"Where did you go, Fiver?"
Fiver flinched at Hazel's voice. "N-nowhere, really, Hazel-rah." Fiver answered, glancing at the ground. He wiggled his feet into the soft dirt.
"You seem to be out of it a lot, lately. It's making me worry." Hazel said anxiously, stepping up to Fiver.
"I've just..." Fiver looked up at the dirt ceiling. "I've been floating."
"Yes... Like a leaf on the wind. I'm being carried away out of my body, and I have no control over where I will end up." Fiver whispered.
"Fiver, you're talking nonsense." Hazel said roughly. "Come now, you just need to get out of the burrow for awhile. Go out and silflay! Find some nice cowslips, I know you're good at that."
Fiver raised his weary eyes to Hazel's. "Perhaps you're right, Hazel-rah." He said at last. "It does seem safe enough..." He sniffed the air delicately.
"Yes, go on now, Fiver. The air will do you good!" Hazel said agreeably. "And you know, you don't have to call me Hazel-rah." He added.
"Everyone else does. I don't see why I should be disrespectful." Fiver said instantly.
"Okay, okay," Hazel sighed. He could tell he wasn't going to change Fiver's mind.
Fiver turned and began climbing out of the burrow. The great Frith smiled down warmly at him as he stuck his head out of the ground. He paused to take in his surroundings. A beetle ran across his paw. A yellow butterfly danced in the breeze. He could feel the dampness of spring. There was a cat, he could smell it, but it was far enough away as to not be a problem. Blackavar sat by a rock a few feet away, grooming his face. Pipkin was sprawled out in a patch of clovers, inhaling their sweet scent as he chewed on a mouthful. Bigwig was on patrol out of habit. He sat like a statue by the big tree, right at the burrow's entrance.
"Goodmorning, Fiver." Bigwig said cheerfully.
"Goodmorning," Fiver twitched his ears in Bigwig's direction. He carefully crawled out of the burrow and sat in the shade by Bigwig.
"You slept late," Bigwig commented.
"I- I wasn't sleeping. I don't think..." Fiver replied uncertainly.
"Right," Bigwig grunted. "You've always been an odd-ball, Fiver. How's the Chief Rabbit?" He added curiously.
"Fiver?" Pipkin's shrill voice vibrated in Fiver's ears. He rolled over and sat up, his ears pricking up as he looked around.
"Hello, Pipkin." Fiver nodded at the other rabbit.
Pipkin bounced over. "Would you like to come silflay with me?" He asked excitedly.
Bigwig snickered quietly.
Fiver scratched his ear before answering. "Well, all right."
Pipkin led the way and Fiver followed him nervously. They ended up in a patch of cowslips, and they were very pleased upon finding them.
Bigwig remained on guard, patient and fearless.
Hazel laid in the burrow and felt his body trembling, though he wasn't cold. He was just tired... so tired. His eyes grew heavy, and he let them close.
He didn't wake up until morning the next day. He left the burrow quietly, so as not to wake anyone still sleeping. He looked up at Frith rising up on the sky, and a peace came over him. He made his way across the dewy grass, growing more tired at every step.
Fiver woke up with a start, his heart racing. Something felt strange, like a shadow from a low, gray cloud. He sniffed around and followed the smell out of the burrow. He saw Hazel in the distance, and he suddenly recognized that smell. It was the smell of death.
Hazel sat in the grass away from the burrow, gazing around him with admiration. They had worked so hard to get here, and he was so glad they did. They were safe and free at last, away from enemies and men. Hazel closed his eyes and sighed. Frith's great warmth washed over him with tingling, light rays.
"Hazel..." A voice whispered gently.
Hazel snapped open his eyes and looked around.
"Hazel," A ghostly rabbit appeared before him, floating in the air. "You do know me, don't you?"
Hazel gazed at the ghostly figure wonderingly. "I... don't know," He said regrettably.
Suddenly the ghost turned solid, into the Black Rabbit of death.
"Yes, my Lord. I know you." Hazel answered with awe.
Fiver gazed in wonder, hiding in the entrance of the burrow. His odd feeling had faded away, leaving numbness. He knew who that black rabbit was, and he was not afraid, simply curious.
"I've come to ask if you'd like to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you, and I know you'd like it." The Black Rabbit told Hazel.
Hazel looked down, then back at the Rabbit uncertainly.
"You've been feeling tired, haven't you?" The Black Rabbit went on. "If you're ready, we might go along now."
Hazel glanced back at the burrow. Fiver quickly ducked so as not to be seen.
"You needn't worry about them." The Black Rabbit said confidantly. "They'll be all right, and thousands like them. If you come along now, I'll show you what I mean."
Hazel gazed at the Black Rabbit, but he slowly began to fade, drifting away into the morning gloom.
Hazel stared at the ground. He was worried about the other rabbits, but he trusted the Black Rabbit's word to be true. They would be fine without Hazel, plus he really wanted to go with the Black Rabbit. He was excited about what came next.
He laid down in the soft grass, and breathed his last breath.
Fiver gasped. He felt Hazel die, and it was such a strange experience, feeling a rip inside his heart. He took a shaky step out of the burrow, sniffing in Hazel's direction.
Suddenly, Hazel's ghostly soul rose from his body. The Black Rabbit appeared with him, and they bounded away into the sky, towards the great Frith.
Fiver watched them go. Then he crawled over to Hazel's body and sat down, gazing down at his peaceful face.
Hyzenthlay came outside after a few minutes.
"Fiver?" She was surprised to see him up so early. "What do you have, there?" She hopped over to him. She gasped at Hazel's body.
"Oh, Great Frith in the sky!" She exclaimed. "What happened?"
"The Black Rabbit came for him," Fiver said softly.
Hyzenthlay tilted her head slightly. "Could you see him, Fiver?" She asked shyly.
"Yes, for a moment."
"What was he like?" She asked breathlessly.
"He was like nothing you could ever imagine. Like a wonderful dream and a terrible nightmare combined."
"Wow..." She said quietly.
They sat together in silence. Gradually more rabbits came out of the burrow and discovered the news. Hazel-rah was gone. They formed a circle around his body, and sang praised to Frith for letting them have Hazel among them for so long.