The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 22

Swordplay

The two men listened to the dowager talk about her son and grandchildren. Jensen preferred not having to converse at the table so he was happy with listening to the ramblings of his aunt. Jared wasn’t used to it and took Jensen’s quiet as the norm at the table here.

Both men’s minds were wandering when Jensen heard his name. He shook his head and turned toward his aunt, knowing he was caught not paying attention.

“I would have thought you were raised better than this, Jensen.”

Jared looked at his husband’s red face and was grateful she had not spoken to him.

“I’m sorry, Aunt. I don’t know what came over me.”

“I imagine living at Avenleigh with your father and Jessica, it was most likely a survival tactic. Don’t let it happen again.”

“I won’t. What were you going to ask me?”

“You have lots of free time here,” she pointed out.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Jensen replied warily.

“Why don’t you teach your husband to fight like you do?”

“What?”

“I mentioned to your aunt that I would like to learn your sword techniques. You’re good, Jensen,” Jared commented.

The duke’s cheeks reddened. “Yes, I could do that.”

“Good! I have plenty of open gardens, and there’s that area on my son’s lands where you used to practice.”

Jensen looked up at his husband, “After lunch?”

“Yes, and any time you feel up to it.”

Jensen stared across at the baron, picking up on the challenge. “I’m always up for a duel.”

“Are you through eating?”

“Yes, I am, Jared. If you will excuse us, Aunt Margaret?”

The older woman smirked. “Go, compete with each other. Make it a game where the winner gets a prize.”

Jensen turned red as he left the room, heading upstairs for his sword.

…..

Jared followed the duke towards the rose gardens. Jensen removed his sword from its sheath and turned towards the taller man. “We’ve only fought once, and it was in the dark during a dire situation. I want to see what you do know before we start.”

Jared removed his sword and went into a stance. Jensen smirked and waited on him. Jared’s right eyebrow rose in surprise. His husband entered no stance at all. “What are you doing, Jensen?”

“Your form and stance mean you intend to defend. I’ll just give you time to get nervous and then take you down.”

“Damn it, Jensen. That’s the first stance I was taught.”

“Yes, it would be. After all, Jared, they would want you back for the next lesson.”

Jared grew angry and leaped into an attack which Jensen easily avoided. Turning, the baron went after the duke. Within five minutes, the taller man’s sword was on the ground about ten feet away and Jensen’s was pointed at his throat.

“Never allow anger to control you. Using a sword is complex. You have to have a clear mind and the ability to read your opponent.”

“You were stabbed at the convent.”

“Yes, I was. I was trying to escape death and found myself fighting ten men in a very dark hallway. I was injured, but I walked away, leaving ten dead men behind me.”

“Understood.”

“Now, if you’re serious?”

The baron nodded.

Jensen suddenly leaped into an attack, and the duel started. Jared was a good swordsman, Jensen thought as they slowly circled each other. The baron preferred to rush into his opponent. Size can help with that, but it also made the larger man a target for anyone who knew how to fight. He faced his opponent head on.

Jensen did a couple of quick steps and had Jared backing up, trying to avoid being stabbed.

The duke stopped and shook his head. “I think I’ve won this duel, Jared. For the remainder of the lesson, we are going to work on footwork and body position.”

“What’s wrong with them?”

“How have you stayed alive in combat or do they all fight like you?” Jensen stared at him and muttered, “No, don’t answer that.”

….

The remainder of the afternoon was spent with Jensen running the older man through drills. When the duke finally called a halt to the training, the baron was frustrated and angry. He grabbed his sword and took off towards the house, leaving the younger man standing in the rose garden, shaking his head.

…..

The dowager was entering her favorite room when Jared stormed into the house.

“Are you all right, Jared?”

“Your nephew is a slavemaster!”

Jensen, entering quietly, stood and listened to the tirade. His husband called him a number of choice names. He blushed slightly, hoping his aunt wouldn’t know them but he wasn’t hopeful.

“I’m through!”

Margaret remained silent; she looked over the baron’s shoulder towards her nephew who had heard all that was said. Jared turned and stared at his husband.

“Jared, I only wanted to keep you alive when you come up against a competent swordsman. I won’t make any more attempts. I apologize for making you work.”

The duke turned and left the building.

Jared stood there, mouth open, face white. Taking a deep breath, he headed towards the door.

“Jared?”

“Countess?”

“Leave him be. He needs to calm down just as you do. I’m guessing that the Commander of Morgan’s armies is not the swordsman my nephew expected. Neither of you handled it well?”

“No, ma’am. We didn’t.”

“Go for a walk, but let him seek you out.”

….

The baron walked the gardens and headed towards the trees where the tables were. He saw the duke sitting at a table, chair pushed out, his head bowed between his legs where his hands were clasped tightly.

For a second he almost went to the man, but he remembered what he Dowager had said. He turned to leave, when he heard something.

“Jared?”

The baron stopped but did not turn around. He waited.

After a few minutes, a hand gently touched his arm. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Yes, Jensen?”

“I’m sorry. I…the more I fought with you and realized how little you knew, it scared me.”

The taller man turned and stared into the tear filled green eyes. “Scared?”

“Anyone with training from a master could take you down and kill you. I thought..I..Jared, you and your men need training badly.”

“We put Morgan on the throne.”

“But you didn’t have to fight in any serious battles. It was all but handed to you. You’re good, Jared, but not good enough.”

“So you were afraid and acted out?”

Jensen turned red, “Yes, I did. Damnation, Jared, what have you done to me?”

“What?”

“I’ve never been like this. I don’t know me right now. I’m sorry.”

“So love is making you afraid for me and because you don’t want to admit that you acted out?”

“No!”

“Jensen?”

The green eyes stared in fear. “All right, damn you! Yes!”

“That I can deal with. I’ll get Chris and eight of my men. I will be with them, and you can train us as your master taught you. Just a promise that you don’t act out any more. We both know the reason now.”

“Okay. Send a note to Chris. We probably should have them here anyway.”

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The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 21: Facing Truths
Notes:

I wish to apologize for the length of time since I’ve posted a chapter. I had two accidents. I fell for no apparent reason and injured my foot, ankle, and lower leg. A week later it happened again. I aggravated the first injury and injured my lower back near the tail bone. I am back walking due to now having a cane with 4 small legs on it. The pain is such now that I can concentrate on what the characters are telling me.

Chapter Text

A knock at the door had Jared out of bed and moving swiftly to answer it, hopeful that Jensen would remain asleep. Opening the door to a servant, he stared at the man.

“The countess asked that you and the duke join her for luncheon, my Lord.”

“Luncheon?”

“She holds the main meal of the day at luncheon. The countess claims it’s better to eat a heavy meal early in the day.”

“Let her know that we were asleep, and it will take a little while to get dressed.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the servant said and bowed.

Jared stared at the man and watched him head down the hall. He closed the door, shaking his head. “Jensen?”

“I’m awake,” came a mumble from under the comforter. “Told you she was formal, Jared.”

“We need to probably hurry.”

“She’ll wait on us,” the duke replied as he slowly rolled out of bed.

“How do you know,” the taller man asked as he buttoned a shirt.

“She knows we were in bed together. It’s where she wants us,” came the reply with a soft sigh behind it.

The baron grinned. “Jensen, she knows it’s not going to happen on a whim. Your aunt is one very smart woman. She does have us where she wants us though.”

Jensen grabbed his shirt and began to don it with another sigh. “We walked right into her trap.”

“Given the circumstances where else did you have to go?”

The duke was sitting on a chair pulling on his boots, and he looked up at his husband. “You know damn well I had nowhere else to go, Jared. If we went home, Morgan would have had us. We had to see the Bishop before we left town, and the Bishop’s palace is on the opposite side of town from the road home.”

Soon both men were dressed, hair combed, and heading toward the door. Jensen led the way downstairs. Upon entering the hall, he asked the servant where he would find his aunt.

The two men entered the room they had visited the night before. The countess looked up from a book she was reading.

“It took you two long enough,” she commented, looking the two men up and down. “You really went to sleep?”

“That is the basic use for a bed, aunt.”

Jared started choking. The duke looked at him and saw that he was striving not to laugh.

“What is so funny, Jared?”

The countess interrupted, “You are not that naive, Jensen. The bed is the most comfortable place for a romantic tryst. Although I must admit that your uncle and I tried a number of different places through the years.”

Jensen’s eyes widened, he turned blood red, and his mouth opened and closed as if he were trying to come up with a reply and couldn’t think of one. He heard laughter erupt from Jared, who turned and walked from the room.

The duke turned back towards his aunt and hissed, “Aunt Margaret!”

The older woman looked into his shocked green eyes. “I know you two consummated your wedding night. From what little I have come to know of Jared, I believe he probably knows your body and how it responds to the proper caress better than you do, Jensen. So, please quit pretending to be so innocent. If you can look me straight in the eyes and tell me that you laid there like a wet fish and felt nothing and did not respond to him, then I’ll stop my comments. You really would be naive. That would seem impossible to me.”

Jensen’s voice had a choking sound to it as he asked, “Why would that seem impossible?”

The countess stood up and walked towards her nephew. She ran a hand down his cheek and held his chin gently. “Because you’ve been hunted and persecuted your entire life, boy. You’ve never known love. That night you experienced it; I know you did. Your mind and your body would have screamed out for it. I know you would not have been able to deny the need…the desire. Hell boy. It would have been hunger.” She reached up and patted his cheek.

“Give it time,” she murmured as she felt the stiffness leave him. “You’ll want it again when you’re ready. Jared is most willing to wait because he loves you, boy.”

“Aunt Margaret, I’m afraid. I can’t handle being hurt again.”

“We have to take risks for love, Jensen. Give it time. Let’s see where your husband ran off to. I am hungry.”

The two exited the room and found the baron sitting on the stairs, his head in his hands, shoulders shaking.

Jensen walked over and touched the top of his head, running his fingers through the floppy mop of hair. The older man grew still and leaned his head into the duke’s hand.

“I’ll be in the dining room. Join me when you are finished.”

“Thank you, aunt,” Jensen whispered. He kept running his fingers through the older man’s hair. “It’s so soft,” came a quiet comment.

The baron groaned, rising to his feet. He looked at the tear brimmed green eyes and ran his hand down the side of the duke’s face.

