Perun, god of storms

As the story continues,  Nadzia prepares to leave the convent and meets Jūratė, who offers surprising advice.

For previous chapters, click here.




Mother Gintare’s room faced west, with a window that opened onto the sea. An ocean breeze cooled Nadzia as she waited in the doorway, a brisk wind carrying the distant cries of terns squabbling over fish guts at the docks. Inside, the furnishings were simple: a desk and two chairs, a cot pushed against the wall opposite the window, a bedside altar, a bookcase filled with ledgers.

Mother had one in hand now, a thick leather journal with a mermaid embossed on the cover. She whispered and stroked the aquamarine scales. When the book fell open to a blank page, she motioned for Nadzia to take a seat and then pushed across the book and an ink quill.

“You want me to write?” Nadzia stared in surprise. It was the Elders who cataloged the convent’s business and history, never a novice.

“A simple statement,” Mother replied. “What do you seek?”

“Perun’s destruction.”

“A goal achieved without jeopardizing your sisters or indulging in visions of grandeur.”

Nadzia flinched at the old woman’s words. She hadn’t spoken about the stature she would gain as a goddess, how the idea of divine life secretly thrilled her. It seemed too boastful, and she didn’t have a friend to confide in anyway, even if she yearned to share her deepest desires. She’d kept relations with her sisters cordial but distant. Why grow attached to someone who might be taken from you and never return?

“Do not mistake my meaning,” the abbess said. “We have all wished ourselves Jūratė’s champion. There is no greater honor. Nonetheless, I caution you: do not lose sight of your goal or misjudge your enemy. We thought the gods’ plans perfectly clear, yet see how they have toyed with us, muddled our expectations with this delay. You must proceed with the greatest care.”

“But I’m bound to him. Surely that’s to my favor.” Nadzia’s hand sought the necklace hanging from her neck. The locket tingled at her touch; her heart quivered in response.

Mother’s eyes, leaden as the sea on a winter’s morning, probed unflinchingly. Nadzia pulled herself tight like a crab retreating into its shell. Unbidden, her hand began to stroke the pendant. Reassuring warmth greeted her touch, easing the tension in her shoulders. She let out a long, tremulous breath. “He wants me. I can feel it.”

A muscle in Mother’s cheek twitched. “This divine connection pleases you,” she said, her words laced with scorn. “I see longing etched upon your face.”

Nadzia’s cheeks grew hot. “That’s not true!”

“The god of storms is ruled by passion. Yield to the temptations of the flesh and you will never tame him.” Mother leaned back in her chair and made a steeple with her fingers. “Sister Ramuna tells me you enjoy the pleasures of seduction. Perhaps more than is prudent.”

Nadzia squirmed in her seat. She’d assumed her talks with the librarian were private. “I won’t allow lust to distract me. Not with a killer. ”

“A heartfelt promise can be undone if a more attractive choice arises. You are not immune to our foe’s power. Your response to his jewel reveals as much.”

“You think me weak? This bond works to my advantage, not against it.”

“Do not twist my words,” Mother snapped. “The Fates gave you the power to summon our adversary. Hold fast to your sacred promise and you will yet fulfill your duty.”

Nadzia gripped the thunder god’s stone. Heat flushed her skin. A wisp of smoke drifted from her fingers, although the skin remained pure. Sweat dripped from her brow, pain watered her eyes, yet she didn’t cry out for release. “On . . . my . . . life.”

Mother gave a curt nod, clearly pleased at Nadzia’s demonstration of self-control. “Remember Jūratė and all will be well. Now take a moment to record your thoughts. Briefly, if you please. There are other matters you must attend to.”

Nadzia gripped the pen and pressed her words deep into the parchment. Today I begin a holy battle. May the goddess guide my actions and grant me humility.

She swiveled the book for Mother’s appraisal, allowed herself a brief smile at the satisfaction in old woman’s eyes, and waited for an explanation of the need for haste. She had no bags to pack, although she intended to bring a few books in the pockets of her robe. She’d hoped to take a long swim in the sea and then bask on the serpentine rocks that lined Palanga’s cover. Goddess knew when she’d have another chance. And then maybe a bite to eat. Would it be too much if she asked for cake and wine, a small party to celebrate her success?

The abbess had other ideas.


An hour later Nadzia left with a handful of notes sealed with the wax imprint of a water nymph, the Order of Bursztyn’s emblem. She crossed the pentagon-shaped courtyard, passing small groups of novices. Most offered muted congratulations as they stared at her necklace. A few scuttled out of the way, their eyes full of apprehension. She stopped at Jūratė’s fountain, cupped a handful of water, and bathed her neck. Hardly noon and already the air was thick with heat.

Chill drops trickled down her spine. The sickroom door opened and Keslai emerged with a heavily bandaged arm. Her sister wobbled a bit—no doubt due to the effects of herbs she’d been given for pain. Nadzia stiffened as the girl lurched in her direction.

“Still here, I see,” Keslai said, her words thick and halting. She laughed, a low, guttural sound brimming with spite. “Poor little girl. However will you enchant the god of storms when he won’t even come and claim you?”

“I’m so sorry you were hurt.” Nadzia moved closer and took her sister’s arm. “Please let me help you to bed. You need rest.”

Keslai shoved her away with a surprising burst of strength. “I don’t need your charity.” Her breath hissed as she gingerly lowered herself to sit on the fountain’s edge. “You stole my dream. I’m the one who deserves a throne. Don’t expect me to grovel when—ifyou return a goddess. Mother can whip me with her switch until my blood waters these cobblestones . . . I’ll never accept you as my queen.”

She batted away tears coursing down her cheeks. “Go! I can’t bear to look at you.”

A rush of sympathy clogged Nadzia’s throat, but she didn’t know what to say without adding to her sister’s anguish. She bolted toward the garden, slipping hastily through the gate and waving aside a stray bee as she passed rows of herbs and vegetables on her way to the far corner. Sister Bronis rose from a bench shaded by pines and greeted her with a near bone-crunching embrace. Nadzia wriggled free and held out the abbess’s note. After a quick read, Sister tucked the paper into her apron pocket and hustled to the kitchen. “Come along,” she called, waving for Nadzia to follow. “We’ve no time to lose.”

The room was deliciously cool, the air perfumed by sprigs of lavender and rosemary hanging from the beams. Sister edged around a huge table gouged by decades of slicing and dicing—its top filled at the moment with cloth-covered dishes for the evening feast—and headed for the wall of shelves that held a collection of mortars and pestles, pots and pans, tinctures, syrups, and herbal distillations.

She removed the top of a thick earthenware jar and ladled out two cups of hard cider. “To the one chosen for greatness,” she said, raising her mug. “May you do the goddess proud.” Sister grinned and guzzled her drink in one long swig. “A good batch,” she said, pouring herself another. “Go on, then, enjoy.”

Mindful of the butterflies flitting in her stomach, Nadzia sipped while Sister chose a basket from the bottom shelf. “This delay gives us an unexpected opportunity. We meant to send these to you by boat with a trusted courier—there is a dock near Perun’s temple in Kaunas—along with a letter of explanation. Thank the Fates, I can give them to you now.”

Her cheerfulness vanished as she assumed the mien of a brusque teacher. “Go on, then. Take out the stones and tell me what you know of them.”

Hoping this wasn’t some obscure lesson she’d forgotten, Nadzia removed two mottled gray rocks and blew out a breath of relief. “These are bezoars.”

“Their purpose?”

“A bezoar at the bottom of a drinking vessel will nullify any poison.”

“Who would seek your death?”

Nadzia thought back to her lessons. Mokosh, the earth goddess who’d nourished and protected the daughters of Jūratė from the moment they were first born, had warned them to keep alert. The Council’s judgment did not sit well with all the deities in Lithuania’s pantheon. Some resented what they deemed a lax punishment, and it would be all too easy to engineer a fatal accident for his bride, once chosen. “There are those who would deny the god of storms happiness,” she answered, nodding grimly, “no matter the cost.”

“Correct. The gods are masters of artifice. Trust no one until Mokosh advises you it is safe to do so.” Sister pulled out a small clay bottle fitted with a cork stopper. “This holds water from Jūratė’s sacred springs. Be sparing. A drop when your spirits are low will restore you.”

“Why would I be sad?” Nadzia protested. “This is a joyful occasion.”

Sister growled like an animal ready to pounce. “You are walking into the lion’s den. Beware the beast. He cares little for your feelings.”

“I don’t intend to have feelings for him.”

“Perhaps. He’s boisterous and crude, but even cads can be charming. Just remember, if ever you feel smothered or lost, this will help.”

Nadzia cradled the container. “Thank you, it’s a most thoughtful gift.”

“Thank the goddess, dear. Now, do you see the brooch?”

Nadzia reached for the gilded seashell and chirruped with delight. “So pretty! Is this to remind me of Palanga?”

“That is not its purpose.” Sister tugged on the back of the pin; the shell sprang open, revealing a single pearl. Her voice softened. “Should all else fail, you need not endure agony at Perun’s hands. Drop this into your drink. The end will be swift.”

Nadzia gulped her cider, her throat dry as bone. The horror of taking her own life to avoid torment was too dire an end to contemplate before she’d even begun. She pushed the idea to the back of her mind and prayed the decision never came to pass.

Sister murmured and patted her arm. “You’ve grown pale. Shall I keep this and trust you to find another means of escape?”

“If the Fates will it so, I am ready to die. But I hope for victory, not defeat.”

“As do we all.” Sister blinked away the mist in her eyes. “Remember, our prayers go with you.” She stood, motioned for Nadzia to do the same, and then held out a black belt with a silver buckle, along with a matching leather pouch. “This is the last of the lot. Everything goes inside the purse, then you tie it onto the belt, like so.”

She drew Nadzia close, kissed both cheeks, and traced a series of waves in the air—a sign of protection. “May Jūratė watch over you and keep you safe.”

It was a prayer Nadzia would repeat countless times in the weeks that followed.


The second note brought her to the library across the courtyard from Mother’s room. North-facing windows illuminated an orderly space centered by a long pine table surrounded by benches. Cushioned chairs were scattered about, offering comfortable spots to curl up with a favorite read. A fireplace with mantel statues and iron sconces occupied the eastern side. Scrolls and books filled shelves built into the remaining walls. Sister Ramuna collected writings from around the world, brought by traders who visited during the warmer months.

If not for other demands on her time, Nadzia would spend every day here, blissfully lost in stories conceived by minds far more clever than hers. She’d once hoped to sneak in a few hours of reading while the convent slumbered—on nights when she wasn’t stargazing, of course—but the doors were locked and bolted from the inside. The librarian slept on a thick bedroll near the hearth, guarding a chamber behind the fireplace, a hidden alcove accessed by pulling on a bronzed figure of the goddess atop the mantel. Inside were five centuries of the convent’s journals along with a collection of graphic texts Sister utilized when instructing novices on the art of seduction.

An outsider might consider educating young ladies in the ways of the flesh unseemly, but Perun was a lusty god. His bride must know a host of ways to please him. Nadzia’s thighs clutched as she recalled several of the more explicit books and the many times she’d employed their techniques. True to her teaching, she always mesmerized her partner afterwards so that none spoke of the carnal pleasures to be found in the woods outside the convent. Now she would learn if her skills worked as well on immortal flesh.

She settled in a chair next to shelves brimming with fantastic stories and chose a book about a poor woodcutter who learned the secret of a thieves’ den. As fanciful as the tale was, Nadzia couldn’t concentrate. She skimmed the pages, flipping past colorful sketches of a cave crammed with jewels and gold, and a dark-skinned man named Ali Baba clothed in billowing pants and a turban.

A click. The fireplace swung outward. Sister Ramuna entered the room, not moving or speaking until the hearth returned to its usual position with a dull thud. Nadzia silently handed her the abbess’s note.

Sister’s lips quirked as she read. “You have been warned about tempering your delight in sensuality?”

“You needn’t worry about me,” Nadzia said, studying the pine floor. “I won’t lose myself in Perun’s arms.”

“Ah, you’re angry.” Sister lifted Nadzia’s chin. Her sapphire eyes held a tinge of sorrow. “Perhaps you feel betrayed?”

“I wouldn’t have shared my feelings if I’d known you’d take them to Mother.”

The Elder folded her arms. “The abbess had a twin sister. Do you remember what happened to her?”

Nadzia frowned. What bring up that sad story? “She ventured too far at sea and was caught in a net cast by a merchant ship of the Hanseatic League. The captain wooed her while she was held prisoner. They married in secret and tried to return to Palanga, but his superiors saw her calm a stormy sea and declared her a witch. They hung her husband while she watched and then stuffed her mouth with kelp and burned her at the stake.”

Sister’s eyes clouded. “Mother became a shell of herself. We feared she might die of grief. When her anguish finally waned, she swore no man would ever again trap a daughter of Jūratė with sweet words and caresses.”

“Then why teach us how to seduce them?”

“Because a man in the throes of passion will agree to near anything, share the very depths of his soul. You can’t be as weak. You must remain in control.”

Nadzia bit her lip. “I’m sorry. Forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive. We have more important issues at hand.” Sister opened a carved box on the tabletop. Inside was a letter sealed with forest-green wax and stamped with a wreath of fruit and flowers. She lit the sconces and eased into a rocking chair by the hearth before handing over the missive. “Mokosh sent this an hour ago.”

It was a short message, a mere six words. Nadzia sank into a chair, her breath escaping in one long whoosh. The novices had been warned again and again to act judiciously when venturing beyond the convent. Perun’s servants were loyal, his followers rabid in their devotion. But this . . . this bespoke danger they anticipated. “Is it true? Dievas will test the chosen one?”

“If Mokosh says it is so, you can believe her. He will be watching for discrepancies between manners and words.”

Nadzia tried to speak, but her lips moved noiselessly, like a dying fish. They’d never worried about having to appease the god of creation. Hadn’t he insisted on this arrangement? Face to face, a mere novice couldn’t hope to outwit him, no matter how masterful her deception elsewhere.

Perhaps they were the ones deceived. None escaped the will of the gods. Dievas had created them; surely he could penetrate their minds. Nadzia’s words came out a quivering whisper. “I don’t think I can, not with the mightiest of all the gods.”

“You are Jūratė reborn, else your voice could not have called out Perun’s stone. That is her most precious gift to you. Use it as you have been taught and all will be well.”

Nadzia raised the parchment to a sconce. When flames devoured the edges, she dropped the message into the fireplace, watched the paper shrivel, and hoped she wouldn’t do the same when Dievas examined her.

A bell rang, signaling the afternoon meal, a light repast meant to stave off hunger until the feast. Nadzia had little appetite. She craved solitude, not sustenance, time to consider what lay ahead. But she didn’t know if Perun planned to feed her, and hunger pangs would only become a distraction. A small plate, then, something she could nibble on while delivering her final note.

The courtyard baked with shimmering heat, the air sultry and still. Nadzia kept to the shadows under eaves that shaded the inner perimeter and made her way to the refectory next to the kitchen. She filled a dish with a hazelnuts, slices of apple, some goat’s cheese, and crossed over to the music studio.

