The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Twenty

The Cats of War

Returning from the rooftops, Elvan's spirit rose first through a feeling of humiliation, then through shame, before turning into unquenchable anger and a desire for violence. On reaching the gutters he swore at the dirt in the street - 'And so it is, Wellington, Churchill and Salisbury, I will show you yet. I will mould the perfect cats of war and then bring a fight to the rooftops like the world has never seen.'

Immediately he threw his mental energies into imagining all the preparations that would need to be made. He could not rely on the rooftops as an ally, nor would they offer him any help or advice, and neither of these things surprised him, but why did they have to be so rude? And Serkan, the traitor! He would be dealt with too! Most importantly, their efforts in recruitment and training would need to be redoubled.

The structure he had established, which at least pretended towards camouflage, would need to come out in the open. There would need to be fundamental changes in their way of life. No more of this pathetic resistance through peace, they would need to be purist in their pursuit of freedom.

He began running through his list of priorities again. What to do first? He knew that he was too angry to confront Serkan now, he could barely think, never mind manage his words in front of a cat like that. To develop the next steps of his militarisation effort would also need time. He might go for a walk, but for some reason the thought made him feel utterly lonely. He began to feel despondent, he could not even make a clear decision about what to do with his own time. How could he expect to conquer the world of cats?

He thought back on the morning and night before. He had been so confident on his way there - he needed to remember that feeling, he needed to retrace his steps. The thought occurred to him, maybe Jezabel would do him some good, it would be nice to have some company, it would help him relax.

Within the hour he was nestled by her side as she purred silken platitudes into his receptive ear, both cats occasionally turning respectively to the left or right to partake in the bowls of milk he had bought for them. He was of course right she assured him, all of the things he suggested would need to be done, and why not a little harder, faster, stronger yet.

By the end of the day he felt back to his own self and so sauntered off into the dusk to mull over his plans once more.

The next morning he was ready. Serkan he decided was the first thing to be dealt with - if his plans for the tribe were to succeed then Serkan's interfering ways would need to be stopped.

He went to Yildiz, the training centre he had established with Kadir, and asked to borrow two of the strongest cats they had for a private matter. Kadir, even though he was one of the cats he most trusted, did not need to know about his business with Serkan. Kadir looked up to Serkan like a father, and would never be able to understand why this just had to be done. Indeed, that Serkan disapproved of their preparations for war upset Kadir greatly. 

As they walked out to find Serkan, he explained to the two cats, Atabey and Erdinç, what their new duties would consist of. He was pleased to inform them that they had been selected as the first members of his personal guard, the main duty of which of course was to defend his life, but which would also require them to carry out special operations, secret missions some might say, that were simply too sensitive to be carried out by the average gutter cat.

Both cats swelled with pride and swore that they would defend their leader at all costs, and were too delighted to have the opportunity at proving themselves on secret missions.

Their first mission, Elvan explained, was to accompany him to see Serkan. Serkan, it had been established, was a traitor. He was in league with the rooftop cats and had been passing them information about the resistance. Serkan was a very subtle cat and would need to be handled very carefully. As such their utmost confidentiality was expected for the time being. It didn't really matter if they mentioned it to their wives or kittens that he was a traitor, but they certainly shouldn't discuss the forthcoming meeting with anyone, nor should they mention his own connection with the news. The problem was that it was difficult to prove, so they would need to take their time, and whilst he was gathering evidence, he didn't want to cause division or split the tribe. As to the matter-in-paw, all they had to do was stay silent, he would do the talking, but if he asked for their agreement in any question, they should simply nod.

Serkan they found snoozing in a large cushioned chair outside an antiques shop in Beyoğlu. He awoke with a start when Elvan shouted, 'Traitor! Explain yourself this instant! How could you tell the rooftops about the resistance? I told you not to do exactly that! How dare you disobey me?'

Serkan blinked himself back into the day and sighed when he realised what was happening. He smiled at Elvan's guard and said 'Atabey and Erdinç, please sit down, shall I call for some refreshments? Elvan would you like to discuss this in private, or did you bring them to make some sort of point?'