Jared’s voice was rough when he spoke, “I want you to know that I love you, Jensen. I am so sorry for all the pain and heartache I have put you through, and I swear I will do everything in my power to make you happy and bring you peace and love. I can and will wait on you. You will never be forced by me in any way for the rest of our lives.”

Jensen heard the earnestness in the voice and leaned into the baron’s hand.

Jensen stuttered as he whispered softly, “If you will give me the time to heal and help me reach that point, then please know that some day I will want that with you. No one else, Jared. Just let me heal.”

Jared gently pulled the smaller man into his arms and held him, leaning his chin on the younger man’s head. “Yes, I will,” he whispered. “Now let’s go before she comes back out with some other insane comment.”

Jensen laughed and pulled back. “We had better do that then. She will do it.”

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 20: Margaret and the Baron

Jared walked through the gardens, his heart aching. Jensen would need so much help to overcome his issues. It almost frightened the man because he knew he was the cause of some his husband’s problems. Seeing the dowager countess in the distance, he took a deep breath and went to face her judgment.

The older woman stared up at the man and motioned to a chair. “Sit down, Jared.” The man standing in front of her took a seat and stared at her…waiting.

“Jared, I want to know everything.”

“Everything?”

“If it pertains to Jensen, yes. What has occurred between the two of you from the beginning. Jared?”

“Ma’am?”

“Leave nothing out. I don’t care if is embarrassing to either of you. I seriously don’t care if you think it will make me angry; I’m already disturbed.”

“I was in Mystrar handling family matters. My brother was serving Morgan when he was told that Jensen had attacked a woman that my brother and Pellegrino were both paying attention to. He called the duke out, but Jensen did not deny the allegations. The duel was set for the following morning. All I knew…all I was told was my brother lost his sword, and Jensen ran him through. “

“That doesn’t sound like him. Why didn’t he defend himself? Speak out?”

“I didn’t know his background then, but I’ve come to learn a great deal about him since then. Jensen just buries everything and says nothing. He has never had anyone believe him for anything he has said to defend himself.”

“Go on,” the countess said softly, pouring them both a cup of hot tea.

“I arrived before Morgan’s planned attack on Saven and found Ackles in the war room.”

“You didn’t call him out?”

“I wanted to talk to the witnesses first. I intended to hear his side of it even if I had to beat it out of him.”

“I see. What happened?”

“We traded words and left the war room. I went to bed and did not know until morning that he had left.”

“After that?”

“We invaded Saven and found some resistance in the north. Morgan wanted it tended to and wanted me to get Jensen. He offered to give him to me as a husband and the ownership of his land. I..uh..I said no.”

“Why?”

“I was angry as I thought he was a traitor.”

“That is understandable, Jared. There is no way that you could have known that he was an honorable man.”

“Pelligrino won the toss and the right to go after him. I wondered why he wanted him so badly. To be honest, I didn’t really get a good look at Jensen.

“While the problems were occurring up north, I went to tend to them. We only met a little resistance, but I found out later that Jensen’s brother was injured in one of the battles. He died on the way home, and the shock of the news killed the duke. Jensen came home to be named duke and then face their deaths..”

“I was not informed of the deaths until much later when Avenleigh was surrounded. I actually went and talked to Morgan. He guaranteed Jensen’s safety and the protection of the land. I went back when news of the burning of the land came to me,” the dowager interrupted.

“That’s when he sent me to handle it because he was furious. I have no understanding why Morgan is still letting Pellegrino serve him. Morgan told me the man was the cause of my brother’s death, but he needed to know why Jensen betrayed him.”

“I can answer part of that question, Jared. The man’s father is a high ranking official to the king of the country Morgan comes from. There has to be a very good reason for his death. Nothing else will do. Letting him die for the wrong reason will only bring war upon Saven from a more powerful army.”

“My brother’s death is his word against that of others. I have to find a reason that will be acceptable then? This is not good.”

“No, it isn’t. It would seem he has a fixation on Jensen. Don’t let him near the boy.

“Now, continue.”

“When I arrived, I took control of the situation. I had many conversations with him at his gate. I actually enjoyed angering him; causing him to become flustered was actually fun. He has quite a temper but controls it well. This went on until the day the widow came to bargain with me.”

“Jessica,” she asked.

“He has more patience than I would have. That night he attempted to leave with his nephew. I thought he was deserting the estate, but he was actually attempting to make a way to have the boy taken to family across the border. The next day, I was informed that he was at the Convent and that the Monsignor had him prisoner. We rode into the stable yard just as the duke exited the rear. He was bleeding from his left shoulder but held a sword in his right hand. A priest appeared out of the door and raised a blade. I yelled for Jensen to drop, and one of my men put an arrow in the man.”

“How badly was he injured?”

“Bad enough. I left men to clean up the bodies he left behind and found there were quite a few. He’s a marvelous swordsman.”

The older woman smiled and nodded. “I gave him that sword when he stayed with me. He took lessons here and practiced at home, I’m told, when his father wasn’t around.”

“I’m told he practiced with a master while in Morgan’s service. He knows tricks I’ve never seen before. I would like for him to teach me.”

“You should ask him while you’re here.”

The baron smiled and went on with his story, leaving nothing out. The countess looked irate at some of it but when he got to their interaction in the garden, the woman swore at him.

“How could you do that to him after all the things you promised him? If I could move well enough I would attempt to beat the shite out of you. I don’t understand why he came back and faced you and Morgan again!”

Jared’s shoulders slumped, he held his hands between his legs and bowed his head, weeping. He told the duke’s aunt his reasons. They were quiet for a while as the remainder of the story went through her thoughts.

“Were you able to prevent being viewed?”

“Yes, no one touched him except for me. As for my making love to him, he might want to deny it but he can’t. He was caught up into it. His face had the look of ecstasy.”

“At least that part is good. What happened?”

“He escaped the next morning, and I went after him.”

“You would have never caught him, Jared. He knows the land like no other. There are trails in areas that are not widely known or traveled. He took one of those, I’m sure.”

“Chris, my second in command, was furious with me and stayed to protect Jensen. I went home to Caerdon and began to drink. I was in a bad situation for those three months. Morgan commanded all the nobles to attend a celebration as Queen Mary is with child.”

“Yes, my son told me that Jensen was there,” she commented.

“Morgan demanded that we stay at the palace together. Jensen took out our guard with a very nice trick with his sword. We escaped and went to the Bishop’s Palace. The Bishop refused the annulment and demanded that we settle our differences to save our marriage.”

“Is that why you winced earlier?”

“The Bishop and his men sat around a table, and Jensen froze. I comforted him and let him know I was not going to leave him alone.”

“I can see where that would be upsetting. Who is going to bring Sebastian to justice?”

“I have no idea, but I think we should start with the guards who are still working in the palace.”

“I agree. Go tend to your husband. He was very upset when he left me.”

“Ma’am, I…”

“Jared, you were a fool, but you meant well. I forgive you. Earn his.”

“Thank you,” Jared whispered and rose, taking the woman’s hand to kiss it.

“My nephew kissed my cheek when he left. As you are now my nephew through marriage, I would like one from you also.”

Jared grinned and leaned in to the kiss the dowager.

“Damn it, boy. Those dimples! If nothing else breaks him down, those should.”

“I’ll remember that.”

Jared entered the house and headed upstairs to the suite he shared with his husband. The rooms were dim. He took off his boots, shirt, and trousers. Walking into the bedroom, he could tell by the man’s breathing that he was awake.

The baron climbed into the bed and slid under the quilt, whispering softly, “I thought you might need me to hold you while you sleep. It seemed to help last night.”

He heard a soft sigh as the younger man turned over and moved softly against him. Jared pulled him closer and held him. Soon the duke’s breathing slowed, and the man was asleep.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 19: Talk with Aunt Margaret

Jensen woke early and headed downstairs. No one was in sight so he headed outside to walk in his aunt’s gardens, which were extensive. His mind wondered back to the time he spent with her. He wished his father had never sent for him. Sighing, he headed towards the center of the garden, looking for the tables and chairs she kept there. The thought of sitting quietly and trying to clear his head was enticing.

The woman saw him before he noticed her. Jensen stopped, considering whether flight was an option.

“Come sit down, boy,” the older woman called to him. Resigned to his fate, the duke walked towards the table set under a tree. He leaned down and kissed the offered cheek. His aunt looked at him, scanning his body.

“You seem to be well rested. It has to be a first for you in quite a while, I imagine.”

“Thank you, Aunt Margaret. I did sleep well.”

“I don’t see a mark on you. Jared must have been very careful,” she commented watching the blush spread over her nephew’s cheeks.

“Aunt Margaret, I…”

“Don’t make excuses, my boy. I have a good idea why nothing happened.”

“You can’t possibly know what went on between us last night,” he objected.

“I still stay in contact with my friends in the Caerdon, Jensen. I have a perfect idea what happened last night. For once, Jared did the right thing.”

“I think I will go finish my walk, Aunt.”

“You sit right there, Jensen. It’s time we talked.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.”

“Let’s see.” the older woman spoke softly, watching her nephew closely. “Why don’t we start with the biggest problem. Shall we?”

“I’m fine, Aunt Margaret.”

“We’ll start with the rape. Is that a big enough problem, boy?”

The duke rose to his feet but froze when his aunt called his name. He closed his eyes, pain crossing his features, and sat back down.

“I’ve talked to the new king, and both he and his wife spoke highly of you. He wanted to know why you betrayed him. I imagine your father gave you strict orders where you felt that you had no choice. You wouldn’t risk losing what little control you held over Avenleigh.”

“I can’t talk about this,” Jensen’s voice broke as he whispered his response.

“It is past time you spoke to someone about it, Jensen. I’m a safe ear. I know that pretty much everyone knows it happened. I just want to hear the absolute truth…not assumptions.”

“Please don’t,” the duke’s voice was shaky.

“Jensen, be honest with me. You need to let this out of your system. You must face it, boy. It will eat you up inside if you don’t,” the older woman spoke gently, looking up to see the baron enter the area. She knew he heard what was being said. She glared at him so he found a seat in the shadows where he would not be noticed.

“I don’t know what you want to hear.”

“Start where you entered the palace,” she nudged.

