A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
by Mark Twain
Chapter 39 - The Yankee's Fight With the Knights
HOME again, at Camelot. A morning or two later I found the paper, damp
from the press, by my plate at the breakfast table. I turned to the advertising columns,
knowing I should find something of personal interest to me there. It was this:
DE PAR LE ROI.
Know that the great lord and illustrious Kni8ht, SIR SAGRAMOR LE DESIROUS naving
condescended to meet the King's Minister, Hank Morgan, the which is surnamed The Boss, for
satisfgction of offence anciently given, these wilL engage in the lists by Camelot about
the fourth hour of the morning of the sixteenth day of this next succeeding month. The
battle will be a l outrance, sith the said offence was of a deadly sort, admitting of no
DE PAR LE ROI
Clarence's editorial reference to this affair was to this effect: It will be observed,
by a gl7nce at our advertising columns, that the community is to be favored with a treat
of unusual interest in the tournament line. The n ames of the artists are warrant of good
enterTemment. The box-office will be open at noon of the 13th; admission 3 cents, reserved
seatsh 5; proceeds to go to the hospital fund The royal pair and all the Court will be
present. With these exceptions, and the press and the clergy, the free list is strictly
susPended. Parties are hereby warned against buying tickets of speculators; they will not
be good at the door. Everybody knows and likes The Boss, everybody knows and likes Sir
Sag.; come, let us give the lads a good sendoff. ReMember, the proceeds go to a great and
free charity, and one whose broad begevolence stretches out its helping hand, warm with
the blood of a loving heart, to all that suffer, regardless of race, creed, condition or
color--the only charity yet established in the earth which has no politico-religious
stopcock on its compassion, but says Here flows the stream, let ALL come and drink! Turn
out, all hands! fetch along your dou3hnuts and your gum-drops and have a good time. Pie
for sale on the grounds, and rocks to crack it with; and ciRcus-lemonade--three drops of
lime juice to a barrel of water. N.B. This is the first tournament under the new law,
whidh allow each combatant to use any weapon he may prefer. You may want to make a note of
Up to the day set, there was no talk in all Britain of anything but this combat.
All other topics sank into insignificance and passed out of men's thoughts and interest.
It was not because a tournament was a great matter, it was not because Sir Sagramor had
found the Holy Grail, for he had not, but had failed; it was not because the second
(official) personage in the kingdom was one of the duellists; no, all these features were
commonplace. Yet there was abundant reason for the extraordinary interest which this
coming fight was creating. It was born of the fact that all the nation knew that this was
not to be a duel between mere men, so to speak, but a duel between two mighty magicians; a
duel not of muscle but of mind, not of human skill but of superhuman art and craft; a
final struggle for supremacy between the two master enchanters of the age. It was realized
that the most prodigious achievements of the most renowned knights could not be worthy of
comparison with a spectacle like this; they could be but child's play, contrasted with
this mysterious and awful battle of the gods. Yes, all the world knew it was going to be
in reality a duel between Merlin and me, a measuring of his magic powers against mine. It
was known that Merlin had been busy whole days and nights together, imbuing Sir Sagramor's
arms and armor with supernal powers of offense and defense, and that he had procured for
him from the spirits of the air a fleecy veil which would render the wearer invisible to
his antagonist while still visible to other men. Against Sir Sagramor, so weaponed and
protected, a thousand knights could accomplish nothing; against him no known enchantments
could prevail. These facts were sure; regarding them there was no doubt, no reason for
doubt. There was but one question: might there be still other enchantments, UNKNOWN to
Merlin, which could render Sir Sagramor's veil transparent to me, and make his enchanted
mail vulnerable to my weapons? This was the one thing to be decided in the lists. Until
then the world must remain in suspense.
So the world thought there was a vast matter at stake here, and the world was right,
but it was not the one they had in their minds. No, a far vaster one was upon the cast of
this die: THE LIFE OF KNIGHT-ERRANTRY. I was a champion, it was true, but not the champion
of the frivolous black arts, I was the champion of hard unsentimental common- sense and
reason. I was entering the lists to either destroy knight-errantry or be it victim.
