“Sophie,” Langdon whispered, leaning toward her now, “according to the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail is not a cup at all. They claim the Grail legend—that of a chalice—is actually an ingeniously conceived allegory. That is, that the Grail story uses the chalice as a metaphor for something else, something far more powerful.” He paused. “Something that fits perfectly with everything your grandfather has been trying to tell us tonight, including all his symbologic references to the sacred feminine.”

Still unsure, Sophie sensed in Langdon’s patient smile that he empathized with her confusion, and yet his eyes remained earnest. “But if the Holy Grail is not a cup,” she asked, “what is it?”

Langdon had known this question was coming, and yet he still felt uncertain exactly how to tell her. If he did not present the answer in

the proper historical background, Sophie would be left with a vacant air of bewilderment—the exact expression Langdon had seen on his own editor’s face a few months ago after Langdon handed him a draft of the manuscript he was working on.

“This manuscript claims what?” his editor had choked, setting down his wineglass and staring across his half-eaten power lunch. “You can’t be serious.”

“Serious enough to have spent a year researching it.”

Prominent New York editor Jonas Faukman tugged nervously at his goatee. Faukman no doubt had heard some wild book ideas in his illustrious career, but this one seemed to have left the man flabbergasted.

“Robert,” Faukman finally said, “don’t get me wrong. I love your work, and we’ve had a great run together. But if I agree to publish an idea like this, I’ll have people picketing outside my office for months. Besides, it will kill your reputation. You’re a Harvard historian, for God’s sake, not a pop schlockmeister looking for a quick buck. Where could you possibly find enough credible evidence to support a theory like this?”

With a quiet smile Langdon pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of his tweed coat and handed it to Faukman. The page listed a bibliography of over fifty titles—books by well-known historians, some contemporary, some centuries old—many of them academic bestsellers. All the book titles suggested the same premise Langdon had just proposed. As Faukman read down the list, he looked like a man who had just discovered the earth was actually flat. “I know some of these authors. They’re … real historians!”

Langdon grinned. “As you can see, Jonas, this is not only my theory. It’s been around for a long time. I’m simply building on it. No book has yet explored the legend of the Holy Grail from a symbologic angle. The iconographic evidence I’m finding to support the theory is, well, staggeringly persuasive.”

Faukman was still staring at the list. “My God, one of these books was written by Sir Leigh Teabing—a British Royal Historian.”

“Teabing has spent much of his life studying the Holy Grail. I’ve met with him. He was actually a big part of my inspiration. He’s a

believer, Jonas, along with all of the others on that list.”

“You’re telling me all of these historians actually believe …” Faukman swallowed, apparently unable to say the words.

Langdon grinned again. “The Holy Grail is arguably the most sought-after treasure in human history. The Grail has spawned legends, wars, and lifelong quests. Does it make sense that it is merely a cup? If so, then certainly other relics should generate similar or greater interest—the Crown of Thorns, the True Cross of the Crucifixion, the Titulus—and yet, they do not. Throughout history, the Holy Grail has been the most special.” Langdon grinned. “Now you know why.”

Faukman was still shaking his head. “But with all these books written about it, why isn’t this theory more widely known?”

“These books can’t possibly compete with centuries of established history, especially when that history is endorsed by the ultimate bestseller of all time.”

Faukman’s eyes went wide. “Don’t tell me Harry Potter is actually about the Holy Grail.”

“I was referring to the Bible.” Faukman cringed. “I knew that.”

“Laissez-le!” Sophie’s shouts cut the air inside the taxi. “Put it down!”

Langdon jumped as Sophie leaned forward over the seat and yelled at the taxi driver. Langdon could see the driver was clutching his radio mouthpiece and speaking into it.

Sophie turned now and plunged her hand into the pocket of Langdon’s tweed jacket. Before Langdon knew what had happened, she had yanked out the pistol, swung it around, and was pressing it to the back of the driver’s head. The driver instantly dropped his radio, raising his one free hand overhead.

“Sophie!” Langdon choked. “What the hell—”

“Arrêtez!” Sophie commanded the driver.

Trembling, the driver obeyed, stopping the car and putting it in park.

It was then that Langdon heard the metallic voice of the taxi company’s dispatcher coming from the dashboard. qui s’appelle Agent Sophie Neveu the radio crackled. “Et un Américain, Robert Langdon

Langdon’s muscles turned rigid. They found us already? “Descendez,” Sophie demanded.

