A dense fog moved in and strategically draped itself across the icy, treacherous road like delicate lacework. It was difficult to see. Greer was a cautious driver, although she was in a hurry to get to Seattle. There were few vehicles on the freeway, and to Greer, it was like a scene from a horror film.
Something flashed across the road, and she slammed the brake, which she immediately knew was a mistake. Her life was in the hands of fate as the vehicle hit a patch of ice and spun around like a child’s toy top. Greer held the steering wheel securely. Her mind raced, and her life flashed in quick succession, yet the movement inside the vehicle was in slow motion. Would she live or die? Her vehicle careened down a dark embankment and slammed into a tree, hidden from the roadway above.
Her head hit hard, and she lost consciousness, but deep in the recesses of her mind, she heard the song “Killing Me Softly” that played on her MP3. The words lilted into the darkness, something about “touching my pain with his fingers,” and she knew someone was there. She didn’t see him, but she felt the essence of him. Greer knew he was male. He had a faint smell of musk, a clean and masculine scent. His sizable hands held her head and touched her forehead. Her head burned; it wasn’t painful, merely intense and electrical. His hands were warm as they left her forehead and grazed over her body. He spoke—not in words, but in her mind. “My love. Finally, you are here.” And he was gone.
She was alone now. Darkness was settling in, and her body grew cold as the warmth flowed from her. Greer would not last long in the cold January night.
Lord Wilder and Lord Zane were hunting when they heard the crash of the vehicle as it tumbled down the rocky embankment. They were deep in the forest, away from the freeway traffic, but they tracked to the location and followed the music as it played a melody in the wilderness. They moved swiftly with ease along a much-traveled deer path, and then darted away from the path into the dense forest. They found the vehicle at the bottom of a steep hill near the freeway.
Lord Wilder approached the vehicle and found the door open with a human female slumped unconscious in the front seat. The violin solo “King of the Fairies” spilled out into the forest and brought about an eerie air of magic, surrounded by a thick fog that swirled and mystified. Blood covered her clothing, but there was no visible wound.
“Cousin, we need to take her with us and see what we can do to help her,” he told Lord Zane.
Her natural beauty took his breath away—he’d never seen red hair or fair skin. The females of the Zakota had dark hair, and their skin tone was darker.
“Once we bring her into our world, she can never leave,” Lord Zane said.
“We can’t leave her here to die. She needs our help.” Lord Wilder stayed close to her. “The female may not live, but we should try. It’s freezing out here, and she won’t last long in this weather. Even if she wakes up, she won’t have anywhere to go in the night.” Lord Wilder lifted her as gingerly as he could. “She’s still breathing, but she’s lost a lot of blood.” He turned and rushed into the forest, ignoring Lord Zane’s resistance. “Mother will know how to help her.”
Lord Wilder and Lord Zane sprinted through the forest to their home. Lord Wilder’s solid and robust frame carried her with ease. She weighed nothing in his arms, her ample breast pressed against his chest. He held her close, attempting to keep her warm.
That night, there wouldn’t be any fresh meat, but instead the arrival of an outsider.
They reached a massive snow-covered mountain, slipped through the stone into the cavern, and landed on a broad rock shelf. To the left, lit torches cast light on large chiseled steps leading to homesteads below. At the bottom of the steps, Lord Wilder walked swiftly through the turns and twists of the passageway, narrow in some areas and broader in others. More torches lined the passageway. They passed several homesteads along the way until they reached Lord Wilder’s homestead he shared with his mother, the Zakotas’ healer and midwife, Lady Suna.
He stepped into the homestead. Lady Suna knelt near the fire. “Mother, I need your help. We rescued a human female injured in an accident, and she is unconscious.”
Lady Suna rose from stoking the fire and gave her son a look of concern. “Set her on the bed near the fire.”
She brushed the long red tresses from the female’s face and bent down to listen for her breath. She searched for a wound but didn’t find one.
