THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 33, 34, Epilogue

Perun, god of storms








Nadzia returns from the land of the dead and undergoes an extraordinary transformation. Keslai’s interference is revealed, Veles strikes a deal with his mother, and a new queen of the sea and sky begins her reign.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this book as much as I enjoyed writing it. If so, please take a moment to leave a comment and let me know.

For previous chapters, click here. 



Writhing spirits with faces stretched in hellish grins wrenched Nadzia into darkness. She struggled against their hold, screaming, kicking, sobbing. In the lore of the human world, Veles personally escorted the dead to the Underworld, where they would be housed in surroundings based on the quality of their lives. Sending monstrous ghouls boded ill for Nadzia. They’d likely take her to the most horrific of prisons, dump her amidst the apostates and other renegades held captive in the tangled roots of the Tree of Life.

Bitter tears coursed down Nadzia’s cheeks. What a fool she’d been, certain a mortal could triumph over the most powerful beings in the cosmos. Now all she had were the harsh dregs of failure: she’d never roam the skies with Perun, the god she’d grown to love against all expectations; the Order of Bursztyn was more vulnerable than ever; and Veles remained undefeated.

Images of what might have been tortured her. Days and nights with a god she adored. A convent protected by a new immortal guardian. Love overcoming hate. All gone in the heat of a moment. A moment she could never undo.

Gods, what a mess!

She had no idea how long the spirits carried her; time had no meaning here and the gloom was interminable, deepening as she plunged. As best she could determine, they were in some sort of tunnel. But it twisted and turned so many times she gave up trying to determine where in the Underworld she might end up, fair or foul.

Finally, the space around her brightened. Nadzia landed with a soft thump on a patch of sod as green as anything on earth. Their duty apparently complete, the malignant guardians disappeared. She clambered upright, dread clumping her throat, and took stock of her surroundings.

A stone wall at her back, centered by two doors, chained and locked. Nadzia pressed her ear against the wood, listening for a clue to what existed beyond. Demented laughter, the chilling howls of mania, seeped through the barrier. She flinched and rushed in the opposite direction.

The tunnel walls changed from stone to bark, surprisingly smooth to the touch and lit with gnarled sconces. Before long before they opened into a cavern, ending at a balcony rimmed with iron bars. Nadzia stared down at a space she could never have imagined in her wildest dreams.

This Underworld was no dank, dreary domain. It flourished with life, albeit of a most curious kind. Linden trees, limbs aglow with silver leaves, swished with ethereal music, slow and dreamy. A lake rippled with iridescent fish; frogs and toads lurked in the reed-clumped edges. Tiny, ruby-throated birds whizzed through the air. Wings vibrating, one paused to inspect Nadzia and then zoomed away in a blur of brilliant hues.

She exhaled in wonder, astounded that anything associated with so vile a creature as Veles could hold such beauty.

Almost as if her thoughts had summoned him, she felt his wintry breath prickling the back of her neck. “I told you it was lovely, didn’t I, my sweet?” he murmured. “And this is but one chamber.”

He whirled Nadzia about, yellow eyes dancing with amusement. “Shall we visit your new quarters? We have a most luxurious bed. Perhaps you would like to visit Jūratė first. I made a lagoon especially for her. You’ll love it. Just like the ones in the human world.”

Nadzia’s skin pebbled. She might be a prisoner, held against her will, but she didn’t have to act like one. Hoping her voice held as much power in the Underworld as on earth, she pushed back her shoulders and adopted an imperious tone. “You said I would rule alongside you. Where is my crown?”

“I should have known you’d want to assert your authority as soon as possible,” Veles said with a fang-tipped grin. “Such a dear girl. This way if you please.”

He escorted her down a curving stairwell that ended at a copse of linden trees. Their music was more languid close up, as if reminding Nadzia she need not hurry in this place, that she had all the time in the world now for anything and everything. She slackened her pace in response, trying to delay the inevitable, but Veles held tight, propelling her forward.

She walked with him though a moss-filled passage to a room holding a pair of thrones carved of granite, cold and unwelcoming. Nadzia settled into hers, smoothed her wedding dress, and bit the inside of her cheek, forestalling tears. Why had she believed destiny could be altered? Her fate was settled the moment she called out Perun’s enchanted jewel. She was never meant for love.

