Once upon a time there lived a very mean king with a large herd of bunnies. They were bred as killing machines, the meek ones serving as prey to the others. The guards had developed a carnivore breed, bigger and stronger than normal rabbits but with deceptively soft fur. They were all brown except for a white mark on their breasts that identified the bad gene.
They bred easily and were resistant to illness. They were also highly trainable – their teeth were deadly weapons. The king had many enemies, but they stayed away from his castle. He was prone to improbable fits of rage which paralysed his entourage. As he was the king, they feared questioning his orders because they wanted to protect their families from his wrath.
Outside the walls, ordinary people grumbled about the high taxes he levied on them. They feared the brown and white bunnies who sometimes attacked their cattle en masse. There were so many of them but the ranchers’ claims seemed so ridiculous… “My cow was killed by a herd of bunnies” hardly seemed serious. They were shamed into submission. Over time, as the bunnies became more brazen, the people started fighting back with lawsuits against the King, which he disregarded haughtily.
Escalation was inevitable and soon the brewing discontent reached a boiling point. Foreign powers were happy to provide bunnies without the mean strain but with the same markings to make them indistinguishable from the mean ones. It was hope the interbreeding would dilute the strength of the bunny army. It was easy to turn the guards against the mean king. They were being ridiculed, attacked verbally every day. The dignity of their position was gone.
The diluted bunnies were easily spotted because they grazed incessantly, as was their wont. The mean ones looked you in the eye. They attacked if you made a sudden move, instead of running. People killed them from afar, and left the meat to rot, afraid as they were of becoming mean themselves. They had noticed that the temperament of birds of prey seemed to have changed, as they ripped little bodies apart with glee. The mutant bunnies were polluting their environment, spreading a meanness previously unknown to these parts.
The villagers met to discuss. The normal strain was not equalizing things quickly enough; meanness was one leap ahead. They were reluctant to kill all the bunnies. After all, the bunnies were only expressing their genes, it was no fault of theirs. They could not be held responsible for the conditions of their lives. Was extermination possible? The good people did not want blood on their hands. You always missed a few and the genocide made the others more determined. Could they be convinced to change? A lull while people thought the new idea over. Could we learn to live with it? Agitated grumblings.
Finally, someone uttered the solution nobody was willing to contemplate. What is the root of the situation? The person who ordered the strain to be created. Could we set the bunnies on their creator and against each other? How could we do that? Jodi piped up. She was the shoemaker’s daughter, a fine poacher. The whole village was assembled; you never knew where the next bright idea might come from.
“I’ve been watching them closely,” she started. Her father looked up sharply. “From far away,” she added quickly, afraid of his temper. “After the heavy rains the other day, I saw them attacking each other. The bunny that was attacked was covered in dirt. I think if they don’t see the white marking, they assume the other is prey.“ “What about the other animals that have also been contaminated?” But nobody listened anymore. Once they found an idea, they had no room for another.
Voices rose excitedly. They spoke well into the night, expanding and planning. They wanted the brood neutralized by any means. Each was assigned a piece of land to sanitize. And so, over the week, bunnies were spray painted, covered in shoeshine, muddied and they started turning on each other. The numbers dwindled but soared again. The bunnies felt pressure to replenish their ranks.
The villagers met again, sullen. Regicide was on everybody’s mind, though no one spoke it out loud. An edict had been proclaimed whereby anybody caught staining a bunny would be fed to the bunnies. At that point, there were rumours that the killer bunnies had moved to nearby towns, terrorizing the townspeople. They were looking for ways to exterminate the vermin. Desperate suggestions were put forward – burning the castle and breeding grounds, poisoning the bunnies, unleashing wolves. Someone objected that if the wolves mutated and became mean, there would be hell to pay.
The priest spoke at length, but nobody could follow his rhetoric and most people fell asleep. They were grateful for his intervention as nobody had been sleeping much because of their fears. Being all together under one roof listening to him drone on afforded them a bit of sleep.
The king’s advisors were also trying to limit damages. They had convinced the king to use the bunnies as bodyguards but advised against a widespread use of them, explaining they had become unmanageable. The mean king ordered them all killed. Large cages were overstuffed with bunnies and the ones who did not suffocate to death were drowned. He wanted the furs intact and commissioned local seamstresses to make a cape out of the furs, as well as various garments that he gave as presents to his allies. The seamstresses created beautiful designs with the white marks. It made the enemy easier to spot. Thirty rabbits had been kept as bodyguards as well as three couples of breeders. Males and females were kept separate and only allowed to mate infrequently to replenish the stock.
The king loved his new capes. He had a royal one made for important occasions, and a shorter one for riding. Local women had gathered to design the capes. Without the court’s knowledge, they had drawn upon Jodi’s observations and designed what they hoped would be the equivalent of a target on his back. They had alternated the white marks in such a way as to create a design that was pleasing to the human eye, but a symbol of distress in animals, a sort of Morse code if you will. They were hoping it spelled the doom of the king. Few were in the know, and those who were trusted with the information were sworn to secrecy. Every seamstresses’ life depended on them sewing their lips shut.
As the king was out on a hunting trip, the bunnies had been released to flush out pheasants. The hunting party had stopped to eat in a clearing. Long tables had been set up, but the food was not yet being served. The hunt had been extremely successful, and the king wanted to show off the bunnies. It had been a chilly morning, and though the sun was now out, the king had kept his cape on to show it off. His fellow hunters were also showing off their garb, allies proudly displaying the garments the king had had made up for them. They were eager to show their allegiance, and how much the king valued them.
To everybody’s surprise, as the king turned his back on the bunnies to address his allies, the bunnies attacked him and devoured him, despite the cape or because of it. No one reacted, because the king had forbidden that his precious bunnies be slayed. As the king lay dying, he cursed his misfortune at missing the elaborate picnic. As descendants donned the cape, the bunnies turned on them and so the king’s bloodline no longer flowed. The remaining bunnies were exterminated to the last, freeing the kingdom of their tyranny and removing the mean king and his family from the throne. The seamstresses had wittingly created a design that spelled his death.