Watership Down - Blueberry's Tale, Book 2, Chapter 22

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2 of Watership Down - Blueberry's Tale, Book 2


Chapter 22 - Birch gets a shock.

The next morning, Birch was woken up by Captain Halgrass who prodded him with a paw. "Come on, get up. We're heading onwards." Birch yawned as he stretched with a nod. "Okay, nothing happen last night?"

Captain Halgrass shook his head. "Nope, was a quiet night, I don't think we can risk another though here. Don't know when the usual occupant will come back and we want to be as far away as we can just in case riverdog has a taste for rabbit."

Those words made Birch remember about the scent in the tree and he got up and headed out into the open where Bracken-Rah was waiting, looking about the area. "We're going to search more of this river and if we can't find anything by ni-frith, then I'm afraid we have lost our friends."

Both Captain Halgrass and Birch nodded to Bracken-Rah as they hopped towards him and saw the buck turn to lead them on through the field. Birch had a few brief moments as they stopped to check on whether it was safe enough to move on to catch a few bites to eat, chewing the grass as he moved.

The journey this time around was a more quiet affair, each of them were thinking if they would see anyone from their warren that had managed to get away from the fox and man yesterday. Bracken-Rah has a stern look on his face as he kept in front, stopping now and again to check to see if there was any sign, any sign at all.

They paused near a boulder which stuck out from the ground. Hopping onto the stone, Bracken-Rah was frustrated as he looked about before taking a look at the sky and then back down again. "My friends..." Bracken-Rah's voice sounded sullen as he spoke. "I'm afraid that we have lost our friends, we have been searching but if anyone had survived they would've been found by now."

Captain Halgrass and Birch who were still standing at the time, looked at each other and nodded their heads slowly. Bracken-Rah carried on speaking. "Therefore I feel that we must stop and think back on the friends that we have lost, our family and our warren and especially to our old Chief, Riza-Rah..."

Birch felt something in his throat as he swallowed, his ears falling against the back of his head as he moved about slightly to keep himself from lying down. Moving his head even higher, the buck pushed himself to stand tall and proud, looking at Bracken-Rah.

"And it's with great sorrow that I have to say this." Bracken-Rah slowly closed his eyes and stood up, which was followed by both Captain Halgrass and Birch as Bracken-Rah spoke quietly and slowly. "My heart has joined the thousand as my friends stopped running today."

The words were spoken quietly between Captain Halgrass and Birch who repeated those words and then opened their eyes, still standing on their hind legs and looking at Bracken-Rah who looked to have moved on. "Right, our new task is to find a new warren." He looked at the both of them. "Which means I cannot be known to another rabbit that I am a Chief. You know that they wouldn't allow me to stay as it would be a challenge to the current Chief that is in charge. If you value my life then you will make sure that this information about my position doesn't come out. I shall take whatever position I get wherever we find, understood?"

Bracken-Rah saw both rabbits nod their head as they both spoke at the same time with the same words. "Understood, we won't say a word." Happy that he had them understand, Bracken-Rah hopped down from the rock and looked at Captain Halgrass. "Now, should we continue to follow the stream with hopes that a warren has settled near it?"

Shaking his head, Captain Halgrass replied back. "No, I don't think staying by the river is a good idea. Mainly as any warren that was built near one would be flooded by the winter floods. Well, that's what I have heard in tales anyways. Our best bet would be to head a bit away from the river and see if we can't find a warren further away from here."

Bracken-Rah considered it for a moment and then nodded his head back at Captain Halgrass. "Yes, I think that you are right. So which way should we go then?" Bracken-Rah looked about and nodded his head. "We should continue along the river but slowly edge away from it. I don't want to find another warren near a farm again if I can help it."

These words were both accepted by the other two as they both nodded their heads at the same time. Captain Halgrass thought back and shivered at the thought of another man attack, something that he didn't wish to face again for the rest of his life. Birch on the other hand didn't want to see another farm yard or garden again if he could help it, the whole place was just a very bad omen to him now and bad luck to even tread on it.

