The pale golden moon shone down on the forest glen where the women slept. One tall and dark haired held her shorter, blond companion, protectively in her arms.
A neatly made fire glowed in the circle of stones. Away from the fire a tall golden horse stood placidly as she waited for her human to wake up.
The forest around them was quiet. Even the animals slept. Those nocturnal creatures tread lightly near the camp sight as if unwilling to wake the women. The animals sensed they needed their rest. For the last two weeks the hills rang with the sounds of battle. It had been a long hard fight. One battle after another with little respite in between. They fought to protect the treasures of the Amazons from the marauding armies who sought to destroy the tribes and steal their treasure.
The women were headed back to the Amazons village after they helped drive off those who sought a quick and easy pay day. The leaders of the armies thought the women would run when they saw the numbers they were up against. They were wrong. The Amazons were fierce in their defense of the treasure hidden deep in the mounds the villages surrounded. There were seven Amazon tribes around the hills. The placement of the villages was no accident. They controlled all the roads that led to the mounds and guaranteed that no army could get above them for a fast break fight. The armies would be forced to fight uphill and guaranteed the armies a zero gain for their troubles.
Sentries sat quietly in the trees and watched over the sleeping women. Away from the glen the Amazons also slept. Their queen and her consort were given the privacy of sleeping away from the rest of the women.
The crickets performed a symphony in the night. The battle took it toll on the Amazons. The dead and wounded were on their way back to the villages for a proper Amazons burial. After the mourning period their dead sisters would be carried to the pyres. The flames would take their spirits to Artemis in the realm, in the Milky Way. When the flames had died out, they would watch the heavens for the star bursts that would tell of their arrival.
The sun slowly rose over the hills as the birds woke to greet the new day. For the first time in a fortnight peace and order claimed the dawn. The warrior lay with her blue eyes open as she watched the trees for signs of the Amazons waking. She knew she would have to wake her partner soon. Her body was stiff and sore from the almost constant battles they fought to protect the Amazon's treasure. But at what cost?
The Amazon's losses were far less then the armies they fought. Where did the armies come from? Who financed them? She knew from her own past, that the cost of maintaining a fighting force took a lot of dinars. One that size took hundreds of thousands of dinars. One hundred grand at least to keep them fed and armed. Where did the money come from? Those were questions she had no answers for.
She heard the sounds of movement as the Amazons woke up. It was time to wake their queen. She bent her head and started to place soft kisses on the blond head. She continued until she head the soft subtle sounds of the smaller woman leaving the sleep realm behind. She felt the small arms tighten for the first of many hugs they would share that day.
"I don't want to wake up yet," came the sleeping voice.
"Well your majesty, your subjects will be coming into our camp shortly."
"I don't want to be queen yet." She cried softly, her eyes still closed.
Xena sighed. She knew the battles had been hard on Gabrielle, who didn't have the warrior's strength. But in order to make the journey back to the Amazon village, they would need to leave that morning.
"I know you're tired, sweetheart, and I would really love to let you rest a bit longer, but we really have to start out."
Her fingers started to tickle her partner, which produced first a snicker, then a chuckle, before it became a full blown laugh. Gabrielle squirmed away from the tickling fingers, her body contorting as if she were warm taffy.
"Okay, I'm up." She cried as the fingers stopped and she rolled away. She knelt and looked down at her warrior. "Good morning." She said and bent down and kissed the lips that smiled up at her. "So what's for breakfast, my lowly warrior?" She jokingly asked.
"Watch it runt."
"That's queen runt to you," she said as she put on regal airs.
"I thought we decided years ago, that cooking would never be one of my many skills?"
"You're right. Let me go splash some water on my face. Then we can go see if the Amazons have anything cooking."
"I could go down to the river to see if I could get a fish or two to add to their rations."
"Let's see what they have first. No sense in getting wet if you don't have to. Besides the river could have frozen over during the night. It was definitely cold enough last night."
"All right, sweetheart. Worse thing they could have would be hot cereal. It would feel good on this cold morning."
Gabrielle yawned loudly. "Gods, I will be so glad when this fighting is over."
"Gabrielle, exactly what is in those mountains, that we have spent the last two weeks protecting?"
"I don't know. Gold nuggets, maybe."
"You don't know?" She shook her head. "Who would know?"
"Maybe Ephiny. Melosa did and hopefully she told Ephiny."
"There is only one way to find out. Let's skittle on over there and ask her. I want to know what the hades we are fighting so hard to protect."
Before they could leave their camp sight, they were met by two amazon warriors. They were identical twins, right down to the freckles across their faces. Xena racked her brain for their names. She remembered finally that they were named Marti and Marni. But the Amazons simply called them the M and M sisters.
"We would like to talk to Ephiny." Xena stated.
"Yes consort. We will get her for you." One of the twins said.
