Title: Rain Upon the Ashes
Summary: An ancient evil threatens Yggdrasil. An illegitimate heir sits upon the throne of Asgard, and an unknown menace seeks to destroy the Royal Family. Thor Odinson, true heir to the throne and banished years before, emerges as one of the leaders of the Rebellion, further endangering his family. Known publicly only as the Raven, Jane Foster, once a high-born Lady of Midgard, finds herself fighting a war when she once only desired to see the stars.
AN: This story was inspired by beautiful gifsets by the wonderful runakvaed on Tumblr. Links are on my profile. To read the story with the gifsets integrated, visit me on AO3. If you're interested, I'll probably be posting lots of extra stuff on Tumblr, so come on over rover. Without further ado...
From the ashes
She rises as she falls
Long live the queen
Chapter I. Rain Upon the Earth
Jane really needed to stop getting herself into these situations.
An arrow flew past her head, nearly shearing the hood that protected her identity. Her hand shot up reflexively to make sure the scarf covering her face was still in place.
When she found it tight and secure across everything except her eyes, her hand returned to her reins. She loosened them some more, giving Gísl her head. The large blood bay, near black, horse stretched out her neck as far as she could, but Jane still had to hold her in check. The forest floor was riddled with debris, and avoiding the obstacles wouldn't be easy at a full gallop. The horse and rider slalomed through the trees, doing their best to make is as difficult as possible for the Queen's forces to shoot at her, and even harder for the capitol-trained horses to catch up in such a difficult environment.
Jane saw a break in the trees ahead and swore loudly. A mostly flat prairie was before her, and grass only tall enough to conceal Gísl up to her chest. Changing direction would do her no good, as another scan of the area revealed the trees thinning substantially on both of her sides. No cover in whatever direction she went. Betting on Gísl's speed, Jane decided that straight ahead would be the only option.
As they drew upon the prairie, Jane spotted the forest continuing on the other side, just over a hundred yards off. Jane grinned, her mood reversing. "It's time to let loose, love," she said to her horse over the wind rushing past them. The moment they hit the prairie, Jane let the reins slide through her fingers, letting Gísl have as much slack as she could safely give her.
One reason Jane knew that she kept evading the Queen's Army was because of her horse. Gísl was fast and agile, and her huge presence was uncommon for a filly but an enormous advantage when encountering soldiers on foot.
Although, fast always seemed to be an understatement when her magnificent horse opened up. After letting out a little buck at the sheer joy of just being able to run, Gísl settled into a smooth, ground-eating gallop. Jane sat forward in the saddle, pushing her heels further down and gripping the saddle with her thighs. Her hands tangled in Gísl's black mane as Jane's torso settled low over the horse's neck. Her large, bounding strides quickly put distance between the pair and their pursuers.
However fast Gísl was, it appeared it wouldn't be fast enough to simply outrun her pursuers as their shouts grew clearer without the obstruction afforded by the forest.
Aim for the horse!
For the Queen!
Jane didn't see them, but she could hear arrows slicing through the air around them, dangerously close. The grass was steadily getting shorter as they neared the end of the clearing, giving them less and less coverage until everything except Gísl's fetlocks were exposed.
An arrow ripped through her cloak, just barely missing her side and falling to the ground beneath Gísl's churning hooves. She couldn't stop the sharp intake of breath that followed, and her sense of urgency amplified tenfold.
C'mon, just a little further, Jane mentally urged, her heart in her throat. They were so close, just a few seconds and they'd be back under the cover of the trees.
Jane felt her heart plummet from her throat to her feet when she saw a group of foot soldiers emerge from the trees she was so desperately running towards. They had several bowmen whose arrows were pointed in her direction.
So this was it. This was where her life finally ended. She couldn't help but be disappointed; she had so much to do and she would never finish it. And then there was the fear, gouging into her with its icy claws, but she'd gotten very good at ignoring that.
