So, as you probably saw coming, Garnish takes one look at the couple sleeping under the tree and completely loses it. He starts bleeding from the nose and mouth, that’s how intense his sobs are.
“Balin, man, what the hell?” he chokes 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 says 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. That’s just common sense.”
“You’re an idiot,” says Garnish, and pulls out his sword and stabs himself in the chest.
“Oh crap not again!” cries 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 Colombe! Whom I didn’t kill,” he quickly corrects himself.
Still, he hops back on his horse and rides away, 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. I said this was Balin’s last adventure, but I suppose the interlude with Garnish was basically just a palate-cleanser in between Balin’s dolorous stroke and his death; it doesn’t really relate to the rest of what happens in the book. Balin dies. Spoiler alert. Merlin announced his doom like four times, but you’d be forgiven for ignoring Merlin — Arthur always does.
Anyway we follow Balin, who rides hard for three more days, and comes at last to the edge of civilization, where he spies a distant castle and, much closer, a sign with a golden message in Merlin’s handwriting.
DO NOT GO INTO THIS CASTLE IF YOU ARE AN UNACCOMPANIED KNIGHT.
And then, for good measure, a mysterious old man who may or may not be Merlin in a costume appears, and says “Balin the Idiot Knight! You should not have come this way! Turn around right now!”
Balin hears a distant horn blow, and decides his best course of action is to ride to the castle. Maybe he realizes Merlin is Merlin, and figures he should do the opposite of whatever Merlin says. Maybe he realizes the sound of the horn signals a party is starting, and he wants in on the party. Maybe he just got turned around.
At the castle there’s a big party going on, which is unlike most parties Balin has been to, inasmuch as the women outnumber the men by a fair margin, and also there is no jousting going on. Everybody seems happy to see him, and they press a drink into his hands and water his horse and so on, and just as he’s getting relaxed he bumps into the queen whose castle it is.
“Ah, Mister Two-Swords!” she exclaims. “Are you having a good time?”
“Yeah,” Balin says. “Yeah, I am, your ladyship. I’ve been through a lot lately and this party is just what I needed. Though I wish there was more jousting.”
“That is good to hear,” says the queen. “And as it happens, my next announcement will address your complaint. Now it’s time for you to duel to the death for my pleasure.”
“There’s a knight on that island,” she says, pointing to a small island just offshore. “You go out there, and you joust him. To the death.”
“It’s compulsory of every knight who comes here whose name starts with a B,” she says.
“Doesn’t seem fair, making me fight to the death… Normally we joust for best two falls out of three…”
“Oh, come on, big strapping man like you, I’m sure you’ll be fine. Besides it’s just the one knight, we’re not demanding you fight an entire platoon or anything,” she says.
“Okay, well, I guess I don’t have much reason to live at this point anyhow,” says Balin. “My horse is tired and I’m pretty exhausted myself, but what the hell.”
“Wonderful!” The queen snaps her fingers and Balin is quickly outfitted with some new armor, new protective face-concealing helmet, and a new shield.
“Where’s my old shield?” Balin asks someone. “The one with PROPERTY OF SIR BALIN on the back and the KNIGHTS DO IT BAREBACK bumper sticker?”
“That stinky old thing? It’s being dry-cleaned,” says someone.
Balin gets loaded onto a boat and sent over to the island, where another maiden is waiting for him. While she moors the boat she scolds Balin for getting himself into this situation, with a concealing helmet and a stranger’s shield. No one could recognize him, she says.
“Well, what can you do?” shrugs Balin. He checks his gear and his horse, mounts up, and rides off in search of the knight he’s supposed to joust.
Across the water the lords and ladies (mostly ladies) clamber up to the tower-tops and pull out binoculars, so as to clearly see their bloodsport.