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To Light a New Fire

In the spring of 1562, a young man’s life was about to change forever. While standing on a dune staring out over the rolling sea along the east coast of what would one day be called Florida, an amazing and frightening sight caught his eye. A sailing ship! A shiver of terror ran through his body. He had heard the stories. It was the Little People from the Sun. Accounts of the horrible things that they had done to his village years before he was born had been told and retold around the council fires for as long as he could remember. He had always thought they were just stories told to frighten children. Now he could see that they were real. His thoughts went to Cato, the girl that he had come so far to marry. He turned and ran down the hard-packed beach toward her village. He must reach her before they did. Something evil was coming, and he had to take her out of harm’s way before it was too late.

One of the principle characters of this book : Cato As the young girls worked to rebuild the fish traps in the shallow basin, Cato would often pause and spend a few moments searching the dunes that rose just inland above the white sand of the beach. Once satisfied that there was no one there, she would return to her duties. Working beside her was her best friend Ibi Lico, which meant “Blue Water” in their native language. Among the community tasks assigned to the two Timucuan girls, was the maintenance of this intricate maze of woven strips they they had fashioned from strips of palm fronds.

The structure was designed to capture small ocean fish that swam into the trap during the high tides and were stranded there when the tide receded. Fish caught this way formed an important part of the diet of their village. Waves from the previous nights thunderstorm damaged the structure. By tonight’s high tide, they would have made all necessary repairs and tomorrow morning the village fishermen could collect the night’s catch.

nickwest

Cover Art by Marilyn Jones

Cato was now almost sixteen winters. Slender, toned and brown from a lifetime of work and play under the tropical sun, she had been taught the art of weir building by her grandmother before she was ten winters old. Now she was as skilled in the construction as anyone from the Mocama village of Seloy, which was located about a mile up the coast from where they were now working.

As was normal for the women of her village, Ibi Lico and Cato’s only clothing consisted of a short skirt made from strands of gray moss collected from the giant oak trees around her village. The moss was held in place by a slender cord of deer leather tied around their waist. Today, into their waist cords they had also inserted several long strands of cord made from palmetto fiber. They now used the strong cords to tie together pieces of the weir that they had picked up along the beach where the storm had left them.

For jewelry Cato wore a pink bubble on each earlobe that had been formed by inflating fish bladders collected and dried in the sun. Around her neck she wore a string of tiny seashells in various colors. Her dark black hair, which hung loosely down her back almost to her waist, flowed on the wind currents in undulating waves, much like those from the sea that rolled up the beach behind her.

The morning after the storm found the sky clear and blue without a cloud in sight. She could feel the warmth of the morning sun already starting to bake down on her shoulders as she pulled together the pieces of the trap. Cato enjoyed these trips down the beach. There was a peaceful comfort in working beside her friend as they listened to the cry of the gulls faintly audible above the constant whishing sound of the waves sliding up the crushed shell beach.

Judged by the standards of all those who saw her, Cato was beautiful. Along with her physical beauty, she was strong and industrious. To her consternation this combination of blessings had attracted the attention of many suitors among the young braves of her village during recent years. She didn’t have anything against the young boys of her village, but none of them held any of her interest beyond friendship.

The two girls paused again to scan the dunes. There was always a concern among the young girls of the Mocama village. There were two villages belonging to their hated enemy, the Utina, within half a moons walk from where they now worked. Several times during their lifetime, warriors from the Utina villages had raided the costal area to kidnap girls that they would take back to their village to become their slave wives.

Cato touched the bone hilt of the knife concealed beneath her moss skirt. The knife was a gift that had been hand made from the hard flint rock that the Gods made in the center of the world. Already sharp when she was given the knife, she had honed the blade to a razor edge using dried sharkskin to file the edges of the stone. If the Utina took her, it would not be without the spilling of blood. Today they were a bit more cautious because they were working further from the village than was normal. Despite the increased danger, this was the spot where Cato had insisted that they build the weir.

“I still don’t understand why we have to build the fish trap here. Does not the same sea extend past our village?” asked Ibi Lico for the third or forth time.Cato smiled, “Because this is the best spot.”

Ibi Lico sighed and returned to work. “Anyway, we are almost finished.”

Cato had her reason to build the weir in this spot, but it had to do with more than the fish population.

This is the spot where the tall Potano trader from the center of the world would arrive. She had never seen anyone like him. He was taller and stronger than any man she had ever seen. They had met and become close friends during his last visit. One afternoon during a long walk on the beach, he had pointed out this very spot among the dunes where his long journey always brought him to the coast.

He told her when he departed after his last visit that he would be back in six big moons. In four more days the sixth big moon would rise. As he was leaving he had given her the knife that she now touched again beneath her skirt.

She turned again and scanned the dunes. There might be Utina out there somewhere, but it was the tall Potano trader named Naa-Sue that she was longing to see.

Typical skin decorations used by the Timucua speaking People of early Florida


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