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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The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 11: The Continuing War

Jared stormed into the lounge to find Chris with Steve, the kitchen help. He stopped and stared for a moment.

“Take it to your room, Chris. I have enough problems right now without Jensen accusing you of corrupting the staff.”

Steve slipped out of the lounge, avoiding the baron’s stare. Chris sat back and looked at his commander. “Not getting any better?”

“He found out what I’m going to do with his sister-in-law.”

“Hell, Jared. I thought that would please him.”

“She’s the daughter of an earl.”

“So?”

“The Duke cannot turn the daughter of an earl over to a penal colony for the nobility.”

“She’s an adulteress?”

“Jensen won’t tell me because I’ll have her convicted.”

“After all she’s done to him?”

“She’s his brother’s widow and the mother of the future duke.”

“It’s time you took charge, Jared. Do what you need to do to make him admit the truth.”

“Yeah.” Jared left the lounge.

“Travis?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Where is the duke?”

“Outside somewhere, Sir.”

“Ask Jo to attend me upstairs in the widow’s chambers.”

“Yes, my lord,” the footman replied as he headed off to the rear of the house, looking for the handmaid.

+++++

Jared walked up the stairs and turned towards the widow’s chambers. He unlocked the door and stepped inside. Walking over to the woman, he untied her and removed the gag.

“You bastard!”

“Silence!”

The woman stood up and stared at the tall warrior. Jared looked at her and said, “Come.” at the knock at the door.

Jo entered and curtseyed.

“Help your mistress to bathe and dress for dinner. You have the freedom of the house, but do not leave it at this time.”

Jared left the room and leaned over the bannister, “Travis?”

“My lord?”

“Have two baths sent up. One for the widow and one for the duke.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Travis?”

“Sir?”

“Let cook know to have a meal prepared for dinner. There will be four attending.”

“Yes, Sir.”

Jared walked to the chambers he shared with Jensen. He’d bathed that morning so he changed to dinner clothes and headed back to the first floor.

+++++

Walking outside, he found Jensen speaking with Father Kevin. He headed over to the two men, and Jensen looked at him with a look of disdain and turned back to the priest.

Jared grinned and walked up to the two men. “Good afternoon, Father.”

“Good afternoon, Baron.”

“Jensen, a bath is being prepared for you. We are all having dinner so you need to dress accordingly.”

The duke took it as a dismissal and frowned. “I’m busy at the moment, my lord. I didn’t order a normal dinner for tonight.”

“I did.”

The green eyes glared. “I don’t have the time.”

“You will make time, Jensen. There will be four of us sitting at the table.”

“Four?”

“Well, the only one to make the accusation against the widow was you. Since you don’t want to proceed, under the law of the land with her punishment I’ve released her.”

“You did what?”

“Your bath is waiting for you.”

“Damnation!” Jensen ran towards the house.

The baron turned towards the priest. “I’m sorry you had to overhear that, but sometimes it is necessary to be firm.”

“Sometimes it is also necessary to know the relationships before you act, my lord,” the priest remarked as he turned to leave the keep.

+++++

Jared and Chris were in the lounge waiting on the other two diners. At 6:15, Jensen entered the lounge. He cleaned up nice, the baron thought as he watched him walk over to the couch and sit down.

Jared walked to the door and looked out. He heard a snort.

“She prefers to be fashionably late,” came the sarcastic remark. The anger in the tone of his voice made Chris’ eyes widen.

+++++

At 6:30, Zechariah entered the lounge and said, “Dinner is laid, Your Grace.”

“Thank you, Zechariah,” Jensen spoke softly, rising to his feed. “Gentlemen?”

“The widow’s not down yet,” Chris commented.

“I’m not waiting on her.”

“She is, after all, a lady, Jensen,” Jared replied.

“Sure she is,” the duke answered, sarcasm again dripping from his words as he left the room.

Jared stared for a moment and turned to his second. The captain shrugged, rose to his feet and headed to the door.

The two warriors entered the dining room and joined the man seated at the head of the table. Jared looked at the man and watched him taste the wine Steve poured for him. He smiled and nodded, and the servant poured for the other two.

Halfway through the meal, Jessica arrived. She stood at the entrance and frowned. “You didn’t wait on me?”

Jensen looked up and stared at her. “You were told the time, Jessica. I am not Josh nor am I my father. The meal was served, and we are dining. I do not like cold food unless it is supposed to be cold. Join us. I imagine it’s only lukewarm by now.”

Jared bit his bottom lip and watched the two combatants. The woman was furious but, surprisingly, Ackles appeared to be calm.

“I’ll eat in my room,” the widow finally spoke.

“No. You won’t. You were set free to roam the house. You were told when dinner would be served. Now sit down and join us.”

“I said I would eat in my room,” the woman said firmly.

“SIT!!!!”

Jessica blinked in surprise and walked to the table to take the seat on Jensen’s left. Chris grinned, and Jared lowered his head to hide a smile.

+++++

When the meal was over, Jensen looked at the others. “Shall we return to the lounge?”

Jared rose and watched the widow who was still eating. The duke looked at her, knowing he’d given her plenty of time to finish. It was intentional.

“Gentlemen?”

“You have no manners at all, Jensen. Sit back down, and let me finish.”

“You are not the mistress of this house, Jessica. It is customary for the ladies to leave the table before the men. You’ve had time to eat. We are going to the lounge for a brandy. Since you have not learned any manners by your incarceration, you may return to your room after you finish.” Jensen returned his gaze to the two men. “Gentlemen?”

Jessica watched the duke walk out of the room, followed by the two warriors.

+++++

Zechariah entered the lounge with a tray and glasses. Jensen had taken a seat on one of the sofas and lifted a booted foot to the table placed in front of it.

Jared sat in one of the comfortable chairs, and his second on the other sofa. He watched the foot be placed on the table in surprise. His only thought was the duke had to be more relaxed than he previously was.

The butler served the three men a glass of the brandy and turned to leave with the tray.

“Leave it, Zechariah,” Jensen said softly.

“As you wish, Your Grace,” the man replied and left the room.

The duke interrupted the silence by bringing up some needs of the estate and what had to be done soon. It was the first time he broached the topic with the baron. Jared was pleasantly surprised.

The conversation continued with the baron’s promise to meet with the secretary on the morrow. Jensen rose and refilled his glass. Turning with the decanter, he poured more for the others.

After the second glass, Jensen pulled his foot off the table and rose, “If you two would excuse me, I am going to retire.”

“I’ll join you in a moment, Jensen,” the baron murmured, watching a slight red flush spread across the man’s face.

Jensen left the room and headed towards the stairwell.

+++++

It was quiet upstairs. Ackles walked toward his chambers and entered his room. He sat down on a chair and began to remove is boots, grateful that his shoulder had healed enough to allow his doing so without pain. He stripped off his clothes and hung them in the wardrobe, placing his boots beneath them. Walking towards the dresser, he found a clean night shirt and was about to don it when his door opened.

The green eyes widened in shock as his brother’s widow entered the room clad only in a robe which hung open.

After shaking his head to snap out of the surprise, he told the woman to cover herself and return to her room.

Jessica walked towards him and stopped when her body was close enough to touch his if she leaned in.

Jensen backed up and told her to leave. As the woman moved closer, he grabbed her arms and stopped her.

The woman leaned her head down and licked a stripe across his hand, causing the man to release her quickly.

She put her arms around his neck and tried to kiss him, rubbing her breasts against his chest, flesh on flesh.

“Stop it, Jessica. I don’t want to have to hurt you,” the duke’s voice trembled slightly.

As the widow leaned in and touched her lips to his, the man yelled, “No,” and shoved her backwards. She hit the floor and began to scream at him.

At this moment, Jared entered the room. He stood, holding the door open, his eyes on both of the occupants.

“Sard! He tried to seduce me!”

“What,” her brother-in-law exclaimed.

Jared closed the door and walked towards the two. He saw the shock on the other man’s face. Looking down at the woman on the floor, he grinned.

“Are you going to marry her, Your Grace,” he asked.