Elvan snorted, 'They are staying thank you, and they neither need to sit nor eat. As you can see Serkan, we are not weak, unlike you, and we grow in strength everyday. Now will you answer my questions, or do I need to loosen your tongue?'

Serkan sighed again. What had happened to his old friend? Everything about him seemed changed. The light of his eyes, once bright and dauntless, had given way to a yellow glare. His fur had grown darker. His voice was now harsh. The language he used was entirely alien to their tribe and way of life. It seemed that his descent into madness was accelerating.

'Elvan, can I ask you how you have arrived at this notion, that you have authority over me? This idea of disobedience presumes that your wishes for my behaviour carry some sort of official weight, but as you know, the gutter cats of Istanbul are free to do exactly as they like, that is the way of our tribe, and as to what hierarchy there is, as you well know, I am the eldest of the elders, and from that position I do not mind telling you that your present behaviour is extremely unwise.'

Elvan fumed inwardly, he was still contradicting him, and even worse, now in front of his personal guard!

'Serkan, your interfering must stop! In a matter of months we will be at war. Would you have me send our troops into battle without a general? Should I tell them to fight where and when they like? If we are to defend ourselves then we must have order; if we are to be victorious, then we must have a plan, a strategy, and a structure that is able to operate efficiently. These things are my responsibility not yours. And that is what I have come to tell you. All sporting members of the tribe will now report into me. For us there will be rules, for I will not see us fail. As for you, I think it would be best if you left Istanbul. You will only get in the way, and after everyone finds out you're a traitor, you won't be wanted here anyway. Isn't that right boys?' 

He turned to his guard and saw that their nodding was far less menacing than he had hoped for.

'Elvan this is ridiculous! Please come back to yourself! Remember who you once were. Do you really expect me to desert our tribe at a time like this? If you hadn't noticed, while you were off playing general, our cats are in need of help. Fatma and Ahmet still haven't returned and we have no idea where they are or what has happened to them. Mother Arap still hasn't stopped crying. Zara too has now gone missing. Many cats are sick with the worry! All you are doing is making matters worse. You tell everyone that war is now certain, but neither the rooftops nor the alleys have been near us since the conference. Why would this be can I ask you? I couldn't be more sure that we are being set up. The only way war will happen is through your stupidity. It is you Elvan that must be stopped!'

'It is because they are scared' replied Elvan, increasingly incensed at Serkan, but also at himself. Why could he never win an argument against him? 'The rooftops and alleys are finally learning to respect us, and that is because of me. I warn you Serkan, you will not interfere again. I mean to recruit every able-bodied cat for our campaign. If I find that you are undermining us then I won't be held responsible for what happens to you.'

'Elvan please try to think about what is happening to you. The problem is in your own mind. You must try to gain some perspective. Please give it time. You do not need to do this. Let us have another conversation tomorrow. These thoughts of yours that anger you so - observe your reactions when they arise and try to master your emotional response. We can talk about how to help you stay calm.'

'I do not need your help' roared Elvan. 'I have said what I came to say. You have been warned.'

With that he turned to his guard and commanded that they follow. They did so, meekly, looking at Serkan with sorrow as they departed. The conversation had surprised them both very much and, on seeing their most trusted elder, they could not believe that he was a traitor for a moment. Neither had they really appreciated the fact that they were preparing for war. Still, they had been told to remain silent and having sworn their loyalty to Elvan, they could not bring themselves to question his authority.

Although Elvan had found his meeting with Serkan typically frustrating, he was determined to continue. This was not the moment for weakness. That afternoon he summoned all members of the gutters sports team to a meeting at the training ground. He had announcements to make.

First, all members would make a pledge to defend Istanbul, with their lives if necessary.

Second, every member of the team was required to recruit other new members. At least two were expected per member, and everyone should be aware that both success and failure would be recognised in public

Third, a special competition for the elite section of the team would be held next week. The successful entrants would receive special status and additional responsibilities.

Finally, it was to be understood that some of the cats in their tribe were trying to undermine their strength. Disloyalty needed to be stamped out. As such, members should actively try to identify dissenters, who would then be discouraged from further treachery.

Sadly, Elvan's announcements were applauded by the team. His speech, free from contradiction, suited their mood. At last they were getting serious.