#Free – The Frost of Springtime by Rachel L. Demeter @RachelLDemeter
Sofia saw the memories buried within his eyes. Gunshots. Screams. Rolling cannons and the faded cries of despair. They lodged inside Aleksender, battling for his soul.
Sofia rose from the ground and tentatively crouched behind him. Remaining silent, her hands sunk below the material of his
dress shirt and encouraged him with gentle caresses.
“Disease and death were everywhere. Men with boils and rashes the size of saucers. Anyway, we almost managed to escape. It
was a good mile away that we were spotted. They were corrupt soldiers, nothing but hungry dogs with a taste for blood-lust. We were tied at the wrists and ankles, crammed inside a tent. Whether it was days or weeks, I cannot say.” Scoffing under his breath, he spat, “The fools demanded answers. They demanded our plans. Strategies. We refused each time. Even so none of us knew anything.”
“Oh, Alek. Why didn’t you tell them? To think you could have avoided so much pain.”
His shoulders lifted into a dry shrug. “I suppose we took a morbid delight in their frustration.” His voice was icy and harsh and void of all emotion. “And besides—it was the prospect of whipping information from our skin that kept us alive. But we were eventually returned to the camp. Bloodied, battered and burned—but alive.” Aleksender passed fingertips through his hairline. “Till this day, I have no idea what changed their minds …” Aleksender sighed and gave an afterthought, “Word had spread of their rather unorthodox methods, so to speak. According to rumor, they’d paid dearly.”
“I pray they burn in hell,” Sofia gasped. “Every last one of them!”
Aleksender laughed, amused by her goodhearted blasphemy. “Ah, Sofia, ma chérie. You do wonders for me.” And then a sudden thought came to his mind. “Christophe was there with me.”
“In the tents?” Sofia murmured, her heart reaching out to both heroes.
Aleksender merely nodded.
Although she’d never had the pleasure of meeting Monsieur Cleef, his name inspired a strange twinge of nostalgia inside her
gut. Aleksender had often spoken of his dear friend—a rather admirable man of big ideas and too little restraint. From what she
knew of the roguish skirt-chaser, she’d always admired him very much.
“Such wonderfully brave men,” she crooned, caressing one of many scars. “You have a soldier’s heart.”
Cloaked beneath the darkness, Sofia’s fingertips moved over his back in hypnotic motions, not leaving an inch of him unloved. “Do
they pain you much?”
“No,” he hoarsely answered, “they are no bother.” His body trembled within her arms. “Not any longer.”
Between tentative kisses and muffled sniffles, she whispered, “To think of the pain you endured. The cruelty—your suffering.”
Aligning their two bodies, Aleksender cradled Sofia’s face between his palms and sweetly stroked her skin. Sofia’s toes curled against the barrier of her slippers. It was intoxicating. By far the sweetest moment in her nineteen years of life. With a last kiss, he whispered into her mouth, “Pain is in the mind. And, in my mind, ma chérie … I was with you.”