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The Da Vinci Code (chapter 101)

2006-07-07 18:39

  CHAPTER 101

  Robert Langdon stood beneath the lofty cupola of the deserted Chapter House and stared into the

  barrel of Leigh Teabing's gun.

  Robert, are you with me, or against me? The Royal Historian's words echoed in the silence of Langdon's mind.

  There was no viable response, Langdon knew. Answer yes, and he would be selling out Sophie. Answer no, and Teabing would have no choice but to kill them both.

  Langdon's years in the classroom had not imbued him with any skills relevant to handling confrontations at gunpoint, but the classroom had taught him something about answering paradoxical questions. When a question has no correct answer, there is only one honest response.

  The gray area between yes and no.

  Silence.

  Staring at the cryptex in his hands, Langdon chose simply to walk away.

  Without ever lifting his eyes, he stepped backward, out into the room's vast empty spaces. Neutral ground. He hoped his focus on the cryptex signaled Teabing that collaboration might be an option, and that his silence signaled Sophie he had not abandoned her.

  All the while buying time to think.

  The act of thinking, Langdon suspected, was exactly what Teabing wanted him to do. That's why he handed me the cryptex. So I could feel the weight of my decision. The British historian hoped the touch of the Grand Master's cryptex would make Langdon fully grasp the magnitude of its contents, coaxing his academic curiosity to overwhelm all else, forcing him to realize that failure to unlock the keystone would mean the loss of history itself.

  With Sophie at gunpoint across the room, Langdon feared that discovering the cryptex's elusive password would be his only remaining hope of bartering her release. If I can free the map, Teabing will negotiate. Forcing his mind to this critical task, Langdon moved slowly toward the far windows…… allowing his mind to fill with the numerous astronomical images on Newton's tomb.

  You seek the orb that ought be on his tomb.

  It speaks of Rosy flesh and seeded womb.

  Turning his back to the others, he walked toward the towering windows, searching for any inspiration in their stained-glass mosaics. There was none.

  Place yourself in Saunière's mind, he urged, gazing outward now into College Garden. What would

  he believe is the orb that ought be on Newton's tomb? Images of stars, comets, and planets twinkled in the falling rain, but Langdon ignored them. Saunière was not a man of science. He was a man of humanity, of art, of history. The sacred feminine…… the chalice…… the Rose…… the banished Mary Magdalene…… the decline of the goddess…… the Holy Grail.

  Legend had always portrayed the Grail as a cruel mistress, dancing in the shadows just out of sight, whispering in your ear, luring you one more step and then evaporating into the mist.

  Gazing out at the rustling trees of College Garden, Langdon sensed her playful presence. The signs were everywhere. Like a taunting silhouette emerging from the fog, the branches of Britain's oldest apple tree burgeoned with five-petaled blossoms, all glistening like Venus. The goddess was in the garden now. She was dancing in the rain, singing songs of the ages, peeking out from behind the bud-filled branches as if to remind Langdon that the fruit of knowledge was growing just beyond his reach.

  Across the room, Sir Leigh Teabing watched with confidence as Langdon gazed out the window as if under a spell.

  Exactly as I hoped, Teabing thought. He will come around.

  For some time now, Teabing had suspected Langdon might hold the key to the Grail. It was no coincidence that Teabing launched his plan into action on the same night Langdon was scheduled to meet Jacques Saunière. Listening in on the curator, Teabing was certain the man's eagerness to meet privately with Langdon could mean only one thing. Langdon's mysterious manuscript has touched a nerve with the Priory.

  Langdon has stumbled onto a truth, and Saunière fears its release. Teabing felt certain the Grand Master was summoning Langdon to silence him.

  The Truth has been silenced long enough!

  Teabing knew he had to act quickly. Silas's attack would accomplish two goals. It would prevent Saunière from persuading Langdon to keep quiet, and it would ensure that once the keystone was in Teabing's hands, Langdon would be in Paris for recruitment should Teabing need him.

  Arranging the fatal meeting between Saunière and Silas had been almost too easy. I had inside information about Saunière's deepest fears. Yesterday afternoon, Silas had phoned the curator and posed as a distraught priest. “Monsieur Saunière, forgive me, I must speak to you at once. I should never breach the sanctity of the confessional, but in this case, I feel I must. I just took confession from a man who claimed to have murdered members of your family.”

  Saunière's response was startled but wary. “My family died in an accident. The police report was conclusive.”

  “Yes, a car accident,” Silas said, baiting the hook. “The man I spoke to said he forced their car off the road into a river.”

  Saunière fell silent.

  “Monsieur Saunière, I would never have phoned you directly except this man made a comment which makes me now fear for your safety.” He paused. “The man also mentioned your granddaughter, Sophie.”