It was late afternoon that the sound of the river had fallen to a point that they had to strain themselves to hear it again. The air was dryer in this part of the country, which made travelling in the daytime much more harder to do. Birch muttered to himself as he flicked his ear about to throw away any blue bottles that had decided to land on them. "Any shelter we can rest in?" He asked while shaking off another bluebottle again.

Captain Halgrass answered back as he was looking ahead. "We can see if there's anything in the copse over there." The buck pointed with a paw before carrying on. "That's if its safe though." Captain Halgrass looked up into the sky for any signs of other birds in the air and looked back down again. "That's the problem, we're in the open and in danger but there could be danger there as well."

Bracken-Rah sighed slightly as he turned to face Captain Halgrass. "We know that, it's the way that we have to live now." Moving his head back to the front again, the rabbit gave a smile. "But tell me, Halgrass... Would you have it any other way?"

Birch turned to look at where Captain Halgrass was as he stared at the buck in thought before nodding his head. "Aye, it's made life a lot interesting when El-Ahrairah decided to go against Frith, hasn't it?"

Birch replied back before Bracken-Rah could respond. "Well, could you see ourselves not having adventures, risking our lives and just laying about, eating grass?" He found himself laughing at the end of that which made the other two laugh as well.

Bracken-Rah smiled as he nodded his head slightly. "Well, I like the occasional danger and all, keeps you young." Looking as the copse began to grow bigger with each passing hop on the ground, the group of rabbits ran across the field with new hope in their hearts, enjoying themselves for the first time since the destruction of their warren.

Arriving just outside of the copse, all three rabbits came to a slow walk, looking about the tall trees, branches hanging over them with birds tweeting, several of the bushes rustling from within as a bird hopped out with a worm in it's beak before flying upwards turning around in the air and landing out of sight in a tree.

Moving forwards slowly, Bracken-Rah sniffed the ground and lifted up his head again slowly. "Looks safe but we should be careful. Let's find a place just on the edge of the copse." The buck lifted his front paws off from the ground and sniffed the air again. "I don't think we should go in there." Moving his head back to the other two. "Something isn't right, make sure you tread carefully."

Captain Halgrass nodded his head as he moved up alongside Bracken-Rah and looked at him, standing up on his hind legs as well, whispering. "What's wrong?" The buck listened as Bracken-Rah replied back quietly. "Don't know, remember that tale a long time ago when our warren was nearly destroyed by man?"

Captain Halgrass nodded as he thought back, to when he was little. Lying with a group of other young rabbits all paying attention to a much older rabbit that he hadn't seen for seasons, telling of the tale of when Copse Warren was under attack long time ago from man, ferrets and of course, shining wires. Somehow though the whole thing stopped for no apparent reason but the rabbits. Bringing himself out of his daze, Captain Halgrass turned around to Birch and with a stern voice. "I want you to listen to everything I say and do whatever I say without question, understood?" Birch nodded his head. "Yes sir."

Bracken-Rah and Captain Halgrass were moving about on the outskirts of the copse very slowly, the two bucks looked troubled which in turn passed over to Birch who was looking a bit worried. Keeping a few paces away from the edge of the copse. They stopped from time to time to check that everything was safe around them, but none of them could get rid of the feeling that something was wrong.

Captain Halgrass was getting annoyed with it as he frowned, dropping down low in the long grass to hide himself, making the other two follow suit. Muttering under his breath. "You know, I think we're being watched, damned if I know who by though..."

Bracken-Rah was keeping very still but he turned his head to look through the long blades of grass and stared into the copse for a moment before returning his gaze back to his two friends. Speaking quietly. "Well, I can't see anything but you're right." The buck paused for a moment and shivered. "I've been feeling something running up and down my back since we got here and it's got worse since you mentioned it."

Birch shuddered slightly. "Well, what do we do? We can stay out here for the night and keep a watch or try and find something else?" Looking about he gave a shiver. "Or we could go in and see if anything is actually in there or we're just being worried about nothing."

