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CHAPTER 53

AMBRA VIDAL STOOD in the soft light of the attic apartment and ran her eyes across the rows of books lining the walls of Edmond’s library.

His collection is larger than I remembered.

Edmond had transformed a wide section of curved hallway into a stunning library by building shelves between the vertical supports of Gaudí’s vaults. His library was unexpectedly large and well stocked, especially considering Edmond had allegedly planned to be here for only two years.

It looks like he moved in for good.

Eyeing the crowded shelves, Ambra realized that locating Edmond’s favorite line of poetry would be far more time-consuming than anticipated. As she continued walking along the shelves, scanning the spines of the books, she saw nothing but scientific tomes on cosmology, consciousness, and artificial intelligence:

THE BIG PICTURE

FORCES OF NATURE

ORIGINS OF CONSCIOUSNESS

THE BIOLOGY OF BELIEF

INTELLIGENT ALGORITHMS

OUR FINAL INVENTION

She reached the end of one section and stepped around an architectural rib into the next section of shelves. Here she found a wide array of scientific topics—thermodynamics, primordial chemistry, psychology.

No poetry.

Noting that Winston had been quiet for some time now, Ambra pulled out Kirsch’s cell phone. “Winston? Are we still connected?”

“I am here,” his accented voice chimed.

“Did Edmond actually read all of these books in his library?”

“I believe so, yes,” Winston replied. “He was a voracious consumer of text and called this library his ‘trophy room of knowledge.’”

“And is there, by any chance, a poetry section in here?”

“The only titles of which I’m specifically aware are the nonfiction volumes that I was asked to read in e-book format so Edmond and I could discuss their contents—an exercise, I suspect, that was more for my education than for his. Unfortunately, I do not have this entire collection cataloged, so the only way you will be able to find what you are looking for will be by an actual physical search.”

“I understand.”

“While you search, there is one thing, I think, that may interest you—breaking news from Madrid regarding your fiancé, Prince Julián.”

“What’s happening?” Ambra demanded, halting abruptly. Her emotions still churned over Julián’s possible involvement in Kirsch’s assassination. There’s no proof, she reminded herself. Nothing confirms that Julián helped put Ávila’s name on the guest list.

“It was just reported,” Winston said, “that a raucous demonstration is forming outside the Royal Palace. Evidence continues to suggest that Edmond’s assassination was secretly arranged by Bishop Valdespino, probably with the help of someone inside the palace, perhaps even the prince. Fans of Kirsch are now picketing. Have a look.”

Edmond’s smartphone began streaming footage of angry protesters at the palace gates. One carried a sign in English that read: PONTIUS PILATE KILLED YOUR PROPHET—YOU KILLED OURS!

Others were carrying spray-painted bedsheets emblazoned with a single-word battle cry—¡APOSTASÍA!—accompanied by a logo that was now being stenciled with increasing frequency on the sidewalks of Madrid.

Apostasy had become a popular rallying cry for Spain’s liberal youth. Renounce the Church!

“Has Julián made a statement yet?” Ambra asked.

“That’s one of the problems,” Winston replied. “Not a word from Julián, nor the bishop, nor anyone at all in the palace. The continued silence has made everyone suspicious. Conspiracy theories are rampant, and the national press has now begun questioning where you are, and why you have not commented publicly on this crisis either?”

“Me?!” Ambra was horrified at the thought.

“You witnessed the murder. You are the future queen consort and the love of Prince Julián’s life. The public wants to hear you say that you are certain Julián is not involved.”

Ambra’s gut told her that Julián could not possibly have known about Edmond’s murder; when she thought back to their courtship, she recalled a tender and sincere man—admittedly naive and impulsively romantic—but certainly no murderer.

“Similar questions are surfacing now about Professor Langdon,” Winston said. “Media outlets have begun asking why the professor has disappeared without comment, especially after featuring so prominently in Edmond’s presentation. Several conspiracy blogs are suggesting that his disappearance may actually be related to his involvement in Kirsch’s murder.”

“But that’s crazy!”

“The topic is gaining traction. The theory stems from Langdon’s past search for the Holy Grail and the bloodline of Christ. Apparently, the Salic descendants of Christ have historical ties to the Carlist movement, and the assassin’s tattoo—”

“Stop,” Ambra interrupted. “This is absurd.”

