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“I’m very proud of you,” the bishop said as their embrace ended. “And I know you will be a compassionate leader. Your father raised you well.”

“Thank you,” Julian said with a smile. “I believe he had some help.”

Julian left his father and the bishop alone and walked down the hospital hallways, pausing to gaze out a picture window at the magnificently illuminated monastery on the hill.

El Escorial.

Sacred burial place of Spanish royalty.

Julian flashed on his childhood visit to the Royal Crypt with his father. He recalled gazing up at all the gilded coffins and having a strange premonition–I will never be buried in this room.

The moment of intuition felt as clear as anything Julian had ever experienced, and while the memory had never faded from his mind, he had always told himself the premonition was meaningless … the gut reaction of a fearful child in the face of death. Tonight, however, confronted by his imminent ascension to the Spanish throne, he was struck by a startling thought.

Maybe I knew my true destiny as a child.

Maybe I’ve always known my purpose as king.

Profound change was sweeping his country and the world. The ancient ways were dying, and the new ways were being born. Perhaps it was time to abolish the ancient monarchy once and for all. For a moment, Julian pictured himself reading an unprecedented royal proclamation.

I am the last king of Spain.

The idea shook him.

Mercifully, the reverie was shattered by the vibration of a cell phone he had borrowed from the Guardia. The prince’s pulse quickened to see the incoming prefix was 93.

Barcelona.

“This is Julian,” he blurted eagerly.

The voice on the line was soft and tired. “Julian, it’s me …”

With a rush of emotion, the prince sat down in a chair and closed his eyes. “My love,” he whispered. “How can I ever begin to tell you I’m sorry?”

CHAPTER 100

OUTSIDE THE STONE chapel, in the predawn mist, Ambra Vidal pressed the phone anxiously to her ear. Julian is sorry! She felt a rising dread, fearing what he might be about to confess regarding the terrible events of tonight.

Two Guardia agents lingered nearby, just out of earshot.

“Ambra,” the prince began quietly. “My marriage proposal to you … I’m so sorry.”

Ambra was confused. The prince’s televised proposal was the last thing on her mind tonight.

“I was trying to be romantic,” he said, “and I ended up putting you in an impossible situation. Then, when you told me you couldn’t have children … I pulled away. But that wasn’t the reason! It was because I couldn’t believe you hadn’t told me sooner. I moved too quickly, I know, but I fell for you so fast. I wanted to start our lives together. Maybe it was because my father was dying–”

“Julian, stop!” she interrupted. “You don’t need to apologize. And tonight, there are many more important things than–”

“No, there’s nothing more important. Not to me. I just need you to know how deeply sorry I am about how everything happened.”

The voice she was hearing was that of the earnest and vulnerable man with whom she had fallen in love months ago. “Thank you, Julian,” she whispered. “That means a lot.”

As an awkward silence grew between them, Ambra finally mustered the courage to ask the hard question she needed to ask.

“Julian,” she whispered, “I need to know if you were involved tonight in any way with the murder of Edmond Kirsch.”

The prince fell silent. When he finally spoke, his voice was tight with pain. “Ambra, I struggled deeply with the fact that you spent so much time with Kirsch preparing this event. And I strongly disagreed with your decision to participate in hosting such a controversial figure. Frankly, I was wishing you had never met him.” He paused. “But no, I swear I had absolutely no involvement in his murder. I was utterly horrified by it … and that a public assassination took place in our country. The fact that it happened only a few yards from the woman I love … has shaken me to my core.”

Ambra could hear the truth in his voice and felt a rush of relief. “Julian, I’m so sorry to ask, but with all the news reports, the palace, Valdespino, the kidnapping story … I just didn’t know what to think anymore.”

Julian shared with her what he knew about the convoluted web of conspiracy surrounding Kirsch’s murder. He also told her about his ailing father, their poignant meeting, and the rapidly deteriorating state of the king’s health.

“Come home,” he whispered. “I need to see you.”

A flood of conflicting emotions surged through her heart as she heard the tenderness in his voice.

