The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 5: The Days Ahead

Chapter Text

Jensen woke up early the next morning and checked on his nephew in the nursery. He walked downstairs and towards the kitchen. Travis was in the entrance and called to him.

Turning, Jensen asked what he needed.

“Cook remembered your early hours, Your Grace. There is a meal laid out in the dining room.”

“Thank you, Travis.”

The new duke headed towards the dining room and entered to find a full breakfast for one laid at the head of the table. He winced, thinking that may be a problem during family meals.

He sat down and lifted the lids on the dishes and helped himself to eggs, bacon, and potatoes. The toast was nicely browned and buttered. Steve, the kitchen help, entered with a pot of hot tea.

“Thank you, Steve,” Jensen smiled as the tea was poured. He finished his meal in solitude, enjoying the quiet. As he rose from the table, a messenger arrived. The duke met him in the hallway where he took the missive and looked at the man.

“Is an answer required?”

“I was not told so, Sir.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Sir.”

“Have you traveled far?”

“Caerdon, Sir.”

“Would like something to eat before you leave?”

“I broke my fast in the village, and I have other missives to deliver.”

“God speed, then. Who is the missive from?”

“The king, Sir,” the messenger replied as he left the hall.

Jensen stood still holding the missive in his hand. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Turning, he walked into the office and sat at the desk and stared at the envelope. He turned it over and saw a royal seal. It was not Sebastian’s.

“He’s quick,” the duke whispered as he grabbed a knife to open the envelope.

Jeffrey Morgan, King of Saven
To Alan Ackles, Duke of Avenleigh

As King of Saven, I command all lords of this land to appear before me and swear their oath of loyalty. I believe that two weeks should give you enough time to reach Caerdon and appear before me.

I also require the presence of your younger son, Jensen Ackles. He will know the reason for his presence.

“Damn,” Jensen whispered. “Damnation!”

He rose to his feet and walked the room. His time was now limited and Morgan had no idea, as of the letter, that he was now the head of his house.

He left the house and walked over to the barracks that were built below the walkway behind the parapet. He located the commander and told him to prepare for a possible siege.

After the war preparations were discussed, Jensen looked for the estate’s secretary. He found him in the stable yard and cornered him before he went about his duties.

“You are going to need to move into the keep for the time being. We will come under siege when I do not appear at court.”

“Why are you willing to risk this, Your Grace?”

“Jason, you’ve been calling me Jensen for five years. Please don’t change it.”

“All right, but the question still stands.”

“I have lived in a royalist household my entire life. I obeyed my father and served our king as a spy in Morgan’s campaign. I like Morgan; I hated what I had to do. My problem is that Sebastian left a horrible taste in my mouth when it comes to serving a king. If Morgan puts the people first and works to heal this country, I’ll serve him. But I will not swear fealty until he does.”

“Perhaps you should send someone to check out the lay of the land.”

“The headman of the village has family in Caerdon. I will use him. Thank you for the advice. Now, we need to harvest early. We will not get as plentiful a harvest, but I can’t guarantee what they will do. We will still have the Autumn harvest. Store it in the keep and ensure the flocks are kept in the nearer pastures. The watch towers are going to be manned. Send our tithe to the convent. We need to be prepared to bring the flocks and the people on the estate into the keep.”

“I’ll have us prepared.”

Jensen nodded, his mind already on the village and convent. He had a horse prepared and went to the village. Jensen spent the next two hours with the headman and several other men from the village. He knew they were not royalists, but they were loyal to him and would not support any raid against the keep.

“I want to thank for you being willing to stay out of the battle and not take sides.”

“You’ve been good to us since you became steward. Now you’re the master of Avenleigh, we can’t support an attack against you. We can’t take sides, Your Grace, but we won’t back the new king in this either.”

Jensen stood and shook hands with the men and told them that if things go wrong in the village to come to the keep.

“Your Grace, I’ll take the message to the convent for you. The monsignor is visiting.”

The duke frowned and nodded. He rode towards home, wishing he could bring the priest down.

