Authors: Matthew Cody
The Dead Gentleman
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2013 by Matthew Cody
Jacket art copyright © 2013 by Geoffrey Lorenzen
Map art by Melissa Greenberg
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Will in scarlet / by Matthew Cody. — 1st ed.
Summary: In the late 1100s, thirteen-year-old Will, the future Lord of Shackley, is exiled to Sherwood Forest, where he meets Robin Hood and the Merry Men and bands with them to try to retake Shackley Castle.
ISBN 978-0-375-86895-5 (trade) — ISBN 978-0-375-96895-2 (lib. bdg.) — ISBN 978-0-375-89980-5 (ebook)
[1. Inheritance and succession—Fiction. 2. Robbers and outlaws—Fiction. 3. Robin Hood (Legendary character)—Fiction. 4. Middle Ages—Fiction. 5. Great Britain—History—John, 1199–1216—Fiction.] I. Title.
PZ7.C654 Wil 2013 [Fic] 2012042503
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For Alisha, Willem, and mischief-makers everywhere
The Throne of England and its allies
RICHARD I THE LIONHEART—King of England, sailing back to England after having fought in wars overseas
PRINCE JOHN (LACKLAND)—Younger brother of King Richard, ruling England in Richard’s absence
SIR GUY OF GISBORNE, THE HORSE KNIGHT—Mercenary captain in John’s employ
MARK BREWER, THE SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM—Prince John’s recently appointed sheriff of the county of Nottinghamshire and longtime friend of the Shackley family
At Shackley Castle, on the edge of Nottinghamshire
WILLIAM (WILL) SHACKLEY—Heir to Shackley Castle, age thirteen
RODRIC SHACKLEY—Will’s father and lord of Shackley Castle, currently traveling with King Richard
LADY KATHERINE—Will’s mother
GEOFFREY SHACKLEY—Will’s uncle, brother to Rodric, and regent of Shackley Castle while Lord Rodric is away
SIR OSBERT—An old knight, Will’s favorite, in service to the Shackley family
HUGO BLUNT—Shackley family steward and chamberlain
MILO—A stableboy and Will’s playmate
JENNY—A kitchen maid
Outlaws, bandits, and ne’er-do-wells of Sherwood Forest
MUCH THE MILLER’S SON—Scout, sneak thief, and the youngest member of the Merry Men outlaw band
GILBERT THE WHITE HAND—Leader of the Merry Men
JOHN LITTLE, ROB, STOUT, AND WAT CRABSTAFF—Members of the Merry Men
TOM CROOKED—Leader of Crooked’s Men, a rival gang of bandits
THE PARDONER—A scurrilous churchman
Killing wolves is supposed to teach me to be a great lord of men?
Aren’t there any books on the subject?
In the year 1192, while King Richard the Lionheart was on his way home from fighting in far-off Jerusalem, the lords of Shackley Castle were out hunting wolves by moonlight. Bitter cold, an aching backside, and hours of fruitless searching had made the oldest, Sir Osbert, irritable. Will Shackley, the youngest, listened patiently as the old knight passed the time by trying to scare the britches off the lad.
“It’s this bloody weather,” said Osbert, beating the crust of frost out of his enormous beard. “Drives them beasts out of Sherwood looking for something, anything, to eat. Bold enough to challenge a man on horseback, even.”
He leaned forward in his saddle and winked at Will. “Or a young lord. They wouldn’t bother with a tough piece of gristle like me when they can have a juicy young lordling. That’s why I’m not riding up there with your uncle. I’m sticking close to you, Wolfbait!”
At thirteen years old, Will was used to the old knight’s teasing. He’d been raised on it.
“Well, while the wolves are devouring me,” answered Will, “I’ll be sure to holler loud enough that you’ll know where to swing that mighty sword of yours. Wouldn’t want your old eyes to mistake a shrub for the enemy. Again.”
Osbert sat back in his saddle for a moment before snorting and breaking into a huge grin.
