Chapter 81-83

 

CHAPTER 81

The Hawker is on final approach.

Simon Edwards - Executive Services Officer at Biggin Hill Airport - paced the control tower, squinting nervously at the rain-drenched runway. He never appreciated being awoken early on a Saturday morning, but it was particularly distasteful that he had been called in to oversee the arrest of one of his most lucrative clients. Sir Leigh Teabing paid Biggin Hill not only for a private hangar but a" per landing fee" for his frequent arrivals and departures. Usually, the airfield had advance warning of his schedule and was able to follow a strict protocol for his arrival. Teabing liked things just so. The custom-built Jaguar stretch limousine that he kept in his hangar was to be fully gassed, polished, and the day's London Times laid out on the back seat. A customs official was to be waiting for the plane at the hangar to expedite the mandatory documentation and luggage check. Occasionally, customs agents accepted large tips from Teabing in exchange for turning a blind eye to the transport of harmless organics - mostly luxury foods - French escargots, a particularly ripe unprocessed Roquefort, certain fruits. Many customs laws were absurd, anyway, and if Biggin Hill didn't accommodate its clients, certainly competing airfields would. Teabing was provided with what he wanted here at Biggin Hill, and the employees reaped the benefits.

Edwards's nerves felt frayed now as he watched the jet coming in. He wondered if Teabing's penchant for spreading the wealth had gotten him in trouble somehow; the French authorities seemed very intent on containing him. Edwards had not yet been told what the charges were, but they were obviously serious. At the French authorities' request, Kent police had ordered the Biggin Hill air traffic controller to radio the Hawker's pilot and order him directly to the terminal rather than to the client's hangar. The pilot had agreed, apparently believing the far-fetched story of a gas leak.

Though the British police did not generally carry weapons, the gravity of the situation had brought out an armed response team. Now, eight policemen with handguns stood just inside the terminal building, awaiting the moment when the plane's engines powered down. The instant this happened, a runway attendant would place safety wedges under the tires so the plane could no longer move. Then the police would step into view and hold the occupants at bay until the French police arrived to handle the situation.

The Hawker was low in the sky now, skimming the treetops to their right. Simon Edwards went downstairs to watch the landing from tarmac level. The Kent police were poised, just out of sight, and the maintenance man waited with his wedges. Out on the runway, the Hawker's nose tipped up, and the tires touched down in a puff of smoke. The plane settled in for deceleration, streaking from right to left in front of the terminal, its white hull glistening in the wet weather. But rather than braking and turning into the terminal, the jet coasted calmly past the access lane and continued on toward Teabing's hangar in the distance.

All the police spun and stared at Edwards. "I thought you said the pilot agreed to come to the terminal!"

Edwards was bewildered. "He did!"

Seconds later, Edwards found himself wedged in a police car racing across the tarmac toward the distant hangar. The convoy of police was still a good five hundred yards away as Teabing's Hawker taxied calmly into the private hangar and disappeared. When the cars finally arrived and skidded to a stop outside the gaping hangar door, the police poured out, guns drawn. Edwards jumped out too.

The noise was deafening.

The Hawker's engines were still roaring as the jet finished its usual rotation inside the hangar, positioning itself nose-out in preparation for later departure. As the plane completed its 180-degreeturn and rolled toward the front of the hangar, Edwards could see the pilot's face, which understandably looked surprised and fearful to see the barricade of police cars.

The pilot brought the plane to a final stop, and powered down the engines. The police streamed in, taking up positions around the jet. Edwards joined the Kent chief inspector, who moved warily toward the hatch. After several seconds, the fuselage door popped open.

Leigh Teabing appeared in the doorway as the plane's electronic stairs smoothly dropped down. Ashe gazed out at the sea of weapons aimed at him, he propped himself on his crutches and scratched his head. "Simon, did I win the policemen's lottery while I was away?" He sounded more bewildered than concerned.

Simon Edwards stepped forward, swallowing the frog in his throat. "Good morning, sir. I apologize for the confusion. We've had a gas leak and your pilot said he was coming to the terminal."

"Yes, yes, well, I told him to come here instead. I'm late for an appointment. I pay for this hangar, and this rubbish about avoiding a gas leak sounded overcautious."

"I'm afraid your arrival has taken us a bit off guard, sir."

"I know. I'm off my schedule, I am. Between you and me, the new medication gives me the tinkles. Thought I'd come over for a tune-up."

The policemen all exchanged looks. Edwards winced. "Very good, sir."

"Sir," the Kent chief inspector said, stepping forward. "I need to ask you to stay onboard for another half hour or so."

Teabing looked unamused as he hobbled down the stairs. "I'm afraid that is impossible. I have a medical appointment." He reached the tarmac. "I cannot afford to miss it."

The chief inspector repositioned himself to block Teabing's progress away from the plane. "I am here at the orders of the French Judicial Police. They claim you are transporting fugitives from the law on this plane."

Teabing stared at the chief inspector a long moment, and then burst out laughing. "Is this one of those hidden camera programs? Jolly good!"

The chief inspector never flinched. "This is serious, sir. The French police claim you also may have a hostage onboard."

Teabing's manservant Remy appeared in the doorway at the top of the stairs. "I feel like a hostage working for Sir Leigh, but he assures me I am free to go." Remy checked his watch. "Master, we really are running late." He nodded toward the Jaguar stretch limousine in the far corner of the hangar. The enormous automobile was ebony with smoked glass and whitewall tires. "I'll bring the car." Remy started down the stairs.

"I'm afraid we cannot let you leave," the chief inspector said. "Please return to your aircraft. Both of you. Representatives from the French police will be landing shortly."

Teabing looked now toward Simon Edwards. "Simon, for heaven's sake, this is ridiculous! We don't have anyone else on board. Just the usual - Remy, our pilot, and myself. Perhaps you could act as an intermediary? Go have a look onboard, and verify that the plane is empty." Edwards knew he was trapped. "Yes, sir. I can have a look." "The devil you will!" the Kent chief inspector declared, apparently knowing enough about executive airfields to suspect Simon Edwards might well lie about the plane's occupants in an effort to keep Teabing's business at Biggin Hill. "I will look myself."

Teabing shook his head. "No you won't, Inspector. This is private property and until you have a search warrant, you will stay off my plane. I am offering you a reasonable option here. Mr. Edwards can perform the inspection."

"No deal."

Teabing's demeanor turned frosty. "Inspector, I'm afraid I don't have time to indulge in your games. I'm late, and I'm leaving. If it is that important to you to stop me, you'll just have to shoot me." With that, Teabing and Remy walked around the chief inspector and headed across the hangar toward the parked limousine.

The Kent chief inspector felt only distaste for Leigh Teabing as the man hobbled around him in defiance. Men of privilege always felt like they were above the law.

They are not.The chief inspector turned and aimed at Teabing's back. "Stop! I will fire!"

"Go ahead," Teabing said without breaking stride or glancing back. "My lawyers will fricassee your testicles for breakfast. And if you dare board my plane without a warrant, your spleen will follow."

No stranger to power plays, the chief inspector was unimpressed. Technically, Teabing was correct and the police needed a warrant to board his jet, but because the flight had originated in France, and because the powerful Bezu Fache had given his authority, the Kent chief inspector felt certain his career would be far better served by finding out what it was on this plane that Teabing seemed so intent on hiding.

"Stop them," the inspector ordered. "I'm searching the plane."

His men raced over, guns leveled, and physically blocked Teabing and his servant from reaching the limousine.

Now Teabing turned. "Inspector, this is your last warning. Do not even think of boarding that plane. You will regret it."

Ignoring the threat, the chief inspector gripped his sidearm and marched up the plane's gangway. Arriving at the hatch, he peered inside. After a moment, he stepped into the cabin. What the devil?

With the exception of the frightened-looking pilot in the cockpit, the aircraft was empty. Entirely devoid of human life. Quickly checking the bathroom, the chairs, and the luggage areas, the inspector found no traces of anyone hiding... much less multiple individuals. What the hell was Bezu Fache thinking? It seemed Leigh Teabing had been telling the truth. The Kent chief inspector stood alone in the deserted cabin and swallowed hard. Shit.His faceflushed, he stepped back onto the gangway, gazing across the hangar at Leigh Teabing and hisservant, who were now under gunpoint near the limousine. "Let them go," the inspector ordered. "We received a bad tip."

Teabing's eyes were menacing even across the hangar. "You can expect a call from my lawyers. And for future reference, the French police cannot be trusted."

With that, Teabing's manservant opened the door at the rear of the stretch limousine and helped his crippled master into the back seat. Then the servant walked the length of the car, climbed in behind the wheel, and gunned the engine. Policemen scattered as the Jaguar peeled out of the hangar.

"Well played, my good man," Teabing chimed from the rear seat as the limousine accelerated out of the airport. He turned his eyes now to the dimly lit front recesses of the spacious interior. "Everyone comfy?"

Langdon gave a weak nod. He and Sophie were still crouched on the floor beside the bound and gagged albino.

Moments earlier, as the Hawker taxied into the deserted hangar, Remy had popped the hatch as the plane jolted to a stop halfway through its turn. With the police closing in fast, Langdon and Sophie dragged the monk down the gangway to ground level and out of sight behind the limousine. Then the jet engines had roared again, rotating the plane and completing its turn as the police cars came skidding into the hangar.

Now, as the limousine raced toward Kent, Langdon and Sophie clambered toward the rear of the limo's long interior, leaving the monk bound on the floor. They settled onto the long seat facing Teabing. The Brit gave them both a roguish smile and opened the cabinet on the limo's bar. "Could I offer you a drink? Some nibblies? Crisps? Nuts? Seltzer?" Sophie and Langdon both shook their heads. Teabing grinned and closed the bar. "So then, about this knight's tomb..."

CHAPTER 82

"Fleet Street?" Langdon asked, eyeing Teabing in the back of the limo. There's a crypt on Fleet Street? So far, Leigh was being playfully cagey about where he thought they would find the "knight's tomb", which, according to the poem, would provide the password for opening the smaller cryptex.

Teabing grinned and turned to Sophie. "Miss Neveu, give the Harvard boy one more shot at the verse, will you?"

Sophie fished in her pocket and pulled out the black cryptex, which was wrapped in the vellum. Everyone had decided to leave the rosewood box and larger cryptex behind in the plane's strongbox, carrying with them only what they needed, the far more portable and discreet black cryptex. Sophie unwrapped the vellum and handed the sheet to Langdon.

Although Langdon had read the poem several times onboard the jet, he had been unable to extract any specific location. Now, as he read the words again, he processed them slowly and carefully, hoping the pentametric rhythms would reveal a clearer meaning now that he was on the ground.

In London lies a knight a Pope interred.

His labor's fruit a Holy wrath incurred.

You seek the orb that ought be on his tomb.

It speaks of Rosy flesh and seeded womb.

The language seemed simple enough. There was a knight buried in London. A knight who labored at something that angered the Church. A knight whose tomb was missing an orb that should be present. The poem's final reference - Rosy flesh and seeded womb - was a clear allusion to Mary Magdalene, the Rose who bore the seed of Jesus.

Despite the apparent straightforwardness of the verse, Langdon still had no idea who this knight was or where he was buried. Moreover, once they located the tomb, it sounded as if they would be searching for something that was absent. The orb that ought be on his tomb?

"No thoughts?" Teabing clucked in disappointment, although Langdon sensed the Royal Historian was enjoying being one up. "Miss Neveu?"

She shook her head.

"What would you two do without me?" Teabing said. "Very well, I will walk you through it. It's quite simple really. The first line is the key. Would you read it please?"

Langdon read aloud. " 'In London lies a knight a Pope interred. '"

"Precisely. A knight a Pope interred." He eyed Langdon. "What does that mean to you?"

Langdon shrugged. "A knight buried by a Pope? A knight whose funeral was presided over by a Pope?"

Teabing laughed loudly. "Oh, that's rich. Always the optimist, Robert. Look at the second line. This knight obviously did something that incurred the Holy wrath of the Church. Think again. Consider the dynamic between the Church and the Knights Templar. A knight a Pope interred?"

