As Hazel and a group of rabbits including Blackberry, Bluebell, Dandelion, Pipkin, Fiver, Silver, and Bigwig set out for Efrafa, Holly leads them as far as the edge of the wood to see them off. There, he begs Hazel one last time “not to underrate the danger.” As Silver leads them southward, each rabbit is filled with a sense of dread.
Whereas on the starts of other parts of their journeys the rabbits have felt a mix of fear and excitement, the mood is decidedly more somber as they make their way towards Efrafa.
Around ni-Frith, the rabbits pause in a thorn patch. They are at the edge of a thick wood, which Holly had previously described to them as strange and dangerous. As the group decides whether or not they should go through the forest, Hazel suggests Bigwig—who has proven himself “King of Cats” back at Nuthanger—go through the trees first and check to see if it’s all right.
Though Hazel is the leader of their clan, he recognizes that other rabbits have skills he doesn’t, and shares the responsibilities of leader with others based on their talents.
As Bigwig heads into the copse, Hazel asks Silver whether they’re within the Wide Patrol’s range yet, which Silver supposes that they are. Hazel reminds him how important it is that they avoid the Wide Patrol—they don’t want to go straight to Efrafa just yet, but are instead looking for somewhere very near it where they can hide out. Bigwig emerges from the woods and announces that the coast is clear, and Hazel urges the group onward through the forest.
This passage shows that the rabbits have a very specific strategy in place, and though they’re planning on infiltrating Efrafa, they don’t want to be brought in on terms that aren’t their own.
On the other side of the woods, the rabbits meet up with Kehaar. Hazel asks him to fly on their behalf and seek out a place to hide as near to Efrafa as they can get without being caught. Kehaar suggests they go over a nearby river—there is plenty of cover, and the Efrafans never cross it on their patrols. Fiver suggests they all head straight there without stopping for the night.
There is a sense of urgency and timeliness to this journey that hasn’t been present on several of the group’s other sojourns. They know that their lives depend on their ability to avoid early detection by the Efrafans.
The rabbits pause to feed and rest before they head out again at fu Inlé. Hazel tries to appear confident and cheerful, but he can sense that the group is on edge. At the same time, he knows how far they have all come from their first night out in the fields after leaving Sandleford and is proud of his “tough […] bunch.” Acorn asks Dandelion to tell a story, and Dandelion, at Bigwig’s request, begins the fearful tale of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
Though the rabbits have, up to this point, used stories to soothe and instruct one another, the story Dandelion is about to embark on is a very different kind of tale—one which will force the rabbits to confront existential fears rather than take refuge in heroic tales of trickery.