Sunday, September 15, 2019
Angels Demons Chapter 130-133
130 The camerlegno began to feel the fog of wonder and adrenaline dissipating. As the Swiss Guard helped him down the Royal Staircase toward the Sistine Chapel, the camerlegno heard singing in St. Peter's Square and he knew that mountains had been moved. Grazie Dio. He had prayed for strength, and God had given it to him. At moments when he had doubted, God had spoken. Yours is a Holy mission, God had said. I will give you strength. Even with God's strength, the camerlegno had felt fear, questioning the righteousness of his path. If not you, God had challenged, then Who? If not now, then When? If not this way, then How? Jesus, God reminded him, had saved them allÃ¢â¬ ¦ saved them from their own apathy. With two deeds, Jesus had opened their eyes. Horror and Hope. The crucifixion and the resurrection. He had changed the world. But that was millennia ago. Time had eroded the miracle. People had forgotten. They had turned to false idols Ã¢â¬â techno-deities and miracles of the mind. What about miracles of the heart! The camerlegno had often prayed to God to show him how to make the people believe again. But God had been silent. It was not until the camerlegno's moment of deepest darkness that God had come to him. Oh, the horror of that night! The camerlegno could still remember lying on the floor in tattered nightclothes, clawing at his own flesh, trying to purge his soul of the pain brought on by a vile truth he had just learned. It cannot be! he had screamed. And yet he knew it was. The deception tore at him like the fires of hell. The bishop who had taken him in, the man who had been like a father to him, the clergyman whom the camerlegno had stood beside while he rose to the papacyÃ¢â¬ ¦ was a fraud. A common sinner. Lying to the world about a deed so traitorous at its core that the camerlegno doubted even God could forgive it. Ã¢â¬Å"Your vow!Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno had screamed at the Pope. Ã¢â¬Å"You broke your vow to God! You, of all men!Ã¢â¬ The Pope had tried to explain himself, but the camerlegno could not listen. He had run out, staggering blindly through the hallways, vomiting, tearing at his own skin, until he found himself bloody and alone, lying on the cold earthen floor before St. Peter's tomb. Mother Mary, what do I do? It was in that moment of pain and betrayal, as the camerlegno lay devastated in the Necropolis, praying for God to take him from this faithless world, that God had come. The voice in his head resounded like peals of thunder. Ã¢â¬Å"Did you vow to serve your God?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes!Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno cried out. Ã¢â¬Å"Would you die for your God?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes! Take me now!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Would you die for your church?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Yes! Please deliver me!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"But would you die forÃ¢â¬ ¦ mankind?Ã¢â¬ It was in the silence that followed that the camerlegno felt himself falling into the abyss. He tumbled farther, faster, out of control. And yet he knew the answer. He had always known. Ã¢â¬Å"Yes!Ã¢â¬ he shouted into the madness. Ã¢â¬Å"I would die for man! Like your son, I would die for them!Ã¢â¬ Hours later, the camerlegno still lay shivering on his floor. He saw his mother's face. God has plans for you, she was saying. The camerlegno plunged deeper into madness. It was then God had spoken again. This time with silence. But the camerlegno understood. Restore their faith. If not meÃ¢â¬ ¦ then who? If not nowÃ¢â¬ ¦ then when? As the guards unbolted the door of the Sistine Chapel, Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca felt the power moving in his veinsÃ¢â¬ ¦ exactly as it had when he was a boy. God had chosen him. Long ago. His will be done. The camerlegno felt reborn. The Swiss Guard had bandaged his chest, bathed him, and dressed him in a fresh white linen robe. They had also given him an injection of morphine for the burn. The camerlegno wished they had not given him painkillers. Jesus endured his pain for three days on the