As I looked, my mind raced. There was no way this man could have just disappeared. We were missing something. We reached a second, smaller clearing, maybe a hundred feet away from the woodcutters. I stopped and sucked in my breath. “Roger, Captain, I’ve found something.”
The men rushed to my side, and I pointed. Branches were snapped off bushes, and the grass was matted. Now that I knew where to look, there was a clear path leading from the clearing and through the trees. Leaves, ripped from the branches, littered the forest floor. If I looked closely, I could see patches of ground torn by hooves.
“We have found the site of the attack, it would seem,” Terrien said. “But still no envoy. This land, it is within Mallory’s boundaries?”
“Yes, sir,” Roger said. He bent and examined the ground. “Certainly something has happened here. This is too much damage to have been caused by forest animals.”
“Spread out.” Terrien didn’t wait to see if we obeyed.
Roger and I picked our way through the trees. Under my breath, I said, “I don’t like this.”
“Agreed.” Roger’s voice was barely above a whisper. “Pray we don’t find anything.”
No such luck. Within minutes, Terrien cried out in triumph. We found him standing under a sturdy oak, slightly off the road. “Explain this.” He was holding something in his hand.
The something was a deep blue cloak, trimmed in gold. At the neckline, I recognized the Imperial crest embroidered in golden thread. It was damp from sitting on the ground overnight, and sticky with--
“Blood,” Terrien said, voice grim and accusatory. “See, here on the cloak and splashed on the tree roots.” He pointed, and I could see the dark stains on the tree. “How do you explain this?”
I was at a loss for words, but Roger was quicker. “I can’t, Captain. I assume this is the envoy’s cloak?” Terrien nodded. “Clearly something has happened that caused him to lose it. That may be his blood; it may not be. He may have been injured and shed the cloak in the heat. He may have fought with an attacker, and the blood is from a wound, no telling whose. It may be that he is hurt and hiding.”
“That is a lot of mays, Master Woodbridge.” Terrien folded the cloak and returned to his horse. “But this is Mallory’s land. Attacked or injured, the event occurred within the bounds of Starla’s rule. The envoy’s body cannot be found, which is unusual if this were a simple injury.”
Roger and I exchanged looks.
Our fears were confirmed by Terrien’s next words. “No, I’m afraid one thing is certain. This does not bode well for your Lady Starla.”
Title: Snake in the Grass: Hero’s Sword Vol. 4
Author: M.E. Sutton
Genre: Middle Grade, Adventure, Fantasy
Things are getting interesting at Tanner Middle School. The only official candidate for student council president is Jaycee’s nemesis, Trina Poppelman. Plus there’s a new girl in school. At first glance, she looks like she’d fit right in with the cheerleaders, but Jaycee senses something different about her.
Things are getting interesting in Mallory, too. Lady Starla is expecting an Imperial envoy to discuss new taxes. She plans to oppose the measure and asks Lyla to stand by her side in a show of support. However, when the envoy goes missing, the situation becomes a lot more serious than a proposed tax increase.
In this fourth installment of the Hero’s Sword series, Lyla and Roger hit the road to find a missing envoy before Starla pays the ultimate price for his disappearance. Along the way, Jaycee learns that winning isn’t always the end-game result.
Mary Sutton has been making up stories, and creating her own endings for other people’s stories, for as long as she can remember. After ten years, she decided that making things up was far more satisfying than writing software manuals, and took the jump into fiction.
She writes the HERO’S SWORD middle-grade fantasy series as M.E. Sutton and finds a lot of inspiration in the lives of her own kids. A lifelong mystery fan, she also writes crime fiction, including THE LAUREL HIGHLANDS MYSTERIES, under the pen name Liz Milliron. Her short fiction has been published at Uppagus.com, Mystericale.com (Fall 2013), and in LUCKY CHARMS: 12 CRIME TALES (December 2013).