THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 13, 14

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

For previous chapters, click here.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I was, until you fought with Veles.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

“You know how we can defeat him?”

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

“You can’t get past Perun’s spells.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, mistress. Right away.”

“Thank you, Gabi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The fire didn’t blaze stronger.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He opened his arms. “Ready?”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have, for the Elders and novices.”

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

“You meant to come all this time?”


Nadzia tilted her head. “To what end?”

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

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

“I don’t understand.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the wax?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

Perun sputtered in surprise. “You know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You know me well, old friend.”

“What gives you pause?”

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

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

“It pulses steadily.”

“Then her words are true.”

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

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

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

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

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

“She did.”


“She said things were as they should be.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We haven’t been together long.”

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

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

“An excellent start.”

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

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

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

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

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

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THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapter 11, 12

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


Image of Veles:

For previous chapters, click here.



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

Watch and learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You needn’t fly to get here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fates be kind, let me stand fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The air quivered. “Rise, child.”

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

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

Watch. Learn. Let him show you the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski


THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 9, 10


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

For previous chapters, click here.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Baltic amber: