THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 27, 28

Nadzia devises a plan to thwart Veles and introduces Perun to the Order of Brusztyn’s delegation. Keslai attempts to seduce the god of storms during a chariot ride.

For previous chapters, click here.




Sleep came in fits and starts that night, strewn with nightmares of sitting in a throne beside Veles, a blood-curdling prospect. Nadzia had sensed something peculiar behind his eagerness to help, suspected his motive went beyond love for Jūratė and hatred for his brother, but she never dreamed he’d try to blackmail a daughter of the mermaid goddess into becoming his dead queen.

She had a grudging respect for his guile. Rodzenica and Dievas had been told the rumors of a plot against them, their son’s claims of magical coercion would be met with unquestioning acceptance. They would act swiftly, Nadzia imagined, perhaps even put her on trial as they had Jūratė. She could expect no mercy once the Immortal Council learned the truth. And she carried scant hope the Order of Bursztyn would survive after the unveiling of its treacherous scheme.

The hours passed with excruciating slowness, true rest a vain fancy. Even after shutting the cottage windows, the noise from Perun and his followers, carousing in the meadow, seeped through the glass. Drinking songs, cheers, roars of laughter, impossible to ignore. Nadzia longed for a quiet place to try and sort out matters. The temple, with its thick walls, might provide a buffer against noise, but Veles had spoiled that refuge for her.

Tired of tossing and turning, Nadzia slid out of bed and settled in the chair by the window, wrapped in her quilt against the pre-dawn chill. In the distance, the light from campfires dwindled as the sky paled, the horizon a swath of pink. She rocked back and forth, breathing steadily—three counts in, hold, three counts out—and waited for her mind to still. Five centuries of resistance couldn’t end with Veles triumphant.

The best way to outwit him required her sisters’ help. If the novices and Elders allowed the wedding to proceed normally—no keening, no crippling cries—the gods would retain their full powers. Veles would lose his chance to grab Perun’s heart.

She clutched the quilt tighter and brought her knees up to her chest. Securing the convent’s aid meant winning over the abbess, a daunting prospect given the old woman’s life-long antipathy toward the god of storms. But if Mother Gintare could be swayed, the others would certainly follow. Nadzia had to try.

When dawn broke, she slipped into a gown of blue silk, threw on the woolen shawl she’d brought back from Palanga, laced up her sandals, and made her way toward the convent’s area. The abbess followed a predictable schedule in Palanga, odds were she’d do the same in Kaunas. What better way to court the old woman’s favor than by joining her for morning prayers?

Nadzia walked up and over the hill, reveling in the flowers that painted the meadows in a riot of color. Wisps of clouds stretched across a bright blue sky. To her right, within a circle of brown tents, women cooked ashcakes in the coals of a central firepit. They nodded as she passed, some adding a hand to their heart. She acknowledged their welcome with a warm smile and made a mental note to meet with them after her time with the abbess.

Perun emerged from a tent close to the path, his eyes rimmed red, and hailed her. Nadzia tamped down the irritation that flared at his disheveled appearance. The sour tang of beer permeated his robes, as if he’d bathed in the brew during the night’s revelry. Nose wrinkling, she held him at arms’ length when he leaned in for an embrace. “I trust your followers are properly settled?”

He flinched at the rebuke in her voice. “Did we disturb you?”

“My guests,” she replied, after a long silence that left him shifting from foot to foot, “are entitled to peace and quiet. I expect you to show them more courtesy in the future.”

“I shall apologize at once.”

“Not until you’ve cleaned up,” Nadzia said, nudging him toward the river. “You reek of drink. Come join us in an hour or so, after we’ve finished our devotions.”

“As you wish, my love.” Perun kissed the top of her head and headed toward the dock.

The Elders and novices were setting out blankets on the dew-tipped ground when Nadzia arrived. Dark circles, puffy eyes, and bouts of yawning revealed they’d spent a night as sleepless as her own. Keslai waited at the edge of their circle and offered a tight-lipped smile, nodding at Perun as he strode toward the pier. “I hope you told him to keep his followers in line.”

“He was most apologetic. It will not happen again.”

Keslai’s laugh was full of scorn. “So you’ve tamed him? He must not have been as fierce as we thought, to be gentled so quickly.”

“Make no mistake, sister, he’s fiery and wild,” Nadzia said, nettled by the assumption that she lacked the ability to charm or seduce. “As tempestuous as the squalls he summons. If he appears less so, consider it a mark of my success. I’ve brought out warmth of a different kind, his softer side. You’ll see for yourself soon.”

“He’s joining us?” Keslai stood taller and wet her lips.

“When we’ve completed our prayers.” Nadzia chose a blanket, folded it into a cushion and kneeled, wondering if her sister’s enthusiasm might influence the abbess. Despite Keslai’s cruel words on the beach after Perun’s stone was summoned, Mother Gintare had granted her permission to attend the wedding. Did she have a sentimental attachment to the girl? Maybe convincing Keslai was the way to start. A difficult task, considering they weren’t friends. Risky as well. Could she trust a novice who’d wished her dead?

The abbess began her invocation. Keslai made the sign of respect—cupped hand to forehead, lips, heart—and whispered out of the side of her mouth. “Will you introduce me to him first?”

“That honor belongs to Mother Gintare, followed by the Elders, then the novices. Hush, please, we must show reverence as we pray.”

As the hour progressed, Keslai played with her braid, smoothed her plain white gown, twirled the amber bracelets dangling from her wrists. Nadzia half expected the girl to burst from impatience.

When the abbess delivered final blessings, Keslai jumped to her feet and squealed like a young girl with a new toy, waving at the path where Perun waited. “Over here! Over here!”

“Do not encourage him,” Mother chided. “He is our enemy.” She arranged the Elders in a line and placed Keslai behind her with four other novices who’d come with the group.

“I thought we agreed to be civil,” Keslai said, leaning forward. “He’ll know something is wrong if we stand here like statues. We want to put him at ease, isn’t that what you said? Bright smiles all around?”

Mother huffed but curved her mouth and crinkled her eyes. They widened in surprise as Perun approached and fell to one knee, his gaze fixed and earnest. “Please forgive last night’s clamor. I was so happy to be amongst my disciples I neglected to consider how our celebrations might disturb others. We shall not intrude on your rest again. If there is anything I can do to make you and yours comfortable, advise me or one of my servants. This is a joyous occasion. I am delighted and honored you have come.”

“We were pleased to receive an invitation,” the abbess replied, her cheeks tinged with splotches of red. “Our sister is a most fortunate young woman. Please stand so that she may proceed with formal introductions.”

“Of course.” Nadzia tucked her elbow into the god’s arm as he rose. “You are speaking with Mother Gintare, abbess of the Order of Bursztyn.”

Perun bowed and reached for the old woman’s hand, bestowing a kiss on her fingers before releasing them. “Thank you for raising such a magnificent young lady. Nadzia is all I could have hoped for and more.”

A muscle twitched in Mother’s jaw. Her smile faltered, and for a moment Nadzia feared her façade would crumble. But the abbess was nothing if not disciplined. She nodded and turned to the woman beside her. “I rely on the Elders to assist me in running the convent and training the girls. Sister Ramuna teaches history.”

“A pleasure to meet you.” Perun tilted his head at the tall, raven-haired woman. “I’m curious. Do your lessons include the gods?”

“Our champion must know everything she can about the Immortals.”

Perun raised his brow and peered down at Nadzia with a lopsided smile. “Champion? Are we at war?”

“I believe she means that the one chosen by the Fates should be well-versed in the world she will enter.” Nadzia pursed her lips and gave the Elder a piercing stare.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Sister Ramuna added hastily. “She is to be a goddess after all. I can’t wait to see her transformed.”

“Nor I.” Perun moved on. “And next we have…?”

“Our voice instructor, Sister Dain.”

“I salute your excellent work. Nadzia has charmed everyone she meets with her dulcet intonations. You must possess a fine talent, to inspire such sweet sounds.”

Sister Dain smoothed back an errant blonde hair. “We are the daughters of a mermaid. It is she who deserves the glory.”

The muscles in Perun’s arm tightened. Nadzia gave him a quick squeeze. “And we are forever grateful for the gift she gave us, Sister Dain, are we not?”

“Our success in life depends on it.”

Perun released a long breath. “I am happy you have thrived. And now…?”

“Sister Bronis runs the garden and oversees our meadery.”

“I suspect my gardener, Adomas, will be even more pleased to meet you than I am,” Perun said with a wink. “He has taken a liking to the bottles of honeyed wine you’ve sent. I believe he would enjoy discussing how your mead is brewed. May I send him to you?”

Sister Bronis’s sage-green eyes lit up. “I’ve no objection. He can sample the batch I brought for the wedding. I’m not sure if it aged long enough. Are you certain he won’t mind?  I don’t want to interrupt his work. You have a large crowd to feed.”

“Rest assured, dear sister, we have provisions for this many and more. I shall ask Adomas to visit this afternoon, although you are welcome to call upon him instead if you like. His garden is just over the ridge. And now, the last of the Elders?”

“You and Sister Saule have a lot in common,” Nadzia said, greeting her favorite teacher with a hug. “She studies the heavens and taught me to love the stars.”

“A fascinating realm,” Perun said. “One that continually astounds and delights.”

Sister Saule looked at him with undisguised envy. “You can visit whenever you like. It must be a wonderfully divine experience.”

