The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Eighteen

The Prophecy of Izmir

It is a great part of both the tragedy and the comedy of life, that one's perception of a moment can differ so from its reality. Our limitations as individuals - the extent of our knowledge and the scope of our experience - allow only a portion of truth; still we must act, as best we can, based on what we know. Judging then, forming a hypothesis of the nature of existence, we react, energising through an emotional status those deeds decided upon. Of course, if we knew all that we might want to, we would feel and behave very differently. 

Even knowing in hindsight the position of all the players on the board, it is still impossible to know what we should feel, for the narratives which propelled them continue to develop in the present. Perhaps then, like Fatma and Ahmet, it is best to maintain faith, and be accepting of the ups and downs along one's path through a providential universe. Nevertheless, it sometimes seems cruel that we are so unwitting of our true chances. Fatma and Ahmet, now stood before the cave mouth entrance to a mountain fortress, could not have not known the strength of evil that surrounded them. Indeed, they were so ignorant as to be incapable of imagining the horrors that awaited their failure.

They had walked along the valley pass at first with some degree of indecision - their feelings a conflict of reactions. Reasoning the matter, seeing success practically, as a series of actions to be completed, gave both the kittens some concern. How to beat a knight? Fatma in particular found negativity in anticipating their destination. Thinking of some lonely outpost, and envisioning herself inside, seeking to bypass the guard, made her shudder. 

Both kittens however, undeniably, also felt a strong sense of security to their present progress, a warmth and light in the air around them that suggested success. Whatever objections might be raised by applying reason, neither could ignore that their steps forward seemed borne by a wave of energy, a lift of spirit and sharpness of sense that was just perhaps a little something like heroism.

To Ahmet it felt similar to competing in an important race back in Istanbul. And yet there was something different, a feeling of closeness and compulsion, nothing like the spaciousness of will in accelerating and running as fast as one might. Most worryingly, in trying his senses to check the nature of the world around them, as he had learnt to do after his lessons with Kadir, and had been doing quite regularly since then, he now found that his vision seemed blocked. On the beach his mind had let him move through the air and along the sands towards Trabzon. Just before they had entered the valley he had cast out his awareness and had seen the pass they were now walking along. He had known, some way further, a cat was waiting for them. He had known it was Izmir. Now the space beyond his brow was cut off by a thick black wall. 

Neither anyway felt the need to voice their concerns. Though they didn't realise it, not a word had been spoken between them since starting along the mountain pass. For them really there was only onwards. On seeing a stone walkway that led up and away from the valley bottom, they followed it almost automatically, of course to check whether they had found the right place. This path took them higher, steeply up the sides of rocky hills, high into the cold night air. Before long they had climbed up so far as to break into the clouds, which then hung wet around them, cloaking their fur with the beginnings of rain. 

Now they had arrived and were preparing to enter. The sight of the tunnel ahead, a narrow length cut crudely into a damp darkness, shocked Fatma back into her senses. What were they doing here? How on earth had she let this come to pass?

'Ahmet, we are only going into check' she said abruptly. 'Logically, I can see that we might advance a little inside without coming across the guard or being noticed, but as soon as we understand the position of the knights, we must return here to discuss our options.'

Ahmet only nodded at her. To him it mattered little what happened in the cave, he only knew that they were going to find the prophecy. 

Fatma could not help but feel suddenly angry, at Ahmet, for being so blasé, at Zara, for having lost them, and for having persuaded them to do this in the first place, but mostly angry at herself for arriving at such a moment where their lives depended on the unknown. Thinking back across the course of the day, she felt as though earlier she had held a better grip on this quest of theirs. Since entering the valley she could barely remember a thing, not what they had walked past nor what she had thought of. It was the first time she could remember being so unconscious of her behaviour. What was wrong with her? How could she allow herself to lose focus at a time like this? Think! She chided herself to take back charge with her brain, and therein reminded herself of the ball of string.

'As long as we stick to this plan Ahmet, if we are sure to avoid trouble on the first inspection, then the only risk is that we will get lost inside the caves. For this we must use this ball of string that I brought with me from my collection. If we unravel it behind us, as I understand the humans typically do, we can follow it back to the start.'

With that she slipped off her rucksack and pulled out the string.

