The First Flying Man by Elspeth Rawstron

I want to fly later this year.'

'So it's a race,' laughs Lagari.

'Yes,' smiles Hezarfen.

The time is the 1630s. Sultan Murat IV rules the Ottoman Empire. Two Istanbul brothers - Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi and Lagari Hasan - dream of flying. Which of them can be the first flying man?

And what does the Sultan give to the winner of the race?

Read this story and find the answers.

- Elspeth Rawstron

A Young Man's Dream

My story begins in the 1630s. It is the time of the Ottoman Empire. Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi is a clever young man of those days. He lives in the district of Üsküdar, in Istanbul.
Every morning, Hezarfen sits near the Bosphorus strait. He looks at the tall tower in the district of Galata across the water. The Galata Tower is taller than all the buildings near it.
'Simit! Would you like a simit?' a man near Hezarfen calls. He has some tasty Turkish bread rings on his head. But Hezarfen doesn't answer.
Every morning the man cries, 'Would you like a simit?' But Hezarfen never answers.
He doesn't hear or see the man. He is dreaming. In his dream, he is flying over the Bosphorus with the sea birds.
'One day I want to look down from the sky on Istanbul,' he thinks. 'I want to fly across the strait with you birds. But how?’

Drawings from Italy

Weeks later, Hezarfen is near the Bosphorus again. Again he is looking carefully up at the sea birds in the sky. These days he is making some big wings in his workshop. He needs some help with the design.
'Hezarfen!' someone calls. Hezarfen sees his friend, Mehmet, with a second man. He goes over and says hello to the two of them.
'Hezarfen, this is my brother Ali,' Mehmet says. 'He's got some drawings for you from Italy.'
'They're old drawings of birds' wings by Leonardo da Vinci,' Ali says.
'Ah, yes. I know Leonardo's work,' Hezarfen says. 'Let's see them, then.'
Ali gives the drawings to Hezarfen. He looks at them for a minute.
'Interesting,' Hezarfen says. Then he gives them back. 'Thank you, Ali!’
Days later, in Hezarfen's workshop ...
'My wings are ready,' Hezarfen tells his friends. 'Let's see you fly, then,' Mehmet cries.
'Your brother Lagari wants to fly too, I hear,' Ali says. 'Everyone in Istanbul knows that.'
'Yes. Everybody's talking about him these days, I hear. But he isn't interested in wings. He wants to make a rocket,' Hezarfen answers.
'So where do you want to practise?' Mehmet asks. 'There's a hill not far from here,' Hezarfen says. 'I can practise there.’
Hezarfen and Mehmet go up to the top of the hill. Ali waits at the foot of it. Mehmet helps Hezarfen with his wings. Then he looks down. 'Hey! Don't jump from here,' he says. 'It's dangerous.'
'But I must,' Hezarfen says. 'My brother's beginning work on his rocket now. But I want to fly first!' Then he runs and jumps. Mehmet closes his eyes.

To Galata

Hezarfen doesn't fly.
He falls. Mehmet hears a big crash and a cry from the foot of the hill.
He goes quickly down the hill to his friend. Hezarfen is lying under his wings. Ali is next to him.
'His leg's broken,' Ali says.
'No, it isn't,' Hezarfen answers. 'My wings are broken. But I'm OK!'
'This time,' Mehmet cries. 'But what about next time? Be careful, my friend. You don't want to die.’
They take the broken wings back to Hezarfen's workshop.
'Now what?’ Ali asks.
'I understand more. The design of my wings needs to be different - bigger and better. But that can wait,' Hezarfen says. 'Right now I must go and see the District Chief of Galata.'
'Galata!' Mehmet cries. 'Why?’
'I want to fly from the Galata Tower. So I need his permission for that.'
'Forget it! The district chief never asks people into his office!' Ali says.
'Let's see,' Hezarfen cries. 'Come on!' And he and his friends take a boat across the Bosphorus.
The three friends walk from the Bosphorus up to the Galata Tower. Two tall guards stop them when they arrive. 'What do you want?’ one of them asks.
'We want to see the District Chief of Galata,' Hezarfen answers. Ali and Mehmet are afraid.
'What's your name?’ the guard asks.
'Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi.'
'Ah, the brother of the rocket maker, Lagari Hasan Çelebi. All Istanbul is talking of him!' the guard says.
'Yes,' Hezarfen answers tiredly. 'So can I see the district chief?' he asks the man.
'Wait!' the guard says. And he goes in to the district chief's office.