“I have taken Nadzia to my constellation.” Perun stopped and considered the lean-boned woman gazing wistfully at the sky. “I can bring you there as well.”

“Would you?” Sister Saule stepped forward, hands pressed to her lips, and then ducked back, dropping her arms and head. “With the abbess’s permission, of course.”

Mother Gintare nodded crisply. “A generous offer, but the Elders and I have convent matters to discuss.”

“What about a novice?” Nadzia said, delighted that Perun had offered this boon without any urging on her part. She sent a silent plea to the Fates, asking that her sister become a true collaborator, open to seeing the god of storms with new eyes and passing along her impressions to the abbess. “As I recall, Keslai is fond of astrology. Might she go instead?”

“All are welcome to travel in my chariot.” Perun searched the second line of women. “Which of these lovely young ladies might she be?”

His jaw twitched as Keslai squeezed past the abbess and stopped inches away, trailing a finger down her neck to the top of a gown that emphasized her ample cleavage. “Shall we leave at sunset?” she said, her voice low and enticing. “I can’t wait to spend a night in heaven with a god.”

If Nadzia didn’t need Keslai as an ally, she might have laughed out loud at her sister’s brazen behavior. “You’ll be there an hour or so at the most,” she said. “Mortals must limit their exposure. And you’ll need a cloak for the journey. The air grows colder the higher you fly.”

“I’m sure the creator of fire and lightning knows how to keep me warm,” Keslai said, toying with the amber bracelets on her wrist as Perun’s ears flamed red. “Don’t worry about me, sister. I’ll be in very good hands.”



The sun melted into the horizon, flooding the sky with lemon-gold light, gilding faces turned upward in delight. Crickets began their nightly chorus, serenading Perun as he departed his temple. He checked his chariot and white ox, waiting outside for the coming journey, and retreated into the barn. Leaning against his beast’s stall, he hooked a thumb into the top of his loincloth and watched day bleed into night. The building smelled of dried grasses, clover, and over-ripe fruits, part of the forage stored within. He took comfort in its familiarity, the privacy it offered when he needed to think.

After centuries of worship, he’d encountered every kind of admirer, male and female. Some fell prostrate, needing encouragement to stand and meet his gaze. Others, priests mostly, coupled their veneration with an easy, open friendliness. Women might peer at him with stars in their eyes, but none had ever approached him as boldly as the flame-haired novice from Palanga.

Her behavior confounded him. He hoped for a good relationship with all of Jūratė’s daughters, but the gleam in Keslai’s eyes suggested she harbored intentions far beyond congeniality. How was he supposed to rebuff her and still remain in the abbess’s good graces?

Yards away, Salomeya nickered from behind a gate and shook her glossy, black mane in greeting. He brought her apples from a basket in the corner and watched idly as she chomped the glistening red fruit in his palm. Maybe this magic steed could help.

Designed for godly stature, his chariot could accommodate two people comfortably, as long as neither demanded room to stretch. If he brought Nadzia along, she could act as a buffer between him and her flirtatious sister, but three would crowd the space—although he suspected Keslai would welcome the occasion to attach herself to him like a leech.

He traced the ring in Salomeya’s ear, implanted by his father to restrict the horse’s travels to the Tree of Life and enchanted to send a signal if the rider attempted to fly elsewhere. What if he removed it, just this once? Would Dievas realize what he’d done?

Light footsteps behind him sent his pulse racing, subsiding when he detected the scent of his beloved, fresh and cool as an ocean breeze. Nadzia embraced him lightly, her fingers tickling the hairs on his chest. “Ready for your big night?”

“I’d rather you were joining me.”

Nadzia’s lips quirked into a mischievous smile. “Afraid to be alone with Keslai?”

“She is somewhat . . . audacious.” Perun laid a hand on the mare’s side. “I think I can extract that ring without my father’s knowledge. Then you could fly alongside us.”

“Don’t you dare try something so dangerous! You have no idea what might happen.”

Nadzia planted herself in front of the horse and crossed her arms. “Keslai has a sensual nature. Given your obvious charms, she’s going to respond in ways that might seem inappropriate. Nonetheless, I trust you to engage her so completely she’ll return singing your praises. Don’t let her overwhelm you. Dazzle her with your love of the stars, keep her attention on the glories of the heavens. When she’s properly distracted, she doesn’t consider anything else.”

“I’m not sure I share your confidence.” Perun looked past Nadzia and frowned. “I see two approaching. Why is the abbess with your sister?”

He pulled Nadzia forward, donned a scarlet robe hanging near the barn’s entrance, then paused and bowed to Mother Gintare. “Forgive my confusion, but I cannot bring more than one of you at a time. Have you decided to go in Keslai’s stead?”

“Another evening, perhaps,” Mother Gintare said with a soft smile. “I came along to see this one safely dispatched. Afterwards, I would like Nadzia to show me the goddess’s altar in your temple.”

Perun reluctantly switched his gaze to Keslai and almost sputtered with relief. She stood rigid as a statue, hands gripping a dark cloak, eyes fixed on the ground, her white gown high-necked and demure—a far cry from the sinuous flirt who’d practically thrown herself at him earlier.

The knots in his shoulders unraveled. He offered a hand to the novice and helped her into his chariot. “I promise to take the very best care of her. We’ll be back before long.”

He gave a friendly salute, climbed in and gathered the reins, steering the ox westward as he took to the skies, his worries gone.

Keslai stood beside him at the railing, mute and aloof as they soared through thick, bulbous clouds that eclipsed the moon. The temperature dropped, ice crystals clung to her hair like white diamonds in a nest of apricot curls. She shivered, shook out her cloak and rearranged the thin wool fabric across her shoulders. “I have trouble keeping the broach secure,” she said, pointing to a mermaid-shaped fastener. “Can you help?”

“It looks too delicate for me to try. I wouldn’t want to break such a pretty clasp. Besides, I must keep hold of the reins to guide my beast. He might veer off elsewise.”

Perun tightened his grip and tried to ignore the novice as she inched closer. Her scent reminded him of Nadzia, a fragrance that stirred longing and desire.

“You visit the stars often, don’t you?”

“As often as possible.”

“Then I’m sure your ox knows the way. Animals are easily trained, quick to learn patterns and routes.”

Keslai reached out and stroked his wrist, smiling when his flesh—much to his chagrin—pebbled at her touch. “You can hold the straps with one hand and assist me with the other. I’ll be ever so grateful.”

The blatant craving in her voice set Perun’s teeth on edge. “I don’t think it wise. I promised to keep you safe. If we should suddenly lurch—”

“You’re a god, you won’t let me fall.”

Keslai stared openly at him, her clear blue eyes glazed with lust. When he failed to move, she sighed and fidgeted with the broach. “It’s so tricky . . . I really must have it fixed when we return . . . almost there . . . ouch!”

Perun groaned as she held up a finger dotted with a bead of blood. The cloak slipped from her fingers and caught on the metal lattice surrounding the cart. Keslai made no effort to retrieve it. Her mouth twitched as the fabric ripped free and blew away, a dark spiral in the night. She turned, and before he could object, cool hands reached beneath his robe and circled his waist. “Bless the Fates I have you to keep me warm,” she purred, clinging to him. “I’d hate to have to turn back.”

He jerked at the reins, fuming at how cleverly she’d played him. Wisps of steam wafted from his brow. Bringing the chariot to a halt, he took off his robe, and hastily draped it over the girl. “This will do just as well. I warn you, take care. Toss it out and we’ll go no further.”

Keslai’s laugh held an undertone of menace. “You promised the stars. I expect no less. If you deny me, I’ll tell the abbess you tried to seduce me and tore off my cloak when I refused.”

“Be careful with your threats. My father has little patience for lies. He will gladly ferret them out if I ask him to do so.” His lips curled into a hard smile. “I have watched him interrogate humans. It is not a pretty sight.”

Keslai blanched and fell silent. She returned to the railing—eyes narrowed, lips clamped into a thin line, chin jutted forward—a living figurehead that rippled with indignation. Perun kept his face stern and slapped the reins, spurring his beast to greater speed. This trip couldn’t end soon enough. He’d give the girl a minute or two to admire his constellation and then hasten home. Fates willing, his next convent guest would possess a more gracious nature.

He savored the blissful quiet and let himself relax when they reached his stars, pulsing with crimson light. Bringing the chariot to a halt, he dropped the reins and stretched the tension out of his neck and torso as veils of hot air engulfed them.

Keslai turned, her breath quickening as she lowered his robe and then her gown until they pooled at her feet. “You don’t have to reject me. No one will ever know.”

A flush of anger sent sparks flying from Perun’s fingertips. Would this girl never learn? He glared at Keslai until beads of sweat dotted her upper lip, trickled down her neck. She looked away at last and tugged her dress back into place.

“I love Nadzia,” he said. “She is dearer to me than life itself. I will not betray her. Do you understand? Can you understand?”

Keslai bristled and drew herself up tall, eyes shining with defiance. “You believe she loves you?” she scoffed. “The one who killed Jūratė?”

The hairs on Perun’s arm tingled. Perhaps the rumors had mistakenly attributed scheming to the entire convent when a single novice was the dominant force. But this was all conjecture. A daughter of the slain goddess could harbor a grudge, even hatred, yet not stand in the way of what the Fate had ordained. “I have atoned for my sins. And, yes, I know she loves me.”