“You want it all!!”

“That is always best, isn’t it, boy?”

“The Chamberlain took me upstairs to the private rooms. Sebastian and his five advisers were in room, sitting at a table.,” Jensen commented softly.

Jared winced, remembering how the duke froze when he saw the Bishop and his men sitting at the table in the Bishop’s Palace. “Damnation,” he whispered softly.

Margaret noticed the baron’s reaction and made a note to ask him what else had happened.

“Go on, boy,” she spoke quietly.

“I told him that Morgan was prepared to cross the water and invade, and that the people would welcome him. Sheppard countered my report and said I was wrong. He told the king that Morgan was nowhere near coast.”

“So, Sheppard is one of Morgan’s men?”

“If he was, I didn’t know it. Knew the people were unhappy. I wasn’t wrong; they welcomed him with open arms.”

“I see. Go on, son.”

The duke was startled at what his aunt had called him. He took a couple of deep breaths and continued. “He,” Jensen winced and tried again, “He asked his people to leave. He tried to get me to sleep with him, and he mentioned knowing about when I was eighteen. He said I was not a virgin because my father told him I wasn’t.”

“Were you, Jensen?”

“Yes. I wasn’t ready for him…or….or his men.

“I told him I would report him. He called his guards and they…they tried to take me down, but I fought. They all took turns before he let me go. He said they were witnesses that it was consensual.”

“Come here, Jensen.”

The duke fell at his aunty’s feet, and she pulled him into her arms. The duke broke down, sobbing almost hysterically. Margaret ran her fingers through his hair and whispered soothing sounds of comfort. She let him cleanse his soul of the pain he was so overwhelmed with. Looking up at the baron, she moved her head to make him leave.

For the next two hours, the duke stayed on the ground with his head in his aunt’s lap, his arms gripped around her waist. The trembling slowly calmed. Margaret quieted down but kept her fingers running through his hair. She knew that what had happened at the palace reinforced these fears, but Jared would have to aid in healing those wounds.

“Jensen, why don’t you go and take a soothing hot bath, then have a nap. This took a lot out of you. You should rest.”

“I can’t.”

“Oh? Why?”

“I..um…I slept last night because Jared held me,” Jensen whispered, almost ashamed to admit it.

“That is good, son. You need him. He is your husband, and he should make you feel comfortable enough…protected enough…to be able to sleep the night through. That is all good. Don’t be ashamed to ask him for that or anything else you need from him.”

The pale face stared up into hers. His eyes red and swollen from crying so hard, his nose red, and his lower lip split from where he’d worried it with his teeth.

“Go do as I suggested. I’ll send Jared to you.”

It took the duke a moment to rise to his feet. He felt shaky. As he turned to leave, his aunt spoke, “Jensen?”

Turning, the young nobleman stared at her, “Ma’am?”

“I love you, boy. Remember that. I’ve always loved you, and I’ll always have your best interests at heart.”

A small smirk crossed the duke’s face, “Even having Jared ravish me?”

His aunt laughed, “Definitely that.”

Taking his leave, the young man walked towards the house. He asked for a bath to be prepared. Jared had returned before him and told the footman to make sure a good breakfast was sent up to the duke when he came in.

The baron watched a servant girl carry the tray up to their suite, followed by several men who carried large pails of hot water.

After things calmed down, Jared walked to the gardens to find the dowager countess.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 18: Sharing a Room

“I retire early, so I will have a meal sent to the suite for you two. This is a small house, and there are only two bedrooms. The other is mine.” Margaret looked at the duke. “Jensen?”

“Yes, Aunt Margaret?”

“You have the chance to make a good marriage out of this debacle. Don’t be a fool. A solitary life is a lonely life so talk to your husband, and listen to him. Forgive him for whatever it is that has hurt you. Don’t grow old alone, my boy. You deserve better than that.”

Jensen sat quietly with his hands clasped between his knees and head bowed. He finally looked up, tears in his eyes, and spoke softly, “I’ll try.”

“Trying is not enough. Fight for your happiness. I’ll tell you there is no doubt in my mind that your happiness lies with this giant of a man whose smile could melt your heart.

“Jared?”

“Yes, my lady,” he answered in a respectful tone.

“You quit doing the asinine things you’ve done so far. Take a good look at my nephew. He deserves your best, and I expect you to be the most understanding man he’s ever met. I also want you to make his love life incredible. I think you are probably more experienced than he is. Make love to him daily. Believe me, boy. He’ll stop fighting it and start wanting it.”

“Aunt Margaret!”

“I’m not a fool, Jensen. I can read your eyes. You have feelings for him, and you are fighting them. The heart wants what the heart wants. You will feel hunger, and you will not sleep well until you face this and accept it.”

The elderly woman rose to her feet, and both men stood. “I will see you both in the morning. If you are not showing signs of having been ravished, I will have more words with you.”

“Aunt Margaret, I…”

“No, nephew. Be the man you were meant to be before too many men robbed you of it. Jared, help him find that man. Good night, you two. If you follow me up, I’ll show you your rooms.”

+++++

As the door closed behind him, Jensen leaned against it and groaned.

“What do we do now?”

Jared was standing in the center of the room, staring at his husband. “Do you really want me to answer?”

The green eyes flashed at him, “What!”

“You’re not going to like my answer.”

“Try me?”

“All right. I noticed there are two bathing tubs over in the little alcove.”

“She’s as bad as the king,” the duke grumbled.

“Perhaps, but you’ve been traveling for days, Jen. I know you prefer to be clean before you sleep so I see no reason why we both can’t bathe while the water is hot. It’s not like we don’t know each other intimately.”

“All right.” Jensen walked toward the alcove and began to remove his clothing. The baron followed and proceeded to do likewise.

The duke bent over and felt the water temperature. Jared noticed the scars on his back for the first time. He took several deep breaths to calm his anger over what the 18 year old boy had dealt with. Jensen stepped into the tub and leaned back, his body going under the water. Jared followed suit.

The two men bathed and soaked in the hot water, reveling in its soothing effect. Jared reached for a towel and began to dry off. He noticed the duke watching his every move and felt his heart lift at it.

“There are two thick robes over here. I’ll bring you one.”

“I have a nightshirt.”

“Jen, let’s don’t start that again. I want to feel you next to me, not your clothing. I’ve seen more of you than you have. We sleep nude.”

The duke blushed red and reached for his towel. “It makes me uncomfortable.”

“Yes, but I imagine it’s in a good way.”

“No!”

Jared turned towards the man as he dried off. “You’re partially hard right now.”

“Damnation! I can’t help what my body does.”

“Your body is more honest than you are at the moment. Would you like me to take care of that?”

The green eyes widened in shock. “What? No.”

The baron grinned. “You say ‘no’ a lot, Jen, when what you really want to say is yes.”

The younger man shook his head and reached for the robe. He walked over to his luggage to search for his nightshirt. The baron smirked.

“I guess I’m going to have to do to this one what I did to the last one you tried to put on.”

“I don’t think you will,” came the reply.

Remembering what the countess and the Bishop had said, he hesitated for a moment and softly responded, “You’re right. I won’t.”

Pulling the nightshirt over his head, Jensen paused and stared at him in shock. “You won’t?”

“No, Jen, it’s up to you what you wear. I can tell you what I would like and what I want, but you have to make that choice.”

“All right,” came the quiet answer.

The duke headed into the living area and sat on the sofa.

“The next thing we need to do is eat. Our meal should be here soon.”

+++++

The countess, figuring that her nephew had eaten very little that day, ordered a meal consisting of steak, salad, bread, and a bottle of wine.

The table was small, making the meal cozier. Jensen ate fairly well, but the baron coaxed him into finishing the food.

“You’re too thin, Jen. It worries me.”

The duke snorted, but the baron continued. “I started out trying to break through your walls and I think you started to rely on me. I know I failed you. No…don’t speak yet. Let me finish. The day of the wedding, I was afraid you would fight Morgan’s commands. I threatened you to force you to give in to protect the estate. When you keened, I had to turn away because I was in tears. I felt that I had broken you. The thing is, Jen, he would have had people there to watch us consummate the marriage instead of a healer examining you in the morning. I could not put you through another state endorsed rape in the palace. I’m sorry it happened the way it did. However, I’m not sorry we made love and that it made both of us happy for a few minutes.”

Jensen bit his bottom lip and chewed on it, drawing the baron’s eyes towards his mouth. The man started trembling, a soft sob turning into a moan. Jared looked up from his mouth and saw the pain and heartache in the green eyes.

“Jen,” the baron spoke softly. “I love you, and I want the right as your husband to protect you, comfort you, and love you with all my heart and all of my body.”

The duke stood, trying to walk but stumbled. He landed on the floor with a soft keening sound escaping his lips. Jared fell to the floor next to him and pulled him into his lap. The younger man leaned into him, a hand clutching the warrior’s robe.

“I’m scared, Jared.”

“Let me hold you and allow me to bring peace to the fear.”

Jared could hear short gasps coming from the younger man, but he did not struggle to leave. The larger man set Jensen back down on the floor. He rose to his feet before leaning down to pick the other man up. Holding him close to his chest, he carried him into the sleeping area of the bedchamber. Leaning down, the baron reached for the quilt and pulled it back before placing his husband upon the bed.

Jensen was no longer trembling, but his eyes looked large in his face. Jared knew and now understood what it would require to lead his husband into the kind of marriage they both needed.

“Jensen, would you allow me to cuddle you close and give you comfort tonight? Just so you know that you’re not alone.”

The duke moved over on the bed, making room for the older man. Jared put on a clean set of smallclothes before climbing into the bed to snuggle against the younger man’s back. He wrapped his arm and a leg around him, holding him close. He heard the man sigh softly.

For the first time in months, Jensen Ackles, Duke of Avenleigh, slept the entire night with no nightmares.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 17: Jensen’s Reaction

The two men walked down the hall, Jensen carrying his luggage. The king’s guard led them upstairs to a suite of rooms. He opened the door and moved aside to let the two noblemen enter.

Jensen stood in the entry, his body making it impossible to close the door. Setting his luggage to the side, he carefully unstrapped his blade.

“Your Grace needs to move,” the guard stated, unhappy to have the guard duty.

Jared stood in the middle of the room, his eyes focused intently on the duke, watching the man carefully.

Jensen remained where he was standing, waiting on the guard to become frustrated enough to come towards him.

“Damnation! You sarding sodomite, I told you to move!” The guard tore into the room and reached out to shove the duke. Jensen whirled around, blade drawn, and struck the man with the hilt in his fisted hand. He stood over the unconscious guard, a smirk on his face.

“You didn’t expect that from a sarding sodomite, did you?” Jensen turned to the baron. “Help me get him into one of the bed chambers. We need to truss him and gag him.”

Jared grinned widely, hurrying to help his husband handle the guard.

As they worked in Jensen’s bed chamber, the baron commented, “You do know we can’t go back to Avenleigh at this point.”

“When I’m ready and the king gives up, we’ll go.”

Jared froze for a second. Was his husband allowing him to come home?

“Where to, Jensen?”

“We need the horses. How difficult will it be?”

“I’ll take care of it. You head to the rear gate of the palace grounds.”

The duke nodded, and the two men found a rear exit near the kitchens.

+++++

Jensen waited in a small grove of ornamental trees near the gate. Jared approached from the stables with four horses. His luggage attached to one, and Jensen placed his on a second horse.

“This is your plan. Where do we go?”

“First, the Bishop’s Palace.”

They rode through the back streets of Caerdon, and Jensen stopped at a church. “Wait here, Jared. I’m going to get directions.”

The baron took the reins to Jensen’s two horses and sat astride his.

Jensen entered the church and found a priest lighting candles. “Pardon me, Father,” he spoke softly. “I am looking for the Bishop’s palace.”

The priest watched the duke and finally answered, giving him the directions. The duke thanked him and stopped near the exit to place several silver coins in the money box.

Walking outside, he mounted his horse as Jared handed over the reins.

+++++

The two men were taken to a chamber on the second floor of the palace where tribunals were held.

As they entered, Jensen gazed around the richly appointed room. Sighing, he wondered if much of the money given to the church actually went to helping the poor and sick.

A long table stood at the end of the room that the bishop and six others sat around.

For a moment, Jensen had a flashback to the palace and Sebastian with his advisors. He froze, closing his eye; his hands fisted.

Without thinking of the duke’s response, Jared reached out and placed a large hand in the middle of the man’s back, rubbing in small circles.

“You are not alone this time, Jensen,” the warrior whispered.

Ackles shook off the feeling of panic, looked up at the larger man, and actually said, “Thank you.”

“Jensen? Jared? Come stand before us.”

The two men walked towards the table, stopping at the end of it.

The bishop spoke again. “I have read the request for an annulment, and I have to refuse.”

A tic appeared over Jensen’s right eye as he ground his teeth. “May I ask why?”

“There are numerous reasons. First, I performed your wedding. I do not like what I join together to be torn apart by scruples.”

“Scruples!”

“Don’t raise your voice to me, boy.”

Jared stood still watching the confrontation. To be honest, he didn’t want an annulment.

“Second, you consummated the marriage. Jared, will you, before God, tell me if you enjoyed it?”

“I did, Sir.”

“Jensen, will you, before God, tell me if you enjoyed it?”

The duke turned blood red and he broke out in a cold sweat. “Yes,” he murmured lowly.

“I could not hear you.”

“Yes!”

“Third and last, Jared, have you missed him these past three months? Do you long for him?”

“Very much, Sir.”

“Jensen…”

“Don’t ask me that,” the duke cried out.

“Jensen, I’ve been told you are barely eating, and instead of being in your bed at nights, you walk the grounds.”

“This is not fair,” the young nobleman cried out a second time.

“Your reactions have answered the question.”

“Jared, you have a lot to answer for but I believe you know that. Jensen, you have a lot to deal with. The two of you must work on this together; you may not live apart. The king was wrong to have any of this occur in the palace, but I expect you to find somewhere nearby and deal with your issues.”

Jensen’s red, tear-filled eyes stared at the man. “Are you going to tell him we were here?”

“Yes but not today. He and I actually want the same thing. You running Avenleigh and returning the land to what it should be – Jared as your confident and protector. Now you are both dismissed.”

+++++

Jensen mounted his horse and waited on Jared. He nodded to the man and headed out of the courtyard. The duke led them towards the northern outskirts of the city.

They road for over an hour when Jared finally reined in and called out to his husband.

Jensen looked back, sighed, and turned his horses around. Pulling up next to Jared, the duke was facing south and the baron, north, their horses so close the two men could feel their legs touching.

“What’s wrong?”

“We need to talk, Jensen.”

“Not now. Not here.”

“When?”

“When we arrive at Baker Manor. We’ll talk then.”

“Whose place is that?”

“It’s the dower estate of the Earl of Brantley. His mother lives there.”

“Okay….and?”

“She’s my aunt.”

Jared sighed, “Lead on, Jensen.”

The duke turned and rode next to the larger man. Both men were quiet for the next hour.

“My aunt Margaret is my mother’s older sister. I’ve only met her a few times. Father sent me there after I recovered.”

“From the kissing incident?”

Jensen was quiet for a moment, then answered, “Yes. She helped me realize that I wasn’t a bad person. Too much water has gone under the bridge. I forgot much of what she told me. I need to relearn it.”

“I’d like to help.”

“I don’t….” Jensen paused, turning to look into a pair of earnest hazel eyes. “Thank you.”

The sun was setting when they rode through the gates of a pink brick building. The grounds were well tended, but it wasn’t a large house.

The two men dismounted and left the horses with a stableboy out front.

The door opened, and Jensen looked around as he entered. The footman asked their names.

“Tell Countess Margaret the Duke of Avenleigh and the Baron of Mystrar seek an audience.”

Jared watched the footman walk away and murmured, “That was rather formal.”

“She’s very old fashioned, and she’s a stickler for formality.”

The footman returned and told them the countess would receive them. The noblemen followed the footman and were announced.

+++++

The room was a small one with a chair and a couch. There were shelves and heavy pieces of wood furniture covered with a variety of figurines and small, framed paintings.

“Come forward, both of you.”

Jared followed the duke’s lead. Jensen bowed, took the older woman’s hand and leaned down to kiss it.

“You are more beautiful than ever, my lady.”

“Quit playing games with me, Jensen. We both know you never notice a woman’s beauty.” The woman turned her gaze upon the baron. “Is this the husband the king saddled you with?”

Jared leaned in and took the woman’s hand and gave a gallant bow as he kissed it. Jensen’s eyes widened. His aunt had a smirk on her face.”

“You are incredibly tall, Baron, but your looks make up for that. Jensen, he has dimples bigger than yours. I imagine he’s proportional?”

“Aunt Margaret!”

Jared’s head went back in laughter.

The countess stared at her nephew. “I keep up with things, Jensen. I know what happened. Be grateful because you could have done much worse. Sit down, both of you.”

“We are in need of shelter for a while,” the duke stated.

“I’ve told the footman to see that your horses are tended to. Your bags have been placed in the royal rooms.”

“No, please. We need two separate rooms.”

“Pshaw! You’re married. I’m going to institute what the king started. You two will share the room and bed.” Margaret turned towards Jared. “I expect him to have a little trouble sitting down tomorrow. If he walks stiffly, you’re doing your job right.”

Jared was grinning, enjoying the elderly lady’s total lack of tact and Jensen’s obvious embarrassment.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 16: Three Months Later

Jensen walked the rampart late in the evening. He’d been doing so since the day after Jared had appeared. Christian had received a missive from the king demanding his presence and had left the week before.

It had been three months since he’d come home. He realized he didn’t want to sleep alone. His body ached for something, and he refused to put a name to it. The duke just knew that he burned inside.

He yawned, knowing soon he would be tired enough to drop off and not dream….he hoped.

+++++

Christian had spent the past week keeping his friend out of pubs and from possible incarceration.

The baron woke with another massive hangover. The captain made him the hangover cure he knew.

Christian sat on the foot of the bed. “Damn it, Jared, you are close to losing everything!”

“I already did,” the larger man murmured.

“No, you haven’t. Not yet. Jensen has received nothing from Morgan about the land. The Bishop is most likely going to turn him down because you two had such a good time together on the wedding night.”

“What?”

“Jensen should be receiving his summons by tomorrow. If want this marriage, you need to plead your side in it. For once, be damned honest in front of Jensen.”

“He doesn’t want me, Chris.”

“He’s faring no better than you are.”

“Really,” the baron asked.

“Yeah. Morgan told me to sober you up because he’s holding a major celebration in honor of Mary’s pregnancy. Mary requested that you be there so you have to be sober.”

The taller of the two rose to his feet and walked to the door, “I need a bath, please.”

The captain bade his friend farewell and rode towards Avenleigh.

+++++

Jensen woke from another nightmare. This time he was hanging off the edge of a cliff and Jared, damn him, had him by one hand. He groaned because he had begged the wretched man to save him.

Murmuring, the duke whispered, “I don’t want him.”

He turned over, trying to go back to sleep but he ended up tossing and turning, trying to calm himself down. After an hour of restless sleep, he dreamed again. This time there was no doubt what his brain and body were trying to tell him. He dreamt it was spring, and the apple trees were flowering. He and Jared were laying on a blanket in one of the eastern orchards. Both of them were naked and Jared was….”No.” he exclaimed hoarsely. “I won’t go there.”

Finally, he dressed, shaved, and left his room for the office. He had managed to get larger trees and wanted to check on the instructions one more time.

+++++

Jared appeared before Morgan and made no excuse to the man.

“I sarded it, Jeff. I’ve lost him for good.”

“That’s not necessarily true, Jared. What do you really want?”

“Jensen. He can keep the wretched land. I love the man who is so damned attached to it.”

“You need to tell him that. From what Christian told me, he’s suffering just as badly as you are,” the king informed him.

“Jensen doesn’t drink much. What could possibly be bothering him?”

“Dreams..nightmares…he’s barely getting any sleep. I’ve had the captain keeping an eye on him. It’s why he stayed.”

“You knew he was raped in this palace, and you still forced him to consummate the marriage with me here of all places. He was going to balk and I lied and told him…the things I said…Damn you, Jeff! He thinks! What does it matter now? He’ll never trust me after that.”