cross! He could already feel the drug uprooting his sensesÃ¢â¬ ¦ a dizzying undertow. As he walked into the chapel, he was not at all surprised to see the cardinals staring at him in wonder. They are in awe of God, he reminded himself. Not of me, but how God works THROUGH me. As he moved up the center aisle, he saw bewilderment in every face. And yet, with each new face he passed, he sensed something else in their eyes. What was it? The camerlegno had tried to imagine how they would receive him tonight. Joyfully? Reverently? He tried to read their eyes and saw neither emotion. It was then the camerlegno looked at the altar and saw Robert Langdon. 131 Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca stood in the aisle of the Sistine Chapel. The cardinals were all standing near the front of the church, turned, staring at him. Robert Langdon was on the altar beside a television that was on endless loop, playing a scene the camerlegno recognized but could not imagine how it had come to be. Vittoria Vetra stood beside him, her face drawn. The camerlegno closed his eyes for a moment, hoping the morphine was making him hallucinate and that when he opened them the scene might be different. But it was not. They knew. Oddly, he felt no fear. Show me the way, Father. Give me the words that I can make them see Your vision. But the camerlegno heard no reply. Father, We have come too far together to fail now. Silence. They do not understand what We have done. The camerlegno did not know whose voice he heard in his own mind, but the message was stark. And the truth shall set you freeÃ¢â¬ ¦ And so it was that Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca held his head high as he walked toward the front of the Sistine Chapel. As he moved toward the cardinals, not even the diffused light of the candles could soften the eyes boring into him. Explain yourself, the faces said. Make sense of this madness. Tell us our fears are wrong! Truth, the camerlegno told himself. Only truth. There were too many secrets in these wallsÃ¢â¬ ¦ one so dark it had driven him to madness. But from the madness had come the light. Ã¢â¬Å"If you could give your own soul to save millions,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno said, as he moved down the aisle, Ã¢â¬Å"would you?Ã¢â¬ The faces in the chapel simply stared. No one moved. No one spoke. Beyond the walls, the joyous strains of song could be heard in the square. The camerlegno walked toward them. Ã¢â¬Å"Which is the greater sin? Killing one's enemy? Or standing idle while your true love is strangled?Ã¢â¬ They are singing in St. Peter's Square! The camerlegno stopped for a moment and gazed up at the ceiling of the Sistine. Michelangelo's God was staring down from the darkened vaultÃ¢â¬ ¦ and He seemed pleased. Ã¢â¬Å"I could no longer stand by,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno said. Still, as he drew nearer, he saw no flicker of understanding in anyone's eyes. Didn't they see the radiant simplicity of his deeds? Didn't they see the utter necessity! It had been so pure. The Illuminati. Science and Satan as one. Resurrect the ancient fear. Then crush it. Horror and Hope. Make them believe again. Tonight, the power of the Illuminati had been unleashed anewÃ¢â¬ ¦ and with glorious consequence. The apathy had evaporated. The fear had shot out across the world like a bolt of lightning, uniting the people. And then God's majesty had vanquished the darkness. I could not stand idly by! The inspiration had been God's own Ã¢â¬â appearing like a beacon in the camerlegno's night of agony. Oh, this faithless world! Someone must deliver them. You. If not you, who? You have been saved for a reason. Show them the old demons. Remind them of their fear. Apathy is death. Without darkness, there is no light. Without evil, there is no good. Make them choose. Dark or light. Where is the fear? Where are the heroes? If not now, when? The camerlegno walked up the center aisle directly toward the crowd of standing cardinals. He felt like Moses as the sea of red sashes and caps parted before him, allowing him to pass. On the altar, Robert Langdon switched off the television, took Vittoria's hand, and relinquished the altar. The fact that Robert Langdon had survived, the camerlegno knew, could only have been God's will. God had saved Robert Langdon. The camerlegno wondered why. The voice that broke the silence was the voice of the only woman in the Sistine Chapel. Ã¢â¬Å"You killed my father?