The air is soft and warm, the sun bathing quietly over the down as he leaned against a tree and softly sighed. His many children were playing off underneath the trees in front of him, the sunlight cascading through the thick pattern of leaves high above, casting dancing shadows to go along with his little kittens adorable scampering. He smiled softly at this, thinking of his dear friend, his brother, his heart, his chief. Hazel...gone. Gone to the other side. But that wasn't what made him shudder even as he thought of Hazel's warm face, of the slight limp he had, of his sleek brown fur...
No, what made the little rabbit shudder had been the words that the faintly silver-furred rabbit had said to him only just a week ago, a mere day before Hazel had died. The words of Silverweed, that seer.
Being a seer, being able to see into the future, was a unique gift. He possessed it, and it washed over him every once in a while, like a sudden thunderstorm barreling down upon you in the middle of a silflay, a feeding. Yet as time had gone on, he'd noticed something. Fiver had realized his ability to see was getting stronger, better, more refined. He had only to look at someone in front of his little brown muzzle and he'd see the truth, his greyish/brown eyes almost becoming tiny pinpricks as they looked upon those before him. He'd seen it in Hazel, in his best, and first friend. And Silverweed had noticed it.
Silverweed, like him, was a seer. He had left a terrible warren, the "Warren of the Shining Wires", a place of hidden death. A place where a farmer had set up wires all around, but made a perfect environment in all other ways for rabbits to prosper. Plenty of food left out for them, killing off all other predators...all to make the rabbits good and fat and then, eventually...a snare would get them, and he would get delicious meat, and lovely fur skins. Silverweed had left one night, turning up in Fiver's home, in Watership Down, chittering madly, shaking, his green eyes almost blind they were so unnaturally pale as he stared deep into Fiver's face.
Fiver understood why Silverweed had left. Though younger than even he, Silverweed had been, like him, given the gift of foresight. IMMENSELY POWERFUL foresight. And that gift from the world beyond came with a terrible price. He was dead on the inside, paranoid, insane, his very spirit left behind, only brief remnants of a mind and soul lingering on in his tiny, thin frame. They didn't tell their secrets without a price, and the price had been his ability to truly live. He smelled like barley left out to rot, like a mole that was wounded and trying desperately to struggle underground to find a place to die. And Fiver had felt nothing but pity for him. His insanity had clearly driven him to simply run, run, anywhere, as far away as he could and he'd found their home. They wanted to open up their warren to the weary, even for someone as strange as him, but...
Silverweed barely ate. Barely drank. And talked even less. But when he did, he was always, ALWAYS right about something. And when he saw Fiver's face, saw the look of horror the little rabbit had after talking with Hazel, he had approached him, and knelt quietly by his side.
"You saw. You saw forward."
Fiver said nothing. He was silent, quiet, and terrified. It was as if a giant wolf was lying next to him, calmly raising it's head, looking squarely into his eyes. He felt as though he was going to die at any moment, and it was only the wolf's discretion by which he still lived. He yearned for Silverweed to just get it over with. Say it, say what he wanted and end this horrific, terrifying anticipation.
"It is the gift the other place gives. I would see it in my sleep as a kit. It was beautiful at first, knowing everything. Being whispered to. Feeling so special. I thought I could help people. That by knowing, it would make things better. Then you realize how awful knowing can be. How beautiful and terrible it truly is." Silverweed said softly. Fiver felt his body shuddering as Silverweed quietly continued. "You see them die. Again. And again. And again. And you can no longer cry anymore, for it's no longer sad, it's just...something that is going to happen...and what can you do to stop it? I asked myself...is it better to know and try in vain to change what you can...or to accept you can't, and hold your head high? Is ignorance truly bliss? I decided it was. I do not want to tell others when they will die. I do not want to tell others how they will die. I do not want to tell them there is nothing they can do to stop this. I can't bear to see them crying."
Fiver felt incredible pity welling up in him. His mouth slightly hung open and he stammered a little before..."I...I'm so sorry." He whispered. To have this kind of gift at the age he'd had...it really was small wonder Silverweed had not gone insane as he did sooner. "...I can only barely begin to imagine what you endured."
Silverweed slowly began to hop away, but turned briefly back, and quietly smiled. "Spend the next day with Hazel as long as you can. That is the only comfort I could give. It's...easier when your last moments were good and warm."