She kept her eyes wide open, for some reason not wanting to miss the shot that would kill her-not wanting to miss the chance to look her killer in the eye. She waited for the shot to pierce her, end it in pain and blood, but it never came.
The arrows didn't fly into her-they were flying around her.
Then there came agonized shouts from the army men who pursued her. A quick check over her shoulder revealed men being shot off their horses, bodies falling into obscurity in the tall grasses.
She didn't know who these impromptu saviors were, but they were obviously against the Queen's Army and she wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. She also didn't plan on sticking around to thank them.
She was about to urge Gísl through the line of men when a massive, jet black horse mounted by an equally impressively-sized man stepped from the shadows of the forest right in her path.
She didn't much like the idea of colliding with that horse, and while Gísl had impressive agility, they didn't have time to change direction and continue running (not to mention that it would put them in the direct path of the bowmen who could accidentally land a hit.) The only way to avoid it would be to come to a complete stop. Jane sat back in the saddle, sitting deeply and behind their momentum, gathered up the slack once more, regaining tight contact with the bit, and sawed the reins back and forth to stop the charging filly. She half-feared for a moment the high-spirited Gísl would seize the bit in her teeth and continue running headlong into the other horse.
Instead, her horse emitted a scream that terrified Jane to the core because she knew that it meant injury and a bad one at that. And Gísl didn't stop- she kept trying to run even though Jane could feel something was terribly wrong. It was one of her hind legs, but before she could decipher which one it was, they were falling. It wasn't sudden or neat-Gísl's back legs gave out before anything else, and her back end dragged the rest of her down. Jane kept enough presence of mind to kick free of the stirrups and push away from the falling horse.
Gísl's body hit the ground first, a heavy thud that struck with a finality that made Jane sick. She nearly was sick when she herself landed with a loud grunt a split second later, being sure to land on her hip and roll with the momentum, ending up facedown with a mouth full of grass. Despite her mostly correct landing, pain rippled outwards from when she landed, but it was nowhere near as serious as the injury she knew Gísl had acquired.
The cries of her initial pursuers had gone quiet, and now Jane was aware of being encircled and surrounded by whoever these people were. Looking up from where she lay, she determined they certainly weren't Queen's Army. Their armor was mismatched, and some didn't even wear any, and none of them bore Hela's crest. The only thing they had in common was a red cuff somewhere on their arms- for some it was a red cloth tied around a bicep, and for others a thick ribbon tied around their wrists. The only one who didn't have any red on his person was the man on the horse.
Jane could tell he was tall-even seated on his horse, she could tell he would make an imposing figure. Despite his rather ruddy appearance, with dark hair and unshaven face, his features were startlingly handsome; she didn't take the time to appreciate them given her current circumstances. She also couldn't shake the feeling that she'd seen him before.
Heedless of their presence but still hyper-aware of it, she crawled over to Gísl, doing her best not to sob at the pained squeals coming from her. Her legs flailed against the ground, kicking up clots of dirt and spreading small amounts of blood from a yet unknown source. Jane whispered sweet nothings trying to keep her from thrashing. Still obviously terrified, but reassured by her partner's presence, Gísl stilled. Her sides heaved in exertion, and Jane ran a calming hand along the filly's sweaty neck. Her eyes searched quickly for the source of the injury, finding it fairly quickly. One of the Queen's Army men must've landed a shot, as an arrow stuck out of the flesh above Gísl's hind left hock.
"Step away from your horse and keep your hands where we can see them," the man on the horse commanded. His voice sounded like that of a leader.
Her eyes moved from her horse, carefully noting each soldier with their weapons pointed at her. Her bow was strung around her torso beneath her cloak. It wouldn't take her very long to whip it off and start firing, but it would be suicidal with the number of opponents she faced. So Jane didn't have much of a choice. Cooperate or die. Lovely.
