THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 9, 10


Perun loses his temper, and Nadzia is presented with a magical gift.

For previous chapters, click here.




The jewel at Nadzia’s throat gleamed brighter and pulsed faster than before, a sign her affection had grown. She kept Perun to a slow pace as they descended the path from the temple’s entry, pausing to marvel at the birds that serenaded them, the color of the sky­­—such an intense blue! Her face shone as bright as a newly opened blossom.

He squeezed her arm, reveling in her happiness, grateful she was whole and well. He’d thought all was lost when she gagged and turned crimson after just one sip of the gods’ nectar. But a vaporous cloud had issued from her flesh, draping her in a mist that smelled of the sea. It must have been an immortal gift from the mermaid goddess, a form of protection that lingered in her daughters’ veins, awakening only when needed. Nadzia had emerged wondrously changed. How long would it last?

They followed a fork in the trail and walked up a small rise that led to a fenced area with a large coop for chickens and a garden divided into neat beds of fruits, vegetables and herbs. At their approach, a tall, lank man weeding a patch of glistening strawberries clambered to his feet. He removed his straw hat and rushed to open the gate. “Good afternoon, sir, madam,” he said with a hasty bow. “How may I assist you?”

Perun beamed with pride. “This is my chosen one, Nadzia.”

The man’s face, leathered and browned by years of working in the sun, crinkled with pleasure. “Congratulations! I wish you both every happiness.”

“The Fates have been kind.” Perun nodded at his bride. “This is our gardener, Adomas. He comes from the south.”

“A pleasure.” Nadzia reached down and plucked a strawberry from the patch near her feet. She popped the fruit into her mouth, sighing with pleasure as she chewed and swallowed. “Adomas—that means ‘man of the earth,’ doesn’t it?”

“Indeed it does, my lady,” he answered, blushing at the recognition as he smoothed thinning strands of salt-and-pepper hair “I come from a long line of farmers.”

“I’d say your parents named you well. These berries are the best I’ve ever tasted. How do you grow them so sweet?”

Adomas pointed to a mound in the corner of the yard. “There’s the secret. There’s nothing better for strawberries than old oak leaves dug into the soil.”

“We’ll have to send a few bags to my convent. Sister Bronis could use them.” Nadzia left Perun’s side to walk among the rows of plants. “This reminds me of her garden: carrots, potatoes, peas, onions, beets, rosemary, thyme, oregano, berries.” She wrinkled her nose at the hens strutting nearby. “We don’t eat the flesh of land animals at the convent. Might I have fish instead?”

“There’s pike, perch and bream in the river,” Adomas replied, “as much as you please. Everything else we eat is transported to our dock from the coast or midlands. Dairy, flour, meat, wine and the like. The boat stops by weekly.”

“If it’s spirits you enjoy,” Nadzia said with an impish grin, “then you’ll have to try the convent’s mead. Sister Bronis makes it with honey she gathers from our beehives. Could your boatman pass along a request for a few bottles?”

Adomas returned her smile. “That can be arranged. He’ll be here tomorrow morning. Bring me a note before then and I’ll be sure he gets it.”

“I’ve always been an early riser. Maybe I’ll hand it to him myself.”

Adomas laughed. “I’m sure he’d prefer a message from a beautiful woman, not a grizzled old man like me.”

Perun leaned against the gate post and watched them with a tinge of envy. If only he could talk as freely with Nadzia, as if they were old friends. But caution kept him from opening up. He couldn’t let down his guard while she wore the amber. Every action he took, every word he spoke had one aim: to win her affection. He couldn’t possibly tell her the truth, that he was doomed to perish without her love.

“And books,” she continued, swiveling to wink at him. “Lots and lots of books. For those long winter nights when we need something extra to occupy our time.” She smiled at the heat that flushed Perun’s cheeks and returned her attention to the gardener. “I’d like to meet the merchants as well. Gabrielle says they’re full of news.”

“Merchants?” Perun jaw tightened. Was her interest in the traders casual or based on new information? He smothered a curse. His mother’s enchantments had prevented him from observing while Nadzia bathed. A simple girl like Gabi could have easily been mesmerized into divulging what she’d heard at the docks about the Order of Bursztyn, with nary a soul the wiser. He had little leverage if Nadzia knew about the rumors. Even less if she suspected the handmaiden was spying on his behalf.

A vein at the side of his forehead began to throb. He stormed up to Nadzia and spun her around to face him. “What did that blasted girl tell you?”

Her shocked gasp brought him back to his senses. She backed away, her arm streaked with angry red marks, her face pinched with pain and fear.

Perun looked down in dismay. Crimson sparks arced from his fingertips to the ground. He steadied his breath and willed the fiery particles to fade. Damn his temper! A moment of pique and his morning’s work was ruined. The divine dazzle in Nadzia’s eyes flickered and died, the shine in her jewel dulled to a pale orange glimmer. She studied him with a mixture of alarm and dismay. “Nothing of consequence,” she said. “Truth be told, I wasn’t really paying attention. Surely you know how Gabi loves to chatter.”

Adomas was at her side in a flash with a handful of thyme leaves. “Chew these and then hold them against your skin, my lady,” he advised. “They’ll ease any pain or swelling.”

Nadzia raised the herbs to her mouth and gave Perun a long searching look. He waited until she applied the green poultice and then reached out, gritting his teeth when she shied from his touch. This wouldn’t do. He couldn’t let her think him a beast. He called upon his power, created a rainstorm in his palms and blew divine sheets of water across the space between them. Her flesh healed in moments.

“Forgive me,” he said. “Gabi is an impressionable young woman. The traders she flirts with often ply her with nonsense. She’ll pass along any tale, sensible or not. I don’t want her filling your head with far-fetched gossip.”

Nadzia silently massaged her arm. She dropped her gaze to the ground, closed her eyes, and shuddered. Perun forced back a wave of anxiety. His parents expected them to visit today. He couldn’t show up with a skittish woman at his side. “Are you feeling better?”

“Yes.” Nadzia peered at him intently. “I suggest we address your concerns regarding my handmaiden in private.”

She put a hand on her heart and addressed the gardener. “Thank you for the herbs, Adomas. They helped.”

“Is there anything else you wish of me, my lady?” The gardener cast an oblique glance at his master. “I’ve a day’s worth of chores to finish if not.”

“I’ll see to it that you receive the note,” Perun said. “Continue your work.” He motioned toward the barn, a short walk past the garden. “If my bride would be so kind?”

Nadzia’s chin jutted forward as she moved past him, her body stiff with displeasure. Something flashed across her face, an emotion gone too swiftly for him to name, although he guessed it was hardly pleasant. Fool of a god! Were there any choice in the matter, Perun would delay the meeting at the Hall of Thrones for as long as possible, until he was back in her good graces. But he didn’t dare make Dievas and Rodzenica wait.

Blood surged to his face. Would she tell them what had just happened, condemn him before he had a chance to make things better? He hadn’t intended any harm, but she couldn’t know that without an explanation. How much to tell her without revealing his motives, that was the problem. He cleared his throat and thrust his hands behind his back as he caught up with her. “I apologize for being so quick to anger. It flares when I think someone dear to me has been afflicted in some way.”

