Within two days, Marc had been able to secure Shep—now disguised as a member of the aristocracy fallen on hard times—and Jay—a strapping young boy suited for mercenary involvement—jobs in the city guard. Through pulling some strings, Marc was able to insure that their first assignment was at the potentate’s estate. This was how Shep and Jay came to be standing outside an unmarked door, inconspicuous aside from the faint blue light creeping under the crack.
“This must be it,” Shep whispered, his eyebrows raised in mild surprise.
“I can’t believe Marc actually found it!” Jay whispered back. After having walked so far to find the sheep in the Scattered Isles, it almost felt like cheating to find a sheep so soon after finding another sheep by pure chance.
Shep put his hand to the smooth, darkly-wooded door, running his hand along the grain. He turned to Jay, a little crazy ringing his eyes. “Should we try it?” Without waiting for a response, he reached toward the round golden knob, tried to turn it, and gave a carefree shrug when it wouldn’t budge. “Locked,” he said simply.
“Who has the key?” Jay asked, peeking at the key hole.
“Probably that man we met out front who told us where to stand. You know… the one we completely ignored?” Shep answered a mischievous smile tugging at his lips. His long, unruly beard had been neatly trimmed as part of his disguise.
“Why do you think he would have the keys?” Jay asked, confused.
“Well, he probably doesn’t, not after I stole them from him!” A bit of childish glee snuck into Shep’s voice as he dangled a think key ring, heavy with keys in front of Jay’s face.
It was Jay’s turn to raise his eyebrows in surprise. “Our old Shep? A thief?” He covered his mouth and giggled as quietly as he could. “Quick, let’s open it!”
Shep grimaced. “That might be easier said than done. There’s a lot of keys on this ring.”
So, one by one, the pair tested every key, skipping the heavy iron keys or tiny silver keys that were obviously incorrect. Jay jumped at every sound, peering over his shoulder in case a guard—or worse, the potentate himself—passed by. No one came by, however, and at last, one of the keys opened the door. Jay sighed with relief, wiping a thin sheen of sweat off of his brow.
Shep peered around, and then pushed through the door into a small antechamber beyond. The room was lit by the strange bluish light that had illuminated the cave.
Despite the rich appearance of the wallpaper and carpet, the room was sparsely furnished. There was a short wooden couch of a rich, dark mahogany. On a matching table rested an unlit ceramic lamp; a rough maple hairbrush, with a few dark hairs still twined around the teeth; and hand-mirror with a few sapphires set into its mother-of-pearl handle. Also on the table was a dagger that looked just like the one Cabot had been searching for. A fine layer of dust covered the table. Written in this dust was a single word: choose.
Seeing no other option—other than leaving the same way they had entered—Shep and Jay considered the items on the table.
“What do you think we’re choosing for?” asked Jay.
“It’s hard to tell,” Shep said, pursing his lips. “Most likely another puzzle. The Enchantress mentioned that this sheep would be the hardest to find.”
“You don’t suppose we could take all four items, do you?” Jay asked, rubbing his neck. He stared at the items as if he was trying to read their thoughts.
"I think that would be a very bad idea," Shep said, a bit a laughter in his eyes as if he was envisioning all the terrible things that would happen if they cheated the system.
"Then which should we choose?" Jay's eyes were drawn to the dagger, knowing that the Enchantress had tasked Cabot with finding that very dagger. It must be important. Right?
"I'm not sure, but I'm almost positive that the dagger is the wrong choice." Shep's voice had an edge of disapproval to it. He must have noticed Jay looking at the dagger.
"The Enchantress has never truly wanted to send me into a situation where I was bound to get hurt. If I happen to get hurt, that's no big deal to her, but as far as I know, she doesn't intend for it to happen. And being the first to bring a knife to a fistfight is always a bad idea." He gave Jay a significant look.
"Which one do you think we should take then?" Jay asked hotly, crossing his arms.
"They are all quite intriguing. Someone with less knowledge of this task might take the the lamp, thinking that the path ahead might be dark and windowless. However, we both know that the blue light which surrounds the hiding places of the sheep are light full-through with the magic light we can see faintly here."
Jay nodded. "That leaves us with the mirror and the hairbrush."
"We've ruled out the most likely things for someone to choose," mused Shep, pulling at his newly-trimmed beard. "Perhaps the correct item is the most unlikely choice."
"How do you know an unlikely choice? What if the fact that it is unlikely makes it all the more likely?" Jay sat down on the mahogany couch, glaring at the items as if they had just said something uncouth about his mother.
Shep joined him, lowering himself slowly onto the couch. "I can see why they added this couch," he said conversationally. "This is going to take quite a bit of thought."
They sat in silence, pondering each choice they could make.
Jay groaned, pounding his head in frustration. "What if they're all the right choice? Or what if none of them are correct? What if we're just walking straight into a trap? We have no idea what's coming!"
But suddenly they heard footsteps in the hallway. Shep grabbed the mirror and used it to peer around the wall into the hallway. His face grew pale.
"A guard is what's coming. And he looks livid. We had better choose now." Shep set the mirror back on the table and shut the door quietly.
Jay instinctively reached for the hairbrush. "This is the only one of them that seems imperfect. It doesn't fit. It doesn't look costly or expensive. It sticks out like a sore thumb." He grabbed the hairbrush and waited for something to happen, but nothing did.
Cursing under his breath, Shep took the brush from Jay and announced in a strong baritone that resonated around the walls, “We have made our choice!”
With an almost imperceptible ripping sound, a section of the wallpaper peeled off the wall, revealing a doorway leading into a dark passage way. Jay glanced at Shep who nodded, gesturing to the doorway. They plunged into the unknown, their way still lit by the unwavering blue light.