Easing inside, she set her empty plate on the nearest chair. This was where she’d honed her voice, practiced supernatural scales, learned the libidinous notes that lured men to the forest. A room with chairs and risers and walls that perfectly echoed the sounds within. At the far end hung a life-sized tapestry of the goddess with her twins.

Nadzia’s heart swelled with awe and reverence as she approached the woven scene. This was why they fought. Because a jealous god had deprived Jūratė of everything she loved. He wasn’t entitled to a loving mate. Fates be kind, he’d never have one.

A firm hand clenched her shoulder. “You have a note for me?”

“Yes.” Nadzia shrugged off Sister Dain’s grasp and presented the last of the abbess’s directives. She hooked a finger over her new belt, tamping down her impatience. Why postpone things? If Dievas was playing games, then let the gods think her an ignorant pawn, oblivious and simple-minded. Once they realized she’d bested them, her victory would be that much sweeter.

Sister Dain crumpled the note and sighed. “You must swear by the bones of the Blessed One to never speak of what I am about to show you. Do I have your word?”

“How can I make a promise when I don’t know what you mean?”

“I will say no more until you pledge silence.”

Nadzia hesitated, torn between curiosity and dread. If an Elder insisted on a vow, whatever followed held the utmost importance. So crucial that it required a sacred promise. She pushed down her apprehension and made the sign of obedience. She’d wanted to be chosen, she had to accept every consequence. “I swear.”

Sister Dain turned to the wall and sang a low haunting melody that shivered the air. She stepped aside and motioned for Nadzia to move closer. “Pull aside the hanging.”

“A door?” Nadzia gasped in surprise. The wood was carved with creatures and symbols of the sea, its handle a bronze mermaid. She ran her fingers over a dolphin. “How long has this been here?”

“Since the convent was built.” Sister fished out a key from her pocket and inserted it into the siren’s mouth. The door swung open, revealing a stone staircase that ended in darkness. She took a lantern that hung near the top and began her descent. “Step carefully. These rocks are old and steep.”

“Where are we going?”

“To the cave where Jūratė gave birth.”




The stairs opened up to a tunnel gritty with sand and loose rocks. Nadzia murmured a prayer of thanks to the passageway’s architect as she followed Sister Dain. The tall roof meant she could walk without crouching. Yet even so high a ceiling didn’t compensate for the narrowness of the walls—so close they grazed her shoulders. She was a child of the sea, ill at ease in closed spaces. The air was dank and still, the quiet an eerie change from the constant roar of the ocean that resounded day and night. She kept one hand on her locket; the amber glowed so brightly she could have forged ahead without Sister’s lantern.

They walked in silence, Nadzia mentally calculating their path. As far as she knew, there was only one cave on the convent grounds: a hollow space on the dunes, the spot where the Elders came forth each solstice for the Gathering. Not too long a journey from the music studio. But knowing where they were going didn’t answer why. Was she about to undergo a secret ritual before she left with the god of storms? She gripped her pendant tighter.

Soon the familiar scent of brine tickled her nose. Nadzia breathed in the blessedly cool ocean breeze. “Are we nearly there?”

“Almost.” Sister turned abruptly. The tunnel opened to a large rocky chamber illuminated by torches sunk in brilliant white sand. To the left, light filtered through a loose screen woven from reeds that concealed the cave’s beach entrance. A large chest, its lid open, sat near the opening. Nadzia glanced inside and wondered who used the woolen shawls, pillows, bottles of mead, candles. Did the Elders meditate here the night before the Gathering?

She moved deeper into the cave, drawn to an odd shape jutting out from the back wall. The torches flared at her approach, revealing a mermaid’s skeleton—half human, half fish. Golden plates beneath the figure held nuggets of amber, strips of dried eel, and nubs of candles. Nadzia fell to her knees. “Is that . . . Jūratė?”

“Not quite.” Sister Dain lit fresh candles, placed her hands on the wall, and hummed a note so deep and resonant the rocks shuddered. The bones on the wall stirred. Slowly, the torso filled with dark lustrous flesh, the tail with sea green scales. Fossilized curls gave way to a glossy tumble of coal-black hair. When the figure was fully transformed, the goddess opened her eyes.

“You’re alive!” Nadzia gaped and then made a hasty sign of obedience—hand to forehead, lips, and heart.

Jūratė’s laughter echoed through the cave like a sparkling waterfall. “Death is but a door to another realm, my daughter. We never truly perish.” She nodded at Sister Dain. “Thank you for bringing her to me.”

“I live to serve.” The Elder bowed deeply and turned to Nadzia. “The abbess will come for you when the sun begins to set. Remember your promise. You will not speak of this place. It must be kept secret.”

“I gave my word,” Nadzia said with a hint of anger. “You have no reason to doubt me.”

Sister paused as if she had more to say, seemed to think better of it, and bowed again to the goddess. “I leave her in your care, Blessed One.”

Nadzia returned her attention to the luminous being on the wall. Of all the events she imagined might occur today, meeting her divine ancestor was not among them. It was one thing to pray at an altar, something entirely different to come face-to-face with the goddess you revered. She fumbled for words and finally decided to wait until she was asked to speak.

Jūratė floated down from the rocks, leaving behind a faint impression of her body on the stones. She settled onto the sand and curled her tail into a seat. Nadzia studied the goddess’s face, so like her own she might be looking in a mirror—the same slate eyes, the same raven curls and olive skin. No wonder Perun answered when I called.

The goddess smiled. “Tell me your name.”

“Nadzia, your holiness.”

Jūratė’s sigh was a melancholy exhalation that resonated against the walls and flickered the torches. “My brave, brave daughter. You do me honor with your courage. Perun is a mighty foe. He will test your resolve.”

“I have your voice,” Nadzia said proudly. “Not even the god of storms can resist it.”

“True, but can you resist him?”

Nadzia stammered in surprise. “I would . . . I never . . . how can you think —?”

“Did you never wonder why he was so angry when I chose a human to wed?”

“He was jealous. He wanted you for his own.”

“And why would he believe that possible?”

Nadzia frowned as she recalled the history she’d been taught. Perun was enraged by the mermaid goddess’s disdain for rules, his wrath magnified by what he considered a weak verdict. Surely he didn’t think he had a claim to the Blessed One. Unless . . . .

“You loved him?” she whispered, aghast at the thought.

“He is more than fire and fury,” Jūratė answered. “He longs for affection and gladly returns it. Yes, I loved him, but Kastysis stole my heart with a glance. I did not wish to hurt Perun, but we could not continue as before.”

“He killed you,” Nadzia protested. “He’s a brute. I’ll never want him.”

Jūratė looked at her keenly. “Do not presume to know every secret of seduction,” she warned. “Perun is a skillful lover. And quite persistent.”

“I know how to shield my emotions. I’ll never relent.”

“And yet when you speak of him, your hand seeks the jewel shining at your throat.” The goddess recoiled as Nadzia held out the amber for inspection. “My touch will act as a beacon. We must not alert Perun to my presence here. Or yours.”

“Why am I here?” Nadzia asked. “For a final blessing?”

“I wish to propose an alternative.” Jūratė eyes blazed with a fervor that turned Nadzia’s blood cold. “There is no need for conflict. You can accept what the gods have offered. The lives of your sisters are at stake. I do not wish to see my children dead before their time.”

Nadzia sat back on her heels, astounded. “You don’t you believe in me?”

“I commend your valor and fortitude,” the goddess replied. “But a vow of vengeance puts you and the Order in grave peril. Not only with the god of storms, but the Divine Council as well. Do you believe that Perun’s wrath is all you need fear? Dievas will spare no one if he learns of your scheme.” Jūratė’s voice quivered with bitterness. “He did nothing to stop Perun from killing me or my husband. You can expect no less for the convent.”

