Since the inhabitant had begun working on the prairie, the dreamer had known that his gaze would turn next to the forest. Had seen it move there multiple times already and guided it gently away. Each time he’d put it off though, he’d known it was only a matter of time before it strayed and stayed there, as where else could it go? The basin had been redone, the rocky shores had been cleared and cleaned, and soon, now, the prairie too was tilled and ready for life. All that was left was the dead forest that meant so much to the dreamer. Had meant so much.
It had taken nearly a year’s worth of mentions and occasional explanations by the inhabitant for the dreamer to truly understand, but he thought he’d nearly accepted the fact that there was little left of the forest he’d once loved so dearly.
He’d gone through the process with each of the other places in his dreamscape, and while it had not been easy to watch the inhabitant change it to his liking, the dreamer had let him. It had been even harder to add his own commentary, but therapeutic too, to acknowledge the changes that needed to be made and then to be a part in shaping them. The dead forest was no different in needing to be let go. The memories would remain, the warmth and joy it had brought would stay, but it was time to grow something new. He’d had a lot of time to reflect on the transformation that would need to come, and through changes in Arda, letters penned to his children, halting, stilted, and helped by conversation with the inhabitant about his own kids, clearing out the root of the infestation in Greenwood, and other, littler things, he was as ready for it as he’d ever be.
Still, the forest was where the dreamer’s late wife had grown her plants, sinking their roots deep within the ground, curling vines around the dreamer’s trees, lichen that crept up the walls and hid away large stones. Was. The dead forest as it was now didn’t even have enough life left in the fragile plants to keep them together when the wind blew. Time had shown that he had better ways of remembering her. Better than just this, this dead remnant he’d spent far too long clinging to. This clutter of broken memories that was taking up space where new life should be growing.
It was still hard to start, even arriving in the dreamscape that night with the clear knowledge of what needed to be done. Yet with trees this size there was no way they’d be cleared out like the rest of the dreamscape’s plants. They would not rot to nurture what came next, even water would only bring mold. It would all need to be cleared, and that was where he hesitated, even when his mind had finally accepted the necessity of it all. Fire had, after all, damaged the dreamer so grievously in the past.
It had also brought new life though, he reminded himself. Fire came periodically into Greenwood, ate sickly sections of the trees and allowed new seedlings to sprout and begin their journeys towards the sun. Leaving behind blackened char that gave way for new growth, clean and green before it was exposed to the evil that had seeped into the dreamer’s kingdom. But there was no such evil here.
At last the dreamer bowed his head, beginning his last farewell to the forest. Perhaps her plants would grow again, from fallen seeds hidden under dirt and inside crevasses. If he didn’t allow life to come back, he’d never know. Everyone who visited an elf’s dreamscape left their mark, and so would she. Always with him, and not merely memories in dead trees.
With a heavy heart he moved forward, walking through the trees toward the center. The dreamer had planned to use this time to say goodbye, but as the plants crumbled from his delicate brushing, he realized he already had. Had spent years saying goodbye. There was nothing more to add.
Upon reaching the center he crouched down, pulling out the thin one-sided blade he always kept on his person, and one of the sea pebbles he’d picked up for this exact purpose. It was easy then to gather up a small pile of flammable refuse, molding it into a small pointed pile of quick and slow burning kindling. A few seconds with the blade and stone and the dreamer had sparked a fire, quickly standing up and retreating a step back. The wounds on his cheek throbbed in time with the flickering glow, and he tore his gaze away from the small merrily burning flame before it could hypnotize him. A last deep breath caught the beginnings of burning leaves, and then the dreamer was striding away, reaching out as he left to run fingers over rough, crumbling bark. Neither wind nor water would put the fire out now. Now it would burn.
The dreamer was almost running by the time he made it out of the forest, the fire chasing happily after him as if it wanted to play. Logically he knew it would not burn him here unless he allowed it to, but it provoked memories nonetheless, and his face and side where the dragon fire had burned him stung like they were days old instead of years. He slowed as he reached the edge of the forest, and when he stepped back out into the sunlight and turned to face the slowly burning trees he felt only relief.
Standing in front of the growing blaze, the dreamer watched it burn.