The Templar Legacy (Page 46)


1:30 AM

DE ROQUEFORT SWIPED THE MAGNETIC CARD ACROSS THE SENSOR pad and the electronic bolt released. He entered the brightly lit archives and threaded his way through the restricted shelves to where Royce Claridon sat. On the table before Claridon were stacks of writings. The archivist sat to one side, watching patiently as he'd been ordered to do. He motioned for the man to withdraw.

"What have you learned?" he asked Claridon.

"The materials you pointed me to are interesting. I never realized the extent of this Order's existence after the 1307 Purge."

"There's much to our history."

"I found an account of when Jacques de Molay was burned at the stake. Many brothers apparently watched that spectacle in Paris."

"He walked to the stake on March 13, 1314, with his head held high and told the crowd, It is only right that at so solemn a moment, when my life has so little time to run, I should reveal the deception that has been practiced and speak up for the truth."

"You memorized his words?"

"He's a man to know."

"Many historians blame de Molay for the Order's demise. He was said to be weak and complacent."

"And what do the accounts you've read say about him?"

"He seemed strong and determined and planned ahead before he traveled from Cyprus to France in the summer of 1307. He actually anticipated what Philip IV had planned."

"Our wealth and knowledge were safeguarded. De Molay made sure of that."

"That Great Devise." Claridon shook his head.

"The brothers made sure it survived. De Molay made sure."

Claridon's eyes looked weary. Though the hour was late, de Roquefort functioned best at night. "Did you read de Molay's final words?"

Claridon nodded. "God will avenge our death. Woe will come ere long to those who condemned us."

"He was referring to Philip IV and Clement V, who conspired against him and our Order. The pope died less than a month later, and Philip succumbed seven months after that. None of Philip's heirs produced a male son, so the Capetian royal line extinguished itself. Four hundred and fifty years later, during the Revolution, the French royal family was imprisoned, just like de Molay, in the Paris Temple. When the guillotine finally severed the head of Louis XVI, a man plunged his hand into the dead king's blood and flicked it into the crowd, shouting, Jacques de Molay, thou art avenged."

"One of yours?"

He nodded. "A brother--caught up in the moment. There to watch the French monarchy be eliminated."

"This means a lot to you, doesn't it?"

He wasn't particularly interested in sharing his feelings with this stranger, but he wanted to make clear, "I'm master."

"No. There's more here. More to this."

"Is analysis part of your specialty, too?"

"You stood in front of a speeding car, challenging Malone to run you down. Then you would have roasted the flesh from my feet with no remorse."

"Monsieur Claridon, thousands of my brothers were arrested--all for the greed of a king. Several hundred were burned at the stake. Ironically, only lies would have liberated them. The truth was their death sentence, since the Order was guilty on none of the charges leveled against it. Yes. This is intensely personal."

Claridon reached for Lars Nelle's journal. "I've some bad news. I've read a good part of Lars's notes and something is wrong."

He did not like the sound of that statement.

"There are errors. Dates are wrong. Locations differ. Sources incorrectly noted. Subtle changes, but to a trained eye they're obvious."

Unfortunately, de Roquefort was not knowledgeable enough to know the difference. He was actually hoping the journal would increase his awareness. "Are they merely entry errors?"

"At first I thought so. Then, as I noticed more and more, I came to doubt that. Lars was a careful man. A lot of the information in the journal I helped accumulate. These are intentional."

De Roquefort reached for the journal and paged through until he found the cryptogram. "What of this? Correct?"

"I would have no way of knowing. Lars never told me if he learned the mathematical sequence that unravels it."

He was concerned. "Are you saying the journal is useless?"

"What I'm saying is that there are errors. Even some of the entries from Sauniere's personal diary are wrong. I read some of those myself long ago."

De Roquefort was confused. What was happening here? He thought back to the last day of Lars Nelle's life, to what the American had said to him.

"You couldn't find anything, even if it were right before your eyes."

Standing in the trees, he'd resented Nelle's attitude but admired the man's courage--considering a rope was wrapped around the older man's neck. A few minutes earlier he'd watched as the American fastened the rope to a bridge support, then looped the noose. Nelle had then hopped onto the stone wall and stared out into the dark river below.

He'd followed Nelle all day, wondering what he was doing in the high Pyrenees. The village nearby possessed no connection to either Rennes-le-Chateau or any of Lars Nelle's known research. Now it was nearing midnight and blackness enveloped the world around them. Only the gurgle of water running beneath the bridge disturbed the mountain stillness.

He stepped from the foliage onto the road and approached the bridge.

