Night had fallen over Rosslyn.
Robert Langdon stood alone on the porch of the fieldstone house enjoying the sounds of laughter and reunion drifting through the screened door behind him. The mug of potent Brazilian coffee in his hand had granted him a hazy reprieve from his mounting exhaustion, and yet he sensed the reprieve would be fleeting. The fatigue in his body went to the core.
"You slipped out quietly," a voice behind him said.
He turned. Sophie's grandmother emerged, her silver hair shimmering in the night. Her name, for the last twenty-eight years at least, was Marie Chauvel.
Langdon gave a tired smile. "I thought I'd give your family some time together." Through the window, he could see Sophie talking with her brother.
Marie came over and stood beside him. "Mr. Langdon, when I first heard of Jacques's murder, I was terrified for Sophie's safety. Seeing her standing in my doorway tonight was the greatest relief of my life. I cannot thank you enough."
Langdon had no idea how to respond. Although he had offered to give Sophie and her grandmother time to talk in private, Marie had asked him to stay and listen. My husband obviously trusted you, Mr.Langdon, so I do as well.
And so Langdon had remained, standing beside Sophie and listening in mute astonishment while Marie told the story of Sophie's late parents. Incredibly, both had been from Merovingian families - direct descendants of Mary Magdalene and Jesus Christ. Sophie's parents and ancestors, for protection, had changed their family names of Plantard and Saint-Clair. Their children represented the most direct surviving royal bloodline and therefore were carefully guarded by the Priory. When Sophie's parents were killed in a car accident whose cause could not be determined, the Priory feared the identity of the royal line had been discovered.
"Your grandfather and I," Marie had explained in a voice choked with pain, "had to make a grave decision the instant we received the phone call. Your parents' car had just been found in the river." She dabbed at the tears in her eyes. "All six of us - including you two grandchildren - were supposed to be traveling together in that car that very night. Fortunately we changed our plans at the last moment, and your parents were alone. Hearing of the accident, Jacques and I had no way to know what had really happened... or if this was truly an accident." Marie looked at Sophie. "We knew we had to protect our grandchildren, and we did what we thought was best. Jacques reported to the police that your brother and I had been in the car... our two bodies apparently washed off in the current. Then your brother and I went underground with the Priory. Jacques, being a man of prominence, did not have the luxury of disappearing. It only made sense that Sophie, being the eldest, would stay in Paris to be taught and raised by Jacques, close to the heart and protection of the Priory." Her voice fell to a whisper. "Separating the family was the hardest thing we ever had to do. Jacques and I saw each other only very infrequently, and always in the most secret of settings... under the protection of the Priory. There are certain ceremonies to which the brotherhood always stays faithful."
Langdon had sensed the story went far deeper, but he also sensed it was not for him to hear. So he had stepped outside. Now, gazing up at the spires of Rosslyn, Langdon could not escape the hollow gnaw of Rosslyn's unsolved mystery. Is the Grail really here at Rosslyn? And if so, where are theblade and chalice that Sauniere mentioned in his poem?" I'll take that," Marie said, motioning to Langdon's hand. "Oh, thank you." Langdon held out his empty coffee cup. She stared at him. "I was referring to your other hand, Mr. Langdon."
Langdon looked down and realized he was holding Sauniere's papyrus. He had taken it from the cryptex once again in hopes of seeing something he had missed earlier. "Of course, I'm sorry."
Marie looked amused as she took the paper. "I know of a man at a bank in Paris who is probably very eager to see the return of this rosewood box. Andre Vernet was a dear friend of Jacques, and Jacques trusted him explicitly. Andre would have done anything to honor Jacques's requests for the care of this box."
Including shooting me, Langdon recalled, deciding not to mention that he had probably broken the poor man's nose. Thinking of Paris, Langdon flashed on the three senechaux who had been killed the night before. "And the Priory? What happens now?"
"The wheels are already in motion, Mr. Langdon. The brotherhood has endured for centuries, and it will endure this. There are always those waiting to move up and rebuild."
All evening Langdon had suspected that Sophie's grandmother was closely tied to the operations of the Priory. After all, the Priory had always had women members. Four Grand Masters had been women. The senechaux were traditionally men - the guardians - and yet women held far more honored status within the Priory and could ascend to the highest post from virtually any rank.
Langdon thought of Leigh Teabing and Westminster Abbey. It seemed a lifetime ago. "Was the Church pressuring your husband not to release the Sangreal documents at the End of Days?"
"Heavens no. The End of Days is a legend of paranoid minds. There is nothing in the Priory doctrine that identifies a date at which the Grail should be unveiled. In fact the Priory has always maintained that the Grail should never be unveiled."
"Never?" Langdon was stunned.
"It is the mystery and wonderment that serve our souls, not the Grail itself. The beauty of the Grail lies in her ethereal nature." Marie Chauvel gazed up at Rosslyn now. "For some, the Grail is a chalice that will bring them everlasting life. For others, it is the quest for lost documents and secret history. And for most, I suspect the Holy Grail is simply a grand idea... a glorious unattainable treasure that somehow, even in today's world of chaos, inspires us."
"But if the Sangreal documents remain hidden, the story of Mary Magdalene will be lost forever," Langdon said.
"Will it? Look around you. Her story is being told in art, music, and books. More so every day. The pendulum is swinging. We are starting to sense the dangers of our history... and of our destructive paths. We are beginning to sense the need to restore the sacred feminine." She paused. "You mentioned you are writing a manuscript about the symbols of the sacred feminine, are you not?"
"I am." She smiled. "Finish it, Mr. Langdon. Sing her song. The world needs modern troubadours." Langdon fell silent, feeling the weight of her message upon him. Across the open spaces, a new moon was rising above the tree line.
Turning his eyes toward Rosslyn, Langdon felt a boyish craving to know her secrets. Don't ask, he told himself. This is not the moment.He glanced at the papyrus in Marie's hand, and then back at Rosslyn.
"Ask the question, Mr. Langdon," Marie said, looking amused. "You have earned the right." Langdon felt himself flush." You want to know if the Grail is here at Rosslyn." "Can you tell me?" She sighed in mock exasperation. "Why is it that men simply cannot let the Grail rest?" She laughed, obviously enjoying herself. "Why do you think it's here?"
Langdon motioned to the papyrus in her hand. "Your husband's poem speaks specifically of Rosslyn, except it also mentions a blade and chalice watching over the Grail. I didn't see any symbols of the blade and chalice up there."
"The blade and chalice?" Marie asked. "What exactly do they look like?"
Langdon sensed she was toying with him, but he played along, quickly describing the symbols.
A look of vague recollection crossed her face. "Ah, yes, of course. The blade represents all that is masculine. I believe it is drawn like this, no?" Using her index finger, she traced a shape on herpalm.