All three of them nearly jumped out of their lying position when they heard a bird chirrp loudly before taking flight from the copse as it took to the sky. Captain Halgrass got up and shook himself. "Birch is right, we can't stay out here, you don't know what may happen. My suggestion is we keep on moving and find a spot to dig out some scrapes. That should keep us hidden from anyone."

Bracken-Rah got up as well, looking to where the copse is and with a frown he shook his head. "Okay but if I can't get rid of this feeling then I am going to get us to leave this place, see if we can't go back the way we came and see if we get better luck that way."

The other two nodded their heads as they began to move off again, slowly in the long grass. They each took a few hops before stopping and checking things out, the long grass gave them shelter and safety but it also sometimes could hide danger. Captain Halgrass had slowly made his way so that he was leading the group, stopping for a moment and looking about.

"You know, that feeling is going, maybe it was something on that side of the copse that was un-nerving us?" Taking a deep breath, Halgrass lifted up a paw and began to scratch at his ear, shaking off some pollen and dust at the same time.

Birch sneezed with the dust that Captain Halgrass was making and rubbed his nose with his two front paws. "Mind where you're sending that, would you?" Wrinkling his nose about a bit, he stood up on his hind legs and looked about in the late afternoon light. "Hmm, it's starting to get late, we best find a place for our scrapes before it gets too dark and inle elil come out."

Bracken-Rah was looking ahead and he hopped forwards. "Maybe over there should suit our purposes." Looking towards a place where there was even thicker mass of tall grass that waved about in the afternoon wind.

Birch reached the patch of tall grass first and looked inside it, pulling away quickly as he ran back to the other two. "No good! No good! Stoat!" He ran right past both Bracken-Rah and Captain Halgrass without even looking at them.

Bracken-Rah thumped the ground as well as Captain Halgrass without them even knowing that they were actually doing it and with an instant they had turned around and ran in the direction that Birch had taken.

It took a while for the two to catch up with Birch who was now lying on the ground, tired. Captain Halgrass came up to him as he saw the younger buck lying down and was panting himself alongside Bracken-Rah who had turned up. "What in Frith's name." Bracken-Rah said as he looked back but the copse was small again in his view.

Birch swallowed and tried to talk but couldn't at the moment. He was shaking all over and closed his eyes before opening them wide again immediately. Captain Halgrass and Bracken-Rah had recovered but they saw that their friend had not.

Lying down beside him, Captain Halgrass looked at Bracken-Rah. "He's shaking." The captain placed a forepaw on the younger bucks back and looked at the other rabbit with concern. Bracken-Rah moved over and slowly laid down in the grass facing Birch directly in the face. "Birch, you're safe." Bracken-Rah said softly. "Come on, please... Try and relax now. Tell me what you saw."

Staring beyond Bracken-Rah's eyes, Birch was looking stricken with fear. Captain Halgrass gave a worrying look on his face and muttered. "He's never been like this before unless..." The look on Captain Halgrass's face confirmed to Bracken-Rah that something was wrong.

"Please, Birch... Tell me what you've seen?" Bracken-Rah said again softly before looking at Captain Halgrass. Birch swallowed and spoke gently. "I..I..I.." He stopped talking and shook his head before staring a bit more in control but still shook under Captain Halgrass's paw.

"What did you see?" Bracken-Rah said again as he looked still at Birch eyes gently, his voice soft and calm as he tried to bring the other buck to relax enough to get what information that he wanted. Speaking again without looking at Captain Halgrass. "See if we're not being followed."

Nodding his head, Captain Halgrass lifted his paw up from Birch's back and moved off abck the way they came slowly, checking for any signs of a stoat. Bracken-Rah looked at Birch still as he spoke. "Come on now, please tell me what you saw?"

Birch nodded as he spoke quietly. "I saw a stoat in the long grass, the wind.. It must've been blowing the other way as I didn't smell anything until my head was inside the long grass.." Birch went quiet again and shuddered, closing his eyes.

Captain Halgrass was a few paces away, standing up tall to look in the direction of the copse, the buck keeping very still as his face was full of concertration as he felt the wind change and then he felt his ears twitch before it.