Nadzia’s mind reeled. “I don’t understand. If saving everyone is as simple as submitting to Perun, why have the Elders trained me to resist?”

“I have argued against this scheme with every abbess since the talk of insurrection began,” Jūratė said irritably. “They will not listen. They are resolute in their craving to thwart the gods and convinced they can prevail.”

“Then why don’t you protect us?”

Jūratė’s anger subsided. “How I wish I could. But my divinity is gone, I have no power against the gods. My presence here is possible only because Veles created a portal from the Underworld to this cave for me.” She paused to smooth back a stray hair that had fallen across her forehead. “There is a bright spot amidst the darkness: once you are made divine, your powers will forever protect the Order and the waters of Lithuania. Is that not a purpose noble enough to stop this folly?”

She reached out to touch Nadzia’s cheek and then pulled back when Perun’s jewel spit out a flurry of sparks. “Will you battle the gods and wait for the stench of death to fill the cove if you lose, or take what you have been given and live content?”

Nadzia bit back a retort. Give up without a fight? Impossible. The goddess hadn’t lived under a cloud, knowing she might be bound to a killer. She didn’t understand how it felt to have her existence shaped by that knowledge. Every Gatherer who stood on the shore prayed for the chance to outwit the gods. What was she supposed to tell them? That the promise of an immortal throne meant more than their right to revenge?

Her thoughts grew peevish. None of this would be happening if Jūratė had loved Perun as he wished. “This is all your fault!” she cried, hating the childishness of her words yet unable to stop them. “You should have stayed with your own kind.”

“We cannot foresee every consequence of our choices,” Jūratė replied softly. “Blame me if you must, but remember, had I married Perun you would not be here today. Should I regret my daughters, my pride and joy?”

Nadzia’s face flamed. “Forgive me, Blessed One. I spoke in haste.” She clasped her hands tightly in her lap. “I understand the danger, truly. We all do. But the fate that Dievas and the Council thrust upon us is exactly why we must resist. We can’t let the gods treat us as pawns.” Her fists clenched. “Where would they be without mortals to worship them? Who would build their temples? We have a right to choose our own destiny, even if that means destruction.”

The goddess held up her hands in defeat. “If I cannot dissuade you, then promise me that you will not be hasty. Your siren’s voice may tame the god of storms, as mine did, but it lacks the full force of divinity. Guard your true thoughts and emotions. Perun must never suspect you are anything but a willing participant in the gods’ designs. Any hint of fraud will stoke his ire. You do not want to face his fury alone.”

Nadzia jutted out her chin. “I have the prayers of my sisters with me always.”

“Mine as well,” Jūratė said stiffly, “but that does not give you permission to act rashly. You will be watched, do nothing to arouse suspicion. At Perun’s temple, with his servants and followers, at court—especially at court. The gods are fickle. They love their games of intrigue and their loyalties are constantly shifting. Do not trust appearances. Learn what lurks behind them. If you need someone to confide in, seek out Veles. You can trust him.”

“Not Dievas and Rodzenica?”

Jūratė’s skin flushed scarlet. “The gods of creation, who directed the Council to rule in Perun’s favor and allowed him to claim one of my precious daughters? Never.”

Nadzia bowed her head. She wondered if the goddess regretted marrying a human. She’d never had a chance to raise a family, didn’t meet her daughters until they died. It couldn’t be an easy existence. She raised her eyes. “Are you content, shut away from the world?”

“I’m not so very isolated. My husband and I are together. And every babe born to the Order is brought to me here.” The goddess laughed at Nadzia’s gasp of surprise. “Did you never wonder why a mermaid is etched on the back of your neck? My breath marks you.”

“There’s so much I don’t know.” A wave of fatigue washed over Nadzia. She yawned and then gulped in dismay. “I’m sorry. I mean no disrespect.”

“And yet you willfully ignore my wishes.” Jūratė waved away Nadzia’s sputtering protests. “You want the freedom to make your own choices, as I did. We won’t speak of it further.” She opened her arms and smiled sadly. “You have a few hours before night falls. Let me hold you until then.”

Nadzia leaned into the mermaid’s cool embrace and closed her eyes. She was about to endure the caresses of a killer, she welcomed a gentle embrace before she left. The goddess stroked her hair and crooned a note sweeter than a nightingale’s chirp. Nadzia snuggled closer and fell asleep to dreams of infants cooing at the goddess’s touch.

Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8

Image of  Nadzia:



Perun, god of storms

As promised, here are the opening chapters to my paranormal romance. The intended audience is 16+ and this is a clean romance, no explicit sex.

If you enjoy them, please leave a short comment. Thanks, as always, for reading.

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When the conch shell blared at the cusp of dawn, Nadzia pulled up the hood of her white robe and stepped into a mist descending upon the convent like a shroud. A drum’s staccato beat propelled her across a stone courtyard to a fountain carved in the image of Jūratė, her divine ancestor, mermaid goddess of the Baltic Sea. Crystal-clear water flowed from the mermaid’s outstretched arms into a pool lined with cerulean tiles. Nadzia wet the tips of her fingers and made the sign of obedience—hand to forehead, lips, and heart—and prayed. “Blessed One, I beg you. Let vengeance be mine.”

The drumbeat quickened, prodding her onward to the western gate that led to the sea. Nadzia slipped through the opening easily, pausing to rest one arm on the iron bars. Fates be kind, she’d return with his heart. She set off on a dirt path across the hilltop, stopping to pick a handful of daisies crowned with delicate webs of dew. Shredded ivory petals littered the dirt path as she walked down to the beach to join her fellow Gatherers. Dressed like Nadzia, they stood in clusters upon the diamond-bright sands, a dozen novices of all shapes and sizes, some light, some dark. Nadzia’s chest fluttered in anticipation. One of them would be leaving soon, whisked away to restore the Blessed One’s honor.

The conch horn sounded anew. Five women emerged from a cave hidden below the grass-topped dunes that separated the Order of Bursztyn’s beach from the public area used by villagers. They moved slowly, deliberately, a quintet of six-foot-tall matrons in turquoise robes. Nadzia gazed at them fondly. The Elders had maintained the convent for generations, nurturing their daughters in preparation for a divine battle. Secretly, of course. To all appearances the Order willingly accepted what the gods had ordained.

The women halted near a collection of baskets at the dunes’ edge. Mother Gintare, a bronze beauty who’d overseen the convent for more than nine decades, approached and held up a piece of parchment. “At long last our prayers are answered,” she said with a grim smile. “A message from the Faeries of Fate, delivered last night. Rejoice, my dears, they have judged the god of storms fully redeemed! Now it is our task to send Perun a bride.”

Nadzia’s skin prickled with excitement. Ordinarily, the Gathering meant using her siren’s voice to call forth amber from the goddess’s shattered palace. The ritual took place each year on the summer solstice, a time when magic was at its peak. Nadzia ranked as one of the top Gatherers, reaping at least ten baskets full of the tangerine stones each year. Only Keslai, a voluptuous redhead, collected more.  But today was different—today they would summon Perun, the fiend who’d killed Jūratė.

“You know the tale,” the abbess began, beckoning them to come closer, “a story of passion and death. Let us hear it once more, a final reminder of why we resist.”

Her gray eyes clouded as she looked out at the cove. “Jūratė broke the rules and married a fisherman she saved from drowning in these very waters. She thought her secret safe, but when she grew heavy with child she could no longer hide the truth.”

