1. Islas Cuevas

Chapter I


Darkness reigned over the ocean. Storm clouds threatened dangerously on the horizon. Lightning flashed, revealing an armada of Spanish ships wandering slowly southwest across the sea. And with it the shadows of three dark spirits, that appeared like horsemen, racing along the sky. One went to the north east – toward Spain. The other went west towards the New World. And the last disappeared into darkness.
The night subsided and the sun slowly began to rise up over the ocean. Another Spirit appeared with the light. His eyes moved across the semi darkness of the sea. To the sandy bottom below and over sunken galleon ships destroyed by fierce winds and crushing waves. As the morning sunlight filtered through the deep water, shining its glory therein, his eyes wandered far across the blue sea. They moved along with the trade winds to the white sands of an island called Islas Cuevas. Past the quivering palm leaves and jungle fronds, and onto a thatched hut, where a lad of sixteen rested within. This young man’s name was Christopher.
When Christopher realized the Spirit of Light had rested upon him – he felt a warm glow in his heart like that of no other and then woke up. The sun had risen and Christopher with it. His heart was beating fast. He had felt the presence of something so beautiful, so pure, so loving. But could not explain it. Now the promise of a new day met him. He looked out his windows at the warm sunlight on the jungle trees and wondered again about what he had dreamed. The singing of birds gladdened his heart and soon his mother served him fresh eggs, a slice of bread and homemade jam and a bit of fish left over from last nights dinner. He then scooped water from the bucket to wash his face as he prepared to go help father out in the field.
Now Christopher was not exceptionally clever or brilliant but he was happy and unusually motivated. He was thin but not overly so and wore brown cotton trousers. His mother had not cut his hair since he was young. Christopher’s dark brown hair was tied together to keep it out of his face – for it was quite long. Long hair tied wit h a string or bow was in fashion for men back then and this was quite how he liked it.
The year was 1664.The age of Buccaneers and pirates. The year when Henry Morgan the buccaneer had burned the Spanish city of Cartagena down to the ground. The Caribbean was called the New World back then. And though much was the same, it was also a very different place from what we know today.
Christopher had heard all the stories: Rumors of sea serpents, sunken ships and places in the world where waves were as high as trees. Even though when crossing the Atlantic with his family, he had never seen anything like that. Sailors spoke often of huge thirty foot waves that washed from sea to sea amidst raging hurricane winds at the bottom of the world. He had also heard of how Magellan had dared to venture there. And then how the English Sir Francis Drake had followed Magellan’s footsteps past the Caribbean and then further south past the furious storm ridden Cape Horn. His father had explained to him how Drake had gone around the Pacific side of the New World to sneak up unawares on the uncontested Spanish dominion. How he had started the spark of anger between England and the Huge Spanish Empire by taking the ‘Immaculate Conception,’ a large Spanish galleon laden with tons of gold and jewels. The stories excited him and he could not get enough.
 So later Christopher’s father had also told him how Henry Morgan the buccaneer had later attacked, killed and pillaged every major city on the Spanish Main. Only recently had he escaped a huge ambush at Gibraltar cutting the Spanish off amidst a ship with masts and sails blazing with fire.
And so it was in the fury of these times that our story begins. Black clouds were already gathering in the northern Caribbean sky. The rainy season was approaching. Yet on the Island of Islas Cuevas, the clouds had not yet marred the beautiful day. The storm remained very far off, it’s black darkness just a threatening menace. The white sands of the island and shimmering blue and green water still sparkled in the hot noon day sun. Nearby palms and jungle fronds quivered gently in the steady breeze from the Atlantic trade winds.
Surely it felt as though the far off thunder, that poised itself threateningly on the outer edges of the horizon, was a warning of the wrath upon them. The sky too was also scarred by the hideous black smoke of a nearby village up in flames.
Just ten minutes down the beach from the little town was Christophers family’s sugar cane farm. It was a crudely made home of logs and thatch with a barn or shed looking structure on the side and fences made of long branches to keep in the cow and the chickens. Between the village and the house were fields where sugar cane grew naturally.
Christopher was working as usual out in the sugar cane fields helping his father cut the stalks. They had already filled the cart half way when mother called from their crudely built barn:
“Richard!” She yelled.
“We’re about finished here today son.” Father said to Christopher as he picked up another pile of cut stalks and added them to the growing number on the wooden cart. “Go and see what your mother needs.” Father was a practical man, tall with curly blonde hair. His face, rugged, with years of hard work and sacrifice etched upon it. At once Christopher picked up his pile, added them to the cart and then ran off to see what mother needed.
Christopher’s mother Marie-Beth was originally from Calais (a French city near the sea) before she had been smuggled to England many years earlier. You see, she and her family had been threatened and attacked for being Protestant Christians. And so they struggled to be free from France and came to England. And it was there that she and Christophers father met and were married. When the chance arrived, the new family left for the alluring promises of the Caribbean.
Marie-Beth was a sweet and quiet person generally but sometimes became cross as the malaria she had caught in the New World often effected her mood and her health. Sometimes she would have headache’s but when it got worse she would start sweating or break out in chills and high fever. Father was often concerned for her when this happened. But today, thankfully, she was felling well.
Marie-Beth and Richard had made a deeper impact on their children than to just raise them in the standards of the day. Back then schools were basically non-existent. Instead father and mother would teach Christopher, his sister Colette and his two smaller twin brothers Cuthbert and Herbert in the afternoon after the farm work had been finished. Christopher learned to read mostly from the Bible as was common then. His father had bought him a leather bound journal from the traders who stopped by every so often and taught him how to write and to do basic mathematics. His mother taught him to speak some French and Spanish and what gaps in knowledge she had were filled from a leather bound log from a Sea Captain named Luis. However, not only had she taught them, Marie-Beth had been an example of Gods love in both kindness and patience. And Christopher felt this love and embraced it. This was something he carried with him unconsciously every day of his life.
