The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 12: Journey to the Virgin Isle

Jared turned in his sleep, reaching for the other man, only to find the bed empty. He opened his eyes and noted the sun was beginning to rise. He knew the duke was an early riser. Hell, they both were.

Dressing quickly, the baron hurried down stairs to find the rooms still dark. He walked towards the office and opened the door. Jensen was sitting at the desk, several candles lit close by so he could see the material he was reading.

Closing the door behind him, the taller man entered the room. He walked over and looked at the papers on the desk before the younger man.

“An island?”

“There’s no communication to or from the outside world for the island’s inhabitants,” Jensen said softly.

“What’s on this island?”

The green eyes stared up at him as Jensen chewed his bottom lip and sighed. “A convent.”

“A convent? She’d be happier at the penal colony.”

“She’d certainly prostitute herself to any lord imprisoned there if he could buy her pretty things.”

“So she is an adultress?”

“Jared, can we not discuss this?”

“Why didn’t you say something?”

“Who would I tell? No one would believe me, and I think you know that by now.”

“Will the convent take her?”

“Yes, they will. I was able to help them back when I was the steward here.”

“When do we leave?”

“I thought tomorrow would work. She won’t need anything. Whatever she wears tomorrow will suffice,” Jensen informed him.

“Then we’ll make the trip. I want my men to go with us because I won’t have you unprotected with no keep to shield yourself in.”

The duke was quiet for a moment, studying the baron. “Fine. It isn’t safe this far north. The king hasn’t sent men to guard the roads.”

“Jensen?”

“Yes, my Lord?”

“Pack for a week or two trip.”

Ackles stiffened. He watched the taller man and finally nodded. “Caerdon?”

“You’re arm has healed. We can’t delay it any longer.”

“I don’t….I can’t….Jared, I’m not ready to give an answer.”

“I know, Jensen,” the baron spoke just above a whisper.

“What will he do?”

“Morgan says you’re a friend. What do you think he’ll do?”

“Call me a traitor, remove my title and my lands, and most likely whore me out.”

The hazel eyes flashed in anger. “I thought you knew him better than that. Why don’t we wait and see. I can promise you this, he won’t whore you out.”

“How do you know that for sure?”

Jensen saw another flash in the hazel eyes, but it wasn’t anger this time. Whatever it was, it frightened him.

“Because he owes me. He told me that you would be good for me. He’s not going to give what is mine to every man in the army.”

The younger man swallowed with some difficulty and stammered, “I..I told you. I..I’m not yours. I..I belong to no man.”

Jared smiled, “We’ll see. I imagine your early breakfast is ready. We can meet with Jason when he gets here. At least get the repairs started.”

The duke nodded and started to put his papers away.

“Come,” the baron said and held out his hand, watching the man stiffen and the green eyes sparkle with anger. Jensen rose to his feet and pushed passed the larger man and left the room.

Smiling, the warrior followed the master of Avenleigh.

+++++

The day passed swiftly. Jessica ensconced herself in the library. Jensen sent a courier to the Sister who ran the Virgin Isle, informing her of their arrival the next evening.

The meeting with Jason went well. His people began tilling the soil, adding dried grasses and turning the burnt materials into the dirt. He sent out a letter to the man overseas who sold him the original apple trees. He would see what was available and the costs. He asked if there were saplings or older that could be shipped and planted.

At dinner, Jessica arrived on time. The meal went smoothly, until Jensen informed the widow that they were traveling tomorrow and that she didn’t need to bring anything.

“Where are we going?”

“To an island in the east.”

“I know of no resort to the east of us. Why won’t I need my things?”

Jared watched the duke bite his lower lip. Sighing, the man answered the widow, “You are going to be staying at the Virgin Isle. They provide everything.”

Jessica’s voice rose, “That’s a convent!”

“Yes, it is,” Jensen said calmly.

“I refuse to go there! You can’t make me!”

“I preferred it over the penal colony,” the duke replied.

“What! What crime have I committed?”

Silence filled the room as the baron turned and faced the duke, noting the man’s face had turned white. He finally spoke one word, “Adultry.”

“How dare you! After you put out for the king!”

Jared slammed a fist on the table and the dishes rattled, drinks spilling.

Silence filled the room again.

Jensen was still very pale as he responded to the angry woman, “Select riding clothes as we will not be taking a carriage. You will be confined in your rooms tonight. I have no intention of hunting for you so I am making sure you stay put.”

