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 ftve-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?” Rémy 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 Rémy.

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 Fache would have to assume they were still in France. We are invisible. Leigh’s little stunt had just bought them 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 part 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 religious, and he is intent on pinning these murders on me. 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 Saunière’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 literally walked 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 S3

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.”