Mother smiled and stroked the front of her gown. “It is a joyous time, knowing you are blessed with new life. But Perun accused her of treason and demanded a trial before the Divine Council. Judgment came within hours: exile and the loss of immortality. Jūratė accepted the verdict with her usual grace. What need did she have of eternal life amidst those who disparaged her? She wanted to grow old with her husband and child. But first she had to return to her palace in Palanga, to retrieve a chest of jewels that would sustain her family.”

Mother’s breath caught. She shook her head and moved aside to make room for Sister Ramuna, the convent’s librarian, a slim woman with a nut-brown complexion, sable tresses, and a nose as sharp as a raven. Novices learned the truth from Sister Ramuna at the age of sixteen, as Nadzia had three years ago. Every time she heard the tale her resolve deepened. Even now her back straightened, her jaws clenched with renewed determination.

“Alas,” Sister Ramuna said in a trembling voice, “Perun did not agree with the Council. He flew to this cove, killed the Blessed One’s husband, and shattered the amber palace, mortally wounding Jūratė as she hid under her throne trying to find shelter from his rage.”

The Elder paused to wipe away tears. “Knowing she was at death’s door, Jūratė found refuge in a cave. With the help of Mokosh, the goddess of fertility, she gave birth to twins before dying—one as dark as the goddess and one as light as her mate. From those two the Order of Bursztyn grew.”

Bitterness soured Nadzia’s throat. Yes, it was a blessing of sorts, that the goddess lived on through her daughters and their progeny. They thrived under the care and guidance of Mokosh. They were healthy and well-situated, thanks to the amber provided by the sea. Their voices could tame the shyest of creatures, stop a thief in his tracks. But Perun continued to haunt their thoughts, their nightmares, a furious god hurling thunderbolts at the cove. She forced the image out of her mind. Another Elder had come forward to speak.

Sister Bronis, a short woman as round and brown as the potatoes she grew in the convent’s garden, hair as golden as the honey from her hives, and eyes as green as rosemary, planted her hands on her hips. “We should have been allowed to exist in peace,” she said with a scowl. “But the Divine Council granted clemency after the god of storms swore—by the blood of Dievas, creator of all—that he didn’t know Jūratė was inside during his assault. Foul, black-tongued liar! He was divine; he should have sensed her presence.”

She paced up and down the sand, her voice thick with anger. “And so, a murderer was allowed to go free. His penance? The Council placed a sliver of his heart in amber from the goddess’s ruined palace and ordered him to beg forgiveness each night. Through prayer, he would be atoned. When the Fates determined his remorse complete, the goddess reborn would summon the enchanted stone with her siren’s voice. He would have his queen at last.”

Nadzia’s cheeks grew hot. The gods rewarded an assassin and bestowed centuries of dread upon the descendants of the one he wronged. Impossibly unfair, but the daughters of Jūratė knew better than to openly protest. After five hundred years, long anxious centuries in which the Order despaired of ever besting the gods, they finally had a chance to seek real justice.

She allowed herself a small sigh of satisfaction. This was the secret never spoken beyond the convent’s walls. Perun’s bride—Blessed One, let it be me!—had one goal: to seduce and bewitch him until he revealed the weakness that would be his undoing. He’d insisted upon a woman no older than twenty, a condition that worked to the Order’s benefit. His mate, fully trained in the art of enticement, would use every bit of her youthful guile to trap him. Hadn’t he succumbed to the charms of Jūratė’s dulcet tones? Her daughters possessed voices twice as sweet, their bodies were fresh and eager to please. Nadzia yearned to entrance him with languid songs and feather-soft caresses until he was like a kitten with a bowl of cream, mewling with pleasure. Ready to answer every question, confess every secret.

On the beach, the last wisps of haze vanished. The air grew warm and damp, spiced with the salty tang Nadzia loved. She wiped a bead of sweat from her brow. Fates be kind, this Gathering would finish quickly, before the sands began to radiate heat and bake the soles of her thin shoes. She bit her lip and fumbled with the locket each Gatherer wore, a pendant designed to hold the Thunder God’s jewel. Would the power of his heart eclipse her own?

Keslai snickered at her side. “Surely you don’t think you’re going to win. If the Fates are wise, I’ll be the one flying off today in Perun’s chariot. You can spend the rest of your life paying tribute to your illustrious sister, queen of the sea and sky.”

“Watch your tongue, child,” Mother snapped, her hearing as keen as ever. “You are not yet chosen.” She studied Nadzia for a long moment and then addressed the group. “Do not despair, dear ones. Remember, no matter what rank in life the Fates assign you, they also provide the means to shape it. You are the children of a goddess. Jūratė’s spirit blazes within you. Embrace her gift. Believe in the power she bequeathed, the power of your voice. Remember, the gods are not privy to our mission nor have they reason to suspect us. That is a significant advantage.”

A fresh breeze wafted over the shore. Nadzia rubbed the mermaid inked on the back of her neck and said a quick prayer for the one they’d lost the year before, a panicked novice who ran off and disappeared into the woods. She returned a day later, her mouth stitched shut by divine threads no mortal shears could snip. Nadzia shuddered at the memory. If she had to die, better a quick flash of Perun’s fire than slow starvation.

The sun crested the horizon, streaking the sky in pink and orange. A comet raced across the heavens and ignited the northern constellation known as the Thunder God’s Cart—Perun’s stars.  The abbess directed the novices to form a single line with Nadzia at one end and Keslai at the other. “Come, my dears,” she said briskly. “We must not delay. Be strong. Show the gods your mettle.”

She motioned to a lithe, pale woman with hair the color of ripe peaches, the convent’s vocal instructor. “If you please.”

Sister Dain bowed to the abbess and lifted her arms. A susurrus of soothing harmony filled the air. One by one, Nadzia and her sisters took up the call, their voices gaining timbre while the Elders withdrew to the dunes. Gulls crowded a nearby boulder to listen. The tide inched closer, leaving foamy swirls shaped like water nymphs, a sign the waters heard and acknowledged the Gatherers. Now it was time to alter the pitch of their voices so that the song became a sultry enticement, a true mermaid’s call.

By order of the abbess—in conjunction with local leaders—it was a day of seclusion for the villagers of Palanga. Their fishing boats rocked idly against the piers while they remained inside, their ears stuffed with moss provided by the Order so that none succumbed to a siren’s song. Without that protection, the men would be scrambling over the dunes, their faces slack with desire, the women engaging in behavior more sensual than propriety demanded. Only the daughters of Jūratė could endure the spell their divine voices cast.

The waters churned. Spume flecked the waves. Each Gatherer watched for the yellow-orange gleam of fragments from Jūratė’s ruined palace. They sang louder, stronger, cajoling the sea to cast forth its treasure. The sun climbed, sending a blanket of heat over the cove. Still, the jewels did not appear.

Sweat dripped down Nadzia’s back. Why the delay? Hadn’t the Fates given their permission for Perun to finally claim his bride? The beach should be flooded with jewels by now.

The Gatherers infused their song with yearning, to no avail. Wave after wave crashed, showering them with spray, but nothing more. The gulls screamed and flew off to haunt the fishing docks.

Finally, Perun’s stars flared. Dark clouds billowed forth from the constellation and scudded overhead. Lightning pierced the sky, followed by the low rumble of thunder.

And then the ground quaked.

The tide ebbed and returned with a roar. Frothy swells tumbled to the shoreline, delivering huge clumps of seaweed to each Gatherer. Nadzia fell to her knees, hurriedly picking through the tangled greens for the jewels buried within. Before long, she’d assembled a mound as high as her waist. From what she could see, her sisters had similar bounties. At least the convent would lack for nothing. Traders paid handsomely for these jewels.

