THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 19, 20

As the story continues, Perun hears the story of a murderous sultan redeemed by love and wonders if there might be hope for him, while a freak accident sidelines Nadzia and brings her face-to-face again with the god of the Underworld.

For previous chapters, click here.



After a day-long visit to his main temple in the south, Perun hoped to find his bride naked in bed, eager to engage in sensual delights. He didn’t want another lesson on controlling his rage. The suggestion she’d made, to imagine himself floating on the ocean’s chill waves, would serve him well enough in the future. Tonight, he needed a distraction from the agonizing proof of the handmaiden’s claims, that Nadzia couldn’t be trusted. Even if he never learned what she’d hidden in the wardrobe, her quick actions to keep him away from it confirmed his worst fears.

He flung open the cottage door, his loins tight with anticipation, and scowled at the sight that greeted him: Nadzia on the floor with a book in her lap. More were packed within a wooden container stamped with the image of a mermaid. She leaped up to kiss his cheek. “Presents from the Order of Bursztyn. And not just stories to entertain us.” She lifted a large triangle of green fabric from the box and tied it around her shoulders. “A woolen shawl for when the evenings begin to cool.”

He nodded absently, his attention drawn to the cabinet in the corner beside the bed. Gabi had insisted something mysterious was concealed inside. Now he had an unexpected opportunity to learn the truth. He loosened the shawl and smiled at the heat that rose from Nadzia’s flesh as they embraced. “You’ve no need for cloaks. I can keep you warm whenever you wish. Let me put this away for you.”

He moved swiftly, before Nadzia could object, his pulse thundering with dread and anticipation. Loath as he was to discover evidence of treachery, he had to know for certain. He felt Nadzia’s gaze, heard the quickening of her breath as he carefully opened each compartment. Nothing in the first drawer. The middle was empty as well. He hesitated, clenched his jaw. One more to go. A space that would either confirm his suspicions or calm them.

“The top one is fine,” Nadzia said, her words thick and laced with an emotion that could only be dread. “Come back, I’m feeling cold.”

“I think the bottom is best for things you’ll rarely use.” Perun hesitated, his hand upon the last drawer knob. They had but a fortnight together. Why not leave matters as they were, take what pleasure Nadzia was willing to give until he was made whole again, and then send her back to the convent?  He was a god, there was no way she could harm him.

Could he forge ahead, ignore his misgivings and unanswered questions? No, better to make sure, whatever he might learn. He yanked the last drawer until it nearly fell out and hissed in anger at what lay inside. “Did these,” he said, holding up a black leather belt and pouch, “come in your crate as well?”

Nadzia eased off the bed to stand beside him. A muscle in her jaw twitched. “No.”

“Then you are keeping secrets, just as Gabi insisted.” Perun’s skin darkened as fury flushed his veins. Steam hissed from his fingers. He was a fool, a thousand times over, for believing the spawn of a traitorous goddess could be faithful and true.

“Did you tell her to spy on me?”

Perun faltered, taken aback by Nadzia’s accusation. How could she know about the handmaiden’s clandestine assignment? “She . . . she is dedicated to her work.”

“And yet, when told specifically to leave us alone, she tried to sneak in here.”

“What? Impossible. She would never defy me.”

“I saw her from the hilltop. She was quite clumsy for someone trying to meddle unseen. Scratched herself, badly, on the roses Mokosh gifted us. She’ll be healing for weeks to come.” Nadzia’s voice lowered, turned skeptical. “Odd, don’t you think, that a servant would decide to pry on her own, outside of her master’s directions?”

“She . . .” Perun startled as he realized the cunning behind Nadzia’s remarks. She was trying to confound him by diverting his thoughts. He tossed the drawer’s contents on the bed. “You haven’t answered my question. What is the meaning of this? Why did you conceal it?”

Nadzia seemed to fold into herself. Shoulders drooping, she plodded to the table and sat down heavily, looking out at the darkening sky as she spoke. “I did not wish you to think me weak.”

“Why would I believe such a thing?”

“Open the pouch. Be careful, please. I’ve only the one vial.”

Perun squinted at the glass. “Water?”

“From Jūratė’s sacred springs, the ones that supply our convent’s fountain. The abbess gave it to me should I ever pine for home.” Nadzia turned, her face streaked with tears. “I know that becoming your queen—a goddess!—is the greatest honor ever given a mortal, and I’m grateful beyond measure to have been chosen. But my life before the day you came for me was simple. I’m not used to being showered with attention.”

She wiped her cheeks. “I meant no disrespect. Husband and wife should always be honest with each other, no secrets. And I shouldn’t crave the old when the new is so incredible. But there have been moments when I felt ill-suited to my new status. A sip of the goddess’s water fortifies me, reminds me that I can be everything the gods expect.”

“Oh, my love.” Perun rushed across the room and gathered Nadzia in his arms. “Never doubt that you are the answer to my prayers,” he murmured, stroking her hair. “A woman who has brightened my life. I’m not worthy of your regard.”

“The Fates would argue otherwise.”

Perun pulled off Nadzia’s dress and threw aside his robe. “Then let us show them the wisdom of their ways.”


The moon had lost some of its luster, but none of its majesty. Creatures of the night sang throaty choruses under its waning glow, took shelter in the long grasses from birds of prey swooping across the meadow in search of food. Perun watched from the cottage doorsill as a tawny-feathered owl plunged and then flew off with a hapless mouse fixed in its talons. He breathed deep, relishing the nip of the evening air.

So many things made sense now. While the news of Gabi’s injuries saddened him, he admitted to relief at her confinement. She had done all he asked, but stoked his natural wariness as well, kindled the shame he carried at having killed the one he’d loved. His obsession with the idea that the convent plotted behind his back, his belief that Nadzia should be grateful for having the chance to join the gods, had blinded him to all else. He’d never considered how coming to Kaunas and leaving the only family she’d ever known might have been difficult for her.

He looked over his shoulder at the woman slumbering in his bed. Their bed. Black hair spilling over the pillows, mermaid quilt modestly covering her voluptuous, sun-bronzed curves, chest rising and falling evenly as she slept. Did she dream, he wondered, of life at his side, sitting in a throne, a new goddess of the sea? Or was her mind filled with images of the coast, the ocean that was as much a home as the convent?

Perhaps it was time to seek out Dievas and urge him to lift the restrictions placed on the enchanted mare so it could fly to the convent. He snorted at the thought. That was a task easier contemplated than done. Centuries after Jūratė’s death, the creator of all remained heartbroken over her betrayal, although he would never admit as much—at least in public. But Nadzia was entitled to judgment on her own merits, not the actions of a goddess who’d abandoned her own kind for a lowly fisherman.

