded lids.

“Mother.” Nadzia sank into a deep curtsy. She stared at the floor and silently thanked whatever magic kept it mirror-bright; she could watch the goddess’s reflection and gauge how to react. She sensed, somehow, that Rodzenica’s response would carry more weight than the god of creation.

Rodzenica seemed to be probing beyond appearances. She raised a hand to her chest and fondled an amber necklace that echoed the gleam of Perun’s jewel. Her eyes darkened with a hint of displeasure. Or was it disappointment?

“Let me hold you,” she said. “We should not be strangers.”

Nadzia filled her mind with peaceful images. She might have appeased Dievas’s suspicions of mortal entanglements, but doubt hovered beneath Rodzenica’s words, a wariness not so easily mollified. She returned the goddess’s cool embrace and imbued her voice with the tiniest of tremors. “I hope you will not find me wanting.”

“I trust the Fates have chosen the proper girl.” Rodzenica leaned back in her throne, peered at Perun’s jewel and returned her gaze to Nadzia. “However, I do not look to them now. You have allayed my husband’s concerns, but I wonder about your heart. Destiny is one thing, the decision to love quite another.”

Nadzia dropped her eyes to hide her confusion. Did she have a choice in the matter? That didn’t make sense. The gods dictated, mortals obeyed. Maybe this was why Perun had been so solicitous, because she could actually refuse his affection the way Jūrate had. Was that the secret to his downfall, to wed and then snub him? The convent had based its plan on the assumption that Perun’s ruin had to include a physical element. What if emotions were the way to bring him down? An eternity alone, all hope of a loving companion forever dashed?

She snuck a glance at him from under her lashes. His brow shone with sweat, the muscles in his jaw clenched in a spasm. He stared straight ahead, silent as a rock. If he knew the reason for his mother’s question, he was either unwilling or unable to offer Nadzia help with her reply.

Fine. Until she knew more, she would assume nothing had changed, that the goddess was simply prodding her to alleviate any concerns over the god of storms’ happiness. Because only his feelings mattered.

She raised her head and looked about the chamber. “Grant me a moment if you will,” she said, her voice thick and quavering with emotion. “Yesterday I was but a novice. Today I’m standing before the mightiest of the gods. Everything is more astonishing than I could ever imagine. It takes my breath away.”

“Of course, my dear,” Dievas replied with an indulgent grin. “You need time to adapt.”

Nadzia continued, infusing her words with hope and desire. “That isn’t all, Father. There’s a part of me that feels as if this is where I truly belong. That when I am accustomed to all this wonder, I will find joy like never before.”

“It is the blood of the divine in you, seeking harmony,” Dievas said. “You long to be united with your own kind. And so you shall.”

Mortals are my kind as well, but you had no qualms about wresting me away from my family and saddling me with a monster I loathe. Despite her best efforts, Nadzia couldn’t keep her jaw from twitching, a movement that caught Dievas’s attention. He shifted in his chair and exchanged a look with Rodzenica that spoke of some unfinished business between the two. “Nonetheless,” he said with a nod in his wife’s direction, “I would hear your answer. Can you learn to love my son despite his turbulent ways? I have no doubt he will adore you completely.”

The jewel resting on Nadzia’s breast flared to brightness. She moved to Perun’s side, lightly gripped his arm, and filled her eyes with unabashed admiration, as if he were a paragon of virtue. Time to make her voice wholly persuasive. She took a breath, found the timbre that beguiled humans, and prayed the gods would be as enthralled. “A day ago, I would have sworn he was all fire and fury,” she murmured. “Now I am moved by his tender consideration.”

“Indeed?” Rodzenica arched a brow in surprise. “He is not known for gentleness.”

Nadzia pursed her lips. Choose your response carefully. There is more at work here than what you perceive. “His followers are drawn to his might, that is true. But when we are alone, just the two of us, he is charitable and eager to please. I could not ask for more in a husband.”

She felt Perun’s pulse quicken at the earnestness of her words. Good. At least one of these gods believed her. “Is this love, this desire to linger in his presence?” she added dreamily. “I only pray he will find me as pleasing.”

“My love.” Perun embraced her, kissed the top of her head. She sighed and basked in his warmth, not wanting to break the magic of the moment. As long as he believed her, all was well.

And then mocking laughter wafted through the room. Nadzia peeked around the god clasping her as if she would break, her eyes widening in shock and surprise. Wasn’t this supposed to be a restricted gathering?

