On that first icy predawn you stood in the little cobbled square behind the very gate you are now guarding, the ghetto populace entire surrounded you, eyes crusted with suspicion.
Master was their rabbi, and a prodigy besides, but also young, a distant town’s son, and he had not sought the elders’ blessing for stealing away in the dead of night to make a magic man of mud.
Naked and erect you stood before them: a thing of frozen river mud and sacred words, piss infused and sealed with profane secretions, animated – and muted – by the unutterable name.
But also, a thing of power. And beauty.
A people who bow to no earthly king are not obliged to heed a rabbi – they fear the Lord in heaven more than most. And you were a carved statue of a man or an angle with His name on your tongue, TRUTH on your brow, flames leaking from your painted pupils.
Where did that blaze come from? Asked a strapping lad, clutching his illicit dagger. Were those not the embers of Sheol?
Master motioned you to get down on your knees and forced your mouth open, then invited each and every ghetto dweller to inspect the word on your tongue.
Did they think, he argued, that the almighty would suffer His name to grace the devil’s work?
‘It is forbidden to make a stone idol,’ said a stooped little man with clock maker’s squint.
‘It is not stone but clay, unbaked,’ countered master.
A woman approached. Her maiden days far behind her, yet supple and self possessed with no children at her skirts. A widow, perhaps. Placing her hand on the back of your colossal neck, not fully dry yet, she studied master’s face. Her touch felt strangely familiar.
‘Yes, you have made a man of mud by the grace of God. A true Golem. But rabbi, if your people, who know and honour you, still harbour doubts about this creature, what will the city folk say? This is a time plague. Won’t a clay giant stalking the ghetto furnish them with a proof of dark deeds: festive bread baked with their children’s blood, rains of toads and boys possessed by Eve’s curse? This mud-man you have fashioned could be our undoing, not salvation.’
Something passed between master and the woman. For the first time since master marched you to the square, his accomplices silently melting into the shadows to change their soiled robes and return to join the crowd, he wavered for a moment, but tracing the curls carved on your head, quickly recovered.
‘They will say this and more besides, Maša. But when did the city folk ever need a scrap of evidence for their libels? I was not ten years old when they razed my town’s ghetto to the ground when the spring sickness came after an overlong winter, crying black magic, infanticide and blood-rites, but I know full well that we did not have a man of mud walking amongst us then. They said this all the same. We were slaughtered all the same. Soon, they will say it again, but with this Golem guarding our gate, poison words might not carry a death sentence.’
This reminder of the arbitrary nature of the danger swayed them. Suspicion turned into awe and now they were wondering what you could do, rather than whether you should be allowed to be.
Master had the people come forth again and inspect you, still kneeling in the centre of the chilly square. The clay cock inside the pit of your belly throbbed at each warm hand laid upon you, feeling up your clay muscles. The bold ones traced the word carved on your forehead, your massive back and arms, or tried to stare for as long as they could into your blinding eyes. Some even ordered you to stand, pace, trot, as if trying a horse at the market.
When the churches’ bells beyond the ghetto walls chimed six, master was satisfied that the people feared you no more, and that time had come to demonstrate your immense strength. He had you lift three hefty men and a stocky woman, two hanging off each arm, dig a cesspool, juggle barrels of fish and ale, and with a single punch, make a back door for the school.
But the city was waking, and the rabbi agreed that it would be prudent to hide their secret weapon until your unnatural powers must be called upon. Master’s study in the attic of the tallest house in the ghetto was deemed the most suited cell to stable the mud man, away from preying city folk and curios children.
The first wooden step shattered as soon as you placed a giant clay foot upon it, obliging you to build the staircase anew before finally climbing up into the sparsely furnished chamber. Master drew the heavy curtains, and shut the door behind him, leaving you in the dark, leaving you to listen, wait and yearn: when will he return?
The distant bells rang, again and again and again, and with every hour that passed, the enormous phallus inside you dried, and hardened.
On the third night the door was unlocked. But it was not master who came but four women – three girls and a matron, their mouths full of pins, wielding marked strips of leather and yards upon yards of scrap linen. The mud-man must be clothed, they said, it is indecent to have such a creature parading around as naked as Adam in the Garden. No matter how modestly sculptured.
Hands upon you again. Spread your legs. Now your arms. Kneel. Turn around. Hands lingering too long on the solidified biceps, the artfully shaped abs, your yoke-wide shoulders, hands trailing fabric against raw mud skin.
The youngest of the girls dallied when reaching your inner left thigh, then swiftly, under the cover of cloth, scratched something just bellow where your testicles would have been if they weren’t reshaped into a lump the size of a deformed sprout.
You did not flinch under the sewing pin carving two Latin letter into unbaked clay. But your buried cock twitched inside your smoothed-over crotch. Why did it stir at her rude pricking? If anything, you felt sullied.
The seamstress and her apprentices went away, vowing to work all night long to make a suite fit for their behemoth champion.
When the bells chimed midnight a key turned once more in the lock, and master entered.
He stoked the fire, but carried only a single candle, so it was by flickering flames and moonlight that he inspected every inch of your prodigious body. Yet nothing escaped the firm gentle fingers, halting on the letters scratched between your legs.
