Tale of The Four Brothers
Alan examined the rest of the file package and found several more video entries, recorded by Drake himself, dating circa 2034 – five years after the apocalypse. Bringing up the HAB’s personnel file on another screen, he saw his former colleague had moved up in life in the years following their disappearance; his file registered him as widowed and childless (his family were registered as deceased circa 2013, for reasons unknown), but a world-leading scientist in genetics, a member of the Royal Society and very wealthy to boot, who had been consulting for the government during the Ark operation. That fellow sure did more than remain the reclusive, eccentric college professor I once knew, thought Alan, as he activated the next clip, curious to find out what Drake had done during the years in the HAB, as one of the pre-selected scientists.
His colleague's aged face appeared on screen, replacing Commander Cooper, who was probably also deceased by that time. In the background, they could see the control room they were standing in now, looking full of life and in far better condition than the mess it was in now. The dome, visible in the atrium outside the observation windows, was alight with an artificial sky, complete with a digital sun and even the sounds of birds and a country breeze - a temporary replacement for the real thing on the surface, currently in blackout.
"The fifth anniversary of doomsday has come and gone. Although we have adjusted quite well to living underground, unfortunately our livestock are proving unable to adjust... Signs of declining health worsening… all litters born stillborns... immune systems failing... The greenhouse seedlings aren’t doing much better either... It seems unlikely that they’ll survive long enough until we can return to the surface… To add to our troubles, the recent accident in the cryostorage – which cost the life of Commander Cooper and several others – has destroyed most of our embryo and seedling stocks, leaving us with no further means of restoring the ecosystem... Unless a solution can be found before the last of the embryonics die, we will be facing extinction from famine…”
“As a last resort, my colleagues and I have come up with a radical solution: to use our last few embryo stocks to create a number of genetically-enhanced species of animal, capable of surviving underground… We will start by enhancing their chromosomes with experimental gene-splicing modifications... As part of the experiment, the four unborn rabbit test subjects (three males and one female) will also have a number of altered human genes added to their DNA strands, which code for superior brain cells... The result should be, in theory, an improved species of greater size, natural resilience, and possibly intelligence, among other unknown advantages…"
Alan felt the wheels in his head spin as the secret of the origin of this new world finally came to light. So this was where his rabbit friends had originated from: Drake’s genetic-enhancement experiments! According to the log, with the HAB’s livestock dying out, Drake and the other scientists had resolved to genetically modify a number of animals and plants, in hopes of creating endurable life forms that could survive in the Earth’s ravaged, hostile environment – test subjects, including rabbits. It had been a miracle of science that had made this impossible world real. Finally on the right track, he eagerly activated the next entry, to see the results of Drake's experiments in 2035.
"Project Utopia was an enormous success; all four genetically enhanced kittens were born healthy but unfortunately, all surrogate mother does died whilst delivering them... It has been determined that this new species of rabbit, officially named Lagomorpha Sepien - or lagomorphs for short -, are capable of growing to an average size of 3/4 that of a human being and living up to an average of 45 years, much longer than their now-extinct counterpart. In addition, they possess the ability of speech, coloured eyesight, and human-level intelligence...”
“The first newborn, originating from a Flemish Giant donor, has been named El-ahrairah - a tribute to the mythical folk hero character of Richard Adams’ novel, Watership Down... The additional three newborns, Rubscuttle, a descendant of a Checkered Giant donor, Hemlock, a descendant of another Dutch Flemish, and Laurel, a descendant of a Himalayan Angora, also display similar traits…”
“Despite my colleagues’ scepticism, I have taken it upon myself to teach them the grand philosophy and language Mr Adams created in his book, giving these new intelligent creatures an identity of their own, including language, religion and culture…"
This was it! The secret origin of the humanoid rabbits was finally out! Alan turned to look at his rabbit companions, which were struck dumb at this new and totally unexpected, piece of information. Hazel's people had originated from Dr Drake’s experiments - in other words created by the hand of Man! Although the human race, for some reason, hadn’t survived, human intelligence had through them, from the mutated genes that coded for speech and thought, which Drake had injected their ancestors with – in the process, bestowing upon them, the gift that made humans the dominant species on the planet. This, in turn, led to another very important question: what had become of the human race?
