The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 13: Caerdon

It took three days of traveling and camping at night for the group to reach the capital. The closer they reached the city, the quieter and more reserved Jensen became. Jared found it impossible to ease the man’s fears. He finally decided that facing them was the only way.

As they reached the outskirts, people took notice and they soon had a large following as they entered the city.

The king received the news of their arrival and sent a messenger to meet them.

Five men on horseback, wearing the king’s colors and carrying his banner met the troop as they neared the main square in the city.

Jared called a halt and watched the duke to make sure he was all right.

One man rode towards them. “Commander Padalecki, the king welcomes you home. He asks if your campaign was successful?”

“You may tell the king that it was successful. We are heading to my home to rest and will appear before his majesty in the morning.”

“The king thought of that and says ‘no,’ Commander. He wants the duke before him now.”

“The duke has had a rough time. He needs to eat a decent meal and to rest.”

“I’m sorry, Commander, he has to come with us.”

“I’ll bring him. He’s in my charge,” Jared argued.

Jensen listened to the argument, shaking slightly. He did not want to go with these men.

“I’ll go now, but I will travel with the baron. I am his prisoner, not yours,” the duke stated.

The man looked at the nobleman. He turned back to the Jared, “He’s not bound. He cannot appear before the king without manacles on his hands and feet.”

“I’ll vouch for him.”

“Then we’ll take him, Commander.”

“We outnumber you,” Jared threatened.

The emissary turned and rode back towards the other men.

Jared was angry as he turned towards his companions. “We have no choice in this. I’m sorry, Jensen.”

“I expected it. Let’s just get it over with, and let me take my punishment.”

“I am not going to allow that,” the baron growled out a reply.

“You can’t fight a war over this,” the duke spoke softly, resigned to his fate.

Jared and his men followed the king’s messenger to the palace. As they dismounted, Jared walked towards his men and asked his sergeant for two sets of manacles for the hands and feet. He explained that there might be problems, and the men would need to remain close by. He asked for ten of them to be an honor guard and to remain armed. Ten of his closest men dismounted and followed him to the front of the troop.

“Jensen, are you ready?”

“No,” the duke said softly, his voice shaking, “but I have no choice here.”

Ackles dismounted and walked towards the baron. Christian stood behind him.

“I am not going to put these on you until we climb the stairs.”

Jensen nodded, and the thirteen men headed towards the entrance.

The messenger tried to stop them before they mounted the steps to the palace. Jared stared him down, and the man was not stupid. He backed off.

At the entrance, Christian took the manacles and bound Jensen with them. “I’m sorry,” he murmured to the trembling man.

The entrance was as pretentious as Jensen remembered it. He’d seen nothing in the city to cause him to change the decision that brought him here. He lowered his head to watch where he stepped because the manacle almost hobbled him. They were met by the chamberlain.

“My lord, the king is in the throne room,” he stated as he looked at Jensen. “Your grace, it pains me see you in another difficult situation. I wish the things were different.”

The green eyes turned to the man. “Thank you. I didn’t realize I had any sympathizers here.”

“There are some, your grace.”

Guards were standing outside the throne room. They opened the doors to allow the chamberlain to enter. “Sire, may I present his Grace, the Duke of Avenleigh.”

Jensen took a deep breath, realizing he was entering first. He put his shoulders back and held his head high. No one in this room would see him cower. He had to almost hobble, but he did not look down. His eyes were on Jeff Morgan, his former general and friend.

The chamberlain waited and then told Jared that he and his men could stand at the rear. The baron was unhappy, but it was Morgan’s choice.

Morgan watched the duke walk down the center aisle towards him and almost smiled. From Jensen’s face, he recognized consternation, maybe panic, but the man kept up what would have been a swagger if not for the manacles.

The duke stopped at the appropriate spot for a pensioner to plead before the king. He did not bow. Instead, he stared right back at the king.

“Bow before me, Your Grace,” Morgan commanded.

“In good conscience, I find cannot do so, Sire.” Jensen kept his voice level, and firm. No one looking at him would even imagine what was happening inside of him at that moment.

Pellagrino stood in the crowd and smirked, realizing he had a chance to get back at the man who had cost him an estate and a bedroom companion. Walking towards the duke, he jumped and kicked the man behind his right knee, knocking him to the ground on all fours.

Jensen cried out and went down, finally rolling into a ball to protect himself from another kick.

Jared and Christian ran down the aisle and grabbed Pellagrino. The two of them left him lying on the ground, his face bloodied.

Morgan was shouting for everything to stop, but his wife touched his arm and told him to calm himself and let Jared defend his property.

The baron and his second knelt down beside the duke and began to check his leg.

“It’s starting to swell,” Chris commented.

“Jensen, let’s get you on your knees. It’s a moot point right now. We need to get you out of here. All right?”

“I can’t, Jared.”

“All right. We’ll hold you up, and let you give your defense.”

Morgan’s eyebrows raised as the baron and the captain helped the prisoner to his feet. “Jared?”

“He’s within his rights, Sire.”
The king looked at the injured man and asked, “Why?”

“I have spent very little time in Caerdon, Sir. When I was here, I saw the opulence in the palace while the people outside were homeless, hungry, and sick. I swore never to bow and pledge fealty to a king who allowed that.”

