Part Five ( Join the Hunt )
The stag broke through the underbrush, just inches away from the snapping jaws of the hounds, and fled wide-eyed from the terrible crowd that was hot on his heels. The fastest and most experienced hunters of the court were hot on his heels. Them, and Dean, of course. Dean rode his fey horse like it was fused to his body, and he had never done anything else. Sam would have been just a little bit jealous, but this time he was more than glad that his brother was able to pick up new, important skills at the drop of a hat when needed, especially if they had to do with any kind of weaponry. Still, when Dean had risen early that morning after very little sleep, and with feverishly glazed eyes, every muscle in his body laced with determination, Sam suspected that he wasn’t riding with the hunt in that way purely by his own ability. He and Ben did their best to keep up with the party still led by the queen and tried to stay on the up and up with what was happening. Sam marvelled at the impressive mass of moving horses, clanking mail and harsh breaths, the scent of sweat and hunger in the air all around them. The thunder of the galloping hooves was deafening, and he was sure that they’d made any wild life in the vicinity flee in boundless terror while the hunters closed in on their prey. Dean felt sweat burn in his eyes, but he kept them on the prize, being one of the handful of riders that was closest to their chosen prey.
His gaze only strayed occasionally for mere seconds to the magnificent sight that was the Queen of the Sidhe on her horse, clad in pants, and a loose shirt that allowed her unrestricted movement, laughing in delight at the sheer velocity and danger of the hunt. His blood burned with the excitement, everything else was muted, just the sounds of the majestic animal that was more teasing them than fleeing in fright stayed sharp in his mind. They’d lost sight of the stag again about a minute ago, but the hounds were still hot on the trail and raced after their mark. Some of the more experienced senior hunters had sneered at him when he had first mounted the horse, clearly incredulous that a mere human had set out to outclass them, but now that they witnessed him keeping up with the fastest of them, they were clearly more stumped than indignant. Dean paid no attention to them any more when a feeling drew him away from the crowd, pulling him to the left when the hounds were going right. A few shouts accompanied him as he left the field to barge into the underbrush, but they ceased fast and suddenly Dean was on his own in the untouched forest. He slowed down his horse, stirring it with his legs alone, while he freed the bow and lined up an arrow in slow, deliberate movements. The sounds of the other hunters seemed to cease completely, and the woods lay silent before him. The ground inclined upwards in a slight slope where the undergrowth got lighter. Dean tensed and stopped the horse when he heard a small noise, and the rustle of foliage revealed a prize stag, not the one the hunt had been after, but even bigger and more elegant. Unthinking, Dean drew back his arm slowly, but surely, the arrow quivering only slightly beside his eye from the tension in his muscles.
The stag was maybe thirty paces away and seemingly hadn’t yet noticed him. Dean closed his eyes, breathed deeply, prayed that the animal wouldn’t move, let out his breath and opened his eyes. The stag was looking at him directly with piercing eyes, but didn’t move an inch, and opening his fingers to let the arrow fly was just an afterthought. There was a rush of air, a dull thud, and then the stag blinked for a second, before his legs folded underneath him, and he tumbled to the ground in a heap. Dean felt blood rush in his ears as the sheer impossibility of his deed sank into his mind, and he lowered his bow incredulously. Then the frenzy of a successful kill washed over him, and he all but fell from his horse’s back to scramble up the hillside to where the stag lay trembling, heaving shallow, rapid breaths, hooves twitching lightly. He knelt by the mighty animal’s side and touched the matted fur reverently, before he drew his knife and quickly slit the stag’s throat. Blood ran hot and wet over his fingers, and his head swam with all the feelings of accomplishment, disbelief, sadness and triumph rushing in all at once.
“Why, Sir Hunter, it seems you have caught your prize.”
Dean’s head jerked up at the unexpected words, since he had still presumed himself to be alone. Just a few feet away stood the queen, regal now in a simple white tunic that fell to just above her knees, and which was belted with a simple strip of leather at the waist. Hair falling freely down her back once again, though she was completely unadorned with any jewels save the slender silver necklace with the impressive ruby in the middle that rested on her breast.
