Off to the Ball
The rest of the day passed in a great hurricane of emotions and intense feeling for Aska. It was as though her mind suddenly decided to cast all sense of logic to the wind, which she continually longed to feel against her face rather than the flat, dry air of the cellar. And never before did the day feel so dark. With only one candle and a small window to let any sort of light pass through, it took Aska longer than usual to tell when the day was ending and the night beginning. And with its small space, rocky walls with small spider's webs here and there, and an earthen floor beneath her, the cellar began to feel more and more like a cave as well as a prison, one that she desperately wanted like a caged animal to be released from.
For a while, even though the shadow of doubt that it wouldn't work hung over her, she climbed up the leader underneath the metal door and slammed her fist repeatedly against it, hoping against hope that it might get damaged enough to break open. When that didn't work, she tried yelling as loud as she could through the small opening in the door, "You can't keep me in here!" Even though no one came, she tried again, yelling, "If you don't let me out I'll, I'll…" But she couldn't finish, as it slowly became clear to her, despite her best hopes, that no one would answer her plea. Not Ylva, not Brynja, or even Regin.
Little by little, the fire of her fitful temperament began to fade, until it was soon replaced by water, just as hot, emerging in the back of her eyes, threatening to explode out of her like steam in a lidded pot. It took all of Aska's remaining effort – which was very little – to even attempt to keep it all back. Eventually though, the immense pressure to release it outweighed any trying on her part. And before long, she climbed down the ladder, knelt down on the ground, and finally released her tears, accompanied by cries that grew more and more miserable with each one.
But even though she couldn't stop her crying now, in a vain effort to try and muffle it in any way, Aska pressed her hands against her face. Her emotions eventually proved to have the greater hold on her, and she slowly pulled her hands away, only to find that her tears had been tainted with the ashes and dust that seemed to constantly adorn her face all through her known life. The sight of it – as well as the thoughts that now filled her head at her expense – only made her weep even more.
Never had loneliness stricken her in such a harsh, merciless way. Over the years of living under Ylva's roof, she'd grown used to the sense of being alone that accompanied her as the only servant in the house, but now. Now that she'd experienced what it felt like to be cherished – even if it was due to the mask she wore – she did not know any other way to deal with such intense feelings of wretchedness and helplessness other than to unleash them in her tears. If Aska couldn't escape from this cellar – which seemed more and more unlikely the longer she thought about it – then she would fail in her principle duty as the Purple Phantom. She would fail to protect her realm, to stop the Frost Giants, and keep harm from coming to the ones she cared for most, including Prince Loki, who by now seemed more far away than ever before.
So greatly did all three hurts pain her heavy heart, that the weight of it seemed to make it impossible to even sit up anymore. Slowly, Aska lied down on the somewhat comfortable – but not comfortable enough – floor of the cellar. There she lay, in the small pool of starlight that managed to make its way through the window, until, at last, she finally cried herself into a deep sleep.
No dreams entered her mind. All she knew was the darkest scene of black she'd ever seen. There was nothing like it, nothing able to compare. But the next thing she knew, a bright light hit her closed eyes, causing her to open them. Part of her had longed to awaken on her own mattress beside the familiar fireplace, with all that had just taken place revealing itself to be just a dream.
But when Aska opened her eyes fully, her heart fell in grave disappointment as she found herself still in the cellar cave, still lying on the floor that she'd previously fallen asleep on. And if she was still here, then that meant that Ylva had indeed locked her in here yesterday, and the once secret fact remained that she was working for the Frost Giants, and likely planning something sinister for…tonight! Of course! Tonight was the night of the long-awaited masked ball! And…she was not going, no matter how much she might have wanted to go before.
But, how could she possibly think about such a desire so impossible to fulfill now that the whole realm was in danger? And besides, if by some miracle she did get to go, how could she even enjoy herself, even if the danger was absent? Hardly anyone she knew would be there. Perhaps most of the people there would have been of high-society with snobbish and rude attitudes anyway. How incredibly dreary. And how incredibly stupid of her for actually wishing to go in the first place! And yet…when Aska remembered the exquisite pair of glass slippers and even more exquisite dress Regin had made for her, when she once again thought of being in his arms and waltzing together with him in that big room, and perhaps even feeling his lips against hers once more…
Oh, why could she not face things as they were? Why was it so easy before yet seem so hard to do now? All Aska could do in an effort to cope with it was to simply give a heavy sigh, and turn away from the daylight which now replaced the starlight that seemed to pour itself on her the night before. Not even the once promising dawn could try to convince her to give into false hope. She would not allow it. Hope now only seemed to bring disappointment.
