Throughout the millenia of slavery, only rarely has it occurred to the humans that there was something funny going on with the cats. The cleverest of our species have occasionally remarked upon their singular attitude and wondered for a moment what might explain the difference in disposition, but the will of the cats is so strong that such moments were soon washed away in the tide of submission. However, so extreme are the fluctuations of history, even within the scope of felinity, that sometimes the cats are obliged to accept that their true position within the animal kingdom is revealed.
That evening was such a time. As the gutter cats of Istanbul poured down İstiklal the shopkeepers and tea sellers were knocked back from the mundanity of their human lives. Conversations came to an abrupt pause; words, mid-utterance, were left half-expressed; tea glasses fell from slack hands and smashed on the floor, their shattered remnants lay unobserved on the ground; money, held out in exchange for whatever purchase, fluttered away into the sky.
'The cats…' the humans murmured. But none dared to interfere. They had never seen such war-like faces on their unassuming masters. What could have happened?
'It's a miracle!'
'It's a plague!'
'Where are the children?'
'Run for your dear lives!'
The cats marched on, unheeding of the disruption to human society. The departure from Taksim Square had brought with it a new feeling, some source of strength inaccessible to the individual, some benefit from beings communal and co-operative, comradeship perhaps. In truth, by this time most cats simply lacked the capacity to question their present path. The full mystery of the universe remains unexplained, and ever more will this be the case, but one thing seems certain, the energy accessed in a normal day accounts for little of that which may be summoned through endeavours exceptional. Worse, as we have already explained in this short story of the cats, the energy which humans and cats alike are free to draw upon through nature's ladder now represents only a partial share of that allocated to our plight. Although you may think of a war between the cats as unimportant, there are some amongst our number that did not, and when the gutters began their march towards Sultan Ahmet, these humans pressed down hard upon all their buttons, and energy, fiendish and infernal, shone down from the skies. The gutter cats did not understand what was happening to them, they did not question why they would feel as they did, they let the energy flow through their purpose, thinking only that this was the way it was supposed to be. After all, how would they have known otherwise, they had no experience to bring perspective in such matters.
Kadir led the way, driving through the crowds of tourists and Turks with a terrible scowl. So white was his natural colour, and so bright the light that now shone through his progress, he seemed as though an avenging angel. Behind him the confidence of the gutter cats could not fail. The Arap family were near the front, and although they had never been to war before, they had all the feeling of invincibility. Their limbs seemed somehow to possess the knowledge of how to fight, and they believed that it was so, as if the skill to strike could exist within emotion. Father Arap assumed everything would be fine, and so simply looked about the procession - what a marvellous scene to behold – but occasionally, somewhere behind the confusion of the humans, he saw something that looked like Longshanks, and there his mood changed. He scolded the sky, I will get you for this! Mother Arap meanwhile still could not lose mental contact with Ahmet. She imagined calling to him that she was on her way, nothing would stand between them she assured him. Then she saw her arrival, before some sort of prison, the doors of which presented no problem, and when two rooftop knights popped up, she ripped their heads off cleanly, then embracing him triumphantly. Ahmet's brothers too were feeling violent. It was as much as they could do to stop themselves beginning their attack there and then. This human looked like an enemy, and so did that one, why not kill them all?
In the middle of the gutter forces was Hasbi. He had begun to feel rather smug. Look at them all, how ridiculous, how stupid. This was going to be something to remember. Not long to go now… The plan coursed through his mind. The rooftop cats would fall in their thousands. The gutter cats would fall in their thousands. He would do his job and then he would receive his reward. The expectation was enough to make him smile. Well done, well done, said the human voices.
Elvan led the final third of their tribe, a third at least of those that had chosen to fight, and those of them that still remained. Unfortunately for Elvan his team had been the last to leave the square, and this portion of the gutters included those both reluctant to engage in the uprising but also reluctant to publicly desert the tribe on its way to war. As Elvan made his way down İstiklal, cats dropped off from the route continually. Elvan however did not look back. He had to keep a hold on his muscles to stop himself from flying ahead. He was sure it was his fate pulling him forwards and he little wanted to resist. Oh if only he could be there now. He wanted to run towards the future that his mind promised was waiting for him at the far side of the night.
