Sir Balin Smites the Dolorous Stroke, and Fights with his Brother, Sir Balan

Now there was a knight at the court more envious than the others of Sir Balin, for he counted himself one of the best knights in Britain. His name was Lancear; and going to the king, he begged leave to follow after Sir Balin and avenge the insult he had put upon the court. “Do thy best,” replied the king, “for I am passing wroth with Balin.”

In the meantime came Merlin, and was told of this adventure of the sword and lady of the lake.

“Now hear me,” said he, “when I tell ye that this lady who hath brought the sword is the falsest damsel living.”

“Say not so,” they answered, “for she hath a brother a good knight, who slew another knight this damsel loved; so she, to be revenged upon her brother, went to the Lady Lile, of Avilion, and besought her help. Then Lady Lile gave her the sword, and told her that no man should draw it forth but one, a valiant knight and strong, who should avenge her on her brother. This, therefore, was the reason why the damsel came here.” “I know it all as well as ye do,” answered Merlin; “and would to God she had never come hither, for never came she into any company but to do harm; and that good knight who hath achieved the sword shall be himself slain by it, which shall be great harm and loss, for a better knight there liveth not; and he shall do unto my lord the king great honour and service.”

Then Sir Lancear, having armed himself at all points, mounted, and rode after Sir Balin, as fast as he could go, and overtaking him, he cried aloud, “Abide, Sir knight! wait yet awhile, or I shall make thee do so.”

Hearing him cry, Sir Balin fiercely turned his horse, and said, “Fair knight, what wilt thou with me? wilt thou joust?”

“Yea,” said Sir Lancear, “it is for that I have pursued thee.”

“Peradventure,” answered Balin, “thou hadst best have staid at home, for many a man who thinketh himself already victor, endeth by his own downfall. Of what court art thou?”

“Of King Arthur’s court,” cried Lancear, “and I am come to revenge the insult thou hast put on it this day.”

“Well,” said Sir Balin, “I see that I must fight thee, and I repent to be obliged to grieve King Arthur or his knights; and thy quarrel seemeth full foolish to me, for the damsel that is dead worked endless evils through the land, or else I had been loath as any knight that liveth to have slain a lady.”

“Make thee ready,” shouted Lancear, “for one of us shall rest for ever in this field.”

But at their first encounter Sir Lancear’s spear flew into splinters from Sir Balin’s shield, and Sir Balin’s lance pierced with such might through Sir Lancear’s shield that it rove the hauberk also, and passed through the knight’s body and the horse’s crupper. And Sir Balin turning fiercely round again, drew out his sword, and knew not that he had already slain him; and then he saw him lie a corpse upon the ground.

At that same moment came a damsel riding towards him as fast as her horse could gallop, who, when she saw Sir Lancear dead, wept and sorrowed out of measure, crying, “O, Sir Balin, two bodies hast thou slain, and one heart; and two hearts in one body; and two souls also hast thou lost.”

Therewith she took the sword from her dead lover’s side—for she was Sir Lancear’s lady-love—and setting the pommel of it on the ground, ran herself through the body with the blade.

When Sir Balin saw her dead he was sorely hurt and grieved in spirit, and repented the death of Lancear, which had also caused so fair a lady’s death. And being unable to look on their bodies for sorrow, he turned aside into a forest, where presently as he rode, he saw the arms of his brother, Sir Balan. And when they were met they put off their helms, and embraced each other, kissing, and weeping for joy and pity. Then Sir Balin told Sir Balan all his late adventures, and that he was on his way to King Ryence, who at that time was besieging Castle Terrabil. “I will be with thee,” answered Sir Balan, “and we will help each other, as brethren ought to do.”

Anon by chance, as they were talking, came King Mark, of Cornwall, by that way, and when he saw the two dead bodies of Sir Lancear and his lady lying there, and heard the story of their death, he vowed to build a tomb to them before he left that place. So pitching his pavilion there, he sought through all the country round to find a monument, and found at last a rich and fair one in a church, which he took and raised above the dead knight and his damsel, writing on it—“Here lieth Lancear, son of the King of Ireland, who, at his own request, was slain by Balin; and here beside him also lieth his lady Colombe, who slew herself with her lover’s sword for grief and sorrow.”