The green eyes looked straight at him and then at the naked body on the floor. He reached down and dragged the woman to her feet and down the hall to her chambers with Jared slowly following.

Jensen shoved her into her room and turned towards the other man. “Who has the blasted key?”

“Jo does. Come to bed, Jensen. I don’t think she’ll cause any more problems tonight.”

The duke stared at the taller man, and the baron could almost see his mind working.

Sighing softly, Jensen walked down the hall to their chambers. Entering the room, he picked up his night shirt from the floor where he’d dropped it and began to put it on.

Jared grabbed his arm and stopped him. “If you need to continue to cover your nakedness around me, then just keep your undergarment on. I would sleep better if I had your bare chest against mine.”

The smaller man froze. When he spoke, he voice shook. “Only if you quit sleeping in the raw.”

“I have slept that way all of my life, Jensen, and I’m not about to change it now.”

“Well, I sleep in a night shirt and have all my life.”

The baron took the night shirt and ripped it at its seams. He moved closer and picked the baron up and tossed him on the bed. The entire occurrence shocked the man.

Jensen watched Jared remove his clothes and tried to fight the urge to let his eyes roam down the man’s naked body. The duke’s entire body turned bright red.

The warrior grinned and walked towards the bed and pulled back the quilts. He rested his head against the pillow and tugged the other man towards him.

Jensen stiffened when he felt the other man’s naked flesh against him. A hand suddenly began rubbing circles against his lower back, and he found himself relaxing. It felt comforting, and the feeling of being protected almost frightened him. He’d never allowed such feelings before.

The baron quietly hummed a tune and soon the duke fell asleep, his head on the man’s shoulder.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 10: Repercussions

Chapter Text

Notes:

Just a reminder. I do not own nor do I make money from Supernatural.

This chapter is a little shorter. It is an interlude.

The sound of complete silence filled the duke’s chambers. Jared watched the man in front of him on the floor. Jensen’s eyes were wide, and the baron could almost see his mind working. He knew he had probably gone too far.

“Morgan gave me to you,” came the quiet statement. “That’s why you’ve said the things you’ve said. You can keep me from other men because…”

Jensen took a deep shuddering breath, “Because I’m yours?”

“Jensen, I’ve learned a good deal about you. When Morgan made the offer, I refused. He offered it to the men; Pellegrino won, and I regret that. If I had not been angry over my brother’s death, your lands would still be intact.”

“About your brother and Pellegrino…”

“Jensen, I know now. Morgan told me.”

“I am so sorry. I tried to stop, but there was no time.”

“No, don’t. You weren’t at fault. Pellegrino will pay for it with his life. I’ll see to that.”

The baron watched the young lord stiffen and grimaced as he waited for the next verbal attack.

“Pellegrino is mine.”

“I don’t think so, Your Grace.”

Jensen suddenly struggled to get to his feet and almost shouted in frustration when the warrior pushed him back down.

“I’m not your property yet, Baron. Let me up.”

A large grin spread over Jared’s face, and he rose his feet. “Do you need help?”

“No,” came the reply from clenched jaws.

Backing up, the taller man crossed his arms and waited.

Jensen looked up and grimaced. He turned to his side and using his right arm, pushed himself to his knees and then to his feet. He looked into the other man’s hazel eyes and dared him with a green glare from his own.

Grinning even more, Jared opened the door and waved an arm towards the entrance. Glaring even more, the duke moved swiftly past him and headed towards the stairs.

Travis came to attention when his master entered the hallway.

“Travis?”

“Yes, Your Grace,” the footman replied.

“Send for my horse,” the duke responded.

“Yes, Sir.” The footman hurried to the rear of the house to send someone to the stables.

Walking toward the office, Jensen stopped at the door and stood there with his head lowered. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and entered.

+++++

Jared shut the door to the duke’s chambers and walked down the stairs. He found Christian in the lounge. His second looked up from a book he was reading.

The baron was smiling, “Would you have one of the men ready my horse?”

“We haven’t been back that long.”

“His Grace thinks he’s going to ride the property alone. I won’t allow that.”

The captain looked at his commander, “Is there a reason?”

“I don’t trust Pellegrino.”

Nodding, the other man left the lounge. Jared knew Jensen was outside. Smiling, he headed towards the front door. Jensen was not there. Looking around, he began to worry. He turned to enter the house as Ackles walked out. The two men collided.

“What the hell are you doing out here,” the smaller man demanded.

“I’m going for another ride. I saw part of your estate today. I thought I would join you and see what needs to be done.”

The duke paled, gritted his teeth, and an emotion showed in his green eyes. The baron noted it and reached out to place a hand on the other man’s shoulder.

“Don’t touch me! I’m not yours yet.”

“Actually, you are,” the warrior drawled.

“What? You said….”

“I said we would marry and the control of the land is in my hands.”

“Damn you, Padalecki! I won’t marry you. I may be the king’s gift to you, but I won’t become what my mother was. I’ll die first.”

“If Pellegrino gets his hands on you, you’ll wish you were. Life with me won’t be that bad, Jensen. I’ve asked your neighbors to come for lunch tomorrow. We can discuss some kind of trade or payment for food and supplies. I don’t intend to have you relinquish control of the estate. You retain your title. You know and love this land; we will both prosper with you in control of it.”

Jensen was still taut. Jared let his mind work out what he had just been told. The duke sighed deeply and looked at the taller man.

“Even though I retain the title and control of the estate, I’m still your property. How does that work exactly,” the smaller man asked, sarcasm dripping from his lips.

“Once we are married, I will be involved. We discuss everything. Nothing is done without that. I’ll bow to your knowledge of the estate and your decisions, but guests, parties, trips, and what happens in our bedroom will by my decision.”

“Well, the bedroom isn’t going to happen. This will be a marriage of convenience.”

The baron smiled and reached out and grabbed the duke’s chin firmly. He moved closer and felt the man stiffen. He liked the fact that the smaller man still had some fight in him. Leaning in, he kissed Jensen’s neck and began to bite and suckle it with the intention of marking him.

Jared never saw the fist. Looking up from the ground, he rubbed his jaw. Both of the duke’s hands were fisted, and his face looked rebellious.

“I told you not to touch me! You damn well won’t be branding me with your marks!”

Two men came around the corner of the house, each leading a black horse.

“We’ll discuss this later,” Jared spoke in a low voice. He rose to his feet and the men waited for their mounts.

+++++

The duke remained quiet as the two of them rode throughout the estate. The warrior spent more time watching the man riding next to him than he did viewing the damage.

Jensen had a good seat; he rode his stallion well. The mount was trained to verbal sounds and commands.

“Have you considered continuing your education, Your Grace,” the baron asked.

The duke lowered his head, took a deep breath, and replied in a quiet voice, “I’m a little old for that now.”

“We could hire a tutor?”

“Most of the books in the library have been there for a while. Some of the former masters were well read. I have continued the tradition of being well read. I may not have the degree, my lord, but I am not stupid or unlearned.”

“I know you have quite a few capabilities so I never considered the possibility that you were unintelligent.”

“Thank you. Most people aren’t interested enough to find out.”

“Jensen, I want to learn all there is to know about you, and I will, given time.”

“Why me, Jared? You didn’t want the land, so why?”

‘First off, I lost my home when I was a child. I’ve been a soldier most of my life. But you…you intrigue me. I wanted to know you before I killed you for the loss of my brother. Second, I met you that night in the War Room. Even that small encounter piqued my interest more. The next morning, all I could think of was you killed my brother and betrayed Morgan. Lastly, Morgan told me that you were not responsible for what happened to my brother. I found out why you betrayed the king. Your father ordered you to serve Sebastian. Someone told me how you were repaid. Then Manns told me why you did not go to Caerdon when commanded.”

Jensen kept his head straight, looking forward. All he could think of was Sebastian’s guards had talked. No one would believe it was against his will. Only a few had known but now everyone would. His hand on the reins shook slightly, but he kept the emotions inside.

“All right,” the duke’s voice trembled. “You want a home. I can understand that, but I’m not interesting. Not really.”

“Yes, you are, Jensen. You are highly intelligent, a born leader, a fighter, and you fill me with a desire I’ve never felt for anyone.”

