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“You’re right. We’re looking for a line of Blake’s poetry.”

“‘Tyger Tyger, burning bright’?” Bena offered. “‘In the forests of the night’?”

Langdon smiled, impressed that Bena knew the first line of Blake’s most famous poem–a six-stanza religious query that asked if the same God who had designed the fearsome tiger had also designed the docile lamb.

“Father Bena?” Ambra asked, crouching down and peering intently through the glass. “Do you happen to have a phone or a flashlight with you?”

“No, I’m sorry. Shall I borrow a lantern from Antoni’s tomb?”

“Would you, please?” Ambra asked. “That would be helpful.”

Bena hurried off.

The instant he left, she whispered urgently to Langdon, “Robert! Edmond didn’t choose page one sixty-three because of the painting!”

“What do you mean?” There’s nothing else on page 163.

“It’s a clever decoy.”

“You’ve lost me,” Langdon said, eyeing the painting.

“Edmond chose page one sixty-three because it’s impossible to display that page without simultaneously displaying the page next to it–page one sixty-two!”

Langdon shifted his gaze to the left, examining the folio preceding The Ancient of Days. In the dim light, he could not make out much on the page, except that it appeared to consist entirely of tiny handwritten text.

Bena returned with a lantern and handed it to Ambra, who held it up over the book. As the soft glow spread out across the open tome, Langdon drew a startled breath.

The facing page was indeed text–handwritten, as were all of Blake’s original manuscripts–its margins embellished with drawings, frames, and various figures. Most significantly, however, the text on the page appeared to be designed in elegant stanzas of poetry.

Directly overhead in the main sanctuary, Agent Diaz paced in the darkness, wondering where his partner was.

Fonseca should have returned by now.

When the phone in his pocket began vibrating, he thought it was probably Fonseca calling him, but when he checked the caller ID, Diaz saw a name he had never expected to see.

Monica Martin

He could not imagine what the PR coordinator wanted, but whatever it was, she should be calling Fonseca directly. He is lead agent on this team.

“Hello,” he answered. “This is Diaz.”

“Agent Diaz, this is Monica Martin. I have someone here who needs to speak to you.”

A moment later, a strong familiar voice came on the line. “Agent Diaz, this is Commander Garza. Please assure me that Ms. Vidal is safe.”

“Yes, Commander,” Diaz blurted, feeling himself bolt to attention at the sound of Garza’s voice. “Ms. Vidal is perfectly safe. Agent Fonseca and I are currently with her and safely situated inside–”

“Not on an open phone line,” Garza interrupted forcefully. “If she is in a safe location, keep her there. Don’t move. I’m relieved to hear your voice. We tried to phone Agent Fonseca, but there was no answer. Is he with you?”

“Yes, sir. He stepped away to make a call but should return–”

“I don’t have time to wait. I’m being detained at the moment, and Ms. Martin has loaned me her phone. Listen to me very carefully. The kidnapping story, as you were no doubt aware, was wholly false. It put Ms. Vidal at great risk.”

You have no idea, Diaz thought, recalling the chaotic scene on the roof of Casa Mila.

“Equally untrue is the report that I framed Bishop Valdespino.”

“I had imagined as much, sir, but–”

“Ms. Martin and I are trying to figure out how best to manage this situation, but until we do, you need to keep the future queen out of the public eye. Is that clear?”

“Of course, sir. But who issued the order?”

“I cannot tell you that over the phone. Just do as I ask, and keep Ambra Vidal away from the media and away from danger. Ms. Martin will keep you apprised of further developments.”

Garza hung up, and Diaz stood alone in the darkness, trying to make sense of the call.

As he reached inside his blazer to slide the phone back into his pocket, he heard a rustle of fabric behind him. As he turned, two pale hands emerged from the blackness and clamped down hard on Diaz’s head. With blinding speed, the hands wrenched hard to one side.

Diaz felt his neck snap and a searing heat erupt inside his skull.

Then, all went black.

CHAPTER 71

ConspiracyNet.com BREAKING NEWS

NEW HOPE FOR KIRSCH BOMBSHELL DISCOVERY!

