Written by Bunny, Fall, 2003
I remember that night very clearly, as if it just happened yesterday.
I was down in the lower part of the warren getting ready to fall asleep for the evening when the alpha rabbit called me to his chamber. I had never been allowed to even be on the same level of the warren as the alpha, so I was quite shocked when he called me. With nervous anxiousness I made my way to the other side of our large warren — the biggest and oldest around I had been told — to see the alpha. Once I arrived the guard rabbit moved aside and I was allowed to enter into the chamber where few rabbits have been allowed to go before.
Much to my surprise, the alpha’s chamber wasn’t lush and extravagant. In fact, the area of the warren where I stopped to sleep most nights was in better shape. Our walls had grown smooth from years of use, and the air had the heavy, very inviting smell of the generations of rabbits that had lived there before myself.
After allowing me a few moments to look around, the alpha finally spoke to me.
“Surprised?” he said.
“What should I be surprised at, sir?” I replied.
“The condition of my chamber. Most rabbits that enter here expect to find this chamber to be filled with riches — foods of all types — and the finest construction around.”
“To be honest, sir, I am a little surprised, yes,” I said with a hushed tone. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
“That’s okay, Marigold. Rabbits are simple creatures. I don’t need a lot to keep me content, and thus I freely pass along the riches of this warren to the rabbits that have worked so hard to create it and keep it the way that it is today.”
Such humble words from a rabbit that could order my neck broken in a matter of seconds if he desired.
He continued, “Let me ask you something. How old do you think this warren is?”
“Legend has it that the warren is very old, sir. It has been around for more years than any of us are able to count.”
“You are correct, Marigold. This warren is very old, but we do know how old it is. Sugarcove Warren is well over three lifetimes old.”
I was shocked. Three lifetimes is a very long time for a warren to stay together.
“Marigold, I know you are just a young rabbit, not even an adult yet, but I am going to share with you a matter which is very serious. Sit down and make yourself comfortable.”
I laid down on the floor and gave my full attention to what I was about to hear.
“The success of this warren is due in large part to what we call a ‘Protector’. Have you ever run into a human?”
“No, sir. I don’t go above ground much, I’m not old enough to be allowed to yet.”
“As I expected. Humans are very complex creatures. They are several times our size, and carry weapons which can kill a rabbit even when the rabbit is a great distance away. Most rabbits wish to have nothing to do with them.
“However, there is one human — called our ‘Protector’ — that watches over our warren. He lives at the edge of the meadow and ensures that our warren will remain safe for generations to come. It is not an easy burden that the Protector carries; the lives of many, many rabbits are at stake.
“In fact, the task is so great and so tiring that the job is rotated around every couple of years,” he said solemnly.
“I had no idea the Protector even existed, sir.”
“Most rabbits your age don’t. We have come to take the Protector for granted. However, Marigold, the reason I’ve asked for you to come here is not to tell you the story of what the Protector does, rather, it’s to tell you where the Protector comes from.”
“Comes from, sir?” I ask with a confused look on my face. “Aren’t humans born like how rabbits are?”
“Most of them most certainly are. However, the Protector is not. The Protector is one of us. The Protector is actually a rabbit.” He paused as if he was giving me time to wonder what I had just heard.
“A rabbit and a human? How is that possible?”
“As most of the older rabbits here will remember, we perform a ritual every two years to crown a new Protector and welcome the current one home. It is a glorious time of celebration! We pass the torch from one rabbit to another, and welcome the old Protector home in the best way we know how!”
He looked happy at the thought of having another Protector celebration. His ears shot up towards the ceiling of the chamber and he had a smile on his face. As I thought for a while longer, I knew why he had asked me here.
“Sir,” I asked, “I suppose you want me to be the next Protector?”
“Yes Marigold. I’ve been watching you around the warren and you have a deep sense of compassion for your fellow rabbit. I feel you will make a great Protector. I will not force the job on you — if you do not want it, I will find another rabbit to take it.” He looks directly at me. “But I think you will be an excellent Protector — perhaps even one of the best ever.”
I looked around the chamber. Here I was, in the chamber of the alpha; a chamber that’s as poor and rundown as even some of the worse parts of the warren. We have so much, and yet he chooses to give it to us rather than keep it all for himself, as he’s perfectly allowed to do. And yet, a rabbit this humble, this wise… wants *ME* to be the Protector. How could I refuse?
