The prince thought the chandelier was quite beautiful. It was a bit gaudy, a bit too gigantic to the point of being tacky, but it was dazzling as well. Perched high above the ballroom floor, it hung a full thirty feet from the ceiling, all sparkling crystal and bits of gleaming metal. It was almost as wide as it was tall, the interconnected pieces held out from the center by huge circles of different sizes, separated by an alternating sequence of rings that grew fatter towards the center then narrowed to each end.
Prince Hector Brightblade always enjoyed strolling through the ballroom and glancing up at that monstrosity. It gave him immense pride at the accomplishments of his family. The Brightblades were one of the oldest lines of royalty he had ever heard tell or read. Hector knew his history well. It was his favorite subject in school and he devoured books about history one after the other.
Passing a large mirror, he stopped to study himself. It was a good thing he did. His cloak, black silk exterior with a thick red stenciled interior, was skewed about his shoulders. He could ill afford to have that. Not today.
His dark brown hair was short enough to require very little attention. His face some might call pudgy and the slight widow's peak and clean-shaven cheeks he had gave the impression of even more flesh to his face. His eyes were close together and smallish but held a keen intellect.
Hector straightened his cloak and moved on.
As he walked through the kitchen, the preparations around him continued. Cooks and various servants bowed to him as he passed by. They will bow much lower some day, he thought.
On the ground floor, it was easy to access both the outer wall and then the rear entrance to the entire castle compound. Hector used it often. He pulled his cloak tighter about his shoulders to better hide his identity. To any onlooker he would appear as any nondescript man in a black cloak. Everyone wore them.
Outside the outer wall was a dirt trail that led into familiar woods. Hector knew them well. He was forced into hunting there as a younger man by his older brothers and his father, the king. Hector thought it a waste of time. But the trees were bountiful and thick of trunk and full of bright colored leaves.
Minutes later, he approached a group of shady looking men, ruffians of the lowest caliber and perfect for Hector's uses. One of them was leaning up against a tree, munching an apple. The three of them looked ready to draw weapons as Hector walked up closer but relaxed when he stopped and took off his hood.
The man standing against the tree spit out an apple seed. "About time you showed up," he said.
Hector eyed the man. He saw no reason to explain himself to them. He pulled a small sack out of his belt pouch and tossed it on the ground.
"Here is the first of two payments," Hector said. "Upon completion of the task, you will receive the other."
The apple eater motioned to one of the others. The man stepped forward and snatched the bag off the ground and handed it to the first man. He tossed away the apple and rifled through the bag. He glanced up at Hector.
"And we get the rest when the job is finished?"
"I believe that is what I stated," Hector said. "Be at the allotted place and proper time and you will be rewarded for your efforts. Wait for my signal."
With that, he left them and went back to his home.