Right. So obviously, I own neither the characters nor the plot of Watership Down. Only Richard Adams does.
1. The Hlessi
The brisk north wind ruffled Inlethlay's fur, sending a chill through her. She shivered. The grass she was nibbling on was covered in frost and getting old. Soon she would have to leave her territory immediately around her burrow in search of food. Winter was on its way, and it was making that perfectly clear.
Suddenly, a rustling sound came from the twisted brambles behind Inlethlay. She froze, startled. Images of lendri and homba flashed before her eyes. Slowly, she turned. "Who's there?" she called. Inlethlay was at silflay alone; if the stranger was hostile then that could mean the end of her. But no predator came flying out of the brush to kill her. Instead, the stranger hopped out. He was a rabbit, but not what she had expected. This was no warren rabbit: he was obviously a hlessi. His fur was ragged, and his ears torn either in a fight or from being shot by humans.
"Oh. You're… a rabbit," Inlethlay said, trying to make up for her previous lack of courtesy. "What do you want?"
"I'm no elil, that's true," the buck laughed. "My name is Teasel. I was wondering if perhaps you knew of a burrow I could winter in?"
"No, I do not know of any empty burrows," Inlethlay answered. "But you're welcome to stay in mine, Teasel."
So that winter, Teasel and Inlethlay stayed together. Teasel proved to be much different than Inlethlay had first thought. While he was reckless and rash, he was quite charming as well. When spring finally arrived, Teasel still was living in Inlethlay's burrow- and there were five kits as well.
Woundwort edged out of his burrow, his nose twitching. The largest and toughest of last year's litter of kits, he quickly had established himself as the leader. No decision was made unless Woundwort had a say- that was, at least, unless Teasel or Inlethlay was involved. Inlethlay always said she was proud of Woundwort. He was exactly what was wanted in a rabbit: tough, smart, and cunning.
Woundwort leaped from the mouth of the burrow. "Hawthorne! I need to talk to you," he barked. Hawthorne was Woundwort's only competitor, and the smartest kit from the litter. Presently, he was busy nibbling at a patch of clover.
"What is it this time?" Hawthorne snapped, annoyed.
"What happened to my plantain?" Woundwort growled. He had hidden a few leaves, but then they had gone missing. And the only rabbit the enough brains (and guts) to steal from Woundwort was Hawthorne.
Hawthorne kept his mouth shut as Woundwort bore down on him, showing his huge teeth in warning. Without warning, the larger rabbit sprung, and cuffed Hawthorne across the face. Hawthorne squealed, and dove into the burrow. Woundwort's attack was not all unexpected; he had a tendency to be violent. While it didn't worry Inlethlay or Teasel, it worried Hawthorne. The full-grown rabbits almost never even saw Woundwort behave cruelly. He was smart enough to only show his bad side around the other kits.
That night, when Teasel came back from silflay, he smelled strange. It was a smell the other rabbits could not identify. This wasn't all that unusual; the burrow was near a cottage yard, and often Teasel would come back smelling like the humans. However, this smell was something no one recognized.
"I thought you said you were going to the farmer's," Inlethlay accused. "What did you really do, you silly buck?"
"I did go to the farmer's, Inle," Teasel replied. "It's a long story; I'll try to make it as brief as possible. Please don't be mad, Inle, what happened was not my fault."
Inlethlay looked doubtful.
"No, Inlethlay, don't give me that," Teasel said. "I was on the road to the farm, when I heard the human. I'm not stupid, Inle, so I got out of there as quick as possible. I got some cabbage from the garden (it's in the entrance, by the way), and left. But then the human pointed this black stick at me, and it exploded, letting out this horrible smell."
"Teasel, I'm warning you, don't go back there again," Inlethlay snapped, worried for Teasel's safety. "It's dangerous. Who knows what might have happened? Exploding sticks… what next?"
