In which Sir Balin strikes the DOLOROUS STROKE
The morning after the big funeral party Arthur had a bad hangover. He left Camelot, and instead pitched a tent out in a meadow, to have a quiet lie-down and recover. It didn’t work, though, because as soon as he’d finished setting up, a knight rode by, wailing.
“Woe!” cried the knight. “Woe!”
“What?” called Arthur.
“Okay I heard that part,” cried Arthur. “Why woe?”
“No!” cried the strange weepy wailing knight, and rode off.
“Darn it,” muttered Arthur, and lay back down.
Before five minutes had gone by, though, along came Sir Balin. He wanted nothing in particular. “Hello sire!” shouted Balin as soon as he was in shouting distance.
“Balin! Please don’t, I have a headache.”
“Yes sire!” shouted Balin, and dismounted from his horse and walked the rest of the way. “Hello sire!” said Balin, very loudly.
“Inside voice, Balin, please,” said Arthur. “Or, listen, now you’re here you can do me a thing. Some weird knight just came by here a minute ago. All weepy. Go get him and bring him back here because I want to know what his deal is.”
“Yes sire!” shouted Balin. Arthur winced.
Balin mounted back up and caught up to the weepy knight straightaway in the woods nearby. He was sobbing in the arms of a damsel. I’m naming this damsel Susie, because yet again Malory neglects to provide a name for a character who isn’t a knight.
“Are you the weepy knight?” asked Balin.
“Leave me alone,” said the knight in between sobs.
“It’s a simple question! Are you crying, yes or no?” asked Balin. “Because if you are crying, you must go and tell King Arthur about it.”
“Leave me alone,” said the knight, and weeps some more.
Balin’s eyes narrowed as he carefully examined the tableau. “I think you are crying,” he finally said. “You must come with me, or else I’ll take you by force and knowing me I’ll probably accidentally slay your lady-friend there. I’m really bad that way.”
The knight sniffled. “Will you protect me, if I go with you?”
“Yeah, that sounds like something I’d do.”
“Well, okay,” said the knight. “Just for a minute.”
He and Susie conferred privately, and then the weeping knight and Balin headed back towards Arthur.
Just outside Arthur’s tent, where the king had just barely managed to fall asleep, things took a turn for the bizarre! Balin and the weeping knight were ambushed by an invisible assailant! All of a sudden there was a spear sticking out of the weeping knight.
“Oh! I’m slain!” cried the weeping knight.
“What happened?” asked Balin, who didn’t understand even a little bit.
“I’ve been stabbed!”
“An invisible guy stabbed me!”
“Really?” Balin looked impressed. “That’s quite a trick.”
“Listen well, Idiot Knight,” said the dying stranger. “Garlon killed me, I’m sure of it, and I was under your protection. Take my horse and ride back to Susie my damsel in the woods, and obey her instructions, because there’s an elaborate quest I was in the middle of.”
“I shall do this thing!” cried Balin. He turns to Arthur’s tent. “Sire!”
“I’m awake!” A scowly Arthur emerged from his tent. “Oh, oh, my head. I heard your discourse, because you were shouting again. Go, get out of here. I’ll take care of this dead guy.”
The dead guy had an ID bracelet identifying him as Sir Herlews. Arthur erected a nice tomb for the dead knight. I did not realize that funerals were one of Arthur’s core competencies, but Malory certainly presents that. Why doesn’t that get more play in the popular culture?
Balin returned to Susie and told her about the ambush. He brought along the spear that killed Herlews as a visual aid, and Susie took that from him and carried it around with her from that point forward. They rode through the woods. Susie knew where they were going, but she wouldn’t give Balin any more information than she needed to, on the grounds that he was as dumb as a post and it would just get him into trouble.
They rode through the woods, until they bumped into another strange knight. “Ho, strangers!” he called. “Where ride you today and why?”
“I’m not telling!” cried Balin. “It’s a secret!”
“It’s not actually a secret,” said Susie. “You just don’t know.”
“Keeping secrets, huh?” said the strange knight. “I’d beat it out of you, if I weren’t unarmed and you armed with a magic sword!”
“Well,” said Balin. Susie prodded him. “Okay, fine, I’ll tell what I know,” he said, and fills the strange knight in on the events of the day: first he got up, and then he had some toast, and then he met Arthur, and then he met Herlews and Susie, and then Herlews was murdered by an invisible man, and then he and Susie started riding, with Susie navigating.
“Well, heck, that sounds like a quest,” said the strange knight. “I’m always up for a quest, mind if I join your party?”
“Sure, why not?”
“My name’s Sir Perin, by the way,” said Sir Perin.
The three of them rode some more and they stopped for a breather in a disused churchyard near a hermitage. There Perin suddenly sprouted a spear in the center of his chest.
“I’m slain!” he cried. “An invisible knight has slain me! Learn a lesson from my deaaaaath!” And he died.