“I would be the Protector for two years, correct?”
“Yes, and after your tour of duty is over you will be able to rejoin our warren with all of the honor that being the Protector brings.”
“Were you ever the Protector, sir?”
“Yes I was. Long before you were born. There are only a few rabbits left that remember when I was the Protector, in fact. I won’t lie to you. It’s not an easy job. Life here in the warren is pretty comfortable – some rabbits have never been to the surface! Life on the outside is very different… in some ways it’s enjoyable, but also very complex. The thought of wanting to keep this warren safe is what drives the Protector — the burning desire to protect our simple way of life.”
Of all the rabbits in the warren the alpha chose me to keep it safe. What an honor! As a member of Sugarcove Warren it’s my duty to do all that I am able to protect it, and if that duty requires me to become a human for two years, then so be it!
“Sir, I would consider it to be an honor to be the next Protector. When is the ceremony?”
“Tomorrow evening after sundown, on the surface. Your warren thanks you, Marigold.”
“I will do my best.”
“I know that you will.” He stopped to pause and catch his breath. “I am an old rabbit. If I die before you return to the warren, I want you to know that you have my gratitude for accepting this duty. Thank you. You may sleep here tonight, if you wish. Enjoy your last night in the warren as my special guest.”
“Thank you, sir. I will.”
“Wonderful! I’ll have my guards bring you some food in the morning and tend to any needs that you may have.”
I didn’t sleep well that night. The thoughts of what was going to happen in the morning both scared and excited me. Several times during the night I wanted to scream that I recant and didn’t want to take the job, but I always talked myself out of it. The alpha chose me for a reason, and whatever that reason was, I was determined to do whatever he wanted me to do.
In the morning the alpha’s guards brought me some of the finest and freshest grass I’d ever had the pleasure of eating, followed by a few bits of a carrot. Getting to eat carrot — even just a little piece — was considered an honor at my age. Normally carrots are reserved only for high ranking members of the warren! It was really juicy and sweet. I understood why the elders would want to keep it for themselves.
After breakfast I went into my usual morning grooming session. As I was cleaning out my fur, it occurred to me that this may be the last time I do this to myself for a long time. I wondered silently to myself if humans did any sort of grooming? I guess I’d find out soon enough. Once I was properly groomed, the alpha returned to his chambers to talk to me.
“Sleep well?” he asked.
“No, not really. I had a lot on my mind, obviously.”
“That’s quite understandable. You haven’t changed you mind, have you?”
“No sir, of course not.” It wasn’t a lie, but I felt guilty saying it.
“Very good. I spent this morning informing the warren that tonight we will be performing the ritual of the Protector. There are a lot of rabbits that want to meet you right now, Marigold.”
“That’s interesting, sir, seeing as how I’ve lived my entire life here in the warren,” I told him with a disgruntled look on my face.
“Don’t take it personally. Rabbits never pay attention unless something is wrong. If they *DID* know who you were, I’d be worried,” he chuckled back.
“What do I need to do to get ready for tonight?”
“Nothing. Just relax and be yourself. Go mingle with the rest of the rabbits in the warren, and let them talk to you and meet you. When it’s time for the ritual to start, you’ll know.”
I spent the rest of the day hopping around the warren talking to every rabbit that was interested in meeting me. Most just wanted to know my name, age, and if I’d been in the warren my entire life. I got tried of telling the same story over and over again, but I kept it up and answered each question as if it was the first time I’d heard it that day instead of the hundredth.
Just after sundown the ritual began. All of the rabbits gathered together in a circle above ground, with myself in the center and the alpha in the center. There was a lot of talking and confusion for a few minutes, but finally the alpha tamped his foot on the ground firmly a few times to get the attention of every rabbit at once.
“My fellow members of Sugarcove Warren,” he spoke with dignity and confidence, “tonight we celebrate a ritual that makes our warren unique and powerful among all of the other warrens! Tonight we celebrate the ritual of the Protector!”
All around me rabbits starting cheering and tamping their feet wildly.
After allowing the crowd to calm down slightly, the alpha continued. “Our fellow rabbit Marigold will soon take on the role of the Protector, protecting our warren from harm for another two years! After Marigold has undergone this awesome and amazing transformation, we will welcome home the current Protector — Buttercup!”
Again the crowd went wild with cheering and tamping of feet. While this was going on, the alpha leaned my direction and whispered to me. “Your first task as the Protector will be to go retrieve Buttercup and relieve him of duty. His house is over there,” he said while motioning towards the east. “After that, you are on your own. It is the duty of each Protector to leave directions for his successor in the house, which I am sure that Buttercup has left in order. Do you have any final questions?”
“No sir. What do I do now?”
“Don’t fight the changes. The transformation is painless, but can be very uncomfortable if you’re fighting it. Once the ritual starts it’s too late to change your mind, so you might as well relax and enjoy it — it will be an experience that only a small number of rabbits ever gets a chance to experience! Keep your wits about you and you will not have a problem, understand?”
“Yes sir! If I don’t get a chance to see you again, sir, you have been a wonderful alpha to serve under.”
“Don’t worry about me, tonight is your night in the spotlight. I will take care of myself!” He rubbed my nose with his nose. “Take care of yourself, Marigold.”
The alpha moved into the circle, leaving me alone in the center. From the inner ring of the circle he spoke up one final time, “Let the ritual of the Protector begin! The rabbits that have participated before take the lead, the rest of the rabbits should take a moment to study what they are doing and join in when they feel comfortable. Let the celebration begin!”
The alpha start tamping his foot in rhythm “tamp-tamp-tamp-TAMP-tamp-tamp-tamp-TAMP-TAMP-TAMP-tamp-tamp-tamp-TAMP” over and over again. (1-2-3-*4*-1-2-3-*4*-*1*-*2*-1-2-3-*4*) The rest of the rabbits quickly joined in in rhythm. The ground started to shake under the force of all of the rabbits tamping simultaneously. It was a very creepy feeling.
Once the rhythm had established itself, the alpha spoke once again, chanting something I was unable to recognize. The rest of the rabbits followed along, chanting and tamping away.
Shortly after the rest of the rabbits started in on the chant, a rush of power shot throughout my entire body. It entered at my paws and quickly shot throughout my body — leaving at the tips of my ears. What an intriguing feeling! Shortly after the initial rush of power left, I was left with a tingling distributed throughout my entire body. My initial reaction was to tense up and fight it, but remembering the advice of the alpha, I just relaxed and allowed myself to enjoy the feeling.
After a few moments I couldn’t see or hear the sights and sounds coming from my fellow rabbits — all I could see was a glowing light. Instead I focused solely on what was going on deep inside me.
I started growing rapidly. The sensation was overwhelming — I felt like I was being stretched in all directions at once! I wanted to turn and run, but I was completely unable to move. I was simply along for the ride now!
My body was being stretched and twisted in ways I would have never guessed possible. I could hear my bones cracking and bending and moving all about. My tail kept getting shorter, and eventually was drawn up into my rear. My ears were suffering the same fate, being slowly sucked into my head. My face started pushing in on itself, removing my muzzle completely!
The claws on my paws elongated and gained a lot more movement. While I was examining my new paws, I realized that almost all of my fur had dropped off, leaving me mostly naked. The tingling continued to grow more and more intense as the rest of my body was changed from a rabbit into the body of a human. I shut my eyes and let it lead the way.
As quickly as the power flowed into my body, it left, leaving me standing as a human amidst a circle of rabbits. I was no longer able to understand a word they were saying, nor could I smell them as I’ve come to expect. I felt like I had been cut off from my family completely! For the first time in my life, I was totally isolated and alone!
Finally I regained my composure, and remembered what I was here to do. While I was in a panic state the rabbits had changed formations from a circle to a “U” shape, pointing me in the direction towards the house where I was suppose to go. I took one last look at my warren, and walked — on two legs — out of the circle and towards the house.
A human met me at the front of the house.
“Buttercup?” I said in a language I’d never heard before, yet for some reason understood completely.
“How – how did you know my name? My *REAL* name, I mean,” he replied.
“You are being relieved of your duty. Go and join the celebration that awaits you!”
Buttercup looked overjoyed as he thanked me. Once we had exchanged our greetings and introductions he ran off towards the circle that I had just left, leaving me alone in this big house with only a few books of notes to keep me company.