“I knew the king of the forest might sacrifice himself for you, but didn’t dare hope that you would know to accept the gift with such honor and grace. You’ve proven yourself beyond worthy.”
Dean looked at her through the haze that lay over his vision, and, suddenly, everything that would happen next – had happened time and time again – fell into place. He stood slowly, not of his own volition, but edged on by the heat that raced through his veins, blood dripping from his hands onto the forest floor as an offering and stalked towards the woman, an offering of another kind. She met his burning eyes with a confidant stance, relaxed and waiting for him to reach up, to grab her shoulders possessively. His hands left wet trails on her fine skin, painted the white fabric scarlet under his touch, marking the change, marking her as his while he backed her into the nearest tree to plunder her mouth like the prize he was meant to receive. She let it happen, yielding to his onslaught, and when he finally let go of her mouth to occupy himself otherwise, pearly laughter fell from her lips like dew drops in spring. She whispered: “Yes, yes, I give myself to you, Chosen, master for one night and one day, to bless the new year with our union.”
It was the answer to an unasked question that had been repeated again and again for aeons. She took his impatient hands and tugged him along a short way, into the rocky part of the forest, where a small pathway stretched into the mouth of a cave, just big enough to hold them both. He wasn’t thinking clearly anymore, there was nothing to perceive beyond the desire that flared inside him, yearning to be fulfilled. He tumbled them down onto the soft mossy ground and proceeded to take his prize.
Dean woke up abruptly and disoriented, unfamiliar surroundings setting his teeth on edge instantly, until he recalled the last night’s events and felt partly mortified by his lack of control and partly awed at the sheer dumb luck he suddenly seems to have. He assessed his position without opening his eyes, noting the hand on his chest and the weight on his shoulder, warm breath ghosting over the patch of his skin that was marked with black ink. He started thinking about the best ways to inconspicuously extract himself without waking up the peacefully sleeping fey woman at his side. All in all, it didn’t pose that much of a challenge,, because if his life had taught him one thing, it was how to slip away stealthily the morning after. This time, however, besides the burning question of what exactly he did or didn’t do last night, he had a mission. Bending his arm up over the sleeping form was easy enough, but her rich locks of charcoal hair were a real hindrance on his way to the back of her neck. He tried carding his fingers through the dark locks in a caressing fashion and when that didn’t rouse her, Dean slowly snaked his fingers inside them, until he could feel creamy skin and the strange feeling of cold metal that should have been warm to the touch. His questing fingers found the latch by rubbing carefully along the thin band of metal. Once he had found it, Dean stayed utterly still for a second and then breathed out the one word that Ben had taught them for this very occasion. It would also open a lot of doors for them from now on, but that was irrelevant at the moment.
The most important thing was the small click as the latch opened under his touch, and the necklace slid clean from her neck onto his collarbone, weighed down by the precious gem worked into the centre. He waited for her to wake and scream bloody murder, but to his utter astonishment, she did neither. Slowly, he reached up with his free hand to take the necklace away from his shoulder, and when his fist was closed firmly around it, he wound his way out from underneath her. After he’d lain her head down on the cushioned floor to free his arm, and prayed that his knees wouldn’t pop upon standing up, the way they were wont to do more often than not lately, he stood shakily, heart racing from all the adrenaline in his blood, and the sheer nerve of stealing the most valuable possession of the Sidhe Queen right from under her nose. Dean picked up his pants and shirt and decided to dress outside, where his horse was waiting patiently. It gave him a reproachful look, presumably for being left outside untended all night, waiting for its temporary master to come out of hiding. He threw on his clothes and mounted the horse. It trotted off instantly, apparently knowing the way.
Sam and Ben had been two of the first in the party that had discovered the stag on the ground, after the hounds had turned and gone berserk with the scent of blood in the air. Exasperated whispers had broken out all over the place when they realized what had happened, and just who was missing from the hunting party. Ben and his uncle exchanged a meaningful look and stayed deliberately silent, while the oldest and most experienced members of the Hunt hashed out what to do next. They decided to find a suitable place to set up a temporary camp for the night, and, soon after, an adequate spot was chosen, everyone was busy, so that Ben and Sam could slip away unnoticed.
