Chapter 48-51

 

CHAPTER 48

Langdon could scarcely believe his own supposition, and yet, considering who had given this stone cylinder to them, how he had given it to them, and now, the inlaid Rose on the container, Langdon could formulate only one conclusion.

I am holding the Priory keystone.

The legend was specific.

The keystone is an encoded stone that lies beneath the sign of the Rose.

"Robert?" Sophie was watching him. "What's going on?"

Langdon needed a moment to gather his thoughts. "Did your grandfather ever speak to you of something called la clef de voute?"

"The key to the vault?" Sophie translated.

"No, that's the literal translation. Clef de voute is a common architectural term. Voute refers not to a bank vault, but to a vault in an archway. Like a vaulted ceiling."

"But vaulted ceilings don't have keys."

"Actually they do. Every stone archway requires a central, wedge-shaped stone at the top which locks the pieces together and carries all the weight. This stone is, in an architectural sense, the key to the vault. In English we call it a keystone." Langdon watched her eyes for any spark of recognition. Sophie shrugged, glancing down at the cryptex. "But this obviously is not a keystone." Langdon didn't know where to begin. Keystones as a masonry technique for building stonearchways had been one of the best-kept secrets of the early Masonic brotherhood. The Royal ArchDegree.Architecture.Keystones.It was all interconnected. The secret knowledge of how to use a wedged keystone to build a vaulted archway was part of the wisdom that had made the Masons such wealthy craftsmen, and it was a secret they guarded carefully. Keystones had always had a tradition of secrecy. And yet, the stone cylinder in the rosewood box was obviously something quite different. The Priory keystone - if this was indeed what they were holding - was not at all what Langdon had imagined.

"The Priory keystone is not my specialty," Langdon admitted. "My interest in the Holy Grail is primarily symbologic, so I tend to ignore the plethora of lore regarding how to actually find it."

Sophie's eyebrows arched. "Find the Holy Grail?"

Langdon gave an uneasy nod, speaking his next words carefully. "Sophie, according to Priory lore, the keystone is an encoded map... a map that reveals the hiding place of the Holy Grail." Sophie's face went blank. "And you think this is it?" Langdon didn't know what to say. Even to him it sounded unbelievable, and yet the keystone was the only logical conclusion he could muster. An encrypted stone, hidden beneath the sign of theRose.

The idea that the cryptex had been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci - former Grand Master of the Priory of Sion - shone as another tantalizing indicator that this was indeed the Priory keystone. A former Grand Master's blueprint...brought to life centuries later by another Priory member.The bond was too palpable to dismiss.

For the last decade, historians had been searching for the keystone in French churches. Grail seekers, familiar with the Priory's history of cryptic double-talk, had concluded la clef de voute was a literal keystone - an architectural wedge - an engraved, encrypted stone, inserted into a vaulted archway in a church. Beneath the sign of the Rose.In architecture, there was no shortage of roses. Rose windows.Rosette reliefs.And, of course, an abundance of cinquefoils - the five-petaled decorative flowers often found at the top of archways, directly over the keystone. The hiding place seemed diabolically simple. The map to the Holy Grail was incorporated high in an archway of some forgotten church, mocking the blind churchgoers who wandered beneath it.

"This cryptex can't be the keystone," Sophie argued. "It's not old enough. I'm certain my grandfather made this. It can't be part of any ancient Grail legend."

"Actually," Langdon replied, feeling a tingle of excitement ripple through him," the keystone is believed to have been created by the Priory sometime in the past couple of decades."

Sophie's eyes flashed disbelief. "But if this cryptex reveals the hiding place of the Holy Grail, why would my grandfather give it to me? I have no idea how to open it or what to do with it. I don't even know what the Holy Grail is!"

Langdon realized to his surprise that she was right. He had not yet had a chance to explain to Sophie the true nature of the Holy Grail. That story would have to wait. At the moment, they were focused on the keystone.

If that is indeed what this is... .

