Trigger warning: reference to suicide
Last month King Rience surrendered his dream of cutting of Arthur’s non-existant beard, but his brother Nero – yes, I did say Nero– grabbed that baton and marched on Camelot.
The battle takes place in front of the Castle Terrabil, which is historically relevant as the place where Igraine’s first husband died. While Arthur is making ready, Merlin goes to King Lot and delays his entry to the battle with ‘a tale of prophecy’, which is a classic Merlin move. Between Arthur, Kay and Sir Hervis de Revel, the forces of Camelot gain an edge, but it’s Balin and Balan who really win the day. Lot hears, too late, that Nero has been killed and deeply regrets hearing Merlin out. What he doesn’t understand is that Merlin, in acting to protect Arthur, was also acting to protect Lot – while Arthur is definitely his favourite, it doesn’t suit him for either king to die right now.
Lot has a choice to make, to press on or make peace. He chooses battle. Lot is a great leader, commanding his men from the front of the action, but he encounters Pellinore on the battlefield and falls under a terrible blow. A strange thing, that Morgause should lost her husband in the same place she lost her father. After Lot’s death, his forces scatter. Twelve kings die in this battle, on the side of Lot and Nero.
I have tried to keep to Malory’s spelling, but I simply refuse to spell ‘Morgause’ as ‘Margawse’, I just can’t do it. The widowed queen of Orkney comes with her sons Gawain, Agravaine, Gaheris and Gareth to see Lot buried, and with her comes her brother-in-law Uriens and her sister Morgan le Fay. Arthur, in a conciliatory move, has ensured Lot’s tomb is a lavishly decorated one.
The phrasing of this part is a little confusing but it sounds as if Arthur constructs his own tomb beside Lot’s and it is even more ornate, gilded with the figures of twelve defeated kings, each holding a candle that are enchanted to burn until Merlin’s death.
Arthur asks after his allies, Balin, Balan and Pellinore. Two will come to him soon, Merlin says, but one he will never see again.
Arthur is trying to build other alliances. In a gesture of familial trust, he gives Morgan the scabbard of Excalibur, to keep it safe for him. This is what you might call a BAD IDEA. She has a lover and is plotting to have Arthur killed. Step one is to replace the scabbard with a magical copy and give the real one to her lover Accolon.
Shortly after the funeral of the twelve kings, Arthur gets mildly ill and is having a restless night when he hears a commotion outside his pavilion. A knight rides by in great distress, refusing to respond to Arthur’s questions. He is soon followed by Balin. When Balin sees Arthur, he stops and greets him, and receives a friendly welcome. Balin doesn’t know what’s up with the sad knight but when Arthur says to bring him back by whatever means are necessary to provide answers, Balin makes like a retriever and rides after the knight with a go-getting spirit. He finds the sad knight with a lady in the forest. “Sir knight,” Balin commands, “ye must come with me unto King Arthur, for to tell him of your sorrow.”
Did that sentence sound better in his head? Because it sounds pretty bad said out loud.
Balin threatens to fight the knight if he will not come so they ditch the lady ALONE IN THE FOREST and ride toward Arthur’s pavilion. Before they get there, a knight named Garlon – who is INVISIBLE – rides up and drives his lance through the sad knight’s body. As he was killed on Balin’s watch, it is now Balin’s job to take on his quest and to revenge him if he can. Arthur buries him, somehow discovering that his name is Herlews le Berbeus in time to have it written on his tomb.
It’s times like these you understand just how desperate all these people are to find something violently purposeful to do with their lives. Balin and this girl he’s just met run into a knight who looks at Balin’s miserable face and wants to know what’s up with him. Unlike Herlews, Balin feels like talking about it and the other knight, who is called Percian de Mountbeliard, is instantly on board, he just grabs his stuff and the questing pair become a trio.
Not for long, however – Garlon, the invisible fiend, strikes as they ride by a churchyard, and it falls to Balin to have Percian buried. In the morning they find golden writing across the tomb, declaring how ‘Sir Gawain shall revenge his father’s death, King Lot, on the King Pellinore’. This is unnerving.
