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Bounder and the Waiting Throne- I'MANGRY

I'mangry October 20, 2010 User blog:I'mangry

Bounder faced the huge walling creature boldly, basket in paw. “Well, go on, bite me!’ he challenged. “Come on, I’m waiting. Defend your master’s property!”

Infuriated, the large black dog lunged. Seizing the heavy rib-bone from beside the water-dish, the young cottontail struck a direct blow that rattled the sharp canines. An odd number shattered to the ground. With a silent moan, the black dog shut its lips painfully, sinking to the ground with its head between its paws, exposing an array of deep scars. Bounder regarded him with truculent satisfaction. “There, I suppose you won’t be trying to bite of any our clan again!” And with that, he turned, picked up his basket, and sauntered off. Bounder was not like many rabbits of his breed-those creatures were known to race, hop or scamper away from danger or the odd rustle of a bush. But born and raised in the Incisron Hutch tribe, he was a bold one for his few years. He stalked fearlessly up the narrow path which his clan attempted to claim free in this danger-filled environment. It was duskfall when he reached the small hedge in which his tribe dwelled. It was cleverly enclosed and concealed well in a shrubbery of thick but barren berry bushes. Moving them briskly aside, he emerged into the grassy area. He found a group of small bunnies playing around the low, round hutch.

‘‘Bounner, Bounner, where you been?’’ a tiny grey cottontail squealed as he reached up to tug at the rim of the basket. “You goned for lotsalotsa time, Miss’es Pollene worry ‘bout you!” The toddlings flocked about him, clamoring loudly. Bounder realized he was still wearing the taut face he had worn all the way home from his encounter with the dog. Allowing himself a brief smile, he handed them a plump strawberry each. “I’ve come from bringing food for our tribe. I took quite long a time, didn’t I? Now, go on and play. I have to talk to the others.” “Say, ‘dat my strawberry, F’op!” “No, you had yours, Natra. I saw’d you eat it!” “Gimme ‘dat, it mine!” “No fair, you got TWO strawberry, Sco’ch!” “I found ‘dis one on ‘da groun’ and you din’t.” “Gimme ‘dat!” “Not your strawberry, it mines now.” “Want my strawberreee-EEE!’’

“Young cottontail, where have you been? We’ve had everyone excited over you!” Entering the kitchen nonchalantly, Bounder emptied the contents of the basket upon the floor. “I went to gather food for us, Mistress Rosedew,” he informed her casually. “There are fresh onions, tomatoes and strawberries. They should last for a few days.” The elder cottontail shook her head, near despair. ‘’You risked your life for a few tomatoes and strawberries? Honestly, Bounder, if you keep challenging that great black dog, you’ll never live to be a grown Incisron!” The young cottontail grinned humorously. ‘’Putting up a battle for a few strawberries, is it? Just look at those bunnies coming in!’’ Scotch came scampering in with all the speed that his fat little stomach would allow him, his mouth stained with bright red pulp as he shouted, ‘’Here she come, look out!” Natra [the smallest of the baby hares] stormed in, almost tearful and clutching a broken stick. ‘‘Mistress Rosedew, Sco’ch took my strawberry and eat it all up!’ Scotch stuck out his tongue from behind the kitchenmaid’s body. “I di’nt take your strawberry, you noo-noo, I pick it up from ‘da groun’ and eat it, so ‘dere!’’ “Noo-noo yourself!’ “Triple noo-noo head!” “Noo-noo pellet-head!” Mistress Chrome the Moptail came over from the fire and managed to wrestle the stick from Natra’s grasp. “Both of you are quadruple-noo-noo pellet-heads, and there’s an end to it. Scotch, what have I told you about swiping food?” Scotch muttered indignantly, “Din’t swipe nothing, found it on ‘da ground.’’ “Found it on the ground, teased Natra when she said it was hers, and ran from her after you ate it, didn’t you?” Little Scotch, who was naughty but very much truthful, gazed up at her with widened eyes. “How you know?’’ he remarked, aghast. “I know you, Minister Scotch. Behave yourself or that strawberry in your plump little stomach will be your last meal for the day.’ The bunny hopped away, muttering, ‘‘No won’t, you not my Mama.” From behind her second strawberry, Natra stuck her tongue out. Mistress Rosedew shook her head smilingly. “Quadruple noo-noo pellet-heads, is it? Shame upon you, Chrome- an elderly Moptail like you, joining into the name exchanges of infants!” “Elderly! I should say not compared to you. You’re bending up like that old fern out there!” “Mother Chrome, not I. You are the only one deserving of my calling you ‘mistress’!’ “Well, show some respect and call me mistress. I have never been the poor old widow who was YOUR mother!” Neither noticed young Bounder hunched upon the floor, quaking with silent laughter.


Barely a dozen residents of the tribal hedge crowded in the outcrop of the kitchen near the glowing fire. The main course of the late evening meal was a large, round vegetable pastry and cocktail salad, served with chamomile pulp. Before the dinner started, Bounder was asked to give a full report of what he had done, and he gladly obliged. “I found the dog sleeping by its water dish, so I began to load the vegetables into the basket. He heard the plants rustling, and he stood up and growled at me. Then we started the stare-down.” Pollene, Stover and Natra’s mother, rose abruptly to feel him over with her paw. “Did he bite you?”

“No, he tried to, but I rang a few of his teeth out.” His voice bore a note of pride.

“Rung a few of his teeth out!’’ the female hare exclaimed, her eyes wide with horror. “Haven’t you been forbidden to draw closely to that dog? You might have gotten killed!’’

“Now, there, Mistress Pollene.” It was an older young Incisron-a tall, lean but athletic hare. “Bounder meant but well. If not for him, we might not have been sitting here to eat this eve. But the elders are right, Bounder. You are not to approach the black one again.”

Bounder drooped his ears and gazed sheepishly at the table. He knew that Steal Shan, son of the late Chief, was right, for he had entered the garden with older ones before and was more experienced. He did not know now whether to be pleased for having confronted the dog and come back safely with food for his tribe or ashamed for having risked his life and caused everyone worry. Soon, though, jollity broke out across the table as Mistress Rosedew’s deep vegetable pie was served-of course, after two tiny infants were dug out of it, all covered to their long ears in dark gravy. Forgetting his embarrassment, Bounder hungrily crunched through his strawberry almond salad. No matter how ravenous they were, rabbits were usually expected to take small rapid nibbles at everything. Smiling fondly, Steal pushed his plate over to him. “Help yourself, friend. You deserve it.” When Bounder reached over to take the dish, however, Steal was nowhere in sight. The food looked untouched and still clouded with steam_ temptingly fragrant with the warm smell of gravy and freshly-baked crust. No time for that, however. Leaving the baby hare twins Stover and Natra to plunge into it, Bounder abandoned the table and wandered outside the hutch. He found Steal perched upon a mossy stone, dangling both feet. “Steal? Aren’t you hungry? Why…?” Steal did not turn, but merely motioned with his paw. “Come over here, little one, and I will tell you a tale I have never forgotten.” Bounder walked over and seated himself beside him on the rock. A cool summer evening rustled past. The sound of laughter and clattering dishes inside grew fainter as the young cottontail’s mind drew fully to attend the narration that was to begin. It was then that Steal began his tale. “An amount of years almost twice your age ago, I was a mere infant in this hedge, son of the former Chief of this tribe. We lived happily and peacefully. The full-growns and youth of our tribe could freely enter the large open garden and bring back food without threat or harm. “When the black one came, however, there was a challenge. At first we were afraid to approach the garden and fed only off of grasses and leaves. But when Mother died of…” here Steal’s voice strained like a thrum, and he coughed slightly before continuing. “When Mother died,” he went on somewhat stiffly, “followed by Mistress Rosedew’s parents the same eve, my father marched off for food, leaving me under the care of Pollene. Pollene was a mere young beauty of barely my current age {16}, but she nursed me till my father returned in the morn. There was scarce but a fleshy core of him left, limping and sagging under the weight of a large oversized basket loaded with vegetables for our tribe.” Steal’s voice had softened and sounded even a little sad. “Later that eve he was buried far off where I could not see. The elders would tell me he and the others were gone on a long journey to find the best fruits for us-especially for me. But when I was about your age, I roamed off from the hedge as I’d often been told not to do, and I discovered his grave. Marked with the seal of our clan-two sharp teeth crossed with an X-which only the tribal chief may wear. “Only sheer anger boosted up my reckless bravado. I stormed up to the sleeping dog and raked his head deeply with my claws. Rising, he yelped and attacked, but I fled from the garden in terror. When I returned, Pollene scolded me for being so foolish. There was none but her mate, the former chief archer of the tribe, to remind her of my orphany. Raaj often defended me on account of my shown courage through the calamity I’d seen as son of the Chief. He was temporary Chief of the tribe for a while, till, a short time after your father, the exile for tribal disgrace since he was your age, Jeijo the Overbold, brought you here as an infant, he and Raaj took me to the garden. I was astonished, however, when they handed me a basket and told me gather any vegetables that I pleased. “I know that they did not intend to endanger me. They had confronted the dog silently behind my back while I was piling the basket with mushrooms and the largest russet potatoes. However, by the time I turned to show them proudly my large load, the huge black dog was making its lunge. “Little one, I saw tragedy before my very eyes!”


Bounder gradually opened his eyes to swarms of blunt morning light. Slowly he sat up and gazed around. His small straw-cushioned sleeping trench at the other side of the room was abandoned and empty. Abruptly he realized that he was in Steal’s trench- larger than his own, and, as usual, not dressed with a clean white sheet, but with only Steal’s own faded blue overcoat as he preferred to sleep.

Climbing a little dazedly out of bed, he began also to realize the rumbling of his stomach. He went out into the little shallow where the spring ran off and scrubbed quickly before returning into the Hutch.

In the kitchen, Pollene was trying to keep up with the toddlings (including her own twins}, while Chrome was in the back assessing bedrooms, and Rosedew indulging her beloved culinaries.

“Then we have roasted Floppy for breakfast!” “Why, Stover, you mustn’t say such things!” Little Natra echoed her mother’s gentle admonishment. “Yah, ‘Tover, not say such things!” “Scotch, out of the dough! You are setting a bad example for....Flop! Your foot is one of your paws. Speed, put the coal spade down before you burn a hole in the floor. Oh, Bounder, there you are.” By the relief in the female hare’s tone, Bounder knew what he was going to be asked to do next. “Need some help, Mistress Pollene?” “Thank you, Bounder. I suppose I’d best steal off to help with the house in that case.” Being the youngest one of the tribe besides the bunnies, and with there being a present absence of little female Incisrons to help the mistresses with the bunnies, Bounder, of course, was expected to do the job. He pried the two little hare twins from Pollene’s waist to allow her to go and help Chrome, as a tiny cottontail, covered in dough, clambered upon him. He managed to hold them still while he scrubbed their faces.

Mistress Rosedew was occupied with the carrot and turnip loaves, humming in her bright, sweet summer voice as she did so. She busily molded long, large loaves of dough. Then she chopped thick, even wedges, rolled each slice in flour, and sprinkled salt on top. While Pollene herded the bunnies out, Bounder helped by chopping the roots into tiny pieces. Then they sandwiched them evenly between the wedges and placed a dab of butter upon them before rolling the scrap dough into large sheets. These they tucked and fitted over the sandwiched loaves, carefully, ridged along with the edge of a knife, rolled them in flour and dabbed more butter before they slid them into the oven. 

“And now,” Mistress Rosedew announced, “I will start the chamomile tea. And you, little Bounder, will run along. Steal is waiting for you outside of the hedge.” The elder glanced up to find herself looking at midair. Bounder had been gone a half-second after her last statement. Steal stifled a smile as his cottontail friend skidded up to him. “So, I come here to wait for you an hour and a half before, and now comes the young warrior flying about as if in a great hurry. Did you sleep well, my friend?”

Bounder’s ears straightened with indignance till he saw that the hare was merely joking. Steal’s expression became serious. “So you remember, little one.” Bounder nodded, and Steal drew him closer. “Now will I profound upon the history of your father.” But before he could even begin, Mistress Rosedew’s voice called out from the kitchen, “Breakfast!” “Nille!” “Bounder!” The small cottontail cowered in the severe gaze. Steal softened, and stroked the tender grey ears. “I know. But warriors must keep their strength. You amongst others have eaten little in days. Come.” “But Steal!” Bounder began to protest, when he found himself tucked firmly beneath Steal’s strong arm and carried inside.

Steal set him down safely in a seat before the mistresses could notice his unyielding capture of the young cottontail. He sat at near angle from him, watching him devouring into the food. “Good Bounder. Good. Eat, and I will tell you the job that I have for you.” Through a mouthful of chopped fruit, Bounder repeated, quite loudly, “A ‘DOB?”

Steal gave a slight smile. “What is a dob?’’  

Embarrassed, Bounder hastily swallowed his food. “I will tell you,” Steal assured him. “Come to the back after you have eaten.”

