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Intercepting Letters From the Queen

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It's a miserable afternoon, the sky gray and overcast, the wind fierce and sharp with the first hint of oncoming winter. To add insult to injury, it's raining, a fine mist that collects on hair and clothing, leaving everyone unfortunate enough to be out in it damp and uncomfortable. Methos, riding at the center of an armed escort, casts a sour look around and wishes he'd had the sense to stay in the Middle East, where it's almost always warm and dry - or at least at Court, where he would have been able to stay indoors. Unfortunately, he'd been ordered to Wales by the Queen, and she wasn't the sort of woman who took no for an answer.

Methos pulls his cloak more tightly around him, and wishes all manner of bad luck on Henry Lancaster, whose claim to be Prince of Wales is the reason behind Methos' temporary exile to this miserable piece of country. He's been sent to order the nobles here to raise arms and destroy both Lancaster and the men who have flocked to his banner. The armed escort is a token of the Queen's concern for his safety - or rather, the security of the orders he is to convey. Methos would have preferred to ride alone, as a group of armed men bearing Elizabeth's colors are certain to attract Lancaster's attention.

Unfortunately, his current persona is the sort of man who would insist on the escort due his station. Robert Mortimer, Lord Wellesly, is the sort of spoiled young nobleman who flocks to every court Methos has ever seen - in other words, the sort of man guaranteed not to attract any attention, either from the Watchers or from other Immortals. It's an excellent disguise, and ensures that no one takes Methos at all seriously. He's always been a fan of being underestimated.

Henry is far too familiar with this sort of weather while on campaigns, both his own, and those of other kings he has fought for in the century and a half since his death outside of Paris. It doesn't bother him nearly as much as the behavior of the young man being escorted into Wales by soldiers of the woman on the throne that he's been following for the last several days. Even though he might have been rather callous in his youth - still was, if he was willing to admit it to himself - he'd never quite been as demanding of luxury as this fool was. The occasional roof overhead for him and his closest advisers, and a horse to ride, but this...

He lets his lips twist in a wry smile, shifting his weight as he waits for the men to ride a little further into the ambush he's set before he gives the signal to spring the trap. He's drawn the loyalty of the men of Wales by his willingness to take on the same risks as his own soldiers, the same lack of luxury and safety until this is seen through, and he once more wears the crown of England.

The clatter of falling rock is deliberate as he slides down toward the center of the narrow valley, sword sheathed for the moment in favor of the pistol he's learned how to use in the last few years. Certainly some of the old methods of combat are no longer feasible with the changing times, though the sword will still be useful later if needed.

"Surrender your arms and your missives, and you'll be free to return to England and the pretender." He doesn't give the soldiers a chance to do more than register his presence on the road - and that of the soldiers who are surrounding them on the hills and the road leading into Wales. "Resist, and I'll take them from your bodies."

Methos suppresses a string of blistering oaths. Nor does he waste words on bravado, as the captain in charge of his escort is already full of defiant bluster. There's likely no way out of this trap - the ambush was too cleverly laid - but if he can hurt Lancaster's forces badly enough, they might withdraw - and if they don't, he can put an end to an identity he's getting more tired of by the day.

The escort has drawn itself up into a protective circle around him, much to his dismay. Not only does that leave him unable to defend himself, it gives him no chance of getting the dispatches away before they succumb to the weight of superior numbers. For a moment, he's tempted to simply surrender, but if word of his doing so gets back to the Queen, his head will be forfeit.

Henry isn't really surprised when the soldiers draw up close to the idiot they're escorting, nor by the declaration of the captain that he's a traitor to the crown. It's still an irritation he won't let pass without redress, particularly since he has more right to the crown on Elizabeth's head than she does. He fires the first shot at the captain, though the damned thing goes wide, hitting one of the other soldiers instead. It's signal enough for the rest of the men to fire, while Henry returns his pistol to its place to draw his sword instead. Unlike that of most men in this era, it's still the heavy blade he bore at Agincourt and through his long campaigns in France - albeit reclaimed with some difficulty.

It's also another part of what's made him popular among his men, though not so much because he bears a sword that is unfashionably heavy as because he can use it to great effect to cut through unsuspecting men. As he does with the startled captain, shattering his head and helm with one powerful blow after dragging him from his horse. It's a tactic that's dispersed soldiers in his campaign before, at least in smaller bands like this.

The captain's death threatens to break the nerve of Methos' escort, and likely would, if he were to give them the chance to think. Instead, he draws his sword pushing between the two nearest him to face Lancaster and his men directly. They have no chance at all if they stand and fight, but a concerted charge might get them free, and Methos issues the necessary orders in tones that leave no possibility of disobedience. Robert of Wellesly is discarded, at least for the moment, while Methos uses the men he has left to try forcing a path through their assailants.

