Chapter 12: The Four Warrens.
"The thunderbolt without the reverberations of thunder would frighten man but little, though the danger lies in the lightning, not in the noise."
-Jules Verne, 20 000 Leagues under the Sea
General Woundwort was running. He had been running all day, away from Efrafa. Apart from the outsiders' warren, there was only one other warren nearby that he knew of; it was run by a buck called Cowslip.
The previous summer, Cowslip had, in exchange for his own freedom, told Woundwort the location of a warren called Redstone, where Hazel and his outsiders were presumably staying temporarily. However, when Woundwort had sent his owsla to attack Redstone, the only creature there was a crazy old rabbit who called himself Captain Broom and claimed to be the sole survivor of "the great sickness". The outsiders had played a trick on him.
Woundwort later learned the dark secret of Cowslip's warren and how it was infested with snares. He had every reason to avoid it, but at the moment he had nowhere else to go. He had to build a new owsla in order to regain control of Efrafa and attack the outsiders. From what he had heard, Cowslip's people were well-fed and unusually large, exactly the type of rabbit he needed.
As he approached the warren, Woundwort started to walk carefully. It did not take him long to encounter a snare; with a single blow of the paw, he ripped it off its peg and broke the wire in two. Finally, after getting clear of the bushes, he looked at his surroundings. The warren was easily accessible by one large entrance, with a few other smaller ones spread throughout the field. A large, light-furred rabbit with curly whiskers was lying in the middle of the field, munching on a carrot.
-"General Woundwort," he said, softly and slowly. "How nice to see you after so long."
-"Yes, Cowslip. How very, very nice."
-"Shall we go underground? This thunder disturbs me."
Cowslip started to walk towards the entrance. He was clearly in no hurry, and took his time with each step. Woundwort was annoyed at how slow Cowslip was: what a waste of time! However, since Cowslip would be a useful ally against the outsiders, he tried to conceal his annoyance.
-"Shall we go down to the great burrow?" Cowslip asked once they were underground. "Eat fresh flayrah we carried there, listen to one of Silverwe-"
-"Never mind all that, I just want a large burrow for myself, and a look at your owsla."
-"Owsla?" Cowslip chuckled. "My dear Woundwort, we have no owsla. What do we need an owsla for? Fresh flayrah every day, no elil, Sil-"
-"In that case, I ask for your permission to build an owsla, and be its captain."
-"Exactly why should I give you this privilege? What can you give me in return?"
-"Revenge. Think, Cowslip. Is there anyone, deep down in your heart, that you hate, and want to see suffer and die a painful death?"
-"Revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge. Hickory, Marigold and the band of traitors who dared to establish a new warren away from me. If only they were all dead..."
-"Consider it done. They will meet the Black Rabbit of Inlé very soon."
-"How sad. How sweet. Shall you have some flayrah now?"
Woundwort and Cowslip walked into the great chamber. A large number of rabbits were grouped around a large pile of flayrah, and listening to a silver rabbit sitting on a rock in the corner.
-"Who is that rabbit they are all listening to?" Woundwort asked.
-"Silverweed. A master poet, I must say..."
-"Poetry!" Woundwort sneered. "When I build my owsla, things will change around here!"
-"Change? How disappointing. Things are so good as they are, but if change is necessary to have revenge on the deserters, feel free to change anything you wish."
Woundwort smiled. Taking over this warren was going to be easier than he had first thought.
Blackberry and Primrose had been travelling for a while. Primrose's mind had frequently drifted back to thoughts of Campion, but she also knew that it was her responsibility to lead Blackberry to Redstone safely. By the time they reached the canal, the storm had greatly intensified, and it had started to rain.
-"How do we cross this?" Blackberry asked.
-"I'm not eager to try stepping stones again," Primrose answered, "but there is a bridge further away. Follow me."
Primrose started walking downstream, with Blackberry following her. It did not take them long to come across the canal gates. While they were currently closed, they seemed to be leaking.
-"That doesn't look very stable," Blackberry said.
-"It wasn't like that the last time I crossed it," Primrose replied. "But it's the only way to the other side."
-"I'll go first, if it's safe then you can cross."
-"No, I go first. You're more important to the warren than I am."
-"Everyone is important to the warren in their own way! I go first."
Before Primrose had a chance to reply, Blackberry dashed across the gates, and soon reached the other side.
Primrose sat next to the gates, staring at the water far below, before finally deciding to start crossing. She walked rather slowly, barely paying attention to where she was going.
Suddenly a bolt of lightning came out of the sky and struck the metal armrest on top of the gates. The electricity travelled through the gates themselves, and one of them broke apart. The pieces of wood soon vanished from sight, carried away by the torrent of water rushing past where the gate used to be.
The gate Primrose was standing on, while still attached to the mechanism opening and closing it, seemed ready to break off at any moment. To make matters worse, she was too absorbed in her thoughts to realize how dangerous her situation was, and she therefore remained sitting there, staring blankly at the current.
"Why doesn't she move?" Blackberry thought. She called out to her friend, but did not receive any reply. She soon realized that she had no choice but to save her herself. She rushed back onto the gate and shoved her head over Primrose's tail to get her moving. At this, Primrose finally seemed to register the urgency of the situation and started to run; Blackberry followed close behind. As Primrose started to make the final jump onto the shore, the mechanism finally broke. A powerful wave swept the gate off its hinges. Blackberry, feeling she was losing her balance, made a desperate leap off the gate, and collided with her friend in mid-air. Both rabbits landed roughly on the rocky shore.
Blackberry and Primrose remained lying on the shore for a long time, during which the rain intensified. Finally, Blackberry got up and spoke.
-"You all right?"
-"I'll survive." Primrose got up too. "You saved my life just now."
Blackberry remained, silent, unsure what to reply.
-"Come on," Primrose continued. "Redstone isn't far now. If we keep going, we can make it before the storm gets worse."
With that, the two does resumed their journey towards the warren.
Meanwhile in Efrafa, the pit was slowly filling with water. The burrows were well insulated and no rain could be felt underground, but the sound of thunder remained loud and terrifying.
Moss was standing in the main burrow, staring at the rain. It had been just over a day since Woundwort had fallen, and the owsla had been very busy questioning every rabbit in the warren. So far, there were no obvious suspects, but the search was to go on until the culprit was found.
Moss' thoughts, however, were not about Woundwort, but about Campion. He had not heard anything from him since his hasty departure soon after he became the new Chief Rabbit of Efrafa. It was unlike Campion to act like that; whatever his reason for running away was, it must have been important. And after a day, he had still not returned; this was rather worrying.
Suddenly, he heard another thunderclap, and it was unusually loud. This was followed soon afterwards by the sound of wood cracking, and dirt falling from the ceiling. The tree around which Efrafa was built had been struck by lightning.
The cracking became increasingly louder, and more dirt kept falling. Throughout the warren, panicked rabbits ran out of their burrows. The owsla tried to keep the crowd under control, but there were too many rabbits, and several of the officers were as panicked as the slaves. Even after the cracking stopped, everyone remained terrified.
Once most rabbits had calmed down, Moss and the owsla were able to see the extent of the damage. The tree, while not entirely destroyed, was severely damaged: several roots and branches had broken off the trunk. A few burrows had collapsed, but there did not seem to be any casualties. Massive cracks had appeared in many walls, a sign of more damage yet to come. If a run collapsed, several rabbits would be trapped in the burrows beyond, and rescue would be impossible without triggering even more collapses. All Moss could hope was that the storm would end soon, before the situation got worse. Afterwards would come the hard task of stabilizing what remained of the warren to prevent its complete destruction.