"I wondered if you were going to show yourself," Nelle said with his back to him. "I assumed an insult would draw you out."

"You knew I was there?"

"I'm accustomed to brothers following me." Nelle finally turned toward him and pointed at the rope around his neck. "If you don't mind, I was just about to kill myself."

"Death apparently doesn't frighten you."

"I died a long time ago."

"You fear not your God? He does not allow suicide."

"What God? Dust to dust, that's our fate."

"What if you're wrong?"

"I'm not."

"And what of your quest?"

"It's brought nothing but misery. And why does my soul concern you?"

"It doesn't. But your quest is another matter."

"You've watched me a long time. Your master has even spoken to me himself. Too bad the Order will have to continue the quest--without me leading the way."

"You're aware we were watching?"

"Of course. Brothers have tried for months to obtain my journal."

"I was told you're a strange man."

"I'm a miserable man who simply doesn't want to live any longer. A part of me regrets this. For my son, whom I love. And for my wife, who loves me in her own way. But I have no desire to live any longer."

"Are there not quicker ways to die?"

Nelle shrugged. "I detest guns, and something about poison seems offensive. Bleeding to death wasn't appealing, so I opted for hanging."

He shrugged. "Seems selfish."

"Selfish? I'll tell you what's selfish. What people have done to me. They believe that Rennes hides everything from the reincarnated French monarchy to aliens from space. How many searchers have visited with their equipment to desecrate the land? Walls have been torn out, holes dug, tunnels excavated. Even graves opened and corpses exhumed. Writers have postulated every conceivable wild theory--all designed to make money."

He wondered about the strange suicide speech.

"I've watched while mediums held seances and clairvoyants carried on conversations with the dead. So much has been fabricated, the truth is now actually boring. They forced me to write that gibberish. I had to embrace their fanaticism in order to sell books. People wanted to read drivel. It's ridiculous. I even laugh at myself. Selfish? All those morons are the ones who should be given that label."

"And what is the truth about Rennes?" he calmly asked.

"I'm sure you'd love to know."

He decided to try another approach. "You realize that you're the one person who may be able to solve Sauniere's puzzle."

"May be able? I did solve it."

He recalled the cryptogram he'd seen in the marshal's report filed in the abbey's archives, the one abbes Gelis and Sauniere found in their churches, the one Gelis may have perhaps died solving.

"Can't you tell me?" There was almost a plea to his question, one he did not like.

"You're like all the rest--in search of easy answers. Where's the challenge in that? It took me years to decipher that combination."

"And I assume you wrote little down?"

"That's for you to discover."

"You're an arrogant man."

"No, I'm a screwed-up man. There's a difference. You see, all those opportunists, who came for themselves and left with nothing, taught me something."

He waited for an explanation.

"There's absolutely nothing to find."

"You're lying."

Nelle shrugged. "Maybe? Maybe not."

He decided to leave Lars Nelle to his task. "May you find your peace." He turned and walked away.

"Templar," Nelle called out.

He stopped and turned back.

"I'm going to do you a favor. You don't deserve it, because all you brothers did was cause me aggravation. But your Order didn't deserve what happened to it, either. So I'll give you a clue. Something to help you along. It's not written down anywhere. Not even in the journal. Only you'll have it and, if you're smart, you might even solve the puzzle. You have a paper and pencil?"

He came back close to the wall, fished into his pocket, and produced a small note pad and pen, which he handed to Nelle. The older man scribbled something, then tossed the pen and pad to him.

"Good luck," Nelle said.

Then the American leaped over the side. He heard the rope go taut and a quick pop as the neck snapped. He brought the pad close to his eyes and in the faint moonlight read what Lars Nelle had written.


Nelle's wife was named Stephanie. He shook his head. No clue. Just a final salutation from husband to wife.

Now he wasn't so sure.

He'd decided that leaving the note with the body would ensure a determination of suicide. So he'd grabbed hold of the rope, pulled the corpse back up, and stuffed the paper into Nelle's shirt pocket.

But had the words really been a clue?

"On the night Nelle died, he told me that he solved the cryptogram and offered me this." He grabbed a pencil from the table and wrote GOODBYE STEPHANIE on a pad.

"How's that a solution?" Claridon asked.

"I don't know. I never even thought it was, until this moment. If what you're saying is true, that the journal contains intentional errors, then we were meant to find it. I searched for that journal while Lars Nelle was alive, then after with the son. But Mark Nelle kept it locked away. Then when the son turned up here, at the abbey, I learned he was carrying the journal with him in the avalanche. The master took possession of it and kept it under lock until just a few weeks ago." He thought back to Cassiopeia Vitt's apparent misstep in Avignon. Now he knew it was no mistake. "You're right. The journal's worthless. We were meant to have it." He pointed to the pad. "But maybe these two words have meaning."