“Afflicted?” Nadzia stopped and squinted at him. “By a servant’s gossip? How weak-willed you must think me. I assure you, my only interest is in hearing about events on the coast. You can’t expect me to leave the only home I’ve ever known and not want to know how my family fares.”

Perun held out his hands and silently thanked the Fates when Nadzia didn’t blanch in response. Even so, he chose his words carefully. She’d seen him at his worst. Nothing would change that. He had to make her understand if wasn’t intentional. “I did not mean to offend or hurt you,” he began. “But I cannot change how I was made. My father filled me with fire and fury. I need them to create storms and fulfill my duties.”

“You blame Dievas?” Nadzia said with a sniff. “A sorry excuse.”

Perun tamped down the irritation her reply evoked. “That isn’t what I meant. This passion that roils within me, this is my nature. The slightest provocation ignites it.”

“So I must restrain my curiosity, never speak my mind lest I stoke your ire? If that’s what you want in a wife—someone meek and subdued—then ours will not be a happy marriage.” Nadzia looked at him with a hint of defiance. “I will be your equal as a goddess. Don’t expect me to curb my disposition because you can’t control your own.”

“Never!” Perun rubbed his brow and sighed as he searched for a way to fix a mess that grew muddier each time he opened his mouth. “I admire your composure, your grace, your geniality. Perhaps . . .  perhaps you might teach me how to master my emotions? I cannot bear to think I have ruined things between us.”

He bit his tongue in agonizing silence as Nadzia surveyed him from bottom to top, as if she were seeing him for the first time. Her face lost some of its harshness. When she finally captured his gaze, she seemed to have decided in his favor. Perhaps not entirely, judging from the caution that lingered in her eyes, but enough for her to look at him without fear. “I suspect apologizing is foreign to a god,” she said. “Which makes your words all the more sweet. As for the task you’ve put before me . . .” She looked down the hill to the cottage built for them and smiled faintly. “I believe we can start tonight.”

Perun gently grasped her wrist and kissed her palm, silently cheering when her flesh warmed. “I will be your most ardent pupil. Whatever you ask of me, you shall receive.”

They walked in silence along the outer edges of the garden, past a brood of hens pecking for worms and clucking at their chicks. Beyond the fence, Perun’s white ox grazed amidst bundles of fodder piled high against a giant red barn. Nadzia breathed deeply as they entered the building. “I always expect animal houses to smell rank, but you’ve got sweet grasses and herbs drying in the loft. It’s a nice scent.”

Perun’s heart fluttered with unexpected pleasure. Did she realize how beautiful she looked in the light filtering through the barn’s rafters? Even lovelier than Jūratė, something he hadn’t thought possible. He wanted to tell her so, but he wasn’t sure how she’d react. Did mortals take offense when their charms were compared to another? He’d have to ask Gabi.

He led Nadzia to a high stone wall, pushed open its central iron gate, and whistled sharply. A slender, dark-skinned boy clad in a black shirt and pants came running from the back and skidded to a stop before them. He bowed, gave Perun a clean white handkerchief, and returned to his station. Perun moved behind Nadzia and shook out the cloth. “This is a surprise,” he whispered. “I’d like to cover your eyes until the last moment. Will you allow me? I promise, you’re not in danger.”

He stifled his impatience while she considered the situation. If Nadzia rebuffed him, the gift could still be presented, just not with the flair he wanted. To his relief, she gave a curt nod. “I’ll hold you to that promise.”

“Straight ahead, my love,” he instructed, his grip light on her shoulders as he guided her forward. “We must venture beyond.”




With her vision blocked by the white cloth, Nadzia relied on other senses as she moved forward. The hay beneath her feet smelled of sunshine mixed with an underlying odor she couldn’t quite identify, an acrid tang. Small animals—barn mice, probably—skittered away at her approach. She curled her fingers around Perun’s. He’d made her vow of vengeance infinitely easier by asking for help with his temper. There was no reason to start small, as she had with the handmaiden. His request, unwitting but welcome, meant Nadzia could begin with her most persuasive voice.

She didn’t know how many nights it would take to pierce whatever shields the god of storms had erected to preserve his secrets. Even when mesmerized, mortals were surprisingly stubborn about revealing their weaknesses and hidden desires; she could expect no less from a deity. But Perun had given himself over to her care, and that gave her an advantage she hadn’t foreseen. A stroke of luck, perhaps. Or maybe the Fates had intended this all along.

He halted abruptly and embraced her from behind. His breath tickled her ear like a sultry breeze. “Listen,” he whispered. “Do you hear it?”

A musical nickering, high and sweet and strong. Clomping hoofbeats. More music, deeper this time, rougher, followed by soft snorts. Nadzia tore off the blindfold and let it fall to the straw as she gazed in wonder at a black mare led by the boy she’d seen earlier. “Dear gods,” she murmured. “Is this real?”

She leaned back into Perun’s warm bulk, her awe mixed with dismay. She’d encountered any number of wild animals in the forest—skittish deer, shy rabbits, timorous foxes, even a young brown cub and its mother—all tamed quickly with sweet whispers. But this was a divine beast, eyeing her with what looked like suspicion. Did it sense fear?

The horse reared up, unfurled a pair of lustrous ebony wings and settled into a majestic pose. “A gift from my father, created especially for you,” Perun explained. “Are you pleased? The boy, Bernardo, is her groom. He lives in the loft. Call for him whenever you wish to travel.”

Nadzia swallowed heavily, then pitched her voice low. This was a rare gift indeed. A superior beast. She should approach it with the proper respect. “Such a pretty girl,” she cooed. “Do you realize how wonderful you are? So dark and strong. What a joy it will be to ride you.”

The mare shook its mane and pawed the ground before sidling closer. “She is a proud one, as befits her maker,” Perun said, nodding in approval. “You do well to appeal to her vanity. Do not rush this first encounter. Let her come to you.”

He fished an apple from his robes. “Try this.”

Nadzia moved within an arm’s length of the horse and offered up the ruby-red fruit. “Come now, my lovely. Know me better.”

The horse was soon nibbling, its velvety nose tickling Nadzia’s palm. She laughed with sheer delight. “I’ve never had such a wonderful present. What’s her name?”

“We call her Vargas,” the boy answered. “She is here to serve you, ma’am, like me.”

Nadzia stroked the mare’s long neck. “No, absolutely not. Vargas is a slave’s name. I won’t allow it. From now on she will be known as Salomeya—the powerful one. How do you like that, my sweet?”

A nicker of approval followed her words. Nadzia laughed again. Dievas was too kind. This was the stuff of legends, a magic beyond compare. Such generosity! She imagined herself soaring across Lithuania and beyond, exploring the country at her leisure, perhaps even visiting her neighbors across the Baltic Sea.