“One more thing,” he said, his tone lightening. “I have a crazy idea, and I want to know what you think.” The prince paused. “I think we should call off our engagement … and start all over.”

The words sent Ambra reeling. She knew the political fallout for the prince and for the palace would be substantial. “You … would do that?”

Julian laughed affectionately. “My dear, for a chance to propose to you again someday, in private … I would do absolutely anything.”

CHAPTER 101

ConspiracyNet.com

BREAKING NEWS–THE KIRSCH RECAP

IT’S LIVE!

IT’S ASTOUNDING!

FOR REPLAYS AND GLOBAL REACTION, CLICK HERE!

AND IN RELATED BREAKING NEWS …

PAPAL CONFESSION

Palmarian officials tonight are vigorously denying allegations that they are linked to a man known as the Regent. Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, religious news pundits believe that tonight’s scandal may be the deathblow for this controversial church, which Edmond Kirsch always alleged was responsible for the death of his mother.

Furthermore, with the global spotlight now shining harshly on the Palmarians, media sources have just unearthed a news story from April 2016. This story, which has now gone viral, is an interview in which former Palmarian pope Gregorio XVIII (aka Gines Jesus Hernandez) confesses that his church was “a sham from the beginning” and was founded “as a tax-evasion scheme.”

ROYAL PALACE: APOLOGY, ALLEGATIONS, AILING KING

The Royal Palace has issued statements clearing Commander Garza and Robert Langdon of any wrongdoing tonight. Public apologies have been extended to both men.

The palace has yet to comment on Bishop Valdespino’s apparent involvement in tonight’s crimes, but the bishop is believed to be with Prince Julian, who is currently at an undisclosed hospital, tending to his ailing father, whose condition is reportedly dire.

WHERE IS MONTE?

Our exclusive informant monte@iglesia.org seems to have disappeared without a trace and without revealing his or her identity. According to our user poll, most still suspect that “Monte” is one of Kirsch’s tech-savvy disciples, but a new theory is now emerging that the pseudonym “Monte” may be short for “Monica”–as in the Royal Palace PR coordinator, Monica Martin.

More news as we have it!

CHAPTER 102

THERE ARE THIRTY-THREE “Shakespeare gardens” in existence worldwide. These botanical parks grow only those plants cited in the works of William Shakespeare–including Juliet’s “rose by any other name” and Ophelia’s bouquet of rosemary, pansies, fennel, columbines, rue, daisies, and violets. In addition to those in Stratford-upon-Avon, Vienna, San Francisco, and Central Park in New York City, there is a Shakespeare garden located alongside the Barcelona Supercomputing Center.

In the dim glow of distant streetlights, seated on a bench among the columbines, Ambra Vidal finished her emotional phone conversation with Prince Julian just as Robert Langdon emerged from the stone chapel. She handed the phone back to the two Guardia agents and called over to Langdon, who spotted her and approached through the darkness.

As the American professor strolled into the garden, she couldn’t help but smile at the way he’d tossed his suit jacket over his shoulder and rolled up his shirtsleeves, leaving the Mickey Mouse watch fully displayed.

“Hi there,” he said, sounding utterly drained, despite the lopsided grin on his face.

As the two of them walked around the garden, the Guardia officers gave them space, and Ambra told Langdon about her conversation with the prince–Julian’s apology, his claims of innocence, and his offer to break off their engagement and start dating all over again.

“A real Prince Charming,” Langdon said jokingly, although he sounded sincerely impressed.

“He’s been worried about me,” Ambra said. “Tonight was hard. He wants me to come to Madrid right away. His father is dying, and Julian–”

“Ambra,” Langdon said softly. “You don’t need to explain a thing. You should go.”

Ambra thought she sensed disappointment in his voice, and deep inside she felt it too. “Robert,” she said, “can I ask you a personal question?”

“Of course.”

She hesitated. “For you personally … are the laws of physics enough?”

Langdon glanced over as if he had expected an entirely different question. “Enough in what way?”

“Enough spiritually,” she said. “Is it enough to live in a universe whose laws spontaneously create life? Or do you prefer … God?” She paused, looking embarrassed. “Sorry, after all we’ve been through tonight, I know that’s a strange question.”

