THE THUNDER GOD’S BRIDE – Chapter 11, 12

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


Image of Veles:

For previous chapters, click here.



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

Watch and learn.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You needn’t fly to get here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fates be kind, let me stand fast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The air quivered. “Rise, child.”

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

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

Watch. Learn. Let him show you the way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2022 by Kathryn Jankowski


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