“I probably have most of that coming, and I apologize. I wanted to guarantee you wouldn’t pretend the marriage was consummated just to protect him. I honestly wanted him to have a beautiful experience. You can’t tell me you didn’t give him one. Neither of you will be able to look me in the eye and tell me he didn’t.”

“You’re right. He forgot everything and lived in the moment.”

“Fine. I want you to move into the palace for the time being. It’s an order.”

Jared stared at the other man and turned to go pack his things at his home.

+++++

Travis knocked on the library door. “Come,” the duke responded.

“There’s an emissary from the king and another from the Church, your Grace.”

“Two?”

“Yes, Sir.”

The young lord sighed tiredly and rose to his feet. “Seat them in the lounge. See if they have eaten. If they haven’t, offer a meal. If they don’t want that, have Miss Ellen prepare a tea. I’ll join them then.”

+++++

The two men stared at each other across the room. Jensen entered, and both stood. He shook his head and motioned both of them to sit back down.

Sitting on the other couch, he stared at the two. “Let me see to your needs first. I gather we are having tea so you’ve both eaten?”

Both men replied in an affirmative.

“Have you made sleeping arrangements? The inn here is stark with plain fare for the morning so you are welcome to stay the night here. My servants will see to your needs.”

He was thanked by the two men and looked up as Zechariah brought in a tea tray with his favorite cake on it. He smiled as the butler served everyone before him due to his motioning him towards the two messengers.

He read the Bishop’s letter first. He was commanded to appear before a tribunal. Frowning, he asked, “When?”

“I am to take you back with me, Your Grace.”

“Not without the protection of my Captain.”

He looked down at the king’s letter and was informed there was a royal celebration for the pregnancy of the queen. He was informed there would be a presentation of the lords to the queen. Sighing, he knew that not all the lords would think of it in the same way but he was raised to follow strict etiquette. He was glad his finery had been cleaned and jewels polished.

“When am I expected for this?”

“The king asks that you come with me?”

“So both of you are requiring me to travel tomorrow under two orders?”

Jensen rose to feet and walked over to Travis, telling him to have Zechariah see to their needs for the night. He would be indisposed until the morrow. He left the house.

+++++

Jensen and the two men had been on the road for a day when they spotted Christian and his men.

The captain rode up to the duke’s stallion and grabbed the reins, reminding the man of the commander he learned it from.

“What are you doing riding out here with no fighting men?”

“I’ve always ridden these lands without warriors.”

“Jared would have my hide if he saw this!”

Jensen looked at the shorter man and choked on his reply, “You’re not Jared.”

Christian watched the nobleman ride on, realizing that his words had almost made the man cry. He turned his band around and followed his lord.

+++++

Jared and Morgan were rolling dice in the lounge when Jensen was announced. The baron moved near to the door so he would not be noticed when the duke passed when he entered.

Jensen and Chris entered the room. The duke bowed.

“You made good time, Your Grace,” the king remarked in answer to the bow. He looked at the young man and there was little doubt he was exhausted and had lost some weight. The duke looked anywhere but at his former general. “It is customary to look at me when you respond, so I expect a proper reply.”

“Why are you making me stay here?”

“He’s making both of us stay here,” came a hoarse whisper.

The green eyes turned as the younger man stared at the warrior. Jared saw a haunted look in the man’s eyes.

“What is going on?”

“I have no idea. Our beloved friend and general has given us a suite with two attached bed chambers. I’ve been told that until the party, we are being forced to remain there.”

“I have to see the Bishop.”

“I know. He wants to see both of us.”

“What is happening here?”

“I think we’ve been kidnapped.”

Jensen groaned and turned back to the king, who was grinning.

“Aren’t you glad I’m your friend? Take our two guests to their suite and keep a permanent guard.”

The duke stiffened, bowed, and turned towards the door.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 15: Rebellion

Notes:

There was an overwhelming group of opinions after the last chapter. I decided to go with what my characters tell me. I needed to be true to the story. This chapter is Jensen’s reaction to the event of the day before and follows through the next four days

Jensen woke after a bad dream, not remembering where he was. He felt a naked body near his own, and the nightmare became reality.

Jared had lied to him. The man used kind words and concern to try to break down his barriers, and he had managed to do it. Jensen felt betrayed; he remembered responding to the man’s sexual advances and felt nauseated.

The duke crept off the bed and dressed quietly. He would go through the gardens with his luggage and escape that way. It took several hours on foot before he finally reached Jared’s house. Going to the stables, he saddled his horse and mounted his luggage on a second.

He knew he had a few hours start on Jared, and the man would ride like the wind to catch him. Ackles turned off the main road and took back ways to avoid being caught. Jared did not know the lay of the land as well as he did.

+++++

The baron woke at the knock at the door and half asleep, he walked over and answered it to find the healer

Groaning, he allowed the man to come in, figuring it was better to get it over with.

The medical man walked over to the bed and asked, “Where is he?”

“What!!!!”

Jared looked around him and saw that the duke’s luggage was gone.

He sent the doctor on his way and dressed quickly, sending a servant to rouse his men. The baron headed towards the king’s quarters.

+++++

Jensen took a small ferry across the river, paying the man for his time. He headed cross country towards Avenleigh, knowing if he kept up his pace, he would beat Jared there.

He spent the next two and a half days, stopping only to rest the horses. He didn’t stop to eat or sleep. He reached the outskirts of the estate and almost sobbed in relief. He needed to hurry to prepare for the baron’s arrival.

+++++

After leaving Morgan, angry at the king’s response, Jared gathered his men and headed for Avenleigh.

“What makes you think he’ll go there,” his second asked.

“Because he gave himself to me without a fight to save that land.”

“You raped him?”

“No, he freely agreed.”

“Jared, what the hell did you do,” Christian asked.

The baron broke down and told his friend everything.

“If we weren’t on horses right now, I’d kick your ass.”

The hazel eyes stared at him.

“What did Morgan say?”

“He told me that if Jensen makes it to Avenleigh and demands an annulment, he’ll agree.”

Chris snorted and kept his horse’s pace even with the baron’s.

+++++

Jensen stopped at the top of the hill that looked down on the keep. He sighed in relief, knowing he would have about half a day to prepare.

He rode into the keep, and it was barely minutes before his people were surrounding him.

“I’ll explain everything later. Right now, we have to prepare. Jason, go into the village and purchase whatever food you can get. Tell them to be prepared.”

Jensen allowed Travis to take his bags inside and talked to his commander of the garrison to make sure their weapons were readied. He checked the armory and noted they were still well supplied.

Turning to the stone mason who was doing some work on the keep, he told him he needed the garden entrance sealed with something that would dry quickly.

After getting the people prepared, he walked into the house and looked at his household servants. He could see the questions in their eyes.

“It wasn’t good. We married four days ago, and the entire situation was forced on me.”

Zechariah asked, “By the king, your Grace?”

Jensen’s exhaustion was becoming overwhelming, and he lost control.

“The king ordered the marriage for four days ago, he ordered that it be..be consummated in the palace.”

“Oh no,” Ellen murmured.

Her comment made the duke shake uncontrollably. “He wanted proof. Only, I wasn’t there when the doctor came. I traveled the back roads and got here half a day ahead of Jared.”

“Have you eaten, Jensen.” the cook and housekeeper asked.

“No. I’m not hungry.”

The butler turned to the footman, “Travis, have a hot bath sent up. Ellen prepare a meal for the duke to be sent up to his rooms. Your Grace, your commander can handle things for now. You need to sleep.”

Jensen nodded and walked up the staircase to the second floor and entered his rooms. He could still smell Jared’s scent and sent for Father Kevin.

His bath was prepared, and he soaked in the warm water allowing not only the aches from two and half days of hard riding but also from the sex the night before he left to ease.

After drying, he put on undergarments and a nightshirt. There was a knock at his door and said, “Come.”

Father Kevin entered the room. “You needed to see me, Your Grace?”

“Yes,” Jensen spoke softly. He told the priest everything that had happened, and the man was furious.

“You had already agreed to what the king had said, so why did the baron do this to you?”

“Everything was lies, Father. Everything.”

“That night was rape, Your Grace.”

“It was in the palace where…” Jensen broke down crying, going to the floor on his knees. The young priest knelt with him and held the man. He said nothing, allowing the duke release the pain.

“Jensen?”

“Yes, Father?”
“I will prepare the papers for the Bishop to grant an annulment. I will wait to talk with Jason and have a formal plea sent to the king with a full explanation and the demand that the lands be freed.”

“Thank you,” the choked voice of the duke whispered as a knock was heard.

“Come,” the young lord croaked.

Steve entered with a large tray. Jensen stared at all the food.

Father Kevin smiled, “I think Miss Ellen believes you need feeding.”

“I think you’re right.”

+++++

Jason informed the Headman and received extra provisions which the man promised to have sent within the hour. The secretary decided to ride to the convent and warn the Reverend Mother.

He was welcomed and sat with the woman for a while, telling her what he knew.

“I am afraid the baron will have another weapon so I need to give you something.”

“What?”

“The baron convinced me not to send Jensen’s letter to his relative in the north. We still have Ben.”

“This is not good. I need to take him to the keep.”

“Yes, if the man has so little scruples he will use the boy.”

+++++

Jensen had eaten and laid down to take a small nap. Jason told the servants not to waken him. Jo took Ben to the nursery and entertained the three year old.

The sun was setting when Jared and his troops rode to the gate. He was furious to the find the gate locked and weapons aimed at him and at his men from the ramparts.

Jason walked out to the gate and asked the baron what he wanted.

“I want to see my husband…NOW!”

“That would not be feasible, my lord. The duke is not in any shape to deal with you at this time. Go back to Caerdon, and he will contact you to discuss his terms.”

“HIS terms? Let me in.”

“That will not occur, my lord. The duke is not capable of facing you right now.”

“He didn’t think that on our wedding night.”

“You coerced him with more threats to his land. He paid to protect it with his body,” Father Kevin stated as he walked up.

“What would you know, Priest?”

“He told me everything. How you made it seem perfect, but behind it was the threat to his lands and the memory of the rape by King Sebastian in the same building. Then you were going to allow a physician to examine him to make sure you had him good and proper.”

“How dare you judge me,” Jared raised his voice.