"A knight a Pope killed?" Sophie asked. Teabing smiled and patted her knee. "Well done, my dear. A knight a Pope buried.Or killed." Langdon thought of the notorious Templar round-up in 1307 - unlucky Friday the thirteenth - when Pope Clement killed and interred hundreds of Knights Templar. "But there must be endless graves of 'knights killed by Popes. '"

"Aha, not so!" Teabing said. "Many of them were burned at the stake and tossed unceremoniously into the Tiber River. But this poem refers to a tomb.A tomb in London. And there are few knights buried in London." He paused, eyeing Langdon as if waiting for light to dawn. Finally he huffed. "Robert, for heaven's sake! The church built in London by the Priory's military arm - the Knights Templar themselves!"

"The Temple Church?" Langdon drew a startled breath. "It has a crypt?"

"Ten of the most frightening tombs you will ever see."

Langdon had never actually visited the Temple Church, although he'd come across numerous references in his Priory research. Once the epicenter of all Templar/Priory activities in the United Kingdom, the Temple Church had been so named in honor of Solomon's Temple, from which the Knights Templar had extracted their own title, as well as the Sangreal documents that gave them all their influence in Rome. Tales abounded of knights performing strange, secretive rituals within the Temple Church's unusual sanctuary. "The Temple Church is on Fleet Street?"

"Actually, it's just off Fleet Street on Inner Temple Lane." Teabing looked mischievous. "I wanted to see you sweat a little more before I gave it away." "Thanks." "Neither of you has ever been there?" Sophie and Langdon shook their heads." I'm not surprised," Teabing said. "The church is hidden now behind much larger buildings. Few people even know it's there. Eerie old place. The architecture is pagan to the core."

Sophie looked surprised. "Pagan?"

"Pantheonically pagan!" Teabing exclaimed. "The church is round.The Templars ignored the traditional Christian cruciform layout and built a perfectly circular church in honor of the sun." His eyebrows did a devilish dance. "A not so subtle howdy-do to the boys in Rome. They might as well have resurrected Stonehenge in downtown London."

Sophie eyed Teabing. "What about the rest of the poem?"

The historian's mirthful air faded. "I'm not sure. It's puzzling. We will need to examine each of the ten tombs carefully. With luck, one of them will have a conspicuously absent orb."

Langdon realized how close they really were. If the missing orb revealed the password, they would be able to open the second cryptex. He had a hard time imagining what they might find inside.

Langdon eyed the poem again. It was like some kind of primordial crossword puzzle. A five-letter word that speaks of the Grail? On the plane, they had already tried all the obvious passwords - GRAIL, GRAAL, GREAL, VENUS, MARIA, JESUS, SARAH - but the cylinder had not budged. Far too obvious.Apparently there existed some other five-letter reference to the Rose's seeded womb. The fact that the word was eluding a specialist like Leigh Teabing signified to Langdon that it was no ordinary Grail reference.

"Sir Leigh?" Remy called over his shoulder. He was watching them in the rearview mirror through the open divider. "You said Fleet Street is near Blackfriars Bridge?" "Yes, take Victoria Embankment." "I'm sorry. I'm not sure where that is. We usually go only to the hospital."

Teabing rolled his eyes at Langdon and Sophie and grumbled," I swear, sometimes it's like baby- sitting a child. One moment please. Help yourself to a drink and savory snacks." He left them, clambering awkwardly toward the open divider to talk to Remy. Sophie turned to Langdon now, her voice quiet. "Robert, nobody knows you and I are in England." Langdon realized she was right. The Kent police would tell Fache the plane was empty, and Fachewould have to assume they were still in France. We are invisible.Leigh's little stunt had just boughtthem a lot of time.

"Fache will not give up easily," Sophie said. "He has too much riding on this arrest now."

Langdon had been trying not to think about Fache. Sophie had promised she would do everything in her power to exonerate Langdon once this was over, but Langdon was starting to fear it might not matter. Fache could easily be pan of this plot.Although Langdon could not imagine the Judicial Police tangled up in the Holy Grail, he sensed too much coincidence tonight to disregard Fache as a possible accomplice. Fache is religions, and he is intent on pinning these murders onme.Then again, Sophie had argued that Fache might simply be overzealous to make the arrest. After all, the evidence against Langdon was substantial. In addition to Langdon's name scrawled on the Louvre floor and in Sauniere's date book, Langdon now appeared to have lied about his manuscript and then run away. At Sophie's suggestion.

