The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Twenty-Five

Izmir and the Princess

As you can imagine, flying was a wonderful experience for Izmir. Very few cats ever get to experience flight, and this was not like flying in an aeroplane, which humans like you and I have grown accustomed to, this was real flight, as only birds and angels know how. He could feel the wind in his fur and the sunshine on his back. It was so much fun, zipping about above the rooftops. He could change direction with a tilt of his head, or do a loop the loop just by thinking about it. He was absolutely in love with the whole experience, and he was sure that there was no finer way to explore this magnificent city, for from up there he could see everything.

Istanbul is really a very complicated place and it is difficult to understand what you are dealing with unless you have travelled around it, or of course have flown across it. The city is split into three, with the West divided from the centre by the Golden Horn, and the centre divided from the East by the Bosphorus. The Sea of Marmara washes the shores to the South, and the Black Sea the shores to the North. From above, the whole picture is brought together and the city seems like a mosaic of precious white and grey stones set into a bed of brilliant blue. Izmir thought that he could stay up there forever to appreciate the beauty of the scene below, but too soon the pressing need to fulfil the prophecy made itself felt; the sense of anticipation, the urgency, and the importance of the moment all causing his chest to tingle.

Get back to the ground, these things said, get Ahmet and Fatma, unite the treasures. Go straight to the palace. The light of the cats awaits you. And then Izmir just knew that the diamond was there. Indeed, looking towards the palace, he could feel it calling to him, shimmering brightly from the security of our treasure room.

Izmir wasted no time. Unhesitating he whooshed back towards Galata Tower and dived down to the floor. Ahmet and Fatma were now together. Ahmet was still jumping up and down on the spot, cheering.

'Izmir! Izmir! Hurrah you did it! We have the wings of the cats. That was amazing.'

Fatma however was ever more sullen and discontent. She stared at the cobble stones and puzzled the strange reality before her. Was she in fact the one that was insane? Was it all in her imagination? She looked back at the succession of events. There appeared to be no obvious point when she had lost her mind, there was no rupture in her sanity that she could identify. It was just impossible to deny the apparent reality of the matter: she had seen Izmir and a swan tumble from the top of Galata Tower; she had seen Izmir grab the wings and then swoop off into the distance; the body of the swan now lay crumpled on the floor only a few paces away. She caught sight of a shadow on the ground in front of her. It was the shape of a cat, with two large feathered wings sticking out from the sides of his body. Izmir was hovering above them.

'Ahmet, Fatma, with me now, we haven't a moment to lose. Now that we have the wings the news will soon spread that we are here. We must not lose the element of surprise. We must head straight to the palace and then get the light of the cats.'

Fatma wanted to be sick. She looked upwards and was dismayed to see that the insane reality she so wanted to dismiss was still there. There was a flying cat called Izmir above her head. She could see him. 

'Each of you grab a leg, I'll fly us straight there.'

Ahmet did as he was told and took hold of Izmir's leg. Fatma started to cry. 

'There is no time to waste Ahmet, grab her.'

He did and then whoosh they were away. Ahmet started to whoop. Fatma prayed silently to herself: please let it end, please please please let it end. 

In no time at all they had crossed the Golden Horn. A moment later Izmir was heading back towards the ground, and a moment after that he had landed in the park that lies to the north of our palace, bringing the three cats down neatly behind a large bush.

Now, before we proceed any further, one thing you must understand is that Topkapi Palace is my home. It is my home and I love it, for it is unquestionably one of the most wonderful palaces in this whole world. As you can see, I am in the palace right now, just as I would be, for this is where I live, and have lived all my life. Imagine the wonder of growing up here. We have parks and orchards and riverside walks, woodland, meadow and the most glorious gardens. To the North and South and East there are views over the surrounding seas, and to the West, a fine perspective over Istanbul. At the centre of the palace grounds there is a series of four courtyards, which together are really like a town in itself. Inside and around the courtyards there are kitchens and pantries, libraries and feasting halls, forges and armouries, and indeed all manner of rooms with all sorts of functions, all of those that you might imagine a country like ours requiring. Each different type of room has a different type of servant: there are guardsmen and armourers; blacksmiths, stone masons and carpenters; three different types of cook and a head chef; butlers, maids, gardeners and messengers. Each of the servants has their own place to live, whether dormitory, private bedroom or grand suite, depending on their seniority and level of charm. We even have a mint for making money, and of course, let us not forget the hospital in which we now sit. I have all sorts of friends inside the palace, and enemies too. Indeed, my very life is contained herein. So, you can imagine how excited I become when I get to tell this part of the story, where the adventurers visit my home, and I get to join the plot. 

