The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 4: Duke of Avenleigh

Chapter Text

Jensen awoke at sunrise and walked back to the keep, a determined look on his face. He used his key to open the latch on the front door, knowing the servants would just be starting their day. The younger son walked through the halls towards the kitchen where the staff would be eating their meal.

The butler and the cook rose to their feet swiftly. “Master Jensen,” Zechariah exclaimed. “Is there a problem?”

“No, please sit down. I thought I would eat with all of you this morning.”

The cook swiftly rose to her feet and hurried to the stove. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to look up into the young man’s green eyes.

“I know my way around your kitchen, Ellen. Finish your meal.”

Jensen brought a plate of food to the table and sat next to Travis, the footman. He took a bite of the ham and closed his eyes, slowly licking his lips.

“I’ve missed your meals,” he said softly. The cook smiled and reached over to pat his hand.

“Your father will be angry that you are in here, Sir,” the butler spoke up.

“Yes, he will, but it isn’t the first time and won’t be the last. Would you send someone up to my brother’s room and let him know I require his presence.”

“Master Jensen, I cannot in good conscience do that.”

“Zach? Is it your conscience or fear?”

“Mistress Jessica and young master Ben are home.”

Jensen smiled, “Really? How long has she been here?”

“A month, Sir.”

Sighing softly, the young man rose to his feet. He started to chuckle slightly and shake his head.

“Thank you for breakfast, Ellen. I need to go roust my brother.”

Ackles left the kitchen, and the staff stared at one another in surprise.

“That will not go well,” the butler murmured while the cook just ‘tsked.’

+++++

Jensen passed his bedroom door and walked further down the hallway to his brother’s. He knocked on the door and called the man’s name.

It took a few minutes, but Joshua opened the door and glared at his sibling.

“Get dressed, go to the kitchen and grab something to eat. We are going to start your training.”

“What?”

“I’m not going to allow everything I have worked so hard for to be ruined because you have as little love for this estate as father does.”

“How dare you?”

“Get dressed, Josh, or I’ll help you.”

The older Ackles turned almost purple and watched his brother grin. He hurried into his room and began to dress.

+++++

The two men were gone the entire day. When they entered the keep, Jensen looked at his older brother. “I’ll see you the same time tomorrow. You will need to resign your commission. Avenleigh needs her master in residence.”

Josh stood in shock as the younger man headed up the stairs to his room.

+++++

The attorneys for the estate arrived around ten o’clock on Saturday morning. They told the duke that they needed to have the entire family present.

It took a few minutes to find Jensen. The young man was in the courtyard speaking with the commander of the small garrison that resided within the keep.

He was not dressed formally and knew he would upset his father, but he obeyed the request.

Entering the room, the younger Ackles nodded to the lawyers and stood at back of the room. He noticed his brother standing near the window, one hand fisted around part of the drape. His sister-in-law was in one of the chairs near his father. He shook his head, knowing she would run through the money as fast as she could get her hands on it. Josh had no control over her.

Jensen looked back at the lawyers when he heard his name mentioned. They gave an account of the estate under his stewardship. A slight smile crossed his face; he had done well.

“Go on with it, man,” the duke growled at the attorney. “I need the papers to give my son the title.”

“You are wise selecting your younger son, your grace. He will bring this estate to even greater glory.”

“I’ll be damned if I give my lands and title to him. It goes to Joshua, my eldest.”

Jensen tried to make an attempt to leave the room when his brother spoke up.

“I don’t want it, Father.”

“What!!!”

“Josh, you can’t do that! I’m supposed to be the duchess,” Jessica exclaimed.

The brown eyes of the older son gazed into the green ones of his brother. He nodded at his sibling.