"Robert, I'm sorry you're so deeply involved," Sophie said, placing her hand on his knee. "But I'm very glad you're here."

The comment sounded more pragmatic than romantic, and yet Langdon felt an unexpected flicker of attraction between them. He gave her a tired smile. "I'm a lot more fun when I've slept."

Sophie was silent for several seconds. "My grandfather asked me to trust you. I'm glad I listened to him for once."

"Your grandfather didn't even know me."

"Even so, I can't help but think you've done everything he would have wanted. You helped me find the keystone, explained the Sangreal, told me about the ritual in the basement." She paused. "Somehow I feel closer to my grandfather tonight than I have in years. I know he would be happy about that."

In the distance, now, the skyline of London began to materialize through the dawn drizzle. Once dominated by Big Ben and Tower Bridge, the horizon now bowed to the Millennium Eye - a colossal, ultramodern Ferris wheel that climbed five hundred feet and afforded breathtaking views of the city. Langdon had attempted to board it once, but the" viewing capsules" reminded him of sealed sarcophagi, and he opted to keep his feet on the ground and enjoy the view from the airy banks of the Thames.

Langdon felt a squeeze on his knee, pulling him back, and Sophie's green eyes were on him. He realized she had been speaking to him. "What do you think we should do with the Sangreal documents if we ever find them?" she whispered.

"What I think is immaterial," Langdon said. "Your grandfather gave the cryptex to you, and you should do with it what your instinct tells you he would want done."

"I'm asking for your opinion. You obviously wrote something in that manuscript that made my grandfather trust your judgment. He scheduled a private meeting with you. That's rare."

"Maybe he wanted to tell me I have it all wrong."

"Why would he tell me to find you unless he liked your ideas? In your manuscript, did you support the idea that the Sangreal documents should be revealed or stay buried?"

"Neither. I made no judgment either way. The manuscript deals with the symbology of the sacred feminine - tracing her iconography throughout history. I certainly didn't presume to know where the Grail is hidden or whether it should ever be revealed." "And yet you're writing a book about it, so you obviously feel the information should be shared." "There's an enormous difference between hypothetically discussing an alternate history of Christ, and..." He paused. "And what?" "And presenting to the world thousands of ancient documents as scientific evidence that the New Testament is false testimony."

"But you told me the New Testament is based on fabrications."

Langdon smiled. "Sophie, every faith in the world is based on fabrication. That is the definition of faith - acceptance of that which we imagine to be true, that which we cannot prove. Every religion describes God through metaphor, allegory, and exaggeration, from the early Egyptians through modern Sunday school. Metaphors are a way to help our minds process the unprocessible. The problems arise when we begin to believe literally in our own metaphors."

"So you are in favor of the Sangreal documents staying buried forever?"

"I'm a historian. I'm opposed to the destruction of documents, and I would love to see religious scholars have more information to ponder the exceptional life of Jesus Christ."

"You're arguing both sides of my question."

"Am I? The Bible represents a fundamental guidepost for millions of people on the planet, in much the same way the Koran, Torah, and Pali Canon offer guidance to people of other religions. If you and I could dig up documentation that contradicted the holy stories of Islamic belief, Judaic belief, Buddhist belief, pagan belief, should we do that? Should we wave a flag and tell the Buddhists that we have proof the Buddha did not come from a lotus blossom? Or that Jesus was not born of a literal virgin birth? Those who truly understand their faiths understand the stories are metaphorical."

Sophie looked skeptical. "My friends who are devout Christians definitely believe that Christ literallywalked on water, literally turned water into wine, and was born of a literal virgin birth."

"My point exactly," Langdon said. "Religious allegory has become a part of the fabric of reality. And living in that reality helps millions of people cope and be better people."

"But it appears their reality is false."

Langdon chuckled. "No more false than that of a mathematical cryptographer who believes in the imaginary number 'i'because it helps her break codes."

Sophie frowned. "That's not fair." A moment passed." What was your question again?" Langdon asked. "I can't remember." He smiled. "Works every time."

