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vaster than empires, and more slow

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The first tree Dag plants is an oak. She plants it for Angharad.

 

There’s plenty of burials to be had, in this new dawn of their life, and Keeper of Seeds leaves Dag with a heritage of choices. She plants a eucalyptus for the old woman herself. She plants an ash tree for Valkyrie and a cedar tree for Maddie. She plants a pine tree for Nux. She plants an apple orchard for the Vuvalini whose names she didn’t get to know before they died. She plants cherry trees for Wretched who die every day, plum and pear trees for the half-life boys. There are many dead and many trees, and this is how her forest begins, but not how it ends.

She gives birth to a healthy child, a girl she names Melissa, one she promises a green world to grow into. She listens to Cheedo’s breathing, soft and so precious, night after night after night, and thinks she has nothing to want, nothing more at all to want in the peace they’ve built. But there are still seeds in the old leather bag, seeds and bulbs and promises, and they don’t want to sleep still anymore.

Mrs. Giddy helps Dag to figure out how to feed the soil, clean out the poison. Toast, when not tinkering with everything in Citadel that can be tinkered with, finds a way to distribute the water evenly. Furiosa dissolves the War Boys and teaches everybody to fight to protect. Capable writes laws for them. Cheedo teaches children and adults alike all the scavenged knowledge they have.

But Dag, Dag, she has her leather bag, and later she has seeds of the seeds, fruits of her trees, and when she sleeps, she hears the unborn trees talk in her dreams, cocoon her in their yearning. Slow, so slow, so tortuously slow. Inexorable, like death and age. Priceless and precious, like water and air.

She doesn’t talk about it - she doesn’t talk much at all, after a certain point, when people and their noise become too fast, too loud for her compared to the steady heartbeat of green. But she gains helpers, followers even, people who come to her and ask for seeds and saplings and carry them away.

Dag overhears the children once, serious girls in their stained leathers and boys with skin that’s not death-white, talking about a witch who will collect their souls after they die and put them into her trees. She doesn’t really mind.

For Furiosa, after the last fight with invading nomads in the year 33 from the Liberation, she plants a chestnut tree. For Capable, after the plague in the year 48, she plants a rowan tree. For Toast, after the earthquake in the year 51, she plants an olive with Melissa, Toast’s apprentice.

For Cheedo, cherished fragile Cheedo, who breathes next to Dag night after night, who talks softly enough that Dag hears her over the insistent song of the trees, for Cheedo who goes to bed in the year 64 and never wakes up - for Cheedo, Dag plants a birch tree, and knows she won’t live long enough to hear Cheedo’s voice in its leaves.

Afterwards she wanders the place that was Citadel and is now a forest, a green haven full of laughing voices, and doesn’t recognize a single person. There are new faces and there could be helping hands, but nobody she could hear now, over the crash and murmur of green waves.

Dag goes to the beginning, to the very beginning, to the heart of Citadel, to the oak stretching its branches high and wide. She thinks to ask for advice, maybe, but finds something better: a living ghost sitting in its shade.

He’s gathered new scars but hasn’t aged a day since she saw him last, melting into the crowd of Wretched. There’s still the same wariness in his eyes.

“Hey, Old Man,” she calls him and cackles in delight. “Did you forget how to die?”

His hand goes to the weapon on his hip but doesn’t draw it. She appreciates him learning restraint, and waits for him to see her as he saw her once, angry and young and on the run.

“...Dag?”

“Old hag Dag now, if you will. Would you take a job from me, Max? I didn’t know it but I’ve waited for you for a very long time.”

She expects him to growl and refuse, settles in to wait as long as needed. Her bones creak and ache and her joints refuse to work on every other morning, but patience, oh, patience she has in abundance. Patience of seed and soil and darkness.

He doesn’t, though. She thinks he might have been waiting for a very long time, as well.

She touches the sun-filled bark first, whispers her thanks. She’s long past praying to anybody who will listen, but gratitude is not a prayer, and her trees are here. Her trees are real.

Dag takes Max’s hand and leads him to her house, to the treasure store of her green room. She gives him the old leather bag, creaking but still strong, even after all this time. Seeds and bulbs and promises: maybe the song of the trees would be kinder to him than the voices he carries.

“I did all I could,” she says, “as far as I could reach. Reach further for me? From one end of the world to the other?”

He smiles at her, reverent for once. It’s funny, she thinks, hilarious: how old and terrifying and tough he seemed to her, back then, with his growling and his silence and his barely-leashed terror. How young he was instead, scarcely less of a child than Nux to her eyes now. Scarcely older than they all were.

How young he will stay, forever, always.

“Grow them for all you’ve seen lost,” she tells him. “You’ll have time to hear them sing to you.”

 

The first tree Max plants is a willow. He plants it for Dag.