Bounder sat before the plate which he had so naively decked with food. His gaze was sullenly indifferent. He MUST find out what it was that Steal wanted…

After a few minutes, Bounder rose abruptly, abandoning the food to the bunnies, who would doubtless take care of it. Slipping from the table, he stole to the back room.

“All right, Steal,” he informed him briskly, “I’ve eaten. Now will you tell me what you wanted me to do?” Steal gave him an unusually cold gaze. The poor young cottontail lowered his burning ears, the warmth draining from his cheeks and trembling paws. “Steal… I…” Steal shook his head sadly at him. “Look at yourself. You have gone through the pains of deceit and it has resulted in a fever for you. The first thing that anyone wishing to serve another must have, is honesty.” “Steal… I…” The young hare smiled a little, and touched his paw. “It is all right, my friend. I understand. A warrior you wish, and a warrior you will be- starting now.” The light returned to the dark eyes. “Now will I tell you what I want you to do. Stop all this head-bobbing!’’ Bounder flinched, and Steal continued. “What you have brought will last us but a very short day. That is why I must go out, with Lark and Haver, for more food. As of yet, while I am gone you must keep order in the tribe. Do you understand?” “Yes, Steal!” Steal nodded grimly. “Good, then.” As he turned to leave, Bounder suddenly remembered something. “It’s not warrior-like to nod, Steal!’ Steal turned on him, his eyes glinting like the edge of a blade. “What’s that?” “Oh, nothing- nothing!” “Very well.” The tall figure turned, once more, out of the room. “Now get to work!”

Bounder flinched at the sharpness in the older one’s voice


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               & nbsp;            



The first to start with would naturally be the babies, because, of course, they were always getting into something. Before he entered the kitchen, Bounder peered around the doorway. A large strawberry almond cake sat in a beautiful mass upon the floor. Mistress Rosedew had gone out, apparently to fetch something. The bunnies had seized this opportunity for their raid. Now Bounder seized his. “Drop the strawberries, each of you!” Scotch plopped back on his fluffy tail, still clutching a strawberry nearly large as his plump stomach. Striding in with that purposeful transe befitting an official, Bounder eyed them severely. “You heard the orders. I am under the word of Steal son of the Chief of the Hutch tribe, and you will answer to him for your out-heinous crimes!” The small bunnies exchanged looks. “Yes, I mean it. And Steal will, too!” Loud piercing wails followed his threat. Bounder glanced from face to face in a despondence of helplessness. Whatever did Steal do or say that caused the infants to dread him so? He was always awfully gentle with them- and with him most of the time. “….All right, you all,” he announced, his tone more pleasant. “Come along now. Go and sit still on the edge of the spring while I mend the cake.’’ Much to his relief, the bunnies obeyed with no protest. As quickly but carefully as he could, Bounder dabbed honey-and-carrot cream till the cake looked once more a large, firm mountain, peaked with pale yellow and ringed evenly, once more, with strawberry halves. Then Bounder slipped out. The young cottontail almost uprooted himself when he saw the horrifying scene. Many pairs of tiny paws thrashed helplessly through the surface of the spring shallow. Their panicked cries, muffled with the water, could barely be heard. With scarcely a thought, Bounder flung himself over the edge of the shallow. Some he hauled up by ears, others by tails and legs. {Not it mattered much to a bunch of hysterical toddlings.} Natra finally coughed up enough water to cry out, “’Tover, he gone!” Bounder’s heart sank. Little Stover? Had he gone to the bottom and- Rushing toward the pond, he dove straight downward. His lungs strained inwardly; he regretted not having thought to take a breath down with him. Full of dread, Bounder came back to ground. He belched water, corked his ears out and sobbed in the air. Stover? Missing? In the water? “Oh, why did you all have to do such a foolish thing?’ he burst out, through his distress. “You’re soaked to the bone now, catching the cold. Leaving unmentioned that Stover is gone, perhaps even drowned to death!” These words may have been better left unmentioned. Natra flung herself upon the ground in tears. “Oh, ‘Tover!”


“Stover Shan Raaj! What have you done? Where have you been?” The small baby hare glanced up, his whiskers and fur matted with cream. He took a large bite of strawberry. “Why, in here, ‘course. Here I been.” The fact that the bunny was right- it had been a silly question- only added to Bounder’s undescriptable anger. Despite his grey fur, his cheeks burned deep scarlet, his ears stood up, and his paws clenched. He kept opening his mouth, but finding no words to fit his feelings. “Strawberry?” Stover blinked innocently. The flame of fury left him with a gusty sigh. Where ARE Mistress Chrome and Pollene when I need them?

“You’ve destroyed it, little one,” Bounder informed him in a mournful, weary tone. “You have destroyed the cake that was meant for all of our hutch.” Stover lifted his eyes, remorse curtaining his face. His lip trembled. Scotch piped up. “Yah, ‘Tover you bad little hare!” Natra rose and gave him a watery glare. “You not got no right to talk, Minister Sco’ch, I sit by shallow being good ‘n’ you push me in it. You bad!” In the spotlight now, the little cottontail twitched his whiskers. “Well…..well, it was F’op who tol’ me to!” “I never, you pellethead!” “Shape o’ birdmess!” “Silence! None of you have right to talk. You ought to be utterly ashamed.” The bunnies fell into an abashed silence as they stood along, shamefaced. Stover muttered, under his breath, “I hungry, need sumfin’ eat.’

“There is no excuse for this. {Yes, Natra, I know it wasn’t your fault.} But the rest of you have behaved outrageously. Like myself now- shouting at little ones. Criminal, isn’t it?”

Everyone but a stern Natra burst into laughter. “Yes, very, very dreadful naughty, Bounder!”


“Oh, Bounder, there you are. I sensed you were having a bit of trouble and so I thought I might_” Mistress Rosedew stopped short to gawk at the scenery. It was a colossal beauty, five layers of height, swirled with floral patterns of pure white sugar cream, wreathed in summer honeysuckle and laced and laced with webs of dark honey. On the top smallest layer lay a ring of honey-carrot-cream globs. Speed { though a baby hare she was} possessed lovely artistic skills, and she had just finished laying a small paw-carved pit full of bright red honey-glazed berries to form two beautiful raspberry shapes- both about the size of a large strawberry. Leaping between the cottontail mistress and the cake, Flop brandished a spoon at her. “No cake-stealin’ hares allowed in ‘dis kishen. You a hare or a’wabbit?” The pink insides of Stover’s ears flushed deeply. Bounder silenced Flop with a look. Too late. “You mean that you_” Mistress Rosedew was aghast. “Don’t fret, mistress. These have learned their lessons, haven’t we?” The bunnies nodded vigorously, especially the main culprits. Mistress Rosedew looked as if she were about to say something, but her eyes roamed over to the large cake. “It’s beautiful,” she remarked at last, with a sigh of contentment. ‘‘Just wonderful. Simply gorgeous.” Bounder herded all of the little rabbits into a pot of warm water. “You will have to bathe before Mistresses Chrome and Pollene return. Now no more mention of naughty cake-messers, spring-bullies who push into water, or worrying anyone for the rest of the eve!”


Steal soon returned while Mistress Rosedew was sorting through the scant remains of Bounder’s own garden trip. He, accompanied by Haver the stately young Moptailed hare of about eighteen, and Lark { a stolid youth of about twelve years I.C..}, toted basketfuls of peppers, wild onions, greens, tomatoes, strawberries and other summer produce, accompanied by some grain they had located along the hedge. Bounder noticed that some of the shadow had lifted from Lark’s dark eyes; however, dominating that in Bounder’s mind was the dangerous glint in Steal’s own eyes. “Why, Steal, Lark and Haver. You have arrived just in time!” Gratefully Mistress Rosedew took the baskets. She emptied the grain kernels upon the floor and began bearing into them with a rough chunk of brick. “Here, let me do that, mistress,” Bounder offered, in attempt to divert attention from himself. “Oh, you needn’t, young Bounder. You’ve been doing quite a bit for the day. Sit and rest your paws.” At that moment Steal lifted his eyes and landed them sharply upon Bounder. The small grey ears blushed. Now Steal was back, he had hoped for an easy escape back to being just plain, flighty little Bounder…. “So…” Steal beckoned him over with his paw. “Did all go well? Were there any problems?” “Well…a few,’’ Bounder admitted, watching Scotch and Stover out of the corner of his eye. They both appeared quite uneasy. “A few bunnies sitting on the cake, getting themselves wet, the things that bunnies do. But I handled it.” “Weren’t you to look after the entire tribe?” Bounder’s throat rose in a gulp. ‘’There was noone else to look after, just me with the_” BOOM! Startled, Bounder leapt back. “Just you and some BUNNIES?! Why didn’t you go out and seek the others? Elderly ones like Mistresses Chrome and Rosedew, they might have been being attacked by fearsome hawks and too frail to fight back!” The indignant protests of the mistresses were lost on Bounder as he sat, head lowered, hot tears of shame trickling down his cheeks. A warrior he was to be, and couldn’t even keep order… There was a paw upon his shoulder. Bounder hesitated, then lifted his head. His eyes met that softened of Steal, who spoke to him in his gentle voice, which seemed he had not heard in ages, though was but one eve. “Well, son of your father, I hope that this has helped you to learn something about being a warrior and protecting your tribe.”

At the memory of the previous tears, against that morning’s fanaticism, left Bounder stunned with embarrassment. 

Steal pat his head before turning away. “Well, it does look as if our bunnies are being unusually good this eve. Clean and well-behaved. Almost hard to believe, is it not, Haver?” “Cleanly scrubbed, sitting nicely, without one shout or fidget.” Haver shook his head. ‘Have they been this good throughout the day?” Stover’s lip trembled. “Well…well…Boun’ner not been good. He say mean things to us!’

“Ahhh.” Steal turned an eye towards him. “So you have been saying mean things to little ones here. Not very professional.” “Steal!’ Bounder was growing indignant.

‘So…What kind of mean things has he been saying to you?’

“ Well…’’ Speed mused “… um…ah…um….” “Scotch push me in water,” Natra burst out. “Naughty little cottytail!”

“He pick on ‘Tover, Mother!” Haver shook his head. “Whatever happened to our nice, quiet little ones? They seem so noisy now!’’

Immediately here was a hush amongst the bunnies. 

“That’s better.” Mistress Pollene lifted one of the twins to her face. “My, how nice and clean my little ones smell!” Flop scrambled up her side. “Look at the cake, Miss’es Pollene!” Steal nodded, his face covered with mock grim seriousness. “And I think I know what will help them to learn their full lesson later on this eve!’’


“Oh, Steal,’’ Bounder wailed, covering his face with both paws and ears, ‘‘how could you? It’s simply heartless!” Steal watched the bunnies happily scrambling up the side of the cake, sliding down in furrows of cream. He chuckled. ‘‘It does not much harm them. It merely teaches them what they must learn.” Bounder turned away. He could scarce bear the sight of the beautiful honeysuckle mountain being demolished. “It seems great fun at sight,” Steal continued, placing his paw upon the young cottontail’s head. ‘’What a pity for the growing of us from innocent bunnies into adulthood. But we have no time. As of now we must prepare for the feast.” “A feast?” “Well, it is a feast and a festival at the same,” Mistress Rosedew admitted, as she began arranging and putting away the food. “Without you young Incisrons, we would never have enough food for the feast. Including you, young Bounder!” She glanced up to find herself praising air. “Bounder? Bounder! Oh, Steal, please go and get your little friend!” “Bounder, that is not the way of a warrior. Did you hear me? Cut that out this instant, or I’ll never leave you in charge of the bunnies!” “Temper-temper, Steal! Remember- you should never say mean things to little ones!”


Breakfast was brief and simple next morn. Afterwards, Mistress Rosedew got straight to work in the kitchen. As he helped the cottontail mistress mix a dough of barley and cinnamon, Bounder could not help but to wonder, as he had never attended a feast before.

“What feast is it, Mistress Rosedew?’

“It is to be the feast of the Giant Carrot!” “Giant Carrot!” Bounder’s eyes widened. “Is it really giant? How big is it?” Mistress Chrome spread her paws out as far as they could go. “Almost thick as three russets. It seems ages since I’ve cooked for a feast. Years ago, we would have feasts every year. Our Chief was here, and it was before the black dog came, of course. We had a tremendous feast amongst our tribe a while after Steal was born...” Mistress Rosedew interrupted as she shredded a carrot and a radish into the dough. “There were dozens of Incisrons then- adults and young, and my dear Shaamen… Between us, Chrome and I, we conjured up all sorts of wonderful dishes, and Pollene helped to decorate them with flowers of spring. And amongst us all, we ate the carrot, candied in maple. Our Chief was holding his little one, kissing his mate, and all were happy…” Her voice trailed off for a moment. Then she emerged briskly. “But now we must continue our preparations. Our feast will be shared with another tribe of our clan, which will make it better than the last.” Bounder reflected as he and the kitchenmaid mixed the batter for the second barley and carrot cake. Steal had been the son of the Chief of the tribe. Now he was sixteen I.C., eight years older than himself, and old enough and definitely wise enough to take the position as Chief. The babies were now seated upon the floor, happily rolling together a large round sheet of dough. Grunting dramatically, Flop and Stover stumbled over, bearing a large tin pan between them. Letting it rim to the floor, they dropped beside it, panting. “Whew! ‘Dat was hard work, took two strong ‘Cisrons like us to do ‘da job!” Natra nodded approvingly. “Nice big pan, jus’ the right size for ev’yone in ‘da clan get some. I spread the butter, Speed and Sco’ch lay the dough out.” As the hare twin scrubbed a stub of butter along the walls of the pan, Scotch stuck out his tongue defiantly. “You not boss me, you not my Mama!” Speed prodded his round stomach with the handle of a thresh knife. “Now you gonna help me lay the dough out?” she prompted. With a whimper, Scotch took one end of the dough. “I was goin’ to, I was goin’ to, you not gotta bully me like that!” Steal emerged into the kitchen. He smiled when he saw the babies perched around the edge of the dish. The insides of the crust were spread with a thin, fine coat of butter and honey. “A nice crust like that, all empty. What are you waiting for, little ones?” Natra gazed up at him with earnest brown eyes. “We wait for the carrit, Minister Steal!”

