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Anne Lyle
01-30-2011, 10:37 PM
ETA: Thanks for all the contributions below! The ms is now out on submission, but I'll keep your feedback in case I need ideas for the sequel :)

seun's thread about stab wounds reminded me that I need to revise a fight scene near the end of my novel. The MC is armed with a rapier, fighting an opponent armed with a slightly heavier sword, and I need the MC to seriously disable his opponent but not kill him - and yet be in doubt as to whether he will have survived (the MC hightails it out of there!).

The victim has access to a good doctor and slightly better medicines than would historically have been available (this is fantasy, and I've already established that the doctor has herbal antiseptics and the like). I'd like the victim to make a slow recovery, with possibly some long-term disability as a result.

Suggestions?

Lhun
01-30-2011, 11:34 PM
What rapier? As with most words for historical weapons there's no real definition out there since the historical terms have been used over long periods of time and for different weapons, and the modern terms get used differently by different historians. (Case in point: rapier is a modern term that wasn't in use during the time these weapons were used)
Also, what's the opponent wearing?
Assuming it's one of the latter fencing weapons (that evolved into the smallswords known from Olympic fencing) those were optimized for lethality against unarmoured opponents. Given the medical knowledge of the time, a stab wound, even if shallow by todays standards (say 10 cm) would very often be lethal because of infection, or by causing the victim to bleed out (there's no real way to stop the bleeding from a hole in the chest or belly). So, using a later fencing weapons that's the type of wound you'd expect to see caused by it (the only type actually) and it does work for the story. Maybe the MC managed to hit the opponent and just takes off, in the knowledge that the bleeding opponent won't follow him for long and will likely die of the wound. The opponent on the other hand could have been very lucky in that no vital organs have been hit and he managed to survive the blood loss. Also lucky to have the bleeding stop stop before he's dead and lucky to not catch an infection. Having a good doctor would help in so far as a bad doctor could quite easily kill a patient with such a wound, but he wouldn't actually have been able to do much to help the patient recover. What's required for such a wound is basically a blood transfusion and some antibiotics to prevent infection. Mostly the transfusion though.

Alternatively, if its an earlier rapier not to far removed from an arming sword, it is still a serious slashing weapon, at least against an unarmoured target. The above still applies (though the weapon hasn't been optimized for thrusts as the main mode of attack) though the wider blade produces more damaging stab wounds, so survival is less likely. Since it's also a useful slashing weapon however there are more possibilities, maybe a strike at the opponents leg which would again allow the MC to take off without killing him, but expecting him to be dead from blood-loss nonetheless (although surviving a leg amputation was more likely than surviving a stab wound to the center of the body, that why fencing weapons evolved in that direction). A good doctor would make more of a difference there.
Similarly, the MC might have caused such a wound in other important places. Maybe he took a hand off or managed a quick slash across the eyes.
Basically, any wound that disables an opponent should work, and if the MC left him bleeding in the grass, wouldn't know whether he survived.
Armour would significantly alter the options though. If the opponent is using an arming sword or similarly heavy battlefield weapon, while not actually being armoured, that's a serious handicap against an opponent with a fencing sword.

Anne Lyle
01-31-2011, 12:57 AM
What rapier? As with most words for historical weapons there's no real definition out there since the historical terms have been used over long periods of time and for different weapons

Sorry not to be more specific. A late 16th century rapier - about a yard or so long, flattish blade (not a foil), maybe an inch wide at the hilt narrowing about a quarter inch with a pointed tip. I've had a look at them in museums but not had an opportunity to handle one.



and the modern terms get used differently by different historians. (Case in point: rapier is a modern term that wasn't in use during the time these weapons were used)

Shakespeare uses the word "rapier" frequently - that's good enough for me!



Also, what's the opponent wearing? Assuming it's one of the latter fencing weapons (that evolved into the smallswords known from Olympic fencing) those were optimized for lethality against unarmoured opponents.


Both men are unarmoured; the MC has a main gauche, his opponent is using a cloak in his left hand to parry/entangle.