“Now wait a minute,” Morgan interrupted.

Jensen spoke right over him. “I have had people from my village go and check every few weeks, and nothing has changed.”

“Jared, I want you to take him home, clean him up, and mend that leg. Take him to the eastern outskirts of Caerdon, and let him see what is happening there and then bring him back.”

Jared bowed and he and Christian put their arms under the duke’s to support his weight. The three left the throne room.

+++++

Jensen was taken to Jared’s home and was allowed to bathe and change clothes. His injured knee was bandaged to help him support his weight better as the joint healed. They sat down and ate a meal.

They rode to the eastern outskirts of the city. A small town had grown up around some fields filled with sheep and cattle. The gardens were showing growth. The stores in the community were run by the homeless who were no longer living on the streets.

Jensen dismounted and walked the streets and talked to people in the stores. As he headed back to his horse, he noticed that Jared and Chris were behind him.

The baron noticed the tears and walked towards the man. Reaching his hand up, he wiped the tears away with his thumb.

“Shall we go back to Morgan?”

“Not like this. I have some things I need to do first.”

They went back to Jared’s house, and Jensen sent a letter to the butler of the ducal mansion.

He headed upstairs and dressed accordingly. Walking down the stairs, he saw Jared’s eyes widen and his mouth drop open.

Jensen was dressed in the ducal garb that was usually worn during special royal holidays that required the lords to dress accordingly. He also wore the jewelry the Duke of Avenleigh would wear when called before the king.

A knock was heard at the door. Jared’s footman opened it and was informed that a coach was waiting for the duke.

“Jensen, what are you doing?”

“What I have to do,” the duke informed him.

+++++

Jared, Chris, and the men followed the ducal carriage to the palace. It was a dark brown with the crest in the colors of rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and gold.

When the carriage arrived at the palace, servants went running to tell the chamberlain that some noble had arrived.
Jensen managed to walk the steps without help, but Jared knew it had to hurt. He also knew there would be a battle over the sword that hung on the man’s left hip.

The chamberlain let him back into the palace. “Your Grace?”

“Is he still holding court?”

“Yes, Your Grace.”

“Would you announce me?”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

The messenger stepped forward. “You cannot enter with the sword or without the manacles.”

“I am not appearing as a prisoner of the king. I am coming as the Duke of Avenleigh, former warrior for General Jeffrey Morgan. I will be accepted as such.”

The man stepped between the duke and the chamberlain when he felt large hands on his shoulders forcing him towards the ground.

“Go ahead, Jensen. We’re right behind you as your honor guard.”

+++++

Morgan asked if there were any other pensioners in need of a hearing. At that moment, the doors opened and the chamberlain stepped inside.

“Sire, may I present His Grace, Jensen Ackles, the Duke of Avenleigh.”

Jensen walked like a noble. Morgan had to admit he looked impressive. The king had not seen any of the royal robes the nobility wore on special occasions. That the duke treated this as one should be taken as an honor. The king knew that. Then he saw the sword.

Jensen’s arms moved in step with his stride. His hands went nowhere near the weapon. It was being treated as a part of his clothing. Morgan noted that Jared and Christian were also armed.

When the duke reached the pensioner’s block, he went to his knees, taking out his sword and holding it hilt first towards the king.

Mary whispered. “Oh, Jeffrey!”

Morgan rose to his feet and walked towards the bowing man and reached down to take the sword.

“What is this, Jensen,” he asked softly.

“I have come, Sire, to pledge my fealty to you and this kingdom. I offer my sword, my honor, and my life in your service.”

The room grew suddenly still. The quiet was unnerving.

“Can I trust you with this, Jensen? You hold the title of traitor among my men.”

“I gave you what information you needed to come here, Sire. I had no choice but to go to Sebastian and tell him what you were doing?”

“No choice? Everyone has a choice.”

Jensen closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Not in my family, Sire. I was under orders. If I had not reported to Sebastian that you were going to come and the people would welcome you, I would have been disinherited. My father only needed one reason to oust me. I had to protect Avenleigh and its people.

“Jared?”

“I’ve talked to the servants and the many of the locals, Sire. He’s not lying.”

“Rise, Jensen. I accept your pledge and drop the charges of treason. What I cannot forgive is your refusal to come and face me with the truth instead of me having to do all of this.”

The king looked at the three men and smiled. “I am giving you to Baron Padalecki in marriage. You will be his spouse, and you will consummate the marriage here in the palace and give proof of it.”

“No, Sire, this is not right. I don’t want to belong to anyone.”

“You don’t even realize that you need him, do you Jensen?”

“How would you know,” he asked.

“I have spies everywhere. Jared?”

“My Lord,” the commander responded.

“Do you accept these terms?”

“Gladly, Sir. It’s what I want.”

“The ceremony will be this evening at 7:00. Why don’t you two walk the gardens and discuss the situation. Jensen, there has to be proof. The best way I know is for a doctor to examine you.”

The duke stood there, stunned. He couldn’t move or respond.

“Court is over for the day. Chamberlain, make sure a priest is here at seven with the proper paperwork. I will see everyone then.”

The king and queen left the throne room.

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