As Derrick and Iris reached the bottom of the hill, they had to weave in-between people and dodge around piles of crates and barrels until they finally found Charlie. He was hovering on the edge of the group of dockworkers, listening as his father gave instructions to the men around him. To Derrick's surprise, Eli was in that group as well. Nervously, he glanced around for Gwenda, but she wasn't in sight.

"What's going on now?" he asked Charlie.

"They're trying to figure out who should be the one to try talking to the captain," Charlie replied. "Scott Barker's on the mainland, and no one is sure who exactly is in charge." Scott Barker was the town's mayor, and when Charlie said "the mainland," he meant the larger island that made up Hartland. Next to a tiny piece of rock like Clough, Hartland's main island was colossal.

"Your dad could do it," Derrick said, watching the group of men.

"No, they want Eli to," Iris spoke up. Derrick looked at her in surprise. "He's worked with pirates before," she continued, "and he's someone they'll take seriously."

Derrick looked at Eli with new eyes. He was sturdy and strong, his dark tanned skin crisscrossed with old scars. His thick eyebrows almost always overshadowed his face in a scowl, and, even missing one arm, his entire being radiated power and strength. He could definitely picture Eli leading a group of men in battle.

The nervous chatter of the townsfolk quieted to a hum, and finally silence, as the ships drew nearer. Derrick felt a chill run up his spine, and Iris slipped her fingers into his palm. He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze.

As the first ship maneuvered in to dock, Derrick and Iris stared at the people working busily on the deck. They didn't look the way they expected pirates to look. They wore loose-fitting clothes, and appeared to be typical sailors. One man, however, certainly stood out. He stepped forward and moved slowly down the gangway like a person would approach a spooked animal. His clothes were obviously of a finer quality than the rest of his crew's, and he carried himself in a smooth and controlled manner. He looked to be close to Eli's age, maybe a little younger—either his late thirties or early forties—but definitely fit and strong. His dark blonde hair hung in longish waves to his shoulders and needed a wash. Derrick's eyes travelled to the blood-soaked bandage wrapped around the man's right forearm, and then back to his face. He had piercing green eyes that scanned the crowd at the docks.

"Afternoon folks," he drawled. "My thanks for the welcome party."

Everyone looked around uneasily, and Eli stepped forward. "We're a small, peaceful town on this island. What business brings you to Clough?"

"I'm Stian, Captain of the Eastwind there. The other two ships are the Ariana and Seacutter. They both are under my command, and I sail for Azdar. We've just had a, well, less fortunate encounter with some of Silvanus's fleet from Elricia and need to stop for some repairs. We were hoping to find some food and lodging for the night, and we'll be on our way as soon as our ships are back in sailing condition."

The man stood tall, waiting for a response as Eli swung back to look at the rest of the people gathered on the dock for confirmation. After a moment of silent communication, Eli turned to face Stian once more. "One night is fine. There's food and some rooms at the inn, if you can pay."

Stian's smile widened. "Payment won't be a problem, if the goods you're offering are quality." He slipped a knotted rope out of his shirt, on which he had strung an assortment of coins, most of which appeared to be gold. "We split our loot fairly in Azdar's fleet. You'll find all who sail with me can pay for whatever it is they're asking for. We find it helpful to have friendly partnerships with good coastal towns such as this one here."

Eli turned this time to the far left, where Gwenda stepped forward and dipped a small curtsy. She locked eyes with Derrick, giving him a death glare. He did his best to shrug it off, as Gwenda turned back to Stian, plastering a smile on her face. "I'm Gwenda, owner of the Daley Inn just up the road a ways. I'll have food ready in a couple hours, but I'm afraid I won't have enough rooms for all your people."

The man nodded. "I didn't expect you to. Most of my crew will stay below decks. That's where they've been for weeks, and I doubt they'd expect anything different. A few of us, though, including myself, will take rooms if you have 'em."

A few more words were exchanged, and then the crowd started to disperse. Eli gravitated toward Gwenda, staying by her side as Stian and a few others followed her from the docks to the inn. The other sailors were swarming over the decks and the dock, beginning the hard work of repairing the damage done to their ships.

Derrick and Iris fell into step behind Gwenda and Eli, watching Stian and his people carefully. Besides Stian, there were six other sailors walking with them to the inn. Three were men, two women, and one was cloaked and hidden in shadow. Derrick couldn't tell anything about that one, except that he or she moved in a confident manner, in spite of the dark fabric covering his or her face and body. The cloak caught Derrick's eye, not only because it seemed like a strange thing for a sailor to be wearing on a sunny afternoon, but also because it was made out of a light, shimmery fabric that reminded him of the dark, smooth water in the small swampy pools found in the woods in the center of the island.

Stian was speaking quietly with Eli and Gwenda, and the other crewmembers were talking amongst themselves as well. Three walked together in a group, the oldest of them a tall and thin man. His hair was cut extremely short, right against his skull, and showed a fair amount of gray and white. He had the look of someone who liked to keep his face close-shaven, but hadn't had an opportunity to shave lately. His jawline was covered in bristly gray stubble. Derrick stared at the man even longer because of the glasses perched on his nose. No one on the island wore glasses. They were too specialized an item-expensive and difficult to trade for. It was interesting that this sailor could find and afford them. Unless, of course, he hadn't bought them. As Derrick stared, the man pushed the glasses further up his nose, and turned to the much younger woman walking next to him.

"The people here are nervous," he said quietly. Even his voice was strange—he had an odd accent that Derrick couldn't place.

"Of course they are. Small island like this, they probably only get trading ships coming in once in a while. Never three schooners that've obviously been in a battle bringing along God knows what kind of trouble." She had a low, lilting voice, and her long dark hair was twisted up on the back of her head. As she turned to speak to the older man, Derrick caught a glimpse of deep brown eyes fringed by thick eyelashes. Her nose arched out in a prominent way, adding a sense of sharpness to an otherwise soft face.