Were it not for his own hesitance at showing up unannounced in Palanga—the Order of Bursztyn favored his snake of a brother, who no doubt had poisoned every abbess’s mind against him—Perun would transport Nadzia there in his chariot. Every day, if she wished, if that brought her comfort. Still, he knew better than to cross his father.

Maybe he should leave things as they were. Once she became a goddess, Nadzia could travel without constraints. And once he confessed his own desires, that he neither wanted nor needed a wife, that no matter what the Fates decided he could never forgive himself for his deadly wrath, she would most likely return to the convent for good. Far from the craven god who’d used and then discarded her.

But that was yet to come. He hadn’t forgotten his vow, to make Nadzia’s weeks with him a memory capable of alleviating any pain at his deceit. He could start tonight with a trip to the stars. Their charms would soothe and gladden them both.

Moist lips grazed his neck from behind. “It’s a beautiful night,” Nadzia said, easing herself into his arms. “Let’s take a stroll.”

“I thought we might explore the heavens. Would you like that?”

“I’ve had such a busy day, I’d rather relax on the hilltop and share one of my novels with you. There’s plenty of light.”

“Enough for you to read?”

“I know the stories by heart—the best ones, at least.” Nadzia gave Perun a quick squeeze. “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” She returned with a book bound in rich leather and set it in his hands. “One Thousand and One Nights, tales of adventure and passion to last us for years to come.

Perun swallowed a lump in his throat. Nadzia was so eager to share, he had to match her zeal. She could never suspect their time together would be much shorter. He ran a finger across the richly embossed cover. “Passion and adventure, you say?” He waggled his eyebrows and winked. “Lead on, my love.”

Nadzia giggled like a young girl and grabbed his elbow, pulling him outside. She chattered about her plans for decorating the cottage as they walked uphill to his sacred grove. Perun pretended to take interest in the details, nodding from time to time, murmuring agreement. He steered her toward the bench when they reached the clearing, but she pulled him away. “On the ground if you please. So I can lie against your chest.”

Perun removed his robe, leaving only his loin cloth, and spread it on the grass. When he was settled, Nadzia snug within his arms, he placed the book in her hands. “I’m curious. Who writes 1,001 tales?”

“It’s a collection from other lands: Arabia, Persia, Mesopotamia, to name a few. This is only one of the volumes. There’s twelve in all.”

“A disparate assortment, then?”

“They all stem from the same beginning. It’s rather violent, I’m afraid, but you need to understand the circumstances from which the stories emerged. Shall I begin?”

Deep within, something stirred inside Perun, told him to beware. Yet he had no logical reason to deny Nadzia. “As you wish, my love.”

She rested her hand atop the book. “Once there lived a monarch named Shahryar who discovered his first wife was unfaithful to him. Enraged, he killed her and vowed to marry a virgin of noble blood every night and then have her beheaded the next morning before she could dishonor him. When there were no more virgins left, the vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offered to become the king’s next bride.”

Perun sputtered in disbelief. Did Nadzia not see the similarities of this story to his own, or was she deliberately testing his temper with a tale about a man betrayed by his true love? “I don’t like the sound of this tale,” he grumbled.

“Oh, the king was horrid at first,” Nadzia agreed. “But Scheherazade believed that he was in pain, that his jealousy could be overcome, his good heart restored. Much as the Immortal Council did with you.”

“And you liken yourself to her?”

Nadzia held up his pendant. “That’s why I was chosen. To bring your virtues to light and show the world that you are more than fire and fury.”

“It is a remarkable coincidence.”

“There are hundreds of tales with similar narratives. A man whose base instincts compel vicious deeds. A woman who sees beyond the beast and allows his better nature to prevail.”

Perun fought the urge to push Nadzia aside and withdraw to his constellation until the wedding. He’d thought the worst of her, been prepared to expose her artifice. He was a beast. He had no better nature to reveal. Hadn’t he come back tonight, determined to use his lust to escape the guilt he harbored for letting a daughter of Jūratė believe he welcomed her presence?

He felt a tug on his arm, looked down into Nadzia’s lively eyes.

“Shall I continue?” she asked. “I think you’ll enjoy what’s to come.”

“Of course, my love.”

She kissed him lightly and nestled closer. “Once in his chambers, Scheherazade pleaded for one last farewell to her beloved younger sister, who requested a story, one that recounted the first voyage of a sailor named Sinbad. As the night passed, the king became enraptured by Scheherazade’s voice, the way she conjured images with her words. When dawn broke, she stopped, the story unfinished. She thanked the king for allowing her to be with her sister, and said she was ready to meet her fate.”

“A clever ruse,” Perun said. “A man so enthralled could not send his wife away to be executed, not if he wanted to hear the rest of the tale.”

“You grasp the nuances.” Nadzia had a smile in her voice. “I thought you might. Yes, the king spared Scheherazade’s life so she could finish the story when he came to her the next night. She did so and began a second, more exciting tale. As before, at daybreak, she stopped, unfinished. Once again, she was spared.”

“And this continued for 1,001 nights?”

“Until she told him she had no more tales.”

“A brave woman, this Scheherazade.”

“She believed she could appease the king’s anger, lay bare the kindness within, and she did. When the storytelling ended, he realized he loved her and made her his queen.”

“As you will become mine, dearest Nadzia.” Perun closed his eyes and buried his face in the soft flesh of her neck, savored her sweet scent. She stroked his arms and began humming softly. His spirits soared, buoyed by elation, a sense of peace he’d never have believed possible before this night. If one woman’s devotion could save a murderous king, surely a brutal god dared hope for the same. He offered a silent prayer to the Fates for giving him a second chance at love.

And the ice around his heart began to melt.



Every year during the Harvest Festival, novices from the Order of Bursztyn erected a tent on the public beach in Palanga and mesmerized crowds with stories—fantastic adventures during the day, ribald escapades at night when the children were safely tucked in bed. From long experience, Nadzia recognized the signs of a spellbound audience: clouded eyes, faces soft with dreamy smiles, long sighs followed by thunderous applause when the teller of tales finished. Such was the magic of a siren’s voice.

She’d expected a similar reaction from Perun tonight. He surprised her, asking questions and adding comments that showed he discerned the subtleties of her narrative. Only at the story’s end did she feel him relax, as if he’d found solace. Perhaps he saw a bit of Scheherazade in his bride. A woman who redeemed a killer and became his loving queen. A woman destined to love a man others loathed.