Against the hum of the bulletproof wheels beneath them, Langdon quickly explained to Sophie everything he had heard about the keystone. Allegedly, for centuries, the Priory's biggest secret - the location of the Holy Grail - was never written down. For security's sake, it was verbally transferred to each new rising senechal at a clandestine ceremony. However, at some point during the last century, whisperings began to surface that the Priory policy had changed. Perhaps it was on account of new electronic eavesdropping capabilities, but the Priory vowed never again even to speak the location of the sacred hiding place.

"But then how could they pass on the secret?" Sophie asked.

"That's where the keystone comes in," Langdon explained. "When one of the top four members died, the remaining three would choose from the lower echelons the next candidate to ascend as senechal.Rather than telling the new senechal where the Grail was hidden, they gave him a test through which he could prove he was worthy."

Sophie looked unsettled by this, and Langdon suddenly recalled her mentioning how her grandfather used to make treasure hunts for her - preuves de merite.Admittedly, the keystone was a similar concept. Then again, tests like this were extremely common in secret societies. The best known was the Masons', wherein members ascended to higher degrees by proving they could keep a secret and by performing rituals and various tests of merit over many years. The tasks became progressively harder until they culminated in a successful candidate's induction as thirty-second- degree Mason.

"So the keystone is a preuve de merite,"Sophie said. "If a rising Priory senechal can open it, he proves himself worthy of the information it holds."

Langdon nodded. "I forgot you'd had experience with this sort of thing."

"Not only with my grandfather. In cryptology, that's called a 'self-authorizing language. ' That is, if you're smart enough to read it, you're permitted to know what is being said."

Langdon hesitated a moment. "Sophie, you realize that if this is indeed the keystone, your grandfather's access to it implies he was exceptionally powerful within the Priory of Sion. He would have to have been one of the highest four members."

Sophie sighed. "He was powerful in a secret society. I'm certain of it. I can only assume it was the Priory."

Langdon did a double take. "You knew he was in a secret society?"

"I saw some things I wasn't supposed to see ten years ago. We haven't spoken since." She paused. "My grandfather was not only a ranking top member of the group... I believe he was the top member."

Langdon could not believe what she had just said. "Grand Master? But... there's no way you could know that!"

"I'd rather not talk about it." Sophie looked away, her expression as determined as it was pained.

Langdon sat in stunned silence. Jacques Sauniere? Grand Master? Despite the astonishing repercussions if it were true, Langdon had the eerie sensation it almost made perfect sense. After all, previous Priory Grand Masters had also been distinguished public figures with artistic souls. Proof of that fact had been uncovered years ago in Paris's Bibliotheque Nationale in papers that became known as Les Dossiers Secrets.

Every Priory historian and Grail buff had read the Dossiers.Cataloged under Number 4o lm1 249, the Dossiers Secrets had been authenticated by many specialists and incontrovertibly confirmed what historians had suspected for a long time: Priory Grand Masters included Leonardo Da Vinci, Botticelli, Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo, and, more recently, Jean Cocteau, the famous Parisian artist.

Why not Jacques Sauniere?

Langdon's incredulity intensified with the realization that he had been slated to meet Sauniere tonight. The Priory Grand Master called a meeting with me.Why? To make artistic small talk? It suddenly seemed unlikely. After all, if Langdon's instincts were correct, the Grand Master of the Priory of Sion had just transferred the brotherhood's legendary keystone to his granddaughter and simultaneously commanded her to find Robert Langdon.

Inconceivable!

Langdon's imagination could conjure no set of circumstances that would explain Sauniere's behavior. Even if Sauniere feared his own death, there were three senechaux who also possessed the secret and therefore guaranteed the Priory's security. Why would Sauniere take such an enormous risk giving his granddaughter the keystone, especially when the two of them didn't get along? And why involve Langdon... a total stranger?

A piece of this puzzle is missing, Langdon thought.

