Heather awoke slowly and opened one eye, then blinked both open.
"G'morning." Stabb said quietly. He was leaning on the sill of a broken-out window frame, staring into the morning's first light. They had found the abandoned building, an inn by the look of it, late the previous afternoon and made themselves as comfortable as possible under the circumstances in an upstairs room; gathering enough wildfruits, nuts and seeds to make a modest, if rather bland, meal.
"Is Will still asleep?" She asked, careful to keep her voice low.
"He left a little while ago t' see if he could get us some food an' a few supplies. Said he'll be back sometime soon." The weasel said.
Heather nodded and then began digging around in her pack.
Stabb regarded her curiously as she brought out her sketch pad and a pencil and began to sketch him.
Heather smiled. "Could ye please look out th' window, Mr. Stabb? It makes ye look s' handsome when th' light shines on ye just so. Bye-the-bye, me father knows a Cecil Stabb in Wales. Are ye related?" She asked.
Stabb thought a moment then shrugged. "I dunno. Possibly." He said, "Might be a very distant cousin 'r something. Far as I know, I'm the last of my clan; the Blacktails. The rest died in the wars and the Plague years ago."
Heather stopped her sketching and nodded. "Aye, me grandfather used t' tell us about his service in th' Plague Camps. Said it was th' most fright'nin' time o' his life."
"The wars an' Plague touched everybody." Stabb said, his voice heavy with regret. "I can't count the number of families that I deprived of a father, a brother or a son. I suppose that in my youthI was full of fire
an' thought I could take on the world. But now I'm old, an' tired of fightin' an' the killin' that goes with it. If I have anymore years left in me I want t' live 'em in peace without havin' t' look over my shoulder t' see who's tryin' t' stick a sword in my back."
Heather looked downcast. "I hope ye get your wish." She said softly.
"That's up to the spirits I suppose." he replied. Then his face brightened a bit. "Let me see your handiwork, girl. No one's ever immortalized me on paper before."
"Give me a few minutes t' add some finishin' touches." She said. She resumed her work and for several minutes her pencil flew over the page as she captured every detail she could, Stabb watching with interest the range of emotions that unconsciously brightened and darkened her face. She then got up from her ersatz bed, some ragged quilts and blankets left by the former occupants, and walked over and showed him the result of her labor.
"Not bad!" He said, amazed at how a bunch of; to his untrained eyes at least; lines and squiggles could be made to coalesce into a fairly detailed portrait. He noted that she had even correctly defined the exact shape of an old scar that ran down one side of his face from forehead to cheek. "May I keep this?" He asked. Heather nodded. Stabb carefully rolled the drawing up, fastened it with a piece of string and placed it into the wallet that hung from his belt.
"I still have plenty t' learn, believe me." She said modestly. "I'm only in me third year o' classes." She then sighed and went to her backpack and began carefully putting her belongings into it. "But now that tha' tyrant Jenner's closed all bu' th' agricultural an' engineerin' schools, I'll have t' find some other way t' finish me education."
Stabb genuinely wished that there was something that he could say or do to help this young innocent. But he knew far more about leading troops into battle than consoling fledgling artists.
At that moment, in the distance, a stick could be heard being broken underfoot. Stabb motioned Heather to silence and kept watch through the dilapidated window-frame. A few minutes later Will appeared, laboring under a large canvas sack and three bedrolls that had been tied together.
"'Sall right." He told her. "It's just th' hayseed."
They went down and helped the fox bring his load up to their room. "Whew! I di'n't think I'd make i' back!" He said, sitting down against a wall and gasping for air. "This stuff gets pretty 'eavy aft'r a while!"
Heather began emptying the sack as Stabb untied the bedrolls. "Where did ye get all o' this stuff?" She asked, lining each item from the bag up for a spot-inventory.
"One o' my uncles on my mum's side lives a ways from 'ere an' when I 'splained our fix..."
"You TOLD him we're on the run?" Stabb asked, appalled by this development. "We're out here lookin for an outlaw! Hell, boy, we may already be outlaws ourselves!"
"Don' worry!" Will said, unfazed by Stabb's concern. "'E's as much mad a' th' King as we are! Seems 'is Greediness 'as decreed tha', wi' a few excepshuns, all lands in private paws are now proper'y o' th' Crown. 'E cou'n't wai' t' 'elp us fin' this Just'n fella!"
"Wait! Wait!" Stabb exclaimed, "Jenner'd be crazy to do something like that! He's risking a civil war!"
"'Ey, I saw a copy o' th' decree m'self! Crazy or no', 'e's serious abou' i'!"
"You two can argue politics some other time!" Heather said sharply. "We'd better be leavin' this place 'r someone's bound t' discover us!"
Will and Stabb looked at the rubble-and-junk-strewn floor in chagrined silence. "She's right, y'know." Stabb muttered, "Sun's gettin' higher every minute."
Will nodded and the trio began to quietly repack the various items that Will had brought backamong themselves.
A short time later, Will and Stabb replaced what was left of the door to the building on its broken and rusty hinges and continued their search for the, so far, elusive Justin.