The dress was more beautiful than anything she had ever owned. Its simplistic beauty overwhelmed her. Tears gathered at the corners of Jane's eyes as she observed her reflection in the mirror. It was stunning. She was stunning. The gown was a sheer golden net, woven from pure fibers that fell simply from shoulders to floor without any added gaudiness. Her left arm was bare, save for a single golden wristband, capped off at the shoulder by the dress. A sheer cape draped over her right arm and flowed down her back, trailing slightly on the ground behind her. Her hair was straight and sleek, and a simple golden band sat atop her head.
It was the Asgardian Feast of Starlight. This, Jane learned, was the most important celebration of the year. Its revelry would last for three days and nights, and during that period, no work was to be done. Farmers of the realm had been harvesting extra for weeks prior to the festival. Merchants had closed their doors and locked them tightly. All palace servants were given leave to travel home for the joyous occasion. The palace cooks had prepared well in advance for departure, stocking royal chambers with food plenty enough to last the three days of celebration – and wine and ale as well. Tonight's feast would commemorate the first of the three nights of celebration, and two more evening feasts would follow: the Feast of Memories on the second night, and the Feast of Futures on the final night. Jane smiled at her reflection in the mirror. She would need to steady her stamina for the next few evenings. Large social gatherings were not her forte, and this requirement, combined with the stress of the last few days, would certainly wear her down quickly.
A clipped voice from behind startled Jane. She whipped around, nearly tripping over her cape in the process. Strong hands steadied her. Her handmaiden, Asmor, had a habit of surprising Jane at the strangest times. Once she had regained her composure, Jane smiled at the young woman.
"Stjarna hloeja kveld, Asmor," she said, touching three fingers to her forehead and bowing slightly to her handmaiden.
"May the stars smile on your evening as well, My Lady," Asmor responded, repeating the gesture. "I have been sent to fetch you for the feast."
"Why are you still here, Asmor? You should be well on your way home."
"My final duty is ensuring your readiness," Asmor smiled. "I am free to leave the palace once you have taken your place on the dais."
"Well, then, let's get to the feast!" Jane exclaimed, her face bursting with a smile.
"One last thing, My Lady," Asmor said.
Jane stopped moving toward the door. Asmor reached into the hidden pocket of her rose gown and pulled out a silver chain, from which hung a deep green pendant shaped like a star with nine points. Jane gasped at its beauty.
"Queen Frigga has requested you wear this," Asmor said softy, reaching behind Jane's hair and clasping the necklace together at its back.
She stepped away. Jane stood gaping at her reflection. She raised a single hand and traced the emerald gem that graced the gleaming silver chain. It was beautiful. It was stunning. And it was Loki's colors.
"Why did the Queen give this to you?" she asked, her voice a whisper.
Asmor shrugged. "I know not, My Lady. But she was rather adamant that you wear it tonight. Come. Let's not be late."
Together, they swept from the room and down the grand staircases to the feast. As they walked, Jane bowed politely to those who spoke her name, but her mind was thousands of miles away. She thought back to her conversations with the Queen and her argument with Loki earlier in the week. She had successfully avoided the dark prince for several banquets now. In all honesty, she tried to hide her disappointment. While she wasn't entirely sure why, her attraction to Loki had grown stronger in the past days. Doubtless, it had something to do with this Andi-Gumi business the Queen had discussed. Jane scoffed. She wasn't convinced of anything happening around her, only that she felt something extraordinary for Loki – and that feeling frightened her beyond belief.
"My Lady," Asmor's soft voice broke into Jane's thoughts. "We've arrived at the Great Hall. With your permission, I will take my leave."
"Of course you have my permission, Asmor. Please, enjoy your family and your home."
Asmor bowed slightly and turned to leave. Jane felt the urge to say something more.
"And Asmor?" she said. The young girl turned quickly. Jane smiled. "Thank you for being a friend."
"It is my honor, Jane," she responded, returning Jane's smile.
Suddenly, her face dropped and became serious. She quickly approached Jane and leaned in, whispering into her ear.
"And for what it's worth, My Lady," she said quietly, "I think the necklace completed your outfit."
With that, Asmor darted away from the streaming line of royals and toward the servant chambers, leaving Jane staring after her handmaiden. Slowly, she turned and wandered into the feast. Around her, the sounds of laughter and raucous celebration were white noise as she turned Asmor's words around in her head.
A booming voice sounded from across the room. She smiled as Thor came rushing over to greet her. He was dressed more formally than usual. Traditional silver armor was exchanged for golden plates. His cape was discarded in favor of a deep red cloth draped about both his shoulders and fell into his front and back. He looked every inch a king, Jane thought with a smile.
