Balling's first two novels (The Fourth Shot, 1982, and Mallory's Gambit, 1985) were modern-day thrillers, but, here, neo-Naxi conspirators and KGB moles give way to gallant knight, ladies fair, and the 12th century--where, it turns out, moles and conspirators flourished as well, in the court of Henry II. The champion of the title is one William Marshall, a landless knight, but a nonpareil with lance and shield, who makes enemies while fighting with the Templars in Palestine. On his return to Britain, he becomes enmeshed in beautiful Isabelle de Clare's efforts to rid herself of her evil--not to mention lascivious--guardian, Prince John, currently Lord of Ireland and Henry's favorite son. No sooner does Marshall place her safely in imprisoned Queen Eleanor's care than he's off to France--to help the King battle Philip of France, who's found an ally in Richard the Lion-hearted (since Henry is on the verge of disinheriting his son, Richard, in favor of the scheming, surely John). Philip and Richard, who's pictured here as something less than the shining example of knighthood that legend has made him out to be, crush Henry at Le Mans. Nonetheless, when the Lion-Heart is crowned, he recognizes Marshall's unflinching loyalty to the English throne by rewarding him with Isabelle. High marks to Balling for his evocation of medieval warfare and for his attractive moral strongman, William; but, alack, his language is at times disarmingly modern, and his plot more stalwart than exciting.