After days of careful negotiation, Matthew was able to arrange a visit to Rabbi Judah Loew. To make room for it, Gallowglass had to cancel my upcoming appointments at court, citing illness.
Unfortunately, this announcement caught the emperor's attention, and the house was flooded with medicines: terra sigillata, the clay with marvelous healing properties; bezoar stones harvested from the gallbladders of goats to ward off poison; a cup made of unicorn horn with one of the emperor's family recipes for an electuary. The latter involved roasting an egg with saffron before beating it into a powder with mustard seed, angelica, juniper berries, camphor, and several other mysterious substances, then turning it into a paste with treacle and lemon syrup. Rudolf sent Dr. Hajek along to administer it. But I had no intention of swallowing this unappetizing concoction, as I informed the imperial physician.
"I will assure the emperor that you will recover," he said drily. "Happily, His Majesty is too concerned with his own health to risk traveling down Sporrengasse to confirm my prognosis."
We thanked him profusely for his discretion and sent him home with one of the roasted chickens that had been delivered from the royal kitchens to tempt my appetite. I threw the note that accompanied it into the fire- "Ich verspreche Sie werden nicht hungern. Ich halte euch zufrieden. Rudolff"-after Matthew explained that the wording left some doubt as to whether Rudolf was referring to the chicken when he promised to satisfy my hunger.
On our way across the Moldau River to Prague's Old Town, I had my first opportunity to experience the hustle and bustle of the city center. There, affluent merchants conducted business in arcades nestled beneath the three- and four-story houses that lined the twisting streets. When we turned north, the city's character changed: The houses were smaller, the residents more shabbily dressed, the businesses less prosperous. Then we crossed over a wide street and passed through a gate into the Jewish Town. More than five thousand Jews lived in this small enclave smashed between the industrial riverbank, the Old Town's main square, and a convent. The Jewish quarter was crowded-inconceivably so, even by London standards-with houses that were not so much constructed as grown, each structure evolving organically from the walls of another like the chambers in a snail's shell.
We found Rabbi Loew via a serpentine route that made me long for a bag of bread crumbs to be sure we could find our way back. The residents slid cautious glances in our direction, but few dared to greet us. Those who did called Matthew "Gabriel." It was one of his many names, and the use of it here signaled that I'd slipped down one of Matthew's rabbit holes and was about to meet another of his past selves.
When I stood before the kindly gentleman known as the Maharal, I understood why Matthew spoke of him in hushed tones. Rabbi Loew radiated the same quiet sense of power that I'd seen in Philippe. His dignity made Rudolf's grandiose gestures and Elizabeth's petulance seem laughable in comparison. And it was all the more striking in this age, when brute force was the usual method of imposing one's will on others. The Maharal's reputation was based on scholarship and learning, not physical prowess.
"The Maharal is one of the finest men who has ever lived," Matthew said simply when I asked him to tell me more about Judah Loew. Considering how long Matthew had roamed the earth, this was a considerable accolade.
"I did think, Gabriel, that we had concluded our business," Rabbi Loew said sternly in Latin. He looked and sounded very much like a headmaster. "I would not share the name of the witch who made the golem before, and I will not do so now." Rabbi Loew turned to me. "I am sorry, Frau Roydon. My impatience with your husband made me forget my manners. It is a pleasure to meet you."
"I haven't come about the golem," Matthew replied. "My business today is private. It concerns a book."
"What book is that?" Though the Maharal did not blink, a disturbance in the air around me suggested some subtle reaction on his part. Since meeting Kelley, I realized that my magic had been tingling as though plugged into an invisible current. My firedrake was stirring. And the threads surrounding me kept bursting into color, highlighting an object, a person, a path through the streets as if trying to tell me something.
"It is a volume my wife found at a university far away from here," Matthew said. I was surprised that he was being this truthful. So was Rabbi Loew.
"Ah. I see we are to be honest with each other this afternoon. We should do so where it is quiet enough for me to enjoy the experience. Come into my study."