Even better, she could fly to the coast in the morning, enjoy a day with her sisters and the Elders, and be back in time for dinner. A perfect way to keep in touch.  The Order of Bursztyn hadn’t made provisions for direct contact once Perun’s bride left for his temple. Messages, even in code, were too easily intercepted. Any new information was to be relayed through Mokosh, the goddess of earth whose long association with the convent put her above reproach. Now even that wasn’t necessary; Nadzia could relay news in person.

Perun stood silent, watching her with misty eyes. Surprised at such an open sign of tenderness, Nadzia impulsively thanked him with a quick kiss. He was a god of many moods—not all of them pleasant, as she’d just seen—but now, as his face softened with pleasure, he looked as if he truly enjoyed her happiness. “I never thought to see such a wonder, let alone ride one,” she said. “May I fly anywhere?”

Perun hesitated before he answered, his face tweaking with chagrin. “I’m afraid not. She has been trained to fly between my temple and the upper realms of the Tree of Life.”

Nadzia’s euphoria cratered. How could anyone give her such a glorious creature and then bind her with constraints? Did Dievas suspect the convent had ulterior motives or was this a means of emphasizing that her old life was dead and gone, that only the gods mattered? She struggled to keep her voice level. “Then she is under your father’s command, not mine.”

“Do you see this?” Perun grasped the mare’s left ear and traced a silver O embedded in its lobe. “My father ordered me to forge two circlets. The first is implanted here. Dievas wears the second on his left hand. Both glow when you are aloft.”

Nadzia buried her face in the horse’s neck. This was her world now, a place where Dievas was in control. Why she’d expected otherwise, she wasn’t quite sure. Hadn’t he decided the fate of Jūratė’s daughters centuries ago without any thought as to their wants or needs? She couldn’t decide whether to blame Perun as well—he’d only done his father’s bidding and he looked none too happy at having to explain the restrictions. But while she might risk rebuking the god of storms for his actions, she didn’t dare display anything but gratitude when it came to the highest-ranking deity of all.

She straightened and ran her fingers through Salomeya’s mane. “I’ve always dreamed of visiting the place where Jūratė was born,” she said with a false heartiness. “Now I can go there any time. What a thoughtful present. I’m sure we’ll have many happy journeys together.”

“I am glad to hear this. My parents are anxious to greet you.”

“Now?” Nadzia scrabbled around her brain for an excuse to delay the inevitable. The goddess had warned her to be careful and trust no one. How was she supposed to find her way in a world run by a god who exerted his dominance by curbing her freedom? A mere novice was hardly the equal of conniving deities. Perun might not see through her guise, but Dievas and Rodzenica were bound to scrutinize her like a bug under glass.

“I just ate,” she said finally, massaging her stomach. “Shouldn’t I take time to let breakfast settle? I’d hate to arrive with curd and eggs splattered all over my gown.”

Perun shrugged. “I wouldn’t worry. The nectar should protect you from any ill effects. Besides, if you feel sick, no one is better at healing than Mother.”

Nadzia hid her frustration with a smile. Damn the power of the gods! Would they frustrate her every move? She tried a different approach. “The ways of divinity are foreign to me. I’d hoped to learn more of them from you, follow your advice as to proper conduct. I don’t want your parents to think me dim-witted and unworthy of their son.”

“Nonsense!” Perun said with a disbelieving huff. “You are the goddess reborn. They will adore you.” He draped a shining silver blanket on the mare’s back and patted the fabric. “There’s no need for a saddle. This cloth will hold you in place. Come along, let’s get you settled.”

Lifting Nadzia as if she weighed hardly more than a feather, Perun hoisted her atop the mount, took hold of the reins, and led the horse outside into a day thick with heat. When they reached the clearing in front of the temple, he wrapped the leather straps around her hands. “Hold tight with your legs and tell Salomeya when you’re ready. I will fly alongside you.”

He moved back a few feet and raised an arm to the sky. “Sėkla žaibas!” A bolt of lightning descended, enveloping him in golden flames. Nadzia watched in fascination as the fire worked its magic and changed him into a giant eastern eagle. Brownish-black feathers covered his body, save for his neck and head, which turned a creamy golden buff.  Bold white spots topped his shoulders and the end of his tail. Arms lengthened into wings with tips that looked as if they’d been dipped in black ink, feet shriveled into four sharp talons each. His mouth elongated into yellow-rimmed lips and a blue beak. Only his eyes remained the same, pools of green flecked with amber.

When the fire sputtered out he emerged from the ashes, spread his wings and took to the sky, whistling a series of high-pitched notes as he soared upward.

Salomeya pawed at the ground and unfolded her wings, turning her head and snuffling as if to remind this new rider they had places to go, people to see. “I know, I know,” Nadzia said with a reluctant sigh. “We have to follow him.”

She squeezed her thighs and gripped the reins. “Go on, then, my sweet. Take me to Dievas.”


The Tree of Life contained three levels. Its roots anchored the Underworld, the realm of Veles, a serpentine god. Humans dwelt in the middle section, their world so vast they never came close to its edges. The upper reaches belonged to the Immortals. They lived in a maze of rooms within the trunk, with separate areas for each deity, a grand hall of thrones, and courts for official hearings or ceremonies. Nadzia hoped for a private introduction with fewer eyes taking her measure while she decided how to present herself.

If Perun spoke truly and her return was gladly anticipated, she shouldn’t have to do much. Contrary to her earlier assertions, she was well-versed in courtly behavior, thanks to Mokosh, the earth goddess who’d been assigned to the convent since the first twins were born. The rules were simple with regard to Dievas and Rodzenica. They were due every respect. Always let them speak first and set the tone of the conversation. Follow their lead. Do not fear speaking openly but consider the impact of contentious words. The creators of all took enormous pride in their children, but their indulgence had limits. Best to stay in their favor.

There would be more freedom with the lesser gods. They weren’t always at home, as it were. Many preferred to reside in their domains or take long sojourns visiting acolytes at temples and shrines. Nonetheless, they occupied a social tier above a demi-god like Nadzia. She owed them subservience; a brief curtsy or a bow would suffice. How she navigated the rest was entirely in her hands.

According to Mokosh, some of her brethren looked forward to Nadzia’s arrival. Others—especially those who never forgave Perun and begrudged him any happiness—would view her with skepticism, if not outright hostility. Depending on the deity she chanced upon, she might be met with a hug or a haughty sniff. Whatever the reaction, it was up to Nadzia to maneuver her way amidst them.

She shook her head. Court sounded very much like the novices’ quarters. It shouldn’t be so terribly hard to establish herself. And there were only a few weeks before the wedding. Once she was fully divine, she’d be on equal standing with her fellow gods and goddesses.

Perun dropped down to glide alongside her. He stayed a few minutes, winked, and then shot straight up. Salomeya surged after him into the clouds, pumping her wings with new vigor. They left blue skies and climbed through a mist speckled with rainbow-hued ice crystals that clung to Nadzia’s hair and gown. Surprisingly, she felt neither chill nor damp. Perhaps the nectar truly was protecting her, as Perun had claimed.

They flew higher and higher. Nadzia’s thighs ached from pressing against her horse’s flanks. Finally, the mists parted. In the distance, massive branches with silvery leaves loomed, the ancient limbs reaching out like ghostly fingers. Salomeya coasted to a halt atop the largest branch, where the wood appeared to have been flattened to provide an easy landing for horse or chariot. An invisible choir welcomed them. Nadzia bent her head to listen, transported by the irresistibly sweet celestial voices. Goosebumps pebbled her arms. What marvels awaited?

Perun alighted at her side. The music grew louder, more strident. This time, his transformation required no fire. A brisk shake and his features swiftly returned to their normal state. Was it the magic of being so close to his origins that allowed so rapid a change, Nadzia wondered, or his haste to bring her to his parents? She slid into his open arms. He set her down gently and tucked her hand into his elbow. “Are you ready?”

She nodded and let him guide her past ferns and bubbling fountains, their destination a pair of mammoth golden doors engraved with panels, each one devoted to a member of Lithuania’s pantheon. The entrance opened as they neared, and a light more brilliant than the sun spilled out to greet them. “Daughter of Jūratė,” a deep voice intoned. “We bid you welcome.”

Nadzia’s skin prickled at the thought of what she would face inside, the intrigue she would encounter. She recalled the advice Sister Ramuna offered during rehearsals for the  annual solstice play: “Deception is easy. Create a fiction in your mind, hold fast to it, and no one will glimpse the actor behind the mask.”

She could do this, pretend to be a humble mortal in awe of her new status, ask the gods to guide her. Let them show her what to do, what to say. Watch and learn. She breathed deep, pulled back her shoulders, and walked into the light.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Baltic amber:



Perun, god of storms

As promised, here are the opening chapters to my paranormal romance. The intended audience is 16+ and this is a clean romance, no explicit sex.

If you enjoy them, please leave a short comment. Thanks, as always, for reading.

All work appearing on this website is Copyrighted. Do not share or copy without my express permission.



When the conch shell blared at the cusp of dawn, Nadzia pulled up the hood of her white robe and stepped into a mist descending upon the convent like a shroud. A drum’s staccato beat propelled her across a stone courtyard to a fountain carved in the image of Jūratė, her divine ancestor, mermaid goddess of the Baltic Sea. Crystal-clear water flowed from the mermaid’s outstretched arms into a pool lined with cerulean tiles. Nadzia wet the tips of her fingers and made the sign of obedience—hand to forehead, lips, and heart—and prayed. “Blessed One, I beg you. Let vengeance be mine.”

The drumbeat quickened, prodding her onward to the western gate that led to the sea. Nadzia slipped through the opening easily, pausing to rest one arm on the iron bars. Fates be kind, she’d return with his heart. She set off on a dirt path across the hilltop, stopping to pick a handful of daisies crowned with delicate webs of dew. Shredded ivory petals littered the dirt path as she walked down to the beach to join her fellow Gatherers. Dressed like Nadzia, they stood in clusters upon the diamond-bright sands, a dozen novices of all shapes and sizes, some light, some dark. Nadzia’s chest fluttered in anticipation. One of them would be leaving soon, whisked away to restore the Blessed One’s honor.

The conch horn sounded anew. Five women emerged from a cave hidden below the grass-topped dunes that separated the Order of Bursztyn’s beach from the public area used by villagers. They moved slowly, deliberately, a quintet of six-foot-tall matrons in turquoise robes. Nadzia gazed at them fondly. The Elders had maintained the convent for generations, nurturing their daughters in preparation for a divine battle. Secretly, of course. To all appearances the Order willingly accepted what the gods had ordained.

The women halted near a collection of baskets at the dunes’ edge. Mother Gintare, a bronze beauty who’d overseen the convent for more than nine decades, approached and held up a piece of parchment. “At long last our prayers are answered,” she said with a grim smile. “A message from the Faeries of Fate, delivered last night. Rejoice, my dears, they have judged the god of storms fully redeemed! Now it is our task to send Perun a bride.”

Nadzia’s skin prickled with excitement. Ordinarily, the Gathering meant using her siren’s voice to call forth amber from the goddess’s shattered palace. The ritual took place each year on the summer solstice, a time when magic was at its peak. Nadzia ranked as one of the top Gatherers, reaping at least ten baskets full of the tangerine stones each year. Only Keslai, a voluptuous redhead, collected more.  But today was different—today they would summon Perun, the fiend who’d killed Jūratė.

“You know the tale,” the abbess began, beckoning them to come closer, “a story of passion and death. Let us hear it once more, a final reminder of why we resist.”

Her gray eyes clouded as she looked out at the cove. “Jūratė broke the rules and married a fisherman she saved from drowning in these very waters. She thought her secret safe, but when she grew heavy with child she could no longer hide the truth.”

Mother smiled and stroked the front of her gown. “It is a joyous time, knowing you are blessed with new life. But Perun accused her of treason and demanded a trial before the Divine Council. Judgment came within hours: exile and the loss of immortality. Jūratė accepted the verdict with her usual grace. What need did she have of eternal life amidst those who disparaged her? She wanted to grow old with her husband and child. But first she had to return to her palace in Palanga, to retrieve a chest of jewels that would sustain her family.”

Mother’s breath caught. She shook her head and moved aside to make room for Sister Ramuna, the convent’s librarian, a slim woman with a nut-brown complexion, sable tresses, and a nose as sharp as a raven. Novices learned the truth from Sister Ramuna at the age of sixteen, as Nadzia had three years ago. Every time she heard the tale her resolve deepened. Even now her back straightened, her jaws clenched with renewed determination.

“Alas,” Sister Ramuna said in a trembling voice, “Perun did not agree with the Council. He flew to this cove, killed the Blessed One’s husband, and shattered the amber palace, mortally wounding Jūratė as she hid under her throne trying to find shelter from his rage.”

The Elder paused to wipe away tears. “Knowing she was at death’s door, Jūratė found refuge in a cave. With the help of Mokosh, the goddess of fertility, she gave birth to twins before dying—one as dark as the goddess and one as light as her mate. From those two the Order of Bursztyn grew.”

Bitterness soured Nadzia’s throat. Yes, it was a blessing of sorts, that the goddess lived on through her daughters and their progeny. They thrived under the care and guidance of Mokosh. They were healthy and well-situated, thanks to the amber provided by the sea. Their voices could tame the shyest of creatures, stop a thief in his tracks. But Perun continued to haunt their thoughts, their nightmares, a furious god hurling thunderbolts at the cove. She forced the image out of her mind. Another Elder had come forward to speak.

Sister Bronis, a short woman as round and brown as the potatoes she grew in the convent’s garden, hair as golden as the honey from her hives, and eyes as green as rosemary, planted her hands on her hips. “We should have been allowed to exist in peace,” she said with a scowl. “But the Divine Council granted clemency after the god of storms swore—by the blood of Dievas, creator of all—that he didn’t know Jūratė was inside during his assault. Foul, black-tongued liar! He was divine; he should have sensed her presence.”