Ã¢â¬ she said, stepping forward. When the camerlegno turned to Vittoria Vetra, the look on her face was one he could not quite understand Ã¢â¬â pain yes, but anger? Certainly she must understand. Her father's genius was deadly. He had to be stopped. For the good of Mankind. Ã¢â¬Å"He was doing God's work,Ã¢â¬ Vittoria said. Ã¢â¬Å"God's work is not done in a lab. It is done in the heart.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"My father's heart was pure! And his research proved Ã¢â¬â Ã¢â¬Å" Ã¢â¬Å"His research proved yet again that man's mind is progressing faster than his soul!Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno's voice was sharper than he had expected. He lowered his voice. Ã¢â¬Å"If a man as spiritual as your father could create a weapon like the one we saw tonight, imagine what an ordinary man will do with his technology.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"A man like you?Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno took a deep breath. Did she not see? Man's morality was not advancing as fast as man's science. Mankind was not spiritually evolved enough for the powers he possessed. We have never created a weapon we have not used! And yet he knew that antimatter was nothing Ã¢â¬â another weapon in man's already burgeoning arsenal. Man could already destroy. Man learned to kill long ago. And his mother's blood rained down. Leonardo Vetra's genius was dangerous for another reason. Ã¢â¬Å"For centuries,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno said, Ã¢â¬Å"the church has stood by while science picked away at religion bit by bit. Debunking miracles. Training the mind to overcome the heart. Condemning religion as the opiate of the masses. They denounce God as a hallucination Ã¢â¬â a delusional crutch for those too weak to accept that life is meaningless. I could not stand by while science presumed to harness the power of God himself! Proof, you say? Yes, proof of science's ignorance! What is wrong with the admission that something exists beyond our understanding? The day science substantiates God in a lab is the day people stop needing faith!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You mean the day they stop needing the church,Ã¢â¬ Vittoria challenged, moving toward him. Ã¢â¬Å"Doubt is your last shred of control. It is doubt that brings souls to you. Our need to know that life has meaning. Man's insecurity and need for an enlightened soul assuring him everything is part of a master plan. But the church is not the only enlightened soul on the planet! We all seek God in different ways. What are you afraid of? That God will show himself somewhere other than inside these walls? That people will find him in their own lives and leave your antiquated rituals behind? Religions evolve! The mind finds answers, the heart grapples with new truths. My father was on your quest! A parallel path! Why couldn't you see that? God is not some omnipotent authority looking down from above, threatening to throw us into a pit of fire if we disobey. God is the energy that flows through the synapses of our nervous system and the chambers of our hearts! God is in all things!Ã¢ â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Except science,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno fired back, his eyes showing only pity. Ã¢â¬Å"Science, by definition, is soulless. Divorced from the heart. Intellectual miracles like antimatter arrive in this world with no ethical instructions attached. This in itself is perilous! But when science heralds its Godless pursuits as the enlightened path? Promising answers to questions whose beauty is that they have no answers?Ã¢â¬ He shook his head. Ã¢â¬Å"No.