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While Arthur's in London, a knight arrives and tells him that King Ryons has amassed a large force and is burning and pillaging the lands of Arthur's vassals. Shmoop smells trouble.
Arthur calls a council of all his men. During the council, a woman arrives saying she comes as a messenger from Lady Lyle of Avillion. When the lady raises her mantle, everyone sees that she's wearing a sword.
When Arthur inquires why she wears the sword, she tells everyone that she must wear it until a knight without treachery and treason draws it from the scabbard. Okay, what's with all these swords?
All the knights at the council try to remove it, but none can (big surprise).
As the lady is leaving, a poorly-attired Northumbrian knight named Balyn asks to be allowed to attempt to pull the sword despite his poor appearance, and succeeds.
The lady asks for her sword back, but Balyn refuses. Then the lady tells him that it's for his own good that she asks for the sword back, because if he keeps it, he will kill the person most dear to him with it. We bet he wasn't expecting that.
In a moment worthy of a soap opera, the Lady of the Lake arrives in court and demands the favor Arthur promised her in exchange for Excalibur (the sword he got from the lake): she wants the head (i.e. death) of Balyn or the sword-lady, claiming that Balyn killed her brother and the sword-lady killed her father.
When Balyn finds out the Lady of the Lake demanded his head, he kills her, disgracing Arthur and getting himself exiled from court.
So an Irish knight named Sir Launceor asks permission to be allowed to pursue and fight with Balyn to avenge Arthur's disgrace, and Arthur grants it. Launceor and Balyn fight, and Balyn kills Launceor.
A lady riding in pursuit of Launceor comes upon the scene and declares herself Launceor's love, then falls upon his sword, killing herself. Goodness, will the drama ever end?
Balyn's brother Balan (gee, that's not confusing at all) rides onto the scene, and the two agree to head off together in pursuit of King Ryons so that Balyn can get back into Arthur's good graces, which is going to take some serious groveling.
Meanwhile, King Mark of Cornwall arrives and erects a rich tomb for the two lovers, Sir Launceor and Lady Columbe. While he's doing this, Merlin arrives and prophesies that Launcelot du Lake and Trystram will fight a battle in this place. Who? What? Hey, at least we know the where.
Merlin tells Balyn that because of the death of Lady Columbe, he will strike a "stroke most dolorous," through which three kingdoms will be destroyed.
When Mark asks Balyn's name, Balan tells him to call him "the Knight with the two Swords," because – you guessed it – he carries two (his own, and the one he refused to give back to the sword-lady).
Balyn and Balan ride off in pursuit of King Ryons. Along the way they meet Merlin, who offers to help them catch the king. The three take shelter in a grove along the roadside.
When Ryons passes by on his way to a rendezvous with a lover, Balyn and Balan leap out and strike down forty of his men, then capture him, piece of cake.
They send Ryons to Arthur as a gift from the Knight with the Two Swords and his brother, whom Merlin explains to Arthur are Balyn and Balan. Hopefully that will be enough to make Arthur a little less ticked off.
Ah, if only it were that simple. Soon, Ryons' seriously angry brother, Nero, attacks Arthur at Castle Terrable. Luckily, Balyn and Balan are around to fight bravely in the battle.
When Lot (remember him? Morgause's husband?) finds out that Arthur has just fought with and killed Nero, he takes advantage of the fact that Arthur's forces are tired and mounts an attack.
But King Pellynore kills King Lot during the fight, and the rest of his alliance flee and are later killed too.
Unfortunately, this does not exactly sit well with Lot's son, Gawain, who vows to take revenge on Pellynore for his father's death.
Merlin warns Arthur never to part with the scabbard of Excalibur, for as long as he wears it, he can't lose a drop of blood. But Arthur makes the mistake of giving it to his sister Morgan le Fay, who substitutes a fake one in its place.
Merlin prophesies that Arthur will fight a great battle near Salisbury with his own son, Mordred.