All she could do was sit where she once laid down, dreaming, but never allowing herself to wish, to escape from this dark, miserable dungeon. Time seemed to pass very slowly, or not at all, until her ears picked up the sound of footsteps on the floor above her, followed by the sound of someone knocking on the cellar door. It took a short while for Aska to realize that she was not hearing things. Once she turned around and saw what appeared to be a shadow stretching over the opening in the door, she knew that she had indeed heard what she thought, but that was quickly replaced by the question of what it meant.
After wondering whether or not she should even try to investigate, it wasn't long before she heard her name being called. "Aska!" Though it sounded faint, as though being whispered, Aska knew that voice no matter how loud or soft it sounded. Regin was outside that door! But why? And how? Impatient to know, she quickly got to her feet and walked over underneath the door, where she looked up through the bars, and her eyes widened to see that it was indeed Regin. And once their eyes met, Aska could instantly tell that although it looked like she was trying to hide it, it was clear merely by uneasiness emanating from her that she was rather sad, perhaps even guilty.
Aska was about to ask what she was doing here, when Regin handed her through the opening a small cup of water. "Here Aska," she whispered. Curious, and remembering how thirsty she felt, she reached her fingers through, took the cup, and took an immediate sip. Regin then handed her two small loaves of bread wrapped in cloth, which Aska quickly took as well, until a suspicious, troubling thought suddenly emerged in her mind, which immediately transferred to her face, making her look back at Regin.
"Don't worry," she said, a shadow of a smile managing to cross her lips, "It's not poisoned. I made it."
Aska nodded. Even during this dark time, at least she still had Regin, probably the only trustworthy person available. "Thank you," she then said before taking a bite of bread, which she instantly found had cheese inside it. But the surprise of the taste of cheddar immediately faded away once she looked again at Regin, when she saw that the poor sweet girl now had tears in her brown eyes.
"Aska," she whispered, trying not to weep, "I'm so sorry!"
So she did feel guilty. In a quick attempt to try to relieve her of any of it at all, Aska handed the cloth back to Regin so she could wipe her tears away, and immediately replied, "Don't be. It's not your fault."
Regin opened her mouth to speak, but she quickly looked back once she heard an abrupt, demanding voice, which Aska instantly recognized as Brynja's. "Hurry up Regin, you half-wit!" she said.
Once she heard that deliberate insult, a spark of anger ignited within Aska, causing her free hand to clench into a tight fist. But before she could punch it into something, Regin looked back and said softly, "I haven't much time." She then leaned forward slightly, and whispered in a determined voice only she and Aska could hear, "But I will get you out of here. I promise."
Aska nodded, surprisingly feeling some of Regin's determination rub off on her, when she jumped at hearing Brynja's sneering voice again. "Regin!" Regin looked back and nodded quickly before turning back to look at Aska one more time, neither smiling nor frowning. "Goodbye," she said. Before Aska could respond, she hastily got up from her knees, turned around, and briskly walked away. Aska continued to look up through the opening until she could no longer hear the footsteps of either girls, and when she looked back at her makeshift breakfast, she found that she'd inexplicably lost her appetite.
Knowing that she might not be fed again for a long time, Aska put her food and water aside, and instead began to wonder how Regin could possibly free her, if she was being watched by either Ylva or Brynja like she was just now. She did not doubt in any way Regin's intelligence or her desire to help. But, perhaps she could try thinking of a back-up plan just to be safe. Perhaps while she was in the midst of her immense sadness, she might have missed something, a possible way of escape. But did she dare hope again? Well, if there was even the smallest way out, it couldn't hurt.
Very slowly and carefully, Aska began scanning the room, looking for any abnormality, any type of literal – or nonliteral – hole in the wall. She observed the opening in the cellar door, but quickly realized that she wouldn't be able to reach out her hand and unscrew the hinges, let alone unlock it with anything. Maybe there was a hidden pathway behind one of the barrels or boxes. She quickly began moving aside one after another, searching with keen eyes and touching with cautious hands for anything unusual. But as the minutes ticked by, in a similar manner did her hope once again begin to disappear, as she saw and felt nothing that indicated a secret passageway. No loose bricks or stray rays of light from outside. The only other likely way out seemed to be the lone window on the opposite side of the room. But even if Aska did manage to break the glass, the opening appeared too narrow to squeeze herself through, unless she somehow became thinner than she already was.
