On the morning of the fourth day, the sound and feel of digging woke Sir Balin. Wordlessly, Merlin shoveled him out of the ruins.

“Merlin!” cried Balin. “How did you get here? Is it time for the next stage of my quest?”

“C’mon, let’s get you out of here.” Merlin hauled him up and half-carried Balin to a horse already loaded up with his things.

“Where’s Susie?” asked Balin.

“Behind you.” Merlin gestured. “Under thirty tons of rock. She’s dead. I’d say I’m sorry, but c’mon. I’m Merlin. We both know it would be a lie.”

Sir Balin looked back, towards the ruins of Castle Corbin. Just a pile of rocks, now.

“Pellam survives,” Merlin continued. “He and his few surviving people will rebuild. He won’t recover from the wound you gave him until Galahad heals him, during the Grail-quest. You completely failed to notice the Grail and the preserved corpse of Joseph of Arimathea in the chapel, but they were there. Kind of a funny thing: you did manage to nab the spear that was stabbed into Christ’s side during the Crucifixion, and use it to stab the holiest man in England — Joseph’s direct descendant. Hence the collapse of the castle and the death of many, many, many innocent people.”

Sir Balin takes a minute to think about this. “I don’t like this quest any more,” he said eventually. “I’m going to go now and stop listening to you, and if I ever see you again I’m going to go the other way.”

“Smart move,” said Merlin. “Too late to do any good, though.”

Balin rode off. For days and days everywhere he went he saw not another living soul. I don’t mean he rode through empty wasteland wild country; he kept to main roads and passed through towns and cities. But everywhere he went, everyone had dropped dead. Lots of corpses, lots of abandoned possessions. It’s direct out of Omega Man. Finally he started seeing people, but for the first few days out of the death-zone, they only pointed at him and screamed. Wailing, moaning, gnashing of teeth.

Eventually, he got far enough out, and met someone willing to articulate words at him; they told him about how he smote King Pellam (“no duh, I was there,” responded Balin) with a dolorous stroke and as a result everyone in a three-kingdom radius was slain.

So, man, was Balin ever relieved to be out of there, once he finally exited of the area. No more people people howling “stroker! Stroker most dolorous!” at him.

After another week or so of riding after that he has one more strange adventure before his big finale. In a secluded forested valley Sir Balin found a tower by the side of his path. Outside the tower he saw a horse tied up and a knight crying.

“Hello!” Sir Balin waved as he approached. “I can’t help but notice you’re crying. Can I help? I’m, okay, I’ve pretty well ruined everything I ever tried, but I’m willing to give helping you a shot.”

“Oh Jesu defend me!” wailed the knight. “Another monster come to gloat and make me miserable! You’re only making things worse go away!

Sir Balin backed away slowly. “I can see you’ve got your hands full, here. Let me know if I can help.” Unwilling to just abandon the sad knight, Balin killed a little time checking out the knight’s horse, which was a pretty nice horse. The sobbing knight didn’t calm down quickly, though; he was all “oh, my lady, oh, you were supposed to be here by noon and now it’s evening I’m sure you’re sleeping with some other man, wah, wah! I shall kill myself with this sword!”

Balin tuned that out, but when he heard the shing of a sword being drawn, he snapped to.

“Dude, dude, dude, no, no, it’s not worth it!” cried Balin. He lunged in and grabbed the knight’s swordarm, knocking him down.

“Let go! I’ll kill you!” shouted the sobbing knight as they rolled around in the dirt.

“Put the sword down! And then…” Balin searched for something to offer. “I’ll help you find your lady, how about that?”

It’s enough to get the guy to quit struggling. He sat up, as Balin carefully placed his sword out of the guy’s arm’s reach. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Sir Balin, called the Idiot Knight.”

“Oh, you. I’ve heard of you,” said the sniffling knight. “They say you’re the Knight with Two Swords, and also that you are pretty much an unstoppable killing machine in battle, due to some combination of a doom-curse and a magic sword.”

“That sounds pretty plausible,” said Balin. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Garnish,” said the knight. “Sir Garnish of the Mount. I didn’t used to be a knight. My father was a farmer, but I distinguished myself in war and won a knighthood from Duke Hermel, and I love Hermel’s daughter and I thought she loooooooved meeeeee!” He broke off into wailing and sobbing some more.

“Hey, now, Garnish, chin up,” said Balin. “Let’s go to Hermel’s castle, I’m sure she’s there. Keep a positive attitude! I’m sure if you talk to her, you can work this out or at least get some closure.”

“Well, okay,” said Garnish. “Hermel’s castle is six miles up the road.”

Garnish got all his stuff together and they set out. Six miles up the road, sure enough, castle. Sir Balin told Sir Garnish to wait outside while he searched for her.

Inside the castle Balin looked high and low, checked the bedrooms, nothing. Place was cleaned out. He was about to give up when he tried the back garden, and there he spotted her! A damsel lounging under a tree in the arms of another man, both fast asleep.

“Found her!” Balin chuckled to himself. “Well, I see no reason not to go fetch Garnish, who’s in a very fragile emotional state, and bring him to witness his beloved’s literally sleeping with another man!” And so he did that. He’s the Idiot Knight, remember.

As you probably saw coming, assuming you’re smarter than the Idiot Knight, Sir Garnish took one look at the couple sleeping under the tree and completely lost it. He started bleeding from the nose and mouth, Malory said. That’s how intense his sobs were.

“Balin, man, what the hell?” he choked out. “Why did you show this to me? I was starting to feel better about the whole thing and now I feel as though I’ve been kicked in the chest!”

“I thought it would help,” Balin said lamely. “If I were into a woman and she was sleeping with another man I’m sure seeing them sleeping together would be a fast way for me to get over her. It’s just common sense.”

“You’re an idiot,” said Garnish. He pulled out his sword and stabbed himself in the chest.

“Oh crap not again!” cried Sir Balin. “Oh crap oh crap oh crap! Not again! I’m going to get blamed for this! People will think I killed him! Just like Columbe! Whom I didn’t kill.”

Still, he mounted his horse and rode away as quick as he could, so we don’t get to see the conclusion of this story and learn about how Hermel’s daughter and the other knight and all reacted to the suicide. Instead we follow Sir Balin, who rode hard for three more days, and came at last to the edge of civilization and also the final end of his quest.


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In which Sir Balin gets discouraged — No Comments

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