The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Nineteen

The Coming of Izmir

After the event Fatma could not stop herself from breaking down in tears. Whilst in the cave she had existed within the flow of movement, knowing that a mistake at any time would bring an end to their lives. Now out in the open and feeling relatively safe, the hard attitude she had held to withstand the pressure burst. The horror of the things she had witnessed brought up a flood of emotion. She shut her eyes and wept, staring incredulously at the succession of images that rushed past her eyes.

Back in the treasure room, she saw once again those cruel colours of fire, that spectrum of insensible anger, from menaced yellow to burning blue. 'Izmir is here' Ahmet had said, and then she had been thrown against the wall. Ahmet had leapt into the air with a scream and pirouetted around, swinging his paws at the smouldering rooftop knight in a brilliant blur, his outstretched claws cutting through the smokey air with flashes of silver-white. The rooftop knight had edged backwards and tripped, falling back into the fire pit. The shriek of pain still seemed to cut through her now, as if such notes should not exist in nature, but now entered, could not leave. 

Within a moment the cat had jumped back out, now on fire, still somehow clutching his spear. Behind him, the other knight also stirred. Awaking to find himself in a furnace, he roared, looked around him and then too jumped through the flames. Outside, still the fighting continued, the sound of thuds and screams becoming almost rhythmic. How she hoped that Izmir would get there soon.

The two guards, their spears raised, began to advance on Ahmet. Fatma wanted to close her eyes but could not. Instead she watched aghast, a silent prayer for saviour exploding from her brain. Ahmet, somewhat to his own amazement, was excited. Holding a single word in his mind, grace, he waited for his opportunity and then sprang, floating through the air towards his target before bearing down, bringing his weight neatly on top of the spear tip of the closest guard. The shaft slipped from his paw and flipped up, smacking him in the chin. He stumbled and Ahmet picked up the spear, prodding him backwards into the fire, before swinging it around in a blinding arc, hitting the underside of the second guard, who, winded, fell to the floor with a gasp.

'Fatma, quick, get the prophecy and follow me. Let's meet Izmir in the middle' said Ahmet, who then ran, fearless and proud, out into the tunnels.

Fatma did as he said, as quickly as she could, but only able to get up gingerly, she had not reached the door before she heard the first of the guards go down. Whereas Izmir's victims fell with a thud, Ahmet's were noiseless but for a stifled cry. It was the difference between the two that caught Fatma's attention. At the time it amused her slightly to consider how swift and deadly her best friend was. She arrived just in time to see Ahmet tackle the last of his foes. He, understanding now that they were being attacked from both sides, looked around for a moment towards Ahmet, and then back the other way to check the position of Izmir. Ahmet jumped onto the guard's back and, slipping one paw around his mouth, dug the claws of the other into the cat's neck, who then collapsed. 

'Izmir!' shouted Ahmet, 'Izmir, we have it! We have your prophecy!'

Izmir said only, 'I found you.'

For a moment the three of them stood there in silence, surrounded by the fallen knights. Fatma was the first of them to think again. She dropped the scroll to the floor from her mouth and said, 'I really think we should go now.'

Ahmet turned and grinned at her. 'You're right, it's time to leave.' He then whooped, 'We did it!'

After that she remembered very little, only running back along the tunnel, hopping over the groaning remains of the mountain guard. The last thing she could recall, which still brought her some satisfaction, was noting that several of the cats had entangled themselves in the line of string before being knocked down by Izmir. 

Outside, the adrenalin beginning to fade, she must have fainted, for there was nothing after that until just now.

Ahmet came over to nudge her with his nose.

'It's okay Fatma' he said, 'we're okay. Izmir came to save us.'

Fatma was sure she felt the trickle of a hot tear come sliding down from Ahmet's cheek onto hers.

'We have the prophecy, remember, we've got it! I waited until you were awake. I wouldn't let Izmir read it without you. Come on Fatma get up!'

Fatma rose to her feet and looked around. They were in an olive grove, somewhere in the Turkish countryside. Some ten feet away from her, underneath a tree, a large black cat was sat looking at her with curious eyes. The sight of Izmir, the prophesized saviour of the cats, was enough to completely shake her from her mood. Apparently, it was all true, for they had found him!

Fatma swept her eyes over the scene. Ahmet looked eagerly at her and then at the ground just in front of Izmir. The prophecy was there, waiting to be read. Fatma couldn't decide where to begin. She was desperate to talk to Izmir and find out all about him, but perhaps the prophecy was even more pressing - indeed it made more sense, for no doubt it would reveal some truths about the hero they were about to meet.

Fatma got up and smiled at Izmir. 

