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The Da Vinci Code (chapter 71)

2006-07-07 17:59

  CHAPTER 71

  As the Hawker leveled off, with its nose aimed for England, Langdon carefully lifted the rosewood box from his lap, where he had been protecting it during takeoff. Now, as he set the box on the table, he could sense Sophie and Teabing leaning forward with anticipation.

  Unlatching the lid and opening the box, Langdon turned his attention not to the lettered dials of the cryptex, but rather to the tiny hole on the underside of the box lid. Using the tip of a pen, he carefully removed the inlaid Rose on top and revealed the text beneath it. Sub Rosa, he mused, hoping a fresh look at the text would bring clarity. Focusing all his energies, Langdon studied the

  strange text.

  strange text

  After several seconds, he began to feel the initial frustration resurfacing. “Leigh, I just can't seem to place it.”

  From where Sophie was seated across the table, she could not yet see the text, but Langdon's inability to immediately identify the language surprised her. My grandfather spoke a language so obscure that even a symbologist can't identify it? She quickly realized she should not find this surprising. This would not be the first secret Jacques Saunière had kept from his granddaughter.

  Opposite Sophie, Leigh Teabing felt ready to burst. Eager for his chance to see the text, he quivered with excitement, leaning in, trying to see around Langdon, who was still hunched over the box.

  “I don't know,” Langdon whispered intently. “My first guess is a Semitic, but now I'm not so sure. Most primary Semitics include nekkudot. This has none.”

  “Probably ancient,” Teabing offered.

  “Nekkudot?” Sophie inquired.

  Teabing never took his eyes from the box. “Most modern Semitic alphabets have no vowels and use nekkudot-tiny dots and dashes written either below or within the consonants-to indicate what vowel sound accompanies them. Historically speaking, nekkudot are a relatively modern addition to language.”

  Langdon was still hovering over the script. “A Sephardic transliteration, perhaps……?”

  Teabing could bear it no longer. “Perhaps if I just……” Reaching over, he edged the box away from Langdon and pulled it toward himself. No doubt Langdon had a solid familiarity with the standard ancients-Greek, Latin, the Romances-but from the fleeting glance Teabing had of this language, he thought it looked more specialized, possibly a Rashi script or a STA'M with crowns.

  Taking a deep breath, Teabing feasted his eyes upon the engraving. He said nothing for a very long time. With each passing second, Teabing felt his confidence deflating. “I'm astonished,” he said. “This language looks like nothing I've ever seen!”

  Langdon slumped.

  “Might I see it?” Sophie asked.

  Teabing pretended not to hear her. “Robert, you said earlier that you thought you'd seen something like this before?”

  Langdon looked vexed. “I thought so. I'm not sure. The script looks familiar somehow.”

  “Leigh?” Sophie repeated, clearly not appreciating being left out of the discussion. “Might I have a look at the box my grandfather made?”

  “Of course, dear,” Teabing said, pushing it over to her. He hadn't meant to sound belittling, and yet Sophie Neveu was light-years out of her league. If a British Royal Historian and a Harvard symbologist could not even identify the language-

  “Aah,” Sophie said, seconds after examining the box. “I should have guessed.”

  Teabing and Langdon turned in unison, staring at her.

  “Guessed what?” Teabing demanded.

  Sophie shrugged. “Guessed that this would be the language my grandfather would have used.”

  “You're saying you can read this text?” Teabing exclaimed.

  “Quite easily,” Sophie chimed, obviously enjoying herself now. “My grandfather taught me this language when I was only six years old. I'm fluent.” She leaned across the table and fixed Teabing with an admonishing glare. “And frankly, sir, considering your allegiance to the Crown, I'm a little surprised you didn't recognize it.”

  In a flash, Langdon knew.

  No wonder the script looks so damned familiar!

  Several years ago, Langdon had attended an event at Harvard's Fogg Museum. Harvard dropout Bill Gates had returned to his alma mater to lend to the museum one of his priceless acquisitions-eighteen sheets of paper he had recently purchased at auction from the Armand Hammar Estate.

  His winning bid-a cool $30.8 million.

  The author of the pages-Leonardo da Vinci.

  The eighteen folios-now known as Leonardo's Codex Leicester after their famous owner, the Earl of Leicester-were all that remained of one of Leonardo's most fascinating notebooks: essays and drawings outlining Da Vinci's progressive theories on astronomy, geology, archaeology, and hydrology.

  Langdon would never forget his reaction after waiting in line and finally viewing the priceless parchment. Utter letdown. The pages were unintelligible. Despite being beautifully preserved and written in an impeccably neat penmanship-crimson ink on cream paper-the codex looked like gibberish. At first Langdon thought he could not read them because Da Vinci wrote his notebooks in an archaic Italian. But after studying them more closely, he realized he could not identify a single Italian word, or even one letter.

  “Try this, sir,” whispered the female docent at the display case. She motioned to a hand mirror affixed to the display on a chain. Langdon picked it up and examined the text in the mirror's surface.

  Instantly it was clear.

  Langdon had been so eager to peruse some of the great thinker's ideas that he had forgotten one of the man's numerous artistic talents was an ability to write in a mirrored script that was virtually illegible to anyone other than himself. Historians still debated whether Da Vinci wrote this way simply to amuse himself or to keep people from peering over his shoulder and stealing his ideas, but the point was moot. Da Vinci did as he pleased.

  Sophie smiled inwardly to see that Robert understood her meaning. “I can read the first few words,” she said. “It's English.”

  Teabing was still sputtering. “What's going on?”

  “Reverse text,” Langdon said. “We need a mirror.”

  “No we don't,” Sophie said. “I bet this veneer is thin enough.” She lifted the rosewood box up to a canister light on the wall and began examining the underside of the lid. Her grandfather couldn't actually write in reverse, so he always cheated by writing normally and then flipping the paper over and tracing the reversed impression. Sophie's guess was that he had wood-burned normal text into a block of wood and then run the back of the block through a sander until the wood was paper thin and the wood-burning could be seen through the wood. Then he'd simply flipped the piece over, and laid it in.

  As Sophie moved the lid closer to the light, she saw she was right. The bright beam sifted through the thin layer of wood, and the script appeared in reverse on the underside of the lid.

  Instantly legible.

  “English,” Teabing croaked, hanging his head in shame. “My native tongue.”

  At the rear of the plane, Rémy Legaludec strained to hear beyond the rumbling engines, but the conversation up front was inaudible. Rémy did not like the way the night was progressing. Not at all. He looked down at the bound monk at his feet. The man lay perfectly still now, as if in a trance of acceptance, or perhaps, in silent prayer for deliverance.

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