Chapter 24:

How Merlin told the brothers Balin and Balan where they would find King Rion and all of his host

"Knight," said Merlin, "know that King Rion is near here, where he took shelter with all his host, and is set to go to the wife of the Duke of Baos this night; and know that he will part from his host to go to the lady's castle as soon as it is night, and forty knights will go with him, some armed, some unarmed, and he will come over the top of that knoll, armed with scarlet armor and on the best horse in his company; and this I have told you, because if you have the heart and hardihood to attack and defeat him, I know both of you for such good knights at arms, that you will have the power to do so if you have the heart, and never will you have such honor nor will it come to another two knights as it will to you, for you are able to take him and give him to King Arthur or whomever you please."

When they heard this, they were much happier than before and they said, "How can we believe you? For if we believe that you are truthful, we would not refuse to go there even for the worth of the kingdom."

And Merlin said, "I will tell you what to do. I will go with you until I put you on the road by which the king is to come, and therefore you will be surer of me, and I will be with you until you ambush the king and his company."

And they said that they would go with him under these conditions, and if he chose to deceive them and put them in peril, then he would be the first to find harm because of it, and he would die first.

"Do not doubt me," said Merlin, "for if God counsels me, no evil will come because of me to you nor any knight who helps King Arthur, for without doubt he is a king for whom good fortune is the best possible wish."

After they heard this, they said, "Since you wish to go with us, we will go with you wherever you command and counsel; but, if it happens that the king does not go there, or that you have lied to us, we will kill you."

And Merlin said: "I want you to kill me, if the king does not come by there; but if you lose him through your ineptitude, I should not receive harm therefore."

"Now let us go there," said the knights.

And the two knights went there, the third man on foot, and they would have given him a horse if he had wished it, but he said that he did not want one that time. And thence they went, and traveled so that they arrived at a great mountain thick with trees, and Merlin placed them among the trees near the road until the king came, "and they will find you and your horses here." And they dismounted and let their horses graze, but they did not have anything to eat or drink that night; and so they waited under those trees until night came, and Merlin told them, to comfort them, good and consoling stories of great deeds, and they asked him who he was, and he responded to them, "What good is it to you?"

And they said that they would not ask him any more. And Balin said, "You do not seem to me to be a good man, nor ought anyone to believe what you say, since you do not dare to name yourself."

Merlin said: "Whoever I am, I tell you that my knowledge will be spoken of more after your deaths than your own good knighthood, even though you are now among the best and most renowned knights of the world."

So all three spoke until the dawn broke clear and lovely. And Merlin said, "Now make ready, since the king is coming."

And while Merlin said this, a squire on a horse passed at full gallop, and Balin asked Merlin, "Do you know who that squire is who is running past?"

"Yes," said Merlin, "he is King Rion's messenger, who goes ahead to tell the duke's wife that the king is coming." Merlin said, "By God, if at any time you were good, now show it, since you will gain so much honor this time, that it will never fail you; and if you are cowards, there is nothing which will save you from death, since those who come with the king are not so ignorant that you will not find out whether they are worth anything. This I tell you because in this hour you can make peace in the kingdom of Londres and avenge King Arthur on the one man in the world who loves him least and who is best able to bring evil upon him and do him great damage; and if you fail in this, you will never again have honor."

"Do not be afraid," they said, "for, if God wills, we will achieve it."

Then they got on their horses and took their shields and lances, and they were among the trees, in such a manner that those who passed by on the road would not see them nor suspect their presence. After they had been there a while they heard the thunder of knights, who climbed over the knoll and seemed already on the plateau of the mountain. And the plateau stretched in that area eight miles long and eight wide, on which plateau there was a great grove, very large and lovely, which blocked most of the mountain; and so they waited there a long time after they saw the first few, who came little by little. The host's road to the mountain was very narrow and two horses could not ride side by side upon it, and soon ten knights appeared on the mountain. And the brother knights wanted to go to them, and desired greatly to join battle with them. And Merlin said to them, "Wait a little more, until the king climbs the mountain, and then go to them."

And they said: "By God, we will not."

"Suffer me," said Merlin, "for I will show you what is best."

And they suffered it, and at the end of a long interval, when twenty-two knights were already over the mountain, Merlin said, "Remember what I told you so that you would recognize the king. You see him. Now what you ought to do there will appear, for, from now on, you can spur forward."