"Or maybe they're more misdirection?"

Which was possible.

Claridon studied them with clear interest. "What precisely did Lars say when he gave you this?"

He told him exactly, ending with, "A clue to help you along. If you're smart, you might even solve the puzzle."

"I recall something Lars mentioned to me once." Claridon searched the tabletop until he found some folded papers. "These are the notes I made in Avignon from Stublein's book concerning Marie d'Hautpoul's gravestone. Look here." Claridon pointed to a series of Roman numerals. MDCOLXXXI. "This was carved into the stone and is supposedly her date of death. 1681. And that's discounting the O, since there is no such Roman numeral. But Marie died in 1781, not 1681. And her age is in error, too. She was sixty-eight, not sixty-seven, as noted, when she died." Claridon gripped the pencil and wrote 1681, 67, and GOODBYE STEPHANIE on the pad. "Notice anything?"

He stared at the writing. Nothing stood out, but he was never good with puzzles.

"You have to think like a man in the eighteenth century. Bigou was the person who created the gravestone. The solution would be simple in one respect, but difficult in another because of endless possibilities. Break up the date 1681 into two numbers--16 and 81. One plus six equals seven. Eight plus one equals nine. Seven, nine. Then look at sixty-seven. You can't invert the seven, but the six becomes a nine when turned over. So, seven, nine again. Count the letters in what Lars wrote to you. Seven for GOODBYE. Nine for STEPHANIE. I think he did leave you a clue."

"Open the journal to the cryptogram and try."

Claridon leafed through the pages and found the drawing.

"There are several possibilities. Seven, nine. Nine, seven. Sixteen. One, six. Six, one. I'll start with the most obvious. Seven, nine."

He watched as Claridon counted across the rows of letters and symbols, stopping at the seventh, then the ninth, jotting down the character displayed. When he finished, there appeared ITEGOARCANADEI.

"It's Latin," he said, seeing the words. "I tego arcana dei." He translated. "I conceal the secrets of God."


"That journal is useless," he yelled. "Nelle planted his own puzzle."

But another thought surged through his brain. The marshal's report. It, too, had contained a cryptogram, one obtained from the abbe Gelis. One supposedly solved by the abbe. One the marshal had noted was identical to the one Sauniere found.

He must have it.

"There's another drawing in one of the books Mark Nelle has."

Claridon's eyes were aflame. "I assume you're going to get it."

"When the sun rises."


1:30 AM

MALONE STOOD IN THE SALON, THE SPACIOUS ROOM LIT BY LAMPS, the others crowded around the table. He'd awakened them all a few minutes ago.

"I know the answer," he told them.

"For the cryptogram?" Stephanie asked.

He nodded. "Mark told me about Sauniere's personality. Bold and brash. And I agree with what you said the other day, Stephanie. The church in Rennes is not a signpost to a treasure. Sauniere would never have telegraphed that information, but he just couldn't resist a little pointing. Trouble is, you need a lot of pieces to assemble this puzzle. Luckily, we have most of them."

He reached for the book Pierres Gravees du Languedoc, still open to Marie d'Hautpoul's gravestones. "Bigou is the fellow who left the real clues. He was fleeing France, never to return, so he hid cryptograms in both churches and left two carved stones over an empty grave. There's the wrong date of death, 1681, the wrong age, sixty-seven, and look at these Roman numerals at the bottom--LIXLIXL--fifty, nine, fifty, nine, fifty. If you add those together you get one hundred sixty-eight. He also made reference to the painting Reading the Rules of the Caridad in the parish register. Remember, in Bigou's time the date was not obscured. So he would have seen 1681, not 1687. There's a pattern here."

He pointed to the drawing of the gravestone.

"Look at the spider carved into the bottom. Seven dots were intentionally placed between the legs, with two spaces left blank. Why not just include a dot between them all? Then look what Sauniere did in the garden outside the church. He takes the Visigoth pillar, turns it upside down, and carves Mission 1891 and Penitence, Penitence into its face. I know this is going to sound crazy, but I just dreamed the connection among all these."

Everyone smiled, but no one interrupted him.

"Last year, Henrik, when Cai and all the others were killed in Mexico City--I dream about it from time to time. Tough to get those images out of your brain. There were a lot of dead and wounded that day--"

"Seven dead. Nine wounded," Stephanie muttered.

The same thought seemed to rush unbidden into each of their minds and he saw understanding, especially on Mark's face.

"Cotton, you might just be right." Mark sat down at the table. "1681. Add the first two and last two digits. Seven, nine. The carving on the pillar. Sauniere turned it upside down to send a message. He erected it in 1891, but invert that date and you have 1681. The pillar is upside down to lead us in the right direction. Seven, nine again."

"Then count the letters," Malone said. "Seven in Mission. Nine in Penitence. That's more than a coincidence. And the one hundred sixty-eight from the Roman numerals on the gravestone. That total is there for a reason. Add the one to the six and eight and you get seven and nine. The pattern's everywhere." He reached for a color image of station 10 from inside the Church of Mary Magdalene. "Look here. Where the Roman soldier is throwing the dice for Christ's cloak. On the dice face. A three, four, and five. When Mark and I were in the church I wondered why these particular numbers were chosen. Mark, you said Sauniere personally oversaw every detail that went into that church. So he selected these numbers for a reason. I think the sequence is what's important. The three is first, then the four, then five. Three plus four is seven, four plus five is nine."

"So seven, nine solves the cryptogram?" Cassiopeia said.

"One way to find out." Mark motioned and Geoffrey handed him the rucksack. Mark carefully opened the marshal's report and found the drawing.

He then started applying the seven, nine sequence, moving through the thirteen lines of letters and symbols. As he did, he wrote each selected character down.


"It's French," Cassiopeia said. "Bigou's language."

Mark nodded. "I see them."

He added spaces so the message made sense.


"Templar treasure can be found at lagustous," Malone translated.

"What's lagustous?" Henrik asked.

"I have no idea," Mark said. "And I don't remember any mention of such a place in the Templar archives."

"I've lived in this region all my life," Cassiopeia said, "and know of no such locale."

Mark appeared frustrated. "The Chronicles specifically say that the carts carrying the Devise came south to the Pyrenees."

"Why would the abbe have made things so easy?" Geoffrey calmly asked.

"He's right," Malone said. "Bigou could have built in a safeguard so that just solving the sequence would not be enough."

Stephanie looked puzzled. "I wouldn't say this has been easy."

"Only because the pieces are so scattered, some lost forever," Malone said. "But in Bigou's time, everything existed, and he erected the tombstone for all to see."

"But Bigou hedged his bet," Mark said. "The marshal's report specifically notes that Gelis found a cryptogram identical to Sauniere's in his church. During the eighteenth century Bigou served that church, as well as Rennes, so he hid a marker in each."

"Hoping that a person of curiosity would find one of them," Henrik said. "Which is precisely what happened."

"Gelis actually solved the puzzle," Mark said. "We know that. He told the marshal. He also said he was suspicious of Sauniere. Then a few days later he was murdered."

"By Sauniere?" Stephanie asked.

Mark shrugged. "No one knows. I always thought the marshal might be suspect. He disappeared from the abbey within weeks of Gelis's murder and specifically didn't note in his report the solution to the cryptogram."

Malone pointed to the pad. "Now we have it. But we need to find out what lagustous is."

"It's an anagram," Cassiopeia said.

Mark nodded. "Just like on the gravestone where Bigou used Et in arcadia ego as an anagram for I tego arcana dei. He could have done the same thing here."

Cassiopeia was studying the pad and her gaze beamed with recognition.

"You know, don't you?" Malone asked.

"I think I do."

They all waited.

"In the tenth century a wealthy baron named Hildemar came to know a man named Agulous. Hildemar's relatives resented Agulous's influence over him, and, in direct opposition to his family, Hildemar turned over all his lands to Agulous, who converted his castle into an abbey that Hildemar himself joined. While kneeling in prayer inside the abbey's chapel, Agulous and Hildemar were slain by Saracens. Both were eventually made Catholic saints. There's a town there still. About ninety miles from here. St. Agulous." She reached for the pen and converted lagustous into St. Agulous.

"There were Templar sites there," Mark said. "A large commandery, but it's gone."

"That castle, which became an abbey, is still there," Cassiopeia made clear.

"We need to go," Henrik said.

"That could be a problem." And Malone cut a glance to Cassiopeia. They'd not told the others about the men outside, so he did now.

"De Roquefort will act," Mark said. "Our hostess, here, allowed him to have Dad's journal. Once he learns the thing is worthless, his attitude will change."

"We need to leave here unnoticed," Malone said.

"There's a lot of us," Henrik said. "Such an exit would be a challenge."

Cassiopeia smiled. "I like challenges."