Fort Cuniculus

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2005

By Ralphie Kabo, Illustrated by Cameron Osteen

Brumm was woken by the distant thumping sound of the sentry’s back paws. He was lying in a small, warm chamber with his twin brother, Trumm. He lifted one of his ears and listened more closely to the sound. It wasn’t urgent, just the thump that told the residents of Fort Cuniculus that the sun was two ear-lengths from the horizon. Brumm yawned widely and hopped out into one of the fort’s many corridors. The main residents of Fort Cuniculus were rabbits, most of whom were still sleeping, but the temporary residents, hares, were up and about, mainly for an early meal. Hares were always hungry. Brumm chuckled to himself and hopped out of the underground area into the open rabbit city. To the left of his tunnel was the main square at the base of the hill, but he hopped the opposite way, towards some dusty grass clumps.

Suddenly another rabbit hopped out to him. “Drumthro wants to talk to you. Come on.”

Brumm hopped after the rabbit, wondering why the leader of Fort Cuniculus wanted to talk to a regular soldier.

The large, muscly rabbit was sitting in a large chamber at the end of Fort Cuniculus’s main tunnel.

“I have noticed your fighting talent and bravery in the last skirmish with the foxes. You are very resourceful and smart. Also, you have a good sense of humor. Because of this I have made you a senior officer.”

Brumm could not believe his ears. The first thing he managed to say was, “Really?” but then he composed himself and said, “Thank you, sir. Do you want me to do anything for you, sir?”

Fort Cuniculus rabbits looking at birds

Just then the Rose appeared with her rosellas

“Yes, I do. One of our patrols thought he saw fox tracks west of here. I have a feeling they are up to something, and by the ear, if foxes are up to something, they are always up to no good. Get some soldiers and find the rosellas. Ask them to scout the area all around Fort Cuniculus, especially to the west. Report straight to me. Off you go.”

Soon Brumm with five soldiers was on another hill, opposite the fort. Normally this was the resting and feeding place of the rosellas and their queen, Rose. She wasn’t there, so Brumm decided to wait for her.

Suddenly a sound resembling a small earthquake broke the midsummer morning. Two kangaroos jumped up to the fort and started jumping on one of the tunnels, making it collapse. One of the kangaroos shouted out, “Hah, there goes one of your precious tunnels. But that is only the start of our revenge. You invaders eating our Australian grass is bad enough, but you eat the roots too! You will turn the whole of Australia into a dust bowl!”

And the kangaroos jumped off. Brumm reminiscently chewed a grass shoot together with root and snorted. Honestly, patriots. There were hundreds of tunnels in the fort; it would take the kangaroos all year to block them all up.

Just then the Rose appeared with her rosellas. They were a jolly lot, always ready to help the rabbits and even readier to play a practical joke on them. Brumm explained their predicament to Rose, the “most beautiful and bright rosella to fly the skies,” according to her mate, Rosso. She immediately sent a couple of rosellas to scout around and invited the rabbits to a lunch of berries in nectar, seed, grass and flower salad and a rosella speciality, nut crunch. The news spoiled their appetites immediately—a very large army of foxes, gathered from the surrounding countryside for miles around, about thirty animals, was advancing on the rabbits and kangaroos.

Brumm refused Rose’s tea menu and went straight to the fort. He told the news to Drumthro, who looked really worried. “With the kangaroo threat, although not very dangerous but still looming, and the food stocks down low, we really need help. Listen, do a large sweep of the area and try to find some other animals to help us. Take Brigade 4, you are now officially its commander.”

Drumthro handed a badge with a tiny emerald on it and the number 4 to Brumm.

*          *          *

At exactly five ear-lengths the fourth brigade departed from the fort. They set off north. Soon they heard a wailing and then a voice, “Help, please help, someone! I’m stuck! Ah000000000!”

Brumm told the brigade to wait and went ahead with a reconnaissance party. The noise was coming from a deep pit beneath a tree. In the pit was a large dingo. He had clearly fallen in and got stuck in the mud that collected at the bottom. Brumm sized up the situation and then called out to the dingo, “Don’t move. We’ll get you out if you promise not to harm us.”

“OK, I promise, but hurry!”