Ã¢â¬ There was a moment of silence. The camerlegno felt suddenly tired as he returned Vittoria's unbending stare. This was not how it was supposed to be. Is this God's final test? It was Mortati who broke the spell. Ã¢â¬Å"The preferiti,Ã¢â¬ he said in a horrified whisper. Ã¢â¬Å"Baggia and the others. Please tell me you did notÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno turned to him, surprised by the pain in his voice. Certainly Mortati could understand. Headlines carried science's miracles every day. How long had it been for religion? Centuries? Religion needed a miracle! Something to awaken a sleeping world. Bring them back to the path of righteousness. Restore faith. The preferiti were not leaders anyway, they were transformers Ã¢â¬â liberals prepared to embrace the new world and abandon the old ways! This was the only way. A new leader. Young. Powerful. Vibrant. Miraculous. The preferiti served the church far more effectively in death than they ever could alive. Horror and Hope. Offer four souls to save millions. The world would remember them forever as martyrs. The church would raise glorious tribute to their names. How many thousands have died for the glory of God? They are only four. Ã¢â¬Å"The preferiti,Ã¢â¬ Mortati repeated. Ã¢â¬Å"I shared their pain,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno defended, motioning to his chest. Ã¢â¬Å"And I too would die for God, but my work is only just begun. They are singing in St. Peter's Square!Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno saw the horror in Mortati's eyes and again felt confused. Was it the morphine? Mortati was looking at him as if the camerlegno himself had killed these men with his bare hands. I would do even that for God, the camerlegno thought, and yet he had not. The deeds had been carried out by the Hassassin Ã¢â¬â a heathen soul tricked into thinking he was doing the work of the Illuminati. I am Janus, the camerlegno had told him. I will prove my power. And he had. The Hassassin's hatred had made him God's pawn. Ã¢â¬Å"Listen to the singing,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno said, smiling, his own heart rejoicing. Ã¢â¬Å"Nothing unites hearts like the presence of evil. Burn a church and the community rises up, holding hands, singing hymns of defiance as they rebuild. Look how they flock tonight. Fear has brought them home. Forge modern demons for modern man. Apathy is dead. Show them the face of evil Ã¢â¬â Satanists lurking among us Ã¢â¬â running our governments, our banks, our schools, threatening to obliterate the very House of God with their misguided science. Depravity runs deep. Man must be vigilant. Seek the goodness. Become the goodness!Ã¢â¬ In the silence, the camerlegno hoped they now understood. The Illuminati had not resurfaced. The Illuminati were long deceased. Only their myth was alive. The camerlegno had resurrected the Illuminati as a reminder. Those who knew the Illuminati history relived their evil. Those who did not, had learned of it and were amazed how blind they had been. The ancient demons had been resurrected to awaken an indifferent world. Ã¢â¬Å"ButÃ¢â¬ ¦ the brands?Ã¢â¬ Mortati's voice was stiff with outrage. The camerlegno did not answer. Mortati had no way of knowing, but the brands had been confiscated by the Vatican over a century ago. They had been locked away, forgotten and dust covered, in the Papal Vault Ã¢â¬â the Pope's private reliquary, deep within his Borgia apartments. The Papal Vault contained those items the church deemed too dangerous for anyone's eyes except the Pope's. Why did they hide that which inspired fear? Fear brought people to God! The vault's key was passed down from Pope to Pope. Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca had purloined the key and ventured inside; the myth of what the vault contained was bewitching Ã¢â¬â the original manuscript for the fourteen unpublished books of the Bible known as the Apocrypha, the third prophecy of Fatima, the first two having come true and the third so terrifying the church would never reveal it. In addition to these, the camerlegno had found the Illuminati Collection Ã¢â¬â all the secrets the church had uncovered after banishing the group from RomeÃ¢â¬ ¦ their contemptible Path of IlluminationÃ¢â¬ ¦ the cunning deceit of the Vatican's head artist, BerniniÃ¢â¬ ¦ Europe's top scientists mocking religion as they secretly assembled in the Vatican's own Castle St. Angelo. The collection included a pentagon box containing iron brands, one of them the mythical Illuminati Diamond. This was a part of Vatican history the ancients thought best forgotten. The camerlegno, however, had dis agreed. Ã¢â¬Å"But the antimatterÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ Vittoria demanded. Ã¢â¬Å"You risked destroying the Vatican!