“I don’t judge you, but Jensen has. When he is ready to deal with this, he will contact you but not before.”

“Who’s going to protect him against Pelligrino and others who will try for him?”

“I am,” Christian answered. “Some of your men want to stay and help also. He won their respect, Jared. You lost it with what you did.”

Jared turned his horse around and about two-thirds of his men left with him.

Christian looked at the secretary and the priest. “He’s headed back to Caerdon, I can guarantee. We’ll wait until he’s gone and, if Jensen approves, we’d like to enter. I’ll train him an army.”

Jason nodded and suggested a good place to camp. He and the priest walked back to the house.

+++++

Jensen washed and dressed and headed downstairs for breakfast. Father Kevin joined him.

They ate in silence for a while; the priest spoke, “You need to join me in your office. Much has happened since you went to sleep.”

“Bad?”

“Not as much as you would think, Your Grace.”

+++++

The two men joined Jason in the office. The secretary stated, “I would like permission to ask Captain Kane into the keep and let him sit in on this chat.”

“Wa..wait? What?”

“Kane and one-third of the Baron’s army wish to join you, and he wants to train an army for you.”

“Why? He’s Jared’s best friend.”

Kevin answered, “I’d say was.”

Jensen got up and left the office; the two men followed him.

+++++

One of the men on guard let the captain know that some people were walking towards the gate. Christian saddled his horse and rode alone. He was not playing a psychological game with the duke because he only wanted to help.

Jensen watched the single horseman ride towards the gate and dismount. He stopped at the gate and stared at the young nobleman.

“Hi, Jensen.”

“Captain.”

“You know, I preferred it when you felt comfortable enough to call me Chris. I’d like that again.”

The green eyes glared into the captain’s. “What game is Jared playing? Where is he?”

“Oh, he’s very unhappy. He told me what he did and why it upset you. I would love to just beat him to a pulp, but he’s got a good seven or eight inches on me. He’s gone, Jensen. He’s headed back to Caerdon to try to change Morgan’s mind about giving you back the land.”

“Wait a minute. Morgan said what?”
“Morgan thought everything was going to be right between you and if Jared hadn’t said what he said, making you think you had to do this to keep and protect your land, it might have been. Maybe, at a much later date, you can talk and settle things because there were a lot of times when he was good for you. Somewhere inside of you, you know that.”

“I am preparing a writ of annulment to send to the Bishop,” Father Kevin stated.

“It won’t happen, Jensen. You two consummated the marriage. I know what he did could be thought of as rape. I think so, but according to the law, this is an arranged marriage that you agreed to. Even if you didn’t, you were under the King’s law and control. The Bishop won’t touch it.”

“We’ll try,” the priest responded.

“I don’t blame you,” the captain admitted.

Jensen finally spoke again, “Why are you here? Why didn’t you leave with him?”

“Because he’s stubborn and he’s wrong. I figure you need a friend and help. The men with me agree with that so we’ll train you an army, and I’ll lead it for you. You keep your garrison within the keep to guard it, and we’ll protect the land. I’ll send out couriers to the other estates and the villages, and we’ll train them well. Once you have full control of the estate, you can afford to pay them.”

The duke backed up and shouted, “Open the gate!” Looking at the captain, “You and your men are welcome.”

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 14: Facing the Nightmare

Notes:

WARNING!! There is what may be taken as possible dubcon in this chapter. My beta loves this story but hates this one chapter. I am so angry with Jared but I am one of those writers whose characters tell them what happens. Jared should have done all he could to protect Jensen from having this happen in the palace where his innocence was stolen from him

Jensen was somehow able to avoid going into a panic attack and I admire the self control he managed to find. Do I believe he’s lost? No. I think there is still some fight in him and Jared had better beware.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Jared led the duke to the gardens and found a bench for the two of them to sit. After taking a seat, he turned and watched the man sitting next to him for several moments, noticing he was waging a battle within himself.

“Jensen, listen to me. Let me help you.”

“Let you help?”

“Yes.”

“You told Morgan that you agreed with his plans. You told him you wanted it. That you wanted me. How is that supposed to help me?”

“I can make it good for you. You can enjoy it.”

“I am being given away as a piece of property to the king’s greatest warrior. There is no one to take my side in this battle. I’ve lost before I can even fight,” the duke told him.

“You don’t need to fight. We’re already living together; you share my bed.”

“Damn it! You forced yourself into my bed; I have never shared yours.”

“You’ve slept in my arms the last three nights, and I’ve held you and comforted you dozens of times.”

“That’s supposed to make it right? To make me just lay back and let you have your way with me? The king has made me a whore, Jared,” Jensen said bitterly.

“No! You are not a whore! You are mine and mine alone. No other man will touch you.”

“I don’t want to be yours! I don’t want to belong to anyone! Can’t you understand?”

“Jensen, Morgan has declared his justice. You are not going to die; you are not going to be whored out. You will marry me. You will give in to my desires and make them yours. You will show the healer proof that I have taken you on the morrow.”

The duke rose to his feet and looked around him. Jared watched the panic in the man’s eyes.

“Jensen, I promise I won’t hurt you. I don’t have it in me to do so. But I was not raised to tend an estate. Mine was taken from me when I was a baby. I would ruin the land. If you can’t do it for you and me, then do it for Avenleigh.”

The duke’s shoulders sagged in defeat and he closed his eyes, fighting back tears. He walked towards the fountain in the center of the gardens. Jared rose to his feet and followed, with the knowledge that he won, but at what cost?

Ackles sat on the stone wall of the fountain and ran a hand through the water. The baron finally stood in front of him.

The younger man did not look up. He spoke in a quiet voice, “Tell me what you expect from me. What do I have to pay or give to save my land?”

Jared winced. This was not what he wanted. “Live in peace with me, work the land with me, entertain with me, and share my bed as my husband in every way that entails.”

The duke’s arms went around his chest, trying to hold himself together. He rocked back and forth on the fountain wall, and a light keening sound erupted from him.

The baron wanted to gather him in his arms but stood and waited instead. He let the duke mourn his freedom.

+++++

At 6:45, the two men walked to the chapel. Jensen was pale but held himself together with what pride he still had. Jared walked close to him, and arm around him with his hand on the man’s lower back.

The chamberlain and Christian met the two, and the four of them entered the chapel. The room was empty for the moment. The duke walked to the front and knelt at the prayer rail. The other three men talked in low whispers near the entrance.

At 7:00, Morgan, Mary, and the priest entered the room. The Bishop looked around him. Morgan introduced Jared and Christian.

“Where’s Jensen?”

“Praying,” the baron responded to the king.

“I’m not changing my mind, Jared.”

“He knows that, Sir. I am worried that this will break him.”

“He’s strong and resilient. He’ll survive it.” ”

He’s lost more than most men have to deal with,” Jared countered.

“You’ll have every opportunity to win him over being married to him.”

“Yes, Sire.”

Morgan turned to everyone. “Let’s find a seat and let the Bishop do his job.” He looked at Jared, “Are your men going to be here? We need people to bed you two.”

“General, you can’t add that to what is happening to him.”

The priest interrupted. “It is the custom, my lord,”

Christian asked the chamberlain to bring the men in.

+++++

Jensen could hear voices but did not rise. His heart cried out, and he tried to calm himself before he panicked. He recognized the onset of it because it had only happened a few times before. When his father made him watch the man he’d kissed be beaten to death and then attempted to do the same to him, he had felt it for the first time. It happened again when his sword ran through Padalecki’s brother. It only happened one other time…when Sebastian took him. He was scared. No, that wasn’t even the right word. He was terrified.

A hand touched his shoulder, and he slowly raised his head and stared at the man he was going to be married to. Jared held out his hand to help him to his feet.

“I can get up, my lord.”

“It will be easier on your knee if you allow me to help, Jensen.”

Jared looked into the duke’s amazing green eyes and saw the fear there. His stomach twisted into knots, but he knew he could teach Jensen to trust and to open his heart to him.

The baron smiled softly when the trembling hand was placed in his. He reached over and put his other hand around Jensen’s waist and helped him rise. The man groaned softly.

“It’s all right. Let’s just get through this. I’ll help you with everything else.”

“Don’t do that, Jared. We made a bargain to save my land, and I will keep it. Just..don’t tell me you will help me through what you have helped cause,” he asked.

“Fair enough.”

The bishop stood in front of the altar, and the two men faced him. Jensen kept his voice calm and said his vows. The priest pronounced that they were wed. Jared put his arms around Jensen and pulled him in for a deep kiss knowing there would be no fight.

Morgan asked everyone to come to the ballroom for a feast.

+++++

Jensen ate very little, and the baron had to remove the alcohol as the duke attempted to get as drunk as he could.

Several of the servants approached the table and asked the duke to come with them.

“Why?”

“To get you ready my lord, so you can be bedded.”

The green eyes widened. “Someone’s going to put me into bed with him?”

Some of the men laughed, and the duke stood up and stared around him. “I have done everything I’ve been asked to do. I will finish what I was ordered to do, but I will not allow anyone to take me to the bed chamber and undress me. I am quite capable of doing it myself.”

“I agree with Jensen. We are both leaving right now. What room?”

The chamberlain came forward. “If you would follow me, my lords.”

“Jared?”

“Morgan, it’s decided.”

“Have a wonderful night.”

The duke turned blood red and hurried towards the door; the baron and the chamberlain followed him.

He stood in the hall, hearing the laughter from behind him. He could even imagine the ribald remarks being made on his behalf. He wanted to cry but refused to give anyone that pleasure.

“If you will follow me, your Grace.”

The young lord turned towards the manservant and nodded. The three of them headed up the stairs.

+++++

The room was massive, and it had a large bed. In an alcove were two baths prepared for the men. A fire roared in the grate, and candles were set strategically to add a romantic atmosphere.

The chamberlain bade the two good night before leaving them alone. Jensen looked around him and hated it because it was a room made for lovers. He all but whimpered.

“Chris brought our luggage.”

“That’s good,” Jensen said shakily.

“Why don’t we get undressed and take a bath. The hot water will help relax you.”

“What makes you think I want to relax?”

“Because I can see the terror in your eyes. You are going to make yourself sick if you stay at this high a panic level.”

Jensen opened his mouth several times and closed it again. Walking towards the two steaming tubs, he noticed rose petals in one of them and snorted.