“The carrot?” Steal put on pretense of bemusement. ‘’There are plenty of carrots in the pantry.”

“The giant carrit, Minister Steal, the great giant one!” The young hare smiled apologetically. “The giant carrot is to be baked or stewed for the feast. I am afraid that you will have to find something other for your pastry.” “Oh…” Natra and the others looked crestfallen, so Mistress Rosedew presented them with a large basket of small ripened plums and a long pitting fork each. “Why don’t you try these? They are fresh and sweet. Do not worry about their pricking themselves, Steal, they’re ball-pointed.” Happily pulling the stone from the center of the plum, Scotch started the game. “Yowch! You chuck another stone at me and I pit your ‘tummick, Minister Sco’ch!” Speed pooled the bottom of the crust with cream. The babies squealed with delight as they sent the plums flying into the crust. The air filled with the heavy fragrance of rich barley. Mistress Rosedew drew out one of the cakes, inserted the pie, and shut the oven with a sigh. “My! It is going to be a lot of work. It is a good thing that the others will be arriving soon to help!” She said this, but they all knew how she loved the kitchen. Yet it would only be those who had lived before the black dog came who would know her increased love of it when others were there with her….


Bounder was not accustomed to being around anyone at playing age besides the babies. He was ecstatic about meeting Lope, a small jackrabbit barely a year younger than himself. When Bounder reached out to shake his paw, however, the young jackrabbit took off at a speedy blurred zig-zag across the hedge. It was difficult for Bounder to keep up with him. “What did you do that for?” he panted crossly, when he finally caught up with him. “All I wanted to do was talk.” The newcomer grinned till his sharp front teeth were exposed. He did not appear the least bit breathless. “Well, they don’t call me Lope for nothing!” Bounder caught Steal’s reforming look from the corner of his eye. He grinned back good-naturedly. Lope, however, appeared not to notice. He was staring wide-eyed in a different direction. “Who is that?’’ he breathed in admiration. Bounder watched in pride as the tall hare strode past, the large joints of his strong limbs working as he did so. “That,” he informed him, ‘’is my friend Steal, son of the former Chief of our tribe. And yesterday, he marched right up to a big black dog, gave him a good pounding, and returned with not a scar!” Carratree drew in a gasp. “Did he really? How dreadfully brave of him!” Carratree was the child of the Chief of the nomad tribe, a small, lithe, pearly pink cottontail {an odd color of fur for an animal] with a fluffy white tail that bobbed slightly as she edged bashfully over to them. Her dark eyes glistened in the sunlight, and Bounder managed to keep his cool stature in her presence. “Oh, it was nothing for Steal Shan,” he responded casually, trying not to gawk at the awed shimmer in the starry eyes. “Once they asked the older ones to remove the boulder from the bottom of the spring. It took them a whole hour, but finally- FI-NALLY –‘’ “Did he get it?” both others prompted eagerly. “Well…no,’’ Bounder replied lamely. Then he drove back up. “But Steal came the closest to getting it out, even if Haver is two years older. Steal will become Chief one day, I know he will!” “Excuse me, but why isn’t he Chief now?” Carratree’s question placed him in a mote. “Well… I don’t know,” Bounder finally replied. ‘’He has right to the position, though. He’s the son of the Chief, who’s now dead.”

Soon, they were called over for the festive lunch. As they sat around in the green grass, Bounder could not resist eyeing Carratree from across the picnic ring. She was trilling a high laugh as she chattered with Lupine (a bright yellow jackrabbit} and helped to carry steaming dishes to set upon the ground. Lope presented Bounder with a sample of coarse-looking bread and a thick pale wedge. “It’s saguaro cake and barley cheese. Mother and the other mistresses of our tribe learned to make it from the ones in Jack Cavern. Here, try it.” The cake was delicious, soft, crumbly and sweet, and the barley cheese tasted hard and nutty. Bounder had to admit he’d never tasted anything so like Cavern food. The babies came out, stumbling beneath the weight of their large pie. When they set it down in the center, Scotch reached his paw across, but Natra rapped it sharply. “Guesth’ firth’, Sco’ch you greedy gummydrop. Haf’ you no manner at all!” Steal nodded approvingly as he cut two large slices for Lope and Carratree. “Very good, Natra. How does it taste, little friends?” The dark eyes twinkled with delight. “Simply delicious, minister!” Lope took his time, sinking both front teeth into a large halved plum. The juice streamed through the crust as he savoured the taste of fruit. Fresh fruit, salads, baked fruit pies, cold fruit drinks… He was used to coarse Cavern cakes and breads, and on the trail, pulped desert plants, prickly cacti pears and other things. Despite the temptingness of the maple crumb pudding, plum pie and peach salad heaped upon his dish, Bounder was not eating. His fork hovered in midair, he watched with gaping mouth as Steal hungrily shoveled through his food, one minute in a mountain of wild cherry cream, the next into a walnut pudding crust, and then sucking down a river of green apple cider. At least it made up for the meals he’d been deserting. When Bounder glanced down again, however, his own plate was no longer before him. He turned abruptly as he felt a massive wall bump against him. “Oh- ‘scuse me_” A huge, stately jackrabbit towered above him. Bounder cringed beneath his fierce glare. “Watch it, pimplet. Don’t you know who you’re bumpin’ into? The strongest, toughest one in the Incisron clan!’’ “Sol, stop showing off!” Lope told him. “We’re at_” He jumped as he found himself nose-to-nose with the husky jackrabbit. “We’re at what? Huh? Huh? Didn’t think so!” And so saying, he opened his mouth wide, emptied Bounder’s plate into it, and munched loudly while all in the circle watched wide-eyed. ‘’Mmm –mm-{ munch-munch }- dee-leesh-yous. What’s the matter, pimplet?” he prompted in a mocking voice. ‘‘You want it back? Well, I’ll_” No sooner than he gotten this part out, did a swift fist collide with his bulging cheek. Mushed food flew out into the air, at the same moment hot blood trickled down his face. Sol stood, stunned, clutching his cheek, as Steal stood, firm and unwavering, bearing his icy-cold eyes into that of the jackrabbit.

Bounder held his breath as he watched. At first he thought it was his imagination when the hard half-forced glare in Sol’s eyes began to smart. Long ears drooping, he let tears of anger and humiliation roll down his cheeks.

Reaching over, Steal placed his paw upon the wounded spot. ‘’So you may be the strongest of your tribe,” he told him gently. “But only over the weak. And the weak are those who are played by mere fear. Those who are physically weak but defy the strong through fear are the truly strong in heart. But those who progress in weakness without fear but without plan, are the merely reckless. Those who are powerful but fearful are the truly weak, the cowards, the ones who only prey upon those physically weaker than they. I hope that you have learned a lesson, my bold friend, as have I. Never judge by the looks of physical weakness. Defy the strong and support the weak. Therefore, forgive me, my friend, for playing on your weaknesses.” With that, Steal turned, took Bounder by one paw, Lope by the other, and, followed by cheers and shouts of admiration, led them into the kitchen for the replenishment of food.

“Oh, Steal,” Lope burst out enthusiastically, ‘‘you were great! You should have seen yourself. You came right up- and you said- POW! Right in his coon-pouch. And I don’t know about all the other crazy stuff you said, but_” Stifling a smile, Steal gently placed his paw over the young jackrabbit’s rambling mouth. “Hush all that, little one. I did not like to do such thing to your brother, and you should be ashamed for being pleased that I did so.” “Brother?” Bounder stared hard at little Lope. Lope and Sol were nothing alike. While Lope was small, speedy and eager, Sol was big, swaggering and haughty. Well- at least he had been before Steal put him to humiliation in front of all his tribe. Strongest in the clan, indeed!

“Now,” Steal spoke sternly as they approached the kitchen, “I’ll hear no more of this boasting about who is strongest and whose lineage is most noble, for it will soon give off a bad shadow of our tribe.” Lope shrugged. “Your shadow didn’t look too bad to me.” “It gives them the impression that we of our tribe judge and favor by lineage,” Steal explained patiently. “We will not have some bullying others whom they consider weak. No, Bounder, you are not of the weak. You merely used wisdom in refraining from fighting when you have choice. As you left off the recklessness expected of you, I had no alternative but to deal him a blow. Do you understand?” Bounder nodded. Lope was more reluctant. “Yes, I understand, but… I still don’t see what that has to do with your shadow.” Steal’s look was cold as a blade. “Are we done with shadows yet?” he prompted. “But, Minister Steal, I still don’t understand_”

“Never mind the shadows, little one!”

“…..Oh.” When Steal had gone over to wash the blood from his paws, Lope whispered to Bounder under his breath, “Your Steal’s got a voice like thunder. I don’t blame him for being so quiet, or he’d make the hutch vibrate!” Forgetting his shame at not having confronted the former bully, Bounder felt a gush of pride through him. “That’s my friend Steal for you!”


Steal of Thunder….Steal of Thunder….. The name kept churning through Bounder’s mind as he roamed the outside of the hedge. He savored the sound of the title, but did not determine that Steal would. Did Steal really have a voice like thunder? He thought back to when he had snapped at Lope earlier, fully shouted at him yesterday. Had the BOOM! really been Steal’s paw going down upon the table? But he had not really been shouting in anger, Bounder reminded himself. But was it an offense to have a voice like thunder? What would Steal say about it? And, most important of all- was it just Lope’s and Bounder’s imaginations that Steal had a voice like thunder?

Taking a deep breath, Bounder cast out a full, deep roar. “I am Steal of Thunder! I defy the strong and support the weak! Beware, all you tyrants, of Incisron clan or outsiders, I will deal with you! I give no favor!” He had not noticed Lope beside him until he heard his giggling. He glanced up to find the small jackrabbit perched on the rock at his side. “Not quite like Steal’s. You need a deeper voice.” Bounder sat down on the rock. “Yes, and Steal is always quiet, so that is why he sounds like thunder when he raises his voice.” Dusk had fallen over the hedge. Laughter and festivities carried on inside.

“Bounder? Lope? Why are you out here?” Bounder sat back, gazing into the glossy black eyes reflecting through the dark. He was too stunned to speak. “Um… ah… I…” Smoothing her skirt of yucca blooms, Carratree sat upon the ground. ‘’The festival is still going. Aren’t you going to join it?’’ Eager to impress, Lope leapt upon his feet. “Lissen to this, Carratree-‘I am Steal of Thunder! Tribe or outsiders, I give no favo-o-o-O-O-R!” The pink bunny jumped at the roar. Emerging from his former state, Bounder frowned disapprovingly. “Why do you always mention all the violent parts, Lope? Couldn’t you have mentioned the part where he also supports the weak?” Bounder did not know why, but Carratree started to giggle. He glared over at Lope, who grinned, pleased to have gotten attention.


Finally, the first course of the festive supper was laid. Despite all the various dishes surrounding it, one in particular stood out- a large carrot, baked soundly in maple. A slim young brown hare of the Nomad tribe, a few years younger than Steal was, was called to give a short speech.

“….And that’s where I spotted it,” he concluded in his bashful voice. ‘’I buried the carrot beneath a stone. Then I ran as fast as I could to tell our friends, Steal and Haver, that there would be a feast this year… Anyhow, I would like to just like to thank all of our friends for this wonderful feast, and I hope it will be twice as well next year_” “Oh, get on with it!” Everyone turned towards the boisterous speaker. “I’m almost half-starved, too, and if I’m to retrieve my position as strongest in the clan I need my energy, you know!” Sol halted as Steal fixed him with a bone-chilling stare. “It is so. Eat, my friend, and learn to use your strength to defend your tribe. Only then will you gain their true respect.” The Chief of the Nomad tribe nodded approvingly. “I could not have said it better myself. No need to say a word, Mistress Shale. Steal here has taken care of him.” The bashful young hare who had been speaking blushed to the tips of his ears, and Steal motioned for him to sit down. Sol looked as if he were about to say something, but a pierce of pain from his bruised cheek silenced him. He merely took his seat. At once everyone began chattering, exchanging jokes and laughing. Bounder topped his portion of baked carrot with thick cream before he tasted a large bite. It was sweet and warm. The food nearly went cold on his tongue as he sighted Carratree across the table. She was enthusiastically nibbling through a sweet carrot muffin. When she caught Bounder’s gaze, however, she lowered her head, plastering her pink ears over her eyes.