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"There is no risk when God is at your side,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno said. Ã¢â¬Å"This cause was His.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"You're insane!Ã¢â¬ she seethed. Ã¢â¬Å"Millions were saved.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"People were killed!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Souls were saved.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Tell that to my father and Max Kohler!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"CERN's arrogance needed to be revealed. A droplet of liquid that can vaporize a half mile? And you call me mad?Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno felt a rage rising in him. Did they think his was a simple charge? Ã¢â¬Å"Those who believe undergo great tests for God! God asked Abraham to sacrifice his child! God commanded Jesus to endure crucifixion! And so we hang the symbol of the crucifix before our eyes Ã¢â¬â bloody, painful, agonizing Ã¢â¬â to remind us of evil's power! To keep our hearts vigilant! The scars on Jesus' body are a living reminder of the powers of darkness! My scars are a living reminder! Evil lives, but the power of God will overcome!Ã¢â¬ His shouts echoed off the back wall of the Sistine Chapel and then a profound silence fell. Time seemed to stop. Michelangelo's Last Judgment rose ominously behind himÃ¢â¬ ¦ Jesus casting sinners into hell. Tears brimmed in Mortati's eyes. Ã¢â¬Å"What have you done, Carlo?Ã¢â¬ Mortati asked in a whisper. He closed his eyes, and a tear rolled. Ã¢â¬Å"His Holiness?Ã¢â¬ A collective sigh of pain went up, as if everyone in the room had forgotten until that very moment. The Pope. Poisoned. Ã¢â¬Å"A vile liar,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno said. Mortati looked shattered. Ã¢â¬Å"What do you mean? He was honest! HeÃ¢â¬ ¦ loved you.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"And I him.Ã¢â¬ Oh, how I loved him! But the deceit! The broken vows to God! The camerlegno knew they did not understand right now, but they would. When he told them, they would see! His Holiness was the most nefarious deceiver the church had ever seen. The camerlegno still remembered that terrible night. He had returned from his trip to CERN with news of Vetra's Genesis and of antimatter's horrific power. The camerlegno was certain the Pope would see the perils, but the Holy Father saw only hope in Vetra's breakthrough. He even suggested the Vatican fund Vetra's work as a gesture of goodwill toward spiritually based scientific research. Madness! The church investing in research that threatened to make the church obsolete? Work that spawned weapons of mass destruction? The bomb that had killed his motherÃ¢â¬ ¦ Ã¢â¬Å"ButÃ¢â¬ ¦ you can't!Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno had exclaimed. Ã¢â¬Å"I owe a deep debt to science,Ã¢â¬ the Pope had replied. Ã¢â¬Å"Something I have hidden my entire life. Science gave me a gift when I was a young man. A gift I have never forgotten.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I don't understand. What does science have to offer a man of God?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"It is complicated,Ã¢â¬ the Pope had said. Ã¢â¬Å"I will need time to make you understand. But first, there is a simple fact about me that you must know. I have kept it hidden all these years. I believe it is time I told you.Ã¢â¬ Then the Pope had told him the astonishing truth. 132 The camerlegno lay curled in a ball on the dirt floor in front of St. Peter's tomb. The Necropolis was cold, but it helped clot the blood flowing from the wounds he had torn at his own flesh. His Holiness would not find him here. Nobody would find him hereÃ¢â¬ ¦ Ã¢â¬Å"It is complicated,Ã¢â¬ the Pope's voice echoed in his mind. Ã¢â¬Å"I will need time to make you understandÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ But the camerlegno knew no amount of time could make him understand. Liar! I believed in you! GOD believed in you! With a single sentence, the Pope had brought the camerlegno's world crashing down around him. Everything the camerlegno had ever believed about his mentor was shattered before his eyes. The truth drilled into the camerlegno's heart with such force that he staggered backward out of the Pope's office and vomited in the hallway. Ã¢â¬Å"Wait!