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.

CHAPTER 72

Fifteen thousand feet in the air, Robert Langdon felt the physical world fade away as all of his thoughts converged on Saunière’s mirror-image poem, which was illuminated through the lid of the box.

Sophie quickly found some paper and copied it down longhand. When she was done, the three of them took turns reading the text. It was like some kind of archaeological crossword … a riddle that promised to reveal how to open the cryptex. Langdon read the verse slowly.

An ancient word of wisdom frees this scroll … and helps us keep her scatter’d family whole … a headstone praised by templars is the key … and atbash will reveal the truth to thee.

Before Langdon could even ponder what ancient password the verse was trying to reveal, he felt something far more fundamental resonate within him—the meter of the poem. Iambic pentameter.

Langdon had come across this meter often over the years while researching secret societies across Europe, including just last year in the Vatican Secret Archives. For centuries, iambic pentameter had been a preferred poetic meter of outspoken literati across the globe, from the ancient Greek writer Archilochus to Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, and Voltaire—bold souls who chose to write their social commentaries in a meter that many of the day believed had mystical properties. The roots of iambic pentameter were deeply pagan.

Iambs. Two syllables with opposite emphasis. Stressed and unstressed. Yin yang. A balanced pair. Arranged in strings of ftve. Pentameter. Five

for the pentacle of Venus and the sacred feminine.

“It’s pentameter!” Teabing blurted, turning to Langdon. “And the verse is in English! La lingua pura!

Langdon nodded. The Priory, like many European secret societies at odds with the Church, had considered English the only European pure language for centuries. Unlike French, Spanish, and Italian, which were rooted in Latin—the tongue of the Vatican—English was linguistically removed from Rome’s propaganda machine, and therefore became a sacred, secret tongue for those brotherhoods educated enough to learn it.

“This poem,” Teabing gushed, “references not only the Grail, but the Knights Templar and the scattered family of Mary Magdalene! What more could we ask for?”

“The password,” Sophie said, looking again at the poem. “It sounds like we need some kind of ancient word of wisdom?”

“Abracadabra?” Teabing ventured, his eyes twinkling.

A word of ftve letters, Langdon thought, pondering the staggering number of ancient words that might be considered words of wisdom

—selections from mystic chants, astrological prophecies, secret society inductions, Wicca incantations, Egyptian magic spells, pagan mantras—the list was endless.

“The password,” Sophie said, “appears to have something to do with the Templars.” She read the text aloud. “’A headstone praised by Templars is the key.’”

“Leigh,” Langdon said, “you’re the Templar specialist. Any ideas?”

Teabing was silent for several seconds and then sighed. “Well, a headstone is obviously a grave marker of some sort. It’s possible the poem is referencing a gravestone the Templars praised at the tomb of Magdalene, but that doesn’t help us much because we have no idea where her tomb is.”

“The last line,” Sophie said, “says that Atbash will reveal the truth.

I’ve heard that word. Atbash.”

“I’m not surprised,” Langdon replied. “You probably heard it in Cryptology 101. The Atbash Cipher is one of the oldest codes known to man.”

Of course! Sophie thought. The famous Hebrew encoding system.

The Atbash Cipher had indeed been part of Sophie’s early cryptology training. The cipher dated back to 500 B.C. and was now used as a classroom example of a basic rotational substitution scheme. A common form of Jewish cryptogram, the Atbash Cipher was a simple substitution code based on the twenty-two-letter Hebrew alphabet. In Atbash, the first letter was substituted by the last letter, the second letter by the next to last letter, and so on.

“Atbash is sublimely appropriate,” Teabing said. “Text encrypted with Atbash is found throughout the Kabbala, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and even the Old Testament. Jewish scholars and mystics are still finding hidden meanings using Atbash. The Priory certainly would include the Atbash Cipher as part of their teachings.”

“The only problem,” Langdon said, “is that we don’t have anything on which to apply the cipher.”

Teabing sighed. “There must be a code word on the headstone. We must find this headstone praised by Templars.”

Sophie sensed from the grim look on Langdon’s face that finding the Templar headstone would be no small feat.

Atbash is the key, Sophie thought. But we don’t have a door.

It was three minutes later that Teabing heaved a frustrated sigh and shook his head. “My friends, I’m stymied. Let me ponder this while I get us some nibblies and check on Rémy and our guest.” He stood up and headed for the back of the plane.

Sophie felt tired as she watched him go.

Outside the window, the blackness of the predawn was absolute. Sophie felt as if she were being hurtled through space with no idea where she would land. Having grown up solving her grandfather’s riddles, she had the uneasy sense right now that this poem before them contained information they still had not seen.

There is more there, she told herself. Ingeniously hidden … but present nonetheless.

Also plaguing her thoughts was a fear that what they eventually found inside this cryptex would not be as simple as “a map to the Holy Grail.” Despite Teabing’s and Langdon’s confidence that the truth lay just within the marble cylinder, Sophie had solved enough

of her grandfather’s treasure hunts to know that Jacques Saunière did not give up his secrets easily.

CHAPTER 73

Bourget Airfield’s night shift air traffic controller had been dozing before a blank radar screen when the captain of the Judicial Police practically broke down his door.

“Teabing’s jet,” Bezu Fache blared, marching into the small tower, “where did it go?”

The controller’s initial response was a babbling, lame attempt to protect the privacy of their British client—one of the airfield’s most respected customers. It failed miserably.

“Okay,” Fache said, “I am placing you under arrest for permitting a private plane to take off without registering a flight plan.” Fache motioned to another officer, who approached with handcuffs, and the traffic controller felt a surge of terror. He thought of the newspaper articles debating whether the nation’s police captain was a hero or a menace. That question had just been answered.