Given the medical knowledge of the time, a stab wound, even if shallow by todays standards (say 10 cm) would very often be lethal because of infection, or by causing the victim to bleed out (there's no real way to stop the bleeding from a hole in the chest or belly). So, using a later fencing weapons that's the type of wound you'd expect to see caused by it (the only type actually) and it does work for the story. Maybe the MC managed to hit the opponent and just takes off, in the knowledge that the bleeding opponent won't follow him for long and will likely die of the wound. The opponent on the other hand could have been very lucky in that no vital organs have been hit and he managed to survive the blood loss. Also lucky to have the bleeding stop stop before he's dead and lucky to not catch an infection. Having a good doctor would help in so far as a bad doctor could quite easily kill a patient with such a wound, but he wouldn't actually have been able to do much to help the patient recover. What's required for such a wound is basically a blood transfusion and some antibiotics to prevent infection. Mostly the transfusion though.

Alternatively, if its an earlier rapier not to far removed from an arming sword, it is still a serious slashing weapon, at least against an unarmoured target. The above still applies (though the weapon hasn't been optimized for thrusts as the main mode of attack) though the wider blade produces more damaging stab wounds, so survival is less likely. Since it's also a useful slashing weapon however there are more possibilities, maybe a strike at the opponents leg which would again allow the MC to take off without killing him, but expecting him to be dead from blood-loss nonetheless (although surviving a leg amputation was more likely than surviving a stab wound to the center of the body, that why fencing weapons evolved in that direction). A good doctor would make more of a difference there.
Similarly, the MC might have caused such a wound in other important places. Maybe he took a hand off or managed a quick slash across the eyes.
Basically, any wound that disables an opponent should work, and if the MC left him bleeding in the grass, wouldn't know whether he survived.
Armour would significantly alter the options though. If the opponent is using an arming sword or similarly heavy battlefield weapon, while not actually being armoured, that's a serious handicap against an opponent with a fencing sword.

I agree, the problem is that rapier fights were almost always fatal if a serious blow was struck - which is why the MC has the good sense to avoid them whenever possible! I was thinking that a stab to a less vulnerable area (such as a foot) would be debilitating enough to slow the victim, followed by a shallow slash that might bleed a bit and need stitching but not endanger any major organs.

His opponent is carrying something slightly shorter and heavier than a rapier, as was preferred by many Englishmen swordsmen. On the one hand he's taller than the MC, but they're fighting in a confined space, which I think would be a handicap.

Thanks for the detailed feedback - it basically confirms my feeling that I have to be careful what injuries I choose to inflict on the characters, given the lethality of the weapons involved!

Nick Blaze
01-31-2011, 11:38 AM
To disable? That makes it difficult with a rapier, but not impossible. There are tendons on the back of the wrist one aims for in the martial arts (iaido, kenjutsu) to disable the dominate sword arm (the right) without it being immediately fatal. There are many good arteries on the under of the arm near the armpit, but those would be fatal.

Stabbing into an Achilles tendon can certainly stop him from walking. A rapier, to my experience, would not be able to cause much damage to a bone. Simply stabbing the foot or cutting it would hit the metatarsals, which would hurt beyond belief, but probably not stop anyone from walking if they're determined.

If you need any other ideas, I can provide some more. But, essentially, the martial arts are about killing, not disabling.

Anne Lyle
01-31-2011, 11:47 AM
To disable? That makes it difficult with a rapier, but not impossible. There are tendons on the back of the wrist one aims for in the martial arts (iaido, kenjutsu) to disable the dominate sword arm (the right) without it being immediately fatal.

Interesting - I'm not sure this would be a deliberate target in the fighting style of the period, but as an accidental target it has possibilities.



There are many good arteries on the under of the arm near the armpit, but those would be fatal.

Indeed - he kills someone in an earlier fight with a stab from his main gauche that severs the axillary artery. Messy :)



Stabbing into an Achilles tendon can certainly stop him from walking. A rapier, to my experience, would not be able to cause much damage to a bone. Simply stabbing the foot or cutting it would hit the metatarsals, which would hurt beyond belief, but probably not stop anyone from walking if they're determined.

I was thinking more that footwork is an important component of swordplay, so damage to a foot would handicap an opponent considerably and leave him vulnerable.



If you need any other ideas, I can provide some more. But, essentially, the martial arts are about killing, not disabling.

Thanks.

blacbird
01-31-2011, 12:50 PM
Severed Achilles tendon.

