Hazel hopped down the passage to the Honeycomb, the vast open area in the Watership Down warren where the rabbits would gather to play bobstones, listen to stories, and chew flay that had been brought in on days of foul weather. It was a story night and Dandelion had been persuaded to give forth one of his great tales. The other members of the warren parted for Hazel as his rank of Chief Rabbit gave him some small privilege. Finally he squeezed in next to his doe, Hyzenthlay, and his younger brother Fiver.
As he finished getting settled Dandelion was taking just taking his place on the speaker's mound and began...
I have been asked to tell a story tonight, but not one of El-ahrairah and his battles against the thousand. No, this is a lesser known tale and I hope I can do it justice. It is titled Léaozyhl and the Draining Shadow and Fiver asked me to tell it.
We all know of the Thousand. Those enemies that pursue us through every moment of our lives...the fox, the ferret, the snake...there are older things too...colder things that desire our warmth and our strength. Things that we must always be on guard against even though they are only visible from the corners of our eyes.
There was a small warren far to the north. It was a quiet place where not much happens. This warren was tucked away in the rocks so dogs and foxes could not easily dig, and it was on a bluff where ferrets and cats deigned not to tread. It was a harsh but safe life.
Then one night a stranger came by. He was friendly and polite and stated that he was fleeing a warren that had been destroyed by man and that his name was Hombeerinle. The Owslah at the entrance smelled him and though he did not stink of the White Blindness there was something wrong with his scent. He said as much to Hombeerinle who nodded politely and agreed that 'one should not take chances with one's warren', before he loped off into the darkness.
The next day there was fog, and the morning flay was conducted in the haze that helps keep the thousand at bay. The sort of day one feels protected in. When the feeders came in there was one missing however. A member of the Owslah in fact. The rest searched for him and could not find him.
"He must have been taken by a hawk," the Senior Owslah said to the Chief Rabbit. "There was no sound or smell and no other rabbit was touched. Just bad luck."
The Chief Rabbit nodded. Though it was unusual, it had happened before and was something all rabbits knew was possible.
That night the missing Owslah arrived at the main tunnel entrance, "Can I come in?"
"Where have you been?" the guard said, "We were searching all over for you?"
"I was chased by a fox. I found a crack in the stones to hide in and had to wait until he got tired and left."
"No one smelled a fox in the area," the guard said in a puzzled tone.
"The fog most have clouded its scent. I didn't smell it either," the thought lost Owslah replied.
The guard shrugged and stepped aside. The lost Owslah simply stood there.
"Well come in! I'm sure the Chief wants to talk to you."
The lost Owslah entered then and soon was heading for the Chief's burrow.
Then the guard saw a shape moving through the moonlight, "Who is that?" he called out.
"My name is Léaozyhl," a doe's voice responded, "and this is my companion Stonebriar," with the slim and very attractive doe was an older buck with a piercing gaze. "We are searching for someone."
"A rabbit. He uses many names and none for good reason. He smells of mold and dead things but it may be a faint odor and mistaken for mere disease. He is far worse than a plague carrier," Stonebriar said in a calm measured tone.
"One like that stopped by last night."
"Did you tell him he could enter?"
The guard shook his head, "He smelled wrong so my Sergeant said for him to stay away. He seemed alright with that though."
The old rabbit nodded, "Have there been any mysterious deaths or disappearances the last few days?" he then asked.
"Sort of. Beechbough was missing all day today after fuléao-flay he just showed up a little while ago. Why?"
"Was it rainy or foggy this morning?" the doe asked quickly.
"Foggy. You could barely see your own whiskers."
"Where is this Beechbough now?"
"He just got back right before you arrived, so I guess on his way to see the Chief..." the guard had barely gotten the words out when the doe rushed past him shoving him aside with unbelievable power and speed. The older rabbit hustling behind her.
As Léaozyhl rushed through, she listened for the sounds of the struggle she knew would be there. Soon she was at a wide spot in the tunnel where several broken bodies of the warren's Owslah lay scattered on the floor. Beechbough was grappling with the Senior Owslah, a massive buck who physically looked like he could snap the crazed rabbit like a twig. However, the smaller Beechbough was easily overpowering him and as he looked around all watching could see that his face had distorted. More resembling a golden-eyed skull than any sort of rabbit. Léaozyhl leaped in and biting into the corrupted one's shoulder ripped him free almost casually.
"How?!" Beechbough asked, "He said I would be unstoppable..."
"Where is he?" Léaozyhl asked, not bothering with a reply.
"Gone with the mists...but I'm here and so are you with all your delicious blood..." he leaped at Léaozyhl who sidestepped easily Then she and Beechbough began attacking each other in earnest. By the time Stonebriar arrived, huffing and puffing, she had Beechbough in a death grip on his throat and with one quick move snapped his neck. Beechbough's body fell to the ground before bursting into a flash of fire and ashes. The Senior Owslah looked at the carnage in the tunnel and simply asked, "Will there be more?"
With a toss of her head as she licked one of the massive wounds one her flank, Léaozyhl said "No, his master is gone. He merely did this to stir up trouble."
"And you seek his master?"
"We do," Stonebriar said, "Let me warn you of those that smell of faint death, who may not enter unbidden. Who can only be slain by by the breaking of their neck or exposure to Lord Frith's divine radiance and who possess strength far beyond that which their size should warrant. They are live, but not and must be destroyed."
"And you?" the Owslah said as he looked at the small doe,
"There are the Thousand Enemies which we are afraid of. I'm what scares the Thousand..."
Now this is but a story but like all good stories it is also a lesson. That the Thousand are many and varied of form and some are far darker and more vile than others.Daffodil finished the story and then walked over to Fiver, "So I am guessing there was a reason you wanted this story?"
Fiver looked up with his serious expression then turned and looked at the kits in the back of the hall, "There is one who needed to hear it."
Hazel left the two to their discussion and headed up to the surface...and make sure to possibly tell the Owslah on guard that any entrants should be smelled for the vague scent of death...a/n
Watership Down Property Adams. BtVS mythology Property Whedon.