The rabbits are astonished not just to see Holly alive, all the way at Watership Down, but to find him in such a miserable state. The reality of seeing Holly so beaten and broken is more frightening for Hazel and his group, in many ways, than encountering the Black Rabbit himself. Hazel tells Dandelion to go back to the ditch and fetch Bigwig, and meanwhile send Speedwell back up the hill to tell the others. Hazel becomes aware of the presence of another rabbit—it is Bluebell, also from Sandleford. Hazel tells Bluebell and Holly that no matter how exhausted they are, they can’t stay here for the night—they’ll have to come up the hill to the burrow. Holly says he can make it, and Hazel, Bigwig, and Dandelion help the injured rabbits climb the hill.
Holly, back at Sandleford, was a rather intimidating authority figure. Seeing him broken, disoriented, and beaten strikes fear into the rabbits’ hearts. Something horrible has happened to their home—and now they must face the reality of what has happened to the community and the rabbits they left behind.
The next day, Hazel, Blackberry, and Strawberry discuss construction on the new warren and the best way to make a large, stable meeting-room at its center—which they plan to call the Honeycomb. Throughout the rest of the day, Strawberry and the others dig happily in shifts. When a hawk flies overhead the rabbits take cover in their scrapes, but see a field mouse lost in the grass, paralyzed by fear. Hazel calls out to it and offers it shelter in the burrow, and the mouse makes a mad dash inside, narrowly avoiding the hawk. Bigwig reprimands Hazel for offering shelter to a strange animal, but Hazel tells the mouse to stay as long as he pleases.
This chapter’s subplot concerning Hazel’s rescue of a defenseless field mouse does a couple things. It shows that Hazel is genuinely a compassionate leader—and also shows how wily he is, and how his decision to extend sanctuary to the mouse is both an act of empathy and one of self-interest.
Dandelion emerges from his burrow to update Hazel on Holly and Bluebell. After a very bad, sleepless night, Holly is finally awake and doing better—Bluebell has taken him up to silflay. Hazel and Bigwig decide to go out and talk to them. Out on the down, Holly asks about Hazel and Bigwig’s journey, and they proudly state that everyone they left the warren with has made it here today, in spite of some injuries along the way. Strawberry approaches and asks if they can all sleep in the nearly-finished Honeycomb that evening and perhaps hear Holly and Bluebell’s tale. Holly agrees to tell his story to everyone but warns the others that “it will strike the frost into the heart of every rabbit that hears it.”
Though Hazel is proud of having gotten all of the Sandleford rabbits who left with him all the way across the hills, heathers, and fields, Holly is too haunted by whatever it is he has been through to celebrate this accomplishment.
Back at the warren, Holly reunites with Silver and thanks Fiver for attempting to warn the Threarah about his vision of Sandleford’s destruction. They all head down into the Honeycomb, but the mouse Hazel rescued earlier stops him on the way. He says he plans to leave, but that in exchange for Hazel’s help, he will make himself available to Hazel whenever he might need the favor returned.
Hazel knows that rabbits live in a dangerous world and need help from those who share it. By taking the mouse in, he wanted to extend kindness and shelter to it—but was perhaps, on some level, hoping for this outcome: the offering of a favor in return for a favor.