He sat quietly with her now in the clearing where they would wed, his throat rumbling with a deep vibration that held its own enchantment. Nadzia leaned into his warmth and imagined an eternity of nights like this, glorious sex followed by walks, stories, serene companionship. She lazed against him, at ease with the world, content to simply sit with him and marvel at the sky.

He stroked her hair, lulling her into a half-sleep, and then nudged her lightly. “My legs grow stiff. Shall we continue our walk?”

They passed through the circle of oaks, their lobed leaves silver in the moonlight, and emerged into a meadow. Perun picked a yellow evening primrose and blushed as he presented it to Nadzia. “For a woman as bright as the sun.”

She smiled at his shyness, inhaled the sweet scent, and tucked the flower behind her ear. “Where are we headed?”

“I’ve journeyed all the way to Kaunas some nights. Few are awake at so late an hour, but sometimes I’ll encounter a midnight rambler or a restless shepherd who loves nothing better than to talk about his flock. Did you know that Skudde sheep come into heat out of season?”

“So the lambs are born any time of year? I’d love to see one.”

“I can’t promise you that, but it’s a fine walk and not too far.”

The night was warm, the moon still full enough that Nadzia strolled without the worry of having to pay attention to the ground. The River Nemunas sparkled to her right, always a welcome view. “I’m curious. Mokosh visits my convent, you mingle with your followers. What about rest of the gods? Why don’t we see more of them?”

“Most return to the Tree of Life when their duties are done.”

Nadzia recalled the numerous doors she’d passed on her way to meet Dievas and Rodzenica. “Each deity has a room there?”

“Yes, but there are also halls and chambers where they gather.” Perun huffed with scorn. “Their petty quarrels sicken me. They argue over which realm is most important, who’s more beautiful or beloved, weave plots to lessen the influence of others while bolstering their own. I have no use for their intrigues. I show up when summoned and gladly keep away elsewise.”

Nadzia pulled her hand from Perun’s, her pulse racing. She should feel relieved at his derision. A god who sneered at the schemes of his brothers and sisters would likely dismiss rumors of one involving him. But nothing was certain. Although Nadzia had professed ignorance of the divine world in the hopes of discovering new information, every daughter of Jūratė learned the history of the gods. They were inconstant, capricious, willful. An imprudent slip of the tongue in their presence could spell doom. “Sounds horrible. We won’t have to go there often, will we?”

“Only when called. And I’ll be at your side. No one will bother you.” Perun stretched and blew out a husky breath. “Enough about my brethren. Tell me of your conversation with Mokosh. Are the arrangements satisfactory?”

Nadzia struggled to keep her face calm. She didn’t want to think about the Order’s conspiracy to avenge the mermaid goddess, how Veles planned to finally trounce his brother and rob him of eternal life. She hadn’t forgotten her vow of vengeance, but there had to be alternatives to mayhem and death. Jūratė wanted her children to thrive. Why not heed her wishes instead of seeking retribution?

Mokosh claimed that the goddess’s daughters were ready to die to avenge her. Nadzia wasn’t sure she agreed. Her sisters were strong-willed and vibrant, unlikely to welcome a premature visit to the Underworld no matter how honorable the cause. It didn’t make sense to risk lives and leave no one to oversee the Order of Bursztyn. Or was the abbess willing to perish because she assumed Perun’s bride would take on that duty?

Nadzia rubbed the hairs rising on her arms. She’d counted on becoming immortal before the keening started, but just now she couldn’t quite recall the specific order of things. Was it the exchange of vows first, then Dievas bestowing divinity, and the god of storms’ heart restored at the end?

Or had she remembered it wrong?

“I think it’s going to be a wonderful ceremony,” she answered, her voice deliberately casual, “but I’m not sure I remember the sequence. When will your father turn me into a goddess?”

Perun laughed, a gravelly sound filled with delight. “Not soon enough. I can’t wait to see you in full immortal glory.”

“Nor I.” Nadzia joined the laughter with a melodic trill. “So, we wed, I become a goddess, and you’re made whole?”

“I’m sorry, my love, I can’t say. Would you like me to ask?”

Nadzia hesitated, torn between needing specifics and arousing suspicion. Perun might consider her request an innocent inquiry. His father? Too many unknowns. “No, don’t bother. I suppose I’m a bit nervous. Will it hurt?”

“Perhaps. You are the sole human to be granted this honor. Try not to worry. I expect any discomfort will pass once you are fully divine. I will comfort you as best I can.” He stopped and peered down, his face lined with concern. “You look fatigued. Are you weary? We can turn back.”

Nadzia grinned and scampered ahead of him. “Catch me if you can.”

He loitered behind. Did his bulk, Nadzia wondered, prevent him from moving with speed or grace on land? He usually traveled by chariot, barreling through the sky. She turned to wait for him, tripped over a hedgehog darting out of its burrow, and fell, twisting her ankle. “Oh!”

Perun was there in a heartbeat, moving faster than she would have believed possible. “What happened? Are you injured?”

“I tripped and hurt my foot,” Nadzia said, wincing against the pain. “Bring me to the river. The cold water will reduce the swelling.”

Picking her up as if she weighed little more than a feather, Perun strode carefully, his face tweaked with distress. “I shouldn’t have let you rush ahead. These fields are rife with holes and uneven ground.”

“It’s just a sprain.”

“You don’t understand,” Perun insisted, his eyes darting between the pendant at her breast and the ground. “I need to keep you safe. If any harm should come to you before we wed, if your affection erodes because I’ve been negligent in some way. . .” He fell silent, his face shuttered and grim.

The silence stretched out between them. He needed his heart, that much was certain, but Nadzia had never sensed that her feelings made any difference when it came to their marriage. She wondered anew at the exchange she’d witnessed at the Tree of Life, when his mother assured him—after examining the pendant—that all was well. Why did that matter?

Perun cleared his throat, then gently deposited her at the edge of the riverbank. “Shall I remove your sandals?”

“Yes, thank you.” Nadzia gasped as he unlaced the ties and bathed her foot with water. The injury was more profound than she’d realized, the skin turning blue—a fracture, not a mere wrenching. She reached for the hem of her dress and lifted it toward Perun. “You need to tear off a strip, douse it with water, and bind the ankle. I think the bone may be broken.”

Perun muttered under his breath as he followed Nadzia’s instructions. “My fault, always my fault. Why did I think that would ever change?”

“Stop blaming yourself!” Nadzia snapped. “You don’t dictate my choices.”

The grousing stopped. Perun reached for Nadzia, stroked her cheek. “What did I do to deserve such a treasure?”

“Something good, I’d say,” Nadzia replied with a weak laugh. “Take me home, please. I need to rest.”

