And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts,
And I looked and behold: a pale horse.
And his name that sat on him was Death.
And Hell followed with him.
—”The Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash
Once they were safely in the motel room, Dean unzipped his jacket and put both the dish and the Grail on the bed. Sam kicked off his boots and sat cross-legged on the bed, and picked up the dish to inspect it. He wiped off some moss and dirt with his sleeve and turned it to the light.
Dean lay on the bed too and propped a pillow under his leg. He thought about asking Sam to get him some aspirin — or even the Percocet they’d given him at the hospital, which he’d been avoiding to stay alert — but he didn’t want Sam to know how much it was hurting him. “So,” he said, “what is it?”
“It’s more Arthurian poetry,” Sam said. “Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight. That’s Gawaine, there,” he pointed to one of the knights, “and that’s the Green Knight.” He pointed to the other, bigger knight, the one holding a battle axe, and Dean made a face.
“They messed up. His head’s gone.”
“He takes it off in the poem,” Sam said.
Dean leaned closer. What he had thought was a helmet under the knight’s arm was, yes, in fact a bearded head. “Great. What’s that mean?”
“Well,” Sam said slowly, “scholars think the Green Knight was a fertility symbol of some kind. And it was spring equinox a few days ago, and . . .” He shook his head and laughed. “Fuck if I know, Dean. How does this tell us where we’re supposed to go next?”
“Fuck if I know, Sam,” Dean said in the same tone.
Sam shook his head, glanced at him, and got up. He went into the bathroom, and came back with a plastic cup of water and some aspirin in his cupped hand. “Take these, Dean.”
“I’m fine, Sam.”
“You’re in so much pain your lips are white. Just take the damn pills.”
Dean sat up and took the pills and water. He shoved them into his mouth and gulped the water, and gave the cup back to Sam. “Happy now?”
“Not really,” Sam said, exasperated. “We’re being chased — apparently by a thing that can smell us! This isn’t just being followed. This is being hunted. It’s hunting us.”
“Okay,” Dean said wearily, “we’re being hunted. But we’re also being guarded, so stop throwing a hissy fit and calm down. We have to figure out the next place to go.”
The muscle in Sam’s jaw started jumping again, and Sam threw down the cup and left the room, slamming the door behind him. Dean sighed, shoved himself up and opened the door. He shouted at Sam’s back, “Bitch all you want, Sam! We’re hitting the road today!”
Sam didn’t turn, but held up one hand to give him the bird.
“Yeah, you too,” Dean muttered and slammed the door shut himself. He turned the locks and scratched his hand through his hair, and then picked up the dish and the cup and put them into the briefcase. He clicked the locks, and after a moment’s thought hid the briefcase inside the duffel and zipped it closed. It wasn’t much of a hiding place but it was better than no hiding place at all.
There was a knock at the door as soon as Dean started getting comfortable on the bed again, and he thought about letting Sam just sit out there and stew for a while. Instead he heaved a sigh and pushed himself up, and said, “Next time, don’t storm off without your key, bitch,” as he unhooked the chain and unlocked the door.
Sam was not outside the door. Instead there were the two thugs from his dream of Joseph Temple’s murder, who forced their way inside the room before Dean could get the door closed. They were followed by their boss, who strolled in casually behind them as the big one grabbed Dean and the little one subdued him with several hard punches to the face and kidneys.
Their boss sat on the bed and adjusted the crease in his trousers while Dean gasped for breath. “Dean Winchester,” he said.
“Lorcan Murphy,” Dean spat and pulled against the big one’s viselike grip.
Lorcan Murphy smiled a moment. “Isn’t that nice? You figured it out. Of course, it’s not difficult. I’ve just come to reclaim my property. Hand it over and I won’t even press charges for breaking and entering.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Dean said, and at Lorcan’s nod the slim thug punched Dean in the solar plexus.
“Let’s try that again,” Lorcan said as Dean lay groaning on the floor where the big one dropped him. “I’m going to ask you for my property. You’re going to say yes, sir, here it is, and hand it over.”
“Fuck you,” Dean muttered to the carpet.
Lorcan inhaled slowly, and the slim one said, “I’ve got my pointy-toed shoes on, Mr. Murphy.”
“No, thank you, it won’t be necessary. I have something else. Would you leave us, gentlemen?”