Lady Ina opened the front of her long dress and let the garment fall to the floor. The warmth of the blazing fire felt wonderful on her fair and unclad skin as her eyes wandered to the tall mirror. Her body was trim and she believed it was attractive enough, but she did not dwell on her looks for long. She was so glad to be free of a woman’s dress for a while. She dressed as a man whenever possible, especially when she was off the grounds of her beloved Cape Wrath Academy. She owned no carriage or proper team, so the ride to the little village of Larig would be best accomplished in trousers. As she stepped into the legs of a pair of soft leather riding pants, she relished the feel of them on her buttocks and thighs as her nimble fingers tied the thin cord that would keep the snug fitting pants in place.
Next, she took a long strip of soft cloth and wrapped it around her upper body to flatten her ample breasts. Her firm mounds were a constant reminder of her unwelcome femininity and she always did her best to conceal them when she assumed male dress. Next, she donned two elegant riding boots that reached to her knees; they were made of shiny brown leather and their heels were unusually high, which allowed her to disguise her diminutive stature. Lady Ina stood quite a few inches less than five feet, and that fact made it hard for her to convey much authority when acting as dean at her school for young ladies who had come of age but had not yet been given to a husband. Most of her students towered over her and that proved awkward when she was upbraiding a misbehaving girl.
The small school occupied the ancient dwelling of Sir Godwin, a knight and vassal of the first Duke of Sutherland. Sir Godwin had built the place to entertain his friends and comrades. There was no record that the brave knight ever took a wife. Ina now resided in his former personal suite, and she often wondered what life would have been like with a bold man of action in those ancient times.
The dwelling had been in a state of disrepair when her father had purchased it and the restoration had taken several months. Now the place housed twenty girls lucky enough to receive an education in an age when most men thought it best to keep their women illiterate.
But Ina had no more time for idle recollections as she slipped her arms into her heavy stag skin coat. It was lined with lamb’s wool and would provide welcome protection from the cold on isolated Wolf’s Lair Island. Spring had not brought much blessed warmth yet this year and this morning’s sky was gray and ominous.
She strode purposefully to the pier where the ferryman waited to convey her to the mainland. The gray haired man had powerful arms and shoulders and he stood more than a foot taller than Lady Ina. “Good morning, Dean Smits,” he said as he offered her a hand.
She eschewed his help as she stepped onto the small barge and took her seat. “Good morning, Hugo.”
“Will you travel far this day?”
“No, I am only riding to Larig to see the duke.”
“God grant you a safe journey. I heard that some cursed Vikings raided the Orkneys last week and everyone is on guard. The devils carried off ten girls and a flock of sheep.”
Ina cringed. She knew full well that her academy’s high born students would be a tempting prize for any marauding pirates looking for a source of ransom. The girls’ noble fathers could be counted on to pay large sums for their daughters’ safe return.
The barge crossed the narrow channel quickly and she stepped off with the stiff wind at her back.
The academy’s thatch roofed stable building was less than one hundred yards away and the strong wind blew its door shut with a loud bang when Lady Ina entered it. Young Winston, the gawky stable lad, dipped his head and greeted her. “Good morning, Dean. I’ll have Mae saddled for you in just a moment.” Ina watched as the young man skillfully prepared her faithful mount.
Her father had given her Mae and taught her to ride, but her mother had protested when he’d allowed her to wear riding pants and mount the animal with her legs straddling the saddle.
“William, make our daughter ride side saddle. No righteous girl grinds her fundament against the pommel.”
Mother had repeated those words countless times, but Father had ignored her, and Ina had become a skillful rider who was able to keep her seat in the most difficult of circumstances. She felt so free when she was mounted—free to ride where she wanted, free to go as fast as she pleased. Winston placed a set of steps beside Mae, and Lady Ina climbed astride her mount. The stable lad held the barn door open and she nudged Mae’s flanks and rode out.
