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“Actually, the less you know right now the better. What I’m hoping is that you’ll be able to analyze these alterations and tell us what they mean.” She motioned to a desk in the corner.
“Here? Right now?”
She nodded. “I know it’s an imposition, but I can’t stress enough how important this is to us.” She paused. “It could well be a matter of life and death.”
Langdon studied her with concern. “Deciphering this may take a while, but I suppose if it’s that important to you—”
“Thank you,” Sinskey interjected before he could change his mind. “Is there anyone you need to call?”
Langdon shook his head and told her he had been planning on a quiet weekend alone.
Perfect. Sinskey got him settled at his desk with the projector, paper, pencil, and a laptop with a secure satellite connection. Langdon looked deeply puzzled about why the WHO would be interested in a modified painting by Botticelli, but he dutifully set to work.
Dr. Sinskey imagined he might end up studying the image for hours with no breakthrough, and so she settled in to get some work of her own done. From time to time she could hear him shaking the projector and scribbling on his notepad. Barely ten minutes had passed when Langdon set down his pencil and announced, “Cerca trova.”
Sinskey glanced over. “What?”
“Cerca trova,” he repeated. “Seek and ye shall find. That’s what this code says.”
Sinskey hurried over and sat down close beside him, listening with fascination as Langdon explained how the levels of Dante’s inferno had been scrambled, and that, when they were replaced in their proper sequence, they spelled the Italian phrase cerca trova.
Seek and find? Sinskey wondered. That’s this lunatic’s message to me? The phrase sounded like a direct challenge. The disturbing memory of the madman’s final words to her during their meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations replayed in her mind: Then it appears our dance has begun.
“You just went white,” Langdon said, studying her thoughtfully. “I take it this is not the message you were hoping for?”
Sinskey gathered herself, straightening the amulet on her neck. “Not exactly. Tell me … do you believe this map of hell is suggesting I seek something?”
“Yes. Cerca trova.”
“And does it suggest where I seek?”
Langdon stroked his chin as other WHO staff began gathering around, looking eager for information. “Not overtly … no, although I’ve got a pretty good idea where you’ll want to start.”
“Tell me,” Sinskey demanded, more forcefully than Langdon would have expected.
“Well, how do you feel about Florence, Italy?”
Sinskey set her jaw, doing her best not to react. Her staff members, however, were less controlled. All of them exchanged startled glances. One grabbed a phone and placed a call. Another hurried through a door toward the front of the plane.
Langdon looked bewildered. “Was it something I said?”
Absolutely, Sinskey thought. “What makes you say Florence?”
“Cerca trova,” he replied, quickly recounting a long-standing mystery involving a Vasari fresco at the Palazzo Vecchio.
Florence it is, Sinskey thought, having heard enough. Obviously, it could not be mere coincidence that her nemesis had jumped to his death not more than three blocks from the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence.
“Professor,” she said, “when I showed you my amulet earlier and called it a caduceus, you paused, as if you wanted to say something, but then you hesitated and seemed to change your mind. What were you going to say?”
Langdon shook his head. “Nothing. It’s foolish. Sometimes the professor in me can be a little overbearing.”
Sinskey stared into his eyes. “I ask because I need to know I can trust you. What were you going to say?”
Langdon swallowed and cleared his throat. “Not that it matters, but you said your amulet is the ancient symbol of medicine, which is correct. But when you called it a caduceus, you made a very common mistake. The caduceus has two snakes on the staff and wings at the top. Your amulet has a single snake and no wings. Your symbol is called—”
“The Rod of Asclepius.”
Langdon cocked his head in surprise. “Yes. Exactly.”
“I know. I was testing your truthfulness.”
“I was curious to know if you would tell me the truth, no matter how uncomfortable it might make me.”
“Sounds like I failed.”
“Don’t do it again. Total honesty is the only way you and I will be able to work together on this.”
“Work together? Aren’t we done here?”
“No, Professor, we’re not done. I need you to come to Florence to help me find something.”
Langdon stared in disbelief. “Tonight?”
“I’m afraid so. I have yet to tell you about the truly critical nature of this situation.”