“I’m as bad at running this place as you were, Father. If Jensen had not taken on the stewardship, we would have lost Avenleigh. You and I may not love land like he does, but I saw enough this week to know it’s hard work. I am a soldier, and I do not want to give up my commission. Jensen has done all the work. He has taken undeserved criticism from you his entire life. Still, he stays and works like one of the serfs. He doesn’t just ride the property and give orders; he gets dirty. He loves this place, and he should be the owner. I don’t want the title, and I won’t accept it. You are going to have to give in, Father.”
Everyone was driven out of the office by the duke’s tirade. They gathered in the lounge. Jensen stood by the window, staring outside. Josh and his wife were arguing in the corner. The two lawyers watched the family with interest.

+++++

Jensen left the room when the clock struck one. He spotted Zechariah leaving the office.

“Zech,” he called out.

The butler stopped and turned towards the young man. “Do you need something, Sir.”

Jensen looked at the door the man had just exited. “His lunch?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Would you have Ellen serve something in the dining room for five people? Father seems to have forgotten his manners.”

“Of course, Sir.”

Ackles returned to the lounge. “There will be a luncheon served in a few minutes. Father is already enjoying his,” he announced to the group. Jessica shoved past him and walked towards the dining room.

Josh stopped and looked at his brother. Neither spoke but the communication was there. The two left the room, followed by the attorneys.

+++++

At five in the afternoon, Jensen sent Travis to inform Zechariah that two guest rooms would be needed for the evening. He walked back into the lounge and told the attorneys that rooms were being arranged for them.

“How does he stay so calm,” Jessica asked her husband.

“He doesn’t all the time. He just finds it easier to deal with difficult situations in this manner. He’s more like our mother.”

+++++

At half past the hour, the duke called for the lawyers. They stayed in the office with the elderly man for over an hour.

At seven, one of the lawyers came to the lounge, “Excuse me, gentlemen and lady. Your presence is required.”

It was quiet in the room, but Jensen took note that his father did not look well. He walked towards the back of the room again and leaned against the wall.

“Master Joshua Ackles, would you please come and sign here.”

Jensen almost groaned in frustration but remained quiet. He watched his brother sign several papers and then return to his seat.

“Master Jensen Ackles, would you please come and sign here.”

The younger son’s eyebrows raised in surprise, and he walked forward. The lawyer handed him a stack of papers to sign. His green eyes widened, but he went through them quickly, signing where the lawyer pointed.

When he was done, he handed the quill to the attorney and started to walk towards the back of the room.

“Congratulations, your grace,” the attorney offered his hand to the young man.

“I..I…what?”

“You are the new Duke of Avenleigh.”

“What did Josh just sign?”

“He gave up his rights to the title and has taken the younger son’s portion.”

“You fool!”

Everyone turned to look at Jessica Ackles. She was standing, facing her husband. She raised her hand, struck him, and rushed from the room.

“That’s not good,” the new duke murmured.

+++++

The next morning, Jensen was given the ducal ring and the keys to the cabinet that held the jewels and royal garments for important national occasions. He was surprised the ring fit and was glad he would not have to have it adjusted.

He saw the attorneys off and wished them a safe trip. After their carriage went through the gate, he asked for his horse and rode to the convent to visit the sisters.

He topped the hill and looked down into the glen where the large building stood. The morning sun shone down upon it. The stained glass in the sanctuary portion reflected the light. He moved his legs to urge the horse on and rode down the hill.

The large doors were opened by a novice. He asked for the reverend mother and was escorted to an office near the sanctuary. A nun stepped out of the office and told the young man that the reverend mother was with someone and it would take a while. He nodded and said he would go into the sanctuary to pray.

The doors to the sanctuary were large, heavy ones. He had to pull hard to open one. Once inside, he crossed himself and walked down the center aisle and knelt at the prayer bench in the front. He did not own a rosary and did not believe in praying them, but he did believe in the power of prayer.

The duke spent the next thirty-five minutes praying for his people, his estate, and his country. He asked nothing for himself, feeling he had been given more than he was worthy of.

The door opened and he heard a woman’s voice call to him, “Mr. Ackles, the reverend mother will see you now.”

He crossed himself and rose to his feet. Turning, he strode down the aisle and out the door, following the sister. She knocked on the door and opened it, moving aside to allow the young man to enter.

“Jensen Ackles. What a surprise.”

“Reverend mother, it’s good to see you.”

“I had heard you were home. How long will you be staying?”

“I won’t be leaving.”

“The entire region knows that your brother gained the title yesterday and all of your work will be ruined. Why stay?”

Jensen laid his hand upon the desk as he leaned in to speak to the woman. “Josh doesn’t want the title.”

The nun looked at the ring on his hand and then stared at him. “What changed his mind?”

“Probably a combination of things.”

“Such as?”

“The lawyers telling him I could bring the estate to a higher glory than it has. Josh vehemently turning it down. Jessica growing furious because the money would not be hers.”

The room was silent for a moment. “Those make a powerful combination, Jensen. What will you do now?”

“Prepare the estate for a possible siege. Morgan has to have landed by now. We have heard nothing from Caerdon since the lawyers left. That’s four days depending on how fast they traveled. The last my father heard was from one of the king’s advisors, and it was sent by courier and beat me to the keep.”

“If you carried out your orders from the king, Jensen, Morgan will be looking for you.”

“If it goes as I believe it will, Morgan is going to take time to set up his government. He has to establish his rule before he comes after me. He will send one of his captains to bring me in.”

“Be careful. You do not need a powerful enemy. Your family is one of the few royal supporters in the north.”

“If Morgan can prove he has the wellbeing of the people at heart, I will go to Caerdon, bow the knee, and pledge my loyalty. But not until he proves himself. ”

The woman nodded.

“I need to ask. Has the Bishop been dealt with?”

“He should have been defrocked, but he wasn’t. He is now a monsignor and still passes through here. We do not allow him near the children. Beware, Jensen. He is now your enemy.”

“Thank you for the warning. I need to go, Sister. God bless.”

“God be with you and bless your efforts.”

+++++

Jensen rode back to Avenleigh, and reached the keep during the late afternoon. He entered to a strange quiet.

“Travis?”

“Your Grace?”

“What is happening?”

“A soldier arrived an hour ago and is in the library with Master Joshua and your father.”

Jensen entered the library. The room grew suddenly quiet.

“What is happening?”

“If we needed you to know, we would have called for you.”

“Sir, I am now the lord of these lands and the need to know is mine first.”

“Morgan entered the city two days ago. Sebastian is gone. No one knows where. They believe there will be a call for the lords to come and pledge loyalty to him, but it hasn’t happened yet. At least as far as we know.”

Jensen sat at one of the tables in the library and sent out messages to his neighbors, his headman, and the convent. “Feed the man and let him rest.”

“Jen, I have to go back with him. Our army intends to do strikes and lay traps to slow his people down as they move on.”

“Josh, he won’t move on. He has the throne. His men will be sent out as messengers to notify us of the new king’s demands. If we do not respond in kind to him, he will send men to deal with it.”

“You?”

“It will depend on what he does to alleviate the poverty of the people. I can and will wait on him.”

“I am going; I’m a royalist. I’m sorry, Jensen. I will leave Jessica and Ben under your protection. You have custody of my son since she is not responsible enough to care for him.”

“Ben is my heir, Josh. When are you leaving?”

“Tonight.”

+++++

Late that evening, Jensen heard the shouting upstairs and saw his brother descend. The soldier who had arrived earlier was with him. The duke hugged his brother for a moment.

“Be careful,” he whispered.

“Whatever happens, you’ve got my son.”

“I promise.”

The new lord of Avenleigh walked his brother out to the horses and watched the two men ride off into the night. He walked out to the parapet and climbed up to the walkway, and stood and watched the clouds roll in. A summer storm was moving in fast.

He thought back over his time with Morgan. He had liked the man and thought he might make a better king than Sebastian, but he had sworn an oath to defend Saven from invasion. He did his job. Now he would keep his oath as duke to defend Avenleigh.

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