“What?” Jared walked up behind him. “I’ll take that one. You do not have to accept the idea that you are beneath me. Well, except in the bedroom,” the warrior grinned.

The green eyes widened in panic.

“Let’s take care of your wardrobe, Jensen. It’s difficult to replace.”

The ducal garments and jewelry were placed in the second case. Ackles stood in his undergarments and felt the water. He knew the baron was right. It would soothe him.

Jared walked up behind him and began to massage his shoulders. At first he thought the duke was going to fight him but suddenly, he relaxed, slowly leaning into the taller man. The large hands and lean fingers worked out knots, and a soft moan escaped the pouting lips.

The baron slowly slipped his fingers beneath the edge of the under shirt and lifted it up over the shorter man’s head. Jensen’s head fell back against the older man’s chest. Jared reached to the top of the undergarment and felt the duke’s hands stop him as the man pulled away.

“I can do that.”

Jared turned to remove his own clothing. He heard a slight splash of water and smiled. It was going to take time. He just had to make sure that Jensen experienced something as akin to ecstasy as he could create for him. He wanted the man to want sex with him…to desire it.

Jared sat in the tub with the roses, the scent causing a soothing affect.

Jensen soon reached for one of the large towels and covered himself as he left the alcove. He stayed wrapped in the towel as he sat in a chair by the fire.

+++++

Jared walked, naked, into the bedroom and turned the quilts down, glad there were numerous pillows. He walked over to the fire and watched the other man staring into the flames.

“Jensen,” he whispered.

Ackles slowly turned and saw his naked body, the deepening red covering the duke’s entire body in embarrassment. He turned face up to look at the older man.

Jared reached down and took his hands and pulled him up. As Jensen rose, his towel fell to the floor and the baron finally got his wish.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispered in awe. “We need to bandage your knee.”

“It will be all right.”

The warrior put his arm around Jensen and the other behind his rear, picking him up and carried him to the bed. He took the time to bandage the right knee and then climbed into the bed.

Jensen froze for a second and quickly moved away.

Jared pushed him onto his back, and the nobleman caught his breath in fear. The larger man laid on his side and leaned in, moving his mouth over Jensen’s ear, slightly licking and then nipping it. He moved behind the ear and down his neck, leaving love marks on him. The smaller male closed his eyes, trying to avoid the anger he felt at those marks. He’d been so specific that it was not happen and now he could not stop it.

Jared stopped every time he suckled the duke’s body to leave a mark. He left the bruise before there was much more than a sting. Jensen felt his heart rate going up and worried about it. He was starting to react to the actions the baron was doing to him.

The warrior slowly moved down the duke’s shoulder and moved toward his chest. He looked up at the man and could see that he had closed his eyes. He was not squeezing them shut in panic, and that was a good sign.

Jared touch Jensen’s left nipple and gently squeezed it. The man gasped and came up off the bed.

“Don’t do that!”

“Why? Because you like it and you don’t want to?”

Ackles chewed his bottom lip, and Jared leaned in and kissed him. He let his mouth linger, pulling in the lower lip and sucking on it. Jensen made the first sound that proved he was reacting to what the Baron was doing. He moaned slightly.

Jared’s tongue pushed at the man’s lips, demanding entrance. Without thinking, Jensen opened to him. The younger man had forgotten what it was like to be kissed this way. His body, remembering the feeling, responded. His tongue started to move and battle the baron’s. Jared pulled him into his arms and deepened the kiss.

Jensen felt lost in the feeling the kiss was causing. He wanted to push away, but his body had rebelled against him. Jared’s hand reached for his other nipple, gently squeezing it. The groan that came from him was much deeper and louder than before. It terrified him.

The duke managed to push Jared back and panted for air. The baron pulled him closer and laid his head on the younger man’s shoulder, gently kissing him there.

After Jensen calmed down, Jared leaned in and kissed him again. Once the kiss ended, he moved down his neck to his chest and pulled a nipple into his mouth and suckled.

“Heavens!” Jensen found himself holding the other man’s head still, not allowing him to move from the spot.

Jared knew he could move when he was ready, but the duke’s reaction was more than he had counted on. He was going to worship both nipples for a while.

The duke felt like he was in a dream world. The feelings were overwhelming, and he had lost all control. He couldn’t fight the man who was touching, sucking, and licking him, and he didn’t want to anymore. All he could do was to lay there and let him have what he wanted.

Suddenly, he froze as Jared’s hand reached his cock. He had not realized that it had hardened and was leaking. The baron fisted him and began to move his hand up and down, the thumb going over the slit at the tip and using the precum to slicken him. He moaned and pushed into the Jared’s hand and cried out when his cock started to shoot cum in spurts.

Everything grew still. Jensen was gasping for air, frightened that this had happened and he’d enjoyed it. Jared slowly licked his stomach, lapping up the spent. The younger man closed his eyes and groaned at the feeling.

Jared lay beside him and gently caressed his body. The duke’s mind was a mass of confusion. This was not what he expected.

“Jared?”

“Hmmm?”

“I don’t understand. What..” Jensen was interrupted as Jared lips found his. He could taste himself on the man’s lips and tongue
.
“That was just the beginning,” the baron promised. “We have all night.”

The duke let that register amongst all the confused thoughts and emotions that were ruling his mind at the time.

Jared slowly caressed Jensen’s balls, rolling them in his hands. He leaned down and sucked one into his mouth, and the duke swore. The warrior smiled around the mouth full of testicle and worked the other after he released the one.

He sucked and licked the jointure of the man’s thighs to his body. Jensen was whining at that point. Jared reached up and felt Jensen’s cock and found that it had hardened again. Lack of experience meant his body was going to respond more and allow him multiple orgasms, much like a youth. Jared had hoped for it and was excited to see it.

He slowly ran his tongue up the nerve bundle on the duke’s cock and sucked in the top, his tongue pushing into the slit. At this point, Jensen had two fists full of Jared’s hair. The duke screamed when Jared swallowed him. It was not long before the man was pushing his body into the baron’s face.

Suddenly, Jensen cried out, “Stop!” Jared knew why he’d said it and began to run his tongue around the cock, and Jensen cried out again as he came the second time.

The baron held the man close to him, rubbing his lower back, soothing him. He wanted the duke to relax and for his body to rest. The next time he was taking him completely. Coming twice meant he would last longer, and it was the warrior’s desire for the ride to last a while and to hear the man cry out every time he hit his sweet spot.

He got out of bed, and the duke whimpered. Smiling, he walked over to the table and poured two glasses of wine. He wanted Jensen to be as calm and relaxed as he could get him.

+++++

Jensen drank the glass of wine with the baron and let the man pull him close. It felt intimate and, at this point, there was no reason not to be. He dozed slightly.

He roused to the feeling of being turned over and pulled to his knees. He panicked.

“Shhhh…not going to hurt you.”

The duke started breathing fast but started to calm a little when he felt the baron’s tongue touch him there. He bit his lip to remain quiet. Jared licked and slightly sucked on the pink pucker, and Jensen lost the ability to be quiet. He moaned softly.

Jared pushed his tongue into the man’s hole and heard a startled sob escape the nobleman’s lips. He pushed as deep as he could and began to move his tongue.

“Sweet lord,” the man cried out as his body began to shake uncontrollably.

The baron reached for the jar of oil on the table next to the bed and dipped his fingers into it. Slowly, he moved one finger into the wet hole. The duke stiffened. Jared used his other hand to rub the man’s lower back.

“Relax, Jensen. It might sting, and burn but I’m not going to take you unprepared. This is not going to cause massive pain like you suffered before. I promise you’ll like it. Have I hurt you in any way?”

“No,” the man murmured, sounding scared.

Jared kept the finger still and then slowly began to move it around, slowly stretching the man. He added the second finger and stayed still, letting Jensen acclimate to it. He began to move the fingers in a scissoring fashion and elicited a slight moan. The third finger caused a small sob. He remained still and waited. Once the duke relaxed, he began to move them and hit the sweet spot.

Jensen’s arched his back and cried out, “Don’t stop!”

Grinning, the baron hit the spot several more times and pulled out. He heard a moan of disappointment, and his grin grew larger. Reaching for the jar of oil, he smothered his cock with it and wiped his hands on a towel.

Jensen was squirming, not understanding why he was feeling like this. The only time anything had been put inside him he had been hurt…badly.

Jared turned him over, and the green eyes widened as he saw the size of the man kneeling between his legs. The baron lifted his left leg, exposing him. Jensen felt the head of the massive cock move against his hole and stiffened. Jared laid on top of him and bit down on his shoulder. The younger man cried out, and the warrior was able to push into him.

Jensen stared up at the face looking down at him and felt the pressure and slight burn, but there was no severe pain. He forced himself to relax while he held his breath, waiting. Jared finally began to move, and the feeling was so different. Jensen willed himself to be still, to let the man have him.

Suddenly, the baron pulled the duke’s legs over his hips and told him to push into him. Jared hit his sweet spot, and Jensen screamed his name and began to push up meeting every thrust. Each time the man pushed into him, he felt incredible pleasure.

It took time for Jensen to come as his husband had hoped. Jared did not want to stroke him this time because he wanted the man to come untouched. He held himself back as he waited and watched the younger man’s face.

When Jensen’s body finally responded to the drilling against his sweet spot, his hole squeezed down tight on Jared and both men came at the same time. The baron watched the duke’s face. His eyes had widened, and his mouth was open as if he tried to scream ‘oh’ but it had caught in his throat.

Ackles lay still, his body spiraling as he rode out the final moments of the orgasm. Jared had fallen on top of him but was still inside of him. He couldn’t think. His mind was overwhelmed. How was he supposed to deal with what had just happened? He’d expected to be dominated, not this. The baron had not lied to him. ‘Oh, dear god, what do I do now?’

Jared pulled out, going to dampen one of the bathing cloths so he could clean and dry both of them. He blew out all of the candles and placed a screen in front of the fire.

Climbing back into the bed, he pulled a quilt over them. Jensen, half asleep, turned and cuddled into him.

The older man smiled and held onto his young husband, and the two slept.

