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       The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated, p.1

           Gerald Morris
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The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated

  Table of Contents

  Title Page

  Table of Contents




  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5


  Author Note

  Sir Lancelot the Great

  Sir Givret the Short

  Sir Gawain the True

  Text copyright © 2012 by Gerald Morris

  Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Aaron Renier

  All rights reserved. For information about permission to

  reproduce selections from this book, write to Permissions,

  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company,

  215 Park Avenue South, New York, New York 10003.

  Houghton Mifflin Books for Children is an imprint of

  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.

  The text of this book is set in Post Mediaeval.

  The illustrations are brush and ink.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Morris, Gerald, 1963–.

  The adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-fated / by Gerald Morris ; illustrated by

  Aaron Renier.

  p. cm.

  Summary: After receiving an ominous prophecy at his christening, Sir Balin lives

  his life alternately trying to fulfill it and trying to avoid it.

  ISBN 978-0-547-68085-9

  [1. Knights and knighthood—Fiction. 2. Prophecies—Fiction. 3. Middle Ages—

  Fiction.] I. Renier, Aaron, ill. II. Title.

  PZ7M82785Ab 2012



  Manufactured in the United States of America

  DOC 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1







  On a quiet night in Northumberland, a family gathered in the richly furnished parlor of their castle. Beside a roaring fire stood a young father in a velvet robe. Nearby sat a young mother in the stylish gown of a noble-woman. A small boy slept on a rug by the fire, and an even smaller boy lay in a bassinet at his mother's feet.

  "Well, I think it was a lovely christening," the mother said contentedly.

  The father smiled. "My dear, you would have thought it was lovely if the sky had fallen during the service. Remember how it stormed the night that Balan was christened? You said that was lovely, too."

  "It was," the mother replied. She looked at the baby in the basket. "Isn't he beautiful?"

  The father smiled again. "My dear, you would say he was beautiful even if—"

  "I said,'Isn't he beautiful?" interrupted the mother.

  "Yes, dear. Very beautiful."

  At that moment, the parlor door burst open. The fire shuddered in a cold draft, and a gray woman in a gray cloak tapped into the room, supported by a curiously carved staff.

  The man stepped between the stranger and his wife. "I say, who the deuce are you?"

  "I," said the woman, pausing dramatically, "I am ... the Old Woman of the Mountain!"

  "Which mountain?" asked the father.

  "It matters not," replied the Old Woman of the Mountain, waving her hand dismissively.

  The father frowned. "It matters when you're trying to get home, doesn't it? I mean, deuce it, how do you know when you've arrived if it isn't a particular—?"

  "Hush!" intoned the Old Woman of a Mountain.

  "I am here for your son's christening!"

  "That's so kind of you," said the mother. "But, you know, the service ended more than an hour ago."

  "What? Isn't it at four o'clock?"

  "Yes, it was," said the father and mother together. The Old Woman of a Mountain Somewhere scowled, and the mother added, "I'm sure it's not your fault. The days are getting shorter all the time, and it's easy to get confused."

  "Hang on," said the father, "let me think about that. If she was confused by the days getting shorter, wouldn't she have been an hour early?"

  "No, dear," said the mother. "If she thought it was three because of the daylight—"

  "Hush!" repeated the Old Woman of Some Mountain. "I am here for your son's sake! I will tell you his future and his blessing!"

  "Isn't that lovely?" beamed the mother. '"Will he marry a nice northern girl?"

  "Why do you want to do that?" the father asked the gray woman.

  "It is what the Old Woman of the Mountain does!" she explained.

  "You didn't do it when our older son, Balan, was christened," the father pointed out.

  The old woman reddened slightly. "I meant to," she said. "But it was raining that day. I thought it might clear up, so I waited, but it never did."

  "How can you tell my son's future if you can't even tell if it's going to stop raining?" asked the father.

  "I do babies, not weather," said the old woman.

  "What is your child's name?"

  The mother tickled her infant's chin and said, "This is Balin."

  The old woman opened her mouth, then hesitated. "But isn't that your older son's name?"

  "No, no," the mother explained. "My older son is Balan."


  "Balin and Balan," the mother enunciated.

  "Won't that be a problem?" asked the old woman. "I mean, really! Matching names?" She looked at the father, who peeked at his wife from the corner of his eye, then shrugged.

  The mother smiled dreamily. "My boys will match in every way. They'll wear matching clothes and have matching coverlets on their beds and matching curtains on their windows and be the very best of friends."

  The Old Woman of a Mountain looked faintly ill. "You're joking, right?"

  "No, why?"

  The crone looked again at the father. "They'll hate it. You know that, don't you? I mean, seriously, you can't let—"

  The father avoided his wife's eyes and cleared his throat. "Look here, weren't you going to bless Balin or something?"

  "Very well," she said, with a shrug. Tapping her way over, she held her hand above the infant. "Ah!" she said. The young parents waited expectantly, but for a long minute she said nothing more.

  "Is, um, is that it?" asked the father at last.

  The old woman ignored him. "I see greatness in this child!" she said at last. The mother smiled. "He shall be known as the noblest knight in England! But wait! There's more. I see a cloud over his greatness! Like the mist on the mountain!"

