Slowly and unwillingly, Chestnut woke up, a chill finding its way into his coat. It was as if he had fallen into a stream in his run from the Valley of Fire.
"Is it winter already?" he asked wearily.
"Don't be stupid!" snapped a voice.
Chestnut got his strength back and woke up to find a rabbit very similar to Uncle Hazel. He looked just like the one in his previous dream.
"W-Who are you?" stammered Chestnut.
"Your uncle regretfully enough," snarled the rabbit with a savage growl. "Hawthorn. I was told to keep an eye on you and place with you with the newcomer. Get a move on before you lose an ear."
"What do you mean lose an ear, Uncle Hawthorn?"
"By biting it off," said Hawthorn. "And don't-you-dare call me 'uncle' again'."
"But you just said you were my uncle."
"I forbid you to call me it if you wish to remain alive."
Chestnut started to feel fear flowing into his veins. He was in a dark chamber and saw a few skulls lying left fight and center. Watership Down was nowhere to be seen and neither did this seem a dream, but he wished it was the way things were now.
"Where's my daddy?"
"You'll never see him again! If he ever does come here, he will be killed. He ruined my life your father has. Mine, Iris and Tubular's. It was a dark day he was born. Mother died due to his birth. And who he should he give birth to, but you."
"Where am I?" panicked Chestnut.
"Rawfinn," snapped Hawthorn. "the birthplace of Chillblack. It was just her misfortune she failed to poison your father last summer. She promised me, and the other two we would inherit this place if she were to move - as of coincidence, she passed on due to our dratted older bother as we heard."
"Hazel," explained Hawthorn with a feeling of pain. "But no more questions. You are are to dig the burrows with the kitten next door to you. Work well and earn your keep and if you object, you will die!"
Chestnut wished that his father would appear and save him, but what good would a runt be towards fully grown rabbit?
Hawthorn led him down a tunnel and pushed him towards another kitten at work. Hawthorn pushed Chestnut close up, very harshly and he almost hit the wall. The kitten helped him up.
"You work together," snarled Hawthorn. "And you," he added at Chestnut. "As you are the child of the seer, you are in danger if you do not abide by the systems of this place. Now get to work!"
And he hopped away.
The kitten was working away, scraping paw after paw into the wall to make a new burrow.
"He's only saying all that to scare you," said the kitten after five minutes. "He'll bully any kitten your size."
The kitten was a healthy rabbit, though he looked slightly older than Chestnut. Surprisingly enough, he looked like his father with the tawny coat and white belly fur. but his eyes were sunset orange.
"Are you sure?" shuddered Chestnut.
"That's what I would like to believe," confessed the kitten. "Father always taught me that courage is found within; not by physique or aggression. But let's just start to know each other for a bit of sunrise in here. My name is Walnut."
"Wow!" cried Chestnut excitedly. "Our name is almost the same as each other. My name is Chestnut."
"Say," remarked Walnut, eying Chestnut with a tad bit of suspicion. "You look almost like Hawthorn."
"I'm his nephew," explained Chestnut with a feeling of terror. "My older uncle and three others hated each other. My older uncle took my father as a child to a better life. They blame Daddy for the death of my mother. Maybe they want to keep me because I'm his son."
"They obviously kept their ears flopped down and not sprinted up tot understand," said Walnut. "It's normal for mothers to die of birth. Why do they think my mother died?"
"Why didn't Mama die giving birth to me?"
"It doesn't happen very often," said Walnut. "I'm one of the few to not have a mother."
"How did you end up here?" asked Chestnut.
"The wolf got Father two springs ago," explained Walnut trying to swallow the pain of his past as if he was eating frog warts. "Hawthorn and his two other brothers took me away and I explained to them that I was out in the night watching the stars and the wolf was after but my father took my place. Larkspur told me that I was blasphemous for taking the life of my father for being out in the dark. But I refuse to believe it. I committed no sin; my dad's death was an accident. I'm no murderer at all."
"What are doing?!" thundered Hawthorn who had suddenly appeared.
"You were brought here for labour; not chatting!"
"Does Great Aunt Larkspur live hear?" asked Chestnut.
"She does," said Hawthorn. "And she will hear of both your defiances. Come!"
The two rabbits followed Hawthorn down a tunnel and halted them by an opening. He hopped in and after a few seconds, he called them in. They hopped into a familiar circular chamber. It was the very place where Chestnut saw in the dream the skinny rabbit being sentenced to death and to his horror, he wondered if he was to be the one, for there was Larkspur on-top of the same platform but no skinny kitten. From the darkness that covered her, Chestnut suddenly realised, from the ice-blue eyes, she was the one watching him while he spent the night with Uncle Dandelion.
"Come hither!" she snapped.