Jared thought he heard a soft sob from the other man, but let it go. Enough had been said.

Changing the subject the baron asked, “So, do you like to watch the stars?”

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 9: Understanding Jensen

Chapter Text

Jared left the duke’s chambers and walked downstairs. He stood in the hallway and turned to stare at the footman.

“Who in this household really knows the Ackles family,” he asked the man.

Travis stared at him for a moment and answered, “Miss Ellen, Mister Zechariah, and Mr. Manns, I would guess.”

“Thank you. Are they all here today?”

“Mr. Manns is in the office, Miss Ellen would be in the kitchen, and Mr. Zechariah is most likely in the butler’s pantry.”

“Thank you, again.”

Jared figured he’d start with the help before he talked to the secretary. Walking towards the kitchen, he tried to figure out why he was taking such an interest in the duke. Something drew him to the man. He made up his mind that he was going to find out Jensen’s past and why he was the way he was.

He heard voices in the kitchen and entered the servants’ domain. The talking stopped the minute he walked through the door. The baron looked around at the spotless kitchen and saw the cook and butler having a cup of tea at the kitchen table.

“May I help you, my lord,” Zechariah asked.

“I thought I might have a conversation with both of you. Is there any more of that tea?”

Ellen went to the cabinet and brought out a plate and a cup. She poured some tea into it and set the plate on the table with the cup.

“The cakes are very good. They are Master Jensen’s favorite.”

“Where is Master Jensen,” the butler asked.

“He had a very bad confrontation with the widow after his bath. She found us near his bed, and he was clad only in a towel. It wasn’t a very pretty sight.”

“I wish that woman was gone,” Ellen muttered.

“She will be.”

“Is he all right,” Zechariah asked.

“My healer tended his wound. I made sure he ate most of his meal, and gave him a sleeping draught. He’s resting. I doubt he slept much last night.”

“Where’s the boy,” the cook inquired.

“At the convent,” Jared answered. He sipped his tea, quiet for a moment. “I want to help Jensen. The king plans to marry him off to one of his men.”

The shock on both of the servants’ faces was enough to let the warrior know that the two loved the young lord.

“How can we help,” Ellen asked.

“I want to know who and what has hurt him. He is intelligent and knows how to care for this land and his people, but he’s also incredibly sensitive and builds a solid wall around himself. Why?”

“His mother was never well after giving birth to him. When she died, the duke blamed the boy. Jensen’s brother was well tutored but he didn’t do well with schooling,” the butler spoke softly.

“Was Jensen tutored?”

“He wasn’t supposed to be, but the teacher taught him anyway. He told me over breakfast that the young master almost drank the knowledge. The duke never let him get higher learning. Master Joshua joined the regiment. His father bought him a captaincy.”

“Why does his family call him a sodomite?”

At that moment, Jason Manns entered the kitchen. “I can answer that. Jensen was nineteen. As far as I know, there had been no dalliances in his life.”

“He was a virgin?”

“He still is,” Ellen interrupted.

Jared was quiet, knowing what he had learned at the palace about Ackles’ last meeting with King Sebastian. He wondered how badly the duke was torn inside. It takes time for those wounds to heal.

He looked up, “What happened at nineteen?”

“He met someone while he was out on the estate. One of the duke’s men saw them kissing. Nothing else happened.”

“So his father knew this had happened?”

Ellen shivered, and Zechariah raised a hand to cover his eyes. Jared stared at the three people. “What did the duke do?”

Jason’s hand shook as he picked up his cup of tea and took a drink. He looked at the large man who was asking all the questions about the new duke. His voice held a tremor as he replied, “The duke had both of them dragged to the main barn, and he made Jensen watch as they stripped the man he’d kissed and tied him to the main pole in the barn. He had him beaten to death.”

“He killed him?”

“Yes, my lord,” Ellen stated.

“And Jensen?”

“Have you seen his back?”

“No, Mr. Manns, I haven’t.”

“He was beaten also. It was touch and go for a while. We weren’t sure he’d survive, but he did.”

Jared’s eyes closed as he winced. Anger welled up inside him. His voice was harsh as he asked, “Is it a crime in this country or just on this estate?”

“It was frowned upon,” Jason answered.

“I see. Well, Morgan doesn’t see it that way.”

“Why all these questions, my lord,” Jason asked.

“I’m the one who is going to marry him. I’ll be living here except when my king needs me.”

The room grew quiet.

“Are you going to hurt him, also,” Ellen asked, her voice quavering.

“Not if I can help it. I want to help him as I said.”

“He was forced into a loveless marriage to Sarah Sheppard. Her father was knighted by King Sebastian. The marriage was annulled by the church. The girl said he was useless in the bedroom; it made him a laughingstock.”

“He’s had a rough time of it then,” Jared whispered softly. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” Jason responded for the three of them.

“My lord,” Ellen queried.

Jared had risen to his feet, and had turned towards the door. He stopped and faced the woman, “Yes?”

“Is this marriage the king is arranging a farce?”

The baron was quiet and thought over everything he had heard, remembering back to the first time he’d met Ackles. His mind went forward to all he had learned about the man in Caerdon. Jensen’s actions when his keep was attacked, and his valiant attempt to protect his nephew and heir had earned respect. Jared looked at the woman and spoke vehemently, “Not if I can help it.” He turned and left the room.

+++++

Jared and Christian rode over the estate and the second could sense the anger simmering right below the surface.

“It must have been beautiful before the fires,” Chris murmured.

“When we go Caerdon, I am going to kill Pellagrino.”

“Don’t be a fool, Jared. He’ll have his men there and, unless all of us are with you, it won’t be a fair fight.”

“All of you will be there, Chris. I owe this to my brother but, mostly, I owe this to Jensen.”

“You didn’t have anything to do with destroying this land,” the second responded.

“If I had stepped in, Morgan would have given it all to me. There would have been no contest.”

“You thought Ackles killed your brother.”

“He didn’t kill him. Pellagrino was fighting Ackles. Let’s just say Ackles was winning, and the bastard pulled my brother in front of him to take the blade. There was no time to stop.”

“Damn!”

“While I give Jensen time to adapt to me, I want to encourage him to start repairs. This is his land and people. I heard that Pellagrino would not let the neighboring lairds near the estate to help the man. I want to have a meeting with them. Invite the men to lunch tomorrow.”

“I’ll send some men out.”

“Good.”

+++++

Jared and Christian entered the house to hear screaming upstairs. The baron stopped and looked at Travis.

“Has she been at this for very long?”

“Not long, your lordship.”

The warrior nodded and walked to the office, opening the door. He saw the secretary at the desk entering some information into a record book.

“Is the bitch an adultress?”

Jason stopped his work and stared at the taller man. “Lord Jensen says she is,” he answered solemnly.

“Was she caught in the act,” Jared asked.

“You’d have to ask the duke. It’s his idea.”

“Thank you.” Jason watched the man clench his fists and then leave the room.

+++++

Jared took the stairs two at a time. Christian left the lounge and stared up at him, asking, “Do you need me?”

“Not right now,” came the reply.

Entering the duke’s chambers, the baron tried to remain quiet but the shrieks and screams were loud.

He softly walked across the room towards the bed and looked down at man resting there.

“You don’t need to be so quiet, Baron. She could awaken the dead,” the sleepy voice commented. The green eyes opened and stared at the tall man looking down at him.

“I could gag her, but it would require tying her to a chair or her bed.”

A slight smile flickered across the younger man’s face. Jared felt his heart leap. “I like that idea,” came a soft reply. The warrior nodded and walked to the door. Stepping into hallway, the baron walked to the head of the stairs, “Travis, would you ask Christian to bring some rope and a make a ball gag from some of it.”

“Yes, Sir,” the footman responded.

+++++

Jensen used his right arm to push himself to a sitting position. He turned to where his feet were hanging off the bed. He felt slightly light headed and closed his eyes in an attempt to calm the feeling. He rose to his feet and held onto the bed for a moment. Walking over to the wardrobe, the duke pulled a blouse and some work trousers off the hooks. He went to his chest of drawers and found undergarments and hose.

