Secrets to Break: Book Six

Circle of Fire is the place where Team Veritas finally get the chance to make sense of MS 408….the most mysterious un-cracked code in all the world!

MS408 - the most mysterious manuscript in the world

They’d spent so many hours over the last year or more, holed away in hotel bedrooms and huts at Station X looking for answers to one question. ...

… What did MS 408 say? They’d followed so many twists and turns, puzzles and clues and it had all been about that single question. What did the glyphs and the squiggles in a book which was five hundred years old and had never been read, actually mean?
Brodie felt the excitement might explode inside her.
There might be more twists and more confusion and it might be difficult, but she knew the photos of Pigafetta’s writing must and would make sense of MS 408. Everyone in the room believed that, she could feel it. That was why, after all the setbacks and the pain and the dramas they hadn’t given up. They’d known they would find meaning in the confusion of the swirls and squiggles. It hadn’t been a hope. It had been a certainty. That was what made the Third Study Group different from the Second and different from the First. And different from everyone else who’d ever tried to make sense of the Voynich manuscript.
Total and utter belief.
They organised the photographs of the pages of the book into two folders on the screen. One, the known story of Pigafetta’s adventures on the high seas. The other, a smaller set. Four photos in total. The folded pages of the manuscript they’d cut free with Pigafetta’s sword.
Granddad took a deep breath. ‘Ready?’ he said.

(Extract from Secret Breakers Book six ‘Circle of Fire.’) Show the full extract

“If you haven’t read Book Six yet you will definitely want to come back to this page later as there are spoilers here about the breaking of the code that runs throughout the whole series! Don’t go peeking if you don’t want to know! You have been warned!”

You know by now that the main code of Secret Breakers is MS 408. If you haven’t had a good look at that yet then head over to the main Secrets to Break page here. When planning my series, it was this central code that connected to all the others. Breaking the Dorabella Cipher and the Beale Papers codes and all the other un-cracked codes that I used were just steps leading towards the solution of one large overriding question. What does Voynich’s Manuscript say?

I wanted to be sure that all my code cracking was testable and repeatable. I wanted to be sure that no-one went away and tried to used my solutions and found they failed. You can work through all the solutions of the codes in the series and so I believe that the only true way to make sense of MS 408 involved it being written in a language that each reader would understand if they tried hard enough to remember.

You might think that is a cheat! There is no alphabet system for Voynich’s book that you can use to translate page after page yet. But Hunter explains this!

The Voynese writing...waiting to be read and a page of MS 408

We had to ‘feel’ the language of MS 408...

… And we had to know that Pigafetta had been to Avalon and we had to know all about the Knights of Neustria. When we knew all that, then we had enough information to ‘hear’ the words. To let them work with the pictures and for us to know what Pigafetta was trying to say.’ She paused. ‘We know enough now to hear what it says.’
Hunter sighed deeply. It was clear he was trying to drink in all Brodie had said and digest it. She could tell he wasn’t quite sure. She could tell by watching him, his mathematical brain was trying to sort all the information and line it all up to make sense.
‘It’s like the beauty of a sunset,’ said Tusia quietly.
Hunter turned to face her. ‘What?’
‘Or the complicated shape of snowflakes.’
Brodie didn’t think it was possible for Hunter to look more confused.
‘You can’t break those things into pieces, can you? Not to understand them, I mean. You see the whole thing. The whole shape. And you know.’
‘Know what?’
Tusia shook her head. ‘Just something inside that can’t be put into words. Something that doesn’t need words.’
‘So you’re trying to say,’ Hunter began nervously, ‘MS 408 being written in a code beyond words isn’t a cheat or a way out.’
‘No,’ said Brodie. ‘Not a cheat or a way out. But the most perfect answer there could possibly be. The only real answer.’ Understanding drummed like hail inside her mind. ‘The answer to the code of MS 408 was never ‘out there’. It was always somewhere inside us. And that’s not cheating. That’s just the way it is.’
Hunter’s shoulder’s relaxed. His face became unlined. And as she watched him, Sheldon continued to play. And the piece he played sounded like Elgar’s music, Nimrod.
And there in the garden, without really knowing how, she realised she understood the music in the way it was meant to be understood. She understood the code.

(Extract from Secret Breakers Book six ‘Circle of Fire.’) Show the full extract

This solution means that reading Voynich’s Manuscript draws on all the skills used in earlier codes in the series: a link with the music of Book Two; a story of a magical island from Book Three; the architecture of the world in Book Four and the search for treasure buried deep in Book Five! It is only after completing the deciphering of all these codes that Team Veritas can finally make sense of the original language of MS 408. Without these steps in the journey they would never have broken the code!

That might all sound a bit deep. But hopefully it makes clear the idea that the potential to solve the code is inside everyone…and that they have to tap into earlier forgotten memories to make the answers clear!

I thought a lot about the development of language when writing the series of Secret Breakers and I became fascinated by the idea of the story of the Tower of Babel. If all the people of the earth spoke the same language they would have immense power and of course deeper understanding of each other. This concept fascinated me. My research about the Tower of Babel led me to discover that according to many versions of the story, the Tower was built on Nimrod’s land…and Nimrod was a mighty Hunter! Can you see the link there to one of the main characters in the story of Secret Breakers and also to one of the main codes they solve? ie: Hunter and Elgar’s Enigma Variations in Book Two!

The interesting thing about the story of the Tower of Babel, is the idea that a story about the confusion of languages exists in lots of cultures - Irish, Ancient Greek, Australian etc. They all have their own versions of a story where the ability to understand each other is suddenly shaken up and the power of one universally understood language is lost forever! I love the idea that different peoples have their own languages. Diversity and difference is important but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all understand each other? I think in order to do that we have to go beyond language and understand all the links and connections that make us human…and that is what my decoding of MS 408 is all about!

Details of a strange world described in the manuscript
Pages unfolding from MS 408
The mysterious map page from MS 408

A forgotten Language

When I was at university, I remember learning about how all babies are born with certain innate skills. They can all make stepping motions. They can all swim under water. They each have a startle reflex. In the time after birth, these skills begin to weaken and disappear and then have to be learnt again. Wouldn’t it be amazing if each baby was also born with an innate understanding of language and that this was lost too? Maybe being able to read MS 408 involves just trying to remember! And that is why it was important that this final book in the series was called Circle of Fire and why I included quotes about returning to the very beginning. The potential of a child to do incredible things is so important and I suppose the deciphering of MS 408 also includes that idea. In my series, children have the power to do what adults can’t!

Of course there are other stories written about an incredible universal language that we all could have had access to. It is sometimes called the Language of Babel, but sometimes it is called the Language of the Birds! Many societies have stories written about this perfect language that is able to carry great wisdom.

The Tower of Babel
Languages were mixed and muddled at Babel

Other attempts to crack the code!

A question I get asked regularly is ‘has anyone really managed to read MS 408?’ Interestingly, there is of course the chance that the Second Study Group who moved into Bletchley Park after the Second World War and was headed by William Friedman may very well have broken the code! The history books tell us that they didn’t….but thinking about it, it’s most likely that if they did break the code and what they discovered was very important, they might not have made that knowledge public! Code-breakers are, after all, people of secrets! Perhaps William Friedman and his team worked out what MS 408 said all along and just didn’t tell anybody!

At any one time, there are people across the world working on the code of this manuscript. A quick internet search will lead you to all sorts of sites which claim that that researchers have made sense of the code. When writing the series, I was always scared that a researcher would reveal that the book was a hoax, or that it wasn’t as old as we thought. Excitingly, in the Spring of 2014 a university Professor Dr Stephen Bax, did make his findings on Voynich’s Manuscript public. He revealed that he was sure the manuscript wasn’t a fake and that the star pages in the manuscript were really important! He also talked a lot about the ideas of myths and legends that might have been included in the writing of the ancient text. I was very relieved to think that my ideas about the manuscript could be on the right lines!