She paced up and down the sand, her voice thick with anger. “And so, a murderer was allowed to go free. His penance? The Council placed a sliver of his heart in amber from the goddess’s ruined palace and ordered him to beg forgiveness each night. Through prayer, he would be atoned. When the Fates determined his remorse complete, the goddess reborn would summon the enchanted stone with her siren’s voice. He would have his queen at last.”

Nadzia’s cheeks grew hot. The gods rewarded an assassin and bestowed centuries of dread upon the descendants of the one he wronged. Impossibly unfair, but the daughters of Jūratė knew better than to openly protest. After five hundred years, long anxious centuries in which the Order despaired of ever besting the gods, they finally had a chance to seek real justice.

She allowed herself a small sigh of satisfaction. This was the secret never spoken beyond the convent’s walls. Perun’s bride—Blessed One, let it be me!—had one goal: to seduce and bewitch him until he revealed the weakness that would be his undoing. He’d insisted upon a woman no older than twenty, a condition that worked to the Order’s benefit. His mate, fully trained in the art of enticement, would use every bit of her youthful guile to trap him. Hadn’t he succumbed to the charms of Jūratė’s dulcet tones? Her daughters possessed voices twice as sweet, their bodies were fresh and eager to please. Nadzia yearned to entrance him with languid songs and feather-soft caresses until he was like a kitten with a bowl of cream, mewling with pleasure. Ready to answer every question, confess every secret.

On the beach, the last wisps of haze vanished. The air grew warm and damp, spiced with the salty tang Nadzia loved. She wiped a bead of sweat from her brow. Fates be kind, this Gathering would finish quickly, before the sands began to radiate heat and bake the soles of her thin shoes. She bit her lip and fumbled with the locket each Gatherer wore, a pendant designed to hold the Thunder God’s jewel. Would the power of his heart eclipse her own?

Keslai snickered at her side. “Surely you don’t think you’re going to win. If the Fates are wise, I’ll be the one flying off today in Perun’s chariot. You can spend the rest of your life paying tribute to your illustrious sister, queen of the sea and sky.”

“Watch your tongue, child,” Mother snapped, her hearing as keen as ever. “You are not yet chosen.” She studied Nadzia for a long moment and then addressed the group. “Do not despair, dear ones. Remember, no matter what rank in life the Fates assign you, they also provide the means to shape it. You are the children of a goddess. Jūratė’s spirit blazes within you. Embrace her gift. Believe in the power she bequeathed, the power of your voice. Remember, the gods are not privy to our mission nor have they reason to suspect us. That is a significant advantage.”

A fresh breeze wafted over the shore. Nadzia rubbed the mermaid inked on the back of her neck and said a quick prayer for the one they’d lost the year before, a panicked novice who ran off and disappeared into the woods. She returned a day later, her mouth stitched shut by divine threads no mortal shears could snip. Nadzia shuddered at the memory. If she had to die, better a quick flash of Perun’s fire than slow starvation.

The sun crested the horizon, streaking the sky in pink and orange. A comet raced across the heavens and ignited the northern constellation known as the Thunder God’s Cart—Perun’s stars.  The abbess directed the novices to form a single line with Nadzia at one end and Keslai at the other. “Come, my dears,” she said briskly. “We must not delay. Be strong. Show the gods your mettle.”

She motioned to a lithe, pale woman with hair the color of ripe peaches, the convent’s vocal instructor. “If you please.”

Sister Dain bowed to the abbess and lifted her arms. A susurrus of soothing harmony filled the air. One by one, Nadzia and her sisters took up the call, their voices gaining timbre while the Elders withdrew to the dunes. Gulls crowded a nearby boulder to listen. The tide inched closer, leaving foamy swirls shaped like water nymphs, a sign the waters heard and acknowledged the Gatherers. Now it was time to alter the pitch of their voices so that the song became a sultry enticement, a true mermaid’s call.

By order of the abbess—in conjunction with local leaders—it was a day of seclusion for the villagers of Palanga. Their fishing boats rocked idly against the piers while they remained inside, their ears stuffed with moss provided by the Order so that none succumbed to a siren’s song. Without that protection, the men would be scrambling over the dunes, their faces slack with desire, the women engaging in behavior more sensual than propriety demanded. Only the daughters of Jūratė could endure the spell their divine voices cast.

The waters churned. Spume flecked the waves. Each Gatherer watched for the yellow-orange gleam of fragments from Jūratė’s ruined palace. They sang louder, stronger, cajoling the sea to cast forth its treasure. The sun climbed, sending a blanket of heat over the cove. Still, the jewels did not appear.

Sweat dripped down Nadzia’s back. Why the delay? Hadn’t the Fates given their permission for Perun to finally claim his bride? The beach should be flooded with jewels by now.

The Gatherers infused their song with yearning, to no avail. Wave after wave crashed, showering them with spray, but nothing more. The gulls screamed and flew off to haunt the fishing docks.

Finally, Perun’s stars flared. Dark clouds billowed forth from the constellation and scudded overhead. Lightning pierced the sky, followed by the low rumble of thunder.

And then the ground quaked.

The tide ebbed and returned with a roar. Frothy swells tumbled to the shoreline, delivering huge clumps of seaweed to each Gatherer. Nadzia fell to her knees, hurriedly picking through the tangled greens for the jewels buried within. Before long, she’d assembled a mound as high as her waist. From what she could see, her sisters had similar bounties. At least the convent would lack for nothing. Traders paid handsomely for these jewels.

She sat back on her heels, disappointment washing through her until she noticed one final piece almost entirely sheathed in kelp—a flat stone the size of a goose egg. A red gleam pulsed at its core. Her throat tightened as she placed the jewel in her palm. “He’s mine,” she whispered. “All mine.”

Perun’s stone glowed brighter than the sun. Nadzia blinked at the glare, dazzled. The beach disappeared. In its place, a shimmering curtain of light opened. She was no longer kneeling on the shore but high up in the sky, looking down upon the cove of Palanga. The god of storms’ body floated lifeless in the water. Shrieks rent the air. A circle of eagles descended and carried his corpse into the clouds.

Breathless with hope, Nadzia scrambled upright as the vision faded. Was this a glimpse of the future or a waking dream borne of desperation? The amber slipped from her hand and fell into the wet sand with a sizzle. Mother approached, her lips pressed thin, followed by the other Gatherers, wide-eyed and murmuring.

Keslai jostled her way to the front of the group. “Have the Fates gone mad? I’m the one who deserves this. That jewel belongs to me.”

She shoved Nadzia aside and grabbed the stone. Sparks shot out. The stench of seared flesh filled the air. Keslai wailed and plunged her smoking limb into the sea, boiling the waters. When the steam subsided, she gingerly pulled out her arm and shrieked at the sight of her right hand, charred from fingertips to wrist. She turned on Nadzia, her voice tight with rage. “I hope he burns you to cinders.”

The abbess called for Sister Bronis. “Take this one to the infirmary. I will join you later.” Keslai choked on a sob and stumbled away, casting one last look of unforgiving malice at Nadzia.

A shadow spiraled down from Perun’s flaming stars. The Gatherers clung to each other and chanted as they retreated toward the dunes. “Save her, Jūratė. Save her from his wrath.”