Humanity’s savage, mutated descendants had reverted back to primitivism, while the lagomorphs had thrived. What could have tipped the balance of evolution in the latter’s favour? Had something unforeseen occurred, the details of which were now long buried beneath the dust of history? Perhaps the rise of the lagomorphs was somehow linked to the fall of mankind? He activated the next clip and saw Drake again, this time recording from his lab, sometime in 2039.
"Our new companions are growing into fine personalities. El-ahrairah has become the new soul of morale of our subterranean colony, as well as de facto leader of his fellow species; Rubscuttle is a pleasant chap, with admirably fierce loyalty for his brother and leader; Laurel is kind and caring and will hopefully make a fine mother someday; Hemlock, although brave and intelligent, seems pretty much withdrawn from the others…”
“Meanwhile, within a year, the dust will have finally settled and we will be able to return to the surface. Unfortunately, only about 700 of the original 2217 survivors remain, the rest having died over the years, mainly from diseases, which are very hard to control in this closed environment. Among us are also a few children, born underground, soon to be introduced to sunlight for the first time, along with our rabbit friends..."
Alan was puzzled; so far, it seemed civilisation was back on track to starting over, just as planned – which of course, he knew, would never come to pass. The question still remained unanswered. He activated the next clip from early 2040, hoping Drake had left behind some more information.
"Finally, after 11 years of living underground, we are able to see the sky again. The Earth has been reduced to a desolate wasteland, yet the first traces of moss and lichens are already visible, indicating the planet isn’t completely dead... Analysis of the soil indicates the presence of dormant plant seeds, which will soon start germinating in the sunlight… agriculture still possible... Within the next 10-20 years, it is estimated that the flora will have settled into a new balance, giving us a fighting chance for a future…”
“...So far, we have been unable to establish contact with any of the other HABs... we assume that no one has survived but us: a total of 705 human beings are all that’s left of the Old World...Reconnaissance missions for other survivors continue in vain...”
“El-ahrairah and his family have left to establish their first warren... Laurel is already expecting her first litter... I hope we can learn to share the new earth as equals... The first day in the new world has begun…”
“Although the solar winter has long passed, weather patterns continue to run wild... We fear the imbalance caused by the impact might have started a further chain reaction in the atmosphere, which might trigger a catastrophic cooling trend in the months to come...”
And with that the recording ended. Drake, along with some survivors and the Four Brothers had made it through the Apocalypse alive, and were ready to start rebuilding and repopulating the Earth. So then, why hadn't civilisation started over? Carefully examining the list, Alan found one final video entry, dating sometime circa 2041, where the log ended. But when he tried to play it, the computer brought up a warning sign that the file was corrupted and inaccessible. The most important part of the log was missing – but, at least, it had still left them a useful clue.
“What did he mean about that cooling trend in the atmosphere?” asked McEwen, “Perhaps those extreme weather patterns have something to do with why humans disappeared?” Before Alan or Derek could offer some sort of scientific explanation, however, Dandelion beat them to it.
"The Great Freeze…" muttered the golden-furred buck, his eyes wide with realisation. They all turned to look at him, as the storyteller launched into his story.
"There was a time, long ago, when Frith left the sky and went away. Soon, the Meadows of Fenlo were frozen over and El-ahrairah's people were starving. El-ahrairah knew his people couldn't survive without Frith so he went to visit Prince Rainbow, Frith's messenger, and asked him, why had Frith abandoned them? Prince Rainbow explained that Frith had left to seek out the secret of the universe. So El-ahrairah requested that Prince Rainbow pass on a message to Frith, that he and Rubcsuttle would make tracks in the snow, creating a message that would reveal the secret. Although sceptical, Frith returned and shone down to read El-ahrairah's message; the warmth of His rays melted the snow and El-ahrairah's message, revealing a world of happiness as El-ahrairah's people rejoiced the return of their Lord. Frith, realising His unfairness by neglecting His own children, made a promise: Even though he would go away at the turn of every season, to visit His other worlds, He would always come back. As a token of His promise, he created the holly, the ivy and the yew, which stay green all winter. They are Frith's Promise, which we celebrate every winter, as we await Frith's return in the spring."
The others looked at the brown-furred storyteller, "Well told Dandelion!"