She sat back on her heels, disappointment washing through her until she noticed one final piece almost entirely sheathed in kelp—a flat stone the size of a goose egg. A red gleam pulsed at its core. Her throat tightened as she placed the jewel in her palm. “He’s mine,” she whispered. “All mine.”

Perun’s stone glowed brighter than the sun. Nadzia blinked at the glare, dazzled. The beach disappeared. In its place, a shimmering curtain of light opened. She was no longer kneeling on the shore but high up in the sky, looking down upon the cove of Palanga. The god of storms’ body floated lifeless in the water. Shrieks rent the air. A circle of eagles descended and carried his corpse into the clouds.

Breathless with hope, Nadzia scrambled upright as the vision faded. Was this a glimpse of the future or a waking dream borne of desperation? The amber slipped from her hand and fell into the wet sand with a sizzle. Mother approached, her lips pressed thin, followed by the other Gatherers, wide-eyed and murmuring.

Keslai jostled her way to the front of the group. “Have the Fates gone mad? I’m the one who deserves this. That jewel belongs to me.”

She shoved Nadzia aside and grabbed the stone. Sparks shot out. The stench of seared flesh filled the air. Keslai wailed and plunged her smoking limb into the sea, boiling the waters. When the steam subsided, she gingerly pulled out her arm and shrieked at the sight of her right hand, charred from fingertips to wrist. She turned on Nadzia, her voice tight with rage. “I hope he burns you to cinders.”

The abbess called for Sister Bronis. “Take this one to the infirmary. I will join you later.” Keslai choked on a sob and stumbled away, casting one last look of unforgiving malice at Nadzia.

A shadow spiraled down from Perun’s flaming stars. The Gatherers clung to each other and chanted as they retreated toward the dunes. “Save her, Jūratė. Save her from his wrath.”

Mother squeezed Nadzia’s shoulder and moved back a few steps. “Face your fears, my child. Call upon the power within. Tame the beast with the magic of your voice and learn his frailties. Only then can you avenge the Blessed One.”

Nadzia retrieved the amber, rinsed off the grit, and placed the sparkling gem into the locket at her throat. Her heart thundered as she watched the darkness descend. For you, Jūratė, I will make him my slave. She stood proudly until the blackness above emitted a grating . . . caw? Her brow creased in surprise. This was no ox-drawn chariot but an enormous raven, twice the size of an ordinary bird, gripping a piece of parchment in its talons. It waited for Nadzia to open her free hand, dropped the message, and soared off, squawking.

The novices returned and huddled around their sister, chattering with excitement. Was this a reprieve? The letter bore a golden wax seal stamped with a tiny Tree of Life, celestial home of the gods. Hands shaking, Nadzia broke it open and read aloud:

Use this day to settle your affairs. My son shall come for you at eventide.


For a moment, all were speechless, then a chorus of confusion and wonder erupted. Mother huddled with the Elders and then clapped her hands for silence. “The hours will pass quickly before Perun arrives,” she said. “We must not waste them. Gatherers, bring your amber back to the convent and then meet with Sister Dain at the chapel; she will guide you in prayer. Nadzia, go with Sister Saule to the observatory. She has something to show you. Come to my office when you are finished.”

A long-boned woman with salt-and-pepper curls tamed into a braid that reached her waist beckoned for Nadzia to follow. Her topaz eyes twinkled behind round glasses. “This is a good surprise,” she said. “You’ll see.” They scampered up the hill, as nimble footed as goats, veered north when the path forked, and made their way to the open-air classroom where novices learned about the heavens.

The air was cooler here, the grass speckled with drifts of yellow-tipped rue and white borage. Nadzia breathed deeply, close to tears. She loved this spot more than any place in the convent. The view of the ocean and woods. The grandeur of the heavens, whatever the time of day. The nights, oh the glorious nights, when the sky was a piece of velvet strewn with glittering beads and splashes of red and blue. She’d spent countless evenings with Sister Saule here after class, sipping ginger tea and nibbling on blueberry scones, content to sit in silence and simply gaze. Fates willing, when all was done they’d raise mugs of mead together in celebration.

Six chairs draped with quilts formed a half-circle around the trunk Sister Saule kept supplied with tools she used for astronomy lessons: ink; quills; maps; charts; books of runes and folklore. The Elder rummaged through the chest, carefully setting objects aside until she found a thick roll of paper tied with a black ribbon. “Ah,” she said with a smile. “As fresh and crisp as the day I made it.”

She tucked the parchment into her robe and added four small books. “Spread a quilt on the ground for me.”

A hundred questions bubbled in Nadzia’s mind, though she asked none, knowing that Sister couldn’t be rushed or prodded into answering. She smoothed out a throw embossed with dolphins and helped unroll a picture of the night sky, white dots and splotches of color painted on a midnight blue background. The celestial drawing glimmered and pulsed with the same intensity as the objects themselves, a tribute to the Elder’s divine mastery of her craft. Nadzia fell back on her knees. “A star chart?”

“A very special one,” Sister replied, sinking gracefully to the ground. “Created on the day you were born and kept sealed until this moment.”

Nadzia stared, fascinated. Every chart told a story; what tale did hers hold?

Sister tapped the bottom of the paper. “Look here, in the south. What is the name of this constellation?”

“The Food Bearer.”

“Correct. Her arms are open wide. What does that represent?”

Nadzia linked the stars in her mind until they became a young girl holding a spike of grain in one hand, a scale in the other. “The promise of a good harvest.”

“A promise fulfilled when you summoned a killer’s jewel.” Sister’s gaunt finger moved along the chart. “Here, to the west, the Ploughman and his oxen, do you see how brightly they shine?”

Nadzia hugged her chest, delighted by what the stars represented. Another good sign. “Perun’s bride is destined to travel the heavens with him.”

“Indeed.” Sister’s tone turned wistful. She raised her head and gazed at the sky. “You will see things beyond compare, sights a mortal can only dream of.”

Nadzia gawked at the yearning in the Elder’s face, astonished at such a naked display of emotion. Sister sighed and waved at the chart. “Continue north, toward the Road of Souls.”

A milky band of light stretched across the sky. Nadzia flushed with pleasure. Victory! “The path is clear. Nothing to hamper a quest.”

Sister released the paper. It curled back into a roll with a snap. “Thus do we see your future foretold. Remember this when courage falters. Stay true to your vows. You will triumph.”

Nadzia nibbled at her thumb. “So it seems. But what if the stars mean that Perun will prevail?”

“He is a god, not a mortal. The movements of the heavens have no bearing on his life.”

“I suppose.” Nadzia squinted at the thunder god’s constellation, burning above them like scarlet fire. She didn’t understand why Perun kept away. He’d waited forever for a bride, spent half a millennium seeking absolution. He should have come for her the moment she clasped his jewel.

She fingered the locket, felt it warm the tender flesh at the hollow of her throat. Where are you?




The god of storms leaned forward from his oak throne and blew on the fire burning in the center of his temple. A cloud of black smoke arose, as dark and sullen as his mood. If this solstice was like all the others, he’d return from Palanga alone, destined for another year of anguish. His nails scraped against the wooden arms of his chair, wisps of smoke drifting from his fingertips. What more did those blasted Faeries of Fate want? When would he earn redemption?

Five centuries. That’s how long he’d done everything the Council asked. Built an altar to Jūratė and kneeled before her portrait each night to beg forgiveness. Lived with a hole in his chest where his heart should have been. Flown to the coast each summer for the Gathering.

He should be there now. Watching. Waiting. Hoping that one of the goddess’s daughters would finally summon his enchanted jewel. He shook his head and laughed sourly. Maybe the Fates knew the truth. He didn’t want a wife. He didn’t deserve a wife. But he couldn’t live forever without one.