He led us into one of the small rooms tucked into the warren of a ground floor. It was comfortingly familiar, with its scarred desk and piles of books. I recognized the smell of ink and something that reminded me of the rosin box in my childhood dance studio. An iron pot by the door held what looked like small brown apples, bobbing up and down in an equally brown liquid. Its appearance was witchworthy, conjuring up concerns about what else might be lurking in the cauldron's unsavory depths.
"Is this batch of ink more satisfactory?" Matthew said, poking at one of the floating balls.
"It is. You have done me a service by telling me to add those nails to the pot. It does not require so much soot to make it black, and the consistency is better." Rabbi Loew gestured toward a chair. "Please sit." He waited until I was settled and then took the only other seat: a three-legged stool. "Gabriel will stand. He is not young, but his legs are strong."
"I'm young enough to sit at your feet like one of your pupils, Maharal." Matthew grinned and folded himself gracefully into a cross-legged position.
"My students have better sense than to take to the floor in this weather." Rabbi Loew studied me. "Now. To business. Why has the wife of Gabriel ben Ariel come so far to look for a book?" I had a disconcerting sense that he wasn't talking about my trip across the river, or even across Europe. How could he possibly know that I wasn't from this time?
As soon as my mind formed the question, a man's face swam in the air over Rabbi Loew's shoulder. The face, though young, already showed worry creases around deep-set gray eyes, and the dark brown beard was graying in the center of his chin.
"Another witch told you about me," I said softly.
Rabbi Loew nodded. "Prague is a wonderful city for news. Alas, half of what is said is untrue." He waited for a moment. "The book?" Rabbi Loew reminded me.
"We think it might tell us about how creatures like Matthew and me came to be," I explained.
"This is not a mystery. God made you, just as he made me and Emperor Rudolf," the Maharal replied, settling more deeply into his chair. It was a typical posture for a teacher, one that developed naturally after years spent giving students the space to wrestle with new ideas. I felt a familiar sense of anticipation and dread as I prepared my response. I didn't want to disappoint Rabbi Loew.
"Perhaps, but God has given some of us additional talents. You cannot make the dead live again, Rabbi Loew," I said, responding to him as if he were a tutor at Oxford. "Nor do strange faces appear before you when you pose a simple question."
"True. But you do not rule Bohemia, and your husband's German is better than mine even though I have conversed in the language since a child. Each of us is uniquely gifted, Frau Roydon. In the world's apparent chaos, there is still evidence of God's plan."
"You speak of God's plan with such confidence because you know your origins from the Torah," I replied. "Bereishit-'In the beginning'-is what you call the book the Christians know as Genesis. Isn't that right, Rabbi Loew?"
"It seems I have been discussing theology with the wrong member of Ariel's family," Rabbi Loew said drily, though his eyes twinkled with mischief.
"Who is Ariel?" I asked.
"My father is known as Ariel among Rabbi Loew's people," Matthew explained.
"The angel of wrath?" I frowned. That didn't sound like the Philippe I knew.
"The lord with dominion over the earth. Some call him the Lion of Jerusalem. Recently my people have had reason to be grateful to the Lion, though the Jews have not-and will never-forget his many past wrongs. But Ariel makes an effort to atone. And judgment belongs to God." Rabbi Loew considered his options and came to a decision. "The emperor did show me such a book. Alas, his Majesty did not give me much time to study it."
"Anything you could tell us about it would be useful," Matthew said, his excitement visible. He leaned forward and hugged his knees to his chest, just as Jack did when he was listening intently to one of Pierre's stories. For a few moments, I was able to see my husband as he must have looked as a child learning the carpenter's craft.
"Emperor Rudolf called me to his palace in hope that I would be able to read the text. The alchemist, the one they call Meshuggener Edward, had it from the library of his master, the Englishman John Dee." Rabbi Loew sighed and shook his head. "It is difficult to understand why God chose to make Dee learned but foolish and Edward ignorant yet cunning.
"Meshuggener Edward told the emperor that this ancient book contained the secrets of immortality," Loew continued. "To live forever is every powerful man's dream. But the text was written in a language no one understood, except for the alchemist."
