Primary Sources: Le Morte D’Arthur, Book II Chapter XVIII
So okay there’s Balin, he’s all geared up and ready to fight, and out comes his designated opponent, another knight all in red, likewise with a face-concealing helmet. Spoiler: it’s Balan, Balin’s brother, last seen wandering off to no particular purpose, way back when King Mark of Cornwall was in this story.
Balan sees Balin, Balin sees Balan, neither recognizes the other due to the helmets. Balan notices that Balin has two swords, and thinks for a minute that it must be Balin the Knight with Two Swords, but then he shakes his head at that foolishness, for Balin had a shield with a KNIGHTS DO IT BAREBACK bumper sticker on it, and this knight’s shield features no ribaldry.
So they joust, and it’s quite a joust, and the ladies in the balconies cheer at the awesome joust. Balin and Balan put on a great show, without ever speaking, and eventually they’re both bleeding and circling around one another and Balin’s waving his magic sword around like he means business, and boom boom boom they’re each down to single-digit hit points and this is from a starting point north of seventy, so, they’re tough fellas.
Eventually Balan calls a thirty-second time-out, and takes a knee. Balin takes a knee also, and asks Balan what his name is, on account of he’d like to know the name of the first knight to ever put up a decent fight.
Balan gives up his name readily. In fact, according to Malory, he announces himself as “Balan the brother of Balin,” as if otherwise Balin might not have remembered that he had a brother named Balan.
“Well, knock me over with a feather,” says Balin. “I had no idea!” He tries to stand up but he’s too surprised and injured, and falls over instead.
“Whoa, buddy,” says Balan, and crawls over to Balin. They’re both bleeding profusely, remember. Somehow their wounds are getting substantially worse during the timeout. “Let me get you some air!”
Balan pulls Balin’s helmet off, and would see that it’s Balin, except that Balin and Balan are both all mashed up in their faces and neither looks like himself, plus neither are all that great at seeing right now. So, great way to ruin a dramatic moment, Malory!
But Balin heard Balan identify himself, and while he’s coughing up blood, he says “Oh Balan! It’s me your brother!”
“Balin! I knew it! You had two swords!”
“Why didn’t you say something!”
“You had a different shield!”
“My shield is getting dry-cleaned back at that castle,” says Balin, and tries to point but falls down again instead.
“If we weren’t both dying,” says Balan, “we ought to sack that place, teach them to make us fight bloodsports for their amusement and replace our shields and so on. You know I killed the previous knight they had here on this island, and then they wouldn’t let me leave? That was weeks ago. If you killed me and survived, you’d have been their prisoner too I don’t doubt.”
“What jerks!” cries Balin.
The Queen of the castle rows out to the island, on account of the bloodsport appears to be done for the evening, and brings along some knights and laborers and ladies.
“So it looks like you’re both dying,” says the Queen. “I guess that makes this a draw, then.”
“Bury us!” says Balan.
“Bury us in one tomb!” says Balin. “We were in the same womb, it’s only fitting!”
“That’s poetic!” says Balan. “Oh I am dying!”
“Thank you!” says Balin. “I also am dying!”
“I’ll have you buried, yes,” says the Queen. “I suppose you want last rites also?”
“Yes please!” cry the knights. A priest is fetched, last rites given, yadda yadda. I don’t know why Malory sometimes includes these odd little details. It isn’t as though Balin were an especially Christian hero, running around being all meek and peacemaking and such.
“Be sure to put how we were brothers who killed one another on our tomb,” says Balin.
“Got it,” says the Queen. Her laborers are already setting it up around the knights, because they work fast.
“Thank you!” says Balan, and dies.
“Oh my brother!” says Balin, and expects to die, but doesn’t, for hours and hours. I suppose this is Malory’s idea of suspense.
Finally he dies.
“Shoot,” says the Queen. “I forgot to ask his name. Balan’s name I knew, but what’s his brother’s name? Anyone know?”
They don’t think to check Balin’s shield for his name, so the tomb-construction crew just puts up an epitaph that says Here lies Sir Balan and His Brother, Who Died Fighting One Another.
“Enh,” says the Queen. “It’ll have to do.”
You may have noticed this queen isn’t named. She seems like a character who ought to have an actual Arthurian name, rather than something I make up like Gladys. According to the internet — which I hate to check, you all know that — she doesn’t have one; she’s simply the Queen of the Wasteland. Also, she’s married to Pellam, but they don’t live in the same castle or sleep together, on account of Pellam’s spiritual purity. The more you know!
Why is it that, when convenient, in these identity-not-revealed legends, no one ever speaks to one another, but in normal jousting there is all kinds of repartee? Also, no one ever recognizes the other by the sound of his voice when they do talk?
Can’t help but comment that if an entire generation was as spiritually pure as Pellam, the human species would cease to exist. One wonders if “spiritual purity” is Arthurian code for in-the-closet gayness. Is “spiritual purity” the term Malory uses?
Trying to figure what to make of this. Balin’s player was moving out-of-state, perhaps? Or maybe he got a girlfriend, just didn’t show up for a few sessions, and the DM wrote up a little Balinfic to explain what happened to him.