"Well told indeed," Derek said, also making the connection, "You have just unravelled another piece of the puzzle, Dandelion; the story of the Great Freeze must refer to an Ice Age, like the one mentioned in the log. It is obvious your ancestors survived it… so perhaps humans did not? That would make some sense…"
"It still doesn't add up," said Alan, shaking his head, "Humanity has survived through an Ice Age before. How could Dr Drake and his group survive an asteroid apocalypse, only to perish in an Ice Age afterwards? We’re missing something here..." Sure enough, several others also shared that notion.
"I wonder who was that Hemlock fellow?” said Acorn, looking puzzled, “I don’t recall hearing such a name in any of the stories of El-ahrairah."
"If you ask me, he sounds like bad news," muttered Bigwig with a frown. Of all the rabbits, he could easily sense trouble in that mysterious rabbit mentioned in the video log, who preferred working alone and from the shadows... His companions however were plagued by another, ever greater mystery to spare much thought about Hemlock at the moment.
"But if humans were once our friends, then how come that friendship didn't last, and isn't even remembered?" asked Buckthorn suspiciously, feeling utterly baffled, "The humans we know are certainly not like Alan's kind…!"
Feeling just as puzzled by this latest baffling mystery as his companions, Alan began a methodical search of the ransacked control room for something that might give them a further clue. He glanced at a restored radiocarbon chronometer on one of the panels, its digital dials spelling out the current date and time:
EARTH TIME: MAR 15TH 2791 A.D. 17:32:15
Adjusting his watch to the precise time, which he had miscalculated by only a few minutes, his friends following suit, he kept looking, but finding nothing interesting, other than numerous unoccupied and non-operational control stations.
"Hey guys, check this out!" called Derek, gesturing everyone over to another station once used for satellite communication uplinks. On one of the few working screens was a virtual globe of the future world. Although the satellites were down, the in-built atlas software would suffice to give them a good idea of the changed geography. He zoomed in on England, locking in on Watership Down.
The rabbits stared blankly at the map on the screen, unable to make heads or tails of it. Then Blackberry exclaimed, "Frith in the sky, is that the world from above? That's the river and the Big Water, right?" The other rabbits gasped in realisation, "By Frith, you're right Blackberry! Isn't he?" Derek merely nodded as he brought up the world atlas. They all stared curiously at the changed world.
Aside from the names of the continents and countries, the satellite map had no cities or towns marked on it; only a few dozen red dots, marking the locations of all the HABs scattered in key locations around the globe, including the one they were standing in right now – one of four British HABs, including their own, one up in the Scottish Highlands, another up in the Cambrian Mountains in Wales, and a third up on Mount Sawel in Northern Ireland.
Although the geography of the Earth hadn't changed too much over time, they could see some significant changes caused by the catastrophe, just like it had been described in Drake's log. All regions below sea level including much of Norway, Argentina, New Orleans, Jordan, Israel, Iran and China, were now completely submerged, while regions situated close to the boundaries of tectonic plates had been reshaped beyond recognition, or otherwise annihilated altogether.
North America and Canada had been separated from South America through the Gulf of Mexico, which had been ripped in half by a splitting plate; most of the Caribbean islands, Bermuda and the Florida Keys had vanished; the Western seaboard of the United States had shrunken inland by the collapse of the Pacific plate, indicating that most of the cities on the western coast had been annihilated. In the Pacific, Australia and most of Oceania remained, while some of the smaller islands, including Hawaii and Bali, had either sunk to the deep or had been replaced by new ones that had emerged from the seabed by volcanic eruptions.
The Mediterranean, although still recognisable, had undergone significant changes. Italy had been detached from mainland Europe on the southern side of the Graian Alps from a splitting plate; Sicily, Sardinia and the Balearic Isles had all vanished without a trace; in Greece, the Peloponnesian Peninsula and most of Attica were gone, joining together the Aegean and Ionian Seas as one; Africa, although unchanged, had become detached from Asia, while Israel, Jordan, Palestine and a most of the Sinai Peninsula had vanished, enlarging the Suez Canal into an open sea, from the collapse of the Arabian and African Plates. Only central Europe and England, which were situated away from the boundaries of any shifting tectonic plates, remained unchanged.
