Chapter 7: So It Begins
Jensen and Jason had taken the food stores list to the kitchen and sat down with Ellen to plot a rationing list. He knew they could slaughter the sheep for food, but he hoped to salvage the lambs.
He had no idea that Jared had ridden up the gate. Jessica was outside with Ben and told the men she would notify the duke. She stepped inside for a moment and left her son with Travis before she went to meet the baron.
Twenty minutes later, one of the stable hands entered the kitchen through the back door.
“Mrs. Joshua is still out there talking to that tall soldier.”
Jensen looked up at the man before asking, “What?”
“Well, the men saw her go inside to tell you. She left the little one when she came back out and hurried to the gate.”
“Damn it!” Jensen ran through the house towards the front door. “Travis, did my sister-in-law leave a message for me?”
“No, Sir. I would’ve brought it to you.”
The duke looked around the hall, “Where’s Ben?”
“Jo took him up to the nursery.”
“Any time she steps outside from now on, I want to be told.”
“Yes, Sir,” the footman responded.
Jared was learning a lot of things from the young widow. One thing he knew for sure; the woman would not live under his roof. The second was he would not support her.
He looked up and saw Jensen running towards the gate and had to bite back a smile. He was enjoying the game they were playing. Sooner or later he would break the duke’s calm, and there was no telling what he would learn.
The baron watched the young woman turn towards Ackles and put her hands on her hips. His brows raised when he realized that was a stance of defiance.
Jensen stopped in front of her. He took several breaths. Closing his eyes for a second, the panic on his face stiffened almost as if made of stone.
“Go to the house.”
“Jensen, you have no power over me. I will go where I will.”
The duke looked up at Jared and saw the hazel eyes staring at him with a question in them. Ackles wasn’t sure what he was asking, but he knew what he had to do in front of this warrior and his men. He walked up to the woman and picked her up, throwing her over his shoulder.
Jessica started screaming, hitting the duke’s back with her fists, and kicking with her feet. Jensen did not stop. He reached the door of the house and kicked at it. It was opened by a surprised Travis, who watched the man carry her up the stairs to her room.
The serving girl ran out of the nursery and froze.
“Open her door for me,” the man spoke loudly over the screams.
Jensen threw the woman on her bed and stood there. The widow stood up and began to rant at him. He grabbed her wrist, pulled her towards him and sat on the bed. He pulled her hard, and she landed across his lap. Lifting the top layers of her clothes, he proceeded to give her a spanking.
When he had finished, the duke dropped Jessica on the floor and left the room. He took the key out of the lock and locked her door from the outside.
Turning to look at Jo, he spoke calmly, “Bring Travis with you when she is given a meal or when you have to serve her. She does not leave this room until I say so.”
The duke walked outside and stood in the center of the yard. He needed to know what she had told the baron, but there was no one to ask. Turning, he looked at the gate and found that Jared was still standing there. Surprise crossed his face, and he walked towards his enemy.
Jared smiled, knowing Ackles had to be completely disconcerted. He had no idea what the woman had been saying. It gave the baron an advantage. Jensen had to talk now.
The duke stopped close to the gate. Jared could reach in and touch him this time. The man’s face was stone cold, but the eyes spoke volumes.
“Good morning, Your Grace,” the baron’s voice drawled out the words, almost caressing the man with them. He watched Ackles stiffen and felt a wave of contentment in getting a reaction from him.
“You’re still here,” Jensen commented.
“Is that a question or a statement,” the taller man asked.
The bottom lip was sucked on, and then the man ground his teeth.
“Still not talking, Jensen? I have this feeling that you know you’ve been betrayed.”
A tic appeared at the duke’s right eye. “Have I been?”
Jared was shouting in his mind, “Been what, Your Grace?”
“Betrayed. Damn you!”
“Yes, you have. Would you like to know how?”
Jensen stiffened, his arms falling to his sides, hands forming fists.
“Are you seriously going to tell me?”
“I know there is more than one entrance into the keep.”
The green eyes grew wide, and the duke turned and walked away.
“I’ve got you,” Jared whispered as he watched the young man head towards the gardens.
Late in the evening, a man clad all in black, led a horse out of an entrance at the side wall of the keep. He quieted the animal and led him into the trees and waited to make sure no trap was set for him.
When he was satisfied, he gave a bird call and the entrance opened to a young woman carrying a sleeping child. He left his hiding spot and walked forward to take the child.
Suddenly, several men appeared and were met by a drawn sword. The fight ensued. A tall man appeared from behind and grabbed the black cloth from the face of the lone man.
“You might as well give up, Jensen.”
The duke turned and used an unusual movement with his blade and the baron’s sword went flying into the trees. Ackles’ sword was at his throat.
“I’ve injured two of your men. Call them off, and send them away.”
“Go back to camp, Chris.”
Jensen waited until the men were gone. He whistled and the black horse came cantering towards him. He walked over to the horse, and mounted, sword still on the baron.
“Jo,” he whispered.
The girl placed Ben in front of him. Jensen looked at the man he held at sword point.
“I will discuss terms when I return in the morning.”
“I will have found you before then.”
“I hope not.”
Suddenly the black horse was gone, and Jared swore and turned to the girl. “Show me the opening.”
The lights were dim at the convent but the Duke of Avenleigh knew there would be someone to open the door.
The reverend mother walked out of the sanctuary as one of the novices allowed the duke to enter.
“I need sanctuary for the night, reverend mother. I desperately need protection for Ben and a letter sent to my uncle in the north country. Will you help me?”
“The keep has fallen?”
Jensen’s green eyes were moist. “Jessica betrayed us. I have to protect Ben. The baron knows I will discuss terms tomorrow, but he will be looking for me. I need sanctuary until I can get back home.”
“You’ll never get back into the keep.”
Ackles’s voice trembled. “He’s already in it by now. I just need a safe place to the get the letter written and some time to pray. I’ll leave here in the morning; I don’t want to bring you trouble.”
“They’ll want Ben.”
“No, not really. It’s me they want. They need my title to have ownership of the land. Morgan plans to marry me off to one of his men.”
“I’m so sorry, Jensen. Come, let’s get Ben situated and I’ll get your needs taken care of.”
Jared walked the keep trying to decide what part of it had Jensen’s influence. He spoke with the staff and informed them they would be expected to remain in service at Avenleigh.
“Your Lord may not understand this, but King Jeffrey’s punishment is not harsh. He could have had him tortured or sold into slavery. He’s not going to be drawn and quartered or beheaded. I have to take him to Caerdon, and he has to bow to the king and swear his loyalty.”
Jared stopped when the secretary snorted. He stared at the man and Jason commented, “If the king had immediately taken care of the needs of the common people, Jensen would have been the first on his knees before him. As far as our Lord is concerned, he is not any different than Sebastian.”
“That is what stopped him?”
“Have you looked at the home farms and village,” the secretary asked.
“Jensen puts his people first,” Zechariah interrupted.
“What is going to happen to him,” Ellen asked.
“He will marry, and then his husband will own the estate.”
The cook started crying.
“Where is the widow?”
“She’s locked in her room and the master has the key,” Travis stated.
Jared started laughing.
Jensen wrote his letter and handed it to the nun along with the key to Jessica’s room.
“I do not wish a guest room, reverend mother. I would prefer one of the cots near the sanctuary. I’m heading home early in the morning.”