Then as Sir Balin and Sir Balan rode away, Merlin met with them, and said to Balin, “Thou hast done thyself great harm not to have saved that lady’s life who slew herself; and because of it, thou shalt strike the most Dolorous Stroke that ever man struck, save he that smote our Lord. For thou shalt smite the truest and most worshipful of living knights, who shall not be recovered from his wounds for many years, and through that stroke three kingdoms shall be overwhelmed in poverty and misery.”

“If I believed,” said Balin, “what thou sayest, I would slay myself to make thee a liar.”

At that Merlin vanished suddenly away; but afterwards he met them in disguise towards night, and told them he could lead them to King Ryence, whom they sought. “For this night he is to ride with sixty lances only through a wood hard by.”

So Sir Balin and Sir Balan hid themselves within the wood, and at midnight came out from their ambush among the leaves by the highway, and waited for the king, whom presently they heard approaching with his company. Then did they suddenly leap forth and smote at him and overthrew him and laid him on the ground, and turning on his company wounded and slew forty of them, and put the rest to flight. And returning to King Ryence they would have slain him there, but he craved mercy, and yielded to their grace, crying, “Knights full of prowess, slay me not; for by my life ye may win something—but my death can avail ye nought.”

“Ye say truth,” said the two knights, and put him in a horse-litter, and went swiftly through all the night, till at cock-crow they came to King Arthur’s palace. There they delivered him to the warders and porters, to be brought before the king, with this message—“That he was sent to King Arthur by the knight of the two swords (for so was Balin known by name, since his adventure with the damsel) and by his brother.” And so they rode away again ere sunrise.

Within a month or two thereafter, King Arthur being somewhat sick, went forth outside the town, and had his pavilion pitched in a meadow, and there abode, and laid him down on a pallet to sleep, but could get no rest. And as he lay he heard the sound of a great horse, and looking out of the tent door, saw a knight ride by, making great lamentation.

“Abide, fair sir,” said King Arthur, “and tell me wherefore thou makest this sorrow.”

“Ye may little amend it,” said the knight, and so passed on.

Presently after Sir Balin, rode, by chance, past that meadow, and when he saw the king he alighted and came to him on foot, and kneeled and saluted him.

“By my head,” said King Arthur, “ye be welcome, Sir Balin;” and then he thanked him heartily for revenging him upon King Ryence, and for sending him so speedily a prisoner to his castle, and told him how King Nero, Ryence’s brother, had attacked him afterwards to deliver Ryence from prison; and how he had defeated him and slain him, and also King Lot, of Orkney who was joined with Nero, and whom King Pellinore had killed in the battle. Then when they had thus talked, King Arthur told Sir Balin of the sullen knight that had just passed his tent, and desired him to pursue him and to bring him back.

So Sir Balin rode and overtook the knight in a forest with a damsel, and said, “Sir knight, thou must come back with me unto my lord, King Arthur, to tell him the cause of thy sorrow, which thou hast refused even now to do.”

“That will I not,” replied the knight, “for it would harm me much, and do him no advantage.”

“Sir,” said Sir Balin, “I pray thee make ready, for thou must needs go with me—or else I must fight with thee and take thee by force.”

“Wilt thou be warrant for safe conduct, if I go with thee?” inquired the knight.

“Yea, surely,” answered Balin, “I will die else.”

So the knight made ready to go with Sir Balin, and left the damsel in the wood.

But as they went, there came one invisible, and smote the knight through the body with a spear. “Alas,” cried Sir Herleus (for so was he named), “I am slain under thy guard and conduct, by that traitor knight called Garlon, who through magic and witchcraft rideth invisibly. Take, therefore, my horse, which is better than thine, and ride to the damsel whom we left, and the quest I had in hand, as she will lead thee—and revenge my death when thou best mayest.”

“That will I do,” said Sir Balin, “by my knighthood, and so I swear to thee.”

