The Rambling Man saw the skull and crossbones banners of the oncoming pirate ship. He saw exactly what it was that bore down upon them, and he understood. He stood at the ship's helm watching the terror and turmoil as the crew ran about frantically, making themselves ready for battle. It seemed they understood as well.
The Rambling Man stood stock still, stationary and staring, as the prepared their defenses by hauling up gunpowder, loading their cannons, and securing their pistols and long rifles. War was coming. The sailors watched anxiously for the approach of the pirate ship, close enough now to see the blackened points of rifles aimed back at them. Then they opened fire. Thunderous reports rang loud through the air. Thick, black smoke clouded the men's vision--a byproduct of their gunpowder weaponry. Massive cannonballs exploded into existence, blasting into each of the ships. Closer now were the two ships--close enough for grappling hooks to be thrown between the gap, latching onto the other ship, binding them together. Cementing their fate. Men soon boarded: buccaneers covered in sweat and hair and stink, dressed as beggars but twice as ugly.
And during all of this, the Rambling Man only stood by, at the rear of their vessel, watching with a hawk's eye. His long hair and travelling cloak were caressed by the sea breeze, swaying each gently behind him as he stood stalwart.
The others fought valiantly, but in the midst of their distress, they were outdone. The Rambling Man had known this to be true before the battle even started. He did not fight, but instead waited for the inevitable.
He was not the only soul to stand idly by. The ship's newest guest, Cory the lively monkey, in his profound intelligence, had witnessed the Rambling Man's inaction and went to him. When the large, bearded Captain of the pirate ship boarded with his wooden stump of a leg and leather eye patch, he looked about his latest conquest. Everywhere he looked he saw the sailors, subdued and tied up. They would prove to be even more lively prisoners--the latest from his plunderous conquests. Every man on this ship would become his unwitting prisoner.
Save for one.
There, near the back, a tall man stood with head raised, bright eyes assessing and long cloak flapping. He stood tall and proud, an erect statue of a man, seemingly overlooked by his band of pirates. The Captain approached him now and saw upon the man's shoulder a small monkey.
And at once he knew.
"So, I've found you once again, you little devil!"
The Captain considered the Rambling Man with fierce eyes. He, on the other hand, smiled pleasantly back, wordless.
The Captain growled, dismayed.
"You sure about this one?" questioned the Captain. To the monkey. "He looked like a pretty boy to me. Straight from the city, I reckon."
A squeal from the monkey seemed to have settled the matter. The Captain scratched his considerable beard and nodded.
"Fine. Be that way. But by my figurin', he won't last five minutes."
The Captain turned and stamped back to his dark ship, wooden peg clapping loudly upon the sea-warn boards of the deck. He ordered the prisoners to be transported onto the pirate ship. Cory the small monkey hopped off the Rambling Man's shoulder and boarded the ship with the Captain. One of the Rambling Man's crewmen approached the Rambling Man on his way to the pirate ship.
"What was the Captain going on about?" asked the sailor. "What are they going to do with you."
"I haven't the foggiest," replied the Rambling Man honestly. "But I suspect your position to be more appealing than mine now."
The pirate ship was under way now, travelling the waters with great haste on an unknown course. The crew was being held below deck as hostages. The Captain of the pirate crew was seated with the Rambling Man in the Captain's private dining area, along with Cory the monkey.
"We have a job for you," the Captain soon explained after they had seated and settled. They sat upon wooden chairs around a small, square table. His legs, both flesh and wood, were stretched out before him as he sat eating peanuts from a bowl. Cory was on his shoulder this time, grabbing peanuts from the bowl to eat as well.
"You and the monkey?" asked the Rambling Man, curiously.
"Aye, that's right," grinned the Captain. "Me and the monkey. You see, there's this particularly large chest full of the shiniest gold this side of the good, round world. Brimming to the top with riches; enough to buy me and my mates whatever we'd fancy. Dare I say even enough to put this whole pirating business behind me, though I guarantee nothing.
"But there's a problem. A woman. A woman so beautiful and with such a voice as to lure any good man to certain doom. Soon as we heard of this treasure, you could be sure we set sail to this island fast as could be. But this woman, see, she's a regular sea witch--a terrible creature from the dark depths below. She weaves her spells over good men like you and me. Old Man Durward we sent first, and what he saw scared him so bad he left his skin behind as he ran away! Little Pete we sent next, and what happened to him... Well, let's just say that this little fella you call Cory used to have a different name." The Captain handed a peanut to the little monkey as he spoke, affection showing through his mannerisms. "You see what became of him. And we don't even know the fate of Big Barlow--no one's seen sight of him in nearly two years. Rumor has it he's turned into something much worse than a monkey."
"This is, of course, where you come in," concluded the Captain as he handed Cory a handful more of peanuts. "Your little friend here, since his unfortunate incident upon that island, has taken it upon himself to find the most likely suitor to battle against that vile woman. And he's taken a shine to you. So, soon as not you'll be the one going to that island, finding this sea witch, and stabbing her black heart through. As incentive, I'll let the boys do some unpleasant things to your friends in the hold below if you decide not to go. And if we should happen to get our treasure and be off with it, I may even be so generous as to tell you where your precious Princess has gotten herself off to. Maybe even give you a shiny gold necklace to slip around the maiden's neck, should I start feeling sentimental." He barked out a harsh laugh at his own joke.
Then he fixed the Rambling Man with a stern look. "Well, what say you? Do you accept, or are you going to be uncivil about it?"
The Rambling Man considered the Captain's tale for a moment. At length, and without options, he returned the Captain's stare with a smile and said "I've not met a woman I haven't liked!"