if the friend just disappears - he'll be bewildered, anxious, heartbroken, and perhaps angry. He may sink into a deep depression, sometime refusing to eat or drink.
-Marie Mead, Rabbits: Gentle Hearts, Valiant Spirits
The rabbits remained hidden under the seats for the entire trip. Bigwig screamed at Blackberry for a while, before lying down, suffering from airsickness. Hazel was at the other end of the hiding spot, thinking about how the whole rescue mission had been a complete failure, with Hyzenthlay and Pipkin trying in vain to comfort him. Blackberry remained apart, thinking about the mess he had made.
The flight lasted a few hours, before the airplane finally landed in London.
-It feels great when the hrududu isn't moving, don't you think? Bigwig sighed in relief.
-Does it matter? asked Hazel. We have nowhere to go.
-We can go back to Watership Down, where Fiver awaits, suggested Hyzenthlay.
-Fiver stopped running. The only place where he can be now is Inlé. I'm going to join him.
-Hazel! Where did you get such an idea? You can't just give up. You have no proof that Fiver stopped running. Besides, I feel that he and Vilthuril are safe at the warren.
-It's just a feeling. It's probably wrong. You're Chief Rabbit too, so the warren would be fine without me.
As Hazel was about to walk out of the hiding spot, Bigwig held him back.
-How dare you walk out on us like that? I order you to stay with us and remain Chief Rabbit.
-I know why you are doing this, admitted Blackberry, and it's my fault. I'm sorry.
-You don't need to apologize for the truth, said Hazel. What is, is what must be. I wish you luck, but without Fiver to warn you against danger, I can't expect that much.
-Hazel, warned Bigwig, I'm going to knock some sense through that thick skull of yours.
As he said that, Bigwig cuffed Hazel in the face. This did not bring him to his senses, instead he fell down, unconscious. The other five rabbits remained motionless, staring at him.
-What have I done...
-Everybody stay calm, urged Spartina. Does anyone know what can be done to help him?
-We must get him to a place where he can rest, explained Blackberry. We must leave this place. Bigwig, you're the strongest, you carry him.
Hazel's body was placed on Bigwig's back, with Hyzenthlay and Spartina supporting his head and his hind legs. They left their hiding spot and went towards the exit, although progress was slow due to the large number of humans also leaving the airplane. When they finally reached the top of the stairs leading to the ground, Bigwig stopped.
-I hope there is another way out? I might drop him if I go down this.
-We don't have time to search for another one, said Hyzenthlay, get going!
The rabbits slowly went down the stairs, doing their best to avoid being stepped on. Just a few steps from the bottom, Hazel fell on Bigwig's head, causing him to lose his balance and tumble down the rest of the way, carrying Hyzenthlay and Spartina with him. The others rushed down to see if they were all right.
-None of us seem to be seriously hurt, assured Spartina. The one who worries me is Hazel. He should be conscious by now.
-Then let's get out of here! decided Blackberry. Here, let's take this hrududu over there, it will go faster.
-Blackberry, didn't you say that you were not going inside another hrududu for the rest of your life? reminded Bigwig.
-I did say that, but hrududil move faster than we can run, and we need to get Hazel to a safe place as soon as possible.
The hrududu Blackberry was referring to was on the other side of the fence that the self-driving bus had destroyed a few days before. It had still not been repaired, and the road on the other side was closed.
The hrududu was the truck owned by Mr Cane, the farmer who lived at Nuthanger Farm. He had gotten out of the vehicle to argue with a police officer who refused to let him get past.
The rabbits hurriedly carried Hazel inside the hrududu through its open door, and hid under the seat.
-Any improvement? asked Bigwig.
-None, answered Hyzenthlay. This is really worrying.
-Why are hrududil so slow when speed is especially important? complained Blackberry.
Only then did the farmer get back inside the truck. He had finally realized that simply taking the detour would take less time than continuing to argue with the officer.
-This is all my fault, said Blackberry sadly. I shouldn't have talked about Fiver like that.
-Oh no, Blackberry, it's my fault, interjected Bigwig. I'm the one who hit him.
-You hit him because he was talking about Fiver because I brought it up.
-It's because I have a nasty temper!
-Stop arguing over whose fault it is! ordered Pipkin. It will not make him better.
The rabbits spent the rest of the trip looking after Hazel. Despite their best efforts, he remained unconscious.
A few hours later, Mr Cane heard a loud noise coming from the engine. He did not react to it, as he had frequently been hearing such noises for a few months. However, when he tried to turn onto the small road leading to the farm, nothing happened. He soon realized, much to his horror, that the truck was completely unresponsive. Even the brakes didn't work. The truck kept moving straight ahead, and soon rolled off the road and into the field. He knew it was only a matter of time before he got involved in an accident. As fast as he could, he opened the door and jumped out. He saw the truck crash into a pylon further away, and slowly lean, until it fell on its side.