The answers were apparently going to have to wait. The sound of the slowing engine caused them both to look up. Gravel crunched beneath the tires. Why is he pulling over already? Langdon wondered. Vernet had told them he would take them well outside the city to safety. The truck decelerated to a crawl and made its way over unexpectedly rough terrain. Sophie shot Langdon an uneasy look, hastily closing the cryptex box and latching it. Langdon slipped his jacket back on.

When the truck came to a stop, the engine remained idling as the locks on the rear doors began to turn. When the doors swung open, Langdon was surprised to see they were parked in a wooded area, well off the road. Vernet stepped into view, a strained look in his eye. In his hand, he held a pistol.

"I'm sorry about this," he said. "I really have no choice."

CHAPTER 49

Andre Vernet looked awkward with a pistol, but his eyes shone with a determination that Langdon sensed would be unwise to test.

"I'm afraid I must insist," Vernet said, training the weapon on the two of them in the back of the idling truck. "Set the box down."

Sophie clutched the box to her chest. "You said you and my grandfather were friends."

"I have a duty to protect your grandfather's assets," Vernet replied. "And that is exactly what I am doing. Now set the box on the floor."

"My grandfather entrusted this to me!" Sophie declared. "Do it," Vernet commanded, raising the gun. Sophie set the box at her feet.

Langdon watched the gun barrel swing now in his direction.

"Mr. Langdon," Vernet said," you will bring the box over to me. And be aware that I'm asking you because you I would not hesitate to shoot."

Langdon stared at the banker in disbelief. "Why are you doing this?"

"Why do you imagine?" Vernet snapped, his accented English terse now. "To protect my client's assets."

"We are your clients now," Sophie said.

Vernet's visage turned ice-cold, an eerie transformation. "Mademoiselle Neveu, I don't know howyou got that key and account number tonight, but it seems obvious that foul play was involved. Had I known the extent of your crimes, I would never have helped you leave the bank."

"I told you," Sophie said," we had nothing to do with my grandfather's death!"

Vernet looked at Langdon. "And yet the radio claims you are wanted not only for the murder of

Jacques Sauniere but for those of three other men as well?"

"What!" Langdon was thunderstruck. Three more murders? The coincidental number hit him harder than the fact that he was the prime suspect. It seemed too unlikely to be a coincidence. The three senechaux? Langdon's eyes dropped to the rosewood box. If the senechaux were murdered, Sauniere had no options.He had to transfer the keystone to someone.

"The police can sort that out when I turn you in," Vernet said. "I have gotten my bank involved too far already."

Sophie glared at Vernet. "You obviously have no intention of turning us in. You would have driven us back to the bank. And instead you bring us out here and hold us at gunpoint?"

"Your grandfather hired me for one reason - to keep his possessions both safe and private. Whatever this box contains, I have no intention of letting it become a piece of cataloged evidence in a police investigation. Mr. Langdon, bring me the box." Sophie shook her head. "Don't do it." A gunshot roared, and a bullet tore into the wall above him. The reverberation shook the back of the truck as a spent shell clinked onto the cargo floor.

Shit! Langdon froze.

Vernet spoke more confidently now. "Mr. Langdon, pick up the box." Langdon lifted the box." Now bring it over to me." Vernet was taking dead aim, standing on the ground behind the rear bumper, his gun outstretched into the cargo hold now.

Box in hand, Langdon moved across the hold toward the open door.

I've got to do something! Langdon thought. I'm about to hand over the Priory keystone! As Langdon moved toward the doorway, his position of higher ground became more pronounced, and he began wondering if he could somehow use it to his advantage. Vernet's gun, though raised, was at Langdon's knee level. A well-placed kick perhaps? Unfortunately, as Langdon neared, Vernet seemed to sense the dangerous dynamic developing, and he took several steps back, repositioning himself six feet away. Well out of reach." Vernet commanded," Place the box beside the door."

Seeing no options, Langdon knelt down and set the rosewood box at the edge of the cargo hold, directly in front of the open doors. "Now stand up." Langdon began to stand up but paused, spying the small, spent pistol shell on the floor beside the truck's precision-crafted doorsill.