"There's some good tall trees here," the third person in that small group added in a thoughtful voice. He was looking out at the forest as he spoke; scratching absently at the light-colored curls covering his head. With the sun shining on him, his hair had almost a pinkish tinge. "Think they'd let us cut one down for our mast?"

Growing bored, Derrick stopped listening. Those three seemed to be thinkers, he thought to himself. They reminded him of Scott Barker, or of some of the merchants. The other people-Stian, and the other man and woman-were more like Eli. They were built for action, strong and confident. Only Stian and Gwenda were talking now, discussing the number of men that needed feeding and an appropriate payment for the food. Eli looked on with a watchful eye, but Derrick wasn't worried. The sailors may have been pirates, but they seemed cooperative and peaceful, at least as long as the islanders were too. And Derrick knew that Gwenda would drive a hard bargain. She'd get a fair payment for the food and lodgings.

As they neared the inn, Derrick watched the last three members of the group, trying to place their roles. The woman was short but sturdily built, her skin sun-darkened and her black hair cut in short waves. Her eyes were the color of tree bark, and as prickly, too. The man's skin was even darker, and he stood nearly twice as tall as the woman. He was obviously used to being in charge, but he deferred to Stian. The cloaked figure followed along on the side, saying nothing.

Once they reached the inn, his observations were put to an end. Gwenda immediately tasked Iris with work in the kitchen preparing a thick stew that would go far in feeding the hungry crew. Derrick was sent to prepare the rooms that would be used that night. He briefly wondered who would be staying at the inn, and who would return to the ships, but he shrugged the question aside. He'd find out soon enough.

After rushing through freshening the linens and wiping away dust from the shelves and floor, Derrick ran back down to the common room to find out more about the strangers. Just as his foot touched the floor, though, Gwenda grabbed his collar and pushed him toward the kitchen. "Stir the soup, Derrick, I've got Iris baking bread now." He sighed, resigned.

It seemed like ages later when Derrick was finally allowed out into the common room. He was supposed to be serving food, but it was a perfect opportunity for eavesdropping.

"Land sakes, Silvanus is making a bigger push to cross the boundary these days," one sailor grumbled. This one was unknown to Derrick—not one of the leaders that came up to the inn right away.

"What's he want with the boundary anyhow?" another replied. "Nothin' but swamps and them sea monsters. Just askin' for death, he is. Who're we to deny him?"

A laugh arose at that, and a chorus of drinking. Derrick had to move on and continue serving. Other sailors had started singing an old sea shanty, their voices gravelly, slurred and out of tune. A few others cleared a space to one side of the room and began dancing. Derrick glanced at Gwenda, who was rushing around looking harassed. At least she was making good money, he thought. Luckily, before dinner, Chrissy and a few more merchant and fisherman children had come by to help out as well. The common room was packed, and it was all they could do to keep the food and drinks coming. The sailors were draped all over the room, along the stairwell, and even out on the porch and in the yard. Derrick soaked in stories and gossip as much as he could, but his time at any one place was limited.

This wasn't even all the crew, either. Derrick heard that a number of them had been wounded in the battle, and those that couldn't move far were being treated back on the ships. Still, many of the ones here at the inn sported bandages here and there. But even the injuries and memory of a recent battle did little to diminish the joy the men and women were finding in a hot cooked meal and solid ground under their feet. Stian kept catching Derrick's eye, not only because he seemed to stand out from the rest of the sailors, or even because they all treated him with a different degree of respect than they did anyone else, but mostly because Derrick kept sensing his gaze. He was watching them. Not everyone, but him and Iris specifically. Maybe Derrick was imagining it, but the next time he saw Stian, the captain's eyes met Derrick's immediately, before turning away toward where his sister was collecting dirty bowls. It gave Derrick an odd feeling.

He wished that he could enjoy the excitement of the night more, but he was soon sticky with sweat and looking for an opportunity to duck out without Gwenda or Iris noticing. That's when he saw Stian disengage himself laughingly from a crowd of sailors who were trying to pull him into a song, instead making his way out onto the porch. Setting down the bowls he had been carrying, Derrick slipped out and followed Stian. He moved silently, like a cat, behind the inn and toward the bluffs. Derrick followed, trying to copy his soundless way of moving.

The sun had set at least an hour ago, but the moon was nearly full and it was easy to see. Stian edged around the inn and continued through the small field up to the bluffs where Charlie and Derrick had been playing earlier that afternoon. He paused at the edge of the cliff and stared out to sea. Derrick was just beginning to think that he had wasted his time following Stian and nothing exciting was going to happen after all, when a shadow emerged from the rocks below and moved nimbly up the path from the sea. At first Derrick cringed backward, flashing back to the stories that Gwenda had told him about monsters that rose out of the sea at night. Now that he was older, Derrick knew that they were just stories adults told to make goose pimples rise on kids' arms and to keep them away from the water at night. But still, the shapeless form combined with the lithe way the figure moved sent a chill up Derrick's back. Then, he finally realized that it was only the cloaked person from earlier that day. He couldn't hear what was being said, so he edged closer. As he drew nearer, Derrick noticed that the figure was wet, droplets of water dripping from underneath the cloak.

"We've been followed," the figure said. The voice was melodic and sweet, the tone low, and female. Derrick was surprised, thinking that the person beneath the cloak would have had a harsh and gravelly voice.

"I was afraid of that," Stian replied. "How many and how far behind us?"

"Only two," she replied. "And I would think we have at least an hour, perhaps more."

Stian grunted. "That doesn't leave us with many options."

"One more thing," the cloaked woman said, "It might interest you to know there is a boy listening to our conversation."