An older young hare from the Nomad tribe grinned at them. “It looks as if one of our young is in a tiz-zy!’’ Indignantly Bounder turned upon him. ‘’I am not in a tizzy!” “Of course you aren’t, dear Bounder.” Mistress Pollene’s tone was gentle, but it bore an undertone of amusement. Little Stover wiggled his long ears. “Boun’ner in a tizzy…. Boun’ner in a tizzy!” This was too much for Bounder. Rising from his seat, he stalked over, pinned the tiny baby by the tips of his ears, and lifted him painfully from his seat. His voice elevated through the hutch. ‘’Am I in a tizzy now, little one? Am I? Answer me! Do I still look like I am in a tizzy? Do I sound like I’m in a tizzy? Do I need to improve my voice? DO I? IS THIS ENOUGH FOR YOU? IS IT?! IS IT?!”

The baby hare wailed aloud in agony. His mother rose, her eyes wide with horror. Steal, however, beat her to it. Snatching the crying Stover roughly from Bounder’s grasp, he clutched him to his shoulder, stroking his pained ears. Helpless with anger and sorrow, he stood there till the baby went quiet. His mother retrieved her tiny young and kissed him over the nose.

Lope’s big brother Sol was looking on, and he shook his head, remarking to no one in particular, ‘‘I know I’m pretty rough, but I’ve never seen anyone so quick to beat down on a silly little infant. I mean, really!” At this statement heart-pained tears burned in Bounder’s eyes. Picking on the weak! He had declined from dealing a big tough jackrabbit when he was robbing his food earlier, but had jumped to seize a helpless baby as soon as his feelings were injured. Bounder was not only weak- he was what Steal would call a coward!



“Bounder? Bounder, please get up.’’ It was a small voice, slightly whiny, too. “Please, it’s the last day of the feast. You’ll miss all the fun!” Bounder did not emerge from beneath the bedding. “Please get up, Bounder. Aren’t you ready to have fun? Aren’t you still friends with me? Say you’re friends. Come along, just say, ‘Yes, Lope, I’m your bestest friend in the whole wide world’ Say it…Say it. Pleeeaaase!” Despite his feelings of mortification, Bounder had to stifle a silent chuckle. “Come on, Bounder. If you won’t play with me then at least say you’re friends. Say it. If you don’t then I’ll call Carratree in and pull the blanket off and let her see how you’re lying there moping!” Sitting up, Bounder yawned and flicked the quilt at the young jackrabbit. ‘’All right, you pesky little blackmailer, I’m friends with you. Now what?” Lope clung to his paw tightly. “Say you’re my bestest friend in the whole world!” Bounder hesitated. “I’ll say I’m your best friend but not in the whole world. Unless Steal decides he won’t ever speak to me again.” ‘’Of course he’ll speak to you again.” Lope was more cheerful. “He spoke to me again, so since I’m your best friend and he’s my best friend then I get to be his best friend, right?” Bounder heaved a dull sigh. “Right, Lope.” “Oh, cheer up, Bounder. It’s all right to love.” ‘’Yes, but it’s not all right to be a weak coward.” “My friend is a weak coward!” Lope wailed aloud. “Yes, go on, tell the whole tribe. They’re probably talking about it at the table right now.” To his surprise, Lope seized his paw. “Of course they’re not,” he informed him brightly. ‘‘I think they are waiting for something, though.” Bounder was bemused. “Waiting for me to come out?” Just then Lope grinned from ear to ear. “There he is. So you don’t even have to go out there, you can just say it to him!” Bounder turned and found Steal standing there. Kneeling over, he set the baby hare upon the floor. Poor little Stover gazed around as if unsure where to begin. “What do you have to say to eachother?” Steal prompted in a stern voice. Stover sheepishly averted his eyes to the floor. “’Torry.” “For….?” ‘’I dunno.” Steal shook his head patiently. “If you do not know what you are sorry for, Stover, then the apology is not sincere. Come along, what are you sorry for?” Stover’s lip trembled. “I dunno, I only a baby, can’t ‘member such things!” Steal nodded. ‘’I understand. Don’t cry. Truthfully, it is Bounder who should be sorry.” “I really am sorry, Steal. I am a weak coward.” “My friend is a weak coward!” Lope echoed spastically, then, with a femininely soft swooning sigh, collapsed to the ground with barely a thump, one paw over eyes. Almost effortlessly lifting the small jackrabbit from the floor, Steal tucked him beneath his paw. He knelt and lifted Bounder’s chin with the other paw. The hard icy eyes bore into his. “You are not a weak coward, Bounder. You are young and make mistakes, but you will soon grow and defend our friends, our tribe, our clan. To do this, you must make many mistakes!” Bounder’s eyes widened. ‘’Make many mistakes! How will that help you?” “If you do not make mistakes, how will you learn what is right and wrong? Learn from your mistakes, little one, so that they will not go to waste.” From beneath Steal’s arm, Lope piped up from his swoon. ‘’Make many mistakes? Cool! So as soon as I get home, I promise I’ll make as many mistakes as I can. I’ll dump hot water on Chief’s head and run, pull Sol’s ears on the way, and talk back to Mother if she scolds me. I’ll steal Mari’s bread_” Wrapping and knotting Lope soundly in a quilt, Steal tossed him onto the floor and kicked him lightly across the room. He eyed him sternly. “You’ll stay right there where you are till I come back for you. Perhaps you’ll change your mind about all the dozen mistakes you were thinking up!” With these words, he took Bounder’s paw and led him out of the room, with Lope’s muffled pleas trailing after them. ‘’All right, Steal, I’ve changed my mind. Consider letting me out yet? Oh, come along. I was just joking about the talking-back part. See, Bounder, that’s one reason I only mention the violent parts about that one!” “Oh, do you?” “Ah- just a little joke! Did you hear me, Steal? I said I was joking again! Oh, come along, I’ll suffocate in here!”


“Use only your feet to stir the water,” Haver cautioned as he lowered Flop and Hazel the baby jackrabbit above the water surface. “Not too hard, it sprays my face. I said no. Oh, won’t you bunnies ever learn not to do the opposite of what you are told to do?” “We not do opp’site o’ what you tell us do, minister,’ Hazel informed him promptly, “we jus’ do what you tell us not do! Harder, F’op cottytail!” Haver tried to keep his face taut, but it only took a spray of water to set him into a fit of chuckles. “Ha-ha, you naughty things, your cleverness will reach its limit one day. Stop it, I order you, or I shall be forced to let you drop into the water!” The two babies clapped their paws together eagerly. “Let us fall in ‘da water, Minister Haver, p’eeeaaze!” Sol had been watching for quite a while. For the first time, an uncharacteristic softness clouded the tough face. Long it had been since he had felt such gentleness and affection. On normal circumstances he would have snapped at a tiny bunny tugging at his foot, but he merely pried him off gently and lifted him to his face. The infant, too young to talk, cooed and tried to push his nose through Sol’s mouth. Bounder looked on in shock as he drew the baby back, kissing its twitching snout. Mistress Pollene sat fanning her ears over her head, watching little Natra and Stover bask about in the early summer sun. She sipped her cold tea contentedly, remarking to Lope’s mother, “I’m glad to have a break from those two without bothering poor Bounder and old Mistress Chrome. Shale?’’ “Indeed,” Mistress Shale agreed. ‘‘Lope has been quite a handful these days- oh, dear, where is Lope?” “I figured he might just be playing around with Bounder,” Mistress Rosedew pitched in airily. “Poor Bounder has had no one to play with.” Shale rose abruptly from her seat. “Well, I don’t see my little one with him. There is no telling with Lope these days. Mari!” Mari was a lighthearted young grey hare about two years older than Bounder, who tended to skip inches from the ground rather than walk. Blowing kisses to butterflies and begging pardon of trees, she landed gracefully on tip-toe before the elders, her dust-colored girdle bellowing out. “And may I help you honored mistresses? Well, of course I may help you. Silly of me, isn’t it? Well, Mistresses Shale, Rosedew and Pollene, did you call me? Of course you did. Unless there is someone else here named Mari.” “Of course there is not,’’ Mistress Shale gritted impatiently. ‘’My loved one Lope is missing. Haven’t you seen where he went?’’ “Oh, not at all, but you might ask Minister Steal over there. His lavished face tells me he knows where your little one is.” And with these words Mari sprinted off, bidding a sunny early noon to the buttercups.

The bundle in the corner whimpered. “C’mon, Steal, let me out. It’s hot and stuffy in here.” Silence. “Bounder, then?” it asked hopefully. Still no reply. “Oh, come on. Thought we were friends here. So now you’re taking his side and leaving your best friend to die?” A paw kicked gently at the bundle. “Oh, I’m sorry, Lope, I quite forgot about you. But cheer up. When you break out you’ll be a big, colorful butterfly, isn’t that right, Bounder?’’ “When I break out!” the tight cocoon wailed. “I can’t break out of nothing. I’m not some sort of caterpillar!” “Just go to sleep and use your imagination. Isn’t it nice and cozy in there?” “Nice and cozy- my pellet! I’m going to be roast jackrabbit tonight, be sure of that!” The cocoon suddenly seemed to lift under him. ‘’Roast jackrabbit? Sounds very nice for hungry Incisrons. What do you think, Bounder? Shall we spit him over the fire?” “Eeee! Cannibals, jackrabbit-eaters! I should have known. Mumeeeeee!” Bounder sat hunched upon the floor, shaking with laughter and trying to remonstrate with the hare at the same time. “Oh, go on, Steal, let him out. He’s had enough. Oh, what will Mistress Shale say when she sees this?” ‘‘Cease this instant! I am Sol, son of Lor!”


Lope’s limbs were considerably cramped when he finally was let out of his cocoon. When they recovered a bit, he began speaking to Bounder again. It was amazing how quickly he seemed to forget his confinement in the blanket, and he was already chattering away animatedly. “Yes, my father’s name is Lor. He was temporary Chief till I was two, but since he wasn’t real Chief he never got to make any laws. Then one day he set out with a few others to keep a savage bobcat from tearing apart our tribe. He said that zig-zagging like frightened little bunnies would not stop the cat from finding us, so he was going to fight it. Sol was barely thirteen, but determined to go and defeat the bobcat, too. My father refused, saying that he was young and had never fought a single living thing before. ‘But, Father, I am strong and powerful. Who will fight for the clan if you die?’ ‘You have no need to fight, Sol. You are strong, but inexperienced. You must stay behind and take care of your mother and younger brother.’ ‘No one will stop me, Father. If you are killed, the bobcat will surely come and I will have to fight them anyhow. But with only I left, it will expose our tribe to harm if I get killed fighting alone.’ ‘Sol, you are growing overbold and overly-confident of your strength. I will not sacrifice a young life like yours. Do as I say and remain here, little one.’ ‘Don’t call me little one!’’’ These last echoing words faded into a cloud of shared memory. Haver sat silently for a long time. Then he nodded slowly. “What a vast amount of histories we all have to tell. And you, my little friend, have a vast and vivid memory.” Sol sat facing the pool of the spring, staring wordlessly into it. A large teardrop fell, breaking his reflection. His last words to his beloved father had been nothing of love and affection, but of uncontrollable anger. Then he had turned upon his heel and stormed off, had not glanced back- not even to see the expression upon his father’s face. He felt a paw placed upon his burly shoulder. Steal consoled him, saying, “Now don’t grieve, my friend. Your father has only been gone for five years. He may soon return safely, with his companions, and your tribe will live happily.’ At this remark Oliver {the shy young hare who had brought the giant carrot] blushed to the tips of his brown ears. No one minded it much, though. Someone as timid as Oliver might flush red about anything. Sol, however, smiled for the first time that they had seen, through abating tears. “You are right, my friend. I should use my strength in defending our tribe and our clan in entire, not bullying. Since the day I shouted at my father and turned my back upon him, I never had felt so much as a spark of affection- not even for my dear old mother. Now has the time come that I grow faithful and strong.” Seal smiled, too. ‘’It is so, my friend. You are truly strong and may your heart be able to endure many hardships.” ‘’Awright, enough talking about hardships and endurance. I’m famishing!” Haver turned to frown upon the shouting young hare, who halted his miniscule tantrum. For a moment he looked a mite uneasy, till the moptail leaned back and gave vent to his deep, booming laughter. ‘’All right, my starving little friend. If you can endure hunger for a few more minutes, you will eat!”