She slipped in and out of consciousness in his arms, roused from time to time by the sound of his continuing recriminations. Too tired to protest, she returned to dreams of a joyous god and his bride frolicking with lambs in moon-dappled meadows. A happy ending, free of strife.

When she came fully awake again, she lay in bed covered with the mermaid quilt, her foot atop pillows, candles burning on the fireplace mantel. Perun kissed her brow. “I’m off to fetch Ludvika. Do you need anything before I go?”

She grabbed the edge of his robe as he turned to leave. “I do feel safe,” she whispered. “More than you know.”

He nodded, gave her a look full of longing, and left.

Nadzia closed her eyes, grateful for the quiet. She inhaled and exhaled, deeply, slowly, focusing her attention on her breath instead of the throbbing in her foot. She’d achieved a steady rhythm when a long hiss from the shadows broke her concentration.

“Splendid work, my dear. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you had genuine feelings for the brute.”

Nadzia jerked toward the speaker and squealed at a fresh spasm of pain. “What are you doing here?”

“Keeping an eye on our champion, what else?” Veles emerged, a snake barely a foot high and sandy-colored, nearly invisible against the stones surrounding the fireplace. He writhed and swelled until he gained his regular black-and-gold form. “Truly, you are even better than we expected. My brother is completely in your thrall. This,” he said, motioning at her foot, “is a nice touch.”

“I didn’t fall on purpose.”

“Of course not.” Veles winked and slithered to the cabinet by the bed. “Nonetheless, just think of how attentive your stormy god will be while you’re bedridden. Wait and see. I expect he’ll finish his temple visits in a few hours, not days. No more dancing girls or drunken jags with his priests. Not when there’s a lovelorn girl pining for his care.”

Nadzia stared at the flickering candles. She didn’t mind Perun hovering over her—his concern was rather sweet. Endearing, if she was being honest. But her skin crawled at the thought of Veles making note of her every move. She sucked in a breath, horrified at the idea that he’d positioned himself in the cottage without her knowledge. “You . . . you haven’t been here . . . not while . . .?”

“Please.” A slow shudder rippled across the god of the Underworld’s scales. “I’d rather gouge out my eyes than watch the two of you mate.”

“You might have told me this was part of the plan. I don’t like being kept in the dark. And I don’t like being shadowed. Don’t you trust me?”

Veles flicked his tongue over black lips. “Peevishness doesn’t become you, my dear. Suffice it to say that we have too much invested to leave anything to chance. Besides, the abbess tells me you’re quite the sensual creature. Can’t have you mistaking lust for true affection, can we?”

“I know the difference.”

“Do you?” The slits in Veles’s eyes narrowed. “Then we needn’t worry that you’ll lose yourself playing his bride? We’re counting on you to weaken him, not fall in love. Don’t forget he’s a killer.”

Nadzia matched his gaze. Maybe his group of conspirators really did want someone to keep track of her. She had their support, they deserved to know if she was making progress in return. Yet she couldn’t shake the feeling that Veles had chosen to spy on his own. His raging hatred for the god of storms took precedence over all but the urge to see his brother destroyed. A brother, she was learning, who possessed qualities that Veles could never appreciate. “I know what he did, and I haven’t forgotten my promise. That doesn’t give you the right to pry.”

“Think of me as a friendly overseer,” Veles said with a fang-tipped grin. “We’ve little time left, and we need assurances that all is progressing as it should.”

Nadzia traced a dolphin on her quilt. “Have I given you reason to think otherwise?”

“In words, no. You do seem more . . . comfortable than I’d like.”

“I won’t get far if Perun thinks I’m ill at ease in his company. He’s supposed to want me, desire me to the point of abandoning caution. Isn’t that the plan? I can hardly break down his barriers by keeping my distance.” She pursed her lips, allowed herself a small measure of annoyance. “You would do well to keep in mind my years of training at the convent. I’m well prepared. I know what I’m doing. If you can’t see that, then you are blinded by animosity. My actions speak for themselves.”

Veles’s lips twitched into a familiar smirk. “Such a dear, dear girl. I can’t wait for the moment my brother realizes you’ve betrayed him.”

Voices neared. Two figures—one large, one small—passed the cottage window, dimming the moonlight filtering through the panes. Veles slipped back to his shadowy corner, shrinking as he moved, his scales changing to match the color of the hearth stones. “Continue as you will. Just remember, I’m here.”

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Scheherazade:

THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 17, 18

We’re halfway through the story! In this week’s installment, Nadzia discovers a new ally, takes a much-needed break in the river, and uses her wits to convince the gardener that all is well.

For previous chapters, click here.


Chapter 17


As goddess of the earth, Mokosh ruled over its groundwaters, a jurisdiction that included the sacred springs flowing to the Order of Bursztyn’s fountain. She visited the convent often, not just to confirm the purity of its water, but to monitor the rearing and education of her sister’s children, a task she’d accepted with sorrowful determination after the mermaid goddess perished. Novices and Elders alike felt a special kinship with her, trusted her as someone who wanted only the best for them.

Did that affinity, Nadzia wondered, extend to confiding their plan to vanquish the god of storms? Perhaps each abbess had kept that information private for over five centuries, showing Mokosh what she expected to see and nothing more.

How was Nadzia supposed to know?

She pushed down the anxiety clamping her stomach like a vise as she walked with Perun in the morning breeze. Best to maintain her façade of contentment while watching the goddess for clues.

If Mokosh knew of the Order’s conspiracy, she gave no outward sign, greeting the couple at the bottom of the temple steps with a warm embrace redolent of pine and apple-scented briars. She wore a simple gown covered by forest green robes lined with pockets that held various objects and small creatures she kept for company. Flowers vined through her russet curls, crowned by a tiny nest of hummingbirds. “Good morrow, my dears,” she gushed. “May the Fates bless your union with joy and tranquility.”

“Happiness I gladly accept,” Perun said with a boisterous laugh. “We shall see whether I am suited to peace and quiet.”

Mokosh pinched his cheek. “It looks like the change has already begun. You appear more at ease, if perhaps a tad tired. Busy night?”

She turned her attention to Nadzia. “How lovely you’ve grown! I hope my brother appreciates your charms.”

“Indeed I do.” Perun kissed both women and stepped away. “It is good to see you, sister. I hope you have a productive day. Nadzia, I look forward to our evening.”

He moved back several yards, morphed into eagle form and flew off with a high-pitched whistle of farewell. Mokosh waited until he was a speck in the sky and then linked arms with Nadzia. “It’s far too fine a morning to talk inside. Let me show you the grove where the ceremony will be held.”