They walked away, far enough away that the sounds of the bustling camp grew faint in the dusk.
“Do you think he managed it?”
Sam offered a mirthless grin in response.
“If anyone would, it’s him. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
When the words left Sam’s mouth, Ben gasped, and his hand flew up to the mark over his heart.
“What is it?”
“I… uh… I don’t… oh… OH.”
Ben blushed furiously, and Sam understood that he must be feeling some kind of backlash from the tension of … something that drifted through the air, so thick and piercing that even he could feel it prickling on his skin, now that it had been brought to his attention. Sam nodded and turned back to the camp.
“If he’s come that far, he will make it. We’ll have to be up and prepared.”
And they were. When Dean approached the camp with his cantering horse, Sam and Ben were both up already, and with all their possessions accounted for (though there wasn’t much.) to hightail it out of the Netherworld at a moments notice. Dean dismounted right in front of them after they’d gone to meet him just outside the camp, noting his dishevelled appearance, clothes haphazardly fastened, blood crusted on his hands and spotting his shirt. His eyes were somewhat haunted and closed off, when Sam inquired:
“Did you get it?”
His big brother just looked at him for a moment, but before he could answer, a scream pierced through the dawning light, making the earth quake and bark splinter from the trees all around them.
“TRAITOR” “THIEF” “UTTER FOOL, where are you, SHOW YOUSELF.”
The voice rang through the woods with apocalyptic rage resonating through it. Dean turned around to stand next to Ben on his left, while Sam stayed to the right. Between the trees a figure emerged that had nothing of a merely beautiful woman and everything of a terribly powerful goddess. Her hair whipped around her like a black halo, floating on intangible winds, and the designs all over her skin blazed like fiery bright lines as her fury was unleashed. Her dress was pitch-black as well, emphasizing her pallor, and the stormy darkness of her eyes. The queen stood before them like the epitome of an avenging angel, her power quivering, barely restrained and furious. Her voice sounded like gravel ground together, inhuman, and echoing through the whole forest, so that everyone could hear.
“You’ve overstepped your boundaries by far, Sir Hunter. I show you kindness, and trust and honour, and this is how you repay me? With greed and underhandedness, abusing the very privilege I gave you for your own personal gain! Did you really think you would get away with this? I should strike you down where you stand this instant.”
Dean’s gaze turned cold and hard, and he let the necklace dangle from his hand in front of her, drawing shocked gasps from the crowd that had already begun to gather around them .
“What? Because of this? Right, just try it, but you know as well as I, that it only takes one word to destroy it forever,” her eyes flashed dangerously at him, but she kept her distance all the same, “And it’s certainly not greed or vanity that drove me to this feat, I assure you. I have no intention of retaining your keepsake forever.”
Dean’s answer seemed to baffle the queen beyond measure, and she slightly lowered her hands that had been outstretched as if to really smite them where they stood.
“I will give it back to you unharmed, but you have something I want, that you need to give me in return.”
Freya Huld looked at him doubtfully and sneered, but she seemed desperate all the same to get Brisingamen back as fast as possible, without much consideration for the consequences.
“And what would you want that I can grant you? Riches? Glory? Fame beyond the Netherworld?”
Dean shook his head at all that and instead let his hand settle heavily on Ben’s shoulder before he spoke.
“I want freedom. Free my son from his bond of servitude to you and your Hunt; grant safe passage for the three of us from here to the outside of the Netherworld and never bother me or mine again. Then I’ll give back your heart’s desire.”
The Sidhe queen looked genuinely shocked at the revelation, eyes widening at Ben as she silently inquired after the truth of Dean’s statement. Ben would only meet her eyes for the shortest time, but apparently she saw all she needed to know. The clearing was frozen in a moment of dreadful silence, while the facts sank in. Then the moment broke and the queen drew herself up, blankness washing over her features.
“So be it, you have proven yourself worthy in fight as well as in bargain. I shall grant your request and let you leave my sight protected from the first step you take away from here until you leave my realm once and for all. But beware of my wrath on the day I see you – any of you – ever again. That I promise solemnly in front of all my court… now you keep your end of the bargain, or your life will be forfeit.”