He could hear shouts and screams coming from Jessica’s room. His eyebrows rose, and he sat on the bed and listened. Suddenly, all was quiet. Jensen sighed and started to dress slowly. He was perspiring by the time he managed to place his left arm through the sleeve of the blouse and put his boots on.

He heard his door open and the man who had him so confused stuck his head in. He had a large smile on his face and Jensen stared at him in surprise. ‘My God, he has dimples,’ went through his thoughts.

“I didn’t expect you to be dressed,” Jared said as he walked into the room. “Work clothes?”

Jensen stiffened, and the baron realized the duke had placed him back where he had him before.

“I have to get as much done to salvage the estate before you haul me to Caerdon and marry me off to some ass who won’t care one bit about the land. He’ll be like my father and brother and want what he can get out of it.”

Jared’s temper flared, “If you’d give me one damn chance to prove myself to you, I will make sure you do not marry a man like that.”

Ackles blushed. He rose to his feet and walked towards the door. As he passed the taller man, he was stopped as the warrior grabbed his arm and brought him to a standstill.

“What do you want from me?”

The fiery look of the hazel eyes, silenced Jensen. He had enough sense to know he was unarmed in a bedroom with this angry man.

“What do I want,” Jared’s voice was raspy with the anger that flowed through it. “This, damn you!”

Jensen was pulled into the larger man’s arms, and his lips were crushed in a brutal kiss.

Jared felt overwhelmed by the softness of the duke’s lips and deepened the kiss, forcing the man’s mouth open so his tongue could explore.

Ackles stood frozen, unable to move. When he felt the baron’s tongue enter his mouth, he fought to hold back a moan. He didn’t want this. Did he? He felt the warrior’s hand moving over his body, touching, caressing. He panicked.

Jared felt the smaller man stiffen suddenly and start to fight him. It was not in anger but fear. He sensed it in him. As suddenly, as he had grabbed Jensen, he let him go and the man stumbled and fell to the floor.

The baron looked down in surprise and saw the man curl into a ball, his body shaking violently. Cursing himself for a fool, he knelt down.

“I’m sorry, Jensen. I wasn’t thinking about what you’ve been through. I wanted to just taste you. I’m so sorry.”

“J..j…just go.”

“I can’t do that,” came a soft whisper from the larger man.

“Why are you doing this? Hasn’t Morgan done enough?”

‘I’m not going to violate you, Jensen, but I do want to get closer to you.”

The duke finally tried to sit up, his anger and despair forcing him to finally face the truth. His face was red and splotchy. Jared stood up and grabbed a clean towel and moistened it in the water basin. He leaned back down and wiped the weeping man’s face.

Jensen caught his breath and whispered, “Please don’t do this to me.”

“Do what?”

“Don’t make me need this and then give me to someone else.”

Jared’s hand stilled and he looked into the pleading eyes. “Need?”

Ackles lowered his head in shame, “Damn it, Jared. Just don’t.”

The baron was shocked by the use of his first name. He reached down and put his hand under the duke’s chin and raised his head.

“I’m not giving you to anyone, Jensen Ackles, Duke of Avenleigh. You are going to be mine, and no one can take you from me.”

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 8: Captured

Chapter Text

Jensen woke early and prepared to leave the convent to travel back to the keep. He heard loud voices in the entrance hall. Entering the hall, he slipped into a corner to listen.

“He is guaranteed sanctuary here, Monsignor.”

“Not while I am here, Reverend Mother. I saw the baron and some of his men searching for Ackles. One of my men has gone to inform him that the man has been found.”

“That is against the laws of the church.”

“I make my own laws,” the priest stated and then went quiet for a moment.

“Ackles? I know you are there. We really do not want bloodshed here, do we?”

Sighing, the duke stepped out into the open. He watched the priest’s face break into an evil smile as the man turned to one of his armed men.

“The nursery is upstairs. Bring the nephew down.”

“No! I was heading out to turn myself in. Leave the boy alone.”

“You have committed political suicide, Your Grace. Your line will be wiped out, and that boy cannot be allowed to live.”

Jensen moved slowly into the main room, staying close to the walls. His eyes searched the room, taking in who stood where and what escapes were available.

“Is that what you think, Monsignor,” came the soft calm voice of the younger man. “You are not as informed as you thought you were.”

“It won’t matter what the new king has decided. This is my judgment. I do not want the stink of your name to be on anyone’s lips. I want to regain what you stole from me. With you gone, I will get my opportunity. No one will dare to interfere in my life again.”

Jensen finally stood nose to nose with the priest. The green eyes of the young lord bore into the gray of the older man. Jensen slowly smiled and moved swiftly, pulling the Monsignor in front of him, a knife at the man’s throat.

The reverend mother brought her hand to her mouth to stifle a scream as the duke nicked the priest’s neck.

“Tell your men to disarm and back away towards the door,” he whispered into the, ear of the older man.

“Throw down your arms and move to the door.”

Jensen kicked the priest in the back of the knee, bringing the man down to the floor and pulling his sword as he raced down the dark hallway towards the rear exit. He’d told the stable-hand to have his horse ready early when he had arrived. He still had a good chance of getting away.

+++++

Jared and Chris, along with five men, were riding towards the convent when the Monsignor’s man informed them that the duke and his nephew were there claiming sanctuary.

“What do we do now.” the shorter man asked.

“He told me he would return to discuss terms” the Baron replied. “We’ll just wait in the stable yard.”

+++++

The monsignor’s men had taken up their swords and were in the hall running after the young lord.

Jensen saw the door in the distance but felt someone grab at him. He turned, placing his back against the wall, and the battle began. He was leaving a pile of bloody bodies and felt guilt at doing so in a sacred place. One the men managed to pierce his left shoulder. He grimaced and took the man down.

The duke turned and ran towards the door. It took a moment to open it. Jensen stepped outside on the large stoop and took a breath, spotting his horse. Beyond the mount were seven mounted men.

He cursed under his breath and stood, staring at the tall man who watched him.

+++++
Jared noticed that the duke was disheveled and his left arm hung limp from at his side.

“There’s blood on the sword,” Chris commented.

Jared slowly urged his mount forward, watching the chagrin on Ackles’ face. Suddenly, a man with a dagger appeared behind the duke. It was a priest.

Jared stood in his saddle and shouted, “Jensen! Drop!”

For one moment the duke froze and then fell to the ground in front of him. An arrow from one Jared’s men went straight into the heart of the murderous priest.

Jensen was winded and stayed still on the ground. He saw the large boots move towards him and winced as the boots stopped. He tried to lift his head up to stare, but it caused him to move his shoulders and pain seared through the left one.

“Damnation,” he whispered.

The man squatted down in front of him and forced his head up. Jared’s hazel eyes showed concern and baffled the duke.

“How much damage did you leave in the convent?”

“I don’t know how many. I lost count.”

Jared looked up at his second, “Bind his wound and manacle his wrists.”

“That’s not necessary. I said I would return this morning, didn’t I?”

“You did, but you almost didn’t.”

The commander rose to his feet and entered the doorway. Looking down the hall, he nearly smiled. The duke was a fighter and a damned good one. Leaning out the door, he told his second to have the men clear the bodies.

+++++

The reverend mother sat in her office, head bowed, her nerves shot. A knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.

“Enter.”

The man who entered the room caused her eyebrows to raise. She studied him for a moment and noticed that he smiled at her when she did.

“Reverend Mother?”

“Yes, I am and you must be the warrior who is after Jensen,” the nun stated.

“I am Baron Jared Padalecki of Mystrar, the king’s commander.”

“Sit down, commander,” the sister responded.

“I am having my men clear the bodies. The floor and the walls will need to be cleaned. I will have Father Kevin come and do last rights.”

“It was self-defense, my lord.”

“Oh, I know. He’s quite a swordsman. You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he’s a strong man.”

The nun smiled, “I’ve known him his entire life. He’s a good man; he doesn’t deserve to be sold into prostitution and his lands confiscated.”

“Prostitution,” Jared asked in surprise.

“Forced into a marriage with one of the king’s men so the land could be taken.”