Mother squeezed Nadzia’s shoulder and moved back a few steps. “Face your fears, my child. Call upon the power within. Tame the beast with the magic of your voice and learn his frailties. Only then can you avenge the Blessed One.”

Nadzia retrieved the amber, rinsed off the grit, and placed the sparkling gem into the locket at her throat. Her heart thundered as she watched the darkness descend. For you, Jūratė, I will make him my slave. She stood proudly until the blackness above emitted a grating . . . caw? Her brow creased in surprise. This was no ox-drawn chariot but an enormous raven, twice the size of an ordinary bird, gripping a piece of parchment in its talons. It waited for Nadzia to open her free hand, dropped the message, and soared off, squawking.

The novices returned and huddled around their sister, chattering with excitement. Was this a reprieve? The letter bore a golden wax seal stamped with a tiny Tree of Life, celestial home of the gods. Hands shaking, Nadzia broke it open and read aloud:

Use this day to settle your affairs. My son shall come for you at eventide.


For a moment, all were speechless, then a chorus of confusion and wonder erupted. Mother huddled with the Elders and then clapped her hands for silence. “The hours will pass quickly before Perun arrives,” she said. “We must not waste them. Gatherers, bring your amber back to the convent and then meet with Sister Dain at the chapel; she will guide you in prayer. Nadzia, go with Sister Saule to the observatory. She has something to show you. Come to my office when you are finished.”

A long-boned woman with salt-and-pepper curls tamed into a braid that reached her waist beckoned for Nadzia to follow. Her topaz eyes twinkled behind round glasses. “This is a good surprise,” she said. “You’ll see.” They scampered up the hill, as nimble footed as goats, veered north when the path forked, and made their way to the open-air classroom where novices learned about the heavens.

The air was cooler here, the grass speckled with drifts of yellow-tipped rue and white borage. Nadzia breathed deeply, close to tears. She loved this spot more than any place in the convent. The view of the ocean and woods. The grandeur of the heavens, whatever the time of day. The nights, oh the glorious nights, when the sky was a piece of velvet strewn with glittering beads and splashes of red and blue. She’d spent countless evenings with Sister Saule here after class, sipping ginger tea and nibbling on blueberry scones, content to sit in silence and simply gaze. Fates willing, when all was done they’d raise mugs of mead together in celebration.

Six chairs draped with quilts formed a half-circle around the trunk Sister Saule kept supplied with tools she used for astronomy lessons: ink; quills; maps; charts; books of runes and folklore. The Elder rummaged through the chest, carefully setting objects aside until she found a thick roll of paper tied with a black ribbon. “Ah,” she said with a smile. “As fresh and crisp as the day I made it.”

She tucked the parchment into her robe and added four small books. “Spread a quilt on the ground for me.”

A hundred questions bubbled in Nadzia’s mind, though she asked none, knowing that Sister couldn’t be rushed or prodded into answering. She smoothed out a throw embossed with dolphins and helped unroll a picture of the night sky, white dots and splotches of color painted on a midnight blue background. The celestial drawing glimmered and pulsed with the same intensity as the objects themselves, a tribute to the Elder’s divine mastery of her craft. Nadzia fell back on her knees. “A star chart?”

“A very special one,” Sister replied, sinking gracefully to the ground. “Created on the day you were born and kept sealed until this moment.”

Nadzia stared, fascinated. Every chart told a story; what tale did hers hold?

Sister tapped the bottom of the paper. “Look here, in the south. What is the name of this constellation?”

“The Food Bearer.”

“Correct. Her arms are open wide. What does that represent?”

Nadzia linked the stars in her mind until they became a young girl holding a spike of grain in one hand, a scale in the other. “The promise of a good harvest.”

“A promise fulfilled when you summoned a killer’s jewel.” Sister’s gaunt finger moved along the chart. “Here, to the west, the Ploughman and his oxen, do you see how brightly they shine?”

Nadzia hugged her chest, delighted by what the stars represented. Another good sign. “Perun’s bride is destined to travel the heavens with him.”

“Indeed.” Sister’s tone turned wistful. She raised her head and gazed at the sky. “You will see things beyond compare, sights a mortal can only dream of.”

Nadzia gawked at the yearning in the Elder’s face, astonished at such a naked display of emotion. Sister sighed and waved at the chart. “Continue north, toward the Road of Souls.”

A milky band of light stretched across the sky. Nadzia flushed with pleasure. Victory! “The path is clear. Nothing to hamper a quest.”

Sister released the paper. It curled back into a roll with a snap. “Thus do we see your future foretold. Remember this when courage falters. Stay true to your vows. You will triumph.”

Nadzia nibbled at her thumb. “So it seems. But what if the stars mean that Perun will prevail?”

“He is a god, not a mortal. The movements of the heavens have no bearing on his life.”

“I suppose.” Nadzia squinted at the thunder god’s constellation, burning above them like scarlet fire. She didn’t understand why Perun kept away. He’d waited forever for a bride, spent half a millennium seeking absolution. He should have come for her the moment she clasped his jewel.

She fingered the locket, felt it warm the tender flesh at the hollow of her throat. Where are you?




The god of storms leaned forward from his oak throne and blew on the fire burning in the center of his temple. A cloud of black smoke arose, as dark and sullen as his mood. If this solstice was like all the others, he’d return from Palanga alone, destined for another year of anguish. His nails scraped against the wooden arms of his chair, wisps of smoke drifting from his fingertips. What more did those blasted Faeries of Fate want? When would he earn redemption?

Five centuries. That’s how long he’d done everything the Council asked. Built an altar to Jūratė and kneeled before her portrait each night to beg forgiveness. Lived with a hole in his chest where his heart should have been. Flown to the coast each summer for the Gathering.

He should be there now. Watching. Waiting. Hoping that one of the goddess’s daughters would finally summon his enchanted jewel. He shook his head and laughed sourly. Maybe the Fates knew the truth. He didn’t want a wife. He didn’t deserve a wife. But he couldn’t live forever without one.

His bride’s seat shone, the wood polished to a fine luster. Smaller than his, but not by much; every novice stood at least six feet tall. His seat was etched with symbols of fire and lightning, hers was engraved with dolphins and seashells and ocean waves. Studded with pieces of pearl and amber. Ready for a queen. He shook his head. It did no good to stare at an empty throne. He’d have time enough for that if the day went as expected.

Too restless to sit, he rose and walked every inch of his temple. It was an eight-sided building constructed by his followers on a hill above Kaunas, giving him a bird’s-eye view of neighboring valleys and rivers. Eternal flames blazed mid-temple, the smoke dissipating through an open hole in the roof. At the far end, the two carved thrones perched on a marbled dais. A few yards from each chair, curtains veiled private chambers for the god and his forthcoming bride. In the open areas beyond those rooms, pilgrims left offerings at his shrine as well as the altar dedicated to Jūratė—if you worshipped him, you must also honor the mermaid goddess.