This rather upsetting news causes Arthur to become ill, and he pitches some tents in a meadow where he tries to rest. Nothing like a campout to help you cope with the fact that your son just might kill you one day.
A sorrowful knight passes by on a horse and Arthur asks him to stop, but he refuses. When Balyn passes by a few minutes later, Arthur asks him to bring the knight to him.
Balyn finds the knight with a lady and promises him safety if he'll come with him. On the way back to Arthur, however, an invisible knight kills the sorrowful one with a spear.
Balyn promises to continue this knight's quest and avenge his death, whom the dying knight informs Balyn is named Garlonde. Is it just Shmoop, or are these dudes way too into avenging things?
Balyn and the lady continue into a forest, where they meet with another knight, Peryne de Mounte Belyarde, who joins their party. Unfortunately, Garlonde kills him, too.
Balyn constructs a tomb for Peryne. The next morning, he and the lady find the following written on it, in gold lettering: "Sir Gawain shall revenge his father's death on King Pellynore." Okay, good to know.
Balyn and the lady ride into a castle where the custom is to bleed young women in the hope that the blood of a maiden will heal the lady of the castle. The lady agrees to be bled, but her blood doesn't work. Oh well. There's always another young lady.
Then the lady and Balyn lodge with a gentleman whose son has been badly wounded by Sir Garlonde and cannot be healed except with some of Sir Garlonde's blood.
The gentleman tells Balyn he can find Sir Garlonde at a feast held by King Pellam of Lystenoyse, so they immediately take off in that direction.
Once there, Balyn sees Garlonde, who slaps him for staring. So Balyn kills Garlonde. Boy, does he have a temper.
The knights of the castle and King Pellam set upon Balyn for killing Garlonde, who turns out to be King Pellam's brother. Oops. That probably would have been useful information.
After a stroke from King Pellam causes Balyn's own sword to break, he runs through the castle until he comes to a richly-decorated chamber in which someone lies in a bed.
From the bedside table, Balyn grabs a strange spear. He uses it to kill King Pellam, which prompts the whole castle to crumble, killing or trapping everyone inside.
Luckily, Merlin's there to rescue Balyn from the castle, then tells him that he has struck the "Dolorous Stroke," for which vengeance will fall upon him. Balyn, it seems, can't do anything right.
Next, Balyn meets with a knight weeping by a tree, and finds out that the man, Sir Garnyssh, is sad because his lady has failed to meet him as promised. The two of them ride to the castle where she lives.
When Balynx goes inside, he finds the woman in the arms of another man – yikes – and brings Garnyssh there to see. Garnyssh promptly kills the two lovers, then kills himself.
Balyn rides away quickly to avoid blame for the deaths. He decides to ride into another castle, despite being warned away from it by a sign that says "it is not for no knight alone to ride toward this castel," as well as an old man telling him to turn away. Well this can't be good.
Once he reaches the castle, the chief lady tells him that the custom is that all entering knights must joust with a knight who refuses to let anyone on his island.
Fearless, hot-headed Balyn agrees. Before leaving for the island, he trades shields with another knight who thinks Balyn's is too small.
The Knight of the Island is actually Balan, who fails to recognize his brother because he's now carrying the wrong shield.
The two knights fight a fierce battle, disarming one another completely and wounding one another fatally (ugh, this just gets sadder and sadder).
After both knights have fallen, Balyn asks the other knight his name and learns that it is Balan.
The lady of the nearby tower arrives on the scene and agrees to Balan's entreaty to bury the two brothers together. Then she wrangles a priest who gives them their last rites, and they die within a day of one another.
The lady erects a tomb for the brothers. Merlin arrives and inscribes it. He places Balyn's sword in a marble stone that's floating above the water. He leaves the scabbard on the shore near the island.
Merlin prophesies that the man who is able to handle Balyn's sword next will be the best knight in the world: Launcelot, or his son, Galahad. Merlin always seems to know what's up, huh?
Merlin tells King Arthur what happened to Balyn and Balan, who declares it a great pity. Agreed.