His bride’s seat shone, the wood polished to a fine luster. Smaller than his, but not by much; every novice stood at least six feet tall. His seat was etched with symbols of fire and lightning, hers was engraved with dolphins and seashells and ocean waves. Studded with pieces of pearl and amber. Ready for a queen. He shook his head. It did no good to stare at an empty throne. He’d have time enough for that if the day went as expected.

Too restless to sit, he rose and walked every inch of his temple. It was an eight-sided building constructed by his followers on a hill above Kaunas, giving him a bird’s-eye view of neighboring valleys and rivers. Eternal flames blazed mid-temple, the smoke dissipating through an open hole in the roof. At the far end, the two carved thrones perched on a marbled dais. A few yards from each chair, curtains veiled private chambers for the god and his forthcoming bride. In the open areas beyond those rooms, pilgrims left offerings at his shrine as well as the altar dedicated to Jūratė—if you worshipped him, you must also honor the mermaid goddess.

Servants housed in buildings throughout the grounds kept the area orderly. A cook and handmaiden lodged in a wattle and daub bungalow alongside the westward path that started at the temple and snaked down to a dock at the River Nemunas. Across the path and higher up the hill, a lush fruit and vegetable garden bloomed, tended by an elderly caretaker who slept in a small cabin at the back of his plot. Behind the temple, a huge barn housed his chariot and bull; a stable boy who lived in the loft was tending to both now.

Streaks of coral and orange lingered on the edge of the sky. Perun gritted his teeth. Daybreak. No time to waste. He lumbered down the temple steps and stopped. The air thrummed. Three faeries—Laima, Dalia, and Kārta—shimmered before him. He sucked in a breath and bowed before the Fates who held his life in their hands.

Laima, golden-tressed and glowing, stepped forward, a tiny swan in her arms. “We bring good tidings,” she said with a brilliant smile. “Your atonement is complete. Today the goddess reborn will summon you.”

“Truly?” Perun’s throat clogged. After so many years torn between hope and misery, he couldn’t quite believe his fortune had finally changed.

“Yes, dear brother,” Dalia said. She sparkled in a coat of many colors that matched her hair. “You may pursue love once more.”

Perun sputtered out a nervous laugh and then remembered his manners. “Thank you.”

“Be gentle with your bride,” Kārta warned. Her fingers stroked the spindle resting in her hands. “Do not allow passion to lead you astray. You will not be given another chance.”

A breeze arose, fanning Kārta’s black curls until they veiled her face. “Heed my words, brother. The one who calls forth your jewel is not yours to command. Treat her badly and all will be lost.”

The goddesses melted into the air as the sun breached the horizon. Perun turned toward the barn and halted again. The handmaiden Gabrielle was sprinting up the path from the dock and calling out to him.

“Master, a moment please.” The girl swallowed heavily and bowed. “I’m sorry to disturb you, but what I heard cannot wait.”

Perun nodded warily. His servants rose early to meet the boats that traveled south along the River Nemunas delivering supplies. Gabrielle often amused him with gossip she’d picked up from traders who stretched their legs on the platform while she collected goods. But this morning her face was bloodless with fear. He steeled himself for unpleasant news. “Go on.”

“It was the bookseller. He . . . he says that all is not what it seems at the Order of Bursztyn.” The handmaiden paused, hunching her shoulders. “He says the convent is filled with wicked enchantresses who conspire against the gods.”

Another time, Perun might have dismissed his servant’s words. He didn’t know this trader. Perhaps the man loved idle chatter; he might be repeating the drunken slurs of a villager who’d indulged in too much mead at the local inn. But this warning, unlike the one he’d just received, gave him pause. He kept his voice casual.  “And what exactly did this trader see that makes him so certain?”

Gabrielle looked up and sighed. “I’m sorry, but when I asked for more, his eyes grew hazy. Like he was in a trance. So I asked again. He looked at me like he was talking to an idiot. As if he didn’t know what he’d just said. Bewitched, he was.”

“Come now, Gabi, I think this trader was teasing you,” Perun said with an indulgent smile meant to hide his distress. “If there are diabolical women plotting against us, they are doomed to fail. The gods always triumph. Even so, I thank you for your concern. I am lucky to have such a loyal servant. I trust all is in readiness?”

Gabrielle jumped up with a start and clutched her skirt. “She’s coming, today? I thought I saw faeries. Goodness, I need to tell everyone.” She turned to leave and then swiveled. “I have prayed that the daughter of Jūratė brings you all that your heart desires. I hope for that still. But please be careful.”

“I will, Gabi, I promise.”

When the handmaiden had retreated to her cottage, Perun rushed back to his private quarters, where he kept paper and pens. He wrote a hasty message and whistled. Moments later, a raven swept through the roof’s opening. Perun shoved his note into a tube attached to the bird’s leg. “See that my father reads this at once,” he said. “I will wait in my constellation for his response.”


High in the heavens, Perun slouched against his chariot. He used to love this spot, the heat of the stars in his constellation, the unimpeded view of the coast and sea. Now he gazed down mournfully at the cove where he’d known bliss with a mermaid. His pulse quickened. Once, he’d adored her, spent hours listening to her sing on the diamond-bright shores of Palanga. Such a voice! So pure, so tender, like a windswept caress. Her song stoked fire in his breast, roused them both to the heights of passion. Now agony, not lust, scalded his veins. How could she have rejected him?

He’d have sworn their love was mutual. She certainly enjoyed their intimacy, her skin slick against his whenever they coupled. He’d dreamed of the life they’d have together as regents of the sea and sky. Perun and Jūratė . . . forever.

Then she’d rescued a man flailing in her seas and took him as her husband, violating an ancient taboo. His fists clenched at the memory of her trial, her lack of remorse, how she flaunted her pregnancy with every caress of her bulging stomach. She’d betrayed him. Not just him, all the gods.

And yet he couldn’t deny the pain. His attention drifted to the shoreline, the pine trees lining the beach, the dunes where they’d frolicked. This, too, was part of his punishment. To look upon what he once had and then lost. What he’d ruined in the heat of a moment. What he could never atone for, no matter what anyone else believed.

He chafed with irritation. How could the Faeries of Fates have granted him absolution? His remorse would never end. He stumbled through the days and nights wracked with guilt and shame.

But the Divine Council’s decision was absolute. If he wished to remain king of his realm, he must marry the one who called out his jewel.

He thought of his handmaiden’s warning. Did Jūratė’s daughters truly wish him ill? He’d given them ample reason. Their divine progenitor was gone, slain by his hand. How could they ever condone so grievous a sin? The goddess was dead and he alone was to blame. That they would accept him without rancor was inconceivable.

A shadow approached. Perun grunted in recognition as it neared, then moved to the back of his chariot to make room for the giant eagle descending in slow, broad circles. Within minutes, the bird landed, ruffled its plumage, and transformed into Dievas, creator of all. Perun put a hand to his heart and bowed in obeisance to the white-haired god shining before him. “Father.”

Dievas shook a few loose feathers from his golden robes and studied Perun with piercing violet eyes. “I received a note asking me to give your bride the day to arrange her affairs. It seemed an odd request, but I presumed you needed those extra hours as well, to confirm that her quarters were ready, perhaps.”

His eyes narrowed. “I planned to celebrate this glorious day with your mother. Instead, I am here at her behest. She is most aggrieved—her reflecting pool showed the god of storms hiding in his stars.”

He thumped his son’s shoulder. “Is my boy a coward?”

“I am as you made me,” Perun replied, pulling himself erect to meet his father’s scrutiny. “Full of fire and thunder. But . . . I have heard things and . . . I wonder . . . can we trust these women?”

