Chapter 23:

How the knight who came wounded to the court cut a damsel's head off in the presence of the king, by which King Arthur was quite incensed, and the knight bowed before him, and begged him to pardon him in God's name, and the king denied him

As soon as the knight saw that the king was so angry, he understood that it was greatly evil to have killed the damsel before him. He knelt before the king and said, "Lord, in God's name, mercy, since I certainly know that I erred badly, and in God's name pardon me."

The king said that he would not do so.

"No?" he said. "Then at least give me safe-conduct from your court because I came here."

"Certes," said the king, "this I will in no way do; instead I beg my court to avenge this dishonor, for they are as dishonored as I, for neither for my sake nor for theirs would you leave off, so little you prized us; go now from here, so that you never see me again from now on."

And when the knight saw that he would not find mercy for his crime, he went to his lodgings and carried the head of the damsel to his house, and showed it to his squire and said, "See here the head of the damsel I sought for so long."

"Where did you find her?" said the squire.

The knight told him what had happened to him. Then the squire began to weep and said to his lord, "You did ill, for thereby you lost the companionship of all those of the court and the friendship of the king, and on an evil day was that damsel born."

"Do not grieve," said the knight, "for if I erred against him, I will soon do that which will make him pleased with me, for all men of great stature ought to be pleased by knights and the goodness that is in them."

The squire said: "And what will you do?"

The knight said: "I will bring him the head of the most mortal and redoubtable enemy he has, or I will put him in prison alive."

And the squire said: "Who is this enemy of his?"

"It is King Rion, who is the most powerful man in the world; but although he is powerful, I think that with the help of God I will soon make him come to court at the mercy of King Arthur, and he will pardon me because of it."

"May God give you the power," said the squire.

"I will tell you," said the knight, "what to do. Go to the kingdom of Urberlanda and take the head of this damsel and show it to my friends, and tell them that I avenged myself on the perfidious woman who killed my father, and I did so in a place where many of the best knights of the world were."

The squire said he would do so, but asked where he would find him when he returned.

The knight said, "I believe that you will find me in the court of King Arthur, for I believe, if God wills, that before you come he will be my friend."

Then the knight took his arms and climbed onto his horse and cinched on the other sword with the one he had, so that he bore two swords. And he also took his shield and his lance, and went where he thought to find King Rion with his host. And when they had gone out of the village, the squire left his lord and he went away with his two swords. And because of these two swords which he wore as long as he lived, he lost his first name, which had been Balin the Savage. And his brother, who was also a knight as he was, was named Balan the Savage. And from that Balan came Sir Dionadis the Savage, who was a knight of the Round Table and very renowned and a doer of great deeds. But Balin lost his name because of the two swords, so that he was called the Knight of the Two Swords, and he and his deeds were known by this name after his life's end. And if he had lived longer, he would have been renowned over all those who bore arms in the kingdom of Londres; but it did not please God that he should endure long, and he himself was the occasion of his death, for he wanted to accomplish such great deeds to have the love of the king, so that there was no adventure far or near that he did not seek out to prove himself; and he did so much in that first year that it will be spoken of forever, and, because he did not fear anyone he found, he died; for he found his brother and fought with him and each killed other unknowingly. And this was a great shame, for both were good knights, and in the kingdom of Londres there were never again two such brothers.

Returning to the history, it says that when the knight left the palace, the king remained very troubled by the great dishonor which he had done him, and he asked his noblemen what they would do for the righting of the laws of his court, which had been broken; for he did not think that there was any man so foolish in the world who would dare do such a thing before him nor before as many good men as were there, nor was there anything in the world so precious that a man should suffer so for it.

Then a knight of Ireland arose, who took himself for one of the best knights of the world, and so he was; but he was not as good as he thought he was. And this man felt great envy of this Knight of the Two Swords, because he had fulfilled the adventure and because he himself had failed in it, and he thought that it had been by some cheap trick and he could not believe that another was better than he. And he said to the king, "Lord, if it pleases you, I will avenge you and your court of the dishonor that knight did us."

