Sir Balin was the knight who originally maimed the Fisher King, setting in motion many of the later events surrounding the Grail Quest. He was a powerful, righteous but flawed individual, prone to fits of rage, and the centre of much tragedy.
Balin was born in the land of Northumberland. He was prone to fits of uncontrollable rage, for which he earned a few nicknames, the most renowned of which was 'Le Savage'.
Balin served as a knight under King Arthur and, in a fit of anger, killed a cousin of Arthur's. As punishment he was imprisoned in Camelot's dungeons, but due to his renown and the support of the nobility, he was released after only half a year.
As Balin le Savage walked free for the first time from the dungeons of Camelot, a damsel entered Arthur’s court and asked if any knight was pure enough to pull the sword from her scabbard. Despite feeling confident in his abilities, Balin hesitated to accept the challenge due to his wretched appearance. However, when all the willing knights who were present failed to draw the sword, and the damsel turned to leave, Balin called out to her and asked to try, as the other lords had. The damsel, unconvinced that such a shabby looking man would be so pure but weary of watching the other knights fail, granted Balin's request.
Balin approached the damsel with determination and, gripping the scabbard with his other hand, easily drew the blade. This feat surprised the witnessing King Arthur and the other nobles, and many knights looked upon Balin with disdain. The damsel praised Balin's purity and requested the return of the sword, but he refused, stating that it was rightfully his and would only be taken by force. The damsel warned Balin that if he kept the sword, he would use it to slay his best friend and ultimately be destroyed. Despite this warning, Balin insisted on keeping the sword, stating that he would gladly take the chance, to keep such a symbol of his purity.
At this point, Balin asked for his horse and armor in order to take his leave of Arthur. However, Arthur begged him to stay, now realising Balin's virtue, and offered to advance him within Camelot's order. Balin, though grateful for the offer, insisted on leaving and asked for Arthur's grace. Arthur, disappointed by Balin's departure, asked him to return soon and make amends for any wrongs he may have done. As Balin left Camelot, many of the knights of the court whispered that he had not succeeded through strength, but through magic.
As Balin le Savage, also known as the Knight with the Two Swords, was preparing to depart from Camelot, he was confronted by his old enemy, the Lady of the Lake. She accused Balin of killing her brother and demanded his head in return. Balin, however, explained that she was an evil woman who had caused him harm. Despite this, Arthur scolded Balin, angry that he had killed a guest in his presence to whom he was beholden. Arthur stated that Balin should have refrained from harming the Lady of the Lake while in his presence, and ordered him to leave the court in shame.
According to the Lady of the Lake, he had slain her brother, a noble and honorable knight, and she had caused the death of his mother by burning her at the stake. Balin searched for the Lady of the Lake for three years in retribution.
Balin took the Lady of the Lake's head to his hostelry, where he met his sad squire. Together, they left for Northumberland, where Balin instructed the squire to tell his friends of his adventures and the defeat of his enemy. The squire, feeling responsible for Arthur's wrath, decided to join Balin on his quest to destroy their shared enemy, King Rience, in the hopes of winning back Arthur's favor. Before parting, Balin told the squire that they would meet again in Arthur's court.
Sir Lanceor, one of the knights at Arthur's court, became jealous of Balin le Savage's feat and set out to punish him for displeasing the king. Meanwhile, Merlin was informed of the events that had transpired. The powerful wizard was saddened by Balin's fate, as he knew that Balin was a strong and brave knight who would bring great honor and kindness to Arthur. However, he feared that Balin would not be able to withstand the challenges that lay ahead.
As Balin walked along a mountain path, he heard the sound of a knight shouting and turned to face his challenger. It was Sir Lanceor, who had come from Arthur's court to seek revenge for the slight that Balin had inflicted upon him. Balin pleaded with Lanceor to turn back, stating that many men had regretted confronting their enemies in the past. However, Lanceor was determined to prove his worth and challenged Balin to a joust.
The two knights faced off, their spears at the ready. In a moment of great speed and force, Lanceor struck Balin's shield, shattering his spear. But Balin was undeterred and struck back, piercing through Lanceor's shield, hauberk, and body, killing him instantly. As Balin turned, sword in hand, he saw that Lanceor lay dead at his feet.
