Bron was making his rounds through the camp. Life was beginning to settle down into normal patterns in and outside of the mines. Fresh water still had to be brought from the river on a daily basis. Everything else was going as planned.
Bron hoped that he would be moved to a new position soon. Overseeing the camp should have nothing to do with his military rank as Captain. He only remained in charge, because the Orcs were still a threat.
He didn't much relish the thought of going back into combat, having to face those beings, but there was the possibility of getting some time off before being reassigned. Maybe he would be able to visit Mary and his sons.
"Captain! Captain Bron! We've found it. We've found it." Ethan, a scout, came galloping toward him on a horse.
"Calm down, soldier." Bron stood tall, his arm still in a sling. "What did you find?"
Ethan climbed off his horse and saluted his captain. "The spring, Sir. We found a path leading into the mountains. There's a whole lake in a large cavern."
"Excellent, lad. Let's get some men and barrels to transport the water."
Ethan looked worried.
"What is it, soldier? Don't hesitate. Tell me!"
"I think it might be better for you to see for yourself, Sir. It's no ordinary spring, you see."
"What does that mean?" Ethan seemed lost for words. "Fine! Saddle up my horse. I'll met you in the stables."
They were on there way a few minutes later. Ethan riding ahead at a fast pace. The rough pace was painful for Bron's ribs and handling the horse with one arm in a sling, didn't make it easier. The were getting further and further away from camp, making him doubt the spring would be worth the trouble.
Finally, they arrived at a marked spot. A sheer rock cliff rose above them. It did not look like there was anything special and had it not been marked, Bron would have ridden past. Ethan got off of his horse and after Bron did the same, the scout lead both of their animals to a tree to tie up the reins.
"We passed this spot many times over the last couple of days without noticing anything special." Ethan walked up to a wall of solid rock and slipped inside. He came back out. "I don't know how I saw it, but it was here all along."
Bron stepped up and inspected the spot. It was fascinating. A natural looking occurrence that made the wall look solid. A trick of the light that didn't let you see that there was an entrance point. No wonder they had been searching for days.
Ethan led the way through the winding path. Solid rock rose above them on both sides. "It leads deep into the mountains. It'll take about half an hour to get to the spring."
Bron followed slowly, his ribs still aching from the battle and the ride. He wondered why Ethan was being so secretive. Why didn't he just tell him what he had found? The path was leading up the mountain, the trail becoming more hazardous. Getting water from the spring would definitely not be worth all this trouble, but Ethan seemed to think it was important for Bron to see it.
Ethan had gone ahead and had reached the entrance to a cave. He was holding a torch, waiting for Bron. "It's right in here."
Bron followed and they soon entered a great cavern. There was a slight chill in the air and Bron could see his breath escape his mouth. The torchlight reflected off the water of the lake that spread out before them. Bron thought he saw something twinkle more than a hundred paces across the lake, but he couldn't be sure through the glare of the torch.
"There's plenty of water here and it doesn't smell spoiled, but I haven't dared to drink it." Ethan stood by the edge of the water.
"Why is that?" Bron could hear something trickle in the distance. The spring.
Ethan moved along the shore. The light of the torch flickered and threw shadows on the cavern walls. Three dark shadows remained unmoved by the light. It wasn't until he smelled them that Bron realized that the shadows were bodies.
"Their water pouches are empty and they have no more food. There are several burnt torches near them. They must have stayed here for a while. Their coats have the King's sigil on them. They were probably sent here a bit more than a month ago."
Bron took a closer look at them. The bodies were beginning to decompose, but they didn't look like they had been dead for more than two weeks. Bron had seen many dead men and knew what they looked like as time passed. Maybe the chill of the cavern slowed the natural process.
A few features could still be distinguished. Cracked lips, hollowed cheeks and eyes sunken deep into their sockets. Considering the state the bodies were in, Bron would have guessed that they died of thirst and hunger.
It made no sense. Unless the water wasn't good. But then why didn't they go somewhere else for water and food? Why stay here?
"Captain?" Ethan looked excited as he turned to look across the lake. "There's one other thing I wanted to show you."
Bron stood and turned to where the scout was looking. He still thought he could see something twinkling in the distance, but nothing could prepare him for what he saw when Ethan extinguished the torch.