Chapter 33-37

 

CHAPTER 33

Sophie's SmartCar tore through the diplomatic quarter, weaving past embassies and consulates, finally racing out a side street and taking a right turn back onto the massive thoroughfare of Champs-Elysees.

Langdon sat white-knuckled in the passenger seat, twisted backward, scanning behind them for any signs of the police. He suddenly wished he had not decided to run. You didn't, he reminded himself. Sophie had made the decision for him when she threw the GPS dot out the bathroom window. Now, as they sped away from the embassy, serpentining through sparse traffic on Champs-Elysees, Langdon felt his options deteriorating. Although Sophie seemed to have lost the police, at least for the moment, Langdon doubted their luck would hold for long.

Behind the wheel Sophie was fishing in her sweater pocket. She removed a small metal object and held it out for him. "Robert, you'd better have a look at this. This is what my grandfather left me behind Madonna of the Rocks."

Feeling a shiver of anticipation, Langdon took the object and examined it. It was heavy and shaped like a cruciform. His first instinct was that he was holding a funeral pieu - a miniature version of a memorial spike designed to be stuck into the ground at a gravesite. But then he noted the shaft protruding from the cruciform was prismatic and triangular. The shaft was also pockmarked with hundreds of tiny hexagons that appeared to be finely tooled and scattered at random.

"It's a laser-cut key," Sophie told him. "Those hexagons are read by an electric eye."

A key? Langdon had never seen anything like it.

"Look at the other side," she said, changing lanes and sailing through an intersection.

When Langdon turned the key, he felt his jaw drop. There, intricately embossed on the center of the cross, was a stylized fleur-de-lis with the initials P. S. !" Sophie," he said," this is the seal I told you about! The official device of the Priory of Sion." She nodded. "As I told you, I saw the key a long time ago. He told me never to speak of it again." Langdon's eyes were still riveted on the embossed key. Its high-tech tooling and age-oldsymbolism exuded an eerie fusion of ancient and modern worlds.

"He told me the key opened a box where he kept many secrets."

Langdon felt a chill to imagine what kind of secrets a man like Jacques Sauniere might keep. What an ancient brotherhood was doing with a futuristic key, Langdon had no idea. The Priory existed for the sole purpose of protecting a secret. A secret of incredible power. Could this key have something to do with it? The thought was overwhelming. "Do you know what it opens?"

Sophie looked disappointed. "I was hoping you knew."

Langdon remained silent as he turned the cruciform in his hand, examining it.

"It looks Christian," Sophie pressed.

Langdon was not so sure about that. The head of this key was not the traditional long-stemmed Christian cross but rather was a square cross - with four arms of equal length - which predated Christianity by fifteen hundred years. This kind of cross carried none of the Christian connotations of crucifixion associated with the longer-stemmed Latin Cross, originated by Romans as a torture device. Langdon was always surprised how few Christians who gazed upon" the crucifix" realized their symbol's violent history was reflected in its very name:" cross" and" crucifix" came from the Latin verb cruciare - to torture.

"Sophie," he said," all I can tell you is that equal-armed crosses like this one are considered peaceful crosses. Their square configurations make them impractical for use in crucifixion, and their balanced vertical and horizontal elements convey a natural union of male and female, making them symbolically consistent with Priory philosophy."

She gave him a weary look. "You have no idea, do you?" Langdon frowned. "Not a clue." "Okay, we have to get off the road." Sophie checked her rearview mirror. "We need a safe place to figure out what that key opens."

Langdon thought longingly of his comfortable room at the Ritz. Obviously, that was not an option. "How about my hosts at the American University of Paris?"

"Too obvious. Fache will check with them." "You must know people. You live here." "Fache will run my phone and e-mail records, talk to my coworkers. My contacts are compromised, and finding a hotel is no good because they all require identification."

Langdon wondered again if he might have been better off taking his chances letting Fache arrest him at the Louvre. "Let's call the embassy. I can explain the situation and have the embassy send someone to meet us somewhere."