“Well,” Langdon said with a laugh, “I think my answer would benefit from a decent night’s sleep. But no, it’s not strange. People ask me all the time if I believe in God.”

“And how do you reply?”

“I reply with the truth,” he said. “I tell them that, for me, the question of God lies in understanding the difference between codes and patterns.”

Ambra glanced over. “I’m not sure I follow you.”

“Codes and patterns are very different from each other,” Langdon said. “And a lot of people confuse the two. In my field, it’s crucial to understand their fundamental difference.”

“That being?”

Langdon stopped walking and turned to her. “A pattern is any distinctly organized sequence. Patterns occur everywhere in nature–the spiraling seeds of a sunflower, the hexagonal cells of a honeycomb, the circular ripples on a pond when a fish jumps, et cetera.”

“Okay. And codes?”

“Codes are special,” Langdon said, his tone rising. “Codes, by definition, must carry information. They must do more than simply form a pattern–codes must transmit data and convey meaning. Examples of codes include written language, musical notation, mathematical equations, computer language, and even simple symbols like the crucifix. All of these examples can transmit meaning or information in a way that spiraling sunflowers cannot.”

Ambra grasped the concept, but not how it related to God.

“The other difference between codes and patterns,” Langdon continued, “is that codes do not occur naturally in the world. Musical notation does not sprout from trees, and symbols do not draw themselves in the sand. Codes are the deliberate inventions of intelligent consciousnesses.”

Ambra nodded. “So codes always have an intention or awareness behind them.”

“Exactly. Codes don’t appear organically; they must be created.”

Ambra studied him a long moment. “What about DNA?”

A professorial smile appeared on Langdon’s lips. “Bingo,” he said. “The genetic code. That’s the paradox.”

Ambra felt a rush of excitement. The genetic code obviously carried data–specific instructions on how to build organisms. By Langdon’s logic, that could mean only one thing. “You think DNA was created by an intelligence!”

Langdon held up a hand in mock self-defense. “Easy, tiger!” he said, laughing. “You’re treading on dangerous ground. Let me just say this. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had the gut sense that there’s a consciousness behind the universe. When I witness the precision of mathematics, the reliability of physics, and the symmetries of the cosmos, I don’t feel like I’m observing cold science; I feel as if I’m seeing a living footprint … the shadow of some greater force that is just beyond our grasp.”

Ambra could feel the power in his words. “I wish everyone thought like you do,” she finally said. “It seems we do a lot of fighting over God. Everyone has a different version of the truth.”

“Yes, which is why Edmond hoped science could one day unify us,” Langdon said. “In his own words: ‘If we all worshipped gravity, there would be no disagreements over which way it pulled.'”

Langdon used his heel to scratch some lines on the gravel path between them. “True or false?” he asked.

Puzzled, Ambra eyed his scratchings–a simple Roman-numeral equation.

I + XI = X

One plus eleven is ten? “False,” she said immediately.

“And can you see any way this could be true?”

Ambra shook her head. “No, your statement is definitely false.”

Langdon gently reached out and took her hand, guiding her around to where he had been standing. Now, when Ambra glanced down, she saw the markings from Langdon’s vantage point.

The equation was upside down.

X = IX + I

Startled, she glanced up at him.

“Ten equals nine plus one,” Langdon said with a smile. “Sometimes, all you have to do is shift your perspective to see someone else’s truth.”

Ambra nodded, recalling how she had seen Winston’s self-portrait countless times without ever grasping its true meaning.

“Speaking of glimpsing a hidden truth,” Langdon said, looking suddenly amused. “You’re in luck. There’s a secret symbol hiding right over there.” He pointed. “On the side of that truck.”

Ambra glanced up and saw a FedEx truck idling at a red light on Avenue of Pedralbes.

Secret symbol? All Ambra could see was the company’s ubiquitous logo.

“Their name is coded,” Langdon told her. “It contains a second level of meaning–a hidden symbol that reflects the company’s forward motion.”

Ambra stared. “It’s just letters.”

