As Hazel and the others approach Cowslip’s warren, they are surprised by how visible it is even from above ground. They encounter two rabbits who make an odd, dance-like gesture in greeting and then welcome them down to the warren. Hazel is surprised that it seems like their warren has a room big enough for both large groups of rabbits to congregate, but excited to see what it is like down there.
There are some strange things that stick out about Cowslip’s warren right from the start—but the rabbits are so hungry for shelter and belonging that they choose to ignore these things and focus instead on their excitement.
Underground, Hazel and the others find themselves in the largest burrow they have ever been in. The roof is made of tree roots, which help to support the vast space. Hazel asks Cowslip why he was modest about his warren’s numbers, as their burrow seems to be huge. He then worries he has made a misstep, wondering if disease or some other tragedy has wiped out a large part of the warren—though the rabbits that are there are the healthiest he’s seen.
Something is off here—though the rabbits that populate the warren are large and healthy, there are very few of them, and they all seem to be recovering from a collective trauma or some other setback.
As the two groups of rabbits grow accustomed to one another by playing together and nuzzling one another, Fiver stands apart. Hazel asks who the Chief Rabbit is, but one of the other rabbits answers that they have no Chief—every rabbit is in charge of his own destiny. Hazel asks what they do about elil, but the other rabbit replies that elil rarely come around because a man who comes through the fields shoots at them with his gun.
The rabbits seem to have nothing to worry about—they have a free, democratic society and enjoy the protection of a nearby human—and yet still there is a pervasive atmosphere of strangeness and suspicion.
A rabbit named Strawberry introduces himself to Hazel and offers to show him around the warren. Hazel follows him through the sizable burrow. They stop at a wall where stones have been pushed into the surface in a pattern—Strawberry explains it is a kind of shrine to El-ahrairah, and then suggests they return to the main room. On the way back Strawberry chatters relentlessly, and Hazel begins to realize he is doing so to keep Hazel from asking any questions.
As Hazel “learns” more and more about Cowslip’s warren, he finds he’s actually learning nothing at all—he’s only seeing what the others want him to see, and there is no room for questions.