Captain Broom peered out from the entrance of the warren and sniffed at the air. All being well, he hopped a few steps out into the open and set about cleaning his ears. He cleaned each one individually, pausing now and then to nibble at a patch of clover, venturing further out from the warren hole, glad to be able to silflay in peace. Not that he didn't mind the kit's - it's just that they were too full of energy and strength for his self self these days.
Broom continued to pick at the grass, until a movement from the edge of the hill made him freeze. Cautiously, he pricked his ears up and sniffed the air. It wasn't elil. Whatever it was, it was about his size and didn't feel unfriendly. Mustering some of his old Owsla bravery, and silently cursing his fading sight he called out to the figure.
"Who goes there?" crouching low in case he needed to bolt. The figure replied with a slight chuckle, and Broom felt the fear that had momentarily gripped him fade away.
"At ease, Captain Broom, it's only me."
"Ah, didn't recognise you there for a moment, Holly. Thought you might have been the Black Rabbit come looking for me."
"Not quite yet, Captain Broom."
Broom hopped over and sat next to the Veteran Owsla captain. He had been one of the only rabbits along with Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and the others, to escape the destruction of their previous warren, Sandleford, at the hands of man. Holly maintained an air of authority and order about him where ever he went, but he was not unfriendly or on bad terms with anyone in the warren. He was a quick thinker; dependable in a crisis, a good fighter and was loyal to Hazel-Rah. While in Sandleford, he had held a higher rank than Bigwig - another rabbit from the same Owsla - but had accepted Hazel's decision to promote Bigwig to Captain of Owsla without any complaints.
"What in seasons name are you doing up here all by yourself at this hour? It's past Fu Inlé, you know."
Holly did not falter his gaze from the edge of the down when he replied.
"I was on solo patrol this afternoon when I decided to stop at Nuthanger farm for flayrah. On my way back to the Down, I caught the scent of a homba - I'm up here watching to see if it tries its luck up here."
"Oh dear, a fox you say? Surely it wouldn't hunt up here, it's far too open. It wouldn't catch us. Have you told Hazel-Rah about this?"
"No," Holly replied, shaking his head and turning towards Broom. "I've not seen him since I came back, he must be in his burrow. I'll tell him first thing in the morning." He returned his gaze to the trees on the foot of the hill and continued. "It is unlikely that a fox would hunt up here, like you say, it's too open and we'd be able to see and smell him before he got to us. Besides, the warren is within bolting distance. But it's better to be safe than sorry. I wouldn't be doing my job in the Owsla if I didn't take the safety of my warren seriously."
"Ah, yes. I remember the days when I used to be Owsla back at Redstone. Good old days! Stealing flayrah from man, fighting cats, dodging the night owls, staving off stoats..!" He let out a deep sigh as memories of his time at Redstone came back to him.
"Quite the trooper, 'ey?" Holly chuckled, bending low to scratch his ear with his back leg. He turned back to face Broom again, and saw his drooped ears.
"You miss it, don't you? Both you and Primrose do."
Broom nodded and turned back towards the warren. "Yes, I miss it an awful lot."
Holly watched as he took a slow hop back towards the entrance of the warren, and began to nibble at the grass again. Deciding to give up watch for the fox – he was now sure that it wouldn't come up the hill – he hoped over to Broom. Condolence was not his strongest point, he was not good with words. He often spoke better through his actions, as was often the case with many Owsla. But he had a good idea of what Broom was going through. After all, he had witnessed the destruction of his own warren, Sandleford, and had been plagued by bad dreams and horrible memories for many moonrises afterwards. He had found it difficult to adapt to living and working within a new warren, but after a while, Watership Down began to feel like home.
"I know how must feel, Captain Broom. After Sandleford was destroyed by man, I didn't think that I would be able to accept Watership Down. It will never be same as Sandleford, but it's just as good and is home to me now."
"Redstone was a wonderful place." Broom said, pausing in his silflay and staring at the ground while he spoke. "Named after the bright red stones we burrowed under you know. Sometimes we used call them sunset stones. On some days in the summer the sunset matched the colour of the stones. It was nice to be able to watch the sunset while sitting on the warm stones."
Holly drooped his ears slightly as he watched Broom as he took a mouthful of clover and chewed it silently.
"Redstone sounds like an amazing place. I am sorry that I was never able to visit it. I would of liked to of watched the sunset with you and to of seen those stones."
"There used to be many secrets hid around Redstone." Broom said, swallowing his mouthful of clover. "Some folk say that El-ahrairah visited and left some magic around the warren."
"Secrets such as?" Holly asked curiously. Like most other rabbits, he enjoyed hearing tales of their magical and adventurous ancestor.
"Well, there used to be a small patch of clover, a little way from the warren by a big oak tree that grew during the winter. Not every winter mind, only when we were truly struggling to find food. There was just enough for those who knew where it was to survive a little longer. "
"It grew throughout the whole winter? Are you sure?" Holly replied with a slight chuckle.
"Completely sure. I ate from it myself a few times!"
"By Frith, now that would be useful to have around! Mayhap we could ask El-ahrairah to put some of that magic clover all over the down. We wouldn't have to risk being caught by the cats down at Nuthanger farm that way."
"But that's half the fun! Risking life and death for a bite of juicy carrot, or springing free a bunch of man kept rabbits like Hazel did, ha!"
Holly let out a muffled laugh as he took hold of a dandelion leaf and ripped it away from the ground. As he chewed, he watched Broom as he scratched his long ears. He had been a little depressed at first, but talking about the loss of Redstone and his old Owsla days had seemed to cheer him up. It was interesting too, Holly liked to hear of other Owsla's stories, it gave him a sense of reassurance and adventure to know that rabbits were capable of doing dangerous, daring things to preserve their warrens. Stories from other Owsla rabbits could prove to be useful in times of need.
To satisfy his own curiosity, and to hopefully prevent Broom from thinking about Redstone, Holly questioned Broom further on his time in the Owsla, and Broom, too, asked for stories about Holly's adventures. The two veterans did not descend the runs and go to their burrows, instead, they talked into the night about the great flood, the man with a thunderstick, the uprising and hlessil.
As Bigwig came up the main run to start his daily security checks, he almost tripped over something at the entrance to the warren. Regaining his balance, he turned to see Broom laying against Holly's side with his back feet stretched out and his head on his front paws. Holly's ears were back, and his head tucked into his chest fur. Bigwig shook head, they had clearly been up all night,hopefully doing something that concerned the safety of the warren, so he decided to leave them where they were – he would do the security checks on his own today. Broom lazily opened one eye, and watched Bigwig hop off down the hill. He stretched out his front feet and yawned as he flopped his back against Holly's shoulder. No doubt they would receive some sort of telling off from Bigwig later.
But right now, he didn't really care.