William Friedman may have actually broken the code!
Maybe the workers at Bletchley Park read MS 408 after all!

Check out these two videos which look at Dr Bax’s work. One is a quick overview but the longer video actually sets the listeners a challenge. It works though most of the pages of the manuscript and asks for help with the translation. Maybe this is your chance to get involved!

The truly exciting thing about Voynich’s Manuscript is that anyone can have a go at trying to make sense of the code. Having read all you have about the ancient book you may well have your own ideas about what is could mean and what it is saying! And just imagine if you were the one who was able to work out which letters the glyphs in the book actually stood for. You could be the one who makes sense of the Universal Language and gets to share the details of the story with the world!

And so to end this Secrets To Break section of the website I am going to set you six challenges (one for each book in the series)! Why not choose one to have a go at! I’d love to see how you get on so do send your challenges to H.L. Dennis c/o Hodder Children’s Books, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3BH and you might just get lucky and receive a prize that fits with the challenge you have chosen!

Secret Breakers: Book 1, The Power of Three

Challenge One: The Power Challenge….for The Power of Three!

Team Veritas succeeds because everybody sticks together and uses each other’s strengths. What three powers do you have? Can you write a description of yourself focusing on three parts of your personality that make you special and unique and powerful? Are you brave, determined and reliable? Are you calm in a crisis, helpful and kind? What are your three super powers?

Secret Breakers: Book 2, Orphan of the Flames

Challenge Two: The Orphan Challenge…for Orphan of the Flames!

If you could only save one book from destruction, just like Han’s father did in the story of Orphan of the Flames, then what would it be and why? Write a review of this story and explain why it would need to be saved!

Secret Breakers: Book 3, The Knights of Neustria

Challenge Three: The Knights Challenge…for The Knights of Neustria!

If you were setting up an order of Knights to protect a secret, what emblem would you have to show they belonged to your order? Can you design a badge and motto for your very own group of Knights?

Secret Breakers: Book 4, Tower of the winds

Challenge Four: The Tower Challenge…for Tower of the Winds!

Can you draw your own Tower of Babel? Look at the images on this page and imagine how amazing the Tower could be if everyone worked together to build it. Have fun with your designs. If everyone understood each other, the tower they built could be amazing and perhaps include designs and features from lots of places across the world…so go for it and be as imaginative as you can!

Secret Breakers: Book 5, The Pirate’s Sword

Challenge Five: The Sword Challenge…for The Pirate’s Sword!

Brodie learns with the rest of Team Veritas that it is actually the scabbard of the sword that is more powerful than the weapon. Putting the sword away in its case is actually the way to keep safe. Can you write an argument about something important, showing your skill at using words rather than violence to get things resolved? It can be an argument about anything you feel strongly about!

Secret Breakers: Book 6: The Circle of Fire

Challenge Six: The Circle Challenge…for Circle of Fire!

So let’s return to the very beginning of this adventure! What do you think the words of MS 408 say? Can you have a go at writing something in the language of Voynese? Can you make each of the glyphs represent a letter and write something in the ancient language? You never know…if you do it well enough, it could catch on and become a language that lots of people use!


So good luck with these challenges! Do let me know how you get on! And good luck too with all your reading and exploring of books in the future. As a modern Knight of Neustria I hope you will work to uncover lots of lost and hidden stories as I hope that reading Secret Breakers has encouraged you to look for stories and codes hidden everywhere!

And don’t forget too, to let your friends know about this series! You can even let other readers know by adding reviews online so that people hear about the books.

But for now let’s sum up the whole series and the secrets you have uncovered along the way!

Secret Breakers is about the Power of an Orphan to join a secret order of Knights and journey to a Tower to return a Sword, completing a Circle of connection that began centuries ago, the mystery of which was recorded in an ancient book of code!

Thank you for reading…and for taking part in the Secret Breakers adventure!