Hot breath tickled the insides of his ear. Bounder shot up abruptly. Through the darkness, he could make out a small long-eared shadow- seated right in front of him. “Bounder! You’re ali_” Bounder stopped up the speaker’s mouth with his paw. “Lope? Why are you still here? Wasn’t your tribe supposed to be leaving this evening?” He waited patiently till he remembered that the jackrabbit could say nothing with his paw over his mouth. “I don’t know what’s going on,’’ Lope panted when his mouth was freed. ‘’Mother sent me to bed early tonight. Mistress Chrome said I could lie down in the main sleeping room, but I couldn’t sleep. I stayed awake for a whole hour, listening.” Lope’s voice grew small and shaky. ‘‘I heard Voices, Bounder. Creepy voices that made my fur tingle. Do you think there is a monster bobcat somewhere?’’ Bounder gave an amused smile as he recalled his infant fears of “monsters.” “Don’t be silly, Lope. No monster bobcat could have broken in without our hearing it.” “Are-are you sure? I mean- don’t you think we should check?” “Oh, all right.” Yawning, Bounder lifted himself from his cot. The two hopped across the room, quietly as not to waken the others, and stole down the hall.

Candlelight flickered from the dug-in shelves, bouncing off the couple of small shadows slipping across the wall. On one side of the bedroom doorway the tiny infants lay curled up in their cradles, slumbering peacefully. Both Bounder and Lope practically held their breaths as not to make any sound as they edged near the wall. Suddenly, Bounder’s ears perked up at the sound of low, hushed voices. Oliver was protesting in a small, timid voice. “It is only tradition that demands that the bringer of the carrot goes to the other tribe’s home for the feast. I told the others to stay in while the bobcats roamed the desert, and I went out to find the carrot.” “But why did you not tell us of these bobcats?” the Chief inquired, in a voice quiet with shock. ‘‘I would not have many lives wasted out there. Nor would I have us all crowding our friends’ home with no carrot- it would be against tradition and would be quite strenuous on them. I brought the carrot and was intending to lodge such information about the bobcat raid. I know it is a short notice and the bobcats have crowded thickly in our home now, hungry for the flesh of our bodies.” “But why did you not bring the whole tribe at once?’’ Steal remarked gently. “We of our tribe are ever open to those who need us.” “Never mind, Oliver,” Mistress Chrome interjected. “As Steal said, we are glad to have you for however long you need us.” “Thank you, Mistress.” The Chief cleared his throat. “In return we will do whatever we can to help you.” At that moment Bounder felt warm liquid drip and trickle down his paw. Lope sniffed loudly. “My father,’’ were the only two words he uttered. “Oh, Lope, don’t cry. Like Steal said, he’ll come back soon. Don’t you think so?” “Oh, of course he’ll come back. Just like Steal’s own father did, and with the most delicious fruits for him, too!” Clasping both of Lope’s paws into his, Bounder stared hard into his eyes. “Listen, Lope, I am your best friend and Steal is my best friend, which makes us best friends together. Have I ever lied to you?” “…No.” ‘’Has Steal ever lied to you?” Again, Lope hesitated. “Well…except for the time he promised I’d be a big beautiful flutterfly when I came out- {at this Bounder had to stifle a silent chuckle]_ but other than that, no, he hasn’t.” ‘’All right, then. You’ll have to trust our word, Lope. Trust is the very foundation of friendship, Steal said.” At this point Lope gazed thoughtfully at him. “You know… you sounded a bit like Steal when you said that.” Bounder could feel his ears blushing with pleasure. “Did I really?’’ Just then, the small door opened. Both little rabbits tensed as lanternlight from the kitchen streamed in, subduing the dim, flickering hall candlelight. Clutching his companion, Lope whimpered, “Is it the monster bobcat?” “What are you two doing in here?” Steal spoke sharply. “Weren’t you sent to bed an hour and a half ago?’’ Mistress Pollene shushed him hurriedly. “Don’t speak so loudly, you might wake the infants.” Lope was still slightly trembling. “We were afraid there might be monsters_ no, actually, I was afraid_ and Bounder and I decided to_” BOOM! “Monsters! MONSTERS, is it? Well, I thought a little pimple like you would at least be smart enough to know that there are no such things as monsters. But apparently not! You want to know if there are monsters, don’t you? Well, I’ll give you both this advice- get to bed this instant before I give you something worse than monsters! NOW!”

The last roar echoed down the hall as the two scampered into the bedroom as hurriedly as they could. One baby hare was already up in the cradle, looking startled. Then it let back its ears and screeched, ‘‘Monster, itta monster, Mumeeeeee!” Rushing over, the infant’s mother gathered it into her arms and cradled it. Soon a chorus of wails filled the hall. Steal watched as everyone tried to cater to dozens of frightened babies at once. He shook his head, remarking to Sol in a gentle voice, “You needn’t have shouted, my friend, especially at your own brother. They may be foolish and silly, but they’re little ones. Look at how you have frightened the babies.” Sol sank to the floor, weighted with sorrow, and buried his face in his paws. “Forgive me, Mistress Pollene, and all others whose little ones I have disturbed,’’ he announced, when all the wailing had subsided. “I will come to admit I have little patience with young. But I am trying, and I must try harder. As of yet I am weary and need rest.” Haver pat his back affectionately. “It’s all right, Sol my friend. We are all tired. Tired of talking, tired of worrying, tired of shouting. So now is my advice to all of you- SHUT UP, GET IN BED AND GO TO SLEEP!” Over a distressed infant’s renewed wailing, his mother remarked crossly, “If you great monsters would stop all that bellowing, we’d get a bit of sleep!”


Lying once more safely in bed, Bounder and Lope snuggled up together like small infants in winter. “Bounder?” “What is it, Lope? Afraid there might be some monsters lurking about?’’ “I was just going to say… I’m sorry you got shouted at, too. It’s all my fault.” “Not all your fault.” Bounder yawned drowsily. “I suppose we both should have left as soon as we saw that there were no monsters.” He suddenly felt the small quivering body tense beside him. “But we’ve learnt something now. There are bobcats in my home! My father! I’ve got to fetch him! I…must….go…back!” Bounder had difficulty restraining the young jackrabbit. “Lie down now, Lope. If there are bobcats, there is nothing we can do about it. You are safe here.” ‘’But my father!” Lope cried out, struggling desperately. “I must go to save him! He went out years ago to defeat them and never came back!” “But what of Steal?” Bounder remarked thoughtfully. “What would he say?” “What Steal says-my pellets! Steal might keep me locked in here all year round while my father gets devoured by bobcats. If you don’t go with me, I still will!” “Lope!” Bounder called after the young jackrabbit as he raced away in a blur through the darkness. “Lope, come back!”


Mistress Shale sat by the fire, weeping quietly. Mistress Pollene paced the kitchen, taking things off of the shelves, while Rosedew trailed after her, arranging them neatly back upon them. ‘‘Now stop that, Mother.’’ Sol stroked Mistress Shale’s ears gently. ‘’You’ll only wear yourself away. We’ll search the hedge again, I promise.” His mother threw up both paws. “Bobcats!” she wailed aloud. “My little one has been devoured by bobcats!” “There are no bobcats about, mistress,’’ Steal reassured her. “We’ve patrolled the whole area_” “Black dogs, then! A black dog has caught my son and eaten him alive! Oh, have mercy!” Mistress Rosedew fairly slammed the pantry door. ‘’This is about the fifth time I’ve placed the kettle back in its perch, Pollene. Someone’s got to find those two young if it will keep this maid from tearing my kitchen apart!” Sinking to a chair beside Mistress Shale, Pollene shook her head. “I’m sorry, Rosedew. I know Bounder is not my child, but Chrome and I had been nursing him ever since…” Her voice trailed off, leaving a deep mark upon everyone’s heart. ‘’Boun’ner!” Steal gathered the sobbing Natra from her mother’s feet. “Now hush, my little infant. We’ll find Bounder. It’s no fault of yours, you’ve been a very good girl lately. Keep it up and soothe your mother’s heart.”


‘’Oh, Lope, there you are! Are you hurt?” The small face, coated with dust, lifted up to face him. Darkened eyes latched to his. “You_ can’t_ take me back. I_won’t_go_with you.” Bounder placed a paw upon Lope’s rising side to calm the rugged panting. “I haven’t come to take you back, I’m coming with you. You can’t go out here by yourself while all is being invaded by bobcats.” Taking his paw, Lope hop-scrambled to his feet. He grinned in eager anticipation, back to himself once more. “Good! Which way do we go then?” Bounder shrugged. ‘I don’t know. Which way are the dunes?” Lope giggled. “Silly, we don’t live in dunes. We’re desert nomads. Which way do we find those parts?” “I believe they’re southwest.” “Do you see where the sun is? Well, let’s turn our backs directly towards the sun..” “…And then travel down left, which puts us southwest …I think.” “Of course it does.” Lope was ecstatic. ‘When we get towards dry parts we’ll turn a bit towards right, where north is, so we don’t run into full desert. C’mon, Bounder. We’re on our way!” The two made their way down the path, small, young, and energetic. They had no fear of losing direction, so long as the bright summer sun was always at their backs to remind them. Jackbees hummed merrily at their work, drones bumbled about lazily, and birds raced about to beat butterflies in the competition for flowers to drink from. Little did the innocent young rabbits know that they had taken a very odd and complicated path….

“Lope? Lope, my darling, come out now!’’ No reply. Hitching up her flowered girdle {although it scarce needed hitching}, Mistress Shale scurried up the path, calling out frantically, ‘’Come along, my little apple. Your dear mother will go home, lie on her bed and pass away if you do not come out soon!” There was a rustle behind her. She whirled, armed with a heavy stick. ‘‘Stay back, all you heartless bobcats!” Steal emerged, smiling reassuringly. “Relax, mistress, I’m no bobcat. But Bounder and Lope are not to be found. Let us go home now, and rest.’’ Mistress Shale planted her paws upon her hips. ‘’Go on and go home. Not a pellet blocks your path from going home. I will be bound to stay out here and search for my little one!” Sol came out, too, and placed a paw upon her shoulder. “Relax, Mother. It looks as if Bounder has gone with him. With Bounder being a whole year older than he is, I’m certain that Lope will be all right.’’


‘’Back! Back, you bloody-clawed kin of the ancient reptile! Back, I say!” At the sound of the piercing shrieks, Bounder came stumbling down the path, his grey fur dripping. Almost spilling the glass jar of stream water, he arrived panting near his friend, who, dangling the quilt sack, gazed up innocently at him. ‘’Well, you came in a bit of a hurry.” ‘‘The hawks?’’ Bounder managed out as soon as he’d caught his breath. ‘’Where are the hawks?” “Oh, those hawks!” Lope blinked his round eyes. ‘You missed them, Bounder. The battle’s already over.” Bounder hastened to his side. ‘‘Were you hurt or injured in any way?” “Oh, a little wound behind the shin, but I’ll live. It’s only five inches or so.” Bounder stared at the jackrabbit in horror, till a paw went over his mouth. Lope tried to suppress a titter. Bounder was enraged. ‘‘Why, you little pellet, you fooled me!” Lope exposed hi front teeth in a nutty grin. “Well, that surely got you to harry-up a bit. What were you doing at the stream, Bounder? Why, getting water for us, of course. Looks like you gave your fur quite a bit of drink, too. But of course, you wouldn’t remember a deceitful little pellet like I am, lying in the sun drying up like a raisin!” Although still damp, Bounder’s ears slightly blushed. “I’m sorry, Lope. Here, you go no and drink.” After Lope had taken a few large swallows, he and Bounder brought out a leftover creamed honeysuck pastry and divided it between them. They had not eaten since that morning, and they devoured it ravenously. “Say, that looks quite good for starving squirrels. How about sharing that?” Bounder glanced up to find a grinning little grey squirrel with its tail and paws wrapped around a low branch, dangling inches from his face. Breaking off a piece of pastry, Bounder held it out of his reach. “Say please,’’ he instructed him. “Pleeeaaazzze!” Bounder fed the pastry into his mouth. As the little one munched away rapidly, he tried to pry him from the branch. He had never known that the tail of one but a few years older than a baby could be sturdy and strong as a rope.. He finally managed to coax him down with another piece of pastry, which he gladly accepted. “So to whom do you belong? Where is your tribe?” The small squirrel swallowed his pastry before replying, a bit haughtily, “Don’t belong to noone. I’m poky, though.” ‘’I can see that. What’s your name?” “Poky, I just said!” Bounder struggled to suppress a small smile. “Well, then, Minister Poky, where do you come from?” “I dunno. I woke up in a chestnut tree one day and saw noone was there.” “And what did you do?’ Poky shrugged his tail. “I dunno. Last thing I saw for the rest of the day was a hard, round chestnut coming down. Then I saw a big burst of pretty colorful lights and stars and color bullets.” “What?” Bounder exclaimed in alarm. ‘’What did you do in such a situation?” “Then I went to sleep for the rest of the afternoon.” This time Bounder simply could not contain himself. Clutching his sides, he fell down and rolled about on the ground, quaking with laughter. Lope and Poky exchanged a look and shrugged. Then they set about brushing off Bounder’s piece of leftover pastry and finishing it for him.