'If we leave one end here, tucked underneath our bags, then I'm sure it won't move and we will be safe. Really Ahmet,' she said, now serious and stern, 'now that we are here I am really very worried about this. We have come all this way and I agree we have to check, but I see no clear chance of succeeding, and without that I am reluctant to go further.'

'Istanbul needs us' replied Ahmet, equally as serious but clearly also in disregard of the risk that lay ahead.

'Ahmet, life has not guaranteed that we can help, we must first check to see whether we can. You go first, and make sure you go slowly, as slowly as you can, and I will go behind with the string.'

Fatma then took the loose end of the ball and placed it underneath her rucksack, on top of which she added Ahmet's bundle, and then as many small rocks as she could find. She unravelled the line a little to make sure it held and then said, 'Let's go, we're ready.'

Slowly then Ahmet crept into the sloping tunnel. Fatma followed close behind him, all the while letting out a length of string for each step they took forwards. After only a few paces, the tunnel had sunk to such an angle that the cave mouth had disappeared from view, and with it most of the visibility afforded them by the night skies. The walls held now only the faintest glimmer of reflected light, the gentle beam of moon and stars outside occasionally catching a drip down from the rocks above. 

Even for a cat it was extremely difficult to see. Ahmet narrowed his eyes, practically shutting them, knowing that this type of vision was useless for the time being. He attempted to charge his other senses, pushing his energy through his ears and whiskers, and was relieved to find that once again, all of a sudden, he could see what was out there. Surely somewhere there were guards, surely he would be able to locate them well ahead of being noticed themselves.

They continued along the passage for some minutes more. The reflected light from outside too soon disappeared and for a while there was total darkness. As far as either cat could make out, the tunnel led only forwards, there was no turning to the left or the right, or sight of any room along their way. Fatma even began to doubt that they were in the right place, for after all, how many cave systems might there be in these mountains? She was about to suggest that they turn back when Ahmet stopped.

'Fatma, there is light ahead' he whispered, 'wait there while I see if I can find out what there is with my senses.'

Fatma said nothing in response, only waiting as he suggested, but noting once again that she must try to understand more of what Ahmet was doing. Might it be true that he could read reality beyond his mind? That he could smell and hear the external world was of course perfectly normal, but was it really possible to identify a town? He had however been right on the beach about Trabzon, but this she assumed was probability dressed up - they were heading that way so of course he had guessed it was there. No doubt it was the only town along the coast he knew the name of. Her heart skipping a beat, she remembered that he had pronounced Izmir as "out there" when they had arrived at the pass of Karendir. This could be nothing more than fantasy.

'Fatma, okay, I have it' said Ahmet, 'at the end of this tunnel there is a thick wooden door. If you listen very carefully you can hear some cats singing from behind it. Really Fatma it's perfect, I think they are feasting. A little before the door there is a passage off to the right that leads to the treasure room. The prophecy is in there, I am sure of it, and even better, I think there is only a couple of guards on duty. They appear to be sleeping Fatma. We must go now - there isn't any time to lose.'

'Wait Ahmet' replied Fatma, feeling utterly stressed at the idea of proceeding on this basis, 'this is ridiculous. I insist we leave immediately. We cannot bet our lives on these ideas that apparently arrive in your mind from nowhere.'

'Fatma' said Ahmet, as sharply as had ever spoken, 'don't you dare give up right now, we are almost there. You said we should check where the knights are. If you want to do it your way that's fine, just follow me a little further and you will see that I'm right.'

With that he continued along the passage, at a slightly quicker pace than before. Fatma saw no choice but to go with him. As at the great gutter cat conference, leaving him to face this alone was out of the question. She returned to letting out a little string as they went. A sensation that she had not expected registered in her brain - there was more slack on the line than before. Perhaps it had come loose. She gave it a light tug to see that the other end still held. It did.

After only a few moments more, Fatma too began to hear singing. 

'I hear it' she said. 'You're right there are cats singing. You're right, it is their feasting song.'

The words then became clearly audible.

'From mountain to sea, All land in between, From eagle to oyster, All life that you see, The rooftop dominion, I'm sure you'll agree, Belongs not to you, but to me, but to me!'

Then came the clinking of tankards and cheering. The cats singing sounded completely drunk.