"Don't worry, Inle. I won't do it again. Tomorrow, I'll come back early. I'll be back to the burrow before Ni-Frith," Teasel promised, though he had the full intention of getting cabbage and greens from the farmer's garden until nightfall, every night.
Inlethlay nodded, thinking Teasel would keep true to his word. However, the next day, Teasel left the burrow, headed down the small dirt track that led to the farm.
It wasn't a particularly long trip; the vegetable patch was very close to the burrow. Teasel went out at dawn, and arrived at the farm just as the sun came up. He heard a rooster crowing. "Good morning!" he yelled happily. The prospect of getting to spend the entire day chowing down on carrots and lettuce was more than a little appealing. "What's the news around the farm? I hope the farmer's not been too active lately."
"You're out of luck!" the rooster squawked. Teasel laid back his ears. Did the bird have to be so loud?
"Lower you voice!" Teasel snapped. "And what do you mean by 'you're out of luck'?"
"Old farmer nearly shot a rabbit last night! A rabbit like you!" the rooster crowed, obviously not bothered by his news. He flapped up into the air in a flurry of feathers, and landed back in the roost.
Well, great. Whatever he means by that, it can't be anything too nice, Teasel thought to himself. But he didn't want to leave yet. He had just arrived, why should he go because of some probably false rumor the rooster told him? Teasel started working on the kale. It would be better if Inlethlay would still come here with him. She refused to unless she was nearly starving. Inle is much too cautious. Like anything could happen, Teasel thought. He wondered where the other bucks were. Usually they came to the farm around this time. Something must have scared them off, the cowards. Maybe it was the incident from the previous night.
What Teasel didn't know was that the farmer was onto his case. Last night had been the last straw. He was fed up with losing vegetables to rabbits. It was time to take action. The farmer had hidden behind a skip-laurel next to the house behind the potato patch with his dog. As soon as that pesky rabbit he had nearly shot yesterday came back, well, that was going to be the end of him.
Teasel hopped slowly into the potato patch. Who gave a care if the other rabbits never came? That meant more food for him! Just as he sank his teeth into an old tuber, he heard a noise louder than anything he had ever heard before, and smelled the same disgusting smell as he had the night before then. A split second later, he felt like someone had taken a knife and slashed his leg open, though no one had been behind him.
"YES! I got him! Bring it here, Mike!" the farmer yelled, jumping out from behind the bushes. Teasel stared in horror, unable to move, as the farmer set the dog on him. He bared his teeth, unwilling to go without a good fight.
"You'll never catch me alive," he hissed, as the dog bounded forward to retrieve the shot rabbit.
"At least you're right about that." Mike smiled horribly, and snatching Teasel in his huge jaws, shook him to death as if he were nothing. The dog trotted back to his master, the body of Teasel swinging limply from his mouth.
"Good boy, Mike!" the farmer praised, taking the corpse from his dog. "We'll have rabbit stew tonight! Now, to catch the rest of those tricky little buggers."
Yet back at the burrow, Inlethlay waited with anxiety for Teasel to come back. He had been out at silfay for an awfully long time and she was worried. Woundwort nudged her. "What, Woundwort?" Inlethlay asked.
"Go to silflay," Woundwort said curtly. "I'll wait for father."
Inlethlay nodded. "Fine, Woundwort." She went to her patch of spring clover, and began to eat.
By noon, Teasel had still not returned. It seemed the hlessi was gone for good.
Hawthorne hopped to where Woundwort was keeping watch. "Something's wrong," he said. "Father promised to be back by Ni-Frith. He should have kept to his word."
"Do I look like an idiot? I know! And do you know what this means? Something must have gone wrong at the farm. Put two and two together: the farmer wants him, and all of us, dead. Now Teasel is gone. Therefore…" Woundwort stopped himself. "Go away, Thorny. I can handle this."
Then, from the distance, Hawthorne heard the sound of footsteps coming their way: Human footsteps.