Why do I not grow? These leaves stay small and brittle. They do not flair outwards like yours. My bark is still soft, my branches are few.
Ah, said the old tree as it bent over the sapling. Its leaves bristled against the young tree’s bark.
What you describe is not growth.
This is how you really grow. In secret, discontent, discomfort, in ways that you don’t always want to. You grow when your tendrils grow sore and strained, your young shoots get scorched in the sun. You grow under the surface, in the cold, dark, wetness. You will compete with the others for space, you will be assailed by owls and rodents.
You do not grow while thinking about growth. You look back after a long life and notice it.
These leaves? Do not envy them, for they reach their largest and brightest just before their death.
This is what the old tree said to the young sapling before it fell.
On this day years ago he stepped on the stage, armor burnished and gleaming, veins coursing with power.
He felt immortal with youth, he did not feel the weight of the armor.
He crushed his opponent, and threw off his horse. He remembers the crowd gasping at his strength, it is all seared into his brain.
For years afterwards, he has returned to this moment. Every day he reassures himself that he is still the people’s champion.
He looks at the younger knights with a critical eye, judging that their strength is lacking, that they are slow or small. Any battles he has had with them are in his mind, pitting his former self against them.
In so remembering, he has forgotten time. They still cheer his name, remembering him as the knight of old.
No one knows how much time has worn the sinews of his muscles, how it has made him bent and flaccid, with slight aches in his feet and knees in the morning.
See them cheer him on, as he enters the joust, about to ride to his death.
Beware the ghost towns.
Ghost towns are not what they seem. They are not towns of buildings otherwise empty populated with spirits, of things dead and undead. They are not haunted or abandoned. If you end up in one of these towns, simply go the other way. There is nothing there.
Ghost towns are the ones that lure you in. They are full of life, of beautiful men and women. When you grow anxious or discontent, the town will ply you with food and drink and laughter, until it drowns out the simmering of your soul.
These towns are beautiful, fresh, and their primary aim is to help you forget. But do not forget, because once you do, you cannot leave. You will have lost what once tethered you, what was yours and yours alone. Ghost towns turn you into ghosts.