They followed a path behind the garden that led to a hilltop clearing surrounded by shrubs and giant oaks. The trees provided a welcome respite from the summer heat. This far south there was no soothing ocean breeze to counter the sun’s intensity. Nadzia wiped away a bead of sweat trickling down her brow. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be here long—she yearned for a private, cool swim.

Mokosh guided them to a bench that overlooked the meadows and river and gave an unrestricted view of the cottage. “We hope everyone will be in place no later than mid-morning. Although Immortals are immune to heat, mortals are not, especially those coming from the coast.”

“They can always cool off in the Nemunas. I’m looking forward to a dip later.” Nadzia peered down at the dock, where a boatman chatted with Adomas as they unloaded cargo from a small vessel tied to the pier. “Look,” she said, rising halfway from her seat. “That box . . . it has turquoise mermaids stamped on the top and sides . . . it’s from the Order of Bursztyn!”

A baby fox peeked out of Mokosh’s robes and barked. “Hungry are you, my little one?” The goddess held out her hand, murmured, and offered the kit a palmful of ripe blueberries. “Yes, the convent has shipped a parcel to you.”

“You’re not surprised.” Nadzia fell back onto the bench  “It’s here at your behest?”

“I have heard the prayers of many a woman who has left home. It is a grievous experience even when done for noble purposes.  Small comforts can ease the transition, help you stay strong. I spoke with your gardener, too. He mentioned your desire for certain items. Sister Ramuna and I filled a carton with your favorite books. For solace and entertainment.”

“Thank you.” Nadzia dabbed at her eyes. She hadn’t expected anyone, let alone a goddess, to understand the sorrow she felt at leaving her family, no matter how righteous the cause. What good would it do to speak of her loneliness? She had a task to fulfill. Her feelings didn’t matter.

“So, tell me, dear,” Mokosh urged. “Has it been difficult?”

“It’s hard, being away from the sea,” Nadzia admitted. “But I’m going to be made a goddess. I’ll protect the oceans and rivers for eternity, leaving you with one less task. Knowing that helps.”

“You are in an extraordinary position. The pressure to succeed is enormous. I imagine it’s most wearying. Don’t forget the flask Sister Bronis gave you. The water within is most refreshing, and I enchanted the vial so that it never runs dry.”

“The flask,” Nadzia echoed dully. Was Mokosh hinting at something more?

Mokosh stroked the fox until it purred. “And those books from the convent. You have a penchant for stories about love and adventure. An interesting array, well suited to your purpose. My brother will enjoy hearing them. You have such a dulcet voice. He’ll be so enamored he’ll never guess your true goal.”

“My flask . . . my goal.” Nadzia studied her companion. As much as she would love to have Mokosh as an ally, she didn’t want to reveal secrets only to discover she’d been tricked. “You mean—?”

“I know what the convent intends, yes, and I support them whole-heartedly.”

“But it’s contrary to what your parents want. How can you act against them?”

Mokosh’s fists clenched. The fox yelped in protest and retreated to the safety of her robes. “They did not find Jūratė clinging to life in her cave. They did not watch her essence fade after she gave birth, hear her beg me, as she lay dying, to watch over her daughters and keep them safe from the god of storms.”

“The Order’s rebellion was your idea?”

“You can thank Veles for that. As part of the council deciding Perun’s fate, he argued for death—expulsion, at the very least. Wasted words. Dievas has always indulged the fiery god he created. He refused to consider so harsh a sentence and coerced the other members into ruling as he wished.”

“The Fates accepted his judgement.”

Mokosh laughed bitterly. “What else could they do? Faeries are proud beings. They would rather agree to absolve a murderer than admit he’d taken them by surprise.”

Nadzia reached for the goddess’s hand, kneading the warm flesh until it relaxed. “It must have been agonizing to watch him walk free.”

“A pain shared by others, as Veles and I soon discovered. Many of my brethren agreed that killing one of our own was unforgivable, that justice had not been served. And so our cabal began.”

“Is it a large group?” Nadzia felt a stirring of hope. With a phalanx of deities supporting her, success was more likely.

“We have not kept our resistance unknown by spilling names. I have shared this much only so you will not feel so alone. Continue with your mission. It appears you’ve done well so far. Perun looked almost peaceful before he flew off.”

“We had an incredible night.” Nadzia blushed at the memory. “But I’m worried he’s using my handmaiden as a spy.”

“His servants are loyal. There’s little they won’t do for him. Tell me, how has this girl drawn your suspicions?”

Nadzia squinted, remembering the unease she felt in the temple. “She creeps up on me like a mouse, as if she wants to catch me in a mistake. I’m certain she knows I hid something in one of my wardrobe drawers yesterday. A shawl I forgot to leave behind when I visited the convent with Veles. I was stuffing it inside when Gabi startled me.”

“I spoke with the girl at the temple before you arrived this morning. She did not seem happy about your switching domiciles.”

“At least now there’s a door I can close. And all the servants have been instructed to knock before entering.”

Mokosh snorted lightly. “Which works only when you’re inside. Isn’t it part of Gabi’s job to keep all the buildings clean?”

“Not anymore. I told Perun I wanted to take care of our cottage.”

“A wise decision, yet it won’t deter the girl if she is my brother’s emissary. You can’t possibly stay confined in a stone house with a killer, no matter how lively his ardor.”

Nadzia rubbed at an ache in her temple. She hadn’t considered all the repercussions of moving. “I just wanted someplace to bewitch Perun without worrying about spies, but all Gabi need do is watch and wait for me to leave. It won’t take long for her to realize I enjoy swimming every day. I suppose I should find another place to keep my belongings, especially the belt from Sister Bronis, although gods know where that might be.”

Mokosh grinned as the fox peeked out again. “Gabi won’t be able to work if she’s stricken with a rash,” she said blandly, offering the animal more fruit. “You have patches of stinging nettles nearby. I can arrange for the girl to stumble into them.”

“Cuts from nettles heal in a day or two,” Nadzia replied, her shoulders drooping in disappointment. “And if they don’t, the cook has a large herbal garden. I’d wager she has a balm for everything.”

“Then I will ensure the girl rubs up against one of my plants. Something prickly, to match her temperament. Look, there she is now, sneaking toward your house.” Mokosh flicked her fingers; red rose bushes appeared on both sides of the cottage’s entry. Gabi’s dress snagged on thorns as she reached for the doorknob. She tried to dislodge the fabric but caught her hands in the briar. Her shriek carried up the hill.

“You needn’t worry about that one again,” Mokosh said, her lips twitching. “Those scratches will blister and weep; her recovery should take some time.”

