Hank finds a melancholy Clarence brooding in his quarters. Clarence recognizes his boss instantly, despite the disguise. He tells Hank that Guenever and Launcelot’s ongoing affair precipitated the disaster. Launcelot shorted a bunch of stocks, which cost Sir Agravaine and Sir Mordred (both nephews to the king) a lot of money. Agravaine and Mordred told Arthur about the queen’s affair. Arthur set a trap to confirm their story, and Launcelot walked right into it. This plunged the country into civil war, with one faction supporting Launcelot and the other supporting the king. Countless knights have died in battle or as the result of the medieval equivalent of friendly fire.
This passage demonstrates how the novel superimposes Hank’s civilizing narrative on the frame of Arthurian mythology. In doing so, it questions the inherent superiority of the nineteenth century to the sixth century; Launcelot’s economic violence, allowed by Hank’s innovations and the creation of the stock market, has the same effects in this book that his physical violence did in the medieval romances. In the end, Hank’s changes have perpetuated the exact same violence they aimed to prevent.
The Church tried to broker a peace, but Sir Gawaine insisted on making Launcelot pay for the accidental deaths of two of Gawaine’s brothers. Arthur agreed to join Gawaine’s force against Launcelot, and he left the kingdom in the hands of his nephew, Mordred. Mordred tried to turn his temporary power into a permanent kingship by marrying Guenever, but she refused; when Mordred attacked her forces, the Church laid the interdict on the country. Arthur returned, and his forces clashed with Mordred’s. Clarence took advantage of the civil war to inaugurate war journalism. Now, Clarence gives Hank a copy of one of the war correspondents’ reports of the final battle.
The novel draws this sequence of events directly from Arthurian mythology. Notably, all this happened while Hank was in France with his family, suggesting that his innovations depended more on the strength of his character and his power in the kingdom than on their own inherent benefits to last. Without Hank in place to enforce the social changes, the Church and the formerly embarrassed chivalry quickly reassert their control.
After a mistaken signal set off an epic battle between Arthur’s and Mordred’s forces, only four men survived: Mordred, Arthur, Sir Lucan de Butlere and Sir Bedivere. Sir Lucan pled for mercy on Mordred’s behalf, but Arthur insisted on killing him. They clashed, and Arthur stabbed Mordred clear through with his spear, but with his dying strength, Mordred delt Arthur a grievous blow to the head.
Clarence’s war reporting draws language directly from Mallory’s version of events in Morte d’Arthur and suggests the inherent fragility of all political systems. If neither Arthur (the best of all kings) nor Hank (the bearer of unimagined technological progress) could create a stable society, the novel suggests, perhaps such a society simply isn’t possible.
Hank wants to know how Arthur is doing now, and Clarence explains that Arthur died and Guenever retired to a convent. The Interdict is still in place because it named Mordred and Hank; the Church is rallying the kingdom’s remaining knights to ride against Hank. On their side, Hank and Clarence have few faithful followers remaining. When the Interdict fell, most of the people in the “schools […] colleges […and] vast workshops” returned quickly to their superstitious ways. The Church also engineered Hank’s absence, planting doctors at Camelot to encourage a trip for Hello-Central’s health and making sure that his ship was piloted back to England by sailors faithful to the Church’s cause.
The people’s reaction to the Interdict proves how hard it is to re-educate people out of their basic, instinctive social training. As soon as the Church moved against Hank, old grievances and fears reared their heads, and the populace turned on the formerly respected (if not adored) Boss. Therefore, only a small number of faithful followers remain with Hank and Clarence; even the men Hank personally selected for his factories because of their anti-monarchial or pro-democratic beliefs quickly reverted to their old ways.
Fortunately, Clarence has been busy. He selected 52 faithful followers between the ages of 14 and 17—old enough to fight, and young enough to have been spared the indoctrination of Church and aristocracy. If someone was trained to respect these institutions from birth, Hank’s schools won’t be able to reeducate them. Clarence established a secret base in Merlin’s old cave, protected by electric fences. Hank quizzes Clarence on the set-up of these fences, and when he learns that Clarence has set them up in a way that will waste electricity needlessly, he explains how to rewire them more economically. Clarence and the boys have also set up the gatling guns and seeded the ground outside the fences with “glass cylinder dynamite torpedoes” (land mines).
Training, as Hank previously maintained, is key. Only boys whom Hank and Clarence were able to train from a very early age have remained faithful. Reeducation has limited power. But although Hank, Clarence, and the forces of 19th-century modernity lack numbers, they hold a vast advantage in terms of technology and firepower. And when Hank corrects Clarence’s electrical wiring for the sake of economy, he betrays the strength of his own training as an economizing Yankee. Even in this moment of extreme danger, he’s worried about his bottom line.
Clarence wants to wait for the fury of the knights and the Church to break over them, but Hank wants to strike first. He does this by issuing a proclamation that, with the “executive authority vested in me” by the king’s death, he, “The Boss,” declares that the monarchy has lapsed, and that power has returned to “the people of the nation.” The nobility, privileged class and “Established Church” are all void; all men are “exactly equal.” The people of this new republic must now come together and elect their new representatives. Clarence promulgates the proclamation, and he and Hank retreat to Merlin’s Cave.
Incapable of admitting defeat, Hank tries to seize control by attempting to capitalize on the breach that the deaths of the king and his heir apparent caused. The last time Hank challenged the forces of chivalry, he won, and this seems to imbue him with confidence now. But the circumstances have changed; by leaving the kingdom himself for the space of several months, Hank has allowed his own power and authority to lapse. Ironically, he attempts to enforce 19th-century ideals, including equality and democracy, by fiat.