Woundwort got shakily to his feet and followed the rabbit underground where he whispered something to a big brown buck and then hopped away. He had noticed during his limping that there were bushes scattered all around the warren. As he followed the buck he had been handed off to he tried asking questions but the rabbits in this place seemed to avoid anything asking “How?”, “Why?”, or “Where?” Very strange rabbits. Most of this warren appears empty. But they don’t smell of sickness or disease so why are there are so few?
“We have plenty of empty burrows. You’re free to choose any one that suits your fancy.”
“What about flayrah?”
“Come to the burrow that you were in before and flayrah will be there.”
“Is Cowslip your chief?”
“Oh no we don’t have a chief. No need for a chief. Well must be going now.” The rabbit hopped on down the run.
Woundwort was more puzzled than ever and he wasn’t usually puzzled by rabbits. So they didn’t have a chief? Well that made things easier for him to take control of this warren. But first he had to get better and discover more about this place and these rabbits. Though he wasn’t sure he could amass them into an army.
As the days passed his leg got better and Cowslip invited him to help fetch flayrah. Woundwort was annoyed. He was the one who ordered slaves to fetch flayrah. He had made friends with a couple of young bucks named Twinleaf and Fern. Over the past few days he realized that perhaps he had been wrong to control a warren by force and if it wouldn’t be better to make friends with the rabbits and get them to like him. It was worth trying. If he failed… well then he could always kill anyone who disagreed with him like he had in Efrafa.
Twinleaf and Fern were brothers from the same litter. They were very close but didn’t like the way they had essentially become man’s ‘pets’. Of course they couldn’t come right out and say it because Cowslip drove off any rabbit that was unsatisfied with the way things was done. He wasn’t unlike General Woundwort in a way.
“How come I never get any questions answered except from the two of you?” He asked as they were nibbling on some carrots they had taken from the flayrah pile two hundred yards north of the warren.
Twinleaf and Fern stopped eating and glanced up to look around. “Because they’re mindless beasts. Silverweed, our seer, has gone into the minds of the rabbits here and made them forget who they are supposed to be. It’s man that gives us the flayrah and protects us from elil.”
Woundwort spat out the carrot and rubbed a paw across his face. “Why do you not speak up about it?”
“Cowslip won’t allow it. Our warren is full of sadness and has a dark secret. In return for protecting us from elil man sets snares along the entire length of the bushes. The rules of the warren are that any rabbit that is taken by the Black Rabbit is never spoken of again. It’s as if they never existed.”
“How do you know about this?”
“Everyone does,” Twinleaf said. “We watched our marli get snagged by a snare when we were only kittens. We knew to stay away from the bushes after that especially when Cowslip refused to help her.”
“A rabbit I met earlier mentioned that this warren has no chief.”
“Yes that is true. But Cowslip pretty much runs the warren.”
“If you want to take over we’ll help you. If you want to leave we’ll help you. We were driven out when we saved another rabbit from the shining wire when we were six months old. That rabbit sadly died but we came back hoping that Cowslip had died and we could teach the others how to be like real rabbits again. But Cowslip seems to cheat death,” Fern said. They lowered their ears at this statement.
“What if I were to kill Cowslip then?”
“Oh would you?! That would be so grand!” Twinleaf shouted. “But you will need to get control of Silverweed in order to change the rabbits. Even then years of mind control may not be able to be erased from the rest of the warren.”
“Cowslip would do nothing and nobody else would either. We’re the only two who know how to fight.”
“You seem a lot better Woundwort,” Fern said peering at the rabbit’s leg.
“Yes thanks to the two of you.”
The three rabbits continued finishing the flayrah. As they went along they heard a squeal coming from nearby. Woundwort dashed through the bushes as Twinleaf and Fern looked at each other before running after him. They spotted a buck caught in the wire. “Quit struggling you fool and I’ll get you loose,” Woundwort ordered the struggling rabbit.
“Fern! Get over here and hold him down. Twinleaf help me dig out this peg that’s buried in the ground.”
The two brothers sprang into action. Fern bit the rabbit’s ear to keep him still while Twinleaf and Woundwort worked quickly to free the helpless rabbit. Twinleaf bit through the peg and it snapped in two. Woundwort gripped the wire in his teeth and lifted it over the buck’s head. He coughed and there was blood coming out of his mouth and nose but he seemed okay. The three had gotten to the rabbit in time.
“Th… thank you,” the rabbit said looking from Woundwort to Fern to Twinleaf.
“What’s your name?” Twinleaf asked the rabbit.
“Sky,” the rabbit said shaking his head. “I know you two. Twinleaf and Fern. But who are you?” He asked Woundwort.
“Woundwort. Former leader of Efrafa.”
Sky looked puzzled at this but Twinleaf and Fern had told Woundwort that most of the warren had no knowledge of other warrens except for their own. “What can I do to repay you?”
“Serve me and I’ll let you live.”
“I’ll go anywhere with you as long as it’s away from here.”
Woundwort smiled. “I’m going to kill Cowslip. Meanwhile find Silverweed and hold him for me until I’m there to convince him to come over to my side.”
The three rabbits nodded and they went back through the bushes. The other rabbits stared at Sky in horror. They had heard the squealing so they knew the wires had gotten him. They were grateful because it meant they could live another day though there was always a chance that the wires would take them in the end. But how could Sky have survived? This made no sense to the rabbits of Shining Wire Warren.
