It was a bright, sunny day. Frith was just rising and the world was still and silent- all apart from Hazel. He poked his head out of the warren's main entrance, then hopped to the edge of the down to watch the sun-rise and to think. To think about Primrose, Blackavar and how to get them out of Efrafa. He couldn't fight his way out of this problem. The enemy were too strong for his rabbits at the moment, nor could he negotiate with them. He had tried that and had nearly been killed. No, he would have to wait until Watership Down's Owsla were much stronger. But how long would that take?
"It's beautiful, isn't it?" a voice said intruding in on his thoughts.
Hazel turned round to see Hannah sitting in the long grass.
"Oh hello, Hannah," he said then quickly added, "yes, a lovely morning."
"You're up early Hazel, going anywhere special?" she asked.
"Who said I'm going anywhere?"
"Guessed, my guesses are usually right."
"I'm not sure where I'm going," he replied, then changing the subject he asked, "Hannah, do you ever think about the future?"
"Next meal, that's far enough ahead for thinking," she answered with a chuckle.
"What about next winter, next spring, that sort of thing?"
"Now I know why you're up so early. You're not thinking, you're worrying, big difference," the mouse replied.
"You're right," came the answer, "ever since I went to Efrafa..."
"Oh, shut up," she interrupted him, "that terrible place, makes me shiver when I hear stories."
"Not everything about Efrafa is bad," he told her.
"Oh, now I see, you're thinking about Primrose," she laughed and fluttered her eyelashes.
"It's not like that," he replied defensively, "besides, Violet's much prettier...err I mean, no she isn't... I mean she is, but never mind that," he said irritably.
Hannah just smiled.
"Look," he sighted, "I'm in love with Violet, okay, but I have to think of everyone's tomorrows. Without more of us here on the down we won't have any."
"So," the mouse said thoughtfully, "you need new rabbits, I know where you can get some, follow me".
Hazel followed Hannah to the bottom of the down where she stopped and pointed. Hazel followed her paw north and saw Nuthanger Farm.
"There are rabbits there?" he asked, somewhat surprised.
"In cages, yes, in the barn, get them out and they'll come here."
"Alright," said Hazel, determination in his voice, "I'll get them out."
Fiver lay in his burrow, fast asleep. He was having a wonderful dream about a field full of carrots and nibbling his way from one end to the other. He was just about to start on the third carrot when he heard his brother's voice.
"Fiver, are you awake?"
Fiver opened his eyes and looked up at the other rabbit.
"I was enjoying a very nice dream, if you don't mind," he yawned and turned over.
"Oh, you can dream any time," Hazel told him and pushed him to his feet.
"But I was asleep," Fiver complained.
"You can sleep later," Hazel replied, "now come on, we have work to do."
"Right," Fiver sighed and grudgingly followed his brother out of the burrow.
Hazel was just going to say that Fiver would enjoy it, when Pipkin came running round the corner and crashed into him. Both rabbits went rolling.
"Oh, sorry Hazel," apologised Pipkin once they had picked themselves up. "I was just going up to silflay, you know eat above ground, I've been running about in my sleep and all the exercise made me hungry."
"How's about an adventure instead?" said Hazel.
"Oh, yes please Hazel," Pipkin replied gleefully, "but can we eat something on the way?"
Hazel laughed. "Of course you can."
"What a beautiful day," Fiver said as they exited the warren.
"Yes it is," replied Hazel, "and look- there's Kehaar," he added and pointed up at the sky with his head.
Pipkin looked up. "Morning, Kehaar," he shouted.
Kehaar gave a happy cry and flew toward them. Unfortunately for Pipkin, the gull's landing was bad and he crashed into the young buck, sending them both flying.
"Me sorry Pipkin, Kehaar slip on grass, stupid grass," said the gull, then asked where Pipkin and the others were going.
"On an adventure," Pipkin said, "On a hungry adventure."
"Eat something then," Hazel told him, "you too Fiver, we need to be silent and stealthy. I can hear your rumbling stomachs as I speak."
As the others ate, Hazel explained to Kehaar that they were going to Nuthanger to try and find some new rabbits.
"Oh, finding girlfriend for Hazel," said Kehaar.
"No, no, it's not like that," Hazel assured him.
"Not fool Kehaar, me know all about love," replied the gull, clearly unconvinced.
"What's all this about going to the farm?" asked Fiver.
"Is that a problem?" replied his brother.
"It might be", said Pipkin timidly, "have you forgotten about the cat?"