Then went Sir Balin to the damsel, and rode forth with her; she carrying ever with her the truncheon of the spear wherewith Sir Herleus had been slain. And as they went, a good knight, Perin de Mountbelgard, joined their company, and vowed to take adventure with them wheresoever they might go. But presently as they passed a hermitage fast by a churchyard, came the knight Garlon, again invisible, and smote Sir Perin through the body with a spear, and slew him as he had slain Sir Herleus. Whereat, Sir Balin greatly raged, and swore to have Sir Garlon’s life, whenever next he might encounter and behold him in his bodily shape. Anon, he and the hermit buried the good knight Sir Perin, and rode on with the damsel till they came to a great castle, whereinto they were about to enter. But when Sir Balin had passed through the gateway, the portcullis fell behind him suddenly, leaving the damsel on the outer side, with men around her, drawing their swords as if to slay her.

When he saw that, Sir Balin climbed with eager haste by wall and tower, and leaped into the castle moat, and rushed towards the damsel and her enemies, with his sword drawn, to fight and slay them. But they cried out, “Put up thy sword, Sir knight, we will not fight thee in this quarrel, for we do nothing but an ancient custom of this castle.”

Then they told him that the lady of the castle was sick, and had lain ill for many years, and might never more be cured, unless she had a silver dish full of the blood of a pure maid and a king’s daughter. Wherefore the custom of the castle was, that never should a damsel pass that way but she must give a dish full of her blood. Then Sir Balin suffered them to bleed the damsel with her own consent, but her blood helped not the lady of the castle. So on the morrow they departed, after right good cheer and rest.

Then they rode three or four days without adventure and came at last to the abode of a rich man, who sumptuously lodged and fed them. And while they sat at supper Sir Balin heard a voice of some one groaning grievously. “What noise is this?” said he.

“Forsooth,” said the host, “I will tell you. I was lately at a tournament, and there I fought a knight who is brother to King Pelles, and overthrew him twice, for which he swore to be revenged on me through my best friend, and so he wounded my son, who cannot be recovered till I have that knight’s blood, but he rideth through witchcraft always invisibly, and I know not his name.”

“Ah,” said Sir Balin, “but I know him; his name is Garlon, and he hath slain two knights, companions of mine own, in the same fashion, and I would rather than all the riches in this realm that I might meet him face to face.”

“Well,” said his host, “let me now tell thee that King Pelles hath proclaimed in all the country a great festival, to be held at Listeniss, in twenty days from now, whereto no knight may come without a lady. At that great feast we might perchance find out this Garlon, for many will be there; and if it please thee we will set forth together.”

So on the morrow they rode all three towards Listeniss, and travelled fifteen days, and reached it on the day the feast began. Then they alighted and stabled their horses, and went up to the castle, and Sir Balin’s host was denied entrance, having no lady with him. But Sir Balin was right heartily received, and taken to a chamber, where they unarmed him, and dressed him in rich robes, of any colour that he chose, and told him he must lay aside his sword. This, however, he refused, and said, “It is the custom of my country for a knight to keep his sword ever with him; and if I may not keep it here, I will forthwith depart.” Then they gave him leave to wear his sword. So he went to the great hall, and was set among knights of rank and worship, and his lady before him.

Soon he found means to ask one who sat near him, “Is there not here a knight whose name is Garlon?”

“Yonder he goeth,” said his neighbour, “he with that black face; he is the most marvellous knight alive, for he rideth invisibly, and destroyeth whom he will.”

“Ah, well,” said Balin, drawing a long breath, “is that indeed the man? I have aforetime heard of him.”

Then he mused long within himself, and thought, “If I shall slay him here and now, I shall not escape myself; but if I leave him, peradventure I shall never meet with him again at such advantage; and if he live, how much more harm and mischief will he do!”

But while he deeply thought, and cast his eyes from time to time upon Sir Garlon, that false knight saw that he watched him, and thinking that he could at such a time escape revenge, he came and smote Sir Balin on the face with the back of his hand, and said, “Knight, why dost thou so watch me? be ashamed, and eat thy meat, and do that which thou camest for.”