‘I tell you, Mother, they will be all right,’ Sol reassured her for about the millionth time that evening. “They’ll be back in a day or so, and if not we’ll go searching for them.” Mistress Shale had finally ceased weeping and was now dabbing at her reddened eyes with a handkerchief, staring disconsolately into the fire. Steal had never seen a mother grieve so over a child. If only he had his mother fondling him now! It had been years since he had last glimpsed his beloved, tenderhearted mother. A picture remained imprinted in his mind-a beautiful, slender silver-coated young hare, with large, soft fawn eyes. Seated before the fire {where Mistress Shale now sat], cradling him, the small infant. How much merrier the fire seemed to crackle in his mind! Especially with his father, tall, strong and courageous, towering over them with a smile that seemed more bright and fearless than the fire itself. Suddenly, his father’s back turned, and he began retreating towards a strange dark exit. Startled, Steal began shouting after him. “Father! Where are you going?” His father did not respond. ‘‘Father! Come back!” Desperately Steal leaned across, extended his arms out. “Father, NOOO_” “Oh, my dear goodness!” Mistress Shale cried out as she and the straw rocker went toppling back into Sol, who crashed headfirst into Mistress Rosedew. The steaming vat of soup went flying out of her paws. A wave of the scalding broth hit the face of a softly snoring Haver, who leapt up with a roar of agony. As if in satisfaction to the upset it had caused, the vat spun upon the floor and rimmed to a stop. His face flushed full of embarrassment, Steal rose and helped Mistress Shale and Rosedew upright. ‘‘Forgive me, you all…. I was just being…’’ “Clumsy?” proposed Lupine saucily, as she continued to wring broth from her best girdle. {Mari had already swooned out with one complete twirl when she’d seen the state of hers- and felt the heat of the soup, of course.} ‘‘A whole pot of good soup wasted.” Mistress Rosedew gave a small sigh as she dabbed up the mess. “Well, never mind. I suppose I’ll have to set on another one. Mari, Lupine, you might take off your girdles and I’ll wash them for you later.” Regaining consciousness, Mari sat up, appearing not to remember where she was. Impatiently Lupine jerked off Mari’s girdle from her waist. “Don’t handle it so violently!” Mari cried spastically. ‘That is my most beautiful stemberry girdle, O’ cruel-hearted one.” Natra regarded Scotch with a stern look. “Get up from ‘dat broth, Scotch you fat cottytail, you need a good bathing!” The little infant stuck out his tongue in defiance, as usual. “You not my Mama, you not tell me when to bave!” ‘‘Ha-ha, you not even gotta Mama, you a little orfin, so there!” Scotch’s lip trembled. ‘‘I not a orfin!” “Orfin, orfin,’’ all the infants chanted. ‘Scotchy is a orfin!” “Now silence that!’’ Mistress Chrome exclaimed reprovingly. “All of you who have parents should be ashamed for picking on those who do not. Half of the young here are orphaned. Now not another word about orphans out of you!” The realization gradually cut into some of the toddlings’ hearts. ‘‘I’m a orfin,” Flop sobbed aloud. The others who had lost parents clutched each other and began crying and stating their orphany, too. “Stop this!” Mistress Chrome’s voice rose. ‘‘Did I not just say no more about orphans? Silence!’’ Giving one last sympathetic sniff, Natra rose and brought her twin brother to his feet. The rest obligingly trailed after her. They had not been ordered to go to bed early, but they decided to. Without any fuss, the candlelight could soon be seen to blow out from behind the curtain. Haver smiled a little sadly. “Just fancy our dear little ones punishing themselves.” “But many of us are orphans.” Steal heaved a long sigh. “I am an orphan, Natra and Stover are orphans by their father, and little Speed, Scotch, Flop and even young Bounder have no parents at all.’’


Back in the dark hall, Flop whimpered loudly, “I hungry.” ‘‘Oh, but I not going back out ‘dere,” Scotch whispered back, pulling the covers over his head. “All it is is jus’ frownafrownafrown, cryacryacry, scoldscoldascold, shoutashoutashout.” “Yah.’’ Speed sat up in her cradle. “If Bounner ‘n’ Lope not leave, we be all smily-smily.” “Not care ‘bout us, jus’ only care ‘bout preshiss Bounner ‘n’ Lopey-dope.” ‘’All ‘deir faults, everything all gloomy now.” Of a sudden, a corner of the curtain rustled. All the toddlings lay stock-still. Twitcher and Burrow {two small jackrabbits of the Nomad tribe}came tiptoeing in. “You awake?” Burrow hissed. “’Course we awake. Why you in here, you be naughty too?” “No, but we gotta plan. Lissen, late late at night when everyone asleep, all of us get up an’…” The conference of little ones sat clustered around the cot, whispering, giggling and squealed as the plan slowly began to form in their small infant minds.


There was a soft rustling sound nearby. Bounder woke immediately, on the alert. A small shadow lingered against the inside wall of the oak. As quietly as he could, Bounder stole upon it. “Eeee!” Lope woke, abruptly startled by the noise. ‘‘Huh-wha-what’s going on?” “This is what’s going on.’ Bounder held up the small grey squirrel to his face. ‘Rummaging around in the food again, haven’t you been?” Recovering from his fright, Poky nodded to acknowledge his guilt. He needn’t have, though. Crumbs of crust and cream stuck to his whiskers as evidence. “You little thiever, how many times do I have to tell you about that? You will reach your limit one day, I tell you!” Poky grinned impishly. “Sorrr-eeee!” “All right, all right. I forgive you for eating the last of the cheese crusts and not saving me any.” Lope turned over on his side and shut his eyes again. Trying to suppress a smile, Bounder eyed him severely. “So you’re both into this, aren’t you? Lope Shan Lor, I might have known!” Although drowsy, Lope managed an innocent tone. ‘Who, me? I never! I was snoozing and minding my own business.” “Yes, and letting me do all the work, right, Lope?” Conveniently, Lope was back fast asleep on this question. All was quiet for the rest of the night. Poky was curled up amidst his tail, fast asleep_ or so it seemed. At any moment while the coast was clear, the naughty little creature would go for the supplies again. Quietly, as not to alert him, Bounder removed the sack from the corner and tucked it as a cushion beneath his head. Before he knew it, he had drifted off.


Less than a dozen tiny figures skirted the opposite path, with a single lantern to light their way. The infants from both tribes had had quietly escaped through the kitchen window, carrying their own quilts for sleeping and five large spare ones {intended for the elders}, filled with all the food they could lug along. They hissed excitedly to eachother as they tramped along. “Yah, we move somewhere and stay for lotsa days till ‘da food run out, ‘den we fin’ Bounner ‘n’ Lope and come home for supper!’’ “An’ everything be all happy again, right, Tover?” “No more shout’n’scold’n’yell!” “I not one bit tired, are you, F’op?” “Nuh-uh. You, Twitcher?” “Not me!”

They had barely gone half a mile up the path before a rumble of thunder vibrated beneath their feet. Quickening their pace, their searched all over till they found a large rock beneath a thick bush. Combing all their strength, they managed to upturn it. Eleven or twelve bunnies scrambled down into the rounded pit, roofing the rock above their heads. As they huddled down, wrapping their blankets about them, their single light flickered and then gave way to darkness.

In dismay Speed tapped the lantern with her tiny paw. “Oh, me, ‘da lantern all goed out.”

Thunder rumbled in the distance, followed by a crash of lightning. Then a steady gust of wind began traveling over their small shelter, sending leaves and branches into a rattling frenzy. Working away furiously with a stub of bark, Speed tried desperately to strike the wick of the lantern. She finally gave up her vain attempts. “No use, we jus’ gotta live in darknesses.” Above the increasingly loud patter of rain, Stover could be heard to whimper, “I frighted, you frighted, Natra?” “Frighted, too, wanna go home.” “All you frighty-bunnies, ‘dat’s it! Firs’ you come out all giggly-sniggly-wiggly-jiggly, now you all cry like a buncha little babies! We not babies, you all, we heroes! We gonna save Bounner ’n’ Lope an’ bring ‘dem back, make everyone cheery again. Who’s wif’ me?” A chorus of half-hearted “Yes-es” rounded through the tiny shelter. ‘’What’re ya gonna pay me?” Speed whirled upon the speaker with blazing eyes. Her voice was a sibilant whisper. ‘I let you keep your fatty-guts!” Scotch stopped sneering instantly. His throat rose in a gulp. Speed threw up her paws as if in despair. “Aw, c’mon, you all. We s’posed to be having a vaykayshin, not a time-out. We wait long enough ‘n’ we fin’ Bounner ‘n’ Lopey-dopey. ‘Den whole tribe be happy. Right now we gotta make o’rself happy. Who hungry?” Scotch’s stomach rumbled almost more loudly than thunder itself. “I hungry, none of us eat supper this night. Who else hungry?” Flop’s stomach rumbled next. “I not jus’ hungry, I starved like a worm!” ‘My stomach stickin’ to my back, I so starven’.” “Stickin’ to a back? You jokin’, Stover Shan Raaj. Stick ‘dat stomach out any more and it bump against ‘da wall!” “Not talk to my bro’der like ‘dat, he not half fat as you are, Sco’ch you greedy gummydrop!” “All right, alla you hushen , use your traps for what ‘dey fer.” All of the toddlings gladly obliged. Although dark and stormy outside {and darker in}, it was a rather festive time for small unsuspecting bunnies like they were. No elders to shout at them or tell them to go to bed. And soon it would be a bright summer morning, and they would all go out on a stroll. There was nothing to worry about… No, really, nothing- there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Down safe in a hole, beneath a rock, with warm blankets and plenty of food. Nothing to worry about at all…


“My land!”

Steal came rushing into the kitchen, just in time to catch Mistress Rosedew’s swooning fit. Shifting the elderly cottontail under her arm, he anxiously questioned those who were in the kitchen. ‘’What happened? What’s of Mistress Rosedew?”

They needn’t wonder much longer. Above their heads lay an open pantry- with more than half and a half of the supplies missing. ‘’Oh, my.” Carratree rubbed her pearly pink snout wonderingly. “Do you think we have been invaded by burglars?” Lupine sniffed contemptuously. “Don’t talk such foolishness!” Carratree’s pink ears blushed inside. “It may have been so,” Steal agreed. “We may have been attacked by burglars. See, the window is open.” Sure enough, the curved window space was empty, and below it on the floor sat the boulder which usually blocked it. “Someone must have forgotten to put it back,’’ Steal concluded with a grim smile. “So now we know that we have visitors about.” ‘‘What is so happy about that?’’ Lupine fairly shrieked at him. “What are you grinning all over for? What, do you want to pull out decoration and throw a feast for them or something?!’’ “Lupine!” Carratree’s voice was full of reproving. “And at the home of our kind hosts, too.” It was Lupine’s turn to blush. Steal’s smile became more good-natured than grim. “Don’t apologize, little mistress. I understand. I should not have disturbed you with this sort of thing. As of yet we must keep you two pretty ladies from freaking out. It looks as if poor Mistress Rosedew is coming to her senses.” With a strangled little sob, the elder one sank from Steal’s arm onto the floor. “Burglars!” she sputtered. “Nothing like this has ever happened in my kitchen- nothing at all!” The other three exchanged a look. So Mistress Rosedew had already heard. “It’s all right, mistress.’’ Steal placed a paw upon her comfortingly. ‘‘We’ll soon take care of the situation.” Just then the curtain of the hall doorway moved aside, and Mistress Chrome strode into the kitchen, her paws in the air. Her voice bore a note of exasperation. ‘If you think all’s right, you’re all wrong. I take it noone has seen a clue of where those bunnies are?” Haver woke up abruptly, sitting in his hammock as if startled. “Huh-huh? What’s going on?” “My dear little babies!” Pollene wailed as she followed Mistress Chrome. “Not just the two of them, but all! Our baby cottontails and hares and all the little ones of the Nomad tribe! Gone from their cradles, blankets and all!” Pandemonium instantly broke out as others flooded in just in time for the break of news. “Gone! Speed, Scotch and Flop!” “I’ve not seen my dear Twitcher about since supper. Nor was Burrow!” “But Burrow loves his supper. Why would he just disappear like that?’

Eventually the Chief appeared and raised his paws. All fell silent in acknowledgement to his presence. “Relax, everyone, please,” he remonstrated with them. “We all know-or should know that the little ones went to bed early last night, half an hour before suppertime. Noone knows who sent them to bed, but to relieve any doubts, all six of the babies here went first in one group, then the ones of our tribe. And Twitcher and Burrow were amongst the first ones of ours.” One rabbit raised his paw for permission to speak. “But what of the open window?” “And the missing blankets?” “And my half-empty pantry?” ‘’My land, forget the pantry. A pack of burglars has come in, stolen our hutch down, and kidnapped our babies in their very own blankets!” The Chief shook his head, trying not to show that he was near despair. “Silence, please. I think we all are letting our imaginations run loose. I am certain there have been no burglars in here. What is apparent from the situation is that our little ones have gone on summer evacuation.” “What with five of my best sheets and all that food?’’ Mistress Chrome’s ears stood up with indignance. “Why, I’ve half a mind_” “And just left the window right open, for any nasty old creature to climb through!” “I’ll strangle their little necks, I give my word. Just let me get my paws on them!” The Chief reminded Steal of the head of a lost camp, in his easing, reasonable way of speaking through panic. If only they had such a leader to conduct their own tribe! “Silence, please, everyone. We must not speak or act in sheer anger. They are only toddlings, and I will not have any immediate violence towards the.’’