"No," the golden-brown buck replied, "I haven't forgotten about the cat, or the dog."
"There's a dog too," moaned Pipkin, "I'd forgotten all about him."
"I'm going to rescue the hutch rabbits," Hazel told him. "I can't do it alone."
"No I suppose not," the younger buck sighed.
"You'll be our lookout, Pipkin," Hazel continued, "to warn us if the cat or dog is coming, it's a most important job."
"A most important job," Pipkin piped up happily.
"It's time we moved on," Hazel told the two rabbits, then he looked at Kehaar and said, "tell the others we'll soon have something to celebrate, new members for the warren."
"A new lady rabbit I think," the gull replied then flew away.
"I thought you liked Violet?" Fiver said to his brother as the three rabbits ran towards the farm.
"Don't listen to Kehaar, Fiver," the golden-brown buck replied, "he's full of fish."
The farmyard was quiet. The only sign of life was the dog, but he was asleep and tied to his kennel. The three rabbits entered the farm though a large hole in one of the walls. "Ready?" asked Hazel as he looked across the farmyard at the barn.
"Yes, Hazel, ready," Pipkin replied in a shaky voice.
"What about you, Fiver?" Hazel asked and turned to his brother.
Fiver didn't respond, but just stood there, shaking.
"Fiver?" Hazel said with concern.
"Run fast, run hard," Fiver said in a dazed voice. "The Black Rabbit races across the yard, a noise, a noise!"
Fiver shook his head and turned to Hazel.
"Hazel, the Black Rabbit is close," he said.
"He's always close, it's a fact of life," came the response.
"He could want any of us," said Pipkin in fear then added, "maybe we should go home."
"Pipkin," said Hazel, "we have a job to do, remember?" then glaring at Fiver he snapped, "you're scaring Pipkin, stop it."
"Sorry," Fiver sighed as he followed the other two towards the barn.
Back on the down Hannah and the remaining rabbits were enjoying a morning meal when Kehaar, grass in his mouth, came flying down from the sky and nearly crashed into Silver.
"Watch it, mate!" said Silver in alarm.
Kehaar spat out the grass.
"Sorry, Silver," he apologized then said, "so you all wonder where is Hazel?"
"Actually, no," answered Hawkbit, without looking up from his meal.
"Alright, Kehaar, tell us," said Bigwig as he saw the bird hopping from foot to foot, impatient for someone to ask.
"He say to make big celebration, four new rabbits from farm," the gull told them.
"Really?" said Bigwig in surprise, "it's not like him to go off like that."
"Well, he hasn't exactly been himself since Efrafa," Hawkbit pointed out.
"Yeah," added Holly. "A raid on the farm might take his mind off things, good for him."
"Alright, fine," huffed Kehaar when all the rabbits went back to eating, "nobody cares, I make nice new nest for lady rabbit."
"Good for you," said Bigwig as the bird waddled off.
"That's the place," said Hazel as he, Fiver and Pipkin looked across to the barn from their hiding place among a large stack of milk crates. "Hannah said the hutch rabbits were in that barn."
"What about the dog?" asked Pipkin.
Hazel looked over at the kennel. The dog was laying on the ground half in, half out of the kennel, its eyes closed.
"He's asleep," he told the younger rabbit, "no worries there."
"Still, let's try and be extra cautious," suggested Fiver.
"Alright," the golden-brown rabbit agreed, "now follow me across the yard and into the barn."
The three of them hopped quickly across to the barn door.
"All clear," Hazel said.
"Use your nose," Fiver told him, "I can smell a cat."
"I can too," his brother replied, "but that doesn't mean anything, it could be old," then he added to Pipkin, "stay here, Pipkin, keep watch while Fiver and I are inside."
"Yes but suppose a cat should come," asked the young buck in fear, "not just the smell of a cat but a real one with claws and teeth?"
"You know what Hannah calls them," Hazel said to him, "pop-eyed back door saucer scrapers, you're not scared of one of those are you?" and with that he and Fiver disappeared into the barn.
"Pop-door saucer back scrapers?" Pipkin said to himself in alarm, "right, no worries then."
He was so confused by what Hazel had said that he failed to see the cat that was watching him from behind the crates.
Hazel and Fiver looked around the barn. It was full of plant pots, old cabinets and broken bits of tractor. The rabbit hutch was located at the back of the barn atop a large stack of hay.
"There it is," said Hazel "the rabbit hutch."
"I don't like this place one bit, Hazel," replied his brother.