As the narrow trail wound up into the lonely mountains, Ina reached down and touched the hilt of the dagger she always kept concealed in the top of her boot. No highway robber would have their way with her without a fight. The next hour passed uneventfully and she finally came to a clearing where she was able to get a panoramic view of beautiful Loch Shin. The lake’s shimmering water was enchanting and the duke’s castle stood on its northern shore. Castle Shin was familiar to Lady Ina; she had spent her youth inside its walls while her father ruled the shire. Unfortunately, her mother had only born two daughters: first Ina, and then Jayne. Since Jayne had been married, Father had bequeathed his title to Jayne’s husband.
The road into Larig was crowded with sheep. The creatures still had their heavy winter wool which would soon be sheared and sold. They jostled against each other, bleating discordant protests as Mae nudged them aside so Lady Ina could make her way forward.
“Slow down, lad,” a shepherd growled as the well-disguised woman rode by.
A little later, Ina crossed the drawbridge, dismounted, and walked through the doorway into Castle Sutherland’s fortified keep. A pretty maid with shiny black hair recognized her immediately, in spite of her disguise, and curtseyed. “Good morning, Dean. Are you here to visit your sister?”
“No, Amanda. I have business with His Grace. Is he in his study?”
“No, my lady. Please wait here while I tell him you are here.” Amanda scurried away and a moment later her brother-in-law, Harold, the Duke of Sutherland appeared looking surprised and more than a little vexed.
“Ina, I had no idea you would choose this of all mornings to pay us a call. Amanda tells me you have business with me. You need to say your piece quickly. I am expecting an envoy from His Majesty, so for once in your life, you will have to be brief. What in the dickens do you want this time?”
Ina struggled to ignore the duke’s ungracious tone and she proceeded politely. “Your Grace, my poor academy is in danger from some wicked Vikings who have been raiding along our coast. My girls are in danger and they need protection from the lord of the manor. Please be good enough to send a few knights to protect the academy.”
The young duke wiped his face with both hands and sighed wearily. “Viking! Don’t tell me that you’re listening to that foolish village gossip. There have not been Vikings in this part of the world in a century!” The duke clenched his elegantly gloved fists in a show of frustration. “Anyway, our noble king has levied forty men from me in the last month, so now I can barely protect the castle. If you feel there is really so much danger, bring your girls here and I will give them shelter inside these walls, but I have no troops to spare.”
Lady Ina stiffened and put her small fists on her hips. “Harold, my girls need protection!”
“Watch your tone. I will not be lectured about my responsibilities by the likes of you. Just look at yourself! You need to learn that wise ladies do not wear britches in my house, especially when they come to beg for favors. Your outrageous manner of dress is an insult to me and Lady Jayne, as well as the memory of your father and mother. How dare you?”
“There is nothing wrong with my attire! It is practical for a ride on the unsafe roads in your realm. You have done nothing to curb the lawless rogues who prey on innocent travelers. How do you expect me to travel to visit my sister or do my academy’s business?
The duke’s face turned purple with rage. “Perhaps you need to stop pretending to be a man and get one. You would do better to marry and have your husband do his duty to protect you. I personally wish that unfortunate soul would take you in hand and teach you to curb your tongue, shrew. A good dose of my fine leather tawse applied to your bare arse should do that work quite nicely.”
The harshly rebuked dean was so furious that she wanted to scream, but her equally perturbed brother-in-law pivoted and strode away before she could muster a scathing reply. A moment later, Ina’s younger sister, Lady Jayne, took her husband’s place. The two sisters could not have been more different in appearance, deportment, or dress. Jayne was a full eight inches taller than Ina, but her hair was a very pale shade of blonde, in contrast to Ina’s red hair. Jayne’s tresses were almost as white as wool and she wore them short in very tight curls like the ladies of the French court. Her lean body lacked Ina’s pleasing curves, but her features were comely. She was dressed in a pretty ankle length gown, its tightly fitting bodice prominently displaying half of her bare bosom that was a fraction of the size of her sister’s.
“Oh sister, when will you ever learn? Men of my husband’s station will not tolerate your ranting.”