“No, we wouldn’t want that,” laughed the old man. “Wouldn’t want that!”
Osbert laughed himself into a coughing fit that ended in a string of curses. He spit out something wet and nasty-looking onto his sleeve.
Osbert shouldn’t be out in this weather
, thought Will. But the stubborn knight wouldn’t be left behind. Bold Sir Osbert had never shied away from a battle, even if it was only against a bunch of skinny, half-frozen wolves. But his best days were long past, and he’d traded in battle cries for complaints of stiff joints and damp weather.
Will couldn’t imagine the flesh-and-blood enemy who could make an end of the tough old warrior, but this night’s biting cold just might.
“I’d hoped it might snow,” said Will, looking up at the darkening sky. The clouds had hung gray and threatening all day, but the ground remained dry as dust. “We’d have an easier time following their tracks in fresh snow.”
“Ah, Geoff will track them, snow or no. He’s part hound, that uncle of yours. And the moon’s rising to light our ride home. But a blanket of Christmas white would’ve been nice, taken my mind off this freezing wind at least. I’m chattering what few teeth I have left down to nubs!”
There hadn’t been so much as a snowflake in England this year, despite the terrible cold. But the trees, thick with hoarfrost, still glittered white in the moonlight. The wind blew easily through the bare branches and cut through leather and furs.
This was a sort of cold that settled deep in your bones, and all across England people were suffering for it.
“Weather like this’ll have those wolves knocking on the doors of your father’s own castle,” said Osbert. “That’s
they’ve eaten all the peasants, of course. Natural order of things that the peasants go first. Only fitting.”
The old man chuckled at his own joke, but his laughter sounded hollow and out of place among those dark trees.
Squinting into the woods, Osbert muttered, “Useless. Not a living thing stirring in these woods. Maybe they’ve fled back to Sherwood to hunt bandits. Nothing for them here.”
Will nodded and tried to picture these trees in the summer, green and lush. These woods belonged to his father, Lord Rodric Shackley. Lord Rodric had sailed off with King Richard to fight in the Crusades, and he’d been gone fighting overseas for over two years. But now the king was coming home, and Will’s father with him.
Will and his playmate, Milo, fled here to his father’s woods whenever Nan came at them with the kitchen spoon. The last time had been just a few months ago, when they’d stolen into the molasses. Over the course of a few days, the two of them had nearly emptied the larder. It hadn’t been hard for Nan to guess the culprits—a pair of sticky boys with stomachaches were easy to spot in a castle full of knights. They’d come here to escape her spanking spoon, but the trees had looked so much friendlier then. On a cold winter’s night like this, the branches reached for you like bony fingers, the comforting hum of crickets was replaced with the howling wind, and instead of a sack of stolen sweets, Will now wore a heavy sword.
The wolves had gotten overly bold this season, coming all the way from Sherwood Forest into his father’s woods and stealing into farms to threaten man and beast alike. People
told stories of winters gone by when the wolves of Sherwood had been so thick the men had to ride out to meet them on the field of battle, like an invading army. Osbert claimed the wolves had even stitched their own war banners from rabbit hides. Osbert liked to tell stories.
The women back at the castle told different stories. Will had heard them this morning as he loitered near the kitchens. These weren’t natural wolves, they whispered. These wolves were accursed, sent from the pit to punish England for her many sins. A farmer, they said, had cut off the paw of one of the beasts as it came for his hens. He wrapped the thing up in a sackcloth to bring to Lord Geoffrey, but when he delivered the bloody package, the paw had gone missing and in its place was a human hand.
Who actually saw this?
Nan, Will’s nurse, had asked in her characteristic suffer-no-fools voice. No one, it turned out. But they’d all heard it was true.
“You ever seen a pack hunt?” asked Will, eyeing the trees as they passed.
“I’ve seen worse than that,” answered Osbert. “I’ve seen what they leave behind, which is precious little, I can tell you.”