“Wait!” the controller heard himself whimper at the sight of the handcuffs. “I can tell you this much. Sir Leigh Teabing makes frequent trips to London for medical treatments. He has a hangar at Biggin Hill Executive Airport in Kent. On the outskirts of London.”

Fache waved off the man with the cuffs. “Is Biggin Hill his destination tonight?”

“I don’t know,” the controller said honestly. “The plane left on its usual tack, and his last radar contact suggested the United Kingdom. Biggin Hill is an extremely likely guess.”

“Did he have others onboard?”

“I swear, sir, there is no way for me to know that. Our clients can drive directly to their hangars, and load as they please. Who is onboard is the responsibility of the customs officials at the receiving airport.”

Fache checked his watch and gazed out at the scattering of jets parked in front of the terminal. “If they’re going to Biggin Hill, how long until they land?”

The controller fumbled through his records. “It’s a short flight. His plane could be on the ground by … around six-thirty. Fifteen minutes from now.”

Fache frowned and turned to one of his men. “Get a transport up here. I’m going to London. And get me the Kent local police. Not British MI5. I want this quiet. Kent local. Tell them I want Teabing’s plane to be permitted to land. Then I want it surrounded on the tarmac. Nobody deplanes until I get there.”

CHAPTER 74

“You’re quiet,” Langdon said, gazing across the Hawker’s cabin at Sophie.

“Just tired,” she replied. “And the poem. I don’t know.”

Langdon was feeling the same way. The hum of the engines and the gentle rocking of the plane were hypnotic, and his head still throbbed where he’d been hit by the monk. Teabing was still in the back of the plane, and Langdon decided to take advantage of the moment alone with Sophie to tell her something that had been on his mind. “I think I know part of the reason why your grandfather conspired to put us together. I think there’s something he wanted me to explain to you.”

“The history of the Holy Grail and Mary Magdalene isn’t enough?” Langdon felt uncertain how to proceed. “The rift between you. The reason you haven’t spoken to him in ten years. I think maybe he was hoping I could somehow make that right by explaining what drove

you apart.”

Sophie squirmed in her seat. “I haven’t told you what drove us apart.”

Langdon eyed her carefully. “You witnessed a sex rite. Didn’t you?”

Sophie recoiled. “How do you know that?”

“Sophie, you told me you witnessed something that convinced you your grandfather was in a secret society. And whatever you saw upset you enough that you haven’t spoken to him since. I know a fair amount about secret societies. It doesn’t take the brains of Da Vinci to guess what you saw.”

Sophie stared.

“Was it in the spring?” Langdon asked. “Sometime around the equinox? Mid-March?”

Sophie looked out the window. “I was on spring break from university. I came home a few days early.”

“You want to tell me about it?”

“I’d rather not.” She turned suddenly back to Langdon, her eyes welling with emotion. “I don’t know what I saw.”

“Were both men and women present?” After a beat, she nodded.

“Dressed in white and black?”

She wiped her eyes and then nodded, seeming to open up a little. “The women were in white gossamer gowns … with golden shoes. They held golden orbs. The men wore black tunics and black shoes.” Langdon strained to hide his emotion, and yet he could not believe what he was hearing. Sophie Neveu had unwittingly witnessed a two-thousand-year-old sacred ceremony. “Masks?” he asked,

keeping his voice calm. “Androgynous masks?”

“Yes. Everyone. Identical masks. White on the women. Black on the men.”

Langdon had read descriptions of this ceremony and understood its mystic roots. “It’s called Hieros Gamos,” he said softly. “It dates back more than two thousand years. Egyptian priests and priestesses performed it regularly to celebrate the reproductive power of the female.” He paused, leaning toward her. “And if you witnessed Hieros Gamos without being properly prepared to understand its meaning, I imagine it would be pretty shocking.”

Sophie said nothing.

“Hieros Gamos is Greek,” he continued. “It means sacred marriage.” “The ritual I saw was no marriage.”

“Marriage as in union, Sophie.” “You mean as in sex.”

“No.”

“No?” she said, her olive eyes testing him.

Langdon backpedaled. “Well … yes, in a manner of speaking, but not as we understand it today.” He explained that although what she saw probably looked like a sex ritual, Hieros Gamos had nothing to do with eroticism. It was a spiritual act. Historically, intercourse was the act through which male and female experienced God. The ancients believed that the male was spiritually incomplete until he had carnal knowledge of the sacred feminine. Physical union with the female remained the sole means through which man could

become spiritually complete and ultimately achieve gnosis— knowledge of the divine. Since the days of Isis, sex rites had been considered man’s only bridge from earth to heaven. “By communing with woman,” Langdon said, “man could achieve a climactic instant when his mind went totally blank and he could see God.”

Sophie looked skeptical. “Orgasm as prayer?”

Langdon gave a noncommittal shrug, although Sophie was essentially correct. Physiologically speaking, the male climax was accompanied by a split second entirely devoid of thought. A brief mental vacuum. A moment of clarity during which God could be glimpsed. Meditation gurus achieved similar states of thoughtlessness without sex and often described Nirvana as a never- ending spiritual orgasm.

“Sophie,” Langdon said quietly, “it’s important to remember that the ancients’ view of sex was entirely opposite from ours today. Sex begot new life—the ultimate miracle—and miracles could be performed only by a god. The ability of the woman to produce life from her womb made her sacred. A god. Intercourse was the revered union of the two halves of the human spirit—male and female— through which the male could find spiritual wholeness and communion with God. What you saw was not about sex, it was about spirituality. The Hieros Gamos ritual is not a perversion. It’s a deeply sacrosanct ceremony.”

His words seemed to strike a nerve. Sophie had been remarkably poised all evening, but now, for the first time, Langdon saw the aura of composure beginning to crack. Tears materialized in her eyes again, and she dabbed them away with her sleeve.