Madrid palace PR coordinator Monica Martin made an official statement earlier claiming that Spain’s queen-to-be Ambra Vidal was kidnapped and is being held captive by American professor Robert Langdon. The palace urged local authorities to get involved and find the queen.

Civilian watchdog monte@iglesia.org has just sent us the following statement:

PALACE’S KIDNAPPING ALLEGATION 100% BOGUS–A PLOY TO USE LOCAL POLICE TO STOP LANGDON FROM ACHIEVING HIS GOAL IN BARCELONA (LANGDON/VIDAL BELIEVE THEY CAN STILL FIND WAY TO TRIGGER WORLDWIDE RELEASE OF KIRSCH DISCOVERY). IF THEY SUCCEED, KIRSCH PRESENTATION COULD GO LIVE AT ANY MOMENT. STAY TUNED.

Incredible! And you heard it here first–Langdon and Vidal are on the run because they want to finish what Edmond Kirsch started! The palace appears desperate to stop them. (Valdespino again? And where is the prince in all of this?) More news as we have it, but stay tuned because Kirsch’s secrets might still be revealed tonight!

CHAPTER 72

PRINCE JULIAN GAZED out of the acolyte’s Opel sedan at the passing countryside and tried to make sense of the bishop’s strange behavior.

Valdespino is hiding something.

It had been over an hour since the bishop had covertly ushered Julian out of the palace–a highly irregular action–assuring him it was for his own safety.

He asked me not to question … only to trust.

The bishop had always been like an uncle to him, and a trusted confidant of Julian’s father. But Valdespino’s proposal of hiding out in the prince’s summerhouse had sounded dubious to Julian from the start. Something is off. I’m being isolated–no phone, no security, no news, and nobody knows where I am.

Now, as the car bumped over the railroad tracks near Casita del Principe, Julian gazed down the wooded road before them. A hundred yards ahead on the left loomed the mouth of the long, tree-lined driveway that led to the remote cottage retreat.

As Julian pictured the deserted residence, he felt a sudden instinct for caution. He leaned forward and placed a firm hand on the shoulder of the acolyte behind the wheel. “Pull over here, please.”

Valdespino turned, surprised. “We’re almost–”

“I want to know what’s going on!” the prince barked, his voice loud inside the small car.

“Don Julian, tonight has been tumultuous, but you must–”

“I must trust you?” Julian demanded.

“Yes.”

Julian squeezed the shoulder of the young driver and pointed to a grassy shoulder on the deserted country road. “Pull over,” he ordered sharply.

“Keep going,” Valdespino countered. “Don Julian, I’ll explain–”

“Stop the car!” the prince bellowed.

The acolyte swerved onto the shoulder, skidding to a stop on the grass.

“Give us some privacy, please,” Julian ordered, his heart beating fast.

The acolyte did not need to be told twice. He leaped out of the idling car and hurried off into the darkness, leaving Valdespino and Julian alone in the backseat.

In the pale moonlight, Valdespino looked suddenly frightened.

“You should be scared,” Julian said in a voice so authoritative that it startled even himself. Valdespino pulled back, looking stunned by the threatening tone–one that Julian had never before used with the bishop.

“I am the future king of Spain,” Julian said. “Tonight you’ve removed my security detail, denied me access to my phone and my staff, prohibited me from hearing any news, and refused to let me contact my fiancee.”

“I truly apologize–” Valdespino began.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” Julian interrupted, glaring at the bishop, who looked strangely small to him now.

Valdespino drew a slow breath and turned to face Julian in the darkness. “I was contacted earlier tonight, Don Julian, and told to–”

“Contacted by whom?”

The bishop hesitated. “By your father. He is deeply upset.”

He is? Julian had visited his father only two days ago at Palacio de la Zarzuela and found him in excellent spirits, despite his deteriorating health. “Why is he upset?”

“Unfortunately, he saw the broadcast by Edmond Kirsch.”

