Terribly sorry for the bad writing before and after the story Mariposa tells, but it is necessary.
"The stories told around here are getting old," Clover piped up one soft orange evening. The group of does and kittens that were conversing stopped to listen to the dark doe. Her long, fine ears twitched, pedigreed head lifting ever so slightly.
"Don't get me wrong – I enjoy listening to the tales of El-Ahrairah as much as my children do," She took a mouthful of grass. "But I feel like our storytellers only have so much to say."
Peony, a young doe from one of Hyzenthlay's litters in the past, titled her head and thought. "I suppose so, but even then, the rabbits from Efrafa and Vleflain who come here know as much as we do."
There was a pause, and then a soft voice picked up the conversation. "Perhaps I could tell a story?"
Clover, Peony and the rest of the does looked to the voice. It was Mariposa – a young doe who had left her life as a hlessi behind to settle down. Her voice lilted with a soft accent of some kind. She never disclosed where she originally came from; only saying she was past Laverstroke.
"I have a story which you may not have heard of," Mariposa added, watching in amusement as the kittens closed in on her with their bright eyes smiling gleefully.
One kitten, soft downy brown fur sticking out in all directions, glanced to his mother Orache and then back to Mariposa. "Please miss, may we hear it?"
Mariposa nodded her head and made herself comfortable on the ground and was followed by the rest of the rabbits. "Alright. This is The Story of The Black Rabbit and The Blind Doe."
The Black Rabbit liked to think that he was hardened to the plights of the mortals he led to death. He was quite content with what he did, thinking himself a benevolent spirit who, despite his certain cold, flat way of speaking, was well-meaning and kind. After all, he reasoned. He could be a lot worse.
So, came the day to meet with a young doe he was supposed to carry to the Afterlife. He hadn't known much about her. She had slipped through all the regular checks he made to his living counterparts. Whomever this doe was, he knew nothing about her. He didn't need to know anything about her. She'd come, she'd go, and he'd forget.
As he approached her in the wet field that morning, he couldn't help but stop and take a moment. Towards the edge of the field were a large group of rabbits. Rabbits who he presumed were all hlessi, trying to make their way into the world. This doe stayed where she was, her nose brushing against blades of grass while she ate and her big, sightless eyes staring at nothing. He took a step towards her, hesitating. The thin, frail rabbit flicked her ears towards him, her nose curling up at the stench of death and decay.
"Who's there?" She called bravely. The Black Rabbit faltered. His mouth would not move.
"I know someone is there," She raised her head and scented once again, her body relaxing mildly with the silence. "You certainly don't smell like elil."
The Black Rabbit took a sharp breath. "I'm not an enemy of sorts."
Cautiously, she made her way towards him. He backed away a few paces, never once letting her touch him. He was surprised at her ease. From what he had known, her sickly body was supposed to give out, lending her a helping hand towards The Black Rabbit. But she didn't seem bothered by any of her ailments – her fragility or her blindness.
"If you're not elil, how about keeping me company while I silflay?"
His eyes glanced towards the slowly-migrating bodies of the other hlessi. "Your group is going to leave you behind."
Blind eyes twinkling, she gave a snort of amusement. "I'm not with them. I've been trying to follow their scent. I don't think I can just stop."
Something within The Black Rabbit stirred, something not unlike pity. Could he afford to let the doe silflay before her death? Softening with as much emotion as he could, he relented.
"I can stay for a while," He answered. The doe brightened and once again hopped toward his voice. He once again backed away. She blew air nosily in dismay, but settled where she was, her paws touching the dead grass where he once stood.
"Lovely. I can't remember the last time I had somebody to silflay with!" Happily, she began to eat once again. The Black Rabbit settled himself on the field.
"What's your name?" The doe asked. The Black Rabbit thought but could not decide on a name. He didn't wish to upset the doe with his real being right now.
"What does it matter?" Came his sullen reply. There was a pause. "What's yours?'
"Don't have one," She responded. There was no trace of anger or discontentment in her tone. "Mother passed on before she could name me or my litter."
