Sophie scrutinized Langdon in the back of the taxi. He’s joking. «The Holy Grail?»
Langdon nodded, his expression serious. «Holy Grail is the literal meaning of Sangreal. The phrase derives from the French Sangraal, which evolved to Sangreal, and was eventually split into two words, San Greal.»
Holy Grail.Sophie was surprised she had not spotted the linguistic ties immediately. Even so, Langdon’s claim still made no sense to her. «I thought the Holy Grail was a cup.You just told me the Sangreal is a collection of documents that reveals some dark secret.»
«Yes, but the Sangreal documents are only half of the Holy Grail treasure. They are buried with the Grail itself… and reveal its true meaning. The documents gave the Knights Templar so much power because the pages revealed the true nature of the Grail.»
The true nature of the Grail? Sophie felt even more lost now. The Holy Grail, she had thought, was the cup that Jesus drank from at the Last Supper and with which Joseph of Arimathea later caught His blood at the crucifixion. «The Holy Grail is the Cup of Christ,» she said. «How much simpler could it be?»
«Sophie,» Langdon whispered, leaning toward her now,» according to the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail is not a cup at all. They claim the Grail legend – that of a chalice – is actually an ingeniously conceived allegory. That is, that the Grail story uses the chalice as a metaphor for something else, something far more powerful.» He paused. «Something that fits perfectly with everything your grandfather has been trying to tell us tonight, including all his symbologic references to the sacred feminine.»
Still unsure, Sophie sensed in Langdon’s patient smile that he empathized with her confusion, and yet his eyes remained earnest. «But if the Holy Grail is not a cup,» she asked,» what is it?»
Langdon had known this question was coming, and yet he still felt uncertain exactly how to tell her. If he did not present the answer in the proper historical background, Sophie would be left with a vacant air of bewilderment – the exact expression Langdon had seen on his own editor’s face a few months ago after Langdon handed him a draft of the manuscript he was working on.
«This manuscript claims what?» his editor had choked, setting down his wineglass and staring across his half-eaten power lunch. «You can’t be serious.»
«Serious enough to have spent a year researching it.»
Prominent New York editor Jonas Faukman tugged nervously at his goatee. Faukman no doubt had heard some wild book ideas in his illustrious career, but this one seemed to have left the man flabbergasted.
«Robert,» Faukman finally said,» don’t get me wrong. I love your work, and we’ve had a great run together. But if I agree to publish an idea like this, I’ll have people picketing outside my office for months. Besides, it will kill your reputation. You’re a Harvard historian, for God’s sake, not a pop schlockmeister looking for a quick buck. Where could you possibly find enough credible evidence to support a theory like this?»
With a quiet smile Langdon pulled a piece of paper from the pocket of his tweed coat and handed it to Faukman. The page listed a bibliography of over fifty titles – books by well-known historians, some contemporary, some centuries old – many of them academic bestsellers. All the book titles suggested the same premise Langdon had just proposed. As Faukman read down the list, he looked like a man who had just discovered the earth was actually flat. «I know some of these authors. They’re… real historians!»
Langdon grinned. «As you can see, Jonas, this is not only my theory. It’s been around for a long time. I’m simply building on it. No book has yet explored the legend of the Holy Grail from a symbologic angle. The iconographic evidence I’m finding to support the theory is, well, staggeringly persuasive.»
Faukman was still staring at the list. «My God, one of these books was written by Sir Leigh Teabing – a British Royal Historian.»
«Teabing has spent much of his life studying the Holy Grail. I’ve met with him. He was actually a big part of my inspiration. He’s a believer, Jonas, along with all of the others on that list.»
«You’re telling me all of these historians actually believe…» Faukman swallowed, apparently unable to say the words.
Langdon grinned again. «The Holy Grail is arguably the most sought-after treasure in human history. The Grail has spawned legends, wars, and lifelong quests. Does it make sense that it is merely a cup? If so, then certainly other relics should generate similar or greater interest – the Crown of Thorns, the True Cross of the Crucifixion, the Titulus – and yet, they do not. Throughout history, the Holy Grail has been the most special.» Langdon grinned. «Now you know why.»
Faukman was still shaking his head. «But with all these books written about it, why isn’t this theory more widely known?»
«These books can’t possibly compete with centuries of established history, especially when that history is endorsed by the ultimate bestseller of all time.»
Faukman’s eyes went wide. «Don’t tell me Harry Potter is actually about the Holy Grail.»
«I was referring to the Bible.» Faukman cringed. «I knew that.»
«Laissez-le!» Sophie’s shouts cut the air inside the taxi. «Put it down!»
Langdon jumped as Sophie leaned forward over the seat and yelled at the taxi driver. Langdon could see the driver was clutching his radio mouthpiece and speaking into it.
Sophie turned now and plunged her hand into the pocket of Langdon’s tweed jacket. Before Langdon knew what had happened, she had yanked out the pistol, swung it around, and was pressing it to the back of the driver’s head. The driver instantly dropped his radio, raising his one free hand overhead.
«Sophie!» Langdon choked. «What the hell – «
«Arr^etez!» Sophie commanded the driver.
Trembling, the driver obeyed, stopping the car and putting it in park.
It was then that Langdon heard the metallic voice of the taxi company’s dispatcher coming from the dashboard. «… qui s’appette Agent Sophie Neveu…» the radio crackled. «Et un Am'ericain, Robert Langdon…»
Langdon’s muscles turned rigid. They found us already?«Descendez,»Sophie demanded. The trembling driver kept his arms over his head as he got out of his taxi and took several steps backward.
Sophie had rolled down her window and now aimed the gun outside at the bewildered cabbie. «Robert,» she said quietly, «take the wheel. You’re driving.»
Langdon was not about to argue with a woman wielding a gun. He climbed out of the car and jumped back in behind the wheel. The driver was yelling curses, his arms still raised over his head. «Robert,» Sophie said from the back seat,» I trust you’ve seen enough of our magic forest?» He nodded. Plenty.
«Good. Drive us out of here.»
Langdon looked down at the car’s controls and hesitated. Shit.He groped for the stick shift and clutch. «Sophie? Maybe you –»
«Go!» she yelled.
Outside, several hookers were walking over to see what was going on. One woman was placing a call on her cell phone. Langdon depressed the clutch and jostled the stick into what he hoped was first gear. He touched the accelerator, testing the gas.
Langdon popped the clutch. The tires howled as the taxi leapt forward, fishtailing wildly and sending the gathering crowd diving for cover. The woman with the cell phone leapt into the woods, only narrowly avoiding being run down.
«Doucement!» Sophie said, as the car lurched down the road. «What are you doing?»
«I tried to warn you,» he shouted over the sound of gnashing gears. «I drive an automatic!»