"Stand up, and step away from the box."

Langdon paused a moment longer, eyeing the metal threshold. Then he stood. As he did, he discreetly brushed the shell over the edge onto the narrow ledge that was the door's lower sill. Fully upright now, Langdon stepped backward.

"Return to the back wall and turn around." Langdon obeyed.

Vernet could feel his own heart pounding. Aiming the gun with his right hand, he reached now with his left for the wooden box. He discovered that it was far too heavy. I need two hands. Turning his eyes back to his captives, he calculated the risk. Both were a good fifteen feet away, at the far end of the cargo hold, facing away from him. Vernet made up his mind. Quickly, he laid down the gun on the bumper, lifted the box with two hands, and set it on the ground, immediately grabbing the gun again and aiming it back into the hold. Neither of his prisoners had moved.

Perfect.Now all that remained was to close and lock the door. Leaving the box on the ground for the moment, he grabbed the metal door and began to heave it closed. As the door swung past him, Vernet reached up to grab the single bolt that needed to be slid into place. The door closed with a thud, and Vernet quickly grabbed the bolt, pulling it to the left. The bolt slid a few inches and crunched to an unexpected halt, not lining up with its sleeve. What's going on? Vernet pulled again, but the bolt wouldn't lock. The mechanism was not properly aligned. The door isn't fully closed! Feeling a surge of panic, Vernet shoved hard against the outside of the door, but it refused to budge. Something is blocking it! Vernet turned to throw full shoulder into the door, but this time the door exploded outward, striking Vernet in the face and sending him reeling backward onto the ground, his nose shattering in pain. The gun flew as Vernet reached for his face and felt the warm blood running from his nose.

Robert Langdon hit the ground somewhere nearby, and Vernet tried to get up, but he couldn't see. His vision blurred and he fell backward again. Sophie Neveu was shouting. Moments later, Vernet felt a cloud of dirt and exhaust billowing over him. He heard the crunching of tires on gravel and sat up just in time to see the truck's wide wheelbase fail to navigate a turn. There was a crash as the front bumper clipped a tree. The engine roared, and the tree bent. Finally, it was the bumper that gave, tearing half off. The armored car lurched away, its front bumper dragging. When the truck reached the paved access road, a shower of sparks lit up the night, trailing the truck as it sped away.

Vernet turned his eyes back to the ground where the truck had been parked. Even in the faint moonlight he could see there was nothing there.

The wooden box was gone.

CHAPTER 50

The unmarked Fiat sedan departing Castel Gandolfo snaked downward through the Alban Hills into the valley below. In the back seat, Bishop Aringarosa smiled, feeling the weight of the bearer bonds in the briefcase on his lap and wondering how long it would be before he and the Teacher could make the exchange.

Twenty million euro.

The sum would buy Aringarosa power far more valuable than that.

As his car sped back toward Rome, Aringarosa again found himself wondering why the Teacher had not yet contacted him. Pulling his cell phone from his cassock pocket, he checked the carrier signal. Extremely faint.

"Cell service is intermittent up here," the driver said, glancing at him in the rearview mirror. "In about five minutes, we'll be out of the mountains, and service improves."

"Thank you." Aringarosa felt a sudden surge of concern. No service in the mountains? Maybe the Teacher had been trying to reach him all this time. Maybe something had gone terribly wrong.

Quickly, Aringarosa checked the phone's voice mail. Nothing. Then again, he realized, the Teacher never would have left a recorded message; he was a man who took enormous care with his communications. Nobody understood better than the Teacher the perils of speaking openly in this modern world. Electronic eavesdropping had played a major role in how he had gathered his astonishing array of secret knowledge.

For this reason, he takes extra precautions.

Unfortunately, the Teacher's protocols for caution included a refusal to give Aringarosa any kind of contact number. I alone will initiate contact, the Teacher had informed him. So keep your phoneclose.Now that Aringarosa realized his phone might not have been working properly, he feared what the Teacher might think if he had been repeatedly phoning with no answer.