And so now Christopher opened the front door of the barn (which was honestly more like a thatched house except with bigger doors) and entered hoping to see mother there – but was disappointed. Perhaps she was out back, he thought and walked through the barn, filled already three quarters full with sugar cane stalks. He reached the back door and walking outside, saw her there, under a shelter made of branches and a thatch roof of large banana leaves. She was kneeling on the hay milking “Fatty” the cow.
“I need some ‘elp Christopher.” She said with that French accent of hers as she pulled the soft brown hair back out of her face and blue eyes. Usually her hair was braided elegantly but not this morning. Her hands and white smock were dirty with soot from cooking.
“What do you need mother?” He asked.
“Christopher, would you pleessse find your sister Colette and ask ‘er to bring to me thee buckets.”
“Of course mother!” He answered.
“Where are the twins?
“They are ‘elping me in the garden with Colette” she answered. “Did you tell papa about your dream?
“Yes.” Christopher answered. “He didn’t say much.
“Oh.” Mother replied, looking at her son affectionately with a smile.” But you must know God ‘as something special planned for you.” She went on. Christopher didn’t answer, for he honestly did not know what to say. When she saw he did not reply she added:”Well, tell the twins they are to ‘elp too.”
“Yes of course.” He said. “Thank you mother.” He then went off immediately to find Colette and the twins.
“And Christopher!” She added before Christopher had gone out of earshot. “Do not forget  – we are needing to work on your lesson this afternoon – sil vous plais…You were very busy yesterday but wee must finish!”
“Oui Mama.” Christopher answered as he walked back into the barn to go take the message to Colette. His eleven year old sister, having brown hair like his, a cute little nose and soft rounded lips like his mother, was working in the vegetable garden behind the house. “Mum wants you!” He said, coming round the corner. There he saw her down on her knees pulling up weeds around the plants. The twins were busy playing and running around the garden being a frightful nuisance. Christopher laughed to himself but was not the type to get on them about it.
“Is she going down to the river?” Colette answered, wiping the dirt from off her hands on her light blue smock.
“I believe so. She wants you to bring her the water buckets.”
Oh very well. I will go and take these little beasts with me.” She answered with a smirk. “Will you two stop!” She then yelled at the twins.
“That is well.” Christopher said grinning back, ignoring the situation and rather happy not to have to do that extra chore today. “I’ll take Poppy with me to the village then!” He said referring to their golden haired dog.
“Right.” Colette said with a frown as the twins ignored her. “I’ll see you in a while.”
After turning and leaving Colette, Christopher walked back along the fields (where most of the stalks had been cut in time for the rainy season) and found father in the southeast corner where together they wheeled the cart and emptied it in the shed.  Later in the afternoon he would do a little cleaning up but for now he was off for a walk. Whistling for Poppy – she came running to him from the forest where she had been chasing squirrels. On his way towards town, he happened to come across his black cimmaroon friend Kellen, just past the sugar fields near the jungle doing some hunting. Christopher knew the African Cimmaroons as his friends but in the back of his mind he remembered what his father had told him about them – that they were a collection of runaway slaves. Still, this didn’t seem to bother him. They had escaped from the Spanish plantations and were therefore not a nuisance to anyone in their village.
“Hello der!” Kellen said with his African accent. He smiled and Christopher greeted him smiling back. Kellen was a soft spoken young man about Christophers age, but of bigger build with nostrils that flared.
Poppy sniffed something and went bounding off through the high grass in chase.. It was then that they heard shouting and a volley of gunshots from the nearby village.
“Are they hunting pig today?” Christopher said curiously to Kellen.
“Look!” Kellen answered, looking to the north east. “Der Smoke!”
And indeed the sight of the ominous black smoke rising over the jungle brush made them fearful and curious both at once.
“Poppy! Come here!” Christopher cried. Christopher had a great way with his dog and usually she listened to him. When she came over, he attached a rope around her neck as a leash and the three of them made their way quickly through the jungle brush to investigate. As they traveled, Christopher wondered about which farm was having the trouble. Perhaps it was Edwin Galloper’s sugar farm. He was a fellow Englishman and shared the other half of the sugar fields with Christophers family. His farm was the closest. But there were French tobacco plantations and farms nearby too. Mother knew these nieghbours best as she spoke French. Even a couple Dutch families had set up a farm down the coast to the east. But he thought the gunshots sounded quite near and couldn’t of come from there.
Most of the farmers here on the main island of Islas Cuevas had come to the Caribbean the same as Christopher and his family – to farm sugar, tobacco, coffee or cocoa and live in freedom and peace. But the Spanish did not accept their claims. As father often said with a touch of anger: “Half the known world doesn’t really belong to the Spanish!”
Still, the Spaniards were determined to bite off more than they could chew. They struck out at any new settlement that they got word of. The villagers heard the news from passing traders and ships. Captain Luis’s ship had only been here two weeks previous  with news of an attack in Cuba. Cuba was far enough off and the villagers had not been very worried. Most of the time, they were able to get by without any notice as there were so many islands and so much unused land. Still, the fear that the Spanish would show up, was forefront in Christophers mind as he and Kellen raced to find out what was going on.
copywrite by Albion Derbyshire 2018