After Holly is done telling his story, Hazel begins cleaning the rabbit’s mangled ear. Silver helps, and as he does, he and Hazel discuss the advantages and disadvantages of recruiting other creatures to help them, as Hazel did earlier with the mouse. Hazel wishes they could find a bird in need of help and find a way to get him on their side. Silver and Holly both express skepticism, but Bluebell pipes up and says that El-ahrairah successfully did something of the sort. Hazel asks for the story, but Holly suggests they silflay first. After grazing in the moonlight for a while, the rabbits listen to Bluebell’s tale.
As the rabbits consider how to better insulate themselves against the threats of men and elil, they turn to the influence of El-ahrairah and seek to emulate his wiles and trickeries. Hearing stories of his successes emboldens them to try new things, to take advantage of their natural gifts, and to embrace the trickster spirit within all of them.
After escaping from the marshes of Kelfazin, El-ahrairah and his people went to the meadows of Fenlo and dug a new burrow. Prince Rainbow had his eye on El-ahrairah and wanted to make sure he didn’t get up to any more tricks. One evening, Rainbow arrived at El-ahrairah’s new burrow, where El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle were sharing a hole. Prince Rainbow separated the two of them, citing their bad influence on one another, and introduced El-ahrairah to a rabbit named Hufsa instead.
This story demonstrates how trickery—one of the few defenses rabbits have against the larger world—is something they’re vilified for, and have been throughout their species’s history. Prince Rainbow attempts to assert his authority over the rabbits in order to further his own agenda.
After a while, El-ahrairah noticed that things were always going wrong with his plans and schemes. He believed someone in the warren was leaking information about his tricks, and set up a trap for Hufsa to determine if he was the snitch. After determining that Hufsa was indeed behind the leaks, he felt unsure of what to do. He was afraid to tell Hufsa anything, but at the same time didn’t want to kill him, as that would surely draw Rainbow’s ire.
This story is also, perhaps, being told as a cautionary tale, meant to warn the Watership Down rabbits of the pitfalls of disloyalty to the larger group.
Prince Rainbow paid a visit to El-ahrairah and commended him on having reformed himself. He invited El-ahrairah, Rabscuttle, and Hufsa to watch him plant a new garden full of carrots, and warned El-ahrairah that anyone caught stealing from the garden would be punished severely by Frith himself. That night, in secret, El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle began devising a plan to get rid of Hufsa once and for all—and to steal the carrots, too.
Even when silenced and infringed upon, the story suggests, rabbits will always find a way to honor their true natures and to employ the wiles given to them by Frith to come out on top.
While El-ahrairah enlisted the help of Yona, Rabscuttle befriended a pheasant. They both offered their animal friends favors and food in exchange for their help. That evening, El-ahrairah asked Hufsa to help him steal the carrots. Hufsa agreed and promised to come along the following evening, but El-ahrairah insisted they depart right away. On the way, they came upon Yona singing to the moon. A little while later, they found Rabscuttle’s pheasant friend swimming in a pond. After stopping to rest under a tree, they were approached by a strange creature with a red tail and long green ears, smoking a cigarette—it was Rabscuttle in disguise, and he introduced himself as a messenger of Lord Frith.
El-ahrairah has designed a strange gauntlet of creatures for Hufsa to encounter on their journey to the carrot garden as a means of bewildering and destabilizing the disloyal Hufsa.
El-ahrairah at last led Hufsa to the field of carrots, where they stole a great many and returned with them to the burrow. The next afternoon, Hufsa went out, and that evening, Price Rainbow came to visit, announcing that El-ahrairah was under arrest for stealing the carrots. El-ahrairah demanded a trial by a jury of animals, and Prince Rainbow consented. Rainbow began assembling a jury of elil, knowing a jury of rabbits would acquit El-ahrairah.
El-ahrairah’s aims are becoming clear—he knew he would be punished for stealing the carrots and has devised a scheme which will hopefully get him out of the sticky situation.
That evening, at the trial, Hufsa took the stand as a witness, and El-ahrairah began asking him questions about his supposed journey to steal the carrots. As Hufsa began recounting the strange details of the raid—the singing hedgehog, the swimming pheasant, the ghastly rabbit spirit—the jury grew suspicious of Hufsa’s fanciful tale (which was of course engineered by El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle themselves). The jury told Prince Rainbow that they couldn’t possibly convict El-ahrairah, as Hufsa was obviously lying. In a huff, Prince Rainbow took Hufsa away, and El-ahrairah and his people were restored to a time of peace.
El-ahrairah’s trickery wins out once again. He thwarts Prince Rainbow’s attempts to control his and his warren’s way of life, and shows his people how devoted he is to their freedom and well-being.