Chestnut and Walnut hopped nervously towards her, but Walnut seemed to hold a bit of courage.
Standing on her left were two other rabbits who looked exactly like Hawthorn. One was really big and muscular and the other rather short and porky.
On Larkspur's right was a huge, muscular rabbit and resembled Uncle Bigwig as he had a mane upon him, only rather short but he looked incredibly mean and was blind in the right eye with three gash marks passing over it. Also next to him was a black rabbit with grass green eyes and a little tear on his left ear. He didn't look aggressive, but had a mysterious cold stern look about him - for some reason, he reminded Chestnut of Campion.
"Great Aunt Larkspur?" gasped Chestnut.
"Never call me Great Aunt!" she snapped. "You were brought here to be protected from the Valley of Fire. You killed Carnation due to your uncontrollable dreams. You are born of evil, Chestnut, child of the seer. Your father had ruined my life - their lives too," she added nodding at the two on her left and and at Hawthorn who was guarding the way out.
"Indeed he did," remarked the tall one next to Larkspur. "His heart will be plucked out if I see him!"
"Hur, hur!" chuckled the second one stupidly. "Heart plucked out of he sees him!"
With these words, he scratched his own right cheek with his claw.
"That was amazing!" said Walnut. "Now the other side!"
And the rabbit did so.
"Enough!" snarled the other rabbit.
Larkspur continued: "Your grandmother, my despicable sister, was pictured in your father's visions of leaving them five at a young age, which had come true. He had an evil mind like you and due to that, I heard all of what he had caused; he killed everyone in the destruction of Sandelford Warren, nearly killed Bigwig in the Shining Wire and he even attempted to kill his own brother with man's thunderstick hitting him. But you inherit the blood and mind of your father and have spilled blood and it this there my perfect right to keep you here in Rawfin, a home for sinners who do not deserved out be pardoned to to suffer until the Valley of Fire opens for them."
"With all due respect, Mistress," remarked Walnut boldly. "I heard many tales that his father just reads the future, not killed people."
"SILENCE!" screamed Larkspur, making Chestnut shudder but Walnut stood calmly, keeping a straight face.
"Hawthorn told me of your lackadaisical commitment towards your duties and bravery defying, very intolerable at Rawfinn. The two of you can spend two days in the cell together without food for the next two days."
"But we'll starve!" cried Chestnut.
"Three for answering back!" snarled Larkspur. "It's a wonder how Frith forgives children."
"Because children are new to life and have so much to learn," argued Walnut. "I sympathise you, I thought all rabbits as old as yourself are known to be intelligent."
"You've extended your sentence to four for your cheek!"
"But Great Aunt Larkspur!" cried Chestnut.
"Never call me that again!"
Chestnut felt tears welling up.
"Don't cry. Don't you dare cry!" roared Larkspur. "If you cry, you will die quickly!'
Chestnut held his tears very bravely.
"Much better," sighed Larkspur contentedly. "It's lucky for you to be a child and that I forgive you. If you are gown up, you'd be burned."
"If I might meddle, mistress," said the black rabbit stepping forth. "Fear would involve tears, I have so many pains but for a buck his age, surely it would be necessary to lessen the pain."
"Nay!" snapped Larkspur. "I took pity on you for your hints of agreements with my righteousness, Aster. He is a child, therefore a sinner, blasphemy flowing in his veins as you know what he had done to Carnation. Is that right, Captain Nettle?"
"Indeed," growled the lookalike to Uncle Bigwig. "I was in the same agreements in my youth. My good-for-nothing brother being trouble himself. Had to beat him many times. Hasn't cured him at all, for I hear he is now Captain of Owsla. I heard some recent tales rom him, concerning that famous rabbit, Leo Barning from Above. It's his history that makes me grateful. Knowing that he is a soldier I can fight to the death with him. Told him all my life that strength is what makes you a winner."
The now-called Aster, turned away from and gently clawed the platform he was on, as in a gesture of hoping to do away with Captain Nettle one of these days.
"Iris, Tubular," announced Larkspur to the rabbits on her left. "Take these two away, and if you little brats resist, you will burn. Burn!"
The two rabbits hopped down and led them away into a cold cell. It was wide enough for a few other rabbits but some skulls, like the previous cell, were scattered here and there and up one on the ceiling was what looked like artwork of a rabbit's face; it was black and had what looked like two rubies for the eyes.
"It's the rabbit from my dream!" whimpered Chestnut.
"What dream?" asked Walnut.
And Chestnut explained about his nightmare of Carnation dying, falling into the Valley of Fire, adding he made it real as to why he is now hear.
"Mere coincidence," remarked Walnut. "Superstition is not very healthy."
"But is is real," said Chestnut. "I'm evil. I dreamed a dram of an old rabbit getting killed and it has happened."
"But have you been taken to the Valley of Fire?"
"No. Thinking about it, maybe this is was parallel to that. Misery."
"You shouldn't be hard on yourself, dear."
The two kittens turned to see a violet doe with a white underbelly and next to her, a miniature version of herself. Behind her were a few other rabbits as well; one one taller than the others and corn yellow, one was a grey, plump rabbit and one was coloured of a strong red.
"Who are you?" asked Chestnut.
"I'm Tiger-Lily, dear," she greeted "And this is my little sister Zinnia."
"Hello," she said shyly.
"Are you the only one in here?" asked Walnut.
"Certainly not," said a corn-yellow rabbit appearing so suddenly. He was actually quite a lot taller than any other rabbit put together.
"Who are you, sir?" asked Chestnut.
"My name is Huckleberry," introduced the rabbit. "But I don't like it, too sophisticated. I'd rather you call me Huckers."
"A nice name all the same," said Chestnut smiling.
"My name's ... " began the plump grey rabbit who looked rather embarrassed. "My name is - Thumper. I lived in a cage at a school and the human kids there named me after some rabbit called Thumper from a story named Bambi. Wish they gave a better name though, something as uncommon as Leo Barning from Above but oh well."
"You know Uncle Leo?" asked Chestnut.
"Precious," answered Tiger-Lily, "There isn't a rabbit around here who does not know Leo Barning from Above. Many tales we know of him and that he resides at Watership Down. We heard only last summer, he took a journey with a seer known as Fiver."
"He's my father!" squealed Chestnut. "Fiver is my father. I wish he was here now."
The red rabbit fannally had words upon hearing this.
"Child of the seer? Well, I almost saw no resemblance."
He had a gloomy look about him.
"What's resemblance?" asked Chestnut softly.
"When you look like someone," explained the rabbit idly. "Anyway, I'm Cornstalk. What's your name, child of the seer?"
"Err, my name is Chestnut," he introduced. "And this is my new friend Walnut."
"Ah yes," said Cornstalk uninterestedly. "We've seen you here for some time."
"Ain't it funny that our names rhyme?" laughed Chestnut.
"Mere coincidence," replied Cornstalk.
"What's coincidence?" asked Chestnut.
"Really?" snorted Cornstalk. "You literally do not know what coincidence means?"
"I'd like to hear you describe it," remarked Walnut. "He's only little. He'll learn everything in his own good time."
"Be it as it may," said Cornstalk. "You must soon realise how intelligence will help you survey if you are to reunite with your family, child of the seer. A new friend like him is not enough. My uncle can show you everything you need to know about courage and loyalty."
"Who is your uncle?" asked Chestnut. He began to dislike this rabbit very much, but he was a very curious creature.
"His identity is private," said Cornstalk. "He'll only reveal to those who trust him."
Chestnut thought for a bit; Cornstalk proved to be a very nasty rabbit and suppose his uncle was nastier and more cruel? His father was the one to always stay by, let alone Walnut whom he had very much grown to look up to since defending him from Larkspur and Cornstalk.
"I think my Daddy is the best person to trust. As we as a new face," he added looking at Walnut who smiled proudly.
"Just so you know, child of the seer," responded Cornstalk, a very cold, majestic expression about him,"you ought to remember your title. Your 'Daddy' can read the future and make horrible things happen. If you don't consider your position now, you'll take things the same way as him. You already have if you think about it, killing that old Carnation."
"Eat compost, Cornstalk!" snapped Walnut. "He's already uncomfortable enough."
"Now now," said Tiger-Lily. "Let's not fight. You'll get yourselves in more trouble."
"Me?" laughed Cornstalk. "I literally ran a challenge for my brilliant uncle. I just so happened to run into this place for refuge by mistake. They said I am blasphemous as a child but I left my youth only a summer ago."
"Well, I can't see how I am here not being a child," snuffed Thumper. "I myself also left youth a summer ago. I wanted to escape form the cage because children were absuing me, drawing on me and trying pull of my whiskers."
"Me and Zinnia have no family," explained Tiger-Lily. "Zinnia found some flayrah and ate it hungrily but it belonged to the property of Rawfinn. I only agreed to stay with her to be with her."
Huckers cleared his throat and said, "I saw the two sisters being treated and I tried to stand up to them, but it didn't work. So tada! Here I am."
The rock moved aside. In pushed was the black-coated rabbit Aster and the rock moved back into its place.
"Maybe you will now think twice before meddling with verdicts," growled the voice of Captain Nettle.
"Even though I asked for forgiveness," retorted Aster, calmly with the same stern look about him.
Nettle hopped away.
"What have you done?" asked Huckers.
"Serving justice towards the young kitten," he said looking at Chestnut with the same stern look. "It impresses me to see a buck with courage not to let his emotions out. I'm not easy to impress."
"Thank you, ... Apple?"
"Aster," the rabbit corrected.
"Are you really under those rabbits?" asked Walnut. "I saw you a few times and I never see you agree, just stand there."
"Must I really confess my secrets to my fate?"
"That bully is gone now," said Chestnut.
"Everyone hears everywhere, young buck," replied Aster sitting down. "Now be silent. I must analyse the breakout?"
"Breakou-" Chestnut began excitedly, but Walnut put a paw desperately over his mouth.
After ten minutes, Aster, after looked at the ceiling with the kightpatch, ordered everyone in a line and analysed the tallest and smallest.
"Hmm," he said. "Yes."
Looking at Chestnut, he said lowly, "You are the smallest. But answer me this; can you dig?"
"Yes," said Chestnut. "Mama taught me how to do it quickly."
"All the better," said Aster with a rare smile. "You are to climb upon all the rabbits stating on one another, climb through the patch of light and dig a burrow for us to get out. We cannot do it her because someone might be listening and get suspicious. Got it?"
Chestnut looked up at the cling with the face of the Black Rabbit staring hungrily down at them all and gulped.
"Err, y-yes," he stammered. "But the Black Rabbit."
"It's just to scare you," explained Aster. "Everyone here is superstitious but you must maintain your common sense; ignore it and don't be frightened. It's what they want."
"Okay," shuddered Chestnut.
"I only agree to get out to retreat to my goals," said Cornstalk. "Don't expect me to join."
Sensing Chestnut's lack of confidence, Walnut hopped up too him and said, "May I recommend a trick for a difficult task? It'll possibly work."
"Yes please, Walnut."
"What is your biggest desire?"
"Why are we not surprised he would not know such a simple word?" remarked Cornstalk.
"Why are we not surprised that you have the point-of-view of an inbred?" Walnut took back. Turning back to Chestnut he said, "Ddisre is what you really want. Something you'll anything for? What is your desire?"
"Quite a few," said Chestnut not deciding. "That I was not a runt, that I have a brother, to have a normal mind and to be with Daddy and Mama again."
"Well," said Walnut. "Imagine that they are in that hole you are meant to reach. Ignore the Black Rabbit and reach for what you want, a reward for bravery."
"Okay," said Chestnut.
"You'll be fine," said Walnut patting his head. "You are very strong and you'll manage it."
And so the rabbits gathered into their lines, each one tall to short; Huckers, Thumper, Cornstalk, Tiger-Lily, Aster, Walnut, Zinnia and Chestnut. when that was done, they claimed onto of one after the other, leaving Chestnut to clamber up their backs on by one and reach the light, but he was still shaken by the view on the ceiling and he clambered through the light and out into a meadow. As soon as he got his breath back, he started to dig. He could do it even without his mother and he soon reached the outside. The weather was horrible and the wind was strong. But he had no time to worry about it. He started digging into the ground and calculated where he dug. Chestnut may prove to be naive and questionable but he was a professional digger. He had finally reached the cold draft of the dungeons and was soon facing his co-prisoners, everyone looking at him impressively, even Cornstalk.
"What sort of runt is quick?" snorted Cornstalk.
"What sort of rabbit can view his own whiskers end to end?" remarked Walnut. "Really excellent," he added to Chestnut.
"Gotta hand it," commented Thumper.
"We witness something new every day," said Huckers.
"Wow!" cried Zinnia.
"Very well done, dear," said Tiger-Lily.
"Everyone through now," said Chestnut. Though he was small the hole was big enough for a fully-grown rabbit.
They all scuttled through the burrow, Walnut and Chestnut the only ones left.
"After you," offered Walnut as he allowed Chestnut in. He was just about to scramble into the burrow when -
"What do you think you are doing?!"
He turned to see Captain Nettle glaring through the sell. He looked very livid.
"Slowly rotting away," said Walnut dryly. "See you."
He jumped into the hole, ran and reached the entrance to find Chestnut on his own looking scared.
"They heard shouting. They all ran their own way out of fear! I chose to stay with you!"
"Let's go!" cried Walnut.
The two rabbits raced through a dark forest, some soldier from Rawfinn in pursuit with Hawthorn's voice decorating the tear of it all.
"Get them! Eat them! Drink their blood! They will pay for this escape!"
The two bucks kept running and running and running until they came to an angry river.
"I can't swim!" wailed Chestnut.
"Get on my back!" ordered Walnut.
Chestnut did so and they jumped into water, Walnut swimming with all his might until they reached the other side and ran scores nearby bridge. They rested near a flower bed, panting their lungs out.