At these words the knights waited no longer and let their horses run at the king. And Balin, who went in front, shouted, "King, guard yourself; King, guard yourself."

And he struck him so strongly, that his armor failed him, for he did not carry a shield, and he thrust the lance through his side and the lancehead passed through him, but it was not a mortal wound. And he was broken by the fall and fainted with the great pain he felt, so that he thought to die then. And Balan who followed his track, went to strike where he saw the greatest press, and it was said that he first arrived at a cousin of the king, and wounded him so badly that he thrust the lancehead through his body and dashed him to the earth so that he could not arise. And each one of the brothers struck his blows with the lance and put his hand to his sword, and they began to strike blows on the one side and the other and to unhorse knights, and the others marveled at what they saw them do to them, since it seemed to them that they were more than a hundred, and believed that they could not endure them, since they saw so many knights fall. And when the knights who came after them climbed the mountain, since some came after others, and they saw the battle begun and their comrades fleeing, and some of them lying on the earth dead and wounded, they thought that all the host of King Arthur lay in ambush for them and each one began to flee as fast as he could, and they poured down the mountain, since they thought to escape from death so; but the valley down which they fled was so rocky and so deep, that they fled the doubtful death and took the sure one and fell because they could not save themselves from dying.

So were King Rion's men defeated by these two brothers, so that of that forty, no more than twelve remained. And the king and these men were so ill-treated that there was none among them able to rise. And when the two brothers saw them defeated, they returned to the king to see if he was dead, and they took off his helmet and the coif to give him air; and after he had been so a while, he gave a sigh, as one afflicted, and opened his eyes, and they said to him, "You are a dead man if you do not throw yourself on our mercy."

And they raised their swords and pretended that they were going to cut off his head. And when the king saw the swords over him, he felt terror of death and said to them, "You good knights, do not kill me, for you can gain more by my life than my death, since no good at all can come to you by my death, and there is nothing I would not do to save my life."

And they said, "Then promise us that you will do what we tell you."

And he promised it, and they assured him of his life and went to the others and did the same to them, and promised them the same. While they talked this over, Merlin came to them and said to them, "I would like to speak with you a little. Come this way."

And they did so, and he said to them, "You were fortunate and God did you great honor when by great knighthood you took such a great man as King Rion, and I will tell you what to do, if you wish to recover the love of King Arthur. Move away from here and take these prisoners to the castle of Carabel, and you will find King Arthur there, who comes there to sleep this night with a great part of his host; and I tell you that he awaits the morning's battle with King Rion with great terror, for they have told him what is true, that Rion has many more men than he, so that there is no one in his household so hardy that he does not feel terror. And because the king and his company are now so disconsolate, I tell you that you could never do him service in a time which would give him greater pleasure."

They said, "It is true that we will find him there?"

"Yes, without fail," said Merlin, "and if you ride soon, you will find him about to go to bed."

"Ah, God!" they said, "if we could speak with him before the light comes!"And Merlin said: "If you hasten as I tell you, you will be with him before dawn. So ride now," said Merlin, "for I will be there very quickly."

And the knights returned to the king and the others, and said to them, "We command you by that homage you did us, to go to the castle of Carabel and put yourself in the power of King Arthur, on the part of both of us."

And King Rion said, "I swear to you by the homage I did you, that I can in no fashion ride, for before I arrived there I would be dead."

And they had a litter brought then, and put the king on them, and had the prisoners mount their own beasts and all of them descended to the plain thus. And they rode so hastily, that they arrived at the castle of Carabel, and they called the porter of the castle and said, "You see here prisoners we are bringing to King Arthur; take them away and see that you lose none of them, for we tell you for certain that your lord never felt or saw such great pleasure as this."

Then the porter said that he would do so. And Merlin arrived there before them and found that the king was not yet asleep, but was speaking with King Mark and with four other noblemen with whom he took counsel of war; but he did not know what counsel to take, for they were all very afraid to join battle with King Rion, since he had so much fame for great power. And Merlin said to the king, "Lord, I bring news lovely and agreeable to you and all those in your court. Know that the most powerful enemy you have is prisoner and at your mercy, and he was taken prisoner by the loveliest adventure you ever heard tell of."

And the king turned his head, and saw that it was Merlin who was bringing the news, and he asked him, "Tell me, friend Merlin. Who is this enemy?"

And Merlin said to him: "Certes, King Rion, who is prisoner and comes to your mercy, and now you will see him in your palace."