  The mention of Sophie's name had been the catalyst. The curator leapt into action. He ordered Silas to come see him immediately in the safest location Saunière knew-his Louvre office. Then he phoned Sophie to warn her she might be in danger. Drinks with Robert Langdon were instantly abandoned.

  Now, with Langdon separated from Sophie on the far side of the room, Teabing sensed he had successfully alienated the two companions from one another. Sophie Neveu remained defiant, but Langdon clearly saw the larger picture. He was trying to figure out the password. He understands the importance of finding the Grail and releasing her from bondage.

  “He won't open it for you,” Sophie said coldly. “Even if he can.”

  Teabing was glancing at Langdon as he held the gun on Sophie. He was fairly certain now he was going to have to use the weapon. Although the idea troubled him, he knew he would not hesitate if it came to that. I have given her every opportunity to do the right thing. The Grail is bigger than any one of us.

  At that moment, Langdon turned from the window. “The tomb……” he said suddenly, facing them with a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes. “I know where to look on Newton's tomb. Yes, I think I can find the password!”

  Teabing's heart soared. “Where, Robert? Tell me!”

  Sophie sounded horrified. “Robert, no! You're not going to help him, are you?”

  Langdon approached with a resolute stride, holding the cryptex before him. “No,” he said, his eyes hardening as he turned to Leigh. “Not until he lets you go.”

  Teabing's optimism darkened. “We are so close, Robert. Don't you dare start playing games with me!”

  “No games,” Langdon said. “Let her go. Then I'll take you to Newton's tomb. We'll open the cryptex together.”

  “I'm not going anywhere,” Sophie declared, her eyes narrowing with rage. “That cryptex was given to me by my grandfather. It is not yours to open.”

  Langdon wheeled, looking fearful. “Sophie, please! You're in danger. I'm trying to help you!”

  “How? By unveiling the secret my grandfather died trying to protect? He trusted you, Robert. I trusted you!”

  Langdon's blue eyes showed panic now, and Teabing could not help but smile to see the two of them working against one another. Langdon's attempts to be gallant were more pathetic than anything. On the verge of unveiling one of history's greatest secrets, and he troubles himself with a woman who has proven herself unworthy of the quest.

  “Sophie,” Langdon pleaded. “Please…… you must leave.”

  She shook her head. “Not unless you either hand me the cryptex or smash it on the floor.”

  “What?” Langdon gasped.

  “Robert, my grandfather would prefer his secret lost forever than see it in the hands of his murderer.” Sophie's eyes looked as if they would well with tears, but they did not. She stared directly back at Teabing. “Shoot me if you have to. I am not leaving my grandfather's legacy in your hands.”

  Very well. Teabing aimed the weapon.

  “No!” Langdon shouted, raising his arm and suspending the cryptex precariously over the hard stone floor. “Leigh, if you even think about it, I will drop this.”

  Teabing laughed. “That bluff worked on Rémy. Not on me. I know you better than that.”

  “Do you, Leigh?”

  Yes I do. Your poker face needs work, my friend. It took me several seconds, but I can see now that you are lying. You have no idea where on Newton's tomb the answer lies. “Truly, Robert? You know where on the tomb to look?”

  “I do.”

  The falter in Langdon's eyes was fleeting but Leigh caught it. There was a lie there. A desperate,

  pathetic ploy to save Sophie. Teabing felt a profound disappointment in Robert Langdon.

  I am a lone knight, surrounded by unworthy souls. And I will have to decipher the keystone on my own.

  Langdon and Neveu were nothing but a threat to Teabing now…… and to the Grail. As painful as the solution was going to be, he knew he could carry it out with a clean conscience. The only challenge would be to persuade Langdon to set down the keystone so Teabing could safely end this charade.

  “A show of faith,” Teabing said, lowering the gun from Sophie. “Set down the keystone, and we'll talk.”

  Langdon knew his lie had failed.

  He could see the dark resolve in Teabing's face and knew the moment was upon them. When I set this down, he will kill us both. Even without looking at Sophie, he could hear her heart beseeching him in silent desperation. Robert, this man is not worthy of the Grail. Please do not place it in his hands. No matter what the cost.

  Langdon had already made his decision several minutes ago, while standing alone at the window overlooking College Garden.

  Protect Sophie.

  Protect the Grail.

  Langdon had almost shouted out in desperation. But I cannot see how!

  The stark moments of disillusionment had brought with them a clarity unlike any he had ever felt. The Truth is right before your eyes, Robert. He knew not from where the epiphany came. The Grail is not mocking you, she is calling out to a worthy soul.

  Now, bowing down like a subject several yards in front of Leigh Teabing, Langdon lowered the cryptex to within inches of the stone floor.

