A/N: Hi everyone! This chapter doesn't feature Hazel and Fiver exclusively but I was struck with inspiration and hence this brief chapter is about Hyzenthlay, the "maiden all forlorn", as described by Richard Adams.
"For she is a fair maiden, fairest lady of a house of queens. And yet I know not how I should speak of her. When I first looked on her and perceived her unhappiness, it seemed to me that I saw a white flower standing straight and proud, shapely as a lily, and yet knew that it was hard, as if wrought by elf-wrights out of steel. Or was it, maybe, a frost that had turned its sap to ice, and so it stood, bitter-sweet, still fair to see, but stricken, soon to fall and die?" - J.R.R. Tolkien, 'The Return of the King'
Rabbits have no concept of romance but neither were they immune to sympathy and compassion when confronted with a fellow creature's suffering. It was unnatural for them to be completely alone and it would take a cold-hearted rabbit indeed not to have been moved by the plight of Hyzenthlay and the other Efrafan does. Bigwig had explained the does' plight to Hazel and their companions once they were safely back on the down and there wasn't a single rabbit among them who didn't think that all of the does had been especially brave to risk escaping from Efrafa.
Still, Hazel mused to himself, the does seemed to be settling in nicely with the warren and were slowly growing accustomed to the fact that they were indeed free to do as they pleased and that no rabbit would bully them into anything that they didn't wish to do. Bigwig was especially protective of the does and Hazel was pleased to see the change; he could hardly recall the old Bigwig that he had first met in Sandleford.
Hazel was enjoying the warmth from the early morning sun when a movement in the grass caught his eye. He sat up and was surprised to see Hyzenthlay grazing further down from him. She must have heard him, because she quickly stood and turned to face him.
"Good morning," said Hazel as he ambled down to join her. "How are you, Hyzenthlay?"
"I'm quite well, thank you sir," said the doe quietly.
"Sir isn't necessary," said Hazel amiably. "Hazel will do just fine."
Hyzenthlay shook her head. "But aren't you the Chief Rabbit?"
"Well, yes," said Hazel. "But we're a very easy-going lot here, as you and your friends have already seen. We don't stand on ceremony unless the situation calls for it."
"I see," said Hyzenthlay quietly.
The doe began to slowly edge away and after a moment's hesitation Hazel followed her.
"Would you care to join me on the far side of the hill? The morning sun catches it wonderfully in the morning and it's just the thing to start the day off right."
"If you wish, sir," said Hyzenthlay.
"I do wish it," said Hazel, trying not to sound impatient. What in Frith's name had that Woundwort done to these does, he thought, that they were so cowed as to be afraid to speak to him of all rabbits?
When Hyzenthlay hesitated Hazel realised that the poor creature was truly afraid of giving the wrong answer and that helped to level him.
"It is a request, not an order, Hyzenthlay," said Hazel gently.
Something in either Hazel's tone or expression soothed Hyzenthlay, for her stance eased and she began to hop alongside Hazel's side. "I do wish it, sir – er, Hazel," she added hastily.
Hazel ignored the slip and led Hyzenthlay to a patch that was aglow with early morning sunlight, the clover still glistening with dew. The two rabbits set to the clover with a healthy appetite, grazing together in amiable silence. Hazel's quiet, unobtrusive manner seemed to ease the doe's timidity, for soon she was grazing almost nose to nose with Hazel.
After she had had her fill of the clover Hyzenthlay sat back on her hind quarters and began to groom her fur.
"Your brother seems to have found a companion," said Hyzenthlay, nodding towards the hill that they had just come down.
Hazel sat up and was surprised to see Fiver eating next to Vilthuril, both obviously at complete ease in each other's company.
"Well I never!" said Hazel, unable to keep the delight out of his voice.
"Vilthuril is a good, sensible doe – a bit quiet but very level-headed. She seems quiet taken with your brother, Hazel."
"Yes, I'm happy for both of them," said Hazel sincerely. Fiver would have never stood a chance of winning a doe in their old warren and once again Hazel marvelled at the good fortune that had brought them here.
"Vilthuril and the other does seem happy enough," said Hazel, turning back to Hyzenthlay. "But what about you, Hyzenthlay? Bigwig speaks highly of you and how you demonstrated remarkable courage during the escape from Efrafa."
"I am…better. No, that's not quite it – I feel…alive, for the first time in my life, if that makes sense."
Hyzenthlay shook her head and Hazel watched as a few stray dew drops glittered against the doe's fur.
"That sound foolish, I know, but it's how I feel, Hazel. Thank you."
It took Hazel a moment to find his voice. "No, thank you for your courage. Without it our warren would be doomed."
Hazel turned to go; he had promised Bigwig and Silver that he would do a round of scouting with them after sunrise, but before he went up the hill he paused and turned back to the doe.
"Your name suits you."
Before the doe could respond Hazel had darted back up the hill.
Note: For those who haven't read the novel, in Lapine (the rabbits' native language), Hyzenthlay means "fur shining like dew".