The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Fifteen

The Mountain Pass of Karendir

Desperate to escape Balthasar, Fatma ran fast up the steps, past the turning into Trabzon, and on to the beginnings of the hills behind the town. It was only when, glancing backwards, she caught sight of the sea as a distant blue shimmer that she realised how far they had come, and so stopped. Ahmet too came to a halt besides her. Turning round to look down on the town and the beach beyond, they sat, pausing for a few moments to catch their breath.

Fatma took the opportunity to settle her thoughts. What had just happened there? It was most unusual that her senses should be so suddenly swamped, she couldn't remember ever feeling so awful. She had felt a compulsion to get away from him. What a disturbing creature! He had not said anything explicitly offensive, but there was something about his tone she had never encountered before… But then, it was a bit like… But then she could not quite access the comparison her brain was pointing towards…

Priorities, she reminded herself. The others were not here, they had not been found, they might be anywhere, or even dead. And then the prophecy, what to do about it now? She tried to remember the reasoning process she had gone through on the beach. Her conclusion it seemed had been that she wanted to save the world of cats from evil, but expected to fail. 

'It's a shame' said Ahmet wistfully, calling Fatma's attention away from her thinking, 'that we didn't wait to get directions to Karendir.'

And then there was Ahmet she thought.

'You think that we should go on without them?' asked Fatma. 'Don't you think we should wait a little to see if they turn up?' Fatma was keen not to allude to the possibility that they might have drowned. She didn't know how to discuss the issue with him. 

Ahmet looked at her blankly. 'They're not coming' he said. 'I think they're back in Istanbul.'

Fatma was taken by surprise. How on earth could he know that? Ahmet caught the look of astonishment on her face. 

'I've been checking my senses' he added. 

'I see' said Fatma, unhappy and yet too curious at this development in Ahmet's decision-making faculties. It was not the time to question it now, and the fate of his parents was not the example to begin with, but she noted that she must have a good talk to Ahmet about this idea of knowing the world through his senses. 

'Can I ask Ahmet' she continued 'why you are so sure we should not go directly back to Istanbul and join your parents there?'

'But what about the prophecy?' he asked innocently, and with some degree of amazement. 'We stood before our tribe at the great gutter cat conference and said we were going to find the prophecy, and prove it fact or fiction. How can you say we should just go back?'

'Yes Ahmet, I know, I know, I don't like the idea either, but we said we would find it with Zara, and your parents, and they are not here. There would be no shame in turning back. We are only kittens, and the risk is so great. There will be guards with weapons. They know we are coming, Longshanks is bound to have warned them. They might kill us Ahmet.'

Fatma did not like to mention that they might be killed. It was a prospect that made her feel utterly sad, but she hoped it would snap Ahmet out of his bravado. Watching his eyes, she could see that she had only made it worse.

'But of course they might kill us' said Ahmet, 'what did you think we were doing here? Of course there is risk, but we knew that. There was risk in the gutters. They were arresting us for no reason. There is risk here too Fatma but there is also a chance that we can help. And risk' he continued, rising to the moment, 'is there to be managed. It depends on us. I am not suggesting we rush to our deaths. We must go to Karendir and see what there is to be done. I mean, really Fatma, we couldn't go back to Istanbul without at least checking what was there?'

Fatma rejected most of Ahmet's speech immediately, almost automatically. It was full of passion but without any real logic. It might have been a painting so loosely were its terms defined. But anyway she did take the point that it was worth checking what was there. It was one of the few points that Ahmet regularly brought against her with any success - they might always check before making up their minds...

'We do not even know the way' she said sullenly, raising the objection mostly for its own sake.

'We must ask' said Ahmet.

'But not Balthasar, at least Ahmet, really I couldn't…'

'Look' said Ahmet, pointing down the steps. 'What about this cat?' he asked, 'He doesn't look too bad.'

'Okay' said Fatma, slowly accepting that the momentum of the situation led on. She was partially pleased, despite an underlying sense of foreboding, for their conclusion, if considering it valid, was a positive one - the others were alright, somehow Ahmet knew, and they were still on the quest, with a sensible next step planned.