Izabel, the princess of the cats, had walked into the palace, and into my life, only days before Izmir's return to Istanbul. She was my new best friend, the most beautiful of cats, and so adorable and good-natured that I could hardly put her down. One evening, out of nowhere, she had just walked into my room and leapt onto my bed. Well, what was I supposed to do? How could I resist looking after her? Of course, I couldn't and did not. So, that was all fine. But then, only the day before Izmir's assault on the palace, which I shall recount to you presently, Izabel started to talk. You may well imagine that I am insane, for no doubt, as I once did, you believe that cats cannot talk. But, in fact, they actually can. I swear it on my bloodline, the cats can talk.

Izabel was sat on my lap, and I was stroking her head and looking into her eyes, when all of a sudden she opened her mouth and a high-pitched noise came out, which is not so dissimilar to my own voice, but somehow more feline, closer to the sound of a miaow. Imagine that miaow is actually a real word, and that it is the only word that cats have ever chosen to say to you before, and now that with the same voice they can say any word, like 'human' or 'slave'. It is entirely fascinating to hear a cat talk. Well, anyway, Izabel just looked at me and suddenly said, 'Help me'.

At the time I was shocked. I too thought that I had lost my mind. But then she continued, 'My name is Izabel, and I am the princess of the cats. I can see that you are puzzled and I understand why. It is in contradiction to cat law for me to speak to you, and I wouldn't do it unless it was a genuine emergency. I am in dire need of help. My uncle is trying to force me into marrying a psychopath but I cannot do it, my life will not suffer it to be so. I came here from the scene of his proposal, and both the guards of my uncle and of my intended groom are now looking for me. I saw you looking out of your window only the other day, and you looked so sweet, I thought that if any human would help me then it would be you. I need you to keep me, to protect me, and to hold on to me at all times, until it is safe again for me to leave.'

Well, I had already fallen in love with Izabel, so of course I agreed. We spent the whole day sat together in my chambers and talked and talked and talked, until I fell to sleep in my chair. She told me all about cat civilisation, of their different ways and beliefs, of their philosophy, of where they lived and of the different cat tribes. I was somewhat disappointed when she informed me that she was in charge of the whole world, and not I, but I didn't let it trouble me much for, as I thought then and still think now, I am the one living in the palace and not her.

The next day I awoke, ordered in some breakfast for the two of us, and we began talking again. Well this is where we were when we heard the guards cry, which, little did we know it, was deep from within the fray of Izmir's next great feat: the assault on Topkapi Palace.

Carried on the crest on surging excitement, Izmir and Ahhmet had needed little time to plan. Izmir would fly them both in. Ahmet would take Fatma's catapult and assault the guard from above. He would be dropped off somewhere inside and then provide cover to Izmir, causing a distraction and dragging the guard away, while Izmir went to look for the diamond. Once the light of the cats was obtained, he would rejoin Ahmet and fly them both back to safety. Fatma would just have to wait where she was, behind the bush. Still, she had not stopped crying.

Aaargggh! The first scream made my heart skip a beat. I dashed across my chambers with Izabel in my hands and leant out of the window to see what had happened. In the dust of the courtyard below, a guard lay unconscious on the floor, his head outlined in a puddle of blood, crimson and unforgivingly lit by the midday sun. In the skies above, two cats were now hovering, scanning the grounds for the best place to land. Ahmet had claimed his first victim with the catapult.

Thwack! Aaargggh! Crash! Another stone came down upon another poor guard's head, and within seconds the palace became bedlam. A sergeant blew the warning horn and then suddenly guards came pouring out of the palace and into the grounds from every conceivable direction. Up above, the adventurers were now confronted with a swarming sea of angry humans, who, thankfully, seemed to have little idea of what was happening. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Ahmet rained pebbles down upon the guards, who variously fell over or just stood gawping and scratching, wondering how best to respond to an invisible threat.

Izmir landed on top of a feasting hall. Ahmet found a ledge to perch on whilst Izmir dived off across the rooftops to find a way into the palace. He slipped in through an open skylight and then jumped down into a pantry. He was dismayed. He was trapped. The pantry's exit was guarded by a particularly fat human. With no choice but to move forwards, Izmir flattened himself against the floor and tried to creep beneath the guard's legs…

'Ah ha!' screamed the guard. 'I have the cat! I have the cat!' He leant over to pick Izmir up and for a second paused to consider why this cat was wearing a pair of white feathered wings. Wham! Izmir floored the guard, taking his feet from underneath him with a sweep of his tail. He pelted down the corridor and turned the corner. Before him was a whole line of soldiers. They hadn't seen him yet, but… 'The cat!' roared the soldier at the front. 'Get her!' 

They charged, screaming and thrusting their spears in the air…

Most cats at this point would have frozen in shock, or broken down in tears, but Izmir saw only the possibility of success. With the guards only metres away, Izmir leapt into the air and flew straight at them. Whoosh! Smack! Izmir pushed the first guard down with such force that the two soldiers behind him also came crashing to the ground, and then he was up and away, jumping down the line of advancing guards from head to head, tearing at their eyes as he went. The humans screamed in terror. In seconds, these soldiers, some of the finest men in our country, had been vanquished. 

