Lying belly down in a crevice twenty feet above them, peering through a fringe of gorse, Alan had been near to fainting himself. He had witnessed just enough of this scene to know that the worst had happened and that Catriona was as good as lost. Part of him reasoned that, since her own foolishness had placed her in this position, she could be left to her fate. Now might be his chance, while the redcoats were busy with her, to get clean away. After all, he owed her nothing and she was likely a Campbell whore in any case.
To flee, however, was not the conduct of a man of principle and Alan held dear to his beliefs. Many men had perished for principle and his own life was doubtless destined to be abbreviated on that account. So there only remained one riddle to be solved - how could he kill three redcoats armed with just a dirk and a dash of Highland cunning? All he had was the advantage of surprise and that not to any degree since the redcoats obviously believed he was close at hand.
It seemed he would have to wait until the redcoats' attentions were fully engaged with their prisoner. He'd seen the way they looked at her. Her glorious body was a gift to lechery that men like them could surely not resist. He just hoped Catriona would have the strength to endure their attentions.
She woke to find herself lying naked on the stone, the tatters of her dress beneath her. She tried to conceal her nudity but her arms were tied behind her back. At least they had removed the cloth from her mouth. 'You barbarians,' she spat at them. 'You should be ashamed to treat a woman like this. You're a disgrace to the commander you serve.'
The sergeant shrugged and sat next to her on the rock. He still held the bayonet. He laid its point flat on one russet-tipped breast. 'And I suppose it's not barbarous to shoot a man dead when he's about the King's affairs.'
'This business has nothing to do with me,' she protested, trying to ignore the pattern he was now tracing with his steel, ever so lightly like the tip-toeing of a spider, across the yielding globe of her left breast.
'That's for the court to decide,' he replied. I would imagine it would go easier for you if you gave up the assassin himself. If you tell us where in these Godforsaken hills he is hiding I swear it shall be known to those who sit in judgement on you.'
'If there's any justice I shall be found innocent,' she proclaimed in a voice that sounded bolder than she felt. 'And I shall seek recompense for any harm that is done to my person by you or any other man.'
'I see.' He withdrew the steel blade and ran a calloused hand down her flank. 'Such perfect skin. It's a shame to mark it, don't you think, Bull? Why don't you show her your back?'
The giant said nothing but threw his waistcoat to the ground and pulled his shirt over his head. Then he turned, presenting Catriona with a view of him naked from the nape of the neck to the broad waist of his breeches. She gasped in shock. His skin was a purple canvas of gnarled lumps and stripes, of corrugated ridges and half-healed excrescences where the flesh had been ploughed up like a muddy field and barely allowed to heal before the next ploughing.
'Eight thousand lashes in fourteen years, isn't it, Bull?'
'Nigh on ten thousand, sergeant. But there's many has had worse.' He turned to Catriona. 'You get used to it.'
She was speechless. She knew such brutality was commonplace in armies but to be so close to the evidence was sickening. For a moment she even forgot her own parlous state. Until the sergeant spoke again.
'That's enough, Bull. Now let's show her the cat.'
Alan was in a quandary. He too had been sickened at the sight of the big soldier's mutilated body and the thought of Catriona's fair form being bloodied in such a fashion had him reaching for his dirk. But there was no point in being hasty unless he were certain of success. It would be better for Catriona to suffer a flogging now than a hanging later. And there would be more than one hanging, that was certain. The Campbells would require the stretching of necks for the murder of Black Bobby - and only Alan could ensure that Catriona's was not one of them.
So he held his passions in check as he watched the sergeant dangle a many-stranded whip before the girl's eyes - the infamous cat o'nine tails that kept the brutish soldiers of King George's army in order. He saw the devilish gleam in the man's face as he lovingly parted the strands of the whip to show Catriona the cruel leather knots that would soon be biting into her trembling flesh. He saw too the horror in her expression that, to his admiration, was quickly replaced by disdain.
'Get on with it then, if you must,' she said. 'I have nothing to say.'