“The only whore at this table is you, Jensen! First that vagabond, then Sarah wasn’t good enough for you, then the King, and now you share a bed with him!” Jessica looked at Jared, who nodded at his second.

Christian rose to his feet and grabbed the widow’s arm and pulled her, kicking and screaming, out of the dining room.

“Travis, I need Jo with the key,” the captain shouted over the raucous the woman was making.

Jensen rose and walked out of the dining room, heading for the front doors. He walked around the back of the building, trying to calm himself. Entering the stables, he asked for his horse to be saddled.

+++++

Jared waited for Chris to return and the two men conferred, the captain hurrying off to inform the soldiers to be prepared early in the morning. As Christian was heading back towards the house, he saw Jensen ride past towards the gate.

Cursing under his breath, the second told Travis to have the baron’s horse saddled and brought out front.

“Jared!”

The baron had gone upstairs looking for the duke.

“He just rode out the gate.”

“Damn it! I need my horse.”

“Travis is already tending to it.”

Jared ran down the stairs and out the front door. He saw the man coming around the corner of the house. Hurrying towards him, Jared mounted his stallion and rode towards the gate.

“Which way did he go?”

“Across the fields toward the main road, my lord!”

Jared headed out the gate towards the direction the duke had taken. Both men were riding hard. The warrior did not know the area as well as the younger man. Cursing under his breath, he urged his horse to go faster.

It took a while but he finally saw the black stallion the duke rode in the distance. Jensen must have eased up on the speed of his mount

Jared urged his horse to go even faster. Soon the duke heard the horse’s hooves on the hard packed earth. He looked back, recognizing the rider. Sighing, he reined in and waited.

The baron reined his horse in and leaned over, pulling the reins out of Jensen’s hand. Before the man could react, the warrior hissed at him, “You are a lot of things, Jensen, but I didn’t take you for a fool!”

The green eyes flashed as Jensen struggled to get the reins back. “I’m not a fool!”

“Riding without protection of any kind is the most asinine thing I’ve ever seen you do! What were you thinking?”

Jared looked at the other man and saw him wince. Memories of the widow’s accusations flooded his mind. He calmed down and spoke softly, “Jensen, you are none of those things. You did not need to run away.”

The duke’s eyes moistened and reminded the warrior of emeralds. “You don’t understand, Jared.”

“I want to. Let’s go home; we need a good night’s rest before we deal with tomorrow. If I return the reins, will you promise not to ride off?”

The silence between the two men was thick. Jared reached over and turned the younger man’s head back toward him. “Jensen?”

“I promise.”

+++++

Early the next morning, Jensen woke and slipped out of the bed. The sun was barely rising. He dressed for travel and headed down the stairs, noticing his luggage alongside Jared’s in the hallway.

Unlocking the front doors, he walked outside and climbed the walls to the parapet. The duke walked to the eastern wall and stood, gazing out over his land, watching the sun rise.

He heard footsteps behind him. Not turning, Jensen spoke softly, “Good morning, my lord.”

Jared smiled, realizing the duke was finally reaching the point where he sensed him. “Good morning, Jensen.”

The baron stood beside the smaller man and followed his gaze. “It had to have been beautiful before the fires,” he remarked.

“It was. It will be again.”

“I believe you have it in you to do that, Jensen.”

The green eyes looked at him; attempting to read his intentions. The duke returned his gaze east, watching the golden light of the sun as it rose over the trees in the distance. “I hope I have that chance,” his voice shook slightly.

Jared knew the man would not believe him. Jensen was expecting the worse when he face Morgan.

“Let’s go eat. The horses are being saddled and we have four pack horses with camping gear, our luggage, food, and water.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“You may not be, but you know it’s a long ride to the east coast. We will only stop once to eat before we arrive. You need to keep up your strength. Jessica will not go easy on you.”

The duke turned and faced the taller man, “Why do you care?”

“If you need to ask that, I don’t think I can give you any answer other than what you have seen and heard.”

Shaking his head, the man pushed past the baron and headed towards the stairs that led to the ground.

+++++
The large group headed out an hour later. Jared, Jensen, and Christian rode together. The second had the reins of Jessica’s horse. Her hands were tied to the pommel.

The first hour was quiet, and Jensen was grateful for it. As the sun went higher in the sky, Jessica began her complaints. She called out to anyone they passed, asking for help. She would scream and tell them she was kidnapped.

Several times, they were stopped. Jared took command and told the men who stopped them that she was being taken to a convent. Jensen was rigid, his face white, and Jared knew this had to stop before the duke exhausted himself trying to control his temper and emotions.

They rode for six hours and found a shaded spot to stop and eat. Ackles dismounted and led his horse to a stream near where they stopped. He ran his hands over the animal with his kerchief, wiping any sweat and dust from its coat. He whispered near the horse’s ear, and the animal’s ears flicked up.

Jared led his horse over and let it drink. He watched the other man’s tender care of his animal and smiled, wondering how he would respond if he was in love. The baron was determined to find out.

They led their horses back to the others. As soldiers finished eating, they watered the remaining animals.

Jessica leaned against a tree and watched the two noblemen, her mind working fast.

“Baron, isn’t it true when a man decides to marry that he wants a virgin?”

Jensen’s head jerked up, and he stared at the widow.

Jared was silent for a moment. “In an arranged marriage, it is usual to expect that, yes.”

“I imagine the new king will just give you the land and whore my brother-in-law out then. He’s had several lovers. I can’t imagine the king giving his commander someone who is experienced.”

“You are wrong, woman,” the baron spoke sternly.

“Am I?”

“When I first met Jensen, he was a virgin.”

“How could you possibly know?”

“A man knows when someone has had lovers and when they haven’t. Jensen is still inexperienced.”

“He’s not a virgin.”

“Rape does not bring experience; only trauma.”

“Rape? Is that what he told you?”

“It’s what several of the people in the palace who were there informed me. Chris?”

“Commander?”

“Gag her. The duke is not going to suffer through more of this.”

The baron turned to stare at the man sitting next to him. Jensen’s head was lowered, and his hands were fisted. The man was shaking.

“Make ready to travel,” Jared called out to the men.

+++++

They arrived at the small village on the coast at dusk. Christian found the boatman who made the trips to the island at the local pub.

Within fifteen minutes, they were dragging the widow on board the boat and the three men road with her.

As the boat pulled up to the beach, Jensen walked over to a post that held a bell. Reaching up to the rope, he rang the bell three times. Returning to the others, he murmured, “Now we wait.”

It wasn’t long before the men saw some lights coming down from the massive building built on the hill.

The women were dressed all in white. The older one looked at the men. “Which of you is the Duke of Avenleigh?”

Jensen stepped forward, reached for the ringed hand of the older woman and softly kissed it. “I am he, Sister.”

“For some reason, I thought you would be older. Your correspondence speaks of intelligence and experience. You surprise me, your Grace.”

The woman turned to look at the others, “This is Lady Jessica?”

“She may be a problem, Sister.”

“Not for long, your Grace. We know how to deal with high spirited, spoilt women. She will learn to fit in.”

Motioning to the other women, the Sister waited. They took Jessica and pulled her toward her. Jensen backed up.

“Remove her gag so she may say goodbye.”

“You don’t want to do that.”

“It will be all right, your Grace.”

As soon as the gag was out of her mouth, the widow began to verbally abuse the duke. Jensen remained silent.

“Lady Jessica, you have lived under his roof, under his care, and you are this ungrateful?”

“He is a sodomite!”

The duke started to step forward, when the Sister raised her hand to stop him. “I know, Lady Jessica.”

Jensen’s mouth opened, and nothing came out. Jared walked forward, “You know?”

“Of course, I know. I make it a point to know about those I have financial dealings with. Jensen, I do not judge you for who or what you are. I know only that you have not freely given yourself to anyone. You are generous, kind, and are a good master to your people.”

Turning to the women, she said, “Come.” and the widow was dragged towards the convent.

Jared turned towards the duke and put a hand on his lower back, “Let’s go, Jensen. It’s over for good. She’s gone.”

+++++

The troop found a good spot on high ground to camp for the night. A fire was set up, and a meal was cooked.

The duke sat by the fire, playing with his food. Rising from where he was sitting, the baron joined him and leaned close, speaking quietly, “If you don’t eat it, Jensen, I will feed it to you.”

The younger man stiffened again and quickly ate his food. He rose and went towards the large tent. Stripping to his underclothes, he lay on the quilts and pulled another one over him.

An hour later, Jared joined him. As he laid down, he heard a soft sob. “Jensen?”

“Leave me alone, please.”

Pulling the younger man towards him, he held him close, not releasing even when the man tried to struggle.

As quickly as the duke had tried to pull away, he collapsed into the larger man’s arms and wept.

“Is she the first one to say something like that to you?”

“No.”

“Who?”

“You, damn it. You.”

Jensen finally fell asleep in Jared’s arms. The baron finally relaxed, an arm holding the man close to him. Both slept.

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