Lugodoc’s summary of Book 2 – The Ballad of Balin and Balan
Whilst in London, Arthur learned of a new attack on his lands by King Rience of North Wales, so he called a council of war at Camelot. There arrived a mysterious damosel from the great lady Lile of Avelion, sporting a sword that could only be drawn from its scabbard by a completely virtuous knight. Everyone (including Arthur) failed, until young Sir Balin of Northumberland wandered by, fresh out of jail (6 months for killing Arthur’s cousin). He drew the sword and swore to keep it, even though the damosel predicted it would kill him and his best friend.
Then the Lady of the Lake arrived to remind Arthur what his sword was called (Excalibur, or Cut-steel) and to claim her favour, that being the head of Balin (for killing her brother) or the damosel (for killing her father), or both. But Balin cut off her head for killing his own mother, and rode off with it to his squire nearby, whom he told to go home to Northumberland and spread the news.
Arthur solemnly buried the Lady of the Lake, while Sir Lanceor of Ireland set off after Sir Balin to avenge the insult to Arthur’s court, and Merlin explained how they had all been tricked by the evil virtue-detecting sword-damosel who was plotting to kill her own brother for having killed her lover, helped by the Lady Lile of Avelion, and how Balin and his brother, despite being true virtuous knights, were now doomed.
Balin killed Lanceor, and Lanceor’s paramour Colombe killed herself with his sword. Balin found his brother Balan and both decided to attack King Rience (currently laying siege to Castle Terrabil) to make ammends with Arthur. Then King Mark of Cornwall turned up and built a tomb over the two dead lovers, followed by Merlin who defaced it with the names of the two greatest knights of the world, whom he predicted would fight there one day (Sirs Launcelot and Tristram). Old Merlin then added to the Balin/Balan prediction he had made after the battle of Bedegraine, saying that Balin would one day strike a truly dolorous stroke (dealing the truest knight alive a wound that would not heal for years, and making 3 kingdoms poor for 12 years), before riding off with them both to Cornwall.
At midnight, Balin and Balan ambushed King Rience on his way to sleep with Lady de Vance, and took him before Arthur, fulfilling part of the earlier prophecy. This prompted his brother King Nero to rally the eleven kings Arthur had defeated before at the Battle of Bedegraine, and to lay seige to Castle Terrabil (the site of Arthur’s 4th and most decisive battle).
Arthur triumphed, and all twelve kings were slain (or simply defeated: Malory is unclear). Merlin distracted King Lot while Arthur destroyed Nero and his host, then Pellinore killed Lot, and Balin and Balan killed or captured all the rest, in accordance Merlin’s prophesies.
All were buried in St Stephen’s Church in Camelot, in a tomb built by Merlin. King Lot’s widow, Margawse, was there with her offspring, the future Orkney Knights (except for Mordred who was still lost at sea, presumed drowned) and her two sisters Morgan le Fay and Elaine, and their husbands Kings Uriens and Nentres (who were in fact still alive). Merlin there made further prophesies regarding Sirs Balin and Balan, Kings Pellinore and Bagdemagus (Arthur’s cousin), Arthur’s near killing by Sir Accolon, Merlin’s own death, and the Sangreal.
Sir Balan rode off adventuring and happened to slay a knight on an island by a castle, and came under a spell to take his place and similarly challenge all who passed by.
Meanwhile his brother Sir Balin promised to protect Sir Herlews le Berbeus on his way to Arthur under horse arrest to explain why he was sad, but an invisible knight called Garlon slew him and Balin was forced to take over his quest for a damosel. Sir Perin de Mountebeliard joined them, but was similarly slain and buried in a graveyard where gold letters appeared prophesying Sir Gawaine’s revenge on King Pellinore for killing his father King Lot, then later the damosel gave blood attempting (fruitlessly) to heal a sick lady in a castle (where the Grail Knights would turn up about 50 years later in book 17).
Eventually Balin and the damosel tracked Garlon to a huge feast in the castle of King Pellam of Listeneise, where Balin sucessfully “clave his head to the shoulders”, but disarmed by his angry host and then pursued through out the castle, he was eventually forced to defend himself with a dolorous stroke from the mysterious but convenient Spear of Longinus (the Roman who tormented Jesus Christ on the cross). King Pellam collapsed, and so did the entire castle, killing the damosel.
After three days, Merlin dug Balin out, explaining that Pellam was related to Joseph of Aramathea, and that they (Merlin and Balin) would never meet again.
Riding home, Balin discovered three countries somehow destroyed by his single stroke, fulfilling Merlin’s prophesy. King Pellam’s wound festered for many years, until he was eventually healed by the virtuous Sir Galahad on his quest for the Sangreal.
Sir Balin rode off again on his adventures, including attempting to help Sir Garnish woo his duke’s daughter away from her lover, but causing them all to be killed instead, until he came to a castle where he was told he may not pass without jousting with a local knight who lived on an island. Unfortunately neither he nor his brother Balan recognised one another, because they were fighting with borrowed shields, so they hacked each other to death.
Merlin buried them together on the island, and left the scabbard of the virtue-detecting sword there for Galahad to find, years later. He set the sword itself in a block of marble that hovered over the river, and it eventually floated off to Camelot, where Galahad would find it half a century later (in book 13).
At A Glance
Book 2 chapter overview:
1. Of a damosel which came girt with a sword for to find a man of such virtue to draw it out of the scabbard.
2. How Balin, arrayed like a poor knight, pulled out the sword, which afterward was the cause of his death.
3. How the Lady of the Lake demanded the knight’s head that had won the sword, or the maiden’s head.
4. How Merlin told the adventure of this damosel.
5. How Balin was pursued by Sir Lanceor, knight of Ireland, and how he jousted and slew him.
6. How a damosel, which was love to Lanceor, slew herself for love, and how Balin met with his brother Balan.
7. How a dwarf reproved Balin for the death of Lanceor, and how King Mark of Cornwall found them, and made a tomb over them.
8. How Merlin prophesied that two the best knights of the world should fight there, which were Sir Lancelot and Sir Tristram.
9. How Balin and his brother, by the counsel of Merlin, took King Rience and brought him to King Arthur.
10. How King Arthur had a battle against Nero and King Lot of Orkney, and how King Lot was deceived by Merlin, and how twelve kings were slain.
11. Of the interment of twelve kings, and of the prophecy of Merlin, and how Balin should give the dolorous stroke.
12. How a sorrowful knight came before Arthur, and how Balin fetched him, and how that knight was slain by a knight invisible.
13. How Balin and the damosel met with a knight which was in likewise slain, and how the damosel bled for the custom of a castle.
14. How Balin met with that knight named Garlon at a feast, and there he slew him, to have his blood to heal therewith the son of his host.
15. How Balin fought with King Pellam, and how his sword brake, and how he gat a spear wherewith he smote the dolorous stroke.
16. How Balin was delivered by Merlin, and saved a knight that would have slain himself for love.
17. How that knight slew his love and a knight lying by her, and after, how he slew himself with his own sword, and how Balin rode toward a castle where he lost his life.
18. How Balin met with his brother Balan, and how each of them slew other unknown, till they were wounded to death.
19. How Merlin buried them both in one tomb, and of Balin’s sword.