"I won't do anything to bring attention to myself-or to Rabbi Loew," I promised.
"Then go and see this weaver. I'll be in the Ungelt, waiting." Matthew brushed his lips against my cheek and was gone before he could have second thoughts. Rabbi Loew blinked.
"Gabriel is remarkably quick for one so large," the rabbi said, getting to his feet. "He reminds me of the emperor's tiger."
"Cats do recognize Matthew as one of their kind," I said, thinking of Sarah's cat, Tabitha.
"The notion that you have married an animal does not distress you. Gabriel is fortunate in his choice of wife." Rabbi Loew picked up a dark robe and called to his servant that we were leaving.
We departed in what I supposed was a different direction, but I couldn't be sure, since all my attention was focused on the freshly paved streets, the first I'd seen since arriving in the past. I asked Rabbi Loew who had provided such an unusual convenience.
"Herr Maisel paid for them, along with a bathhouse for the women. He helps the emperor with small financial matters-like his holy war against the Turks." Rabbi Loew picked his way around a puddle. It was then that I saw the golden ring stitched onto the fabric over his heart.
"What is that?" I said, nodding at the badge.
"It warns unsuspecting Christians that I am a Jew." Rabbi Loew's expression was wry. "I have long believed that even the dullest would eventually discover it, with or without the badge. But the authorities insist that there can be no doubt." Rabbi Loew's voice dropped. "And it is far preferable to the hat the Jews were once required to wear. Bright yellow and shaped like a chess piece. Just try to ignore that in the market."
"That's what humans would do to me and Matthew if they knew we were living among them." I shivered. "Sometimes it's better to hide."
"Is that what Gabriel's Congregation does? It keeps you hidden?"
"If so, then they're doing a poor job of it," I said with a laugh. "Frau Huber thinks there's a werewolf prowling around the Stag Moat. Your neighbors in Prague believe that Edward Kelley can fly. Humans are hunting for witches in Germany and Scotland. And Elizabeth of England and Rudolf of Austria know all about us. I suppose we should be thankful that some kings and queens tolerate us."
"Toleration is not always enough. The Jews are tolerated in Prague-for the moment-but the situation can change in a heartbeat. Then we would find ourselves out in the countryside, starving in the snow." Rabbi Loew turned in to a narrow alley and entered a house identical to most other houses in most of the other alleys we passed through. Inside, two men sat at a table covered with mathematical instruments, books, candles, and paper.
"Astronomy will provide a common ground with Christians!" one of the men exclaimed in German, pushing a piece of paper toward his companion. He was around fifty, with a thick gray beard and heavy brow bones that shielded his eyes. His shoulders had the chronic stoop of most scholars.
"Enough, David!" the other exploded. "Maybe common ground is not the promised land we hope for."
"Abraham, this lady wishes to speak with you," Rabbi Loew said, interrupting their debate.
"All the women in Prague are eager to meet Abraham." David, the scholar, stood. "Whose daughter wants a love spell this time?"
"It is not her father that should interest you but her husband. This is Frau Roydon, the Englishman's wife."
"The one the emperor calls La Diosa?" David laughed and clasped Abraham's shoulder. "Your luck has turned, my friend. You are caught between a king, a goddess, and a nachzehrer." My limited German suggested this unfamiliar word meant "devourer of the dead."
Abraham said something rude in Hebrew, if Rabbi Loew's disapproving expression was any indication, and turned to face me at last. He and I looked at each other, witch to witch, but neither of us could bear it for long. I twisted away with a gasp, and he winced and pressed his eyelids with his fingers. My skin was tingling all over, not just where his eyes had fallen. And the air between us was a mass of different, bright hues.
"Is she the one you were waiting for, Abraham ben Elijah?" Rabbi Loew asked.
"She is," Abraham said. He turned away from me and rested his fists on the table. "My dreams did not tell me that she was the wife of an alukah, however."
"Alukah?" I looked to Rabbi Loew for an explanation. If the word was German, I couldn't decipher it.
"A leech. It is what we Jews call creatures like your husband," he replied. "For what it is worth, Abraham, Gabriel consented to the meeting."
"You think I trust the word of the monster who judges my people from his seat on the Qahal while turning a blind eye to those who murder them?" Abraham cried.
I wanted to protest that this was not the same Gabriel-the same Matthew-but stopped. Something I said might get everyone in this room killed in another six months when the sixteenth-century Matthew was back in his rightful place.