The cat, as it happened, did know the way to Karendir, and assured them that it was not far. His tone showed no surprise that they might want to go there, such an objective seemed entirely normal to him, and this too settled Fatma's expectations. Once he had left, after finishing explaining the way, Ahmet set off up the steps towards Karendir, and in a dream, without marking the decision to do so, Fatma followed him. All of her reasoning amounted to nothing, they were going on with it, moving forwards, the adventurers from the gutters of Istanbul.

To those uninitiated in the ways of providence, it may seem strange that the fate of cat civilisation now depended on the progress of two feckless kittens. However, to those brave souls that have suffered their own great trials, it may well seem entirely appropriate, for so often is true faith the fruit of innocence. Children cannot conceive of advantage in evil, and so show perfect courage where adults would fail in fear.

This is not to say that the kittens were entirely unwitting in their approach. Ahmet was keen to plan ahead, and although Fatma tried to temper his enthusiasm, he was not to be dissuaded from envisioning the route towards their goal. They were only going to check, she reminded him, but Ahmet insisted that it was critical that they use this time to think. It would be of the poorest stuff, he argued, to arrive unprepared and fall at the first, all for only having not taken the chance to talk through their options. 

As he moved on to beginning a list of the different factors that they were obliged to consider - guards, positions, fortifications, weaponry and the like - Fatma let her mind drift off into reflection, synthesising the qualities of this current affair and seeking to frame them through a broader understanding of life. She was beginning to see that there was a strength of purpose to the idea of finding the prophecy and beating their enemies that her perspective simply did not have. Ahmet knew what he wanted to do and only had to hypothesise how it might be possible. She only knew that they didn't know, and could find little impetus to shape their direction from such a starting point. What she could also see, but could not easily define, was that there seemed to be a worrying elision between checking and doing. They had only wanted to check whether the prophecy was true, but here they were on a quest to find it. Ahmet only wanted to check what was at Karendir, but now they were on their way, he also wanted to prepare for a possible confrontation with the rooftop knights. It was as though they were caught in a channel of cause and effect, where their misguided direction arose from having set off from the wrong place. It only made sense to plan for such stupid outcomes because they had put themselves in such a stupid position. But all of these reflections, given that they were slowly walking up a path into the mountains, seemed cerebral and academic, and useless. Was she at fault to wonder how they might reposition themselves entirely? Was it an impossibility that they do so? Surely not, for they might stop and turn back at any moment. But then she could not bring herself to suggest it. Ahmet in the background she heard was recounting his views on how they might overcome whatever guard was in place at Karendir. The scene presented only progress of its own sort - step after step closer to Karendir.

'Clearly' said Ahmet, 'a full frontal assault is out of the question. Mr Caring said that Longshanks knew about our quest, so really I think we should expect the worst. Clearly then the main options we have are stealth, speed and surprise. There are other things - we might cause a distraction, and if we are caught, we should have a cover story to tell - but on the whole we can do no more than keep checking for the position of our enemy. We must get past him wherever we can.'

Fatma sighed. She knew that Ahmet would keep checking the position of his enemy all the way until they met their doom. There was a tone to his voice that claimed authority, as if he had experience in these matters, but she knew he was just acting. 

'Then' he continued, 'once we are in there we must find out where the prophecy is being held. I'm not sure about that - we must look for some sort of sign. Normally I would think that the place would give itself away, like the treasure room in a palace, but Zara said they were caves, and I am concerned Fatma about getting lost. I don't know, what do you think? Are you listening?'

Fatma could not help but cast her mind over her rucksack. The feeling that she might be needed changed her perspective completely. How might any of the things she had brought be useful? She considered each of them, imagining them in the context of a cave. The knife she skipped past quickly, it was in case of emergencies and she didn't want to dwell on the idea of using it now. The catapult, although less gory, was of similar use to the knife, but perhaps less suited to the confines of a cave. The magnifying glass wouldn't come out she supposed, as it would be too dark to see properly, but the ball of string it struck her might be what they needed. She was sure she had heard a story before that made use of such a device.

'Ahmet I have it' she said. 'I have string in my bag. We can leave it in a trail behind us from the mouth of the cave. Then we'll always be able to follow the way back. It won't help us find where the prophecy is being kept, but it will make it easier not to get lost.'

'Brilliant Fatma' said Ahmet, delighted that she was becoming engaged. 'See! We are not so useless after all. We really have a chance Fatma!'