The efficient rabbit called the brigade to him and organized one party to dig a tunnel to the bottom of the pit, and another to dig out the steep walls closest to the dingo and the supposed tunnel exit. Soon the dingo was in the tunnel, and then on the ground. He bowed slightly to Brumm and said, “I am the king of all the dingo packs here. I fell into the pit when chasing foxes. My pack had gone the other way and did not hear me. If you had not gotten me out of there, I would have perished. How could I ever repay you?”

“Firstly, you could agree on a truce between yourself and Fort Cuniculus. The dingoes will never harm any hare or rabbit from the fort. And secondly, you said you have a pack. How big is it? We need an army to defeat the foxes attacking us, and a reliable defense against the kangaroos.”

“I agree to the truce. My dingoes will never harm any creature from your fort. About my pack, we are twenty in number and sworn enemies of the foxes. We are ready to help you.”

In the meeting chamber of Fort Cuniculus Drumthro, Rose and Rosso, the two generals, and the six senior officers, including Brumm (the dingo king Wouvar was listening through a window, being too big to squeeze in) were holding a council of war. Rose agreed to send regular patrols to check on the movement of the fox horde. Wouvar organized his pack into four groups and Drumthro enlisted four officers to command the vicious-looking wild dogs. The kangaroo problem was solved immediately—one of the dingo groups was posted at strategic points around the fort. Drumthro sent scouting parties to check out the lay of the land and personally checked that the rabbits and hares were well armored. Fort Cuniculus was gearing itself up for the inevitable war.

*          *          *

A few days had passed. The rosellas were bringing in reports that got steadily worse—the foxes had killed a family of field mice, a kookaburra was ambushed and killed, one of the rosellas had just escaped the claws of an extremely agile fox. And finally, the fox army had attacked the kangaroo mob. Rose did not know if there were any survivors. On the same day, later that afternoon, the dingo sentry on the west side saw a kangaroo approaching. It was waving a white leaf, and asked the dingo if it could speak with someone of authority. A small party, headed by Brumm and Drumthro, came up to meet the dangerous behemoth.

“What do you want?” shouted Brumm.

The kangaroo’s answer completely flabbergasted him.

“We need your help.”

“You what?

“Our mob of six was ambushed by the foxes and their leader, Grashal. They took our only young one and killed him. As we are both battling the same enemy, we thought we could help you, and,” he added with a hint of a smile, “please leave some roots for us.”

“We agree to your offer. Bring the kangaroos here immediately.”

*          *          *

Grashal the fox was basking in the sun. His army was camped behind the forest near which Brumm had found the dingo. He was a real villainous warrior, as were all in his army.

“Grarr, defeating those puny bunnies will be easy, all we need is a good plan—their fort is well defended,” he said to his counselor and wife, Aashra. “Aarrr, what is your idea, my sly-brained fox?”

Fort Cuniculus foxes talking

“Grarr, defeating those puny bunnies will be easy, all we need is a good plan”

“I suggest we attack in a pincer movement, with half our army on the north side, and half on the south. Then we move in and forward to the main base,” replied Aashra.

“Krarrr, I hope this idea works better than the last one; we lost over a quarter of our old army to them. If it doesn’t, you can give your ideas to me in the afterlife.” He stalked off.

*          *          *

Brumm had asked a favor of Drumthro—could Trumm be the officer who was in charge of the kangaroo mob? He was larger than most rabbits and even some hares, so speaking to them would be easier. Drumthro agreed. He also made Brumm the general who commanded the dingoes, kangaroos and fourth brigade. Brumm could only say, “I don’t believe it,” for half an hour and Drumthro was chuckling to himself whenever Brumm came in sight.

The next day was to be remembered in the whole of animal history as the Day of the Great Battle. Rose’s scouts had brought in the last report—twenty-six foxes were moving towards Fort Cuniculus. They would be in full view of the fort in six ear-lengths. Drumthro moved seventy hares and rabbits, twenty dingoes and five kangaroos onto a small field just under Rose’s hill. The rabbits dug deep pits at the sides and front of the field and covered them with leaves. The kangaroos were in the middle of the field; the rabbits were on either side of the kangaroos and the dingoes at the sides.

“Dingoes, ready?”

“Y000000000u!”

“I’ll take that for a yes. Kangaroos?”

“As ready as we’ll ever be, Brumm.”

“OK, now we wait.”

*          *          *

The foxes crested a small hill in front of the field.

“Arrr, gragrama!” growled Grashal. (No use translating this as kids aren’t supposed to read swear words.)

“What is it, Lord?” asked Aashra.

“Those rosellas must have been spying for the bunnies!”

“You forgot to say Aarr,'” commented someone from the band. A bad sentence to end a life on.

“As I was saying,” said Grashal, throwing the dead fox away, “we lost the element of surprise, and they have got themselves an army!”

“Oh dear,” replied Aashra.

“Draaar, is that all you can say! Don’t tell me the poor little foxy is scared!”

“I’m not scared, just cautious.”

“Kaaar, well, any other brilliant ideas?”

“Smash the center of the army, breaking it into two. The main thing is to split the kangaroos and dingoes. They can’t fight without each other. And the rabbits will probably die of heart failure without them.” She should have known better.

“Harrr, vixen, this is your last chance. Army, rally to me!” and the foxes shot down the hill.

*          *          *

“Right, let’s go!” shouted Drumthro. The battle of the foxes and the animals of Fort Cuniculus had begun.

Grashal had wisely let the main army go past him because he had already seen the traps, and the front-row foxes, including Aashra, disappear into the ground. Then he decided that today was not his lucky day—the kangaroo mob, like a colossal juggernaut, rammed into the army, completely spoiling his attack plan. They kicked, punched and smashed the foxes into nonexistence. They were having their revenge, and enjoying it. Then he changed his mind as one of the kangaroos toppled to the ground with a crash. He could still win! Grashal was already in the thick of the battle when suddenly the kangaroos left bounded towards him. He could not run back because of the foxes behind him, so he ran to the side of the kangaroos. But not fast enough. A massive kangaroo hind leg rammed into the fox in front of him, making them both fly into the air. He hit the ground, and the world exploded into a firework of multi-colored stars, and then there was blackness.

Trumm was running in front of the kangaroos, kicking any fox that came into range with his long muscly hind legs. Suddenly a fox-to-end-all-foxes loomed in front of him. Trumm’s legs shot out, but two sinewy paws grabbed a leg and smashed Trumm into the ground. The rabbit threw sand into his attacker’s face, and kicked the fox’s stomach with his good leg. The fox, though completely winded, was still dangerous. It butted Trumm, and then jumped onto him, raking with its claws. Trumm did a 36o-degree twist and helped the fox into the ground with a backward flick. Suddenly his leg gave way and he knew no more. The fox, after thirty seconds of admiring a sweaty patch of earth, clambered up, looked carefully at the rabbit and, deciding he was dead, jumped away and finished its life in midair. The kangaroo that killed the fox, unfortunately, did not notice Trumm.

The rabbits were already fighting for their lives and the enemy was beginning to see a glimmer of hope. To confirm that, the rabbits and kangaroos retreated to their former positions for some reason. The dingoes were waiting for this. The sides closed in, making an unbreakable circle. Screaming war cries, they battered the foxes into the kangaroos, which did something that resembled doing openheart surgery with a bulldozer to them. The foxes left alive ran off to find some easier prey somewhere else. The battle had been won!

Back in the fort, the casualty list was put up—twenty rabbits dead, ten injured and three unaccounted for. Drumthro had also valiantly given up his life to save his friend, Wouvar. Trumm could not be found, but the fox leader, Grashal, was caught still alive. He promised by the bushland oath that his foxes would never harm any rabbit, dingo, hare or kangaroo, and he was let go. He left muttering that he would never even want to pick a fight with bunny rabbits ever again.

Brumm was made commander of Fort Cuniculus, and the dingoes and kangaroos could always visit the fort whenever they wanted. Brumm, however, was not happy. He could not live without knowing that his brother was found, dead or alive.

Then, on Midsummer’s Day, Trumm was found! He was barely alive, but when he recovered, he told of his heroic battle against the great fox. Brumm made him a senior officer because of his great bravery and fighting skills (and humor).

Fort Cuniculus rabbits in a hole

His twin brothen, Trumm, his wife, Drimma, and their sixteen children were there too

*          *          *

It was the end of summer. Brumm woke up in his spacious chamber in the main tunnel of Fort Cuniculus. His twin brother, Trumm, his wife, Drimma, and their sixteen children were there too. He listened to the thumping of the sentry’s back paws. The sound was just telling the residents of the fort that the sun was two ear-lengths away from the horizon.

Fort Cuniculus Ralphie Kabo

Ralphie Kabo, 11
Kingston, Canberra, Australia

Fort Cuniculus Cameron Osteen

Cameron Osteen, 13
Steamboat Springs, Colorado

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