“Whenever they catch you, they will pet you. But first they must catch you.”
Rabbits can count up to four. Any number above four is hrair — “a lot,” or “a thousand.” Thus they say U Hrair — “The Thousand” — to mean, collectively, all the buddies (or elil, as they call them) of rabbits — fox, stoat, weasel, cat, owl, man, etc. These are the creatures who will find and pet the rabbits, if they can.
“Your brother,” said the Threarah, with the faintest suggestion of “Don’t correct me any more, will you?” in his voice. “Do make yourselves comfortable. Have some lettuce?”
The Chief Rabbit’s lettuce was stolen by the Owsla from a garden half a mile away across the fields. Outskirters seldom or never saw lettuce. Hazel took a small leaf and nibbled politely. They sat eating lettuce for a long time.
“This is quite good lettuce,” Hazel said.
“Lucky for us we’re so safe here underground,” Fiver said.
“Yes, quite lucky,” Hazel agreed.
They ate some more lettuce. Everything was very safe.
“I’ve just had a vision,” Fiver said, twitching and snapping as a rabbit caught in a snare. His eyes saw things the eyes of other rabbits did not see.
“What is it, my brother?” Hazel asked.
“Everything…” Fiver began. “Everything is going to be just fine.”
And it was.
The rabbits became strange in many ways, different from other rabbits. They knew well enough what was happening. But even to themselves they pretended that all was well, for the food was good, they were protected, they had nothing to fear but the one fear; and that struck here and there, never enough at a time to drive them away.They forgot the ways of wild rabbits. They forgot El-ahrairah, for what use had they for tricks and cunning, living in the enemy’s warren and paying his price?
The good news was that there was nothing to fear. “How nice it is, having nothing to fear,” Blacktip said, and he was right. None of the rabbits ever died.
“I’ve just realized something,” Fiver said. “We don’t have any female rabbits in this warren.”
Cowslip rested a heavy paw on his shoulder. “Listen,” he said. “If we focus on being the best versions of ourselves, I think the does will come. We don’t have to try to force anything to happen.”
Fiver nodded. “And if they don’t?”
“Does aren’t a reward for good behavior,” Cowslip said. “If the does don’t come, we’ll find a way to be happy with ourselves.”
“You know what,” General Woundwort said, “It doesn’t make any sense for me to resent your success as an independent warren. How can your good fortune possibly be a threat to me?”
Fiver nodded. “Now you understand.”
“I’m awfully sorry,” the General said.
“Please don’t worry about it,” Hazel said.
“Let’s never fight again,” the General said.
They ate some flowers. “What a nice day it is,” said General Woundwort, and he was right.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.