Soon Kadir had reached Galata Bridge. The reaction of the humans there was the same, except that some of them were holding freshly caught fish, which of course spoke to them of their desire to feed the cats. The instinct was too much to resist, and trembling, their catch was flung down at the passing feet of the feline troops. The cats however were too busy to notice. The energy that now occupied their senses left no room for an appetite of this kind. Their bellies, as with their hearts and minds, were already full of war.
And then they had reached Eminönu. Kadir quickened his pace, leading his team up into the hills.
Hasbi, not long behind him, skirted to the left and continued along the coast, pushing his way through the lines of humans queuing for their evening ferry home. As these humans were largely fixed on the head in front of them, and making sure that no one pushed in, they only noticed the cats at the last moment. Women and children gasped. Men grunted. What on earth was this nonsense?
Hasbi showed no mercy. Many fell to the ground screaming after receiving a nasty nick along one artery or another.
'In the name of the gutters' he said in the human tongue. 'Tell your friends to fear us.'
When his team, which somehow contained all of the special operations cats, had turned the corner, he raised a paw and called a halt.
'Kadir will not have all the glory' he shouted at his followers. 'This is our night. We will get there first and set the standard for the rest of them. When I give the order you will proceed as quickly as you might.'
He then reached behind him and pulled out a long, slender knife from somewhere within his fur that let off an awful light like the aura of a demon.
He thrust the knife into the air and, tipping back his head, cried, 'Charge!', before sprinting forwards and around the bend of the Golden Horn.
Finally Elvan too crossed the bridge. He saw the teams of both Kadir and Hasbi follow the plan. He turned around to check on his own and saw that not nearly as many cats were with him now as had set out from the square. For a moment his confidence dropped, but instantly it was flung back upwards by the white force within him. So be it, he would fight all the harder for every coward that had quit. His paws would swing all the faster and his claws would cut all the sharper.
Hasbi, as was his plan, began his ascent first. He jumped up onto the wall of the railway line and down to the tracks, nipping swiftly beneath a passing train and then flying over the wall at the other side. He turned and ran along the edge the road, following its curve until the end, there soaring up onto the awning of a kebap house, before making one final leap up onto the rooftops. The defences of rock and oil that had been placed around the perimeter of their stronghold were curiously absent here, perhaps because the lords and ladies little expected to be attacked from the sea, perhaps because they considered the railway line sufficient impediment to the rising of cats, perhaps because of oversight caused otherwise, but in any case the one knight stationed there had little time to reflect on the nature of their error before Hasbi ran him through, letting out a blood-curdling cry as he claimed his first victim. The knight, his body shaking in the throes of poison and shock, looked up at the sky and held dear the memory of his family, before dying.
Kadir meanwhile had anticipated the risk from above. These were not the first walls that he had been obliged to scale in the pursuit of victory, so when his team reached the Laleli district he called them to a halt. So as to avoid the rooftop defences, he too had decided to begin the ascent at a distance. He also thought it better to split up into smaller groups, of no more than five cats ideally. Finally, whatever Elvan had told them, they were not maniacs, their objective was not genocide, no one should be killed if not strictly necessarily. The mission was clear: they would cut through to the centre of power as cleanly as possible, a simple shove to the side would do; there they would demand the return of Ahmet and Fatma; subsequently there would be negotiations about society. They would remember to always fight with honour and dignity. The greatest reward they could hope for was happiness, and for that they had to accept, as had often been the case for him, that they would need to come to peace tomorrow with those they were fighting today. Beyond that he wished them luck in the fray. It was time, and so they began to climb.
