“Figs!” Grant exclaimed, pointing across the marketplace in apparent delight.
Strange did not see what there was to be delighted about, and said so: the small black objects on the fruit-seller’s stall looked as if they had already gone bad.
“All this time in the Peninsula and we still have not taught you to love fruit,” said Grant, laughing at him. “Confess, you liked the pears well enough when you tasted them.”
“Be quiet,” said Strange, feeling the colour rise in his face. The thought of pears was for him now inseparable from some very particular memories, as Grant well knew.
Grant said nothing, but the look he threw Strange in reply was as provoking as any utterance could have been.
“I have a great mind to take you around the next corner and kiss you,” Strange said sternly.
“With pleasure,” said Grant, unabashed by this threat. “Only let me buy these figs first, before they are all gone.”
“Who the devil would want to buy those things?” Strange wondered aloud.
“Lord Wellington, for one,” said Grant. “He dearly loves fresh figs, and the black ones most of all.”
Strange expressed his scepticism at this utterance with some frankness, but Grant only laughed at him again. He addressed the fruit-seller in rapid and colloquial Spanish, in which Strange could catch only the word for friend; the old woman gestured to the basket, apparently in invitation.
Grant touched the fruits, handling them gently until he found one that pleased him. He took it up and passed it to Strange.
“Feel that,” he said. “It is perfect.”
The fruit was warm, from the September sun or from Grant’s hand, Strange was not sure. The soft black skin yielded a little to the pressure of his thumb.
“Mmm,” said Grant, watching him with an air of lazy satisfaction. “I heard a Hebrew scholar once argue that figs were the fruit of that forbidden tree in Paradise. I could well believe it.”
“I never heard them called so,” Strange said, and handed back the fruit rather abruptly. To think of fig leaves and nakedness made him uncomfortably aware of his clothes, which seemed too heavy and too tight.
“This is how you eat it,” Grant said, peeling the fruit with his fingers in what Strange felt was a quite unnecessarily sensual manner.
He split the peeled fig open with his thumbs, revealing the deep red heart in its pale outer membrane. The vividness of that exposed core was shocking to Strange: until now, the only figs he had seen outside Dutch paintings were the dried ones, greenish-brown and sickly. This seemed to be a different fruit altogether.
Grant ate one half of the fig, with very evident enjoyment, and licked his lips. “There,” he said, “you see it is not poisonous.”
“I never said it was,” Strange protested, stung.
“Try it, then,” Grant said, and put the other half of the fruit to Strange’s lips.
Strange had opened his mouth to take it in before he quite knew what he was doing. The luscious sweetness was a small explosion, lighting up sparks in his veins like a kiss. He sucked at Grant’s fingertips, chasing the pleasure of it with his tongue, and drawing a soft surprised “Oh!” from him.
Grant drew his fingers away, as if reluctantly. He cleared his throat and addressed another brisk remark to the fruit-seller, which appeared to cause her considerable satisfaction. She took a few figs from the basket and handed them to him, and then placed the basket out of view behind her stall. Grant handed her some coins and said something in which Strange recognized the word for midday.
“Ten o’clock,” Grant said, as the church clock began to strike. “That should be just time enough for what I have in mind. She will keep the rest for us until we are done. Come on.”
“Where are we going?” Strange asked, rather breathlessly.
“Around the next corner so you can kiss me, of course,” Grant said, with a wicked grin. “There’s an inn: the landlord’s a friend of mine, and will give us the use of a room for a couple of hours.”
“Lord Wellington will not be pleased if we are late returning,” Strange said automatically. The prospect of Grant and a bed made him so dizzy with longing that he could hardly stand.
“No, indeed,” Grant said, and laughed. “Why else do you think I bought the rest of the figs but to pacify him?”