In southwestern Asia, the Persian Gulf had expended inland, all the way up to the Caspian Sea, which was no longer an inland sea, but rather an extension of the Indian Ocean. In the north-east, Siberia, Eastern Russia, Mongolia and northern China had become part of a new, immense desert, with a distinct gigantic crater in the centre - the old impact site of Pandora. Although life on the planet had since thrived over, the asteroid had left its mark on that region, where vegetation would never thrive again.
Staring at the map, Alan couldn't help but wonder what kind of life existed out there? Could there be more people still out there, perhaps some new civilisation? Or was it just more giant, talking animals? Reminding himself that, in spite of their marvellous history lesson, they still had to find a way out of this place, he turned to a 3-D schematic of the facility on another monitor.
He carefully studied the interior of the golf-ball-shaped structure, which was divided into levels, much like a sliced-up pineapple, zooming in on their location. The control room was situated right in the centre of the facility, surrounded by the atrium; just off the atrium, he could see the elevator shaft from where they had come through, which led upwards to the top of the Down, where the Honeycomb was. Unfortunately, there was no other way up, at least none that they could see. McEwen stood up.
"All right, we’ll have to do this the hard way, ladies and gents. I suggest we split up; this way we can cover more ground in less time," he suggested. Bigwig nodded in agreement, "Good idea; but the does should wait here. We don't know what other nasty surprises might be down here." Although Violet, Clover and Nildrohein seemed to want to protest, they realised the firm Captain of Owsla had a point; the alien environment of this ‘man-warren’ they were trapped in had them all on edge already, making them anything but keen on venturing even deeper into this unnatural place.
Alan studied the schematic, assigning search parties, "There are four levels in this place: the living quarters and social areas on Level 1, workshops and labs on Level 2, livestock pens and cryostorage on Level 3, and Engineering on Level 4. There are two stairwells on opposite ends of the facility,” he said, tracing them on the screen, “I suggest we divide into two groups and take a stairwell each. Hazel, Fiver, Pipkin, Bigwig, Silver, Hawkbit, Dandelion, Bluebell and I can take the first stairwell; McEwen, you, Acorn, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Holly, Strawberry and Blackberry can take the second. We'll rendezvous back here in one hour. All right, let's move. You coming, Deke?"
"No, I'll stay here and see if I can get some more systems back online,” replied the engineer, already deep in work at the control station, “We could use more than just these emergency lights – the communications for a start, to see if there’s anyone else listening out there.” Although doubtful he’d get anything, Alan figured it was worth a try. If they couldn’t find a way out themselves, then they sure could use a rescue if there was one.
Leaving Derek to his work, with the does for company, the group left the control room, to begin their search. The two designated parties set off in opposite directions, following the diagrams on the walls of the concrete corridors, in search of a way out, wondering what other secrets they might discover on the way…
Meanwhile, not too far from Watership Down, on a small, isolated island in the middle of the canyon river, the small Cessna Skylark had landed. After flying round in circles for some time, wasting precious fuel in the process, mostly thanks to Vervain’s lousy sense of direction, the Efrafans had finally managed to direct Robbins to their home warren. The small island, about a quarter of a mile wide and three-quarters long, was semi-barren and foreboding, with high, unscalable cliffs overlooking the river which surrounded it. The only sign of habitation was a heavily fortified warren built in a quarry-shaped crater on the northern side. Robbins had finally reached Efrafa.
Vervain and his squad led Robbins to the edge of the crater, which was swarming with mean-looking sentries. One single burrow entrance, penetrating into the side of the crater, led into the depths of General Woundwort’s domain.
The four companions were instantly surrounded and ushered underground by the sentries. Staring at the ‘burrow’ walls with his flashlight as they marched him along, Robbins realised that the warren wasn’t exactly made by rabbits; the ground of the island was rocky and hard, apparently having been penetrated by power tools, testifying to the former presence of humans here; ancient wooden beams held up the ceiling, which resembled an old mineshaft, rather than a warren. Apparently, the Efrafans had discovered these caverns and expended them with their own digging, to form their warren… Robbins suddenly gasped in realisation as he recognised the place.
This is the old mine that stood in the grounds of the Buxton Estate – the hiding place of Black Inferno! Well, I’ll be damned, this Woundwort fellow must have the probe buried right here in his own backyard, waiting for me to come and get it! It’s absolutely perfect, he thought.