The edges of Dievas’s mouth twitched. “Pray tell, what gives you cause for alarm?”

Although his father’s smirk nettled Perun, he kept his burgeoning rage in check. Never again would he allow fury to dictate his actions. “I cannot believe that a daughter of Jūratė looks forward to this marriage. Humans nurse grudges for centuries. I speak from experience. Many come to my temples asking for help against their enemies.”

“I trust you are circumspect in deciding which side to assist,” Dievas said with a hint of reproach. “It is not wise to become embroiled in their wars. Mortals have a propensity for conflict.”

“That is my point,” Perun replied, warming to his argument. “Any affront, real or imagined, can result in disputes that never end, enmities that are passed from one generation to the next. These novices, are they sincerely resigned to their fate? It makes no sense. Why would they wish to join with the one they hold responsible for Jūratė’s death?”

“They have accepted our explanation,” Dievas answered, a trace of bitterness lacing his words. “The goddess was lost in a lamentable mishap, one we chose to correct with your repentance and the elevation of a mortal to divine status. Your suspicions are baseless, my son. Trust me, these women are disciplined and submissive, eager to please us. Who has told you otherwise?”

“The handmaiden at my temple.”

Dievas’s laughter rippled with scorn. “A servant? How would she know what takes place in Palanga?”

Perun focused on the horizon, avoiding his father’s caustic gaze. “From a man who sells books in the village.”

“I see.” Dievas leaned forward, his ageless face rumpling with displeasure. “You forget, I have spies in the village, women who bring food for the summer solstice feast. They have seen nothing out of the ordinary. According to their reports, the daughters of Jūratė are content with their lot. As well they should be. When have the gods ever allowed a human to join their ranks? It is an honor beyond compare.”

The muscles in Perun’s cheek twitched. He met the ancient one’s flinty stare, unwilling to concede the issue. “Will you not entertain the possibility of deception? These novices have mesmerizing voices. They can easily persuade dim-witted villagers that all is well. I am astounded that the trader who spoke with my servant remembered anything.”

“Is the mighty god of storms frightened?” Dievas replied, his face tweaked with derision. “Does he believe a mere human shall be his doom? Your mother’s coddling has made you soft.”

Perun’s blood simmered with resentment, clamoring for release. He looked away and suppressed the heat threatening to burst forth. It wouldn’t help matters if he lost control. That’s what had brought him to this sorry state. “Do not belittle my distress, Father. There is something peculiar at work here. I am certain of it.”

“If these women terrify you, then take the first alternative offered after your trial—exile to the wastelands, your temples razed, another deity assigned to your realm.”

“The mortals who count on my rains to water their crops are good men and women,” Perun said, bristling. “I will not abandon my duty to care for them.”

“You were given a second option, to join Jūratė in death. I’m surprised you didn’t give that serious consideration,” Dievas said coolly. “A chance to spend eternity with your sweet mermaid lover. What more could you want?”

Perun grunted and folded his arms. “We both know why I refused. Veles rules the Underworld; he’s never forgiven me for slaying Jūratė. If you deliver me into my brother’s hands, I’ll end up in a rot-filled dungeon so deep within the roots of the Tree of Life no one will hear my screams as he tortures me. I’ll never see the goddess, let alone have a chance to apologize.”

Dievas flicked a stray feather from his sleeve. “Then it appears you have no choice but to forge ahead. Remember, we cannot fully restore your heart until after you wed. If you are never made whole again, you will perish. No god can live forever without his full powers. It might take eons, but when it does Veles will claim you.”

Perun massaged the spot where his chest had been cut open, his flesh sliced as if he were an animal brought to slaughter. Though he had no wish for a mate, his survival depended on the one who summoned his enchanted stone. Only she could save him. “Then I will do what I must.”

“You have been judged fully atoned,” Dievas said with a curt nod. “A new love awaits. Bring her to us at the Tree of Life tomorrow. I want her fully rested and clad in one of the gowns your mother fashioned for her, not a sand-stained robe. We expect to see a happy couple. You would do well not to disappoint us.”

He extended his right hand, waited for his son to kiss the gigantic amber ring that signified ultimate power, and then morphed into avian form, flying off with a whistling kleek-kik-ik-ik. Before long, he was little more than a dark speck disappearing into the ether.

With no mortals close by who might be harmed, Perun freely vented his wrath. Steam poured out from his flesh and hissed against the frigid air. What did his father know? Dievas didn’t mingle with humans, he had no concept of their capacity for subterfuge. If the trader believed something was amiss, Perun would heed the man’s story, although it astounded him to think these women would dare to defy the gods. Had they learned nothing from the novice who tried to escape last summer? Surely they didn’t wish a similar fate.

Yet he couldn’t shake the sense that things weren’t quite what they seemed, beyond his control. His hands tingled with heat. Sparks surged from his fingertips. A tempest was brewing within, a furor demanding release. He held out arms that blazed with divine heat and prepared to unleash a bolt of lightning.

And then the fire in his blood cooled so suddenly he nearly shouted for joy. He’d overlooked a hidden blessing in the trader’s story. If the daughters of Jūratė were engaged in deceit, then he was free to devise his own scheme in response.

The plan came together quickly, as if somehow he’d known this hurdle was bound to arise. He was no feeble merchant spellbound by a siren’s voice. He was the god of storms, full of unbridled power, more than enough to counter a novice’s guile. The wedding wouldn’t take place for two weeks; his mother insisted the ceremony be held on his feast day. That gave him plenty of time to flatter and pamper his bride, show her the glories of the heavens, the wonders of the Tree of Life. Shower her with affection. Keep her so charmed and distracted by new adventures she’d never have a chance to dazzle him.

The days would pass quickly. And when his heart was renewed . . . well, the girl could go back to her convent for all he cared.

Still, he sensed this would not be an easy task. He would have to scrutinize her every move for even a hint of manipulation, all while appearing to take absolute delight in her company. Mute his emotions so that she didn’t catch him unawares, as Jūratė had. No matter how melodic her words, how adoring her gaze, he would never succumb to the one who summoned his jewel. His heart was shuttered. No sweet-faced vixen would ever triumph over him.

He’d loved once. He would not love again.

Copyright © 2022 by Kathryn Jankowski

Image of Perun: – KAOSS-8

Image of Nadzia:


Perun, god of storms

I’ve finished workshopping my latest book, THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE, a paranormal romance based on Lithuanian mythology. In the grand tradition of Charles Dickens and others, I’ve decided to offer it as a serial. I’ll be posting at least one chapter a week and I’m looking forward to your comments.

Here’s the blurb:

For five hundred years, every daughter of the mermaid goddess, Jūratė, has called out amber from the Baltic Sea with her siren’s voice. For Nadzia, that’s a blessing and a curse. She’s happy to reap the precious jewels that help her convent thrive.

But in a cruel twist of fate, one novice will summon a jewel that binds her to Perun, the lusty god of storms whose rage unwittingly killed her divine ancestor. He’s had centuries to atone. Now it’s time to claim a bride.

When Perun’s enchanted stone washes ashore at her feet, Nadzia pretends to be thrilled about the marriage, even as she plots his destruction. If the magic of her voice can bewitch the god she loathes, she’ll find a way to crush him without jeopardizing her sisters.

Except Perun isn’t the monster she was taught to hate. Yes, he’s as wild as the tempests he brews, but there’s a gentler side to him, an unexpected kindness that puzzles her. Is everything she learned about him wrong or is his affection false? As the wedding approaches and Nadzia learns Perun’s secret weakness, she must choose between revenge or ruling beside a god she was never supposed to love.

The first chapter will be up this week.

Thanks for reading.