From afar, Balin saw a damsel riding fast towards him, and as she approached she saw that Lanceor was dead and mourned his passing. She cursed Balin and took the sword that he had used to slay Lanceor. Balin was grieved by the damsel's sorrow and attempted to take the sword from her, but she would not let it go. Suddenly, she fell upon it, killing herself. Balin was heavy with guilt and shame, as he knew that the fair damsel had taken her own life out of love.
As he turned away from the scene, Balin saw the arms of his brother Balan, who had heard of his release from prison. The two brothers removed their helms and embraced each other, weeping for joy and pity. Balin told his brother about his adventures, including his plan to join King Rience in his siege of Terrabil. Balan agreed to join him and the two set out together.
As they prepared to leave, a dwarf rode up from Camelot and saw the bodies of Lanceor and the damsel. He mourned their deaths and asked Balin who was responsible. Balin told him the sad story, which caused him great grief, and vowed to love all women more out of respect for the damsel's memory. The dwarf warned Balin that he had caused harm to himself, as his kin would surely chase him. Balin replied that he did not fear their pursuit, but was saddened by the fact that he had displeased King Arthur.
Just then, King Mark arrived on the scene and saw the bodies. As he listened to the story of their deaths, he vowed to build a rich tomb for them.
As King Mark prepared the tomb for Lanceor and the damsel, Merlin appeared to Balin. The wise wizard accused Balin of doing evil by not saving Colombe's life, to which Balin swore that Colombe had killed herself too suddenly and he was unable to save her. Merlin then prophesied that because of this, Balin would be doomed to deliver the most dolorous stroke against the truest and most honorable knight, and that he would harm three kingdoms for a period of twelve years. Balin lamented this fate, saying that if he had known that such things would come to pass, he would have taken his own life in order to prove Merlin wrong. With these words, Merlin vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.
Balin and Balan then took their leave of King Mark, who asked for Balin's name. Balan introduced himself, saying that he bore two swords and thus might be called the "Knight with the Two Swords". And with this, the two brothers set out on their journey.
As the dawn broke, Merlin led Balin and Balan through the wood to the highway, where they found King Rience's men waiting for them. The two brothers were armed and ready, their swords drawn and their shields at the ready. Merlin, disguised as a simple traveler, approached them and asked where they were headed. The knights were wary of the old man, and refused to answer his question. But Merlin knew their destination, for he had heard that they were riding to face King Rience in battle. He offered his help, knowing that they would need it to defeat the powerful ruler.
Balin, recognizing the wisdom of Merlin's words, agreed to follow his counsel. And so, the old man led them to a quiet spot in the woods, where he tethered their horses to the grass and bid them rest. At midnight, he woke them and made them ready for the fight to come. Rience was nearby, on his way to meet Lady de Vance. Merlin showed them the way to intercept him on the narrow path, and there they met the king and his men.
The two brothers fought with all their might, striking down Rience and his forty men with fierce blows. The rest of his men fled in terror, leaving the brothers victorious. Rience, wounded and defeated, begged for their mercy, and they granted it, carrying him on a litter to the gates of Camelot. When Arthur asked how he had been captured, Rience told him of the two marvelous knights who had bested him - the Knight with the Two Swords and his brother. Arthur did not recognize the names, but Merlin revealed that they were none other than Balin and Balan. The old man lamented their fate, for he knew that their time was short, and that they would soon be gone from the world. But Arthur pitied Rience, for he knew that the king did not deserve his kindness, and he vowed to do more for him in the days to come.
As the battle drew to a close, the mighty brothers Balin and Balan rode to join King Arthur's side in the fight against Nero near Terrabil. Their swordsmanship was beyond compare, and all who witnessed it were in awe, some even suggesting that the two knights had descended from the heavens or emerged from the depths of hell. King Arthur himself declared that he had never seen such skilled warriors, and he longed for Balin to remain by his side.