She brought two fingers to her lips and kissed them quickly, which caused Ben to hiss and stumble a little as the seal of her kiss was burned away from his skin to leave no trace.
Dean turned over her words in his head and exchanged a quick look with Sam. He tightened his hand around the necklace just slightly, which turned her expression stormy and murderous, but then he nodded and threw the jewel at her with a smooth arch of his hand. She caught it with her power in midair and let it gently float down to settle around her neck where it belonged. Dean wondered whether he had given up their only bargaining chip too fast, when she glared at him as if it would burn a hole into his skull, but she had conceded too readily for him to hold it back any longer, and he really had no interest in keeping it. It made him wary though, since the matter had been settled entirely too easily. But she had freed Ben and promised to let them go unharmed, so there was the gift horse and all that. Still, before they left, he felt the urge to explain himself.
“You were about to take away what’s mine, my family. You left me with little choice.”
She regarded him with cold, hard eyes, face haughty with buried resentment before answering.
“And you should know not to play with the Fey. We have played this game for far longer than you flimsy humans, and anyone who crosses us will regret it. That is why you leave me with little choice, Sir Hunter, I will have my prize.”
There was a rush of air, and a dull thud. Ben blinked down at the arrowhead protruding from the centre of his chest for a few seconds, before his legs folded beneath him. Dean felt his blood turn to ice as he watched the boy at his side crumple to the ground, catching him more due to an instinctive reflex than conscious thought. He heard someone roar through the blood rushing in his ears, and wondered who was screaming so horribly, until he realized that the sound fell from his own lips. Terrible rage and agony ripped through him. He tried to support Ben’s heaving shoulders with one hand and staunch the rapidly flowing blood with his other. It was no avail since the precious source of life was running out of Ben almost unchecked, and frothy, red-tinted bubbles already gathered at the edge of his mouth after half a dozen shallow breaths.
“What did you DO? You promised us save passage!”
“I did, from the first step you took away from here to your exit of my realm. So long as you didn’t take that step, you were in my power to do as I saw fit. I have not broken my promise to you, but I offer you a different choice. The boy will die shortly, and if he does, he will be gone forever. However, I will let him join the Hunt if he accepts, and he will live on amongst us in his rightful place until the end of time. You may go and never set foot into my realm again. What do you say of this new bargain?”
Dean wanted to scream ‘NO’ as it meant that he never was to see his son again, nor could he bear to think what the news would do to Lisa, but an intense look from Sam pinned him to the spot and kept him silent. Sam turned back to the queen, completely unfazed - on the outside at least.
Sam had hoped it would not come to this, because the game he was about to play was even more dangerous, and he was not entirely sure if it could work at all, but they were out of options, and he tried to get his wits about him, not thinking about how Ben was lying on the ground next to him, fighting for his life. He concentrated on his words instead, for they would be very indicative of what came next. His voice suddenly carried in much the same way that Freya’s had, though he was not really clear how he'd done that.
“He will join the Hunt, but it will not be yours.”
The queen looked taken aback at his words, and met his eyes with an incredulous expression.
“You chose my brother, you gave him the ruler of the forest, and after that you gave him the virgin sacrifice. According to the ancient rites, that makes him the Summer King, does it not?”
Every pair of eyes in the clearing now rested solely on him, including Dean’s penetrating stare of pure astonishment, but Sam resolutely held the eyes of the queen, until he saw realization dawn on her face. Pure unadulterated rage slipped over her features, before she could rein it in, and he knew at once that he had her trapped.
“You cannot seriously think I would consent to giving leadership of a Wild Hunt to a mere human. I will not accept such a flimsy creature as my liege! ”
Her voice reached a terrible crescendo at the end of the sentence, but he didn’t blink.
“It’s your law to uphold. The Summer King is to be granted a Hunt, should he ask for it, but if you want to break your own rules in front of the court, that is your own choice, my Lady.”
She stared at him with terrible disdain marring her features, but if she now refused to uphold the laws of the Sidhe herself, she would lose face in front of her entire court. Seconds ticked by slowly and excruciatingly, but she was not yet done. The queen looked at Dean before she spoke: “If you step up to your place and ask me to grant you a Hunt, you must be prepared to meet all the requirements of the ritual in full. The Summer King is to be sacrificed for the sake of life, to take his rightful place among the Lords of the Hunt. Are you prepared to die for that?”