Julian felt his jaw tighten. His ailing father slept almost twenty-four hours a day and should never have been awake at that hour. Furthermore, the king had always forbidden televisions and computers in palace bedrooms, which he insisted were sanctuaries reserved for sleeping and reading–and the king’s nurses would have known enough to prevent him from trying to get out of bed to watch an atheist’s publicity stunt.

“It was my fault,” Valdespino said. “I gave him a computer tablet a few weeks ago so he wouldn’t feel so isolated from the world. He was learning to text and e-mail. He ended up seeing Kirsch’s event on his tablet.”

Julian felt ill to think of his father, possibly in the final weeks of his life, watching a divisive anti-Catholic broadcast that had erupted in bloody violence. The king should have been reflecting on the many extraordinary things he had accomplished for his country.

“As you can imagine,” Valdespino went on, regaining his composure, “his concerns were many, but he was particularly upset by the tenor of Kirsch’s remarks and your fiancee’s willingness to host the event. The king felt the involvement of the future queen reflected very poorly on you … and on the palace.”

“Ambra is her own woman. My father knows that.”

“Be that as it may, when he called, he was as lucid and angry as I’ve heard him in years. He ordered me to bring you to him at once.”

“Then why are we here?” Julian demanded, motioning ahead to the driveway of the casita. “He’s at Zarzuela.”

“Not anymore,” Valdespino said quietly. “He ordered his aides and nurses to dress him, put him in a wheelchair, and take him to another location so he could spend his final days surrounded by his country’s history.”

As the bishop spoke those words, Julian realized the truth.

La Casita was never our destination.

Tremulous, Julian turned away from the bishop, gazing past the casita’s driveway, down the country road that stretched out before them. In the distance, through the trees, he could just make out the illuminated spires of a colossal building.

El Escorial.

Less than a mile away, standing like a fortress at the base of Mount Abantos, was one of the largest religious structures in the world–Spain’s fabled El Escorial. With more than eight acres of floor space, the complex housed a monastery, a basilica, a royal palace, a museum, a library, and a series of the most frightening death chambers Julian had ever seen.

The Royal Crypt.

Julian’s father had brought him to the crypt when Julian was only eight years old, guiding the boy through the Panteon de Infantes, a warren of burial chambers that overflowed with the tombs of royal children.

Julian would never forget seeing the crypt’s horrifying “birthday cake” tomb–a massive round sepulchre that resembled a white layer cake and contained the remains of sixty royal children, all of whom had been placed in “drawers” and slid into the sides of the “cake” for all eternity.

Julian’s horror at the sight of this grisly tomb had been eclipsed minutes later when his father took him to see his mother’s final resting place. Julian had expected to see a marble tomb fit for a queen, but instead, his mother’s body lay in a startlingly plain leaden box in a bare stone room at the end of a long hallway. The king explained to Julian that his mother was currently buried in a pudridero–a “decaying chamber”–where royal corpses were entombed for thirty years until nothing but dust remained of their flesh, at which time they were relocated to their permanent sepulchres. Julian remembered needing all of his strength to fight back tears and the urge to be sick.

Next, his father took him to the top of a steep staircase that seemed to descend forever into the subterranean darkness. Here, the walls and stairs were no longer white marble, but rather a majestic amber color. On every third step, votive candles cast flickering light on the tawny stone.

Young Julian reached up and grasped the ancient rope railing, descending with his father, one stair at a time … deep into the darkness. At the bottom of the stairs, the king opened an ornate door and stepped aside, motioning for young Julian to enter.

The Pantheon of Kings, his father told him.

Even at eight, Julian had heard of this room–a place of legends.

Trembling, the boy stepped over the threshold and found himself in a resplendent ocher chamber. Shaped like an octagon, the room smelled of incense and seemed to waver in and out of focus in the uneven light of the candles that burned in the overhead chandelier. Julian moved to the center of the room, turning slowly in place, feeling cold and small in the solemn space.

All eight walls contained deep niches where identical black coffins were stacked from floor to ceiling, each with a golden nameplate. The names on the coffins were from the pages of Julian’s history books–King Ferdinand … Queen Isabella … King Charles V, Holy Roman emperor.