Nadzia squirmed at the girl’s obvious pain as she fled back to her home, calling for the cook. “She’ll get better eventually, won’t she?”

“Not until the day you marry.”

“Who will tend Perun’s temple in the meantime? I don’t want Ludvika to take on more duties.”

The goddess stood and stretched. ““Let me handle the matter. Now, we’d best talk about your wedding. That is,” she said with a wink, “why I’m here, after all.”

 “Of course. I want to be able to answer any questions, should Perun ask.”

“I’m sure he’s been informed and already forgotten the details. He tends to focus on his own concerns. Come.”

Mokosh guided Nadzia to the middle of the clearing. “The two of you will stand beneath an arch here, the gods on one side, mortals on the other. Dievas and Rodzenica intend to speak briefly at the onset. My father will conduct the marriage ceremony and then make you a goddess.”

“And your mother will liberate Perun’s heart from this stone.” Nadzia toyed with her pendant as doubt flitted through her mind. “Are you certain my sisters’ keening will immobilize all the gods? Your parents are formidable.”

“We need only a few moments. You must act without delay. Hesitate and all is lost.”

“Everyone will be in attendance, is that right? Even the gods and goddesses who wish Perun ill?”

Mokosh knelt, beckoned to a rabbit sniffing the base of a tree, and fed it a handful of sweet-smelling grass. “Of course. Our absence would draw suspicion.”

“I hate to think that anyone who sides with the convent will suffer, even briefly.”

“Veles has everything under control. The mermaids’ screeches won’t harm us. We’ll have stuffed our ears with beeswax, we’ll only pretend to succumb.”

“The humans will have no such protection.”

“An unfortunate consequence,” Mokosh said, lifting her shoulders in a half shrug. “One we cannot avoid. Don’t fret overlong over their discomfort. Veles will leave a basin of magicked bellflower tincture outside the cook’s cottage with instructions for its use. A drop in each ear and the pain will vanish.”

Nadzia fell silent, remembering her unease around the god of the underworld. That he despised his tempestuous brother was beyond dispute. Just how far he’d go to exact revenge was the mystery yet to be solved. She sensed that Mokosh would not welcome comments or questions casting doubt on Veles’s motives. Not after half a milennia of plotting together. If there were puzzles to be unraveled, she’d have to find the solutions on her own.

She returned the discussion to the ceremony. “It sounds as if the whole event won’t  last more than a few minutes.”

“Happy as most are to see Perun wed,” Mokosh replied, nodding in agreement, “they are even happier for a chance to revel.”

Nadzia laughed at that. “I believe the mortals are looking forward to a party as well. What should we serve?”

“I’ve already spoke with Ludvika. She’ll arrange for tables, tents, platters, utensils, and such. I’ll provide ample food and drink, make sure this area is properly festooned.”

“What about the Immortals?”

“Rodzenica is planning a most exquisite affair at the Tree of Life. Endless nectar, strolling musicians, a rare appearance by the Queen of the Fairies—I understand she’ll perform a song written in your honor.”

Nadzia plucked a blue-petaled wildflower and twirled the stem. “I wonder if anyone will even want to celebrate. What happens after Rodzenica realizes her son’s heart is gone? Won’t she be furious? Dievas, too?”

Her heart thumped wildly in sudden fear. “My sisters! They’ll be punished!”

“Perhaps even slain.” Mokosh’s breath caught. She took a moment to compose herself. When she spoke again, her voice was clear and steady. “They know the risks. Their commitment has not wavered. But never forget that those of us who support their defiance will do everything in our power to keep Jūratė’s daughters safe from harm.”

Nadzia shivered at the idea of possible death and destruction. “You’ll expose yourselves in the process. Maybe even start a war amongst the gods.”

“We have honed the art of hiding our actions in plain sight. We do not anticipate chaos, at least not for long. Dievas craves order. We expect him to direct the council to convene at at the Tree of Life, summon his children and listen to our accounts. Which, I assure you, will be quite muddled and uncertain. He’ll never learn what really happened.”

Nadzia tore at the blossom in her hand, shredding the petals. “I didn’t expect things to be so complicated. So much could go wrong.”

“That is true of any undertaking.” Mokosh said softly. “But if we do not seek justice, none will. Remember, you are a child of the earth and sea, graced with strength from both elements. We believe you will triumph, and I am but a prayer away should you need reassurance.”

Nadzia’s eyes welled as the goddess embraced her and then disappeared into the trees, trailed by a fawn. The knots in her stomach loosened, and she made her way down the hill to the dock, ready to let the river work its magic.

Chapter 18


Beads of sweat trickled down Nadzia’s back as she descended the hillside and crossed a meadow of knee-high flowers, stopping occasionally to rub wild rosemary between her palms and inhale its glorious scent. A trio of golden orioles passed above, flying through a brilliant blue, cloudless sky, their paths straight with a few shallow dips, their song a fluting weela-wee-ooo.

She waved to the gardener sorting boxes on the dock, her spirits high now that Gabi was indisposed. A temporary solution, true, but she had Mokosh’s assurance that the girl would make a full recovery. No lasting harm, no scars. Best of all, no more worries about spying or churlish behavior from a servant whose loyalty would never extend to the god of storms’ bride. Nadzia was free to continue her seduction, bolstered by the surprising news that a secret league of gods and goddesses supported the convent’s quest for vengeance, not just the slippery Veles—whose motives still gave her pause. She didn’t question his hatred of Perun, the evidence for that was indisputable. She simply couldn’t shake the feeling that his true intentions remained hidden.

Adomas greeted his mistress with a stiff bow, kept his eyes lowered and fixed on the newly delivered parcels when he straightened. He pointed to the crate stamped with turquoise mermaids. “There’s one for you today. Shall I open it here for your inspection or do you trust me to deliver the contents to your cottage undisturbed? I don’t want to intrude on your privacy.”

His bristling tone took Nadzia by surprise; he’d shown no sign of ill-humor after her directive the previous night. She bit back a retort. This was his home, after all, and he’d welcomed her warmly, without suspicion or petulance. He deserved respect and honesty—as much as she could manage, given the circumstances.

“My desire for solitude was not meant as censure,” she said, keeping her voice warm and friendly. “There have been no misdeeds or improprieties on your part. The temple is simply too open, too exposed. Everyone else here can shut a door, seal off the world when day is done, and find rejuvenation in whatever manner pleases them. I deserve the same courtesy, a place to rest and reflect.”

“Were you not surrounded by others at the Order of Bursztyn?”

“I shared a room with my sisters, yes, but it was closed to outsiders.”

