The Blowing Horn

With our dogs all abreast and the big mountain hare,

And the sweet charming music it rang through the air,

Straight for the black bank for to try them once more,

But it was her last sight round the hills of Greenmore.

—The Hills of Greenmore

The morning chill hung in the air, and Frith, now climbing over the line of the trees, had not yet burned the dew from the grass. Yet when the first rabbits emerged from their burrows, they found Hazel already out about the edge of the down, eating languidly while he looked toward the fields. Earlier that morning, Hyzenthlay had stirred from the burrow she and Hazel shared. Hazel, disturbed by her movements, asked what was the matter, to which Hyzenthlay replied that nothing was, but that she intended to take a small patrol around the foot of the down. Hazel then asked why such a thing was necessary, especially before sunrise, and bid her come back to sleep, but she wouldn't have it. She selected Blackberry and Blackavar to wake and bring along with her. Hazel found it quite impossible to return to sleep after that, and spent the rest of the morning on a distracted silflay.

Two figures approached the down, which Hazel recognized at once as Blackberry and Blackavar, but there was no third rabbit with them. He started down the escarpment, and when Bigwig, who had been lying in the shade of the beech tree, saw him disappear, he followed, and Fiver as well. All of them met the patrol at the bottom of the hill.

"Where's Hyzenthlay?" Hazel said at once.

Blackberry scratched his ear nervously. "Well, you see, Hazel-rah …"

"Out with it!" said Bigwig.

Blackavar said, "We circled around the foot of the down, went through the copses and crossed the road. We went over and around the hills until Frith was clear in the sky, at which point I asked Hyzenthlay-rah, only for the sake of understanding what we were in for, mind, how far we intended to go and what, if anything, we were looking for. She said only that she couldn't turn back, and told us to return to the warren while she pressed on."

"And you let her do this, you dog-eared deer louse?" Bigwig snapped.

Blackavar straightened himself. "We were reluctant, of course, and told her as much, but you wouldn't have us disobey a direct order from our Chief Rabbit, would you?"

"Chief Rabbit! You wet-nosed ninny, if I'd have been there I'd have given you something to—"

"That's enough," Hazel said. "I'm not pleased with her having gone on her own, and I'll be sure to tell her so when she gets back. But you're right, Blackavar, in that you couldn't have done anything to defy her at the time. In any case, it's not a thing she'd have done lightly; if she felt it needed to be done, there must have been a reason. There's nothing the rest of us can do until she returns."

The five returned to the warren, and Bigwig, still grumbling, took back his spot by the beech tree. But despite having said the sensible thing, Hazel couldn't be rid of his apprehension. He remained on the edge of the down, eyes sharp for any sign of his mate.

It was nearly ni-Frith when Hazel saw a lone rabbit race across the field. It was Hyzenthlay. Hazel started toward her, but she bounded up the hill past him, straight for the mouth of the nearest hole, and didn't stop until she had dived in. The startled rabbits on the surface huddled around the hole, some ready to bolt in after her and others looking out to spot whatever threat that had chased her this way. But all was as it had been all morning. The down was still.

Hazel pushed past them and entered the hole, Bigwig and Fiver close behind him. Blackberry was already inside. Hazel put a paw on Hyzenthlay's shoulder and said, "Hyzenthlay, it's me, Hazel. What's the matter? Is there danger?"

Hyzenthlay, lying on her belly and gasping for breath, was able only to say, "Men … dogs …"

"Men? Dogs?" said Bigwig. "What does she mean? Make her speak, Hazel!"

"She's tharn," said Hazel. "Give her some time to recover. Blackberry, do you know what she means?"

"I'm afraid not, Hazel-rah," Blackberry said. "She sent us away before we encountered any men or dogs."

"Hazel, I think she's coming round," Fiver said.

Hyzenthlay's breathing slowed, and she started to look round to the rabbits in the burrow. Hazel repeated his question: "Hyzenthlay, can you tell us what happened? Is there danger?"

"Danger?" she said. "No, no, it's … I don't think it's an immediate danger, but all the same I need to tell you what I've seen, Hazel."

"Tell all of us, then. We'll go to the Honeycomb."

"I don't think that's necessary," she said. "Just bring Bigwig, Fiver, Blackberry, Blackavar, and Holly to a burrow, and …"

"If what you have to tell us about isn't an immediate danger, all the better everyone should hear it, so they've no reason to think we're hiding anything from them. Rest first, and you can tell us everything when you're ready."

No urgent meeting was called, but once word got around, there wasn't a rabbit who wanted to miss the reason Hyzenthlay had bolted clear up the hill and into a hole. By ni-Frith the Honeycomb was packed. Hyzenthlay was brought to the head of the great burrow along with Hazel and the others, and all was quiet as she began.

"I took Blackberry and Blackavar on a patrol across the hills this morning. Although we didn't find anything immediately of note, I had a strange feeling of something encroaching, like a weasel crouching in tall grass just out of sight. So I sent Blackberry and Blackavar back to the warren, so as not to risk more rabbit lives than was necessary, and investigated on my own. I came across another road which lead away from the warren, and I traveled alongside it until a hrududu came up past me and, a distance ahead, turned off the road and proceeded over the grass.