Veles sat coiled upon his throne, his serpent’s tongue flicking over black fangs. “At last the day has come. The mermaid’s daughter declares herself for the one who killed Jūrate. I tremble in the face of such devotion.”




The blistering heat of Dievas’s fury scalded the air. “I ordered my children to grant us time with the girl before we introduced her to the court,” he bellowed. “How dare you defy me?”

“I must have been busy when that edict was issued,” Veles said with a lazy shrug. “The Underworld is so demanding. But now that I’m here it’s obvious why you want to keep her to yourselves. She’s an absolute treasure, isn’t she? So modest, so adoring, so eager to yield to the will of the gods. And yet . . . do I detect a hint of spice among the sweetness?”

He slithered across the floor and settled a few feet from the platform. Nadzia squirmed under his inspection. Though his torso was more human than serpent, Veles had a snake’s eyes, yellow with black slits. His gaze lingered over her curves, highlighted by the drape of her gown. “She isn’t the beauty Jūratė was, but then none will ever match the mermaid goddess’s allure. However, there is a distinct resemblance to Kastysis. He was quite handsome for a fisherman, if you recall. They have the same set of the jaw. Proud, strong, stubborn.”

His attention switched to the god of storms. “Must be difficult, brother, to see traces of your human rival in her face.”

A growl rumbled deep in Perun’s throat. “I see my bride and no one else. She was chosen by the Fates. You would do well to respect their decision.”

He held up his right arm. Sparks coursed across the skin. “Or must I teach you a lesson in manners?”

“Come now, brother, it was a simple observation, nothing more. I’m sure she’s everything you deserve.”

Perun gripped Nadzia so tightly she struggled to breathe. “Don’t worry. I’ll never let him hurt you.”

“He wouldn’t! How can you think that?” She wriggled loose, surprised to be defending a god who’d practically undressed her with his eyes. But this had been a day of lies; she wanted to speak at least one truth. “Veles is a true friend to the convent, an ardent champion of the Blessed One. We are in his debt for protecting us since her death. Were it not for his traps, we’d have been overrun by pirates.”

Veles’s scales rippled with pleasure. “A clever bit of magic on my part. I scattered stone adders across the cove bed and enchanted them to come alive at the scent of marauders—pirates possess a most distinctive smell. My snakes swarm the rowboats, merrily bite the screaming marauders and leave the corpses for the bottom feeders.”

He glared at his brother. “Had I thought to employ them centuries ago, Jūratė might still be alive.”

“Adder venom won’t kill me. And I was in the sky, not the water.”

“They would have surrounded the amber palace and made themselves into a granite barricade. She’d have escaped your wrath. But she died alone and frightened, knowing she was killed by a jealous god.” Veles bared his fangs. “Coward.”

Steam erupted from Perun’s brow. “It was an accident.”

“So claims many a killer in my domain. I rule over a world full of innocents.” Veles’s sibilant laughter quieted into a sneer. “I have special dungeons for those who deny their culpability. As foul as the creatures who inhabit them. I’m keeping the biggest cell free for you, brother. I won’t rest until I see you shackled.”

Nadzia belatedly realized that whatever loyalty Veles deserved, she had to stand up for Perun or she’d never convince his parents she was happy with her fate. She reached for the god of storms and hooked her arm into his. “He’s changed. I wouldn’t be here elsewise.”

“Or maybe,” Veles said with a veiled glance at the thrones, “my father grew tired of waiting and demanded the Fates choose.”

Dievas slapped his thigh. “You go too far. I have prisons of my own, far worse than even you can imagine, and I can easily assign another god to rule the Underworld while you inhabit a cage for however long I deem fit. I tire of your refusal to accept what happened. You cannot alter the past and your rancor serves no purpose save to vex me.”

“My apologies.” Veles touched his forehead, lips, heart. “Yet I will not pretend to like this situation. This girl is far too trusting.”

Nadzia disguised her snort as a sneeze. Any fool could see that the lord of the dead was spoiling for a fight. “I trust the Fates,” she countered, echoing Rodzenica. “We will be content.”

Veles sighed, a melancholy exhalation at odds with the mischief in his eyes. “Well, my dear, just remember: no matter when or where, you can call on me for help. I’ve a warren of tunnels that traverse the human world. A most convenient way to collect the dead.”

“You won’t get near her,” Perun said, stepping between them. “Not with my eagles watching.”

“I’ve yet to encounter a door I can’t breach,” Veles answered with a sly smile. “Rest assured, if she is ever in distress, I will come to her aid.”

