Sir Robert of NordmarkOriginally published in The Cat’s Whiskers Issue #5 March 2003 & written by Paul Balm

Many years ago the shires of Nottingham were ruled by King Neil the Black. King Neil was a fair ruler, but there was little money in the royal coffers and the King had to make savings. Many years before, a group of knights had come from the fields of Sheff to attract a greater crowd for their ice jousting. King Neil acted as patron to the Panther Clan, as they were known, but in this particular year he had decreed that there were more pressing needs for the royal purse.

As a result the performances of the Panther Clan suffered and they lost joust after joust and found themselves at the bottom of the ice jousting league. Lord Alex of Dampier and his squire Peter of the Woods despaired. They pleaded with King Neil to loosen his purse strings a little so that they could recruit further knights to ensure that his team could reach the final jousting tournament of the season. He reasoned with King Neil that any money he spent now would be reaped thrice fold come the final jousting tournament.

King Neil finally relented to Lord Dampier’s demands and a decree was sent far and wide for knights that would swear their allegiance to King Neil and the Panther Clan. Few answered the call and those few had little effect on Panthers plight. Sir Casson of Masters arrived at great speed but achieved little. Sir Kevin of Hoffman arrived shortly after, and whilst his cultured moves impressed the crowds gathered in attendance at each joust he was unable to change the fortunes of the Panther Clan.

Things looked grave indeed and even the oldest sages and wise men could not remember a time  when the future of the Panther Clan had been in such peril. Ice jousts came and went and the clan did not improve, the chance of reaching the final jousting tournament seemed to diminish with each passing day. All seemed lost until one day a lone, ageing knight rode alone into the court of King Neil.

“Greetings Sir knight, what can we do for you this day” said Lord Dampier as the knight lowered himself from his horse. “I, sire, am Sir Robert of Nordmark. I arrive here from the far off land of Swede to offer my fealty to  to your lord and master King Neil.” replied the knight. “You don’t want him sire, look at him he’s old enough to have sired some of our jousters himself. What use would we have for one so old in this most perilous hour?” sneered peter the squire, fawning at Lord Dampier’s side as ever. “Silence!” ordered his Lordship. “He may be old but I’ll warrant that he is not yet as old as thee, and he has achieved the rank of knight whilst you are still a pitiful squire grovelling at your masters feet in a attempt to seem useful!”

“Do not be so harsh sire for your squire speaks truth, I am old and this task for which I offer myself will be my last quest, but I have a great deal still to give to your cause and do so willingly.” Said Sir Robert. Lord Dampier pondered this whilst trying to ignore Peter’s muttered comments until finally he said “Very well, come forth and join the Panther Clan Sir Robert, Peter prove your worth and prepare chambers for our latest knight.”

And so it came to pass that Sir Robert joined the Panther Clan and slowly their fortunes began to improve and they began, once again, to win ice jousts and the gap between themselves and the Jesters of Newcastle began to shrink. All who watched Sir Robert joust agreed that he was the reason for the most pleasant change in fortunes, and soon his popularity outgrew that of of other Knights such as Sir James of Leach and Sir Greg of Hadden. Sir Robert was a kindly soul and before every joust he would give sweets and other treats to small children who gathered at at the jousting arena rails to watch. His generosity earned him the name of Chocolate Bob, and few who saw these acts of charity called him by his real name.

The day of the last joust before the final tournament had arrived and after months of head scratching & arguments the mathematicians at the court of King Neil all agreed that the Panther Clan had to beat the Jesters of Newcastle if they were to reach the final joust. There was great excitement in Nottingham and many serfs & peasants made the long journey to the wastelands of Northumbria to cheer on the Panther Clan.

The ice joust was closely fought, with neither team able to gain any advantage. Time wore on and it seemed increasingly unlikely that the Panther Clan would be able to snatch the victory they needed.  The pace was punishing, and as the final joust of the event arrived Lord Dampier looked at his knights and they were a sorry sight. He looked from face to face and in each visage he saw woe & despair. He came at last to Sir Robert who sat hunched in a corner, his face grey and fatigued he rose his face slowly to meet the gaze of Lord Dampier. To Lord Dampier’s surprise, Sir Robert requested that he be allowed to take the final joust in a voice made hoarse by age & endeavour until it was little more than a whisper. Lord Dampier looked around his knights once more and then back to Sir Robert. He nodded at Sir Robert who dragged himself up from his position and with the aid of squire Peter made ready for battle. The crowd was hushed as Sir Robert stumbled out to meet Satosaari the Jester. It was plain for all to see that Sir Robert was greatly fatigued & many wondered at Lord Dampier’s reasoning. The joust began and Sir Robert moved slowly forward, pain wracking his every movement. The Jester did all he could to delay Sir Robert but he raised his lance and with one final crashing blow he defeated the Jester and won the joust for the Panther Clan.

A great cheer erupted from the travelling horde that had followed the Panther Clan north. The Jesters argued that he was too late and that time had run out. The referee checked the hourglass and four grains of sand remained. The joust was won! Amidst all the hysteria, Sir Robert lay unnoticed on the arena floor, unnoticed that is, except for Lord Dampier who forced his way through the crowd to reach him. What he saw when he reached Sir Robert troubled him greatly, if he had been injured before the joust he was in grievous pain now. He motioned to Lord Dampier that he had to speak to him and as Lord Dampier lowered his head, Sir Robert whispered into his ear.

Those were the last words that Sir Robert ever spoke. He passed away on the field of his greatest triumph and there was great mourning and sadness amongst the good folk of Nottingham. After several days, Lord Dampier revealed that that with his dying breath Sir Robert had asked to be buried not in his homeland of Swede, as was customary, but under the ice of the ice jousting arena. King Neil granted his final wish and his body was laid to rest beneath the ice with the greatest of ceremony saved only for Kings & Queens.

Sir Robert’s body has never been found, nor have the remains of King Neil’s ice jousting arena. Those that still talk of such things in the taverns and alehouses of Nottingham seem unable to agree on where it stood. Some say it is now beneath the banks of the River Trent, whilst others believe it to be beneath the Lace Market. One thing they do all agree on is Lord Dampier’s final words as he lay on his deathbed, delirious with the fever that would claim his life. His words had been garbled as he raved about the jousting victory in the Hamlet of Wembley an the Cup of Autumn Fruits in Birmingham. Shortly before he drew his last breath, Lord Dampier’s eyes cleared and he said “He told me ‘When the Panther Clan is in peril, I shall return'”. When those nursing him enquired as to whom he was referring he only manged to utter “Chocol……” before he died.

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