“We’re sirens,” Keslai said, preening. “We can bend anyone to our will with our voices.”

“I thought so, when Nadzia first came and beguiled me. But my stone revealed the truth.”

Keslai’s brow wrinkled. “Your jewel is nothing but a piece of glass from the sea.”

“The amber was enchanted by my mother to reveal the true emotions of the one who wears it. Nadzia loves me, of that I have no doubt.”

“But she isn’t supposed to . . .” Keslai blushed and cleared her throat. “How wonderful for you.”

Perun’s ears twitched at the deceit in her voice. He clenched his hands, unclenched them. She’s jealous. Don’t let her rouse old fears. “She has brought me joys more wondrous than you can imagine,” he said softly.

“I can imagine quite a bit.”

Keslai crossed her arms, fingers tapping on pale skin. Her face brightened suddenly. “Why don’t we test it? Let me wear your pendant, and you’ll see what real affection looks like.”

A dull throb began at the side of Perun’s head. He rubbed at the ache, his patience worn thin. “By the breath of Dievas, woman, leave it be! She is the one chosen by the Fates. Why can’t you accept that and wish your sister well?”

“You’re a god, what do you know of human wants and needs? You claim your jewel reveals true passion. Were you not so besotted, you’d realize that other desires can rival the strength of love.”

“Nadzia has everything she needs.”

“She might have persuaded you so, but there’s one thing she craves most of all, and you can’t give it to her.”

Perun’s eyes grew misty, blurring his vision. He picked up the straps, called out to his ox, and maneuvered the chariot so that it faced south. “Since you show no appreciation for the majesty of my stars, I’ll return you to the abbess.”

Keslai hooked one arm around the rail as they began their descent, the wind whipping her braid. “Don’t be a fool. Nadzia doesn’t want a life with you. She wants power, the kind only divinity will bring.”

“Stop your prattle,” Perun seethed. “I won’t let you turn me against her.”

“You’ll be sorry. I’m the one who deserves to be your queen.”

“Enough!” Blood-red light issued from Perun’s flesh, illuminating him from head to toe. He raised his arms, called to the heavens. Massive dark clouds crowded the sky, blanketing the stars as the wind surged into fierce gales. Keslai crouched on the chariot’s floor, face whiter than bleached bones.

Peals of thunder churned the air. A bolt of lightning appeared in Perun’s hand. He gripped the jagged edges, pulled back his lips in a feral grin, and hurled it to the ground.

One bolt followed another, until the acrid stench of sulfur filled the air. Drained of his fury, Perun closed his eyes and murmured. The clouds dissipated, the air calmed. He blinked, tilted his head and squinted at Keslai, wide-eyed and trembling at his feet. “I am sorry for one thing alone—that the woman I love has a shrew for a sister. Your harsh words give me ample reason to send you home, but I cannot do so without good reason, and it would distress Nadzia. You may remain, on one condition.”

Dread speckled Keslai’s cheeks. Perun smiled in grim satisfaction. “For the remainder of your visit, you will keep your distance from the two of us, myself and my bride.”

“What if she comes to our camp?”

“You have no trouble with deception. Feign an illness. Something infectious, so she won’t be tempted to nurse you over the coming days.”

Keslai drew herself up slowly, her smoldering gaze fixed on Perun. “And the wedding?”

“Your health will improve only when the convent is packed and ready to leave.”

Perun gathered his reins and flicked them lightly. The ox reared and charged forward. “Think long and hard before you endeavor to oppose me. My father has great hopes for this marriage, but he is no one’s fool. His guards will be in force at the ceremony, with instructions to chain and imprison trespassers. Rest assured, they will have orders to look for you.”

Keslai’s chest heaved as she gnawed at her lip, worrying the flesh. “Then it appears I have no choice but to obey. You have nothing to fear from me.”

Perun snorted and urged his beast its greatest speed, one eye on the novice. She kept her back to him, stiff with resentment. He ground his teeth, sighed, and freed one hand to rub his aching jaw. This one would need watching, no matter how docile her words.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski



THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 25, 26

Perun flies Nadzia to the stars and declares his love, but Nadzia’s visions of a peaceful life with him are threatened after Veles reveals a change to the convent’s scheme.

For previous chapters, click here.



After he left the cottage, Perun changed into an eagle and took shelter in an oak near his temple to watch Nadzia fly off on her magic steed. He toyed with the idea of following her, finding a place to roost while Rodzenica tested her, surprising her when she emerged victorious. They could go back to Kaunas together, jubilant in their mutual love.

But his mother had insisting on seeing Nadzia alone. If he wanted to know what transpired between them, he needed a legitimate reason to explain his presence at the Tree of Life. He ruffled his feathers, eyes locked on Nadzia until she became a speck in the sky, and wished he could express how important she’d become to him. He was no bard able to recite melodious tales of love. The prospect of a speech at their marriage ceremony set his stomach fluttering, his muscles twitching.

He took a breath, released it with a throaty warble. His sister, Lada, goddess of love and harmony, she could help. And she provided a plausible excuse should his mother discover him. Excellent. He gave a low kuk-kuk of satisfaction, spread his wings, and took flight.


Fragrant honeysuckle vines draped the entrance to Lada’s room. A large fountain burbled in the center, its gentle murmur augmented by the cooing of doves perched upon the branches of potted orange trees in one corner. The goddess echoed their calls while gathering roses from bushes massed on the opposite side of the room. Her corn-silk hair, circled with a band of crystal jewels, flowed to voluptuous hips moving sinuously under a white gown trimmed with gold.

She raised a hand in greeting when Perun appeared at her door and motioned for him to join her at a table near the birds, where she deposited her bouquet next to a moss-green vase. “This is a pleasant surprise, brother. I did not expect to see you until the wedding.”

Her tone, calm and peaceful, filled him with hope. “Nor I,” he said, his face growing hot. “Mokosh suggested I compose a poem to Nadzia to read at the ceremony, but I have no idea where to begin.”

“There are ways to express love other than poetry. Simple, heartfelt prose is equally strong. What do you find most endearing about your novice?”

“Her voice,” Perun answered without hesitation.

Lada nodded as she snipped off thorns and arranged the flowers in a striking display, the vibrance of their scarlet blossoms a perfect contrast to the muted hues of the vase. “I’m sure it’s gorgeous, but you must think beyond appearance or natural traits. There is more to Nadzia than how she speaks or sings.”

She paused, gave him a piercing stare. “What do you feel for her?”

“I’m grateful she’s given me the chance to love again.”

“Don’t play with me brother. If you wish my help, you must explore your deepest emotions. Why do you care for this daughter of Jūratė?”

Perun clenched his fists, remembered he’d come uninvited, and released them. He pictured Nadzia tousled in bed, walking beside him along the river and in the fields, teaching him to control his anger, reading and acting out stories, her ease with the gardener. “She is sensual, kind, lively, warm. My heart soars when I’m with her. I want to bring her as much happiness as she’s brought me.”

Lada’s eyes brimmed with tears as she clutched Perun’s hand. “Dearest brother. Long have I watched you grieve, mourned the jealousy that drove you to foul deeds. Now I see you understand the true nature of love: giving is as important as receiving.”

She released her hold and murmured. A stack of vellum sheets, a pot of ink, and a quill pen appeared on the table. “Write from you heart and you’ll do fine,” she said, pushing the items across to Perun. “Don’t rush the words. Take your time.”

Hours later, after dozens of false starts and crumpled pages, Perun stood at the door clutching a scroll wrapped with a purple ribbon. He reached for his sister, embraced her warmly. “Bless you, Lada. I couldn’t have done this alone.”

“Do not grant me too much acclaim,” she answered, her face blushing as red as the flowers in her room. “I only drew out what was waiting to be expressed.”

She walked him outside to the limb that served as a landing. After he morphed into eagle guise, she secured his parchment in one talon and stroked his tawny feathers, smiling as he carefully rubbed his golden beak against her hands. “Safe travels,” she said, then stepped back and faded, leaving behind the scent of sweet roses.

Perun spread his wings, ready to depart, when a blast of hot wind knocked him off balance. He shook himself upright, flustered, and cawed weakly as his mother appeared where Lada had just stood. His chest tightened. Did she bring good news or bad?

Her radiant face melted his apprehensions. “You were right, my son. Nadzia’s heart is true. She has returned to your home. Go to her now. Be the loving companion she deserves.”


Perun descended into a sky bright with late afternoon sun. He flew in loops, upside down, sideways, giddy with relief. Nadzia loved him and he was on the cusp of opening his heart to her. He couldn’t wait to sweep her into his arms, cover every inch of her luscious body with kisses. He glanced down at the parchment in his claws. Why wait until the wedding? He could declare himself now and let Nadzia choose if she wanted to keep his words private or share them at the ceremony.

Through a break in the clouds, he spotted their cottage, the roses surrounding its door a promise of the beauty within. It was a pleasant abode, yet he wanted a more majestic spot for this momentous occasion. Why not spend the rest of the day however she wished, then leave at dusk and ride to his stars above the convent? He’d planned to take her there anyway. Now their trip would hold added meaning.

He landed outside his temple, changed back into the god of storms, and strode to the entry. The two stone guardians glowed at his approach. He took a moment to stroke their heads, grateful to have such dependable sentries. Once inside, he stopped at the mermaid goddess’s shrine, knelt, and lit a candle. “I swear to love her faithfully,” he vowed. “Until the end of time.”