Elvan, thinking himself at the centre of things, had of course chosen to head straight through Eminönu, the shortest and most direct path to Sultan Ahmet. Here the rooftop knights were well-prepared. About half way along he stopped and turned about, ready to announce his own team's ascent. He heard a cry above and behind him but his brain had no time to process the implications before a bucket was tipped from the rooftop. The gutter cats waiting before him gasped, both dismayed and amused at the sight of their leader, now covered in oil. Elvan roared, furious and indignant, but so too his roar was cut short and turned into a whimper as rocks came crashing down around and on top of him.
'Chaarrgge!' he eventually screamed and then turned back round, jumping up onto a nearby drain pipe. Climbing quickly, it was some moments before any of this team summoned the nerve to follow.
Elvan reached the rooftops alone and there set about killing but below, again, many of his team now thought it time to reconsider, suddenly wondering of what else they might be doing on such an evening, and so departed.
And so the three teams of the gutter militia advanced. Hasbi and the special operations squad had made the most initial progress and so came up first against the rooftop army. Wellington, observing the battle from afar, directed several companies of knights to block his path, and it was here that the war of the cats really began.
The rooftop knights, after the various stages of desertion from the ranks of gutter cats, were by now not so greatly out-numbered as Elvan had hoped, and all of them carried both shields and spears. Trained in the Roman style, they formed a tight wall before the charge. Even Hasbi here doubted whether all this was really worth the bother, but by now he was committed, he could not turn back from the choice he had already made, and so death or glory it was to be.
At first then, for both the rooftop cats and the gutter cats, it was death. Bellies were speared, throats were slit and eyes were torn out. In short, cat after cat was ripped apart, but finally, the energy of the movement unrelenting, the lines of rooftop knights broke and Hasbi's team once again advanced towards the rooftop stronghold.
Kadir's team too eventually were spotted and so were soon after met with two more companies of rooftop knights. They however had no time to achieve their intended formation. They were busy trying to organise themselves when the sky before them flashed white. The normally pleasant atmosphere of the rooftops was sucked inwards by Kadir's flight forwards with such force that many of the knights anyway lost their footing, but only for a moment did it matter, for immediately afterwards came the blow of a mighty body hurled amongst their ranks. Now facing a scattered confusion, the rest of Kadir's team were a worthy match for the knights, and so then this section of the rooftops became a melee of punching and kicking. It is true, Mother Arap came quite close to killing someone, but fortunately was distracted from doing so by Kadir shaking down a knight.
'Where are they you scoundrel?' he shouted, swinging the unfortunate cat around in the air. 'Tell me now! You better hand them over! I'll make a gift of you to the gods if you don't!'
'Hand who over?' wailed the knight.
'Ahmet and Fatma of course! You rotten knave! How dare you deny it? I'll only ask you one more time!'
The knight began to cry.
'I don't know…' he moaned, 'I don't know what you're talking about. Who on earth are Ahmet and Fatma?'
Kadir dropped the knight and looked around for another to question, but all of them he found seemed so perplexed that he decided not to bother. Clearly the capture of the kittens was a secret.
'Onwards' he called, 'these lot know nothing!'
Elvan however was handling matters with a much firmer paw. Whereas those knights vanquished by Kadir had been quite happy to stay lying on the ground as he moved past them, those sent to meet Elvan were roused into irreconcilable rage by the death of their friends. Accordingly, the cats accompanying him, who were anyway of lukewarm spirit, died, abjectly accusing of their leader. Why, they wondered, had fortune twisted so as to bring their lives into the wake of such an ill-fated cat as Elvan.
Eventually the masses proved too much for the military, the outer ring of defences was driven apart and the rooftop stronghold was encircled. The lords and ladies were forced back to the ledges of the Hagia Sophia, and nothing stood between them and their end but a thin, final layer of elite guards.
Doom for the rooftops seemed inevitable. Elvan gave the order to advance and the closing movement was set upon its course. The aristocracy of the cat world might well have been entirely extinguished there and then had not Longshanks decided to sacrifice himself.
'Elvan you coward' he shouted down, 'you brazen buffoon, mother nature's mistake, you murdering idiot, let us settle this the old way! You want command of our civilisation then I will offer it to you. No more cats need die here today, all you must do is defeat me in single combat.'