And the king said that it pleased him greatly, and that he would be grateful if it was done, "for I wish," said the king, "for everyone to keep to this custom." The knight was very grateful, and went to his lodgings, armed himself as best he could, got onto his horse, took his shield and lance, and went as quickly as he could after Balin. Once the knight had left, the king had the damsel's body taken up, and the offices of the holy Church done for her. In that hour Merlin entered the court, and as soon as he saw the damsel who had brought the sword, he said, "Ah, damsel, cursed be she who sent you here and cursed be you who came, for the court was made much poorer by your coming!"

And he turned toward the king and said to him, "King Arthur, know truly that this damsel is the most disloyal to have entered your court in some time, and I will show you why; because she had a brother who was a very good and hardy knight, and was younger than she, and she loves a knight, the cruellest and the worst in the kingdom of Londres. And it happened a year ago, that they chanced upon each other and they fought together, so that the brother killed her lover, and she felt great grief, and swore that she would never rest until she had him killed. And she is a great friend of the lady of the Island of Bellon, and she begged her to make a way for her to kill him who had killed her lover. She said that it pleased her to do so. And she cinched on the sword the damsel brought here, and said to her, "'He who will take the sword from you must be the best knight of his land and the most loyal, and utterly stainless, and now you must ask for him wherever you find him, and know that he who takes the sword will kill your brother by force of knighthood and so you will be avenged of this great grief you have received.'

"And so this perfidious damsel received the sword by which her brother was to receive death; and so it will be, for very soon he will receive death from that sword and that is not the only evil to come from the sword, since two knights who are truly the best and the boldest of all the kingdom of Londres will die because of it; and now look, lord, at what ill chance came here and will still come because of this evil damsel. Certes, it seems that in truth she deserves death more than the one who died here."

And when the king heard this, he was quite amazed at the damsel's lack of loyalty and her great cruelty. When the damsel heard this, she was very frightened, even more because she saw that the king held with Merlin, and she departed from them as quickly as she could. So they remained talking, and the king said to Merlin, "What can we do about that knight who appeared so briefly in my court, who killed that damsel before us all?"

"Lord," said Merlin, "do not speak of this more; for it will mean great harm if he dies for such a thing, since he is a marvellously good man and good knight. In these ten years no knight will die whose death will grieve you more. I beg you in God's name, lord, to pardon him this crime; for he is such a man that he well merits all he has done to be pardoned, and if you knew him as well as I do, you would esteem him so highly that the only evil would be what you said to him. And you, lords noblemen, I beg you not to love him ill, for know for certain that he will make amends to the court so completely for this crime, that he will show that he ought to have the sword over any man who lives here."

And the king said: "Ah, Merlin, tell me who he is in God's name, for it seems to me that you know him."

And Merlin said to him: "I tell you that his name is Balin the Savage, and I tell you in truth that he is the best knight there is now in the world. And therefore I shall grieve for his death, which will come to him sooner than the kingdom of Londres would wish."

And when the noblemen heard this, they pardoned him all the ill-will which had they had felt before. And they begged God to keep him from evil, and the king felt less ill-will toward him than before, for he believed what Merlin told him, and said to him that what he had so rashly said grieved him. And Merlin said, "Ah, lord, you agree too late. Know that he will live with you only a very short time."

So they and the others spoke of the knight. And the king said to Merlin, "What can you tell me about King Rion? Could he do me harm?"

"King," said Merlin, "ride securely, for our Lord does you greater honor than you think; and He, who put you in the midst of such honor, will not depose you from it so soon, for He will help you in all places, if He need not wait for you."

So Merlin heartened the king, and chastised him in the matter of the knight, and the king said that what Merlin told him grieved him greatly, but since it was already said there was no reason to talk about it further.

When the knight of Ireland went after Balin, he found Balin's track as he left the village, but he did not know for certain that it was he; but his adventure carried him by that same road that the other rode upon, and he rode until he reached him at the foot of the mountain, and shouted at him from as far away as he thought Balin could hear him, and said to him, "Sir Knight, come back here!"

And when Balin heard this, he turned back; for he understood that he had to joust, and said to him, "Knight, before you joust with me, tell me who you are."

And he said: "I am of the household of King Arthur, who sent me here to do you harm, and I challenge you."

"Certes," said Balin, "it grieves me much that you are of his household; for, if I kill you, I will be guiltier than I am now, and thus I will bring another great crime upon myself."

