"Come on, let's have a story!"
It was a familiar call in the Honeycomb, and one which seldom failed to be taken up by several eager voices; particularly of a peaceful evening, on the quiet Downs.
"Dandelion?" prompted Blackberry, turning to the acknowledged best storyteller in the warren.
"Oh, let someone else have a chance, for once. I'd like to hear from someone new."
"What was that one you were telling me about the other time, Holly?" inquired Strawberry. "The Bargain Tale? Something about the kittens, and a doe's privilege?"
"Yes- that's one I don't know," Dandelion added.
"I do," said a quiet voice. Everyone looked round in surprise. It was Vilthuril, one of the does from Efrafa- and Fiver's particular friend. Since their escape from that terrible place, the does had been settling down happily enough in their new home; but something of the Efrafan discipline remained with them yet. It was unusual for any of the does to speak without being spoken to, or to voluntarily offer a comment.
"In Efrafa," she went on, "we often told that story among ourselves, when none of the Owsla officers were present. At times, I think-" she faltered, "…I think that may have been the only thing that kept us going." One or two of the does murmured agreement, as the bucks absorbed this in silence. The hutch rabbits, Clover and Haystack, pricked up their ears with interest.
"Will you tell it to us, then? Please?" Hazel at length ventured to ask, very gently. There was a moment's pause; then, in a low voice, which gained slowly in steadiness and confidence as she went on, Vilthuril began: