Rud entered the cavern.
He had run up ahead to see what it looked like without a torch. He wasn't disappointed. The lake was more than a hundred paces across. The water pitch black, but at the far end of the cavern a silvery light spilled from the ceiling, trickling down into the lake.
There was something divine about that silvery stream of water. If not from the Gods, it had to be some kind of magic. Rud longed to touch it, maybe even taste it. What would it be like?
"Come on, men!" Captain Bron entered the cavern with a torch and like that all of the wonder was stolen from the cavern.
Rud squinted and tried to see the silvery water, but all he could make out was a faint shimmer. He could still hear it trickle in the distance, but that was all.
"Get the boat into the water." Bron directed the four men behind him. "I need two of you to row me over to the spring."
"I'll do it!" Rud tried not to sound too eager, but there was no way he was going to give up the chance to be up close to it.
Bron rose an eyebrow at him and smirked. "Alright! Rud and... Farley. You three take the stretcher and get those bodies outside. Bury them in front of the cliff entrance. That will make this place easier to find."
The men heaved the small boat into the lake and got to work. Farley stayed put and kept the boat steady for Bron to climb aboard. Rud was about to get in as well, when the captain turned.
"And nobody drink from the lake. I don't care how thirsty you are. If you don't have anything left in your waterskin then wait. We don't know what killed those men and I don't want it to happen to you as well."
"What about the spring?" Rud looked at Bron hopefully.
"I don't want to take any chances. We'll take a sample, that's all."
Rud got aboard and Farley pushed them off. They each had a paddle and they made their way across the lake at a steady pace. Rud's left arm burned with every stroke. He had been wounded in the battle, but until now he had been able to rest. Each strenuous pull made him feel the stitches strain against each other. He hoped they wouldn't tear.
Bron held the torch up high. It's flickering light reflecting off of the water. Rud could see the shimmering grow closer. His sweaty palms grasped the paddle and he rowed on. They were getting closer with each stroke.
"Whoever built this boat did a half-assed job." Farley grunted with another stroke. "My boots are getting soaked."
Rud looked down into the bilge frowning. He hadn't noticed the water sloshing back and forth. his boots were also wet and now that he was paying attention he started to feel the water seep into them.
"We couldn't expect expert craftsmanship. Just keep rowing. It will get us there and back." The captain just kept on looking ahead toward the spring. The leak was no more than a slight nuisance to him. Rud thought they must be thinking the same thing. Only the spring in their minds.
They kept on rowing. The ache in his arm becoming worse. The only thing that stopped him from complaining was that divine glow. They were no more than fifteen feet away and he could see how the shimmering water from the spring made a puddle within the black water of the lake. It was as if the two fluids repelled each other.
"Slow down now. I don't want us to go through it. I just want to get close enough to have some of it drip into my flask." Bron eased himself forward over the prow.
Farley and Rud slowed their rowing and tried to bring the boat to a gentle stop. the captain stretched his hand, holding the flask, out toward the silvery water dripping down from above. He was still a foot short.
"A little bit closer."
Rud and Farley stroked once. It was more than enough and the captain drew back quickly before the spring could trickle onto his arm. He carefully held out his flask and let it fill up. Rud longed to stretch out his own arm, just to feel it. He was so close now, he couldn't just turn back without at least risking it.
"That's enough. Take me back to shore." Bron put the stopper on his flask and hid it away in his pocket.
Farley started to turn the boat around and the captain was already looking to shore. Now was his only chance. Rud swiveled his paddle around to help turn the boat and when neither of the others could see he reached out and cupped his hand to catch some of the spring water. Without another thought he drew his hand to his mouth and drank.
He shouldn't have acted so quickly on impulse. He should have thought about it more, but as he felt that fresh water slide down his throat his only regret was to not have savored it more. It was over and done with and he hadn't even been able to really enjoy it.
As they rowed back to the entrance of the cavern, Rud thought about what he had done. He didn't quite know what he had expected, but he definitely thought that there would have been more to the spring than just plain water. Now that he had tasted it and nothing special had happened he wasn't so sure.
It wasn't until they reached the shore and he jumped out of the boat to push it out of the lake that Rud noticed something. His arm wasn't hurting anymore.