“Trust me, there’s a very common symbol in the FedEx logo–and it happens to be pointing the way forward.”

“Pointing? You mean like … an arrow?”

“Exactly.” Langdon grinned. “You’re a curator–think negative space.”

Ambra stared at the logo but saw nothing. When the truck drove off, she wheeled to Langdon. “Tell me!”

He laughed. “No, someday you’ll see it. And when you do … good luck un-seeing it.”

Ambra was about to protest but her Guardia agents were approaching. “Ms. Vidal, the plane is waiting.”

She nodded and turned back to Langdon. “Why don’t you come?” she whispered. “I’m sure the prince would love to thank you in pers–”

“That’s kind,” he interrupted. “I think you and I both know I’d be a third wheel, and I’ve already booked my bed right over there.” Langdon pointed to the nearby tower of the Gran Hotel Princesa Sofia, where he and Edmond had once had lunch. “I’ve got my credit card, and I borrowed a phone from Edmond’s lab. I’m all set.”

The sudden prospect of saying good-bye pulled at Ambra’s heart, and she sensed that Langdon, despite his stoic expression, was feeling some of the same. No longer caring what her guards might think, she boldly stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Robert Langdon.

The professor received her warmly, his strong hands on her back pulling her very close. He held her for several seconds, longer than he probably should have, then he gently let her go.

In that moment, Ambra Vidal felt something stir inside her. She suddenly understood what Edmond had been saying about the energy of love and light … blossoming outward infinitely to fill the universe.

Love is not a finite emotion.

We don’t have only so much to share.

Our hearts create love as we need it.

Just as parents could love a newborn instantly without diminishing their love for each other, so now could Ambra feel affection for two different men.

Love truly is not a finite emotion, she realized. It can be generated spontaneously out of nothing at all.

Now, as the car that was taking her back to her prince slowly pulled away, she gazed at Langdon, who was standing alone in the garden. He was watching with steadfast eyes. He gave a soft smile and a tender wave and then abruptly glanced away … seeming to need a moment before he hoisted his jacket over his shoulder again and began walking alone to his hotel.

CHAPTER 103

AS THE PALACE clocks struck noon, Monica Martin gathered her notes and prepared to walk out to Plaza de la Almudena and address the assembled media.

Earlier that morning, from Hospital El Escorial, Prince Julian had gone on live television and announced the passing of his father. With heartfelt emotion and regal poise, the prince had spoken about the king’s legacy and his own aspirations for the country. Julian called for tolerance in a world divided. He promised to learn from history and open his heart to change. He hailed the culture and beauty of Spain, and proclaimed his deep, undying love for her people.

It was one of the finest speeches Martin had ever heard, and she could imagine no more powerful way for the future king to begin his reign.

At the end of his moving speech, Julian had taken a somber moment to honor the two Guardia agents who had lost their lives in the line of duty the previous night while protecting the future queen of Spain. Then, after a brief silence, he had shared news of another sad development. The king’s devoted lifelong friend, Bishop Antonio Valdespino, had also passed away this morning, only a few hours after the king. The aging bishop had succumbed to heart failure, apparently too weak to cope with the profound distress he felt over the loss of the king as well as the cruel barrage of allegations leveled against him last night.

News of Valdespino’s death, of course, had immediately quelled the public’s call for an investigation, and some had even gone so far as to suggest an apology was in order; after all, the evidence against the bishop was all circumstantial and could easily have been fabricated by his enemies.

As Martin neared the plaza door, Suresh Bhalla materialized beside her. “They’re calling you a hero,” he said, gushing. “All hail, monte@iglesia.org–purveyor of truth and disciple of Edmond Kirsch!”

“Suresh, I am not Monte,” she insisted, rolling her eyes. “I promise you.”

“Oh, I know you’re not Monte,” Suresh assured her. “Whoever it is, he’s way trickier than you are. I’ve been trying to track his communications–no way. It’s like he doesn’t even exist.”

“Well, stay on it,” she said. “I want to be sure there’s no leak in the palace. And please tell me the phones you stole last night–”

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