Veles peered at her, one eyebrow raised. “You can’t be pining over my brother, not after he killed you. He’s a savage, a murderer, hopelessly cruel. And now two lovely sirens have been slain at his hands. You didn’t change him at all.”

“Don’t worry,” he added, stroking her hand. “I intend to make you the most jubilant of queens. Just give me a chance. And Jūratė will be ecstatic to see you. We’re going to be such a happy group, content in our very own little corner of my world.”

“There is no joy for me here,” Nadzia said with a caustic laugh. She leaned forward, stabbing the air inches away from the startled god’s face. “I meant what I said. I don’t want you. I never will.”

A low hiss followed her words. “Careful, my dear. I do adore your resolve, but if you continue to refuse me, I’ll have no choice but to lock you away in a vault. Perhaps a few hundred years with no one but rats to keep you company will change your mind.”

Nadzia shrank back in her chair. So this was her lot, to spend eternity placating a despicable, selfish overlord. If her heart still beat, it would surely be breaking in two.

Veles trailed a black-nailed finger along her forearm, pebbling the flesh. “Which shall it be, my sweet, throne or crypt?”

He took her silence for surrender. A coronet ringed with yellow stones—the colors of his eyes—appeared in his hands. He set it upon her head and brushed cold lips against her cheeks. “This is but a hint of what’s to come. Your real crown is far more glorious. But that will have to wait until I’ve arranged a formal ceremony.”

Nadzia raised her chin, straightened her spine. Whatever Veles intended, she still had a mesmerizing voice. She’d tamed one deity, she could do so again, charm this reptilian fiend into believing whatever she wished. He craved her, that much was obvious. It wouldn’t take much to twist his yearning in her favor, let him think he’d won, never knowing she was spending every moment seeking a way to return to the only god she would ever love.

A familiar voice scattered her thoughts. “Nadzia? Whatever are you doing here?”

“My dear Jūratė!” Veles beckoned the mermaid goddess near. “Come meet your new regent. Doesn’t she look stunning? I’m so glad you’ve come. You can help me plan her investiture.”

The mermaid goddess, dazzling in a gown of teal silk, bits of glowing amber braided within her dark hair, moved slowly, her slate eyes squinting in confusion. She halted a few steps from Nadzia’s throne, reached out a trembling hand and winced. “Is that blood on your dress?”

“The god of storms strikes again,” Veles whooped. “I told you he’d never change.”

“Perun did this? Deliberately?”

“Never!” Nadzia cried. “I was trying to protect the abbess.”

Veles tried to speak, but the goddess held up a hand and shook her head. “This is Nadzia’s tale to tell.”

“Fine, but you need look no further for someone to blame. She’s the one who refused to go along with our plan.”

“Is that true? You accepted your fate?” The goddess rushed to Nadzia’s side. “I don’t understand. What went wrong?”

“She put together a new scheme with Perun and they failed,” Veles said. “The details are irrelevant.”

“I wasn’t speaking to you. I want to hear what my daughter has to say.” Jūratė took Nadzia’s arm and guided her to a bench under a nearby tree.

The leaves rustled with a forlorn melody, as if sensing Nadzia’s distress. She hurried through an explanation: the love that had blossomed, what she and Perun had hoped to achieve, how the god of the Underworld had perverted the final outcome.

At the story’s end, Jūratė leapt to her feet. “You were supposed to protect my daughter.”

“We had an agreement,” he countered hotly. “She’s the one who broke her word.”

“You pressured her, threatened her. What did you expect? Loving devotion?”

“I expect,” Veles said, fangs bared, “some measure of gratitude. I saved her from your father’s wrath. Don’t presume to criticize me. You weren’t there. She’ll have a far better time here than in one of his torture chambers.”

“You dare congratulate yourself?” Jūratė stormed toward her brother, fists clenched.

“I kept her from a fate worse than death. Like it or not, my dear, she’s here to stay.”

Nadzia grimaced as the two bickered. Gods, was this what she had to look forward to, eons of squabbles? She rubbed her aching breast and froze, certain her vision was distorted, as the bloodstains in her gown slowly vanished. In their place a rosy fluorescence shone, the exact size and shape of the enchanted sliver she’d summoned from the Baltic Sea.

She sucked in a breath as her heart began to pulse again. “Dear gods,” she whispered, aghast. “Perun . . . no . . . what have you done?”

Veles stopped arguing and gaped as a golden beam surrounded Nadzia. Invisible forces lifted her toward a brilliance emanating from the top of the cavern. “What devilry is this?” he said, scales rippling with agitation. “Oh no, my sweet, no, no, no. You’re not going anywhere.”

He lunged, but Nadzia drifted beyond his reach. Shrieking, he slithered up the walls after her, hissing and spitting black venom as she soared higher and higher. “This isn’t fair. She’s mine. Mine!”

His screeches rang in Nadzia’s head like the echo of a bad dream. She shut her eyes, folded her arms across her chest, and surrendered to the light.



In the clearing where he’d wed, the god of storms watched for signs of life in his bride, each second an eternity of hope and despair. Why would the Fates bring him happiness only to snatch it away at the last moment? They’d absolved him, or so he thought. “Bring her back,” he pleaded. “Don’t make her pay for my sins.”

Dark clouds blotted the sun. Nadzia lay on the moss, beautiful yet marred, the blood on her bodice a grisly testament to divine fury. Perun gripped his mother’s knife and turned the point inward, determined to carve out what remained of his heart. Better to hasten his demise than continue without the woman who made life worthwhile. Torture awaited him in the Underworld—his brother would make sure of it—but he’d suffer gladly if it meant even a ghost of a chance to see his beloved again.

The blade’s tip pierced his flesh, drawing beads of blood. He pressed harder, grimacing, when a golden light surrounded Nadzia. She stirred and drew a tremulous breath, looked up, bewildered. “Perun, is it truly you?”

“My love!” He dropped the dagger, bent to embrace her, but silken threads shot up from every inch of skin, weaving an ivory husk that hardened about her body. He howled in frustration. Blast the Fates! Was this one last trick to test his resolve?

He looked to the abbess, who shook her head and cautiously probed the top of the carapace. “This is beyond my understanding,” she murmured, brows creasing as she traced the glowing shell, “but I sense life within. We must wait.”

Perun’s followers abandoned their mad rush to escape and drew near, speaking in hushed tones, sharing their awe at this most extraordinary of sights. Elders and novices joined hands and crooned a soft, uplifting melody.

The men who’d come to honor their god grew restless as long minutes passed, their voices turning strident as they shouted for an explanation. Perun ignored their calls, not daring to take his eyes off Nadzia, begging silently for her to emerge. Was she caught between life and death? Could anyone, anything, revive her?

A thunderous boom rattled the heavens. The shroud heaved and split apart. Warm breezes, scented with the spices of the sea, drifted through the grove. Nadzia pushed aside the debris of her cocoon and rose in one fluid motion, her bloodied gown now a clinging sheath of tiny, rainbow-colored fish scales. She smiled at Perun and folded herself into his arms.

He smothered her with kisses, certain what remained of his heart would explode with joy. “My love,” he sobbed. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“You saved me, but I fear the price was too high.” Nadzia gazed at him, eyes filled with wonder and pain. “You’ll never be whole, your immortality is gone. How can I possibly match your sacrifice?”

“Stay with me. Nothing else matters. I love you, Nadzia, more than life itself.”

“And I love you, my sweet, tempestuous god.”

The abbess dropped to her knees before Perun. “My daughter told me you were kind and generous. I did not listen. I was wrong. You gave up eternal life for her. There can be no greater proof of love. Forgive me.”

“We are family now,” Perun said. “If you can accept me as I am, I can do no less for you and yours.”

Nadzia helped the abbess stand and then gently embraced her. “I never expected you to put yourself in harm’s way for me.”

“Nor did I,” the abbess said, wiping her eyes. “We take pains to raise children as a group at the convent, but the bond between mother and daughter never breaks. I hope we’ll have more time together when things are settled.”

“I’d like that.” Nadzia pulled back and turned her attention to the gods assembled beyond the arch. “I believe it’s time to deal with Dievas and Rodzenica.”

“Do you think that’s wise, my love?” Perun cast a resentful glance at his father. “They did nothing to keep you alive.”

“Look at them. Their faces are ashen. I’ll be safe.”

Perun fell silent. Nadzia reborn, he thought, could easily strike back at the ones who’d gladly watched her die. Somehow he was certain her voice could inflict a torment far greater than any wreaked by the Elders’ keening. Would she use it for good or ill?

“You have been given a second chance at life,” he said. “Hold fast to what we vowed: love, not hate.”

Her response allayed his concerns. “I’ve seen the damage caused by endless enmity, the constant battle of grievances. If I give in to the temptation to strike back, I won’t have changed anything. We have to learn to live without discord.”

Surrounded by amber light, she seemed to float rather than walk, a low susurrus in her wake. Rodzenica faltered, sputtering as she approached. “This cannot be. No immortal creature was ever made so.”

Nadzia turned her back on his mother and addressed the crowd. “A new breed of goddess stands before you. Mortal born, renewed by divine life, and eternally graced. I am the new sovereign of Lithuania’s waters and guardian of the Order of Bursztyn. All are welcome to honor me in Palanga.”

Perun’s disciples grumbled and scowled at her words. He understood their frustration, the resentment behind their grousing. The pain they’d endured today would have crushed any charitable feelings they’d extended to his bride earlier. They would not accept her gladly. He held his breath, praying she’d find the words to appease them.

“I do not ask you to forsake other gods,” she continued, her voice as tranquil as a bubbling brook. “Our world depends on the special gift each deity brings. I promise never to treat you as pawns or trifle with your lives, as others have done with me and mine. If you seek my blessing, you will have it.”

“Hail Nadzia, queen of the sea and sky!” The women from the convent trilled and entreated others to lift up their voices in tribute. Babilos dashed past the arch, face wreathed in a smile as he joined Mokosh in welcoming their new sister. The crowd waited, trading skeptical glances until the girl who’d given Nadzia flowers rushed forward and joined the Elders in song. Swept up by her exuberance, others followed, ignoring the priests who cursed each time a mortal joined the refrain. Perun laughed at their stubbornness and added his sonorous admiration.

His father’s rage withered the air. “Idiot! You dare abase yourself before this abomination? She is the one who must bend and beg mercy for her betrayal.”

“Do you never tire of anger, old one? Let me guide you to peace.” Nadzia breathed deep and sang an achingly sweet tune, beyond the hearing of humans, full of tenderness and compassion and good cheer.

The harshness puckering Dievas’s face eased into serenity. “I hear music in your voice, pure and divine. You are truly one of us. Welcome, dear Nadzia.”

Rodzenica clapped her hands. “Why do we linger? Our new goddess must be enthroned.”

“I prefer a private coronation,” Nadzia replied. “My first allegiance is to those who nurtured me, however misguided their actions today.”

Mokosh tugged at her arm. “Come back to the Tree of Life with us for a while,” she urged. “You don’t want to miss a chance to meet the Queen of the Fairies.”

“In good time.” Nadzia returned to Perun’s side, placed a hand above his heart, and murmured a series of dulcet notes. The gash in his chest closed. She traced the unmarked flesh and blinked away tears. “What does the future hold for us?”

“Something wondrous, I hope,” Perun said. “Won’t you consider spending a few hours at the Tree of Life? I think you’ll regret missing the festivities.”

“Is the mighty god of thunder a simpleton?” Keslai stormed through the crowd and planted herself in front of Nadzia. “She plotted against you, her affection is false. Take me!”

Perun seethed at the interruption. “You go too far this time. Step aside and remember your place. I will not indulge your fantasies.”

The cook and handmaiden dashed up the aisle. “Go on,” Ludvika said, pushing Gabi forward. “Tell them what happened.”

“Begging your pardon,” Gabi said, clutching the hem of her white tunic, “but I know this girl. She’s the one who stopped me as I was delivering breakfast this morning.”

Keslai looked down her nose and sniffed. “I’ve never seen this fool.”

“It’s the truth, I swear. She . . .” Gabi’s face scrunched at the memory. “She spoke quietly and for a time all I could see was the sun. When she took her leave, I noticed the lid of the teapot was askew and set it right, thinking I must have stumbled. Now I fear something deadly was put inside, something that has yet to reveal itself in the mistress.”

Nadzia folded her arms over her stomach and gaped at her sister. “I remember the bitterness of the brew. You tried to poison me?”

“A drop of wormwood oil,” Keslai said, rolling her eyes. “Enough to disrupt your thinking, cause hallucinations. I’m not a killer.”

“But why?”

“Because the Fates were wrong to choose you instead of me. I wanted to show the gods you were too weak to join their ranks. The wormwood didn’t work, but you proved me right with all this talk about harmony. Haven’t you learned anything from your time at the Tree of Life? The Immortal world is as full of strife as the human one. Peace is for dullards, not gods. You’ll grow stale without passion.”

A whiff of sulfur. Veles surged up from a hole near the arch and whirled himself into godly guise. Perun lurched forward, sparks circling his wrists, but Nadzia pressed against him and shook her head. He relented. His brother posed no threat, not anymore.

“She’s right, you know, about passion,” Veles said. “Win or lose, I have no intention of abandoning my little intrigues. They add such zest to life.”

He eyed Keslai appreciatively, moistening his lips. “So you want to be a divine queen. I can make that happen.”

“I meant Perun,” she said, face scrunched as she swallowed heavily. “A man, not a snake.”

Veles rippled his scales sinuously. “You’ll find me far more skilled at pleasing a woman than any of those village dolts you’ve bedded—I’ve had plenty of practice in my realm. Do consider what I’ve offered while I make amends with my parents.”

He bowed to Dievas and Rodzenica. “Father, Mother, please accept my deepest apologies. My behavior was abysmal, the actions of a desperate, jealous fool. I have shamed our family. Let the Divine Council have its way with me.

“Nevertheless,” he added, winking at Keslai, “it would be a shame to let all these preparations go to waste. I will most happily take this ravishing spitfire as my wife, dusty robes and all. What say you? Is that an acceptable compromise?”

“You can’t!” Keslai cried. “I’m a child of the sea. I won’t be shut away in the earth.”

“A pity. I like saucy women.” Veles appealed to his mother. “She turned me down. What recourse do I have?”

Rodzenica’s eyes glittered. “If it’s the ocean you want—Keslai, is it?—I can have you chained to a rock in the sea and call out the Kraken to greet you. He is, if I recall correctly, quite fascinated by lusty redheads. I suggest you accept my son. The two of you are well matched.”

A dark flush crept up Keslai’s neck. She narrowed her eyes and glared at Nadzia. “And does this sit well with you, my queen? You demand the right to pursue your own desires and then stand silent while I’m given away without my consent?”

“It would be a most fitting end,” Nadzia said, frost in her voice, “one heartless schemer eternally pledged to another. Still, my sister speaks truly. I fought long and hard to determine my destiny. She must have the freedom to do so as well.”

“A noble gesture, my love,” Perun interrupted, “but this girl came to our wedding determined to make trouble. She must answer for her foul intentions.”

Nadzia sighed and turned to Rodzenica. “You told me once that you would not force a loveless marriage. My sister deserves the same consideration. That said, I agree with my husband—she cannot go unpunished. Why not take her on as a servant at the Tree of Life, where the Lord of the Underworld can court her to his heart’s content? She’ll have plenty of time to decide if his proposal has merit.”

“I’m the daughter of the sea,” Keslai said haughtily. “I serve Jūratė and no one else.”

Veles slithered to her side and entwined his arm with hers, ignoring her cringes. “Say yes, Mother, please. I believe she’ll suit me quite well. From what I’ve seen of her behavior here and at the Order, she’s quite the cunning one. I’ll never be bored. And I’m long overdue for a royal consort.”

“Take heed, child of the sea,” Rodzenica said, her voice deceptively calm. “Should you accept my son, I will not grant you immortality along with a crown. You can thank your sister for that. No divinity until you earn my trust.”

“You’ll need to be very, very good, my sweet,” Veles said, buzzing with pleasure. “Don’t fret. I know what Mother expects and I promise not to leave your side until I’ve molded you to her liking.”

His tongue flicked across Keslai’s cheek. “Cheer up, darling. Embrace your good fortune. So few get what they want in this world.”



Early the next morning, before the sun rose, Jūratė anointed her successor in the cave at Palanga, a ceremony attended by the Elders, dressed in shimmering turquoise robes. They kneeled in the torch-lit sand, eyes bright as the mermaid goddess relinquished her crown. She set the amber-and-pearl-studded tiara on Nadzia’s dark curls—long and loose, the way Perun liked them— and kissed both her cheeks. “Rise, my glorious daughter. Be ever mindful of the responsibility you have assumed. Watch over the creatures in your waters and let no one despoil their home. Treat your followers with wisdom tempered by kindness and bestow your blessings freely, for you well know the trials that mortals face.”

Nadzia tearfully accepted the embraces and good wishes of her witnesses. They raised glasses of mead, toasted the happy occasion, and eagerly set upon plates of freshly baked pastries. While the Elders celebrated, Jūratė beckoned Nadzia to a corner where jewel-studded goblets and a jug of nectar rested on a stone platter. “A gift from our brother, Veles,” she said with a low laugh. “He is most contrite. I trust you will find it in your heart to forgive him, as I have.”

“He wanted a daughter of Jūratė, and his wish was granted,” Nadzia responded blithely. “I’m sure he’ll be delighted with Keslai. Their lives will never be dull.”

Warm tranquility wafted through her body as she sipped the golden brew. No wonder the gods relished it so. She made a mental note to reserve extra vats for the dedication of her temple. Construction would begin soon, along with the restoration of Jūratė’s—now Nadzia’s—undersea palace in the cove.

Her homecoming had gone smoothly. The Elders were ecstatic over her divine stature and the novices treated her with friendly reverence. Villagers crowded the convent, eager to show their homage. The abbess was putting together a list of stonemasons and other craftsmen ready to earn coin. Already they were drawing up plans for her shrine.

There was some discussion over Nadzia’s official status. Who would the Order of Bursztyn worship now that there were two Immortals consecrated to its welfare? The solution proved remarkably simple. Jūratė would continue to mark her descendants and accept their veneration as the Blessed One, mother of all. As the newest goddess in Lithuania’s pantheon, Nadzia would receive formal worship, hence the shrine.

One question lingered. Nadzia had returned to the convent via the River Nemunas, swimming the entire distance underwater. Obviously, her lungs were no longer human. The rest of her body displayed subtle changes. She showed them now to Jūratė: the fish scales from her sheath that had melded with her skin, giving it a phosphorescent shine; the tiny gills on her neck; the faint webbing between her fingers.

But no sign of a tail. “Will I ever be a real mermaid?”

“I cannot say,” Jūratė answered. “Your creation was most unique. I suspect your final form will reveal itself in time.”


Nadzia waited at the shore of Palanga under a crescent moon. The vernal equinox began tonight. New season, new stars. A goat with the tail of a fish, a swan, an eagle. Perun’s constellation still shone overhead, as it did all year, but now a queen’s crown blazed beside it, a gift from Dievas and Rodzenica to celebrate their new daughter.

In the far corner of the cove, the amber walls of her palace—slowly coming together with the assistance of mermen from countries bordering the Baltic Sea—shimmered beneath the waters. On the public side of the beach, a rock-walled shrine sparkled with candlelight. Its formal dedication had been scheduled to coincide with the summer solstice, the day when Nadzia’s life had forever changed; the weather would be more favorable then, a boon to those traveling.

She rolled out a crick in her neck, wearied by her tasks. The sea was vast, and many sought to plunder its treasures—stealthy, crude, foul-smelling pirates. Their minds, thankfully, were easily controlled. Yet the news of her palace’s reassembly was an irresistible lure to thieves, requiring daily vigilance.

Beyond the need to mesmerize barbarians, Nadzia spent hours each day exploring the vast network of rivers and streams and lakes within Lithuania. She settled squabbles about fishing boundaries and made sure no one harmed a drop of her precious waters.

The convent, to Nadzia’s surprise, needed little supervision. Or perhaps not so surprising. After centuries of fending for itself, the Order thrived under a well-structured system of rules and expectations. She hadn’t had much time yet to linger with the abbess yet, a situation she hoped to remedy in the months and years to come.

A flash from the stars caught her gaze. Minutes later, Perun landed his ox and chariot in the gleaming white sands and reached for her. Nadzia’s heart fluttered at the sight, as it did each evening. Would she ever grow tired of seeing his face light up the moment he set eyes on her? She hoped not, just as she prayed her pulse would always quicken at his approach.

She took the hand he extended, welcomed his passionate embrace. His eyes burnished with desire when they stopped for breath. “Dearest Nadzia,” he said, kissing her fingers, “may I never forget the good fortune that brought us together.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, nipping at his ear. “I have it on good authority that the Fates are prepared to rectify any lapse on your part.”

Perun threw back his head and roared with laughter. “I doubt they’ll have to intercede, not when you stand ready to remind me of my proper station.”

He lifted her chin for another kiss. “Have I told you how much I adore you?”

“Hmm.” She pursed her lips, pretending to consider his question. “Not since yesterday.”

“Then I will remind you.” He turned Nadzia until she rested against him, nestled in his arms. “I love you, dearest Nadzia. More than I ever dreamed possible.”

She sighed, savoring his touch. “And I you.”

They stood in silence, watching ribbons of clouds drift across a midnight sky sprinkled with stars, their hearts beating as one until Nadzia roused, an unwelcome thought casting a pall over her happiness. It had been nagging at her for months, but she hadn’t wanted to broach the subject again and spoil their bliss. Yet her concerns would only build if she said nothing.

She gripped his hands with a strength that would have left a human gasping in pain. “The sliver from your enchanted stone saved me, but we both know that means you’ll never be whole. You won’t live as long as a true Immortal. How many years will we have?”

“As many as we are granted, my love,” Perun replied, his voice hoarse with emotion. “And I will treasure every single one.”

He released Nadzia and took hold of the reins. “It’s a glorious night. Where would you like to go?”

Nadzia gazed at him, her heart full. Why worry about what was to come? It wouldn’t change anything. Better to seize the moment and indulge in the joy it offered. She leaned against the railing and tapped the edge, a smile lifting the corners of her mouth. “Actually, I think it’s time your ox learned to follow my lead. May I have the reins?”

“As you wish, my love.”

She grinned and then called out a command, whooping with delight as the chariot rose in a brilliant flash of red.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Nadzia: 

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8


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






Gardening on a Whim


The dahlias sleep in the empty silence. T.S. Eliot

I consider myself lucky to have a home with a large garden. It’s a wonderful haven and a welcome respite from the computer. But any outdoor space can be a lot of work, especially since we have no grass in the back yard, which is certified as a National Wildlife Refuge. You’ve got to amend the soil (here it’s mostly clay), put the right plant in the right place at the right time, pinch and/or deadhead to promote more flowering, prune, water, feed, etc. And weed, weed, weed. No herbicides or pesticides allowed.

Yet for all the time it demands, the rewards are plentiful. Nothing matches the joy of sitting with my partner under an arbor smothered with fragrant jasmine blooms. Or savoring a tomato fresh from the vine. Watching hummingbirds as they zoom from bottlebrush to lavender to tithonia and then take a break on an arch or tree limb. Halting mid-step as I catch sight of a lizard engaged in what looks like push-ups—they do it for exercise as well as to scope out the area for predators. Yelling like a banshee when I see a neighborhood cat trotting off with one limp in its jaws.

Like most avid gardeners, I’m constantly looking for new plants. After many, many episodes of “Gardener’s World,” I decided this would be the year to try dahlias, those wild, almost gaudy, flowers up to a foot wide (at that size, they’re called “dinner plates”). They looked like a safe bet. Plant the tubers in a sunny site, watch them grow, pinch a bit for stronger plants, and then gather glorious blooms all summer. What could be easier?

Then I read the instructions that came with my mail order. They need at least 6 hours of sun but can fade and/or wilt under bright light and excessive heat. That sent me back to the drawing pad, as I’d planned to plant them in southern and western parts of my yard. Now I’m looking at the eastern side. Morning sun, afternoon shade.

Trouble is, I’ve dedicated that area to drought-tolerant plants. In hotter climates like Sacramento’s central valley, dahlias, once their first set of true leaves appear, need a deep soaking 3-4 times a week. Yikes!

And apparently snails and slugs feast on them; planting instructions recommend putting out bait as soon as the tubers are in the ground. But my garden is organic, and snail bait is not, even the ones that purport to be safe. (I take a jaded view of such claims, especially when they come from pesticide organizations.) So I’m hoarding natural remedies—eggshells and coffee grounds and Epsom salts—and hoping they’ll work. It’s that or going out several times an evening with a headlamp to pick them off manually.

I haven’t planted them yet. The ground isn’t warm enough (60 degrees minimum). They’re sitting in their shipping box on a shelf in the garage. But spring is coming fast—too fast. I’ll be digging holes soon and hoping for the best.

And reminding myself to do more research the next time Monty Don tempts me to add an exotic plant to my yard.




Image of “Firepot” dahlia

Gardener’s World

How Much Sunlight Do Dahlias Need?

A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Dahlias