Fiver spent the next day with Hazel and his own family, looking up at the clouds, and talking. Just...talking about their lives, and memories. And Fiver felt the urge to tell Hazel he would not live another day, but...in the end, he couldn't say it. What he did was ask Hazel...
"If you knew someone was going to die...would you tell them?" He asked. "If there was nothing you could do to stop it, I mean?"
"You mean change destiny? Change fate? I'm not sure." Hazel had admitted to Fiver with a soft sigh. "Maybe it's not up for me to decide for others. If it were me, I wouldn't want to know. Maybe at some point I would have, but not know. I don't really think about my death. I think about what a beautiful life I've had. I'd like to know if my family would be alright."
"You always cared so much about us all. It's like you've the heart of TEN rabbits. You're the best Rah we'll ever have." Fiver said happily as he nuzzled against his friend.
Hazel would be dead in three hours, and Fiver would remember that final, soft, gentle texture of his brother, his chief, his friend, his heart's, fur. He would always, always remember it. Sometimes, in slumber, in his dreams, he'd snuggle up tight in the warren and for a moment, it was Hazel he was feeling, soft and warm and familiar against his own fur, and he would open his eyes and for the briefest moment, see Hazel there...
Until the vision faded and he was back, awake, with nothing but shadows and dust.
But now...now he had seen his own death. For he had looked into the surface of a pond, and he had seen a gigantic, terrifying predator that would come. It would come for him, and it would kill him, and he would not escape. He would never escape. He had lived long enough, but now his life would reach its end. He could see it, this predator. See it's eyes when he slept. The eyes that were so icy blue, pale and piercing and fierce, a long, powerful body, and sharp fangs that briefly flashed in the night. A slithering thing, a...snake. That was what they were called. They were rare in this part of the land, he knew that much. Most were fairly small, only a threat perhaps to the occasional mouse, or fish, or insect or small enough bird. With heads no bigger than a human's finger, most were quiet and faintly terrifying, always gazing softly and dangerously at the rabbits of Watership Down from afar, their tongues tasting at the air as they slooooowly blinked their eyes, and stared...stared...stared. Sometimes Fiver wondered if THEY could see the future, for they always, always seemed to be looking right at HIM in the past few months, with the faintest of smiles on their scaly lips.
They'd never come close to the warren. Never eaten any of the kits, though sometimes they'd come close, ominously whispering at the edge of tall grass. With a faint hissing edge added to the common tongue, "Hedgerow", their words waft over the grass and into the little kittens ears as the tiny rabbit children would quiver and shake in fear. The serpents would whisper terrifying things, crooning words the kits would be too afraid to say...
But now Fiver could hear them. Now he could hear the whispering, see black eyes glistening just beyond the forest, at the faint edge of tall grass.
He is waiting for you, he is always waiting.
He has come a long way for you, because he loves you.
He is coming for you, he is waiting, waiting.
Always watching, always waiting.
He has waited, for he loves you.
He is watching you, and he loves you.
He is watching you, and he loves you.
He is watching you...and he loves you...
Fiver turned around, whipping towards the dark eyes. "Who is "He"?"
"He is always watching you. And he has always loved you." The snakes whispered softly. "Always loved you. ALWAYS loved you. Loved you so much. He loves you all so much."
Fiver shuddered, as if someone was sliding claws slowly into his body. He yearned to run, to scream, to do SOMETHING, but the snakes and their dark eyes were hypnotically deep. The horrifying thing was that there was not so much as an ounce of cruelty or mocking derision in their words. They seemed sincere. Sincere and tender, as if they were speaking to their mates.
This made Fiver fear his end even more. If that was what they thought "love" was...
...it happened on a soft, silken night, when the clouds were blanketing the sky so heavily that almost no light could pass through to the earth below. A soft wind slowly passed over Fiver's fur as he made his way back towards the warren, bidding farewell to little Abbie, one of Hannah's many children. The sweet mouse had been so helpful to them for so long, and her eldest daughter was a delight. She'd come by to say hello to her "Sweet Uncle Fiver", to give him a little playful nuzzle and inform him of any recent predators that might have popped up in the Down.
And it was then that he heard a wailing cry that filled his long ears. He stiffened and shot up, pupils bulging as he turned, looking to the right, into the woods his children had been playing in just a few days ago. Inching closer and closer to the near-endless darkness, drawn by the crying, wailing sound, he peered out, out...trying to see what was calling.