“Curse that invisible knight!” Balin got the hermit to help him entomb Perin, and they ended up staying overnight.
In the morning there were letters of gold! A message in Merlin’s handwriting had been inscribed on the side of the tomb, announcing that Sir Gawaine would kill King Pellinore in vengeance for his father King Lot.
“Not relevant!” cried Balin, and ignored it. I don’t know why Malory threw this little detail in. It’s the second time he’s brought it up, though before it was just authorial intrusion rather than a Merlin prediction.
They rode on and that afternoon came to a castle which looked worth investigating. Balin’s investigation, however, led them straight into a trap! As soon as Balin had passed through the gate, boom, down came the portcullis between him and Susie. And all these guys ran up out of nowhere and started chasing Susie around! She shrieked and battered at them with her spear, but nothing doing. These weirdos were for serious.
Balin cursed, and tried to lift the portcullis, and that didn’t work, so he climbed up into the gatehouse and found the portcullis controls. Sadly he had no idea how to operate portcullis controls, because he was the Idiot Knight. So he just jumped down from the top of the gatehouse into the guys below, and started laying into them.
But before he’d killed even one of them, they immediately surrendered and apologized. “Okay, I can see why you two would be upset, we should have planned that better. Should not have started chasing your lady like that. That one is on us.”
“What’s your deal, you weirdos?”
“We just want some of her blood,” said the lead weirdo.
“That doesn’t make me feel better about you,” said Susie.
“In our castle is our queen,” explained the lead weirdo. “She’s suffering under a curse and the only thing that helps is a bowlful of blood from a maiden, so we’ve been collecting blood from passing maids as a toll.”
“You should put up a sign or something!” cried Susie.
“Oh, it’s okay. I’d have done the same thing,” said Balin. “So this blood you need, is it enough to kill Susie when we drain it out of her?”
Susie bridled. “Hey!”
“Not at bit of it,” said the lead weirdo. “Just a pint, she won’t notice it’s gone.”
“Not happening!” said Susie.
“Well, that’s fine then,” said Balin.
“Oh God!” Susie threw her arms up to the heavens. “No!”
“Please?” asked Balin, acknowledging her reluctance for the first time. “I’m not going to make you, but they say their queen is cursed.”
“So cursed,” said the lead weirdo.
Susie sighed. “Okay,” she said. “But only because you said please. Also, I want a good night’s sleep and a big meal with wine and meat afterwards, because I’m going to be woozy from the blood loss.”
And this happened, and everyone was okay, except for the queen because her curse was at best arrested by the blood, not cured. Later on, Malory claims, Sir Percivale will fix this curse, but not until the Grail quest.
Balin and Susie rode together for a long weekend without incident. On the fourth night they stayed at a nice hostel, the home of a wealthy man who took in travelers. Down in the hotel bar, they relaxed, enjoying a cool drink after days of hard riding. This pleasant evening was spoiled, however, by this one loud guy muttering angrily to himself in a corner. Susie would have just as soon ignored the guy, but Balin always had to stick his oar in, so he headed over to the man and asked what the trouble was.
“Oh, I’ll tell you what the trouble is,” said the man. Let’s call him Raul, which is more thought towards his name than Malory gave. Raul’d been sitting there all evening waiting for someone to give him an opening. “I was jousting recently…”
“You poor man!” cried Balin. He WAs eager to proffer sympathy.
“It gets worse, shut up,” said Raul. “There was this guy I was jousting, King Pellam‘s brother, and he cheated!”
“Dang, man, that’s rough,” said Balin.
“Shut up I’m not done!” snapped Raul. “I knocked him down two falls out of three, and instead of conceding the match like a gentleman, he swears he’ll attack my favorite person. Sure enough, as we’re leaving, he comes up sneaky-invisible and jabs a spear into my son!”
“Dude!” cried Balin.
“Now my son’s dying. The local witch says she needs a sample of the blood of the knight who attacked him,” said Raul. “How am I supposed to even get that?”
“Dude!” cried Balin again. “I know this guy you’re talking about! His name is Garlon and I’ve never seen him but he’s killed two of my best friends ever, Sir Perin and Susie’s husband whose name I’ve already forgotten! Man, what I wouldn’t give for a crack at him.”
“Well, we’re both in luck then,” said Raul. “His brother is throwing a big jousting-party in three weeks at his castle. I was going to go, but Pellam says you can’t go stag, all men must be accompanied by an escort. His parties prior to this have been notorious sausage parties.”
“That’s great!” said Balin. “I’ve got Susie! I got her to give blood in the last scene, so I’m sure I can get her to marry one of us!”
Susie was in fact not up for marrying Sir Balin or marrying Raul or even marrying Raul’s comatose son. It didn’t matter, though; she only needed to be on Balin’s arm to get him into the party. The group of them traveled to Pellam’s castle.
