Chapter 6: The Aspects of War
It rained the day they buried Jensen’s family. He stood by the graveside after everyone had left, tears mixing with the raindrops. He slowly walked to the keep from the family cemetery and didn’t bother to lift his head. He watched the ground at his feet.
As he entered the keep, he nodded to the men on the parapet. The young man entered the house and told his footman he was going to change.
“They are holding the meal until you return, Your Grace.”
“They can damn well wait. I’m in mourning; I have no idea if anyone else is.”
Jessica entered the hallway from the lounge. “Was that meant for me?”
“You started packing to move to Caerdon as soon as they prepared my brother’s body for burial. He is your husband; you are his widow. You are an Ackles, and I will not allow you to embarrass that name.”
“You have no say so, Jensen. I will have Josh’s portion of the estate. You can’t keep me here.”
“You have one year of deep mourning. You will follow the traditions and wear black. After that, you wear gray. I am not going to allow you to embarrass my brother’s name and act like a trollop in Caerdon society like you were doing while I was overseas and Josh was in his regiment. I handle the estate and Josh’s portion. Most of it goes to Ben, not you. You will have the widow’s portion, and it will not support your frolicking.”
“We’ll see about that!”
Jensen stood, staring at her, water dripping from him to form a puddle on the floor. She looked at his face and saw no pity. Turning, she went back to the lounge.
The duke went upstairs to change.
Jared walked the halls of the palace. He did not like place and had found a house in one of the quieter areas of the city. He was highly concerned that Pellegrino had won the right to go after Ackles.
He was not sure that Ackles deserved what was coming. He had sent a few of his men into the area, and the young duke’s people spoke highly of him. He also knew that if anyone was going to get into that keep it would only happen if the man opened the gates and let them in.
Morgan did not dislike the man. He was angry and hurt at the misplaced trust he’d given him. From what the baron could tell, his king considered Ackles a friend. Queen Mary adored him, and she disliked most of the men who fought for them.
Padalecki sent the two men back to the village of Avenleigh. One of them had brought the report to him, and it seemed that Pellegrino was at a standstill. He had had words with Ackles at the gate of the keep. The duke had listened politely to the captain’s ultimatum and then turned and walked away.
Jensen was tired. The troops camping in his orchards were destroying the area. He had no means of recourse. He walked the parapet and his men left him alone, recognizing his mood.
The duke was glad the rains had stopped, and the grounds were almost dry. The winter crops would flourish as long as the troops stayed out of the fields.
He had listened to the last ultimatum from Pellegrino with disgust. They had never gotten along. The Captain described to him how he planned to mount and ride him. It was how he found out what Morgan’s punishment was going to be. He informed the captain that he would turn him into a eunuch if he came near him again.
Jensen’s head jerked up and he ran towards the front of the keep. Looking out, he saw flames envelope the orchards. They spread rapidly through the trees to the gardens and pasture lands.
Jensen and his people could do nothing but watch their lands burn. If they went out to fight the fire, they would lose everything.
Jared received the notice of the burning of the lands of Avenleigh late in the evening. He dressed and hurried to the palace.
Morgan and his wife were in the royal suite. The baron banged on the door and demanded entry. Mary opened the door.
“Jared! What is going on,” she asked as the king’s commander pushed by her into the room.
Jeffrey came out of the bed chamber wearing a long robe.
“Do you have any idea what time it is, Jared? This had better be important.”
“That ass, Pelligrino, burned every acre of the lands of Avenleigh to the ground. He took out the orchards, pasture land, and the winter crops. Ackles had to stand on the parapet and watch everything he’s worked for go up in flames!”
“That assinine fool! I specifically said the grounds and animals were not to be touched!
“Jared, I have some things you need to hear.”
The tall warrior found a seat and sat down across from his friend. “Go ahead.”
“One of my men was missing for quite a while. He turned up today.”
“He was Ackles’ second at the duel with your brother.”
The baron’s face froze, and he bit his bottom lip.
“I know what happened; there were witnesses.”
“Those witnesses were the cause of your brother’s death.”
“Ackles ran him through after he had dropped his sword,” Jared stated.
“He dropped his sword, and Jensen backed off. Three of the men there were friends of your brother. They pulled their blades and attacked Ackles. In the fight that ensued, your brother was grabbed by one of his friends and pulled in front as a shield. It happened so fast that Jensen had no time to pull back. It was not his fault.”
“Pelligrino did it. Jensen said nothing. He could have made an accusation, but it was his word against theirs.”
“What are you wanting from me?”
“Take your men and replace Pelligrino. Use whatever trick you can come up with, just get that boy to open the gate.”
“I didn’t compete for him,” Jared pointed out.
“He’s a beautiful man, Jared. He’s smart, witty, and a joy to be around. He also has the same preference as you in the bedroom. You lost everything. I’m offering a husband and an estate.”
“A burned out estate.”
“If anyone can rebuild it, Jensen can. Just bring him here to swear loyalty to me. We’ll have the ceremony here.”
Jared rose to his feet. “I’m not sure I want him.”
“He certainly doesn’t want you. I am making this an order, commander. For your own good.”
“Yes, Sir,” Jared responded and left the room.
Jensen stayed in his office for hours, going over every contract or agreement he had made with neighbors. He would have to call in favors. He closed his eyes and laid his head on the desk. Everything was gone. He had to find a way to feed the flocks that were in the keep. The village was safe for now. Their crops were not touched, and the duke was grateful for that.
Several of the lords of the surrounding areas had made attempts to go to the gate and speak with him but Pellegrino was allowing no contact. He was confined in a trap of his own making. There had to be a way.
Jared and his men rode through the village of Avenleigh. The streets were deserted but he could see people standing in the doorways or peering through windows.
“They don’t look very friendly do they,” his second, Christian asked.
“You can’t blame them now. Morgan’s name now has a foul stench to it.”
“It’s that bastard’s fault for not obeying the rules laid down for him, not our king’s,” Christian objected.
“I know what happened to my brother, Chris. Pellegrino’s days are numbered.”
One of the guards on the parapet cried out, “Riders!”
Jensen had been in the back going over what was in the smoke house and the food storage. He came running around the side of the building and reached the gate. He could barely see what was happening. Swearing under his breath, he climbed to the walkway on the parapet.
There was now a large assembly of men…an army. The duke felt nauseated when he saw the size. He tried to see the banner the new command traveled under, but the wind was barely blowing.
Several hours passed, and Pellegrino’s men rode out. Jensen stared and then looked again at the new group who had settled in his ruins. He shook his head and climbed down off the parapet and headed back to the work he was doing.
Jared had watched the man in the white shirt stand on the parapet. He wondered what was going through Ackles’ mind as the men who had ruined his estate rode off. The warrior studied the estate. It was solidly built and well-fortified. Morgan said not to damage anything. There had to be a way. He watched the man finally leave and figured he was just as curious.
The next morning, Jared mounted his stallion. Christian and five warriors mounted their horses as well. One carried the Baron’s banner. He slowly rode towards the gate. He knew he had all the time in the world since Jensen was the one with a deadline. He had to figure out how to feed his people while locked in the keep. Jared had every intention of knowing the duke. He could read people and knew Morgan liked the man. He had to remember that. There had to be reasons behind everything Ackles had done.
Jensen was in his office with Jason going over what he found in the storehouses and smoke house. They were in the middle of a serious discussion when Travis came to the door.
“Come,” the duke answered.
“Your Grace, there’s seven mounted men coming towards the gate.”
Ackles jumped to his feet and hurried out the door. He broke into a run and was at the gate before the men arrived. He did not recognize the banner.
A very large man dismounted and walked towards the gate. ‘Brave?’ Jensen’s mind was wondering…’or fool?’
“Maybe. You are?”
“We’ve already met. I know your voice, and I can finally put a face to it. Morgan is right; you are a beautiful man.”
“Don’t bother telling me how good I’m going to look beneath you. I can as easily cut your bollocks off as I could Pellegrino.”
Jared shocked the young man as he broke out in laughter. “Is that what you threatened that fool with? It would have served him right. I’ve only come to talk. I’m Padalecki.”
Jensen did not know how to respond. The baron had to have at least four inches on him. He was Goliath, and Jensen felt like David. Only, there was no sling shot and no round stones.
“I came a long way to get to know you, Jensen.”
“Because I cannot bring your walls down, so you are going to open the gates and let me in.”
“I’ll die first.”
“I hope not.”
“This will not work, Baron,” the duke replied.
“I have only one question for the moment. Do you wish to let those who reside inside the keep leave under my protection? I know your nephew and your brother’s widow are in there.”
“So you can use them against me,” he asked.
“I’m not Pellegrino, and I will not harm your home or your people. You have to be wracking your brain, trying to figure out how to last the winter. I’m offering a way out.”
Jensen opened his mouth and closed it. He turned and walked back to the house.
Jared was satisfied and returned to the camp.