"Meet us?" Sophie turned and stared at him as if he were crazy. "Robert, you're dreaming. Your embassy has no jurisdiction except on their own property. Sending someone to retrieve us would be considered aiding a fugitive of the French government. It won't happen. If you walk into your embassy and request temporary asylum, that's one thing, but asking them to take action against French law enforcement in the field?" She shook her head. "Call your embassy right now, and they are going to tell you to avoid further damage and turn yourself over to Fache. Then they'll promise to pursue diplomatic channels to get you a fair trial." She gazed up the line of elegant storefronts on

Champs-Elysees. "How much cash do you have?"

Langdon checked his wallet. "A hundred dollars. A few euro. Why?" "Credit cards?" "Of course."

As Sophie accelerated, Langdon sensed she was formulating a plan. Dead ahead, at the end of Champs-Elysees, stood the Arc de Triomphe - Napoleon's 164-foot-tall tribute to his own military potency - encircled by France's largest rotary, a nine-lane behemoth.

Sophie's eyes were on the rearview mirror again as they approached the rotary. "We lost them for the time being," she said," but we won't last another five minutes if we stay in this car."

So steal a different one, Langdon mused, now that we're criminals. "What are you going to do?" Sophie gunned the SmartCar into the rotary. "Trust me." Langdon made no response. Trust had not gotten him very far this evening. Pulling back the sleeve of his jacket, he checked his watch - a vintage, collector's-edition Mickey Mouse wristwatch that had been a gift from his parents on his tenth birthday. Although its juvenile dial often drew odd looks, Langdon had never owned any other watch; Disney animations had been his first introduction to the magic of form and color, and Mickey now served as Langdon's daily reminder to stay young at heart. At the moment, however, Mickey's arms were skewed at an awkward angle, indicating an equally awkward hour.

2:51 A. M.

"Interesting watch," Sophie said, glancing at his wrist and maneuvering the SmartCar around the wide, counterclockwise rotary.

"Long story," he said, pulling his sleeve back down.

"I imagine it would have to be." She gave him a quick smile and exited the rotary, heading due north, away from the city center. Barely making two green lights, she reached the third intersection and took a hard right onto Boulevard Malesherbes. They'd left the rich, tree-lined streets of the diplomatic neighborhood and plunged into a darker industrial neighborhood. Sophie took a quick left, and a moment later, Langdon realized where they were. Gare Saint-Lazare. Ahead of them, the glass-roofed train terminal resembled the awkward offspring of an airplane hangar and a greenhouse. European train stations never slept. Even at this hour, a half-dozen taxi sidled near the main entrance. Vendors manned carts of sandwiches and mineral water while grungy kids in backpacks emerged from the station rubbing their eyes, looking around as if trying to remember what city they were in now. Up ahead on the street, a couple of city policemen stood on the curb giving directions to some confused tourists.

Sophie pulled her SmartCar in behind the line of taxis and parked in a red zone despite plenty of legal parking across the street. Before Langdon could ask what was going on, she was out of the car. She hurried to the window of the taxi in front of them and began speaking to the driver.

As Langdon got out of the SmartCar, he saw Sophie hand the taxi driver a big wad of cash. The taxi driver nodded and then, to Langdon's bewilderment, sped off without them.

"What happened?" Langdon demanded, joining Sophie on the curb as the taxi disappeared.

Sophie was already heading for the train station entrance. "Come on. We're buying two tickets on the next train out of Paris."

Langdon hurried along beside her. What had begun as a one-mile dash to the U. S. Embassy had now become a full-fledged evacuation from Paris. Langdon was liking this idea less and less.

CHAPTER 34

The driver who collected Bishop Aringarosa from Leonardo Da Vinci International Airport pulled up in a small, unimpressive black Fiat sedan. Aringarosa recalled a day when all Vatican transports were big luxury cars that sported grille-plate medallions and flags emblazoned with the seal of the Holy See. Those days are gone.Vatican cars were now less ostentatious and almost always unmarked. The Vatican claimed this was to cut costs to better serve their dioceses, but Aringarosa suspected it was more of a security measure. The world had gone mad, and in many parts of Europe, advertising your love of Jesus Christ was like painting a bull's-eye on the roof of your car.

Bundling his black cassock around himself, Aringarosa climbed into the back seat and settled in for the long drive to Castel Gandolfo. It would be the same ride he had taken five months ago.

Last year's trip to Rome, he sighed. The longest night of my life.

Five months ago, the Vatican had phoned to request Aringarosa's immediate presence in Rome. They offered no explanation. Your tickets are at the airport.The Holy See worked hard to retain a veil of mystery, even for its highest clergy.