Langdon shook his head. “It doesn’t matter what you tell me. I don’t want to fly to Florence.”
“Neither do I,” she said grimly. “But unfortunately our time is running out.”
The noon sun glinted off the sleek roof of Italy’s high-velocity Frecciargento train as it raced northward, cutting a graceful arc across the Tuscan countryside. Despite traveling away from Florence at 174 miles per hour, the “silver arrow” train made almost no noise, its soft repetitive clicking and gently swaying motion having an almost soothing effect on those who rode it.
For Robert Langdon, the last hour had been a blur.
Now, aboard the high-speed train, Langdon, Sienna, and Dr. Ferris were seated in one of the Frecciargento’s private salottini—a small, executive-class berth with four leather seats and a foldout table. Ferris had rented the entire cabin using his credit card, along with an assortment of sandwiches and mineral water, which Langdon and Sienna had ravenously consumed after cleaning up in the restroom next to their private berth.
As the three of them settled in for the two-hour train ride to Venice, Dr. Ferris immediately turned his gaze to the Dante death mask, which sat on the table between them in its Ziploc bag. “We need to figure out precisely where in Venice this mask is leading us.”
“And quickly,” Sienna added, urgency in her voice. “It’s probably our only hope of preventing Zobrist’s plague.”
“Hold on,” Langdon said, placing a defensive hand atop the mask. “You promised that once we were safely aboard this train you would give me some answers about the last few days. So far, all I know is that the WHO recruited me in Cambridge to help decipher Zobrist’s version of La Mappa. Other than that, you’ve told me nothing.”
Dr. Ferris shifted uncomfortably and began scratching again at the rash on his face and neck. “I can see you’re frustrated,” he said. “I’m sure it’s unsettling not to remember what happened, but medically speaking …” He glanced over at Sienna for confirmation and then continued. “I strongly recommend you not expend energy trying to recall specifics you can’t remember. With amnesia victims, it’s best just to let the forgotten past remain forgotten.”
“Let it be?!” Langdon felt his anger rising. “The hell with that! I need some answers! Your organization brought me to Italy, where I was shot and lost several days of my life! I want to know how it happened!”
“Robert,” Sienna intervened, speaking softly in a clear attempt to calm him down. “Dr. Ferris is right. It definitely would not be healthy for you to be overwhelmed by a deluge of information all at once. Think about the tiny snippets you do remember—the silver-haired woman, ‘seek and find,’ the writhing bodies from La Mappa—those images flooded into your mind in a series of jumbled, uncontrollable flashbacks that left you nearly incapacitated. If Dr. Ferris starts recounting the past few days, he will almost certainly dislodge other memories, and your hallucinations could start all over again. Retrograde amnesia is a serious condition. Triggering misplaced memories can be extremely disruptive to the psyche.”
The thought had not occurred to Langdon.
“You must feel quite disoriented,” Ferris added, “but at the moment we need your psyche intact so we can move forward. It’s imperative that we figure out what this mask is trying to tell us.”
The doctors, Langdon noted silently, seemed to agree.
Langdon sat quietly, trying to overcome his feelings of uncertainty. It was a strange sensation to meet a total stranger and realize you had actually known him for several days. Then again, Langdon thought, there is something vaguely familiar about his eyes.
“Professor,” Ferris said sympathetically, “I can see that you’re not sure you trust me, and this is understandable considering all you’ve been through. One of the common side effects of amnesia is mild paranoia and distrust.”
That makes sense, Langdon thought, considering I can’t even trust my own mind.
“Speaking of paranoia,” Sienna joked, clearly trying to lighten the mood, “Robert saw your rash and thought you’d been stricken with the Black Plague.”
Ferris’s puffy eyes widened, and he laughed out loud. “This rash? Believe me, Professor, if I had the plague, I would not be treating it with an over-the-counter antihistamine.” He pulled a small tube of medicine from his pocket and tossed it to Langdon. Sure enough, it was a half-empty tube of anti-itch cream for allergic reactions.
“Sorry about that,” Langdon said, feeling foolish. “Long day.”
“No worries,” Ferris said.