They were led into a vast cavern, which was the Council Chamber of the infamous warren – the place where Woundwort’s inner circle gathered for their war meetings, or where condemned prisoners were brought to be tried. Standing at the far end of the chamber, atop a high, stone platform, like a god, was the notorious General Woundwort himself; a massive, black-furred rabbit with teeth shaped into sharp points, like those of a rat, giving him a most sinister appearance indeed, enough to make even the bravest of rabbits shudder in his presence. But his fearsome appearance was nothing compared to his stare; his right eye was blood-red, generating an air of strength, ruthlessness and, above all, fear, while the left was milk-white and dead, staring vacantly at nothing. Towering over the Council from atop his stone platform, which resembled a throne, the savage rabbit looked like an animal version of Satan surrounded by his minions.
Woundwort was the undisputed Chief Rabbit of Efrafa, founded by his ancestor Lord Hemlock, a warlord and fearless warrior who had lived many generations ago. A ruthless and brutal rabbit, Woundwort, like his ancestors before him, devoted his life to one purpose: power. On the battlefield, he was a champion warrior, always displaying limitless determination and strength, and always fighting to kill; even those lucky enough to walk away alive, were always better off dead.
Woundwort's domain was one of pure tyranny and oppression; more than half the Efrafans were slaves, who lived to do hard labour or, in the does’ case, bear healthy litters for the Owsla force. Under Woundwort were the Owsla and Owslafa; the former consisted of bucks of great strength and agility, all fanatically loyal and willing to die for their Chief and for Efrafa. Others, who had the loyalty, but lacked the physical strength, such as Vervain, were enlisted in the Owslafa instead - the High Council in charge of the commoners of Efrafa.
The slaves were divided into sectors called Marks, each under the command of an Owslafa or Owsla officer, who was their prefect. The said prefect was responsible for arranging silflay hours, work shifts, and, above all, ensure no attempted escapes or conspiracies were made. Disobedience was regarded a serious offence in Efrafa and the guilty were severely punished. Mating was strictly controlled by the Council officers, who, as a benefit of their ranks, always had their free choice of does, who were powerless. All litters were inspected by the Council, picking out the healthiest and the strongest of the kittens, while runts were killed off shortly after birth, to avoid being saddled with any worthless mouths to feed.
All Owsla trainees, handpicked by Woundwort and his senior officers, received the finest, as well as the harshest, of military training, making them capable of taking on any challenge imaginable. The Owsla would send out Wide Patrols to scout the surrounding area, ambushing and capturing any wondering hlessil they crossed paths with, or to report the locations of any alien warrens. Like bandits, Woundwort and his army would then descend upon their target and seize it, killing anyone who attempted to resist and capturing the rest, particularly does and kittens, to use as slaves.
Communication between rabbits, including storytelling, was strictly controlled, censored with propaganda of Efrafa’s ‘glorious’ past and the achievements of Hemlock, rather than El-ahrairah. The most important teaching in Woundwort’s ideology was the emphasis on the danger humans posed to rabbits – so, not surprisingly, it came as a great shock to everyone present as Robbins was ushered into the Council Chamber alongside Vervain and his Patrol.
The guards led the returnees before their Chief and bowed respectfully. Woundwort stared down in surprise at Robbins with an expression of utmost hatred before turning an angry face to Vervain, who gulped, questioning the wisdom of bringing this ithe back here. Clearly, his master was not pleased.
"Captain Vervain, I demand an explanation for this outrage!" thundered the warlord, his insane red eye staring down at his cowering Head of Owslafa, who was too scared to reply, "I sent you to recapture our escaped does and instead you bring me back a miserable ithe to make up for your failure? You will be punished! Guards, take this scum outside and kill him immediately. And as for you, Vervain, for this despicable display, you can say goodbye to your captaincy!"
Although Robbins didn't understand any of the Lapine talk, he got the jest of what Woundwort meant to do and didn't miss the opportunity to open his mouth, revealing his talking abilities in front of the entire crowd, just as two thickset guards grabbed hold of him from behind, to drag him his doom.
"General, it would be such a shame should you end my life now. I have come willingly to serve you, to lead you to the path of ultimate power and glory. Surely a great warrior like you wouldn't throw away such a marvellous opportunity?" he said, surprisingly calmly for a man about to be dragged away for slaughter. There was instant gasping and muttering amongst the spectators, hearing this seemingly mindless human talk. Woundwort too was struck dumb for an instant, before quickly raising a paw to stop the guards.