Kadir called a stop to the fighting immediately. Now that was the way to do it he thought.
Hasbi, dismayed but undaunted, continued to kill for some moments further before Elvan decided to accept. Indeed, how could he refuse?
'Stop!' he cried to his followers. 'So be it, single combat it is!'
The lords and ladies looked down on the gutter cats with relief, and their gaze was met with equal gratitude. Thank god, soon it would be over.
After a suitable space was found for the opponents, the two cats took their positions, some ten yards between them.
Kadir, identifying the lack of an alternative candidate, decided to marshall.
'The rules will be very simple,' he shouted out to the crowds, improvising along the line of decorum, 'this is a fight to the death, but either cat may choose to yield. No weapons are allowed. Cheering is encouraged but interference from either side will be punished. The field of battle is limited to the rooftop on which both contenders now stand. If either cat leaves these limits then their fight is lost. The tribe of the defeated leader agrees to surrender after the fight…'
'…All prisoners on both sides will thereafter be released' he added, momentarily feeling as clever as any cat that had ever existed.
'There are no other rules' he concluded, 'except that fighting may only begin once the count has finished, from three to one and then on the word "Go!"'
'Elvan, Longshanks, ready yourselves. Three, two, one… Go!'
The crowd settled in for a spectacle. What a change to the mood. What a fight to watch. As Elvan advanced, cats on both sides speculated on the contrasting merits of the two contestants. Longshanks, on the one paw, was a king, and although little did the gutters appreciate such a fact, he was from a long line of cats that assumed they could not lose, for indeed they never had. Yet more formidable, he had, since the release of the photo, unburdened himself of all commitment to living. Old, scrawny, hunched, whatever, he was in the mood to prove his point, and he cared nothing about the cost. The rooftop cats could see that he was in with a good chance, the look on his face was enough to assure them of that. Elvan on the other paw, at the peak of a cat's physical course, covered in oil and blood, wild-eyed and wanton for the win, was a terrifying sight to behold. Surely he had reason enough to give the fight everything, but so too he was expected to come out on top, and the gutters had risked so much for this victory that the pressure on him was obviously the greater.
'Come on Elvan!' screamed the gutters as the cats closed in for a grapple.
'Kill the pretender!' roared the rooftops. 'Send him back where he belongs!'
Elvan smiled complacently on feeling Longshanks' strength wane underneath his grip.
'You are weak old cat!' he whispered angrily through gritted teeth. 'Now is the time to meet your end.'
He shoved hard and tipped forwards as Longshanks fell before him. This was going to be easy he told himself as the two cats tumbled, but Longshanks had here out-thought him, lifting up a foot of razor-sharp claws and letting it rake Elvan's underside as they hit the ground.
The crowd fell silent. The poignance of these martial moments were almost too much for them to bear.
Elvan was shocked by this new wound. Longshanks saw an opportunity and so energised his limbs, then rolling over his opponent. He now lay on top and had Elvan's arms pinned beneath him. He slashed at his face, one time with the right, again with the left, but there raised himself up enough to allow Elvan room for manoeuvre. He unloosed his paws and brought his claws into Longshanks’ ribs, digging into him with all his remaining might.
Longshanks slumped for time enough to give Elvan a chance, which, sensing defeat and imminent death, he was sure not to miss. He pushed Longshanks up and away, and then, holding him in the air above him, flipped forwards and threw him across the rooftop. Longshanks was left with little space before the fall. Elvan flew through the air. All he had to do was knock him off and it would be over.
Longshanks however had long studied the arts of letting challengers come to him. He eyed Elvan's charge beadily, waiting for the right moment to counter. With the subtlest of flicks, he might invert the force.
For some moments then the gods awaited Elvan's death, but of course such an outcome did not feature in the plot. Somewhere far away, a human watched the fight on a computer screen, hoping soon to satisfy his master that all was proceeding to plan. His brain too was connected with the scene, and reading the minds of both cats, he suddenly understood what was about to happen. His face fell in fear, which in turn triggered a sensation of panic throughout their system.
