Brake? Cy looked around wildly. Where was the brake on a magic carpet?
Cy thought. He held up his dreamsilk.
'Stop!' he ordered. 'Stop… STOP!'
The magic carpet halted abruptly. Its passengers slid forward and teetered on the edge. The Dream Master was the first to recover. He wiped his face with his hands and then his hands on his beard. 'Thank goodness for-'
From a cleft within the nearest cliff a huge bird rose from its nest and flew flying towards them.
'It's a roc!' yelled the Dream Master. 'They eat living flesh!'
The roc's malevolent yellow eyes had spotted them. It came swooping in, talons outstretched ready for the kill. The Dream Master ducked and Cy swiped at it as it swept past. It circled and flew at them again, this time descending with its vicious beak wide open to attack them as it came.
'It's a budgie,' Cy told himself. 'It's my dream, my story, and I say it's a budgie.'
The roc faltered, its wings trembled, then found new strength as Cy's thoughts wavered and his mind lost the picture of the budgerigar.
'Aaarkkk! Aaarkkk!' The bird sensed its prey had weakened and it cawed in triumph as it returned, filling the sky above them with its immense shadow. Cy saw the terrible rending claws, its awful hooked beak…
'It's more like a parrot!' Cy cried, gripping his dreamsilk and sending a surge of energy through it with this thought.
There was crisp pfutt! The roc shrank in size, its plumage changed, and the yellow eyes took on a cheerful mischievous expression. 'Pretty Polly!' it squawked. 'Who's a good boy then?'
'Ha!' Cy relaxed.
Shahr-Azad hissed in anger and clapped her hands. The floor of the valley below them started to boil and seethe. The hissing increased three hundred-fold, and the rocks separated into thick strands, then coils, then a roiling mass of grey slitherings.
'Snakes!' Cy leaped up as one serpent raised its head above the level of the carpet to strike.
'String,' the Dream Master prompted him quietly.
'Sssss-string,' Cy stuttered in fear. 'I s-s-s-say it's ssstring.'
The snakes subsided and lay still.
Shahr-Azad's eyes glittered in fury. She spread her hands and made the motions of the waves.
The carpet now sailed over a calm sea. An old fisherman stood on some rocks preparing to cast his net. With a strong motion of his arms he threw the net into the ocean. When he drew it in, his net was full of stones and mud.
'The princess is using her stories to confuse you.' The Dream Master spoke urgently to Cy. 'She is trying to draw us in. This is the tale of the fisherman who finds a strange bottle in his net.'
The fisherman gathered his net to throw it once more. He flung it high and wide, wide and high…
But this time Cy was ready. As the net unfolded to encompass them he guided the magic carpet to soar upwards and avoid it. He gripped the dreamsilk more tightly and urged the carpet on. 'Not here,' he said. 'Go to the palace.' Cy repeated the phrase over and over. 'Go to the palace. Take us to the palace of the princess.'
With a violent twanging sound the carpet whizzed out through a fissure in Time and Space and sailed into an evening sky crowded with stars.
Cy looked down. 'Omigosh!' he said. 'Omigollygosh.'
The day was losing its heat. The sun was low in the sky, its rays like flames of liquid gold bathing a dream landscape of woods and winding rivers, pretty mud-brick villages and cities with tall towers and elegant minarets. The magic carpet travelled on above these until it came to an elegant palace whose windows were made of stained glass and whose walls were studded with many jewels. Thereupon the carpet floated down and settled in a marble courtyard where fountains splashed and doves cooed softly.
'Are we in Arabia?' Cy asked the Dream Master.
'We are indeed. Well done, Cy.'
The princess dismounted first and immediately turned on Cy. 'You lowly dung beetle!' she screeched. 'The wrath of a princess is upon your head!'
Cy stared in amazement. Here was someone who could screech even louder than Lauren! 'Don't be a bad sport,' he said. Cy quoted his Grampa. 'Sometimes it's good to lose. Then you enjoy the times you win even more.'
The princess smiled, showing all her teeth. 'I will very much enjoy the time I win, because that time is now. I have you in my power. I could easily have your head chopped off. You will wait here until I decide what to do with you.' She clicked her fingers. The magic carpet rolled itself up tightly. Shahr-Azad tucked it under one arm, spun on her heel and disappeared through one of the archways.
The Dream Master looked fearfully at Cy. . 'Let me see your dreamsilk,' he said. And as Cy showed him the now greyish piece of material, he went on, 'I thought as much. You've drained all your energy by keeping us on track to arrive in Arabia. And because it's your dream, your story, I can't use my own dreamcloak to help us escape.' The Dream Master glanced around worriedly. 'We're stuck here for a while, and I can't say I liked the princess's tone. She is in a bad mood. A very bad mood.'
Cy folded his faded piece of dreamsilk and put it away. He went over and trailed his fingers in the fountain. Around the courtyard grew trees laden with peaches and pears. 'This is a fabulous place,' he said. 'I don't mind staying on for a bit. I'd like to explore the palace.'
The Dream Master bit his beard. 'You Great Gallumphing Gullible Gowk! Do you think you're on some kind of holiday tour? We'd better find somewhere to hide before-'
He was interrupted by the sound of marching feet.
The Dream Master scuttled across the courtyard and took cover behind a pillar.
'What are you doing?' Cy asked him. 'What are you afraid of?'
'Get over here! Fast!' urged the Dream Master. 'That sounds like the Palace Guard and, believe me, they won't be bringing us an invitation to share some sherbet.'
Cy made a dash towards the Dream Master's hiding place, just as a group of fierce-looking soldiers strode into the courtyard.
'Perhaps if we explained to them that we are only visiting for a few hours…' Cy broke off.
The captain of the Palace Guard had let out a mighty whoop and was brandishing his scimitar in the air. 'Invaders! They lurk behind the pillar yonder. A silver coin to the man who captures them, dead or alive!'
'You can stay and explain if you want to,' said the Dream Master. 'I'm out of here!'