Note: “Inspired by the The Midnight Apples of Fairyland earrings created by elisem.” — Naomi

In the garden, the leaves were shining green; the apples on the trees were blackening with rot. The centurion stood uneasily outside the gate and did not reach for the plate of olives and bread the woman held out to him, though he was hungry. “Come inside,” she said. “You’ve come a long way.” Her big black dog, at her heels, barked once.

“I’m not fit, m’lady,” he said, though the garden was untidy and dirty too, and mutely shook his head when next she offered him a glass of water, clear and sparkling in the sunlight.

“Will you have nothing, then?” she asked, laughing but coldly, and he stared at her: she had long straight black hair and pale skin and green-green eyes and a hatchet nose and a dark mole on her left cheek. She had been living behind the lines in this captured house all spring and all summer while they campaigned, nothing to do and no company, but still she had not gathered the fruit and the garden was overrun. In the camp the other men called her a witch, with relish and with envy. No matter how beautiful the commander’s other women were, he only lay with them once and then passed them on to other men; dissatisfied, they said; spoiled for anyone else, they said; enchanted, they said.

They said enough, that when the commander needed someone to take her a letter, no one wanted to go; the centurion had volunteered because he did not believe in witchcraft, or God, or much of anything but his sword; he had been fighting for a long time.

“I don’t want to trouble you,” he said, meaning he didn’t want her to trouble him; she threw her long hair back over her shoulder with one white arm and gave him a clear scornful look, as much as if to say, too late, and said, “Then you may go,” like a queen. She let the garden gate bang shut behind her as she went back to the house. He stood staring after her for a long time, and then he looked down at the dog, who huffed a disgusted breath and trotted away.

There were questions, of course, when he came back to camp. “A woman like any other,” he said shortly, huddled over his bread and soup, waiting for the next letter to go.