But as the dust settled on the battlefield, the wise Merlin spoke to the king, predicting that they would soon hear news of Balin, but that Balan would soon depart. Despite the joy of victory, a shadow of sadness hung over the court, for all knew that the loss of such skilled knights would be deeply felt. Yet even as they mourned, the heroes of the realm remained vigilant, ready to defend their kingdom against any threat that may arise.
As they continued on their journey, Balin and the damsel came upon a castle. As they entered, the portcullis fell behind them and the damsel was seized. Balin, however, was able to climb to the top of a tower and jump over the castle walls into the ditch, ready to fight. The men of the castle explained that they needed the blood of a maid to cure their Lady, and they agreed to allow the damsel to stay. Balin and the damsel rested for the night before continuing on their journey the next morning.
Balin and the damsel rode through the forest, seeking adventure and purpose. Along the way, they encountered a knight called Sir Herlews who was hunting. Balin was unwilling to reveal his own business, but the knight insisted on knowing. When Balin finally relented and told him, the knight decided to join them on their quest. However, as they journeyed on, the knight was slain by an invisible foe. Balin and a hermit buried the knight, and upon the tomb they found a prophecy involving Gawaine and Pellinore. Balin le Savage, also known as the Knight with the Two Swords, was the brother of Balan and both were renowned for their valor and strength as knights. It was said that Merlin had foreseen that the two brothers, with their great power and skill with weapons, would one day defeat the eleven rebel kings.
Balin rode into the forest with the damsel at his side, seeking out the invisible knight known as Garlon. They were hosted by a Gentleman, who told them of his son's injury at the hands of Garlon. Balin revealed that Garlon had caused him much shame and offense, and was determined to face him.
The gentleman told them that Garlon would be attending a feast at the castle of King Pellam in twenty days' time. Balin and the damsel set out for Pellam's lands and were welcomed into the castle. Despite being offered robes, Balin refused to relinquish his sword, explaining that it was custom in his country for a knight to always keep his weapon.
At the feast, Balin noticed Garlon looking at him, and the invisible knight approached and struck him with the back of his hand. Balin rose to his feet and, with a single blow, cut off Garlon's head. He then took the truncheon from the damsel and used it to pierce Garlon's body, calling for his host to bring blood to heal the gentleman's son.
As the knights rose from their seats, anger in their eyes, Pellam declared that Balin would pay with his life for his actions. With a fierce weapon, he struck at Balin, shattering his sword as he tried to defend himself. Desperate, Balin fled through the castle's chambers, searching for any weapon he could find. Eventually, he stumbled upon a rich chamber with a bed and discovered a strange spear. Clutching it tightly, he struck at Pellam, causing him to fall to the ground. At the same time, the castle shook and crumbled around them, trapping Balin under the rubble for three days. Despite the destruction, Balin remained motionless, unable to move. (2,xv)
As the wise magician Merlin came to his aid, Balin was lifted from the rubble of the fallen castle. The old man offered him a steed to take him from that cursed land, for his own horse had been lost in the chaos. Balin inquired after his damsel, but was told by Merlin that she too had met her end. The great wizard also revealed to him the truth about the strange spear that had caused so much destruction and suffering. It was a weapon of great power, descended from Joseph of Arimathea and destined to be wielded by the noble Galahad. The two men parted ways, knowing that they would not meet again in this mortal realm.
Balin rode on, passing through the fair lands and cities of the kingdom. Everywhere he went, he saw death and destruction, and the survivors cursed him, blaming him for the terrible stroke that had ravaged their lands. Despite this, he could not turn back, for he knew that vengeance would eventually come for him. And so he rode on, alone and tormented, bearing the weight of his guilt and sorrow.
Eight days later, as he rode through a fair forest in a verdant valley, Balin came upon a tower where a knight sat, mourning. Balin asked what was amiss and offered his aid, but the knight lamented that his fair lady had broken her promise to meet him at noon, and now he intended to slay himself. Balin, determined to prevent such a tragic end, leaped upon the knight and begged him to reconsider.