"Let's just get on with it," Hazel said, "and we'll be out of here before you can say homba."
"It'll be nice to get the old Hazel back," Fiver sighed as his brother hopped forward.
"What are you on about?" the golden-brown rabbit asked.
"You're been moping about since we went to Efrafa. Now you're running around like Bigwig with a sore toe."
"The old Hazel wasn't clever enough to get Primrose and Blackavar out of Efrafa, maybe we need a new Hazel," Hazel replied then hopped over to the hay stack.
"I'll need some help getting up there," he told his brother.
Fiver lay down and allowed Hazel to climb on top of him and then onto the hay stack.
There were four rabbits in the hutch. One had orange fur, one floppy ears, one cream fur and blue eyes. The last one had a white middle with black head and hind quarters. The orange furred and floppy eared rabbits were both bucks, the other two were does. Only the cream rabbit was awake.
"Hello in there," said Hazel, startling the rabbit and waking the others.
"Hello," said the rabbit with cream fur. "I'm Clover, where's your cage?"
"I don't have a cage."
"No cage," said the orange buck in shock, "who feeds you?"
"I live with my friends in the high hills, I feed myself."
"Not doing an awfully good job at it," Clover said, "you're all skin and bones."
"Get man to feed you, that'll do the trick," added the black and white rabbit.
"We look after one another, Hazel told them.
"Hazel, Fiver shouted up from below, what's going on up there?"
"Who's that?" asked the black and white doe.
"Fiver my little brother," he answered, "we're here to help you escape."
"Escape from what?" she asked.
"There don't seem to keen, Fiver commented.
"Go and see how Pipkin is doing," Hazel told him.
"Alright but hurry, the longer we stay here the worse it feels," Fiver replied then hopped away to the barn door.
Hazel jumped onto the hutch.
"When the door opens get ready to run," he told the rabbits inside and then began gnawing at the hutch door. It didn't take long for him chew though the wood of the door.
"Well are you coming?" he asked as it fell off the hutch.
"Well where exactly are we going?" asked the floppy eared buck.
"I suppose we'll find out when we get there," Clover answered as she joined him.
"That's a bit vague don't you think?" scoffed the black and white doe.
Clover ignored her and looked around.
"It doesn't look much different out here," she remarked.
"Come on quickly now," hazel said impatiently to the there two rabbits who were still sitting in the hutch, the orange eating.
"Oh now," he said, "It doesn't do to eat quickly, gives one a funny tummy."
At the other side of the barn Fiver was asking Pipkin how he was doing.
"Just fine, Fiver," began Pipkin, "no sign of the..."
He was cut short be an angry snarl.
"Cat!" he squealed and shot into the barn.
Fiver and Pipkin sped over to Hazel and the farm rabbits.
"Hazel there a..." began Fiver but had to stop in order to leap out of the way as the cat pounced.
The cat snarled and leaped at the others. The floppy eared rabbit scrabbled back into the hutch. Hazel and Clover however, ducked, letting the cat sail over their heads.
"I'm not sure I care much for this outside business," squeaked Clover as she and Hazel jumped to the floor. The cat spat and started towards the rabbits again.
"Fiver, Pipkin, said Hazel, "take Clover and run for the door, I'll meet you at the hedge.
"You're not going to do anything foolish and Bigwigish are you?"asked Fiver.
"Frith forbid," Hazel yelled and kicked the cat with his back legs, knocking it to the floor.
"What about the others?" Pipkin asked Fiver.
"We don't need more cat food running about, no come on," the other rabbit replied and ran through the barn door, Clover and Pipkin close behind.
The dazed cat got to its feet and growled at Hazel.
"Time to go," he said out loud and bolted for the door.
The cat leaped, landing in front of the door and blocking his escape.
"Hraka," he swore and ran back the way he had come, thing weren't going well.
Fiver, Pipkin and Clove shot across the yard. Unfortunately all the noise had woken the dog who began barking as soon as he was them. All three rabbits made it to the bushes at the edge of the farm.
I wish Hazel would get out of there," panted Pipkin as they looked back at the barn.
"He'll be alright, Fiver reassured him.
"Well shall we wander off then?" asked Clover after she had nibbled at and spat out some leaves.
"We can't just leave Hazel," Fiver said angrily.
"Oh, no of course we can't," said Clover, then looking from Fiver to Pipkin she added, "he's awfully bossy isn't he."
Hawkbit ran over to Violet, grass in his mouth. Violet had decided to help with the nest making and had somehow talked some of the others into it as well.