A Brother's Help

Some time later, the guard takes Hezarfen to the district chief's office. Mehmet and Ali wait at the door. The district chief listens to Hezarfen's story.
'Very well,' he smiles, 'You can fly from the tower. But be careful. Don't fall and die.'
'No, District Chief,' Hezarfen answers.
'And I'd like to see your brother. Tell him.'
'Yes, District Chief,' Hezarfen says.
'I've got permission,' Hezarfen laughs when he comes out into the street.
'Good!' Ali cries happily.
'What now?’ Mehmet asks.
'I must visit Lagari,' Hezarfen says.
So Hezarfen visits his older brother. Lagari is working on his rocket when Hezarfen arrives.
'Nice design,' Hezarfen says.
'Yes,' Lagari answers. 'Perhaps early next year I can fly up into the sky in it. What about you?’
'Me, brother? I want to fly across the sky with my wings later this year.'
'So it's a race,' Lagari laughs.
'Yes,' Hezarfen smiles. 'But listen. The District Chief of Galata wants to see you.'
'Right. Well, thank you for your visit. Good luck with your wings, Hezarfen!'
'Good luck with your rocket, Lagari!' And Hezarfen leaves.
Two weeks later, Hezarfen's new wings are ready.
'Now I can fly from Galata to Üsküdar!' he cries. 'Wait! You must ask the Sultan's permission for that, I think,' Mehmet says. And the Sultan says "no" to most people when they ask for things.'
'So what can I do?' Hezarfen cries.
'Listen. These days the District Chief of Galata talks about your brother a lot. Now the Sultan's interested in him, too. Perhaps Lagari can ask the Sultan for a meeting,' Ali says.
So Hezarfen goes and speaks to his brother again.
'Yes. I can ask the Sultan,' Lagari smiles. 'But he can always say "no" to a meeting.’

What Does the Sultan Say?

So Lagari speaks to the Sultan, and the Sultan says 'yes' to a meeting.
Seven days later, Hezarfen goes to the palace. He walks past the Haghia Sophia. He is nervous. 'Please give me permission,' he thinks.
Near the Blue Mosque, he is more nervous. 'Please say "yes",' he thinks.
Hezarfen stops near the palace. 'The Sultan can of course say, "no". Or, worse - he can say, "Kill that man!'" he thinks.
'I'm Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi. The Sultan wants to see me,' he tells the palace guard. The man goes in. Hezarfen waits. He is very nervous now.
After an hour, the guard comes back. 'Come with me,' he says to Hezarfen.
Hezarfen bows very nervously when he meets the Sultan. 'Your Highness, I want to fly across the Bosphorus,' he says. The Sultan smiles.
'Ah, yes. You're Lagari Hasan's brother,' he says.
'Yes, Your Highness,' Hezarfen answers. Then he asks for the Sultan's permission.
'You have it,' the Sultan says. 'You must fly across the Bosphorus tomorrow.'
'With a good wind,' Hezarfen says. 'But without it what then, Your Highness?' 'You must ask God for a wind,' the Sultan smiles.
'Your Highness,' a vizier says quietly. 'People can walk with their legs. But we don't have wings. Is a flying man good in God's eyes?’
'Listen,' the Sultan answers. 'We can think of new things with our brains. And our brains come from God. The first flying man must be an Ottoman, I say.' 'Yes, Your Highness,' the vizier says. But he looks angrily at Hezarfen.
That evening, Hezarfen is not happy.
'There's no wind!' he tells Mehmet and Ali.

Hezarfen's Reward

The next morning, there is lots of wind. Hezarfen stands happily with his wings at the top of the Galata Tower. Suddenly, he jumps. 'He's falling!' people cry. But he is not falling. He is flying with his big white wings over the houses of Galata.
Hezarfen's friends Mehmet and Ali run with the people down the streets to the Bosphorus. Hezarfen flies out over the water.
'I'm flying,' he cries. 'People can fly!' He lands across the strait in Üsküdar, a happy man.
The next day, the Sultan has a meeting with his viziers at the palace. 'People can fly,' he cries excitedly. and the first flying man is an Ottoman. That's good for our Empire. Hezarfen needs a reward.'
'But, Your Highness,' the vizier nearest to him says. 'Flying men can land in our palaces and kill us. They're dangerous.'
The Sultan thinks about this. 'Hmmm. Yes, I see. Perhaps you're right. So what must we do with Hezarfen then?’ he asks.
'Kill him,' the vizier answers.
'I can't do that,' the Sultan cries.
'Then exile him,' the vizier says.
So the Sultan calls Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi to the palace. He gives a reward of a thousand gold coins to him. Then he exiles him to Algeria.
Hezarfen says goodbye to his brother and his friends. He leaves Istanbul that evening.

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