And the king was frightened because he could not believe it, and he said to Merlin, "Is what you say true?"

"Yes," said Merlin, "and you will see him before a knight can ride a scant league. Go out with these knights and go beautifully arrayed, and then King Rion will be here."

And when King Arthur heard this, he was amazed and said, "Ah, God, may you be blessed, since you have done me such a great honor without my meriting it!"

Then the king sent to the noblemen's lodgings to tell them to hurry, and all then came, and they did not have to wait long before twelve knights entered with the porter who brought King Rion in a litter, since Balin had so commanded them to bring him before the king. And after they entered, they put the litter on the ground, weeping and making great dole. And when King Rion saw himself before King Arthur, he raised himself as best he could, for he was very badly wounded. And he asked which man was King Arthur and they showed him to him. Then he went to him and knelt before him, and said to him, "King Arthur, the Knight of the Two Swords sends me to you and your captivity, who took me by the greatest chance that ever man saw or heard tell of, with the help of only one other knight; and I had twenty well-armed knights with me, and they killed them all save for these twelve you see here, and they would have killed us as well if we had not done them homage and come to enter your prison, and we did so, and now you may do with us what you wish."

And King Arthur received them very well and gave thanks to God for the good he had done him. And King Rion said to him, "Lord, if you do not wish my death, have me cured, since I am badly wounded and I have lost much of my blood."

And the king then commanded that Rion and the other twelve be put in a palace, and he sent for a doctor to heal them, and everything possible was done to make them well most quickly.

Then the king said to Merlin, "Do you know who this knight is who has done me so much good?"

"Yes," said Merlin, "and I will tell you, if you wish."

And the king said: "I am all on edge to know, so much do I wish to find out."

"Now know," said Merlin, "that in your court, before you and your knights, he did you great dishonor when he killed the damsel, and therefore you had him leave your court."

"It grieves me greatly," said the king, "that I threw him out thus, for he has well amended the wrong he did me then, and now it would please me if he came back, and if I said anything to him that grieved him, I would make amends for it in good faith, for he has done more for me than I believed any knight could do."

And Merlin said: "Leave this matter be for now, and take care of another thing you badly need to attend to."

And the king said: "What? For I will do nothing without your counsel."

And Merlin said: "I ask you whether you will join battle tomorrow with King Rion's folk."

"What?" said the king. "Do they dare to attack me, since I have their lord prisoner?"

"Yes," said Merlin, "for they have no reason to believe that Rion is prisoner. And on the other hand, Rion has a brother whose name is Nero, and he is rich and powerful, and he has the host in his charge, so that he will not leave off battle with you, whatever comes to him of it. And therefore you should take counsel about your deeds, because he could bring you ill."

And the king said: "I do not wish to do anything without your counsel."

"You will have to join battle tomorrow with valiant men who are King Rion's people, who number many more men than you have; but without doubt there is no great danger in this, for they will feel very little hardihood when they find out their lord is lost, and therefore they will be defeated in a brief time. But let us make sure that it will be so, and you will win; but there is another man who could damage you a little or a lot."

"Who is it?" said the king.

Merlin said: "King Lot of Orkney, your brother-in-law, who is the best knight in your kingdom who is a king; and he hates you mortally for love of the children you had brought together, for in that time he sent you his own son, whom he begot in your sister, and they brought him to you, and he believes that you killed him with the others; because he and your sister wish ill for you, he had all his noblemen and knights of the kingdom of Orkney assembled, and had them come to Camelot, as if to aid you; but it is not so, for they come in order to compass your destruction; for you will see tomorrow, when you go to battle against those of King Rion, that King Lot will strike at you in the back, when the others strike at you from front, and this will be very sure. Now decide what you will do, for it will be as I tell you, if God does not give you other counsel."

When the king heard this, he was very disturbed, for King Lot was the best knight of the land, and the man Arthur had the highest hopes of, and he said to Merlin, "I do not know what to say, since King Lot dislikes me."

Merlin said: "It will be without a doubt just as I tell you."

And the king said: "Tell me what to do; for if they come at my back and the others from the front, the kingdom of Londres will be cast to the winds and my honor will be denigrated."

Merlin said: "I will tell you what to do. King Lot is a good knight and you ought to advise him in many ways; send to tell him to deal with you well, and to help the kingdom of Londres just as he ought, and to feel piety for the crown and the kingdom, so that its honor will not fail through his failings; and have him know that you want him to hold the front line, and that he must raise your standard and maintain it to the honor of the kingdom, just as a loyal man ought to maintain it and help the honor of his lord; and that if you did him any wrong, you will make amends that he and the great men of the court will take for good. Send to tell him all this, and afterwards take counsel on what he sends to tell you."