He'll think something is wrong. Or that I failed to get the bonds. The bishop broke a light sweat. Or worse... that I took the money and ran!

CHAPTER 51

Even at a modest sixty kilometers an hour, the dangling front bumper of the armored truck grated against the deserted suburban road with a grinding roar, spraying sparks up onto the hood.

We've got to get off the road, Langdon thought.

He could barely even see where they were headed. The truck's lone working headlight had been knocked off-center and was casting a skewed sidelong beam into the woods beside the country highway. Apparently the armor in this" armored truck" referred only to the cargo hold and not the front end.

Sophie sat in the passenger seat, staring blankly at the rosewood box on her lap. "Are you okay?" Langdon asked. Sophie looked shaken. "Do you believe him?"

"About the three additional murders? Absolutely. It answers a lot of questions - the issue of your grandfather's desperation to pass on the keystone, as well as the intensity with which Fache is hunting me."

"No, I meant about Vernet trying to protect his bank." Langdon glanced over. "As opposed to?" "Taking the keystone for himself."

Langdon had not even considered it. "How would he even know what this box contains?"

"His bank stored it. He knew my grandfather. Maybe he knew things. He might have decided he wanted the Grail for himself."

Langdon shook his head. Vernet hardly seemed the type. "In my experience, there are only two reasons people seek the Grail. Either they are naive and believe they are searching for the long-lost Cup of Christ..." "Or?" "Or they know the truth and are threatened by it. Many groups throughout history have sought to destroy the Grail."

The silence between them accentuated the sound of the scraping bumper. They had driven a few kilometers now, and as Langdon watched the cascade of sparks coming off the front of the truck, he wondered if it was dangerous. Either way, if they passed another car, it would certainly draw attention. Langdon made up his mind.

"I'm going to see if I can bend this bumper back."

Pulling onto the shoulder, he brought the truck to a stop. Silence at last. As Langdon walked toward the front of the truck, he felt surprisingly alert. Staring into the barrel of yet another gun tonight had given him a second wind. He took a deep breath of nighttime air and tried to get his wits about him. Accompanying the gravity of being a hunted man, Langdon was starting to feel the ponderous weight of responsibility, the prospect that he and Sophie might actually be holding an encrypted set of directions to one of the most enduring mysteries of all time.

As if this burden were not great enough, Langdon now realized that any possibility of finding away to return the keystone to the Priory had just evaporated. News of the three additional murders had dire implications. The Priory has been infiltrated.They are compromised.The brotherhood was obviously being watched, or there was a mole within the ranks. It seemed to explain why Sauniere might have transferred the keystone to Sophie and Langdon - people outside the brotherhood, people he knew were not compromised. We can't very well give the keystone back tothe brotherhood.Even if Langdon had any idea how to find a Priory member, chances were good that whoever stepped forward to take the keystone could be the enemy himself. For the moment, at least, it seemed the keystone was in Sophie and Langdon's hands, whether they wanted it or not.

The truck's front end looked worse than Langdon had imagined. The left headlight was gone, and the right one looked like an eyeball dangling from its socket. Langdon straightened it, and it dislodged again. The only good news was that the front bumper had been torn almost clean off. Langdon gave it a hard kick and sensed he might be able to break it off entirely.

As he repeatedly kicked the twisted metal, Langdon recalled his earlier conversation with Sophie. My grandfather left me a phone message, Sophie had told him. He said he needed to tell me thetruth about my family.At the time it had meant nothing, but now, knowing the Priory of Sion was involved, Langdon felt a startling new possibility emerge.

The bumper broke off suddenly with a crash. Langdon paused to catch his breath. At least the truck would no longer look like a Fourth of July sparkler. He grabbed the bumper and began dragging it out of sight into the woods, wondering where they should go next. They had no idea how to open the cryptex, or why Sauniere had given it to them. Unfortunately, their survival tonight seemed to depend on getting answers to those very questions.