Stoneghost
01-31-2011, 03:18 PM
What you have is probably already good enough. A stab or slash wound into the torso or abdomen would have the potential of killing him in one place, but a centimeter or so in another direction would have left him bleeding, possibly disabled, but not in mortal danger from the injury itself. A sword fighter would know this, they would presumably not target wound points, but target kill, or slow kill points first. But even fairly good swordsmen could be unsure of where they hit in combat, or even after combat if the opponent is in loose clothing covered in blood.

The injury could also seem worse than it was as well. For instance, bright red blood may have been present. This informs the swordsman he has struck an artery, but not necessarily an artery which if damaged would always cause death. How the opponent acted might also make the injury look worse.

In stories people are always getting up after being shot or stabbed or punched and fighting more. Realistically, that doesn't happen much. When someone gets hit, there are all manner of physiological responses, like a blood pressure drop, that makes it difficult for them to move or think. Depending on the injury or the person, they can be back to action relatively soon, although still injuries, or they can also be out cold. It is very difficult to gauge the severity of an injury based on the persons initial responses to it. The initial reaction from being stabbed with a sword is probably more than enough to put most people down, even if they make a full recovery later.

So basically your guy could slash his opponent across the abdomen, or stab him in the chest, see a lots of bright blood and his opponent look like he was going into shock (or actually going into shock). Nevertheless, his opponent could be better in a few days, or a few months, depending on the injury and the healing.

Lhun
01-31-2011, 03:24 PM
Sorry not to be more specific. A late 16th century rapier - about a yard or so long, flattish blade (not a foil), maybe an inch wide at the hilt narrowing about a quarter inch with a pointed tip. I've had a look at them in museums but not had an opportunity to handle one.That's a pretty late rapier then (though not yet a smallsword) so, while it does allow for slashes, it doesn't have a lot of cutting power. Cutting cloth should work, but thick leather would protect well enough against it.

Shakespeare uses the word "rapier" frequently - that's good enough for me!Sure, but he was a brit :tongue. More importantly, in a stage-play, what the sword gets called doesn't even matter since the audience can see what it looks like.

I agree, the problem is that rapier fights were almost always fatal if a serious blow was struck - which is why the MC has the good sense to avoid them whenever possible! I was thinking that a stab to a less vulnerable area (such as a foot) would be debilitating enough to slow the victim, followed by a shallow slash that might bleed a bit and need stitching but not endanger any major organs.Feet are difficult to hit, and usually armoured, but legs are a good target.

His opponent is carrying something slightly shorter and heavier than a rapier, as was preferred by many Englishmen swordsmen. On the one hand he's taller than the MC, but they're fighting in a confined space, which I think would be a handicap.Well, if the space is too confined to allow for proper movement, that's a pretty hefty problem. A heavier but shorter sword on the other hand shouldn't be much slower than a rapier, though the lack of range is of course a handicap.
One thing to keep in mind when writing fencing scenes with a rapier is that the well known parry-and-riposte style of swordplay is actually not the style used with them. That one developed later on, for smallswords, which were fast enough to allow for separate motions when parrying and counter attacking. In rapier fencing, parry and counter were done with the same movement.

Interesting - I'm not sure this would be a deliberate target in the fighting style of the period, but as an accidental target it has possibilities.Yes, the back of the hand was absolutely a target (and even a late rapier can still easily sever tendons), although more so in the early times of the development of fencing, because protection was developed. A late 16th century rapier would definitly have a basket or swept hilt which offers very good protection for the hand and wrist.

I was thinking more that footwork is an important component of swordplay, so damage to a foot would handicap an opponent considerably and leave him vulnerable.A wound in the foot can certainly decide the rest of the duel, but again, feet are difficult to hit, and armoured. One has to decide whether to take the risk. A successful stab in the foot would cause a wound that's a serious enough handicap to make the rest of the duel a foregone conclusion (after all, the unwounded fencer just has to defend and bide his time to let his opponent bleed, or wait for a stumble), but on the other hand, getting one's rapier stuck in the boot-leather of the opponent, even for a split second, might give him the opening he needed for a lethal attack. One is not exactly in the best position to dodge or parry while targeting an opponents feet. Getting at the Achilles tendon is quite unlikely, both because of the protection offered by a leather boot and because it's simply on the wrong side of the foot. ;)


So basically your guy could slash his opponent across the abdomen, or stab him in the chest, see a lots of bright blood and his opponent look like he was going into shock (or actually going into shock). Nevertheless, his opponent could be better in a few days, or a few months, depending on the injury and the healing.I think given the relatively narrow stab wounds caused by a rapier, coupled with primitive medical knowledge, the odds are that one would either get well very quickly (no vital organs hit and no infection), or not at all.
Ok, some people survived infected wounds even before antibiotics, but only occasionally. That'd take a long time.

seun
01-31-2011, 05:29 PM
seun's thread about stab wounds reminded me that I need to revise a fight scene near the end of my novel.

