The marble bench onto which Jane threw herself was cold and hard under her back. She laid down and faced the sky, still tinged with hints of purple fading into an inky blackness. A few bright stars had begun to show their faces. Were she on Earth, Jane would have recognized them as Venus, or perhaps Arctorus. But here, her days and nights were spent at dress fittings and feasts, things that were expected of her as Thor's betrothed, but things that left no time for learning or reading. Jane sighed. The Great Library, which she had seen only once in passing, was more amazing and extensive than anything on Earth. The rows spanned for miles, and the shelves stretched unto the ceiling, which was painted with a map of the celestial beings that nightly danced across Asgard's sky.
But she was not permitted to linger; one of her handmaidens steered her into another corridor, where a dress was fitted for her first meeting with the royal family. Any other woman would have been thrilled to be pandered to, and to have color and style choices beyond her wildest dream. All Jane wanted, as the seamstresses stuck pins into her sides, was to return to the library and lose herself in infinite knowledge.
"My lady!" a voice sounded from the glass doorway of the balcony.
Jane jumped from her ungraceful stargazing position and sat ramrod straight, hands folded neatly in her lap. One of her handmaidens, a young girl named Asmor, had ventured onto the balcony and was viewing her with concern.
"My lady, you should not be here alone. Where are your guards? Are you not chilled? Shall I fetch the King?" questions rolled off the young girl's tongue, and Jane could not help but smile. Asmor had been silent when the first met, but had recently opened up after Jane guided her through problems with a young suitor. Now, she followed Jane everywhere and was constantly by her side. Jane was surprised it took the girl this long to find her.
"No, Asmor, thank you for asking. I'm fine, but require some time alone." Jane noticed the girl forming a rebuttal, doubtless ready to fetch her guards. "Prince Loki is escorting me," she added quickly, before Asmor said anything. "He has momentarily gone into the gardens to fetch a rare plant I wished to see." Jane prayed the lie would pacify her young and eager handmaiden.
Luck was with her, for the first time that week.
"Very well, my lady," Asmor responded, grinning slightly. Jane noticed that the look was very similar to that Frigga wore when she and Loki left the grand table. "I trust that the Prince will return soon."
With that, the girl gathered her long, rose-colored dress and left Jane alone on the balcony again.
Jane let out a long breath that she had been holding. Loki was not a golden and dashing king, she knew, but for some reason she felt strangely drawn to the dark prince. Something about his manner, his way of speaking and acting, his shirking of traditional warrior training in favor of long hours in his study, all these things piqued Jane's curiosity about him. And that pain, she thought, that deep pain behind his anger. That drew her even close to Loki. She knew the demigod was dangerous; her sore wrists could account for that. But Jane was never one to leave a problem go unsolved; never one to leave someone behind who needed a helping hand.
She sighed. Jane knew she could either remain on the balcony and risk another handmaiden or one of the guards finding her, or she could venture into the vast garden that spanned acres behind the palace. She glanced inside the glass doors. Beyond the dancing subjects and boisterous musicians, Jane could see Thor seated on the dais, roaring with laughter and calling for more ale. She smiled. Thor was a good man with a proclivity for joyfulness and feasts and fighting. She would be happy with him, Jane told herself.
Looking away from the feast and into the gardens, Jane saw the tangled rows of bushes and flowering plants that formed the base of the immense plot. Her gaze followed massive trees upward, trees with pale white bark and flowers that only bloomed on the brightest of nights, when the full moon illuminated the expanse. She could smell the aromas rising, flowers that smelled of lavender and honeysuckle filled her and called to her.
With a lingering glance at the feast, Jane gathered her dress and dashed down the marble staircase into the awaiting garden.