“Your husband is a dastardly rogue and a bully. He talked to me like I was a peasant!” Ina shrieked. “You need to make use of your spousal influence and tell him to treat me with the respect I deserve.”
Jayne’s countenance clouded and a tiny tear formed in the corner of one of her pretty blue eyes. “Ina, I am not sure that I have much influence to bring to bear on your behalf. Harold is dissatisfied with me because I have not been able to bear a son and heir for him. He believes that is a noble wife’s first responsibility.” Her body drooped and she whispered, “I’m afraid he’s going to put me away and take a new wife to produce his heir soon.”
Ina wanted to launch into a tirade about the evils of matrimony and the degrading expectations husbands impose upon their wives, but she heard a commotion in the courtyard and knew the royal envoy and his traveling party had arrived. He was a portly man who had called upon her father from time to time on the king’s business. The dean knew that she would not get any more time with the duke or her sister this day, so she made her way to the stable where a skinny groom was brushing Mae. He turned to face Ina when she entered the gloomy space.
“Are you leaving us so quickly, ma’am?” the lad asked.
“His Grace has no time for the likes of me today,” Ina said bitterly. “Did you give my mare some water?”
“She drank her fill and ate some oats too,” the boy said with a grin. “She should be ready for another ride.”
Ina handed him a copper coin and climbed onto her horse. The ride back to the academy was uneventful and she arrived late in the afternoon. The ominous clouds had finally parted and a little sunshine warmed her diminutive frame. She took a moment to wistfully gaze at a small merchant ship making its way past Wolf’s Lair Island. Where could that boat carry her? What adventures might she enjoy? She shook her head and sent the pleasant images scattering. There was work to be done.
Once back at the academy, the dean returned to her room and shed the riding garb that had vexed her brother-in-law so sorely. She donned a somber black dress and walked to the dining hall. The luscious aromas wafting from the kitchen reminded her that she had not eaten all day as her brother-in-law had certainly not offered any hospitality. The prospect of enjoying a good meal was very attractive.
Most of her girls had already gathered by the time the maid, Miriam, rang the bell to summon any stragglers. Ina smiled when Elizabeth hurried into the room. The dean gestured for the tardy girl to take the seat next her. Sitting next to the dean was a tradition for the last girl to arrive for a meal. No one was sure if dining with the dean was supposed to be a privilege or a punishment, but young Elizabeth was the kind of girl who would make the best of any circumstance.
Ina could not help liking this girl. Of course she stood taller than the dean—all of the girls did—and she was pretty in a wholesome, country way. Her hair was golden and her blue eyes always seemed to sparkle. What was more important to Ina was that Elizabeth was an outstanding scholar. She had been allowed to attend the academy tuition free because of her intellectual gifts. Had the girl not enjoyed this good fortune, she would have no doubt been forced into marriage to some illiterate farmer and have borne at least two babes by now.
The dean led the girls in prayer and the meal began. “I’m sorry I was late,” Elizabeth said as she took some of the meat and passed the platter of steaming roast pork loin along. “I was in the library when the bell rang.”
“What were you studying?”
“Geometry. Euclid is so fascinating.”
The dean smiled because the girl reminded her of a younger version of herself. Next, she turned her attention to the girl on her other side. Emilia was as different from Elizabeth as possible. Emilia came from a wealthy Spanish family. They had sent her to the isolated academy to get her away from the distractions of court life, especially the young men. The girl had attracted the attention of many suitors in Madrid because she was a spectacular beauty with rich, suntanned skin, shiny black hair, and large brown eyes. She had a pleasant disposition, but her mind was not inclined to scholarly pursuits. The girl was fascinated by stories about love and adventure, and she had a fondness for bawdy tales in four languages. She kept her eyes focused on her plate in the vain hope that she could avoid the dean’s unwanted attention.
“Emilia, what do you think of Euclid?”
“I prefer literature and music,” the beauty replied with a nervous blush. “Mathematics do not interest me.”