“And yet others are speculating that Langdon has disappeared because he himself has become a target tonight. Everyone has become an armchair detective. Much of the world is collaborating at this moment to figure out what mysteries Edmond uncovered … and who wanted to silence him.”

Ambra’s attention was drawn by the sound of Langdon’s footsteps approaching briskly up the winding corridor. She turned just as he appeared around the corner.

“Ambra?” he called, his voice taut. “Were you aware that Edmond was seriously ill?”

“Ill?” she said, startled. “No.”

Langdon told her what he had found in Edmond’s private bathroom.

Ambra was thunderstruck.

Pancreatic cancer? That’s the reason Edmond was so pale and thin?

Incredibly, Edmond had never said a word about being ill. Ambra now understood his maniacal work ethic over the past few months. Edmond knew he was running out of time.

“Winston,” she demanded. “Did you know about Edmond’s illness?”

“Yes,” Winston replied without hesitation. “It was something he kept very private. He learned of his disease twenty-two months ago and immediately changed his diet and began working with increased intensity. He also relocated to this attic space, where he would breathe museum-quality air and be protected from UV radiation; he needed to live in darkness as much as possible because his medications made him photosensitive. Edmond managed to outlive his doctors’ projections by a considerable margin. Recently, though, he had started to fail. Based on empirical evidence I gathered from worldwide databases on pancreatic cancer, I analyzed Edmond’s deterioration and calculated that he had nine days to live.”

Nine days, Ambra thought, overcome with guilt for teasing Edmond about his vegan diet and about working too hard. The man was sick; he was racing tirelessly to create his final moment of glory before his time ran out. This sad realization only further fueled Ambra’s determination to locate this poem and complete what Edmond had started.

“I haven’t found any poetry books yet,” she said to Langdon. “So far, it’s all science.”

“I think the poet we’re looking for might be Friedrich Nietzsche,” Langdon said, telling her about the framed quote over Edmond’s bed. “That particular quote doesn’t have forty-seven letters, but it certainly implies Edmond was a fan of Nietzsche.”

“Winston,” Ambra said. “Can you search Nietzsche’s collected works of poetry and isolate any lines that have exactly forty-seven letters?”

“Certainly,” Winston replied. “German originals or English translations?”

Ambra paused, uncertain.

“Start with English,” Langdon prompted. “Edmond planned to input the line of poetry on his phone, and his keypad would have no easy way to input any of German’s umlauted letters or Eszetts.”

Ambra nodded. Smart.

“I have your results,” Winston announced almost immediately. “I have found nearly three hundred translated poems, resulting in one hundred and ninety-two lines of precisely forty-seven letters.”

Langdon sighed. “That many?”

“Winston,” Ambra pressed. “Edmond described his favorite line as a prophecy … a prediction about the future … one that was already coming true. Do you see anything that fits that description?”

“I’m sorry,” Winston replied. “I see nothing here that suggests a prophecy. Linguistically speaking, the lines in question are all extracted from longer stanzas and appear to be partial thoughts. Shall I display them for you?”

“There are too many,” Langdon said. “We need to find a physical book and hope that Edmond marked his favorite line in some way.”

“Then I suggest you hurry,” Winston said. “It appears your presence here may no longer be a secret.”

“Why do you say that?” Langdon demanded.

“Local news is reporting that a military plane has just landed at Barcelona’s El Prat Airport and that two Guardia Real agents have deplaned.”

 

On the outskirts of Madrid, Bishop Valdespino was feeling grateful to have escaped the palace before the walls had closed in on him. Wedged beside Prince Julián in the backseat of his acolyte’s tiny Opel sedan, Valdespino hoped that desperate measures now being enacted behind the scenes would help him regain control of a night careening wildly off course.

“La Casita del Príncipe,” Valdespino had ordered the acolyte as the young man drove them away from the palace.

The cottage of the prince was situated in a secluded rural area forty minutes outside Madrid. More mansion than cottage, the casita had served as the private residence for the heir to the Spanish throne since the middle of the 1700s—a secluded spot where boys could be boys before settling into the serious business of running a country. Valdespino had assured Julián that retiring to his cottage would be far safer than remaining in the palace tonight.

Except I am not taking Julián to the cottage, the bishop knew, glancing over at the prince, who was gazing out the car window, apparently deep in thought.

Valdespino wondered if the prince was truly as naive as he appeared, or if, like his father, Julián had mastered the skill of showing the world only that side of himself that he wanted to be seen.

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