Balin and the lady ride until they reach a castle. As they enter the pair are separated by a portcullis and Balin is horrified to see the lady surrounded by armed men. He climbs an inner tower and leaps over the walls into a ditch, somehow does not break his neck, and lunges into the fray. But the men will not fight him. They tell him how the lady of their castle has been sick for years and will never be well until she, and I feel the need to quote, ‘had a dish of silver full of blood of a clean maid and a king’s daughter’. Guys, your lady is a vampire. Sorry to break it to you, but there it is. The men have made it their business to bleed every girl who passes, in case her blood does the trick.
Balin is fine with this, so long as the lady under his protection does not actually die. Her own opinion is not considered relevant to the plot. After all that, the blood does the lady of the castle not one iota of good and Balin and his lady continue their adventure.
Yikes. I have nothing else to say on the subject.
This is the point where Merlin shows up. He gets hold of Balin, presumably digging him out of the ruins, and Balin asks after the lady who came with him, only to find out she died in the collapse. Along with, one would imagine, a lot of other people. Merlin quickly sends Balin out of the country. Pellam, meanwhile, survives but his wound does not heal and will not, we are told, until Sir Galahad heals him in the quest for the Sangreal (Grail). The bed, we are told, was the bed where Joseph of Arimathea, husband to the Holy Virgin Mary, once slept, and the spear was called Longius, the weapon that struck through the body of Christ himself. Pellam was related to Joseph, and apparently a really great guy, but do great guys allow their brothers to ride about the countryside offing people in secret? No. They don’t. And if you don’t want people touching your ancestral relics, MAYBE lock the door.
As Balin rides away from the scene of the crime, he finds death and destruction on all sides, apparently all because of that blow. Everyone, mysteriously, recognises him, crying out accusations as he passes by.
After eight days Balin comes to a tower in the forest. There is a war horse tied to a tree beneath the tower and a sad knight sitting on the ground nearby. The last encounter with a sad knight did not go well for Balin but he is not a man to be put off by the memory of previous mistakes, which may explain why he’s leaving such a body count in his wake. He asks the knight what’s up and offers to help. The knight tells him he’s making things worse. Balin, reproved, moves a short distance away and listens while the knight talks to himself. A lady was supposed to meet him here at noon and has not come. Balin returns to his side and takes his hand, which the knight does NOT appreciate, and promises to find the lady for him.
They exchange introductions. The sad knight is Garnish of the Mount. He comes from a humble background but was sponsored by a duke and so became a knight. He then fell in love with the duke’s daughter. They ride to the duke’s castle together and Balin just walks in to search the place. He gets all the way to her bedroom! She’s not there, but what the hell! Duke Hermel needs to up his security. Balin walks out into a small garden and finds the lady there in the arms of another knight, both deeply asleep. Balin goes to break the news to her boyfriend.
Garnish is so overcome with grief that his mouth and nose both begin bleeding, which is an emotional reaction I admit I had not expected, and then he gets it together enough to chop off both the lovers’ heads, which I was unfortunately expecting. Because murder solves everything! Then Garnish blames Balin for showing him the evidence of his lady’s infidelity. Balin, a little stunned, says he was hoping Garnish might just…get over the girl. Garnish experiences something like remorse, though he makes it all about him, and stabs himself, leaving Balin with three dead bodies on his hands.
Balin takes off as fast as possible. After three days of riding, he comes to a cross, Written on the cross in gold is the command, It is not for no knight alone to ride toward this castle. As Balin is reading this, he sees an elderly man approach and the man greets him by name. “Balin le Savage, thou passest thy bounds to come this way,” the man says severely, “therefore turn again and it will avail thee.” He promptly vanishes. Probably he was Merlin.
A horn is blown, a sound that belongs to the hunt when an animal is killed. “That blast is blown for me,” Balin says, “for I am the prize and yet am I not dead.” He is welcomed into the castle by a very large party of ladies and knights, and the lady of the castle explains that they have a custom in these parts – always a very alarming conversation opener. No knight may pass by without fighting the knight of the island. They are quite conscientious about this compulsory duel, assuring Balin that he need only fight one man and offering him a better shield. As he leaves the castle, a young woman warns him that he should not have given up his own shield, because now he will not be recognised. Balin tells her that he regrets ever coming here but there is nothing to be done about it now. Whatever is going to happen, will happen.