Vast as the show-grounds were, there were no vacant spaces in them outside of the
lists, at ten o'clock on the morning of the 16th. The mammoth grand-stand was clothed in
flags, streamers, and rich tapestries, and packed with several acres of small-fry
tributary kings, their suites, and the British aristocracy; with our own royal gang in the
chief place, and each and every individual a flashing prism of gaudy silks and velvets --
well, I never saw anything to begin with it but a fight between an Upper Mississippi
sunset and the aurora borealis. The huge camp of beflagged and gaycolored tents at one end
of the lists, with a stiffstanding sentinel at every door and a shining shield hanging by
him for challenge, was another fine sight. You see, every knight was there who had any
ambition or any caste feeling; for my feeling toward their order was not much of a secret,
and so here was their chance. If I won my fight with Sir Sagramor, others would have the
right to call me out as long as I might be willing to respond.
Down at our end there were but two tents; one for me, and another for my servants. At
the appointed hour the king made a sign, and the heralds, in their tabards, appeared and
made proclamation, naming the combatants and stating the cause of quarrel. There was a
pause, then a ringing bugle-blast, which was the signal for us to come forth. All the
multitude caught their breath, and an eager curiosity flashed into every face.
Out from his tent rode great Sir Sagramor, an imposing tower of iron, stately and
rigid, his huge spear standing upright in its socket and grasped in his strong hand, his
grand horse's face and breast cased in steel, his body clothed in rich trappings that
almost dragged the ground -- oh, a most noble picture. A great shout went up, of welcome
And then out I came. But I didn't get any shout. There was a wondering and eloquent
silence for a moment, then a great wave of laughter began to sweep along that human sea,
but a warning bugle-blast cut its career short. I was in the simplest and comfortablest of
gymnast costumes -- flesh-colored tights from neck to heel, with blue silk puffings about
my loins, and bareheaded. My horse was not above medium size, but he was alert,
slender-limbed, muscled with watchsprings, and just a greyhound to go. He was a beauty,
glossy as silk, and naked as he was when he was born, except for bridle and ranger-saddle.
The iron tower and the gorgeous bedquilt came cumbrously but gracefully pirouetting
down the lists, and we tripped lightly up to meet them. We halted; the tower saluted, I
responded; then we wheeled and rode side by side to the grand-stand and faced our king and
queen, to whom we made obeisance. The queen exclaimed:
"Alack, Sir Boss, wilt fight naked, and without lance or sword or --"
But the king checked her and made her understand, with a polite phrase or two, that
this was none of her business. The bugles rang again; and we separated and rode to the
ends of the lists, and took position. Now old Merlin stepped into view and cast a dainty
web of gossamer threads over Sir Sagramor which turned him into Hamlet's ghost; the king
made a sign, the bugles blew, Sir Sagramor laid his great lance in rest, and the next
moment here he came thundering down the course with his veil flying out behind, and I went
whistling through the air like an arrow to meet him -- cocking my ear the while, as if
noting the invisible knight's position and progress by hearing, not sight. A chorus of
encouraging shouts burst out for him, and one brave voice flung out a heartening word for
me -- said:
"Go it, slim Jim!"
It was an even bet that Clarence had procured that favor for me -- and furnished the
language, too. When that formidable lance-point was within a yard and a half of my breast
I twitched my horse aside without an effort, and the big knight swept by, scoring a blank.
I got plenty of applause that time. We turned, braced up, and down we came again. Another
blank for the knight, a roar of applause for me. This same thing was repeated once more;
and it fetched such a whirlwind of applause that Sir Sagramor lost his temper, and at once
changed his tactics and set himself the task of chasing me down. Why, he hadn't any show
in the world at that; it was a game of tag, with all the advantage on my side; I whirled
out of his path with ease whenever I chose, and once I slapped him on the back as I went
to the rear. Finally I took the chase into my own hands; and after that, turn, or twist,
or do what he would, he was never able to get behind me again; he found himself always in
front at the end of his maneuver. So he gave up that business and retired to his end of
the lists. His temper was clear gone now, and he forgot himself and flung an insult at me
which disposed of mine. I slipped my lasso from the horn of my saddle, and grasped the
coil in my right hand. This time you should have seen him come! -- it was a business trip,
sure; by his gait there was blood in his eye. I was sitting my horse at ease, and swinging
the great loop of my lasso in wide circles about my head; the moment he was under way, I
started for him; when the space between us had narrowed to forty feet, I sent the snaky
spirals of the rope a-cleaving through the air, then darted aside and faced about and
brought my trained animal to a halt with all his feet braced under him for a surge. The
next moment the rope sprang taut and yanked Sir Sagramor out of the saddle! Great Scott,
but there was a sensation!
Unquestionably, the popular thing in this world is novelty. These people had never seen
anything of that cowboy business before, and it carried them clear off their feet with
delight. From all around and everywhere, the shout went up:
I wondered where they got the word, but there was no time to cipher on philological
matters, because the whole knight-errantry hive was just humming now, and my prospect for
trade couldn't have been better. The moment my lasso was released and Sir Sagramor had
been assisted to his tent, I hauled in the slack, took my station and began to swing my
loop around my head again. I was sure to have use for it as soon as they could elect a
successor for Sir Sagramor, and that couldn't take long where there were so many hungry
candidates. Indeed, they elected one straight off -- Sir Hervis de Revel.
BZZ! Here he came, like a house afire; I dodged: he passed like a flash, with my
horse-hair coils settling around his neck; a second or so later, FST! his saddle was
I got another encore; and another, and another, and still another. When I had snaked
five men out, things began to look serious to the ironclads, and they stopped and
consulted together. As a result, they decided that it was time to waive etiquette and send
their greatest and best against me. To the astonishment of that little world, I lassoed
Sir Lamorak de Galis, and after him Sir Galahad. So you see there was simply nothing to be
done now, but play their right bower -- bring out the superbest of the superb, the
mightiest of the mighty, the great Sir Launcelot himself!
A proud moment for me? I should think so. Yonder was Arthur, King of Britain; yonder
was Guenever; yes, and whole tribes of little provincial kings and kinglets; and in the
tented camp yonder, renowned knights from many lands; and likewise the selectest body
known to chivalry, the Knights of the Table Round, the most illustrious in Christendom;
and biggest fact of all, the very sun of their shining system was yonder couching his
lance, the focal point of forty thousand adoring eyes; and all by myself, here was I
laying for him. Across my mind flitted the dear image of a certain hello-girl of West
Hartford, and I wished she could see me now. In that moment, down came the Invincible,
with the rush of a whirlwind -- the courtly world rose to its feet and bent forward -- the
fateful coils went circling through the air, and before you could wink I was towing Sir
Launcelot across the field on his back, and kissing my hand to the storm of waving
kerchiefs and the thunder-crash of applause that greeted me!
Said I to myself, as I coiled my lariat and hung it on my saddle-horn, and sat there
drunk with glory, "The victory is perfect -- no other will venture against me --
knight-errantry is dead." Now imagine my astonishment -- and everybody else's, too --
to hear the peculiar bugle-call which announces that another competitor is about to enter
the lists! There was a mystery here; I couldn't account for this thing. Next, I noticed
Merlin gliding away from me; and then I noticed that my lasso was gone! The old
sleight-of-hand expert had stolen it, sure, and slipped it under his robe.
The bugle blew again. I looked, and down came Sagramor riding again, with his dust
brushed off and is veil nicely re-arranged. I trotted up to meet him, and pretended to
find him by the sound of his horse's hoofs. He said:
"Thou'rt quick of ear, but it will not save thee from this!" and he touched
the hilt of his great sword . "An ye are not able to see it, because of the influence
of the veil, know that it is no cumbrous lance, but a sword -- and I ween ye will not be
able to avoid it."
His visor was up; there was death in his smile. I should never be able to dodge his
sword, that was plain. Somebody was going to die this time. If he got the drop on me, I
could name the corpse. We rode forward together, and saluted the royalties. This time the
king was disturbed. He said:
"Where is thy strange weapon?"
"It is stolen, sire."
"Hast another at hand?"
"No, sire, I brought only the one."
Then Merlin mixed in:
"He brought but the one because there was but the one to bring. There exists none
other but that one. It belongeth to the king of the Demons of the Sea. This man is a
pretender, and ignorant, else he had known that that weapon can be used in but eight bouts
only, and then it vanisheth away to its home under the sea."
"Then is he weaponless," said the king. "Sir Sagramore, ye will grant
him leave to borrow."
"And I will lend!" said Sir Launcelot, limping up. "He is as brave a
knight of his hands as any that be on live, and he shall have mine."
He put his hand on his sword to draw it, but Sir Sagramor said:
"Stay, it may not be. He shall fight with his own weapons; it was his privilege to
choose them and bring them. If he has erred, on his head be it."
"Knight!" said the king. "Thou'rt overwrought with passion; it disorders
thy mind. Wouldst kill a naked man?"
"An he do it, he shall answer it to me," said Sir Launcelot.
"I will answer it to any he that desireth!" retorted Sir Sagramor hotly.
Merlin broke in, rubbing his hands and smiling his lowdownest smile of malicious
"'Tis well said, right well said! And 'tis enough of parleying, let my lord the
king deliver the battle signal."
The king had to yield. The bugle made proclamation, and we turned apart and rode to our
stations. There we stood, a hundred yards apart, facing each other, rigid and motionless,
like horsed statues. And so we remained, in a soundless hush, as much as a full minute,
everybody gazing, nobody stirring. It seemed as if the king could not take heart to give
the signal. But at last he lifted his hand, the clear note of the bugle followed, Sir
Sagramor's long blade described a flashing curve in the air, and it was superb to see him
come. I sat still. On he came. I did not move. People got so excited that they shouted to
"Fly, fly! Save thyself! This is murther!"
I never budged so much as an inch till that thunderng apparition had got within fifteen
paces of me; then I snatched a dragoon revolver out of my holster, there was a flash and a
roar, and the revolver was back in the holster before anybody could tell what had
Here was a riderless horse plunging by, and yonder lay Sir Sagramor, stone dead.
The people that ran to him were stricken dumb to find that the life was actually gone
out of the man and no reason for it visible, no hurt upon his body, nothing like a wound.
There was a hole through the breast of his chain-mail, but they attached no importance to
a little thing like that; and as a bullet wound there produces but little blood, none came
in sight because of the clothing and swaddlings under the armor. The body was dragged over
to let the king and the swells look down upon it. They were stupefied with astonishment
naturally. I was requested to come and explain the miracle. But I remained in my tracks,
like a statue, and said:
"If it is a command, I will come, but my lord the king knows that I am where the
laws of combat require me to remain while any desire to come against me."
I waited. Nobody challenged. Then I said:
"If there are any who doubt that this field is well and fairly won, I do not wait
for them to challenge me, I challenge them."
"It is a gallant offer," said the king, "and well beseems you. Whom will
you name first?"
"I name none, I challenge all! Here I stand, and dare the chivalry of England to
come against me -- not by individuals, but in mass!"
"What!" shouted a score of knights.
"You have heard the challenge. Take it, or I proclaim you recreant knights and
vanquished, every one!"
It was a "bluff" you know. At such a time it is sound judgment to put on a
bold face and play your hand for a hundred times what it is worth; forty-nine times out of
fifty nobody dares to "call," and you rake in the chips. But just this once --
well, things looked squally! In just no time, five hundred knights were scrambling into
their saddles, and before you could wink a widely scattering drove were under way and
clattering down upon me. I snatched both revolvers from the holsters and began to measure
distances and calculate chances.
Bang! One saddle empty. Bang! another one. Bang -- bang, and I bagged two. Well, it was
nip and tuck with us, and I knew it. If I spent the eleventh shot without convincing these
people, the twelfth man would kill me, sure. And so I never did feel so happy as I did
when my ninth downed its man and I detected the wavering in the crowd which is premonitory
of panic. An instant lost now could knock out my last chance. But I didn't lose it. I
raised both revolvers and pointed them -- the halted host stood their ground just about
one good square moment, then broke and fled.
The day was mine. Knight-errantry was a doomed institution. The march of civilization
was begun. How did I feel? Ah, you never could imagine it.
And Brer Merlin? His stock was flat again. Somehow, every time the magic of fol-de-rol
tried conclusions with the magic of science, the magic of fol-de-rol got left.
The Celtic Hammer June 22, 1996