Watership Down - Blueberry's Tale, Book 2, Chapter 28

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


Chapter 28 - Halgrass vs Dewclaw

The rest of the day had been building up with tension throughout the warren and also relief. The relief came as news was that no other worker rabbit would have to face the new champion, Halgrass that night which meant that no one was going to be picked to face certain death out under the glow of Inle.

Must of the officers had noticed this new reaction and they had become more bullish towards them throughout the day, upping their workloads. Captain Shadow was annoyed when he had heard that his officers had come with reports of a few that had nearly came to speaking back at them that he had threatened to kill any that he caught in the act of not working fully.

However angry or annoyed Captain Shadow was, it couldn't face the anger that Inlo was showing at the moment as he shouted out at Birch, Straw and Bracken down the run. "Come on you three, get a work on." He came down the run slightly and glared at them. "You've been slack since Halgrass hasn't been around to help you out." Seeing Birch poke his head out from the new burrow that was being dug out he growled. "Who told you to get out, get back inside and dig out that burrow!"

Birch ducked back out of sight from where Inlo was glaring at him and moved back to where Straw was. "I told you not to put your head out, he's quite annoyed today." Straw muttered as he continued to work on making the burrow bigger.

Birch frowned. "What's his problem anyways, he's had a sore head all throughout the day since we were told Halgrass was okay... Oh..." Birch turned his head around and frowned. "Is that it?"

Straw shook his head. "No, then again maybe part of it but I think Inlo is mad because, well he never got picked to fight Halgrass tonight. I've seen this before." Straw paused in his digging and sat up properly. "Looks like Halgrass is going to fight an officer tonight which means they've finally want to see if he can beat one of them."

"You're not serious, he's been fighting every Inle for Frith's sake." Birch said as he looked at Straw who grinned back. "It hasn't been, you see Halgrass hasn't fought every night, he just thinks he has that's all. We lose so much time down here that we don't know when Frith is up or when he is down, they have other fights in between when Halgrass fights. So we don't know how many days has passed. Well, I think that's correct, not sure anymore. Never saw the light from Frith like before for a while." Straw smiled. "I nearly forgot what Frith looked like."

Birch nodded. "I was wondering why you were squinting a bit." He gave a frown. "How many actually have seen Frith here?" He looked back and hushed up quickly as Inlo was looking in their burrow before moving off again as Straw replied back, whispering. "Some haven't seen it since they arrived, most don't see Frith again. They only end up either dying down here or dying under Inle's gaze." Shuddering, Birch felt a cold shiver run along his spine as he hoped that they could get out of here.

His thoughts were taken away as Inlo was shouting again, his voice forcing it's way into Birch's mind. "And you should know that you be watching Halgrass fight tonight, in case you may or haven't been told. You can watch him be killed by one of our officers."

"Ah, that's what is wrong then." Straw said with a subtle hint of sarcasm in his voice as Birch turned to look at him. "He's annoyed he wasn't chosen to fight Hark and possibly gain a promotion."

"Straw!" Birch whispered loudly as he frowned. "Halgrass will win, this isn't one of those times where he's going to lie down and let some hraka officer here gain another rank while he lies dead on the ground."

Straw frowned. "I know, I was only saying Birch, that is what is bothering Inlo at the moment. I don't know why he doesn't just go ahead and challenge someone else and get it over with."

Birch just growled slightly. "Well, lets keep this work going or he find a way to not let us go up on top tonight which is something we don't want." Both nodded their heads as they continued to work hard. Outside in the run, Bracken had made progress during the day since they had arrived back from the top with their meeting with Halgrass and he was about to make more headway with the run when he heard Inlo come up behind him. "That's enough for this run, go help with the burrows, I want at least two more burrows dug before the end of the shift."

Bracken frowned at Inlo but he had already turned around and missed the look as Bracken slowly followed Inlo to where the burrow was where Birch and Straw was. "Er, Straw, I need Birch, can you finish this one off." Bracken slowly came into the burrow and frowned. "He wants two more burrows done before the end of our shift."

"He wants what?!" Birch nearly shouted in annoyance but his voice was muffled out by Straw who had placed a paw over the other buck's mouth. "Shhh, do you want even more work given by him, he's in a foul mood as it is."

Birch didn't move but once Straw had removed his paw from his muzzle he spoke quietly. "Sorry, okay let's get this done then." Moving out of the burrow, Bracken turned to look at Straw who nodded. "It's okay, this one is practically finished." Bracken nodded and headed out.

Seeing Birch who had found another place in the run to start digging, Bracken came up next to him and whispered. "So what were you talking about inside with Straw?" He looked back to where Inlo was busy brooding at the end of the run, talking quietly to another rabbit as he turned his head back again.

Birch replied back. "Oh Straw thinks that Inlo our great working motivated is having a bad day because he wasn't picked to fight our great powerful Halgrass and win, gaining promotion and fame."

Bracken blinked at Birch. "So you noticed it too? Well, it runs in any warren sometimes when some rabbit wants to move on and upwards." He began to start digging at the wall alongside Birch and carried on talking quietly. "Maybe the higher you go, the better the does you get. Though it's just a guess at the moment."

Birch nodded. "I know and that what scares me, what if we fail, I mean we don't know what this warren has." Frowning more as he spoke. "Not that I like to stay and have Inlo shout at me when he's having a bad day or that, just that I ain't sure I want to die either."

Bracken nodded. "Well, it's trying or being a prisoner here until they force you to fight another rabbit or you end up being too old that they send you out to be killed by elil so you're going to die by them either way. You're not having second thoughts are you?"

Birch shook his head. "No, just on edge, worried, angry. I've been... Oh I don't know, something has been bugging me all the time since I arrived here, what with that stoat scaring me half to death and now only seeing Frith once since we came here. You know, I like a nice warm burrow from time to time but I want to go and get some fresh air more, at least stretch my legs and run. Before I can't that is."

Bracken smiled as he looked at Birch. "I thought we lost there there for a moment, keep thinking like that and you be back to your old self." Birch nodded his head. "It's been quite a tharn ride so far. Bracken... Have you had time to think about the others? Blueberry, Carbi for instance?"

"They're always in my mind, that's if they survived and all." Bracken replied back. "Though I hope they are having a better time out there than what we are having at the moment. Being forced to stay down below, no freedom. I am hoping that they found a better warren. Even if its under the command of the Black Rabbit himself."

Birch nodded his head back slowly. "Me, too but I hope that they're alive someplace though. I don't think anything would be worse than here, Carbi wouldn't have survived." Birch frowned before continuing. "I am sure Blueberry would've though but not sure if it would be him facing the fights than Halgrass though."

Bracken chuckled. "Hmmm, he was always the sort to challenge everything wasn't he?" He looked at Birch and quietly asked. "What's wrong?" Birch sighed. "I don't like this plan of Halgrass's, I mean we can't leave him. Surely we can get him out as well?" Bracken shook his head. "You heard what he said to us before, if we have a chance of getting away, we should take it. Birch he may die in this fight, let's not make it in vain shall we?"

Birch was about to reply back when he heard Captain Ebony who had turned up to talk to Inlo and both went quiet as they worked listening in as best as they could.

Inlo looked at Captain Ebony arrive at the end of the run where he gave the two working bucks a look before moving his head back to where Captain Ebony is and bowed his head. "Hello sir. Work is going according to plan here." He paused. "Is there anything that I can do for you?"

"Yes there is, you're relieved, Captain Shadow wishes to speak with you, I shall keep an eye on these for a few moments. The fight is nearly upon us." Captain Ebony replied back as he looked at Inlo who tried to hide a frown. "Is there a problem?"

Inlo blinked and looked away from Captain Ebony before returning his gaze back again. "No sir... Well sir I thought that maybe this time I had a chance of fighting an outsider." He went quiet again as he backed away from Captain Ebony who lifted a paw.

"Inlo, that's why I would never pick you. Now get going and report to Captain Shadow before I change my mind and pick someone else." Captain Ebony snorted and watched as Inlo went around Captain Ebony, pressing his side to the wall and running off.

Birch continued to work as he gave a sideways glance to Bracken who just twitched his nose in return as the felt some more soil fall to the ground as their paws scraped downwards. Captain Ebony watched for a few moments and started to walk up the run and stopped after taking a few steps. "Right you three... Where's Straw?"

Straw popped his head out of a burrow and replied back, bowing his head. "I am here sir." The buck's voice sounding timid as Bracken gave a frown but it relented as he reminded himself that this place changed you over time.

"Good." Captain Ebony replied back as he looked at the three. "Straw, get out here, you're work for the time being is finished. It is time for you three to come on up and see your friend fight. Let's hope he shall give us a good show, hmm?"

Bracken turned to face Captain Ebony and glared at him. "You really think that whoever you picked will be able to take down Halgrass quickly? Well, keep thinking that." Birch flinched only slightly as Captain Ebony shouted back. "Did I ask for your opinion, no I didn't. Now come on, we haven't got time to waste on you." Captain Ebony backed up and nodded for them to head off to the right.