+++++

Two weeks later, Baron Padalecki and his men rode into Caerdon. They had taken on a job for the king, going after the remnants of Sebastian’s armies. There had been several groups but not near as many as expected. Many laid down their arms and surrendered.

He entered the palace and asked for an audience. He was invited into the throne room and noticed it was packed with people. He stood near the throne and watched the lords of Saven kneel and pledge loyalty to Morgan. There was no expression on his face. When the northern contingent arrived, each man gave his oath.

“My Lord,” Jared interrupted the king. “Has the Duke of Avenleigh arrived?”

Morgan looked at his commander, “I don’t know.” The king turned to the man kneeling before him. “Is the Duke of Avenleigh here?”

“No, Sir. All I know is that Ackles has been preparing for a siege.”

“What about his son?”

“Joshua is in the army, but his wife and son are there.”

“I believe the king is more interested in Jensen, the youngest,” Jared remarked.

“He’s been busy preparing. We’ve heard rumors that he expects you to come after him. Why him?”

“He betrayed me,” Morgan said.

“Is Alan Ackles a royalist?”

“The family is the last royalist stronghold in north country, Sire.”

“I’ve asked questions while traveling, Sire,” Jared interrupted. “The duke is a senile old man, and I am shocked that he allowed his heir to rejoin whatever was left of his regiment.”

The viscount, who was still kneeling, interrupted, “My Lord, the oldest is not the heir. The transfer of title and property was done several weeks ago. The youngest has the land and title now.”

Morgan began to laugh. Jared watched him, a frown on his face.

“You are the last of the lords, Viscount. I thank all of you for your allegiance to us. I will try my best to be deserving of that. Chamberlain? Call my Captains.”

+++++

Jensen had been out seeing to the sharing of the harvests and going over escape routes if needed. He dreaded entering the keep. Jessica had been demanding money and transport to the capital and was throwing one tantrum after another when he refused.

As he entered, he saw a wagon and several exhausted horses at the front. It was quiet outside. Dismounting, he tied his horse to the wagon and hurried into the house.

The sounds of screams, shouts of anger, and crying assaulted him. He looked for Travis who was not at his post. Hurrying into the lounge, he found some wounded soldiers.

“Has anyone tended to you?”

“No, Sir. They’re mourning.”

“What!”

Jensen ran out of the room and found Travis. “See that those men are tended to. What has happened?”

“Master Joshua, Sir. He’s dead.”

“Where is the body?”

“In the library, Sir. They are preparing it.”

“Where’s my father?”

“He saw the body..and..and he screamed and fell to the ground. They say his heart stopped.”

“No…no…no…no…NOOOO!!!!”

Jensen ran to the library and found two of the long tables arranged with a body on each. He stood there, staring and finally noting that the servants had cleaned and dressed them. He walked over to his brother and reached out and touched his cheek.

“Damn it, Josh! You were supposed to be careful!” He went to his knees, a loud wail escaping his throat. The duke began to cry.

It began to grow dark, and Jensen finally rose to his feet and looked over at this father’s body. He felt no sorrow or a sense of loss. The emptiness there had a tinge of regret for what might have been.

He left the room and entered the hall. “Where’s Jason?”

“He’s in the kitchen. Sir.”

“Ask him to come to the office and find Father Kevin. We will need two graves prepared. Send someone to the stonecutter and ask for two tombstones. Give them the pertinent information. Where’s Jessica?”

“In her rooms, Sir. She said something about packing and going to Caerdon.”

Jensen swore softly, “Bring her to my office.”

+++++

The captains who led Morgan’s men arrived. They were competent men who led their armies fairly well. What made them a good military force was Baron Padalecki and his men. He was the commander.

“Gentlemen,” Morgan spoke, causing the room to grow silent. “It would seem that our traitor, Jensen Ackles, is now the Duke of Avenleigh. He did not appear today. I have decided his fate. You may draw straws or however you want to decide, but you may each make an attempt to bring him to me. You do not harm his people or his estate for they live off what that estate produces. You bring him to me; I will give him to you to marry and you will keep Avenleigh as yours. By the laws of this land, the estate cannot become yours without the marriage. Bring him to me.”

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