We need help, Langdon decided. Professional help.

In the world of the Holy Grail and the Priory of Sion, that meant only one man. The challenge, of course, would be selling the idea to Sophie.

Inside the armored car, while Sophie waited for Langdon to return, she could feel the weight of the rosewood box on her lap and resented it. Why did my grandfather give this to me? She had not the slightest idea what to do with it.

Think, Sophie! Use your head. Grand-pere is trying to tell you something!

Opening the box, she eyed the cryptex's dials. A proof of merit.She could feel her grandfather's hand at work. The keystone is a map that can be followed only by the worthy.It sounded like her grandfather to the core.

Lifting the cryptex out of the box, Sophie ran her fingers over the dials. Five letters.She rotated the dials one by one. The mechanism moved smoothly. She aligned the disks such that her chosen letters lined up between the cryptex's two brass alignment arrows on either end of the cylinder. The dials now spelled a five-letter word that Sophie knew was absurdly obvious.

G-R-A-I-L.

Gently, she held the two ends of the cylinder and pulled, applying pressure slowly. The cryptex didn't budge. She heard the vinegar inside gurgle and stopped pulling. Then she tried again.

V-I-N-C-I

Again, no movement. V-O-U-T-E

Nothing. The cryptex remained locked solid.

Frowning, she replaced it in the rosewood box and closed the lid. Looking outside at Langdon, Sophie felt grateful he was with her tonight. P. S.Find Robert Langdon.Her grandfather's rationale for including him was now clear. Sophie was not equipped to understand her grandfather's intentions, and so he had assigned Robert Langdon as her guide. A tutor to oversee her education. Unfortunately for Langdon, he had turned out to be far more than a tutor tonight. He had become the target of Bezu Fache... and some unseen force intent on possessing the Holy Grail.

Whatever the Grail turns out to be.

Sophie wondered if finding out was worth her life.

As the armored truck accelerated again, Langdon was pleased how much more smoothly it drove. "Do you know how to get to Versailles?"

Sophie eyed him. "Sightseeing?"

"No, I have a plan. There's a religious historian I know who lives near Versailles. I can't remember exactly where, but we can look it up. I've been to his estate a few times. His name is Leigh Teabing. He's a former British Royal Historian." "And he lives in Paris?" "Teabing's life passion is the Grail. When whisperings of the Priory keystone surfaced about fifteen years ago, he moved to France to search churches in hopes of finding it. He's written some books on the keystone and the Grail. He may be able to help us figure out how to open it and what to do with it."

Sophie's eyes were wary. "Can you trust him?" "Trust him to what? Not steal the information?" "And not to turn us in." "I don't intend to tell him we're wanted by the police. I'm hoping he'll take us in until we can sort all this out."

"Robert, has it occurred to you that every television in France is probably getting ready to broadcast our pictures? Bezu Fache always uses the media to his advantage. He'll make it impossible for us to move around without being recognized."

Terrific, Langdon thought. My French TV debut will be on" Paris's Most Wanted." At least Jonas Faukman would be pleased; every time Langdon made the news, his book sales jumped.

"Is this man a good enough friend?" Sophie asked.

Langdon doubted Teabing was someone who watched television, especially at this hour, but still the question deserved consideration. Instinct told Langdon that Teabing would be totally trustworthy. An ideal safe harbor. Considering the circumstances, Teabing would probably trip over himself to help them as much as possible. Not only did he owe Langdon a favor, but Teabing was a Grail researcher, and Sophie claimed her grandfather was the actual Grand Master of the Priory of Sion. If Teabing heard that, he would salivate at the thought of helping them figure this out.

"Teabing could be a powerful ally," Langdon said. Depending on how much you want to tell him.

"Fache probably will be offering a monetary reward."

