Indeed it wasn’t, and the further we travelled into the forest, more and more of our natural world was exchanged for one unnatural.
Or rather over-natural, for this land did not take on the grotesque wonders of the Fox’s banquet or the otherworldly beauty of the river-palace; instead, it was life exaggerated. The tall, thin pines with their twisted bark grew higher and higher, all covered in thick coats of liverwort and lichen with, hanging heavy on every branch. It was as if we walked through a world of bent pillars bedecked in thick banners of green and grey.
About these trees grew plants of all description, from vines to flowers to mushrooms, all thick and heavy. Leafs drooped under their own weight, broad caps were ready to fall from trunks, and flowers dripped pungent-smelling nectar. It was all rich, all alive, and all unhealthy.
Life had infected the forest and it was a most virulent and luxurious disease. These growing things all pressed on one another in their desperate display of excess, forming a verdant impasse through which we struggled in silence.
For apart from the horses and ourselves, the woods were quiet. Not a bird sang or a squirrel chattered; there was not even the buzzing of a solitary insect, only warm, wet air and unmoving trees. Thank heavens for the heavy breathing of our Beasts and Williams occasional, muttered curses for they kept the suffocating silence at bay.
After many hours, William and I stopped and consulted one another, for all traces of the path forward were gone, lost amongst the brush and roots of the never-ending forest. I recall that we spoke in whispers, though I find myself asking why. Why did we do that? Why speak in low tones and with uneasy glances? Why not break the silence – cry out and shatter that awful quiet? Were we afraid of the silence or afraid that something would answer us from it?
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You can also buy the novel The Grand Tour, a story about William Bridgeman’s journey across Europe during the twilight of magic.