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Snake Fort

Snake Fort

Sample translation of first pages



Shahmaran’s Daughter



The guardian snake stood up about half-a-meter when he arrived in front of the queen seated in her golden throne. The shimmer of the gold seemed to seep through the young queen’s moist body and from there into her eyes. The guardian snake couldn’t face this light any longer so he lowered his head and started speaking looking at the cave stones:

- Your majesty! They’re back!

A hint of concern showed through the black gleam eradiating from the queen’s eyes. As if trying to stop her concern from growing, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. She added some coolness to her voice. She did not want the guard to notice anything.

- How many people?

Like all snakes, the passionate devotion of this guardian snake could be measured with the depth of his love. Being attentive to the smallest cues like a slave watching over his mistress, he understood the fake coolness in her voice. He couldn’t bear for her to be worried, or anxious.

- Don’t worry your majesty. There are only two of them, and one is a child.

The queen was surprised.

- A child?

- Yes, a child of about twelve or thirteen with a man in his fifties. I think they might be related.

The queen smiled.

- Don’t scare the child.

The guardian snake could understand the sympathy of the queen towards children. Like all females, she had a mother’s instinct and she didn’t hide it.

- And the man?

- First, be patient. Remember guard, this is our most important asset as snakes. Hold onto your fury, don’t let your enemy control it, because it belongs to you. Only advance if they pose a danger to us. If they come to do us harm, you can respond in kind, and even more. Frighten them such that they won’t come to our lands again.

This conversation took place on a plane many meters deep inside Snake Fort, surrounded by layers of history and ruled by darkness and cool. The queen the guardian snake was speaking to was a part of Shahmaran who was betrayed and killed centuries ago. She was one of the thousands of secrets hidden from humanity by stones, underground rivers and layers of weeds. This queen was Shahmaran’s daughter.


Most people living around Cilicia knew well that Shahmaran was killed in order to heal the king of Tarsus. But the truth that no story or myth covered and was unknown to all humans was this: Shahmaran had laid an egg underground before she was captured.

The snakes cared deeply for this sole legacy of her. They protected it from the heat and the cold, from falling rocks and burrowing birds of prey, from gold diggers and archaeologists and from lost travellers.

When the time had come, the egg slowly started to crack. All the snakes were watching with bated breath. They all remained motionless as the snakelet started to emerge from the large spotty egg, they all sighed in relief when its face became visible. That deep, ringing sigh was heard from nearby villages. People thought a storm was coming and dogs howled as if an unknown enemy was approaching.

The snakelet that emerged from the egg was identical to Shahmaran. A copy of their queen whose fate was unknown to them and who never returned from underground. From the waist down, she looked like them, but from the waist up, she was a beautiful girl, Shahmaran’s daughter.

The entire nation of snakes celebrated this blessed birth for three days and three nights. The wise snakes whispered into the new-born’s ear:

“You are our Shahmaran now!”

Young snakes clamoured in unison after their magnificent dance was over.

“Shahmaran is reborn! Praise her!”

The villagers couldn’t figure out the tiny movements and screams going on around the soil, the trees and the stones. Some thought the world was about to end, others suspected an earthquake was coming. No one had any idea that a feast could be happening to celebrate a new queen underground. That was all for the better. If humans found out that a new Shahmaran was born, history might repeat itself. Some gossipmonger might purvey rumours that her flesh has healing powers and could grant immortality. Then, someone would manage to locate Shahmaran’s daughter and kill her for the sake of that lie. If snakes knew that humans murdered their old queen, they would have wiped them off the earth. That is why, when adults tell the story of Shahmaran to their children, they lower their voice to a whisper. They are afraid to be heard by a snake, hiding in a nook, under bushes or in a stone groove.

The queen of the snakes can live forever, unless killed by humans. The guardian snake informing the arrival of a child and a man to the borders of Snake Fort that day did so to this immortal queen, the daughter of Shahmaran who was murdered thousands of years ago.

The arrival of the man and child to the borders of Snake Fort started with an old alphabet table, at the second-hand bookshop of Mr Sami inside the Infinity Passage.