“I’m not sure where the blood has come from. I don’t see any wound. Perhaps her nose was bleeding, but I don’t see any sign of that.”
“I know, Mother, I couldn’t locate a wound either. The vehicle door was open when we found her, and I expected there would be a wound because of the blood.”
Lady Suna’s eyes narrowed. “Do you suspect someone intervened before you got to her?”
“It could be, but we didn’t see anyone when we found her.”
“Bring me some hot water,” she said as she loosened Greer’s top and pants and pulled them away from her body. She was severely bruised from the impact.
Lord Wilder watched as Lady Suna felt her legs and arms. “She hasn’t any broken bones, but I’m concerned she hasn’t woken yet; that’s not a good sign. We’ll need to watch her through the night. We can take turns. She may wake up and be frightened—someone should be with her when she wakes,” she said with concern in her voice.
Greer lay unconscious for most of the night. She called out several times, but her words were tangled and unfamiliar. Lord Wilder held her hand and comforted her several times through the night.
“It’s going to be all right, mistress.” Or so he hoped. He pulled the rabbit-fur blanket up to her chin and covered the red hair that lay across her shoulders. Where was she from, and did she have a family? He hoped she didn’t, because she would not be able to see them ever again. It would be difficult for anyone to lose their family.
Voices drifted in from a distance; someone was near. Her mind was cloudy and incoherent. She felt buried alive, far away from reality—catching little bits of movement and conversation, but unable to entirely grasp it or communicate her presence. Warmth slipped into her bones, and someone stroked her hair. She struggled to open her eyes, but her eyelids were heavy. Was she dreaming? Perhaps. The pain in her head told her something was amiss, but Greer wasn’t in a position to understand what it was. She wasn’t alone—that was clear to her. She raised her hand, grasping for someone, anyone to pull her out of this stupor, and she found him.
“Don’t struggle. Rest, my dear,” a husky voice spoke.
Her eyes flashed open wildly. She tried to sit up but fell back. Her head spun in circles, and all she saw at first were golden eyes. They reminded her of an owl’s eyes: golden, wise, and all-seeing. Her vision and senses expanded to reveal he had a rugged face and a familiar musky scent. A band of brightly iridescent skin ran across his left cheek and down the side of his neck. Was she dreaming? She trembled slightly. She was weak but found the strength to reach up and trace her fingertips across his cheek. The skin reminded her somewhat of the scales of a rainbow trout when the sun hit it. But not wet or slimy—an indescribable multicolored skin she had never seen before. The skin sparkled in the firelight, and it stood out against the soft human flesh that surrounded it. She thought the iridescence was beautiful; the colors gradually changed and showcased shimmers of purple, green, blue, and gold. She felt a slight buzzing vibration in her fingertips when she touched the beautiful skin. That part of his body was somehow more alive than the fleshy human part.
He gently lifted her head and brought a wooden bowl of fresh water to her lips. She sipped. Her throat was parched, and she couldn’t remember water that tasted so good. She dropped her hand, and he released her head gently back down to the bed. Greer closed her eyes and fell back into a deep slumber again. She repeated to herself it was only a dream, but she was too weak to admit it wasn’t.
Greer woke hours later to a new world, one she never could have expected. She lay motionless, except for her eyes, which darted around the room. Rock was everywhere: on the ceiling, the walls, and the floor. Greer thought it must be a cave. There were lit torches placed in rock crevices for light, and she lay near a sizable fireplace. Greer was comfortably warm with a fur hide covering her body. What had happened to her, and where was she? She trembled in fear.
“You’re okay, don’t be afraid.”
She jumped as he spoke.
She turned sharply to face him, her head throbbing. “Where am I? What happened?”
He stood back and didn’t approach her. Greer could tell he was hesitant to get too close—not because he feared her, but because he believed she would fear him. She blinked. He was large, muscular, rugged, and not entirely human. He would scare anyone, and he frightened her.
Greer tried not to show fear, but she shuddered, and her heart raced as she struggled to pull herself into a sitting position, but couldn’t.
“I know you must have questions; please don’t try and get up. You need to lie down and rest while I explain where you are. You are safe here. You don’t need to be afraid,” Lord Wilder said as he cautiously walked toward the bed where she lay.
He towered over her, fidgeted, and wiped his large hands on his deerskin pants. His long dark hair was tied neatly with strips of animal hides in long ponytails on each side of his face. He wore exquisitely ornamented clothing with bird talons and what appeared to be porcupine quills. His deerskin leggings were fringed. However, it was his golden eyes and the band of golden iridescent skin that ran across his chin and down his neck that most interested her.
“You . . . you aren’t from this planet, are you? You’re not human?” she questioned as color drained from her face. She had to have been dreaming; this couldn’t be real. Her head pounded. Did she have a concussion that could help explain why she was hallucinating?
“First, what is your name?” he asked.
“Greer McClelland. What’s your name?”
“I am Lord Wilder. My mother and I took care of you; she is called Lady Suna. She should be back anytime and can help answer some of your questions,” he said as soothingly as he could.
“What happened to me?” she asked.
“You had an accident, and I brought you here. We live deep underground.”
Greer responded, “Yes, I was on my way to Seattle from San Francisco.”
Lady Suna walked through the entrance and approached Greer’s bed. She smiled. “Ah, you are awake, my dear. You’ve hit your head, but other than being bruised, you have no other injuries. I am Lady Suna. I see you have met my son.”
She was statuesque and strong. Her deerskin garments were fringed, the length falling between her ankles and knees. After she removed her fur cloak, she sat on the edge of the bed facing Greer. Her long dark hair was braided and wrapped with strips of animal hide.
Greer sensed she was kind. She had bands of bright skin that peeked out from the sleeves of her blouse as she reached to hold Greer’s hand.
“I’m Greer McClelland,” she said as she admired the bands of skin. “Please call me Greer. Lord Wilder said you would explain where you came from.”
Lady Suna squeezed her hand. “Greer, you may not understand all of this entirely. We are partly human. We are called the Zakota, and we came from Mars, the red planet. Three of our male ancestors were on a mission to Earth in 1830, and their craft crashed into the large lake near here. All three survived, along with their guardians: Zeus, Zake, and Zudy. You may see the guardians, but they usually stay near their favorites. You don’t need to be alarmed by their imposing figures—they won’t hurt you. Our ancestors made their home in this vast underground cavern, which is a similar environment to where they lived on Mars.” She continued as Greer listened intently.
“Our ancestors had no chance of ever going home. They weren’t actively seeking wives, but found partners in unexpected ways. And, from time to time, other humans join our people when we have rescued them. We have one human with us now, and I’ll introduce you to Lord Fletcher. He has been here for about ten years now. He teaches our children, but he also teaches us about the outside world and to read and speak English better. I know you will like him.”
Greer listened intently. She was sure her training as a medical professional was helping her stay calm. Many times she’d faced split-second decisions to save a life. Their history was astonishing but fascinating. She sat steady, listening to the story, but internally her mind was ablaze with questions. She’d studied science but had always felt the universe was so big it would be crazy if other humanoid species didn’t exist.
“Yes, I would like to meet Lord Fletcher. May I ask why you call one another Lord and Lady? Are you nobility in your civilization?” she asked.
Lady Suna replied, “We brought that custom from our home on Mars. We are all Lords and Ladies, except unmarried women are called ‘Mistress.’ ”
“I see. It’s a formal title and greeting, but it’s charming. I rather like the custom.”
Lady Suna smiled. “We will explain more about our people later, but for now, you need to rest. You have been through quite an ordeal.”
“Thank you for sharing. I have so many questions I want to ask, but I do need to rest. My head is pounding.”
“Of course, please rest. We’ll have plenty of time to talk later. I want you to know you are safe here. My son and I will take care of you. You can rest easy,” Lady Suna said as she stood up and pulled the fur cover up to Greer’s neck, making sure she kept warm as she rested.
Greer slept until the following morning. She opened her eyes, confused about where she was, then remembered the conversations with Lord Wilder and Lady Suna. Greer sat up, less feebly than the day before. The delicious aroma of food wafted through the air, and she was hungry.
Lady Suna was cooking over the fire, and Lord Wilder ate at a nearby table. He met her eyes. “Mother, Mistress Greer is awake.”
Lady Suna stood and turned to Greer. “Good morning. Would you like to eat?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m hungry,” Greer answered, attempting to rise, but she staggered and fell back to the bed.
“You stay there, and I’ll bring you some venison soup and bread until you are well enough to sit at the table.”
Lady Suna brought her a bowl, and Greer ate without delay. “Thank you for the meal, it was excellent. Your bread is delicious, and the berry jam was wonderful. I didn’t realize how hungry I was.” She placed the empty plate on the wooden table next to the bed. “How long has it been since my accident?”
Lord Wilder replied, “It’s only been three days, and we fed you soup a few times, but you may not remember.”
“No, I don’t remember. I have to find a way back to the outside. I’m a medical doctor, and I specialize in providing medical care for children. I can’t stay here for long. I must get ready to leave as soon as I have my strength back,” Greer said as she lay back down. “I’m sorry, I’m still a little weak.”
Lord Wilder stood up from the table and stepped forward, his eyes narrowed and his hands balled. “No, you may never leave. You must stay here with us now.”
“What? No, I can’t do that. I don’t belong here. You’ve been kind to me, and I owe you my life, but I must leave, I insist,” she responded, raising her voice.
Lady Suna came forward and reached out to touch Greer’s arm. In a lowered voice, she said, “Mistress Greer, when my son brought you here, it sealed your fate. No human can leave our homestead once they are within the cavern. We cannot take the chance of anyone from the outside knowing about us, where we are, or that we are from Mars. It’s too dangerous for our people. You will join our Zakota family.”
She couldn’t believe what they’d said, and a high-pitched screech emerged from her throat as tears ran down her cheeks. “I don’t belong here,” she wailed. “I’m not one of you, and I never will be. I’m an outsider. You can’t keep me here forever. Where’s the male with the band of golden skin running down his left cheek? He gave me water sometime during the night. Is he your leader? I must reason with him,” she cried.
“Lord Wilder and I have been the only ones to take care of you. As far as we know, no one else has been here. Our leader is Grand Lady Demara, my mother and Lord Wilder’s grandmother. I’m sorry, Mistress Greer. Give it time, and you will grow accustomed to your new home.”
Greer slept fitfully through the day and night. She cried and pulled the animal-fur cover over her face, blocking out the surrounding rock and fire. Lord Wilder and Lady Suna were nearby, but Greer didn’t want to see them. She felt sorry for herself. Greer couldn’t remember the last time she’d cried. She didn’t want to sob uncontrollably and hyperventilate. It’d happened many times in her youth, until Greer had made a conscious decision she wouldn’t cry anymore. If she cried, she would lose control. Now she couldn’t control herself, and the sobs echoed through the homestead.
All her medical education, all her study and hard work, were for nothing. She was with people from outer space—she must’ve been in a nightmare. She had to find a way out of this cavern and back to her world. She would talk with Lord Fletcher and learn how to escape.
Lord Wilder knew she watched him, and he watched her. Her grimaces hurt him. He wanted her to like him, but was sure she didn’t. He kept the fire going to make sure she was warm, and even got up in the middle of the night to add more wood to the fire. He tried to do everything he could to make her comfortable. Lord Wilder was entranced with her, and he wanted her to be happy.
He’d never seen a female with such beautiful light green eyes and red hair before, and the most delicate hands with graceful fingers. He was attracted to her. She was different from the Zakota females.
When he heard her cries through the night, he wanted to comfort her, but he knew now was not the time. Lord Wilder knew she blamed him. He would have to wait until she forgave him, and he hoped she would.