Dean met her gaze with confidence. He hadn’t known what Sam was trying to accomplish, but now he realized that indeed he was the only human that probably stood a chance of ever gaining the title like this. So he barely managed to keep the smugness out of his voice as he answered her levelly: “Been there, done that, my Lady. I think you’ll find that this particular requirement is met already.”
She glared at him with disbelief in her eyes until her stare seemed to reach down into his soul, his very core laid bare before her, and the answer apparent to her eyes. The queen stumbled back and blanched, white as a sheet. She pointed a finger at him.
“YOU. You…” Wind whipped up around her, ripping at the leaves of the trees and turning into a veritable storm, until it died down as suddenly as it had come. Her hair settled about her shoulders, and her pointed finger turn into an open hand, outstretched with her palm up.
“I grant your request. You may have your Hunt. Now hurry and accept your first charge.”
At her words, Dean felt something stir in the back of his mind, and, suddenly, raw wilderness flooded his thoughts. For a dizzying moment he felt the rush of the hunt again, the joy of the kill. Then he was looking down at Ben, whose eyes were all but closed, and whose breaths were shallow, pained and irregular. He felt a string of unfamiliar sounds fall from his lips that turned into words he couldn’t understand, but Ben opened his eyes a fraction, and nodded weakly. Gently, Dean pried the young man’s collar away to bare the skin over his heart and placed a kiss right over the spot, where he could feel the last sluggish beats underneath the clammy skin. Then heat spread out under his touch, and Dean closed his eyes as Ben’s heart stopped.
Desperation gripped him as tight as a vice. He thought for a moment that all their efforts had been too little too late. But then, white light blinded him through his closed lids, and, suddenly, Ben lurched up and out of his grasp, sitting up gasping, breathing, crying and whole. He dragged the fabric away from his chest, and it revealed a round, pink scar in the centre of his chest, and a pentacle framed by a sun circle etched into the skin right under his left collarbone. Dean helped him stand and marvelled at the fact that they’d once again dodged a bullet like… maybe the universe didn’t have it in for them quite so much after all. He looked at Sam, relieved, but he didn’t answer, he just met Dean's eyes and bared his own chest. Dean understood the gesture immediately, but still he was moved by the immensity of trust Sam was placing in him with this pledge, again. He leaned forwards and placed his lips on the black-inked sigil for just a moment, Sam’s skin searing hot under his touch.
“You will have to choose a purpose, a destiny to fulfil by your hunt.”
Dean looked up as the queen spoke, and, for one moment, he saw the woman that had claimed him the night before and marvelled at her beauty and royalty before giving her the easiest answer.
“We will do what we have done all our lives. Hunt all the evil in the world, until we die or there’s nothing left.”
Freya Huld cocked her head and assessed his claim, something flashing in her eyes as if she had found something in him she hadn’t thought to look for before. Then she nodded.
“A noble cause, Sir Hunter. You will need more than two souls to follow you though if you want to master that task.”
Dean nodded, but he couldn’t think of anything to do about that. It turned out that he didn’t have to. The atmosphere in the clearing suddenly shifted, and something portentious thickened the air as it made itself known. Someone was coming - or not one someone, but many. The first to step out of the trees was a black haired man with a scruffy beard, with a blond woman following him closely. John and Mary Winchester looked as unchanged in death as ever, but still their appearance was like a blow to the brothers. They couldn’t react, since they were the first, but not the only ones to emerge. There were the Campbells, and Ellen, Jo and Bill. Victor, Caleb and Pastor Jim Murphy, Ash and Pamela. Steve Wandell and Gordon Walker, Isaac and many more they had once known, people that had lived and died as hunters, their souls following the call of the Fey.
The queen looked at them and then at Dean, the ghost of a smile tugging at her lips when she realized what kind of force she’d created.
“You really are something else, aren’t you?”
The man met her eyes head on and then shrugged his shoulders, smirking.
“Well, you know, it’s a family thing.” ( Join the Hunt )