“It’s not quite like that, Sister.”

“Isn’t it, Baron?”

“No, it’s not. The man he will marry will help him run the land, but Jensen will still remain the duke. The decisions will be mutual.”

“Are you sure?”

“I know the man. He has come to respect Ackles, and he didn’t want to feel that way towards him.”

The sister looked at Jared, and the baron stiffened and stared back.

“It’s you,” she asked.

“I don’t want this any more than he does. I am willing to work with him as a team.”

“When are you going to tell him?”

“Not for a while. He’s too hostile at this time. He needs to have time to get to know me,” Jared told her.

“Baron, I doubt the king is going to give you that time.”

“I am going to send a messenger to Morgan and let him know I have the keep. I am going to allow Jensen the time for his arm to heal and to rest. We shall leave for Caerdon on the first of the month.”

“I see. Jensen has planned for the boy to be taken in by family.”

“Don’t send the letter yet. Give me time. I would love the duke to have his heir here.”

“I gave him a promise.”

“Just until we return from Caerdon. He can still find some peace and happiness in his life, reverend mother.”

“I’ll pray over it, my lord. That is the best I can offer.”

Jared rose to his feet and thanked the sister.

“Baron?”

“Yes, Sister?”

The nun took something out of her desk and handed it to the man. It was a key. Jared looked down at it and started laughing.

+++++

Jensen remained still as his arm was tended to. The only movement Christian noticed was when he put the manacles on the duke’s wrists. A shiver ran through the man.

Jared stepped out of the rear door and saw Jensen standing by his horse, but the man had not mounted. He looked at his second and Chris shrugged.

The baron walked towards Ackles and watched him stiffen. They were soon face to face, and the duke did not look up at him. Jared reached towards the face and grabbed his chin, pulling his head up until they were staring at each other. He thought he saw a glimpse of fear in the green eyes, but Jensen had quickly schooled his countenance and the eyes turned steely.

“You’re not mounted, Your Grace. If you prefer to walk to the keep, I’ll have the other manacles place on your ankles so you can’t run.”

Ackles’ complexion turned a brilliant red and then whiter than his normal coloring.

“Why don’t we make this simple and fight free. Mount the horse, Jensen.”

The green eyes widened at the use of his name. He slowly turned and was soon astride his horse. Jared stayed a horse length in front of him and Christian was partially even, about a half a length from the head of the duke’s stallion.

As they rode through the village, the people stepped out into the streets and bowed or curtsied to the lord of Avenleigh. Jensen kept his face straight ahead, afraid if he stared at his people he might break down.

As they neared the keep, a slight strangled sound slipped past Jensen’s tight lips. The baron heard it and stopped, waiting for the other stallion to come abreast with his.

“Once I know you won’t try to leave the keep, I’ll remove the manacles, but not before.”

Jensen remained quiet; his thoughts were running rampant at the moment. There were ways to escape. He knew the land and the people would help him. BUT…there always had to be that. They might take vengeance on the people. With no one to protect the estate, it would become a ruin. He sighed softly.

“There’s no worry, Baron. I’m not going anywhere unless you force me to.”

The warrior remained quiet, guessing what had gone through the duke’s mind. His admiration for the man continued to grow, and he was uneasy over the idea.

+++++

Jensen entered the house behind the taller man. His people were surprised to see him with the manacles, and he slightly shook his head at them.

Jared looked at the butler, “Prepare a meal for us and have it brought to the duke’s chambers. Prepare a bath for him.” Looking at Christian, he softly said, “Bring our healer. He will know more about sword wounds then the estate one will.”

Turning to the duke, he noticed the man had stiffened. Padalecki smirked and held out his hand, “Come, Jensen.”

The pale face turned blood red, but the young lord moved towards him. Jared place his hand on the small of the duke’s back and led him up the stairs.

Jo was on the landing, carrying some towels for the bath. Her eyes widened when she saw her lord. The young woman gave a quick curtsey. Jared reached into his pocket and took out the key and handed it to her. Looking at Jensen, he asked, “Is she allowed out now?”

The green eyes widened at the question, “If she behaves, yes. Remind Travis she is not to go outside without notifying me…er, us.”

Jo took the towels into Jensen’s chambers and left. The two men entered the rooms. Looking around, the duke saw several of Jared’s things and closed his eyes, gritting his teeth. His only thought was he would not give in without a fight.

Padalecki could only imagine what the man beside him was thinking. He reached over and touched the man’s shoulder and felt him jump.

“Morgan has made it clear you are not to be violated, Jensen. I am only going to help you due to your injury. Since you have no intention of escaping, I’ll also remove the manacles.”

A knock on the door preempted any reply. Steve entered with several other men, all carrying pans of hot water. After they left, Jared unbound the wound and helped Jensen undress when it was needed. He turned his back and waited until the man was completely naked and in the tub in the adjoining chamber.

“Would you like your back scrubbed,” he asked, a wicked smile on his face.

A strangled ‘no’ was the only reply. The smile on the baron’s face grew larger.

+++++

Jensen did not take long to bathe. The wound was seeping blood, and it hurt abominably. He just wanted to make sure that he was clean and the wound wouldn’t get infected; the duke was grateful it wasn’t his sword arm.

He stepped out of the tub and reached for a large towel. Drying off, he found himself trembling slightly. He was reacting too much to the nearness of the baron. It bothered him, and he had no understanding of what was happening. He did not want to like the man. He refused to, but the warrior was getting under his skin.

He entered his room, a towel wrapped around his lower body, when the raucous occurred. There was screaming and the sound of dishes breaking. Before either man could react the door was swung open and Jessica stormed in.

She stopped, seeing the warrior standing at the foot of the bed and then looked at her brother-in-law. “Your father was right then. You are a bloody sodomite and a whore.”

Jared strode across the floor and slapped the woman, knocking her to the floor. He reached down and grabbed an arm, dragging her out of the room. They reached her room and found Jo attempting to clean up the broken dishes and food on the floor.

“Leave it, Jo. She’s hungry and that’s her meal.” Jared turned to the vicious woman sitting on the floor. “I am going to marry Jensen, and he will continue to be the duke of Avenleigh. You will be removed. I will not tolerate any verbal attacks or slander against him. I have the king’s ear. Do you understand?”

Jessica stared at him but refused to reply. The baron released the woman’s hand and walked over to Jo, “Give me the key. She will be attended when I say so. She will eat when I say so. Leave us.”

Jared turned to Jessica, “I have a plan for you that you will not like, but I will enjoy it immensely.”

He left the room and locked the door. Walking back to the duke’s chambers, he tried to calm his anger. Entering the room, he found Jensen huddled on the floor. Kneeling down, he pulled the man into his arms and held him.

Jensen froze, not sure what to do, but a hand began to slowly rub his back and lips touched his hair. He inhaled and held his breath.

“It will be all right, Jensen. I am getting rid of her for good.”

A slight sob was heard, and the duke struggled to break away from the baron’s arms.

A knock was heard. Steve entered with food and placed it on the table, and Jared’s healer was behind him. Neither man made a comment about the two on the floor.

Jared helped Jensen sit on the bed, and the healer tended the sword wound. The warrior watched the young man’s face and knew the pain he had to be feeling. After the healer left, Jared walked to the wardrobe and opened it.

“What do you wish to wear?”

“I don’t know.”

The warrior shut the wardrobe and walked over to the large chest of drawers and found a night shirt. “Stand up, Jensen.”

The pale face looked up at him, the green eyes moist. The duke looked at the night shirt a question in his eyes.

“You are going to rest today. The food is getting cold. Stand up, Jensen.”

Ackles sighed, slowly rising from the bed. Jared told him to lift his arms and placed the shirt over his head and arms. As he pulled it down, the towel fell to the floor.

“Let’s eat,” the taller man stated and made sure the duke got to the table without any mishap. They ate in silence for a while. Jared watched the man across from him. The woman had opened a wound that had not healed and was festering.

The baron gave the young lord a sleeping draught and tucked him into bed. He headed out of the room with the plan to dig into Jensen’s past. No one should suffer like the young duke was suffering.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 7: So It Begins

Chapter Text

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.

“Jessica!”

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.

“Jo!”

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.”

“Jared!”

“Do it!”

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.

“Jensen!”

“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.”

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 6: The Aspects of War

Chapter Text

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.

“Fire!”

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.

“Morgan!”

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.”

Jared nodded.

“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.”

“Which friend?”

“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?’

“Jensen Ackles?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 5: The Days Ahead

Chapter Text

Jensen woke up early the next morning and checked on his nephew in the nursery. He walked downstairs and towards the kitchen. Travis was in the entrance and called to him.

Turning, Jensen asked what he needed.

“Cook remembered your early hours, Your Grace. There is a meal laid out in the dining room.”

“Thank you, Travis.”

The new duke headed towards the dining room and entered to find a full breakfast for one laid at the head of the table. He winced, thinking that may be a problem during family meals.

He sat down and lifted the lids on the dishes and helped himself to eggs, bacon, and potatoes. The toast was nicely browned and buttered. Steve, the kitchen help, entered with a pot of hot tea.

“Thank you, Steve,” Jensen smiled as the tea was poured. He finished his meal in solitude, enjoying the quiet. As he rose from the table, a messenger arrived. The duke met him in the hallway where he took the missive and looked at the man.

“Is an answer required?”

“I was not told so, Sir.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Sir.”

“Have you traveled far?”

“Caerdon, Sir.”

“Would like something to eat before you leave?”

“I broke my fast in the village, and I have other missives to deliver.”

“God speed, then. Who is the missive from?”

“The king, Sir,” the messenger replied as he left the hall.

Jensen stood still holding the missive in his hand. He took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Turning, he walked into the office and sat at the desk and stared at the envelope. He turned it over and saw a royal seal. It was not Sebastian’s.

“He’s quick,” the duke whispered as he grabbed a knife to open the envelope.

Jeffrey Morgan, King of Saven
To Alan Ackles, Duke of Avenleigh

As King of Saven, I command all lords of this land to appear before me and swear their oath of loyalty. I believe that two weeks should give you enough time to reach Caerdon and appear before me.

I also require the presence of your younger son, Jensen Ackles. He will know the reason for his presence.

“Damn,” Jensen whispered. “Damnation!”

He rose to his feet and walked the room. His time was now limited and Morgan had no idea, as of the letter, that he was now the head of his house.

He left the house and walked over to the barracks that were built below the walkway behind the parapet. He located the commander and told him to prepare for a possible siege.

After the war preparations were discussed, Jensen looked for the estate’s secretary. He found him in the stable yard and cornered him before he went about his duties.

“You are going to need to move into the keep for the time being. We will come under siege when I do not appear at court.”

“Why are you willing to risk this, Your Grace?”

“Jason, you’ve been calling me Jensen for five years. Please don’t change it.”

“All right, but the question still stands.”

“I have lived in a royalist household my entire life. I obeyed my father and served our king as a spy in Morgan’s campaign. I like Morgan; I hated what I had to do. My problem is that Sebastian left a horrible taste in my mouth when it comes to serving a king. If Morgan puts the people first and works to heal this country, I’ll serve him. But I will not swear fealty until he does.”

“Perhaps you should send someone to check out the lay of the land.”

“The headman of the village has family in Caerdon. I will use him. Thank you for the advice. Now, we need to harvest early. We will not get as plentiful a harvest, but I can’t guarantee what they will do. We will still have the Autumn harvest. Store it in the keep and ensure the flocks are kept in the nearer pastures. The watch towers are going to be manned. Send our tithe to the convent. We need to be prepared to bring the flocks and the people on the estate into the keep.”

“I’ll have us prepared.”

Jensen nodded, his mind already on the village and convent. He had a horse prepared and went to the village. Jensen spent the next two hours with the headman and several other men from the village. He knew they were not royalists, but they were loyal to him and would not support any raid against the keep.

“I want to thank for you being willing to stay out of the battle and not take sides.”

“You’ve been good to us since you became steward. Now you’re the master of Avenleigh, we can’t support an attack against you. We can’t take sides, Your Grace, but we won’t back the new king in this either.”

Jensen stood and shook hands with the men and told them that if things go wrong in the village to come to the keep.

“Your Grace, I’ll take the message to the convent for you. The monsignor is visiting.”

The duke frowned and nodded. He rode towards home, wishing he could bring the priest down.

+++++

Two weeks later, Baron Padalecki and his men rode into Caerdon. They had taken on a job for the king, going after the remnants of Sebastian’s armies. There had been several groups but not near as many as expected. Many laid down their arms and surrendered.

He entered the palace and asked for an audience. He was invited into the throne room and noticed it was packed with people. He stood near the throne and watched the lords of Saven kneel and pledge loyalty to Morgan. There was no expression on his face. When the northern contingent arrived, each man gave his oath.

“My Lord,” Jared interrupted the king. “Has the Duke of Avenleigh arrived?”

Morgan looked at his commander, “I don’t know.” The king turned to the man kneeling before him. “Is the Duke of Avenleigh here?”

“No, Sir. All I know is that Ackles has been preparing for a siege.”

“What about his son?”

“Joshua is in the army, but his wife and son are there.”

“I believe the king is more interested in Jensen, the youngest,” Jared remarked.

“He’s been busy preparing. We’ve heard rumors that he expects you to come after him. Why him?”

“He betrayed me,” Morgan said.

“Is Alan Ackles a royalist?”

“The family is the last royalist stronghold in north country, Sire.”

“I’ve asked questions while traveling, Sire,” Jared interrupted. “The duke is a senile old man, and I am shocked that he allowed his heir to rejoin whatever was left of his regiment.”

The viscount, who was still kneeling, interrupted, “My Lord, the oldest is not the heir. The transfer of title and property was done several weeks ago. The youngest has the land and title now.”

Morgan began to laugh. Jared watched him, a frown on his face.

“You are the last of the lords, Viscount. I thank all of you for your allegiance to us. I will try my best to be deserving of that. Chamberlain? Call my Captains.”

+++++

Jensen had been out seeing to the sharing of the harvests and going over escape routes if needed. He dreaded entering the keep. Jessica had been demanding money and transport to the capital and was throwing one tantrum after another when he refused.

As he entered, he saw a wagon and several exhausted horses at the front. It was quiet outside. Dismounting, he tied his horse to the wagon and hurried into the house.

The sounds of screams, shouts of anger, and crying assaulted him. He looked for Travis who was not at his post. Hurrying into the lounge, he found some wounded soldiers.

“Has anyone tended to you?”

“No, Sir. They’re mourning.”

“What!”

Jensen ran out of the room and found Travis. “See that those men are tended to. What has happened?”

“Master Joshua, Sir. He’s dead.”

“Where is the body?”

“In the library, Sir. They are preparing it.”

“Where’s my father?”

“He saw the body..and..and he screamed and fell to the ground. They say his heart stopped.”

“No…no…no…no…NOOOO!!!!”

Jensen ran to the library and found two of the long tables arranged with a body on each. He stood there, staring and finally noting that the servants had cleaned and dressed them. He walked over to his brother and reached out and touched his cheek.

“Damn it, Josh! You were supposed to be careful!” He went to his knees, a loud wail escaping his throat. The duke began to cry.

It began to grow dark, and Jensen finally rose to his feet and looked over at this father’s body. He felt no sorrow or a sense of loss. The emptiness there had a tinge of regret for what might have been.

He left the room and entered the hall. “Where’s Jason?”

“He’s in the kitchen. Sir.”

“Ask him to come to the office and find Father Kevin. We will need two graves prepared. Send someone to the stonecutter and ask for two tombstones. Give them the pertinent information. Where’s Jessica?”

“In her rooms, Sir. She said something about packing and going to Caerdon.”

Jensen swore softly, “Bring her to my office.”

+++++

The captains who led Morgan’s men arrived. They were competent men who led their armies fairly well. What made them a good military force was Baron Padalecki and his men. He was the commander.

“Gentlemen,” Morgan spoke, causing the room to grow silent. “It would seem that our traitor, Jensen Ackles, is now the Duke of Avenleigh. He did not appear today. I have decided his fate. You may draw straws or however you want to decide, but you may each make an attempt to bring him to me. You do not harm his people or his estate for they live off what that estate produces. You bring him to me; I will give him to you to marry and you will keep Avenleigh as yours. By the laws of this land, the estate cannot become yours without the marriage. Bring him to me.”

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 4: Duke of Avenleigh

Chapter Text

Jensen awoke at sunrise and walked back to the keep, a determined look on his face. He used his key to open the latch on the front door, knowing the servants would just be starting their day. The younger son walked through the halls towards the kitchen where the staff would be eating their meal.

The butler and the cook rose to their feet swiftly. “Master Jensen,” Zechariah exclaimed. “Is there a problem?”

“No, please sit down. I thought I would eat with all of you this morning.”

The cook swiftly rose to her feet and hurried to the stove. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to look up into the young man’s green eyes.

“I know my way around your kitchen, Ellen. Finish your meal.”

Jensen brought a plate of food to the table and sat next to Travis, the footman. He took a bite of the ham and closed his eyes, slowly licking his lips.

“I’ve missed your meals,” he said softly. The cook smiled and reached over to pat his hand.

“Your father will be angry that you are in here, Sir,” the butler spoke up.

“Yes, he will, but it isn’t the first time and won’t be the last. Would you send someone up to my brother’s room and let him know I require his presence.”

“Master Jensen, I cannot in good conscience do that.”

“Zach? Is it your conscience or fear?”

“Mistress Jessica and young master Ben are home.”

Jensen smiled, “Really? How long has she been here?”

“A month, Sir.”

Sighing softly, the young man rose to his feet. He started to chuckle slightly and shake his head.

“Thank you for breakfast, Ellen. I need to go roust my brother.”

Ackles left the kitchen, and the staff stared at one another in surprise.

“That will not go well,” the butler murmured while the cook just ‘tsked.’

+++++

Jensen passed his bedroom door and walked further down the hallway to his brother’s. He knocked on the door and called the man’s name.

It took a few minutes, but Joshua opened the door and glared at his sibling.

“Get dressed, go to the kitchen and grab something to eat. We are going to start your training.”

“What?”

“I’m not going to allow everything I have worked so hard for to be ruined because you have as little love for this estate as father does.”

“How dare you?”

“Get dressed, Josh, or I’ll help you.”

The older Ackles turned almost purple and watched his brother grin. He hurried into his room and began to dress.

+++++

The two men were gone the entire day. When they entered the keep, Jensen looked at his older brother. “I’ll see you the same time tomorrow. You will need to resign your commission. Avenleigh needs her master in residence.”

Josh stood in shock as the younger man headed up the stairs to his room.

+++++

The attorneys for the estate arrived around ten o’clock on Saturday morning. They told the duke that they needed to have the entire family present.

It took a few minutes to find Jensen. The young man was in the courtyard speaking with the commander of the small garrison that resided within the keep.

He was not dressed formally and knew he would upset his father, but he obeyed the request.

Entering the room, the younger Ackles nodded to the lawyers and stood at back of the room. He noticed his brother standing near the window, one hand fisted around part of the drape. His sister-in-law was in one of the chairs near his father. He shook his head, knowing she would run through the money as fast as she could get her hands on it. Josh had no control over her.

Jensen looked back at the lawyers when he heard his name mentioned. They gave an account of the estate under his stewardship. A slight smile crossed his face; he had done well.

“Go on with it, man,” the duke growled at the attorney. “I need the papers to give my son the title.”

“You are wise selecting your younger son, your grace. He will bring this estate to even greater glory.”

“I’ll be damned if I give my lands and title to him. It goes to Joshua, my eldest.”

Jensen tried to make an attempt to leave the room when his brother spoke up.

“I don’t want it, Father.”

“What!!!”

“Josh, you can’t do that! I’m supposed to be the duchess,” Jessica exclaimed.

The brown eyes of the older son gazed into the green ones of his brother. He nodded at his sibling.

“I’m as bad at running this place as you were, Father. If Jensen had not taken on the stewardship, we would have lost Avenleigh. You and I may not love land like he does, but I saw enough this week to know it’s hard work. I am a soldier, and I do not want to give up my commission. Jensen has done all the work. He has taken undeserved criticism from you his entire life. Still, he stays and works like one of the serfs. He doesn’t just ride the property and give orders; he gets dirty. He loves this place, and he should be the owner. I don’t want the title, and I won’t accept it. You are going to have to give in, Father.”
Everyone was driven out of the office by the duke’s tirade. They gathered in the lounge. Jensen stood by the window, staring outside. Josh and his wife were arguing in the corner. The two lawyers watched the family with interest.

+++++

Jensen left the room when the clock struck one. He spotted Zechariah leaving the office.

“Zech,” he called out.

The butler stopped and turned towards the young man. “Do you need something, Sir.”

Jensen looked at the door the man had just exited. “His lunch?”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Would you have Ellen serve something in the dining room for five people? Father seems to have forgotten his manners.”

“Of course, Sir.”

Ackles returned to the lounge. “There will be a luncheon served in a few minutes. Father is already enjoying his,” he announced to the group. Jessica shoved past him and walked towards the dining room.

Josh stopped and looked at his brother. Neither spoke but the communication was there. The two left the room, followed by the attorneys.

+++++

At five in the afternoon, Jensen sent Travis to inform Zechariah that two guest rooms would be needed for the evening. He walked back into the lounge and told the attorneys that rooms were being arranged for them.

“How does he stay so calm,” Jessica asked her husband.

“He doesn’t all the time. He just finds it easier to deal with difficult situations in this manner. He’s more like our mother.”

+++++

At half past the hour, the duke called for the lawyers. They stayed in the office with the elderly man for over an hour.

At seven, one of the lawyers came to the lounge, “Excuse me, gentlemen and lady. Your presence is required.”

It was quiet in the room, but Jensen took note that his father did not look well. He walked towards the back of the room again and leaned against the wall.

“Master Joshua Ackles, would you please come and sign here.”

Jensen almost groaned in frustration but remained quiet. He watched his brother sign several papers and then return to his seat.

“Master Jensen Ackles, would you please come and sign here.”

The younger son’s eyebrows raised in surprise, and he walked forward. The lawyer handed him a stack of papers to sign. His green eyes widened, but he went through them quickly, signing where the lawyer pointed.

When he was done, he handed the quill to the attorney and started to walk towards the back of the room.

“Congratulations, your grace,” the attorney offered his hand to the young man.

“I..I…what?”

“You are the new Duke of Avenleigh.”

“What did Josh just sign?”

“He gave up his rights to the title and has taken the younger son’s portion.”

“You fool!”

Everyone turned to look at Jessica Ackles. She was standing, facing her husband. She raised her hand, struck him, and rushed from the room.

“That’s not good,” the new duke murmured.

+++++

The next morning, Jensen was given the ducal ring and the keys to the cabinet that held the jewels and royal garments for important national occasions. He was surprised the ring fit and was glad he would not have to have it adjusted.

He saw the attorneys off and wished them a safe trip. After their carriage went through the gate, he asked for his horse and rode to the convent to visit the sisters.

He topped the hill and looked down into the glen where the large building stood. The morning sun shone down upon it. The stained glass in the sanctuary portion reflected the light. He moved his legs to urge the horse on and rode down the hill.

The large doors were opened by a novice. He asked for the reverend mother and was escorted to an office near the sanctuary. A nun stepped out of the office and told the young man that the reverend mother was with someone and it would take a while. He nodded and said he would go into the sanctuary to pray.

The doors to the sanctuary were large, heavy ones. He had to pull hard to open one. Once inside, he crossed himself and walked down the center aisle and knelt at the prayer bench in the front. He did not own a rosary and did not believe in praying them, but he did believe in the power of prayer.

The duke spent the next thirty-five minutes praying for his people, his estate, and his country. He asked nothing for himself, feeling he had been given more than he was worthy of.

The door opened and he heard a woman’s voice call to him, “Mr. Ackles, the reverend mother will see you now.”

He crossed himself and rose to his feet. Turning, he strode down the aisle and out the door, following the sister. She knocked on the door and opened it, moving aside to allow the young man to enter.

“Jensen Ackles. What a surprise.”

“Reverend mother, it’s good to see you.”

“I had heard you were home. How long will you be staying?”

“I won’t be leaving.”

“The entire region knows that your brother gained the title yesterday and all of your work will be ruined. Why stay?”

Jensen laid his hand upon the desk as he leaned in to speak to the woman. “Josh doesn’t want the title.”

The nun looked at the ring on his hand and then stared at him. “What changed his mind?”

“Probably a combination of things.”

“Such as?”

“The lawyers telling him I could bring the estate to a higher glory than it has. Josh vehemently turning it down. Jessica growing furious because the money would not be hers.”

The room was silent for a moment. “Those make a powerful combination, Jensen. What will you do now?”

“Prepare the estate for a possible siege. Morgan has to have landed by now. We have heard nothing from Caerdon since the lawyers left. That’s four days depending on how fast they traveled. The last my father heard was from one of the king’s advisors, and it was sent by courier and beat me to the keep.”

“If you carried out your orders from the king, Jensen, Morgan will be looking for you.”

“If it goes as I believe it will, Morgan is going to take time to set up his government. He has to establish his rule before he comes after me. He will send one of his captains to bring me in.”

“Be careful. You do not need a powerful enemy. Your family is one of the few royal supporters in the north.”

“If Morgan can prove he has the wellbeing of the people at heart, I will go to Caerdon, bow the knee, and pledge my loyalty. But not until he proves himself. ”

The woman nodded.

“I need to ask. Has the Bishop been dealt with?”

“He should have been defrocked, but he wasn’t. He is now a monsignor and still passes through here. We do not allow him near the children. Beware, Jensen. He is now your enemy.”

“Thank you for the warning. I need to go, Sister. God bless.”

“God be with you and bless your efforts.”

+++++

Jensen rode back to Avenleigh, and reached the keep during the late afternoon. He entered to a strange quiet.

“Travis?”

“Your Grace?”

“What is happening?”

“A soldier arrived an hour ago and is in the library with Master Joshua and your father.”

Jensen entered the library. The room grew suddenly quiet.

“What is happening?”

“If we needed you to know, we would have called for you.”

“Sir, I am now the lord of these lands and the need to know is mine first.”

“Morgan entered the city two days ago. Sebastian is gone. No one knows where. They believe there will be a call for the lords to come and pledge loyalty to him, but it hasn’t happened yet. At least as far as we know.”

Jensen sat at one of the tables in the library and sent out messages to his neighbors, his headman, and the convent. “Feed the man and let him rest.”

“Jen, I have to go back with him. Our army intends to do strikes and lay traps to slow his people down as they move on.”

“Josh, he won’t move on. He has the throne. His men will be sent out as messengers to notify us of the new king’s demands. If we do not respond in kind to him, he will send men to deal with it.”

“You?”

“It will depend on what he does to alleviate the poverty of the people. I can and will wait on him.”

“I am going; I’m a royalist. I’m sorry, Jensen. I will leave Jessica and Ben under your protection. You have custody of my son since she is not responsible enough to care for him.”

“Ben is my heir, Josh. When are you leaving?”

“Tonight.”

+++++

Late that evening, Jensen heard the shouting upstairs and saw his brother descend. The soldier who had arrived earlier was with him. The duke hugged his brother for a moment.

“Be careful,” he whispered.

“Whatever happens, you’ve got my son.”

“I promise.”

The new lord of Avenleigh walked his brother out to the horses and watched the two men ride off into the night. He walked out to the parapet and climbed up to the walkway, and stood and watched the clouds roll in. A summer storm was moving in fast.

He thought back over his time with Morgan. He had liked the man and thought he might make a better king than Sebastian, but he had sworn an oath to defend Saven from invasion. He did his job. Now he would keep his oath as duke to defend Avenleigh.

The Baron’s Prize

Chapter 3: Avenleigh

Chapter Text

It took Jensen three days to reach the north country and home. He reached the boundaries of Avenleigh and sighed deeply. The dukedom had been his in all but name since Duke Alan was old and incapable of running the estate, and his heir was army mad. Jensen had taken over running the estate when he was twenty-five, and it had prospered under his stewardship.

Riding through the village, he smiled as men doffed their caps to him and the women curtsied. He had stopped and purchased a large parcel of sweets for the children. Reining his horse in, he nodded to the headman of the village.

“I have a gift for the little ones,” he called out. The headman walked towards the young steward and bowed while Jensen held out the parcel. “There should be plenty to last a few days.”

“Thank you, young master,” the man responded. Jensen nodded and softly moved his legs to urge his horse into motion.
An hour passed, and he reached the outskirts of the orchards he had convinced his father to plant ten years before. The apple trees were not large but were producing wonderful fruit. He would be home during the harvest and the cider making.

Turning his mount off the road, he cut across the orchards towards the pastures where his father’s shepherds tended their flocks. It saved time.

+++++

The keep of Avenleigh appeared in the distance. It was a large fortress that had never been breached. The walls were thick with spikes mounted, facing outward, in the outer walls. He could see the banner flying atop the tower that signaled his father was home.

Jensen entered through the open gate and rode to the main yard. He dismounted as several men surrounded him. Handing his bag to one of the footmen, he turned. Thanking the stablehand, he left his horse to be tended and entered the keep.

The footman opened the door for him and welcomed him home. The younger Ackles stood in the entry and looked around him, happy that he was home.

“Thank you, Travis,” he responded softly. “Where’s my father?”

“His grace and master Joshua are in the library.”

“Thank you.” Jensen walked down the large hall and turned left, heading towards the room to find his family.

He hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath, and knocked on the massive door.

“Come,” was heard from inside.

Opening the latch, the young man entered. He stood in silence, waiting to be noticed.

The elderly man sitting by the fire did not look at him immediately. He noted that his brother waited as he did.

“Well? What do you have to say for yourself?”

“Sir?”

“I thought you were serving the king. Why are you here?”

“I came to prepare the estate for war.”

“War,” the duke snorted.

“Jensen, are you sure,” his brother asked.

“I told our king that Morgan was prepared and ready to launch an attack. I warned him that his spies think our people will welcome him. He laughed at it.”

“That is not what I was told,” the older man interjected.

The youngest Ackles stared in surprise. “What were you told, Sir? I did not waste any time coming home. How would anyone beat me here?”

“Are you calling me a liar?”

Jensen turned pale, “No, sir. The king chose Sheppard’s tale over mine.”

“Yes, I know. Sheppard sent me a letter informing me.”

“Why?”

“He does not hold me to blame for your peccadillos and wanted to inform me that not only were you trying to mislead the king, but you also serviced him.”

“The hell I did!!”

“Don’t yell at me, boy! We all know you’re a sodomite.”

“You’re not going to listen?”

“The lawyers will be here this weekend so I may give the title to your brother. You will no longer be needed as steward.”

“Josh can’t run this estate any better than you could.”

“If I hear one word of dissent, you will be banned from Avenleigh.”

Jensen turned and left the library. He walked out the front door and started walking. His mind was in a turmoil. His entire life was falling apart, and he had no recourse. Josh would bring the estate down; he had no interest in such things. Cutting across the fields, the young man kept moving, tears flowing unknowingly down his face.

He stopped under an apple tree and leaned against it. “What do I do?”

+++++

The massive flotilla of ships entered the single port on the coast. Jared stood on the bow of one of the ships with Morgan.

“Our informant says that Sebastian did not listen to Ackles,” the future king informed his commander.

“I am surprised by that,” the Baron responded.

“It would seem that his spy has a very poor reputation that preceded his return.”

“What reputation? There was none on the continent.”

“He prefers men,” Morgan said with a laugh.

“And?”

“I know, my friend, but it seems it’s frowned upon here.”

“Really? Ackles was right; he had the information.”

“He did not give it to them.”

“That surprises me. I wonder why,” the baron responded.

+++++

Jensen spent the night in the orchard, refusing to face his father again that evening. He had no idea how events were going to change his life or how soon they would occur.