Moving along, Bracken went ahead first and gave Captain Ebony another glare as he passed him, turning around to face a small group of rabbits waiting for them. Not saying a word he led Birch and Straw as they all began with Captain Ebony leading up from the rear down the run.

***

Darkclaw-Rah looked up to the sky and frowned, there was thick cloud cover that was blocking the moon as he looked back down again, noticing Captain Shadow running up towards him and jumping on the log. Moving his head towards Darkclaw-Rah, he whispered something quietly to him. "All is prepared.." Without saying a word, Captain Shadow hopped off the log and headed into the undergrowth behind Darkclaw-Rah and vanished from sight.

It wasn't long afterwards that Darkclaw-Rah saw Captain Ebony come up with the other three rabbits, the chief hadn't seen the others since they had arrived and liked that they had started to look like the others, thinning out as they were starting to show signs of not being as healthy than they were.

Coming to the centre of the area, Captain Ebony told the others to wait as he ran off towards Darkclaw-Rah, leaving Birch, Bracken and Straw to look about seeing the other rabbits forming a circle around them. Bracken turned his head to where Captain Ebony had jumped up onto the fallen log and was talking closely to his chief.

Soon though, Captain Ebony came back running and looked at the other officers. "They're to watch over there." Pointing to a place where they were to go. Turning around, Captain Ebony went and headed back to where Darkclaw-Rah was as Birch, Bracken and Straw were led over to one end of the circle were some officers moved to the side and allowed them to get in line with officers sitting down beside them.

Bracken looked out as he saw the officers that were up and about moving about slightly, making a lot of noise as they saw Darkclaw-Rah get up on his log and held up a paw for silence. The whole place went quiet apart from the noises elsewhere in the night, the sound of a far off owl, the chiming of a far away clock in a village chimed. "The time has finally come where we shall see our own, pure bred. Dewclaw." He got a cheer from that as he smiled, looking to where Dewclaw walked into the clearing to more cheers from the rabbits surrounding the edge of the clear space.

All three had to lower their ears as they winced to the sound that the other rabbits were making, Bracken slowly ended up opening his eyes first before the other two followed as the noise died down and he could see Dewclaw for the first time, a large rabbit, well built and trained like a owsla officer. He muttered quietly under his breath to Birch and Straw, each were to the side of him. "Great, he's a fighter."

Neither Birch or Straw could get in a word of their own as they heard Darkclaw-Rah speak out aloud again. "And here if his challenge, the rabbit that came to our warren, got fooled by Captain Shadow and ended up to work for us, to fight for us." Darkclaw-Rah smiled as he turned his head to the three rabbits in the distance. "And the one responsible for Rose being killed. Halgrass."

The noise of boo'ing from the other rabbits was deafening as Halgrass came out into the arena guarded by two other rabbits who turned and went to where the circle was. Halgrass was glaring right at Darkclaw-Rah as he moved slowly towards the centre, his eyes moving to the other rabbit in the area which was Dewclaw.

Birch muttered under his breath. "I still don't like this, Bracken..." He didn't say anything else as he looked to where Darkclaw-Rah was as he spoke again. "So, Halgrass... Here is your final challenge before you get the chance to challenge Captain Shadow for his position. I see that some of your injuries have cleared up but you do seem to have a few that haven't. Well, that shouldn't stop a arrogant buck like yourself." There was laughter coming from the others as Darkclaw-Rah spoke one more word. "Fight!" He slowly sat down to watch.

Dewclaw began to make his way towards Halgrass who edged forward slowly watching the other buck carefully. Bracken frowned as he saw Dewclaw get in a early hit suddenly out from nowhere as he muttered under his breath. "Come on Halgrass, you walked into that one."

Halgrass recovered quickly as he ducked under Dewclaw's strike and headbutted the other buck in the belly, sending him falling over onto his tail before moving onto his back. Bracken smiled with his friends as they saw the rest growl at that, Birch turning to look at Darkclaw-Rah who wasn't looking very pleased. Birch felt Bracekn nudge him as he turned his attention back to the fight.

Dewclaw growled as he managed to get away from Halgrass, scrambling around before launching another attack, his claws catching one of Halgrass's ears as he pulled downwards. Halgrass resisted as he felt the ear rip as he growled loudly. Dewclaw suddenly rakes his claws on Halgrass's neck with his other paw as Halgrass jumped back in pain.