His eternal fire flared, acknowledging his oath. He stood and surveyed the space. If he wanted to surprise Nadzia, he had to hide his speech until evening. As far as he knew, she hadn’t been here since moving out, but he couldn’t take chances. He hurried to his throne and tucked the manuscript between two slats crossing beneath the seat. Perfect.

He wiped sweat from his brow, remembered Nadzia’s comments about his muskiness.  Most likely, she’d be ready for a swim, too, if for no other reason than to escape the heat. There were a number of places along the river where they could relax. He grinned and set off to find her.


Ludvika hailed him from the junction where the path from the temple cut across the trail to the cottages. She held a basket filled with glistening strawberries. “Good afternoon, master,” she said with a deep curtsey. “You’re looking well.”

“It’s a fine day, isn’t it? I hope Gabi is faring better. Are those for her? Here, allow me to help you.”

The cook’s brows shot up as she handed over the fruit and smoothed the front of her apron. “Yes to both your questions. I believe she’ll be fully healed by the time you wed.”

“Excellent. I look forward to seeing both of you in the grove.” Perun quickly assessed his servant’s garb. “If you need clothes for the occasion, I’m happy to provide whatever you wish. You and Gabi deserve a reward for all your hard work.”

Ludvika’s mouth quirked. “A silk gown and matching shoes?”

“You shall have them.” Perun entrusted the basket back to the cook’s care as they reached the porch of her house. “Good day to you, madam. And give my best to Gabi.”

He turned, ready to leave, halted at the pull of Ludvika’s hand on his arm. “If you’re seeking Nadzia, she’s at the pier. I believe her sisters have arrived.”

A day earlier, Perun would have faltered at this information. Now he could hardly wait to greet the novices and Elders. They would soon be family, after all. He continued on his way, a new lightness in his step, whistling as he walked.


Adomas worked at the dock unloading bags and boxes and bringing them to the area Nadzia had reserved for the convent, a shady spot with soft grasses, close to the river and pier. Three white tents—one for the abbess, another for the Elders, and a third for the novices—rippled in the breeze. A circle of six blue-robed women stood before them. They turned in unison at Perun’s approach, their faces bright with curiosity and a trace of weariness.

All save one. A girl with hair like burning coals and green eyes that devoured him from head to toe. She opened her mouth, wet her lips, smiled an invitation. Perun sputtered to a halt. Who was this vixen?

Nadzia slipped through the ring and rushed to his side. “Do you mind waiting a bit to meet my sisters?” she asked, nuzzling his cheek. “They’re rather fatigued.”

“Not at all.” He swiveled away from the novice silently daring him to respond. “We can use the time to freshen up in the river.”

“They intend to do the same. Let’s take the road south. We’ll have more privacy.”

They walked a short way to a bend secluded by a copse of trees, where they splashed and lingered until the water held more shadow than sun. Perun collapsed against a birch on the riverbank and patted for Nadzia to sit on his lap. He lifted her face to his, marveling at how deeply he’d come to care for her in so short a time. Everything he wanted was here.

Her fingers traveled up his arms to the nape of his neck. Sparks of pleasure radiated down his shoulders. He bent down and kissed her, gently, tenderly, breathing in her scent, fresh and clean with just a hint of a sea breeze.

“Nadzia,” he sighed. “How very dear you are to me.”

She pulled back and traced his lips, her eyes glistening, and then nestled in his arms, her limbs perfectly fitted to his. “Did you ever imagine such bliss?” she said. “I can scarcely believe my good fortune.”

He hesitated, debated silently whether to discuss the test she’d just endured. She loved him, everything else paled in comparison. Yet he had a burning desire to know the details. “I trust my mother wasn’t too harsh with you.”

“She mourns Jūratė, and she loves her son dearly. I don’t mind that she needed reassurance. I understand her concerns.”

“Even so, I shouldn’t have mentioned Gabi’s rumors. I should have known better.”

Nadzia tilted her face upright, a slight frown wrinkling her brow. “Rumors?”

“From the traders from Palanga who gossip with Gabi at the dock,” Perun said with a dismissive shake of his head. “Tellers of tall tales, trying to impress young girls too gullible to recognize truth from fiction. ”

Nadzia rested her head on his shoulder. “I love stories. What did these merchants say?”

 “You are aware, I’m sure, that some call the Order of Bursztyn a coven of witches.”

“I may have heard that accusation a time or two.” Nadzia ran her fingers lightly across Perun’s stomach. “What evil acts are we accused of now?”

“Plotting against the gods. Sending me a bride who wishes me ill. Ouch, that hurts!” He gaped at the indentation left by Nadzia’s nail. “Why are you angry? I’m merely answering your question.”

“You knew of these lies before I arrived in Kaunas?” She pressed away from him and crossed her arms.

Perun looked out across the river, jaw clenched. Fool of a god! Why couldn’t he have let things be? He swallowed heavily before answering. “Yes.”

“So that’s why Gabi was always sneaking around. You let her spy on me.” Nadzia slumped, her eyes wet and dull. “I opened my heart to you. I thought your endearments sincere. But you doubted me all along.”

“Not you, my love, never you.” Perun reached for the pendant hanging at Nadzia’s breast. “I’m sorry, so very sorry. I should have trusted the magic in my jewel.”

Nadzia jerked the amber from his hand. She gripped its edges and huffed out a rasping sound—part moan, part laughter. “Your jewel . . . . Forgive me, but in all the excitement, I can’t recall how Rodzenica said it worked.”

“A simple enchantment on my mother’s part to help her gauge the truth of your feelings. The greater your affection, the stronger it beats.” Perun lifted Nadzia’s chin. “The stone cannot lie. You love me.”

Nadzia kissed him with what felt like desperation and then broke away, her attention drawn to the pendant as if mesmerized by its pulse. Her lips pinched together, then relaxed. She looked up at him again, surprise, wonder, and sorrow flickering across her face. “I do love you,” she murmured. “Fates save me, I do.”

She untangled herself and stretched. “It’s nearly twilight. Shall we go home?”

“Not yet. I have a surprise for you.”

The twinkle in Nadzia’s eyes returned. “Something good, I hope.”

“That would be telling.” Perun stood and extended a hand. “We may be gone for hours. Have your supper and then join me in the barn.”


They journeyed west, the air growing colder as the chariot climbed through the clouds. Perun checked on Nadzia constantly to make sure she stayed comfortable. Wrapped in a wool cloak, she showed little distress until ice crystals dotted her sleeves. Perun opened his robe, draped it around her, and rubbed her shoulders until her flesh warmed. She sighed with pleasure and wrapped her arms around his waist.

The carriage halted north of his constellation, a vantage point that gave them a heady view of the throbbing lights. Veils of hot air engulfed them. Nadzia eased out of Perun’s hold and unclasped her cloak, her eyes reflecting the wonders in the sky. “They’re so beautiful. Can we move closer, please?”

“Not while you are still mortal. The core of a star radiates a heat too intense for any but the gods.”

Nadzia leaned forward against the rail, tilting her head from side to side. She narrowed her eyes, and then let out an astonished gasp. “If you squint, the light separates into lines of color. I can see a spectrum, starting with red and ending at purple, like a rainbow, only more bewitching. Oh, it’s lovelier than I ever dreamed. What a wonderful treat!”

The necklace at her breast brightened and vibrated wildly, mimicking Perun’s heart. He pulled out his scroll, the paper threatening to slip through his sweat-slick hands and cleared his throat to get Nadzia’s attention. She twisted to face him, her eyes soft and filled with an inner glow. “Yes?”

“You may recall that I was urged to write something for our marriage ceremony. I’d like to share those words now.”

“You don’t want to wait?”

“Let me convey them to you alone, and then you can determine whether they need be spoken to an audience.”

“As you wish.”

Perun rolled out a kink in his neck and coughed. “The Fates promised me a bride beyond compare. They were wrong, for you are as beautiful as a starlit sky, as sweet as the gods’ own nectar. Your smile is a beacon that brightens my days and nights, your laugh a song that puts birds to shame. You are a jewel more precious than rubies or pearls.

“I thought the fire that once burned in my heart quenched for all time. What right did I—lowest of the low—have to seek anyone’s affection? Love is for those who deserve joy, not those who spill blood.

“But you offered a way forward. I was dead to the world and all its glories. You brought me back to life, accepting me, challenging me, delighting me, loving me. As I . . . as I have grown to love you. Whatever you wish, I will try to provide, for your happiness means the world to me.”

He caressed her cheeks, let his gaze fill with the emotion he’d kept locked away out of fear and loneliness. “My heart is yours, Nadzia, now and forever.”



Nadzia burst into tears when Perun finished his speech. She’d wanted him infatuated, yes, dazzled, even, but his words revealed a true binding. And his jewel, enchanted to reveal her true emotions, confirmed she felt the same. She burrowed in his arms, let him whisper sweet nothings as she wept, her heart torn between joy and despair.

During her training at the convent, the Elders dwelled upon the righteousness of vengeance for Jūratė’s murder. Day in, day out, the message never varied. They were engaged in a holy mission. Whoever called out the god of storms’ jewel would learn his weakness and then cripple or destroy him. A simple, straight-forward task.

No one envisioned the possibility that his Fates-chosen bride might find him endearing. Or that his affection would mean so much.