"At least this happened near the farm" he thought, "so I won't have to walk very far. I just hope the insurance company will pay..."
Meanwhile inside the hrududu, the rabbits placed themselves around Hazel in an attempt to shield him from the vibrations caused by the many bumps in the field. This was mostly successful, until the hrududu fell on its side. They tumbled and fell onto one of the doors, with Hazel on top of them, still unconscious.
-What in Frith's name...muttered Bigwig.
-I lost count of the number of times we were nearly killed by a hrududu, said Hyzenthlay. We should get out of here.
-But to leave, explained Spartina, there has to be a way out of this hrududu.
The door the rabbits were sitting on was closed and locked. The other one, while open, was over them, and it was too far away for them to be able to jump or climb to it.
-If there isn't any way out, we'll have to dig one, decided Blackberry.
-I don't think this substance is diggable, pointed out Bigwig.
-We can at least try, suggested Pipkin.
With that, all the rabbits except Hazel started to scratch the door. Unfortunately, when the truck had fallen on its side, a rock had made a hole in the gasoline tank, and the engine caught fire soon afterwards.
As soon as they saw the flames, the rabbits went tharn. The fire was spreading rapidly, and the smoke would soon cause the air to become unbreathable. Worst of all, it was becoming obvious that it was impossible to dig through the door; they were completely trapped.
-What a ridiculous way to stop running! said Bigwig. After all we've been through, we get killed by a burning hrududu.
-Do not lose hope! shouted Hyzenthlay. This can't possibly be happening. There is a way out of here, we just have to find it.
She smelled intensely, and after several minutes, she finally discovered that, when the hrududu had fallen on its side, the window had broken, and the hole was just large enough for them to go through. Pipkin, Blackberry and Spartina were the first to go out.
Then came the hard task of navigating Hazel through the hole. The others had to twist their bodies to fit through the hole, but Hazel was unable to do so. Bigwig and Hyzenthlay tried to push him, with the others pulling, but they were rapidly losing their strength, as the smoke kept spreading and prevented them from breathing properly. After what felt like forever, they had finally pushed him out, and were able to escape themselves.
The rabbits ran a certain distance, before Bigwig collapsed, unable to carry Hazel anymore.
-That was a close call. I was really afraid we wouldn't make it out of this embleer hrududu. Where are we now? This place looks rather familiar doesn't it?
The others looked around them, and suddenly realized that they were at the bottom of the Down. In their panic, they had not paid attention to their surroundings before.
-We're...back? Blackberry hesitated to say.
-Perhaps the best place where we could be, with Hazel in this state, said Pipkin. Let's get him to the top.
Carrying Hazel upwards was an extreme challenge, almost as hard as carrying him down the stairs. Bluebell, who was at silflay, saw them from a distance, and went underground to tell the others.
-They're back. But there is something wrong. You won't believe it until you see it yourselves.
Nearly all the rabbits in the Honeycomb went outside to see what he was talking about. As they saw the group, they were filled both with excitement and horror. While Hazel and the others had successfully made it back to the warren, the Chief Rabbit was clearly in terrible shape. Several rabbits approached the group and started to smell them, to prove to themselves that this really happening.
-Everyone stay back! ordered Bigwig. Hazel may stop running, we didn't find Fiver and Vilthuril and we brought another rabbit with us. Stay back!
He carried Hazel all the way to the Honeycomb, where he dropped him in the middle of the burrow, still unconscious. Seeing the Chief Rabbit in such a state caused many rabbits to go tharn. Bluebell was the only one who managed to keep his composure.
-It's all my fault, began Bigwig. He learned that Fiver stopped running and...
-Fiver hasn't stopped running, he's right here at the warren.
-If I wasn't so tired right now, I would smack your ears off for making such a rotten joke.
-Oh hello everyone, said Fiver calmly as he arrived in the Honeycomb. What's the matter with Hazel?
Everyone stared at Fiver for a few seconds. Bigwig slowly approached him, and smelled him intensely, before concluding:
-By Frith, it IS him!
As he heard this, Blackberry went completely tharn and fainted.
-Fiver! You're alive! exclaimed Pipkin as he playfully jumped on Fiver's back.
-Was there ever any doubt about that?
-So you're this Fiver they've been searching for? asked Spartina. It's nice to finally meet you after hearing so much about you.
-Fiver, could you please cheer up Hazel? urged Hyzenthlay. That's perhaps the only thing that could save his life.
-I'll do what I can.