Something had changed.
Bron's orders that no one should speak of Swindon's miraculous recovery or of the spring were being followed, at least whenever he was near. He hadn't expected them to not talk about it at all once they were gathered around their campfires at night. He only wanted to try to stem the exaggeration of the tale and not have it spread too far.
Although, how one should exaggerate what truly happened, Bron didn't know. Swindon's head had been bashed in and now he was back in the fighting pit training hard and beating most of his brothers in arms. That was one of the things that bothered him. One of the reasons he had asked Rud to come to his office.
The soldier stood before him at attention, his head dangerously close to the low ceiling. Bron himself needed to stoop occasionally where the top half of the room was unevenly cut from the mountain. He scowled uneasily and tapped on the flask that was stationed on his desk. The flask that now only held a quarter of a cup of the spring's water.
"At ease, soldier. I want to know what the men have been saying about this." Bron indicated the flask once more, a sharp pain shooting up his still recovering arm.
"I only hear an occasional murmur here and there, sir. After I relayed your orders not to speak of it most men kept their mouths shut about it when I joined them at the fire." Rud shifted his stance to something more comfortable, but still his legs and shoulders were rigged as if clenched tight.
"I expected as much. Tell me, the last time we spoke you said that you felt more healthy than ever, has that changed? Have you noticed anything unnatural since?"
"No, sir. Still as healthy as can be." A smile flickered across Rud's lips.
Bron looked his man up and down and frowned inwardly. Rud was putting on a show, he had answered on the spot, but something in his tone told Bron that he wasn't telling him everything. The only question was what was he hiding and how could Bron figure out what it was?
"What about your strength? Have you noticed being stronger or faster than before?" Rud's smile slipped, only for a second, but it slipped.
Swindon had become a much stronger fighter than he had been before his accident, why shouldn't the same be the case for Rud?
"I may have noticed a slight increase in strength. Like I said, I feel fitter than ever. I don't train much with the others, so I haven't paid much attention to any such changes." A bead of sweat formed on his brow.
Not only had Swindon become a better fighter, but Bron had noticed a change in his personality as well. He had become more reckless and violent. When he beat others while fighting he often left his opponents with more than just a few scrapes and bruises. Nothing serious had happened yet, but Bron had the bad feeling it might.
"And what do you know about the disappearance of Adam of Merryton?" Rud's eyes widened, betraying his calm demeanor. As Bron had suspected, he wasn't prepared for this question and was caught off guard.
Adam had recently disappeared and his brother Podd was often found together with Swindon, showing the same signs of heightened aggression and physical prowess. Bron knew of only two men who had drunk water from the spring, but he supposed Podd may have as well and if that was the case, Swindon and Rud would most likely know about it.
"I'd only heard that he'd gone missing. No more, sir." More pearls of sweat started to build at the top of Rud's hairline. He wiped the sweat from his brow with his right hand, bringing it to rest on the pommel of his sword.
"You seem tense. Is there something you're not telling me?" Bron watched the cords in Rud's neck stand out as the man clenched his jaw. For the first time during the conversation, Bron wasn't sure what to expect. He wanted to pressure the man, but Rud's calm behavior from only moments ago had crumbled, rapidly turning into something angry with every second that went by.
Before Bron could comprehend what was going on, Rud tore his sword from his scabbard, only to have the pommel jam against the low ceiling, the lower third of the blade still stuck in its sheath. The growl erupting from Rud's clenched teeth resembled that of a wild animal as he abandoned drawing his sword and leaped toward Bron over his desk.
Though surprised, Bron acted instinctively, hefting the desk upward. As everything tumbled down, the solid wooden surface smacked Rud in the face, giving Bron enough time to unsheathe his dagger and ready himself for Rud's next assault. A dull throbbing went through his arm, but adrenaline was forcing away the pain.
Why Rud was attacking him, he didn't know. That he would continue to do so, Bron was certain.
Rud had been knocked to the ground by the desk, but quickly scrambled back to his feet, nose dripping blood everywhere. Even though Bron was armed Rud came at him with a will, arms stretched out to grab for Bron's neck, leaving his stomach and chest unguarded.
Bron hesitated only a second, Rud was still one of his men and he didn't want to kill anyone if he didn't have to, but the wildness in the man's eyes convinced him of what needed to be done. Before Rud could get his hands near him, Bron slipped under them, ramming the freshly sharpened dagger into Rud's side.
Rud clutched at air, his upper body slumping over Bron's shoulder like a dead deer being brought back to camp after a hunt. Bron took two steps back, expecting the man to fall, but Rud amazingly stayed on his feet. He lifted his head, eyes focused on Bron, with a smile spreading over his blood smeared lips. His right hand crossed over to the hilt of Bron's dagger sticking out of his left side. Grunting, he pulled the bloody blade out inch by inch.
Bron thought the man was barely able to stand, let alone wield a weapon, but he was wrong on both counts. Rud jumped at him with surprising speed and rammed Bron's own dagger into his chest. Pain shot through him, making every muscle in his body seize up. The blade had slid through his ribs digging deep into his right lung. He struggled for breath, spitting blood in Rud's face as he croaked, "Why?"
Rud blinked. Then he looked down at his hand, slick with his own blood and Bron's. He pulled the dagger from his captain's chest, making Bron howl in pain, his body shuddering.
"I'm sorry it came to this." Rud let the blade clatter to the floor and drew breath through clenched teeth as he straightened. He held his bleeding side and then quickly pulled his flask from his belt and took a sip. He sighed with relief and looked down at Bron, a renewed twinkle of vigor in his eyes. "But you gave me no choice. You were asking too many questions that would have led you back to that spring. My spring. Goodbye Captain Bron."
With those last words Rud went to Bron's belt and undid his keys, he was helpless to do anything as more and more blood seeped from his chest and every breath became harder than the last. Rud stepped over the overturned desk and left the office, shutting and locking the door behind him, leaving Bron for dead.