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After Dandelion finishes his story, he goes to take over the sentry post from Acorn. Hazel goes with him and is visited by his mouse friend, who brings news of other rabbits gathered close by. Bigwig wants to talk to Hazel and ignores the mouse, but Hazel asks the mouse to repeat its message and then insists on sending Holly and Blackavar to check. Speedwell comes out happily to tell them that Clover has had a litter of six kittens.
Bigwig chats happily with Hazel, but then Holly and Blackavar come running back. They bring news that a huge raiding party has come from Efrafa. They have bumped into Campion and they think Woundwort himself may be there. Hazel decides to fill in the holes leading into the burrows so their enemies will have to dig them out, leaving one hole open to enter and exit. Hazel decides to go try to talk to General Woundwort, and he makes Bigwig Chief Rabbit until he returns.
We learn that Woundwort's authority was damaged after Bigwig engineered the great escape, and he was determined to get revenge. He set up Campion to look for the escapees at the spot where the fox ruined their earlier patrol. After learning where the warren was, he set up an expedition.
Once Woundwort learns that the rabbits have been spotted, he takes a few of his own rabbits with him to look at what the enemy is doing. Hazel comes forward and offers a compromise. He suggests that they create a warren between Efrafa and the downs, made up of rabbits from each warren. Woundwort barely considers Hazel's offer before telling him that if all the does, Blackavar, and Bigwig are not waiting when he gets there, then he will kill all of the bucks.
While the Efrafans struggle to get through, Bigwig suggests to Hazel that they move everyone into the burrows behind the Honeycomb and then block the entrances. That way once they are in, the Efrafans will have to get through Bigwig to get to the rest of the warren. Fiver falls into some sort of trance, screams, and Hazel has a vision: he needs to go to the farm and free the dog. He takes Blackberry and Dandelion with him and they fly out of the open hole.
Hazel takes Dandelion and Blackberry to the farm. Blackberry stays back, and while Dandelion waits Hazel gnaws at the dog's leash. Suddenly a cat appears, and Hazel stamps to warn Dandelion. The cat pounces, the dog jumps up, breaks the leash, and runs, and Hazel falls hard from the kennel, looks up, and sees the cat he once dodged looking down at him.
Woundwort moves down into the burrow and prepares to attack. Bigwig has had to leave Fiver on the other side because he would not wake up, but Woundwort thinks Fiver is dead and leaves him alone. Woundwort brings in more rabbits, and they see the newly formed wall at one end of the hall. When they break through, Woundwort steps in first, and Bigwig, who has buried himself below the entrance, bites deep into the General's leg. Woundwort scratches back and then advances. Bigwig rips into the leg again, but then Woundwort comes down on top of him and takes control. Just as Woundwort goes for the kill, his leg gives out and he falls backward, receiving a few blows from Bigwig as he moves back.
The mouse that Hazel once saved returns the favor in a large way, warning the rabbits of the Efrafan raid that is about to attack them. Hazel's use of other animals besides rabbits has saved them several times, and Hazel decides to make one last daring attempt to save the warren. He wants to loose the dog on the Efrafans, and he manages to get the dog free, but in doing so he falls and hurts himself and ends up in the hands of a cat who particularly dislikes him. Hazel leads his warren in a very different manner from that of Woundwort, and his attempt to win the battle not through direct confrontation but through a trick that would end the fight before it began is something the General would never think of. Rabbits are full of trickery, like their hero El-ahrairah, but Woundwort is not like other rabbits. He fights animals that other rabbits do not fight, and he looks to settle disputes with violence rather than trickery.
Therefore, Woundwort hardly considers the offer that Hazel makes to him—something the General would never have come up with himself. Hazel's offer would solve the overpopulation problem at Efrafa and would give the rabbits three warrens that were all allies. But Woundwort has always been a conqueror, not a peaceful leader, and he has come to the downs to conquer. He lacks Hazel's vision and also does not seem to care for the lives of his rabbits very much. Woundwort needs to regain his political authority and he feels that a convincing victory is the way to do so. He never stops to consider the possible advantages of befriending the other rabbits. Furthermore, he believes that he has a personal score to settle with Bigwig, who has already bested him and made him look bad. Woundwort also never thinks about the fact that Hazel's rabbits are defending their homes and are committed to total resistance. They understand that they likely will die and yet they are still willing to fight. Woundwort's own troops, on the other hand, expect an easy victory and are not so eager to be killed. While Woundwort's courage and daring are without question, many of his rabbits do not want to take any unnecessary chances. Woundwort easily starve the warren out, but that would not provide the great military victory that he thinks he needs to restore his power base. He needs to show the Efrafans that even Bigwig is not a match for the General.
However, when Woundwort goes to settle his score with Bigwig he finds that he has a worthy opponent. Bigwig has the advantage of a surprise attack, which he uses it to injure the General's leg. Woundwort uses his weight in battle since he is bigger than other rabbits, but by hurting his leg Bigwig makes the General's weight into a problem. The injured leg cannot support Woundwort's bulk, so he cannot properly attack Bigwig. Normally it seems that Woundwort defeats other rabbits quite quickly, but this time Bigwig has given him pause. Woundwort simply looks for the easiest way to get at his enemies because he is convinced that they will quickly be destroyed. Bigwig, on the other hand, uses the brief time that he has to give himself the critical advantage that he knows he will need in order to face his larger opponent. Bigwig's guile and cunning, more than his pure fighting ability, is what lets him survive Woundwort's first attack. Without the injury to the General's leg, Bigwig would be finished fairly quickly.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Watership Down!