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CHAPTER 15 - The Story of the Kingís Lettuce
In Dandelionís story, El-ahrairah has antagonized the animals with his treachery and has been forced to live in the
marshes of Kelfazin where the land is barren and the grass is barely good enough for ducks. Prince Rainbow, (who seems
to be a prophet of Frith) checks on him everyday to make sure he has stayed put. El-ahrairah makes a deal with Prince
Rainbow by offering to steal the lettuces from King Darzinís garden. King Darzin is the leader of a large animal kingdom
and has many animal spies and guards who protect the lettuce patches. A hedgehog overhears the conversation between
Prince Rainbow and El-ahrairah and reports the incident to the king who double all his guards.
El-ahrairah, however, does not try to get the lettuces directly. Instead he sends his own Owlsa leader Rabscuttle into an
unguarded area where the kingís children play. Rabscuttle plays with the children during the day and no one knows which
child he belongs to. At the end of the day he enters the kingís palace with the kingís son who claims Rabscuttle is his
friend. Rabscuttle makes his way to the royal storerooms where he finds some lettuce heads that have already been picked
and spoils them. The next evening King Darzin sends for his chief taster who brings in the spoiled lettuce heads. The king
and his people become sick; the more lettuce they eat, the sicker they become as Rabscuttle spoils the lettuce as fast as it
is brought in. After five days of this Rabscuttle returns to El-ahrairah.
El-ahrairah nibbles his fur short and covers himself with blackberry stain and burdock, then makes his way to the captain
of the guard where he claims to be the "chief physician of the land beyond the golden river of Frith." He says he has been
sent by Prince Rainbow to cure the sickness of the king. At first the guard refuses to let him in, but then is intimidated by
the name of Frith and Prince Rainbow and by the fear of punishment if he is blamed for preventing the king from
El-ahrairah examines the king, then announces that the lettuce is infected
with "Lousepedoodle," a deadly virus. At first the king does
not believe it, so El-ahrairah has him send for a "useless"
subject to be used as a test. Rabscuttle is brought in and told to eat
the lettuce. After doing so, he thrashes around helplessly as if he is
in great pain. Then the hedgehog comes in and tells the king that the
creatures from the marsh are planning to steal the royal lettuces. The
King has a "clever" solution; he will have all the lettuces
delivered to the marsh where they will sicken and kill the rabbits. Of
course this is exactly what El-ahrairah was after all along. So when Prince
Rainbow returns and sees all the lettuces, he has to keep his word and
let the rabbits out of the marsh. From that day on, "no power on
earth can keep a rabbit out of a vegetable garden."
The story is symbolic even though the rabbits of Cowslipís warren consider
it merely an entertaining myth. These rabbits have given up the very skill
that keeps the rabbits alive in that they are accepting daily handouts
from men. The scraps of vegetables that are scattered in the field are
essentially "poisoned," for they fatten the rabbits and cause
them to forget the skill of vigilance and foraging that keep them intellectually
sharp and enable them to make quick decisions in avoiding their enemies.
CHAPTER 16 - Silverweed
The Cowslip rabbits have no response for Dandelionís tale other than "it was charming." Cowslip says that they donít tell
the "old stories" very much, but that they tell stories and poems about their lives where they are. El-ahrairah doesnít mean
much to them. However, they consider Silverweed a great poet. When Buckthorn protests that El-ahrairah is a trickster
and rabbits will always need new tricks, an unidentified rabbit responds that what rabbits need is dignity and the will to
accept their fate. The voice is that of Silverthorn who smells- according to Fiver- "like barley rained down and left to rot
in the fields." The poem is a lot of nonsense about the rabbits joining Frith and becoming the "rabbit of the stream" or the
"rabbit of the leaves." If anything the poems seems like some sort of eulogy.
At the end of the poem Fiver becomes nearly hysterical and fights his way
out of the burrow, clawing and snarling at anyone in his way as he goes.
Hazel tries to explain that Fiver is a poet himself and sometimes has
strange reactions to things. Hazel and Bigwig follow him. Bigwig considers
the poem a lot of foolishness but is concerned that Fiver may have caused
a row and endangered their "good start" in the warren.
The poem is a foreshadowing of the eventual fate of all rabbits who remain
in this warren. Fiver "sees" it in his vague way, but has no
idea just what the nature of the trouble will be.
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