"I am not here for my husband or the Congregation," I said, stepping forward. "I am here for myself."
"Why?" Abraham demanded.
"Because I, too, am a maker of spells. And there aren't many of us left."
"There were more, before the Qahal-the Congregation-set up their rules." Abraham said, a challenge in his tone. "God willing, we will live to see children born with these gifts."
"Speaking of children, where is your golem?"
David guffawed. "Mother Abraham. What would your family in Chelm say?"
"They would say I had befriended an ass with nothing in his head but stars and idle fancies, David Gans!" Abraham said, turning red.
My firedrake, which had been restive for days, roared to life with all this merriment. Before I could stop her, she was free. Rabbi Loew and his friends gaped at the sight.
"She does this sometimes. It's nothing to worry about." My tone went from apologetic to brisk as I reprimanded my unruly familiar. "Come down from there!"
My firedrake tightened her grip on the wall and shrieked at me. The old plaster was not up to the task of supporting a creature with a ten-foot wingspan. A large chunk fell free, and she chattered in alarm. Her tail lashed out to the side and anchored itself into the adjacent wall for added security. The firedrake hooted triumphantly.
"If you don't stop that, I'm going to have Gallowglass give you a really evil name," I muttered. "Does anyone see her leash? It looks like a gauzy chain." I searched along the skirting boards and found it behind the kindling basket, still connected to me. "Can one of you hold the slack for a minute while I rein her in?" I turned, my hands full of translucent links.
The men were gone.
"Typical," I muttered. "Three grown men and a woman, and guess who gets stuck with the dragon?"
Heavy feet clomped across the wooden floors. I angled my body so that I could see around the door. A reddish gray creature wearing dark clothes and a black cap on his bald head was staring at my firedrake.
"No, Yosef." Abraham stood between me and the creature, his hands raised as if he were trying to reason with it. But the golem-for this must be the legendary creature fashioned from the mud of the Moldau and animated with a spell-kept moving his feet in the firedrake's direction.
"Yosef is fascinated by the witch's dragon," said David.
"I believe the golem shares his maker's fondness for pretty girls," Rabbi Loew said. "My reading suggests that a witch's familiar often has some of his maker's characteristics."
"The golem is Abraham's familiar?" I was shocked.
"Yes. He didn't appear when I made my first spell. I was beginning to think I didn't have a familiar." Abraham waved his hands at Yosef, but the golem stared unblinking at the firedrake sprawled against the wall. As if she knew she had an admirer, the firedrake stretched her wings so that the webbing caught the light.
I held up my chain. "Didn't he come with something like this?"
"That chain doesn't seem to be helping you much," Abraham observed.
"I have a lot to learn!" I said indignantly. "The firedrake appeared when I wove my first spell. How did you make Yosef?"
Abraham pulled a rough set of cords from his pocket. "With ropes like these."
"I have cords, too." I reached into the purse hidden in my skirt pocket for my silks.
"Do the colors help you to separate out the world's threads and use them more effectively?" Abraham stepped toward me, interested in this variation of weaving.
"Yes. Each color has a meaning, and to make a new spell I use the cords to focus on a particular question." I looked at the golem in confusion. He was still staring at the firedrake. "But how did you go from cords to a creature?"
"A woman came to me to ask for a new spell to help her conceive. I started making knots in the rope while I considered her request and ended up with something that looked like the skeleton of a man." Abraham went to the desk, took up a piece of David's paper, and, in spite of his friend's protests, sketched out what he meant.
"It's like a poppet," I said, looking at his drawing. Nine knots were connected by straight lines of rope: a knot for its head, one for its heart, two knots for hands, another knot for the pelvis, two more for knees, and a final two for the feet.
"I mixed clay with some of my own blood and put it on the rope like flesh. The next morning Yosef was sitting by the fireplace."
"You brought the clay to life," I said, looking at the enraptured golem.
Abraham nodded. "A spell with the secret name of God is in his mouth. So long as it remains there, Yosef walks and obeys my instructions. Most of the time."
"Yosef is incapable of making his own decisions," Rabbi Loew explained. "Breathing life into clay and blood does not give a creature a soul, after all. So Abraham cannot let the golem out of his sight for fear Yosef will make mischief."