The mysterious summons, Aringarosa suspected, was probably a photo opportunity for the Pope and other Vatican officials to piggyback on Opus Dei's recent public success - the completion of their World Headquarters in New York City. Architectural Digest had called Opus Dei's building" a shining beacon of Catholicism sublimely integrated with the modern landscape," and lately the Vatican seemed to be drawn to anything and everything that included the word" modern."

Aringarosa had no choice but to accept the invitation, albeit reluctantly. Not a fan of the current papal administration, Aringarosa, like most conservative clergy, had watched with grave concern as the new Pope settled into his first year in office. An unprecedented liberal, His Holiness had secured the papacy through one of the most controversial and unusual conclaves in Vatican history. Now, rather than being humbled by his unexpected rise to power, the Holy Father had wasted no time flexing all the muscle associated with the highest office in Christendom. Drawing on an unsettling tide of liberal support within the College of Cardinals, the Pope was now declaring his papal mission to be" rejuvenation of Vatican doctrine and updating Catholicism into the third millennium."

The translation, Aringarosa feared, was that the man was actually arrogant enough to think he could rewrite God's laws and win back the hearts of those who felt the demands of true Catholicism had become too inconvenient in a modern world.

Aringarosa had been using all of his political sway - substantial considering the size of the Opus Dei constituency and their bankroll - to persuade the Pope and his advisers that softening the Church's laws was not only faithless and cowardly, but political suicide. He reminded them that previous tempering of Church law - the Vatican II fiasco - had left a devastating legacy: Church attendance was now lower than ever, donations were drying up, and there were not even enough Catholic priests to preside over their churches.

People need structure and direction from the Church, Aringarosa insisted, not coddling and indulgence!

On that night, months ago, as the Fiat had left the airport, Aringarosa was surprised to find himself heading not toward Vatican City but rather eastward up a sinuous mountain road. "Where are we going?" he had demanded of his driver.

"Alban Hills," the man replied. "Your meeting is at Castel Gandolfo."

The Pope's summer residence? Aringarosa had never been, nor had he ever desired to see it. In addition to being the Pope's summer vacation home, the sixteenth-century citadel housed the Specula Vaticana - the Vatican Observatory - one of the most advanced astronomical observatories in Europe. Aringarosa had never been comfortable with the Vatican's historical need to dabble in science. What was the rationale for fusing science and faith? Unbiased science could not possibly be performed by a man who possessed faith in God. Nor did faith have any need for physical confirmation of its beliefs.

Nonetheless, there it is, he thought as Castel Gandolfo came into view, rising against a star-filled November sky. From the access road, Gandolfo resembled a great stone monster pondering a suicidal leap. Perched at the very edge of a cliff, the castle leaned out over the cradle of Italian civilization - the valley where the Curiazi and Orazi clans fought long before the founding of Rome.

Even in silhouette, Gandolfo was a sight to behold - an impressive example of tiered, defensive architecture, echoing the potency of this dramatic cliff side setting. Sadly, Aringarosa now saw, the Vatican had ruined the building by constructing two huge aluminum telescope domes atop the roof, leaving this once dignified edifice looking like a proud warrior wearing a couple of party hats.

When Aringarosa got out of the car, a young Jesuit priest hurried out and greeted him. "Bishop, welcome. I am Father Mangano. An astronomer here."

Good for you.Aringarosa grumbled his hello and followed his host into the castle's foyer - a wide- open space whose decor was a graceless blend of Renaissance art and astronomy images. Following his escort up the wide travertine marble staircase, Aringarosa saw signs for conference centers, science lecture halls, and tourist information services. It amazed him to think the Vatican was failing at every turn to provide coherent, stringent guidelines for spiritual growth and yet somehow still found time to give astrophysics lectures to tourists.

"Tell me," Aringarosa said to the young priest," when did the tail start wagging the dog?" The priest gave him an odd look. "Sir?" Aringarosa waved it off, deciding not to launch into that particular offensive again this evening. The Vatican has gone mad.Like a lazy parent who found it easier to acquiesce to the whims of a spoiled child than to stand firm and teach values, the Church just kept softening at every turn, trying to reinvent itself to accommodate a culture gone astray.

