This is a sample chapter of a work of historical fiction I'm currently working on. I'm considering adapting it into a screenplay when it's completed.
I'd like some feedback on it please. Thanks, guys
Hathersage – North England – July 1168
Henry Scarlock could climb a tree better than any boy he knew. He had no fear of heights, was agile and, thanks to his slim frame, could squeeze through any tangle of branches. He'd climbed beech, ash, pine, and even silver birch, but his favourite was the giant oak near Hathersage. It was a fair distance from Barnesdale where he and his parents lived, but Henry was a fit ten year-old boy who enjoyed the walk, especially today. Today, he was going to climb all the way to the top and tie his old, worn out smock to the highest branch, so that all could see that he, Henry Scarlock, could climb a tree better than any other boy.
As he approached the wide clearing that encircled his oak, he spied two horses tethered to a sapling. If the hunt was on, he thought, he might have an audience and word would get back to his father. That would not be good for Henry, or his backside. He hesitated, calculating the risks, and heard two voices laughing and giggling as their owners clambered through the branches of the massive tree. These were not two adult hunters on the chase for deer he quickly realised, but rather two boys nearer his own age and, as such, ideal to witness and spread the word of his achievement around the local villages, thereby sealing his reputation as king of the forest.
"Ho! You, boy!" cried out a voice from the foliage. Boy? Who were they to call him 'boy', Henry thought. Only his father called him 'boy' and, even then, never with the level of arrogance he'd just heard.
"I said, boy, help me down from here."
Henry looked up into the branches but could not locate the source. He estimated, however, that the climber in peril was only a few years older than himself.
"You shouldn't climb up if you can't climb down." He shouted back, making no attempt to disguise his pleasure at the boy's predicament.
A voice behind him caught him by surprise. "You really should do as he says."
Henry glanced over his shoulder and found that the climber's accomplice was another boy, perhaps a little younger than himself. The boy was dressed in a black silk shirt, under an embroidered jerkin, his ensemble completed by fine woollen leggings and soft calf-skin boots. He was obviously from a moneyed family, and the short ornamental sword hanging from his belt, its pommel inlaid with a blood-red ruby, suggested nobility.
"I don't mind helping him," said Henry, looking back up at the tree, "if he asks nicely."
"He is Godfrey FitzStephen, and his uncle is Sir Ralph FitzStephen. He doesn't need to ask nicely." The young boy took a step towards Henry. "Now, do as he asks, boy, or there'll be trouble."
Henry turned to face the lad behind him and stared him in the eye. Such black, black eyes, he thought, and that little star-shaped scar over his left brow leant him an air of menace which sent a shiver down Henry's spine. If word got back to FitzStephen that Henry had not shown respect to his betters, there'd be trouble. One look into those eyes however, and Henry instantly knew that FitzStephen would definitely hear of today's meeting, whether he helped the lad or not.
"As long as Godfrey's up in that tree, no one's going to know what happened. Maybe it would be better if I left him there to rot. Ask nicely, and I'll help him."
The lad drew his sword. "Help him, or I'll cut you."
Henry laughed. "With that knitting needle? Put it away before you hurt yourself."
Before Henry could react, his antagonist had lunged forward, sweeping the blade before him. Henry knew from the stinging sensation across the back of his hand that he'd been hit.
"You little bugger!" he cried, as he saw the blood. "You've cut my hand."
His young adversary smiled a dead smile and moved back a step. "I told you I would. Now, help my friend."
The morning was not going as Henry had planned. Instead of now being halfway up his favourite tree and on target to gain the respect and admiration of village boys for miles around, he was instead facing a conceited little upstart of a noble who'd not only cut him with a sword, but who would no doubt ensure there was more trouble to deal with when he returned home. Faced with standing his ground or running away, he did what every generation of Scarlock had done since the Normans invaded; he fought. Henry picked up a branch the length of his arm, licked the blood from the gash on his hand and hoped that the time he'd watched the soldiers practising at Nottingham Castle would stand him in good stead.
"I don't care who your friend is," he said, feeling the weight of the branch in his hand, "or if he falls out of the tree and breaks his head. I'm Henry Scarlock and nobody cuts me."
He began circling his opponent, whose gaze never left him, as he waited for the chance to repay him for his injury. He didn't have to wait long as again, the little lad leapt forward, but Henry was ready this time and managed to side-step the sword-thrust as he simultaneously brought the branch round in a sweeping arc to connect with the boy's right brow. The diminutive swordsman fell to the ground and blood immediately began to pour down his face.
"Now you've a fresh scar to match your other," Henry said grimly. "I didn't want to fight, but you gave me no choice."
The sound of branches and twigs snapping followed by a cry of pain signalled the imminent arrival of this little braggart's companion and Henry felt it was best to bring the confrontation to a close.
"We've matched each other blow for blow. I'll offer you my hand and say we end this quarrel." He extended his arm to the boy, who nodded gravely, and accepted Henry's offer.
The blow to his stomach was unexpected and the air rushed from Henry's lungs as he doubled over. The boy grabbed a handful of hair and pulled Henry's head back up until they were face to face.
"I'll tell you when the quarrel is over, boy." He said, letting go of his hair. Henry looked down and saw that the boy's fist was still wrapped around the sword, which was now slowly being dragged from his belly. He knew at once that he'd suffered a mortal wound. The pain suddenly hit him with the force of a horse's kick and he sank to his knees. He tried to speak but the words wouldn't come and all he could do was stare up in bewilderment at his murderer who now seemed to tower above him. There was another soft crash of branches and a muted cry of pain from somewhere behind him and, for some reason he couldn't quite fathom, his stomach felt on fire and the backs of his legs were warm and wet. He closed his eyes against the pain.
"Come and look, FitzStephen, he's shit himself."
"What have you done?"
"I've killed an English peasant, and good riddance."
Henry could hear the voices but they seemed so far away. Besides, wasn't everyone English around these parts?
"Look at me, Scarlock," he heard a voice in the distance say. "I said, look at me!"
Henry struggled to open his eyes and, when he finally managed to obey the shouting voice, he was met by a vision of horror. The face in front of him was bloody and bruised, with two obsidian pools of venom for eyes, whilst the lips were twisted into an ugly sneer.
"I don't care who you are, Henry Scarlock. You were just somewhere to sheath my sword. Had you done what I'd told you, we'd have probably sent you on your way with just a whipping for your troubles. As it is, I am now marked with another scar, and the only way you'll be leaving this place now is wrapped in a shroud."
"We should go," his companion whined. "We can't be seen here."
"You sound like a girl, FitzStephen. How do you ever expect to be given the position of High Sheriff unless you grow a backbone?"
"He's dead. We should leave."
The child killer looked back at his victim and realised that Godfrey was right; Scarlock was already dead. He allowed the corpse to fall back and turned to face his companion before slapping him soundly across the cheek.
"You're thirteen years old, FitzStephen," he said, sounding every bit like an adult admonishing a naughty child, "a good four years my senior and almost a man full-grown. You have ambition, which my father admires, but you lack courage. If, in the future, we are to rule Nottinghamshire together, I shall expect more from you. Have I made myself clear?"
Godfrey FitzStephen nodded, pushed his companion aside and began repeatedly kicking Henry's corpse. He hated being humiliated by his young companion and took out his anger on the lifeless form of Henry Scarlock. He was rewarded by the sound of several ribs breaking and, once he'd finished, was flushed with a heady excitement he'd never before encountered.
"That felt good," he said quietly, his body trembling with an almost sexual arousal.
"There's hope for you yet."
They turned their backs on the bloody mess that was once Henry Scarlock and untethered their mounts. As they rode westward away from Hathersage, young Godfrey FitzStephen allowed his mind to wander. He'd never witnessed a murder before but today's experience had changed that and left a mark on him that he knew would remain for the rest of his days. The future looked more promising than ever and, with his dangerous and ruthless little friend by his side, he also knew that the power and control over others he so desperately wanted would one day be his.
Beside FitzStephen, the youthful killer was feeling an equal rush of emotions. He replayed over and over in his mind the moment when he felt the tip of his sword puncture Henry's flesh, then drive through his innards and, each time he relived the scene, it felt better than the last. He didn't lust after power in the way Godfrey did, and his father's wealth was more than enough for his tastes. All he wanted was to hurt people and revel in the pleasure he derived from that. His name was Guy de Gisburne and he was nine years old.