  "Which mountain?" asked the father.

  "And will he marry a nice northern girl?" asked the mother.

  "I see destruction and calamity! His greatness shall bring misfortune on all his companions! He shall do marvelous deeds, but they will only serve him ill! In one day, he shall bring down two kingdoms! He shall strike the Dolorous Stroke!"

  "The what stroke?" asked the father.

  "The dolorous one." The father frowned, and the old woman added, "It means 'sad.'"

  "Why not say 'sad,' then?" asked the father.

  "He shall be brave above all knights! He shall never refuse an adventure!"

  "That's nice," the mother said. "Now, when he gets married—"

  "But all his adventures shall bring misfortune!"

  The father stepped forward and took the old woman's elbow. "Well, I want to thank you for stopping by. It's been—"

  "And in the end," the old woman said, "he shall destroy the knight whom he loves most in the world!"

  A deathly silence hung over the parlo
r. The Old Woman of an Unknown Mountain wrapped her gray cloak about her defiantly. At last the child's father said, "Look here, if that's the best blessing you have to offer, I'm glad you missed Balan's christening. Now, if you're done, I don't want to keep you."

  "I have spoken!" the old woman declared.

  "Yes, we heard you," said the father, ushering her to the door. "And to be perfectly frank, we all wish you'd put a cork in it instead." He guided her out the door, then closed it firmly behind her.

  "Never mind, dear," said the mother, tickling her infant's chin again. "I know you'll marry a nice northern girl."

  The father looked at his son thoughtfully. "You sure have an awful lot of destiny hanging over you, little snip," he murmured.

  "He's not a little snip!" the mother declared stoutly.

  "No, dear, of course not," said the father, but still he looked grave.

  Chapter 1

  The Knight with Two Swords

  On a day some twenty years after these events, King Arthur held court. Now, most people know that King Arthur became king by drawing an enchanted sword from a stone. Many also know that he established a band of noble heroes called the Knights of the Round Table. Some even know that he ruled wisely and well and brought peace to all England. But not many realize how long all this took. On this particular day, the king had already drawn the sword from the stone, but he had no Round Table and only a few knights, and he ruled only a small part of England. Many powerful nobles were waging war with him, resisting his reign, which kept King Arthur quite busy. Nevertheless, he was already trying to rule wisely and well, which was why he was holding court. He was hearing the appeals of the people and administering justice.

  "Next case!" called Sir Kay, the king's foster brother, who stood beside the throne, sorting out the crowd and keeping order. Two guards led forward a grimy knight in dusty armor. Sir Kay looked at his list. "Here, O king, we have a knight who is accused of killing a fellow knight, a certain—" Sir Kay paused, squinting at the records in front of him. "Oh, dear."

  "What is it, Kay?" asked the king.

  "He's accused of killing our cousin, Sir Bullevere. Uncle Clovis's son."

  King Arthur said, "This is a serious charge, O knight." He looked disapprovingly at the knight's dusty armor. "Though you don't seem to take it seriously. Is this how you choose to appear before your king?"

  The knight replied softly, "I did not choose this dirt, sire. I have spent the last three months in your dungeons, waiting for trial. Your dungeons could use a wash."

  The king's expression softened. "I see. I'm afraid it has been a while since I last held court, hasn't it? You see, I've been busy lately, fighting the rebel King Royns of Wales. Well, never mind the dust, then. What is your name?"

  "I am Sir Balin of Northumberland, Your Highness," said the knight.

  "Sir Balin, you are accused of killing the knight Sir Bullevere."

  "Yes, I did that."

  King Arthur blinked. "You admit it?" Sir Balin nodded. "Why did you do it?"

  "He attacked me."


  "No, sire. I think he attacked me because I called him a nasty, cowardly brute."

  King Arthur frowned again. "To provoke another to attack is the same as attacking yourself," he said.

  Beside the king, Sir Kay cleared his throat. "Um, Arthur?"

  "Yes, Kay?"

  "I'd just like to point out that, in fact, Bullevere was a nasty, cowardly brute. I mean, remember that Christmas we spent at Uncle Clovis's? Bull was a stinker, all right."

  "But you can't just go around calling people names," the king said.

  "Even if they're true?" asked Sir Kay. "Why not?"

  "Because it starts fights, and people get killed," King Arthur explained patiently. "Sir Balin, step forward to receive your sentence."

  But before Sir Balin could move, a murmur arose from the onlookers. The crowd parted to make way for a tall woman, who strode forward wearing a long sword.

  "Where is King Arthur?" demanded the woman austerely.

  No one spoke. Since King Arthur was wearing a crown and sitting on a throne in the middle of the hall, this seemed rather obvious, and people hate answering silly questions. But the woman apparently expected an answer, so at last the king waved his hand and said, "Um, right here."

  "At last! Long have I sought you!"

  There was another pause. "Well, ah ... here I am."

  "I am Lady Lyla of the Outer Isles! I bring this enchanted sword, seeking the one knight who is able to draw it from its sheath!"

  "Stuck, is it?" asked Sir Kay.