Infinity Passage


No one knows who named the passage Infinity. From the outside, it looked like an ordinary arcade. It had a large, glass door. When you went in by pushing that cumbersome door, a narrow and long corridor would greet you. While one would expect to see an exit door at the end of the tunnel like arcade, Mr Sami’s shop, overflowing with books and magazines in a jumble, would greet you instead. Describing it as such is not unfair because they were in a jumble. Old magazines with no discernible order mixed with newspapers and books… Together with old, torn film posters, black and white photographs, unidentified papers created valleys and hills. Academic journals with black leather bindings and old books with faded covers. It was a complete chaos.

To get to Mr Sami’s bookshop, you needed to walk past the aquarium shops. You could stand in front of their windows that occupied both sides of the passage for hours. Fishes of all imaginable sizes and colours on display would take you to a long voyage under the sea. If an aquarium is an endless sea for a fish, this passage could give us humans a sense of infinity as well. How? By wandering the rows of dusty old books… Pull out any book you like among the many others. Wander along the pages touched by countless others who have read them line-by-line and daydreamed. Most second-hand bookshop owners love that. Even if they ask you “Is there anything you are looking for?” you can respond, “I’m just browsing” and they will leave you in peace. The author or someone else might have signed some of those old books. You would read:

“To my valued friend with wishes of success…”

Or a father’s gift to his son:

“To my dear son Cumhur, happy birthday. May you have health, happiness and success…”

You might be surprised by the date under the signature. Maybe it predates your birth, maybe it is as old as your father.

Some readers might have underlined a few sentences, thinking they were important. Others might even go further and scribble their own thoughts next to a paragraph.

This is where the sense of infinity emanates from. You become aware of all that has passed, all those lives, those fathers and sons, those mothers and daughters and all their birthdays. And many more will come after you as well, people will keep on reading books, gifting them, underlining their sentences, adding thought to thoughts. At this point you may feel both significant and inconsequential at the same time. Because you are part of this infinity and that this infinity will go on without you.

Let’s get back to Mr Sami. He was a real book hunter. Yes, there is such a thing as book hunting. Me too -the author of this book, I sometimes go on the hunt. I visit second-hand bookshops and antiquarians. I page through old, yellowed books that no one else notices. I hunt for books that contain multitude of thoughts and excitements. Sami is one of the experts. He looks older than he is, because of his slight hunch. He has been in this business for a very long time. He scours antiquarians and markets, he tours junk shops, pokes through piles of old newspapers and books and collects anything that might be of value. He visits second-hand bookshops with owners less knowledgeable than him and sells for a few hundreds what he bought from them for a few cents. When he finds a rare manuscript, he immediately calls his valuable customers to arrange a visit. He is a very cunning man, which is why many people call him, behind his back, sly Sami.

Books are not the only things Sami carried to his shop. He had old porcelain cups, silverware, and ancient embroidered handkerchiefs, black and white photographs, out of print postcards…

That day, as he was sipping his tea, surrounded by all that he had collected and arranged on shelves over the years, his phone rang. It was a black phone with a rotary dial, like those used in the 50’s. He had bought it from a flea market a year ago with the intention of selling it but he liked it so much that he installed it in the store, replacing the newer one. The sound it made when dialling the numbers individually with his forefinger made him happy. This man who often had huge ambitions sometimes found happiness in such small things.

He heard a woman’s voice on the phone that he did not recognise.

“Am I speaking to Mr Sami?”

“Yes madam, this is Sami.”

“I got your number from a friend who told me you bought old books.”

“Yes, I do madam, what is the address?”

The woman gave him the address and Sami wrote it carefully.

Although he had been collecting books for years, each time he got a call like this, he would get excited, his chin would quiver like a cat who noticed his prey, his heart would race like a hunter whose hand was on the trigger. He wondered what was waiting for him in this house, what kind of books?

Sometimes, he would return empty handed. He would encounter old encyclopaedias, like those distributed by newspapers in exchange of coupons, or cheap romance novels. In those cases, he would not accept the burden, even if they offered it to him at a very low price. The owners, who were looking forward to getting rid of the books, would be surprised and insist: “Why won’t you take them? Look at how clean they are, not a single page has been opened.”

Miyase Sertbarut

                                                              Translated by Canan Marasligil