Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book II Chapter II
While the assembled knights are trying and failing to pull the sword from Wilma’s “scabbard,” we turn our attention now to Sir Balin, the Idiot Knight. Malory makes a case for Balin being fundamentally okay; he’s this guy from Northumberland who killed another knight in a freak jousting accident a few Arthur-sponsored jousts ago, and it wouldn’t have been such a problem except the knight he killed was Arthur’s cousin (unclear whether via Uther’s family, Igraine’s faimly, or Ector’s family). Also he’s kind of a dimwit, hence the nickname. Malory calls him “Balin le Savage,” so I’m interpreting freely here.
He’s a prisoner in Camelot, but not exactly a maximum-security sort of setup, he’s more a trustee. So he has the run of the place, and when he sees all the knights lined up to try to please Wilma, he wants to participate. He’s unsure whether he ought to, though, since he’s dressed in basically rags and lacks all the usual baron accouterments: armor, horse, weapons, serfs, mistresses, et cetera.
Wilma gets disgusted on account of none of Arthur’s knights can satisfy her, and she’s about to leave in a huff; a dark pall falls over Camelot at their failure. She’s on her way out when Balin stops her and asks to give it a go.
“You? Really?” she asks. “I mean really. Really. Look at you, you’re clearly not rich. And I’m pretty sore from all the other men trying and failing to satisfy me.”
“C’mon,” says Balin. “I’m a hell of a guy once you get to know me.”
“Well, you do have good upper-body muscular definition,” concedes Wilma.
“Manhood is concealed within man’s person,” says Balin. “Wink, wink. I don’t actually know what that means but it sounds good, you know?”
“All right, all right,” says Wilma. “I’ll give you a tumble. Try to draw the sword out. Take it!” And she presents herself to him.
Balin grasps the sword, and she gasps, and he draws it slowly and smoothly from its scabbard, and her restraints fall off of her.
“Hmm,” he says, looking at it. “This is a nice sword.”
“You’ve won me!” cries Wilma, who is a little put out that Balin seems more interested in the sword than in her newly-freed self.
“Mmm-hmm,” says Balin. “Still checking out this sword. Is this a mother-of-pearl inlay?”
“Okay, you’ve managed to completely break the mood,” says Wilma. She puts on some clothes. “So never mind. Just give me the sword back and I’ll be on my way. Maybe hit up the knights at Benwick, see if they’re more fun.”
“What? No!” says Balin. “I won this sword fair and square! I’m keeping it.”
“Yeah, well, smooth move on your part,” says Wilma. “Because the sword is, I don’t know, cursed or something. Yeah, that’s right. Cursed! You’ll kill your best friend with it! It’ll ruin your life! All because you treated me badly and refused to give me the sword! It’s going to happen! Don’t think it won’t!”
“Pshaw,” says Balin.
“You’ll be sorry,” says Wilma. “I didn’t even want the sword. I was just trying to do you a favor by taking it off your hands. You’ll see. You’ll be sorry.”
And she leaves in a huff.
“Well that was odd,” says Balin. “It’s as if she wanted something else from me but wouldn’t come right out and say it.”
Arthur, who has witnessed this whole exchange, just stares at Balin.
“So now that I have this nice new sword,” says Balin, “I guess I’ll be taking a horse and some armor and going off and having an adventure now.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” says Arthur. “I don’t know where you got that idea. You were a prisoner, and then just now you demonstrated with magic yourself to be a worthy knight, full of virtue and so on; that’s two completely different and conflicting reasons for me to want to keep you around. Are you mad?”
“No, I’m not mad at you, sire,” says Balin.
“You misunderstood my question,” says Arthur.
“I’m not angry with you, sire,” Balin corrects himself.
“Mmm. You know what? You can go, I’ve decided. I don’t want to keep a brave and virtuous knight like you against your will,” says Arthur.
“Oh, God bless your majesty!” says Balin.
“Go on, get out of here,” says Arthur. “Come back soon. Go. Don’t forget to write. Leave. You’ll always be welcome here. Get lost.”
So Balin loads up a horse and gets ready to ride off, and the rest of Arthur’s court has a big argument over whether Balin is a witch or just an idiot. It’s true!
“So Balin loads up a horse and gets ready to ride off, and the rest of Arthur’s court has a big argument over whether Balin is a witch or just an idiot. It’s true!” — Awesome. Where did the final vote end up?