"My sin and judgment are alike peculiar. I am a castaway, deserted and condemned."
- William Cowper (EnglishPoet)
"Run!" cried Campion, stamping. "Run for your lives!"
He raced through them and was gone over the down. Not knowing what he meant or where to run, they turned one way and another. Five bolted down the opened run and a few more into the wood. But almost before they had begun to scatter, into their midst bounded a great, black dog, snapping, biting and chasing hither and thither like a fox in a chicken run.
Woundwort alone stood his ground. As the rest fled in all directions he remembered where he was, bristling and snarling, bloody-fanged and bloody-clawed. The dog, coming suddenly upon him face to face among the rough tussocks, recoiled a moment, startled and confused. Then it sprang forward: and even as they ran, his Owsla could hear the General's raging, squealing cry, "come back, you fools! Dogs aren't dangerous! Come back and fight!"
Woundwort jerked awake from his dream- no- his memory- and heaved his old, frail body up from the ground.
Losing the fight didn't hurt the most to Woundwort; losing his officers and the control of his warren did.
The old chief rabbit badly missed his warren, even if they didn't miss him, but he knew he could never return to them.
The rabbit hopped briskly out of his burrow, looking around warily as he did so. He looked up at the sky; "It has been a long time," Woundwort spoke to himself.
He nibbled on the grass, coated in early morning dew, and began to clean his ragged ears. He smiled to himself as he remembered Bigwig.
The huge rabbit had been the only creature- excusing that last dog- that could beat him in a fight. Woundwort respected the rabbit he had once thought a chief rabbit… But Bigwig's chief still floated about in Woundwort's mind.
Bigwig was huge! I'm bigger than a hare and Bigwig is almost as big as me! … Bigwig's chief must be bigger than me if he can even defeat me.
Woundwort looked wistfully over the sunny meadow toward the hillock where Bigwig and the other rabbits lived in their strange burrow.
Woundwort widened his eyes. Why don't I go over there? He began to get excited and hopped across the daisy-filled meadow. They won't recognise me… Probably won't even remember me. I can live with others again!
The sun had begun to set as an old rabbit, one of his ears hanging off the side of his head, hopped back up to the warren.
He nodded to a young rabbit assigned to Hazel's burrow. "Go fetch the next guard on duty, Twig. You've been here for a long while now."
"Yes, Bigwig sir," Twig scuttled out to find the next guard.
"Hazel!" Bigwig called, frowning when Hazel didn't answer. "Hazel-rah! Come and enjoy the evening. It's lovely outside. Hazel?"
Bigwig hopped nervously into Hazel's burrow. "Are you there, Hazel?" His voice was little more than a whisper.
Hazel lay still in his burrow. His ears didn't even twitch like they did when he sometimes pretended to be asleep. His flank and chest were still.
A guard appeared at Bigwig's shoulder. "What's wrong, sir?"
Bigwig shoved the guard. "Don't just stand there, you fool! Get Fiver and the others."
The guard, a stocky rabbit closely related to Fiver, knew who the 'others' were. They were the rabbits that had made the great journey to Watership Down.
Fiver was the rabbit that had predicted the downfall of his old warren, thus saving the lives of twelve rabbits from the home warren, including himself and Hazel, and taking the senior digger, Strawberry, from a warren they had passed on the way to Watership Down.
A warren Bigwig had almost died in after an encounter with a shining wire- a snare- although, happily for the rabbits, Fiver and his friend, Pipkin, had dug to the base of the snare, freeing Bigwig and thus saving his life.
The guard hurried down the tunnel to Fiver's burrow, not bothering to make his presence known. "Fiver, Fiver! You must hurry!"
The small rabbit looked up, not at all worried. "Hurry?" he murmured. "What are you talking about"- he buried his head between his paws- "It isn't the season to hurry." Fiver yawned.
"But Fiver, Bigwig told me to tell you and the others to hurry down to Hazel's burrow. He sent me away before I could see anything, but I think something's wrong with Hazel-rah!"
Fiver leapt to his paws. "Why didn't you say so? I think Dandelion and Blackberry are in the Honeycomb." He pushed past the guard. "Go get them, Twist."
"Yes Fiver, right away," Twist dipped his broad head to his father before racing up to the Honeycomb.
A silver-grey buck rabbit sat atop a small hillock. He had been retired from the Owsla two nights ago and now he was enjoying his peace. The buck nibbled on some cowslip leaves, relishing the sweet taste of it.
Suddenly, he sat bolt upright; his ears stretched high into the sky as he sighted an old buck rabbit making his way slowly across the down.
The latter was almost as big as a hare, maybe bigger, but that didn't draw the silver-grey rabbit's attention. Oh no, Silver was never distracted by size, it was the cunning in the arrival's eyes; eyes that darted hither and thither, as if looking for something.
Silver hopped closer to the strange rabbit. "You there, what do you want?"
The rabbit raised himself on his hind legs. "Now then, Silver, are you saying you don't remember me?" He tipped his head to one side, an almost comical action; but it would only be comical if it were another rabbit.
Silver stamped his foot; once, twice, a dozen times. "Woundwort," he gasped.
Woundwort hopped ever closer. "No need to be frightened, Silver, I won't hurt anyone in this warren."
The silver-grey buck scuffled angrily at the ground, "You never told me what you wanted."
"Wanted?" Woundwort almost had a confused look on his face. "Why, I'd like to join your warren."
Silver's eyes widened. "Very well; I will take you to Hazel-rah."
"Hazel-rah? Not a very good name." And with that the two rabbits made their way up, across the down toward the honeycomb.
Six of the once original twelve rabbits gathered around Hazel.
"Who will be the new chief rabbit, Bigwig?" asked Acorn, a rather thin and feeble looking buck.
Dandelion twitched his ears, "That will be decided once Silver gets here."
"Where is Silver anyway?" questioned Blackberry, shivering in the cold burrow.
Buckthorn snorted, trying to warm the air. "He could be anywhere; he doesn't have the Owsla duties anymore."
"Don't be silly, Buckthorn," snapped Fiver irritably. "We're all getting old, where do you think he went? -To Nuthanger farm?
Bigwig stamped his foot. "Silence!" His good ear swivelled to the burrow entrance, "I hear someone."
Acorn shrank into the shadows of the burrow. "It's the black rabbit, he's picking us off, one by one, and now he's coming to get the rest of us!" His thin voice trailed off in a wail.
Bigwig stepped forward. "Who goes there?"
"It's me, Bigwig," replied Silver. "And a visitor for Hazel."
"A visitor for Hazel-rah?" Buckthorn hopped closer, "Who would want to see a dead rabbit?"
"Buckthorn!" shrieked Acorn, getting closer and closer to hysteria. "Hazel might come and get us now!"
"Don't be silly, Acorn," replied Dandelion sensibly. "We're Hazel's friends; he wouldn't hurt us."
Bigwig struggled to speak through the noise. "Who is the visitor, Silver?"
Silver hopped into view, "I think you'd like to see for yourself."
A large rabbit padded out from behind Silver. "Long time no see, Bigwig, eh?"
I know; strange ending, but it basically explains that Woundwort's Owsla deserted him and he found that he should not dwell on past events- you can decide what happens after this.
I finished with 1293 words, not including the author notes. This was done for a Watership Down Challenge that I created. Please try that and I will be adding more challenges soon.