Fatma smiled back at him. She was not so sure about their chances, but she could not deny that it felt good to be positive. It was true, she admitted to herself, untensing slowly from her intellectual caution, that there was something to be said for adventures, for she was to a degree enjoying herself. The mountains were beautiful. They had been climbing for a while now and the view was really beginning to open up. And what with the forests off to the side of the path and the sun streaming down from the freshest of skies, it all felt quite exhilarating. 

She let Ahmet go on talking about this and about that, and before long was quite relaxed. Somehow she noted he had moved on to talking about the prophecy itself, and of what it could possibly say to have caused so much trouble. And now to bring it out in the open - who knew where it all might lead. He could imagine that the gutter cats would be overjoyed when they brought it back to Istanbul, but then what would happen afterwards was anyone's guess. Ideally there would come about the great change that the prophecy promised and in hindsight they would cherish this part they had played in the dawning of a golden age for the cats.

Then Ahmet moved onto talking of Izmir. Fatma had not really given Izmir a moment's thought. She considered the name as a dash of colour that did little to change the murky depths of the wider context, after all Serkan had said the name was inserted into the legend of the prophecy at a later date, quite recently in fact. The idea that there was genuinely an Izmir out there, destined for heroic success, was almost beyond credibility. Theoretically, it was possible of course, but then it was no more probable than her mother going on to save the world of cats.

Ahmet however was still working in hypothesis. Working backwards, he asked himself what would Izmir need to be, what qualities would be required to right all of the wrongs that the gutter cats currently faced?

'It could be that he is simply the biggest cat the world has ever seen. Imagine Kadir but twice as big, or a lion, perhaps even bigger than a lion. Still though, whatever his size and strength, he's going to need something else. It might be that he's just smarter than everyone else, and once we've found him he'll see through the plans of our enemies in no time, and we'll outwit them. Or it could be that he is a great leader, and that our tribe will be united behind a common cause. I really don't know Fatma but, logically, if you think about it, he should be equal to all of the problems we face in the world today, and so superior to all of the rooftop and alley cats combined, and perhaps even all of the humans too, at least when he is brought together with us, the gutter cats. It's quite hard to imagine how any individual could be quite as special as that, but anyway it's an exciting prospect, don't you think?'

Fatma by now just nodded and murmured her vague assent to his ideas. Putting the world to rights was a tiring activity, and ceaseless if strict, and she didn't have the strength of mind to go on calling out their reality as false. Ahmet was clearly enjoying his own enthusiasm, and it seemed pointless to dampen his mood.

Ahmet then turned on to talking of the treasure that the prophecy apparently spoke of. He considered it possible that it would prove to consist of only gold and jewels, which would be disappointing, but overall it was far more likely to be three items of unique historical significance to the cats, ancient antiques, enchanted relics and the like. He was sure, he confessed, in his heart, although he did not know why, that they were going to succeed in finding Izmir, and the three treasures, and then after he could not say but that they would go on to become great heroes. At this point Fatma sighed again. Really she should have stopped him, but it was too late now. 

As the kittens climbed higher in the forest Ahmet gradually grew quiet. The day was giving way to darkness. Now under the shadow of mountain, the forest began to imbue their progress with a sombre note. Still, the kittens were not afraid. There was no gloom or pessimism, only a growing sense of respect for the magnitude of the task they had soon to complete. They passed an hour or so in silence. The trees thinned, the forest falling behind to leave only a steady climb amongst the barren rocks. In the dusk, it was difficult to see clearly what lay ahead up the steep slope, and so it was with some surprise that they suddenly found themselves at the mouth of an enormous gorge, the centre of which nestled a gushing river. It was as described by the cat on the steps - "then you will know you are at the mountain pass of Karendir".

Both kittens stopped. Ahmet whistled. 'We are almost there' he said. 

Fatma drew breath and puzzled the tones of the way before them. The place did not exactly give itself away, like the treasure room in Ahmet's mind, but the prospect was decidedly uninviting. 

Ahmet was unusually quiet and something tugged at her to check what he was doing. He was sitting in perfect stillness and in silence, with his eyes closed. She caught a flicker or two of the rising moon reflected from his whiskers, which seemed to be moving gently, as if searching for something.

Ahmet, without opening his eyes, seemed to understand that she was watching him.

'It's okay Fatma' he said, 'Izmir is out there.'