“What did you do?!” Cowslip cried dashing forward. “This fool is supposed to be dead! They’re all supposed to die so that I can live!”
Cowslip turned his head to look at Twinleaf and Fern. “Didn’t I banish you from this warren two years ago?”
“We came back last summer. We have been sheltered by the few rabbits of this pathetic excuse for a warren that you and Silverweed haven’t been able to control.” As Fern spoke seven other rabbits broke from the group of rabbits still staring at Sky and bowed before Woundwort before turning to stand behind him.
Well maybe this won’t be so hard after all, Woundwort thought. Sky, Twinleaf and Fern then ran through the group of rabbits and went underground to look for Silverweed. Cowslip let out a howl of rage and ran at Woundwort who rose up on his back legs and brought his weight down on the rabbit before him. Cowslip squealed and tried shouting for help but the other rabbits were kept at bay by Woundwort’s rabbits which technically wasn’t even needed since they didn’t know how to fight. Woundwort used his weight to crush Cowslip under him until the weaker rabbit quit struggling and lay still. Woundwort sat back and tore out Cowslip's throat and calmly looked at the remaining rabbits.
“Keep those rabbits surrounded. I’m going underground to deal with Silverweed.”
The seven rabbits stood where they were while their new leader went underground to deal with Cowslip’s seer. Twinleaf, Fern and Sky had found Silverweed and dragged him back to the main chamber that was littered with tree roots in the roof. A bloody-clawed and bloody-toothed Woundwort came down the run and stood before the white rabbit with black tipped ears.
“You’re Silverweed are you?”
“Yes General Woundwort. And I know who you are.”
Woundwort was shocked but then he figured that was a trait of seers. Fiver had known information about him that he hadn’t told anyone so it must have been a talent among all mystics and seers. Having a seer might be good for his new warren. “Will you join me Silverweed? Or would you rather stay here and risk the Black Rabbit taking you like the rest of these fools?”
Silverweed looked at Woundwort and then nodded. “Yes I think I will join you.”
“Good. What about the fools who haven’t joined me? Can you do anything about them?”
“No I’m afraid not General. It’s better to leave them here since they would just get in the way of your plan to take back Efrafa and destroy Watership Down for good.”
Woundwort was disappointed. “Sir?” A rabbit came through the run to his left and cowered before the hulking rabbit before her. “Might I make a suggestion?”
“Who are you?”
“My name is Harmony sir. The rabbits that Silverweed can’t fix might be better use for digging our new warren. I mean unless we’re going to remain here.”
“No of course we aren’t going to remain here idiot! But I like your idea. Silverweed will these rabbits follow me?”
“I fixed them long ago to follow each succeeding leader of the Shining Wire Warren though I’m not sure if they will follow you to a different warren.”
Woundwort thought about this for a few minutes. “We’ll take six of them with us to be used as slaves. The rest we’ll aquire from other warrens on the way.”
“What about the others Woundwort?” Twinleaf asked his friend.
“Leave them here to rot. Silverweed I’ll leave it to you to pick out the slaves. Sky, Twinleaf and Fern you will be my new Captains of Owsla. If you have does that aren’t as stupid as the rest of the rabbits here and they’re willing to serve me then they can come as well.”
Woundwort turned back to Harmony and studied her. He had to admit she was pretty. She had white fur and blue eyes. He felt a stirring in his heart that wasn’t caused by his desire for power and war. It was a strange feeling and one he feared. Silverweed said “You love her don’t you?”
Woundwort looked startled but he had to admit he wouldn’t mind taking her for his doe. He could either force her to love him or he could do something out of his character and try to court her. “Harmony you stick close to me and stay with us.”
Then he took Silverweed down a run to an empty burrow. “I think I might love her.”
“But you’re afraid that she will reject you because of your looks and your past?” Silverweed asked him gently. “Harmony may be a doe but she isn’t that cruel as to reject you. I can see into your heart and read your feelings about her. You’re afraid that if you love someone then they will vanish from you forever like your mother. So to avoid loving someone only to lose them you control rabbits out of fear instead of listening to them and treating them well like a chief should be.
“You worry that if you treat them with respect then they won’t blindly follow you like if you make them fear you and enslave them. And yet you ask me to change these rabbits here so you can form an army. You fight with your weight, your claws and teeth and while that makes those around you fear you it doesn’t make them love or respect you. If you are going to win Harmony and the hearts of your people you need to show them that you care about them and will listen to them. You need to make friends with them as you have done with Twinleaf and Fern. General Woundwort if you truly want peace then you need to give up this war and start over with rabbits who love you, respect you and want you to be a leader. I can see in your heart that you have the power to change. You are just afraid of changing.”
Silverweed left to go pick out the slaves he knew wouldn’t give Woundwort any trouble leaving Woundwort alone to think over what Silverweed had said to him. The seer appeared wiser than many rabbits half his age. Perhaps it was time to start over as Silverweed had said and create a warren where he was respected and not hated by every rabbit in his warren.
Woundwort went above ground and noticed his followers along with Harmony, Twinleaf, his doe Rainbow, Fern, his doe Daisy, Sky, his doe Amber, Silverweed and the six slaves Silverweed had picked out waiting for him. “Move out!” As one the group of rabbits swung to the south and began the search for a new home and, possibly for Woundwort, a new warren based on respect and love.