Langdon turned toward the window, watching the muted hues of the Italian countryside blur together in a peaceful collage. The vineyards and farms were becoming scarcer now as the flatlands gave way to the foothills of the Apennines. Soon the train would navigate the sinuous mountain pass and then descend again, powering eastward toward the Adriatic Sea.
I’m headed for Venice, he thought. To look for a plague.
This strange day had left Langdon feeling as if he were moving through a landscape composed of nothing but vague shapes with no particular details. Like a dream. Ironically, nightmares usually woke people up … but Langdon felt as if he had awoken into one.
“Lira for your thoughts,” Sienna whispered beside him.
Langdon glanced up, smiling wearily. “I keep thinking I’ll wake up at home and discover this was all a bad dream.”
Sienna cocked her head, looking demure. “You wouldn’t miss me if you woke up and found out I wasn’t real?”
Langdon had to grin. “Yes, actually, I would miss you a little.”
She patted his knee. “Stop daydreaming, Professor, and get to work.”
Langdon reluctantly turned his eyes to the crinkled face of Dante Alighieri, which stared blankly up from the table before him. Gently, Langdon picked up the plaster mask and turned it over in his hands, gazing down into the concave interior at the first line of spiral text:
O you possessed of sturdy intellect …
Langdon doubted he qualified at the moment.
Nonetheless, he set to work.
Two hundred miles ahead of the speeding train, The Mendacium remained anchored in the Adriatic. Belowdecks, facilitator Laurence Knowlton heard the soft rap of knuckles on his glass cubicle and touched a button beneath his desk, turning the opaque wall into a transparent one. Outside, a small, tanned form materialized.
He looked grim.
Without a word, he entered, locked the cubicle door, and threw the switch that turned the glass room opaque again. He smelled of alcohol.
“The video that Zobrist left us,” the provost said.
“I want to see it. Now.”
Robert Langdon had now finished transcribing the spiral text from the death mask onto paper so they could analyze it more closely. Sienna and Dr. Ferris huddled in close to help, and Langdon did his best to ignore Ferris’s ongoing scratching and labored breathing.
He’s fine, Langdon told himself, forcing his attention to the verse before him.
O you possessed of sturdy intellect ,
observe the teaching that is hidden here …
beneath the veil of verses so obscure .
“As I mentioned earlier,” Langdon began, “the opening stanza of Zobrist’s poem is taken verbatim from Dante’s Inferno—an admonition to the reader that the words carry a deeper meaning.”
Dante’s allegorical work was so replete with veiled commentary on religion, politics, and philosophy that Langdon often suggested to his students that the Italian poet be studied much as one might study the Bible—reading between the lines in an effort to understand the deeper meaning.
“Scholars of medieval allegory,” Langdon continued, “generally divide their analyses into two categories—‘text’ and ‘image’ … text being the literal content of the work, and image being the symbolic message.”
“Okay,” Ferris said eagerly. “So the fact that the poem begins with this line—”
“Suggests,” Sienna interjected, “that our superficial reading may reveal only part of the story. The true meaning may be hidden.”
“Something like that, yes.” Langdon returned his gaze to the text and continued reading aloud.
Seek the treacherous doge of Venice
who severed the heads from horses …
and plucked up the bones of the blind .
“Well,” Langdon said, “I’m not sure about headless horses and the bones of the blind, but it sounds like we’re supposed to locate a specific doge.”
“I assume … a doge’s grave?” Sienna asked.
“Or a statue or portrait?” Langdon replied. “There haven’t been doges for centuries.”
The doges of Venice were similar to the dukes of the other Italian city-states, and more than a hundred of them had ruled Venice over the course of a thousand years, beginning in A.D. 697. Their lineage had ended in the late eighteenth century with Napoleon’s conquest, but their glory and power still remain subjects of intense fascination for historians.
“As you may know,” Langdon said, “Venice’s two most popular tourist attractions—the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica—were built by the doges, for the doges. Many of them are buried right there.”
“And do you know,” Sienna asked, eyeing the poem, “if there was a doge who was considered to be particularly dangerous?”
