The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 17: Jensen’s Reaction

The two men walked down the hall, Jensen carrying his luggage. The king’s guard led them upstairs to a suite of rooms. He opened the door and moved aside to let the two noblemen enter.

Jensen stood in the entry, his body making it impossible to close the door. Setting his luggage to the side, he carefully unstrapped his blade.

“Your Grace needs to move,” the guard stated, unhappy to have the guard duty.

Jared stood in the middle of the room, his eyes focused intently on the duke, watching the man carefully.

Jensen remained where he was standing, waiting on the guard to become frustrated enough to come towards him.

“Damnation! You sarding sodomite, I told you to move!” The guard tore into the room and reached out to shove the duke. Jensen whirled around, blade drawn, and struck the man with the hilt in his fisted hand. He stood over the unconscious guard, a smirk on his face.

“You didn’t expect that from a sarding sodomite, did you?” Jensen turned to the baron. “Help me get him into one of the bed chambers. We need to truss him and gag him.”

Jared grinned widely, hurrying to help his husband handle the guard.

As they worked in Jensen’s bed chamber, the baron commented, “You do know we can’t go back to Avenleigh at this point.”

“When I’m ready and the king gives up, we’ll go.”

Jared froze for a second. Was his husband allowing him to come home?

“Where to, Jensen?”

“We need the horses. How difficult will it be?”

“I’ll take care of it. You head to the rear gate of the palace grounds.”

The duke nodded, and the two men found a rear exit near the kitchens.

+++++

Jensen waited in a small grove of ornamental trees near the gate. Jared approached from the stables with four horses. His luggage attached to one, and Jensen placed his on a second horse.

“This is your plan. Where do we go?”

“First, the Bishop’s Palace.”

They rode through the back streets of Caerdon, and Jensen stopped at a church. “Wait here, Jared. I’m going to get directions.”

The baron took the reins to Jensen’s two horses and sat astride his.

Jensen entered the church and found a priest lighting candles. “Pardon me, Father,” he spoke softly. “I am looking for the Bishop’s palace.”

The priest watched the duke and finally answered, giving him the directions. The duke thanked him and stopped near the exit to place several silver coins in the money box.

Walking outside, he mounted his horse as Jared handed over the reins.

+++++

The two men were taken to a chamber on the second floor of the palace where tribunals were held.

As they entered, Jensen gazed around the richly appointed room. Sighing, he wondered if much of the money given to the church actually went to helping the poor and sick.

A long table stood at the end of the room that the bishop and six others sat around.

For a moment, Jensen had a flashback to the palace and Sebastian with his advisors. He froze, closing his eye; his hands fisted.

Without thinking of the duke’s response, Jared reached out and placed a large hand in the middle of the man’s back, rubbing in small circles.

“You are not alone this time, Jensen,” the warrior whispered.

Ackles shook off the feeling of panic, looked up at the larger man, and actually said, “Thank you.”

“Jensen? Jared? Come stand before us.”

The two men walked towards the table, stopping at the end of it.

The bishop spoke again. “I have read the request for an annulment, and I have to refuse.”

A tic appeared over Jensen’s right eye as he ground his teeth. “May I ask why?”

“There are numerous reasons. First, I performed your wedding. I do not like what I join together to be torn apart by scruples.”

“Scruples!”

“Don’t raise your voice to me, boy.”

Jared stood still watching the confrontation. To be honest, he didn’t want an annulment.

“Second, you consummated the marriage. Jared, will you, before God, tell me if you enjoyed it?”

“I did, Sir.”

“Jensen, will you, before God, tell me if you enjoyed it?”

The duke turned blood red and he broke out in a cold sweat. “Yes,” he murmured lowly.

“I could not hear you.”

“Yes!”

“Third and last, Jared, have you missed him these past three months? Do you long for him?”

“Very much, Sir.”

“Jensen…”

“Don’t ask me that,” the duke cried out.

“Jensen, I’ve been told you are barely eating, and instead of being in your bed at nights, you walk the grounds.”

“This is not fair,” the young nobleman cried out a second time.

“Your reactions have answered the question.”

“Jared, you have a lot to answer for but I believe you know that. Jensen, you have a lot to deal with. The two of you must work on this together; you may not live apart. The king was wrong to have any of this occur in the palace, but I expect you to find somewhere nearby and deal with your issues.”

Jensen’s red, tear-filled eyes stared at the man. “Are you going to tell him we were here?”

“Yes but not today. He and I actually want the same thing. You running Avenleigh and returning the land to what it should be – Jared as your confident and protector. Now you are both dismissed.”

+++++

Jensen mounted his horse and waited on Jared. He nodded to the man and headed out of the courtyard. The duke led them towards the northern outskirts of the city.

They road for over an hour when Jared finally reined in and called out to his husband.

Jensen looked back, sighed, and turned his horses around. Pulling up next to Jared, the duke was facing south and the baron, north, their horses so close the two men could feel their legs touching.

“What’s wrong?”

“We need to talk, Jensen.”

“Not now. Not here.”

“When?”

“When we arrive at Baker Manor. We’ll talk then.”

“Whose place is that?”

“It’s the dower estate of the Earl of Brantley. His mother lives there.”

“Okay….and?”

“She’s my aunt.”

Jared sighed, “Lead on, Jensen.”

The duke turned and rode next to the larger man. Both men were quiet for the next hour.

“My aunt Margaret is my mother’s older sister. I’ve only met her a few times. Father sent me there after I recovered.”

“From the kissing incident?”

Jensen was quiet for a moment, then answered, “Yes. She helped me realize that I wasn’t a bad person. Too much water has gone under the bridge. I forgot much of what she told me. I need to relearn it.”

“I’d like to help.”

“I don’t….” Jensen paused, turning to look into a pair of earnest hazel eyes. “Thank you.”

The sun was setting when they rode through the gates of a pink brick building. The grounds were well tended, but it wasn’t a large house.

The two men dismounted and left the horses with a stableboy out front.

The door opened, and Jensen looked around as he entered. The footman asked their names.

“Tell Countess Margaret the Duke of Avenleigh and the Baron of Mystrar seek an audience.”

Jared watched the footman walk away and murmured, “That was rather formal.”

“She’s very old fashioned, and she’s a stickler for formality.”

The footman returned and told them the countess would receive them. The noblemen followed the footman and were announced.

+++++

The room was a small one with a chair and a couch. There were shelves and heavy pieces of wood furniture covered with a variety of figurines and small, framed paintings.

“Come forward, both of you.”

Jared followed the duke’s lead. Jensen bowed, took the older woman’s hand and leaned down to kiss it.

“You are more beautiful than ever, my lady.”

“Quit playing games with me, Jensen. We both know you never notice a woman’s beauty.” The woman turned her gaze upon the baron. “Is this the husband the king saddled you with?”

Jared leaned in and took the woman’s hand and gave a gallant bow as he kissed it. Jensen’s eyes widened. His aunt had a smirk on her face.”

“You are incredibly tall, Baron, but your looks make up for that. Jensen, he has dimples bigger than yours. I imagine he’s proportional?”

“Aunt Margaret!”

Jared’s head went back in laughter.

The countess stared at her nephew. “I keep up with things, Jensen. I know what happened. Be grateful because you could have done much worse. Sit down, both of you.”

“We are in need of shelter for a while,” the duke stated.

“I’ve told the footman to see that your horses are tended to. Your bags have been placed in the royal rooms.”

“No, please. We need two separate rooms.”

“Pshaw! You’re married. I’m going to institute what the king started. You two will share the room and bed.” Margaret turned towards Jared. “I expect him to have a little trouble sitting down tomorrow. If he walks stiffly, you’re doing your job right.”

Jared was grinning, enjoying the elderly lady’s total lack of tact and Jensen’s obvious embarrassment.

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