The top floor's corridor was wide, lushly appointed, and led in only one direction - toward a huge set of oak doors with a brass sign.

BIBLIOTECA ASTRONOMICA

Aringarosa had heard of this place - the Vatican's Astronomy Library - rumored to contain more than twenty-five thousand volumes, including rare works of Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, and Secchi. Allegedly, it was also the place in which the Pope's highest officers held private meetings... those meetings they preferred not to hold within the walls of Vatican City.

Approaching the door, Bishop Aringarosa would never have imagined the shocking news he was about to receive inside, or the deadly chain of events it would put into motion. It was not until an hour later, as he staggered from the meeting, that the devastating implications settled in. Six monthsfrom now! he had thought. God help us!

Now, seated in the Fiat, Bishop Aringarosa realized his fists were clenched just thinking about that first meeting. He released his grip and forced a slow inhalation, relaxing his muscles.

Everything will be fine, he told himself as the Fiat wound higher into the mountains. Still, he wished his cell phone would ring. Why hasn't the Teacher called me? Silas should have the keystone by now.

Trying to ease his nerves, the bishop meditated on the purple amethyst in his ring. Feeling the textures of the mitre-crozier applique and the facets of the diamonds, he reminded himself that this ring was a symbol of power far less than that which he would soon attain.

CHAPTER 35

The inside of Gare Saint-Lazare looked like every other train station in Europe, a gaping indoor- outdoor cavern dotted with the usual suspects - homeless men holding cardboard signs, collections of bleary-eyed college kids sleeping on backpacks and zoning out to their portable MP3 players, and clusters of blue-clad baggage porters smoking cigarettes.

Sophie raised her eyes to the enormous departure board overhead. The black and white tabs reshuffled, ruffling downward as the information refreshed. When the update was finished, Langdon eyed the offerings. The topmost listing read: LYON - RAPIDE - 3:06

"I wish it left sooner," Sophie said," but Lyon will have to do." Sooner? Langdon checked his watch 2:59 A. M. The train left in seven minutes and they didn't even have tickets yet.

Sophie guided Langdon toward the ticket window and said," Buy us two tickets with your credit card."

"I thought credit card usage could be traced by - "Exactly." Langdon decided to stop trying to keep ahead of Sophie Neveu. Using his Visa card, he purchased two coach tickets to Lyon and handed them to Sophie.

Sophie guided him out toward the tracks, where a familiar tone chimed overhead and a P. A. announcer gave the final boarding call for Lyon. Sixteen separate tracks spread out before them. In the distance to the right, at quay three, the train to Lyon was belching and wheezing in preparation for departure, but Sophie already had her arm through Langdon's and was guiding him in the exact opposite direction. They hurried through a side lobby, past an all-night cafe, and finally out a side door onto a quiet street on the west side of the station.

A lone taxi sat idling by the doorway.

The driver saw Sophie and flicked his lights.

Sophie jumped in the back seat. Langdon got in after her.

As the taxi pulled away from station, Sophie took out their newly purchased train tickets and tore them up.

Langdon sighed. Seventy dollars well spent.

It was not until their taxi had settled into a monotonous northbound hum on Rue de Clichy that Langdon felt they'd actually escaped. Out the window to his right, he could see Montmartre and the beautiful dome of Sacre-Coeur. The image was interrupted by the flash of police lights sailing past them in the opposite direction.

Langdon and Sophie ducked down as the sirens faded.

Sophie had told the cab driver simply to head out of the city, and from her firmly set jaw, Langdon sensed she was trying to figure out their next move.

Langdon examined the cruciform key again, holding it to the window, bringing it close to his eyes in an effort to find any markings on it that might indicate where the key had been made. In the intermittent glow of passing streetlights, he saw no markings except the Priory seal.

"It doesn't make sense," he finally said. "Which part?" "That your grandfather would go to so much trouble to give you a key that you wouldn't know what to do with."

"I agree."

"Are you sure he didn't write anything else on the back of the painting?"

"I searched the whole area. This is all there was. This key, wedged behind the painting. I saw the Priory seal, stuck the key in my pocket, then we left."