Meanwhile, Birch had brought himself again to speak before Bracken-Rah could say anything to make him speak more on what he had seen. "I was there, looking at the eyes of a rabbit, going dull." He swallowed again and gave a shudder. "They were so bright but they were going dull so quickly."

"Go on..." Bracken-Rah said as he saw Captain Halgrass moving back towards them as he sat down speaking quietly. "Nothing is coming our way." These words seem to settle Birch down a lot more as he continued to tell his story. "There was a growl and then I saw it, the stoat..." Birch gave another shudder but stopped as he felt a paw on his shoulder which was Captain Halgrass's again. "It had blood dripping from it's muzzle, part of the rabbit that was lying there was hanging from it and it just started to chew and swallow. I ran right away..." Birch stopped and looked down to the ground, ears flat against his head and back.

Bracken-Rah looked at Captain Halgrass for a moment and then back at Birch. "Its okay, you're lucky that it was eating or you wouldn't be alive right now." Bracken-Rah turned his head towards Halgrass and spoke. "We need to get some scrapes dug here, I want to be in the open so that we can see anything coming our way during the night, this place is as good as any."

"I agree." Captain Halgrass said as he looked about again. "And then we should move from this area quickly early on tomorrow." The buck gave Birch another look and spoke. "The sooner we find a warren and get under ground the better."

Bracken-Rah nodded and looked at Birch. "You rest here, we can make your scrape for you." Getting up, Bracken-Rah looked at Captain Halgrass as they moved away a bit before starting to scrape away at the ground, each taking turns to pause and looking out for any signs of trouble.

While the other two worked, Birch continued to lie on the ground recovering from the sight of what he had saw just a short while ago. Eventually he got up from the ground and looked about, his body has stopped shaking and with a guilty look on his face, he was glad that he had been able to move at all. Hopping to where the other two were working he came up alongside them and spoke. "Its okay, I can finish off my own scrape."

Captain Halgrass looked at Birch with a questionable look. "Are you sure?" He saw Birch nod and then backed away from the scrape to let Birch move into position. Both of them had finished their own as they moved away from Birch for the time being and watched him.

Bracken-Rah looked at Captain Halgrass, speaking gently. "You think he be alright?" Captain Halgrass nodded his head. "Aye, he be fine in due time. Everyone is like that when they see that for the first time. I am glad that he has in a way, hopefully he won't flinch when it comes to dealing with something else further on. Could save his life, you know?"

Birch could hear them talk but he felt nothing at the moment, his claws scraping away at the ground as he moved into the scrape and tested it before backing out of it again and making a few more adjustments. After the third try, Birch was happy with what was available and moved into the scrape, lying down as he saw the other two looking about. From his point of view he could just see over the rim of the scrape as he settled down, placing his ears down against his head and heard the other two rabbits move about.

Bracken-Rah nodded. "I'll take the watch tonight." He looked at the other two and shook his head. "You two didn't wake me up last night." Giving Birch a look he smiled. "I think it be wise if you got a full nights rest, me and Halgrass have talked about it and came to an agreement."

Birch looked at each of them but said nothing, finally ending up nodding his head in agreement and settled back down again. Captain Halgrass moved over next to where Birch was and slowly settled down into the scrape himself. They had set it up for sleeping in the same way that they had done the first night on the river bank, facing outwards.

Bracken-Rah moved into his scrape and laid down himself as he looked about the place before lowering his head, the group of rabbits now hiding out as the afternoon started to change into early evening. All three of them were tired as both Captain Halgrass and Birch were fast asleep, leaving just Bracken-Rah awake, alone with his thoughts.

Unbeknown to both all three, they were being watched from within the copse, dark shadowy shapes looked outwards as they kept very still. They could see the three rabbits earlier move about before settling down as one dark form moved towards the other.

Captain Ebony was looking outwards when he felt the presence of another rabbit beside him. "Get down, do you want to give our position away?" He felt the other rabbit next to him settle down as Captain Ebony continued to look out with his green eyes. "So, how did the sacrifice go?"

