Lady Harriet Neville, youngest daughter of the Earl and Ann’s sister, gave a gruff, guttural snort and opened her eyes, smacking her lips several times. She had been snoring deeply and the sound of it had woken her up. She brought her hands up to her face and rubbed her eyes and grizzled cheeks. She slowly sat up, scratching the smooth skin of her bald head and absently smoothing down the crescent of silver hair that circled from one ear to the other. She went on making mot unladylike smacking sounds with her lips and then smoothed her bushy moustache down, wondering what she should do today.
Then she stopped and her eyes went wide.
She whipped her hands up iin front of her face, the massive, manly hands, of her father: lined with age, the backs laced with wisps of silver hair. She felt her face; the hard cragginess of it; the thick moustache, the bushy eyebrows and finally her bald pate and crown.
"Good God," she muttered in her father's dusky voice.
For that first full minute upon waking she had forgotten the body-swapping hijinks she had perpetrated over the last couple of days - but waking up as a man and her own father had not reminded her! Her every sensation upon waking, from the uncouth, guttural noises to the hairy body and hairless head had done nothing to jerk her into a sense of wrongness. She had already grown so used to this new body.
"Goodness gracious me," she said, but hearing those strange words ununciated in a perfect simulacrum of her father's accent and word choice was deeply chilling.
She recalled her actions just before dropping off to sleep the night before: underscoring her new identity just as she had forced her little nephew Reggie to do the day before to make him act more like the Countess now that he was spending an extended time in her body.
What had Hattie said...?
"My name is Howard Bartholomew Neville, the Earl, Lord Neville. I am a fifty six year old man who owns the better part of this valley.”
"I am Howard Neville. I am a bombastic and confident man who looks down on women and bullies all those around him.”
"I am Lord Howard Neville. I have a wife named Elizabeth and two daughters named Ann and Harriet.”
It had seemed only a playful game at the time but with each phrase she felt the odd tickling sensation at the back of her skull that she was now coming to associate with the effect of the magic working on her, turning her more and more into her father, not just in physical form but in mental attributes and character.
"My name is Howard Bartholomew Neville, the Earl, Lord Neville."
Those words alone were chilling enough - that she could actually alter her own sense of self until she saw herself more as man than lady - until she became in her own eyes, a middle-aged man who owned the better part of the valley.
God, what would that be like? How terrible would it be to assume that identity? To become the man in charge of the estate and all its... all its holdings...?
"Hmmm." Hattie rubbed her chin thoughtfully and then gave one of her father's chuckles.
Actually the idea of owning all that land and having everyone in the valley defer to her authority sounded kind of wonderful. It had been fabulous to Lord herself around the house yesterday but there was a whole valley out there of peasants who lived to bow to her newfound authority. It would be so delightful to bask in the adoration and servility from her many subjects.
And for now they really were her subjects. "After all, I am the Earl," she said, receiving a tingle at the top of her neck.
But that tingle brought her back to her senses. Enjoyable though this experiment was, she had to maintain a firm control. She had a feeling that the more like her father she became, the more inclined she would be to want to be like him and the less inclined she would feel to return to feminine ways. She was of course slowly becoming a bombastic and confident man who looked down on women and bullied all those around him. That man - that end goal - would not want to sully himself with female traits and would certainly not want to become his own daughter. Hattie was sure of that.
With the perspective she had already gained she recognised the contrasting virtues of the masculine and feminine life. It was already obvious to her that women were inferior to men in many ways.
It was actually a shame that she couldn't pick and choose from her father's attributes. She had no particular desire to look down on women (it wasn't their fault that their lives were filled with such pointless trivialities or that they were so weak), but it would be a delight to possess such a high level of confidence that she could be described as bombastic!
To imagine striding around possessing that irascible sense of purpose and self-importance - and for it to be a physical fact based on her manly body! She relished that and she longed to practice again while she had the chance - perhaps today getting out of the house and interacting with the peasants whose lives she currently owned. That would be spiffing!
It was the last iteration she was most unsure of: the one cementing her has the husband and father of Elizabeth and the girls. That was not part of her father's identity she had any wish to absorb. Though... Was it already influencing her, just from that single spoken statement? Had the changes crackled on while she snored in her father's bed, wearing not just his pyjamas but his entire manly body; resting within his masculine brain?
Elizabeth... and the girls. Surely she should have visualised them as her mother and sister; herself.
And there was something else she noticed now. Reggie. She had thought of him as her nephew just moments earlier - not as her cousin.
"By Jove," she whispered.
She threw back the covers and put her legs out of the bed.
Reggie, in the Countess's body, was already up and about. Hattie had the room to herself. She put her hands on her muscular, meaty thighs and stared down at them. Then she caught a glimpse of herself in the dressing table mirror and walked tentatively across, seeing her huge masculine frame come more fully into view.
She was gigantic and not feminine in the least. There wasn't the slightest hint of her true gender in the way she stood or the expression on her face. The words that came from her were not the words of a twenty yer old woman.
"Am I him already?" she muttered, but the answer seemed obvious. The colour drained from her cheeks and the dome of her white forehead. "Am I... myself? Am I Howard Neville?"
But no. Surely not. Not by a long way. The real Howard Neville would not be filled with such conflicted emotions. He was in total control. He didn't simper like a silly woman as she was doing now. That proved she was still herself really; still Hattie; and that meant there was still time to see this through. It was, after all, only one more full day she would be spending like this. The return to her own form would take place overnight tonight, once again while everyone was asleep.
It made her sad that it was going to be cut short so soon, despite the clear dangers. That was all the more reason to take full advantage of her position of authority while she had it.
Yes. She resolved to make the most of being her father today - to really enjoy every superior aspect of his life and his importance.
Hattie put her big hands on her cheeks and ran them up over her bald head, then she smiled at herself.
"I'm Lord Howard Neville," she declared. "I am the most powerful man in the region."
Her smile turned into a grin. Saying that made her doubts drop clear away. She even considered doing it again and begger the consequences.
Yes. She puffed up her chest. "I am Howard Bartholemew Neville. I am the Earl of Griply Hall, husband to Elizabeth and father to Ann and Harriet. My brother Patrick is staying at the moment with my niece and nephew."
His breathing was heavier than normal. He stared at his reflection, feeling the effects of what he'd said tickle at his brain stem. He felt giddy and a little scared, but he pushed that silliness aside. The longer he remained as a man the clearer it became that emotions were the province of weak-minded, simpering females and not worth wasting time on. He was certainly not going to allow himself to be tossed by their whims when he became his daughter again. He was going to act far more like a man!