Nadzia stayed in his embrace and tried to sort out her tangled emotions as her sobs subsided. She should be angry at the way he and Rodzenica had tricked her. She should remember her vow, her duty to the Order of Bursztyn. Yet the hate she’d carried for as long as she could remember no longer held sway. For the first time in her life, she felt complete, content. But dread muted her elation. How was she going to convince the abbess that Perun was worthy of a second chance?

He kissed the top of her head and wiped her cheeks. “I hope those were happy tears.”

The longing, the need in his voice nearly set her weeping again. She reached up and pressed her palms against his face. A face suffused with love. “Your words make my heart sing.”

“Yet I see sadness in your eyes.”

“You mistake weariness for sorrow.” Nadzia dropped her hands and yawned. “The day has taken its toll. A good night’s sleep will refresh me.”

“Hold fast, then,” Perun said, wrapping one arm around her and flicking the reins with the other. “We’ll be home soon.”

Nadzia dozed as they flew back to the temple grounds. She dreamed of a wedding replete with jubilant guests, her sisters converted to a new appreciation of a god they once despised, a festive ceremony and feast unmarred by interruptions or animus.

The ox’s snorts and stomps upon landing roused her. She looked across the meadow to the Order’s white tents fluttering in the breeze, a heaviness in her chest. Visions of fellowship and merrymaking were all well and good. Achieving them was another matter.

Perun helped her step down, then took hold of his beast’s halter and called for the stable boy. “I won’t be long. Wait for me?”

Before Nadzia could respond, Adomas rushed up from the path leading to the river. “Forgive the interruption,” he said, bending over to catch his breath, “but several groups of your followers arrived while you were gone. They’re clamoring to see you. If you can spare a few minutes to greet them, I’ll help stow your chariot and animal.”

Perun glanced at Nadzia, as if seeking permission. She realized, belatedly, that there were other tents, other lights glimmering opposite the convent’s section. “Go,” she said, secretly grateful for the chance to be alone. “I’ll be in the temple at Jūratė’s altar.”

He rubbed his forearms, hesitating, his face tweaked with regret. “This may take a while. I must see that they’re properly situated and so forth. You don’t mind?”

“I did the same with my sisters,” she answered, kissing him lightly. “I’m afraid we won’t have much time to ourselves in the days to come.”

“Perhaps. You forget, we have the stars. No one can follow us there.”

“Until then, we have an obligation to those who have traveled here on our behalf.” Nadzia turned Perun around, gave him a light push. “Come back when you can. If I’ve left the temple, you’ll find me in bed.”

“Now there’s a prospect I look forward to.” Perun waved and strode toward the river.

Nadzia tilted her head skyward, rocked back and forth, hands pressed to her stomach. Voices raised in exultation carried across the grasses. She listened for a moment, pictured the god of storms jubilant amid a sea of well-wishers, and then made her way into the temple.

The stone eagles brightened as she approached. She patted their heads and smiled as their ruby eyes gleamed in response. Sleep beckoned, but first she needed to pray. She kneeled at Jūratė’s altar and lit a candle, wishing she had a way to summon her—the way the Elders did in the cave below the convent. The goddess would surely applaud the change in Nadzia’s feelings.

The flame quivered. Nadzia stared at the twinkling amber light and allowed her mind to drift in search of answers. Less than a week remained until the wedding, a pathetically short time to change the hearts and minds of women whose lives were dedicated to Perun’s downfall. They needed to see him at his best, as she had, a difficult undertaking given that she knew him with an intimacy others couldn’t hope to achieve. How to bring them together without suspicion or unease, that was the problem. Would they respond to chats around campfires, Perun with his nectar, the others with mead? Walks along the river?

She glanced up at the open dome. The stars glimmered, as if issuing an invitation. Why not invite her sisters, one by one, to travel in Perun’s chariot? She’d come along to mitigate any fears. He’d share his love of the heavens, reveal his charms. And what a thrill for them to fly all the way to the coast and glimpse Palanga from the sky!

It was a place to star, at the very least. An opportunity to convince her sisters they needn’t conspire. They could choose a different path. Unite in a new purpose. Create a future for themselves that didn’t include schemes or secret cabals. A world free of artifice.

Nadzia pushed herself upright, ready at last for bed. She moved back, pleasantly exhausted, and then stopped, muscles tensing, at the sound of hissing. A sour taste flooded her mouth. No, please, not now.

A black-and-gold snake wriggled out from the gifts piled beneath Perun’s altar and whirled into the god of the Underworld. He wagged his black tongue in greeting. “A most eventful day, my dear. Come join me at the thrones. We should discuss how our plan will proceed.”

“I’m tired,” Nadzia said, inching away. “Let’s talk tomorrow.”

“You’ll want to hear this.” Veles glided to Perun’s chair, coiled himself within the giant seat, and beckoned. Nadzia followed, reluctant yet curious to hear what had brought the serpent to Kaunas so unexpectedly. She perched on the edge of the smaller throne and kept watch on the entrance.

“Don’t worry about my brother,” Veles said with a limp wave of his hand. “He’ll be up until dawn carousing with his disciples.”

Nadzia crossed her arms and legs. “Fine. I’m listening. Has the cabal decided on a new approach? I can’t imagine a need to talk otherwise.”

“This is a private conversation, sweetheart.” Veles leaned closer, his scales lustrous in the firelight, his voice an engaging whisper. “I’ve made a slight change to our plan, something far more satisfactory than the original.”

He stopped, obviously expecting Nadzia to pepper him with questions. She ground her teeth and complied. “Please go on.”

“Let’s review the basics: first the ceremony, followed by the ritual of making my brother whole, at which point the Elders will begin keening.”

Nadzia shifted in her chair, uneasy at the thought of the assault beginning before she gained the power to protect her sisters. “Won’t I be made a goddess before that?”

“Dievas wants my brother fully restored, first and foremost. I believe his wishes are paramount, although it’s never a good idea to discount my mother’s influence. She wants you immortal as soon as possible after the vows are exchanged.”

Veles squinted, a shrewd gleam in his eyes. “Whatever they decide doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things as long as you remember to do your part. Which is . . . ?”

“To meet you here in the temple with the sliver of Perun’s heart.”

Veles licked his lips. “Such an intelligent girl.”

“And then you’ll take it to the Underworld.”

“Not quite.”

Nadzia’s arms prickled. She stiffened, poised for flight. “Have your fellow conspirators decided on another hiding place?”

“Hardly. There’s nowhere better.”

“Then what’s changed?”

Yellow eyes glittering, Veles reached out to stroke Nadzia’s neck. “You’ll be coming with me.”

Blood rushed to Nadzia’s head. She clutched the arms of her throne, a world of darkness threatening to consume her. “You can’t take me against my will. The Fates won’t allow it.”

“Why not?” Veles pressed near, his breath like ice on Nadzia’s skin. “They decreed that Jūratė reborn will marry a god. Surely you don’t believe they’ll argue over which one?”

“I won’t go with a cold-blooded viper!”

Veles dabbed at his eyes. “Oh, she wounds me with harsh words. Was ever a chosen one so ungrateful?”

“Stop pretending. Snakes can’t cry.”

“You’d do well to look beyond these reptilian markings.” Veles smoothed both hands over his chest, ending at a point below the navel, where the flesh became scales. “I have feelings and desires like any mortal man, and the same means to pleasure you. I’ll love you like no other, hold you in the highest regard, seek your opinion in all matters. And you can be sure I’ll never threaten or harm the convent. I have a tender heart. Do give me a chance to prove it.”

“I don’t want to be your queen!” Nadzia cried. “This isn’t what you promised. My sisters will hate you for deceiving them.”

“You forget, I have been a stalwart friend to the Order of Brusztyn since Jūratė’s death. It won’t take much to convince the abbess this is my just reward, and her approval is all I require.”

“Your parents won’t allow it. I have a bond with them now, especially your mother. They’ll never let you get away with this.”

“Let me worry about that. I suspect their affection will diminish after the convent attacks.” Veles settled back into his chair with a smug smile. “Think of the prestige you’ll enjoy as my consort. Your sisters will be positively green with envy. And unlike my brother—who, I remind you, agreed to have your horse magically fettered—I’ll let you visit Palanga as often as you please.”

Nadzia’s rage flared like a candle spilled into a pool of oil. She hadn’t found joy only to be held hostage by a conniving snake. She bared her teeth in a defiant snarl. “No.”

“Think carefully before you decide,” Veles replied, his smirk fading. “If you refuse to come with me, I’ll have no choice but to bring Perun’s heart to my parents and tell them a tale about a wicked, wicked novice and her convent’s treacherous plan to foil the gods. How a conniving little minx played upon the enmity between two brothers. I’ll wail and curse the weakness that made me prey to her bewitching voice. And when that’s done, I’ll beg Dievas and Rodzenica to forgive me.”

His eyes shone with pitiless mirth. “Imagine how they’ll punish you and your cherished Order. I shudder at the very thought.”

Nadzia fell back against her throne with a whimper. “I can’t stay with you forever . . . unless I’m dead.”

“An unfortunate detail. I promise to make your demise as painless as possible. A quick bite should suffice.”