The trembling driver kept his arms over his head as he got out of his taxi and took several steps backward.

Sophie had rolled down her window and now aimed the gun outside at the bewildered cabbie. “Robert,” she said quietly, “take the wheel. You’re driving.”

Langdon was not about to argue with a woman wielding a gun. He climbed out of the car and jumped back in behind the wheel. The driver was yelling curses, his arms still raised over his head.

“Robert,” Sophie said from the back seat, “I trust you’ve seen enough of our magic forest?”

He nodded. Plenty.

“Good. Drive us out of here.”

Langdon looked down at the car’s controls and hesitated. Shit. He groped for the stick shift and clutch. “Sophie? Maybe you—”

“Go!” she yelled.

Outside, several hookers were walking over to see what was going on. One woman was placing a call on her cell phone. Langdon depressed the clutch and jostled the stick into what he hoped was first gear. He touched the accelerator, testing the gas.

Langdon popped the clutch. The tires howled as the taxi leapt forward, fishtailing wildly and sending the gathering crowd diving for cover. The woman with the cell phone leapt into the woods, only narrowly avoiding being run down.

“Doucement!” Sophie said, as the car lurched down the road. “What are you doing?”

“I tried to warn you,” he shouted over the sound of gnashing gears. “I drive an automatic!”

CHAPTER 39

Although the spartan room in the brownstone on Rue La Bruyère had witnessed a lot of suffering, Silas doubted anything could match the anguish now gripping his pale body. I was deceived. Everything is lost.

Silas had been tricked. The brothers had lied, choosing death instead of revealing their true secret. Silas did not have the strength to call the Teacher. Not only had Silas killed the only four people who knew where the keystone was hidden, he had killed a nun inside Saint-Sulpice. She was working against God! She scorned the work of Opus Dei!

A crime of impulse, the woman’s death complicated matters greatly. Bishop Aringarosa had placed the phone call that got Silas into Saint-Sulpice; what would the abbé think when he discovered the nun was dead? Although Silas had placed her back in her bed, the wound on her head was obvious. Silas had attempted to replace the broken tiles in the floor, but that damage too was obvious. They would know someone had been there.

Silas had planned to hide within Opus Dei when his task here was complete. Bishop Aringarosa will protect me. Silas could imagine no more blissful existence than a life of meditation and prayer deep within the walls of Opus Dei’s headquarters in New York City. He would never again set foot outside. Everything he needed was within that sanctuary. Nobody will miss me. Unfortunately, Silas knew, a prominent man like Bishop Aringarosa could not disappear so easily.

I have endangered the bishop. Silas gazed blankly at the floor and pondered taking his own life. After all, it had been Aringarosa who gave Silas life in the first place … in that small rectory in Spain, educating him, giving him purpose.

“My friend,” Aringarosa had told him, “you were born an albino. Do not let others shame you for this. Do you not understand how

special this makes you? Were you not aware that Noah himself was an albino?”

“Noah of the Ark?” Silas had never heard this.

Aringarosa was smiling. “Indeed, Noah of the Ark. An albino. Like you, he had skin white like an angel. Consider this. Noah saved all of life on the planet. You are destined for great things, Silas. The Lord has freed you for a reason. You have your calling. The Lord needs your help to do His work.”

Over time, Silas learned to see himself in a new light. I am pure.

White. Beautiful. Like an angel.

At the moment, though, in his room at the residence hall, it was his father’s disappointed voice that whispered to him from the past.

Tu es un désastre. Un spectre.

Kneeling on the wooden floor, Silas prayed for forgiveness. Then, stripping off his robe, he reached again for the Discipline.

CHAPTER 40

Struggling with the gear shift, Langdon managed to maneuver the hijacked taxi to the far side of the Bois de Boulogne while stalling only twice. Unfortunately, the inherent humor in the situation was overshadowed by the taxi dispatcher repeatedly hailing their cab over the radio.

“Voiture cinq-six-trois. Où êtes-vous? Répondez!”

When Langdon reached the exit of the park, he swallowed his machismo and jammed on the brakes. “You’d better drive.”

Sophie looked relieved as she jumped behind the wheel. Within seconds she had the car humming smoothly westward along Allée de Longchamp, leaving the Garden of Earthly Delights behind.

“Which way is Rue Haxo?” Langdon asked, watching Sophie edge the speedometer over a hundred kilometers an hour.