CHAPTER 83

Langdon's Mickey Mouse wristwatch read almost seven-thirty when he emerged from the Jaguar limousine onto Inner Temple Lane with Sophie and Teabing. The threesome wound through a maze of buildings to a small courtyard outside the Temple Church. The rough-hewn stone shimmered in the rain, and doves cooed in the architecture overhead.

London's ancient Temple Church was constructed entirely of Caen stone. A dramatic, circular edifice with a daunting facade, a central turret, and a protruding nave off one side, the church looked more like a military stronghold than a place of worship. Consecrated on the tenth of February in 1185 by Heraclius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Temple Church survived eight centuries of political turmoil, the Great Fire of London, and the First World War, only to be heavily damaged by Luftwaffe incendiary bombs in 1940. After the war, it was restored to its original, stark grandeur.

The simplicity of the circle, Langdon thought, admiring the building for the first time. The architecture was coarse and simple, more reminiscent of Rome's rugged Castel Sant'Angelo than the refined Pantheon. The boxy annex jutting out to the right was an unfortunate eyesore, although it did little to shroud the original pagan shape of the primary structure.

"It's early on a Saturday," Teabing said, hobbling toward the entrance," so I'm assuming we won't have services to deal with."

The church's entryway was a recessed stone niche inside which stood a large wooden door. To the left of the door, looking entirely out of place, hung a bulletin board covered with concert schedules and religious service announcements.

Teabing frowned as he read the board. "They don't open to sightseers for another couple of hours." He moved to the door and tried it. The door didn't budge. Putting his ear to the wood, he listened. After a moment, he pulled back, a scheming look on his face as he pointed to the bulletin board. "Robert, check the service schedule, will you? Who is presiding this week?"

Inside the church, an altar boy was almost finished vacuuming the communion kneelers when he heard a knocking on the sanctuary door. He ignored it. Father Harvey Knowles had his own keys and was not due for another couple of hours. The knocking was probably a curious tourist or indigent. The altar boy kept vacuuming, but the knocking continued. Can't you read? The sign on the door clearly stated that the church did not open until nine-thirty on Saturday. The altar boy remained with his chores.

Suddenly, the knocking turned to a forceful banging, as if someone were hitting the door with a metal rod. The young man switched off his vacuum cleaner and marched angrily toward the door. Unlatching it from within, he swung it open. Three people stood in the entryway. Tourists, he grumbled. "We open at nine-thirty."

The heavyset man, apparently the leader, stepped forward using metal crutches. "I am Sir Leigh Teabing," he said, his accent a highbrow, Saxonesque British. "As you are no doubt aware, I am escorting Mr. and Mrs. Christopher Wren the Fourth." He stepped aside, flourishing his arm toward the attractive couple behind them. The woman was soft-featured, with lush burgundy hair. The man was tall, dark-haired, and looked vaguely familiar.

The altar boy had no idea how to respond. Sir Christopher Wren was the Temple Church's most famous benefactor. He had made possible all the restorations following damage caused by the Great Fire. He had also been dead since the early eighteenth century. "Um... an honor to meet you?"

The man on crutches frowned. "Good thing you're not in sales, young man, you're not very convincing. Where is Father Knowles?"

"It's Saturday. He's not due in until later."

The crippled man's scowl deepened. "There's gratitude. He assured us he would be here, but it looks like we'll do it without him. It won't take long."

The altar boy remained blocking the doorway. "I'm sorry, what won't take long?"

The visitor's eyes sharpened now, and he leaned forward whispering as if to save everyone some embarrassment. "Young man, apparently you are new here. Every year Sir Christopher Wren's descendants bring a pinch of the old man's ashes to scatter in the Temple sanctuary. It is part of his last will and testament. Nobody is particularly happy about making the trip, but what can we do?"

The altar boy had been here a couple of years but had never heard of this custom. "It would be better if you waited until nine-thirty. The church isn't open yet, and I'm not finished hoovering."

The man on crutches glared angrily. "Young man, the only reason there's anything left of this building for you to hoover is on account of the gentleman in that woman's pocket."

"I'm sorry?"

"Mrs. Wren," the man on crutches said," would you be so kind as to show this impertinent young man the reliquary of ashes?"

The woman hesitated a moment and then, as if awaking from a trance, reached in her sweater pocket and pulled out a small cylinder wrapped in protective fabric.