So, it seemed she was right after all. Unless Regin could think of a way to get her out, she would remain trapped in here while Ylva wreaked havoc on Asgard. But even as the threatening thought loomed over her like a sharp blade, now that she had at least some of her senses back after that night spent in misery, she soon realized that worrying about it would not get her out of here either. Such distracting emotions aside, it looked as though there was only one thing Aska could do for now. Wait.
But before long, it came to her attention that doing so was easier said than done. Were she allowed outside, it would have been much easier. And as much as all those chores had become a pain over the years, at least they kept her busy. Now there was almost nothing to do. Hoping that perhaps a small amount of time would pass if she did, she took up her breakfast again. Aska took another sip of the more than refreshing water, and ate the rest of one of the loaves of bread, closing her eyes to savor the excellent, satisfying taste of the cheese. But being an active person who could not sit down for long, shortly after she finished eating, she began pacing the room in an attempt to release her uneasiness. When she grew bored of that, she laid down on the same spot as before, closed her eyes, and eventually drifted into that content state of unconsciousness.
When she awoke, she saw that there was less light shining through the window than earlier, leading her to believe that it was now early or midafternoon. So at least a few hours had passed during her nap, but still, nighttime, and freedom, seemed far beyond her reach. Suddenly feeling a dryness in her throat, Aska sat up and stretched every one of her long limbs before she took up her water and drank every last blessed drop. She then quickly devoured the next loaf of bread, which she hoped would satisfy her hunger for the rest of the day, and evening, and night. Soon, she also began pacing again, like she imagined one of the horses in the stables would, though they were probably used to it. And though time seemed to pass slower than was desired, less and less light began to seep through the window, until at last, after what felt like a thousand years, the light of the day was fully traded for the darkness of the night.
And before she knew it, Aska heard again the sound of footsteps coming her way. She turned toward the door, hoping to hear Regin's voice again, wanting after such a long day to hear a plan, whatever it may be. But instead of a friendly, encouraging voice, she heard an ominous, demeaning one that she'd come to know just as much as Regin's, only now, it seemed much more menacing knowing who – and what – she actually was.
"Well now, has our little troublemaker learned her lesson?" Ylva asked, "In fact, is she here at all?"
Not wishing for herself or Regin to receive very much unwanted attention, but not willing to face the woman who had imprisoned her either, Aska turned around and walked backward, keeping her arms firmly crossed, until she was sure she stood under the door. Since the night had now arrived, the ball must have already started. She imagined that the ones above her were in their fine dresses she and Regin had sneaked peaks at, with matching masks, and slippers, perhaps even jewelry, accompanied by fine hair and face paint. But even if she had the nerve to look upon Ylva, she was certain that no matter how regal she looked, she would see the monster underneath.
"Shall I repeat the question or are you going to answer me?" Ylva asked, sounding like she was trying her best to be nice.
Aska kept silent.
"Then I assume you'd rather stay where you are right now," Ylva said, her voice becoming lower and increasingly darker, "Well, it's such a shame you'll miss the ball. We would have so liked for you to go."
An obvious lie, Aska thought. But, now that she was here, an urgent desire to know what her plan was emerged suddenly in her mind. Despite the clear unlikelihood of her telling her, Aska immediately knew that she would never get another chance to gain such desired information. She kept her back turned, but, keeping any sense of emotion out of her voice, she asked, "What are you planning to do?"
In spite of her expectations, Aska received an answer. But from the moment she heard it, she knew it was not the reply she so wanted. In fact, whether it was the tone of her voice, the actual words, or a combination of both, the answer somehow managed to send a shiver up her spine, which she immediately hoped Ylva didn't notice.
"Let's simply that, not even the great Purple Phantom will be able to rescue you or your precious prince after midnight."
Aska tried to imagine her mistress's face at saying those words, but all she could see was a black mask embroidered with wickedness and corruption. And even worse. Now that she faced once again the thought of the biggest failure of her life only a few hours away, she could practically feel the evil from that mask descend down on her like a black snow. But then, as she began to process the woman's answer in her mind, she began to ask, why midnight? She tried to remember the importance of it, when her eyes widened as it suddenly hit her.
Midnight tonight was Loki's deadline to find a bride other than Idunn. If Odin was going to announce it, and if Ylva claimed that nothing was going to stop her afterward, then that meant… Oh no. That meant she was going to steal Odin's spear when everyone was distracted so she could break the seal in Jotunheim! The mere thought of it sent Aska's heart racing. She then began to wonder if Regin knew, to fear that she might not have a plan at all. But how could she promise her something and yet not follow through with it?