Straw watched as he turned his head to where Birch and Bracken were watching in total horror, Halgrass was injured as his neck bled staining his frontal fur. Moving his head back to what was happening in the match, he could see Dewclaw moving for another blow, rising up onto his hind legs and forced both of his fore paws down hard on Halgrass's head. Bracken was growling. "What on Frith's earth is he doing?"

Birch muttered back as he saw Halgrass walk backwards as Dewclaw scratched at his face again. "Oh Zorn! He isn't!" Bracken stared and growled louder as the group of officers all around were watching now, even those that were beside them and he then understood. Moving his head to the side each way, he checked on what Darkclaw-Rah was doing and then whispered. "Let's go, now..."

Birch didn't move as he saw Halgrass taking more damage as he felt Bracken scratch him on his side. Coming out of his attention of the fight, he turned around to see that Straw had moved off and Bracken looked at Birch before nodding quietly. Birch nodded back and took one look back as he turned, walking away quietly himself.

From the corner of his eye, Halgrass while continuing to be on the defensive saw his friends make a move and he returned his gaze back to Dewclaw who was getting bolder with each minute. Halgrass stumbled on the floor as Dewclaw jumped right at him, but Halgrass rolled over away from the attack as Dewclaw growled, only finding grass.

Dewclaw in his rage, turned around quickly and got his claws to strike on the hind leg of Halgrass which brought the officers around the clearing to cheer even louder as Halgrass took another beating under Dewclaw's paws and teeth.

Moving away from the place, Birch, Bracken and Straw had entered where the copse was properly, moving about slowly as they heard the fight continue to go in Dewclaw's way as Bracken frowned, fuming deep within himself. Birch didn't look that good as Straw moved ahead slowly, stopping now and again as he looked about before stopping. Bracken came up alongside him, whispering. "What?"

Straw sniffed about again and shook his head, whispering back. "Nothing, just not sure where the other rabbits are, if they are about?" Bracken moved past and frowned. "We don't have time for this, Halgrass won't let that buck beat up on him too long, come on."

Following Bracken, they made their way through to the edge of the copse without any problems. Looking out to the world beyond, they each looked at each other as Bracken gave an order. "Its dark, keep close so that we won't lose each other. Move quick and fast and stop in the long grass. I shall check to see if it's okay to move on. We need to get to the river and cross it by morning. If we can find it the river, that is."

Looking about, all three of them moved out into the clearing as Bracken ran ahead with Birch and Straw behind him, they made it to the first patch of long grass and came to a stop, the sound of the fight had left them as they couldn't hear a thing, each of them panting heavily. Bracken though looked up and about but couldn't see any movement from the copse at all, turning his head back to the other two, he came back on all fours and spoke. "Right, enough rest. Let's get going." Without saying another word, they continued on their way.

Inlo had turned his head around from where he was posted as he listened to the fight, muttering to himself as he frowned. "That could've been me in there, winning against that hraka Halgrass..." Unbeknown to him, three dark shadows had made their way across the field and vanished in the long grass out of sight. Sighing from more cheers again he turned his head back again, muttering. "Nothing is happening here either..."

***

Halgrass growled as he landed on the ground again, his whole body was aching from the cuts he had received from Dewclaw and he suddenly snapped. The rabbits sitting there watching gasped as he suddenly started to lay into Dewclaw who backed away from Halgrass's anger. "That's enough!" Halgrass shouted as he began to slash at Dewclaw's face.

The mood within the clearing changed from cheering to outrage as they saw Dewclaw begin to lose the fight for the time being. Darkclaw-Rah was outraged as he watched one of his supposed good future officers being beaten up as he turned his head to Captain Ebony. "I thought you said that he was a good fighter?"

"He is, fights go one way then the other you know." Captain Ebony said as he blinked, looking at Darkclaw-Rah. "I am sure that he's going to get back in this fight." Darkclaw-Rah nodded his head as he watched the fight still. "I hope that you are right. How's our other guests doing, they better not be enjoying this part of the fight."

Captain Ebony turned around as he looked to where Bracken, Birch and Straw should be and he jumped out onto the clearing as Darkclaw-Rah growled with clench teeth. "What are you doing?" Captain Ebony turned his head back at Darkclaw-Rah, Captain Ebony spoke. "They're gone."

Dewclaw blinked as he heard the shouts of Darkclaw-Rah and turned his head around but it was a fatal mistake to make. Halgrass went for the killer bite and as he watched Dewclaw shocked face still on him, his neck bleeding with a fatal cut, he fell to the ground as Halgrass smiled. He could see Darkclaw-Rah running up towards him but he kept on smiling, breathing heavily from the fight.