“Thou sayest well,” cried Sir Balin, rising fiercely; “now will I straightway do that which I came to do, as thou shalt find.” With that he whirled his sword aloft and struck him downright on the head, and clove his skull asunder to the shoulder.

“Give me the truncheon,” cried out Sir Balin to his lady, “wherewith he slew thy knight.” And when she gave it him—for she had always carried it about with her, wherever she had gone—he smote him through the body with it, and said, “With that truncheon didst thou treacherously murder a good knight, and now it sticketh in thy felon body.”

Then he called to the father of the wounded son, who had come with him to Listeniss, and said, “Now take as much blood as thou wilt, to heal thy son withal.”

But now arose a terrible confusion, and all the knights leaped from the table to slay Balin, King Pelles himself the foremost, who cried out, “Knight, thou hast slain my brother at my board; die, therefore, die, for thou shalt never leave this castle.”

“Slay me, thyself, then,” shouted Balin.

“Yea,” said the king, “that will I! for no other man shall touch thee, for the love I bear my brother.”

Then King Pelles caught in his hand a grim weapon and smote eagerly at Balin, but Balin put his sword between his head and the king’s stroke, and saved himself but lost his sword, which fell down smashed and shivered into pieces by the blow. So being weaponless he ran to the next room to find a sword, and so from room to room, with King Pelles after him, he in vain ever eagerly casting his eyes round every place to find some weapon.

At last he ran into a chamber wondrous richly decked, where was a bed all dressed with cloth of gold, the richest that could be thought of, and one who lay quite still within the bed; and by the bedside stood a table of pure gold borne on four silver pillars, and on the table stood a marvellous spear, strangely wrought.

When Sir Balin saw the spear he seized it in his hand, and turned upon King Pelles, and smote at him so fiercely and so sore that he dropped swooning to the ground.

But at that Dolorous and awful Stroke the castle rocked and rove throughout, and all the walls fell crashed and breaking to the earth, and Balin himself fell also in their midst, struck as it were to stone, and powerless to move a hand or foot. And so three days he lay amidst the ruins, until Merlin came and raised him up and brought him a good horse, and bade him ride out of that land as swiftly as he could.

“May I not take the damsel with me I brought hither?” said Sir Balin.

“Lo! where she lieth dead,” said Merlin. “Ah, little knowest thou, Sir Balin, what thou hast done; for in this castle and that chamber which thou didst defile, was the blood of our Lord Christ! and also that most holy cup—the Sangreal—wherefrom the wine was drunk at the last supper of our Lord. Joseph of Arimathea brought it to this land, when first he came here to convert and save it. And on that bed of gold it was himself who lay, and tne strange spear beside him was the spear wherewith the soldier Longus smote our Lord, which evermore had dripped with blood. King Pelles is the nearest kin to Joseph in direct descent, wherefore he held these holy things in trust; but now have they all gone at thy dolorous stroke, no man knoweth whither; and great is the damage to this land, which until now hath been the happiest of all lands, for by that stroke thou hast slain thousands, and by the loss and parting of the Sangreal the safety of this realm is put in peril, and its great happiness is gone for evermore.”

Then Balin departed from Merlin, struck to his soul with grief and sorrow, and said, “In this world shall we meet never more.”

So he rode forth through the fair cities and the country, and found the people lying dead on every side. And all the living cried out on him as he passed, “O Balin, all this misery hast thou done! For the dolorous stroke thou gavest King Pelles, three countries are destroyed, and doubt not but revenge will fall on thee at last!”

When he had passed the boundary of those countries, he was somewhat comforted, and rode eight days without adventure. Anon he came to a cross, whereon was written in letters of gold, “It is not for a knight alone to ride towards this castle.” Looking up, he saw a hoary ancient man come towards him, who said, “Sir Balin le Savage, thou passest thy bounds this way; therefore turn back again, it will be best for thee;” and with these words he vanished.

Then did he hear a horn blow as it were the deathnote of some hunted beast. “That blast,” said Balin, “is blown for me, for I am the prey; though yet I be not dead.” But as he spoke he saw a hundred ladies with a great troop of knights come forth to meet him, with bright faces and great welcome, who led him to the castle and made a great feast, with dancing and minstrelsy and all manner of joy.