"I'm sorry," He spoke awkwardly. What else could he say? The doe still held no discomfort with her words. A sudden splattering of rain hit them both on the head, and by instinct the doe looked up toward the sky. For a heartbeat it was almost as if she could see.
"It's raining," The Black Rabbit chose to comment on. The doe twitched one long, fine ear.
"Wonderful deduction skills. Shall we find somewhere warm for the night?"
He knew that he really shouldn't. He should leave her now. Point her in the direction of the nearest sheltered place and leave. He gave a glance over to where the hlessi were before, not surprised to find them missing from the scenery. He looked back to the doe. If he left her now, she'd surely die by the jaws of a homba, or a weasel, or an owl.
With a sharp breath, he nodded. "Let's find somewhere sheltered."
The Black Rabbit led the way through the dense undergrowth, making a pile of dead ferns on the ground as he helped the doe find her way through. Soon, an empty burrow came into view and he stopped. He took a step back. "Go inside," He instructed. The doe did as she was told and The Black Rabbit followed.
She laid against the dusty earth and her eyes began to close. "You're staying, right?"
As he too pressed himself to the ground, he nodded. "Yes. Until you wake up."
He had expected to stay for the night and then lead her to the Afterlife. However, he couldn't find it in himself to do so. The doe was full of life, a sweet kind of warmth that he hadn't seen anywhere else. He followed her at a distance while she made her way across the countryside, occasionally answering her dim-witted questions, but mostly enjoying her company.
Should he have cared so much for the doe? Perhaps not. The thought of her death scared him beyond anything. He knew that he was prolonging the pain, as her body was slowly succumbing to the end.
At this moment, The Black Rabbit turned to face the doe, who had slowed down in their trek. Her paws staggered under her weight.
"Are we almost there?" She panted. The Black Rabbit nodded his head and continued on the path. The doe, taking his silence as a yes, hurried her pace, but almost instantly fell back into her slow limping.
"Frith and Inle," She huffed. Her breathing turned noisy and The Black Rabbit ceased his moving to let her rest. "You move fast!"
"Sorry," He mumbled. The doe pressed her body down towards the dead grass, her nose twitching.
"I think this is it," She breathed. "I can't move anymore."
Panic churned in his stomach. "We can make scrapes a little further up. You must keep going."
Her eyes closed. For a moment, he worried she had passed on without his help. But then she opened her eyes once again, and he breathed a sigh of relief. She lifted herself to her paws.
"You should know that I wouldn't do this for anyone else," She said as she pulled herself back in the direction they were heading. The Black Rabbit's relief stretched into the night.
The next morning, however, he knew he couldn't face it anymore. Her breathing was shallow, although she had mustered the strength to speak. He had offered to bring her food, which she politely declined. The Black Rabbit knew it was the end.
"I'm sorry," He said, soft and gentle.
Despite the situation, The Black Rabbit could see that she had found his apology rather amusing.
"We all stop running at some point. Even you can't stop it."
His heart felt heavy in his chest. For the first time ever, he could understand why mothers begged for their kittens, why rabbits cried for the chiefs. He had never understood why they had felt so strongly for their companions. The doe's impending death was enough. He couldn't imagine going through it over again.
"I don't think I regret any of this," The doe mused. "I enjoyed my time with you."
"I feel the same way," He answered. The doe pressed her head into the ground and sighed.
"This is it."
The Black Rabbit nodded. He wasn't ever much for talking. He almost couldn't talk now.
"This is it," He affirmed.
He lowered his head and pressed it against the doe's cheek. "It's time to follow me."
She didn't question it. The blind doe left her body lying in the scrape, and The Black Rabbit led her away.
Clover closed her eyes, a sense of calm flooding over her. "That was a lovely story Mariposa."
"Very sad, too," Orache added. Her kittens were still by her paws, gazing up to Mariposa in awe and wonder.
Mariposa lifted her head and sighed. "Sad indeed."
Then she shook her fur out. "I'm heading back to the warren. The cold is getting to me."