Chapter 3: Avenleigh
It took Jensen three days to reach the north country and home. He reached the boundaries of Avenleigh and sighed deeply. The dukedom had been his in all but name since Duke Alan was old and incapable of running the estate, and his heir was army mad. Jensen had taken over running the estate when he was twenty-five, and it had prospered under his stewardship.
Riding through the village, he smiled as men doffed their caps to him and the women curtsied. He had stopped and purchased a large parcel of sweets for the children. Reining his horse in, he nodded to the headman of the village.
“I have a gift for the little ones,” he called out. The headman walked towards the young steward and bowed while Jensen held out the parcel. “There should be plenty to last a few days.”
“Thank you, young master,” the man responded. Jensen nodded and softly moved his legs to urge his horse into motion.
An hour passed, and he reached the outskirts of the orchards he had convinced his father to plant ten years before. The apple trees were not large but were producing wonderful fruit. He would be home during the harvest and the cider making.
Turning his mount off the road, he cut across the orchards towards the pastures where his father’s shepherds tended their flocks. It saved time.
The keep of Avenleigh appeared in the distance. It was a large fortress that had never been breached. The walls were thick with spikes mounted, facing outward, in the outer walls. He could see the banner flying atop the tower that signaled his father was home.
Jensen entered through the open gate and rode to the main yard. He dismounted as several men surrounded him. Handing his bag to one of the footmen, he turned. Thanking the stablehand, he left his horse to be tended and entered the keep.
The footman opened the door for him and welcomed him home. The younger Ackles stood in the entry and looked around him, happy that he was home.
“Thank you, Travis,” he responded softly. “Where’s my father?”
“His grace and master Joshua are in the library.”
“Thank you.” Jensen walked down the large hall and turned left, heading towards the room to find his family.
He hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath, and knocked on the massive door.
“Come,” was heard from inside.
Opening the latch, the young man entered. He stood in silence, waiting to be noticed.
The elderly man sitting by the fire did not look at him immediately. He noted that his brother waited as he did.
“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I thought you were serving the king. Why are you here?”
“I came to prepare the estate for war.”
“War,” the duke snorted.
“Jensen, are you sure,” his brother asked.
“I told our king that Morgan was prepared and ready to launch an attack. I warned him that his spies think our people will welcome him. He laughed at it.”
“That is not what I was told,” the older man interjected.
The youngest Ackles stared in surprise. “What were you told, Sir? I did not waste any time coming home. How would anyone beat me here?”
“Are you calling me a liar?”
Jensen turned pale, “No, sir. The king chose Sheppard’s tale over mine.”
“Yes, I know. Sheppard sent me a letter informing me.”
“He does not hold me to blame for your peccadillos and wanted to inform me that not only were you trying to mislead the king, but you also serviced him.”
“The hell I did!!”
“Don’t yell at me, boy! We all know you’re a sodomite.”
“You’re not going to listen?”
“The lawyers will be here this weekend so I may give the title to your brother. You will no longer be needed as steward.”
“Josh can’t run this estate any better than you could.”
“If I hear one word of dissent, you will be banned from Avenleigh.”
Jensen turned and left the library. He walked out the front door and started walking. His mind was in a turmoil. His entire life was falling apart, and he had no recourse. Josh would bring the estate down; he had no interest in such things. Cutting across the fields, the young man kept moving, tears flowing unknowingly down his face.
He stopped under an apple tree and leaned against it. “What do I do?”
The massive flotilla of ships entered the single port on the coast. Jared stood on the bow of one of the ships with Morgan.
“Our informant says that Sebastian did not listen to Ackles,” the future king informed his commander.
“I am surprised by that,” the Baron responded.
“It would seem that his spy has a very poor reputation that preceded his return.”
“What reputation? There was none on the continent.”
“He prefers men,” Morgan said with a laugh.
“I know, my friend, but it seems it’s frowned upon here.”
“Really? Ackles was right; he had the information.”
“He did not give it to them.”
“That surprises me. I wonder why,” the baron responded.
Jensen spent the night in the orchard, refusing to face his father again that evening. He had no idea how events were going to change his life or how soon they would occur.