"Sort that lot Hawkbit," she said, "we don't want these new rabbits to think we don't provide good bedding."
""Frith forbid," muttered sarcastically.
"Oh and we were having such a good time lazing about," said Bigwig as he went over to help hawk bit and the others.
"Good nest very important," Kehaar assured the rabbits, "once I share nest with most beautiful gull. Oh Natasha, with voice like music."
"You know all about love then do you?" asked Violet.
"Oh yes. Natasha and Kehaar fly together for long time, then one day..."
"Are you sure Hazel said he was bringing back rabbits?" Dandelion interrupted him.
"Yes what did he tell you?" added Violet.
"He say back before sun go away. Just like Natasha did." Replied the gull then gave a loud sniff and wiped his eye with a wing.
"Buck up Kehaar," said Bigwig sympathetically, "there planet more gulls in the sky."
"Not for Kehaar, came the response.
"Yes, well why don't you have a quick look for Hazel and the other then report back," the Owsla captain suggested.
"Don't know if Kehaar can fly, heart is so heavy," the gull told him but flapped his wing anyway.
"Get some wind in those fathers, come on Kehaar," Hawkbit shouted encouragingly.
With a loud cry Kehaar took off and flew away in the direction of Nuthanger. Bigwig shook his head and went back to work.
Hazel was trapped. He had been trying to sneak away from the cat when he had backed into some plant pots. The pots had fallen, trapping him in-between them and a bag of wheat. It had also alerted the cat to his whereabouts. "Get back, you stinking cat!" shouted Hazel as the cat tried to reach him with a paw.
"Give up, longear!" taunted the cat, who Hazel now knew was a female by her voice. "So simple to just give up."
"Not likely!" he gasped as he managed to squeeze his way out of the thin gap between the pots and the bag of wheat.
The cat hissed in anger, but it was too late. Hazel shot towards the door and out of the barn. He didn't see the man standing in the doorway of the farmhouse, gun in hand.
The man raised the gun, pointed it at Hazel and pulled the trigger.
Fiver, Pipkin and Clover jumped in shock when they heard the gunfire. "What was that?" Pipkin gasped.
"A firestick," Clover replied. "A man thing that lets him kill from far away."
"Hazel!" Pipkin cried in horror, turning to Fiver.
"I warned him", said Fiver miserably. "I told him the Black Rabbit was near."
"Has he got Hazel?" Pipkin asked, afraid of the answer.
Fiver was about to tell him that he didn't know, when he was gripped by another vision. He couldn't see anything, but he felt a pulse, very weak and far away. Fiver opened his eyes and looked at Pipkin.
"Well, has he?!" the young buck demanded.
"Not yet, but he will unless we find Hazel first. Now come on!" Fiver said, hopping out of the bushes and over to the wall with the large hole in it. "Pipkin!" he said, turning to the other rabbit. "Do you know how to get home?"
"Yes", Pipkin said, nodding.
"Good. Take Clover with you. I'll find Hazel".
"I just will. Now get going!"
Pipkin nodded again and hopped away, Clover following close behind. She stopped to look at Fiver. "I'm not much good at this outside business", she told him. "But I'll learn. I hope...I hope Hazel's alright". Then she hopped after Pipkin.
"Don't worry, Hazel", said Fiver, "I'll find you".
Hazel limped away from the farm, past an old country path and down the side of grassy verge. His whole left leg seemed to scream in pain at him, and he was leaving large pools of blood in his wake, but he didn't dare stop for fear that the man would find him. He needed a place to hide- but where?
Not too far away, he noticed a long metal pipe that would make a good hiding place if he could just get to it. With a huge effort, Hazel pulled himself to the pipe. It was dark and wet inside, but he didn't care. He just slumped down inside and lay there, his lifeblood slipped away.
Fiver had been searching for Hazel for nearly an hour. He had almost given up hope, when he saw Kehaar flying high above him.
"Kehaar," he shouted, "down here."
Kehaar squawked and flew down to him.
"I look for you at farm but not see you," the gull told Fiver.
"We were attacked by a cat and had to run for it," Fiver explained, "I've sent Pipkin back to the down with a new rabbit called Clover. But I don't know where Hazel is. He's been hurt by a man thing- Clover called it a fire stick."
"No, is barking stick, make big sound, yes?" Kehaar asked.
"With big sound comes black pebble," the gull continued. "If black pebble bite Hazel he need help."
"How can we find him in all this?" asked Fiver miserably and gestured with his paw at the countryside. "Where do we even start to look?"