The king said: "Where do you think we shall find him?"And Merlin said: "Two short leagues from here, with all his host; and do not wait until you must join battle with the men of King Rion, for thus he will defeat you lightly; so send to him and do not delay, for it will soon be day."

Then the king called two knights and told them what to say to King Lot and to go quickly. And they went to King Lot and spoke on behalf of King Arthur and told Lot all they were commanded. The king responded and said, "Tell your lord that he will not have my help nor any good thing I could do for him, and I will show him as soon as I can that I ought not to help him, but hinder him as much as I can."

And the messengers said: "What, lord, are you on his bad side?"

"Yes," he said, "and in a manner so that I would do all in my power to take him from the land and the crown from his head, for he well merited that; for a man as disloyal as he is ought not to wear a crown, since he did such disloyalty as to kill all the baby boys in his kingdom; and if his noblemen were as good as they ought to be, they would not have him as their lord, but destroy and kill him, just as they ought to do to a king so disloyal and evil; and go now from here and tell him that he will not have peace nor love from me until I have vengeance for my son, the first little creature he ought to have loved as himself, and whom he killed undeservingly; because I will destroy him. This I tell you to tell him."

And they said that they would do so, although it grieved them greatly that they did not get a better answer from him. Then the messengers parted from King Lot, and returned to King Arthur, and told him the message they had gotten from him. And the king felt great grief. And Merlin said to him, "Do not be disconsolate, for our Lord will succor you; since, certes, believe that He did not give you such a great lordship to take you from it so soon, if you have not sinned against Him. And now ride securely and do what you must as best you know how, and I tell you that our Lord will do you the greatest honor that He has done to an emperor in many a day; and I want you to confess all the things for which you are guilty before God, and believe that this is one of the things in the world which can best help you."

Just as Merlin counseled the king, he did. And as soon as it was morning, he counted his knights and found that they were one hundred thousand knights without the men on foot, and he divided them into ten lines. And he asked his noblemen if they ought to go to them or if they should wait for them in that plain, and they said that they would wait there, so as not to tire the horses; and so the king set up his lines, and awaited his enemies, and begged and admonished his vassals to make ready to do their best, so that the honor of the kingdom of Londres would not be confounded that day by some failing of theirs. And they said that they would die on that plain rather than earn dishonor in the battle.

The author turns to tell the tale of what the two brothers Balin and Balan did, and he says that after they gave the prisoners to the porter, they departed from Carabel, and rode until they arrived at a hermitage one league from there. The Knight of the Two Swords was a friend of the hermit, and knocked at his door, and as soon as he recognized them, he opened the door to them and received them very well, and gave them in good faith of what he had: bread and water, for he had nothing else. They were there all that night until the morning, and when the sun was out, they arose and had their squires arm them; and a child who was a relative of the hermit arrived at the place they were arming, and said to them, "I bring you news. On this day will be the greatest battle that ever was in the kingdom of Londres, for the people of King Rion and King Arthur are to meet on the field of battle."

And the knights said: "Do you know this for truth?"

"Yes," he said, "for I saw the lines and the raised standards of battle."

They said: "May God help King Arthur, for certainly it would be a great pity if he were vanquished."

Then they took counsel on what to do. And Balan said to his brother, "This will be done as you wish it."

And Balin said: "I want us to go there; and when we see that King Rion's brother is entering the field, let us go strike at him; and if God wills that we joust with him, I think that he will not escape us so lightly that we will not have whatever contest we wish with him; and if God wills that we have the good luck to put him in King Arthur's hands, I believe he will pardon me and will love me as well as he did before I killed the damsel."

Then they agreed upon that, and parted from the hermit and went to the field where the battle was to be; and they saw the whole field full of ready and armed knights, and the lines placed, and the standards raised and unfurled on both sides, and rich and beautiful pennons of many colors. Nero, King Rion's brother, already knew the news that his brother was prisoner; but he hid it so well from those in his host, that no one knew it, save for one of his favorites who had brought him the news. And that morning the noblemen asked about him. Nero said to them: "Ride securely, for he and I will go in the front line and in the rear; and now comfort yourselves, for you will strike no blow there without him."