Sophie’s eyes remained focused on the road. “The cab driver said it’s adjacent to the Roland Garros tennis stadium. I know that area.” Langdon pulled the heavy key from his pocket again, feeling the weight in his palm. He sensed it was an object of enormous

consequence. Quite possibly the key to his own freedom.

Earlier, while telling Sophie about the Knights Templar, Langdon had realized that this key, in addition to having the Priory seal embossed on it, possessed a more subtle tie to the Priory of Sion. The equal-armed cruciform was symbolic of balance and harmony but also of the Knights Templar. Everyone had seen the paintings of Knights Templar wearing white tunics emblazoned with red equal- armed crosses. Granted, the arms of the Templar cross were slightly flared at the ends, but they were still of equal length.

A square cross. Just like the one on this key.

Langdon felt his imagination starting to run wild as he fantasized about what they might find. The Holy Grail. He almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of it. The Grail was believed to be somewhere in England, buried in a hidden chamber beneath one of the many Templar churches, where it had been hidden since at least 1500.

The era of Grand Master Da Vinci.

The Priory, in order to keep their powerful documents safe, had been forced to move them many times in the early centuries. Historians now suspected as many as six different Grail relocations since its arrival in Europe from Jerusalem. The last Grail “sighting” had been in 1447 when numerous eyewitnesses described a fire that had broken out and almost engulfed the documents before they were carried to safety in four huge chests that each required six men to carry. After that, nobody claimed to see the Grail ever again. All that remained were occasional whisperings that it was hidden in Great Britain, the land of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Wherever it was, two important facts remained: Leonardo knew where the Grail resided during his lifetime. That hiding place had probably not changed to this day.

For this reason, Grail enthusiasts still pored over Da Vinci’s art and diaries in hopes of unearthing a hidden clue as to the Grail’s current location. Some claimed the mountainous backdrop in Madonna of the Rocks matched the topography of a series of cave-ridden hills in Scotland. Others insisted that the suspicious placement of disciples in The Last Supper was some kind of code. Still others claimed that X rays of the Mona Lisa revealed she originally had been painted wearing a lapis lazuli pendant of Isis—a detail Da Vinci purportedly later decided to paint over. Langdon had never seen any evidence of the pendant, nor could he imagine how it could possibly reveal the Holy Grail, and yet Grail aficionados still discussed it ad nauseum on Internet bulletin boards and worldwide-web chat rooms.

Everyone loves a conspiracy.

And the conspiracies kept coming. Most recently, of course, had been the earthshaking discovery that Da Vinci’s famed Adoration of the Magi was hiding a dark secret beneath its layers of paint. Italian art diagnostician Maurizio Seracini had unveiled the unsettling truth, which the New York Times Magazine carried prominently in a story titled “The Leonardo Cover-Up.”

Seracini had revealed beyond any doubt that while the Adoration’s gray-green sketched underdrawing was indeed Da Vinci’s work, the

painting itself was not. The truth was that some anonymous painter had filled in Da Vinci’s sketch like a paint-by-numbers years after Da Vinci’s death. Far more troubling, however, was what lay beneath the impostor’s paint. Photographs taken with infrared reflectography and X ray suggested that this rogue painter, while filling in Da Vinci’s sketched study, had made suspicious departures from the underdrawing … as if to subvert Da Vinci’s true intention. Whatever the true nature of the underdrawing, it had yet to be made public. Even so, embarrassed officials at Florence’s Uffizi Gallery immediately banished the painting to a warehouse across the street. Visitors at the gallery’s Leonardo Room now found a misleading and unapologetic plaque where the Adoration once hung.

THIS WORK IS UNDERGOING DIAGNOSTIC TESTS IN PREPARATION FOR RESTORATION.

In the bizarre underworld of modern Grail seekers, Leonardo da Vinci remained the quest’s great enigma. His artwork seemed bursting to tell a secret, and yet whatever it was remained hidden, perhaps beneath a layer of paint, perhaps enciphered in plain view, or perhaps nowhere at all. Maybe Da Vinci’s plethora of tantalizing clues was nothing but an empty promise left behind to frustrate the curious and bring a smirk to the face of his knowing Mona Lisa.

“Is it possible,” Sophie asked, drawing Langdon back, “that the key you’re holding unlocks the hiding place of the Holy Grail?”

Langdon’s laugh sounded forced, even to him. “I really can’t imagine. Besides, the Grail is believed to be hidden in the United Kingdom somewhere, not France.” He gave her the quick history.