The expedition had taken its toll. Lord Greer delved deep into the far reaches of his kingdom, painstakingly setting his eyes upon every desert, every mountain peak. He had hardly noticed the pains, then. His eyes had been filled with sugar-coated dreams of grandiose map rooms. He dreamt of walls covered with maps of cities, provinces. One grand map of the Nine Provinces, woven together as one. He sent the Cook, recently elected mayor of Lower Celestrome, to Eastwatch with an edict to subdue, pillage, and map those realms. Lord Greer himself looked toward the north.
The first horse bred for Lord Greer had been a midnight charger, valiant in speed and smirk. It died in a tragically avoidable creeper mishap. His second horse was a dappled mare that suited well for a time, though it was not as fast as the charger. It died somewhere in the City of Celestrome, and was never spoken of again. The last of the tamed horses was hardly worth his Greer’s Lordship. Slow and of ill health it was. Posthumously named Le Miserable.
For three days did Lord Greer drive his Miserable through hostile wilderness, filling his delicate maps with the joyous sweetness of information. Nights were no danger, Lord Greer thought as his hunger grew unnoticed. He kept moving all night long and his enemies had but time to turn their heads as he trotted by. Vast mountains and arid deserts and fruitful swamps were all claimed under the ever-reaching banner of Celestrome. Until he came at last to Lear’s Forest.
Night had fallen. Oak and birch grew cheek by jowl. Lord Greer began to notice his hunger. It threatened to sap his admittedly prodigious strength. But his maps were nearly full, and beyond this forest, he knew, was the northern wall of the City. Home and a hearth. Food and empty crates waiting to be filled by the goodies crammed into his saddlebag. He only had to get through the woods. He pushed Le Miserable as hard as it would go. His head was perpetually stuck in tree branches. He could have gone faster had he been on foot, if he had had the strength to run.
Then he heard it. The familiar tapping of bone on bone. The pained growl of the undead. He was not alone in the dark woods.
He tried to force Le Miserable into a gallop. Then his head struck a block of foliage. He was ignobly thrown to the ground in the passive voice. Getting to his feet, he saw Le Miserable rearing in fear and panic. The green men and the walking bones drew close for the kill. Lord Greer pulled his shining sword from his sheath. With a fearsome, “Ho!” and “For the glory of the radiant kingdom!” he attacked the undead.
Gentle came the reply, whispered on winds of malicious intent: “Shhhhhh.”
The forest exploded in a flash of light and pain. Le Miserable’s sufferings were put to a merciful end, and the undead were disoriented. But, oh, the blood which flowed from Lord Greer.
He crawled away from the battlefield, but where was he to go? The forest was vast and the night, full of terrors. Each way he turned the voices sang their dirge from behind the trees. An arrow struck the oak behind the great king, and his bowels loosened in terror. He turned to run, and a green man mauled him with a rotting fist. He fell back, and was forced against a tree. Too weak to fight so many foes, the inventive king prepared to build.
He threw cobblestone around his feet, above his head. It bought him time. Arrows embedded in the walls. Green men reached in vain. His roof blocked out the moonlight. In the dark, he looked out the last window and paused for a final moment to look at the stars. In that instant, a bone man loosed an arrow. Sent from a fel bow, yet did it fly true. It struck the Lord Greer. And the dark death swept over his eyes.
No one ever found the body of the king, though many did look in both rain and sun. There was no one to bury him. But no burial was needed. Lord Greer had built his own tomb.