"We also were sent to ask if you would like some breakfast." The other stated.
The sisters left the glen. Within minutes they returned with food and tea for their queen and consort. Ephiny followed close behind. They handed each a bowl, fruit and tea. They went about their tasks quietly and quickly, before they left the three women alone.
Gabrielle took a few bites of the cereal before she pushed the bowl away. "No wonder none of the Amazons are chunky. That stuff is awful." She said and picked up a piece of fruit.
"I know, Gabrielle. Unfortunately we all can't have master cooks for a mother. Maybe you can talk Cyrene into giving our cooks a few lessons?"
"See what I can do?" Xena replied with a smile. "Ephiny what is buried in those mountains, that the Amazons are willing to die to protect?"
"All Melosa told me, other than the location, is that it is wealth beyond measure."
"Will you take us to it?"
"As queen, you deserve to know what it is that you help us protect. It's time we all found out exactly what lies in the mountains, that everyone is goobers about getting their hands on. I don't know about you two, but I am getting damn tired of all this fighting. We can leave right after breakfast." Ephiny said and stood up. "Xena if you can find a solution to all this, you will be a lifesaver to all the Amazons."
"I have spent most of my life fighting and I am also getting tired of every screaming yellow zonker warlord thinking it's crunch time." Xena said as she donned her armor. "Lets do it."
"I'll get everyone moving. We can get to the base of the mountain by late afternoon."
Ephiny left the two to finish breaking camp. Within a quarter hour they were all packed up and headed to the mountains.
They traveled through the valley and by mid afternoon reached the avenues of the pines. Row upon row of tall pine trees that ringed the mountains they traveled to.
They stood at the base and looked up at the tall peaks.
"Do these mountain have a name?" Gabrielle asked as she looked up.
"Yeah. They are officially called the Kitaloculous Kataloculous mountains."
"That's quite a mouthful. What nerd named them?"
"Whoever it was has been lost though the years. Now they are just known as the Kit Kat mountains.
They slowly made their way through the pines. Once they were through the 5th avenue, of pines, they stopped and dismounted.
"Now we climb. I would rather do this in full daylight, but we can use torches if you want to continue today."
"No let's rest up and climb tomorrow," Xena said.
They spent a quiet night under the stars as they rested up for the long climb the next day. Xena searched around the tree trunks, her breath a fine mist in the cold air. She came back from her search empty handed.
"The ground is frozen. I can't dig anything up."
"What were you looking for?" Ephiny asked.
"One of the queen's favorites, but unfortunately the ground is too hard."
"Truffles? You were looking for truffles for me?"
"I was, my bard. I thought you would like them for a solstice meal."
"Solstice? It's not that time yet? Is it?"
"It is. We have been fighting for almost a fortnight. I didn't think you remembered."
They made camp for the night. The cooking fires red hot embers as meat slowly cooked on spits. Sentries were posted as the women settled in for the night after the ate.
The sun slowly made it's way over the tree tops. The women were up and going about the process of breaking camp. They would ride their horses as far as they could, then climb to the top. It would take most of the morning to reach the peak.
The weak Winter sun shone down on the women as they made their way up the mountain. The horses were left at the base as the women made their way up the footpaths. They would not stop until they reached their destination. The sun was straight up in the sky above them by the time they reached the summit. The women surrounded the large flat rock that covered the treasure they sought.
The amazons bent down to lift the heavy stone. They worked as one until one woman lost her grip and the rock fell back to earth with a loud bang. Xena shook her head and shouldered the woman out of the way.
"This is no time to have butterfingers." She said as she took the woman's place.
Together they bent and lifted the stone. Once it was clear, they laid the heavy stone away from the hole. They lowered Xena into the deep hole, where she wrapped ropes around the handles of the chest that was nestled in the bottom of the hole.
Once she climbed back up they all pulled on the ropes to lift the chest, until it was on solid ground. Xena took her sword and broke the lock. Gabriele opened the chest. Inside all they found was a rolled parchment.
Gabrielle carefully lifted the ancient scroll and opened it slowly to avoid tearing it. She looked at the words written on the parchment, then read them aloud.
"Peace on Earth."
She looked around at the women.
"That's it?" One of them asked.
"That can't be all there is." Another added. "We have fought and died for a piece of parchment? Where are the richest beyond measure?" Ephiny asked.
Xena looked at the Amazons with anger shooting from her eyes.
"Don't you see? This is the treasure. Peace, is the riches beyond measure. Peace that most elusive commodity in the world. Men and women fight and die, to find, protect and keep peace. But it's ever fleeting. Never staying in one place for very long. Peace. Isn't that what we all search for?"
"Xena's right" Gabrielle added. "With peace we are the richest people on earth.
Xena raised her sword high above her head. "To peace." she said. The amazons followed suit and raised their swords. "To Peace" They said together.
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