Nadzia reached out to the gardener, waited for him to take her hands and meet her gaze. “You remind me of one of my favorite Elders at the convent,” she said, running her thumbs lightly over his fingers. “Sister Bronis is her name. She oversees our gardens and meadery. I have complete faith in her discretion, her honesty, her virtue. Though we are but newly met, I sense similar qualities in you. Believe me, a request for seclusion on my part was meant neither as a personal affront to your character nor a sign of displeasure. It was simply the wish of a somewhat overwhelmed novice for time alone to contemplate the vast changes in her life.”

Adomas nodded, his eyes glistening. “Forgive me. Perun and I took such joy in preparing your part of the temple, we gave no thought to the concerns you’ve raised. Although, come to think of it, I do recall Ludvika remarking at one point that thicker curtains might be wise.”

“Men are used to shaping things as they see fit, eschewing women’s counsel,” Nadzia said with a wry smile, releasing his hands. “Consider this a gentle reminder rather than a rebuke. Now, you have chores and I’m dying for a swim. Is there someplace secluded nearby where I can disrobe?”

“You’re going into the river naked? I don’t think the master would approve.”

 Nadzia laughed at the shock on the gardener’s face. “Don’t worry. I’m not of a mind to bare all around strangers. I can swim in my chemise, but I’d rather not leave my gown on the pier.” She shaded her eyes, scanned the area. “Perun said you had a food locker. I don’t see one.”

“I keep it under the dock,” Adomas said, pointing to a ladder that descended to the riverbank. “Your clothes will be safe inside, albeit a tad cold.”

“I’m a daughter of the sea. I’ve yet to encounter a chill I can’t handle.”

“Then I will see to my work.” Adomas paused, seemingly at a loss for words. He let out a long breath and put a hand to his heart. “Thank you, mistress. I will try to do better.”

“And I will strive to make my intentions clear so that we always understand one another,” Nadzia said, echoing his action. “Please set my package on the floor next to my rocking chair. I shouldn’t be gone more than a few hours.”

“I imagine you’ll be famished by then. Help yourself to whatever you like from the cooler. I stock it daily.”

“I’ll do that.” Nadzia slipped off her sandals, laced them around her neck, and climbed down to the end of the ladder. She stepped into ankle-deep water surrounded by clusters of reeds, a haven for carp and catfish hiding from hungry predators. Adomas’s rock-walled chamber nestled against the riverbank beneath the back dock pilings. A clever arrangement. The water chilled the food and the stones kept out scavengers.

She slid aside the thin top stone, revealing several earthenware crocks. Curious, she checked each one. Boiled eggs, cheese with caraway seeds, strawberries, a flask of mint tea. A perfect repast after a hearty excursion. Adomas might be a bit thick-headed when it came to women, but he certainly knew his food.

After easing off her gown and carefully folding it atop the crocks, she replaced the cover and tied her footwear to the ladder’s middle rung. Within moments, she’d slipped into the river, blessedly alone in her element at last.

Relief surged through her veins, melting away the tension that lingered in her shoulders. She dove deep, seeking stillness and sanctuary, a respite from the day’s stifling heat. Gills opened on both sides of her neck, webs grew between her fingers and feet. With strokes swift and sure, she swam against currents that—if offered no resistance—would carry her westward to Palanga, a temptation best ignored. These waters were crystal clear, the risk of being seen by a fisherman too great. As much as she preferred the salty swells of the sea, she would have to make do with what was at hand, never give anyone reason to question or remark upon her presence away from Kaunas.

After a few miles, she surfaced to better appraise her surroundings. Each bend of the river brought new pleasures: dragonflies flitting near the shore, their orange wings flashing in the sun as they cruised for flies and gnats; a white stork prowling amid cattails for spiny-finned zander fish; turtles sunning on logs; fire-bellied toads serenading her with throaty songs.

 Next time out she’d spend more time above water and appreciate them more fully. Follow one of the numerous tributaries leading to places unknown. With so much to explore, this month away from the coast might actually prove pleasant, and the younger novices at the convent would definitely relish hearing about places they’d never seen. Maybe she’d even catch a glimpse of the colorful yet reclusive vagabonds who lived in caravans and camped outside Palanga each year, venturing into town to sell their wares at the Harvest Festival.

The sun blazed straight ahead, perhaps halfway on its path between the crest of the sky and the horizon. Time to turn around if she wanted to be ready at the cottage before twilight’s gloaming. She sank down into the water and changed direction, marveling at the way the sun sparkled underwater. Something shiny glimmered from a hole in the river bottom. Nadzia ventured closer and reached out, curious. The hole shook and widened. She backed away, readied a note in her throat that would immobilize any creature and allow her to escape—if her voice crippled monsters of the deep, it should be just as effective here.

The water trembled, the river grew thick with silt, clouding her vision. Nadzia held her breath and then sputtered in surprise as the sludge cleared and a dappled snake burst upward with bared fangs.

She shot to the surface, furious. Fates be damned, was there no respite from the lord of the Underworld?

“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Veles said, joining her with a grin that suggested otherwise. “Still, you must agree, this is a most opportune place to meet, a good distance from my brother’s temple. Even if we’re seen, there’s no reason for anyone to go squealing to Kaunas. For all anyone knows, we’re simply two friends—even lovers—enjoying the pleasures of the Nemunas.”

“A fiction possible only if you keep your torso above water and your scales hidden.”

“And you refrain from waving your webbed fingers.” Veles circled Nadzia, his movements slow and sinuous. “Let’s not argue. That isn’t why I’ve come.”

Nadzia eyed him warily. He might be a stalwart ally in the abbess’s eyes, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was much more than he appeared. “What do you want?”

“Such a suspicious girl—you’d think we were foes rather than allies. I assure you, there’s nothing sinister about my presence. You’ve traveled far today. I simply thought to suggest turning back so you weren’t overly tired. This is a lovely reprieve, but you should save your energy for my brother. Gods know he can be exhausting.”

“And you should pay more attention. I was heading toward Kaunas before you interrupted me.”

“Indeed.” Veles flicked his tongue and grinned again as he gently nudged Nadzia. “Come along, my dear. I’ll happily escort you.”

Nadzia gritted her teeth. “That isn’t necessary. I know the way.”

“Indulge me, dear girl. This is a welcome break from my realm.”

“You don’t like ruling the dead?”

“I might have chosen another domain, but I’ve made the Underworld my own. Besides, Jūratė is there to brighten my days and nights, I can’t complain about that. Which brings me to more pressing issues. Mokosh told you of our consortium?”

Nadzia sighed and gave herself over to the natural pull of the river. She needed to put aside the personal reservations she had about Veles—if the goddess of the earth trusted him, she could do no less. “Yes. I’m heartened to know of their support.”

