FictionForest

Chapter 9 – The Tournament

Mark TwainMay 20, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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THEY were always having grand tournaments there
at Camelot; and very stirring and picturesque
and ridiculous human bull-fights they were, too, but
just a little wearisome to the practical mind. However, I was generally on hand — for two reasons: a
man must not hold himself aloof from the things which
his friends and his community have at heart if he
would be liked — especially as a statesman; and both
as business man and statesman I wanted to study the
tournament and see if I couldn’t invent an improvement on it. That reminds me to remark, in passing,
that the very first official thing I did, in my administration — and it was on the very first day of it, too —
was to start a patent office; for I knew that a country
without a patent office and good patent laws was just
a crab, and couldn’t travel any way but sideways or
backways.

Things ran along, a tournament nearly every week;
and now and then the boys used to want me to take a
hand — I mean Sir Launcelot and the rest — but I
said I would by and by; no hurry yet, and too much
government machinery to oil up and set to rights and
start a-going.

We had one tournament which was continued from
day to day during more than a week, and as many as
five hundred knights took part in it, from first to last.
They were weeks gathering. They came on horseback
from everywhere; from the very ends of the country,
and even from beyond the sea; and many brought
ladies, and all brought squires and troops of servants.
It was a most gaudy and gorgeous crowd, as to costumery, and very characteristic of the country and the
time, in the way of high animal spirits, innocent indecencies of language, and happy-hearted indifference to
morals. It was fight or look on, all day and every
day; and sing, gamble, dance, carouse half the night
every night. They had a most noble good time. You
never saw such people. Those banks of beautiful
ladies, shining in their barbaric splendors, would see
a knight sprawl from his horse in the lists with a lanceshaft the thickness of your ankle clean through him
and the blood spouting, and instead of fainting they
would clap their hands and crowd each other for a
better view; only sometimes one would dive into her
handkerchief, and look ostentatiously broken-hearted,
and then you could lay two to one that there was a
scandal there somewhere and she was afraid the public
hadn’t found it out.

The noise at night would have been annoying to me
ordinarily, but I didn’t mind it in the present circumstances, because it kept me from hearing the quacks
detaching legs and arms from the day’s cripples.
They ruined an uncommon good old cross-cut saw for
me, and broke the saw-buck, too, but I let it pass.
And as for my axe — well, I made up my mind that
the next time I lent an axe to a surgeon I would pick
my century.

I not only watched this tournament from day to day,
but detailed an intelligent priest from my Department
of Public Morals and Agriculture, and ordered him to
report it; for it was my purpose by and by, when I
should have gotten the people along far enough, to
start a newspaper. The first thing you want in a new
country, is a patent office; then work up your school
system; and after that, out with your paper. A
newspaper has its faults, and plenty of them, but no
matter, it’s hark from the tomb for a dead nation, and
don’t you forget it. You can’t resurrect a dead nation
without it; there isn’t any way. So I wanted to
sample things, and be finding out what sort of reportermaterial I might be able to rake together out of the
sixth century when I should come to need it.

Well, the priest did very well, considering. He got
in all the details, and that is a good thing in a local
item: you see, he had kept books for the undertakerdepartment of his church when he was younger,
and there, you know, the money’s in the details; the
more details, the more swag: bearers, mutes, candles,
prayers — everything counts; and if the bereaved don’t
buy prayers enough you mark up your candles with a
forked pencil, and your bill shows up all right. And
he had a good knack at getting in the complimentary
thing here and there about a knight that was likely to
advertise — no, I mean a knight that had influence;
and he also had a neat gift of exaggeration, for in his
time he had kept door for a pious hermit who lived in
a sty and worked miracles.

Of course this novice’s report lacked whoop and
crash and lurid description, and therefore wanted the
true ring; but its antique wording was quaint and
sweet and simple, and full of the fragrances and flavors
of the time, and these little merits made up in a measure for its more important lacks. Here is an extract
from it:

Then Sir Brian de les Isles and Grummore Grummorsum,
knights of the castle, encountered with Sir Aglovale and
Sir Tor, and Sir Tor smote down Sir Grummore Grummorsum
to the earth. Then came Sir Carados of the dolorous
tower, and Sir Turquine, knights of the castle, and
there encountered with them Sir Percivale de Galis
and Sir Lamorak de Galis, that were two brethren, and
there encountered Sir Percivale with Sir Carados, and
either brake their spears unto their hands, and then
Sir Turquine with Sir Lamorak, and either of them smote
down other, horse and all, to the earth, and either
parties rescued other and horsed them again. And Sir
Arnold, and Sir Gauter, knights of the castle,
encountered with Sir Brandiles and Sir Kay, and these
four knights encountered mightily, and brake their
spears to their hands. Then came Sir Pertolope from
the castle, and there encountered with him Sir Lionel,
and there Sir Pertolope the green knight smote down Sir
Lionel, brother to Sir Launcelot. All this was marked
by noble heralds, who bare him best, and their names.
Then Sir Bleobaris brake his spear upon Sir Gareth,
but of that stroke Sir Bleobaris fell to the earth.
When Sir Galihodin saw that, he bad Sir Gareth keep him,
and Sir Gareth smote him to the earth. Then Sir Galihud
gat a spear to avenge his brother, and in the same wise
Sir Gareth served him, and Sir Dinadan and his brother
La Cote Male Taile, and Sir Sagramore le Disirous, and
Sir Dodinas le Savage; all these he bare down with one
spear. When King Aswisance of Ireland saw Sir Gareth
fare so he marvelled what he might be, that one time
seemed green, and another time, at his again coming,
he seemed blue. And thus at every course that he rode
to and fro he changed his color, so that there might
neither king nor knight have ready cognizance of him.
Then Sir Agwisance the King of Ireland encountered
with Sir Gareth, and there Sir Gareth smote him from
his horse, saddle and all. And then came King Carados
of Scotland, and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and
man. And in the same wise he served King Uriens of the
land of Gore. And then there came in Six Bagdemagus,
and Sir Gareth smote him down horse and man to the
earth. And Bagdemagus’s son Meliganus brake a spear
upon Sir Gareth mightily and knightly. And then Sir
Galahault the noble prince cried on high, Knight with
the many colors, well hast thou justed; now make thee
ready that I may just with thee. Sir Gareth heard him,
and he gat a great spear, and so they encountered
together, and there the prince brake his spear; but Sir
Gareth smote him upon the left side of the helm, that
he reeled here and there, and he had fallen down had not
his men recovered him. Truly, said King Arthur, that
knight with the many colors is a good knight. Wherefore
the king called unto him Sir Launcelot, and prayed him
to encounter with that knight. Sir, said Launcelot, I
may as well find in my heart for to forbear him at
this time, for he hath had travail enough this day, and
when a good knight doth so well upon some day, it is
no good knight’s part to let him of his worship, and,
namely, when he seeth a knight hath done so great
labour; for peradventure, said Sir Launcelot, his
quarrel is here this day, and peradventure he is best
beloved with this lady of all that be here, for I see
well he paineth himself and enforceth him to do great
deeds, and therefore, said Sir Launcelot, as for me,
this day he shall have the honour; though it lay in my
power to put him from it, I would not.

There was an unpleasant little episode that day,
which for reasons of state I struck out of my priest’s
report. You will have noticed that Garry was doing
some great fighting in the engagement. When I say
Garry I mean Sir Gareth. Garry was my private pet
name for him; it suggests that I had a deep affection
for him, and that was the case. But it was a private
pet name only, and never spoken aloud to any one,
much less to him; being a noble, he would not have
endured a familiarity like that from me. Well, to proceed: I sat in the private box set apart for me as the
king’s minister. While Sir Dinadan was waiting for
his turn to enter the lists, he came in there and sat
down and began to talk; for he was always making up
to me, because I was a stranger and he liked to have a
fresh market for his jokes, the most of them having
reached that stage of wear where the teller has to do
the laughing himself while the other person looks sick.
I had always responded to his efforts as well as I
could, and felt a very deep and real kindness for him,
too, for the reason that if by malice of fate he knew
the one particular anecdote which I had heard oftenest
and had most hated and most loathed all my life, he
had at least spared it me. It was one which I had
heard attributed to every humorous person who had
ever stood on American soil, from Columbus down to
Artemus Ward. It was about a humorous lecturer
who flooded an ignorant audience with the killingest
jokes for an hour and never got a laugh; and then
when he was leaving, some gray simpletons wrung him
gratefully by the hand and said it had been the funniest
thing they had ever heard, and “it was all they could
do to keep from laughin’ right out in meetin’.” That
anecdote never saw the day that it was worth the telling;
and yet I had sat under the telling of it hundreds and
thousands and millions and billions of times, and cried
and cursed all the way through. Then who can hope
to know what my feelings were, to hear this armorplated ass start in on it again, in the murky twilight of
tradition, before the dawn of history, while even
Lactantius might be referred to as “the late Lactantius,” and the Crusades wouldn’t be born for five
hundred years yet? Just as he finished, the call-boy
came; so, haw-hawing like a demon, he went rattling
and clanking out like a crate of loose castings, and I
knew nothing more. It was some minutes before I
came to, and then I opened my eyes just in time to
see Sir Gareth fetch him an awful welt, and I unconsciously out with the prayer, “I hope to gracious he’s
killed!” But by ill-luck, before I had got half through
with the words, Sir Gareth crashed into Sir Sagramor
le Desirous and sent him thundering over his horse’s
crupper, and Sir Sagramor caught my remark and
thought I meant it for HIM.

Well, whenever one of those people got a thing into
his head, there was no getting it out again. I knew
that, so I saved my breath, and offered no explanations. As soon as Sir Sagramor got well, he notified
me that there was a little account to settle between us,
and he named a day three or four years in the future;
place of settlement, the lists where the offense had
been given. I said I would be ready when he got
back. You see, he was going for the Holy Grail.
The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail now and
then. It was a several years’ cruise. They always
put in the long absence snooping around, in the most
conscientious way, though none of them had any idea
where the Holy Grail really was, and I don’t think any
of them actually expected to find it, or would have
known what to do with it if he HAD run across it.
You see, it was just the Northwest Passage of that
day, as you may say; that was all. Every year expeditions went out holy grailing, and next year relief
expeditions went out to hunt for THEM. There was
worlds of reputation in it, but no money. Why, they
actually wanted ME to put in! Well, I should smile.

 

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