Groundsel, Campion and Hazel along with Bigwig, Fiver, and Blackavar went with Captain Thornberry to the place where he had said the new warren would lie. It was a meadow surrounded by a forest. A line of bushes covered the eastern side of the meadow. They splashed through a small brook on their way to the bushes. There was a small bank near a copse. There they halted.
“If I may make a suggestion Groundsel,” Bigwig said.
“I trust your judgment Bigwig.”
“I recommend digging some entrances to your warren behind the bushes. That will give you some cover from elil. In Sandleford we had some burrows that were in the forest bordering our warren as well as a few escape tunnels and holes. That’s how Captain Holly and Bluebell got out.”
Groundsel examined the bushes closely and nodded. “Yes that sounds like a good idea Bigwig.”
There were horses five hundred yards off and while it was clear that there may be men passing that way who would come to look at the hoses all the rabbits would have to do would be to bolt down the holes and remain there until the men had passed. It equally looked like the meadow wasn’t in danger of being plowed by man for commercial or residential purposes. All in all it seemed like a good place for a warren to be born.
Winter was coming and there was no possible way that the rabbits would be able to start a warren until springtime of the following year. The rabbits dug some scrapes and bedded down for the night. They didn’t see the weasel that was approaching downwind of them.
“Long ears make good meal tonight,” the weasel said to itself licking its fangs.
Fiver started up and saw the flash of eyes in the darkness. “Elil!” He shouted stamping the ground. The other rabbits jumped up and attacked the weasel. Cursing the weasel fled back the way it had come.
“That ought to show him,” Bigwig said.
“I don’t fancy being in a place with weasels and stoats roaming around Hazel.”
“You’ll be alright your warren is dug and you’re all safely underground Groundsel.”
Groundsel and Campion returned to Efrafa and Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and Blackavar returned to Watership Down where they waited for the long winter to pass. There were quite a few pregnant does that would be going to Groundsel’s warren that he had named Vleflain along with a lot of pregnant does from Efrafa as well as some bucks to dig the new warren. The rabbits were anxious to get started on their new home.
At last spring came and Groundsel, Willow who was Groundsel’s mate, and Officer Thistle went to Vleflain and waited for the Watership Down rabbits that would begin a new life to arrive. A few days after Captain Avens led a small party of does to Vleflain. Two more groups followed Captain Avens’s group which had a mixture of bucks and does. The eager does instinctively began work on digging the new warren. The bucks helped by making sure the internal runs were linked together and took turns outside watching for elil.
Hazel sent Bluebell to be an adviser to Campion and live in Efrafa. Sunflower and Nightshade were sent to be advisers to Groundsel in Vleflain and thereafter remained in that warren. Watership Down was at a more comfortable level for the rabbits there which made everyone happy. Aside from Bluebell all the rabbits that had traveled to Watership Down with Hazel after their escape from Sandleford were still alive and lived at Watership Down.
A week ago a rabbit named Stonecrop had been nearly killed by some of Hazel’s rabbits because he smelled like man. He was an escaped hutch rabbit who had been wandering the downs for some time. When Fiver had a vision that Stonecrop would be accepted at Vleflain Hazel, Bigwig and Stonecrop had gone to see if Fiver’s vision would come true.
They halted and sat back on their haunches sniffing the breeze and hearing squeals of terror. “Something’s wrong. Something bad,” Bigwig said to Hazel.
Hazel, Bigwig and Stonecrop ran to the warren and halted as they saw a group of stoats roaming the meadow. Rabbits were fleeing in all directions without any thought except to save their own lives. Groundsel was running with them, caught up in the panic that prey feels when being cornered by a predator. “Look there’s Groundsel running like a silly nitwit with the rest. We’ve got to put a stop to this Hazel.”
Hazel nodded and Bigwig charged forward and put himself in Groundsel’s path. Groundsel was blinded by fear and didn’t see Bigwig standing there. He ran into Bigwig and knocked him off his feet. Bigwig jumped quickly to his feet and pinned Groundsel to the ground. “Get a hold of yourself Groundsel-rah! What is going on?”
“Stoats! An entire family came up from the copse and began attacking!”
“Groundsel you’re the chief of Vleflain! You have to stay strong and pull your warren together!” Bigwig said.
Stonecrop started running towards one of the stoats. “Stonecrop what are you doing? Get back here!” Hazel ordered.
“They won’t touch me Hazel.”
“Embleer Frith!” Bigwig cursed when he saw Stonecrop running straight towards a stoat. He turned and began running to tackle Stonecrop when he stopped in his tracks. The stoat turned towards the scent and saw the rabbit coming towards him, his jaws salivating. Then he recoiled in horror. “MAN!” The stoat fell back and as the breeze shifted the scent of man appeared. The other stoats took up the cry in their shrill shrieking voices. “MAN! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! MAN!”
The few rabbits who had managed to avoid the stoats attack while above ground turned and stared at Stonecrop with wonder. Even Groundsel looked at Stonecrop in shock. A few rabbits came up from the warren and clustered around Stonecrop.
“Who are you?” Groundsel asked.
“Groundsel-rah this is Stonecrop. He’s an escaped hutch rabbit. We understand if you don’t want someone like him living here…”
“Mind? Mind? Of course you’re welcome to stay here!” He looked at his rabbits and they stamped in approval. “If you agree to go around the burrows once a week you can live here as long as you like.”
Stonecrop smiled and thanked Groundsel for allowing him to stay. Bigwig and Hazel talked with Groundsel. He had positioned his Owsla in the burrows near the entrances to the warren as they would be the first line of defense against an attack. Thistle had been made a Captain in the Vleflain Owsla. Groundsel didn’t allow his rabbits to be marked and allowed Hazel and Bigwig to stay as his guests for a few days before they headed home.
“I guess Fiver was right after all," said Bigwig to Hazel as they left Vleflain.
“He always is Bigwig.”