Natra’s terrified scream woke all the other occupants of the burrow. Scotch sat up, rubbing his eyes with his paw, blinking uncertainly. “Huh-wha-what’s ‘dat?” Little Natra stood, her eyes wide with horror, as a sea of black swarmed over the bottom of the burrow. It trickled from the knotted mouths of the sacks and over the blankets. Stover leapt up, doing a little jig of helpless agony. ‘Yow-ow-ow, get offa me, you itches! Ow-ow-owww!” Flop squealed aloud. “Yeee, get outta my ears, you dirty itchy little creepers! Owww-it bited me!” “’Den thtop callin’ it dirty little creeper, and get outta here.” Ever the courageous, Speed seized a blanket and set about saving their sacks of food, while the others gladly made their escape. By the time she emerged from the burrow, cross and covered with bites, Speed had only succeeded with one of the sacks. She dropped it upon the ground and sat beside it, nursing the small bumps beneath her coat. ‘Here, take a baff in ‘da puddle water, it still clean,” Natra suggested, trying to be helpful. Speed, however, was not in the least grateful. ‘You not my Mama and I not takin’ no baff!” Stover glared at her. “Not talk to my Na’cha like ‘dat!” Of a sudden, he leapt up, dancing and yowling in anguish. Natra soon joined him, then Burrow. Seizing a pawful of water from the puddle, Speed hurled it at them. “Land, what on earf’ getting’ into you three?’’ Flop and Scotch sat side by side, trying to look innocent till a stream of ants broke out of their clenched paws. Scotch glanced down, appearing to be the most surprised bunny you’d ever seen. “Awright, you two.” Grasping them firmly by the scruffs of their necks, Speed buried their faces soundly in the thick mud. ‘’We not gonna have trubble here, ‘cause I not got ‘da time for ‘dat birdmess!” Gasping and coughing, Flop strangled out, “We be good, no more mud-pie!” Speed released them and sat back, nodding grimly. “Good, ‘cause I keep my eye on you two!”


“Wake up, Bounder, g’morning, G’morning, g’morning… Wake up, Bounder, g’morning_ Have a happy day today! Wake up, Bounder, g’morning_”

“All right, all right, I’m up.” Bounder stifled a yawn as he lifted his head from the sack, which, for some reason, felt a bit flatter than he’d remembered it. “Have I ever heard such a noise-box!’’ Poky’s gay mood vanished, and he felt his middle anxiously. “Do I really look like a box?’’ Bounder appeared not to hear him. “Where’s Lope?” he exclaimed, startled. “Do I really look like a box?” Poky persisted. “No, you don’t look like a box. Now where’s Lope gotten to?” “Why’d you say I was a box if I’m not a box?” “Never mind, Poky. Just answer my question.” Poky grinned. He was apparently enjoying himself. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. What was your question?” “Lope,” Bounder fairly snapped. “Where is he?” “Rope? I don’t know of anyone named Rope. Can you repeat that?” “LOPE! Lope, Lope, LOPE!” “Hm- must be getting hard of hearing. What’d you say now?” Bounder swooped the little one up into his paws and held him nose to nose. ‘’Tell me what happened to Lope- nowish!” Poky stuck out his tongue. “Great bully-bunny!” “So I may be, but you’ll have to cope with it, because that’s what you’ll get around here. Now tell me where Lope is, and make it easy on yourself.” “Never!” This set Bounder into a mote. He knew he could not really do a thing to the little squirrel, so he chose to change tactics. He yawned and shook his head. “Ah, well, then, I suppose I’ll just have to find him myself. And we’ll have all the dandelion green pastries to ourselves.” Hopping down, Poky bounded out of the oak and scampered up the path, with Bounder trailing after him. Lope knelt in the mid of the clearing, his back turned to them as he appeared to be working diligently. Of a sudden, Poky clucked his tongue and screeched in his little squirrel voice, “Run for it, pally!” A large dust cloud rose in Bounder’s face, blinding him. As the dust cleared, he pursued them, calling after them, “Lope! Poky! Where are you going? Come back!” As he rushed after them, the bottom of his foot squashed over something thick and juicy.


That warm late afternoon, Haver went out to check the yellow onion flatbread. It looked as if it could use a bit more sunning. Sprinkling a little more green onion upon the top of one of the suncakes, Haver turned it over, humming to himself as he did so.

Lope, he thought to himself, would have loved them. Haver smiled at the thought of the nutty little jackrabbit. The smile drooped, however, when he remembered that they’d been missing for nearly two days now. Such grief they had caused the entire tribe! And now the bunnies were following in their lead! The kindly Moptail shook his head ruefully.

Dusk was just falling over the treetops of the forest. As the fire blazed in the air, Bounder continued reproving the two culprits. They sat exchanging uneasy looks and nudging one another as he went on. ‘This is the only food we have. And three of us on a long journey. Already one has eaten the crusts_” he shot a meaningful look towards a fidgeting Poky_ “and now we have good cherry loaves. Squished beneath our trail-trodden feet! Lope Shan Lor and Poky, are you two even listening to me?” “I feel something in my tail, Bounder. Really twitchety and stuff.” “Perhaps it’s guilt, if you’ve never experienced a thing like that before. I don’t blame you for being so uncomfortable over it, Minister Poky. Something like guilt must be very rare in ones like you.” The bushy tail stood up in the air. “I sense it. It came from down this way!” ‘No more games out of you, minister. I’ve had quite enough of you for one day. Now don’t try to divert me.”

Just then, a long terrible scream filled the air_ almost drowned out by a piercing screech.

“Told you so,” little Poky could not help piping up. Bounder pretended to ignore it. Such remarks were not important enough to be addressed in this current situation. He swooped up the little one into his paw, seizing Lope with the other. “Come, Lope. Down this way!” They arrived panting, at the danger site. Bounder was startled to find several tiny figures huddled upon the ground, paralyzed with fear. ‘What are you bunnies doing here?” Stover made no reply, besides a quavering sob of terror. A large pair of red-tipped wings beat overhead, and Bounder glanced up to find Natra, struggling in the clutches of a hawk’s savage talons. She gave another scream. Lope was beginning to show signs of panic. Bounder wanted to place a paw upon him, but his joints seemed to be frozen stiff. The small grey squirrel, however, waved his tail at him in scorn. “Ha, you’re nothing but a couple of feardy-bunnies, you. And you call yourselves warriors! Watch this.”

With those words he began scampering up a nearby oak. Immediately Bounder emerged from his trance, shouting out desperately, “Poky, where on earth do you think you are going? Get back down here, you little fool!”

Meanwhile, the hawk caught sight of two larger but excited-looking rabbits hopping up and down on the ground below. Was this small, pathetic, wailing prey really worth it? Well, she had been easy catch. Perhaps if he could strike the larger with his beak… Just as he swept low in the air, a strong, heavy object thudded him hard over the talons. With a screech of anguished fury, the hawk released the tiny infant, leaving her spinning down to earth, and lunged for the small grey squirrel who had dared defy his rule. Quick as a wink, Poky dealt him another blow against his strong right wing with his powerful tail. The hawk screeched, wheeled in the air, and soared off in another direction in search of vengeance upon weaker prey. In all his hunting life, he had never recalled little rodents being such a tough game.

                                                        - 14-

Mistress Shale refused to release her son, not even for a much-needed bath. She clutched him tightly in her embrace and wept into his dingy fur. Sol rubbed her shoulder, telling her gently, ‘‘There now, Mother, he’s all right.” ‘‘Quite all right, I’d say.” Mistress Chrome examined Bounder’s unmoving body. “Not a single scratch from the beak or talons, as far as the eye can see. How is Natra going?” Scotch (who had finally stopped trembling) muttered without removing his head from the sheet, ‘Oh, so now you care ‘bout us poor bunnies, and only a while ago all you talk about is where Bounner’n’Lope at, where Bounner’n’Lope at, where the birdmess’re Bounner’n’Lope at. Why, when we wennout to get your preshiss Bounner’n’Lope, you prob’ly worry not a pellet ‘bout us. ‘Oh, ne’er min’ ‘dose naughty toddligs, always gettin’ into some odd!’” Sol leaned back in his seat. ‘‘With the amount of food and blankets you robbed out of here, I wouldn’t have much to worry about you happy campers, huh, now?” Stroking an infant’s hot fevered ears, Pollene silenced him with a glare. ‘‘Now stop that kind of talk. These little ones nearly became dinner for a hawk tonight_ if you have a care. Go to sleep, dears, all will be better soon, I promise.” ‘‘How long soon s’posed to be?’’ a little cottontail croaked from beneath his blanket.

Meanwhile, Steal knelt beside the huddled form of Bounder, stroking his ears gently till the dark eyes slowly inched open. In a voice so faint it was almost a whisper, Bounder managed out, ‘S-Steal?’’ ‘It is I, little one. Do not fear.” The face of Steal became blurred for the tears stinging Bounder’s eyes. “Steal… I am a weak coward.” “Hush now, and rest. Remember what I said about mistakes. I have not yet been exposed to a hawk’s beak and claws, but you have, and although you mayn’t have fought, you did not desert your friends and those held dear to you. That is what truly matters.” The words faded away as slumber lapsed over him.


“Lope, my dear, what is the matter? Come along, tell Mother.” “Stay yourself, Mother. He’ll be all right.” Lope lay hunched over the oak stump, his head between paws, his ears drooped in melancholy way. Every once in a while he would give he odd sniff. ‘’My father,” he uttered, n a hoarse whisper. “Your father will be all right, Lope,” Steal assured him gently. “He was a very brave and powerful jackrabbit, confronting those predatory bobcats.” Lope sniffed again. “He was a very brave and powerful jackrabbit,” he remarked soddenly. After a while, one of his mournful sniffs caught a whiff of something. He sniffed again. It was a rich, strong, bittersweet fragrance. His ears shot up almost instantly, and fell to the noose. “Onion folds_ I might have known I smelt it somewhere. Gimme that back, Sol, you heartless bully!” Everyone roared with laughter as Sol held it still out of his reach, returning equally vivid insults. “Never gave it to you in the first place, you ruthless little robber. Look at me, trying to enjoy my supper in peace, and here comes this midget-sized burglar!” “Why, that is my legal property, you great overbuilt tyrant!” Sol leaned back in his chair and gave an imitation yawn, fanning his ears with the fold of crust. ‘Ah, yes, I know I’m great. Move aside, peasant, and allow a noble to enjoy the last onion fold!” “Now, Sol, stop teasing at your brother and give him the fold.” Sol pretended to pull on a forlorn face and put on a mock whiny tone. “But it’s mine. I had it first. Umm_ ‘snot fair!” Steal collapsed upon the table, quaking with laughter. “Oh, Sol, stop that. It’s not attractive of you. Stop it, you’re setting a bad example for the little ones!” Meanwhile, little Poky was trying his best to make himself noticed. He leapt nimbly upon the surface of the table and scampered across, showing off his bushy silver tail. An agile squirrel of his fresh years had no need to knock over a kettle of tea by accident. If anyone reached out a paw in attempt to lift him down, however, he turned, clucked his tongue, and made patronizing squirrel noises while shaking a clenched paw. No one could contain their laughter. Carratree absently fed him bits of pastry. Steal, however, noticed that her eyes were diverted in the opposite direction. “What is the matter, my little princess?” Carratree did not take her eyes off of the still form of Bounder. “What will become of him, minister?” Steal stroked the delicate pink ears. ‘‘He’ll be all right tomorrow. Such a scene he’s gone through with Lope and yon little squirrel.” Poky had finished eating and curled upon Carratree’s shoulder. He murmured drowsily, “Um-hm, and yon little squirrel saved Bounder and Lope and all the babies’ helpless lives, and ain’t nobody thanked ‘im.” Then he wrapped his bushy tail around his body, shut his eyes, and quivered slightly before falling asleep. Mari caressed the glossy silver tail gently. “Isn’t he simply beautiful?” Mistress Rosedew finished dabbing the spilled tea from the table. She sank into a chair with a gusty sigh. “If only he would behave quite as prettily as he looks!” “Oh, don’t say that, mistress. He is a little gem.”