Nadzia pulled at her braid. Surely Veles’s strategy contained a flaw. She combed her mind, searching for a solution, and then bolted upright. “I won’t bring you his heart. I’ll run to the Nemunas, swim as fast as I can to Palanga, and hide it in the cove. And then I’ll tell the gods that was your plan all along, that you used me out of sheer hatred for your brother. They’ve seen the two of you battle. No one will doubt me.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure.” The black slits in Veles’s eyes narrowed. “Try to escape via the river and I’ll send water snakes after you. Have you ever seen someone attacked by an adder? It’s a dreadful way to die. Your tongue swells, your flesh cracks, your muscles cramp. You’ll drown in the very waters you hoped would offer refuge and then . . . why, you’ll end up in the Underworld with me. Either way, I get what I want.”

Nadzia tugged at her necklace. “I’ll take the sliver out now, throw it in Perun’s fire, and tell them you commanded me to destroy it.”

“Go on.” Veles flicked his hand at the blaze. “I doubt you’ll succeed.”

Try as she might, Nadzia couldn’t separate the jewel from its silver setting. There were no hidden springs or clasps, no way to dig out the amber with her nails. She slid to the floor and smashed the necklace against the stones until her arm cramped with fatigue. With a strained cry, she flung the pendant into the fire, chain and all. The flames surged and spewed the necklace out at her feet.

“Mortals,” Veles said with an exaggerated sniff. “Always thinking they can outsmart the gods.”

He slid off the throne and caressed Nadzia’s trembling shoulder. “I so love your spirit, my dear. We’re going to have such marvelous adventures together. The Underworld is a veritable labyrinth of delights.”

“Don’t do this.” Nadzia bit down on her lip, drawing blood. “You have Jūratė. You don’t need me.”

“Alas, my beloved mermaid is devoted to her husband. I wouldn’t dream of breaking up such a happy couple.”

Nadzia drew herself up slowly, shook off Veles’s touch, and curled her fingers into fists. “I’ll find a way to stop you.”

“You are most welcome to try. Oh, did I tell you? Now that you’ve sworn everlasting love for my brother—”

“You listened?”

Someone from the cabal had to bear witness while Rodzenica conducted her test, and I have spyholes everywhere.”

“But I saw Dievas chasing you.”

“My father is easily eluded,” Veles said with a dismissive nod. “And I have been given leave to resume my surveillance. Our group wants daily reports assuring them that, despite your infatuation, you intend to continue helping us. Be well, my dear. I can’t wait to make you mine.”

He pursed his lips in a parting kiss and spoke words Nadzia didn’t understand. In the wink of an eye, he became an ordinary garden snake again, slithering toward the base of the rocky wall behind the thrones. He turned, hissed, and crawled into a hole that emerged at his approach. Laughter echoed through the tunnel as the opening closed behind him.

Nadzia threw her pendant at the wall and paced behind the thrones, cursing. How could she change her fate when Veles was ready to expose the convent’s scheme? Would Perun understand if she confided in him or would learning of her lies stoke his fury? She retrieved the necklace, brought it to the throne, and fell back heavily into the seat. The steady pulse within mocked her. Trapped. Trapped. Trapped.

Or was she?

She still had the poisoned pearl from Sister Bronis, stowed inside the belt hidden in her cottage. A last resort if matters became unbearable. But death would thrust her into the Underworld and that played too neatly into what Veles wanted.

Her necklace blazed, spitting out tangerine sparks that arced and sizzled before landing on the granite floor. Nadzia steadied her breath—three beats in, a pause, three beats out—until the amber resumed its usual, even glow. She had to keep her emotions in check, or this jewel would betray her.

She returned to Jūratė’s altar. The candle she’d lit earlier sputtered and then burst into a stronger, brighter flame. Her heart flickered with hope. Things might be muddled now, but the Fates had chosen her to reign with Perun, not some scaly snake of a god. She had to trust in their wisdom, and her own.

Let Veles think he had her cornered. Let him watch her night and day. She’d play on his confidence, use his presumptions to her advantage.

“I’ll beat you,” she whispered. “Wait and see.”

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski





THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 21, 22

The god of storms and his bride grow closer as he devotes himself to her healing, Veles’s surveillance is questioned, and Nadzia receives an unpleasant reminder that her sister Keslai will attend the wedding.

For previous chapters, click here.



Nadzia’s injury compelled the god of storms to stop visiting his temples, a choice that nagged at him until Adomas announced he’d found a villager who could send news of the wedding via messenger pigeons. Relieved of that burden, he devoted himself to his bride’s welfare, bringing her meals, bathing her with cool cloths, wrapping her ankle to minimize the swelling.

At her request, he kept their cottage door open at all hours so she wouldn’t feel confined. When she grew restless, he moved the rocking chair outside and—per Ludvika’s instructions—kept her supplied with fluids while she basked in the sun.

The days grew warmer, the meadows flourishing with a rainbow of blooms: yellow-flowered rues and yarrows, purple alliums, red and orange dahlias, white irises. Perun spent hours with Nadzia watching butterflies and bees dance around blossoms in search of nectar. She often entertained him by closing her eyes, listening to a bird’s song, and then repeating the notes perfectly. He looked forward to each new day, content to do nothing more than sit with her and enjoy the world around them.

Despite her injury, Nadzia continued her stories, nestled in his arms at night. Such tales she told! Forty thieves hiding a cave full of treasure, opened with a secret phrase. Magic lamps that granted wishes. Kings eaten by mice. Dragons and dwarves and all kinds of magical creatures.

“Your writers have lively imaginations,” he said one evening after she finished a story about a hedgehog who became a prince. “I wish I could be as clever.”

Nadzia stroked his arm, tickling the auburn hairs. “The gods have no legends they tell one another?”

“We have our duties and court.”

“That sounds dull. No songs?”

“The faeries visit from time to time and entertain us with music.”

“What about Jūratė? She had an exquisite voice, or so I’m told.”

A familiar ache began in Perun’s chest, triggered by an image of the mermaid goddess on the shores of Palanga, serenading him, transporting him to ecstasy. He squeezed his eyes, banished the vision. That time was best forgotten. Only this moment mattered. “She did,” he said, kissing the top of Nadzia’s head, “but not as lovely as yours.”

Nadzia shifted and gazed at him in surprise. “Truly?”

“Yes, my love, truly. Every word you speak is filled with delight.”

“So sweet,” she murmured, resting her head against his heart. “What about your parents? Did Rodzenica never sing you to sleep?”

Perun sputtered with laughter. “I was created fully grown. It would have been most awkward for my mother to treat me as a newborn. And you forget, the gods don’t slumber.”

“Lullabies can soothe anyone, young or old, divine or mortal. And you needn’t be on the verge of sleep.” Nadzia pushed herself into a sitting position, bolstered by pillows. “Let me teach you one.”

“I am ill-suited to the task. Besides, there are no infants here for us to silence.”

“Do you want children?”

“What?” Perun’s face flooded with heat. “I never thought I’d have a wife, let alone a family. Few gods have one.”

“What about your brother, Mėnuo, and his wife, Saulė? They begat the Žvaigždės. We studied them at the convent. The moon and the sun and their daughters, the stars.”

“A rare exception granted by my father. He prefers to be the sole creator.” Perun squinted. “I don’t recall the star goddesses as infants. If so, they matured swiftly.”

He shuddered, a slow ripple that crimped his flesh. “I’d prefer that. My ears ring for hours whenever squealing babes are brought before me at my temples.”

“They don’t cry all the time,” Nadzia said. “I’ve yet to bear my own, but every novice helps out in the convent’s nursery. It’s not so difficult a task if you know what to do. Keep them clean and warm and fed, croon a bit if they’re fussy. They just want to feel loved and safe.”

“A mermaid’s daughter has the voice for that, the patience. Mine would wear thin. No child wants to see its father aggrieved.” Perun stared into the distance. “It’s a memory that lasts forever, knowing you’re a disappointment to the one who sired you.”

“I think everyone feels pressure to live up to expectations, parental or otherwise. We’re quick to berate ourselves for what we perceive as failings.” Nadzia frowned, as if her words had triggered a personal quandary. “We can strive to be more. I’ve seen you master your emotions once and I’m confident you can do so again. For all time, if necessary. We’ll practice as often as you like until you’re certain.”

“I might strike out in anger.” Perun’s voice grew hoarse. “I’ve done so before.”

Nadzia reached up and pushed a stray lock of his hair back behind his ear. “Jealousy and grief have shadowed your loving nature. Give it time to grow.”

“Then you would have no objections to bearing my seed?”

“None at all, if the Fates—your father, I should say—so bless us. But that’s yet to come.” Nadzia caressed his cheek. “Indulge me. You should know at least one song.”

She put a finger on Perun’s lips when he began to protest. “Don’t tell me you’re not capable. I refuse to believe that. You can achieve whatever you want with the proper guidance and the will to succeed. We’ll start with an easy one. Listen.”

She lowered her voice and infused it with tenderness as she sang:

“Hush-a-bye, my little one,

 My beloved.

 How many times during the day

 Have I already picked you up?

 I’ve already picked you up and carried you,

 Put you down in your cradle.

 Hush-a-bye, my little one,

 My beloved.”

She guided him through the melody. Although he fumbled at first, embarrassed by the scratchy noises that issued from his throat, she urged him to continue, praising each line he mastered. By the time night relinquished its claim to the sky, he was singing with a tenderness that filled his eyes with tears. How did she know him better than he knew himself?

“I told you,” she said, kissing him gently. “You can do anything.”

Sighing, she smiled and fell asleep.

He kissed her brow, tucked the quilt around her, and eased out of bed, moving to the doorway to witness another miracle: his sister, Aušra, goddess of the dawn, painting the heavens with swirls of lavender and pink as she prepared the world for the sun’s emergence. The fields slowly brightened and came alive with chirps and rustling. From the garden, a rooster heralded the day with strident crows. A grizzled yellow-brown hare bounded out of the grasses and sat up on its hind legs, nose twitching as it surveyed the area.

Perun kept still, careful not to startle the animal into fleeing, curious as to what the furry creature might do next. He’d never realized so many small pleasures existed around his home, never bothered to acquaint himself with terrestrial wonders. What could match the glory of his beloved skies? Now he was discovering a new world, one waiting to enchant him.

The hare trembled, shed its fur and grew, morphing into his sister, Mokosh, attired in a moss-green robe embroidered with daisies over a plain beige gown. Perun checked to make sure his loincloth was in place, left the cottage, and greeted her with a warm hug. “Have you come to judge how well I’ve been tending Nadzia?”

“I’m sure she’s in good hands.”

“It’s been almost a week. I thought she’d be up and about by now.” Perun shook his head. “Humans are such frail creatures.”

“More so when they’ve been uprooted from their homes.” A birch mouse scurried out of Mokosh’s pocket and settled on her shoulder, wrapping its tail around one of her waist-long braids. “I wouldn’t worry overmuch. Remember, she’s half-divine. She’ll regain her stamina soon enough. I can look in on her if you like.”

“I’d rather you didn’t. She needs her rest and only just now fell asleep.” Perun studied the ground, for some reason hesitant to mention his concerns. “Her slumber is erratic and fitful, never more than a few hours at a time. And she talks.”


“While she sleeps.”

Had Perun not been standing so close to his sister, he might have missed the emotions that swept across her face—shock, followed by fear, both replaced almost immediately by a deliberate calm. “Indeed,” she said, tilting her head. “When did this begin?”

“The night of her fall, when I returned to the cottage with Ludvika, I heard voices. When I opened the cottage door, Nadzia was alone, dozing. She looked at me strangely when I roused her and asked if she’d had a visitor. But every night since, she’s thrashed in bed and muttered.”

Mokosh leaned forward, her breath hitched. “What does she say?”

“He’s here, he watches.”

“He . . . yet she’s seen no one but you and Ludvika?”

Perun scratched his chin. He couldn’t shake the idea that Nadzia had been talking with someone, most likely a god or goddess. No human disappeared at will. But why would anyone come to her in secret? And why had his sister suddenly gone pale? “As far as I know.”

“But you’re not certain.” Mokosh turned her gaze to the meadow, her face inscrutable, her shoulders stiff with tension. “Has she been feverish?”

“Yes, from time to time.”

Mokosh whooshed out a breath. “Fire in the blood often causes mortals to hallucinate. Pay her ramblings no mind. The visions will cease once she’s well again.”

It was a credible explanation, although Perun wondered if his sister’s relief was tied to something more. Yet he had no reason to mistrust her. She’d supported him after Jūratė’s death, ensured the mermaid goddess’s daughters thrived over the centuries while he atoned. Why would she lie? “Your words are a comfort, sister. I feared Nadzia might have sustained more damage than anyone realized.”

“I confess that was my thought as well when you first mentioned the matter. Thank the Fates that it is nothing more than a febrile disease.” Mokosh smiled and tweaked Perun’s ear, laughing as he swatted her hand away. “You’ve changed, brother. I would never have believed you capable of showing concern for another.”

“It must look strange,” he agreed. “The mighty god of thunder reduced to a nursemaid. Truth be told, I enjoy attending to Nadzia. Not that I want her helpless forever. I prefer a strong mate. But caring for her gives me a renewed sense of purpose.”

“What about your followers and their needs? Is that not purpose enough?”

Perun crossed his arms. “They shower me with praise for the rains that keep their crops flourishing.”

“And you tire of their exaltation?” Mokosh’s brows rose. “We wouldn’t exist if they stopped believing in us.”

Perun scratched his chin. “Yes, I know that, and I even consider some of them friends. But I’m simply discharging my divine obligations. Mortals had no need of me elsewise. With Nadzia, it’s different. I want her to thrive. Seeing to her welfare is a pleasure, not a chore or a duty.”

His eyes misted. “She arouses emotions I thought buried long ago, the urge to meld with another soul.

“Shall we attribute that to love?”

Perun fell silent. The warmth Nadzia kindled in him went beyond simple lust, beyond words. She touched him to the very core of his being, allowing him to believe that they did belong together, just as the Fates intended, that things might work out for the best after all. “If you wish,” he said, reluctant to speak openly of his feelings lest he unwittingly jeopardize this newfound happiness. “She’s a most endearing woman.”

“And you are a most charming god.” Nadzia blew a kiss from the doorway. “Mokosh, what a lovely surprise. I’m healing well if that’s why you’ve come. Watch.”

She pulled up her nightgown and lifted her leg, rotating the ankle effortlessly. “The swelling and pain are gone. I feel wonderful and I owe it all to your brother’s tender, loving care. Will you join us for a walk?”

“You’ll want to change out of those bedclothes,” Mokosh said. “Let me assist you.”

“No need,” Perun objected. “I can do that.”

Nadzia winked as the goddess approached and took her by the hand. “It won’t take long.” She nodded at Perun and pointed eastward, her nose twitching. “You’ve neglected the summer storms that keep you cleansed. Why not refresh yourself in the river while I dress? We’ll meet you at the dock.”

Perun stood slack-jawed, his anger rising as the door closed and locked inches away from his face. This was his reward for dedicating his days and nights to a helpless mortal—insults? He raised his arm, ready to shatter the wood into splinters to gain entry and caught a whiff of musk so potent his eyes watered.

Coughing, he stepped back and made for the path that led to the pier. Perhaps a dip in the water wasn’t such a bad idea.



Inside the cottage, Mokosh crouched near the east-facing window and peeked over the sill as Perun departed. “Wait until he can’t hear us,” she whispered when Nadzia tried to speak. “Choose a dress for your walk. Rattle the drawers in case he’s listening.”



Lips clamped into a thin line, Nadzia rummaged through her wardrobe cabinet, pulled out an ivory chiton, and slammed the drawers shut when she’d finished. She noted with satisfaction how Mokosh cringed at the noise and hoped that Veles’s ears were ringing as well. A just reward for a devious spy.

She turned her back to the hearth where the god of the Underworld lurked and quickly exchanged her nightgown for the dress. It smelled of lavender, courtesy of sachets sprinkled throughout the drawers. The scent eased her irritation. She perched on the edge of the bed, hands clasped in her lap. Better to remain calm until the goddess was ready to talk.

Mokosh finally turned, rubbing her brow. “He’s gone. I apologize for my rudeness.”

“I’m sure you had good cause,” Nadzia said with a forgiving nod. She shouldn’t have been so quick to judge an ally. “But I’m curious. Why are you upset?”

“Because Perun told me his bride talks in her sleep.”

Nadzia gripped the bedsheets, her heart thudding. She’d known a few sleep-talkers at the convent, girls who spilled secrets while they slumbered yet had no memory of doing so when awakened. The abbess, once informed, summoned them to her room. No one knew exactly what transpired within, only that, after a visit with Mother Gintare, the night-time jabbering ceased. “Did I tell him what we plan?”

“Bless the Fates, no.”

“Then what troubles you?”

“You claimed someone was watching. I can think of only one reason why you might cling to such a belief.” Mokosh glowered and crossed her arms. “I know you’re here, brother. Come out and explain yourself.”

Sibilant laughter filled the room as a tiny snake wriggled out from the corner and expanded into godly form. “Delighted to oblige,” Veles said with a sweeping bow. “Although I see no need to justify my actions. Can you imagine the chaos had this dear girl revealed our scheme? Centuries of work destroyed. Not to mention the repercussions from our father. Be thankful for my vigilance.”

“What could you have done?”

“Alerted you at once, of course. You’re so good at alleviating suspicion. As you did just now with Perun when he told you his concerns.” Veles switched his yellow-eyed gaze to Nadzia. “She dismissed your words as feverish ravings. A simple interpretation, easy to accept, hard to disprove.”

“Perhaps,” Mokosh sniffed. “However, as you note, I took care of things. No intervention on your part was necessary. Indeed, none would have been necessary but for your subterfuge. Which brings me to a more pressing concern: this surveillance has not been sanctioned by the other members of our group.”

Nadzia went numb with cold. She turned on Veles, her breath heavy and uneven. “You acted on your own?”

“I created our league of conspirators,” he answered, black-and-gold scales rippling with umbrage. “I don’t require permission to pursue its goals.”

“That isn’t true. Mokosh helped form that alliance. The least you could do is advise her of your intentions.” Nadzia slipped off the bed and stood tall before the goddess. “You need to call a meeting of the cabal. I’d have nothing to reveal if Veles hadn’t insinuated himself into my life. I don’t require constant scrutiny. I know what I’m doing. Leave me be.”

Mokosh peered at her brother. “A sensible request. She can proceed far better knowing we trust her to do what’s best.”

“We’ll let our brethren decide,” Veles said, the slits in his eyes narrowing. “I’m not convinced she won’t forget her purpose. You haven’t seen how she glows when they’re alone together, away from public scrutiny. My brother can ooze charm when it suits him.”

Mokosh snorted softly. “A trait you both share. Unfortunately, I’ve promised to walk with the two of them. I can’t leave without kindling Perun’s suspicions. Will you arrange the gathering?”