'Very pleased to meet you Izmir. My name is Fatma. I suppose Ahmet has already introduced himself. Thank you for your help back there, we were really in a tight spot, you saved the day! Shall we read the prophecy first, and then we can begin to get to know each other?'

Izmir grinned at her. Fatma was the first female cat he had ever met, except for his mother, who he had been separated from at a very young age. This in itself was something of a wondrous experience for him, but what a cat to start with, and what a perfect manner Fatma had to introduce the fairer sex, and especially so in comparison to the majority of his social experience so far, those disappointing 'other Izmirs' in the prison camp and the jeering alley cats that had detained him.

Fatma took Izmir's grin for assent and so walked over to him. Ahmet was there before her, although somehow she had not seen him move. Smiling almost as much as Izmir, Fatma opened the scroll and began to read.   

'The Prophecy of Izmir

In times of deepest, darkest strife,

A cat from the East, from Izmir become,

A hero to form, and for his wife,

Three treasures unites, from enemies won,

To bring down the walls, to lift the streets,

To help the poor, to raise the weak,

A true hero will come to save the cats,

From two evil kings with one evil pact.'   

The three cats stood in silence, peering down at the scroll, trying to make sense of the italicized scrawl that foretold the coming of Izmir and the saviour of the cats. Izmir, who had never been taught to read human, asked Fatma to read it out loud again. She did so, this time looking up at Izmir at the end of each line to catch his reaction. Seeing his eyes, and therein contained the most difference she had ever seen between introspection and expectation, the significance of the moment for him began to sink in. She gave him the most kindly smile she could muster and said, 'Don't worry Izmir, everything will be okay in the end. Now let's think about what it means.'

'The good news Izmir anyway' she continued, 'is that, if we are to believe what is written, you are going to get married, which must be nice to know, and for the cat in question you will unite three treasures. What else is there? Well, yes, there is the "two evil kings with one evil pact". Surely one of them must be Longshanks, but I'm not sure who the other one would be, perhaps the Sultan, although I cannot be certain of that as most of the humans I have heard on the subject seem to think of him as rather good. Apart from that, we don't have much to go on. Izmir we have found, that must be you, but we don't know what or where the three treasures are, or who is guarding them; we don't know who your future wife is, and we don't know anything about this pact. I'm afraid, after all that, we don't know very much.'

'Ahmet I don't know what you think but it seems to me that we have no choice but to return to Istanbul. We should show the prophecy to Serkan, and course to Zara… And we can find your parents there too, and introduce Izmir to everyone. Now Ahmet, if we remember our original objectives, we wanted to prove the prophecy fact or fiction. Are we ready to conclude that it is true? And if so, what are the implications of this conclusion?'

Ahmet looked at her like she was stupid.

'Fatma…' 

'Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking. It seems almost impossible to deny that the prophecy is real. However, I can't help thinking that now we should be especially careful. Think about it Ahmet, what will it do if we return to Istanbul with the supposed saviour of the cats, and a scroll that suggests some sort of revolution. Listen, "To bring down the walls, to lift the streets, to help the poor, to raise the weak." Zara thought that finding the prophecy would prove it false, and therefore I suppose pacify Longshanks, but in fact I imagine it will do the opposite. Elvan and the like will now assume that it is our destiny to go to war. The more I think about it the more worried I am.'

'It's just typical' said Ahmet, 'trust you to flip everything on its head. Who are you to question the prophecy? And anyway it doesn't say anything about war, it just says that things are going to get better for us, and that's exactly what we need. And even if we do go to war, who could blame us when they treat us so badly? You are always trying to ruin everything. You said we shouldn't try to find the prophecy, but I did, and we found it, and we found Izmir too! Things couldn't be going better and all you want to do is find problems that don't exist. Really Fatma, life is much more simple than you understand.'

Fatma, slightly taken aback by the strength of his reaction, could see she was going to get nowhere as things stood.

'Well, do you at least agree to going back to Istanbul, to consult the elders of our tribe?'

Ahmet nodded, and then, envisioning once more the triumphant homecoming he had always expected, immediately cheered up.

'Izmir, is that okay with you?' Fatma asked.

Izmir also nodded.

'That's a plan then. Now Ahmet, shall we have something to eat before we go? What have you got in your bundle?'

At the mention of food Izmir's eyes lit up. 'I couldn't be more hungry' he said, 'I haven't eaten since yesterday morning.'

Ahmet opened up his bundle and pulled out the provisions brought by Mother Arap, some salt cod fish cakes and a selection of little cheeses, and Fatma began to question Izmir on his history.