Servants housed in buildings throughout the grounds kept the area orderly. A cook and handmaiden lodged in a wattle and daub bungalow alongside the westward path that started at the temple and snaked down to a dock at the River Nemunas. Across the path and higher up the hill, a lush fruit and vegetable garden bloomed, tended by an elderly caretaker who slept in a small cabin at the back of his plot. Behind the temple, a huge barn housed his chariot and bull; a stable boy who lived in the loft was tending to both now.

Streaks of coral and orange lingered on the edge of the sky. Perun gritted his teeth. Daybreak. No time to waste. He lumbered down the temple steps and stopped. The air thrummed. Three faeries—Laima, Dalia, and Kārta—shimmered before him. He sucked in a breath and bowed before the Fates who held his life in their hands.

Laima, golden-tressed and glowing, stepped forward, a tiny swan in her arms. “We bring good tidings,” she said with a brilliant smile. “Your atonement is complete. Today the goddess reborn will summon you.”

“Truly?” Perun’s throat clogged. After so many years torn between hope and misery, he couldn’t quite believe his fortune had finally changed.

“Yes, dear brother,” Dalia said. She sparkled in a coat of many colors that matched her hair. “You may pursue love once more.”

Perun sputtered out a nervous laugh and then remembered his manners. “Thank you.”

“Be gentle with your bride,” Kārta warned. Her fingers stroked the spindle resting in her hands. “Do not allow passion to lead you astray. You will not be given another chance.”

A breeze arose, fanning Kārta’s black curls until they veiled her face. “Heed my words, brother. The one who calls forth your jewel is not yours to command. Treat her badly and all will be lost.”

The goddesses melted into the air as the sun breached the horizon. Perun turned toward the barn and halted again. The handmaiden Gabrielle was sprinting up the path from the dock and calling out to him.

“Master, a moment please.” The girl swallowed heavily and bowed. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but what I heard cannot wait.”

Perun nodded warily. His servants rose early to meet the boats that traveled south along the River Nemunas delivering supplies. Gabrielle often amused him with gossip she’d picked up from traders who stretched their legs on the platform while she collected goods. But this morning her face was bloodless with fear. He steeled himself for unpleasant news. “Go on.”

“It was the bookseller. He . . . he says that all is not what it seems at the Order of Bursztyn.” The handmaiden paused, hunching her shoulders. “He says the convent is filled with wicked enchantresses who conspire against the gods.”

Another time, Perun might have dismissed his servant’s words. He didn’t know this trader. Perhaps the man loved idle chatter; he might be repeating the drunken slurs of a villager who’d indulged in too much mead at the local inn. But this warning, unlike the one he’d just received, gave him pause. He kept his voice casual.  “And what exactly did this trader see that makes him so certain?”

Gabrielle looked up and sighed. “I’m sorry, but when I asked for more, his eyes grew hazy. Like he was in a trance. So I asked again. He looked at me like he was talking to an idiot. As if he didn’t know what he’d just said. Bewitched, he was.”

“Come now, Gabi, I think this trader was teasing you,” Perun said with an indulgent smile meant to hide his distress. “If there are diabolical women plotting against us, they are doomed to fail. The gods always triumph. Even so, I thank you for your concern. I am lucky to have such a loyal servant. I trust all is in readiness?”

Gabrielle jumped up with a start and clutched her skirt. “She’s coming, today? I thought I saw faeries. Goodness, I need to tell everyone.” She turned to leave and then swiveled. “I have prayed that the daughter of Jūratė brings you all that your heart desires. I hope for that still. But please be careful.”

“I will, Gabi, I promise.”

When the handmaiden had retreated to her cottage, Perun rushed back to his private quarters, where he kept paper and pens. He wrote a hasty message and whistled. Moments later, a raven swept through the roof’s opening. Perun shoved his note into a tube attached to the bird’s leg. “See that my father reads this at once,” he said. “I will wait in my constellation for his response.”


High in the heavens, Perun slouched against his chariot. He used to love this spot, the heat of the stars in his constellation, the unimpeded view of the coast and sea. Now he gazed down mournfully at the cove where he’d known bliss with a mermaid. His pulse quickened. Once, he’d adored her, spent hours listening to her sing on the diamond-bright shores of Palanga. Such a voice! So pure, so tender, like a windswept caress. Her song stoked fire in his breast, roused them both to the heights of passion. Now agony, not lust, scalded his veins. How could she have rejected him?

He’d have sworn their love was mutual. She certainly enjoyed their intimacy, her skin slick against his whenever they coupled. He’d dreamed of the life they’d have together as regents of the sea and sky. Perun and Jūratė . . . forever.

Then she’d rescued a man flailing in her seas and took him as her husband, violating an ancient taboo. His fists clenched at the memory of her trial, her lack of remorse, how she flaunted her pregnancy with every caress of her bulging stomach. She’d betrayed him. Not just him, all the gods.

And yet he couldn’t deny the pain. His attention drifted to the shoreline, the pine trees lining the beach, the dunes where they’d frolicked. This, too, was part of his punishment. To look upon what he once had and then lost. What he’d ruined in the heat of a moment. What he could never atone for, no matter what anyone else believed.

He chafed with irritation. How could the Faeries of Fates have granted him absolution? His remorse would never end. He stumbled through the days and nights wracked with guilt and shame.

But the Divine Council’s decision was absolute. If he wished to remain king of his realm, he must marry the one who called out his jewel.

He thought of his handmaiden’s warning. Did Jūratė’s daughters truly wish him ill? He’d given them ample reason. Their divine progenitor was gone, slain by his hand. How could they ever condone so grievous a sin? The goddess was dead and he alone was to blame. That they would accept him without rancor was inconceivable.

A shadow approached. Perun grunted in recognition as it neared, then moved to the back of his chariot to make room for the giant eagle descending in slow, broad circles. Within minutes, the bird landed, ruffled its plumage, and transformed into Dievas, creator of all. Perun put a hand to his heart and bowed in obeisance to the white-haired god shining before him. “Father.”

Dievas shook a few loose feathers from his golden robes and studied Perun with piercing violet eyes. “I received a note asking me to give your bride the day to arrange her affairs. It seemed an odd request, but I presumed you needed those extra hours as well, to confirm that her quarters were ready, perhaps.”

His eyes narrowed. “I planned to celebrate this glorious day with your mother. Instead, I am here at her behest. She is most aggrieved—her reflecting pool showed the god of storms hiding in his stars.”

He thumped his son’s shoulder. “Is my boy a coward?”

“I am as you made me,” Perun replied, pulling himself erect to meet his father’s scrutiny. “Full of fire and thunder. But . . . I have heard things and . . . I wonder . . . can we trust these women?”

The edges of Dievas’s mouth twitched. “Pray tell, what gives you cause for alarm?”

Although his father’s smirk nettled Perun, he kept his burgeoning rage in check. Never again would he allow fury to dictate his actions. “I cannot believe that a daughter of Jūratė looks forward to this marriage. Humans nurse grudges for centuries. I speak from experience. Many come to my temples asking for help against their enemies.”

“I trust you are circumspect in deciding which side to assist,” Dievas said with a hint of reproach. “It is not wise to become embroiled in their wars. Mortals have a propensity for conflict.”