Ã¢â¬ the Pope had cried, chasing after him. Ã¢â¬Å"Please let me explain!Ã¢â¬ But the camerlegno ran off. How could His Holiness expect him to endure any more? Oh, the wretched depravity of it! What if someone else found out? Imagine the desecration to the church! Did the Pope's holy vows mean nothing? The madness came quickly, screaming in his ears, until he awoke before St. Peter's tomb. It was then that God came to him with an awesome fierceness. Yours is a Vengeful God! Together, they made their plans. Together they would protect the church. Together they would restore faith to this faithless world. Evil was everywhere. And yet the world had become immune! Together they would unveil the darkness for the world to seeÃ¢â¬ ¦ and God would overcome! Horror and Hope. Then the world would believe! God's first test had been less horrible than the camerlegno imagined. Sneaking into the Papal bed chambersÃ¢â¬ ¦ filling his syringeÃ¢â¬ ¦ covering the deceiver's mouth as his body spasmed into death. In the moonlight, the camerlegno could see in the Pope's wild eyes there was something he wanted to say. But it was too late. The Pope had said enough. 133 Ã¢â¬Å"The Pope fathered a child.Ã¢â¬ Inside the Sistine Chapel, the camerlegno stood unwavering as he spoke. Five solitary words of astonishing disclosure. The entire assembly seemed to recoil in unison. The cardinals' accusing miens evaporated into aghast stares, as if every soul in the room were praying the camerlegno was wrong. The Pope fathered a child. Langdon felt the shock wave hit him too. Vittoria's hand, tight in his, jolted, while Langdon's mind, already numb with unanswered questions, wrestled to find a center of gravity. The camerlegno's utterance seemed like it would hang forever in the air above them. Even in the camerlegno's frenzied eyes, Langdon could see pure conviction. Langdon wanted to disengage, tell himself he was lost in some grotesque nightmare, soon to wake up in a world that made sense. Ã¢â¬Å"This must be a lie!Ã¢â¬ one of the cardinals yelled. Ã¢â¬Å"I will not believe it!Ã¢â¬ another protested. Ã¢â¬Å"His Holiness was as devout a man as ever lived!Ã¢â¬ It was Mortati who spoke next, his voice thin with devastation. Ã¢â¬Å"My friends. What the camerlegno says is true.Ã¢â¬ Every cardinal in the chapel spun as though Mortati had just shouted an obscenity. Ã¢â¬Å"The Pope indeed fathered a child.Ã¢â¬ The cardinals blanched with dread. The camerlegno looked stunned. Ã¢â¬Å"You knew? ButÃ¢â¬ ¦ how could you possibly know this?Ã¢â¬ Mortati sighed. Ã¢â¬Å"When His Holiness was electedÃ¢â¬ ¦ I was the Devil's Advocate.Ã¢â¬ There was a communal gasp. Langdon understood. This meant the information was probably true. The infamous Ã¢â¬Å"Devil's AdvocateÃ¢â¬ was the authority when it came to scandalous information inside the Vatican. Skeletons in a Pope's closet were dangerous, and prior to elections, secret inquiries into a candidate's background were carried out by a lone cardinal who served as the Ã¢â¬Å"Devil's AdvocateÃ¢â¬ Ã¢â¬â that individual responsible for unearthing reasons why the eligible cardinals should not become Pope. The Devil's Advocate was appointed in advance by the reigning Pope in preparation for his own death. The Devil's Advocate was never supposed to reveal his identity. Ever. Ã¢â¬Å"I was the Devil's Advocate,Ã¢â¬ Mortati repeated. Ã¢â¬Å"That is how I found out.Ã¢â¬ Mouths dropped. Apparently tonight was a night when all the rules were going out the window. The camerlegno felt his heart filling with rage. Ã¢â¬Å"And youÃ¢â¬ ¦ told no one?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I confronted His Holiness,Ã¢â¬ Mortati said. Ã¢â¬Å"And he confessed. He explained the entire story and asked only that I let my heart guide my decision as to whether or not to reveal his secret.