The pirate's ship plowed with unnatural haste through the quiet waters of the sea, all the while the Rambling Man sat pondering.
He pondered about many things: how this entire adventure had been caused by the Princess--from her unfortunate proposal to her black moods and eventual disappearance--and how the witch-woman had spoke of a Champion come to claim her back. The Rambling Man felt like no Champion--indeed, he was easily convinced that this prophesied Champion must be someone else. And the two remaining jars--one a ceramic dish of blue and white and the other a vase of bright green glass--had come on board with him, stored in his quarters aboard the pirate ship.
The Rambling Man sat and thought of these many things until they at length arrived at the mythical island.
This place was indeed no ordinary island! No, this place was an immense mountain, wrought of bronze and rising tall from the murky depths like some great beast, cast in a casing of metal! The bronze had been carved into an immense city surrounded by a looming wall and pocked with towers like thin fingers touching the clouds above. Around the base of the island, the water had faded the bronze into weathered greens and browns like algae.
The city in all of its marvelous glory carried within it not a single stir of movement. Not one curtain fluttered in the solid bronze windows. No boats gathered within its bronze harbors. No soldiers marched along the tops of the walls or approached their vessel as it docked. No, this city sat silent and brooding--a faded photograph of a world moved on. It was a city tucked into a bottle and lost forever upon the swallowing seas.
The unnatural wind propelling their suddenly meager craft had died in its sails. It lasted only long enough to lead them to this island. Once roped ashore, The Rambling Man climbed down onto the docks and approached the city proper.
The walked boldly down the streets, turning to marvel at what his eyes captured before him. He wondered why a city such as this, which had so clearly been craftily made, rested now forlorn and empty. Though the roads were stripped down to a greenish-brown rust, sections of the bronze-work still showed through in vivid clarity.
Towering statues marked the Rambling Man's progress as he passed them on either side of the street. They stood tall and proud in their rusted silence, once-bold images of once-great men erected to protect their once-great city.
The Rambling Man wondered vaguely what he might encounter in such a place as this. A sea witch, he was told--but what type of person constitutes a sea witch, anyway? The Rambling Man supposed he would find out when the time came and put it out of his mind for now.
His answer was about to come to him, as he turned down a broad road and saw her standing there. She stood tall, wearing a shimmering sea-green gown that flowed about her perfect body in delicate waves. He slender shoulders were left bare, revealing skin silky white and soft. Her hair, dark as the deepest seas, fell about her shoulders, cascading as a waterfall down her back. Her face was beautiful with its small, delicate nose, full lips, and high cheek bones. But above all else, her eyes were the most captivating--large, deep, luminous and radiantly green. They seemed to pierce directly into the Rambling Man's very soul.
She approached him, slowly, swaying her hips and her flowing hair as she walked. The Rambling Man's eyes caught on her image as his heart caught in his chest. There was no man alive who would not have been attracted to that wild, enthralling beauty. Not even the Rambling Man was beyond its allure, but in so looking at her, summoned an image of his Sweatheart's round, innocent face in his mind.
Looking again, the Rambling Man witnessed the beauty before him fade into obscurity. Her image had gone, and so with it its alluring, siren-like appearance. He smiled lightly, knowing what had just taken place, and shook his head. Her beauty alone had not trapped him like it had the others.
"Ah, little Rambling Man, your ramblings have brought you to strange places near and far--none quite as far as here. Your cozy little home is left long behind you." Her voice carried soft and gentle into his ears, much like her illusion had looked to his eyes. They pierced him to his core as she reappeared mere feet before him.
"The world is so very big, and so dangerous. I could look after you here, in this place. Stay with me, and we'll wander this city together. Riches I can promise you, and no shortage of."
The Rambling Man felt himself compelled--drawn in to her words. He was spellbound by her lovely voice. So enraptured by his senses, the Rambling Man drew himself back, closing his eyes and drowning her words in lyrics. He tugged at his memories for the lyrics of his many songs sung upon the roads, but his brain so enthralled by her proximity had frozen--unable to recollect a single item.
Then a strange lyric came to him, and it spilled from his lips almost beyond his beckoning. "Shantle they grantle and tell me away. Time is a-passing for me to stay!"
The beauty before him ignored the Rambling Man's words, pressing on. "The world is our home--the sea our road. It could take us anywhere!"
"Shiggle thy swiggle and talk to a toad," continued the Rambling Man, reciting these lyrics with open eyes and a firm gaze. He pulled his lute from his shoulder bag as he continued, "I long for the song of the last open road!"
Her words carried an edge of iron and the bite of ice as she commanded him with even greater urgency. "The world would be ours for the taking! Everything you wanted would be yours!"