Gísl began to move her legs, showing the early signs of another panicked thrashing. "It's going to be okay, love, just please don't move," Jane pleaded to Gísl again, not making a move to stand.
He repeated his command, "I said stand and keep your hands up."
"I'll stand if you agree to help my horse," she bargained, meeting his eyes, her tone conveying more confidence than she felt at the moment. She didn't find any compassion in his blue eyes, and fear began to work itself into her once again.
The tall man dismounted, the ease of the action belying his size, and indicated a great amount of time spent on horseback. "If you hadn't noticed, you are in no position to be giving orders."
"I'll give you orders whether you bloody like it or not!"
That seemed to amuse him. He made a motion with his hand, his slow pace bringing him closer to her. "Off with the hood and the scarf. And give me your name while you're at it."
Instead of fulfilling both wishes, she answered, "I'm the Raven." She kept her eyes solidly focused on the huge, dark-haired man who was about seven feet away from her now, but made no move to stand yet.
With her words, whispers exploded among the men surrounding her. The scarf across her face hid her smile. Her reputation often preceded her.
"The Raven, you say?" The leader walked ever closer to her, and she remained tensed. His eyes became less guarded, she noted. "I've heard you have a message for me."
Suddenly, recognition dawned on her. This is exactly who she'd meant to find and Jane couldn't believe she'd just run into him, but with her horse groaning behind her, she didn't feel very fortuitous. "Then you've heard correctly, Thor Odinson." She stood finally, turning fully towards him.
No longer fearing for the safety of her identity, (He can be trusted, Jane) she pulled off her hood and pulled down the scarf obscuring the rest of her face.
The first thing she heard from the men surrounding her: "Bloody hell, she's a woman!"
"The Raven ain't no woman!"
Passion blazed within her as she stood and turned towards the speakers. Jane tilted her head as she studied them, a plan quickly formulating in her mind. Quick as a blink, and much faster than anyone could stop her, she removed her bow, snagging an arrow from her quiver as she went. Nocking it and drawing it back in a single motion, Jane fired. Several of the men had gasped in shock, and fumbled with their weapons to take her down at what Jane saw as a glacial pace.
The second one who spoke, the one who attributed her skill to manhood, found his arrow shattered, knocked from the bow. In the next second, Jane had fired another arrow and he found the floppy cap on his head gone.
She kept herself low to the ground in case anyone was thinking of trying to fire at her. She noticed that Thor's only reaction to her was to be amused, his lips curling in a smile. She found her own drawn into a similar action.
"What's this now about the Raven not being a woman?"
12 Months Earlier
Shadows crept along the palace walls as though they were entities of the shifting moonlight. They seemed to warp and bend as if under control around a singular figure, features disguised under a green cloak.
Another figure cut through the shadows. This cloak was white and sheer, and the sharp, blue features of an Ice Elven woman could be seen through the glittering fabric.
When they met in the middle of the dark, deserted hall, the figure in green spoke first. "Is the deed done?"
The elf said in reply, "Yes. She is gone. The dark son went unawares. He will wake to his mother's blood."
"Good work, Elphane. You will be richly rewarded for your service."
Elphane's answering smile was greedy. "Will this be a traditional reward or something perhaps-" she moved towards the figure, blatant seduction in her voice and posture, "more mutually pleasurable?"
The green-swathed figure stepped forward, an obvious participant in the game they played. "While that sounds like an excellent plan," it said quietly, roughly, "I cannot dally this night. Traditional payment it will have to be."
Elphane only looked disappointed for a moment. "I cannot find it in myself to complain about that. Do you require my... true services further this night?"
The green figure shook its head. "No. You have done well and may return home. I will send for you soon. Long live the queen."
Elphane concluded in farewell, "Long live the queen."
It was in a town square in Vanaheim that his life truly fell to pieces.
If he'd once thought that his banishment would be the end of him...
A message runner, rare nowadays but still used for major events, galloped into town upon a small stallion. He shouted, "I bring news! News from Asgard! News from the capitol!" The horse and rider came to a halt in the middle of the town square. The horse's nostrils flared for breath, sweat coating his chest and flanks. His teeth worked the bit in his mouth, foam dripping from his lips. "Someone care for the horse!" called the messenger, and a few of the townsfolk scurried to fetch water for drink and sheepskins to rub him down.
Those in the square gathered around like moth to the flame, all but he, the one man who stalked behind the crowds leading a magnificent black horse away from the spectacle and towards the road that would lead out of the town. "I bring dire news from Asgard. On the tail of losing so many of the Royal Family, it is with a heavy heart that I tell you the Fourth Family has fallen."
His world shuddered to a halt.
He turned towards the commotion, and his voice carried across the distance, "What of the Fourth Family? What happened?" He walked closer to the messenger, his large horse making the people part for him; Sleipnir was an imposing presence, always had been.
The messenger finds who asked the question. "Princess Frigga is dead. We hope and pray that she has joined her husband, the late Prince Odin, in Valhalla." Murmurs rippled through the gathered people, terrified whispers and conspiracy theories began circling, among the reverent chants of 'May they rest in peace.' Trying to regain control, the messenger followed with, "The Queen has assured the people it was natural causes that led to this tragic fate."
He bristled. Because anything the Queen says is the absolute truth.
"What of the Princess's son?" he asked urgently. His heart was beating quickly in his chest and his blood rushed loudly in his ears.
A laugh rippled through those gathered. "Surely you've known Prince Thor has been banished for years!" answered the messenger with mirth, now dismounting his horse.
"I meant the other son," he replied darkly. Must they always insist on forgetting him.
The messenger didn't look concerned. "His condition was not a part of my message."
Not a part of the message. Forgotten like he didn't matter.
Never in his life had Thor been so afraid.
Jane Foster had been greatly confused by many things in her lifetime - her first studies of the stars, the first time she sighted the Aurora, men, why her mother had kept insisting she not take that tone with her suitors - but none as profoundly as this dress.
"Do the people of Asgard insist that brides be unable to breathe?" Jane ground out in frustration as the two lady's-maids behind her tightened the corset further than the one trapped inside had ever thought possible.
"Dear, this dress style is at the height of fashion right now!" her mother scolded. Jane rolled her eyes, her back to the eldest female Foster. How in the world was she supposed to know that? "While you have a pleasing waistline, you can never have too much help," her mother intoned pointedly.
"Yes, you so enjoy reminding me that you had to practically beg Lord Donald to take me as his wife," she said, now mock-imitating her mother's voice. "Heaven forbid that Laurel Foster's daughter marry a commoner. No, I must go to the capitol and find a lord of high standing, good breeding, and sleep-inducing conversation to take my daughter off my hands."
"That's quite enough lip from you, young lady." Her mother came to stand next to the seamstress, watching the lady's-maids try to suffocate her. Laurel continued, "You're lucky I am so close to Lady Heather. Otherwise, you would never have even met Donald-"
"And what a tragedy that would have been," Jane mumbled, panicking a little when her ribcage wouldn't expand for another breath.
"-and you are lucky that such a fine man is willing to put up with you and your moods," Laurel finished, acting as though she hadn't heard Jane.
Jane snorted the best she could, since the corset was next to strangling her. "My sincerest apology if my opinions are considered moods. Last I was aware, I was just as smart as any man. Smarter even." The maids began dragging the dress up her body, sheathing her in heavy lace and silk.
As they laced up the back of the dress, Jane refused to look at herself in the mirror in front of her. She knew the image she saw would make her feel at least twice as suffocated as the corset did. She kept her gaze securely on her right hand, fisted at her side.
Laurel made a frustrated sound. "That is the kind of talk that will drive a husband from you like a horse's tail drives the fly." She studied her daughter with a critical eye, now fully dressed in what she would wear on her wedding day minus the extra trappings of the veil, and turned to the seamstress. "I'd like you to take it in another two inches."
Jane's face flicked to where her mother stood with fire in her eyes. "What? No! It's fine!" Her arms closed protectively around herself as if she could shield herself from her mother's machinations.
"It may be fine right now, but sweetling, have you seen the other women who have vied for Donald's affections? Women of Asgard are so much thinner and prettier than woman of Midgard! You must work to keep up!"
Jane swallowed back the angry tears that just begged to come out, but she remained silent, and her eyes returned to her fist.
Hours later, dress and corset long gone, Jane reveled in the feel of her vest, pants, and boots rather than the confining clothes of a Court Lady, and perhaps best of all, her bow in her hands. The bowstring humming with tension against her calloused fingertips always helped calm her. The snick of an arrow being nocked, the twang and whistle of the release and seeing the head buried in the target did more for her nerves than almost anything.
However, it didn't always negate the need to just yell.
"I just can't believe her!" Jane nearly shouted as she loosed another arrow, striking the center of one of the several targets on a tree some thirty feet away from her.
"Yes, I've always known that your mom's a little insane, but that's roughly ten miles past too far," Darcy sympathized. While her bow might be a good outlet for her anger, her best friend was the best outlet for her frustration.
Jane was grateful for the younger woman's company and counsel. They'd met each other when they were young, before Jane's father had begun to travel so much and before her mother had condemned her study of the stars. Jane, barely out of her childhood, had been attempting to build a device that would allow her to examine the stars, to see them closer; it was to be much like seeing an ordinary item with a magnifying glass. Jane told everyone what she was doing much to her mother's horror and embarrassment. Darcy Lewis was the first (and only) one to say how incredible that was and asked how she could help. They had been inseparable ever since. Even though Jane didn't get the scope working well until her late teens, Darcy had been at her side the entire time.
Jane's family really didn't approve of their friendship- Jane was technically born a Court Lady, but living in Midgard made them rather far removed from the actual Royal Court of Asgard. Jane didn't even want the title and tried to forget about it most days. Meanwhile, Darcy came from a respected family of farming peasants. Despite her mother's meddling, Jane had never found the class divisions off-putting. In fact, she loved going down to the valley, to the Lowtown with the rest of the farmers, blacksmiths, grocers, and shopkeeps and spending her time there rather than with the rest of the 'high-borns.' In the Lowtown, the parties were always rowdy and fun, with flowing ale and good spirits. Parties with those her mother deemed 'proper' were always stifling affairs, with an undercurrent of tension because everyone had secrets to keep and backs to stab.
"She keeps going on and on about Asgard's women being so thin and how Donald will be expecting me to be 'Asgard thin.' That's what Laurel calls it. More like skin and bones to me. I mean, I look... okay, right?" Jane appealed to Darcy.
Nodding vigorously, "Oh yeah. Seven shades of heaven, that body. Also your face is made of sunshine."
Jane laughed at Darcy's words. After remaining silent for a beat, she said, half-joking and half-serious, "I'm jealous of your life."
Darcy shrugged as another arrow left Jane's bow. "I would be too. My mother isn't crazy like yours, I haven't gotten typhus yet like everyone else, and Ian is fantastically subservient." Ian, of course, was Darcy's husband. They were wed last spring and were 'still in the honeymoon phase' according to Darcy. Jane had cried at the wedding and thrown flower petals on the happy couple. It had been one of the best days of Jane's life, watching her best friend so happy.
Jane smiled, laughing again. The action felt good; she didn't do either nearly enough anymore. "You got one of the good ones, Darce."
A silence descended upon them. Neither liked to acknowledge Jane's impending marriage, as it was a great deal more serious than Jane having to lose a few more pounds just to please a man she had no desire to be in the company of, let alone marry.