Ina smiled. The Spanish girl would surely make some nobleman an amiable wife, and she would not challenge his intellect if he had any himself.
“I’ve been reading some adventure tales in French,” Emilia offered.
“Did you learn that language here?”
“Yes, ma’am. I only knew a few words until this year. I enjoy reading about knights who are bold and dashing. Their code of chivalry protected innocent women.”
Elizabeth covered her mouth with a hand to contain a chuckle. “I’ve read that the code only benefited noble women, and then only if their escorts had not been felled in combat. There is a painting in the library that shows a pair of knights leading two well dressed women prisoners at the end of long ropes behind their war horses.”
“You are correct,” the dean said. “The code did not apply to all women by any means.” That very painting had hung in Ina’s sleeping chamber, but she’d had it moved to the library because the image had disturbed her sleep too often. The thought of a warrior having his way with a helpless woman evoked powerful feelings inside her.
“I don’t remember seeing that piece of art,” Emilia said a bit too eagerly.
“It’s hung in the back alcove,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll show it to you tomorrow.”
Ina wondered what kind of conversation the girls would have and what kind of thoughts the old painting would stir in their youthful imaginations.
The meal time closed with the singing of an ancient Latin hymn, and then the dean returned to her quarters for night. The room was chilly so she added a little wood and watched the blazing fire for a while. She was just beginning to doze when a knock at the door disturbed her.
Miriam slipped into the room a moment later. Her face was drawn and she clutched her stomach with both hands. “I’m sorry to disturb you, ma’am, but I wondered if you could prepare one of your wonderful healing draughts? My belly is torturing me.”
Ina rose and put an arm around her faithful servant. “Of course. Can you walk with me?”
The two women made their way slowly to the kitchen and Ina gathered a few ingredients and placed them in a pot of water which she soon brought to a simmer. In just a few minutes a pungent, herbal smell filled the room. “Drink every bit of this slowly, dear. It should give you relief right away.”
“Oh thank you, ma’am! You are more skillful than any physician,” the young maid said as she sipped from the steaming mug.
Ina smiled. She had read many ancient texts to collect the recipes that she regularly used to relieve her girls’ and neighbors’ discomforts. “Thank you for the kind words. That brew should sweeten your stomach soon enough. Now get to your bed and sleep. I won’t ring for you again tonight.” She smiled as Miriam walked away, her step appearing less labored already.
Less than four miles away, two sleek Viking longboats cut the waves under sail. Their voyage from Leif’s Fjord had taken most of four days, so the men were ready for action. The ships were commanded by a warrior named Heinrich. He stood tall and ordered his men to lower the square sails and take to the oars.
The target for this night would be an isolated manor house standing on the small island that was less than an hour away. His spies had informed him that the place was some kind of girls’ school so he expected no resistance. He was mostly a stranger to education, so he pictured a flock of little girls in braids and shook his head. Why would these fool Scots waste money on education for girls? They needed to grow up and become wives. At least the spy had mentioned a good sized flock of sheep. The winter had been hard, and feasting on lamb chops would be very welcome in Leif’s Fjord. Who knows what other kind of booty the place might provide?
Only one window on the building’s top floor was lit; it was probably the master’s bedroom. No guards were evident and the boats slipped silently onto the beach without alerting any opposition. Heinrich stretched his arms and legs for a moment while the rest of his men got out of the boats without making any sound. He rested his battle axe on a broad shoulder, then signaled for the thirty men to follow. The long blonde hair that hung below his helmet fluttered in the cold breeze.
The warriors’ approach was stealthy, but they need not have bothered; everyone in the big house was asleep. They entered a pantry through an unbarred door and found supplies that would feed them for at least a week. The men drew their daggers because the quarters were far too tight for battle axes or broad swords. The ground floor was unoccupied, so the men started up the creaking stairs. Heinrich prepared for combat and kicked open the first door. The room was occupied by nothing put a pair of young women. They shrieked and hammered the warriors’ chests with their tiny fists as they were swept onto broad shoulders and carried away. The next few minutes were complete chaos. Every door was opened, but nothing but wailing young women were found. He grabbed a dark haired wench by the hair and shook her. “Where are the others?”
“The staff and faculty live on the mainland and the dean’s suite is upstairs!” the frantic girl wailed. “Please don’t hurt us!”
Heinrich and two others carefully made their way up to the building’s top floor and kicked open what they were sure must be the dean’s door. The sight that greeted them made the stalwart warriors laugh. A tiny woman with flowing red hair was clad in a long nightgown and stood with a broad sword clutched in both her hands. She stood several inches less than five feet tall so the weapon she wielded was far too long and much too heavy for her to handle skillfully. Still, her expression was utterly determined.
“Get out of my home, you vile rogues, before I slay the lot of you!” Ina shrieked.
The tall Viking laughed, casually drew his sword, and easily parried her first feeble thrust. Her heavy blade flew out of her tiny hands and crashed to the floor. The fierce warrior grabbed a handful of her fiery red hair before she could retrieve her weapon. She clawed at his arm, but he did not release his painful grip.
“Get your filthy hands off of me!” she shrieked.
He lifted his hard hand as if he intended to strike her and Ina lowered her face in a temporary show of submission. A cascade of auburn curls fell around her face and hid her from the rogue’s gaze.
“Where is your husband, the dean, and the other men in this place?”
“I don’t need some man to protect me from a rogue like you. I am the dean of this school, and I can take care of myself.” Her small fists bounced off his muscled chest impotently. “Now let me have my sword back and I’ll carve you like a hog!”
“You should be glad you are just a woman. Any man who dared to come at me with his sword drawn would already be bleeding and headless by now.” The Viking leader laughed and used her thick hair to pull her closer. “Now be silent, woman; your foolish chatter is tiresome.” He sheathed his sword and forced her face up so he could see her clearly.
His arrogant expression reignited her fury and she gritted her teeth defiantly and did her best to spit in his face. Fortunately, her aim was poor.
He smiled. “I can see that you need to learn your place, so I will be the teacher who will give that lesson now.”
“Go ahead and kill me, you filthy coward!” The feisty woman’s words were harsh, but she could already feel her body beginning to yield.
“Some other man might put you to death, but I intend to enjoy taming you instead. Killing you without enjoying your body would be a waste.” He used her hair to force her to stand on tiptoe. “Hold still while I get you ready for your lesson.”
She gasped when his dagger slipped out of its sheath and the side of its sharp blade touched her throat.
“Hold still or you might just get cut by accident.” The man laughed again while he used the side of the blade to stroke her shoulders and breasts. “Our captive women are not allowed to conceal their charms and I’m ready to see what you’re trying to hide under all that cloth.”
Ina pinched her eyes shut as the warrior slowly began to split the front of her soft nightgown. He chuckled as she gasped and squirmed. When the ruined garment had fallen in a puddle at Ina’s feet, Heinrich put his blade away.
“Open your eyes. I want to see them when I touch you.” With a weather-roughened palm, he groped her breasts as if he were entitled to that privilege, and his brazen attentions transformed her tender nipples into swollen orbs of highly sensitized flesh. She wanted nothing more than to defend them, but he had her wrists clutched behind her in his other big paw. The young woman had never felt more helpless or humiliated.
Ina hated the tempest of feelings raging inside her. No man had ever dared touch her in such a vulgar way, but she could hardly catch her breath and she found her disloyal body actually responding to the Viking’s rough handling. The unwanted heat growing in her nether regions was the worst part of this whole ordeal. How would she ever be able to face herself again? Her situation could hardly be more distressing. The marauder had stripped and fondled her—what would he do next?
The big man guided her to a sturdy chair, took a seat, and bent her over his lap. She made her best effort to wriggle away, but he effortlessly bent her arms behind her waist and clutched her two slim wrists in one of his broad hands. As she frantically struggled, she felt the front of his trousers press against her female flesh and she could tell that his manhood was hard. After a short pause, his free hand shot up and came down even more quickly. It landed on her unprotected buttocks with a loud crack that made her gasp as his fellow warriors who were standing nearby chuckled loudly.
“Stop that, you cowardly brute!” the naked dean screeched.
Two more fiery blows fell and she felt her pale bottom flesh begin to blush with warmth. He slowed the pace of his blows and methodically reddened each of her firm hind cheeks.
“Go ahead and keep up your insults,” he taunted. “I am going to make you pay for each and every rude word, you tiresome, infernal shrew.”
She clamped her jaws and tried to keep silent to save herself, but his merciless hand continued to scorch her relentlessly. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she felt Heinrich deliver one fiery spank after another until she was sure her battered rump would burst into flames. When he began to strike her upper thighs, she decided to try another approach. “Mercy… please stop. I’ve learned my lesson. You can let me up now. I’ll do what you want.” She held her breath while he smacked her smarting flesh three more times.
“So, you’ve decided to behave, have you?” Two more harsh blows cracked against her inflamed skin. “I want to hear you say your apology. Tell me you have learned your place.”
Ina drew a deep breath and prepared to grudgingly utter the hateful words. “I’m sorry for what I said. Please stop beating me.”
He smacked her sore butt again, but this time he let his free hand rest on her inflamed skin. “I want you to know that I’m going to use my riding crop the next time you behave so badly. I’ll tie your hands over your head in the mead hall and stripe your bare hide while everyone gets to watch.” His hand moved lower and brazenly nudged her knees apart.
It felt like her face was burning even brighter than her buttocks as he slowly fingered her inner thighs first and then her puffy, dripping pussy lips. She had never felt more humiliated in her entire life; being stripped and fondled like this was mortifying. Her hands struggled uselessly to get free of the marauder’s iron grip, but instead of securing any measure of freedom, she felt him cross her wrists and bind them behind her back with a short piece of rawhide. Could her plight be any worse?
Heinrich pulled her to her feet and put a hand between her thighs. She needed every scintilla of her will to keep from hurling more insults as he shamelessly fondled her pussy and then slipped one of his large fingers inside. She wanted to die of mortification as she realized that he now knew that her female flesh was completely wet. She tried to get away, but the Viking’s grip on her hair was too strong.
“Boys, I believe this teacher has enjoyed her lesson,” he gloated as his thumb stroked her swollen pleasure bud. “Now she’s ready for a man’s attention.”
Ina stifled a groan and silently prayed that she could hide the unwanted effect the man’s wanton groping was having on her disloyal body.
One of the other Vikings stepped forward. “I’m ready to take this little filly for a ride.”
Ina’s blood froze when he reached for her, but Heinrich thwarted the other man’s advance. “I’m sorry, Bjor, but I have another idea. This one is going to be Eric’s thrall if he wants her. None of us will take her without his permission.” Bjor crossed his arms and stepped back. Heinrich made Ina look up. “You may call me, master. What is your name, woman?”
The dean stiffened her body, but realized that show of defiance only caused her breasts to protrude toward him. “I am Lady Ina, the dean of this school and my brother-in-law is the Duke of Sutherland. If you dare to harm me or any of my girls in any way, he will punish you severely.”
“I am not afraid of your foppish duke. He is nowhere near to protect you now.”
She hung her head, but when her luxuriant tresses fell over her breasts, he brushed her hair away.
“I have been told that this is a school for girls. Where are they?”
“My ‘girls’ are innocent young ladies from fine families. I know you’ve already found them because I heard their frantic screams before you barged in here.”
The warrior ran his fingers across Ina’s bared shoulders as she squirmed.
“Are you trying to tell me that those wenches I just saw are actually maidens that you are educating here?”
He smiled when the dean nodded.
“Boys, we’ve found a treasure worth far more than a flock of sheep and some housewares and trinkets made of gold. Those young, screeching damsels can command worthwhile ransoms, and if not, they’ll be fine slaves for the clan’s warriors. Either way, Eric Johansson will owe us a fine reward.”