Then the knight dressed himself against him, and brought his shield over his chest and lowered his lance, and the other did not wait longer and rode as fast as his horse could carry him, and they encountered each other very strongly. And Balin put his shield before him and broke the knight's lance on his breastplate, but the knight did not deliver another such blow nor did he move from the saddle; and Balin wounded him so strongly, that his shield and cuirass failed him, and the lance pierced him so deeply and cruelly that a great part of the body passed through him, and he was dashed to earth over the horse's neck; and when Balin removed his lance, he extended it carefully and turned against him and drew his sword, thinking that he was alive, and when he came to him, he found him dead and it grieved Balin greatly because he had been of the household of King Arthur, and he thought about what he should do about it. As he was thus thinking, he saw a damsel coming as fast as she could spur her horse, and when she came to where the knight lay, she got down then, since she did not think he was dead; and when she saw him dead, she made such great dole, that the knight who looked at her said that he had never seen such, and she fainted and came back to her senses; and when she could speak, she said to Balin, "Ah, sir knight, two hearts and two bodies you killed in one, and two souls you have lost in one."

Then she took the knight's sword from its scabbard and said, "Lover, I must go after you and it seems to me that I greatly delay; and if death was as delightful for you as it is for me, then never did two people die in such great pleasure."

Then she drove the sword through her breast, and Balin who wanted to take the sword from her could not do it before she had done so. When Balin saw this adventure, he did not know what to do, for he had never seen anything at which he had so marveled, and he said, "By God, this damsel loved loyally, more than ever woman loved."

While he was thinking about this chance, and what he ought to do about both of them, he looked toward the mountain and saw his brother Balan, come out armed from head to foot, a squire with him. And when he saw him coming, he went toward him and told him that he was very welcome; and the other who knew him by his arms, took off his helmet and went to him, and embraced him and wept for joy with him and said to him, "Brother, I never thought to see you, and in God's name, tell me how you got out of prison."

And he told him: "The daughter of the king of Urberlanda who held me prisoner liberated me, and if she had not done so, even now I would not have gotten out. But tell me what adventure brought you here."

"Certainly, they told me in the castle of the Four Stones that you were free and had been seen in King Arthur's court; and because of that I went there hurriedly, to see whether I could find you; but tell me if you really were in King Arthur's house."

And Balin told him: "I left there just now."

And he told him all that had passed, and that he would willingly have stayed in the company of so many good men, if what had occurred had not; and that after he had left there, he had killed that knight, and how that damsel had killed herself for him. Then Balan said that she had loved him loyally, and that because of her loyalty, he would never fail lady or damsel who had need of his help. And Balin said to his brother, "What can we do with these two bodies?"

"Certes," said Balan, "I do not know what to counsel you."

They remaining thus, a dwarf arrived who had left the city and come as fast as his hack could bring him, and when he arrived there and saw the bodies, he knew them and began to make great dole and to beat his palms together and tear out his hair. And after he had made his dole for some time, he said to the knights, "Tell me which of you killed this knight."

And Balin said: "Why do you ask?"

And the dwarf said: "Because I want to know."

Balin said: "I killed him; but this was in defense of myself; but, God help me, it grieves me greatly."

And the dwarf said: "Then tell me the truth about this lady, since you told me about the knight."

And he recounted how she had killed herself for love of the knight.

"Certainly," said the dwarf, "this is a great evil, for the knight was one of the most prized of the world, and he is the son of the king of Ireland, and in his death you seek your own; for he is of such good lineage and born of good knights that no one if not God could deliver you from death as soon as those of his lineage found out, for they are such men that they would seek you throughout the world."

And Balin said: "I do not know what will come of this, but his death grieves me greatly, but not for fear of his lineage, but for love of King Arthur whose knight he was."

And while the knights spoke of this with that dwarf, King Mark came out from the mountain, who afterwards married Iseo, she who had hair like gold, as you will be told later, for we really must recount it as an adventure of the Holy Grail. And the king had been king only a short while, and he was seventeen years old, and went to King Arthur to help in him his war with King Rion, for all his land obeyed the kingdom of Londres. And when King Mark arrived at the place where the bodies lay and found out the truth as the knights told it to him, he said that he had never heard tell of a lady who loved so loyally and that because of her loyalty he would do honor to both of them.