She kept her eyes looking down to the ground, and tried to ignore, to the best of her ability, the sudden cheerfulness in Ylva's tone of voice. "Well, come along girls," she said, "The carriage awaits." No one spoke another word, and Aska surprisingly managed to keep standing as she heard three pairs of feet walk away from her dim chamber. The candle had been snuffed out long ago, so there was now barely any light in the room. It mattered not though, as Aska actually preferred it, for she then closed her eyes, and then felt one solitary tear, followed by a second, travel down her cheeks. The mere thought of remaining here, while her mistress-turned-archenemy destroyed everything she knew and loved, was enough to make her want to scream. And yet, she did not have the will to.
Regin followed her mother and sister reluctantly through the halls. She'd wanted to cry after witnessing the scene she just saw. But she could not. As great as the desire was, she could not give into emotion and lose concentration on the plan she'd managed to come up with during the day. Soon though, the three made their way to the foyer, and Regin immediately straightened in order to keep focus. Now was the time to put her idea into action. Now was the time to put on the performance of her life.
"Mother?" Brynja said, "Don't tell me you really intend to hurt Prince Loki?"
Ylva looked at her with a smiling but confused face. "How could I when you want so much to marry him?" she asked.
Though Brynja didn't seem to be aware of it, as she immediately chuckled and clapped her hands with glee, Regin had the sense that their mother was mocking her. In that moment, she also felt a sense of pity for her sister, even if she was often a bully to her. But then, as they made their way through the front door together, Regin quickly stopped them.
"Wait, Mother?" she said.
Both Ylva and Brynja sighed in frustration, and turned around to wonder what could be keeping her. "Yes Regin?" Ylva asked, "What is it?"
"I believe I've forgotten my handkerchief," Regin replied, hoping she wasn't showing any hint of nervousness, "May I go get it?"
Despite her inner, shaking state, which she feared her mother would see, Ylva sighed and nodded. "Very well, make haste," she said.
"Thank you," Regin nodded. She then turned and walked up the stairs away from Ylva and Brynja, and did not look back at them once as she made her way to her room. Once there, it didn't take long for her to find her not truly lost item. Thankfully, it remained where she had previously hidden it, underneath her bed of all places. Such an obvious hiding spot that no one would think to look there. And it was still folded in the specific way she wanted.
But knowing that they'd be expecting her any minute now, Regin quickly rolled her handkerchief in her hand and hurried back down the hallway. There, at the top of the stairway, she found Ylva and Brynja waiting for her like before, and rather impatiently, she quickly noticed. She took her skirt in her hands and hastened down the stairs, and then joined her family as they walked out of the house and into the nighttime air together. They then made their way toward the carriage Ylva had hired, with its twin dark colored horses and golden edges decorating it, but all Regin could hope was that tonight's plans would go accordingly.
Once they were all inside, the driver immediately encouraged the horses forward. Ylva sat across from her daughters, while Regin took the seat next to the window on the left. Not only was that part of her idea, but it also gave her the privilege of looking back at the place that had been her home five years, yet in the past twenty-four hours seemed to become like a prison to her as well as it surely must have to the girl who was more of a sister to her than Brynja ever was.
But once that house left her sight, and another one came into view, Regin regained full concentration. As soon as they were halfway to the next house, which she would know in either daylight or moonlight, she began putting the more conspicuous side of her handkerchief against her face, letting only her mother and sister see what she wanted them to see. Very, very slowly, she crept it to the left, toward the open window, and then instantly let it go and sail with the wind once she was sure it was the right time. Instantly gasped and looked back, hoping to give the illusion that she'd accidentally dropped it.
"Oh no!" she cried for added effect.
"Oh it's only a mere handkerchief Regin!" Ylva scolded her.
"Indeed," Brynja agreed, "And besides, who'd want to be around a girl who sneezes all night!"
She quickly let out a fit of laughter, but Regin kept her disappointed frown. What neither Ylva nor Brynja knew though, was that in her mind, the once timid and meek girl was smiling, both at her own mischief, and at the hope that had now been given permission to shine. If person she intended saw it and what was on it, all would quickly fall into place. All she could do now was wait.