"Hold! I wish to hear him." He turned back to Robbins, this time speaking in English, "You have a name, stranger?"
"Robbins, sir, at your service," replied Robbins, bowing his head respectfully, as the guards loosened their grip on him.
"Where do you come from and what is your business here?" demanded Woundwort, locking his eye with Robbins, much like a snake about to devour a rather juicy rat. Despite the horrific stare, the evil man maintained his composure and answered calmly, carefully watching every word he said, knowing full well his success – and his very survival - depended on how well he played his cards now.
"I come from another time, from the distant past. I was betrayed and left for dead by my selfish companions, who are currently plotting to infiltrate your warren…" He had just said the magic words. Woundwort jumped down from the platform, staring directly at Robbins with a burning rage.
"Nobody ever dares challenge my authority! Those foolish enough to attempt it die!" he growled dangerously. Robbins satisfied to see that his gamble was paying off nicely, went on explaining.
"Well, those under the leadership of my sworn nemesis, who thinks himself better than everyone else around him, think they can," he replied nastily, knowing he had just signed a death warrant for Alan and his friends. And indeed he had!
"In that case, we have a lot to talk about…Robbins," Woundwort said, using Robbins’ name for the first time, his face now forming into a false, friendly smile, "May I ask, what is it to you?"
"Let’s just say it’s for our mutual benefit,” replied Robbins, “In exchange for you helping me extract my long-awaited revenge against my enemy, I offer you control over a weapon of my own kind’s design, potent enough to seal your power, not just here, but over the entire world. I believe an alliance would work to the advantage of the both of us, given that we share a common enemy, whose strengths and weaknesses I know in every detail..." Woundwort seemed to be thinking along the same lines too. Indeed, unlike most of his foolish, ignorant fellow rabbits, including his own brainwashed followers, he knew something more about the ‘myth’ of talking humans...and if there was another such human out there plotting against him, then Robbins could be a Frith-sent advantage, to finally fulfil his ancestor’s dream of absolute power.
"Be warned, ithe: try and double-cross me in any way and you will beg to die. In Efrafa, I always hold the highest jurisdiction and my word is the law. If I am to accept you as my ally, I expect you to obey me - I will make allowances for you to exercise certain authority over my Owsla, of course, because of your importance to my cause, but you are not to otherwise undermine my authority. Do you accept my terms?" Despite the obvious threat, Robbins was trying hard not to laugh. He had won the jackpot; he had just secured an alliance with the strongest bully in the playground, giving Alan and his friends a deadly enemy, who would stop at nothing to destroy them.
"As long as I get to see my nemesis suffer and die by my hands, I am your man through and through," he declared, saluting his new 'master', “And I assure you, General, you can count on my loyalty. I always side with the strongest; those like you, General…assuming of course, that you accept my alliance."
"Then I believe the alliance is complete!” There was instant muttering among the Council at the announcement; General Woundwort had never accepted a human – or any other creature for that matter - amongst his ranks before. If anything, he had always stressed what a foul abomination humans were, and how they should be exterminated at all costs. Why would the General openly defy his own sacred ideology now? The dictator turned back to the muttering crowd, roaring, "Silence!"
He turned back to Robbins, "At nee-Frith today, you shall enter the initiation ceremony and receive your identification mark, which officially makes you a follower of Efrafa; it is tradition, where all my subjects, regardless of their rank, must swear their oath of allegiance and pledge their lives to me before taking up their duties. You'll also be briefed on the details of the authority I will be entrusting to you, to use on my behalf. Now then, where are those renegade outsiders you speak of?"
Robbins considered for a moment; if his elaborate plan for revenge was going to work, he would have to return to Cowslip’s warren to retrieve the atomic cores for Black Inferno first. Leading Woundwort directly to Watership Down was far too easy, "I...I’m afraid I don't know for certain, General. After I was left for dead, I lost their trail. However, I believe there is someone who might know; he is also another sworn enemy of theirs, as well as a willing associate of mine,” he explained, carefully playing the role of loyal ally to this sinister rabbit, which he intended to manipulate, and ultimately betray, to suit his own interests. To his greatest satisfaction, Woundwort seemed satisfied, his face curling into a mean smile.