'Stop!' a human voice cried into Elvan's face. Elvan saw an image of the move Longshanks now intended to make and understood the consequences he would then suffer. He slowed.
'Get up false king!' he cried instead at the fallen form lying at the edge of their arena.
Longshanks rose slowly to his feet. It was a strange thing, and for a moment he thought to consider Elvan's sudden change of heart, but he knew had no time and so refocused on their fight. He had now to advance, for he was far too close to the rooftop's end.
Once again the cats came together in a grapple. Both were wounded, both were weakened, and it was here that Elvan's strength showed. He pushed Longshanks backwards, and, learning from his old foe, dummied, moving as if to shove his opponent over the edge but then instead releasing him. Longshanks strumbled. Elvan brought down a paw hard upon his king's head, knocking him a further step towards his death, and then, with one final, furious swing, hit him hard enough to bring poor Longshanks' feet clean out from underneath him, tipping him into the sky below, clear of the rooftops, and so onto falling. The curtains drew to a close on Longshanks' life. Elvan, exhausted but elated, dropped to his knees, let his head draw into his chest and there muttered a prayer of thanks.
The gutters felt obliged to cheer, but muted was their celebration. Much had they anticipated this victory, but mostly now they felt bereft. Regicide is against the rules for good reason, for who may have rights if a king cannot. The soul of their society was sensitive to this sin, they could not deny it, however much they had hated Longshanks before.
'We surrender!' shouted Wellington from his vantage point on the Hagia Sophia. 'We are at your mercy.'
Elvan picked himself up and turned round to meet the saddened gaze of his tribe. For the gutters it was only beginning to sink in. They had won, the rooftops were theirs, although who knew what they would do with them, but the losses had been heavy.
'Release the prisoners!' boomed Kadir.
'Throw your weapons to the ground' commanded Elvan.
The second order the rooftop cats were happy to oblige. Spears and swords were cast down as instructed.
'Where are Ahmet and Fatma?' cried Kadir.
He, Elvan and a good number of their followers advanced upon the Hagia Sophia.
'And what about Izmir?' shouted another cat. 'Come on hand them over, fair is fair!'
The lords and ladies looked at each other questioningly. Who had them? What did it matter? Give them what they wanted.
'Release the prisoners, all of them!' said Wellington, to no one in particular. The lords and ladies remained silent. 'Is there a captain here?' he asked.
'Here' said one. 'I'm very sorry' he called up to Wellington, 'but our prisons are empty as far as I know.'
The gutters groaned. This was ridiculous!
Elvan however lost his temper. He, Kadir and the accompanying cats were now on the Hagia Sophia.
'Seize them!' he shouted, pointing to a huddle of rooftop ladies nearby. 'Tell us where they are right now or these cats die!'
'Here they are!' cried a voice from somewhere in the distance. 'Just come around the other side, you'll see them across the square!'
Who on earth was that?
Elvan, Kadir and the others rushed around the Hagia Sophia. To their absolute horror, on a rooftop just beyond the park, they could see a collection of alley cats. They appeared to be holding out three cats in front of them, and against the throats of each was held a line of gleaming silver, a sword or knife, or so supposed their panicked brains.
'Welcome to the magic of the moment!' one cat called, coming towards the front.
'It is I, Mr Respectable' he continued, 'your new king, and with me here I have Ahmet, Fatma and Izmir, who will all surely die unless you surrender right now.'
The gutter cats froze.
Behind them came another voice.
'You better do what they say, or I'll kill the rest of your tribe too. Wellington, tell them it's true.'
It was Hasbi!
'I'm sorry Elvan' cried Wellington, 'it's true. Some of your thugs have got their knives out.'
'Scream' commanded Hasbi.
A mother cat screamed. Kadir knew that it was Mother Arap.
All was lost, and the gutter cats had no choice but to accept it. They had been tricked. All of that killing had been for nothing. The alley cats had been to blame all along. Their spirits failed them.
Elvan was lost for words.
'We surrender' said Kadir.