Lots of pictures and sightseeing in Istanbul over the past few days. I love experiencing this city as Ava does the first time in THE SCRIBE. Wandering around the Spice Market with my camera. Drinking coffee at a sidewalk cafe. Every city has a certain pulse and energy. A character all its own. Istanbul is no different. It has lots and LOTS of character. (And characters!)
I think every city has certain sounds and smells that are unlike anywhere else. A certain way that pedestrians walk. The peculiar quirks of taxi drivers and street vendors. Each city also has its quiet corners, and this morning, I visited one. Underneath one of the busiest streets in the Sultanhamet, the oldest part of Istanbul, there is a giant cistern once used to supply the palace with water. If you go in the afternoon, it’s very busy. But if you go first thing in the morning, it is quite an eerie and beautiful experience. Here are just a few pictures and a new bit of The Scribe that takes place in the Basilica Cistern. I hope you enjoy!
It was cool and quiet, the echoes of people in the underground cavern melded together with the whispering voices, creating a mesh of quiet noise Ava glided on in the darkness. Beneath the bustle of the streets above, the Basilica Cistern stretched hundreds of feet into the black underground city. Held up by endless marble pillars and dotted by gold lights, the shallow water rested, and Ava watched shadow fish dart over the flash of coins visitors had thrown in its depths as water dripped from vaulted ceiling above.
Malachi followed her, letting her take in the grandeur of the vast room before he spoke in a quiet voice.
“Some call it the Underground Palace. It is the largest of the ancient cisterns in Constantinople, originally built by Constantine, then rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century. There are hundreds of cisterns beneath the city, but this one…” His voice held a note of awe. “It is the largest. It fed the palace itself.”
Ava was at a loss. “It’s…”
“It’s beautiful,” she finally said.
“It is,” Malachi said softly. “Istanbul is a city of layers. Pieces of Byzantium, then Constantinople, then Istanbul. New conquerers, new rulers, new buildings. Often, whoever won the battle just built on top of the ruins.”
“Archaeologists must have a field day here.”
He nodded. “There is much to discover. The city is a puzzle, and I doubt all her secrets will ever be revealed.”
“I don’t think I want them to be,” she whispered. “I like the mystery. I love this place, this Underground Palace.”
Malachi’s eyes took on a distant stare. “It’s set apart. Another world, almost.” He walked to the edge of the platform, looking out over the dark water. “There are many places like this here. Places where the present and the past seem to coexist at once. As if they live next to each other, only a ripple away.”
She watched him as he turned back to her, eyes still scanning the darkness. Who was this man?
He caught her glance. “What?”
“Who are you?” she asked. “You don’t sound like any bodyguard I’ve ever met.”
Malachi smiled. “I’m not so unusual. Perhaps you always kept too much distance. ”
Was it the darkness? In the quiet underworld, she felt as if she was talking to a shadow. “I just can’t be around people much. They make me uncomfortable. They’re exhausting.”
Ava turned away. “Find a new question, Mal.”
Silence fell between them, filled by the echoes of voices in the dark. Ava could feel him—actually feel him—approach from behind. She tried not to tense.
“You have been more at ease than when we first met.” He kept the question light. “Is your doctor helping?”
“Yes, he is.”
“That is good.”
She forced herself to turn and smile. “I’m optimistic. Istanbul might become my favorite city.”
“Because of this doctor?”
They kept walking, strolling farther down the walkway.
“Partly. But I think the attraction was here even before I met him. There’s just something about this place, you know?”
She laughed and heard the sound echo back to her ten-fold over the water. “You’re from here, so you probably don’t get that. I mean, I know people love L.A., but it never seemed all that special to me because I grew up there. Istanbul is probably that way for you.”
He had stopped behind her. Ava turned to him. “No?”
“I understand. It’s why I came back. This city… It feeds the soul.”
A strange fluttering started in her chest. “I didn’t know my soul was hungry.”
“Didn’t you?” He smiled. “Hmm.”
“Oh, Malachi…” Ava turned and pretended to read a sign. “The things you say in a single ‘hmm.’”
She felt him step closer. Could feel her body react. His lips were sealed, but his voice whispered to her. Taunting, teasing whispers that begged her to come closer. She turned her head, and her heart raced as his eyes dropped to her mouth. He leaned down, opening it, as if to speak, but before he could say anything, a child bumped into Ava from behind, giggling as he sent Ava stumbling into Malachi’s chest.
He caught her elbows, and she heard him suck in a breath.
There was a flash of awareness. A sense and a silence. In that second, the feeling of rightness threatened to overwhelm her.
Utter and complete peace enveloped her for a brief moment, then it was gone when Malachi dropped his hands. Eyes blinking, he backed away, and she let out the breath she held. Once again, the voices wrapped around her, muffled, like a distant chorus they circled and taunted her.
For a second, they had been gone. Completely gone.
And his voice was the only thing she’d heard.