. . . Aramis hurried to the bed and helped get Athos positioned completely upon it as Porthos left the room in search of lots of fresh bandages. Of course, first he decided to dispose of the bodies where no one would readily ask questions.
D'Artagnan filled a basin with water and hauled it over to the bed, placing it just out of Athos' reach and beside Laurel. Laurel lifted her bloodstained face. "Do either of you have a small, very sharp knife?"
"In my room," D'Artagnan replied, and he dashed out to get it before the woman had a chance to ask.
Athos grunted and struggled as Laurel and Aramis attempted to staunch the bleeding. "The ball's still in there, is not it?" Aramis said with an unearthly calm even as he tied a loose tourniquet and got up to light several tapers for them to better see by.
Laurel nodded tersely. An instant later, Porthos re-entered the room; his arms were laden with fresh linen, and he was carrying a bottle of cognac – the strongest he could procure – in each hand. It had taken him a while, but apparently he'd been successful Laurel noted as he dropped the linens at the bedside and pulled a cork out with his teeth and then proffered the bottle to Laurel. She snatched it with a word of thanks, diverting her attention to preparing to perform emergency surgery by scrubbing her hands in the water.
Athos thrashed again and his clouded, pain-filled eyes focused on Aramis and Porthos. "Is he dead?" Athos demanded in a weak voice.
"Yes, they're all dead, mon ami," Aramis assured him, his voice soothing, as D'Artagnan entered the room, knife in hand, and offered it to Laurel, who took it with a nod. "We are going to see to it that you are all right. We have seen you through worse wounds than this one. We are not about to lose you now."
"Athos," Laurel said softly as she poured another swig of the brandy on the cloth. "The ball is still in your shoulder, probably at the joint. We have to get it out. I do have some skills in treating wounds such as this. Will you trust me, or do you want us to send for a sawbones?" Athos' pain filled eyes met hers, and he told her that his life was in her hands.
"In that case, brace yourself. This is going to hurt." Laurel shifted her grasp on the knife. "Aramis, Porthos if you'd be so kind as to see that he does not thrash about," she commanded as she cleaned the wound with the brandy-soaked rag.
Athos winced as the alcohol stung and set the bloody injury on fire. He clenched his teeth together as she poured more cognac on the open wound and gently wiped away most of the blood. Laurel, seeing his distress, placed one of the cloths between his teeth to prevent him from biting through his tongue. The woman did have strange medical practices picked up from who knew where, but she seemed completely confident in what she was doing. She better be, because it hurt like the devil. A flinch immediately followed Athos' thought.
Laurel glanced around and her eyes latched on to the unopened bottle of cognac. D'Artagnan lifted it from the table and uncorked it as he was instructed. He brought the open bottle to the bed and Laurel said, "Give it to Aramis."
D'Artagnan did so immediately and backed away, going to the corridor to fend off and explain to the proprietor and other guests who had finally come to see what all the commotion was about. As he invented a plausible explanation for the situation, he was able to prevent the visitors from disturbing Athos and his friends, and he made sure that the bodies Porthos had moved were better disposed of.
"Aramis, help Athos drink the entire bottle. Let's see if we can dull the pain or maybe even knock him out before I do any cutting." If she had to resort to crude methods, crude it would be. That many would not find her methods so crude escaped her in the heat of the moment.
Moments dragged by as Aramis urged his friend to keep drinking until the bottle was drained, every last drop. He set the empty bottle aside and both uninjured musketeers prepared to hold Athos motionless.
Laurel lifted the cognac-soaked blade to the wound and made a deft, deep slice in the flesh of Athos' shoulder. Athos thrashed weakly, and the men held him down until finally he passed into merciful unconsciousness. With her arm, Laurel wiped sweat from her brow and made another careful incision next to the wound.
Suddenly the bleeding started again, and Porthos grabbed a fresh cloth and stanched the flow of blood while Laurel looked around for a forceps of some sort and laid them on the blood-stained bed-cloth. She paused right in the middle of making a third cut, and Aramis and Porthos both looked her straight in the eye. Long, palpably tense moments ticked by. "You can do it," they both encouraged her, and she bent her head and returned to the task at hand. There was no other option.
For one more moment her hand was poised above the wound and then the knife descended. One final, quick incision, and she set aside the sharp blade. Porthos lifted the makeshift forceps and handed them to her with a silent word of luck. She took them. "Try to keep the wound open so I can see as clearly as possible." Absorbed in her task, she bent her head so she could more easily see the open wound.
"Do you see it?" Aramis inquired.
She allowed the question to hover between them as she gently probed the wound for a sign of the ball and was finally rewarded by the hard touch of the lead ball against the makeshift forceps. No bone-chips, and the ball seemed whole. He was extraordinarily lucky. She sincerely hoped pulling this out did not cause more damage than Athos could survive, but she could see no other way than extracting it since leaving it in would more than likely kill him, slowly.
"Oui," Laurel finally replied. Taking a deep breath she grasped the ball firmly and pulled it out quickly.
She looked at her bloody hand and the equally bloody instrument and smiled in relief as she saw the ball was whole and it was entirely out. "I got it," she announced, and the other musketeers returned her relieved smile even as D'Artagnan approached with a needle and thread and offered them to the woman, "I thought that these might come in useful."
"Merci," she responded and used the last of the brandy on the needle and the open wound. While his three companions looked on, she carefully stitched together the flaps of skin and sealed the wound. Swiftly, she untied the tourniquet, hoping too much damage had not been caused by the desperate measure to stop the bleeding. When it was all over, she sank back on her heels and prepared to face Athos' friends. . . .