The grand table shook violently as Thor slammed another tankard down upon its polished surface.
"And THAT, my friends," he roared over the din of the bursting feast room, "Is how I destroyed the great creatures that poured forth from the sky!"
The table, full of warriors and nobles and pandering courtiers, cheered and slammed their own goblets down until the very floor rumbled and expensive wine and ale flooded the ground. Thor called to waiting servants, and young boys and girls quickly dashed from the dark corners of the hall to refill empty cups of guests draining them just as swiftly.
Jane sat quietly beside her betrothed, smiling at Thor's stories and jests shouted down the great table. She sipped at her wine and toyed with the food on her plate. Apparently, no one in Asgard had ever heard of vegetarianism as a lifestyle. It didn't matter, she thought glumly. She was too exhausted from the whirlwind of her arrival and too anxious from Thor's sudden marriage proposal to stomach anything. Looking around the great hall, Jane observed, with the keen eye of a scientist, the action surrounding her. She could clearly distinguish the social classes and economic discrepancies, and would have very much enjoyed talking with those who sat far below her station; those who laughed sincerely and wore plainer clothing. But her status as queen-to-be mandated her to remain on the dais at the place of honor, seated between Thor on one side and Thor's mother, Frigga, on the other. Jane decided she liked the woman, although Thor's father, Odin, made her uneasy with his cold and calculating gaze.
"My darling Jane!" Thor spoke rather loudly beside her, "You've barely touched your wine! Is it not to your liking? I can have another brought. Or two or three more!" He began gesturing to servants in the corner when Jane caught his hand.
"No, Thor, it's wonderful," she lied. "I just…it's rather stuffy in here, isn't it? Perhaps some air on the balcony would-"
"But of course!" Thor exclaimed. "I will have your guards summoned to escort you wherever you wish."
Jane frowned. She had hoped her and Thor could have some much-needed alone time. Since they had arrived in Asgard nearly a week ago, they had been whisked from feast to feast, and in between Thor was always preoccupied with governing the kingdom. They had very little time to themselves.
"I was hoping without the guards…" she mumbled, staring deeply at Thor, praying he would get the message. Apparently, he was already too drunk on strong Asgardian ale for that.
"Ah, perhaps someone more suited to your station, then? Someone you can converse with as your observe your precious stars, dear Jane?" Thor smiled, as though happening upon a brilliant idea.
"Brother!" he shouted above the din.
Jane's stomach plummeted. She knew where this was headed, but there was no backing out now, not without offending both Thor and his mother, who, though appearing to listen to court gossip, was clearly eavesdropping on their conversation.
Loki, seated several spots down from Thor, pushed back from the table and walked until standing behind his brother. The so-called 'dark prince' of Asgard wore an emerald green and jet-black doublet, laced with gold and covered with an immense black cape. His dark pants and knee-high boots gave the prince a menacing look, one completed by his black hair, pressed tightly against his head, and eyes that burned with intensity and suggested to Jane that Loki was still completely sober.
"You called, dear brother?" he asked, in a voice dripping with sarcasm and boredom. Clearly, Thor did not pick up the disdain.
"Yes, brother I did! Would you escort my betrothed to the balcony? She is in need of air and of more stimulating conversation than her guards can provide," Thor replied with a grin.
Loki glanced lazily at Jane before returning to his brother.
"Surely your intended would rather converse with her attendants? I hear there is quite the scandal revolving around some courtier and one of our royal cousins," he responded snidely, smirking slightly at Jane in the process. Jane was quite finished with his attitude.
"I would, Prince Loki," she responded, "But it seems you already know more than the majority of my attendants, and I have no doubt you would weave a better story."
This time, Loki's stare held no sarcasm or mockery, only passionate hatred for the woman who had just insulted him in front of the court and royal family. Thor, meanwhile, oblivious to this subtle exchange, roared with laughter.
"You see, brother? She is feisty and intelligent. Walk with her. Your king commands it," he said in a voice that signified the conversation was finished, and returned to his ale and to another war story.
Loki glared at the back of his brother's golden head before turning to Jane, his stare still holding all the hatred of before, but the voice that escaped his lips was dangerously soft.
"My lady," he whispered, offering an outstretched hand to Jane.
She gathered her dress in one hand, took his open palm in her other, and rose quickly from her seat, excusing herself to Frigga. The older woman turned and smiled serenely at Jane, as though enjoying a private secret, then returned to her courtiers. With that, they were dismissed, and Loki led Jane away from the grand table and toward the deserted balcony, smiling at subjects and making small talk with those who approached them.
No one else could see his hand becoming increasingly tighter around Jane's wrist.