‘H.M’ he mumbled. ‘Heda Mahler, I’ll wager. No other girl would have the audacity to mark a miracle with her initials as if it was a birch trunk.‘
But master fretted about a graver matter than a maid’s insolence: if a sewing pin had dented the drying mud, how could your body repeal angry fists blows, stick and stones, sharp swords?
The rabbi locked and barred the attic’s door and ordered you to drag the oak writing desk against it and lay on the floor, face up. Looking down at you as if his clear grey eyes could pierce the layers of clay and scold the coarse mud snake jabbing at your wet core.
He remained fully clothed, discarding only his woollen hose. The roaring fire did not dispel the chill and despite the locked barred and barricade door, master was wary of being spied upon. Now you know that the condemning gaze he dreaded most could penetrate through wood, bricks, and thick garments.
Lifting his robe, master advanced. The true name of god burned on your tongue as he planted his boots on either side of your head, the handsome head he had made, and lowered himself.
By the red glow from Eden or hell you beheld the rabbi’s pale legs, protected from the cold air only by the soft, fine hair, as he straddled your chiselled chest, his strong thighs binding your neck, pert buttocks casting strangely round shadows on your own brittle cheeks. And crowned by lustrous brown pelt was his deepest secret.
Obeying no command but that of the word engraved on your brow, you parted your chipped lips.
Master slapped you.
‘Be still, mud-man!’
Being struck like that should have had little impact, but the rebuke did you more harm than if the house collapsed on your head. So still you remained. And remaining so was harder than rebuilding that house entire, quarrying, breaking, polishing and stacking each stone till they reached the frozen sky.
But you stayed motionless, while master recited the ancient incantations reinforced by pleas for forgiveness and courage. Kept as quiet as the floorboards while he removed his right hand from his eyes and took a drink of water. Were Still, so unbearably still, until finally, he pressed two fingers to your mouth and whispered.
‘Now, mud-man, I shall teach you a prayer.’
Twice the rabbi said the words – not truly a prayer, he told you later, but an age-old elegy for a prince killed in a doomed battle composed by his traitorous lover- and made you repeat after him.
By the third time, you chanted alone, the rest of your Goliath’s frame absolutely still as master rode your silently moving lips, barely touching.
On the thirteen’s repetition, furled slabs of wet flesh engulfed you, remoulding your mouth, nose and chin, and you needed no instructions to know when it was time to pray faster and faster, to flick your clay tongue across his swollen lips and moistly erect barnacle.
The instant you struck him there, a tortured moan and a gush of hot secretion escaped the rabbi, and he rammed his knees into your temples.
Shame has nearly dried your face solid again. How could you be so brazen? The secret name of God, inscribed in menses and glued to your tongue was hurting your master.
Shaking, he squatted above you and said another incantation. Then, with iron resolve in his voice, commanded you to hold your tongue out for him to mount.
‘Keep praying, mud-man!’
Shaping the words with a protruding tongue was no easy task, but you did your best as your master slowly lowered himself on the rough mud organ, the forbidden name pulsing scarlet inside him.
You know not the words he cried out. Perhaps they were an older sacred chant. But you do know that you failed him: you did not stay still, you did not keep praying.
And on this night, the third since your making, the brine under the heavens was gathered to one place, covering every inch of your body of primal earth. And you were drowned in a congealing sea of pungent human secretions: a hard shiny glaze fired by your master’s secret passion.
Dawn light knocked on the high narrow window of your attic. Another dawn. Another day of longing confinement. But this morning, a bright spring sun was born, turning the sky veronica blue, melting the snow on the cobblestones far below.
When the women returned with your garments, they did not touch or comment on your freshly gleaming muscles. Maša came with them, keeping a sharp eye on the girls as they covered your cooling nakedness. None had tried to stab you with a pin again, but you almost wished they did, just to witness their eyes widening when the metal snapped. Your new glazing would have bend Toledo Steel.
Once they laboriously fitted the tunica over your chest, Maša fastened the belt with a silvered clasp. Why did she waste such a fine trinket on adorning a mud-man? A simple knot would have sufficed.
As if by way of explanation, the widow turned you towards the window and the sludgy streets beyond the ghetto’s gate, and told the seamstress.
‘A dozen boys died last night. The usual symptoms.’
The matron kept looking at the busy city streets, the distant castle’s spires.
‘Four afflicted, but the fever have broken, thanks God.’
It was not master’s intention, simply the way you were animated: lies grated on the word carved on your forehead. So you knew that while the widow was not lying, exactly, and was indeed glad of the sick one’s recovery, her reply was laced with untruth. Were the children not out of danger?
Towering over the women and girls in your warrior’s attire, you searched the bustling streets and their tense faces.
You did not find an answer. You were yet to learn what fuels the lies humans tell others, the lies they tell about them, and the lies they tell themselves.
A mute mud-man of magic truth, armoured with nothing but carnal knowledge, you did not know that if children died in the city, but not in the ghetto, your people will be blamed.
Master made a man of mud to protect them, but he did not teach you to how to read the ill omens: blood on the snow heralding a pogrom.
To be continued…