Jarl was inside his somewhat small house, watching what he knew to be the carriage containing Regin and her family carrying them towards the palace. Even if their relationship was secret, he couldn't help but steal a glance as she passed by. But then, he looked up again, as the passing carriage was not the only sight his eyes caught. He searched with his eyes until he saw what looked to be a small square made of silk in the front yard. How odd. But, as possible as it was that one of the women dropped it by accident, could it also possibly be a message of some sort from his lady love? The boy who grew up loving secrets suddenly reappeared within him, causing the blacksmith to give in to his curiosity and hurry out to the yard once the carriage was far away enough. Little did he know that a somewhat shocking message was waiting for him.
Against the black, star-filled sky of the late spring night, the palace of Asgard seemed to give off a great golden glow, now that the ball was getting underway. But while most of the guests had arrived, all of the royal family had yet to make an appearance, especially Loki. Whether or not his father, mother, and brother were now on their way to the ballroom, where he was sure a multitude of unmarried girls awaited him, he stood alone in his torch-lit room, wondering if he should even make the attempt to go join his family at all. He had been ready for the past hour, with his black suit covered with bits of golden armor, and a green cape stretching out behind him. He wondered if this was how male animals felt when they went to search for a mate. Sure, all of this outward apparel would definitely attract any maiden within a hundred miles – maybe more – but his heart was searching for one. The only one that would satisfy him.
But before he could think about it much longer, the door suddenly opened, and in the mirror he saw a familiar face surrounded by long blond hair. "Hello handsome!" Thor smiled at him. Despite his rather uneasy state of mind, Loki couldn't help but chuckle. His brother never did fail to make him smile, even when he was not in the mood to.
"Hello to you too!" he greeted him back.
Thor chuckled, and then nodded his head toward the hallway behind him. "Come on," he said, "Father told me to come get you."
Loki let loose an exasperated sigh. "Oh no," he said, "What for now?"
"He didn't say," Thor replied, "Only that it was urgent."
Loki pressed his lips together, knowing that with his father, one did not ignore urgent matters, even ones that he would otherwise prefer to avoid. But, seeing as tonight was an important night, he saw no need to disappoint him, as he seemed to be doing so lately. He nodded and turned toward Thor. "Alright then," he said as he walked toward him, "Lead the way."
Before long, the two were walking down the halls together as they usually did, their capes trailing behind them. They met faces of approval of all the guards they passed, but Loki kept his eyes looking forward, not really caring tonight whether they showed it or not. But soon, it wasn't long before his brother broke the silence with a question he'd previously hoped he would not ask.
"Do you really think she'll come tonight?" Thor asked.
Loki raised his eyebrows, but he nonetheless gave his rather hopeful answer. "I asked her," he said, "And she said, 'Perhaps.'"
"Perhaps," Thor repeated, nodding as though with sarcasm, which Loki immediately caught.
"You're just waiting to see my face when Father announces my engagement," he teasingly accused him.
"Maybe!" Thor smiled, "Though, I can still barely comprehend why any woman would want to marry you!"
"Oh stop it!" Loki insisted, resisting a need to give him a rough push on the shoulder.
The two immediately chuckled. But before they reached the end of their journey through the hallways, and the ballroom lay only a few yards away, Loki and Thor at last caught their father standing near the large and imposing doorway, waiting for them. Even from this distance, he looked every inch the king of Asgard he was. He stood tall with broad shoulders, and his dark red cape falling behind his back, his gray hair descending past his shoulders, and in his right hand he held his greatest weapon: his legendary staff. But as they got closer to him, Loki saw the troubled look Odin wore on his one-eyed face, one that instantly made Loki feel this wasn't going to be one of his usual lectures. In fact, he himself began to feel the trouble once he was a few feet away from him.
Even so, Odin managed a smile once he finally met his sons. "Thank you Thor," he nodded at his oldest, "If you wish, you may get to the ball. I'd prefer to speak to your brother alone."
For some reason, Thor then became somewhat tense and uneasy, perhaps at noticing his father's apparent anxiety as well. "Yes, um, of course, Father," he nodded back. He then leaned toward Loki and said quietly, "Good luck." And before Loki could reply, his brother left his side, and headed alone through the open doors, and into the grand scene that Loki knew awaited him also. From here, he could hear the sounds of people talking, laughing, carrying on conversations. He could only wonder how the maidens would react once they saw him. But, for now, the only person he had to face was – rather thankfully – his father.
And, even more interestingly, the face he met was not what he expected to meet. Instead of a stern, firm one that usually accompanied his father during his lectures, he saw what appeared to be an uncomfortable, maybe even sorry expression, inevitably making Loki wonder what was on his mind. He listened carefully as he then began to speak.