Screams of pain and agony awoke Carratree, and she sat up abruptly. Lupine was already wide awake, gazing about her in a startled sort of way. “What is going on?” Carratree remarked, in almost a whisper. Lupine did not reply, but merely seized her paw and dragged her out. In the corner of the kitchen stood Steal, dangling a long, large rat from his firm grasp. Sol stood, nostrils flaring, paws clenched at the ready. “Stay your place, Sol. He’s had enough pounding.” Sure enough, the rodent was covered from head to claw with fresh, deep bruises. He gasped out, ‘‘All right, lemme go. I’ll never do it again, I promise!” Steal brought him nose to nose. “Never do it again? You’ve already done it. You’ve devoured the rest of our rolls while we were running short of food, frightened our little ones half to death_” “And you’ve nearly killed me!” “Excuse me?” “Nothing, nothing, don’t get the spitting knife, please! I’m only a poor rat, we eat anything we can find. Don’t spit me, please!” “Eat anything you can find?” A wicked smile spread across Sol’s face as he reached for a bottle of clear liquid. ‘Well, there’s good news for you, my dear rodent. Have a dose, will you?” “No, not the ivy! Please, not the ivy that killed my mother and father when I was a hairless infant. Oh, confound my wretched heart!” Carratree felt her tender eyes warm with shimmering tears of sympathy. “Oh, don’t do it, Minister,” she cried out compassionately. “He was hungry!” Somehow, the words seemed to weave a halo over Sol. His paw lowered the bottle to the table. Steal carried the large rat out the door and over to the rim of the hedge. He set him outside of it. “We’ll let you off this time, but be grateful for it. And don’t come creeping in here again_unless you want to leave your body behind!” Mari happened to be skipping nearby, and she turned upon him indignantly. “Why, minister Steal, that is no way to speak to guests. Minister Rat! Minister Rat!” But the dingy rat had vanished into the distant greenery. “Guests!” Sol wrinkled his snout in disgust. “Why, he’s a filthy rodent_ a thiever at that!” “We’re all filthy rodents,” Lupine informed him primly. “And some of us can be thieves, too. Like little Poky the squirrel had plenty to eat at supper unlike that poor rat_ and yet Poky stole some of the rolls before he did!” Sol’s back was turned to them, and he gave a loud sniff. ‘My favorite rolls_ gone!” Carratree giggled with embarrassment. “I saw him, but I was too tired to stop him. Oh, dear_ what will Mistress Rosedew say when she comes in the kitchen and finds an empty biscuit dish?” “Hush now, little mistress. Sol is very upset. Leave him to himself.”


Bounder finally rose from bed that morning. Although still a bit feeble, he had the energy to eat at the table. Mistress Rosedew was still fussing to herself as she dished out steaming bowls of thin oat broth_helped with a pawful of flour, some sliced apples and nuts, and the last of the honey. “I still don’t believe this. A nasty rat comes right into our hut while we are asleep and devours my leftover rolls. Well, enjoy your breakfast, you all, for we’ll have very little food after this.” Everyone at the table knew exactly what she meant. They ate silently and sparingly of the food. Fortunately, there was plenty of it in the large vat, which might last another meal. Even the bunnies looked grave_particularly Speed. Some fidgeted uncomfortably in their seats. “It’s all our faults,’ Stover murmured to his twin sister. “Little fools like us takin’ all ‘da food, lettin’ hawks’n’ants mess it up.” “Yah, and ‘da blankets, gettin’’dem all tored up’n’holey.”

One by one, all the infants picked up their bowls of untouched porridge, climbed down from their chairs, and trailed over, emptying it into the vat. Then they marched into the back. Mistress Pollene sat, her eyes full of worry. “I don’t know what will become of them if they keep starving themselves. After all, they are only babies.” “Leave them,” the Chief of the Nomad tribe told her gently. “They must not be hungry.” Indeed, the little ones were far from hungry. They sat around in the hall, staring disconsolately into the fire. After a while, young Oliver made his way into the hall. He knelt to them and held out his paw.

“What is the matter with our little ones?” he asked them in his tender voice.

The babies must have been especially drawn to him, for Burrow clutched at the soft brown fur while relating the sad tale. “We runned away ‘n’ took five big blankets fulla food ‘n’ let ‘da hawks’n’ants ruin it.” Oliver motioned them around him in a circle. ‘’It is not entirely your fault. When I was young as you are I did many things that you did.” Twitcher appeared shocked at this disclosure. “You did?” ‘‘Well…not particularly what you did_ but of similar base. As you grow, you begin to understand more.” Speed gazed thoughtfully up at him. “You mean ‘dat when we all growed up like you’n’Steal’n’Haver’n’Lark, we be very very good Incisrons?” This staggered Oliver a bit, for he knew that truthfully, not all grew up to be very very good_particularly their rat visitor. But, not having the heart to say so, he told them warmly, “Of course you’ll grow to be very good and virtuous, I’m certain of that.”


“Come along, Lope. Drink it up and you’ll feel better soon.” Lope turned his head away, burying his face into his cushion. “Ohhhh. No more of that grass broth or whatever you call that mess. I’ve been drinking it for weeks and it’s beginning to make me sicker than before.” “But, Lopeydear,’’ Mistress Shale protested softly, “you must drink it or you’ll starve to death. Come along, pretend it’s onion pudding.’ Lope managed to push upright and give his mother a pained look. “Mama, that stuff doesn’t look or taste nothing like onion pudding. It’s dreadful!” With those words, he collapsed limply upon the cot. ‘But, darling_” “Never mind it, Mother,’ Sol told her flatly. “He’s not hungry.”

Mistress Pollene shoo her head. Her voice was flustered. “Noone appears to be hungry and yet all must eat. Not two weeks and there is scarce an inch of flesh upon anyone’s bodies.” Even Sol’s skin had drawn up taut over his bones, and he sat, his dark eyes pensive and full of worry. Pollene and the Nomad Chief were of no help. They kept pacing the room, crossing circles over. And this may have been worse for Steal, who had always been of austere build. Yet accustomed to abandoning meals, he endured it with silence. Bounder tried to take an example from Steal. This is my chance to show courage and bravery…. The young cottontail felt himself rise to his feet. He staggered a few steps before sinking against Steal for support. The tall young hare rose and helped him up. His voice filled his feeble mind. “Come, my friend, and do not fear. We will find food together.” Bounder lifted his eyes to regard steal’s face. His mouth was set grimly; when he caught Bounder’s eyes, however, he smiled_ not a wan, feeble smile, but a smile of courage. Neither one had spoken. And yet both had understood. The two friends strode out now, bold, confident and energetic, over the path which they would now claim free to all of Ricketyville. Little did they know that they were being stealthily followed…

The black dog rose abruptly at their entrance. He commenced to bark savagely at the intruders. ‘Quiet! Sit down! Sit!’ The dog obliged and sat back, dumbfounded. He was totally unaccustomed to being given orders by little rodents. And when the young hare and the little cottontail knelt down to fill their baskets, he decided that he didn’t like it. “Arf-arf! Arf-arf-arr-rrr…!’ Steal whirled upon the dog, slashing him with the stick between his ears_ upon the scar he had 8 years ago given him. The canine sank to the ground, a deep moan welling from his chest, his head dropped as if in submission. Steal nodded grimly. “Good dog. Now keep quiet.” With that he turned and began to load his basket. Recovering from his stun, Bounder did the same. The young hare did not lift his eyes, but merely murmured to the dog as he worked. ‘Rightfully I should have killed you for what you did to my father. No, but I will let you live, for I would not waste the life of a brave. You will never prevent another creature from taking its food, my friend, but you may now retire. Your guarding days are over.”

The black dog lifted its head, gazed at him through droopy eyes, and dropped his head back down. Just as Bounder had halfway filled his basket, a stunning snap rang out. A large spark of fire whizzed by, exploding before his very eyes. At once he recalled what Poky had told him about the nut falling, the lights crashing. Could it have been that the chestnut had not been the only thing that had knocked him unconscious? When the smoke and dust cleared, the scar upon the dog’s head had busted clean open. Blood ran down his face, and he drooped down with an eerie moan. Then he lay still and motionless. Bounder touched the cold, stiff body. It made no movement at all. Thos was his first experience with a dead thing. He gazed up into Steal’s face, not knowing what to think. ‘It is all right, little warrior,” Steal comforted him. ‘With the treatment he got leashed out there, he would not last much longer anyhow.” But before another word could be said, there came a second BANG!

There was a terrified scream. Bounder turned just in time to catch a glimpse of a twirling girdle through the thick smoke. He tried calling after the owner, but over the banging and rumbling his voice could not be heard.

The dust cleared again_ to find Steal lying limp upon the ground, a smoking hollow piece of bone sticking from his side. “Steal!” Bounder rushed over to him, dropping beside him. “Steal…speak to me!” In desperation he picked up a long stick and attempted to dig the hollow object from his side. The hare’s paw went to his side. His voice was a hoarse whisper. “No_ no…leave it.” Then his eyes shut all the way. Bounder shook him a little. “Steal? Steal, wake up! Tell me what you want…anything!” Steal’s eyes barely cracked open again. “Bounder, my friend, I want you to carry on my father’s position. Take care of our tribe. Keep it strong and happy. Go now…quickly…you must not be killed.” “Steal…I…” A paw lifted feebly from his side. “Must…not…be…killed…” His voice faded away, and his eyes shut once more. Bounder shook him harder. ‘Steal? Steal, wake up. We’ll take it out of you, and then we’ll mend your wound and get you in bed. You’ll be better soon. Think of the tribe, Steal. Think of the victory we have gained. We are free, Steal, the path is ours. We’re free! Steal? Please, Steal, wake up!” But the eyes could not be asked to open again, nor the voice be asked again to speak. The hot tears dripping upon the cold face did nothing to revive it. With heavy heart, Bounder took the upper half of the lifeless corpse and hefted it away from the lone garden.


The hutch was full of grief that late evening. The burial had been given far off somewhere [“Where later generations will not be affected by it,” the Chief of the Nomad tribe remarked.]. There was not a one in sight that could not be seen weeping profusely. Even the babies, tiny, weak and half-starved, huddled up in the firelit hall. Their soft snifflings could be heard all the way in the kitchen, where Mistress Rosedew, Chrome, Shale and Pollene sat mourning by the fire. Pollene paused to dab at her eyes with the edge of her girdle. She spoke for all their hearts. “Nothing will ever be the same again without my young hare. I wish that I might have had a chance to thank him for his kindness toward our little ones.” Mistress Shale sniffed loudly. “He was kind to Lope, too- so kind and gentle.”

There was a moment’s silence.

Then Mistress Rosedew announced, “Well, I might get up and prepare the meal now. We’re bad enough without finishing ourselves off by weeping all day.” With those words, she made as if to rise, but with one look at the heaped basket Steal had gathered at the garden, she collapsed back into her chair and burst into another flow of tears. “Now, Rosedew, don’t carry on so.” Mistress Chrome rubbed her back gently. “The infants will starve if you keep this up. Come along, now, pluck up and try to show a thing or two that Steal taught us.”

Meanwhile, Bounder sat in the back room, weeping over a long empty sleeping trench. A single candle lit the dark room. His heart was full of sorrow.

“Bounder?” It was a soft, timid little voice. ‘Bounder, aren’t you all right?” Bounder did not turn his head. ‘Go away, Carratree. Can’t you see that I am in great pain?” The small pink cottontail wandered over and sat down beside him. “So am I. So is everyone. But you are the one who subdued the black dog.” Bounder shook his head soddenly. His voice bore a mocking note. “Not I, little one. I did not do that. It was his master_ the same one who took the life of my friend_ who defeated him.” He banged his paw down upon the floor and cried out in desperation, “I am not a warrior, Carratree. I am weak, a coward- can’t you see!”

“Bounder.” Carratree’s gentle voice was full of shock. “How could you say such a thing about yourself?”

The young cottontail fell into an embarrassed silence. “You are brave, Bounder,” Carratree continued. “Brave and strong. All notice it but you. You may not have killed the dog, but you subdued him, and he obeyed you. As Steal said, there is no need to let the strong go to waste. As you see, Bounder, Steal’s few words can bear more than one meaning.” Bounder thought back to what Steal had said about playing on weaknesses. It had meant playing upon the physically weak as well as subduing the physically strong but weak and cowardly of heart. Rising shakily, he managed to steady himself as he gazed upon the pretty cottontail with awe. ‘Thank you, Carratree,” he told her, barely over a whisper. ‘The Chief must be proud to have a child wise as you are.” Without warning, Carratree reached over, slipping her paw into his. “And your father has passed his bravery on to you, Bounder. He would be pleased to see how you carry on his name. Come, Chief of the Hutch Incisrons!” The paw thing had been a surprise, but this plainly stunned him. “Chief?” Bounder repeated. Carratree smiled at him. “Steal told you carry on his position, silly one.” “But_ but how did you know this?” he exclaimed, completely aghast. “That is not what matters. As of now try to pluck up and look like a proper and brave Chief. Here_ perhaps this will help you.” While he watched open-mouthed, Carratree picked up the long, faded sleeveless blue overcoat from the empty trench and handed it to him. Slowly, Bounder took it, held it to his face and sniffed. The warm, strong scent filled him throughout. It was the scent of Steal, his life-to-death friend. Holding his breath, he slipped on the overcoat, which hung almost down his shins. Still, as Carratree rolled it up his waist, he felt a gush of pride. “I’ll wear it, Carratree,” he cried out ecstatically. “I shall wear it on, and never take it off as long as I live!”

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