As the knights carry on about their adventures, Hank realizes that most of their battles are irrational encounters between strangers. It’s like when two boys meet, and each believes that he can “lick” the other. This childish behavior surprises Hank, who thinks the knights act like “big boobies.” Although he doesn’t regard the crowd as possessing much in the way of brains, he finds them loveable and attractive for their simple-hearted natures. Many, including King Arthur, and Sir Launcelot are fine examples of manliness.
By calling the knights’ behavior childish, Hank implicitly separates himself from their instinctive violence. But it’s important to remember that he was in a fistfight at work when he traveled through time. Moreover, Hank’s inconsistent judgments demonstrate his biased reasoning. His appreciation for King Arthur and Launcelot as men of character further suggests that the dichotomy between good and bad, old and new, isn’t so clear cut as he'd like to imagine.
At one point, half a dozen prisoners of Sir Kay throw themselves on the mercy of the queen, who will decide if they are pardoned, ransomed, or killed. Guenever looks disappointed that the prisoners came from Kay, but Kay himself sets the record straight. These men were captured by Launcelot when he was in Kay’s armor. What’s more, the ones in the hall are just the first batch, and more will arrive as their injuries heal. The queen is evidently flattered to receive Launcelot’s prisoners, and she makes eyes at Launcelot across the room.
This episode introduces important motifs from Arthurian legend, specifically the love triangle between King Arthur, his wife Guenever, and Sir Launcelot. It also points back to the story M.T. read in the Prologue, which explained the backstory of these three prisoners, whom Launcelot defeated while wearing Kay’s armor. The fact that they turn themselves in instead of running away suggests the strength of their “training” in medieval social codes.
Then Clarence’s face falls; Merlin is about to tell the long-winded and sleep-inducing story of how King Arthur got his sword. After losing his weapon on a quest, Merlin directed Arthur to a nearby lake where he received a sword that a magical hand was holding above the water. As Merlin and King Arthur rode away, they encountered one of Arthur’s enemies, whom Merlin persuaded Arthur to let pass, promising that the knight and his family would become valuable allies. When Arthur expressed his pleasure over the sword, Merlin chastised him and explained that the scabbard was much more valuable, since its magical properties would keep him from being fatally wounded as long as he wore it. When the pair returned to Carlion, the other knights were amazed to realize that they served a king who was willing to risk adventure just like a poor knight.
Merlin’s story quotes another story from Arthurian mythology. Its magical elements suggest a superstitious worldview and emphasize how different this world is from the one Hank grew up in. This story also explains some of the noble character Hank appreciates in King Arthur. Hank struggles throughout the book to reconcile his disgust for monarchy with his appreciation for Arthur’s character as a man and as a king. Arthur’s willingness to do the same things he asks of his knight shows the qualities of a good leader and offers a partial explanation for his subjects’ devotion.