Then the chief lady of the castle said, “Knight with the two swords, thou must encounter and fight with a knight hard by, who dwelleth on an island, for no man may pass this way without encountering him.”

“It is a grievous custom,” answered Sir Balin.

“There is but one knight to defeat,” replied the lady.

“Well,” said Sir Balin, “be it as thou wilt. I am ready and quite willing, and though my horse and my body be full weary, yet is my heart not weary, save of life. And truly I were glad if I might meet my death.”

“Sir,” said one standing by, “methinketh your shield is not good; I will lend you a bigger.”

“I thank thee, sir,” said Balin, and took the unknown shield and left his own, and so rode forth, and put himself and horse into a boat and came to the island.

As soon as he had landed, he saw come riding towards him, a knight dressed all in red, upon a horse trapped in the same colour. When the red knight saw Sir Balin, and the two swords he wore, he thought it must have been his brother (for the red knight was Sir Balan), but when he saw the strange arms on his shield, he forgot the thought, and came against him fiercely. At the first course they overthrew each other, and both lay swooning on the ground; but Sir Balin was the most hurt and bruised, for he was weary and spent with travelling. So Sir Balan rose up first to his feet and drew his sword, and Sir Balin painfully rose against him and raised his shield.

Then Sir Balan smote him through the shield and brake his helmet; and Sir Balin, in return, smote at him with his fated sword, and had wellnigh slain his brother. So they fought till their breaths failed.

Then Sir Balin, looking up, saw all the castle towers stand full of ladies. So they went again to battle, and wounded each other full sore, and paused, and breathed again, and then again began the fight; and this for many times they did, till all the ground was red with blood. And by now, each had full grievously wounded the other with seven great wounds, the least of which might have destroyed the mightiest giant in the world. But still they rose against each other, although their hauberks now were all unnailed, and they smiting at each other’s naked bodies with their sharp swords. At the last, Sir Balan, the younger brother, withdrew a little space and laid him down.

Then said Sir Balin le Savage, “What knight art thou? for never before have I found a knight to match me thus.”

“My name,” said he, all faintly, “is Balan, brother to the good knight Sir Balin.”

“Ah, God!” cried Balin, “that ever I should see this day!” and therewith fell down backwards in a swoon.

Then Sir Balan crept with pain upon his feet and hands, and put his brother’s helmet off his head, but could not know him by his face, it was so hewed and bloody. But presently, when Sir Balin came to, he said, “Oh! Balan, mine own brother, thou hast slain me, and I thee! All the wide world saw never greater grief!”

“Alas!” said Sir Balan, “that I ever saw this day; and through mishap alone I knew thee not, for when I saw thy two swords, if it had not been for thy strange shield, I should have known thee for my brother.”

“Alas!” said Balin, “all this sorrow lieth at the door of one unhappy knight within the castle, who made me change my shield. If I might live, I would destroy that castle and its evil customs.”

“It were well done,” said Balan, “for since I first came hither I have never been able to depart, for here they made me fight with one who kept this island, whom I slew, and by enchantment I might never quit it more; nor couldst thou, brother, hadst thou slain me, and escaped with thine own life.”

Anon came the lady of the castle, and when she heard their talk, and saw their evil case, she wrung her hands and wept bitterly. So Sir Balan prayed the lady of her gentleness that, for his true service, she would bury them both together in that place. This she granted, weeping full sore, and said it should be done right solemnly and richly, and in the noblest manner possible. Then did they send for a priest, and received the holy sacrament at his hands. And Balin said, “Write over us upon our tomb, that here two brethren slew each other; then shall never good knight or pilgrim pass this way but he will pray for both our souls.” And anon Sir Balan died, but Sir Balin died not till the midnight after; and then they both were buried.

On the morrow of their death came Merlin, and took Sir Balin’s sword and fixed on it a new pommel, and set it in a mighty stone, which then, by magic, he made float upon the water. And so, for many years, it floated to and fro around the island, till it swam down the river to Camelot, where young Sir Galahad achieved it, as shall be told hereafter.

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