Then King Mark commanded those noblemen who came with him to go and seek a sepulchre, the most beautiful they could find, and to carry it there, and he said that he would not leave until they were interred there in that place where they died, and he then commanded his tent to be raised. And his men went to find a sepulchre and found one in a church, and carried it there. And the king had the bodies of both placed there and had letters engraved at the foot of the sepulchre which said: "Here lies the Calandor, son of the king of Ireland, and next to him lies Calamesa, his lover, who killed herself for him when she saw him dead." And the king had a very rich and beautiful cross with many precious stones put on the head of the monument, and after this was done, when the king wanted to leave, Merlin arrived in the semblance of a mountain man and began to write on the head of the monument letters of gold which said: "On this plain the battle of the two friends who will love each other best in their time will be joined, and that battle will be marvelous, more than any of those before and after it, without the death of either man." After this was done, he wrote two names in the middle of the monument: one Lanzarote and one Tristan. And after this was done, the king looked at what was on the monument, and marveled at the peasant for being able to do such a thing, and asked him who he was.

"King," he said, "this I will not tell you nor will you know until that day when Tristan the loyal lover will be prisoner with his beloved. Then you will be told such news of me as will grieve you."

Then he said to Balin: "Be troubled, knight, because of your great and dolorous pain, that you suffered this lady to kill herself."

And he said: "Nothing could trouble me more than not being able to take the sword from her hand."

"You will not," said Merlin, "be so lazy as you were here, when you strike the dolorous stroke, because of which the three kings will live in poverty and trouble before two years have passed; and know that never was such an evil or an ugly stroke given by man, for much pain and many troubles will come of it. And it seems to me that we receive in you primarily Eve, of whose works came pain and great wretchedness, so that all of us toil and slave from day to day; and just so will those three kingdoms be poor and ravaged because of the blow you will strike; and they will not have this trouble because you are the best knight of the world, but because you will break the command which no other man has broken, for you will wound by that blow the best and most loyal knight in the world and the most beloved of God. And if you knew when that pain would be inflicted and how dearly it will be bought, you would say that never had such great evil come upon the land through one man. And the hour will come in which you would prefer to be dead rather than strike such a blow."

Then the knight asked him who he was, who told him the things which were to come thus. Merlin said, "You may not know at this time, but all will happen to you as I have said."

And Balin said: "God does not wish for such things as you said to be true; and if I thought that such an ill-chanced blow was to be struck by me, I would kill myself to make you a liar, and it would be quite right to do so, since my death would be worth more than my life."

After he had said this, Merlin left them, so that when King Mark and the others looked for him, they saw nothing; and he had not gone far when he found Blaise, and Blaise received him very well, and Merlin him again, and he said, "Now I will be quit of what I promised you in Urberlanda, for afterwards I thought a great deal on how I could bring your book to an end. Go to Camelot and wait for me there, and when I return from witnessing the ill-chance of King Rion, and from seeing how the wretched knight will prove himself in that battle, I will return to you."

And Blaise asked him, "When will this be?"

And Merlin said to him: "Before a month is over, if the fates do not lie to me, you will find me in Camelot."

Then both departed, and each went as to his liking; but when Merlin departed from King Mark and the two brothers, the two brothers turned as one to go to King Rion's host. And King Mark went to the city, but at his departure he asked often what Balin's name was. But Balan, who did not want his brother to be known, because he had enemies, said, "The two swords he bears are a demonstration of his name, and his name is the Knight of the Two Swords."

And the king said that that was right, since he bore two swords. So they parted from each other, and the two knights went to King Rion's host, and did not go far before they found Merlin, who walked upon the road; but he was in a different semblance than when he had been with them before, and they did not recognize him. And he stopped and said to them, "Where are you going?"

Balin said: "What good will it do you or us to tell you; what value has it for you?"

Merlin said: "That if you dare to do a thing I will tell you about, never will such honor come to two knights in such a short time, so that it will always be spoken of."

And when Balin heard this, he asked to test him, "What do you know of that which we ride for?"

Merlin said: "I know that you ride seeking King Rion's harm to the best of your power; but whatever you think to do will avail you nothing compared to what I will show you, if you have the hardihood to do it. And certainly, you could finish it easily with your excellent knighthood, if your hearts do not fail you."

And when they heard this, they marveled and said to him, "Now show us how this can be, and how we can do it and earn such great honor, and if we see that it may happen, we will do it." And Merlin said, "I will tell you how, if you wish to do it."