Langdon glanced down at the line in question. Seek the treacherous doge of Venice. “None that I know of, but the poem doesn’t use the word ‘dangerous’; it uses the word ‘treacherous.’ There’s a difference, at least in the world of Dante. Treachery is one of the Seven Deadly Sins—the worst of them, actually—punished in the ninth and final ring of hell.”
Treachery, as defined by Dante, was the act of betraying a loved one. History’s most notorious example of the sin had been Judas’s betrayal of his beloved Jesus, an act Dante considered so vile that he had Judas banished to the inferno’s innermost core—a region named Judecca, after its most dishonorable resident.
“Okay,” Ferris said, “so we’re looking for a doge who committed an act of treachery.”
Sienna nodded her agreement. “That will help us limit the list of possibilities.” She paused, eyeing the text. “But this next line … a doge who ‘severed the heads from horses’?” She raised her eyes to Langdon. “Is there a doge who cut off horses’ heads?”
The image Sienna evoked in his mind reminded Langdon of the gruesome scene from The Godfather. “Doesn’t ring a bell. But according to this, he also ‘plucked up the bones of the blind.’ ” He glanced over at Ferris. “Your phone has Internet, right?”
Ferris quickly pulled out his phone and held up his swollen, rashy fingertips. “The buttons might be difficult for me to manage.”
“I’ve got it,” Sienna said, taking his phone. “I’ll run a search for Venetian doges, cross-referenced with headless horses and the bones of the blind.” She began typing rapidly on the tiny keyboard.
Langdon skimmed the poem another time, and then continued reading aloud.
Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom ,
and place thine ear to the ground ,
listening for the sounds of trickling water .
“I’ve never heard of a mouseion,” Ferris said.
“It’s an ancient word meaning a temple protected by muses,” Langdon replied. “In the days of the early Greeks, a mouseion was a place where the enlightened gathered to share ideas, and discuss literature, music, and art. The first mouseion was built by Ptolemy at the Library of Alexandria centuries before the birth of Christ, and then hundreds more cropped up around the world.”
“Dr. Brooks,” Ferris said, glancing hopefully at Sienna. “Can you look and see if there’s a mouseion in Venice?”
“Actually there are dozens of them,” Langdon said with a playful smile. “Now they’re called museums.”
“Ahhh …” Ferris replied. “I guess we’ll have to cast a wider net.”
Sienna kept typing into the phone, having no trouble multitasking as she calmly took inventory. “Okay, so we’re looking for a museum where we can find a doge who severed the heads from horses and plucked up the bones of the blind. Robert, is there a particular museum that might be a good place to look?”
Langdon was already considering all of Venice’s best-known museums—the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Ca’ Rezzonico, the Palazzo Grassi, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Museo Correr—but none of them seemed to fit the description.
He glanced back at the text.
Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom …
Langdon smiled wryly. “Venice does have one museum that perfectly qualifies as a ‘gilded mouseion of holy wisdom.’ ”
Both Ferris and Sienna looked at him expectantly.
“St. Mark’s Basilica,” he declared. “The largest church in Venice.”
Ferris looked uncertain. “The church is a museum?”
Langdon nodded. “Much like the Vatican Museum. And what’s more, the interior of St. Mark’s is famous for being adorned, in its entirety, in solid gold tiles.”
“A gilded mouseion,” Sienna said, sounding genuinely excited.
Langdon nodded, having no doubt that St. Mark’s was the gilded temple referenced in the poem. For centuries, the Venetians had called St. Mark’s La Chiesa d’Oro—the Church of Gold—and Langdon considered its interior the most dazzling of any church in the world.
“The poem says to ‘kneel’ there,” Ferris added. “And a church is a logical place to kneel.”
Sienna was typing furiously again. “I’ll add St. Mark’s to the search. That must be where we need to look for the doge.”
Langdon knew they would find no shortage of doges in St. Mark’s—which was, quite literally, the basilica of the doges. He felt encouraged as he returned his eyes to the poem.
Kneel within the gilded mouseion of holy wisdom ,
and place thine ear to the ground ,
listening for the sounds of trickling water .
Trickling water? Langdon wondered. Is there water under St. Mark’s? The question, he realized, was foolish. There was water under the entire city. Every