The knight, recognizing Balin as the Knight with the Two Swords, the most prowess of hand living, reluctantly agreed to hold off on his suicide and instead asked for Balin's help in finding his lady. The two rode for six miles to the castle of Hermel, where the lady was rumored to be.
Balin searched from chamber to chamber, but the lady was nowhere to be found. It was only when he stumbled upon a garden that he discovered her, sleeping in the arms of a foul knight. Balin traced his way back to the knight and brought him to the scene, hoping to prove the lady's unfaithfulness and give the knight the courage to leave such a false woman.
But the knight, Garnish, was shocked by the revelation and killed both the lady and her lover in a fit of rage. He cursed Balin for showing him such a cruel truth, but Balin argued that he only wanted to spare Garnish the pain of a broken heart. Tragically, Garnish could not bear the pain and took his own life as well.
Balin, seeing the destruction he had unwittingly caused, left the castle quickly, hoping to avoid any accusations that he had slain everyone there
Three days later, as he journeyed on his quest, Balin came across a cross with golden letters inscribed upon it, reading: "It is not for any knight alone to ride towards this castle." An old, hoar gentleman appeared, warning Balin that he had exceeded his bounds and advising him to turn back for his own good. But before Balin could respond, the gentleman vanished and a horn blew, signaling the death of a beast. Though he was still alive, Balin realized that the horn had sounded for him.
Despite the ominous warning, Balin was welcomed by a hundred ladies and many knights, who celebrated his arrival with dancing and music. They brought him to the castle, where the lady of the castle told him that, according to the custom of the castle, he must joust with a knight who keeps an island. Balin criticized the custom, but the lady told him that he would not be allowed to pass unless he fulfilled this requirement. Despite his weariness from travel and his tired horse, Balin declared himself ready for the challenge.
A knight offered to lend Balin a larger shield, saying that his own was not sufficient. And so, armed and prepared, Balin rode out to face the knight who kept the island, determined to prove his worth and fulfill the custom of the castle.
Balin and his horse boarded a great boat and set sail for the island. Upon arriving, a damsel asked Balin why he had left behind his shield, which had made him known, and why he now bore an unknown shield, which would put him in danger. She lamented that it was a pity, for there was no one else alive with his prowess and hardiness.
Balin apologized for coming to this country and causing such trouble, but he was ashamed to turn back and instead resolved to take whatever adventure came his way. He made sure to arm himself well and blessed himself before mounting his horse once more. And with determination in his heart, Balin rode forth to face whatever challenges lay ahead.
From the castle before him rode out a knight, all clad in red armor. With their spears, they charged at each other with such force that they both fell to the ground and swooned. Already weary from his journey, Balin was bruised and struggled to rise, but the red knight came at him with a sword, striking him through the shield and taming his helm. Balin, in turn, struck the knight with an unhappy word, throwing him to the ground.
The two knights fought on, with many steps and continuations, until they were both severely wounded and bleeding. During a brief respite, Balin asked the knight's name and was stunned to realize that it was his own brother, Balan. Overcome with emotion, Balin fainted. When he awoke, he found Balan lying next to him.
Balin lamented their tragic fate and said that all the world would speak of their story. He cursed the knight who had taken his shield and wished to destroy the castle for its ill customs. The lady of the tower came to them and asked that they be buried there and receive the last sacrament. Balin agreed, saying that when their story was remembered and their tomb was seen by knights and gentlemen, all would pray for them.
In the end, it was Balan who died first, followed by Balin on the midnight after. The lady of the tower buried them both richly, in the best manner she could, but she did not write Balin's name on the tomb, as he had not told her what it was. And thus, the two brothers were laid to rest, their story a tale of bravery and sorrow that would be remembered by all who heard it.
In the morning, Merlin came to the island and, seeing the tomb of the two brothers, added Balin's name to it in golden letters. The lady of the tower had not known Balin's name before, but Merlin inscribed it on the tomb, along with the words: "Here lieth Balin le Savage, who was the Knight with the Two Swords, and he that smote the Dolorous Stroke."
Thus, Balin's name and deeds were memorialized for all to see, and his legacy as a brave and valiant knight would be remembered for generations to come.