Watership Down
by Richard Adams

These are stories about the legendary hero of rabbits, El-ahrairah, and his trusty companion, Rabscuttle — as told by Dandelion to his friends Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Pipkin, and others. Important Lapine (rabbit) words: owsla = guards; fighters, silflay = to graze for food, elil = all natural enemies of rabbits, Frith = the lord Sun, hrududu = any motor vehicle.


6. The Story of the Blessing of El-ahrairah

Why should he think me cruel

Or that he is betrayed?

I’d have him love the thing that was

Before the world was made.

W. B. Yeats A Woman Toung and Old

‘Long ago, Frith made the world. He made all the stars too and the world is one of the stars. He made them by scattering his droppings over the sky and this is why the grass and the trees grow so thick on the world. Frith makes the brooks flow. They follow him as he goes through the sky and when he leaves the sky they look for him all night. Frith made all the animals and birds, but when he first made them they were all the same. The sparrow and the kestrel were friends and they both ate seeds and flies. And the fox and the rabbit were friends and they both ate grass. And there was plenty of grass and plenty of flies, because the world was new and Frith shone down bright and warm all day.

‘Now El-ahrairah was among the animals in those days and he had many wives. He had so many wives that there was no counting them and the wives had so many young that even Frith could not count them and they ate the grass and the dandelions and the lettuces and the clover and El-ahrairah was the father of them all.’ (Bigwig growled appreciatively.) ‘And after a time,’ went on Dandelion, ‘after a time the grass began to grow thin and the rabbits wandered everywhere, multiplying and eating as they went.

‘Then Frith said to El-ahrairah, “Prince Rabbit, if you cannot control your people, I shall find ways to control them. So mark what I say.” But El-ahrairah would not listen and he said to Frith, “My people are the strongest in the world, for they breed faster and eat more than any of the other people. And this shows how much they love Lord Frith, for of all the animals they are the most responsive to his warmth and brightness. You must realize, my lord, how important they are and not hinder them in their beautiful lives.”

‘Frith could have killed El-ahrairah at once, but he had a mind to keep him in the world, because he needed him to sport and jest and play tricks. So he determined to get the better of him not by means of his own great power but by means of a trick. He gave out that he would hold a great meeting and that at that meeting he would give a present to every animal and bird, to make each one different from the rest. And all the creatures set out to go to the meeting-place. But they all arrived at different times, because Frith made sure that it would happen so. And when the blackbird came, he gave him his beautiful song, and when the cow came, he gave her sharp horns and the strength to be afraid of no other creature. And so in their turn came the fox and the stoat and the weasel. And to each of them Frith gave the cunning and the fierceness and the desire to hunt and slay and eat the children of El-ahrairah. And so they went away from Frith full of nothing but hunger to kill the rabbits.

‘Now all this time, El-ahrairah was dancing and mating and boasting that he was going to Frith’s meeting to receive a great gift. And at last he set out for the meeting-place. But as he was going there, he stopped to rest on a soft, sandy hillside. And while he was resting, over the hill came flying the dark Swift, screaming as he went,” News! News! News!” For you know, this is what he has said ever since that day. So El-ahrairah called up to him and said, “What news?” “Why,” said the Swift, “I would not be you, El-ahrairah. For Frith has given the fox and the weasel cunning hearts and sharp teeth and to the cat he has given silent feet and eyes that can see in the dark and they are gone away from Frith’s place to kill and devour all that belongs to El-ahrairah.” And he dashed on over the hills. And at that moment El-ahrairah heard the voice of Frith calling, “Where is El-ahrairah? For all the others have taken their gifts and gone and I have come to look for him.”

‘Then El-ahrairah knew that Frith was too clever for him and he was frightened. He thought that the fox and the weasel were coming with Frith and he turned to the face of the hill and began to dig. He dug a hole, but he had dug only a little of it when Frith came over the hill alone. And he saw El-ahrairah’s bottom sticking out of the hole and the sand flying out in showers as the digging went on. When he saw that, he called out, “My friend, have you seen El-ahrairah, for I am looking for him to give him my gift?” “No,” answered El-ahrairah, without coming out, “I have not seen him. He is far away. He could not come.” So Frith said, “Then come out of that hole and I will bless you instead of him.” “No, I cannot,” said El-ahrairah, “I am busy. The fox and the weasel are coming. If you want to bless me you can bless my bottom, for it is sticking out of the hole.” ’

All the rabbits had heard the story before: on winter nights, when the cold draught moved down the warren passages and the icy wet lay in the pits of the runs below their burrows; and on summer evenings, in the grass under the red may and the sweet, carrion-scented elder bloom. Dandelion was telling it well and even Pipkin forgot his weariness and danger, and remembered instead the great indestructibility of the Rabbits. Each one of them saw himself as El-ahrairah, who could be impudent to Frith and get away with it.

‘Then,’ said Dandelion, ‘Frith felt himself in friendship with El-ahrairah, because of his resourcefulness, and because he would not give up even when he thought the fox and the weasel were coming. And he said, “Very well, I will bless your bottom as it sticks out of the hole. Bottom, be strength and warning and speed for ever and save the life of your master. Be it so!” And as he spoke, El-ahrairah’s tail grew shining white and flashed like a star: and his back legs grew long and powerful and he thumped the hillside until the very beetles fell off the grass-stems. He came out of the hole and tore across the hill faster than any creature in the world. And Frith called after him, “El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.” And El-ahrairah knew then that although he would not be mocked, yet Frith was his friend. And every evening, when Frith has done his day’s work and lies calm and easy in the red sky, El-ahrairah and his children and his children’s children come out of their holes and feed and play in his sight, for they are his friends and he has promised them that they can never be destroyed.’


 

HTML layout and style by Stephen Thomas, University of Adelaide.
Modified by Skip for ESL Bits English Language Learning.