  "I used to have a sword that would do that," said another knight. "Have you tried jiggling the hilt?"

  "No, you need to tap it on the side," said another.

  "Bacon grease," added a third. "That's the best way to—"

  "It is not stuck!" said the woman. "It is enchanted! Only the noblest knight in England may draw this blade, and for that knight it will come forth easily."

  "Oh!" said all the king's knights.

  "It's like your sword, Excalibur," Sir Kay said to the king. "No one but you could draw it from the stone. You'd better take this, sire."

  "Very well," said King Arthur. He rose from his throne and went to Lady Lyla. She held the scabbard firmly in both hands as the king grasped the sword's hilt and pulled. The sword didn't move. The king frowned and tugged again, with the same result.

  "Pulling harder will avail you nothing," declared Lady Lyla. "Only the noblest knight in England may draw this blade, and for that knight it will come forth easily."

  "Yes, you mentioned that," muttered the king. "Give it a go, Kay?"

  One by one, all Arthur's knights tried the sword, but none could budge it by a hair. "Alas!" cried Lady Lyla. "Where shall I find the noblest knight in England?"

  Suddenly a strange knight stepped from the crowd. "Let me try!" he said.

  "Who are you, O knight?" asked Lady Lyla.

  "I am Sir Lanceor of Ireland. I have come to join King Arthur and to prove myself to him! May I attempt the adventure of the enchanted blade?"

  Lady Lyla released the sword's sheath, letting it hang loosely by her side. "Any knight may try," she said.

  Sir Lanceor struck a dramatic pose, lifted his chin, and said, "I know not whether I am the noblest knight in England, but I am willing to put myself to the test. Shall I, peradventure, succeed where so many noble knights have essayed this trial and...?"

  While Sir Lanceor was delivering this speech, the dusty knight Sir Balin stepped up behind Lady Lyla and easily drew the sword from its scabbard. Everyone stared, except for Sir Lanceor, who was too busy talking. "...t'would be a marvel indeed for an unknown knight to step so quickly to so high a rank, but—"

  "What do you think you're doing?" demanded Lady Lyla to Sir Balin. Her face was alarmingly purple.

  "Drawing the enchanted sword," Sir Balin explained. "You see, when I was born, the Old Woman of the Mountain prophesied that one day I would be the noblest knight in England, so when you said—"

  "I don't care what some old wench said to you," snarled Lady Lyla. "Give it back!"

  "No," said Sir Balin. "It's mine now. I drew it. King Arthur got to keep Excalibur when he drew it from the stone, didn't he?"

  "That's true," said Sir Kay. "Give it to me!" Lady Lyla shrieked. "If you don't return it at once, terrible misfortune will follow you wherever you go!" Sir Balin shrugged. "Yes, I know. Can I have the scabbard, too?"

  With a scream of fury, Lady Lyla threw herself at Sir Balin, but as it happened, Sir Balin had just lowered the sword to examine an odd notch in the blade near the hilt, and Lady Lyla threw herself right onto the point. It pierced her heart, and she fell dead at Sir Balin's feet.

  "Oh, dear," said Sir Balin. He glanced at the king.

  "That was an accident, sire."

  "I know," said the king. "I was watching. Bad luck for her, though."

  Sir Balin sighed. "It's that prophecy again."
  "What prophecy?" asked the king.

  "The same one that said I would be known as the noblest knight in England," Sir Balin said. "It also said I would bring misfortune everywhere I went. It's true. Things always go badly for me. It's like when I met your cousin Sir Bullevere. He was beating a peasant with a switch for not getting out of his way and I only meant to stop him from being such a beast, but then he attacked and I ended up killing him and spending the whole summer in your dungeons. Things always go sour around me."

  "I see," said the king.

  "So, unless you want to throw me back in your dungeons—"

  "I don't," said the king.

  "—then probably the best thing I could do for your court is get far away so none of my ill luck rubs off on you. May I?"

  "You may do whatever you wish, Sir Balin. You are free."

  "Free? Hardly," muttered Sir Balin. Stooping, he took the scabbard from Lady Lyla's body.

  "Here, don't I get a try, too?" asked a plaintive voice. It was Sir Lanceor.

  King Arthur raised one eyebrow. "Why? Lady Lyla said only one knight could do it, and one knight has done it."

  Sir Lanceor started to speak, then clamped his lips shut and stomped away.

  Sir Balin turned to leave, but Sir Kay said, "Just a moment, Sir Balin. It says in the records that you had a horse and a sword when you were arrested. I've sent for them."

  "Thank you," said Sir Balin.

  "I guess you have two swords now," said Sir Kay.

  Sir Balin sighed heavily. "I'll probably need them."

  Chapter 2

  The Knight He Loves Most in the World

  Sir Balin rode alone through the forest, reflecting glumly on his fate: a knight destined by an old prophecy to ride alone forever or bring disaster on his companions. If you said it right, it sounded very adventurous and romantic, but in practice it wasn't so exciting. It was just lonely.

  He wasn't alone for long, though. Only half an hour from King Arthur's court, a knight rode out of the forest and pointed a lance at him. "There you are, you curst marplot!" exclaimed the knight.

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