Notes:

I do hope this hasn’t angered any of you enough to quit reading. This story does have a happy ending. Please don’t be angry with me. I’m just the scribe.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 13: Caerdon

It took three days of traveling and camping at night for the group to reach the capital. The closer they reached the city, the quieter and more reserved Jensen became. Jared found it impossible to ease the man’s fears. He finally decided that facing them was the only way.

As they reached the outskirts, people took notice and they soon had a large following as they entered the city.

The king received the news of their arrival and sent a messenger to meet them.

Five men on horseback, wearing the king’s colors and carrying his banner met the troop as they neared the main square in the city.

Jared called a halt and watched the duke to make sure he was all right.

One man rode towards them. “Commander Padalecki, the king welcomes you home. He asks if your campaign was successful?”

“You may tell the king that it was successful. We are heading to my home to rest and will appear before his majesty in the morning.”

“The king thought of that and says ‘no,’ Commander. He wants the duke before him now.”

“The duke has had a rough time. He needs to eat a decent meal and to rest.”

“I’m sorry, Commander, he has to come with us.”

“I’ll bring him. He’s in my charge,” Jared argued.

Jensen listened to the argument, shaking slightly. He did not want to go with these men.

“I’ll go now, but I will travel with the baron. I am his prisoner, not yours,” the duke stated.

The man looked at the nobleman. He turned back to the Jared, “He’s not bound. He cannot appear before the king without manacles on his hands and feet.”

“I’ll vouch for him.”

“Then we’ll take him, Commander.”

“We outnumber you,” Jared threatened.

The emissary turned and rode back towards the other men.

Jared was angry as he turned towards his companions. “We have no choice in this. I’m sorry, Jensen.”

“I expected it. Let’s just get it over with, and let me take my punishment.”

“I am not going to allow that,” the baron growled out a reply.

“You can’t fight a war over this,” the duke spoke softly, resigned to his fate.

Jared and his men followed the king’s messenger to the palace. As they dismounted, Jared walked towards his men and asked his sergeant for two sets of manacles for the hands and feet. He explained that there might be problems, and the men would need to remain close by. He asked for ten of them to be an honor guard and to remain armed. Ten of his closest men dismounted and followed him to the front of the troop.

“Jensen, are you ready?”

“No,” the duke said softly, his voice shaking, “but I have no choice here.”

Ackles dismounted and walked towards the baron. Christian stood behind him.

“I am not going to put these on you until we climb the stairs.”

Jensen nodded, and the thirteen men headed towards the entrance.

The messenger tried to stop them before they mounted the steps to the palace. Jared stared him down, and the man was not stupid. He backed off.

At the entrance, Christian took the manacles and bound Jensen with them. “I’m sorry,” he murmured to the trembling man.

The entrance was as pretentious as Jensen remembered it. He’d seen nothing in the city to cause him to change the decision that brought him here. He lowered his head to watch where he stepped because the manacle almost hobbled him. They were met by the chamberlain.

“My lord, the king is in the throne room,” he stated as he looked at Jensen. “Your grace, it pains me see you in another difficult situation. I wish the things were different.”

The green eyes turned to the man. “Thank you. I didn’t realize I had any sympathizers here.”

“There are some, your grace.”

Guards were standing outside the throne room. They opened the doors to allow the chamberlain to enter. “Sire, may I present his Grace, the Duke of Avenleigh.”

Jensen took a deep breath, realizing he was entering first. He put his shoulders back and held his head high. No one in this room would see him cower. He had to almost hobble, but he did not look down. His eyes were on Jeff Morgan, his former general and friend.

The chamberlain waited and then told Jared that he and his men could stand at the rear. The baron was unhappy, but it was Morgan’s choice.

Morgan watched the duke walk down the center aisle towards him and almost smiled. From Jensen’s face, he recognized consternation, maybe panic, but the man kept up what would have been a swagger if not for the manacles.

The duke stopped at the appropriate spot for a pensioner to plead before the king. He did not bow. Instead, he stared right back at the king.

“Bow before me, Your Grace,” Morgan commanded.

“In good conscience, I find cannot do so, Sire.” Jensen kept his voice level, and firm. No one looking at him would even imagine what was happening inside of him at that moment.

Pellagrino stood in the crowd and smirked, realizing he had a chance to get back at the man who had cost him an estate and a bedroom companion. Walking towards the duke, he jumped and kicked the man behind his right knee, knocking him to the ground on all fours.

Jensen cried out and went down, finally rolling into a ball to protect himself from another kick.

Jared and Christian ran down the aisle and grabbed Pellagrino. The two of them left him lying on the ground, his face bloodied.

Morgan was shouting for everything to stop, but his wife touched his arm and told him to calm himself and let Jared defend his property.

The baron and his second knelt down beside the duke and began to check his leg.

“It’s starting to swell,” Chris commented.

“Jensen, let’s get you on your knees. It’s a moot point right now. We need to get you out of here. All right?”

“I can’t, Jared.”

“All right. We’ll hold you up, and let you give your defense.”

Morgan’s eyebrows raised as the baron and the captain helped the prisoner to his feet. “Jared?”

“He’s within his rights, Sire.”
The king looked at the injured man and asked, “Why?”

“I have spent very little time in Caerdon, Sir. When I was here, I saw the opulence in the palace while the people outside were homeless, hungry, and sick. I swore never to bow and pledge fealty to a king who allowed that.”

“Now wait a minute,” Morgan interrupted.

Jensen spoke right over him. “I have had people from my village go and check every few weeks, and nothing has changed.”

“Jared, I want you to take him home, clean him up, and mend that leg. Take him to the eastern outskirts of Caerdon, and let him see what is happening there and then bring him back.”

Jared bowed and he and Christian put their arms under the duke’s to support his weight. The three left the throne room.

+++++

Jensen was taken to Jared’s home and was allowed to bathe and change clothes. His injured knee was bandaged to help him support his weight better as the joint healed. They sat down and ate a meal.

They rode to the eastern outskirts of the city. A small town had grown up around some fields filled with sheep and cattle. The gardens were showing growth. The stores in the community were run by the homeless who were no longer living on the streets.

Jensen dismounted and walked the streets and talked to people in the stores. As he headed back to his horse, he noticed that Jared and Chris were behind him.

The baron noticed the tears and walked towards the man. Reaching his hand up, he wiped the tears away with his thumb.

“Shall we go back to Morgan?”

“Not like this. I have some things I need to do first.”

They went back to Jared’s house, and Jensen sent a letter to the butler of the ducal mansion.

He headed upstairs and dressed accordingly. Walking down the stairs, he saw Jared’s eyes widen and his mouth drop open.

Jensen was dressed in the ducal garb that was usually worn during special royal holidays that required the lords to dress accordingly. He also wore the jewelry the Duke of Avenleigh would wear when called before the king.

A knock was heard at the door. Jared’s footman opened it and was informed that a coach was waiting for the duke.

“Jensen, what are you doing?”

“What I have to do,” the duke informed him.

+++++

Jared, Chris, and the men followed the ducal carriage to the palace. It was a dark brown with the crest in the colors of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and gold.

When the carriage arrived at the palace, servants went running to tell the chamberlain that some noble had arrived.
Jensen managed to walk the steps without help, but Jared knew it had to hurt. He also knew there would be a battle over the sword that hung on the man’s left hip.

The chamberlain let him back into the palace. “Your Grace?”

“Is he still holding court?”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“Would you announce me?”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

The messenger stepped forward. “You cannot enter with the sword or without the manacles.”

“I am not appearing as a prisoner of the king. I am coming as the Duke of Avenleigh, former warrior for General Jeffrey Morgan. I will be accepted as such.”

The man stepped between the duke and the chamberlain when he felt large hands on his shoulders forcing him towards the ground.

“Go ahead, Jensen. We’re right behind you as your honor guard.”

+++++

Morgan asked if there were any other pensioners in need of a hearing. At that moment, the doors opened and the chamberlain stepped inside.

“Sire, may I present His Grace, Jensen Ackles, the Duke of Avenleigh.”

Jensen walked like a noble. Morgan had to admit he looked impressive. The king had not seen any of the royal robes the nobility wore on special occasions. That the duke treated this as one should be taken as an honor. The king knew that. Then he saw the sword.

Jensen’s arms moved in step with his stride. His hands went nowhere near the weapon. It was being treated as a part of his clothing. Morgan noted that Jared and Christian were also armed.

When the duke reached the pensioner’s block, he went to his knees, taking out his sword and holding it hilt first towards the king.

Mary whispered. “Oh, Jeffrey!”

Morgan rose to his feet and walked towards the bowing man and reached down to take the sword.

“What is this, Jensen,” he asked softly.

“I have come, Sire, to pledge my fealty to you and this kingdom. I offer my sword, my honor, and my life in your service.”

The room grew suddenly still. The quiet was unnerving.

“Can I trust you with this, Jensen? You hold the title of traitor among my men.”

“I gave you what information you needed to come here, Sire. I had no choice but to go to Sebastian and tell him what you were doing?”

“No choice? Everyone has a choice.”

Jensen closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Not in my family, Sire. I was under orders. If I had not reported to Sebastian that you were going to come and the people would welcome you, I would have been disinherited. My father only needed one reason to oust me. I had to protect Avenleigh and its people.

“Jared?”

“I’ve talked to the servants and the many of the locals, Sire. He’s not lying.”

“Rise, Jensen. I accept your pledge and drop the charges of treason. What I cannot forgive is your refusal to come and face me with the truth instead of me having to do all of this.”

The king looked at the three men and smiled. “I am giving you to Baron Padalecki in marriage. You will be his spouse, and you will consummate the marriage here in the palace and give proof of it.”

“No, Sire, this is not right. I don’t want to belong to anyone.”

“You don’t even realize that you need him, do you Jensen?”

“How would you know,” he asked.

“I have spies everywhere. Jared?”

“My Lord,” the commander responded.

“Do you accept these terms?”

“Gladly, Sir. It’s what I want.”

“The ceremony will be this evening at 7:00. Why don’t you two walk the gardens and discuss the situation. Jensen, there has to be proof. The best way I know is for a doctor to examine you.”

The duke stood there, stunned. He couldn’t move or respond.

“Court is over for the day. Chamberlain, make sure a priest is here at seven with the proper paperwork. I will see everyone then.”

The king and queen left the throne room.