"You got a special way of seeing things, Fiver, you look for Hazel."
"My visions don't work like that."
"Make them work," cried the incensed gull.
"Maybe it would work just this once," Fiver said, more to himself then to the bird.
"You try," Kehaar told him, "try plenty hard."
Fiver closed his eyes and reached for Hazel with his mind. Nothing came though at first but then he heard a faint voice calling for him.
"Fiver, Fiver, find me."
It was weak and echoed as if it were coming from inside a cave.
"Did you hear that?" Fiver asked Kehaar, opening his eyes.
Kehaar listened for a moment but heard only the wind rustling the leaves on the trees.
"That wind noise?" he asked Fiver.
"It was Hazel," cried Fiver happily
Kehaar shook his head, "No, only the wind in the leaves."
"He's alive," yelled Fiver joyfully, then added, "it sounded like he was inside something."
"So," said Kehaar, "we search all inside places."
Fiver nodded, "Yes; now let's go."
Fiver and Kehaar looked everywhere for Hazel. Inside hollow tree stumps, old logs and even inside a tin can that someone had dropped. That was Kehaar's idea. Fiver just watched and shook his head in dismay at the bird. They covered ground quickly and it wasn't long before they came to a large metal pipe.
"Kehaar, that's it," Fiver cried excitedly. "Hazel's in there, I just know it."
"Alive in there or dead in there?" asked the bird.
"I don't know," replied Fiver as he hopped over to the pipe and peered inside. The inside of the pipe was very dark and the only thing they could see was a large amount of water that trickled down the length of the pipe and came out in a puddle at their feet.
"It's too dark, I can't see anything," said Fiver.
"Hazel!" shouted Kehaar.
"Hazel," yelled Fiver.
Fiver shook his head and began to move away.
"Fiver," a voice called weakly from inside, "I'm here."
It was Hazel.
"Hold on, Hazel," Fiver yelled as he ran into the pipe.
They found Hazel at the far end of the pipe, his left leg caped in blood.
"I knew you would find me," he croaked weakly, "I knew you wouldn't leave me to the Black Rabbit of Inle."
"Never, Hazel," said Fiver, placing his paw on his brother's shoulder.
"Did black pebble bite you?" enquired Kehaar."
"There was a sound, and then a pain like nothing I've ever feel before."
"Is black pebble," the gull told him, "I get it."
"I heard you calling me," Fiver told his brother as Kehaar went to work.
"But I didn't," Hazel replied then yelled in pain as Kehaar pulled the blood soaked bullet out of his leg.
"All done, rest now," Kehaar said after spitting the bullet away.
"Thank you Kehaar," Hazel said then lay down and let sleep take him.
It was nearly an hour later when Hazel and the others came out into the open air.
"Home?" asked Fiver.
"Now there is a beautiful word," said Hazel with the hint of a smile, then added, "I hope Pipkin and Clover made it back alright, what if...".
"Don't start," Fiver interrupted him, "everything's fine and you're not allowed to worry about anything until you're better, got it."
Hazel nodded. "Got it, but I wish we could have liberated more rabbits."
"One is better than none," Fiver pointed out. "Now come on, let's go home."
As soon as he got back to the down, Hazel went over to Bigwig, Hawkbit and Silver and told them about the day's events.
"Oh thanks a lot, Hazel," huffed Bigwig when the golden-brown rabbit had finished. "An adventure like that and you didn't tell me."
"Yes," said Hawkbit, "Bigwig and I would have been right behind you."
"Me too," added Silver.
"Sometimes it's better to run," Hazel told them.
"I've always wondered what outside was like but I never thought I'd see it," said Clover coming over to the four of them.
"I'm glad you had the chance Clover," Hazel replied, "I'm just sorry the others didn't."
"Don't be, they like that hutch, nothing changed for them."
At that moment Kehaar and Hannah appeared next to the golden-brown buck.
"You rest now," Kehaar told him, "best thing for you."
"You've got a nice fresh bed," Hannah added.
"Oh lovely," sighed Hazel happily. "Thank you Hannah, thank you Kehaar," he said then walked to the edge of the down and gazed out at the setting sun, with Fiver.
"What are you thinking?" asked Fiver.
"About another place."
Hazel nodded, "I promised I'd go back for Primrose and Blackavar."
"And you will, and you know what else, Hazel?"
"When you do, I'll be standing right alongside you, I promise."
Hazel didn't reply. He just pulled his little brother close and hugged him.