He's fought on horseback for thousands of years, and spent ten centuries leading four men against more numerous opponents. If even one of his men had been Immortal, they might well have made it. As it is, they come painfully close before being overwhelmed. Methos is the last to go down, bleeding from half a dozen wounds, his horse dead beneath him. He struggles to his feet, but there are too many of them, and a blow to his head sends him down again, the darkness coming up to meet him. He has just enough time to hope that they'll kill him, rather than trying to take him prisoner.

A short and brutal battle is not quite what Henry was expecting, but he rises to the challenge with no small amount of joy. That the man he'd taken for a useless example of modern nobility had the skill and command presence to keep the soldiers together and try to fight his way out is more than a little surprising, though, and he gives orders that he's to be taken alive if possible.

His men are more than willing to do just that, knowing he'll reward them if they manage to do so, and take his temper out on anyone who might be seen as deliberately ignoring that order if they fail. Once the noble is unhorsed, they quickly swarm him, and as Henry is stepping back to look over the battlefield, bring him a bound figure that he can recognize under the blood as the man who's intrigued him. Along with the messages he's carrying, which he'll read once they're back at his current headquarters.

"Bring him. And have the doctor see to his wounds when we're back at camp." He moves among the soldiers, making sure to dispatch those who aren't dead yet, and finding some unsoiled bit of fabric to clean the blood and gore from his sword before returning it to its sheath.

~ ~~ ~

Back at the camp, Henry gives the orders that the prisoner is to be constantly guarded, and once he's been seen to, shackled so he isn't as likely to leave, at least for the moment. He'll meet with him as soon as he's had a chance to wipe the blood from his face, and look over the stolen messages taken from the man. Messages that he has no doubt will be exhortations from Elizabeth for her nobles to turn on the pretender to her throne. He snorts to himself, heading for his own tent, only just enough larger than the rest to hold council in with his commanders. It's all the more luxury he will allow himself at the moment.

A quick wash and a change from battle-dress to clean clothing, and Henry settles in to read what Elizabeth has to say regarding him and his insurrection. Waiting on word regarding the prisoner, and how soon he might be conscious after the blow he took to the head. The sooner he can interrogate him, the sooner he'll have more answers than the written words can supply.

Methos comes painfully back to consciousness, with a pair of hands tugging at his clothes. He shoves them away and sits up, only then realizing that the man who'd been trying to undress him wore physician's robes. There are two guards in Lancaster's colors, both watching him sharp-eyed.

"My lord," the physician says, "I have been ordered to see to your wounds."

This needs to be headed off in a hurry. "I've no injury that requires a physician's attention," Methos says flatly.

"My lord -"

"Get out of here," Methos orders. The doctor hovers nervously for a few more seconds, then departs, shoulders hunched nervously.

He's tempted to fight when they put him in shackles, but as he'd likely get caught before he'd gone ten paces, he submits, protesting the entire time. Shackles are beneath Robert of Wellesly's dignity - and they'll make escape that much harder on Methos.

The news from the physician is a bit startling, and Henry frowns thoughtfully. He's certain that the man had taken wounds in that fight - and there was the head wound to consider - and yet the physician had seen no sign of anything to trouble him. Other than a stubborn man he didn't truly feel he could argue with, as he's clearly of noble birth. At least, as far as the doctor's concerned he is.

"Thank you." Henry dismisses him with a wave of his hand, sitting back on his camp stool as he contemplates this revelation. It's likely the man's an Immortal, if he truly has no wounds to show for the battle, and while Henry isn't particularly worried about what will happen to him if the world finds out he's immortal - whatever made him so, and is keeping him so, doesn't seem to have much in the way of limits - he knows that if the man's Immortal after the same fashion as Matthew, he'll not like to share in such information with the world.

Sending word that he wants the prisoner brought to his tent, so he might interrogate the man himself, Henry returns to his reading of the letters, making sure he has all the names from them so he knows who Elizabeth thinks are still loyal to her. Some of whom he knows are very much against her, and others which he's not as confident of, so errs on the side of caution and keeps them out of his councils. He'll take their money, and their fealty when he regains his crown, but for now, he won't trust them. In truth, likely won't trust them well even once his throne is once more his own.

Methos spends the walk to Lancaster's tent looking around at the camp, noting what he can of their defenses, their numbers, and the dispositions of Lancaster's troops. If he does manage to escape, and should he decide to return to Elizabeth's court, the information might prove useful.

The comparatively dim interior of the tent renders it temporarily difficult to see, but when his eyes adjust, Methos can't help approving of the spartan decoration and lack of luxuries, one of the marks of a good commander. Troops are always more loyal to a man who shares their lot, and too many generals forget that.

"I really must protest," he says, lifting his hands to display the shackles on his wrists. "If you want my parole, ask - but I'll not endure being placed in chains like a common criminal."

"Better shackles than dead." Henry shrugs, gesturing for the captain with the keys to unchain his prisoner. "You'll forgive me if I prefer not to take a chance of your escape before I'd a chance to know who I might be risking the escape of." The soldiers guarding the prisoner withdraw to the outside of the tent, where he trusts they'll effect an inability to hear the conversation inside.

He sets aside the last letter again, watching the man for a long moment with an expression that is difficult to read. "Who are you?"

"Robert Mortimer, Lord Wellesly," Methos says, chin lifting slightly. "Special envoy to Her Majesty, Elizabeth Tudor." He lets his eyes linger on the papers Lancaster had been going through, then looks up and meets the man's gaze. "As I said, my parole will hold me as effectively as these shackles - unless you're questioning my honor?" It's a thought that offends Robert down to his very bones. Methos just finds it amusing.

A smile curls the corners of Henry's lips, and he shrugs. "It depends on just how long you've been alive, Robert." He deliberately uses the man's Christian name, though he's not certain it's the man's true name. "My physician tells me you've no wounds to speak of, which is a miracle in a pitched battle. Miracle or sorcery.

"As it is, I only trust you as much as I would any prisoner - not very much at all. Even a noble will go back on his word if he believes it will better suit his ambitions." He lets his smile widen a little. "And if you try to escape, be very sure I won't ever meet you again, because I'll have you beheaded."

Methos goes very still, feeling suddenly exposed. Lancaster's last threat, coupled with the rest of the hints he's dropped, suggests that he didn't hit on beheading accidentally. Methos' glance at the man's wrists is reflexive, and tells him nothing, as they're both covered.

"What do you want from me?" It's a nicely ambiguous question, covering all eventualities without acknowledging Lancaster's hints.

"I don't know yet." Henry thinks the man might make a fine commander, if he could trust him not to turn those men back on Henry. Though if he can find a way best to bribe the man, what he might want, he might just be able to make effective use of him. "For now, though, no further interference to my goal, that of regaining my thrones of England and France."

He leans back on his stool a moment, considering the man carefully. "Though later, perhaps I might find more use for you. Certainly I've found it's worth listening to the advice of those older than I." Even if he didn't always heed such advice, as when he'd chosen to return to England now rather than wait a while longer for his reign, his name, and his face to fade from memory. Though the latter, perhaps, has faded enough that mortals won't remember it, even though they still remember the rest.

"I doubt there's that much difference in our ages," Methos says, lifting an eyebrow. "You're not planning on ransoming me, then?" That's the common practice with captured noblemen. That Lancaster apparently has something else in mind is more than a little disconcerting.

"What family would you have to ransom you, Robert?" Henry raises an eyebrow. "Whatever has aided you in remaining unwounded also ensures you'll have no family of your blood to wish you back." Nor does Henry, at this point, not who he'll claim. The Tudors perhaps might be considered his closest family, but after the last three reigns, he wishes nothing better than to repudiate them and take his crown back from them.

"My steward will pay my ransom," Methos says, trying to keep his voice even. He can't help darting a glance around, looking for a means of escape he knows doesn't exist. He's been in the power of mortals who have known his secret before, and it's never ended well. "I assure you, I'm not lacking in funds."

Henry chuckles, shaking his head. "I'm not ransoming you, because I don't want you to leave." He shifts, drawing the small eating dagger he keeps easily to hand, clearing away papers he doesn't want dripped on by accident. "And you've my word I won't see you harmed if you do not give me reason to do so. I've no need to waste the talents of those who are given long life through no fault of their own, though I know not what or who to blame for such sorcery."

That which causes Immortals like Matthew and Robert, nor whatever it is that sustains him. Henry draws his knife across his hand, a clean cut clear to the bone that doesn't bleed nearly as much as it ought, healing with a faint hint of something that he's never quite caught a glimpse of. Like a shadow seen out of the corner of the eye that vanishes when seen full-on. It's his own way to demonstrate that he truly has no desire to harm others who have lost the ability to age and die as mortal men must.

Methos keeps his expression impassive, even as his heart feels as though it's skipped a beat. Lancaster is no Immortal - but he's clearly no mortal, either.

"I'm not sure what talents you think I possess," Methos says, his voice giving away none of his perturbation, "nor why you think I might wish to employ them on your behalf, even should they exist." He's long since stopped caring who sits on what throne, and despite his admiration for Elizabeth's skills as a ruler, it doesn't much matter to him if Lancaster succeeds in taking England from her. What does matter is that Lancaster apparently knows how to kill him. Methos tries to avoid anyone who possesses that knowledge, whether they're mortal, Immortal, or whatever Lancaster is.

"Besides," he adds, glancing once again at Lancaster's uninjured hand, "I'm not sure that I am older than you. Healing abilities don't necessarily translate into any great age."

"Perhaps not." Henry shrugs, returning his knife to its place. "But if you're not very old, you're certainly more a military genius than you allow others to think." He leans back on his stool once more. "I could use another commander who's difficult to kill in battle, and has the skills and knowledge to inspire men as you did today." He could use him as such, but doesn't know if he'd trust him in that position. Not yet.

Methos studies Henry for a long moment, weighing his options. He has a feeling that the man has no intention of taking 'no' for an answer. This isn't an insurmountable obstacle, even if Henry does know how to kill an Immortal. So had Kronos.

On the other hand, Methos can't help being a little tempted by the offer. It's been decades since he was last in command of a military force, and longer than that since he involved himself in directly in politics. The challenge of helping Henry to gain the throne is an appealing one, and would provide an outlet for the restlessness that's been building up for the past few years.

"And if I do agree to help you?" he asks finally.

"Than I grant you title, estate, and have a priest to sanctify as much of the grounds as you desire around whatever manor house you chose. To do with it as you see fit, so long as you don't attempt to foment rebellion against me." Henry pauses, watching Robert with a small smile curling his lips. "Save for the lands that belong to the Earl of Salisbury." Which he'll return to Matthew as soon as he's on the throne, as the loyalty of the Immortal over the decades should be rewarded.

"And what, exactly, do you expect of me in return?" Methos keeps his voice and expression as neutral as he can, though internally he's cursing Salisbury for being nine kinds of fool. He has no idea what could have possessed the man, to have shared so much with someone who wasn't Immortal, and he intends to have a pointed discussion with Salisbury the next time they meet.

"Your military ability put to good use regaining my thrones of England and France. Your loyalty. Proper forfeiture of taxes from properties granted to you, and continued military service when recalled to such, so long as you retain the titles granted to you. Which regardless of any public or private temporary death, you will." And if he suffers a permanent death, the titles and lands granted him would revert to the crown, and Henry would still have everything from them save Robert himself.

It's an offer tailored to appeal to any Immortal, and in this, at least, Methos is no exception. His only concern is over tying himself to one location. It makes him too easy to find, should one of his enemies - or his erstwhile brother - come looking for him. Still, the idea of a place that's *his*, rather than the possession of one or another of his aliases, is not something he wishes to refuse.

"And if I have to absent myself for a time?" he asks.

"Do so without informing me - before you leave or as soon as you have the chance - and I'll revoke your titles and put a price on your head." Henry's smile is edged as he watches Robert. "Otherwise, it matters little. I do not expect that those of your sort shall remain in one place for always. Even I do not think I shall forever remain in England and France."

Conquest now will satisfy a need for travel as much as a desire to bring other lands under his domain, though he doesn't expect much beyond his thrones at the moment. The challenge is enough for now. That it is unlikely to remain so, he knows, but will worry with later.

Methos is silent for a few seconds longer, then nods decisively. "Agreed." He's made worse bargains in his time, and if Lancaster's demands begin to chafe, he can always disappear. After all, he's managed to hide from Kronos for millennia.

"You said regain," he adds after a moment. "When did you rule England, then?"

"I was crowned on the ninth of April in 1413." Henry smiles to himself, remembering the snow that had fallen that day, while he rode to Westminster Abbey to receive his crown. "Twenty days after my father died." And he'd spent a little more than nine years on the throne, coming close to being crowned king of France as well, if Charles had died sooner, or he'd lived just a few months longer.

Methos lifts an eyebrow. He'd been in a monastery in Spain while Henry had held England's throne, but news of the man's martial prowess had reached him even there.

"And you need my skills?" It's a rhetorical question, and he doesn't wait for a reply. "Very well; they're at your disposal."

Henry chuckles, standing from his stool. "Good. Then I'll accept your parole about camp, and I'll expect you at council when I send for you. For now, I'll have a tent found for you in the baggage, if there's one to be had, or a bedroll if not." There isn't really much to the baggage, since he's trying to travel as light as possible, the better to march swiftly and strike where the pretender Elizabeth doesn't expect him to be.

"I can take care of it myself," Methos assures him. "Especially if your men managed to hang onto my horse. My only request is the return of my weapons." There are no other Immortals in the camp, but that doesn't make Methos feel any more comfortable without his sword.

"The dead were left behind, though the men were buried as well as we might. Your baggage is likely among our own by now, though otherwise should be untouched." If his men had obeyed his standing orders about the property of prisoners and the dead. It would be sorted later, and distributed to the families of their own slain, so they might have some recompense for the loss of their men.

Raising his voice slightly, Henry recalls the guards, and gives the captain instructions to assist Lord Wellesly to locate his belongings among the new additions to the baggage, and return to him his weapons, as Henry has accepted his parole.