That was unlikely to remain the case, Alan well knew. Once the cat began to claw, surely Catriona would tell all she knew of him. Not that it much mattered, he reasoned. Either he or the men below would not live out the day.
The sergeant and the big man had untied Catriona's hands and turned her body over. Now they stretched her across the rock and roped her wrists together above her head. The big soldier bundled up her dress and pushed it beneath her hips. The effect was to raise up her pearly bottom, the full hemispheres of her buttocks curving outwards in a spectacular and tempting display. With her face hidden by her forest of copper curls, she lay without resistance on the black slab, like a maiden sacrifice.
Alan could not prevent the intrusion of lustful thoughts at the sight of her. Already enamoured of her charms after the glimpse she had afforded him the day before, now he revelled in her naked glory. And the thought that such a voluptuous and tempting vision was about to be chastised enflamed him further. It was shameful and he was a sinner, he knew, but as a lusty man he longed to see her pretty arse whipped.
He was not alone in this, it was plain. The soldiers below were moving quickly now. The sergeant offered Catriona a final opportunity to answer his questions but she just shook her ringlets and said nothing. Then the whip was in the big soldier's hand and he raised his mighty arm.
The first blow landed on her left buttock, the leather tongues spreading across the white flesh in an obscene caress. Her hips jerked and the mass of her cheek shuddered as it absorbed the lash but she made no sound.
The whip rose and fell again, its nine tongues flicking this time across the resilience of the other buttock. Again she jerked and the broad satiny moon twitched and jumped under the impact. She did not cry out but on the impact of the third stroke Alan thought he heard a quick intake of breath.
On the fourth, as her bottom danced and the skin began to redden, there was a low-pitched 'Oh' as of surprise or shock rather than pain. But soon, as the leather knots fell in a steady rain upon her upturned posterior, her voice rang out in a long, lonely wail of agony that did not cease from one blow to the next.
Horrified though he was, Alan was as hard in his breeches as he had ever been in his life. This was his fantasy of the night before made flesh. His cock dug into the rock beneath him as if it would penetrate the mountain itself. He tried to ignore it and concentrate on what must be done. If he felt this way then he had no doubt the soldiers below would be in a similar state.
Already Alan had noticed that the third soldier, the boy relegated to sentry duty, no longer had his eyes on the moor and the mountains. He, too, was mesmerised by the female backside wriggling under the lash, and though he held his musket in one hand, the other was pressing the thick bulge between his legs. When a man's cock is engorged and his mind is aflame with images of lust, then is the time to catch him unawares. Alan reminded himself of this and concentrated on the timing of his intervention below.
The redcoats had ceased whipping Catriona and were examining their handiwork. The sergeant peered closely at her striped posterior, ignoring the heaving of her shoulders as she keened and sobbed.
'She's took it pretty well,' said Bull, breathing hard himself. 'You'd think tender skin like that would cut up into ribbons after a few taps. It just shows that women are tougher than you think.'
The sergeant grunted. 'You've never been married, have you, Bull? I recommend you keep your opinions on female durability to yourself.' He ran his hand over the weals and undulations of Catriona's livid posterior. 'My, you've heated her up some. Her arse is on fire. By God, you could cook a beefsteak on it.'
His fingers roamed further over her silky flesh, tracing the crevice between her cheeks and dipping down to the mossy treasures between her legs. Catriona made a token attempt to shut her thighs but she seemed to have lost the strength to resist.
'So, mistress, have you nothing to tell me now?'
She did not reply but lay moaning. The sergeant pushed a finger into the purse of her cunt and probed obscenely. 'My, my,' he said, 'you're flowing like the Thames in spate. Now you've had a taste of the cat it looks like you're ready for an animal of a different kind.'
So saying he pulled out his male part, a thick truncheon of impressive proportions for a man of his dimensions.
He lodged the head of his member in the fork of her rear, gripped her hips and pierced her to the root. Catriona gasped.
The sergeant laughed. 'First we light the flames and then we stoke the fire.' He buffeted his belly against her pink-streaked bottom. 'This is my idea of soldiering, eh, Bull?'