Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Fight Scenes, part II

Found one. Well, sort of. Dorothy Dunnett to the rescue. Her novel, The Game of Kings features Francis Crawford of Lymond, who is referred to only as Lymond, is a sort of rascally nobleman who gets into all sorts of trouble in Scotland, circa 1547-ish. I've had this on the shelf for years, a gift from someone. Can't remember who. Maybe it's time to read it.
Anyway, on page 424:

"Admitted through the gate, he guided his horse toward Acheson, smiling, and drawing abreast, bent down to address him. 

"Only one of the four men standing around them saw the twelve inches of steel in Lymond's hand, and he shouted too late. Acheson took the stab full in the chest, propelled backward with the force of the blow; then the blank amazement in his face gave place to vindictive fury. He straightened. The dagger, falling from the rent cloth over his breast, betrayed the sparkle of chain mail beneath. Acheson was unhurt, and five men leaped on Lymond. 

"There was one weapon left to him. Driving his feet hard into the mare's flanks, Lymond dragged her soft mouth back and guided her plunging hoofs. Acheson, isolated under the iron soffit of the rearing horse, screamed once, the blood leaping from a great cut on the temple, before he was kicked to the ground. 

"There was just time for Lymond to see as much before he, too, was overpowered."

Funny thing is that I don't really know who this Acheson guy is, and I'm not sure I care. If two people are fighting over a clause in a prenup, or some hurt feelings from long ago, then the writer has lots of explaining to do. When someone stabs someone else, or tries to, the reasons are nearly irrelevant.

Also, the writing here controls the pace. I would have been tempted to use short sentences all along to speed things up. Dunnett does not. There is only one short sentence. He straightened. And it occurs right where it needs to be. For the rest, she favors lots of clauses and a semi-colon, Lord help us, and yet it mostly works. She uses a long stream of micro images to draw us along. Twelve inch blade (oh, my), a late shout, a stab in the chest, flailing, changing look on face, blade falls, glittering chain mail, horse flank, horse mouth, horse hooves, rearing horse, head wound. Semi long shot as the bad guys converge. And we're out. Keep the eye moving around and things seem to speed along, no matter how long the sentences, and no matter how you feel about a face showing vindictive fury. 

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