"Thor," she responded, dipping into a low curtsy, "You look exceptionally regal this evening. The stars shine upon your kingdom."
"And you, My Lady, are a shining sun amidst this room of common stars."
Jane blushed at his words, but felt nothing more than satisfaction at having been flattered by a handsome man. True, she felt things for Thor. She would be a fool to ignore these feelings. He was handsome, the Crown Prince of Asgard and soon to be crowned King. Yet her feelings for him paled when compared to the raging fires she felt for Loki.
Thor seemed to notice her slight change in demeanor.
"Come," he whispered softly into her ear. "Let us dance."
Jane allowed herself to be led onto the gilded dance floor. As they entered, royals bowed deeply for the Crown Prince and his betrothed. Thor nodded to them, then spun Jane around and placed a light hand on her waist. They moved, swayed with the music. Jane relaxed slightly in Thor's grasp, the relaxation of one dancing with a friend and not a lover.
"Jane," Thor said quietly, "We have things to discuss."
Her eyes widened as she looked into his. They were without amusement – not hostile by any means, but full of seriousness and meaning. Anger rose to her surface at his brashness. He wanted to discuss the issues plaguing their relationship here and now? She fought down the emotion and composed herself.
"Here?" she whispered furiously at him. "You want to discuss this now?"
"Jane, the Feast of Futures is but two nights from now." Thor smiled sadly. "It is then that all marriage proposals for the New Year are preformed. And while we are betrothed in name, this betrothal is not made official until sealed under the starlight of this feast night."
She turned her face to the side. Suddenly the rows of tables bursting with food and drink had become fascinating. A light hand on her face brought her back to Thor.
"Do not misunderstand me, Jane," he said. "And do not doubt my knowledge. I know of everything you have discussed with my mother. I know what you are, and what you must become."
"How can you know? I do not even understand!" Jane hissed. Everyone around her seemed to comprehend who she was and what her future held – except for her.
"My mother told you that you are this age's Andi-Gumi, yes?" Thor asked, tilting his head slightly.
Jane nodded, biting her tongue.
"Well, there might have been a slight miscommunication there," he said, his voice becoming slightly lighter and happier.
Jane's eyes narrowed.
"What do you mean, slight miscommunication?" she asked suspiciously.
"My mother was correct in her literal translation to 'Spirit Man,'" Thor responded, "But the meaning of your position was lost. You see, in your cultural context, the Andi-Gumi translates better as 'Scientist.'" He smiled. "Do you remember our first meeting? When I told you that science and magic are one in the same?"
Jane nodded. She rather liked where this conversation was headed. She had never been one for spirituality or religion, and she wasn't fully comfortable accepting any position that mandated she become some leader in the field. Science, however, was something she understood.
"The Andi-Gumi helps the people of the realms to understand the workings of the universe," Thor continued. "And that is your role. To help all races of Yggdrasil better understand their realms."
"Well, that's…good," Jane stuttered, not completely understanding but realizing that this title nearly described her work on Earth.
"Good, indeed, dear Jane," he said quietly. "Although, not good for everyone. My mother was right about one thing."
"What was that?" Jane asked, knowing the answer before Thor opened his mouth to respond.
"You cannot complete the duties of this position by my side as Queen of Asgard. Your duty would be solely to this realm, and you would never travel or explore as your hearth so desires."
Jane opened her mouth to protest, but Thor laid a soft finger on her lips.
"No protests, Jane," he said. "I know you long to travel the realms. This, you cannot accomplish by my side." He paused. "The prophecy behind your position states that the Andi-Gumi travels alongside one of another world. The pair is the combination of many realms. Together, they explore and enlighten."
"But…Thor…" Jane began. She was quickly silenced by a look from him.
"Let me finish, Jane. If it please you, and it must in order for the fulfillment of your duties, you will depart from my side as Queen and join my brother's side as his wife…as his equal partner." He paused again. "You both need each other, you understand."
"I do not understand," she said simply.
"I know you do not. Frankly, none of us understand currently. But fear not Jane," Thor said as the dance began its conclusion and the music slowed, "All things will turn out as the should."
The music ended. Thor spun Jane gracefully toward him, and the two bowed and curtsied for each other. Thor took her hand and raised it to his lips, kissing it softly before releasing his hold. Before they could depart, however, he leaned over and whispered into her ear.
"By the way, Jane, my brother's colors look stunning on your necklace."
He smiled and led her away from the dance floor and toward the dais. Jane kept a composed façade, but trembled as the weight of Thor's words sunk in. From the corner of her eye, she noted a flash of green and silver dart away from the dais as she and Thor approached. She sighed. This festival would be the longest three days of her life.