"Rudolf called upon you, thinking it was an ancient form of Hebrew," I said, nodding.
"It may well be ancient, but it is not Hebrew. There were pictures, too. I did not understand the meaning, but Edward said they were alchemical in nature. Perhaps the words explain those images."
"When you saw it, Rabbi Loew, were the words moving?" I asked, thinking back to the lines I'd seen lurking under the alchemical illustrations.
"How could they be moving?" Loew frowned. "They were just symbols, written in ink on the page."
"Then it isn't broken-not yet," I said, relieved. "Someone removed several pages from it before I saw it in Oxford. It was impossible to figure out the text's meaning because the words were racing around looking for their lost brothers and sisters."
"You make it sound as though this book is alive," Rabbi Loew said.
"I think it is," I confessed. Matthew looked surprised. "It sounds unbelievable, I know. But when I think back to that night, and what happened when I touched the book, that's the only way to describe it. The book recognized me. It was . . . hurting somehow, as though it had lost something essential."
"There are stories among my people of books written in living flame, with words that move and twist so that only those chosen by God can read them." Rabbi Loew was testing me again. I recognized the signs of a teacher quizzing his students.
"I've heard those stories," I replied slowly. "And the stories about other lost books, too-the tablets Moses destroyed, Adam's book in which he recorded the true names of every part of creation."
"If your book is as significant as they are, perhaps it is God's will that it remain hidden." Rabbi Loew sat back once more and waited.
"But it's not hidden," I said. "Rudolf knows where it is, even if he cannot read it. Who would you rather had the custody of such a powerful object: Matthew or the emperor?"
"I know many wise men who would say that to choose between Gabriel ben Ariel and His Majesty would only determine the lesser of two evils." Rabbi Loew's attention shifted to Matthew. "Happily, I do not count myself among them. Still, I cannot help you further. I have seen this book- but I do not know its present location."
"The book is in Rudolf's possession-or at least it was. Until you confirmed that, we only had Dr. Dee's suspicions and the assurances of the aptly named Crazy Edward," Matthew said grimly.
"Madmen can be dangerous," observed Rabbi Loew. "You should be more careful who you hang out of windows, Gabriel."
"You heard about that?" Matthew looked sheepish.
"The town is buzzing with reports that Meshuggener Edward was flying around Mala Strana with the devil. Naturally, I assumed you were involved." This time Rabbi Loew's tone held a note of gentle reproof. "Gabriel, Gabriel. What will your father say?"
"That I should have dropped him, no doubt. My father has little patience with creatures like Edward Kelley."
"You mean madmen."
"I meant what I said, Maharal," Matthew said evenly.
"The man you talk so easily about killing is, alas, the only person who can help you find your wife's book." Rabbi Loew stopped, considered his words. "But do you truly want to know its secrets? Life and death are great responsibilities."
"Given what I am, you will not be surprised that I am familiar with their particular burdens." Matthew's smile was humorless.
"Perhaps. But can your wife also carry them? You may not always be with her, Gabriel. Some who would share their knowledge with a witch will not do so with you."
"So there is a maker of spells in the Jewish Town," I said. "I wondered when I heard about the golem."
"He has been waiting for you to seek him out. Alas, he will see only a fellow witch. My friend fears Gabriel's Congregation, and with good reason," Rabbi Loew explained.
"I would like to meet him, Rabbi Loew." There were precious few weavers in the world. I couldn't miss the opportunity to meet this one.
Matthew stirred, a protest rising to his lips.
"This is important, Matthew." I rested my hand on his arm. "I promised Goody Alsop not to ignore this part of me while we are here."
"One should find wholeness in marriage, Gabriel, but it should not be a prison for either party," said Rabbi Loew.
"This isn't about our marriage or the fact that you're a witch." Matthew rose, his large frame filling the room. "It can be dangerous for a Christian woman to be seen with a Jewish man." When I opened my mouth to protest, Matthew shook his head. "Not for you. For him. You must do what Rabbi Loew tells you to do. I don't want him or anyone else in the Jewish Town to come to harm-not on our account."