“That is my point,” Perun replied, warming to his argument. “Any affront, real or imagined, can result in disputes that never end, enmities that are passed from one generation to the next. These novices, are they sincerely resigned to their fate? It makes no sense. Why would they wish to join with the one they hold responsible for Jūratė’s death?”

“They have accepted our explanation,” Dievas answered, a trace of bitterness lacing his words. “The goddess was lost in a lamentable mishap, one we chose to correct with your repentance and the elevation of a mortal to divine status. Your suspicions are baseless, my son. Trust me, these women are disciplined and submissive, eager to please us. Who has told you otherwise?”

“The handmaiden at my temple.”

Dievas’s laughter rippled with scorn. “A servant? How would she know what takes place in Palanga?”

Perun focused on the horizon, avoiding his father’s caustic gaze. “From a man who sells books in the village.”

“I see.” Dievas leaned forward, his ageless face rumpling with displeasure. “You forget, I have spies in the village, women who bring food for the summer solstice feast. They have seen nothing out of the ordinary. According to their reports, the daughters of Jūratė are content with their lot. As well they should be. When have the gods ever allowed a human to join their ranks? It is an honor beyond compare.”

The muscles in Perun’s cheek twitched. He met the ancient one’s flinty stare, unwilling to concede the issue. “Will you not entertain the possibility of deception? These novices have mesmerizing voices. They can easily persuade dim-witted villagers that all is well. I am astounded that the trader who spoke with my servant remembered anything.”

“Is the mighty god of storms frightened?” Dievas replied, his face tweaked with derision. “Does he believe a mere human shall be his doom? Your mother’s coddling has made you soft.”

Perun’s blood simmered with resentment, clamoring for release. He looked away and suppressed the heat threatening to burst forth. It wouldn’t help matters if he lost control. That’s what had brought him to this sorry state. “Do not belittle my distress, Father. There is something peculiar at work here. I am certain of it.”

“If these women terrify you, then take the first alternative offered after your trial—exile to the wastelands, your temples razed, another deity assigned to your realm.”

“The mortals who count on my rains to water their crops are good men and women,” Perun said, bristling. “I will not abandon my duty to care for them.”

“You were given a second option, to join Jūratė in death. I’m surprised you didn’t give that serious consideration,” Dievas said coolly. “A chance to spend eternity with your sweet mermaid lover. What more could you want?”

Perun grunted and folded his arms. “We both know why I refused. Veles rules the Underworld; he’s never forgiven me for slaying Jūratė. If you deliver me into my brother’s hands, I’ll end up in a rot-filled dungeon so deep within the roots of the Tree of Life no one will hear my screams as he tortures me. I’ll never see the goddess, let alone have a chance to apologize.”

Dievas flicked a stray feather from his sleeve. “Then it appears you have no choice but to forge ahead. Remember, we cannot fully restore your heart until after you wed. If you are never made whole again, you will perish. No god can live forever without his full powers. It might take eons, but when it does Veles will claim you.”

Perun massaged the spot where his chest had been cut open, his flesh sliced as if he were an animal brought to slaughter. Though he had no wish for a mate, his survival depended on the one who summoned his enchanted stone. Only she could save him. “Then I will do what I must.”

“You have been judged fully atoned,” Dievas said with a curt nod. “A new love awaits. Bring her to us at the Tree of Life tomorrow. I want her fully rested and clad in one of the gowns your mother fashioned for her, not a sand-stained robe. We expect to see a happy couple. You would do well not to disappoint us.”

He extended his right hand, waited for his son to kiss the gigantic amber ring that signified ultimate power, and then morphed into avian form, flying off with a whistling kleek-kik-ik-ik. Before long, he was little more than a dark speck disappearing into the ether.

With no mortals close by who might be harmed, Perun freely vented his wrath. Steam poured out from his flesh and hissed against the frigid air. What did his father know? Dievas didn’t mingle with humans, he had no concept of their capacity for subterfuge. If the trader believed something was amiss, Perun would heed the man’s story, although it astounded him to think these women would dare to defy the gods. Had they learned nothing from the novice who tried to escape last summer? Surely they didn’t wish a similar fate.

Yet he couldn’t shake the sense that things weren’t quite what they seemed, beyond his control. His hands tingled with heat. Sparks surged from his fingertips. A tempest was brewing within, a furor demanding release. He held out arms that blazed with divine heat and prepared to unleash a bolt of lightning.

And then the fire in his blood cooled so suddenly he nearly shouted for joy. He’d overlooked a hidden blessing in the trader’s story. If the daughters of Jūratė were engaged in deceit, then he was free to devise his own scheme in response.

The plan came together quickly, as if somehow he’d known this hurdle was bound to arise. He was no feeble merchant spellbound by a siren’s voice. He was the god of storms, full of unbridled power, more than enough to counter a novice’s guile. The wedding wouldn’t take place for two weeks; his mother insisted the ceremony be held on his feast day. That gave him plenty of time to flatter and pamper his bride, show her the glories of the heavens, the wonders of the Tree of Life. Shower her with affection. Keep her so charmed and distracted by new adventures she’d never have a chance to dazzle him.

The days would pass quickly. And when his heart was renewed . . . well, the girl could go back to her convent for all he cared.

Still, he sensed this would not be an easy task. He would have to scrutinize her every move for even a hint of manipulation, all while appearing to take absolute delight in her company. Mute his emotions so that she didn’t catch him unawares, as Jūratė had. No matter how melodic her words, how adoring her gaze, he would never succumb to the one who summoned his jewel. His heart was shuttered. No sweet-faced vixen would ever triumph over him.

He’d loved once. He would not love again.

Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8

Image of Nadzia:


Perun, god of storms

I’ve finished workshopping my latest book, THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE, a paranormal romance based on Lithuanian mythology. In the grand tradition of Charles Dickens and others, I’ve decided to offer it as a serial. I’ll be posting at least one chapter a week and I’m looking forward to your comments.

Here’s the blurb:

For five hundred years, every daughter of the mermaid goddess, Jūratė, has called out amber from the Baltic Sea with her siren’s voice. For Nadzia, that’s a blessing and a curse. She’s happy to reap the precious jewels that help her convent thrive.

But in a cruel twist of fate, one novice will summon a jewel that binds her to Perun, the lusty god of storms whose rage unwittingly killed her divine ancestor. He’s had centuries to atone. Now it’s time to claim a bride.

When Perun’s enchanted stone washes ashore at her feet, Nadzia pretends to be thrilled about the marriage, even as she plots his destruction. If the magic of her voice can bewitch the god she loathes, she’ll find a way to crush him without jeopardizing her sisters.

Except Perun isn’t the monster she was taught to hate. Yes, he’s as wild as the tempests he brews, but there’s a gentler side to him, an unexpected kindness that puzzles her. Is everything she learned about him wrong or is his affection false? As the wedding approaches and Nadzia learns Perun’s secret weakness, she must choose between revenge or ruling beside a god she was never supposed to love.

The first chapter will be up this week.

Thanks for reading.