Nadzia snuggled against Perun. He was warm, too warm, and though she had yet to see him rage, she suspected his fury was building. She attuned her voice to a resonance that fostered amity and prayed it wasn’t too late to tamp down the anger percolating throughout the room. “I wish the two of you would stop bickering. It is a most generous offer, Veles, but I assure you, I will be perfectly safe in Kaunas.”

“If you insist.” Veles crooked his head and squinted. “I wonder . . . if you’re so completely enamored, why delay the wedding? One so deeply smitten can hardly object.”

“What?” Nadzia startled in surprise. If she married now, she wouldn’t have to pretend anymore. Rodzenica would make her divine. The convent and her sisters would be forever safe. She could do as she pleased, go where she pleased, with no surly god to sap her energies. He might live on, but wasn’t the Order of  Bursztyn’s security more important? And she’d have eons to learn his secret frailty.

A bubble of elation surged within, one she dared not release until she knew exactly what Veles intended. This serpentine god’s nature was as slippery as his form. There must be something he expected to gain from a quick ceremony. Better to keep her emotions in check until she knew what he wanted.

But if the snake god’s intentions eluded her, the flash of relief on Perun’s face baffled her even more. A quick ceremony offered numerous benefits for her. She couldn’t imagine why would it cheer him, unless he saw it as a chance to weasel out of his commitment to work on his temper.

She turned to Rodzenica. “Is it possible? We can marry at once?”

“My son promised to invite his followers,” the goddess replied. “I will not have them think a god’s words false. We must give them time to reach Kaunas.”

“You have plenty of servants to help decorate,” Veles continued, ignoring his mother’s opposition. “An hour or so, and then we can round up our brethren. They’ll be ecstatic. Just think, a surprise wedding at the Tree of Life!”

“Not here,” Perun snapped. “At my temple. And you are not welcome.”

“Someone needs to be there on Jūratė’s behalf.”

“My bride can choose a mortal from the convent.”

“I am a member of this pantheon. You will not deny me.” Veles spread out his neck in the form of a cobra’s hood, an ages-old challenge. “I demand my rightful place.”

Nadzia stroked Perun’s arms, dismayed by the steam wafting from his fingers. “Don’t let him goad you. He wants you to attack. Show him you’re above his taunts. Let your parents decide if he may attend.”

She sang softly, caressing his flesh until the sweltering cooled. “That’s right. Breathe. Relax. You are the one in control.”

“I never thought to see you tamed, brother,” Veles jeered. “I have a number of restraints in my lair. Shall I procure one for your bride to tether you? An early wedding gift, perhaps?”

Perun roared and shoved Nadzia aside. She scrambled up the dais and took refuge behind his father’s throne. The fights between these two brothers were legendary although, to her mind, pointless. Neither god completely triumphed. Immortals couldn’t kill each other, only humans. She chewed her lips, cursing silently. Bad enough this encounter had dismantled all her hard work—Perun was more inflamed than ever—she didn’t think she could bear to watch him brandish the power that had killed Jūratė. She tugged on Dievas’s arm. “Can’t you stop this, Father?”

He started to rise, but Rodzenica intervened, pushing him gently back into his seat. “If she loves our son, then she must accept him fully, good and bad. I am not proud of what she is about to witness, but better they clash in our presence. She is not in jeopardy here.”

The brothers circled each other and then charged, colliding in mid-air before tumbling to the floor in a blur of scales and sparks. Perun howled as his chest was slit open by pointed black nails. He grabbed Veles by the throat, grunting with pleasure as the snake-skinned god writhed. The slitted eyes bulged, the struggling ceased. And then Veles smiled and sank his fangs deep into the hands throttling him. With a howl, Perun fell back.

They eyed each other warily. Veles hissed and spat out a stream of black venom. A foul-smelling lump landed on the god of storms’ arm and sizzled. Perun bellowed and summoned a ring of fire around them. He laughed as the flames grew and Veles searched frantically for an escape. “Enjoying the heat, brother?”

Nadzia’s throat filled with bile. This was the beast she’d grown up hating, a god whose wrath knew no end. She maneuvered around the thrones until she was crouching at Rodzenica’s side. If this assault didn’t cease, she might not be able to hide her disgust. All the effort she’d put into appearing satisfied would be suspect. “Please,” she begged. “Stop them!”

“To what purpose? They were enemies before Jūratė’s death. Her passing only deepened the rift. Be thankful we are here to protect you.”