  “Yes, Robert,” Teabing whispered, aiming the gun at him. “Set it down.”

  Langdon's eyes moved heavenward, up into the gaping void of the Chapter House cupola. Crouching lower, Langdon lowered his gaze to Teabing's gun, aimed directly at him.

  “I'm sorry, Leigh.”

  In one fluid motion, Langdon leapt up, swinging his arm skyward, launching the cryptex straight up toward the dome above.

  Leigh Teabing did not feel his finger pull the trigger, but the Medusa discharged with a thundering crash. Langdon's crouched form was now vertical, almost airborne, and the bullet exploded in the floor near Langdon's feet. Half of Teabing's brain attempted to adjust his aim and fire again in rage, but the more powerful half dragged his eyes upward into the cupola.

  The keystone!

  Time seemed to freeze, morphing into a slow-motion dream as Teabing's entire world became the airborne keystone. He watched it rise to the apex of its climb…… hovering for a moment in the void…… and then tumbling downward, end over end, back toward the stone floor.

  All of Teabing's hopes and dreams were plummeting toward earth. It cannot strike the floor! I can reach it! Teabing's body reacted on instinct. He released the gun and heaved himself forward, dropping his crutches as he reached out with his soft, manicured hands. Stretching his arms and fingers, he snatched the keystone from midair.

  Falling forward with the keystone victoriously clutched in his hand, Teabing knew he was falling too fast. With nothing to break his fall, his outstretched arms hit first, and the cryptex collided hard with the floor.

  There was a sickening crunch of glass within.

  For a full second, Teabing did not breathe. Lying there outstretched on the cold floor, staring the length of his outstretched arms at the marble cylinder in his bare palms, he implored the glass vial inside to hold. Then the acrid tang of vinegar cut the air, and Teabing felt the cool liquid flowing out through the dials onto his palm.

  Wild panic gripped him. NO! The vinegar was streaming now, and Teabing pictured the papyrus dissolving within. Robert, you fool! The secret is lost!

  Teabing felt himself sobbing uncontrollably. The Grail is gone. Everything destroyed. Shuddering in disbelief over Langdon's actions, Teabing tried to force the cylinder apart, longing to catch a fleeting glimpse of history before it dissolved forever. To his shock, as he pulled the ends of the keystone, the cylinder separated.

  He gasped and peered inside. It was empty except for shards of wet glass. No dissolving papyrus. Teabing rolled over and looked up at Langdon. Sophie stood beside him, aiming the gun down at Teabing.

  Bewildered, Teabing looked back at the keystone and saw it. The dials were no longer at random. They spelled a five-letter word: APPLE.

  “The orb from which Eve partook,” Langdon said coolly, “incurring the Holy wrath of God. Original sin. The symbol of the fall of the sacred feminine.”

  Teabing felt the truth come crashing down on him in excruciating austerity. The orb that ought be on Newton's tomb could be none other than the Rosy apple that fell from heaven, struck Newton on the head, and inspired his life's work. His labor's fruit! The Rosy flesh with a seeded womb!

  “Robert,” Teabing stammered, overwhelmed. “You opened it. Where…… is the map?”

  Without blinking, Langdon reached into the breast pocket of his tweed coat and carefully extracted a delicate rolled papyrus. Only a few yards from where Teabing lay, Langdon unrolled the scroll and looked at it. After a long moment, a knowing smile crossed Langdon's face.

  He knows! Teabing's heart craved that knowledge. His life's dream was right in front of him. “Tell me!” Teabing demanded. “Please! Oh God, please! It's not too late!”

  As the sound of heavy footsteps thundered down the hall toward the Chapter House, Langdon quietly rolled the papyrus and slipped it back in his pocket.

  “No!” Teabing cried out, trying in vain to stand.

  When the doors burst open, Bezu Fache entered like a bull into a ring, his feral eyes scanning, finding his target-Leigh Teabing-helpless on the floor. Exhaling in relief, Fache holstered his Manurhin sidearm and turned to Sophie. “Agent Neveu, I am relieved you and Mr. Langdon are safe. You should have come in when I asked.”

  The British police entered on Fache's heels, seizing the anguished prisoner and placing him in handcuffs.

  Sophie seemed stunned to see Fache. “How did you find us?”

  Fache pointed to Teabing. “He made the mistake of showing his ID when he entered the abbey. The guards heard a police broadcast about our search for him.”

  “It's in Langdon's pocket!” Teabing was screaming like a madman. “The map to the Holy Grail!”

  As they hoisted Teabing and carried him out, he threw back his head and howled. “Robert! Tell me

  where it's hidden!“

  As Teabing passed, Langdon looked him in the eye. “Only the worthy find the Grail, Leigh. You taught me that.”

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