He explained, at first stuttering and slow, and stopping for mouthfuls of food, how he had been kidnapped as a days-old kitten and taken to a prison camp. As he had grown to understand the world around him inside the camp, he had learnt that all the cats he lived with were also called Izmir. The other Izmirs told him about the prophecy that the king of the cats, Longshanks, was afraid of. Then he described how the first few years of his life had passed in a succession of empty days, with nothing to do and nowhere to go. The only points of interest were the various uprisings, all of which he had participated in. Inevitably, surrounded by the alley cat enforcers as they were, the uprisings had always failed, and those that took part in them were afterwards killed, except for him, the alley cats only stating that he was still too young to die. How he had hated those other Izmirs, how weak and insipid they were. He had begun to think that he would never escape, for by then the uprisings had died down, and he was the only Izmir left with any fight left in him, but then, one day, yesterday in fact, the alley cats had released him. Two of the guards had been talking loudly deliberately, so as to be overheard, and had said that the gutter cats of Istanbul had decided to send out a team of adventurers to pursue the prophecy, and how a magical storm had been summoned to impede their progress. The enforcers had said that the two remaining kittens would be executed. Then, for some reason, they had left the gates unguarded so he could escape.

To him, none of it made sense. Why would the alley cats arrest him as a kitten, only to release him a few years later so that he might find the prophecy and fulfil its promise? Knowing the alley cats as he did, he was sure that they were no good, so there had to be something in it for them. The only thing he could think of was that they hated the rooftop cats even more than the gutter cats, and so were prepared to use the prophecy against them.

On hearing this Fatma looked up from her fish cakes with interest. It reminded her of the appearance of Mr Caring on their way to the docks at the start of their adventure. He had said they wanted to help the gutters pursue the prophecy. Clearly the alley cats were up to something, and although it did not necessarily mean the prophecy was false, they really did need to be careful. She tried to explore Izmir's rationale, asking herself questions and hypothesising potential answers. Why would the alley cats arrest all the Izmirs if they wanted the prophecy to come true? It might be that they needed the rooftop cats to think of them as allies, as Mr Caring had suggested. It might also be that arresting all the Izmirs actually contributed towards their objective of fulfilling the prophecy, for if they had a hold on the true hero, then they could of course guide him towards his fate. But then why would they assume that the prophecy was a good thing? Certainly it might weaken the grip of the rooftop cats on power, but that didn't mean that it would improve their own position. It would drive the gutters towards revolution, but that revolution was only a potential success. It could destroy the strength of both gutter and rooftop, but in neither case was this assured. It seemed like a lot of effort to go to when there was no guarantee on the outcome, for surely if their world did go to war then anything might happen. 

The magical storm was also an interesting point to consider. Clearly the idea of magic, or the supernatural, was absolute nonsense, for what could there be beyond the contents of the universe? Logically, if it was physically possible to do something then there was an explanation to be found for it in nature. Too, that the alley cats had known that only she and Ahmet would be left on the quest was unsettling. She could not imagine that the rooftop cats were capable of achieving such a precise set-up, nor the alley cats for that matter, but perhaps the humans had found a way to affect the atmosphere, and had arranged somehow for their crate to be pushed overboard during the storm. But then why would they want to do this? They weren’t supposed to understand anything about cat society.

Here her thinking began to form a loop of irreconcilable ideas. The alley cats, the rooftop cats, the humans… The world swirled in her mind as she checked each group. Who wanted what? Which was the real enemy? Who might be an ally? How did they feel about each other? It was almost impossible to understand what was going on…

She heard Izmir spit fiercely and looked up. He was glaring into the distance between the trees.

'Someone is coming' said Ahmet, 'what should we do Izmir?'

'Let him come' replied Izmir, 'I do not like the look of him, but he won't do us any harm, he must be ancient.'

'Indeed I am.'

A voice came floating through the trees, strangely loud and clear.

The three cats sat in silence waiting for him to approach, more than a little perturbed by the arrival of this stranger.

Finally a wizened cat with long grey hair appeared before them. None of them had ever seen anything quite so startling, for the cat looked far older than they had thought it possible to live.

'Greetings' he said with the same loud, clear voice, 'and well done. The time of Izmir is come. We must talk, for I am here to guide you towards your shared destiny.'

Fatma was immediately suspicious. She had been thinking of how unlikely this whole situation was, and what now but an ancient cat who claimed to understand the future. Never one to let a fool continue talking, she said,

'I am Fatma, this Ahmet and here Izmir. May I ask who you are and how you found us in this olive grove?'

The cat looked sternly back at Fatma and said,

'I am Melchior, keeper of the prophecy, and ask not indeed how I found you, for I have been waiting for you my whole life.'