As her promises grew ever more elaborate, the Rambling Man simply smiled and ran his fingers over his road-worn lute. The comfortable familiarity of his long-time companion settled his soul, and he sang at her loudly the last of the dead man's chorus. "Whittle and mittle, I can't go with you. My heart is in chains--my soul captured, too!"
"I know that rhyme!" hissed the creature. Her face transformed in her rage--from the radiant beauty of earlier to a beast of rage and fury like the tempest's wrath. She grew before him: her dress billowing about her like angry waves--her hair whipping about like a storm cloud. Her voice rose and shrilled like the howling of fierce winds. Waves assailed the island as a storm gathered in the skies overhead. She rained down curses upon his head like hail.
She began to chant then: her voice rising and falling--her words like vicious waves pounding the rocks.
The Rambling Man knew she intended to bewitch him with her sea magicks. He took a step back, looking up at this vengeful monstrosity in fear. But then he recalled something learned during his travels. He had rambled much across the dry lands, and of one thing he remained certain.
"Yours is the power to command the winds and the sea," cried out the Rambling Man as loudly as he could over the tempest. "Yours is the power to command and enslave the minds of men, like little Cory. However, to the very best of my reckoning, a mind like mine who does not believe is beyond your power." He lifted his lute high and favored the raging storm before him with a wide smile. "Shall I play you a tune, sea witch? For all your illusions and grandeur, you simply have no effect on those who do not believe. So, come! Share a song with me while we pass the time, for you are no more able to kill me than I am to turn stone into jewels."
He played his lute then, singing away as one without a worry in the world. His mind had shaken itself free of her tenuous throttle-hold, opening a spout to pour forth the lyrics from his mouth of every song he could recall.
And her power was deflated. Her statue shrank and the clouds above them dispersed. Her dress tumbled and subsided like the receding tide. She wailed out in defeat like a dying mermaid.
"What would you have of me, Rambling Man?" asked the sea witch, after having returned to normal size and stature. The illusion of her beauty had been crushed, leaving only a sullen and defeated old woman in its wake.
"I'll be having your chest of gold, jewels, and other such valuables, a the bequest of a friend. Additionally, you shall retreat back into the waters and terrorize no one further from this moment on."
"Then take your foul chest of gold, you filthy creature!" crooned the sea witch. "Have it and be away from this place! Leave me to my isolation on this cursed island. Off with you!"
With these words, she turned and stormed down the bronze road. The Rambling Man stepped forward as if to follow, then discovered a large, wooden chest had materialized before him. As he watched, the sea witch turned off the road and began to ascend the tallest tower on the island, rising high in the air above the clouds themselves. He waited, staring up at the tower, until she was naught more than a speck of green against the bright, clear blue sky. Then a moment later, with a loud, scornful roar she leap from the tower. She soared down through the air, graceful and beautiful, to splash quietly into the ocean and out of sight.
With a sigh, the Rambling Man secured his lute and hefted the chest all the way back to the docks. It took some doing to drag such a large chest through the bronze streets, but once near the shore the pirates looked upon him from their ship and came down to help. With their assistance, the large, heavy chest was hoisted up aboard the vessel. The Rambling Man was lifted up along with the other pirates afterward.
Once aboard, The Rambling Man sat upon the deck, exhausted. The other pirates bounded around the chest in a flurry, excitement and greed alighting their eyes. Cory was with them, and he seemed as excited as the rest of his human crew.
With some work, they managed to pry open the lid. They bunched around the chest, looking eagerly down inside it, to see nothing, nothing at all, save for a pile of bones and a human skull.
The mutterings amongst the pirates grew confused, and angry, when they were silenced all at once by a familiar ghostly voice. "Wiggle your jiggles and get out of my way!" cried the ghost as it advanced down the deck towards them. "None of you know how long I've waited for this day!"
The dejected spirit ran forward in excitement, clearing the crowd of pirates as it passed. He reached the chest of bones and leapt directly into it. Disappearing into the chest, the bones began to shift and dance about each other. They formed up, growing muscle and sinew and flesh over them, until moments later out of the box came an elderly man, his beard long and grey and his eyes piercing. He stepped amongst his fellow pirates and began to dance around, jubilant.
"Old Man Durward?" cried the Captain as he stepped forward. "But what happened to our gold?"
"Oh, she likely has it on the other island," replied the recently reincarnated pirate that was Old Man Durward. "The silver one."
"Silver, you say?" asked the Rambling Man.
"Yes, indeed! Just like this bronze island, but made entirely of silver. It was I who had been filling your sails with wind, but I can do so no longer. I can, however, show you the way, if you wish."
"And so you shall," replied the pirate Captain.