by Tony Noland
Adnan slept on the carpet, shivering as he had for seven times seven nights. He woke to the sounds of wind ruffling the tasseled fringe, and the low rumble of thunder beneath him.
He peeked over the edge of the carpet. Far below, whether ten farsakh or a hundred, enormous storm clouds towered. He tried to counted the heartbeats between the flashes and the thunder, so as to better estimate the distance, but the flashes were too many, the clouds too far away. It was a mighty storm, and he pitied anyone caught under it.
In the first ten days of his journey, he had delighted in pushing his hand out beyond the area of calm air above and around the carpet. At half an arm's length, his fingers were snagged and pulled, the wind whipping by more quickly than a sandstorm's breath. He was flying at a tremendous speed, and it had thrilled him at first.
After ten days, however, the wonder of the journey paled. He had tea and naan in the mornings; tea, naan and hard cheese for luncheon; tea, naan and almond cakes for evenings. The serving dish was magically filled three times every day, and every day with the same delicacies. The cheese was salty and rich, the naan was warm and soft, the almond cakes crunchy and sweet, and the tea was outstanding, the best he'd ever had. He was sick to death of all of it.
When he'd leapt on the carpet in the High Vizier's private treasury, he'd wished aloud for adventure and the chance to do mighty deeds, to conquer tyrants and woo fair maidens. The carpet lifted so quickly, he'd tumbled backward and gotten caught in the folds. When it flattened out so that he was able to stand, he was already high above the city, flying like an arrow to greatness.
That was seven times seven days ago. Adnan yawned and stretched, then reached for the serving dish.
He blinked. Instead of a serving dish, at his feet lay leather-strapped pieces of bronze armor: matched armbands and legbands, a breastplate and a half-helmet. Next to them were a wrought iron chain and a curved sword, as wide as his hand and as long as himself. In wonder, he bent to pick up the sword. Its hilt flowed into his hand, the silvery weapon so well balanced that it felt as light as a riding crop.
The carpet tilted downward. He was high above a mountain range, dominated by a massive central peak with sides as smooth as glass. Astride its apex, glittering in the sun, was a fortress bigger than any city he'd ever known or heard of. Even from this distance, the battlements of the city wall were frightening, spiked and bristling with the spears and swords of a vast army.
Adnan became armed and armored in an instant, he knew not how. To the central hall he flew like a falcon, there to alight on the highest balcony of the highest tower. He stepped from the carpet, to the gasps of a score of beautiful women, their long tresses and almond eyes wide with shock and hope at his presence.
A roar of hate made him turn. By the door stood a man fully twice as tall as he. Gripped in his bear-like fists, the handle of his wide, chipped battle axe was like a young tree, swinging over the giant's head as though uprooted in an angry storm. Adnan's mouth went dry and his stomach went cold. A single blow from such a weapon would kill him instantly. His strength was like nothing Adnan had ever seen; such a man could fight for hours, even for days without pausing for breath. There was no way to survive a pitched battle with him. Against such a foe, there was only a fast victory or a fast death.
His heart pounding, Adnan balanced on his toes and waited for the strike. It was not long in coming, as the man-mountain bellowed his rage and smashed the axe down in a whistling arc. Tiles shattered and sparks flew as the floor's mosaic was destroyed by the blow. Adnan's left foot was clear by barely a fingerwidth. Flashing downward with all his might, Adnan struck with the triple loop of chain in his left hand, not at the giant, but at the axe handle.
When his deadly foe yanked his axe back up for a true killing stroke, Adnan's arm was nearly torn from its socket. Pulled upwards by the giant's strength, he barely had time to angle his sword for the strike that would either save his life or end it. Flying forward, he twisted his right hand and gripped with manic power, bracing the hilt against the bronze legplate on his thigh. With every grain of force in arm and leg, he rammed the sword into the giant's right eye down to the hilt, his fingers stinging as it pierced bone and bronze.
The giant's roar of agony shattered Adnan's ears, and his own blood flowed from them to mix with the black rush from the around the sword hilt. Adnan stumbled back as the giant fell, scrabbling with insane, magical strength at the sword.
From under his breastplate, Adnan drew his own dagger. Though neither magical nor wondrous, it was as sharp as it had been since his father had bequeathed it to him as his sole inheritance. Again and again, Adnan slashed with it at the giant's neck, the backs of his knees, his elbows, anywhere the armor was weak and the veins thick.
At last, with a gasping death rattle that was chilling to hear, the giant stilled and lay dead. Though weary unto death himself, Adnan was no fool.
"Carpet!", he called. "Lift this body and take it out beyond the walls of the city. Set it on a high peak, there to be protected from the vultures if he be truly dead, and there to be no danger to me if not. Do this, then return to me."
Without hesitation, the carpet slid under the bloody mass, then flew out and away over the parapet.
Adnan felt a hand on his arm, and spun, dagger at the ready. There, arms filled with steaming washbasins, salves and ointments, the women smiled and waited, heads bowed in gratitude. The sweetness of their mixed perfumes was matched only by the distant, wafting aroma of fine tea and fresh, warm naan.
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