“Remember us if your spirits flag. We are most willing to help our champion.”

Mercifully, Veles fell silent as they continued down the river, rousing from time to time to point out colorful fish or a wonderfully variegated stone. The sky paled, took on the first hues of dusk, casting the dome of Perun’s temple in rosy light. Veles veered toward a hole in the riverbank. “A delight, as always,” he said, blowing a kiss. “Until we meet again.”

Nadzia eased her body toward the bank and emerged, dripping. She wrung out her braid, gathered her gown from the cooler, and made a nest to hold a late lunch of eggs and cheese—no berries, they’d stain the fabric. With eventide approaching, she looked forward to a quick bite on the pier, drying off in the last rays of the sun with only birds for company.

At the top of the ladder, she found Adomas waiting, a thick towel in hand. “I’ve a good view of the dock from my cabin,” he said. “Thought you might want this.” His voice dropped, became somber. “Your handmaiden should handle such a task, but she’s been injured. Badly, Ludvika says.”

Guilt tugged at Nadzia. She shunted it aside, knowing the girl would heal. “I’m so sorry. Should I stop by and offer my help? I know a few songs that are good for soothing pain.”

“You might want to keep your distance,” Adomas said with a quick jerk of his head. “Gabi was raving when I visited. She called you a witch, claimed you want to ruin Perun. Said the roses that pricked her fingers appeared out of nowhere, like an enchantment.”

 “Oh, well, that much is true.”

Adomas backed away, anger flashing in his eyes. “You hurt Gabi?”

“No, no, it isn’t what you think.” Nadzia pointed toward the end of the pier and imbued her voice with sweet persuasion. “If you would set down the towel over there, I’ll use it as a cushion while I explain.”

She followed his halting gait, breathing deeply as she gathered her thoughts, and then settled at the edge of the pier with her legs dangling, her meal untouched in her lap. “Sit with me, please,” she said, patting the boards. “It’s a simple misunderstanding.”

Adomas frowned and positioned himself several feet to Nadzia’s side. “What’s simple about maiming a servant?”

“You’re aware that Mokosh came today?”

“Yes, she called on me this morning.” Adomas smiled faintly. “She likes my garden.”

“As well she should. You’ve done a marvelous job. But her purpose was to go over the details of my wedding. She took me to the clearing where the ceremony will be held. It has a marvelous vista. When I mentioned that I’d moved to Perun’s cottage, she decided the front looked bare and conjured up roses on either side of the door. So, you see, there was enchantment involved, but not on my part. Gabi must not have been paying attention when she brushed up against them later.”

Adomas looked at her blankly. His mouth opened and closed, as if he was battling over how to phrase his response. He took off his hat, ran a hand through his hair, huffed. “If Mokosh is the cause of the wounds, then shouldn’t she mend them?”

“Are you blaming the goddess for a mortal’s clumsiness?” Nadzia broke off a piece of cheese, chewing slowly and deliberately while the gardener considered her question. “I can’t believe she would take kindly to such a charge. But you are free to petition for her aid.”

The gardener smoothed the brim of his hat, seeming to weigh Nadzia’s suggestion. She waited a moment more and added a note of caution. “Before you act, be sure to reflect on the consequences of such a request. Ludvika has a yard full of healing herbs, does she not?”

“She does.”

“And she knows how to tend to Gabi’s injuries, has done so even as we speak?”

“She has.”

Nadzia pursed her lips. “Then you would be asking a goddess to forgo her endless duties to the earth and attend to a situation already under control. Is that wise?”

“I suppose not,” Adomas said, his shoulders drooping. “I just hate to see Gabi suffer.”

“She’s lucky to have you as a friend.” Nadzia brightened her tone. “Cheer up. I’m sure she’ll be better before long. Why not bring her some flowers or a bowlful of berries from your garden? Tell her how the roses came about so she doesn’t fret over nonsense.”

Adomas straightened, his face set with determination. “I’ll put together a bouquet now. Unless you require my assistance? Your box is in the cottage.”

“A cottage you entered and left without mishap.” Nadzia leaned over and gently grasped Adomas’s shoulder. “Be gentle with Gabi. I think my arrival upset her. From what I’ve seen, she’s accustomed to Perun’s undivided attention. Losing that can’t be easy.”

“Even so, it was wrong of her to accuse you of sorcery.”

Nadzia waved her hand in dismissal. “Think no more of it. I won’t. Thank you for delivering my parcel.”

“A heavy load.” Adomas winced and rolled his shoulders.

“I’m sure Ludvika has something to help ease your aches.”

“She has plenty of balms for old bones and joints like mine,” Adomas agreed. He scratched at the stubble on his chin. “May I ask what you received?”

And there, Nadzia realized, was the solution to her dilemma. With the box’s contents a secret, she could add her belt and the shawl she’d forgotten to return to Palanga, and no one would be the wiser. “Gifts chosen by Mokosh and Sister Ramuna, our librarian. Books, mostly—those account for the weight—but I was told to expect a few surprises as well.”

Adomas perked up at her reply. “If one of them is a bottle of mead, I’d be happy to share a glass with you.”

“I’m not much for wine, but I can write to Sister Bronis and ask her to send some. She’ll be delighted to hear that another gardener is interested in her vintage.”

“Sounds like a woman I’d like to know better,” Adomas said with a wink. “Will she attend the wedding?”

“I’ll be sure to introduce you the moment she arrives.” Nadzia smiled as the old man bowed and sauntered away, a new lightness in his step. She imagined him with the Elder, deep in discussions about plants while they sampled various bottles of mead. They’d make a fine couple.

And then the image faded, replaced by a scene of chaos, Adomas and all the humans in attendance at the wedding doubled over in agony as the daughters of Jūratė keened. Nadzia fought back tears. This wasn’t one of her books, a happy ending guaranteed. Everything she said and did in Kaunas had one purpose, and when that goal was met, this good man—a man who under any other circumstances she’d be honored to call “friend”—would realize how ill he’d been used and curse the day she came into his life.

And she would deserve every bit of his condemnation.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Mokosh:






THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 15, 16

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

For previous chapters, click here.



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

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

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

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

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

“Is anything wrong, mistress?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to rob me of my strength.”

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

“If it serves your purpose.”

“My purpose?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I regret my harsh words. Forgive me?”

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

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

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

“Then take me inside.”

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not until you answer one question.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A favorite gown?”

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

“What else could it be?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you get a look inside?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But you’ll search the drawers?”

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“He swore he wouldn’t attend.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why did his heart feel so empty?

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski