Although the Asgardian was ancient beyond belief, once something caught his interest, he showed all the single-minded tenacity of a four-year old. When she came home from work on Monday, Jane found him watching videos of various Highland games on YouTube. On Tuesday, she found him behind the apartment building practicing the shot put with a boulder the size of a Cooper Mini. He's homesick, she told herself. He misses his people and their way of life. He had walked among the stars that she could only gaze at from millions of miles away. She felt strangely sad and inadequate until he saw her watching and gave her that radiant smile.
The games were in Albuquerque, over two hundred miles away, so they left before dawn on Saturday. Darcy had to study for her finals and the professor was at a symposium in Austin, so it was just the two of them. The desert air was cool and still, and Sacramento Peak was black against the jeweled sky. On the summit stood the Apache Point Observatory with its ARC 3.5 meter telescope. Though the instrument could be operated remotely over the Internet, Jane loved to sit alone in its gleaming, weighty presence, lulled by the whir of its motors and the wondrous precision of its movements. She felt closer if not to God then at least to the stars.
The roads were deserted at such an early hour, so they rolled along at well above the speed limit. The sky paled to gray then to amber. Around them, the broken ridges glowed salmon pink, and jagged boulders were edged with purple shadow.
"This land looks like the ancient work of giants," Thor told her. "Your world is a strange and beautiful place."
"It is, isn't it?" she told him with a smile. "And the desert is even more amazing up close. It looks utterly barren, but it is full of wildlife that has adapted to survive there." She told him about the cacti that served as prickly rain barrels and how the animals hid from the sun, coming out only after dark.
"And so it is in my world," the Asgardian said. "There are few places where nothing lives or grows. Even in Niflheimr, where the Frost Giants dwell, there is moss growing under the ice."
The long drive passed quickly as they talked and listened to music. Jane knew they were near the Highland games when they started seeing "Scotland's Depraved" bumper stickers. After parking the van in a field, they queued up at the entrance to buy tickets. Several crows sat perched on the fence, watching the crowd. One seemed to stare at Thor and Jane, its head cocked to one side, then it flew away. Nearby, several bagpipers practiced several different pieces all at once, sounding like a swarm of angry bees.
After buying their tickets, Thor and Jane went to the field where the athletic events were to be held. They didn't want to attract unwanted attention, so he promised to keep his performance well within mortal limits. Besides, the Asgardian said, it would be dishonorable to take such unfair advantage of his opponents.
"I am here to compete in the games of strength and skill," the thunder god told the official in charge of athletics.
"I am called Thor Odinson."
"I'm sorry, sir, but I don't see your name on the list. Did you send in your registration? You were supposed to register in advance," the official told him.
Thor struck his forehead with the palm of his hand and muttered an Asgardian profanity. A low rumble of thunder drifted from the cloudless sky.
"You're not from around here, are you?" the official asked.
"He's come all the way from Minnesota," Jane said quickly, hoping this would explain his odd behavior. "I don't suppose you could make an exception just this once?"
The official shrugged. "Well, since you've come all the way from Minnesota." And he handed Thor some forms to fill out.
The competition did not start for another hour, so after the paperwork was done, they had time to wander among the merchants' booths. Not surprisingly, Thor gravitated toward the tables of daggers and swords, while Jane browsed among the books and maps. There were merchants selling Scottish clothing, and at Jane's urging, Thor tried on a kilt. When he stepped out of the makeshift dressing room, every woman-and more than a few men-within sight stopped to stare. Thor in a kilt was stunning, even with his Foo Fighters T-shirt and athletic shoes.
"That looks great," Jane told him, eying his rear end appreciatively as he turned around for her inspection.
"This skirt would be good for mountain climbing," he told her. "But not so good for riding."
To Jane's regret, Thor changed back into his jeans, and they continued along the street of booths. The air was filled with the smell of grilled sausages and sweet fried dough.
"Funnel cakes are good," Jane told him as they passed the funnel cake stand. "They are like doughnuts. But greasier and bigger."
The next booth was painted in black and a garish green. A large sign read "World Famous Haggis and Chips—Freya's Secret Recipe." At the window, a slight, dark-haired man stood taking orders from a long line of customers.
"Haggis and chips? That sounds disgusting," Jane said.
Thor turned to look. "What's a haggis?" he began to say but stopped in mid sentence. "Loki!" he hissed and started toward the haggis and chips booth.
"Your brother?" She remembered what had happened the last time the siblings met. "Maybe we should just leave." Jane tried to catch at his arm, but he was walking too fast. Ignoring the line of customers, he went straight to the window.
The dark-haired man was counting out dollar bills and did not even look up. "Please wait in line, sir," he said in a very bad Scottish accent.
"Loki, what are you doing here?" Thor spat out.
The dark-haired man gave him a look of wide-eyed innocence and laughed. "What does it look like? Selling haggis. And it's about time you showed up. I've been waiting."