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The Orchard


They waited in the orchard for the order to advance on the farm house from which the rebels had long since fled. No one knew what had become of the informant whose tip about a meeting of the insurgency’s leadership had led the soldiers to cordon off a village that did not appear on any map. He was a vintner recruited after the invasion, skilled at the art of adaptation, and if he compared intelligence gathering to harvesting his neighbor’s grapes, a pleasant diversion for an old man, he also told his paymasters that fermentation carried risks—a warning they dismissed as drunken talk. The wind died, swallows dipped and soared around the trees, and in the noonday heat the soldiers drowsed or dreamed of women they would have on their next leave. The new lieutenant was revising his plans for graduate school, when a peach landed on his backpack. He jumped to his feet, folded and unfolded his map, ordered his men to look sharp. A sniper took up his position on the ridge. What had the vintner said? Ripeness is all.