Langdon laughed. "Believe me, money is the last thing this guy needs." Leigh Teabing was wealthy in the way small countries were wealthy. A descendant of Britain's First Duke of Lancaster, Teabing had gotten his money the old-fashioned way - he'd inherited it. His estate outside of Paris was a seventeenth-century palace with two private lakes.

Langdon had first met Teabing several years ago through the British Broadcasting Corporation. Teabing had approached the BBC with a proposal for a historical documentary in which he would expose the explosive history of the Holy Grail to a mainstream television audience. The BBC producers loved Teabing's hot premise, his research, and his credentials, but they had concerns that the concept was so shocking and hard to swallow that the network might end up tarnishing its reputation for quality journalism. At Teabing's suggestion, the BBC solved its credibility fears by soliciting three cameos from respected historians from around the world, all of whom corroborated the stunning nature of the Holy Grail secret with their own research. Langdon had been among those chosen. The BBC had flown Langdon to Teabing's Paris estate for the filming. He sat before cameras in Teabing's opulent drawing room and shared his story, admitting his initial skepticism on hearing of the alternate Holy Grail story, then describing how years of research had persuaded him that the story was true. Finally, Langdon offered some of his own research - a series of symbologic connections that strongly supported the seemingly controversial claims.

When the program aired in Britain, despite its ensemble cast and well-documented evidence, the premise rubbed so hard against the grain of popular Christian thought that it instantly confronted a firestorm of hostility. It never aired in the States, but the repercussions echoed across the Atlantic.

Shortly afterward, Langdon received a postcard from an old friend - the Catholic Bishop of Philadelphia. The card simply read: Et tu, Robert?

"Robert," Sophie asked," you're certain we can trust this man?"

"Absolutely. We're colleagues, he doesn't need money, and I happen to know he despises the French authorities. The French government taxes him at absurd rates because he bought a historic landmark. He'll be in no hurry to cooperate with Fache." Sophie stared out at the dark roadway. "If we go to him, how much do you want to tell him?" Langdon looked unconcerned. "Believe me, Leigh Teabing knows more about the Priory of Sionand the Holy Grail than anyone on earth."

Sophie eyed him. "More than my grandfather?"

"I meant more than anyone outside the brotherhood."

"How do you know Teabing isn't a member of the brotherhood?"

"Teabing has spent his life trying to broadcast the truth about the Holy Grail. The Priory's oath is to keep its true nature hidden."

"Sounds to me like a conflict of interest."

Langdon understood her concerns. Sauniere had given the cryptex directly to Sophie, and although she didn't know what it contained or what she was supposed to do with it, she was hesitant to involve a total stranger. Considering the information potentially enclosed, the instinct was probably a good one. "We don't need to tell Teabing about the keystone immediately. Or at all, even. His house will give us a place to hide and think, and maybe when we talk to him about the Grail, you'll start to have an idea why your grandfather gave this to you."

"Us,"Sophie reminded.

Langdon felt a humble pride and wondered yet again why Sauniere had included him. "Do you know more or less where Mr. Teabing lives?" Sophie asked." His estate is called Chateau Villette."

Sophie turned with an incredulous look. "The Chateau Villette?" "That's the one."

"Nice friends."

"You know the estate?"

"I've passed it. It's in the castle district. Twenty minutes from here." Langdon frowned. "That far?" "Yes, which will give you enough time to tell me what the Holy Grail really is."

Langdon paused. "I'll tell you at Teabing's. He and I specialize in different areas of the legend, so between the two of us, you'll get the full story." Langdon smiled. "Besides, the Grail has been Teabing's life, and hearing the story of the Holy Grail from Leigh Teabing will be like hearing the theory of relativity from Einstein himself."

"Let's hope Leigh doesn't mind late-night visitors."

"For the record, it's Sir Leigh." Langdon had made that mistake only once. "Teabing is quite a character. He was knighted by the Queen several years back after composing an extensive history on the House of York."

Sophie looked over. "You're kidding, right? We're going to visit a knight?"

Langdon gave an awkward smile. "We're on a Grail quest, Sophie. Who better to help us than a knight?"

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