In the silence, Julian could feel the weight of his father’s loving hand on his shoulder, and the gravity of the moment struck him. One day my father will be buried in this very room.

Without a word, father and son climbed out of the earth, away from death, and back into the light. Once they were outside in the blazing Spanish sun, the king crouched down and looked eight-year-old Julian in the eye.

“Memento mori,” the monarch whispered. “Remember death. Even for those who wield great power, life is brief. There is only one way to triumph over death, and that is by making our lives masterpieces. We must seize every opportunity to show kindness and to love fully. I see in your eyes that you have your mother’s generous soul. Your conscience will be your guide. When life is dark, let your heart show you the way.”

Decades later, Julian needed no reminders that he had done precious little to make his life a masterpiece. In fact, he had barely managed to escape the king’s shadow and establish himself as his own man.

I’ve disappointed my father in every way.

For years, Julian had followed his father’s advice and let his heart show the way; but it was a tortuous road when his heart longed for a Spain so utterly contrary to that of his father. Julian’s dreams for his beloved country were so bold that they could never be uttered until his father’s death, and even then, Julian had no idea how his actions would be received, not only by the royal palace, but by the entire nation. All Julian could do was wait, keep an open heart, and respect tradition.

And then, three months ago, everything had changed.

I met Ambra Vidal.

The vivacious, strong-minded beauty had turned Julian’s world upside down. Within days of their first meeting, Julian finally understood the words of his father. Let your heart show you the way … and seize every opportunity to love fully! The elation of falling in love was like nothing Julian had ever experienced, and he sensed he might finally be taking his very first steps toward making his life a masterpiece.

Now, however, as the prince stared blankly down the road ahead, he was overcome by a foreboding sense of loneliness and isolation. His father was dying; the woman he loved was not speaking to him; and he had just admonished his trusted mentor, Bishop Valdespino.

“Prince Julian,” the bishop urged gently. “We should go. Your father is frail, and he is eager to speak to you.”

Julian turned slowly to his father’s lifelong friend. “How much time do you think he has?” he whispered.

Valdespino’s voice trembled as if he were on the verge of tears. “He asked me not to worry you, but I sense the end is coming faster than anyone anticipated. He wants to say good-bye.”

“Why didn’t you tell me where we were going?” Julian asked. “Why all the lies and secrecy?”

“I’m sorry, I had no choice. Your father gave me explicit orders. He ordered me to insulate you from the outside world and from the news until he had a chance to speak to you personally.”

“Insulate me from … what news?”

“I think it will be best if you let your father explain.”

Julian studied the bishop a long moment. “Before I see him, there is something I need to know. Is he lucid? Is he rational?”

Valdespino gave him an uncertain look. “Why do you ask?”

“Because,” Julian replied, “his demands tonight seem strange and impulsive.”

Valdespino nodded sadly. “Impulsive or not, your father is still the king. I love him, and I do as he commands. We all do.”

CHAPTER 73

STANDING SIDE BY side at the display case, Robert Langdon and Ambra Vidal peered down at the William Blake manuscript, illuminated by the soft glow of the oil lamp. Father Bena had wandered off to straighten up a few pews, politely giving them some privacy.

Langdon was having trouble reading the tiny letters in the poem’s handwritten text, but the larger header at the top of the page was perfectly legible.

The Four Zoas

Seeing the words, Langdon instantly felt a ray of hope. The Four Zoas was the title of one of Blake’s best-known prophetic poems–a massive work that was divided into nine “nights,” or chapters. The poem’s themes, as Langdon recalled from his college reading, centered on the demise of conventional religion and the eventual dominance of science.

Langdon scanned down the stanzas of text, seeing the handwritten lines come to an end halfway down the page at an elegantly sketched “finis divisionem”–the graphic equivalent of “The End.”

This is the last page of the poem, he realized. The finale of one of Blake’s prophetic masterpieces!

Langdon leaned in and squinted at the tiny handwriting, but he couldn’t quite read the text in the dim lantern light.

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