"So how 'bout that Rebellion, eh?" Darcy segued, obviously not wanting to dwell on the things unsaid.
Jane rolled her eyes. "Doomed to fail, probably. The way the army's growing, they'll probably have them rooted out in a matter of months." That seemed to make Darcy go quiet for a few moments. Jane moved her eyes from the targets riddled with arrows to her friend. Her face was reticent, contemplative and worried in a way Jane rarely saw. "What is it, Darce?"
Darcy licked her lips before nearly forcing out, "You remember Khal, yeah?"
Jane lowered her bow, turning bodily to Darcy now. "Yeah. He and Tamara just had a baby girl, right?"
She nodded. "He's missing," she managed.
With that, Jane dropped her bow on the ground, rushing to Darcy's side and dropping to her knees. She didn't really know how to respond, "Are... are you sure?" Of all the ridiculous things she could've said...
But Darcy didn't seem bothered. "Tam said he got up this morning to feed the pigs. That shouldn't take long, right? So Tam heads out to look for him. The pigs weren't fed, and Khal was nowhere to be found. She's getting scared, Jane, and Tam doesn't scare easily."
Swallowing heavily, Jane made herself more comfortable on the grass next to Darcy. "How many people is that now?"
"Seven. Everyone has their theories. Ian... Ian said he thinks its the queen."
Jane stiffened. It wasn't as if she hadn't heard the rumors. And despite the efforts of the high-borns, no one quite forgot exactly how Queen Hela came to power. "Be... be careful with what you say Darcy."
"Who's going to hear us out here? Man, that tree stump looks awfully like a Queensagent, don't you think?"
"It doesn't matter if there's a Queensagent!" Jane snapped. "Talk like that gets you taken or worse. You have to be careful."
"Yet it doesn't seem to matter if we're careful, does it? You don't live in the Lowtown, Jane, and god knows I love you to death for adopting us, but you don't know what it's like for us. People are scared to take a single breath because it might mean they get arrested." Or publicly flogged. Or executed. Those last two always went unsaid.
Darcy was right in some regard. Jane, while held in high esteem with a good number of them, wasn't a born Lowtowner. She lived on the Valley Rim with the rest of the high-borns, and despite everything she wished, she was still technically one of them.
The lavish parties thrown saw Jane stepping into horribly uncomfortable ball gowns, putting on a mask of complacency and idiocy and doing her best to not piss off her mother. She'd gotten worse at those things as she grew older and less patient with the way she was treated. What she was afforded at these functions was a different perspective of the Queen's regime. "I know. Living on the Rim is different-everyone says they adore Hela, but half of the things these people say are outright lies. They're constantly lying and manipulating for social status, and what better way to weasel their way into the capitol Court than lavish praise on the Queen whenever there's a Queensagent in earshot. And the Queensagents are crawling all over the Rim, constantly. It's a nightmare." Jane sagged towards the ground, feeling heavier after getting that off her chest rather than lighter. "If the Rebellion is going to succeed, they've got a hell of a job ahead of them."
Darcy smiled wistfully. "Even if they don't make any sort of impact... at least it's making people think, making them open their eyes." She paused for a beat. "Makes you wonder... wonder if maybe things won't always have to be the way they are, you know? That maybe it wouldn't be so impossible to stand up and say no."
Jane finally sat down next to Darcy, sighing. "Maybe." She turned to her friend, humor on her face, eager to shake the solemn attitude that had descended. "It's not like I'll be doing any fighting, right?"
Her joke did the trick, and Darcy smiled, chuckling. "You might be good with your bow, but yeah, you couldn't hurt a fly."
Preview of Chapter II: Rain Upon the Silence
"At ease, men. She is no threat if you refrain from insulting her," Thor called out. A few of the men looked uncertain before lowering their bows and swords.
The one who was now hatless didn't look so keen. "Not a threat? She coulda taken off my head!"
Jane's heated glare turned back towards him. "Would you still like me to?"