"There, you see?" the man on crutches snapped. "Now, you can either grant his dying wish and let us sprinkle his ashes in the sanctuary, or I tell Father Knowles how we've been treated."

The altar boy hesitated, well acquainted with Father Knowles' deep observance of church tradition... and, more importantly, with his foul temper when anything cast this time-honored shrine in anything but favorable light. Maybe Father Knowles had simply forgotten these family members were coming. If so, then there was far more risk in turning them away than in letting them in. After all, they said it would only take a minute.What harm could it do?

When the altar boy stepped aside to let the three people pass, he could have sworn Mr. and Mrs. Wren looked just as bewildered by all of this as he was. Uncertain, the boy returned to his chores, watching them out of the corner of his eye.

Langdon had to smile as the threesome moved deeper into the church. "Leigh," he whispered," you lie entirely too well." Teabing's eyes twinkled. "Oxford Theatre Club. They still talk of my Julius Caesar. I'm certain nobody has ever performed the first scene of Act Three with more dedication."

Langdon glanced over. "I thought Caesar was dead in that scene."

Teabing smirked. "Yes, but my toga tore open when I fell, and I had to lie on stage for half an hour with my todger hanging out. Even so, I never moved a muscle. I was brilliant, I tell you."

Langdon cringed. Sorry I missed it.

As the group moved through the rectangular annex toward the archway leading into the main church, Langdon was surprised by the barren austerity. Although the altar layout resembled that of a linear Christian chapel, the furnishings were stark and cold, bearing none of the traditional ornamentation. "Bleak," he whispered.

Teabing chuckled. "Church of England. Anglicans drink their religion straight. Nothing to distract from their misery."

Sophie motioned through the vast opening that gave way to the circular section of the church. "It looks like a fortress in there," she whispered.

Langdon agreed. Even from here, the walls looked unusually robust.

"The Knights Templar were warriors," Teabing reminded, the sound of his aluminum crutches echoing in this reverberant space. "A religio-military society. Their churches were their strongholds and their banks."

"Banks?" Sophie asked, glancing at Leigh.

"Heavens, yes. The Templars invented the concept of modern banking. For European nobility, traveling with gold was perilous, so the Templars allowed nobles to deposit gold in their nearest Temple Church and then draw it from any other Temple Church across Europe. All they needed was proper documentation." He winked. "And a small commission. They were the original ATMs." Teabing pointed toward a stained-glass window where the breaking sun was refracting through a white-clad knight riding a rose-colored horse. "Alanus Marcel," Teabing said," Master of the Temple in the early twelve hundreds. He and his successors actually held the Parliamentary chair of Primus Baro Angiae."

Langdon was surprised. "First Baron of the Realm?"

Teabing nodded. "The Master of the Temple, some claim, held more influence than the king himself." As they arrived outside the circular chamber, Teabing shot a glance over his shoulder at the altar boy, who was vacuuming in the distance. "You know," Teabing whispered to Sophie," the Holy Grail is said to once have been stored in this church overnight while the Templars moved it from one hiding place to another. Can you imagine the four chests of Sangreal documents sitting right here with Mary Magdalene's sarcophagus? It gives me gooseflesh."

Langdon was feeling gooseflesh too as they stepped into the circular chamber. His eye traced the curvature of the chamber's pale stone perimeter, taking in the carvings of gargoyles, demons, monsters, and pained human faces, all staring inward. Beneath the carvings, a single stone pew curled around the entire circumference of the room.

"Theater in the round," Langdon whispered.

Teabing raised a crutch, pointing toward the far left of the room and then to the far right. Langdon had already seen them.

Ten stone knights.

Five on the left. Five on the right.

Lying prone on the floor, the carved, life-sized figures rested in peaceful poses. The knights were depicted wearing full armor, shields, and swords, and the tombs gave Langdon the uneasy sensation that someone had snuck in and poured plaster over the knights while they were sleeping. All of the figures were deeply weathered, and yet each was clearly unique - different armory pieces, distinct leg and arm positions, facial features, and markings on their shields.

In London lies a knight a Pope interred.

Langdon felt shaky as he inched deeper into the circular room.

This had to be the place.

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