Eva was happy to see the painted wicker basket was almost cram-full. The fruit of one more tree would complete the day’s bounty. The hollow rumbling in her belly gave reminder that the midday meal was swiftly approaching. She could afford to indulge her appetite with one pearat least.
Setting down the basket, she plopped herself unceremoniously on the ground. Not a soul stood within sight. Snatching the most attractive pear from the mounding pile, she bit into the fleshy fruit. A single drop of its juice dribbled lazily down her chin, clinging to her jawline. She allowed the drop to plunge to the grass below. What a blessing to have solitude this morn.
It was hot. The breeze floated lazily across the bluff, a welcome respite from the fiery white of the late morning Provençal sun. The wind gently prodded the oblong, pointed leaves of the pyramid-shaped, evenly spaced peartrees into subtle movement, swaying the flimsy tops back and forth. The leaves rubbed together in cadence, like an orderly, slow-moving chain dance in a massive open hall. Eva leaned back her uncowled head, allowed her dark brown hair to fall to the middle of her back, shut her expansive, rounded eyes of the same color, and listened to the motion of leaf and branch. The sound was restful, tranquil, like her orchard.
Her very orchard.
Eva’s eyes opened, dark long lashes separated, she searched the landscape from cliffside to grassy slope. Breathing deeply, she drew the faintly sweet scent of the orchard into her slender nose, set evenly between high, rounded cheeks, and formed her unadorned red full lips into the type of contented smile that barely raises the corners of the mouth.
She finished consuming the pear, wiped her hand on her mouth, on her sleeve, raised slowly her slender, feminine frame until she stood fully upon her leather sandal-shod feet. Casting aside the uneaten core, she resumed filling the large green basket.
She moved to the next tree at the east end of the orchard, started to claim its ripe fruit with long elegant calloused fingers. Eva looked beyond the grove to the edge of the bluff, which dropped off in a vertical cliff, gave way to the valley of the River Rhône and distant lands beyond. She focused for but a moment on the far marshy bank of the broad, swift-flowing Rhône, but swiftly she looked away. The ground still appeared trampled, war-pounded, invaded.
The memory of what she had witnessed three days ago was still a raw wound, and she winced. Soldiers, knights, horses, wagons, barges, banners, overlords, rotiers, camp-followers, mercenaries, death.
She turned away
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