So that’s the great adventure of the dolorous stroke and how Sir Balin screwed everything up. Everything in this book after this is just denouement, because our story isn’t well and truly told until Balin is dead. Because yeah, he survives having a building fall on him. King Pellam, the guy Balin stabbed, also survives, albeit with an unhealing stab wound that lasts for decades, which is some kind of foreshadowing. Some kind.
Regardless: everybody else is dead, and there’s no motion for three days and three nights at the ruins of the castle. On the morning of the fourth day, Balin is woken by someone digging in his face. Merlin has arrived! He shovels Balin out of the ruins.
“Merlin!” cries Balin. “Is it time for the next stage of my quest?”
“C’mon, let’s get you out of here,” says Merlin. Merlin hauls him up and half-carries Balin to a horse already loaded up with his things.
“Where’s Susie?” asks Balin.
“Behind you,” says Merlin. “Under thirty tons of rock.”
“Oh,” says Balin.
“Pellam survives,” Merlin says. “He and his few surviving people will rebuild.” Given the desolation Balin wrought, which we’ll see in a minute, I don’t know who these survivors would be. Maybe Pellam had some subjects who were vacationing in France or Benwick.
“He’ll be grievously wounded for the next thirty years or so, until Galahad comes by and 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. You did manage to nab the spear that was stabbed into Christ’s side during the Crucifixion, and stab the holiest man in England — Joseph’s direct descendant — with it, resulting in the collapse of the castle and the death of many, many, many innocent people.”
“I don’t like this quest any more,” says Balin. “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.”
“Too late to do any good,” says Merlin.
So Balin rides off, and for a few days everywhere he goes he sees not another living soul. I don’t mean he’s riding through empty wasteland wild country; he keeps to main roads and passes through towns and cities. But everywhere he goes, everyone has dropped dead. Lots of corpses, lots of abandoned possessions, lots of wailing and moaning. It’s direct out of Omega Man. Finally he starts seeing people, but they only point at him and scream for the first few weeks.
Eventually, he meets someone who’s willing to articulate words at him, and they tell him about how he smote King Pellam (“no duh, I was there,” responds Balin) with a dolorous stroke and as a result everyone in a three-kingdom radius was slain.
So, man, is Balin ever relieved to be out of there, once he finally rides out of Pellam’s lands altogether and he ceases to encounter people howling “stroker! Stroker most dolorous!” at him.
Another week or so of riding after that he starts another adventure, his last. In a secluded forested valley he finds a tower, and outside the tower there’s a horse tied up and a knight crying.
“Hello!” says Balin. “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 god!” wails the knight. “Another monster come to gloat and make me miserable! You’re only making things worse go away!”
So Balin backs away slowly, and excuses himself, and kills a little time checking out the knight’s horse, which is a pretty nice horse. He’s distracted by the sobbing knight, who cries out “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!” and then there’s the sound of a sword being drawn, which does get Balin’s attention.
“Dude, dude, dude, no, no, it’s not worth it!” cries Balin. He lunges forward and grabs the knight’s swordarm.
“Let go! I’ll kill you!” shouts the sobbing knight.
“Put the sword down,” suggests Balin. “And then I’ll help you find your lady, how about that?”
“What’s your name?” asks the sniffling knight, suspicious.
“I’m Sir Balin, called the Idiot Knight,” says Balin.
“Oh, I’ve heard of you,” says 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 about right,” says Balin. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Garnish,” says 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 breaks off into wailing and sobbing some more.
“Hey, now, Garnish, chin up,” says Balin. “Let’s go to Hermel’s castle, I’m sure she’s there.”
“Well, okay,” says Garnish. “It’s six miles up the road.”
So they ride six miles up the road, to the castle, and Balin tells Garnish to wait outside while he searches for her and reports back.
Balin goes into the castle, looks high, looks low, checks the bedrooms, nothing, he’s about to give up when he tries the back garden, and there she is, a damsel lounging under a tree in the arms of another man, both fast asleep.
“Found her!” says Balin. “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 literally sleeping with another man!” And so he does that. He’s the Idiot Knight, remember. Any brief flashes of uncharacteristic intelligence shown this chapter were just that, brief flashes.