He froze when he came across the source of the cry. It was lying underneath a felled tree limb that had fallen down and, evidently, broken its back. It was too weak to even writhe, and was staring at Fiver, its pale, almost icy blue eyes pleading. It was a snake, of that Fiver was sure, though it had a kind of...hood...on its head. Wide and thick and silver, with a dark, almost charcoal-grey body as it looked at Fiver.
"Help me." It whispered out. "Please."
Fiver stiffened. He stared. He was positively terrified. He didn't dare get closer. He did not DARE. The minute he did, this snake could get loose and strike at him. Even if it couldn't get loose, it could strike. He felt himself quiver and shake, and remembered the vision of his own death, of that thing's eyes in the surface of the pond. He knew, he KNEW this thing would, in fact, kill him. Yet...
Staring at it now, he felt something...odd. He could see the future clearly, and it foretold death, yes. Clear, obvious death. Yet...a slow death. A slow, obvious, sad death that would come for this thing. He could see it plain as day as he stared at the snake, who's pale blue eyes blinked slowly.
"You would kill me if you could. I cannot help you." Fiver whispered. "You are fated to die. I should let you die."
He should. This was it, this was the way to prevent the future. This was how his own fate could change. If the one who was to kill him died first, then the future would be altered. He could have control over what would come tomorrow. Allowing this snake to die would bring him hope.
Yet even then as he stared into its eyes and saw its tears, he felt disgusted with himself. He ought to help it. It was clear from the blood slowly pooling on the inside of its side, blots growing slooowly from just beneath the scaly skin that it had broken its spine. Internal bleeding, a horrific, terrible way to die. A slow way to die and an agonizing, cruel way.
"Snakes have often fed on your kind. Why should you show it any pity? Any mercy?" A voice, harsh and heavy in his mind, murmured. "And with it dying, it can't kill you. Think of what this means. You'll control your own fate."
"But look at it. It's in agony. Nobody, NOTHING deserves that." A softer voice insisted. "Mercy was made for those who didn't deserve it. That's what pity and mercy are about. It's easy to forgive your friends. It's very hard to forgive your enemies."
"It will kill you if you help move that tree limb off it. Do you want to die showing mercy to something that wouldn't hesitate to eat you?"
"It's going to die soon at any rate. If you're going to die, then so be it. Die doing what you would have done in life: trying to be kind. Trying to be the voice of compassion. You knew Hazel was going to die. You tried to stay by him however you could."
"Please. If you won't take this off, at least...let me die. B-Break my neck." The snake murmured out. "It feels like burning within me. Please. End it."
It closed its eyes again, more tears slipping out, falling to the grass below as Fiver hesitated.
"What's your name?" Fiver found himself asking, the snake panting a little, looking back up at the little rabbit. "I'd like to know your name."
"Jourmungdr." It said softly. "I'm from a place far, far away. I left there to get away from my father. His idea of love was horrible. His idea of fathership only served to hurt me and my sister. He didn't understand what it was like to care for other people. Not in the right way."
"What IS the right way?" Fiver quietly asked. He wanted to try and know this snake. Or as know him as well as one COULD know your enemy. He was one of the "Thousand", after all, for Rabbits had a thousand enemies, a thousand foes, all of whom would tear rabbits limb from limb with ease.
"It means you don't put your own happiness before theirs all the time. Not if you can help it." Jourmungdr quietly murmured.
"Why are you so...dark?"
"I'm not sure why." Jourmungdr admitted. "My father had pale skin. My sister and I didn't get it from him nor anyone else in the family. Sometimes I wonder if it's a sign we're...diseased. Ugly on the inside and out. It made me very hot outside, as you can guess." He said with a sad little smile as his voice began to drift into memories, and his eyes seemed to cloud. "Do you like...sitting under the trees when it's windy out?"
"Oh, I LOVE that." Fiver said happily, nodding his head as Jourmungdr closed his eyes. "When the wind is against your face, and you can hear the leaves above you softly rustling back and forth. My old friend Keehar, a gull, sometimes said it was like the "waves of the big water", a peaceful rhythm that kept repeating."