"I followed the hrududu's path until I found it sitting in a large open meadow. There were no tall plants or trees there, so to see what was going on I had to use the crest of the hill as cover. It was a gathering of men, more men than ever I'd seen before, some of them quite a bit smaller than the others, with hrududil sitting all about the place. Hrair hrududil each of which had carried hrair men—hrair of hrair—and with them also was a good number of dogs, their tongues hanging. Nearly all of the men held guns, but one of the smaller men carried an object which was altogether peculiar to me. It was like a gun, long and shiny like one, but the man held it to his mouth like the beak of a bird, and from it he produced many tones of sound, like birdsong, but different—louder, for one, and hanging in the air such that even at a distance it rang in my ears and crowded my thoughts."

"I can't get my head around this," Bigwig said. "You're saying this man had a beak, which he used to sing like a bird?"

"Not exactly," Hyzenthlay said, "but it's hard to describe otherwise. Even there I could scarce understand what I was seeing and hearing."

"I'm certain I'll never understand a fraction of all there is about men and their ways," Hazel said. "Anytime I think I've got them figured, they come out with some new thing that right confounds me. But surely that's not what you were running from, Hyzenthlay. Let's hear the rest, and no more interruptions."

Hyzenthlay continued: "The men set out over the hills in small groups with their dogs, fanning out so as to cover the most possible ground. I realized as they approached that there was nowhere to hide and no way to avoid them. I tried to slip away, but no sooner had I moved than one of the men gave a shout, and the beak-man started to sing much more quickly. Men and dogs changed course at once, and I realized the song was a signal telling all of them where I was. I bolted across the hill, but the dogs were on my haunches faster than Rowsby Woof on a hapless rat. It was all I could do to stay out of their snapping jaws, and the men were not far behind them.

"Soon I reached the heather, where I tried to lose them. I turned and twisted to obscure my path, but the dogs' senses were keen, and they kept no more than a stout's length behind me—and all the while that dreadful mansong filled the air, seeming to cover the entire world, shaking in my head and making me feel I was going to go mad. I was certain this was my day to meet the Black Rabbit of Inlé. However, just in that moment—it's rather hard to explain—I knew exactly what I had to do to escape. I'm not entirely sure it was my own doing, whether Frith or El-ahrairah sent me a message or whether one of them inhabited my body in order to deliver me from danger. I threw myself onto the hard earth and lay still as a snail. I scarce breathed. The first dog arrived and sniffed all over me, so closely I could feel his quick breaths, and the coldness of his nose on my fur. Still I moved not at all. I expected at any moment to feel those sharp teeth, as if all I'd done was given myself a quicker death. But once the dog, and two or three after him, had satisfied themselves in smelling me, they backed off and were at ease.

"The men found their way through the heather after their dogs. One dog went to lick the hand of his master while another sat and idly scratched his own ear. When the men saw my lying body, one shouted to the others, and the beak-man sang slowly again, but after that they seemed in no hurry to collect me. Instead they gathered in a clearing and set down some man-things, and one started to dig a hole for some reason. I chose this moment to spring to my feet and dash off. The mansong halted in an instant, and dogs and men cried after me, but by then I was a mile ahead of them and well away. I didn't stop until I reached the warren."

Hyzenthlay having finished her story, the Honeycomb broke out into anxious murmurs.

"Are men coming here?" one rabbit asked.

"I don't think so," said Hyzenthlay. "Not now, anyway. I know they didn't follow me this far."

More murmurs. Another rabbit said, "What were so many men doing there if not looking to destroy us again?"

Hyzenthlay said, "I don't know, but it seems to me they were hunting, the way elil do." This caused a still-greater uproar. Some rabbits were incredulous; one said, "Men hunting like elil, I've never heard of such …" Bigwig gave a shout, and all was quiet again. He turned to Hazel, and Hazel turned to Fiver.

"What do you think of it?" Hazel said.

Fiver thought for a moment and said, "I think Hyzenthlay's right. Those men aren't coming here, not soon, anyway, nor are they looking to destroy us this time. Nonetheless we should be wary as always for danger."

The gathered rabbits began to disperse. Many were still anxious, but with Fiver's reassurance they largely returned to the business of the day. Hazel caught up to Hyzenthlay in the tunnel and nuzzled her.

"I'm glad you're safe," Hazel said. "Now would you tell me what in Frith's name you were thinking?"

"I'm sorry to have worried you," Hyzenthlay said. "I only did my duty. It's a Chief Rabbit's duty to protect his or her people."

"It's a Chief Rabbit's duty to remain alive for them."

"I didn't die today, and I don't intend to, either. I made the right call. If the three of us had gone, it's very well one or more of us may not have made it back, but alone I was able to spot the danger and escape."

"Blackberry or Blackavar could have done what you did," Hazel said, but his protest died as in his mind he figured she was right. She had come into a dangerous situation, as rabbits often did, but ultimately she had succeeded in protecting herself as well as her followers. "I understand your wish not to put rabbits in danger, but they have a duty as well, and once in a while you should allow them to do it. You don't need to take on every such mission on your own."

It was late in the day when the two again emerged from their burrow. Already there seemed to Hazel to be no trace of the fear which hours before had gripped the rabbits in the Honeycomb. In fact, he found as he circled the down that many had begun reenacting Hyzenthlay's trick in play. Later he settled down to hear some youngsters trade stories of El-ahrairah, only these stories seemed unfamiliar to Hazel, as they told of how El-ahrairah had evaded the forces of King Darzin by making himself as still and hard as a stone, so the enemies thought him dead and left him alone. He returned home with a great bundle of the King's parsley; and the tale seemed to gain a new twist with each retelling.