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"And your heart told you to bury the information?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"He was the runaway favorite for the papacy. People loved him. The scandal would have hurt the church deeply.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"But he fathered a child! He broke his sacred vow of celibacy!Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno was screaming now. He could hear his mother's voice. A promise to God is the most important promise of all. Never break a promise to God. Ã¢â¬Å"The Pope broke his vow!Ã¢â¬ Mortati looked delirious with angst. Ã¢â¬Å"Carlo, his loveÃ¢â¬ ¦ was chaste. He had broken no vow. He didn't explain it to you?Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Explain what?Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno remembered running out of the Pope's office while the Pope was calling to him. Let me explain! Slowly, sadly, Mortati let the tale unfold. Many years ago, the Pope, when he was still just a priest, had fallen in love with a young nun. Both of them had taken vows of celibacy and never even considered breaking their covenant with God. Still, as they fell deeper in love, although they could resist the temptations of the flesh, they both found themselves longing for something they never expected Ã¢â¬â to participate in God's ultimate miracle of creation Ã¢â¬â a child. Their child. The yearning, especially in her, became overwhelming. Still, God came first. A year later, when the frustration had reached almost unbearable proportions, she came to him in a whirl of excitement. She had just read an article about a new miracle of science Ã¢â¬â a process by which two people, without ever having sexual relations, could have a child. She sensed this was a sign from God. The priest could see the happiness in her eyes and agreed. A year later she had a child through the miracle of artificial inseminationÃ¢â¬ ¦ Ã¢â¬Å"This cannotÃ¢â¬ ¦ be true,Ã¢â¬ the camerlegno said, panicked, hoping it was the morphine washing over his senses. Certainly he was hearing things. Mortati now had tears in his eyes. Ã¢â¬Å"Carlo, this is why His Holiness has always had an affection for the sciences. He felt he owed a debt to science. Science let him experience the joys of fatherhood without breaking his vow of celibacy. His Holiness told me he had no regrets except one Ã¢â¬â that his advancing stature in the church prohibited him from being with the woman he loved and seeing his infant grow up.Ã¢â¬ Camerlegno Carlo Ventresca felt the madness setting in again. He wanted to claw at his flesh. How could I have known? Ã¢â¬Å"The Pope committed no sin, Carlo. He was chaste.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"ButÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno searched his anguished mind for any kind of rationale. Ã¢â¬Å"Think of the jeopardyÃ¢â¬ ¦ of his deeds.Ã¢â¬ His voice felt weak. Ã¢â¬Å"What if this whore of his came forward? Or, heaven forbid, his child? Imagine the shame the church would endure.Ã¢â¬ Mortati's voice was tremulous. Ã¢â¬Å"The child has already come forward.Ã¢â¬ Everything stopped. Ã¢â¬Å"CarloÃ¢â¬ ¦?Ã¢â¬ Mortati crumbled. Ã¢â¬Å"His Holiness's childÃ¢â¬ ¦ is you.Ã¢â¬ At that moment, the camerlegno could feel the fire of faith dim in his heart. He stood trembling on the altar, framed by Michelangelo's towering Last Judgment. He knew he had just glimpsed hell itself. He opened his mouth to speak, but his lips wavered, soundless. Ã¢â¬Å"Don't you see?Ã¢â¬ Mortati choked. Ã¢â¬Å"That is why His Holiness came to you in the hospital in Palermo when you were a boy. That is why he took you in and raised you. The nun he loved was MariaÃ¢â¬ ¦ your mother. She left the nunnery to raise you, but she never abandoned her strict devotion to God. When the Pope heard she had died in an explosion and that you, his son, had miraculously survivedÃ¢â¬ ¦ he swore to God he would never leave you alone again. Carlo, your parents were both virgins. They kept their vows to God. And still they found a way to bring you into the world. You were their miraculous child.