King Pellam’s castle is not named in this section of Le Morte D’Arthur but it ends up being a pretty important site later on, so I’ll go ahead and clue you in: it’s Castle Corbin, also referred to a few times as Castle Carbonek. The soldiers there drove Raul away with sticks, since he had no escort. Then they politely invited Balin and Susie in for the party. Before the party they were given a nice shower and a change of clothing, and then there was a little fracas over Pellam’s no-swords-at-the-party policy. Sir Balin explained that he needed to have his two swords, it’s his schtick! He’s Mister Two-Swords, the Knight with Two Swords! They compromised: Sir Balin left his magic sword with the horses while bringing along the sword he took from Sir Lanceor. Susie, of course, had her spear; no one would dare take a lady’s spear.
They entered the party! They were seated at one of the tables in the front on account of they’re a knight and a lady, not common riffraff. Sir Balin spent the first part of the party looking around wildly, trying to spot the invisible knight. The first of a couple of flaws in this plan: he didn’t have any idea what Garlon looked like.
Luckily, Susie was with him, and thus someone on his team was bright enough to think to ask people. The knight seated next to him was well-informed enough to point Sir Garlon out: he was the drunkard in the corner bragging about how he could turn invisible and murder knights.
Balin hopped up and made his way over to Garlon. “I’d better attack Garlon now, in the middle of his brother’s party while he’s surrounded by friends and well-wishers, because I might not get a chance to later on!” he thought to himself.
Garlon, a surly drunk, didn’t appreciate Sir Balin intruding into his personal space. “What’re you lookin’ at?” He smacked Balin across the cheek with a bare hand.
“Oh, oh, you did not just slap me!” cried Balin. “Plus you murdered my two best friends, Sir Perrin and Susie’s husband!”
But before Sir Garlon could do more than look nonplussed, Balin had already drawn his sword. Without further ado, he lopped the king’s brother’s head off.
Without a word, Susie tossed him her spear! Sir Balin stabbed Garlon’s body in the chest, so that plenty of blood welled out (I don’t know why, really, I guess Garlon wasn’t bleeding profusely enough from his stump of a neck).
“This would be a great time to make some kind of quip about taking Garlon’s blood and using it to make a potion to heal that one guy’s son,” said Balin. He looked around at the assembled knights, Castle Corbin’s whole chivalrous population, all of whom had variously stunned expressions on their faces. “I’m kind of bad at quips. Anyone have a good quip ready?”
As you would probably expect, there was a mad scramble to get Balin and kill him. All of the knights present threw themselves at him. Though he had a sword and they were all unarmed, he was outnumbered something like fifty to one (or fifty to two, counting Susie, who was sidling away towards the exit); they grabbed him pretty effortlessly.
King Pellam, the slain knight’s brother, rose to his feet. “What the hell, guy?”
“He was evil!” cried Sir Balin. “I did you a favor!”
“That was my brother! You realize we’re going to kill you for this, right?” Pellam asked him.
“Really?” asked Sir Balin. He’d sort of hoped they wouldn’t. “Okay, then,let’s joust!”
“You know what?” said Pellam. “I was going to let one of my men here do it, but you’re a jackass. I’m going to kill you myself.” And Pellam drew his sword (as king, he was entitled to a sword even at a no-weapons party) and made to chop Balin’s head off.
Balin parried the blow, using his nonmagical sword, which kept him alive but shattered the sword.
What follows is best envisioned as set to the tune of “Yakkity Sax:” Balin rans through Castle Corbin, with Pellam chasing him. King Pellam’s men all cheered their lord on, as Balin tried desperately to find something to fight Pellam with, another sword or something. But there were no weapons around! Sir Balin picked up various objects, chairs and things, and tried to parry with them, but Pellam chopped through them all.
This went on for a while.
Finally Balin burst into a chapel. This was a special chapel, this was. The Castle Corbin special castle, aka the Grail Chamber (did I mention that Castle Corbin was where the Grail was, when it’s at home?). Naturally the room was all crazy luxurious: gold and rich red and purple cloth tapestries! A chaise lounge of the most sumptuous upholstery possible to imagine, with the perfectly-preserved corpse of Joseph of Arimathea lying on it! A massive golden altar, with the Holy Grail right there! (GRAIL SIGHTING 1!)
Balin ignored all of that, however; his eye went immediately to a golden table with the silver legs, upon which sat a spear helpfully labeled +3 spear of Longinus. Balin grabbed the spear, spun around, and stroke Pellam most dolorously, right in the jimmies.
“Arglebargle!” cried King Pellam, and collapses.
“Hah!” said Balin. He felt pretty pleased with himself, and would have probably laughed longer, except that just then the entire castle collapsed, slaying almost everyone inside. Susie, the knights, Raul with the dying son, all of them, killed nearly instantly. Balin, Pellam, and the whole room they were in were all crushed. All was still and dead for three days and three nights.
In which Sir Balin strikes the DOLOROUS STROKE — No Comments
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