‘You wanna do something fun?’- the man’s words still reverberated in Shawn’s mind. He had started to dread that question after the previous adventures he had. His friends seemed to always have an insurmountable list of things to do. Some appearing reasonable only after a few shots of tequila.
Shawn felt this time was no different- mainly because Harry, the most extreme of their group, was raising the question tonight. Surprisingly, however, the plan was tamer than ever before.
‘Shawn!’- the loud voice pulled the man out of his thoughts. Shawn found himself staring at an old bookcase, books scattered around the shelves, their backs bearing names of classics the man has read at least once. He must have drifted off while trying to think of a solution.
‘Come on man, we only have seven minutes left’ Harry said pointing at an hourglass, the sand grains falling in a constant stream. The hour was almost up and most of it was gone by messing around after getting into the final room. They must solve this. It was Shawn’s element after all- mysteries and puzzles.
Live a little- was the often comeback to any and all Shawn’s attempts at protesting to the group’s plans. He would usually prefer mystery books, tea and a cosy bean bag to fall into over a night out of partying or extreme stunts his friends would like to pull. Yet, he felt that hanging out with the group gave a different excitement that books could not provide. An excitement, making him feel as if his whole entity and soul is being ripped out of his body, as if some shell. And yet still, an excitement.
Shawn took a step back from the huge wooden bookcase to the middle of the room and glanced around. There were still three puzzles left to solve. All intertwined, nonetheless.
‘What do you have in mind this time’ Shawn asked with as much liveliness as a cat woken up from its nap. Already mentally preparing, he met Harry’s gaze, with a glint of mischievousness.
‘Well, I thought that the five of us could kick off the evening with something light. Maybe a couple of tequila shots and stealing the crown of king Richard the third’ Harry said matter-of-factly.
The oblong room seemed to be fit for a king. Tall ceilings, a brilliant crystal chandelier hanging off of it and casting a bright light onto the rugs and animal furs beneath on the floor. The bookcase stood tall by one of the far walls, onlooking a great bed on the opposite side of the room- exactly where they found the first of the three keys needed to unlock the door burrowed into the leg of the bed. The long walls were dabbled with paintings of king Richard the Third and his many stories. Apart from these main sections that Shawn narrowed down, the surrounding area was full of furniture, pieces of armor, weapons- all imitations of course but it added to the authenticity of the room.
‘So, you want to go and visit a museum. That’s shocking’ Shawn replied with a chuckle. He was used to how Harry would throw out outrageous ideas on the table for them to only fizzle out into something much simpler. ‘Next thing I know, you’ll be sitting in a rocking chair and smoking a pipe.’
‘What do you mean? I already smoke one’ Harry said, bending his back and taking small, slow steps, using a ruler as a walking stick. Finishing up with his Oscar-worthy performance, Harry straightened up and sat on a nearby desk.
‘Wait, did you say five of us?’ Shawn thought back to Harry’s master plan for the evening. Their group was made up of four guys- both themselves included, their companions were Aaron, the tallest of them all, and Brandon, with a Herculean body. ‘Who’s joining us?’
‘Well spotted my dear Watson. Glad to see those grey brain cells of yours haven’t fallen asleep yet’ Harry said, imitating taking a puff from a smoking pipe. ‘A professional dancer friend of mine, Sharon, is coming for a visit from London.’
‘Shawn, concentrate or I’ll make you dance’ Harry said glaring at him. And that seemed to work as Shawn was pulled out of his deep thoughts. Being 'encouragingly' made to dance, wasn’t on Shawn’s bucket list. Especially not in front of Sharon.
‘Guys, there are levers on the wall. The paintings are hanging on them.’ Hearing Brandon, Aaron began checking the paintings on the opposite wall.
‘There is nothing like that over he…’ Aaron cut off as he removed one of the paintings, revealing a safe. The safe’s door showed 4 slots with selectable numbers zero to nine. ‘I think we need a date.’
Everyone began looking around and naming dates that were visible on the paintings. 1452- King Richard’s birth, 1485- his death and dates of many battles envisioned in the tapestries. Nothing seemed to work.
‘Forget about that for now. The paintings have drastically different weights’ Brandon said weighing two paintings before swiftly putting all four in order from lightest to heaviest, with some help from Harry. Everyone stayed silent as if hoping to hear a click of some sort but only the falling sand grains were audible, which now showed only 4 minutes remaining.
Brandon and Harry were about to rearrange the paintings as a last-ditch effort, when Sharon, who was quietly keeping a keen eye on everything since entering the room, gasped.
‘Put the paintings against the light’ she said, snatching one and doing exactly that. Hidden lines appeared that were difficult to interpret until all four paintings were present.
‘It’s a crown’ Sharon said, without hesitation jumping up and putting the painting in her possession onto a lever second to the left. The guys followed suit, hanging the rest of the paintings, after which a pop was heard, revealing a number above each painting, followed by clattering on the ground. They had the second key.
‘1532’ everyone said almost at the same time. Aaron rushed to the safe and selected the numbers. To everyone’s dismay, the safe was still locked.
‘What else could it be for’ Shawn wondered. The date was outside of king Richard’s lifetime. ‘Unless…’
Shawn rushed to the bookcase, rummaging through the books. One after the other until he stopped. There it was written on the back of the book- 1532 The Prince. Machiavelli’s guide to princes. Not even hearing the others rushing him, Shawn opened the book, looking through the content page.
‘Hereditary principalities. Liberality and Parsimony. No…’ Shawn kept looking with the creeping feeling of the running time. ‘There- chapters on war, 12 to 14. Enter 1214!’
Quickly, Aaron put the numbers in and another pop echoed through the room. The safe opened, revealing the last key. Quickly grabbing it, everyone rushed to the door, putting in and turning all three keys.
The keys made a loud click and the door was ajar. They stepped into a dark room with the only illumination coming from a podium, with a cushion and a crown on top of it.
‘You saved the day’ Harry said with a light jab into Shawn’s side. ‘Sometimes all you need is just to pull yourself out of your head and live. But how did you know which numbers to choose?’
'King Richard died during a war' Shawn said pointing at a painting in the room behind them. 'Seems ironic how Machiavelli's encouragement to princes to seek war was the solution to the last puzzle. I wonder what Richard would have thought if he had a chance to read that book.'
'I guess we will never know' Harry said taking a step forward without hesitation. 'But I do know one thing- the crown is finally mine' he shouted triumphantly.
Thinking aback- reading stories, keeping to himself has nourished him. But perhaps there was truth in Harry's words- it is time to be more outward and direct. Worry less, act more.
‘I’m the king of the world’ Harry’s shouted, putting the crown on his head. The guys went first to congratulate or, more likely, pay their respects to the new king, leaving Shawn and Sharon behind.
Feeling a new chapter opening, Shawn turned to Sharon.
‘So, you wanna do something fun? Shawn asked. ‘Promise not to step on your toes too much’ he continued with a smile.
‘Promise to step back on yours, if it does happen’ Sharon replied, returning a smile.