Of course, Izabel and I were listening in rapt attention. What on earth could be going on out there? We could hear the guards screaming about a cat, and this was making Izabel extremely nervous. She had started to shake. I knew what she was thinking, that they might be looking for her, but then we were puzzled, for Izabel was here, on my lap, and the guards outside were clearly having a lot of difficulty with someone else. And then it became clear, as a blur shot through the door into my rooms and then flew towards the window. The blur suddenly stopped. It was another cat! Izmir looked at Izabel and then jumped back to the floor. The cats began to talk. After a few minutes of miaowing, frustratingly, none of which I could understand, Izabel looked up at me and started talking in human again.

'It is important that you listen. This is Izmir. He and I are in great danger. The guards outside are looking for a cat, as we heard, and I assume this can only be me. Quite separately, Izmir here is on a quest and is looking for the light of the cats. There isn't much time to explain, but Izmir needs the light to fulfil a prophecy that is of great importance to cat civilisation. I need a place to hide, and you need to help Izmir to find the light. Have you seen it?'

I looked blankly at Izabel. I had no idea what she was talking about. The light of the cats? How was I supposed to know whether we had it or not. She frowned and turned back to Izmir, miaowing several times. Izmir replied with a few more miaows and Izabel turned back to me. 

'It is said to be the brightest jewel in the world. Does this help? Where does the Sultan keep the jewels?'

Then of course I knew what they were talking about, Kasikci, the most precious diamond in the world, and by the far the most valuable of the Sultan's treasures. Understandably, I felt slightly uncomfortable about giving this most wondrous gem to some talking cats. It is after all a part of my inheritance. How could I be sure that these cats were who they said they were? But then, there was something ever so strange about this whole scene that I had no choice but to believe it real. Were the guards not screaming in the distance? Had Izabel not just spent the last day talking to me of cat civilisation? Was Izmir himself not right before my eyes? What else could this be but the truth? Reluctantly, I nodded my assent. I did not ask whether I would get it back and I am sure I did not want to appear ungracious, but it was clear that my unease had been noticed, for Izmir started to bristle at me. This cleared any doubts I had, and anyway I did so ever want to be a true friend of the cats. 

I directed Izabel towards my closet and told her to settle down behind the fur coats while I took Izmir to the jewel room. I took a large holdall from the cupboard, that I used to store old dolls in, emptied it and then put Izmir inside, before walking out into the corridor. Outside there was the greatest of commotions. Soldiers were running everywhere, some crying of a murderous cat and others of vengeful angels firing rocks from the sky. I walked calmly through the confusion, across a courtyard and towards the jewel house. I am the princess and I can do what I want. As I had assumed, not one of the men dared challenge me, for it is well known that I do not take contradiction lightly. As I arrived at the entrance of the jewel house, the guard at the door stepped aside of me without question. I often went to look at the jewels, anticipating that one day they would be mine. Inside however I knew things would be more difficult. There I would have to somehow pass the team of cut-throats that stands night and day in front of the jewels.

I had an idea in the back of my mind, which I did not really like, and it was not until I was there, staring into the glass cabinet surrounding the Kasikci, slightly befuddled by the beauty of the diamond, that I really gave any thought to what I was about to do. I did not have much choice, for two of the cut-throats were stood right there, watching me with suspicious eyes. These people are not stupid, and they were clearly worried about the fact that whilst the palace was under attack, here I was carrying a holdall on my shoulder. I never normally walk around carrying a bag, for as you would expect, there are all sorts of servants that I can order to do such things for me.

'Is everything alright princess?' asked the leader of the cut-throats. 

He is a disturbing creature, with the most unfortunate facial disposition that I have ever encountered, and I do not like to be in his presence at the best of times. He knew that something was up. He walked towards me with an outstretched hand. I screamed. 'Aaaarrggghhhhh! Help! Help! Guards to me! Waaaaarggghh!'

The cut-throat hesitated, withdrawing his hand slightly, before a torrent of guards stormed into the jewel house. 'Get them!' I cried. 'This man tried to marry me at knife point! Arrest him now!'

The cut-throats were evidently surprised by this behaviour and did not know what to say. Their leader flopped about a little and muttered darkly to himself before going down in a heap under the guards. In seconds, the cut-throats were tied up and being carried away. Quietly, I opened the holdall and put it down on the floor, before following the guards out, shouting orders at them to throw the cut-throats in our deepest, darkest cells. 

I turned back. Izmir was out of the bag and was now sat in front of the diamond cabinet. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. He was cutting a hole in the glass with a claw. Then, in a flash, both Izmir and the diamond were gone. Suddenly, the weight of my behaviour crashed down upon my head. I had just helped the cats steal our most precious jewel. I knew that I was going to be in deep, deep trouble when my father found out. What on earth would I say?