Summary and Analysis
Late that night, The Boss cuts the king's hair, trims his beard, and dresses him in a long robe and sandals. In this costume, they can pass as poor freemen, and they slip away from the monastery just before dawn.
The first problem occurs when some of the nobility pass by; the king is not ready to take the humble attitude that is necessary, and he does not do a very good job of it. Fortunately, his behavior elicits nothing more than scowls.
The next day, the king produces a dirk (a dagger), which he bought from a smuggler at the inn where they had stayed; it is illegal for members of the lower class to possess such weapons, and The Boss must talk quickly to persuade the king to throw the dirk away.
As they walk along, the king is perplexed that The Boss does not know what, in particular, will happen tomorrow. The Boss must explain that his special kind of prophecy is the kind that can more easily see 1300 years into the future than it can see into the next day; the king is satisfied with this explanation.
In the meantime, every time a knight passes by, The Boss must restrain the king, for the sight fires the kings martial spirit. During one such encounter, The Boss takes a stroke of a whip that is meant
for the king, and at another, he has to use a bomb to save them from the charge of a group of knights whom the king challenges.
By the morning of the fourth day, The Boss has decided that the king must be drilled in "proper behavior" so that he will not disclose his true identity when they meet people or when they enter a dwelling. First, The Boss discusses the way the king walks, how he stands, and how he looks at people, plus the way he talks, addresses people, and how he treats his companion — in effect, The Boss tries to remold the kings entire pattern of behavior. He also tries to tell the king something about the life of the people who they are pretending to be, but this means little or nothing to the king, since it is not at all like life as he has experienced it. Although they work long and hard at remaking the king's new "image," and although the king gains some ability to approximate the appropriate actions, he never truly succeeds because he cannot understand the spiritual state of the lower classes.
In the middle of the afternoon, they arrive at a hut that seems deserted. They enter it cautiously, finding a woman on the floor. She tells them to go quickly, since this place is cursed by God and by the Church. They decide to care for the woman, and here, the king takes an active part, even though the woman is suffering from smallpox. Her husband is dead, as is one of her daughters. The king brings the remaining daughter down from the loft, and she dies in her mother's arms. The Boss and the king learn that this family had a good life, more or less, until this year. Then their sons were arrested for a crime that they hurried to report. As a result, the harvesting of the family's crop suffered, and they were fined for not providing the full complement of workers for harvesting their lord's crops. In addition, the Church condemned them because the woman spoke blasphemous words under the pressures which she suffered. Now, she can only wait and hope to die.
By midnight, the woman is dead. As the king and The Boss leave the hut, they hear voices, and they quickly conceal themselves, learning that it is the three sons who have come home.
The king finally figures out that these boys have escaped, and he feels that he must do something about recapturing them. The Boss, of course, has entirely different feelings about the matter, and he works hard to convince the king to forget about it.
Only the fact that they see a fire in the distance is effective in turning the kings thoughts to other matters. The Boss and the king continue to move through the forest, and they come across a man hanging from a tree, and then they discover two other bodies. In the space of the next mile, they discover six more bodies dangling from branches.
Finally, they come upon a house and manage to convince the woman that they are travelers who have lost their way during the night and are badly in need of hospitality. She gives them a place to sleep and feeds them when they awaken late in the afternoon. While they eat, she tells them that the manor house of Abblasoure has been burned and the master killed. Men have been out all night hunting the men who, it is thought, are responsible for this crime.
The king announces that he has seen three possible suspects; he is sure that his hosts will be eager to go out and spread the news. The Boss then notices some concern on the faces of the couple, so he volunteers to go out with the charcoal burner in whose house they have rested. Questioning the man, The Boss realizes the possibility that the charcoal burner is related, in some way, to these young men and the burning of the manor house. He also learns that no one in the community would want to see them hanged; indeed, he learns that the man of the house had no desire to be out the night before and went out only because staying home would have been considered suspicious. For himself, he is happy that the lord got his just deserts.
In Chapters 27 through 30, we have a large segment of the novel dealing with the wanderings of King Arthur and The Boss, dressed as peasants and encountering various adventures, most of which are created so as to show King Arthur how much injustice prevails throughout his kingdom.
In Chapter 27, The Boss tries to make the king look like a peasant by dressing him in peasant's clothes and cutting his hair in the same manner as that of a peasant. As Twain often advocated, it is the dress that often makes the man; undress two people and you cannot tell the royal one from the plain one. Here, we have Twain's double focus again. In Twain's polemic, we have his views about dress stated overtly, but when The Boss tries to make the king act like a peasant, the kings nobility cannot be concealed. Thus, we have the contrast between Twain's view and Twain's presentation.
Chapter 28 continues to emphasize the fact that the king has such a royal bearing that he must be drilled again and again to overcome this fact. The main trouble is that the king cannot mentally understand the sufferings and the "spiritlessness" of the lower classes.
The purpose of Chapter 29 is to show the basic humanity of the king. In spite of the threat to his own
life — he might catch smallpox and die himself — the king is nevertheless determined to help the poor suffering woman even though she ironically blames her present problems on the Church and the king, totally unaware that the complaint is made to the king himself.
In Chapter 30, even though King Arthur knows that the old woman's sons are innocent, yet the mere fact that they have escaped from the dungeon of one of the nobility means that they have to capture the innocent men and return them to the nobility for punishment. The Boss is again mystified concerning the amount of loyalty that there is to other members of the royalty. The nobility was able "to imprison these men, without proof, and starve their kindred, [and it] was not harm, for they were merely peasants and subject to the will and pleasure of their lord . . . but for these [innocent] men to break out of unjust captivity was insult and outrage."
When The Boss goes out with the charcoal burner, he discovers that the man had to participate in a hunt for his friends or else he would be under suspicion himself. Yet even he is glad that the evil lord is dead. This prompts Twain to assert again the value of the common man for "a man is a man . . . Whole ages of abuse and oppression cannot crush the manhood clear out of him . . . " Then The Boss decides that this is the type of material that he will use when he gradually establishes his republic.