Glad to be of (violent) help. :)

Anne Lyle
01-31-2011, 06:00 PM
Sure, but he was a brit :tongue.


As am I. And the story is set in London, for all it's fantasy.



Feet are difficult to hit, and usually armoured, but legs are a good target.
Well, if the space is too confined to allow for proper movement, that's a pretty hefty problem. A heavier but shorter sword on the other hand shouldn't be much slower than a rapier, though the lack of range is of course a handicap.
One thing to keep in mind when writing fencing scenes with a rapier is that the well known parry-and-riposte style of swordplay is actually not the style used with them. That one developed later on, for smallswords, which were fast enough to allow for separate motions when parrying and counter attacking. In rapier fencing, parry and counter were done with the same movement.

I have a pretty good book on Renaissance swordsmanship, so I've tried to combine this with primary sources to give my fight scenes some verissimilitude :)



Yes, the back of the hand was absolutely a target (and even a late rapier can still easily sever tendons), although more so in the early times of the development of fencing, because protection was developed. A late 16th century rapier would definitly have a basket or swept hilt which offers very good protection for the hand and wrist.


The MC's rapier has a swept hilt. Not so sure about his opponent's - it's not his own sword but one he's just taken from one of his father's retainers, so probably something a bit old-fashioned.



A wound in the foot can certainly decide the rest of the duel, but again, feet are difficult to hit, and armoured. One has to decide whether to take the risk. A successful stab in the foot would cause a wound that's a serious enough handicap to make the rest of the duel a foregone conclusion (after all, the unwounded fencer just has to defend and bide his time to let his opponent bleed, or wait for a stumble), but on the other hand, getting one's rapier stuck in the boot-leather of the opponent, even for a split second, might give him the opening he needed for a lethal attack. One is not exactly in the best position to dodge or parry while targeting an opponents feet. Getting at the Achilles tendon is quite unlikely, both because of the protection offered by a leather boot and because it's simply on the wrong side of the foot. ;)

Yes, I felt the Achilles tendon would be a difficult one. On the other hand they are indoors, so the opponent at least is unlikely to be wearing boots.



I think given the relatively narrow stab wounds caused by a rapier, coupled with primitive medical knowledge, the odds are that one would either get well very quickly (no vital organs hit and no infection), or not at all.
Ok, some people survived infected wounds even before antibiotics, but only occasionally. That'd take a long time.

"Occasionally" is good enough for me :)

Lhun
01-31-2011, 06:29 PM
As am I. And the story is set in London, for all it's fantasy.My point was just that rapier wasn't a term used by the people who mainly used an invented the respective fencing swords, (i.e. in France, Italy and Spain) which is why it can be anything, from just a very light arming sword to a heavy épée.
"Occasionally" is good enough for me :)Have fun looking up gangrene if you're going to describe that. :scared:

Anne Lyle
01-31-2011, 06:58 PM
My point was just that rapier wasn't a term used by the people who mainly used an invented the respective fencing swords, (i.e. in France, Italy and Spain) which is why it can be anything, from just a very light arming sword to a heavy épée.

Good point. But if it's the word the English use for the kind of fashionable sword worn by gentlemen, that's what I'm going to call it in the story. The important thing is that I as author know its exact proportions and how it's being used in combat.



Have fun looking up gangrene if you're going to describe that. :scared:

Thankfully we don't see the victim again until he is well on the road to recovery. So I'm spared that particular piece of research. Phew!

Tsu Dho Nimh
01-31-2011, 07:46 PM
The always-popular "sucking chest wound" (pneumothorax) is usually survivable with reasonably prompt not very high tech medical care. I have medical works from the 1600s that describe adequate treatments. Stab him in the lower ribs and leave.

He'd be slow recovering because the stab has to heal and the blood clots get re-absorbed, and could have some disability because of scarring in the lungs.

Anne Lyle
01-31-2011, 08:00 PM
Oooh, nice one! I might have to save it for another time, though, because the MC has been ordered not to kill people who might have useful information. On the other hand he has a personal reason to go against orders in this case.

Hmm, will have to think about it...

WriteKnight
01-31-2011, 08:10 PM
The always-popular "sucking chest wound" (pneumothorax) is usually survivable with reasonably prompt not very high tech medical care. I have medical works from the 1600s that describe adequate treatments. Stab him in the lower ribs and leave.

He'd be slow recovering because the stab has to heal and the blood clots get re-absorbed, and could have some disability because of scarring in the lungs.

This.

A thrust to the main body mass, that hits a rib and slides along it, will leave a nasty wound, plenty of blood and capable of healing. Combine this with the fact that it has pierced clothing, and had to be 'withdrawn' - and the MC will not know the extent of the injury.

Yes. I've handled period rapiers.

Additionally I've SEEN a sword go through a shoulder, coming out the other side of the upper arm. Through and through. Hell of a lot of blood. Taken to ER - cleaned and stitched - and the guy was up and about, but in incredible pain for a while. Couldn't really use the arm much for a couple of weeks - but made a complete recovery.

Anne Lyle
01-31-2011, 08:55 PM
Cool, thanks! Sounds like just the thing I need!

Collectonian
01-31-2011, 09:29 PM
Don't know if would help a lot, but Deadliest Warrier did an episode of Musketeer vs Ming Warrior. Amongst the weapons they looked at was the Rapier and Main Gauche, including analyzing/demonstrating cutting ability. They have the ep up on their site: http://www.spike.com/full-episode/ming-warrior-vs/39029

Lhun
01-31-2011, 09:52 PM
Deadliest Warrior can be pretty fun, but the data is crap.

Anne Lyle
01-31-2011, 10:00 PM
I may watch it for the fun value. There was a reasonably good show on a while back, presented by Peter Woodward (he of the Babylon 5 spinoff Crusade). They recreated a famous duel, IIRC.

Thanks for all the replies! I've settled on a messy but survivable stab between the ribs - nothing I like better than a villain with a grudge who lives to fight another day. After all, I have a sequel to write!

GregS
02-01-2011, 08:04 PM
A little bit more detail in terms of what you want your MC to do/not do would be helpful (is he cutting, thrusting, trying to disable, trying to "touche", drawing blood, disarming, etc.), but here's some of my experience.

Hitting the opponent's arm is the easiest target for what you've described so far. Lead leg would be next most.

Targets there, in no particular order, would be inside of forearm, upper arm, center or outside of thigh, calf. These are the places I could stab, slash, or wrist-cut to cause damage and blood, but be confident that you'll survive easily. Note that there are major arteries in the arms and legs, so you still MIGHT die if I hit you wrong.

Strikes anywhere to the torso would run the strong risk of death, shots to the wrist, hands, ankles, feet, or shoulder would likely cripple. It sounds like none of that is his goal.

If he has to incapacitate the guy, but wants him to be functional in the future, you could do low-interior shoulder, high-outside shoulder, exterior forearm, or hip. All are fight enders but give the opponent a good chance of coming back (at 50 to 80 percent).

If I was in a fight with someone I don't want to kill, but wants to kill me, my targets of choice would be, in order: hip, upper arm, interior of shoulder. If I stab you in the hip you will stop moving and will likely fall down. If I cut into your bicep you will rethink holding up your sword. If I penetrate your shoulder you will be unable to lift your arm.

In terms of style, you could look to the Spanish for inspiration. They practiced a form of rapier that the English called the "Pecking Death." It featured lots of shallow thrusts and "flicks" (short, shallow, tip cuts) against targets of opportunity--frequently in the enemy's sword arm.

You could also, going in the opposite direction, disable the opponent without cutting him. Cages typically have quillions (cross guards) that end in small-but-not-sharp knobs and pommels have a lot of weight that also tends to terminate in small points. Strong punches from either of those into major muscle groups or joints will make limbs useless (or near so) and can cause serious harm, that is almost always non-fatal.

Anne Lyle
02-01-2011, 08:20 PM
Thanks, Greg - I'll bear all those points in mind for future fights!