The Guardian’s helpers.
Gwen Hmong was not alone in wanting to protect the secret as her people in every area of Peru were looking and listening. In every district and in every city, people were on the lookout for these explorers, these looters of gold. Now that she was in Peru, she had decided to summon those in charge in every district. They were called the Nine. She had other reasons to summon them; it was the June solstice, the 24th day of June when they had to bathe in the secret stream to rejuvenate themselves. Only by that action could they stay young and beautiful.
The sacred stream was located underneath the main river, but near the town of Tambomachay which is located 8km from Cusco or about 6 miles. The complex is inside a hill and has three levels and like other Inca buildings it was built with perfect fitting bricks without using mortar. The structure was on top of an underground spring water and at the bottom of the complex were the famous Inca baths. The stream was near this spring but was not part of it. In fact, the Nine guardians would go to the stream through an opening, with stairs leading directly to it from this complex through a series of underground tunnels.
Gwen was always the first to arrive so that she could officially greet the other eight members. Down the stairway she went, holding a torch in her left hand. The stairs were cut directly into the stone and after walking a few feet down she arrived at the entrance of a cave. Inside this cave the sacred waters were flowing just beside it. The whole cave was rather small and seemed illuminated with a supernatural glow, a mix of light blue and a tinge of green. It was millions of years old as stalagmites were hanging from the roof, looking like swords ready to fall down from the skies.
Gwen disrobed herself quickly and revealed her nudity. She advanced in the stream slowly until she disappeared completely under the water. After a few seconds she reappeared, skin glistening and looking as young as ever. She looked the picture of health, even if she really was several hundred years old. After a few more minutes in the water, Gwen began to walk out slowly, picked up her clothes and changed. The others were beginning to arrive.
First Eliza arrived, going slowly down the stairs, followed by Joanna and then Sara. The others followed in silence. All were greeted silently by Gwen and one by one, all entered the sacred waters. When they emerged from the waters all of them looked noticeably younger than their real age as the waters had rejuvenated them. Soon all of them had done what they had to do and all left in the direction of Cusco. The meeting was to take place there at an expensive hotel called Libertador and Gwen intended to have the meeting in the restaurant of the hotel.
The Nine were an interesting lot with one peculiarity; all were women. Most of them were leaders in their community such as business leaders and in some cases much better educated than the average Peruvian. All had a stake in protecting the secret as they all benefited from it. These Nine were old, very old. By rejuvenating themselves in the sacred stream, they kept their youthfulness, just like Gwen Hmong. Most of them were more than 100 years old but all looked very young. They still aged, but very slowly and not in a way that was perceptible to the eye. But there is always a price to pay for such advantages and that price was sterility. They periodically married, divorced and then left their spouses in order to protect the secret. Now for the first time in years they assembled around the table, able to speak freely to all the other members something not permitted at the stream.
These Nine women represented the major areas of Peru. One was from Cusco, one from the area around Machu Pichu, another one from Lima, the capital. They all controlled other people below them whose job was to be on the lookout, but none of them knew the real secret. All thought that the secret was the gold, hidden and forgotten by the Incas so long ago. In fact, the stream was the secret, the Fountain of Youth. Searched by Ponce de Leon, it had been found but not where it was supposed to be. Gwen opened the informal meeting by a simple explanation of why they were there.
“Greetings to all,” she said. “You must wonder why you were summoned. The threat is great to our secret. We are here to discuss the measures to be taken and how far we must go.” The head guardian looked around her, seeing the women looking at her in an interested way. Then one of them spoke. She was the woman in charge of Cusco.
“If the head guardian may permit me, I will expose the threat.” said a short woman with brown hair. Her name was Lia.
“You may do so,” said Gwen.
“We have an expedition whose attempt is clear; to find gold that was supposedly hidden by the Incas and never found by anyone, including all the archaeologists who have scoured the area. The expedition is financially backed by a certain Jake Pierce. This person is the nephew of Stephen Pierce, a man who explored the ruins of Machu Pichu with Bingham. This uncle of his must have found a map or maps that indicated where gold could be found. The risk is that the expedition stumbles on the secret, the sacred stream. Once that is discovered, we will have lost all control on the area, and we will be finished as an organization.”
Gwen looked around her to ascertain if everyone indeed had understood the magnitude of the threat. “Now that we understand what is going on, we have to decide what to do about it, and how far we must go to defend the secret.”
Another woman decided to speak. She was in charge in the immediate area of Machu Pichu and its ruins. “My people in the area have said to me that they indeed have a map and have used an artefact to discover another map. But what they do not know is that they are still far from discovering gold or the secret, even by accident.”
“What do you mean?” asked the head guardian.
“It is simple, I am pretty sure that the secret is safe, that only the gold is what is wanted by them. The risk of stumbling on the secret is low. What we should do is simple; redirect them to an area where the secret is nowhere to be found and let them find some gold. And this is what I did. My informer saw them when they found the second map, but he was quicker. He got there before them and found the second map. That map he took and substituted another map, drawn by me. And on it, I indicated where some gold would be found, far away from where the stream is located.”
Everyone around the table looked astonished, surprised and yet happy. Happy that the secret was safe once again and that the threat had been defused. But one person was unhappy, the head guardian. And she let loose her fury at the woman who had taken such a daring risk.
“Tell me, Sara, from whose authority did you decide on such a plan. Who gave you the green light, tell me.”
Sara squirmed on her seat. She was an intelligent woman but prone to take unwarranted risks and in taking these risks she could endanger the whole organization.
“Yes, well, no one knew about my plan. I, I …did it all on my own. I admit it. I broke the rules, yes.” Sara bowed her head in an effort to obtain some commiseration from her other sisters in the organization. But all of them knew the fury of the head guardian when she was provoked. It was finally Gwen who broke the silence.
“You knew that you were breaking the rules, and yet you went ahead. By your recklessness you endangered all of us. You will be punished for this after this meeting is adjourned. Let me re-assert to all of you the basic cardinal rule; I decide on what to do, not you. I am the head guardian, not you. Break the rules and you will be punished. Is this clear?” All the others bowed their heads and nodded silently.
“What you did Sara probably bought us time, but if you put some gold in the area of the map that you gave them this will only whet their appetite for more gold. They will now be even more frenzied about finding more of it. It’s a never-ending loop, and you provided positive feedback when none should have been provided. The others can leave the table but you, you will come upstairs to my room, now!”
Sara bent her head and lowered her eyes as the rest of the group disbanded and went their separate ways. Once the bill was paid, the head guardian got up and was quickly followed by Sara. Both went up the stairs silently. Sara knew she would be punished, but she did not know how.