“Of course, although I’m certain to prevail.” Veles blew a kiss across the room. “Fare well, beautiful maiden. I look forward to our next encounter.”

Mokosh grumbled as he shrank and disappeared behind the hearth. “I’m afraid he’ll do his best to sway everyone against me.”

“Then we must get you back as soon as possible. I don’t want him around anymore.”

“Try not to fret. My brethren know his perspective is skewed by hatred. Besides, whatever he argues, I have a strong rebuttal—his presence here means he’s left the Underworld without an overseer. That should convince most of my brothers and sisters to take my side. We have little patience for those who neglect their duties.”

“I suppose that gives you more of a case against Perun,” Nadzia said, wishing it wasn’t so. “He hasn’t seen to his summer storms since I was injured.”

“Oh, I’ve taken care of that.”

“You can create tempests?”

Mokosh laughed and drew Nadzia into a brief hug. “Hardly. However, I can raise groundwaters. A temporary measure, to be sure, yet sufficient to keep the crops irrigated.”

She opened the door and motioned to the path. “My brother should be clean by now. Shall we join him?”

They linked arms and strolled down the hill to the pier. Nadzia listened with half an ear to Mokosh’s comments about the glorious flowers blooming in the meadow. She trusted the goddess to do her best. Whether Veles would abide by a vote to abandon his prying remained to be seen. She hoped the cabal would give extra credence to his animosity toward Perun when it deliberated and discount any charges that she was overly affectionate.

Because—scoundrel or not—Veles was a keen observer. She did feel more radiant around Perun. The tenderness she’d coaxed out of him had sparked a mutual warmth. But she didn’t dare speak of her feelings. Better to be thought pure in her resolve than someone beginning to consider a different future. One the Order of Bursztyn never intended. A destiny built on love, not hate.


They found Perun stretched out on the dock. He lay on the boards with hands atop his chest, eyes closed, his chest gently rising and falling. Nadzia studied him and then looked quizzically at Mokosh. “I thought the gods didn’t sleep.”

“We don’t. But we can enter into a form of what mortals might call regeneration. Our bodies slow while we replenish our powers from within. I suspect my brother is somewhat fatigued from caring for you.”

Nadzia bit her lip. “I didn’t mean to sap his strength. Is he vulnerable? Can a human sneak up and hurt him?”

“Only another deity can approach him unawares when he is in this state, and even then he would be quick to respond. I’ll show you, although I suggest you keep your distance. He might not appreciate being roused.”

Mokosh poked the resting god with the tip of her foot. He sprang upright at once, wild-eyed, fists clenched, steam pouring from his knuckles. “Who dares disturb me?”

“Gently now, brother,” Mokosh said, hands raised in supplication. “All is well. We’ve come to stroll with you, as promised. There is neither threat nor danger here.”

Perun shook out his arms until the vapor dissipated. He ran a hand through damp hair and turned to Nadzia, his gaze softening. “You are a sight to behold, my love. I hope I didn’t frighten you.”

“Not at all.” She moved forward to kiss him and linger in his embrace. “I was intrigued to learn how the Immortals renew themselves. We never learned that at the convent.”

“We wouldn’t be gods without a bit of mystery,” Perun said, wriggling his brows. “Where shall we go today? You’ve already seen much of the terrain that leads to Kaunas. Why not take the opposite direction?”

“An excellent idea,” Mokosh said. “There’s a lovely trail that follows the river, with birch and pine trees to keep us shaded.”

Despite assurances that she felt fine, Perun insisted Nadzia hold onto him while they walked. “I was lax once,” he said, tucking her hand into his elbow. “That will not happen again. No running or scampering. Besides, I’ve found that a measured pace allows better appreciation of your surroundings.”

“Who is this god beside me?” Mokosh teased, taking his free arm. “The Perun I know does nothing in moderation. He charges ahead, heedless of others. What can I expect of him next? Poetry?”

“I shall gratefully cede that task to our sister, Lada, who is far more eloquent.”

“Why not seek her counsel?” Mokosh asked “A poem dedicated to the one you love would be most sweet. You could recite it at the wedding reception.”

Perun grew so pale and stiff that both women burst into laughter. Nadzia leaned into him and smiled impishly. “It would be sweet. But I won’t insist, not if the mere thought turns you ashen and rigid with dread.”

“Do what you will, brother.” Mokosh appraised him with a hint of challenge in her eyes. “It may be too difficult a task, given you’ve little time to accomplish it. Perhaps Lada can compose a verse in your stead. She is always glad to write about affairs of the heart.”

Perun’s throat rumbled. “I prefer to express my devotion in private. There’s no need for a public spectacle.”

“If you insist.” Mokosh placed a hand against her heart and gave a long, exaggerated sigh. “I suppose I’ll have to settle for watching you kiss after your vows.”

She tilted forward, grinning at Nadzia. “Don’t disappoint me.”

The wide path accommodated the three of them side by side. Perun kept an even pace, checking often to make sure Nadzia hadn’t tired. She breathed deep, ecstatic to be outside and moving again, delighting in the egrets that dove into the pools in search of fish, the dragonflies darting through reeds. When they came upon a length of trail open to the sun, she stopped and insisted everyone join her for a quick swim. Dripping and laughing afterwards, they continued south, their clothes and skin drying quickly in the mid-day heat.

Perun called a halt when they rounded a bend and came upon a copse of oak trees circling a small patch of grass. “That’s far enough for today,” he said, settling Nadzia on the ground. “Rest a while, and then we’ll turn back.”

He scratched his head and frowned. “I should have thought to bring sustenance. You must be famished.”

“A problem easily solved,” Mokosh waded into the river and emerged with a wriggling pike and a half-dozen cattails. She handed them to Perun, along with a flask of water she pulled from her robes. “I’ll gather herbs and wood for a fire.”

Soon Nadzia was eating a hearty lunch of roasted fish and roots seasoned with rosemary. She held out a morsel for Perun. “I know the goddess of the earth doesn’t eat flesh, but would you like a taste? It’s quite good.”

He grimaced and drew back, swallowing audibly. “Fish are slimy creatures. Their scales stick in my throat.”

“All the more for me.” Nadzia took a bite and chewed with gusto.

They sat under the trees and watched the sun arc towards the horizon. Nadzia lazed in Perun’s arms, muscles relaxing as he massaged her scalp. She hummed a lazy tune. If only she could share the joy flooding her heart. Surely this was the life the Fates intended for the two of them.

Mokosh wandered off and returned with an armful of vibrant wildflowers. She wove them into fragrant garlands, lizards darting up and down her sleeves as she worked, looping each strand around her neck when finished.

“Why don’t we make more of those?” Nadzia suggested. “The meadows around Perun’s temple are bursting with blooms. We can pass them out to the women who attend the wedding.”

“That would be lovely,” the goddess said, nodding in agreement. “Your guests from the Order of Bursztyn will look especially nice with a touch of color livening up their robes.”

She put down a string of yellow rue mixed with lavender hepatica. “Have you chosen a site for their tents, Nadzia? I’m sure they’ll enjoy being as close to you as possible.”

“Not yet. I have time.”

“Don’t take too long to decide. Mother Gintare is most anxious to see how you’re faring. She says they should be here within the week, earlier if she decides to enchant the currents to move in her favor.”

Nadzia’s stomach curdled. She didn’t remember discussing exactly when the abbess and the others would arrive, but she’d expected—given their disgust for the god of storms—that they would spend as little time around him and his followers as possible, a day at the most. Her voice came out a croak. “So soon?”

Something in Perun shifted at the news. A catch in his breath, a hold that tightened and then released, flesh that tingled with new heat. “I’m sure they’ll want a spot by the river,” he said, a shade of apprehension in his tone, “but they are welcome anywhere save the field nearest the temple. That is reserved for my priests.”

Nadzia stretched and slipped out of his arms, studied him from under her lashes as she shook out crumbs from her gown. The scowl was back, his face pinched. Did he fear the abbess’s displeasure?

Mokosh rose, festooned with flowers. “I agree with my brother. Your family is accustomed to a cooler clime. I can help you mark out and prepare a space with plenty of trees, privacy, and easy access to the water. You want them as comfortable as possible, don’t you?”

“Will Keslai be there?” Nadzia asked, hoping the Fates would keep them apart, even though the abbess had already decided. She’d pushed the terror of that morning on the beach—the hate-filled curse—to the back of her mind. The memory spewed forth and taunted her now: Keslai’s face, twisted with spite, wishing her dead.

“She is most aggrieved by her harsh words,” Mokosh replied with a hint of impatience. “The abbess believes the two of you should reconcile. There is no malice in the poor girl’s heart, and her voice is exceptionally strong.”

“But . . .” Nadzia let her objections subside, not wanting to press the matter in front of Perun and spark his curiosity, even though she longed to argue. Why couldn’t Mother Gintare see that one singer alone wouldn’t determine victory or defeat? Any other novice would work as well. It didn’t have to be Keslai.

Did her sister truly wish her well? Nadzia doubted it yet hid her misgivings behind a bright smile. “You’re right,” she said, earning a satisfied nod from the goddess. “My guests’ well-being is most important.”

She rose and stretched and let Perun guide her back to the path. She might lack the power to stop Keslai from attending, but at least the convent’s camp would be well away from the cottage, a distance she hoped to use to her advantage.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Jurate and Kastysis: