"The basis of shame is not some mistake of ours, but that this humiliation is seen by everyone."
I found myself on a lush green meadow. It reached as far as my eye could see, until it touched the cloudless sky on the horizon. In the distance I recognized an huge oak. I ran towards it, but it did not get closer, no matter how fast I ran, it always remained at the same size on the horizon still. So I stopped, and looked around, to my left there was a small lake, so clean that one could see to its bottom. I looked into my reflection, and saw my face. It was unharmed. I drank something, taking a few sips of this deliciously fresh water in, as I closed my eyes, and enjoyed the peace for a few moments. But then, suddenly, I noticed some warmth trickling down my muzzle. I didn't pay attention to it, as I continued to drink. But suddenly it tasted bitter. Astonished, I casted up my eyes, and saw some blood running down the back of my muzzle, diving into the water, and forming a fine, fibrous drawing on its surface. It twisted and was beautiful. Then the picture sank below the surface of the water, and I realized my reflection again, into which I saw.
Suddenly my head was knocked to the side as if someone had hit it. But there was nothing. No one there. Only my reflection. More blood dripped from my muzzle, but it did not hurt. Again my head was beaten aside, and even more blood flowed off my face. Droplet-wise it first struck the water surface powerfully, and sank then into the depths of the lake. I remained unusually calm, as it still didn't hurt at all, and kept watching my image. Slowly I could observe the deep, red seams running along my chaps, across the back of my muzzle, and mirrored on the other side of my muzzle. The whole thing continued on the side of my face, down towards my chest. Terrified, I opened my mouth, as there was more and more blood, tainting the water underneath me. Long strings drew from my mouth to the water surface. I suddenly got no air, as if something were tying up my throat, as if I were trapped in one of those things humans were setting up for the hunt. Shining wires, we used to call them. I fell to the ground, and saw a piece of wood sticking out of the ground beside me with something shining, which led to my neck. It was getting narrower, I struggled, and wriggled, but the more I moved, the tighter it became around my throat. I felt like my head was about to burst due to overpressure at every moment, and looking out of the corner of my eye I saw dense, dark clouds shoving before the sun, and me sinking in the shadows of theirs.
I startled, opening my eyes and screeched. "By Frith ..." I whispered softly, still wildly panting for breath, from this nightmare. I did need a few moments to calm down, and then noticed, that I still have to be here, in Efrafa. I laid my head on my paws and put on my ears in fear, as I saw the dried blood on the ground in front of me. I swallowed hardly once. I wondered what is to happen next. Why only couldn't I remember what happened? Where I came from? These questions drove me into madness, especially what happened, if I was not able to answer them. Would I be killed? A giant growling of my stomach reached my ears. I was ravenous, I felt like I was eaten inside, as if my stomach would already begin to digest itself. How long have I been unconscious? How long have I not eaten anything? I decided to get up, and rose myself. I looked around again and saw how I must have slept in the pit at the wall, into which this Hawk had pushed and attacked me a few times. I growled deeply into myself, as I began to feel hatred for him. At the same time, however, there was also a bit of fear, as he seemed to be stronger than me. I brushed my muzzle with my left front paw once, and noticed that my wounds must have been treated. As I looked down at myself, I saw, that the wound on my chest has been cleansed and was already slightly closed. Was I helped? Very strange.
Again my stomach grumbled, this time even more violently than before. I went to the exit of my burrow, but stopped right in front of the passageway and saw two guards. They were others, as before, who have welcomed me here so kindly. I caughed slightly: "I-I'm hungry. May I go up, for Silflay, please?" I tried, as far as I could, not sounding too timid, so I won't get pushed around again. The Owslas turned to me. One confirmed with an harsh "come along!", and a nod to follow them. I went after them the long runs, and was once more amazed how long the way was, how far I was brought into the underground. With every metre the air finally got better, so I realized. Apparently, I already got used to the musty stench. We left the corridor and came along to the side of the big hall, where I was first interrogated, and treaded the open. I breathed in as deep as my lungs allowed me to. This fresh, clean air, and the sun rays that hit on my fur, what a blessing. We climbed the slope, where the warren was located at, and arrived on a meadow. The two guards positioned only slightly away from me. "Hurry up, you've got until Ni-Frith, you aren't due to more, Prisoner Leo", the dark brown buck explained, as I only nodded.
I gorged myself as much as I could, without paying too much attention to my environment. Too big was the fear, not to know when there was something to eat again. Hopefully, they wouldn't refuse me the food as well, if nothing should help. And I had such an apprehension, that I won't remember anything more, if I haven't done so far yet. During Silflay I was able to observe a group of rabbits, which were eating as well. They were encircled by some much sturdier rabbits and where propelled further more on to the meadow after a while. I hopped forth a bit, to see more without attracting the attention of my guards. Slowly I looked over the rabbits. They appeared partly weak, malnourished, or simply demotivated. I felt so sorry for them. I just didn't understand this whole thing. As my eyes poised at the group, I saw three rabbits, perching together, and one of them looked back at me, sizing me up inquisitively, and it seemed to talk to the other two. Curiously, I rose my ears, as the warmth of the sun disappeared for a moment, for it was covered by a cloud. The rabbit talked to one of the guards, but I couldn't hear anything, they were too far away. The Guard was nodding, and the rabbit came directly towards me, with slow, careful steps. It was a Marli, snow-white fur, and black paws. She gave me a smile, and I instinctively returned it. The first friendly gesture I was experiencing here at all. Suddenly, one of my guards obstructed her, but before he could say anything, the Marli just waved her paw calmingly, saying, "It's all right, I spoke to the Owsla. I only want to take a look for him, Sir." The soldier just nodded, giving her way, a little humming. Visibly displeased. The white Marli came up to me with a friendly smile. "Hello you, I'm Dawn, we do not know each other yet", she introduced herself. Her voice sounded warm and friendly. I liked to hear it. "I am-", I swallowed slightly, voice breaking in, "Leo, my name is Leo. Please excuse me, I have not eaten for days, at least I think so." I gently chuckled the latter, despite this strange situation. "Leo", she smiled even friendlier, "I am glad to meet you." "I know", she continued, "you were unconscious for two days! How do you feel now?", she asked me with an anxiety in the voice, that puzzled me. "Two days? Oh dear..." I looked down at the ground for a moment, "Quite well so far, somebody must have cleaned my wounds and taken care of them after this... treatment. Wait!", I stopped myself, "Whence you know that?" "I was", she said, poking my nose with her paw, "I've cleansed your wounds and taken care of you, Leo. One of the Owsla asked me, for I'm relatively versed in these things. He said you'd have to get back on your paws as soon as possible." There was a certain anxiety in her voice. She was that? The white spot that was moving toward me, I thought I was already dreaming.
"I'm so sorry", she complemented, trying to give me a smile. "It's okay", I put one of my paws on her shoulder, and clothed my face with a smile that covered up my fear of the future, "I do not quite understand this whole thing, tho. But thank you, it's really nice of you." She returned smiling, seemed to blush even a bit. "Well, may I take a look at them again?" She got up quickly, pointing me with her paw to rise. I sat up on my hind legs, and she looked at my wounds, carefully stroking my chest with her fore paw, which apparently had already healed well to me. When she examined my muzzle, I briefly shrank back my face, as it suddenly ached, but calmed down again quickly. "Excuse me, I", she stammered, but I interrupted her immediately. "No reason for it, I was only frightened." I let my ears hang low, and I could only utter softly, "The memory just came back a moment." She nodded. "Well, this looks quite good so far, Leo. In a few days the whole thing should be well again." She clapped me on the shoulders. I smiled contentedly, sighing a little even. At least something good. "Even so I fear that new ones will emerge", I admitted with concern. "May I ask you who questioned you, Leo?", she asked, looking at me. Again I thought of that scene down there, in the burrow, and put on my ears, "Hawk," I let loose short of the ground. She swallowed once heavily, I could clearly recognize her reaction, that he was known to her. "I understand", she meant, "I'm so sorry. What exactly do they want from you? In the mark, where we are lodged, they speak of a new one. You." She poked me once. "Yes, that'll probably be me", I said, "The gray buck here in front of you. They want to know where I come from, they talked about outsiders. This Hawk said I'd surely belong to an warren called Watership Down. But the problem is, what I have already told to everyone here, even at my first interrogation, down below at General Woundwort: I do not know." Depressed, I dropped my gaze to the ground and scratched with the paw through the grass. It felt dry. "I know nothing at all anymore, except for my name. I woke up on a meadow, near a river, in the forest here, and was captured hither. Just no one wants to believe me."
There was a moment of awkward silence, when I suddenly felt her paw under my chin, as she lifted my gaze, making me look into her eyes, with an heart-warming smile. "Your voice, it sounds true. - I believe you", her voice sounded very soft, "that has to be incredibly hard for you. Perhaps you have survived an attack by an Elil. And then having to be here, at Efrafa - at that time. You know, we had some visitors here some time ago, Hazel and Fiver they were called. They probably created some kind of unrest and were the only rabbits that escaped from here again. Altogether this incited the situation kinda, in which you fell unfortunately." Suddenly she hugged me and frightened I lifted my ears, but I reciprocated, her smell arousing somehow some kind of confidentialness in me. "I hope it'll get better soon.", she pressed me closer to her, "I believe you, Leo. And I already like you somehow." Slowly she loosened the embrace and looked at me. "It's so good to talk," I said, and smiled at her. "It's good to see someone new here around", she replied, laughing softly. "You're not alone", she whispered, looking out for the guards. "Look", she bent her head slightly down, revealing her neck. She also had a scratch, just like me, when they gave me the sign of Hraffla. But hers was older, almost already fused again. "I'm afraid, it'll be renewed soon", she lifted her head back up to me and looked at me. "An escape attempt, a very short one", she once glanced at the group of rabbits from which she had just approached, "We had tried to, but it was not to be, I guess." I looked over the group, the two rabbits seemed to watch us, while they were eating, and talking to each other, as it seemed to me. "Primrose, and the brown buck with the funny hairstyle is Blackavar. I hope they can get to know you soon as well. You will like them. - And friends can always be handy." "I would be very happy too, to meet further rabbits", I gave her a smile, and at this moment I was so pleased about this acquaintance. A glimmer of hope, if this nightmare should end. "Most of those who wear this mark like we do are unfortunately shunned, they are afraid to be suspected as well, and run the risk of punishment. At least, as long as Owsla and Officers are nearby", she shrugged, "I can understand, still, it's annoying and ever so depressing."
"Silflay ending! Everyone below the earth again!" The voice of an Owsla of the rear group echoed over the meadow. Dawn looked once there, and immediately fell on her fore paws, to run off: "You heard it, I hope we'll meet again, Leo. I wish you luck! Stay strong!" I could see her still spurting over the meadow as she didn't seem to no longer hear my quiet, "Goodby." "The same applies to you", the black buck of my guards muttered at me, and I dropped to my forelegs as fast as I can, following the two guards, without thinking too much, back in my burrow.
I lied down at the cold wall of my lair and looked out to the exit, as I rested my head on my front paws. How was it supposed to go on? Would there be other interrogations? How can I withstand them, if they get worse? I wish I had the answers ready, that would bring me peace from all this horror. I closed my eyes and tried to dream myself to a more beautiful place, while I finally fell asleep slowly, weakened by the exertions.
When I woke up, nothing's changed. I opened my eyes and lied in the same cave in which I had fallen asleep. "Too bad. Well, at least no nightmare", I said softly to myself and sat myself up. I moistened my front paws some with my tongue, taking one of my ears between them, and started cleaning myself. Albeit it appeared obscure to me, it seemed to awake certain normality in me to clean myself. It sort of dispelled the fear, of that, what was about to come, while doing something everyday. When I was done, I became hungry again, and after all the cleaning I got a terrible thirst. My throat was dust-dry. Carefully I tapped to the exit of my burrow again, cleared my throat and asked, if I could go to Silflay, and drink something. These were other guards again. Two huge bucks, compared to me, the one cream-colored, the other in a dark grey tone, while his chest was white as snow. The dark gray turned to me, looked at his colleague questioningly, but without getting an answer from him, he nodded a little later, and they led me back to the meadow. Frith shined bright and warm over the warren, the huge toppled oak throwed an almost threatening shadow over the whole area. No wind, as if time stood still for a moment, surrendering to the peace that was lasting for this moment. This time, no rabbits were seen. A little disappointed, they led me off the meadow to the bank of the river, which we had crossed over the bridge at my arrival. Hasty I took some sips. The air was so clear, and fresh. Looking up in the sky, I could see that it seemed to be early in the morning. I never wanted to go down into this cave again.
After a few more sips, I tapped two steps into the water and looked down into my reflection. The sight reminded me of my dream. Was this real? All of this here? I clearly felt the nippy wet through my fur, how it cooled my paws, and the gritty earth beneath my paws felt quite pleasant. I looked into the distorted face of a rabbit, that had been defiled to its blood, having no hope and facing a gloomy future. I sighed and looked up. On my left, I saw the bridge we once came over. I took note, when I saw a group of rabbits crossing it. They scurried over the meadow, and came directly towards us, when they spotted me. The one which seemed to lead the group, had a quite peculiar appearance. Dark fur, and a beard like that of a goat. I catched myself, as I had to chuckle at his look. "Hey, you there", the rabbit's voice croaked, as they approached to us, "Aren't you the new one they've picked up recently?" I just nodded cautiously, not breathing any word, as in the emphasis of his question something menacing resonated. "If you didn't want to disclose to good old Hawk, where you came from, you surely would like to share it with me, don't you? My friend?", he grinned at me strangely sly, and came close to me, almost unpleasantly close. "I'm really sorry, but as I've already had to say to Hawk, I don't know." I lowered my head and hoped, that he'd just go away again. I didn't like this. "Yes, be so good," he grinned at me, as I raised my eyes again, "The general will be good to us. Come on, hold him!", he ordered two of the Owsla who came with him, and before I knew what was happening, they had encircled me to the left and to the right, and took hold of me under my front legs, so I could barely move. "Let me, please! I have nothing more to say to you!" I growled deeply, trying to pull myself out of their embrace, but I failed. The two Owsla were too strong. The black buck paced slowly into the water and stopped in front of me. Heavily he straightened himself and looked down at me, where I was still standing on all fours. "Tell me, where is your warren, stranger?" he said with a serious voice and a nasty grin on his lips. I just shook my head. I was fed up with the questions. "Tell me", he hissed loudly, and I was only able to feel his fore paws pushing my head down and dipping it into the water. With fear I screamed my whole air out of my lungs, while I was shrieking wildly, but I could not get any hold with the hind legs. The ground was too wet, and I slid deeper into the water, as I felt the weight of the buck on my head. Madly I tried to free my head by wild twitching, but failed. Suddenly he let me go and I rose my head aloft. Dumb with terror I inhaled deeply and fought for air. A burst of Adrenaline shot into my bloodstream and my heart was racing. "By Frith ..." I whispered quietly. Like long strings, limply my fur hang down at my body. I blinked frenziedly to get the water out of my eyes. "Your warren, stranger?", the black buck asked. I glanced up to him, huffing despicably the rest of the water out of my nose, "I don't know it, so believe me!" He shrugged and saw at the rest of the Owsla, who were standing around us. "Still looks rather thirsty to me, poor boy", he laughed maliciously, pressing my head back under the surface of the water. This time I held my breath, as it didn't surprise me completely, like before. I tried to slide away with my head under his fore paws, by trashing around ferociously, but it just didn't work. "Captain Vervain, that's enough!" I perceived a blurred, strange voice. The buck took his paws off my head and I could finally emerge again, immediately panting for air like mad. A brown rabbit has joined up to our group. "Campion, what's the point of that? The stranger wants to break his silence at any moment", said the goatee. "For real? It looked more like you were about to kill him, Vervain", he replied distantly. His appearance was very composed and calm, unlike his counterpart, who seemed very upset about his intervention. "Perhaps you better should leave that up to Hawk, as the responsibility for this was allotted to him, or am I wrong, Vervain?", Campion asked, with earnestness. Vervain just grumbled, glanced at me once. Then he nodded, whereupon he set off with the group with which he came, and disappeared. Immediately, as I was able to move again, I stepped out of the water, and coughed a few times violently.
"Is everything all right?" Campion asked me, looking at me, after I calmed down. I just quickly nodded at that. He looked over me urgently, and I couldn't help seeing subconscious compassion for me in his facial expression. Quickly, however, it disappeared from his mimic. He muttered once, when he looked at the two Owsla, who were accompanying me. "I hope this whole thing will be done soon", he said gravely, then disappeared again as well. The guards now took me back to the meadow. "Hurry up, half of your time is already over, by your lagging", the dark gray snubbed at me. While I was nibbling at the meadow, I realized a group of rabbits that must have been brought up meanwhile. I saw Dawn in the distance, and a smile flits over my lips, disappearing immediately again, for I saw two solid bucks harassing her. One was standing behind her and held her tight, while the other held her head pinned down to the ground with his front paws, and he seemed to whisper something in her ear. I could feel slowly the boiling rage inside of me, I got hot, and gnashed my teeth, slightly growling throaty into myself. What a hellhole was that here, where I was trapped? Rabbits should not deal with each other like that! I once looked after my guards, and run off. "Stop that", I yelled out of the deepest of my throat. As fast as my legs carried me, I ran towards the group without much thinking. "Leo, don't!" I still heard Dawn's voice, as I ran into the buck, who was holding her head to the ground, ramming him from his runs, kicking after the other immediately, while leaning on my fore-legs, so that he stepped away from her. She crouched huddling, slightly trembling with fear. I didn't even get to say anything to her, as someone already grabbed my neck with his teeth. I screamed, and was slung away. I hit massively on my back and shook my head briefly, kind of confused. Immediately, the two bucks, from whom I fled, stood above me, and pressed me with their whole weight into the dirt. They let me feel their claws, as they pinned me with their front paws to the ground. "Seems to me, as if you're healthy enough for another questioning", the cream colored growled at me, and hit me in the face once. "Under the earth with you, scabby Hraffla", he cursed further. Directly I was roughly hauled to a run under the ground, being shooed through the corridors into my burrow back again. I didn't regret. I just hoped Dawn wouldn't get any more trouble, thanks to my attack. I crouched down in my burrow and laid down, while looking grimly at the exit. Waiting for what was about to follow now.