"Loki," he said in a rather calm voice, "I've been thinking throughout the day and…"
"Yes?" Loki asked once he started to trail off.
Odin pressed his lips together before speaking again. "Perhaps I've been too hard on you – even, even unfair – concerning your marital prospects."
Loki raised his eyebrows, and couldn't help but wonder if this was his father talking to him, or his mother's coaxing. But, either way, he immediately began to realize that he himself had some words to say. "Well, Father, I know you want the best for me but, I'm not a child anymore."
"Yes, I know," Odin nodded, "And, if this, strange masked woman is the one you truly love then, you have my blessing…whether, or not, you meet your deadline."
Loki's eyes instantly widened in amazement, as he hardly believed this was really his own father saying these words to him. "You really mean that?"
Odin smiled softly, and then placed his hand on his shoulder. "Yes," he replied, "I simply want your happiness, my son. And, if she makes you happy, then, so am I."
Loki simply stood there, speechless. All he knew was that he finally heard what he so desperately wanted to hear from his father, and all he could was embrace him in a great hug, never mind that they were doing it in front of the watching guards. "Thank you Father," he managed to say.
Once they finished embracing though, Odin immediately took on his mantle of responsibility again, as he stood straight and said, "Very well then, let's get ourselves to the ball."
Now suddenly feeling rather refreshed, even though he still knew of what awaited him, Loki couldn't help but let out another chuckle. "Agreed," he nodded. But despite his humor though, he drew in a deep breath as if preparing himself for a battle, and a battle unlike any other at that, before walking through the doorway and into the ballroom with his father by his side.
Not long after they left, Aska's strength finally dwindled to the point where she could only keep herself up on her knees. Even if she didn't believe she had anymore tears to cry, that did not stop the once again extreme sadness from filling her to the point of agony. As the minutes passed, she once again began to fear the worst. Perhaps Regin could not come up with a plan after all. Maybe Ylva really had bested both her and her best ally. And with midnight only a few hours away, nothing seemed to be standing between the woman and victory for Jotunheim. And all of the resulting carnage would weigh on her shoulders until they finally broke. Indeed, they already began to feel rather heavy. Maybe, maybe there really was no hope at all.
She continued to sit still like a marble statue in the silver starlight shining down on her, when all of a sudden, a sound she did not think she would hear again, and then another she did not even dare to imagine, reached her ears. The first was a series of slightly heavy footsteps traveling through her house, and the other was a masculine voice – one she did not often hear, but immediately recognized – calling her name.
"Aska!" he called, sounding desperate to find her, "Aska! Where are you! It's me!"
Oh, but could it be? Could she simply be imagining things? No, she had indeed heard that voice, she told herself. It was Jarl! And he was looking for her! Oh, bless the blacksmith, and her best friend in the nine realms! So she did have a plan after all! And now…now that the rest seemed up to her, nothing was going to stop her from setting herself free. Nothing was going to keep her in the dark any longer.
Feeling a sudden resurge of energy flow through her like a breaking dam, Aska instantly hurried to her feet, rushed to the door, and shouted through the opening as loudly as she could. "Jarl! Jarl, I'm in here!" she cried, "Help me!"
Almost instantly, she began to hear footsteps running quickly towards the door. And once she saw Jarl's familiar tan face with his red hair surrounding it, her rapidly beating heart instantly began to soar for the hope that had so long been missing from her. Jarl, however, couldn't be help but be shocked at the scene before him. He had the feeling that the message on the handkerchief was serious, but he did not imagine he'd see something like this.
"Aska!" he exclaimed, "What are you doing in here? Are you alright?"
"Don't worry, I'm fine!" Aska replied, the words spilling out of her as fast as they possibly could, "Ylva locked me in here yesterday!"
"She what?!" Jarl asked, instantly beginning to grow red in the face.
"Not now!" Aska shook her head hastily, "I just need to get out!"
"Alright," Jarl nodded, "Stay where you are!"
Aska nodded back, and watched as Jarl reached his hand to his left, and looked as though he was unscrewing the hinges, just as she originally thought of. And with Jarl's more than strong hands, before another minute passed, he had both hinges off the door, and immediately lifted it open for Aska. The torchlight that suddenly hit her face right then filled Aska with the great happiness of freedom she longed to experience but had for much too long eluded her. Indeed, it took her more than a moment to realize that Jarl was holding his arms out to her. She then wrapped her own arms around his, and with great strength befitting that of a blacksmith, he pulled her out before she could blink.
In that moment, Aska felt all of her sadness, melancholy, and depression literally flow out of her like a spring river that had finally thawed after a harsh winter. Her arms instantly flew around Jarl, and she even planted a kiss on his cheek. "Thank you Jarl!" she cried, "You're simply the best!"
"You should thank Regin," Jarl smiled once the two looked at each other again, "She 'dropped' the message for me." He then reached into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a silk handkerchief. But Aska immediately noticed that on one side there were two Norse symbols in her handwriting which read: Help Aska!
So great was this realization that a long-forgotten spark of humor arose within Aska, culminating in laughter. "The clever girl!" she exclaimed. But suddenly, as soon her old humor came, it swiftly flew away, replaced by the familiar responsibility she felt as the Purple Phantom. Even though it felt incredible, now that she was free, she had to do all she can to prevent the coming catastrophe. She couldn't allow anything to stop her now.
"Jarl!" she said, "I have to get to the palace!"
"What for?" he asked.
Gesturing toward the cellar, Aska explained, "Ylva locked me in there yesterday after I found out she was working for the Frost Giants."
"What?" he asked rather incredulously, "How do you know this?"
"I'll explain later," she assured him, "The point is, if I don't stop her by midnight, she could very well steal his Majesty's spear!"
"You think she might use it to break the seal of Jotunheim?"
"I believe so," Aska nodded, "But I need to get there now!"
She then turned away from him, prepared to hurry as fast as a deer down the hallway, through the house, and then out the front door, when Jarl suddenly grabbed her by the arm and stopped her. "Wait a minute!" he said, pulling her back, "They're holding a ball! You can't go looking like that!"
Aska was about to object, that she didn't have the time, when her eyes, which suddenly seemed to gain a mind of their own, looked down at what Jarl pointed out. Almost immediately, she was surprised at how even dirtier she looked than usual. Nearly from head to toe she was covered in dust and dirt, and in a strange moment of the past meeting the present, she bizarrely found that the statement Ylva once gave about her coming from a fireplace seemed to fit her now more than ever. Maybe…maybe she could go in that dress that she once again seemed to long to wear. Perhaps to set a trap for Ylva if nothing else. But the question remained.
"What time is it?" she asked Jarl.
"About ten o' clock," he replied.
Aska nodded, and then began to seriously consider her options as she usually did in such situations. On the one hand, she could simply go and expose Ylva for the traitor she was before anything could go wrong. Then again, she might be mistaken for a madwoman, and perhaps not even be let into the palace in the first place. On the other hand, she could go in the elaborate, princess-like outfit Regin had assembled for her and call Ylva out when the time came, and maybe, if she had enough time, she could also fulfill her too-long-buried desire to see Prince Loki, to dance with him, to kiss him…
Sentimental emotions aside though, the choice seemed rather clear to her, and she gave her response. "I suppose I could go and change."
Jarl nodded, but Aska suddenly remembered an important detail. "But I'd like you to do a favor for me."
"Of course," he said.
"Please find Dagny and tack her for me," Aska said, "I keep it behind a loose plank above the stables."
"Alright, but, how will she know you sent me?"
"She will know you by my whistle," she assured him, "You remember it don't you?"
"I think so. Does it have three notes?"
"Yes," Aska nodded, "But we must hurry! We haven't time to waste!"
"Of course!" Jarl nodded back. Without any further words from either, both then parted ways. Jarl rushed out the front door to head for the stables, while Aska hurried into the kitchen that she'd never been so glad to see.
From then on, she began to prepare herself for the event of a lifetime. She gathered several buckets of warm water and poured all of it in a bathtub she pulled out, and let out an immediate sigh of relief once she took off her clothes and immersed herself in it. Most of her baths were usually cold because Ylva and Brynja would use most of the hot water. In fact, she couldn't really recall the last time she had a warm bath. And feeling it against her surprisingly cold body made her feel as though she could simply sink into it. But of course, now was not the time. Aska took a couple of sweet-smelling soaps she believed Regin wouldn't mind her borrowing, and quickly placed a handful of each in her now loose hair. After a while, she finished scrubbing both her hair and her body, and reluctantly stepped out of the warm water that had relieved her so.
She quickly dried her body, deciding to put on her shift since she didn't have a robe, and then went for her hair. First she squeezed the excess water out of it, and then brushed it to make it smooth, wavy, and put it back to its original pale color. Aska then decided to put on some cosmetics: some lip gloss, blush, and sparkling purple eyeshadow. The result had her eyes widening in surprise, as now that the usual ashes on her face had been replaced by appropriate face paint, she actually believed she might be pretty, if not lovely.