“Patience, my child. You will have time to soothe your groom.” Rodzenica cast her an icy glance filled with disdain. “Stop cowering. Stand proud, as a goddess does no matter what she observes.”

Perun’s body flushed deep crimson. With a cry that shook the walls, he hoisted the god of the Underworld above his head and flung him through the blaze across the room. Veles crashed into the doorway and slumped to the ground, spittle dripping from his mouth. The flames around Perun died. He smiled grimly as his flesh cooled and took on its normal ruddiness.

But the god of the Underworld was not defeated. He rose languorously from the floor, brushed off bits of ash from his scales and wriggled to the dais. “Well, that was an amusing interlude. Now, Father, surely you’ll permit me to stand alongside my brethren at the ceremony. Jūratė will want to hear all the details and I know you don’t enjoy visiting my realm.”

“Had you not ignored my orders and provoked your brother into a rage, I might be more lenient,” Dievas replied with a scowl. “Perun deserves a quiet wedding. Keep away.”

“If you insist.” Veles’s eyes shone black with hate. “Are you satisfied, brother? I won’t watch you marry the mermaid’s daughter.”

Chest heaving, Perun approached his mother. “The ceremony?”

“How much time do you need to visit your temples and spread the news?”

“A few days, at the most. Those furthest away can leave at once and be in Kaunas within a fortnight. I can use my chariot to transport them if necessary.”

“Then we will see you wed two weeks hence. I wish this matter settled as soon as possible.” Rodzenica arched a brow and looked to her husband. “Do you concur?”

Dievas waved his assent and turned his attention to Nadzia. “What of the bride? While I cannot allow Veles to intrude, he is correct in asserting that we allow someone to witness this momentous affair in Jūratė’s stead. Who would you choose?”

Nadzia pulled herself upright and straightened her spine, conscious of Rodzenica’s scrutiny. “You spoke of your gratitude toward my convent. May I invite the Elders and a few novices to accompany them and attend to their needs?”

“You may.” Dievas extended a hand bedecked with rings. “Now there remains but one final matter. We must examine the jewel you summoned.”

“Of course.” Nadzia unclasped her necklace and placed the enchanted stone in the god’s open palm. Without its warmth against her chest, she felt exposed and strangely bereft, as if the beat of just one heart wasn’t enough to sustain her. She massaged her throat, unsettled by the thought. What sort of magic was she wearing?

Dievas peered at the gem. “So small a piece of divinity yet see how it pulses with power. You are fortunate to have summoned this, Nadzia. A glorious life awaits you.”

He passed the chain and pendant to his wife. Rodzenica cupped the amber and murmured. Her eyes clouded, the lids fluttering as she slipped into a trance. The jewel brightened, then dimmed, again and again, until the goddess finally roused and gave Nadzia a curious smile.

Perun’s breath grew ragged. “Is anything amiss, Mother?”

“No, my son. All is as it should be.” Rodzenica returned the necklace and smiled again. “Welcome to our world, daughter. Wear this always as a reminder of your destiny.”

“May you find joy in our midst,” Dievas added. “Now that all is settled, we must send for a raven to carry our invitation to Palanga.”

“No need for a bird,” Veles said. “I will gladly deliver the message for you.” He winked at Nadzia. “The Order of Bursztyn holds me in high esteem.”

Dievas thumped his scepter. “So be it. Off with you now,” he said, waving in dismissal as servants appeared with trays of nectar and jeweled goblets. He took one and passed the other to his wife. “Perun, I suggest you begin informing your disciples at once. The days will pass quickly and they will need every minute to prepare.”

“A moment if you please.” Rodzenica’s voice held a touch of wariness. “We should not leave our daughter alone while her betrothed is away. She needs guidance. And she has a wedding to plan. I will send Mokosh to help with the details.”

Nadzia reached for the jewel at her chest. Had the goddess detected something questionable inside the stone? Its pulse was steady, its light and warmth as well, and yet Nadzia felt certain the amber held more than she perceived. An enchantment beyond the one that had called Perun to her. A spell only he and the queen of the gods understood.

Perhaps Mokosh knew the answer. If not, they could inspect the jewel more closely in Perun’s absence, take the necklace apart if need be. At the very least, the company of someone who supported the convent’s aims and didn’t fly into rages would be a welcome change.

Nadzia dipped into a curtsy. “Your consideration humbles me, Mother. I’m sure it will be time well spent.”

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski