THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapters 9, 10


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

For previous chapters, click here.




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Baltic amber:



Perun, god of storms

Nadzia mesmerizes a servant into divulging a curious secret, breakfasts with Perun, and realizes he has his own means of manipulation.

For previous chapters, click here.



When she lived at the convent, Nadzia rose at dawn with the novices and Elders to pray. Without a bell to rouse her, she slept hours beyond sunrise, until light streamed through the oculus of Perun’s temple. She stretched luxuriously, reluctant to leave the comfort of her silken sheets.

Birds chattered from nearby oaks. Nadzia took a deep breath. She didn’t quite know what to make of this air, so different from the salty tang of the sea. It was warm with a fresh verdant undertone. Refreshing in its own way. She’d have to explore the grounds soon, familiarize herself with new scents and sounds. Make her forays so common a sight that no one would ever suspect she was searching for clues to topple the god of storms.

She threw off the covers, put on thin slippers and the diaphanous robe draped across the end of her bed, and reached for the bell that would summon her handmaiden. Gods knew she hated the thought of a stranger fussing over her when she was perfectly capable of taking care of herself, but if she wanted to sow the seeds of enchantment, she had to act as if Perun’s desires perfectly matched her own. If he wanted to coddle her, she must oblige.

But first, she had morning devotions to complete. She walked across cool stone floors, passed through the curtains that separated her room from Jūratė’s shrine, and kneeled on a bench before the rows of candles. They illuminated a niche with a portrait of the goddess riding atop a dolphin on foam-flecked waves, a depiction so realistic the sea appeared to ebb and flow. Nadzia sighed wistfully, remembering the thrill of ocean races with these sleek mammals she considered friends. Fates willing, she’d be back with them soon.

She sat back on her heels, gazed at the goddess’s image. Was there any point in praying? Jūratė wasn’t divine anymore; she could neither help nor hinder. And it didn’t make sense to ask for help from some who’d counseled acceptance rather than vengeance.

Yet without the magic of her mesmerizing voice, the goddess’s gift to all her daughters, Nadzia didn’t stand a chance at snaring her prey. That alone merited respect. She bent her head. , Blessed One, help me find the words to tame the beast. Show me the way to make him mine.

A gust of wind whooshed through the temple. Nadzia twisted backward and glimpsed Perun’s ox and chariot landing outside the entrance. He’d left her alone? Of course he had, it was summer. He must have traveled east during the night to water crops, leaving her in the protection of his fire-breathing eagles at the entry.

She scurried back to her room, rang the bell and settled on the bed’s edge, her fingers idly tracing the figure embroidered atop her quilt. Green-blue scales, bronze skin, flowing black hair. The mermaid goddess, Jūratė, immortalized in expert stitches by a seamstress at the top of her trade. Nadzia wondered if the quilter lived nearby, if Perun had sent a sketch of what he wanted. If he would toss the cover in his eternal fire after realizing he’d been betrayed.

The rustle of drapes. A petite girl dressed in pale blue skirts and matching blouse stepped into the room and curtsied. “Good morning, mistress. How may I serve you?”

Nadzia blinked in surprise. She’d expected someone older, not a girl nearly her age. “I’m sorry to bother you, Gabrielle, but I’d like a cup of tea.”

The handmaiden curtsied again. “Ludvika expected as much.”


“The cook. She has a kettle simmering and fireweed tea leaves ready to steep. We’ve readied a bath for you as well.”

“A bath?”

“If that’s what you wish. We thought you might enjoy soaking under the trees.” Gabrielle held her breath, waiting, her eyes fixed on the floor.

“Thank you, that’s quite thoughtful.” Nadzia felt a twinge of annoyance when the maiden sagged with relief. This was absurd. They were both dealing with a monster. They should be allies, companions, friends. “And please, call me Nadzia.”

Gabrielle clapped a hand to her mouth and slowly let it drop. “Gods be praised,” she whispered. “The master’s brought back a kind woman.”

Nadzia swallowed an angry retort, piqued at the idea that outsiders would think the daughters of Jūratė anything but kind. “You expected someone just as fierce?”

“I beg pardon, mistress. I spoke out of turn.” Splotches of color mottled the handmaiden’s cheeks. “We are most gratified that you are here.”

Nadzia took a moment to study the girl. After years of lessons with Sister Dain, she was well acquainted with the nuances of voices. This one was laced with uneasiness, something more than the general discomfort she’d expect from a mortal bound to a turbulent deity. Under her silent perusal, the girl fidgeted, one hand twisting the fabric of her skirt. There was something to be ferreted out here, although it puzzled Nadzia to think a servant would have anything to hide.

Before she could begin framing her questions, Perun’s shadow darkened the curtains. “May I enter?”

She took a seat at the table. “Of course.”

“Did you sleep well?”

“Like a baby.”

Perun motioned toward the trunk at the foot of Nadzia’s bed. “Gabi, help my bride find suitable attire and then bring her to my quarters for breakfast.”

“What should I do about the bath we prepared for her?”

A spasm tweaked the thunder god’s jaw. Anger or something else? Nadzia pushed up from the chair, unsure of his mood, but sensing he needed to be soothed. “What a delight to learn your servants anticipated my needs,” she said brightly. “Don’t you love to begin the day cleansed and refreshed?”

“My storms wash me well enough.”

Nadzia inched closer and ran a finger up Perun’s forearm, relishing the way his skin prickled in response. “It won’t take long. Please?”

Perun tugged at his moustache. “Why don’t I soap you?”

Not yet. Not until I’ve had a chance to spend time alone with this girl. Nadzia softened her voice, infusing it with the dulcet tones she used to tame skittish fawns and wary rabbits. “Waiting will increase our pleasure. Go along now. The sooner I bathe, the sooner I can join you. I’m sure your imagination can keep you company until I return.”

Perun laughed, kissed her cheek, and lumbered to his room. Gabrielle inched back, her eyes dark with fear and awe. “It’s true what they say. The daughters of Jūratė are witches.”

“We are blessed with certain powers, nothing more.” Nadzia rubbed at a small ache in her forehead. The spells she employed with animals never left her this exhausted. Thank the goddess she was heading for a bath. A good soak would revive her.

Outside, the sky was clear and blue as a robin’s egg, the air heavy with the promise of  heat. A portly woman with a braid of white hair waited at the temple’s top step with a basket of bathing supplies resting on her hip. She curtsied gracefully and offered a warm smile that softened the severity of her gaze. “My name is Ludvika. I hope my cooking meets with your satisfaction.”

She paused and looked askance at Nadzia’s nightclothes. “A word of advice if I may, mistress? The wedding and feast day are fast approaching. Men and women of all ages will soon arrive. We don’t want them to think you immodest. Perhaps less revealing garments?”

Nadzia smoothed the gossamer fabric, so transparent that anyone within a few feet could easily detect her body’s peaks and valleys. She’d never considered there might be eyes other than Perun’s assessing her. She sent a silent prayer of gratitude to Jūratė for sending such a wise woman to look out for her. “Thank you. I hope you’ll continue to offer your guidance and counsel. This is all so new to me.”

Ludvika nodded and transferred her basket to the handmaiden. “Call upon me at any time, mistress. I am here to serve.”

The trio walked down a gravel path that snaked toward the river. Ludvika took her leave at the servants’ wattle-and-daub bungalow. Gabrielle guided the two of them onward in silence. They strolled past a small field with bushes of chin-high nettle that sheltered redwings. The birds burst into song, sweetening the air with their friendly chirps. At the path’s end, they entered a grassy clearing under a circle of oaks, where a high-backed bronze tub etched with flames sat on a wooden platform. “This isn’t what I’d call modest,” Nadzia said. “Why worry about my clothes when anyone can barge in here?”

Gabrielle set down her basket. “Rodzenica enchanted the clearing for privacy. Once we’re inside the clearing, a hidden veil descends. Nobody can see or hear us. And the water remains at the perfect warmth while you bathe.”

“Truly?” Nadzia perched on the edge and tested the rosemary-scented contents with her elbow. Satisfied, she slipped out of her clothes and lowered herself into the tub, moaning with pleasure as the soothing liquid caressed her parched skin. This was a luxury she hadn’t expected. At the Order of Bursztyn everyone kept clean with daily swims in the cove. Baths were a weekly ritual, an immersion in heated water from Jūratė’s sacred spring. A daily soaking would be a treat. She could watch the birds circle overhead, learn their songs—there would be species inland that never reached the coast—maybe even add her own.

She’d have to speak to someone about how to prepare the water. Rosemary was a delightful stimulant, a perfect herb to begin the day, but Jūratė’s daughters required sea salts to nurture their skin. She’d have to send for a supply from the convent.

“May I wash you?” Gabrielle asked, dipping a cloth in the water. “I’ve a light touch, or so my mother used to say.”

Now it was Nadzia’s turn to blush. For all her trysts with village boys, to have a strange woman bathe her seemed shockingly intimate. Was she so accustomed to equating touch with sex that she’d forgotten a caress could be warm and innocent? She hoped not. She wanted her children, gods willing, to always feel at ease in their skin.

She smiled at the handmaiden. Even if she didn’t learn Gabi’s personal secret, the girl might yield a few hints about the thunder god’s habits, quirks that could be used against him.  “That’s fine. Let’s start with my hair.”

Nadzia dunked her head and then sat upright with her legs stretched straight as Gabi massaged her hair. The shampoo had an unexpected fragrance that tickled her nose—earthen, with a subtle peppery note. “Mmmm, that’s a scent I don’t know. What is it?”

“Cornflower, mistress. It grows wild among the wheat and rye in the fields around Zuvintos. I brought a bag of dried petals with me when I came to serve the god of storms.”

“Is that where your family lives?”

The hands rubbing her scalp stopped. “There’s none left but me.”

“I’m so sorry. What happened?”

“Fever took them. Weren’t dead but a day when I heard Perun needed a new handmaiden to replace a girl who was leaving to marry her sweetheart. Thought I’d start a new life here.”

“Are you content?”

“There’s plenty of work,” Gabrielle said cheerfully, resuming her task. “Ludvika is a good friend and a wonderful cook. I think you’ll enjoy her meals.”

An evasive answer if ever I heard one. I was right! There’s something she doesn’t want me to know. Nadzia steadied her breath. Time to work a small enchantment. Anything beyond a simple prodding could leave the servant in a daze and arouse suspicion. Thank the goddess the two of them were safe from prying eyes and ears.

“I’m sure there’s a delicious breakfast waiting for me.” Nadzia looked over shoulder. “Do you mind if I sing while you work, Gabrielle?”

“Oh, would you? I’ve heard that the daughters of Jūratė have the sweetest voices in all the land.”

“I should hope so.” Nadzia eased back against the tub and crooned a set of notes as cheerful as a yellow warbler brightening the day. A friendly song laced with the power of a siren’s enchanting persuasion. Soon the girl was humming the same melody.

Nadzia gripped her knees. Go slowly. See how she responds before you strengthen the spell. “I’m glad you like it here. What about Perun? Does he treat you well?”

The girl responded at once. “He’s a stern master, to be sure, yet I expected as much and I am honored to serve him. We all are.”

Hmmm. Not quite there yet. Nadzia modulated her tone, gave it a touch more magic. “But he’s such a passionate a god. And his temper . . . well, everyone knows how easily it flares.”

Gabrielle’s speech took on an unexpectedly playful tone as she reached for a towel to wrap Nadzia’s hair. “You’d think a god wouldn’t be interested in mortal matters, but he loves to listen to the stories I hear whenever I fetch supplies from the dock. We’ve had some good laughs together. He . . . stars above, there’s a mermaid on your neck!”

Nadzia felt for the slightly raised figure at the base of her skull. “All of Jūratė’s daughters bear her mark.”

“What about the boys? Is it true they’re thrown into the sea?”

“Where did you hear such nonsense?” Nadzia bolted up, her spell momentarily forgotten at the mention of a foul rumor she’d thought long dead. “We don’t bear sons, only daughters.”

The handmaiden swallowed heavily. “I meant no offense.”

Nadzia huffed as Gabrielle moved to the side of the tub to soap her arms, her irritation mollified by the realization that the girl had spoken freely, unencumbered by propriety. She resumed her song, waited until the air around them shimmered. “Tell me, at the dock, do you ever talk to traders who’ve been to Palanga?”

Gabrielle’s response, hesitant and slurred, confirmed the spell was taking effect. “They’re always full of news. Why only yesterday I was telling the master about how they said . . . .” She stopped and frowned.

Nadzia deepened the persuasion in her voice. “What did they tell you?” She peered at the handmaiden, nodding with satisfaction at the slightly unfocused eyes, the slackness of the jaw.

A tremor passed through the girl. The words came out slowly, reluctantly, as if speaking them betrayed some sort of trust. “They said the daughters of Jūratė are bewitching. That no one really knows what you do at the convent.”

“Why should they? Our worship is private, our lives as well. There’s nothing magical about that.” Nadzia leaned forward and sighed as the handmaiden kneaded her back. This girl was strong in body and mind. She was holding back, but Nadzia didn’t dare risk more. Perhaps a different approach?

“How long have you served here?”

“Almost nine months, mistress.”

“So short a time and yet you have a most cordial relationship with my betrothed.” Nadzia laced her voice with yearning, fingers crossed that she wasn’t going too far. “I so want to make him happy. Help me, Gabrielle. What can I do?”

“Well .  .  . I heard him at one night at Jūratė’s altar. He was begging for a girl who would truly love him. That she had to genuinely care before they wed.” Gabrielle switched her attention to Nadzia’s legs. “Doesn’t make sense, does it? You’ll be together forever. That’s plenty of time for love to blossom.”

“Curious, that he’d make such an appeal in the presence of a servant.”

Gabrielle dropped the washcloth. She leaned close, her words barely audible. “Please, you mustn’t tell! It wasn’t but the one time, when I was behind on my tasks, dusting your room later than usual. I hid under the bed so he wouldn’t see me. We’re not supposed to be in the temple when he prays.”

“Your secret is safe with me. Is that all?”

“I don’t remember anything else. He just kept repeating that the girl he brought back had to love him before it was too late.”

Nadzia stood and let the handmaiden wrap her in a thick white robe, then stepped onto the platform and slid her feet into a pair of woolen slippers while her hair was combed and woven into a single braid. While it was true she hoped to manipulate Perun’s emotions, she couldn’t imagine why he needed her affection. What would happen if he thought her indifferent? “Too late,” she repeated. “Are you sure that’s what he said?”

“Yes, mistress. Although I can’t imagine why. The gods have all the time in the world, don’t they?”

“So it would seem.” Nadzia’s arms rippled with goosebumps. She pulled the collar of her robe tight and followed the handmaiden back to the temple, so engrossed with trying to figure out what Perun’s words meant that she could only nod and murmur at the girl’s constant chatter.

What was the god of storms hiding?




The sun was skirting the treetops by the time the thunder god’s bride and her handmaiden returned to the temple. The cloudiness in Gabrielle’s eyes had cleared, her lively banter reduced to silence. A good sign. Next time, Nadzia would know exactly how to pitch her voice. She tried to ignore the needles of guilt that pricked her conscience at the thought of enchanting the girl again. It might not be entirely fair—Perun was her foe, not the ones in his employ—but she had to learn everything possible to defeat him.

Gabrielle set down her basket and opened the dolphin-engraved chest at the end of Nadzia’s bed. Inside were gowns woven of the finest silk dyed the colors of a rainbow after a storm. Nadzia choose an emerald green chiton that glided across her skin like a whisper. The dress, secured with a matching band of silk, ended just above leather sandals with soles that perfectly fit her feet. Fashioned by supernatural hands, she guessed. No human cobbler created such fine work.

Nadzia retrieved her pendant from the cabinet drawer, dismissed Gabrielle, and examined her reflection in the mirror. The amber shone with its usual golden gleam, but it was the hypnotic pulse of the red heart inside that caught her eye. She stroked the jewel and considered what she’d learned. If for some unknown reason Perun needed a daughter of Jūratė to love him, then it seemed the way to defeat him would be to reject his every advance.

Did she dare show animosity, forgo any thoughts of seduction? There was always the chance that the handmaiden had misheard; a frightened girl hiding under a bed wasn’t the most reliable of witnesses. And what did too late mean—a week, a month, a year? How could she proceed with so little to guide her? Her head ached just thinking about it.

She drummed her fingers on the cabinet top. A god who desired love was more easily snared with honey, not vinegar. Better to leave things as they were. Let him think her smitten and then slowly gain his confidence until she knew more. Because there had to be more. Nothing was simple when Immortals were involved. The convent’s library had shelves devoted to stories of their trickery and collusions.

And what could be sweeter than convincing Perun of her affection only to reveal it as a hoax at the perfect moment? To look in his eyes when he realized she’d fooled him and won. To make him suffer the agony of betrayal.

A fine goal, but don’t harden your heart so completely you forget what it means to truly love. Take care or you’ll become a cynical shrew unable to look at the world with wonder again.

“I won’t,” she whispered. “This is a task, nothing more. I —”

She whirled around as Ludvika drew aside the drapes and curtsied, her face pink and dotted with beads of sweat. “Breakfast is served.”

“Are you well?” Nadzia asked. “You look feverish.”

The old woman wiped her forehead. “Perun is a god of fire and lightning. He radiates a divine heat that can be overwhelming. Don’t give it a thought. I’ll be fine. Please, he’s waiting for you.”

“Won’t you be serving us?”

“Not today. The master insists on personally attending to his bride.”

Nadzia blew out a breath and crossed the corridor, pausing briefly under the oculus as a white stork flew overhead in a brilliant blue sky. Watch and learn. Do nothing differently until you’re sure. Remember, your affection is false. If he wants love, he won’t find it with you.

The thunderbolt-patterned curtains were tied open. Perun leapt up from a giant bed pushed against the wall, his face flushing as he eyed Nadzia’s gown. He greeted her with a long probing kiss that Nadzia returned with gusto, although his fervor left her slightly dazed. His robe was infused with the fresh scent of rain-washed air, his skin pleasantly warm. He released her reluctantly and helped her to a seat at a large oaken table in the center of the room. “I hope you’re hungry.”

Nadzia’s stomach rumbled at the dishes arrayed before her: glistening strawberries; poached eggs topped with herbs; curd cheese; fresh-baked breads. Perun made up a plate for her, poured a cup of tea from a blue pot painted with cranes, and then slid into a chair on the opposite end of the table. She offered a prayer of thanks for the bounty before her and ate heartily while he sipped from a crystal goblet next to a bottle of golden liquid. “Did you sleep well?” he asked again.

“Wonderfully,” she answered, curious as to why her slumber held such importance to him. “I’ve never had such soft sheets.”

“And the servants, you are pleased with their work?”

Nadzia put down her fork and suppressed a burp. Gods, where were her manners? She picked up a white napkin embroidered with golden firebolts and dabbed at her mouth. “Yes, thank you. Gabrielle is attentive and this food is delicious.”

“Ludvika will be happy to hear that.” An unexpected softness tempered Perun’s face. “She came all the way from the eastern highlands to cook for you.”

“I’m surprised she didn’t stay,” Nadzia replied, encouraged by the god’s friendly gaze. Her voice took on a note of teasing. “I’d never have expected you to serve me.”

“It is the first morning of your new life. I wanted to make sure you were comfortable.” Perun guzzled the remains of his drink and refilled his glass.

Nadzia munched a slice of poppy seed bread in silence as he downed the amber-colored draught. She assumed it was nectar, beverage of the gods. What would happen if she tried some? She was half divine, it shouldn’t poison her or drive her mad like the hapless mortals who’d somehow procured a batch and guzzled it in search of divine inspiration. It might even strengthen her voice.

Perun seemed to be reading her mind. He pushed his cup across the table. “Drink. It won’t hurt you, I promise.”

Warnings echoed in Nadzia’s mind. Trust no one. She ran a finger along the rim of the dark vessel. “How can you be sure? I won’t be a goddess until we marry.”

“Don’t be afraid, my love. The blood of the Immortals flows through you.”

“True, but so does human blood. What if it sickens me?”

Perun dragged his chair close and draped one arm around her, his fingers lightly caressing her shoulder. “Believe me. I would never place you in harm’s way.”

Soothing warmth emanated from his touch. Nadzia’s resistance waned. He was right, of course. It made no sense for him to injure his chosen one. Not after centuries of waiting. “Just a swallow,” he whispered, nibbling at her ear, “and you’ll see what awaits you as my queen.”

Jolts of desire shivered down Nadzia’s spine. If nectar heightened her senses, she might find it easier to ferret out the truth without having to spellbind the servants, save her magic for the one she was here to destroy. That was worth any risk. “A taste,” Perun urged, tickling her neck with his breath. “You won’t regret it.”

Nadzia raised the glass to her lips and sniffed. The delicate smell of roses perfumed the air. She swallowed hesitantly, but the drink slid down her throat like the finest mead, a pleasing combination of sweet and tart. In moments, she was delighting in new sensations. Everything was brighter, clearer, the crane on her teapot so vivid she expected the bird to come alive and preen for her. She heard the scuttle of mice beneath the stone floors, sensed the thrum of power emanating from Perun. Her flesh tingled with anticipation. So this is what it feels like to be a god!

And then her throat closed. She dropped the cup and fell to the ground, gasping for air. A thousand streaks of light glittered before her eyes, blinded her to all else. Sweat soaked her gown as fire coursed through her veins, an inferno threatening to consume her. She clung to the table and prayed to Jūratė for release. Take me, Blessed One. Let me rest in your arms.

“Nadzia! Hold fast!” A cooling mist enveloped her, dousing the fever. The lights vanished and she gazed in wonder at Perun as he gently helped her stand—a luminous glow surrounded him from head to toe. She held up her hands and saw the same brilliance radiating from her fingers, although not as bright.

“Did I not tell you?” Perun said, beaming. “The glory of your divine nature has been released. Come, there is something I wish to show you.”

He guided Nadzia to the room adjoining their chambers, eased her into the smaller throne, and then settled into his own chair, its seat worn with the imprint of his bulk.

“There are memories I carry,’ he said. “Fond remembrances of my disciples. Watch and  see what awaits.” He pinched his forehead, extracted a thin line of fire, and tossed it into his eternal flames at the center of the temple. Shadows peeled away from the walls near the entry and became a procession of ghostly pilgrims: men, women, and children of all ages. They fell to their knees before Perun and proclaimed his glory, vowing eternal fealty in gratitude for the life-giving rains that allowed their fields to flourish. His luster increased with every pledge.

Nadzia watched him out of the corner of her eye. This wasn’t the hostile deity she’d grown up fearing, full of rage and murder and all things dark. This god exuded charm, congeniality, not a trace of belligerence. He even thanked a shy young woman who left a bouquet of wildflowers at his feet. If Nadzia hadn’t known of his foul deeds, she might have mistaken him for a benevolent deity, warmhearted and indulgent.

“All this and more will be yours,” he said, turning to her at last. “Listen!”

A group of children dressed in white tunics and leggings formed a circle and skipped around the temple’s fire. The sweet melodies they sang reminded Nadzia of the lullabies crooned to babes in the convent’s nursery. She hummed along, her eyes welling, immersed in the pleasure of their voices and the tender memories they evoked. A time when life was simpler.

And yet something felt wrong. How had the god of storms conjured up a vision with music that came from the Order of Bursztyn? He’d said these were his followers, not devotees of the mermaid goddess, and outsiders never came within the convent except to deliver food for the solstice feast. How could he have learned its private songs?

His voice, husky with longing, interrupted her reverie. “There are those who question the need for gods. But now that you’ve come, I don’t care if the world forgets me, as long as you stay by my side.”

Oh, the yearning in his tone! A rush of tenderness infused Nadzia, so sudden and overwhelming she nearly swooned in her seat. No one had thought to teach her how to battle divine magic. The convent had deemed Perun crude, barbaric, not a god capable of manipulating emotion or using spells of his own. She struggled against his charms as he left his throne and stood before her. “Your new life awaits, my love. Will you be mine?”

Did she dare accept the adulation he offered? The heart in her pendant throbbed with wild abandon, overwhelming her with desire. This was where she belonged. She raised her chin to kiss him, but her braid caught on the necklace’s chain. As she reached back to untangle the golden filigree, her fingers grazed the mark on her neck. The mermaid’s scales turned into barbs and pierced her fingers. She bit back a cry, her true feelings restored in a rush of clarity. Don’t succumb to his wiles. Remember his wrath. Remember Jūratė.

She stepped down and eased into his embrace, allowing one of his arms to linger about her waist as they watched the frolicking youths. This was how he intended to entice her, with glamours. Using nectar and magic to wear down her defenses until he had his heart’s desire. A mockery of love. Wretched, despicable god!

And yet, how could she claim to be any better?

An ache began deep in her chest. Perun might be full of guile, but she was just as devious, seeking his downfall while pretending to be happy. She could never claim innocence again. No matter what happened, no matter where she ended up when all this was settled, one way or the other, her life would never be the same.

Perhaps, she thought grimly, it was for the best. Her world had changed and so must she. From now on, she would continue her pretense of happiness while looking for signs of deceit in every word the thunder god spoke, every action, beginning with this phantom display he’d created to dazzle her. She squeezed his arm, filled her glance with pleasure. “I know this music. It comes from the Order of Bursztyn. Where did you learn it?”

“I spent many years observing.”

“Without being seen? However did you manage that?”

“Your sisters expected to find me in the stars,” he said, grinning. “They did not think to search the trees just outside their walls. I often roosted there in the form of an eagle.”

“That was brave.” Nadzia pressed a hand against her chest and widened her eyes. “A hunter might have felled you.”

“I fear no mortal’s weapons. No arrow can slay me, no cage hold me.”

Nadzia titled her head and frowned, as if puzzled. “When I become immortal will I be invincible too?”

“You will live forever, my love. We both will.”

“And nothing can change that?”

His gaze dropped to the jewel at Nadzia’s breast. The heart inside his stone skipped a beat. He hesitated and then looked up with a strained smile. “Nothing.”

Gods be damned, he’s lying! There was something hidden here, something Nadzia sensed held the answer to her quest. She nodded and smiled, her resolve newly stirred. She would ask Perun to teach her everything about the world of the divine. He’d never suspect that behind her eager innocence there lurked an emissary waiting for the moment when he lowered his guard and divulged the secret that would lead to destruction.

He could keep his throne and his foul jealous love, she’d never be his bride. She wouldn’t be content until she was back in Jūratė’s soothing waters. But first she had to get away, before the hostility roiling inside betrayed her. “Forgive me,” she said, fanning her cheek. “I’m not accustomed to spending so much time indoors. Will you walk with me?”

“An excellent idea. It’s time you met the rest of your servants.”

Nadzia tucked her arm into his and beamed, to all appearances a love-struck girl devoted to the burly god escorting her onto his grounds.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8

Image of Nadzia:



Perun, god of storms

I hope you’re enjoying the story thus far. In these two chapters, Nadzia finally meets the god of storms and Perun relives the day Jūratė died.

For previous chapters, click here.



The sun dipped into the sea. Nadzia, dressed in a fresh white gown, waited with the abbess on the beach, the white sands tinged with dusk’s orange light. “I don’t understand. Why send me to Jūratė? You knew she would counsel me to accept the gods’ plan.”

Mother Gintare tucked her arms into the sleeves of her robe and stared at the heavens. “I wanted you to see how far she has fallen. Our beloved goddess, constrained to the land of the dead through no fault of her own, forced to sneak around like a common thief to visit her daughters. Discarded by the very ones who created her.”

“She seemed reconciled to her circumstances.”

“And if she was not? Who would heed her grievances? She has no choice. We do. We always have.” The abbess turned and grabbed Nadzia’s hands so fiercely her knuckles turned white. “If we do not resist, if we do not claim the right to decide the course of our lives, then we are nothing but puppets.”

Nadzia slipped out of the old woman’s grasp and flexed feeling back into her fingers. “You needn’t worry, I haven’t given up. I share your sentiments. Jurate has been wronged and I won’t be the gods’ plaything. I—”

A roar from above cut off her words. The clouds parted and a giant white ox harnessed to a chariot hurtled through the sky toward the beach. Mother hiked up her robe. “I cannot remain. Be safe and know that our prayers are with you each and every moment.”

When the abbess disappeared behind the reeds camouflaging Jūratė’s cave, Nadzia lifted her arms, a welcoming gesture at odds with the malice in her heart. It didn’t matter what she really felt. She had a task to fulfill. Every action, every word, had to further the illusion that she accepted her fate with perfect equanimity. The gods would find nothing to censure in her conduct, no hint of defiance.

The carriage landed a few yards from Nadzia with a gust of wind that billowed her robe, exposing her legs. She smoothed the fabric as Perun stepped down from the helm. Wet sand hissed under his sandals, the heat so intense his footprints left wisps of smoke.

He stood near the ox, as if unsure of how to proceed. A mass of crimson hair fell to his shoulders, framing a ruddy handsome face. Dark eyes flecked with copper gleamed at her with an inner fire. The air around him thrummed with power. Sparks rippled across his bare chest, arms, shoulders, legs, every inch corded with muscles. Nadzia’s thighs clutched. She’d tumbled with young men whose bodies had grown strong from working in fields; they were mewling calves compared to Perun’s bulk and sinew.

A sheep’s pelt hung from his waist to his knees, girded with a leather belt that held a silver ax. According to legend, the blade returned to his hand no matter how far it was thrown. Did he think to intimidate her by flaunting a weapon? Nadzia bit back the accusation simmering in her throat. The god standing before her was infamous for his temper. He would not take kindly to complaints. Let him think all was well.

Perun scooped up a handful of grains and watched them sift through his fingers. “The white sands of Palanga. I remember them well. When my heart grew weary I came here and listened to Jūratė sing. No matter how downcast or sour my mood, she soothed me.”

He sighed, a lonesome sound that rustled the tall clumps of grasses planted atop the dunes. “How I miss her.”

Nadzia forgot herself and glared. This was the jealous god who had slain Jūratė in a fit of jealousy. How dare he talk of sorrow? He should be groveling with shame, begging her forgiveness.

A tern’s cry brought Nadzia back to her senses. She schooled her expression into a placid mask as Perun stirred and motioned for her to approach. Steadying her breath, she waded through the water until she neared the chariot, keeping well away from the ox’s steaming snorts.

Perun gazed at her through hooded eyes. “What shall I call you?”


“A name that means hope. That bodes well for our future together, yes?” Perun trailed a finger down her cheek, her neck, her arm. She shivered with pleasure and fought the urge to lean into his warmth. This wasn’t how things were meant to unfold. He was supposed to yield.

“How like the goddess you are,” he said, his voice low and sultry. “Hair dark as the night. Eyes as gray as the dolphins in the Baltic Sea. Even your flesh is the same, bronzed by the sun.”

Nadzia focused on the blade in his belt. Don’t let him distract you with pretty words. He’s a beast. “I trust you will find me to your liking.”

A shadow crossed the god’s face. Nadzia froze, her heart jolting in a fresh bout of panic. Had she said something wrong? Should she try to alleviate any mistakes with a coy smile? Throw herself into his arms? She waited, unsure, her hand seeking the amber at her breast, as if it might hold the answer.

The jewel flared with heat and light. Perun reached out, his eyes glinting with lust, as if he hungered after the stone more than the woman who wore it. Nadzia remembered her training and covered the pendant with the edge of her robe. “I’m supposed to keep this until your father asks for its return.”

A growl rattled deep in Perun’s chest. And then, so quickly Nadzia wondered if she’d imagined his discontent, he was all smiles and charm. “We will meet with my parents tomorrow. They wish you properly rested and garbed. As do I.” He spoke words foreign to Nadzia—a language known only to the gods, she presumed. A six-petaled, purple rose appeared in his hands. “From my garden,” he said with a disarming grin. “It has a most glorious perfume.”

The rose’s scent was intoxicating, clean and sharp like the air after a storm, with an undertone of clove and apples. Nadzia’s worries faded. She was the one chosen by the Fates. She could do this.

“We are meant to be together,” Perun said as he tucked the stem into the end of her braid. “Imagine the two of us, sovereigns of the sky and sea. I’ll dress you in golden robes and jeweled crowns, elevate you upon a throne in my temple, command my followers to worship at your feet. Queen Nadzia, the goddess reborn. Whatever you wish shall be yours.”

He lifted her into the chariot, whispering soft endearments as he demonstrated how to grip the railing to prevent falls—although Nadzia couldn’t imagine he would allow her to come to harm—and then flicked the reins. The ox reared and charged upward. Nadzia clung to the bar, blinking back tears as the convent shrank into a blotch of white stone atop a tiny hill. When clouds finally obscured her view, she raised the hood of her robe, stood tall, and arranged her face into a mask of joyous serenity.


The chariot climbed toward the stars at a dizzying speed. Perun whooped as he lashed the reins. “Is it not glorious? No walls to confine you. Fresh, clean air. The world and its worries far below. When you are immortal, we will soar to the highest heavens and laugh at the cold.”

Nadzia gripped the railing tighter. How little he knew. These chill gusts were as invigorating as the deepest regions of the Baltic Sea. If the situation were different, she might have sung with pure ecstasy. All those times she’d talked with Sister Saule about exploring the heavens and now the reality was more exhilarating than her wildest dreams.

But guilt quashed her delight. How could she savor anything with so fierce a god? He was the enemy, all that he said and did forever tainted by his heinous deed. She kept her gaze fixed ahead. Until her task was done, she wouldn’t allow herself a moment of true pleasure.

Perun gathered the reins in one hand and pulled Nadzia close. Heat poured off him in waves. A surge of longing arose, so intense she feared its power. Gods almighty, she was doomed if a simple caress left her too weak to resist.

Hot breath tickled her ear. “You feel it, do you not?” Perun said. “The heat. The yearning. What a pair we make. This is our destiny. We will set the skies on fire.”

Nadzia’s passion died like a candle snuffed out in the night. Fire had rained from the heavens the day Jūratė died. Balls of flames and sheets of lightning that shattered an amber palace and left a goddess mortally wounded. A divine inferno, inescapable, conjured in rage and jealousy. That was the image Nadzia had to remember. No torrid god would snare her.

Perun gazed down at her, a frown in his eyes. “You’ve grown pale. Are you ill?”

“It’s nothing,” Nadzia said, gratified that he appeared to suspect nothing more than physical discomfort. “I’m not used to these heights, that’s all.”

“Then we shall fly lower and at a more leisurely pace. My parents will not thank me if I present them with a bride as sallow as a corpse.” He took hold of both reins and turned his focus to steering the chariot.

With Perun’s scrutiny directed elsewhere, Nadzia let her mind settle into serene contemplation. He hadn’t sensed her rancor. A small victory, perhaps, but she would relish it as the first of many more to come.

They flew over a landscape tinged with the afterglow of twilight. Nadzia had never been this far from the convent. Everything was new and fresh, an abundance of captivating sights and sounds. A landscape golden with wheat stalks. Farmers raising straw hats in salutation. Wild horses chasing each other across verdant fields. Above them, a phalanx of white storks, their red bills clattering as they glided toward the coast.

A river snaked to the left, its blue sparkle a bittersweet reminder of home. Nadzia hoped it continued to Perun’s temple. She drew energy from water. A local source would keep her strong and vigorous. Not to mention the joy of swimming every day.

The solstice moon peeked over the horizon as the ox veered south. Valleys gave way to forests of pine and birch and oak. Nadzia peered at the treetops and wondered if her new home was somewhere below, even though that didn’t quite make sense. A god of fire wouldn’t live near something so easily kindled.

Perun drew Nadzia’s attention to a village in the distance. “We’re nearly there. Just beyond Kaunas. Watch for the flame of my temple.” Minutes later, a burst of white fire shot upward from the center of an octagonal building set atop a knoll. Nadzia hid a smile. If Perun’s approach always sparked such a response, she’d never have worry about being caught by surprise. She could explore his temple and grounds for clues when he was away—she assumed his duties would give her time alone—and have ample warning of his return. A welcome bit of knowledge.

Other buildings were scattered around the grounds. Perun pointed to the largest cottage. “That one was constructed to accommodate a bed large enough to fit us both after we marry. Until then, I’ve set aside private quarters for you at my temple.” His eyes smoldered. “I will come inside only with your permission.”

Nadzia gave him a flirtatious smile, genuinely pleased at the news. A lover who relied on an invitation? He’d be ravenous with desire by the time she allowed him entry. But she was ready to begin her seduction now. “A courteous offer,” she said, letting her gaze fall to his loincloth. “But I doubt we’d have much privacy there. Perhaps we can check the comfort of our conjugal bed before the wedding.”

She’d barely finished speaking when Perun pulled her into an embrace. “If you weren’t looking so frail,” he said hoarsely, “I would take you there now.”

She clung to him, breathless and surprisingly grateful. As much as she wanted to start wearing down his defenses—although he didn’t seem to harbor any, if the bulge against her thigh was any indication—a night to recover from the day’s excitement and surprises meant time to rejuvenate her mind and body, renew her purpose. And a fresh gown was always a treat.

Perun guided the chariot to a clearing just outside the temple’s front, lifted her down, and nuzzled her brow. “Your new home. I hope it pleases you.”

They walked up a gravel path toward a pair of ruby-eyed granite eagles set on either side of the entrance. Nadzia faltered under their glittering gaze. “Are they alive?”

“They belch fire if an adversary tries to sneak in.” Perun nodded at scorch marks on the pebbles. “Only the wicked are blasted. My disciples are safe.”

Nadzia bit her cheek. Could these magic caretakers sense duplicity? She filled her mind with cheerful images: the glory of the sky at sunset; fawns playing in dappled sunlight; sipping peppermint tea with Sister Saule as they studied the stars.

The giant birds let her pass.

Once inside, she breathed easier and took a moment to survey the temple’s interior. Perun’s eternal flame illuminated the area from a central sunken pit. Straight ahead, beyond the blaze, an elevated platform held two oak thrones. One of those is mine. She shook away the thought, ashamed to have even considered the idea of ruling beside a killer.

To the right, a life-size portrait of the thunder god dominated his sanctum, filled with offerings of food and drink from pilgrims. Jūratė’s painted image, far smaller, glowed above tiers of candles at an altar on the opposite side of the corridor. Nadzia grit her teeth. The Blessed One deserved a far bigger space.

Past the god of storms’ shrine, black curtains embroidered with thunderbolts enclosed a private space Perun identified as his retreat. He led her across the way to an area separated by turquoise drapes, drew back the curtains, and motioned her inside. “Your room. I hope you will find comfort here.”

Nadzia suppressed a cutting reply, remembering to maintain the guise of servility. With a smile more bitter than sweet, she glanced inside, expecting little. Her breath caught. Clearly someone had designed this space to ease the pangs of separation.

A net full of starfish and seashells looped across the ceiling. Tiny golden fish darted about an amber castle in a bowl of water set atop a small central table surrounded by cushions. Nadzia moved to the back wall, grimacing at the image that stared back at her from an oval mirror hung above a cabinet etched with waves. No wonder Perun had asked about her health. Dark shadows limned her eyes. Her cheeks were sunken with fatigue, her jaw tight with tension. Fates be kind, she’d have time for a bath in the morning. If not, she’d make do with the basin, washcloth, and ewer resting on top of the dresser.

A few steps away, a quilt embroidered with mermaids covered a thick mattress. Nightclothes—a diaphanous gown and robe—lay neatly folded across the lid of a chest carved with leaping dolphins. Nadzia sat on its edge and let her fingers drift along the outlines of her swimming companions. How long before she raced with them again?

Perun removed a bronze bell dangling from a hook by the bed. “This has been enchanted to chime in the servants’ cottage whenever you ring. Your handmaiden, Gabrielle, is anxious to wait upon her new mistress. Should I summon her now? She can bring whatever you wish. Wine? Food?”

“That won’t be necessary. I’d prefer to rest.”

“If sleep is what you crave, then sleep you will have.” Perun eyed Nadzia with an intensity that sent prickles down her spine. “May I help you disrobe?”

“No, thank you,” she replied and then prayed he wouldn’t take offense. “I’m tired, truly.”

Perun’s lips quirked. He kissed her forehead, a soft graze warmed by an inner fire. “We will have an eternity to explore each other. Rest well.”

As soon as the curtain closed behind him, Nadzia peeled off her dress, stored it along with her belt and necklace in the cabinet, and rinsed off the day’s grime at the basin. The nightgown set out for her offered little comfort—she felt more exposed than covered—but the quilt was stuffed with downy feathers, the sheets freshly washed and scented with lavender. She eased into bed and hugged a pillow, well aware of the god of storms’ presence mere feet away. Her drapes flickered with a shadow of his burly silhouette, hunched over his throne. Gods didn’t slumber. Would he sit there all night, waiting for her to rouse?

She took down the servants’ bell, careful to hold the clapper still to keep it from ringing. A good night’s sleep, that’s what she needed, but her mind was as busy as a swarm of bees. At the convent, Sister Bronis kept a jarful of valerian herbs for insomnia. Maybe the handmaiden had a supply as well. Surely the servant of so tempestuous a god would take relief wherever she could find it. But as much as Nadzia longed for repose, she didn’t want anyone hovering over her. She studied the bell instead.

Runes representing the elements decorated the outer edges. Nadzia traced the signs for sky and land. The gods of those realms lived together in harmony. Obviously, they intended for fire and water to do likewise. But Dievas hadn’t taken Rodzenica without her consent. The legends told of a long and rocky courtship, but at its end there was no doubt they loved each other. And yet they’d allowed their son to claim a bride who couldn’t refuse.

Bitter tears coursed down her cheeks. They probably expected her to feel honored. Didn’t every girl dream of spending eternity with a hotheaded murderer?

The fire outside her room flared in a sudden gust of wind. Sparks floated out of the opening above the pit. She followed their ascent and spied the Heavenly Scales. In a heartbeat she was on the hill with Sister Saule again, poring over the charts created at her birth. No matter what the gods intended, the stars promised victory.

She returned the bell to its spot by the bed and swiped at her face. Enough. The gods would never make her cry again. Fates be kind, she’d leave them sobbing.

Rule at Perun’s side? Not now, not ever,




The god of storms had farmlands to water in eastern Lithuania tonight, but he lingered on the throne in his temple, his keen ears detecting the rustle of sheets as his bride tossed and turned in bed. What disturbed her? She’d enjoyed flying—her joy was palpable as they raced through the heavens—and she’d returned his affection so ardently he forgot all else while she clung to him. Perhaps the excitement of a new life kept her awake. He wanted to believe that, but the handmaiden’s warnings lingered in his mind. It might all be a façade meant to lull him into complacency while Nadzia pursued whatever nefarious plan the convent had in mind.

An owl flew over the temple’s open roof, its wings silhouetted by a moon just beginning to wane. Perun’s fingers drummed against his knees. When Nadzia hesitated after he explained how his granite eagles detected dishonesty, he’d steeled himself for the worst. Yet she entered with nary a ruffle from his birds. That should have allayed his suspicions. Yet he couldn’t help but wonder if the daughters of Jūratė could submerge their hatred so deeply even his guardians would fail to detect malice.

He rubbed at the ache in his jaw, the muscles taut and sore from clenching. Why had he been released from penance only to be thrust into a warren of doubt? Were the Fates jesting with him? He was on the verge of charging into Nadzia’s room and demanding answers when he realized her breath was rising and falling in even measure. Asleep at last.

Taking care to move as quietly as possible, Perun stepped away from his throne and parted Nadzia’s curtains, studying her in the firelight. In repose she looked so much like his beloved mermaid he had to restrain himself from taking her now and rousing her to the height of passion, her long, lithe body slick against his. His flesh clamored for release. Did he dare?

She pulled the mermaid quilt over her shoulders and murmured. If only he knew what she dreamed. Mortals might suppress emotions when they were awake, but not in repose. Breksta, goddess of twilight and dreams, often boasted about her powers at the Tree of Life. However humans acted during the day, their secret desires surfaced at night. Nadzia could not hide the truth while she slept.

Perun smothered a curse. Another time, he might have sought out Breksta and begged her help, but his sister hadn’t spoken to him for 500 years. She believed him beyond redemption, unfairly indulged. She’d never probe the depths of his bride’s mind, no matter how fervently he begged.

He let the curtains fall and then strode down the aisle for his nightly vigil at Jūratė’s shrine. Even though the Fates had judged him redeemed, he’d grown so used to the ritual it didn’t feel right to stop. He knelt before the altar, lit a fresh candle with his fingertips and bent his head, eager to lose himself in prayer.

But the flame spewed a cloud of acrid black smoke, plunging him into darkness, back to the day his world forever changed.

Half a century old, the memory was edged in mist. Perun stood on a branch at the Tree of Life, watching his beloved mermaid fly into the night on the back of a giant raven, his heart torn between loathing and longing, How could she have chosen a mortal over a god?

A sob rattled his throat. He growled and let fury crush sorrow. Why did he mewl like a calf who’d lost its mother? He was the mighty god of fire and lightning, maker of tempests. No one abandoned him for some stinking fisherman.

His fingers itched with heat, frustration seeking release. Jūratė had played him for a fool. It didn’t matter that she’d been exiled, her divinity drained and siphoned into a vial kept in his father’s room. Her rejection still stung. There was nothing he could do to alleviate the pain.

Except . . . .

He took to the air, urging his beast toward the coast with guttural cries. Soon the cove of Palanga appeared. The telltale gleam of Jūratė’s undersea palace shimmered in the moonlight. He halted above the water, his mouth twisted with contempt. He’d helped the goddess collect amber to build her castle. Now he would watch it crumble, stone by precious stone.

A man, tall and gaunt, paced the brilliant white sands and watched the sea. Perun smiled sourly at the mortal who’d stolen his lover. “My first strike is for you, Kastytis.” A stream of fire spewed from his hand. He looked on in grim satisfaction as the body below burst into flames and the man shrieked in agony.

His flesh seethed as he summoned black clouds and sent out peals of thunder that roiled the air. Consumed with wrath, he hurled bolt after bolt of jagged lightning, raining destruction until the waters steamed and the castle was a mound of amber shards. When he was satisfied the site had been thoroughly ravaged, he roared in triumph and shouted a command to his ox.

They spiraled upward to the sanctuary of his stars, where he waited for his energy to return—harnessing the power of wind and fire and rain always left him depleted. But the relief he’d sought eluded him. Why had he thought a ruined palace would ease the ache in his heart? Jūratė would never be his. A thousand storms could never compensate for the emptiness she’d left behind.

He returned to Kaunas long after the moon had set, its place in the sky claimed by a roseate sun. He’d barely coasted to a stop on the grasses outside the front of his temple when two of his father’s black-winged guards accosted him with a terse message: “Dievas commands your presence. He waits within.”

Rough hands gripped his arms. He tried to shake them off, but the attendants’ hold was stronger, enhanced by his father’s magic. None had more power than the Creator of All.

They dragged him down the center aisle, deaf to his complaints, and thrust him to the floor after passing his eternal flame. He stumbled to his feet, furious, until he glimpsed Rodzenica, crumpled and weeping against her husband’s shoulder. Dread lanced his throat. “Mother? What’s wrong?”

Dievas turned to him with a look of utter despair and moved aside, revealing a sight that brought Perun to his knees again—Jūratė’s bloodstained body, draped across his throne. Saltwater dripped from her raven tresses. Hazel eyes stared dully, devoid of life. Her skin, once so beautifully brown, was gray with the pallor of death.

He reached out, mute with horror. He’d seen his beloved depart safely. How could she have perished? An unearthly howl escaped him, a mournful cry that shook the rafters of his temple. “No!”

Veles shimmered into view behind the body, his serpentine scales rippling with agitation. When he spied Perun, he bared his fangs and lunged. “Murderer!”

Dievas held him back, although he trembled with the effort. “This is neither the time nor the place to indulge your hatred. Keep away and let me discern the truth.”

He waited until Veles slithered into a corner behind the thrones and then turned a haggard face toward Perun. “My son, I beg you, tell me these claims against you are false. Tell me you are not responsible for Jūratė’s death.”

Perun sank back on his heels and sputtered in disbelief. “Impossible. How? When?”

“Don’t play the innocent with us,” Veles jeered. “I’m the one who brought her spirit to the Underworld. I know exactly what happened. She died in the storm you unleashed.”

“That can’t be.” Perun cast his thoughts back to the cove. “Only the palace was destroyed.”

And then he remembered the man on the shore, watching . . . waiting . . . for Jūratė? Dear gods, no. “Are you saying she was within? But why? You banished her.”

“From what Veles has told us,” Rodzenica answered, her voice a shudder of emotion, “my daughter wanted her crown to help start a new life for her family. She believed herself safe. And why should she not? The Council forbade any of her brethren from contact.”

The goddess paused, steadied her breath, and then raised a trembling finger in accusation. “She named you her killer.”

“Not by me. Never by me.” Perun wheezed, barely able to think or feel beyond the grief threatening to consume him. “I . . . I thought her castle abandoned. I would never—”

“Assassin!” Veles cried, rising up with a hiss. “Did I not tell you so, Father?”

Dievas pulled up the god crouching at his feet until their faces were inches apart. “Jūratė was punished according to our laws,” he said, his tone clipped and biting. “We exiled her from these halls and made her mortal. Such was our judgment, binding upon all. Who granted you permission to act further?”

Perun lowered his eyes. “No one.”

“When has the mighty god of storms ever sought guidance?” Veles sneered. “He expects us all to indulge his wildness because that’s how he was made. Not this time, brother.”

“You have killed one of our own,” Dievas continued, warning the snake-skinned god to keep away with a glance. “She may have been cast out, but she was still divinely born. We cannot allow so grave a transgression to go unpunished. The Council will meet to decide your fate.”

“It was an accident, I swear.” Perun’s voice cracked. “Please, Father, you know how much I loved Jūratė. Her laughter was like a rainbow come alive. When she sang, all else faded. The stars shone more brightly in her presence. I would never wish her gone.”

“Do not try to sway us with reminders of what we have lost.” Rodzenica’s violet eyes glittered with condemnation. “Our daughter is dead and you are to blame.”

Released from his father’s grip, Perun staggered backwards and shook out his arms. “You don’t understand. Jūratė spurned me for a mortal, dismissed me like a pesky fly. It was an insult to all the gods.”

“An affront properly punished,” Dievas snapped. “We did not condemn her to death. That was your doing.”

“But not my intent. Surely you must allow for that.” Perun searched his mind for an argument that would sway his father. “Consider this as well: if it was Jūratė’s fate to die, then whatever happened was meant to be. I cannot be held fully accountable.”

“Coward!” Veles sprang forward, clawed fingers outstretched. “Shall we considerate it divine fortune if I rip you to shreds here and now?”

Perun flexed his hands. “These halls will run slick with your blood, brother, not mine.”

“You think to frighten me with idle threats?” Drops of poison hung from Veles’s fangs. “I am no innocent maiden in the sea. You will not strike me unawares.”

The gods circled each other, one spitting black venom, one sparking red fire, both muttering curses. Deivas shouted for quiet. “Veles, you promised no disruptions. Stand by your vow or I shall have you removed from this chamber.”

The snake-skinned god returned to his father’s side and wiped his mouth as his tail coiled into a ringed seat. “I cannot abide a killer who blames the victim. But then, I’m not surprised. What does Perun know of honor? Nothing.”

“And yet he brings up a point which the Council must discuss with the Fates.” Deivas sighed and shook his head. “Shall I tell them the god of storms has no remorse? That he blames destiny for his actions?”

Perun hesitated. What difference did it make if he hadn’t known Jūratė lingered in her castle? He’d given free rein to the dark urges that compelled him to travel to the Baltic Coast and destroy a palace with no thought to the consequences. Much as he hated to admit it, his brother was right. The crime was his alone and there was no undoing the deed.

He gazed forlornly at the mermaid goddess’s corpse. “Oh, my love,” he moaned. “What have I done? Forgive me.”

The chamber echoed with his anguished cries. When his voice grew hoarse, he approached his parents, a shadow of himself, hunched with anguish. “Censure me as you will. I am ready to die. No one else can expiate my sin.”

Amazement flashed across his father’s face. “Then you regret your deeds?”

“Don’t trust him,” Veles urged, his eyes narrowing. “He fears what you will decide.”

“You are wrong, brother. I would cut out my heart if it would bring Jūratė back.”

“An interesting idea,” Dievas murmured, stroking his beard. “A sacrifice to convince us you are truly contrite.” He held out a hand to his wife. “We will bring your suggestion before the Council. Remain here while we attend to the matter.”

“There is no need. I am willing to stand trial.”

“You have admitted your guilt,” Dievas said crisply. “We must decide on the proper penance.”

Veles folded his arms. “As much as I’d love to tear you apart, I won’t forfeit my seat at the Council’s deliberations. I suggest you retain the guards, Father. Given my brother’s rash behavior, we can’t trust him not to flee the moment our backs are turned.”

“An excellent suggestion.” Dievas beckoned the messengers forward. “Keep him here. Veles, take this body to your realm and then join us.”

They returned when stars began to dot the heavens, their faces worn with fatigue, and settled into the two thrones. “Your actions stirred an intense debate, my son,” Dievas began, rubbing his ivory brow. “Now that the Council has made its decision, you may learn the full truth of what occurred.”

He took a long breath and exhaled slowly. “After your assault, Jūratė escaped her palace and found sanctuary in a cave. When Veles arrived, he discovered twin babes, both girls, clinging to her breasts.”

“Two . . . and they survived.” Perun faltered, his emotions shifting between joy and sorrow. “Then she lives on.”

“Through her daughters, yes.” Rodzenica dabbed away a cold tear. “Mokosh asked to be their guardian and we agreed wholeheartedly—the goddess of life can be trusted to see that they flourish.”

“Their mother should have seen them thrive,” Veles spat. “Because of your jealousy, she never will.”

Perun hung his head. “Has the Council decided on my punishment?”

“We have,” Dievas replied. “While we understand that passion can lead one astray, we cannot accept it as an excuse.”

“Tell me what I must do.” Perun listened mutely while his father explained the choices:  exile, death, or—wonder of wonders—a chance to atone and love again. Heat warmed his face. “You would give me one of Jūratė’s own? Why? I don’t deserve mercy.”

“Because we are convinced this was—as you insist—an unfortunate calamity.” Dievas’s voice hardened. “Our daughter betrayed us. You did not, although your actions weigh heavy on our hearts. This is an opportunity for you to regain our favor.”

Perun put a hand to his chest. Never again would envy rule him. He glanced at the moon shining above, a beacon of hope, and bowed to his parents. “I vow to be a faithful companion, devoted in my affection, asking nothing for myself. Thank the Council for me, Father. I promise you will not regret your kindness.”

“I’ll be watching for any lapses,” Veles said as they departed. “Every day and night.”

At sunrise the next morning, Rodzenica waited beside Perun’s eternal flame. He gulped and kneeled before her, groaning as she reached into his chest, sliced his heart with her fingernail, and pressed the red sliver into a shard of amber.

His discomfort did not go unnoticed. “Be thankful you are here today,” she chided. “Veles argued most heatedly for your demise and several on the Council agreed with him. Your father overruled them. He insisted you be given a chance to make amends.”

Perun massaged the flesh above his heart. The cut was nearly healed, although a nagging ache remained. “How you will know when I am fully redeemed?”

“The Fates gathered sand from Palanga and housed it in an enchanted hourglass we will keep in our private quarters at the Tree of Life. When the last grain drops, your sins will have been purged.”

Rodzenica held out the amber. She looked up at her son—he towered over all the gods save his father—with melancholy eyes. “You cannot force a woman’s affection. That is the lesson you must learn. Return this stone to the cove from whence it came. Create a shrine for Jūratė and apologize. For your arrogance. For your wrath. For depriving us of her sweet company. Promise as well to honor and treasure the one who summons you.”

“Then she’ll be mine?”

“No, then you must court her. Take care with this one, my son,” she said, pressing the stone into his palm. “Treat her badly and I will refuse to make you whole again.” She smiled grimly at Perun’s gasp of horrified understanding—she had just sworn to let him die if his actions failed to meet with her approval. “I see that you grasp the severity of the situation.”

Perun swallowed heavily. The stakes were so immense that he put aside his pride—he never asked for advice—and took his mother’s hand. “Help me.”

She blinked at him as if he was a doddering fool. “Just love her.”

“You make it sound so simple.”

“It is.” The lines of sadness in Rodzenica’s face softened. “True esteem and affection grow when properly nurtured.”

“Please,” Perun begged. “Won’t you at least give me a sign?”

“Love is not a game.”

He peered into the depths of his mother’s gaze, hoping for encouragement. But her eyes were bereft of solace. She had no comfort to offer. He pushed down the rage that threatened to erupt and searched for words to appease her. “Am I doomed, then, because I could not control my temper? Will you condemn me to my brother’s savagery?”

His voice broke. “Is that what you wish for me, eternal torment?”

Rodzenica twitched, as if roused from a dream. “No, my son, I wish to see my daughter reborn and cherished.” She breathed upon the jewel. A golden mist descended into the amber. “If the girl has sincere feelings for you, the sliver will beat stronger. Remember, you are more than fire and fury. Look deep within and find the tenderness I impart to all my children. Then you will know how to love.”

Perun gathered his mother in a fierce embrace, startling a huff of surprise out of her. “I’ll make you proud. Wait and see.”


The smoke surrounding Perun evaporated as his awareness gradually returned to the present. The candles at Jūratė’s altar had burned down to stubs. He rubbed his eyes and silently cursed. Why hadn’t he thought to check the stone hanging at Nadzia’s throat? He didn’t dare to look now, having promised to stay clear of her room unless she asked him inside. When he’d glimpsed her from the curtains earlier, she’d been wrapped in her quilt, her neck tightly covered. Fool of a god!

Yet all was not lost. Gabi, as loyal as servant as any god could ask for, had promised to report oddities in his bride’s behavior. He hoped she prevailed; she was young and impressionable, an easy target for a woman with a siren’s voice. If this daughter of Jūratė truly meant him harm, it wouldn’t take much to convince a simple farm girl otherwise. He could only wait and see. And patience was not one of his virtues.

He sent a silent prayer of thanks to Rodzenica for her gift, an infallible means of gauging deceit, so skillfully concealed within the sliver of his heart. Nadzia might deceive a god who desperately wanted to believe she was true to her word, but no mortal—even one with a divine heritage—could resist his mother’s enchantment.

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Nadzia:

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8