Then Fatma jumped out of her fur. She felt a paw on her back.

'You must be Fatma' a voice said.

Fatma turned around to see two pairs of eyes shining in the darkness. The first knight moved his spear towards her.

'And behind you Ahmet' he said. 'Come now, we've been waiting for you. Don't worry you won't be hurt, you'll be taken back to Istanbul in the morning.'

Fatma then felt the air rush past her head.

Oh no, she thought, it could only be…

The first pair of eyes suddenly disappeared and the cat they belonged to screeched as Ahmet sunk his claws into his face and then knocked his head against the tunnel wall. She saw then a flurry as he jumped onto the second knight and repeated the manoeuvre. For a moment there was quiet around her as she stood there in shock, before, from down the passage, the sound of singing drifted back into her ears. 

'Fatma run!' cried Ahmet and in a flash he was off down the tunnel. 

Yes, thought Fatma, run, but not in that direction. One of the knights behind her groaned. Reluctantly, she decided that still there was no choice but to follow. Running as fast she could, she saw Ahmet take a right turn ahead of her. As she approached the turning she saw that once again he had been correct, further along she could see a large wooden door, from behind which, through the crack between door and frame, there streamed light. It was a shame she thought, as she ran, that Ahmet's senses had not informed him of the two knights following them. How had they known that they were there? The string of course! The realisation that they were not the only ones who could follow the line shook her to the core. Never had she felt so dull-witted. She had no place on adventures. All she wanted was to be back in Istanbul, at home, but she was not, and where she was couldn't be further away.

Ahmet had stopped before the entrance to the treasure room. On the back wall, behind a large fire pit in the centre of the floor, there was a large set of shelves, on which were stored all manner of curiosities. For a moment her breath was taken away. Some of these things she had only seen before in pictures, and others she didn't recognise at all. Ahmet she noticed, silent and still, was staring straight at the middle shelf. On it there was a large scroll.

The prophecy thought Fatma, we've found it!

She scanned the room quickly and saw the problem that Ahmet was now focused on. In front of the shelves, on either side of the fire, blocking their way to the scroll, were two large rooftop knights, lain asleep, each next to their spear and an empty tankard. How to get past them? 

'There is only one thing for it' said Ahmet.

As always, he was one step ahead, and by the time she had caught up with him he had already decided to do what she definitely would not.

She watched, at first with horror, and then in awe, as Ahmet sped towards the side wall on the left and then ran directly up it, curving along the vertical towards the shelves. Unusually for Ahmet he made a mistake, it seemed, his agility letting him down, for on the way he knocked off the oil lamp that was hanging on the wall. It clattered to the floor and spilled fire over the area between wall and pit. Flame shot up and for a second she lost sight of him. Before she had a chance to comprehend the scene before her eyes, he was out the other side, clutching the scroll in his mouth. He ran around the wall on the right and then amazingly made the same mistake again, knocking the other wall lamp into the fire pit. The flames then spread so that the shelves, and the two knights, were cut off by a wall of fire. Suddenly he was back next to her. He dropped the scroll onto the floor. 

'Check it quickly Fatma' he said, 'I'm going to see if we have trouble outside.'

Again, he sped off. Fatma, trembling, rolled the scroll open on the floor. 'The Prophecy of Izmir' she read.

'Ahmet we have it!' she shouted out to the corridor. 

Ahmet ran back into the room.

'Our exit is blocked, there are knights all over the place.'

Then there was a shout from behind the wall of fire. One of the knights, feeling himself burn through his drunken slumber, had woken up. They could see him through the flames, now standing up and looking directly at them. He picked up his spear, and, much to Ahmet's dismay, despite his plan to block them off, then jumped directly through the fire and landed before them.

Fatma thought she had never seen such a terrible sight. With smoke rising from his smouldering fur, he seemed as though a cat released from hell. He jabbed his burning spear at Ahmet's chest, who only narrowly avoided death by rolling away at the last instant.

Fatma saw her world flash before her eyes. She screamed and jumped onto the knight's back, digging her claws into him with unrecognised strength. 

Strangely, from outside in the tunnels, another scream came, and then another, and then a series of thuds. 

Ahmet smiled at her from the floor.

'Izmir is here! Fatma he's here!'