Langdon frowned, peering now at the blunt end of the triangular shaft. Nothing. Squinting, he brought the key close to his eyes and examined the rim of the head. Nothing there either. "I think this key was cleaned recently." "Why?" "It smells like rubbing alcohol." She turned. "I'm sorry?" "It smells like somebody polished it with a cleaner." Langdon held the key to his nose and sniffed. "It's stronger on the other side." He flipped it over. "Yes, it's alcohol-based, like it's been buffed with a cleaner or - " Langdon stopped. "What?" He angled the key to the light and looked at the smooth surface on the broad arm of the cross. It seemed to shimmer in places... like it was wet. "How well did you look at the back of this key before you put it in your pocket?"

"What? Not well. I was in a hurry."

Langdon turned to her. "Do you still have the black light?"

Sophie reached in her pocket and produced the UV penlight. Langdon took it and switched it on, shining the beam on the back of the key.

The back luminesced instantly. There was writing there. In penmanship that was hurried but legible.

"Well," Langdon said, smiling. "I guess we know what the alcohol smell was."

Sophie stared in amazement at the purple writing on the back of the key.

24 Rue Haxo

An address! My grandfather wrote down an address!

"Where is this?" Langdon asked.

Sophie had no idea. Facing front again, she leaned forward and excitedly asked the driver,"Connaissez-vous la Rue Haxo?"

The driver thought a moment and then nodded. He told Sophie it was out near the tennis stadium on the western outskirts of Paris. She asked him to take them there immediately.

"Fastest route is through Bois de Boulogne," the driver told her in French. "Is that okay?"

Sophie frowned. She could think of far less scandalous routes, but tonight she was not going to be picky. "Oui." We can shock the visiting American.

Sophie looked back at the key and wondered what they would possibly find at 24 Rue Haxo. A church? Some kind of Priory headquarters?

Her mind filled again with images of the secret ritual she had witnessed in the basement grotto ten years ago, and she heaved a long sigh. "Robert, I have a lot of things to tell you." She paused, locking eyes with him as the taxi raced westward. "But first I want you to tell me everything you know about this Priory of Sion."

CHAPTER 36

Outside the Salle des Etats, Bezu Fache was fuming as Louvre warden Grouard explained how Sophie and Langdon had disarmed him. Why didn't you just shoot the blessed painting!

"Captain?" Lieutenant Collet loped toward them from the direction of the command post. "Captain, I just heard. They located Agent Neveu's car." "Did she make the embassy?" "No. Train station. Bought two tickets. Train just left."

Fache waved off warden Grouard and led Collet to a nearby alcove, addressing him in hushed tones. "What was the destination?"

"Lyon."

"Probably a decoy." Fache exhaled, formulating a plan. "Okay, alert the next station, have the train stopped and searched, just in case. Leave her car where it is and put plainclothes on watch in case they try to come back to it. Send men to search the streets around the station in case they fled on foot. Are buses running from the station?"

"Not at this hour, sir. Only the taxi queue."

"Good. Question the drivers. See if they saw anything. Then contact the taxi company dispatcher with descriptions. I'm calling Interpol."

Collet looked surprised. "You're putting this on the wire?"

Fache regretted the potential embarrassment, but he saw no other choice.

Close the net fast, and close it tight.

The first hour was critical. Fugitives were predictable the first hour after escape. They always needed the same thing. Travel.Lodging.Cash.The Holy Trinity. Interpol had the power to make all three disappear in the blink of an eye. By broadcast-faxing photos of Langdon and Sophie to Paris travel authorities, hotels, and banks, Interpol would leave no options - no way to leave the city, no place to hide, and no way to withdraw cash without being recognized. Usually, fugitives panicked on the street and did something stupid. Stole a car. Robbed a store. Used a bank card in desperation. Whatever mistake they committed, they quickly made their whereabouts known to local authorities.

"Only Langdon, right?" Collet said. "You're not flagging Sophie Neveu. She's our own agent."

"Of course I'm flagging her!" Fache snapped. "What good is flagging Langdon if she can do all his dirty work? I plan to run Neveu's employment file - friends, family, personal contacts - anyone she might turn to for help. I don't know what she thinks she's doing out there, but it's going to cost her one hell of a lot more than her job!"

"Do you want me on the phones or in the field?"

"Field. Get over to the train station and coordinate the team. You've got the reins, but don't make a move without talking to me."

"Yes, sir." Collet ran out.

Fache felt rigid as he stood in the alcove. Outside the window, the glass pyramid shone, its reflection rippling in the windswept pools. They slipped through my fingers.He told himself to relax.