"It's a lot like that, yes. I loved the way the sun filtered down through the leaves and onto my head. I loved lying on tall stones among high grass, and the light bathing down on me." The snake whispered out. "I lived out in the sun. I hated the dark and the cold. And now...now I'm going to die in the dark and the cold." He mumbled. "...trapped under a tree limb in a forest far from home."
Fiver looked at the snake lying there. He hesitated.
And he made his choice, bolting right at the tree limb, and barreled headfirst into it. With a loud KRUCHA-KRAK that echoed through the air, he knocked it clear off the hooded snake as it gazed in awe at him, fanged mouth agape and staring.
"You...really...?" He asked as Fiver groaned and shook his head back and forth before a yell rang out, and Fiver turned.
"Oh! Abbie!" He remarked aloud, seeing that reddish/brown little mouse racing towards him, her tail whipping about as she looked around. "Are you alright?"
"I was gonna ask yeh the same thing! I thought a tree branch done fell on ya!" She admitted, looking over his shoulder at the shoved-away tree branch. "Did it?"
"No, no, just knocked it away. You really ought to head home now, it isn't very safe out here after dark." He offered warmly. "But I appreciate you coming to check on me."
"You be careful too. I've heard the snakes whispering in the since we last talked just a short while ago. They say "He is here", a "cobra king" who...who "loves you" and is always watching. Dunno what that means."
"A...cobra? What's that?" Fiver asked, looking towards the black-scaled snake as the hooded serpent calmly looked from Abbie to him.
"I asked. One of them called it a "hooded one". And said it was "Always watching, for it loves you" before it vanished with the others. A snake with a hood. Funny thing that'd look like, eh?" She laughed, chuckling as she turned away. "Anyhow, best get a move on! Take care, Fiver!" She called out, bounding off...Fiver feeling a chill go through him.
She had not seen the cobra behind him.
"What...are you?" He whispered, turning around.
"You've known who I am for a long time. I am a form of Death, chosen by Frith." The cobra said. "I didn't lie about my name. My past. I just didn't tell you everything. My name is Jourmungdr. And I do love you." He said as Fiver saw his wounds healing before his eyes, felt the scales coiling around him, and saw the hooded head come close. But it didn't sink its jaws into him, or open its maw wide to engulf him. Instead, it smiled at him, and slightly tilted his head. "Because you are compassionate. You are kind."
"You tricked me!" Fiver said, looking surprised. "You could have gotten out from that at any time! Why?!"
"You are merciful. I wanted to see what type of rabbit you were. You chose to accept the possibility of death if it meant doing right by someone in pain, in agony. You put being kind over your own gain. You felt sad for me, as you felt sad for Silverweed, and sad for Hazel."
Fiver felt tears springing to his eyes as he thought of Hazel, and he tried to blink the tears away, but Jourmungdr gently rested his hooded head against the rabbit's. "No, no. It's alright. There's no shame in sadness. It's not wrong to feel that way. Sadness for others is at compassion's core. It is a form of love. Love and Compassion are brother and sister."
With that, Fiver saw the cobra change, saw its form become pink and shining, like a beautiful flower on a grassy hill. Saw its eyes become a deep, beautiful shade of pink as well, and white markings appear on the inside of its hood, in the form of two giant stars, one on each side.
"You don't need to be afraid. I would like you to come with me." The cobra said. "Your soul will pass on to places far more beautiful and grander, and yet also more terrible and sad than this. But you will be able to help others too, thousands more. Millions. You're not really ever going to stop running, but now you'll always be running alongside others. It's much to shoulder, but...also much to hold onto. Will you accept?"
Fiver knew what he wanted to say. The snake was speaking not in a deep or booming voice, not like an explosion ripping into him, but like a whisper. What was the end...was actually the beginning. It wasn't really death he had seen. It was a new life.
"I'll come with you."
"Hazel would be proud of you." Jourmungdr said, as he gently uncoiled around him, and lowered his head again. His fur turning a beautiful shade of royal purple, his eyes now like the pansy flower, Fiyvr rose atop the hooded head as the pathway ahead turned bright and beautiful, and a thousand different flowers led the way towards a new dawn. As he felt the dawn of a new day bathing over his fur, and felt how soft and warm his new "sibling's" head was beneath his little paws, Fiyvr thought of Hazel, of his chief, his brother, his heart, his friend, and it was, instead, HE who's back he rode upon towards a new down, a new dawn.
And he was at peace.