Outcast Down Part Three: Frith's Eve
Phlox had no idea where the other two rabbits had come from, but he was glad they had come. One, a powerfully built grey buck, chased the weasel a short distance, shouting insults at it, then returned to where Phlox and the other rabbit were standing.
"I don't think he'll be back. Who are you?"
"I'm Phlox. My friend is...oh, no!"
Vine lay where he had fallen. Phlox could see that the wound in his side had reopened, and he wasn't moving. The white rabbit dashed over, the two strangers hot on his heels.
"Vine, wake up! Please wake up! You were right the whole time, this is the right way to your warren! Wake up!"
"Go away!" Vine muttered, "My head hurts!"
"He's okay," Phlox said, relieved.
"No, I am not!" Vine grumbled, "Why do you care, anyways?"
"Good morning, Vine-rah," said the grey buck.
"What the... Oh, it's Griffin. Morning, Griff."
"Vine-rah?" Phlox said pointedly.
"Yes, why does it matter? Hardly a proper warren anyways."
"Well, his head is still in as many pieces as it was before," Griffin said, "No shock there."
"Where did you go to?" asked the other rabbit, a small, sandy-furred doe.
"Long story," Vine said, "I'd tell you all about it, but I'd much rather be in a warm, dry burrow first."
"Good idea," Griffin agreed, "It's likely to storm again soon."
"How does he know that?" Phlox whispered.
"However he knows, he's seldom wrong."
The brown rabbit started off after Myca and Griffin, but turned back after a few steps.
"I thought you wanted me to go home," Phlox said.
"We made it this far, and you shouldn't spend Frith's Eve out there on your own. Come on, Phlox. You're welcome on Outcast Down as long as you're with me."
"Outcast Down? That's your warren?"
"I though it was a good enough name. We're all outcasts here."
"All of you?"
"Yes. Griffin escaped from Cowslip's Warren with your Silverweed and his friend. Aspen, was it? I'm from Efrafa, of course, guilty of desertion, and Geranium has never belonged anywhere. And Myca...do you remember Appleseed? She's his mate."
"Is that it?"
"Other than five kits and the occasional hlessi, yes."
At that moment, a monotonous voice spoke.
"Father is home. Thyme, I told you father is home. You are not listening."
A small black kit had appeared in front of the group of rabbits. His fur was the darkest Phlox had ever seen, but the strangest thing was his eyes, which were crimson red.
"It's the Black Rabbit of Inle," Phlox squeaked.
"Not exactly, although he's just as useful for scaring away our attackers. This is Inle. My son."
"You have a son?" Phlox yelped.
"Yes, Phlox, most rabbits of my age do have a son or a daughter. As a matter of fact, I have one of those too."
As if on cue, a chocolate-colored doe trotted out of a concealed burrow and attached herself to Vine.
"Daddy's home! Daddy's home! Inle, why didn't you tell me that?"
"I did. You were not listening," Inle replied flatly.
"Does he always talk like this?" Phlox asked.
"I think he enjoys it," Vine replied, "Now come on in. It's a bit chilly out this time of year."
It was a wonderful Frith's Eve for Phlox. The only thing that could have made it better would have been if his own family, along with Campion and Blackavar, had been there. Even so, he went to bed that night feeling safe, warm, and happy. And when he woke the next morning, he still felt the same. Even though he knew he would be going home that day. Alone.
As the white rabbit stood alone just outside the Outcast Down warren, watching the sunrise, he heard quiet pawsteps approaching.
"You're leaving, aren't you?" Vine asked.
"Yes. They'll be worried about me."
"I...I'm almost sorry to see you go."
"Yeah. I, uh...I would have liked it if we could be friends. Real friends."
"Friends?" Phlox said, "You know, I think that would have been nice. So...friends?"
"Friends." Vine agreed. "For better or worse."
Phlox glanced up at the sky. Frith had risen above the treetops now.
"I'd better go."
"Goodbye, Phlox. Come visit."
"I might just do that. Goodbye."
A day and a half later, a lone rabbit crested the top of the hill as several of his warren were out at silflay. Phlox had made it home. They called Violet, who came with all their kits, and Campion, and Blackavar. Among his friends and family, Phlox still couldn't shake the feeling that someone was missing. He knew it was a certain chocolate-furred buck, who, even though he had had a dark side in the past, had tried his best to change, even though few would believe him. Even though there were days that he himself doubted that Vine had changed, he knew he had.
"Well," Phlox said at last, "I'm back."
He knew there would be questions later on, questions he would have to devise a clever answer for, but for now...he was going to enjoy being home.
Well? What do you think? TELL ME! You're probably staring at me wondering why this is relevant, but...it is. Trust me, and come January you will see. Until then, this is probably goodbye for a few weeks. But...you never know. ;)