Even a trained field agent would be lucky to withstand the pressure that Interpol was about to apply.

A female cryptologist and a schoolteacher?

They wouldn't last till dawn.

CHAPTER 37

The heavily forested park known as the Bois de Boulogne was called many things, but the Parisian cognoscenti knew it as" the Garden of Earthly Delights." The epithet, despite sounding flattering, was quite to the contrary. Anyone who had seen the lurid Bosch painting of the same name understood the jab; the painting, like the forest, was dark and twisted, a purgatory for freaks and fetishists. At night, the forest's winding lanes were lined with hundreds of glistening bodies for hire, earthly delights to satisfy one's deepest unspoken desires - male, female, and everything in between.

As Langdon gathered his thoughts to tell Sophie about the Priory of Sion, their taxi passed through the wooded entrance to the park and began heading west on the cobblestone cross fare. Langdon was having trouble concentrating as a scattering of the park's nocturnal residents were already emerging from the shadows and flaunting their wares in the glare of the headlights. Ahead, two topless teenage girls shot smoldering gazes into the taxi. Beyond them, a well-oiled black man in a G-string turned and flexed his buttocks. Beside him, a gorgeous blond woman lifted her miniskirt to reveal that she was not, in fact, a woman.

Heaven help me! Langdon turned his gaze back inside the cab and took a deep breath. "Tell me about the Priory of Sion," Sophie said. Langdon nodded, unable to imagine a less congruous a backdrop for the legend he was about to tell. He wondered where to begin. The brotherhood's history spanned more than a millennium... an astonishing chronicle of secrets, blackmail, betrayal, and even brutal torture at the hands of an angry Pope.

"The Priory of Sion," he began," was founded in Jerusalem in 1099 by a French king named Godefroi de Bouillon, immediately after he had conquered the city." Sophie nodded, her eyes riveted on him." King Godefroi was allegedly the possessor of a powerful secret - a secret that had been in his family since the time of Christ. Fearing his secret might be lost when he died, he founded a secret brotherhood - the Priory of Sion - and charged them with protecting his secret by quietly passing it on from generation to generation. During their years in Jerusalem, the Priory learned of a stash of hidden documents buried beneath the ruins of Herod's temple, which had been built atop the earlier ruins of Solomon's Temple. These documents, they believed, corroborated Godefroi's powerful secret and were so explosive in nature that the Church would stop at nothing to get them." Sophie looked uncertain.

"The Priory vowed that no matter how long it took, these documents must be recovered from the rubble beneath the temple and protected forever, so the truth would never die. In order to retrieve the documents from within the ruins, the Priory created a military arm - a group of nine knights called the Order of the Poor Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon." Langdon paused. "More commonly known as the Knights Templar."

Sophie glanced up with a surprised look of recognition. Langdon had lectured often enough on the Knights Templar to know that almost everyone on earth had heard of them, at least abstractedly. For academics, the Templars' history was a precarious world where fact, lore, and misinformation had become so intertwined that extracting a pristine truth was almost impossible. Nowadays, Langdon hesitated even to mention the Knights Templar while lecturing because it invariably led to a barrage of convoluted inquiries into assorted conspiracy theories.

Sophie already looked troubled. "You're saying the Knights Templar were founded by the Priory of Sion to retrieve a collection of secret documents? I thought the Templars were created to protect the Holy Land."

"A common misconception. The idea of protection of pilgrims was the guise under which the Templars ran their mission. Their true goal in the Holy Land was to retrieve the documents from beneath the ruins of the temple."

"And did they find them?"

Langdon grinned. "Nobody knows for sure, but the one thing on which all academics agree is this: The Knights discovered something down there in the ruins... something that made them wealthy and powerful beyond anyone's wildest imagination."

Langdon quickly gave Sophie the standard academic sketch of the accepted Knights Templar history, explaining how the Knights were in the Holy Land during the Second Crusade and told King Baldwin II that they were there to protect Christian pilgrims on the roadways. Although unpaid and sworn to poverty, the Knights told the king they required basic shelter and requested his permission to take up residence in the stables under the ruins of the temple. King Baldwin granted the soldiers' request, and the Knights took up their meager residence inside the devastated shrine.