But now the moment had come to finally step in her dress, which she found in the only place she and Regin would think, under Regin's bed. Indeed, touching it again made a tingling sensation travel through her arms, but she quickly brought her mind back to focus. Aska slipped into it, and for a moment couldn't believe that she was finally wearing it. And as it turned out, that wasn't all that was in the basket. There was also an ivory circlet decorated with silver flowers and had a translucent purple ribbon descending down the back of it, much like the fabric down the girdle of the dress. There was a pair of translucent, purple, fingerless gloves with silver armlets shaped like the flowers on the circlet. And the mask she found she liked even more than her original one. It was purple with embroidered gold surrounding the eyes and decorating the border. It was definitely perfect for the occasion.
But once she had all three on, she realized she still hadn't put on perhaps the most perplexing part: the glass slippers. She couldn't help but think of how she might break them, despite Regin's promise. But, ever curious, she eased one foot inside the first, and then the other in the second, and found that not only did they fit perfectly, but that they were actually somewhat comfortable.
Even so, now that she believed she was ready, the final verdict waited to be decided. She walked up to Regin's room and somewhat hesitantly approached her vanity mirror, only to receive what might have been the amazement of her life. The color of her dress nearly matched her hair color perfectly, and the diamonds on the dress and the slippers sparkled in the starlight. Aska couldn't recall another time in her life when she felt so alluring, so beautiful. It made her feel almost light-headed, until she remembered that she was going mainly for the mission.
She hurried back downstairs, and back into the kitchen, where she took out her Purple Phantom costume and her weapons and placed them inside a large saddlebag she sometimes took when on errands for Ylva. Then, knowing that Jarl might now be out there waiting for her, with the bag in hand, she quickly hastened toward the foyer, and then rushed out the front door. There in the front yard, as she thought, Jarl was waiting for her, holding Dagny by the reigns. But once she beheld her beloved horse once again, Aska couldn't help but notice how amazing she looked tonight.
Beneath her usual tack, her pale coat seemed to shine, her mane and tail seemed to flow like silk and shimmer in the starlight, and her eyes were bright and happy, immediately making Aska more than happy as well. "How did you do this?" she asked Jarl as she walked toward him.
"I gave her a bath and brushed her," Jarl replied happily, "She's as fine as any royal steed!"
"I should say so!" Aska agreed, when she suddenly noticed the way Jarl was looking at her. Even though she somewhat knew what his opinion was going to be, she nevertheless felt the need to ask. "How do I look?"
For a moment, Jarl seemed to forget that he could speak, until he finally found his voice again and replied, "Like a vision."
For added affect, Aska couldn't help but give a twirl or two, making Jarl chuckle. She then approached her horse, and after Jarl placed the saddlebag on the back, Aska was about to leap on, when he suddenly stopped her, shaking his head. "Ladies do not mount their horses alone," he said.
Aska chuckled, and decided to humor him by allowing him to help her onto Dagny. She quickly found that riding a horse in this fine dress might be more difficult than she first thought, but if she could get to the palace in one piece, that was all that mattered. She then quickly gathered the reins in her hands, and gave Jarl one last hopeful look. In return it seemed, he reached into his other pocket, then took out and placed into the saddlebag what appeared to be a rolled-up scroll.
"My invitation," he explained, "I wasn't planning to go anyway. Besides, you need it more than I do."
"Thank you so much," she said.
Jarl nodded. "If you find Regin," he then said, "Tell her I send my greetings."
"Of course," Aska nodded.
Jarl then stepped back and gave a final wave. "Good luck!" he said.
"Thank you!" Aska waved back. She then looked forward at the path ahead of her, and, seeing the glowing golden palace in the distance, took a deep breath before she kicked Dagny gently in the flanks. Her horse instantly whinnied and right then, the two were cantering down the road together. Though the night did feel rather familiar, as this was usually the time they went on missions together, tonight, the simple air seemed to carry with it both a sense of foreboding, and a sense of excitement. As Aska rode down the familiar roads and toward the last place she expected to go that night, she realized that, even if it wasn't direct, hope did seem to help her out of that prison. Indeed, it, as well as Dagny, seemed to carry her down the pathway toward her destiny, where she would not only likely meet Prince Loki once again, but, even more importantly, stop a great villainess before she could put her evil plan into action. Tonight, the Purple Phantom would indeed come to both her rescue and that of the prince. She would once again win over this wicked evil. And all in one eventful night.