Ã¢â¬ The camerlegno covered his ears, trying to block out the words. He stood paralyzed on the altar. Then, with his world yanked from beneath him, he fell violently to his knees and let out a wail of anguish. Seconds. Minutes. Hours. Time seemed to have lost all meaning inside the four walls of the chapel. Vittoria felt herself slowly breaking free of the paralysis that seemed to have gripped them all. She let go of Langdon's hand and began moving through the crowd of cardinals. The chapel door seemed miles away, and she felt like she was moving underwaterÃ¢â¬ ¦ slow motion. As she maneuvered through the robes, her motion seemed to pull others from their trance. Some of the cardinals began to pray. Others wept. Some turned to watch her go, their blank expressions turning slowly to a foreboding cognition as she moved toward the door. She had almost reached the back of the crowd when a hand caught her arm. The touch was frail but resolute. She turned, face to face with a wizened cardinal. His visage was clouded by fear. Ã¢â¬Å"No,Ã¢â¬ the man whispered. Ã¢â¬Å"You cannot.Ã¢â¬ Vittoria stared, incredulous. Another cardinal was at her side now. Ã¢â¬Å"We must think before we act.Ã¢â¬ And another. Ã¢â¬Å"The pain this could causeÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ Vittoria was surrounded. She looked at them all, stunned. Ã¢â¬Å"But these deeds here today, tonightÃ¢â¬ ¦ certainly the world should know the truth.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"My heart agrees,Ã¢â¬ the wizened cardinal said, still holding her arm, Ã¢â¬Å"and yet it is a path from which there is no return. We must consider the shattered hopes. The cynicism. How could the people ever trust again?Ã¢â¬ Suddenly, more cardinals seemed to be blocking her way. There was a wall of black robes before her. Ã¢â¬Å"Listen to the people in the square,Ã¢â¬ one said. Ã¢â¬Å"What will this do to their hearts? We must exercise prudence.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"We need time to think and pray,Ã¢â¬ another said. Ã¢â¬Å"We must act with foresight. The repercussions of thisÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"He killed my father!Ã¢â¬ Vittoria said. Ã¢â¬Å"He killed his own father!Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"I'm certain he will pay for his sins,Ã¢â¬ the cardinal holding her arm said sadly. Vittoria was certain too, and she intended to ensure he paid. She tried to push toward the door again, but the cardinals huddled closer, their faces frightened. Ã¢â¬Å"What are you going to do?Ã¢â¬ she exclaimed. Ã¢â¬Å"Kill me?Ã¢â¬ The old men blanched, and Vittoria immediately regretted her words. She could see these men were gentle souls. They had seen enough violence tonight. They meant no threat. They were simply trapped. Scared. Trying to get their bearings. Ã¢â¬Å"I wantÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ the wizened cardinal said, Ã¢â¬Å"Ã¢â¬ ¦ to do what is right.Ã¢â¬ Ã¢â¬Å"Then you will let her out,Ã¢â¬ a deep voice declared behind her. The words were calm but absolute. Robert Langdon arrived at her side, and she felt his hand take hers. Ã¢â¬Å"Ms. Vetra and I are leaving this chapel. Right now.Ã¢â¬ Faltering, hesitant, the cardinals began to step aside. Ã¢â¬Å"Wait!Ã¢â¬ It was Mortati. He moved toward them now, down the center aisle, leaving the camerlegno alone and defeated on the altar. Mortati looked older all of a sudden, wearied beyond his years. His motion was burdened with shame. He arrived, putting a hand on Langdon's shoulder and one on Vittoria's as well. Vittoria felt sincerity in his touch. The man's eyes were more tearful now. Ã¢â¬Å"Of course you are free to go,Ã¢â¬ Mortati said. Ã¢â¬Å"Of course.Ã¢â¬ The man paused, his grief almost tangible. Ã¢â¬Å"I ask only thisÃ¢â¬ ¦Ã¢â¬ He stared down at his feet a long moment then back up at Vittoria and Langdon. Ã¢â¬Å"Let me do it. I will go into the square right now and find a way. I will tell them. I don't know howÃ¢â¬ ¦ but I will find a way. The church's confession should come from within. Our failures should be our own to expose.Ã¢â¬ Mortati turned sadly back toward the altar. Ã¢â¬Å"Carlo, you have brought this church to a disastrous juncture.Ã¢â¬ He paused, looking around. The altar was bare. There was a rustle of cloth down the side aisle, and the door clicked shut. The camerlegno was gone.
Posted by Alva Comstock at 10:53 AM