The odd choice of lodging, Langdon explained, had been anything but random. The Knights believed the documents the Priory sought were buried deep under the ruins - beneath the Holy of Holies, a sacred chamber where God Himself was believed to reside. Literally, the very center of the Jewish faith. For almost a decade, the nine Knights lived in the ruins, excavating in total secrecy through solid rock.

Sophie looked over. "And you said they discovered something?"

"They certainly did," Langdon said, explaining how it had taken nine years, but the Knights had finally found what they had been searching for. They took the treasure from the temple and traveled to Europe, where their influence seemed to solidify overnight.

Nobody was certain whether the Knights had blackmailed the Vatican or whether the Church simply tried to buy the Knights' silence, but Pope Innocent II immediately issued an unprecedented papal bull that afforded the Knights Templar limitless power and declared them" a law unto themselves" - an autonomous army independent of all interference from kings and prelates, both religious and political.

With their new carte blanche from the Vatican, the Knights Templar expanded at a staggering rate, both in numbers and political force, amassing vast estates in over a dozen countries. They began extending credit to bankrupt royals and charging interest in return, thereby establishing modern banking and broadening their wealth and influence still further.

By the 1300s, the Vatican sanction had helped the Knights amass so much power that Pope Clement V decided that something had to be done. Working in concert with France's King Philippe IV, the Pope devised an ingeniously planned sting operation to quash the Templars and seize their treasure, thus taking control of the secrets held over the Vatican. In a military maneuver worthy of the CIA, Pope Clement issued secret sealed orders to be opened simultaneously by his soldiers all across Europe on Friday, October 13 of 1307.

At dawn on the thirteenth, the documents were unsealed and their appalling contents revealed. Clement's letter claimed that God had visited him in a vision and warned him that the Knights Templar were heretics guilty of devil worship, homosexuality, defiling the cross, sodomy, and other blasphemous behavior. Pope Clement had been asked by God to cleanse the earth by rounding up all the Knights and torturing them until they confessed their crimes against God. Clement's Machiavellian operation came off with clockwork precision. On that day, countless Knights were captured, tortured mercilessly, and finally burned at the stake as heretics. Echoes of the tragedy still resonated in modern culture; to this day, Friday the thirteenth was considered unlucky.

Sophie looked confused. "The Knights Templar were obliterated? I thought fraternities of Templars still exist today?"

"They do, under a variety of names. Despite Clement's false charges and best efforts to eradicate them, the Knights had powerful allies, and some managed to escape the Vatican purges. The Templars' potent treasure trove of documents, which had apparently been their source of power, was Clement's true objective, but it slipped through his fingers. The documents had long since been entrusted to the Templars' shadowy architects, the Priory of Sion, whose veil of secrecy had kept them safely out of range of the Vatican's onslaught. As the Vatican closed in, the Priory smuggled their documents from a Paris preceptory by night onto Templar ships in La Rochelle."

"Where did the documents go?"

Langdon shrugged. "That mystery's answer is known only to the Priory of Sion. Because the documents remain the source of constant investigation and speculation even today, they are believed to have been moved and rehidden several times. Current speculation places the documents somewhere in the United Kingdom."

Sophie looked uneasy.

"For a thousand years," Langdon continued," legends of this secret have been passed on. The entire collection of documents, its power, and the secret it reveals have become known by a single name - Sangreal. Hundreds of books have been written about it, and few mysteries have caused as much interest among historians as the Sangreal."

"The Sangreal? Does the word have anything to do with the French word sang or Spanish sangre - meaning 'blood'?"

Langdon nodded. Blood was the backbone of the Sangreal, and yet not in the way Sophie probably imagined. "The legend is complicated, but the important thing to remember is that the Priory guards the proof, and is purportedly awaiting the right moment in history to reveal the truth." "What truth? What secret could possibly be that powerful?" Langdon took a deep breath and gazed out at the underbelly of Paris leering in the shadows." Sophie, the word Sangreal is an ancient word. It has evolved over the years into another term... a more modern name." He paused. "When I tell you it's modern name, you'll realize you already know a lot about it. In fact, almost everyone on earth has heard the story of the Sangreal." Sophie looked skeptical. "I've never heard of it." "Sure you have." Langdon smiled. "You're just used to hearing it called by the name 'Holy Grail. '"

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***