It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. To place you in context without giving away too much of this story's point of view, I'll say it started in a cold winter, where the forest had become a labyrinth of snow and ice.
The gusting wind blew thick flurries to sweep away the hunter's tracks, but buried along with them any signs of potential quarry.
Hunger had brought him farther from the castle than he usually risked, but winter was the hard time. The animals had pulled in, going deeper into the woods than most hunters could follow.
He wasn't just any hunter though.
Leandro 'Lance' McClain had been raised in peasantry, son of a sick woman and a man with high expectations, multiple siblings, many people to make up to, expectations to fulfill.
He'd been hunting since he was old enough to hold a bow and shoot an arrow to a moving target, therefore it was no surprise he'd been recognized in the village as the best one at the job, and eventually his reputation made it's way to commander Shiro's ears, captain of Daibazaal's royal guard.
He was still surprised he got to see royalty almost every day now, but of course, he was just barely more than a villager. He'd never get noticed by the scary king or his spoiled - yet handsome - son. And that's just what he wanted.
You think he'd support his family with just a hunter salary? At night, when all maids and most centuries were long gone to their respective households, the dark skinned boy snuck into the castle and took a few things.
Or it was like that in the beginning.
His mother's weird disease had worsened by the years and what he gained from the small jewelery on the walls just wasn't enough.
This time, with his dark clothing, mask covering his nose and jaw, only his bright eyes left to be seen as deep royal blue in the moonlight, he went further. Overstepped. He'd been seen sometimes by a few guards who now called him the blue spark as his eyes were the only thing they saw before being knocked out.
He wasn't scared, just slightly under pressure due to getting closer and closer to the royal chambers, where he knew crown jewels were kept. He needed the money, he repeated himself over and over as he catched the gold glimmer in the corner of his eye, quietly approaching them as an inevitable feeling of guilt went up his stomach.
Prince Keith knew the layout of the Castle like the back of his hand. He had discovered every nook and cranny, every far off hallway and secret chamber.
He'd spent most of his youth hiding, hiding from his father, his guards, even his own servants.
Things had changed when he'd gotten older. Always watched, except for those occasional meetings alone with his father. None of the staff ever said anything about it, but they could all see the bruises and scratches, the physical damage on his body everytime he came back out of that chamber. That was his own weight to carry.
Besides, they were always his own fault. For every mistake he made in public, a bruise. For everytime he showed emotion, another cut. It was quite simple. Don't mess up, stay safe.
It had been a few weeks since he'd fucked up last. He had failed to use the appropriate title for one of his Lords. His father.. He hadn't been happy. But that wasn't important.
What was important was that he needed to get ready for the royal visit tomorrow, where they would receive the Prince from their neighbouring kingdom. Keith had never really liked him, but since they were guests, he had to be nice. That was expected of him. He sighed and walked on, back from his study to finally get some well deserved rest.
He was almost there, when he heard something. Huh? It was way too late for any servant to be roaming around, and the guards wouldn't make their rounds for another half an hour. Who was it?
It seemed to be coming from the treasure room, which was in the hallway next to his own. He made a detour, just to check. It was probably nothing.
He froze when he saw the door stand ajar. That should be closed. He made his way over, and opened it further.
Gold coins, rubies, emeralds, chains. The 'Blue Spark' had already saved multiple things on his belt compartments and pockets when the faint sound of steps approaching the room created a cold shiver down his spine.
He'd normally waited to attack first and ask questions later, but the uneasiness of not knowing who it was told him it was better to hide, and so he did.
He had just enough time to place himself behind a huge treasure box, letting the pitch black hooded cloak blend him with the rather dark room. He held a fancy mirror, using it to see what the person in that room would do without exposing himself to the open as he tried to contain his breath.
The faint flickers thrown by the torches in the hallway cascaded off the glimmering coins, gems and other treasures inside the room, but it seemed to be abandoned otherwise.
Keith sighed deeply after realising he'd been holding his breath during all of this. He was just being paranoid. But he didn't leave yet.
Instead, he walked into the middle of the room, kicking away some golden coins at his feet accidentally, which made a clattering sound that echoed through the room.
All these riches, and still he was.. empty. He knew some parts of the kingdom lived in poverty, and he wished he could do something about that. But he couldn't.
Inequality was necessary for a kingdom to thrive, his father always said. You can't have riches without poverty. You can't have light without shadows. You can't have happiness without pain. And you couldn't be trained without pain.
He bit his lip and stood there for a while, unable to shake the feeling that something was off. He didn't come here that often, not feeling the need to remind himself of their wealth, but still.. There was something different.
His eyes narrowed slightly, and he walked over to a table with a heavy stone bust which vaguely resembled his great grandmother, who had died many years previously. He didn't know much about her, aside from the fact that she'd been obsessed with clothes, and looking fancy, and.. and juwelry.
The ruby necklace, usually draped over her stone neck, wasn't there. He traced his fingers over the stone, trying to remember if it had been missing before. Maybe it had been taken away for cleaning or something.
The moment the red clothing, pale skin and - utterly obnoxious - mullet were reflected on the mirror, Leandro 'Lance' McClain's heart stopped beating, paralyzed in shock.
Out of everyone, it had to be fucking royalty? The fact that with just one mistake he could be sued and hanged made this at least ten times ten more difficult.
He really wished he had his bow right now, not to hurt him, since he would never be able to live a calm life if a scratch on his pretty skin was made because of him, but because he could use it to his advantage.
However, any good hunter or any thief was resourceful, and he was both.
The treasure box he was hiding next to was close enough to the prince, and as he saw him getting lost by the missing jewel the thief had now in his pocket, he steadied his breathing before taking the chance.
In a quick, not too loud movement he charged to him from behind before he could even turn, shutting his mouth before he could scream, placing the sharp, cold edge of his dagger before he could even breathe.
"Shhh..." He whispered behind his ear, through the mask that kept his identity hidden from the world. "Cooperate, and you'll go to bed completely unharmed."