Frogspawn replied back quietly. "It went well sir, I don't think we have anymore trouble with the others now, not after we got rid of the troublemaker." Frogspawn saw that those were the right words to give as Captain Ebony nodded his head. "Good, now go and let Captain Shadow know that we shall move when it gets dark." Captain Ebony felt the other rabbit begin to move and he spoke again. "Oh and Frogspawn, if you fail to see anyone start to rise up again, I'll kill you myself."

Frogspawn nodded his head and hopped away, leaving Captain Shadow alone. When he was out of earshot he looked back and gave a frown before heading onwards through the dense copse to where Captain Shadow was situated. When Frogspawn did find the officer in question, he came up to him and nodded. "Captain Ebony said that we shall move when it gets dark. He will give us the signal."

Captain Shadow nodded his head. "I will be ready, get back to your position." Not looking at where Frogspawn heads to, the large buck looks out to where the part of the field lay where the three rabbits were situated. "Well, well, well..." Captain Shadow said quietly. "Looks like Blackclaw-Rah is going to have three newcomers to play with." He grinned as he heard a quiet chuckle coming from one of his rabbits and then all lay still.

***

It was dark when Bracken-Rah was starting to nod off, his head lowered down to his front paws and then came back up again. Knowing that he was too tired to do anything else he turned his head around and spoke. "Halgrass, you awake?" Hearing nothing he turned his head around to the front and yawned, getting up with a stretch.

Captain Halgrass was fast asleep when he felt Bracken-Rah hit him hard on the head, which woke him up immediately. "What?" He said loudly, before seeing Bracken-Rah looking at him. "It's your time to stand guard." The buck moved away from Halgrass and slowly placed himself back into position in the scrape.

Rubbing the top of his head, Captain Halgrass shook himself slightly before getting up and taking a stretch. Standing up on his hind legs, the buck looked about the place but could only see the faint glow of the moon shining down on the grass, giving it a ghostly appearance.

With mist starting to form on the ground, Captain Halgrass stared at the low fog creeping over the field, the moisture warmed up by the day had started to form into thicker water droplets. This had given the eerie view with each passing moment. Feeling cold, Captain Halgrass went back down onto all fours again as he settled back into his scrape, staring out for a few moments.

What Captain Halgrass did was get up every so often and move about in a small circle where Bracken-Rah and Birch slept, stopping every two hops and checking the area while standing on his two hind legs, sniffing the air while listening out with his large ears. It was around the fifth time that he was doing this that he was also starting to get tired again, the cold night wind blowing into his fur, made the buck shiver slightly.

Feeling his fur starting to get damp from the fog, Captain Halgrass stopped again and stood up onto his hind legs and looked about, the thick fog was now gently rolling away from where the river was situated, guided by the wind. Taking a sigh, Halgrass turned around to look in one direction and stopped, he stood there looking at something before turning his head to the right quickly as something passed just barely outside of his field of view.

Hopping slightly away from where his friends slept, he stopped again and stood up onto his hind legs and stayed perfectly still, his whole body tense, ready to make a instant move if needs be. The left hind leg was tense, poised to go into action, to warn his friends if there was something going on. He stood there for a short while and didn't see anything else and slowly felt his leg relax again, while his upper paws moved slightly and then he dropped back down onto all fours.

Returning back to his patrol again, Captain Halgrass didn't notice anything else move, he couldn't smell anything in the air apart from the dense smell of fog which just smelled of water, dampness and the thick smell of grass underneath his paws. Pausing in front of Birch, he turned to look at the younger buck was was twitching slightly in his sleep and slowly shook his head, he knew what the young buck was dreaming of and slowly lowered his head as he lowered his attention for the time being, taking a nibble of grass and chewed it slowly.

Moving slowly through the field were a large group of rabbits that were silent through the fog as they carefully continued to move towards their prey, each one taking their time as they watched Captain Halgrass nibble on some grass while the other two rabbits were sleeping soundly.