What a thing it is to live on the rooftop. Such things are much on my mind these days, for I too live on a rooftop of a kind, in my palace, at the centre of the world. It makes me sad that people look upon my lifestyle and deem it unfair, and in doing so neglect to credit our achievement, for such graces are not borne lightly. As it is prescient to do so, and, I hope, without betraying the burgeoning of my story, I will spare some sentences to clarify the nature of power in our society, for there are many misconceptions about how things really work, and about what has happened to bring us to this point.
My father, the Sultan, was always fond of reminding the poor at his gates of what things were like before our family took over, several centuries ago. Carnage he says, anarchy, the streets were full of thieves, business and trade were entirely corrupt, there were no schools, no infrastructure to speak of, nothing really but a mass of competing individuals. He insists it was the consolidation of force through our family's ascendancy that brought order to the chaos, and who can blame us for not realising utopia in what amounts to only a handful of generations, excepting of course those sultans that were mad or bad. In most cases, again excluding those few genetic hiccups, there is an explicit order to our governance, gathering in centuries of accumulated wisdom, that prioritises virtue and merit, and whilst it may not be perfect, at least it is genuine.
Most trying of all, it seems that our undoing has been our own well-meaning attempts to drive social progress. Over the centuries, we gave the people rights, in exchange for self-improvement, loyalty and social cohesion. We attempted to engage them in the idea of society by creating layers of power below us, and allocating some of our national budget to these layers, specifically dedicated to the idea of improving the collective welfare of our people. We gave them the vote, so that they might engage in the management of their own lot, and have a say on how their share of the national budget is divided. Alas, now it is clear that democracy has been our ruin. Society is corrupt. Rather than optimise for virtue and merit, the people vote for the best liar, the man who looks the best, the man who has the best relationship with the newspapers, always judging on appearance, never affecting substance, and so our collective welfare does not improve, it worsens.
The gutter cats tell me that truth is the only foundation of progress. The implication of this maxim for the human world is clear. If public discourse amounts to nothing more than a series of attractive postures, vacuous and unproductive, then of course we should not hope to progress as a society. If we grapple not with reality but with falsity then where should we expect to see improvement? How can we fix problems that we refuse to identify? How can we stimulate the good when we rely on imagery to achieve virtue? Behind the mask of democracy a hidden terror lurks. There are people out there that seek to use the system as a tool against the people and to take the riches of this world through stealth.
You can see the parallels with the world of cats, and yes, we have our alley cats too, people that pretend to be good, and yet really are mean and selfish, but we also have our rooftop cats, people that care deeply for the quality in society and are prepared to fight to conserve those things most important.
It is not because I am mad that I say these things. I say these things to you because I want you to understand that the truth contained within this story is a testament to my family's strength. I am brave enough to insist in public that the cats can talk. I am brave enough to insist that there are humans out there that can read other people's minds, and talk into them however they wish. I am brave enough still to tell the story of that day as it really happened, when Zara came back to the palace, and when Zara returned to the rooftop, and it is for that reason that I am held here in the hospital.
It was only the day before that Izmir had raided the palace. My mind then, watching him fly away with our diamond in his mouth, had anyway been in a state of absolute shock, but then to return to my chambers and find the door broken down, and the fur coats in the cupboard, behind which Izabel had been hiding, ripped out and flung on the floor, well the blow to my soul was almost overwhelming.
'Izabel' I called, 'Izabel! Come back!'
I looked everywhere for her, tore open every last door and drawer, turned over the bed, checked behind every tapestry and picture, but nowhere was she to be found.
'You've taken her!' I roared and then broke down crying, beating the floor with my fists. 'You monsters' I swore, 'I will find you, if it is the last thing I do, you will not get away with taking her from me.'
Alas, I did not know who it was that might have dared. Now suddenly to conceive of another force, a rival, that esteemed itself empowered enough to enter my chambers, well the thought quite upset my balance.
I might have strode out into the palace and begun my enquiry, summoning this courtier and that courtier, but yet still things were not settled outside, the guard continued to run around, even though Izmir had left. There was shouting and crying, and occasionally shooting. I was somewhat concerned too that my position was a weak one. Would anyone care that I had lost my cat? Worse yet, there was too the risk that I would be in trouble for helping Izmir break into the treasure room. Indeed I felt stuck, without a way forwards.
At some point I must have fallen asleep, for when I awoke it was again the morning. I had not known that I could be so tired, but somehow I had slept right through to the next day. I remember opening my eyes and for some moments wondering why it was that the view was different, the windows above me and the floor so close. I felt really quite relaxed, and on the cheery side, but as I rose to my feet and caught sight of the wreckage of my rooms, and there remembered the tragedy of the day before, I was again hit by an overwhelming shock. I fell back to the floor and sat gawping at the mess.
'Izabel…' I murmured.
How would I ever recover? I had no thought beyond the worry of what I might do, and yet that thought stretched no further than desperation at my inability to proceed. I had no idea of where to start.
As the morning passed my mind began to calm a little. I decided that I should really put my things back the way they were and so began to tidy, straightening the rugs and the pictures, picking up coats, and putting clothes back in drawers. By the time I had finished, and my chambers were back to their usual state, I was feeling much better. I was feeling hungry and thought to order some food.
Whilst waiting for my breakfast, I looked back on the past couple of days. There were no cats here now, but I could have sworn that there were before. My memories seemed so real. I had talked to Izabel for hours. Izmir had dashed into my chambers. I had put him in a bag and taken him to the treasure room. The bag I thought, I could check the bag, and I did. It wasn't there. The dolls which it had contained were where I’d left them. I had taken it to the treasure room. I could clearly remember leaving it there. But was it possible that there had been nothing in it? I might have imagined Izabel and Izmir. It was certainly possible. I then saw myself walking along the corridor with an empty bag, thinking that there was a cat in it, and I shivered. But what a distressing thing to happen to my mind, if it had all been only a dream.
My breakfast arrived, just as it normally would, and I resolved to put this business of talking cats behind me. I promised myself, I would never think of it again, but at that very moment I heard a miaow behind me at the window.
My heart skipped a beat. I didn't dare turn around. Perhaps if I didn't look it would go away. I sat frozen, staring at the piece of boiled egg balanced on my spoon, which, as the cat started to talk, slowly began to shake.
'My name is Zara, elder of the gutter cats of Istanbul. Please don't be frightened, I understand you've met Izabel already. I am on your side so there is no need to worry. Indeed I have known your father the Sultan for many years. It is something of a secret, but it is time for you to know that there has always been an interface with the human world, a cat appointed by the king to manage affairs with your kind, and as it stands, despite it all, I am that cat.'
Zara jumped in and ran swiftly across the floor. She stopped before me and looked intently into my eyes. I dropped my spoon.
'You must pull yourself together princess' she said. 'This is no time for weakness or indecision. If you are not able to rise to this challenge, your family will lose everything. The state will be lost, our enemy will have gained a foothold here in Istanbul, and who knows then where we will make our stand against this evil.'
Looking at me more intently still, she asked, 'Are you ready Esma?'
'I am ready, but you're right' I said, feeling ashamed. 'I don't know what to do. They took Izabel away. I don't know who they are.'
'I will explain everything' replied Zara.
She jumped up next to me and, after eating quickly from my tray, then sat down to tell me her story, ever since setting off to find the prophecy.
Then I heard of the boat and the storm, of losing Fatma and Ahmet, of her return to Istanbul and her meeting with Longshanks. Longshanks of course was a name that I had heard. He was the uncle of Izabel and was forcing her to marry Mr Respectable. This point I protested. Should I be talking to her if she was the type of cat to hold meetings with Longshanks?
Longshanks was her brother she explained, and was much misunderstood. Indeed she had not known how misunderstood until that very morning, but he was she insisted innocent.
After seeing Longshanks she had come to the palace. Here she had looked in on the morning session with the Sultan, and there overheard his courtiers talking of a strange new technology, an energetic weapon of sorts that was being used on the human world.
The crux of the matter was that two of my father's courtiers, Yavuz and Hamdi, had been suspicious of another, Nadir. Both of them thought the Sultan at risk, specifically because of this technology, and expected Nadir soon to hold a coup.
These were of course people that I knew. Yavuz was my father's oldest friend and closest advisor, and Hamdi was in charge of the army. I was not surprised to hear that they suspected Nadir of treason for I hated him already. I had hated him on first sight, but after his election as popular leader I had grown to loathe even the idea of him, so much that I avoided him at all costs.
Zara continued, explaining that she had thought to resolve the issue immediately and so gone to see the Sultan. Climbing up to his chambers she had been shot at and then chased out of the palace by a team of guards, a special type of guard she assured me, for these she could not outrun as normal. She had made it beyond the palace walls, but they had known where to look and then shot at her again. She ran another time, a good few miles, but on stopping had been dismayed to hear the sound of an engine in the distance, and then closer behind her and closer still. Once more she ran, a shower of bullets marking her departure, and then came the voices, voices in the air shouting behind her.
'Cat! Cat! You've really done it now! Prepare to meet your end kitty!'
And then voices in her mind.
'Stop right there cat! You can't run forever. We were given permission to kill you kitty, and we ain't hunted cat for ages.'
The bullets continued to spray on the left and on the right, and it was too late that she realised that she was being driven towards the sea.
Eventually, there was nowhere left to run. She met the land's edge. Behind her she heard the engine pull in and then quiten. A bullet hit the ground first on one side and then on the other.
'Turn round to meet your end,' the voices called. 'I don't want to shoot you in the back of the head.'
Zara sat motionless, staring out to sea.
She heard a click behind her.
She dived to the left, but was hit, the bullet piercing her chest, passing through between her ribs and then exiting her back, a inch short of her spine. She had fallen into the sea and there expected to die. Certainly for a while there was only the darkness, for she could remember nothing after that until her mind awoke in a whisper, a blessing sent from deep under the ocean: the gods were not done with her yet. Then had come the sense of being lifted through the waves, and after that the light, a radiance of the purest kind felt warming her fur.
Eventually she had awoken on the shore of the Black Sea, a good few days' walk from Istanbul. That had happened yesterday. She had returned as soon as she could, but it had taken her longer than she would have wished to drag herself up the beach and then on to the nearest town. In fact she was exhausted by the time she arrived, and after eating, and washing her wound, she had fallen fast asleep, awaking only at night and so taking the early cart into the city.
By now her strength had returned. She wasn't sure she could say why, but it felt as if thirty years had fallen off her in the sea, and much of the anxiety that had haunted her before had now vanished. It was as if all the heaviness had just washed away, and now she felt clean and bright.
Reaching Istanbul, she leapt into action, certain of the threat to our existence but now behind with the plot and uncertain of the state of play. Longshanks was her first priority. She had promised him a meeting before leaving but of course had never shown up. He would be worried for her, but too he was her best chance of a good update on where things now were.
The guard she found whilst on her way through were news enough for her. She picked a knight with a gentle face and asked where she might find their king.
He looked at her like she was stupid.
'Longshanks' she said, 'I want to speak to Longshanks. Where is he?'
'Off hiding somewhere' replied the knight. However, on seeing her glare he thought better of it and added, 'Last I heard he was somewhere around the Blue Mosque.'
Finally she had found him, high up on the towers of the mosque, backed against the marble, weeping.
The news was as bad as she feared, their civilisation was on the verge of collapse: the photo, the prophecy, the murder of Izmir, Fatma and Ahmet, the capture of Izabel, the unrest amongst the gutters, and all of it driven by Mr Respectable and the alley cats.