"Splendid. In that case, tomorrow, I will be taking out a Wide Patrol to visit your associate and then we set off to track down those renegades. They won’t get far. In the meantime, allow me to welcome you to the hospitality of my warren,” he said, suddenly sounding very much like Cowslip, “Captain Campion!" he called, summoning over a tall, well-built rabbit with light brown fur, emerald green eyes, and a noticeably more gentle demeanour compared to the rest of his mean-tempered comrades present.
"Pass an order to the slaves to have a double ration of the finest flayrah in storage delivered promptly to my chambers for my guest; also have the does prepare the finest burrow for him. I expect everyone to do their best to make him feel welcome. Go!" The Owsla rabbit gave Robbins a suspicious look, almost as if he suspected he might be playing them false, before bowing respectfully to his Chief and left to carry out the order.
Captain Campion was commander of the Efrafan Owsla and Woundwort’s second-in-command, alongside Vervain, the third-in-command. A strong and courageous rabbit, an Efrafan at heart, the youngest Owsla officer to be decorated by Woundwort himself, he held the reputation of the finest soldier in Efrafa. Having lost his father at a young age, who had been killed in the line of duty by hostile outsiders, as he had been told, Campion considered the safety of Efrafa his purpose in life. In direct contrast to his tyrannical Chief, however, with whom he shared a deep and mutual respect, and despite his own misgivings as a stern, fanatically loyal, law-abiding and xenophobic Efrafan officer, deep down, Campion still retained something Woundwort had never had: a heart.
Despite being an officer, his popularity expended not only among his peers, but the slaves as well, who often described him as the only decent rabbit in Efrafa. Like a discreet mentor, Campion would go out of his way to help those in trouble, the most frequent being Vervain’s bullying victims, his long-time bitter adversary. One particular occasion had been an attempted runaway slave from the Hindquarter Mark – the one where Vervain was prefect.
Driven to destruction because of Vervain’s abuse, as Campion had reasoned with himself, this slave, whose name was Blackavar, had attempted to make a run for it, only to be cornered and recaptured by Campion’s guards. When the Owsla had brought him before Woundwort and the Council to be executed as a deserter, Campion had pleaded his case, arguing with Woundwort about Vervain’s unchecked abuse. Although Woundwort refused to make any exceptions, his respect for Campion had eventually won out; Blackavar’s sentence was reduced from death to having his ears slashed to ribbons and to be paraded around as an example to other escapees, much to the sadistic Vervain’s glee.
Then, only a few days ago, Blackavar and a group of does from the same Mark had finally managed to escape proper, making them the first ever successful Efrafan runaways and plunging Vervain into disgrace, not to mention Woundwort’s bad books. Wide Patrols, including Vervain’s own, were sent out to scout the surrounding countryside, to recapture them and bring them back for punishment. But now, Vervain had returned with this strange talking human, which their Chief had taken under his wing, and which Campion didn’t trust one bit.
Just by listening to that human Robbins talk, Campion could tell he was hiding something more that what he let on. Unfortunately, Woundwort had the final say, so there was little he could at this point, other than keep a close eye on this suspicious newcomer, to make sure he didn’t bring trouble upon them when Woundwort let his guard down...
That evening, a meeting was held in the Council chamber with all the Owsla and Owslafa officers present for another initiation ceremony; the first human in the history of Efrafa was about to receive his Mark. Robbins stood before General Woundwort, removing his jacket and shirt, leaving his left shoulder bare, as instructed. After reciting his oath of allegiance to Woundwort and to Efrafa, the dark warlord completed the ceremony by slashing him across the shoulder, marking with the familiar three-notch mark of Efrafa, before proclaiming, "Welcome, Officer Robbins of the Shoulder Mark!"
That night, Robbins curled up to sleep on the straw bedding of his new sleeping quarters. He had been given a plain, but spacious, burrow, usually reserved for distinguished Efrafans. Despite finding himself literally under this psychotic maniac rabbit's control, winning the favour of General Woundwort was absolutely perfect. His plan was going like clockwork; he had just secured himself a powerful ally, to carry out his quest for revenge. If his gamble paid off, Johnson and his friends would soon be dealt with good and proper. The trick was to keep his true intentions under a lid until the last possible second…