"I forgot to take the spell out of his mouth one Friday when it was time for prayers," Abraham admitted sheepishly. "Without someone to tell him what to do, Yosef wandered out of the Jewish Town and frightened our Christian neighbors. Now the Jews think Yosef's purpose is to protect us."
"A mother's work is never done," I murmured with a smile. "Speaking of which . . ." My firedrake had fallen asleep and was gently snoring, her cheek pillowed against the plaster. Gently, so as not to irritate her, I drew on the chain until she released her grip on the wall. She flapped her wings sleepily, became as transparent as smoke, and slowly dissolved into nothingness as she was absorbed back into my body.
"I wish Yosef could do that," Abraham said enviously.
"And I wish I could keep her quiet by removing a piece of paper from under her tongue!" I retorted.
Seconds later I felt the sense of ice on my back.
"Who is this?" said a low voice.
The new arrival was not large or physically intimidating-but he was a vampire, one with dark blue eyes set into a long, pale face under dusky hair. There was something commanding about the look he gave me, and I took an instinctive step away from him.
"It is nothing that concerns you, Herr Fuchs," Abraham said curtly.
"There is no need for bad manners, Abraham." Rabbi Loew's attention turned to the vampire. "This is Frau Roydon, Herr Fuchs. She has come from Mala Strana to visit the Jewish Town."
The vampire fixed his eyes on me, and his nostrils flared just as Matthew's did when he was picking up a new scent. His eyelids drifted closed. I took another step away.
"Why are you here, Herr Fuchs? I told you I would meet you outside the synagogue," Abraham said, clearly rattled.
"You were late." Herr Fuchs's blue eyes snapped open, and he smiled at me. "But now that I know why you were detained, I no longer mind."
"Herr Fuchs is visiting from Poland, where he and Abraham knew each other," Rabbi Loew said, finishing his introductions.
Someone on the street called out in greeting."Here is Herr Maisel," Abraham said. He sounded as relieved as I felt.
Herr Maisel, provider of paved streets and fulfiller of imperial defense budgets, broadcast his prosperity from his immaculately cut woolen suit, his fur-lined cape, and the golden circle that proclaimed him a Jew. This last was affixed to the cape with golden thread, which made it look like a nobleman's insignia rather than a mark of difference.
"There you are, Herr Fuchs." Herr Maisel handed a pouch to the vampire. "I have your jewel." Maisel bowed to Rabbi Loew and to me. "Frau Roydon."
The vampire took the pouch and removed a heavy chain and pendant. I couldn't see the design clearly, though the red and green enamel were plain. The vampire bared his teeth.
"Thank you, Herr Maisel." Fuchs held up the jewel, and the colors caught the light. "The chain signifies my oath to slay dragons, no matter where they are found. I have missed wearing it. The city is full of dangerous creatures these days."
Herr Maisel snorted. "No more than usual. And leave the city's politics alone, Herr Fuchs. It will be better for all of us if you do so. Are you ready to meet your husband, Frau Roydon? He is not the most patient of men."
"Herr Maisel will see you safely to the Ungelt," Rabbi Loew promised. He leveled a long look at Herr Fuchs. "See Diana to the street, Abraham. You will stay with me, Herr Fuchs, and tell me about Poland."
"Thank you, Rabbi Loew." I curtsied in farewell.
"It was a pleasure, Frau Roydon." Rabbi Loew paused. "And if you have time, you might reflect on what I said earlier. None of us can hide forever."
"No." Given the horrors the Jews of Prague would see over the next centuries, I wished he were wrong. With a final nod to Herr Fuchs, I left the house with Herr Maisel and Abraham.
"A moment, Herr Maisel," Abraham said when we were out of earshot of the house.
"Make it quick, Abraham," Herr Maisel said, withdrawing a few feet.
"I understand you are looking for something in Prague, Frau Roydon. A book."
"How do you know that?" I felt a whisper of alarm.
"Most of the witches in the city know it, but I can see how you are connected to it. The book is closely guarded, and force will not work to free it." Abraham's face was serious. "The book must come to you, or you will lose it forever."
"It's a book, Abraham. Unless it sprouts legs, we are going to have to go into Rudolf's palace and fetch it."
"I know what I see," Abraham said stubbornly. "The book will come to you, if only you ask for it. Don't forget."
"I won't," I promised. Herr Maisel looked pointedly in our direction. "I have to go. Thank you for meeting me and introducing me to Yosef."
"May God keep you safe, Diana Roydon," Abraham said solemnly, his face grave.