Mr Respectable I said to myself. So you are to blame. Izabel does not want to marry you. You can't force her.
Then I wished for his head, and promised myself I would have it.
She had done her best to pull her brother together but it had not been an easy task. The gutters he insisted were set to rise up that very evening, they had already failed he said, there wasn't any chance of turning things around.
Well be that as it may, she said, I still have unfinished business, and it is for that princess that I stand before you.
After seeing Longshanks I came here. I had never seen the palace like it. It was practically deserted but for the guard, and not the guard that I usually see, a new security force it seems, but a strange one, for although they look like the men that chased me, this morning they didn't glance at me once as I passed.
I made for the Sultan's chambers but didn't get anywhere close. The corridors around his room are entirely sealed off, not with rope but with metal sheets. I couldn't say what it meant, not for the life of me, but then Esma, the news that you must understand, outside the kitchen I overheard some humans talking of yesterday. The Sultan is dead. Nadir has declared himself ruler of Turkey. Esma he has told the government that you are insane.
After that I rushed to find Yavuz and Hamdi but found that their offices were empty. The prison I soon discovered was where they were being kept, and so to the prison I went and there found them. This then princess is the point where you must decide, for on finding them I introduced myself and explained my story, and they then did the same, the result of which was this message.
Esma, if you have the courage to stand against Nadir, if you now claim what is rightfully yours, and declare yourself Sultana of Turkey, then you have many loyal subjects that are ready to follow you.
Nadir I hissed. You will not sit in my throne. You will not steal my cat. Now is the time for you to die.
I looked straight up at Zara, for I knew without thinking what my answer would be. I am the ruler of Turkey I said. I do not need to declare anything. It was not through words that this honour fell to me. But I will say this, I swear it on this day, and on the very light that shines through life, Nadir, Respectable, the enemies of my family, your souls I will extinguish as a gift to the gods.
Send back a message I told Zara, tell them what I said. You must ask them if they can, can they have a man go to Nadir, and see him safely down to hell.
I will said Zara, but please understand, looking at me intently once more, that you share this world, if not with all the species, then at least with the cats. Make sure not to forget that we will press our point where needed. What we need now is to defeat this evil, this new power, and the people that use it. The cats will have peace she said, with or without you.
And then she left.
I strode to my window and looked out across the park. Feeling more elated than I had ever known, I shone out into the skies. I am Esma I said, Sultana, ruler of Turkey, morning star of the Orient, and I do not intend to lose my kingdom today.
It was then that I felt the energy change. I felt a rippling in the air around me, then a light patting on my head, as if someone was pressing my mind for information. I felt the thoughts slip out: Zara; washed up on the shore; Yavuz; Hamdi; Nadir die.
'She had the cat with her. She's not dead.'
A voice had spoken in my mind. I listened.
'Which cat? Zara? What do you mean she's not dead? How did she get in the palace?'
'She fell in the sea. We must have missed her. It's pretty thick around here.'
'So Esma, you plan to make a stand against us, with the cats. Big mistake princess. Istanbul is ours now. We'll have you out on the streets. Prepare to take a bow.'
I was too angry to care about the concept. At that moment I had been through enough already, what with the cats and everything, not to feel even slightly concerned about the voices in my mind.
'To dust you shall return' I simply said.
I then finished my breakfast, and afterwards pulled out a book, some poetry I like, and therein I waited.
In the early afternoon I heard a scream. I knew that it was Nadir.
Shortly after, oh perhaps only ten minutes or so later, I heard outside, from somewhere across the city, the beating of a drum, and then another drum, and then another, until before long one could hear little else. I rose to check the scene beyond my windows but could see nothing. In the mood I was in back then I cared little. I expected to hear that we were being invaded, and I was ready to fight, but I was not about to embark upon a human war. The noise I could hear was being made in the gutters of Istanbul, and it was calling for cats to join in a revolution.