Paul Balm found that heroes come in the most unlikely of forms as a manuscript recently unearthed from the City of Nottingham’s archive reveals.  

A few years after the daring deeds of Chocolate Bob had saved them in the final seconds, the ice jousters were once again in turmoil. Their leader, Sir Michael of Ellis had employed many new jousters including the net guardian Evan of Lindsay in a bid to try and win the continued favour of Count Black. Early jousts went well but it soon became abundantly clear that there were days when Evan of Lindsay couldn’t catch the proverbial pig’s bladder in the breeze.

Sir Michael tried to keep his faith in his jousting knights but the peasants soon began to revolt against him. Even the local scribe Holland became critical of Evan of Lindsay’s performances causing many to begin to call for Lindsay’s head. Still Sir Michael refused to banish Lindsay & took to openly questioning how it would be possible to find a replacement of sufficient quality as Yuletide approached. The local peasants simply questioned why Sir Michael could not make a decision as they watched their team of jousters slump to their worst run of results for a number of years. Some fans even thought that the fell magician Hanson had cursed the Panthers for inflicting a humiliating defeat upon his team, the Racers of Hibernia, some years before. Whilst this was happening the peasants from the barren wastelands to the North would arrive to watch jousts between their side, their Bronzers of Sheffield and the Panthers and to gloat at the Nottingham side’s demise. This rankled the Nottingham peasants greatly.

Around this time a lone figure arrived from the East carrying nothing but a large bundle on his back and unable to speak more than a few words of English. Too small and old to work as a knight he found himself work as a squire in a local stables. All who knew him called him Rasto as they were unable to pronounce his real name. Rasto watched the Panthers slump and it saddened his heart. As a young man he had taken part in ice jousting in his homeland and as a former net guardian knew that Lindsay would need to be replaced if the team was to improve. After much soul searching & thought Rasto climbed into the hayloft above the stable he called home and unwrapped the bundle that had lain untouched in the corner since he had arrived. He looked at the contents for a long time before wrapping them up again and settling down in the hay to sleep.

The next day Rasto went to see the Panthers manager Gary of Moran. A man disliked by many but shrewd with money and known to be very close to the ear of Count Black. Rasto begged Moran to allow him to play. He would have explained that he knew where Evan of Lindsay was going wrong and that he could replace him but his English was not good enough. Eventually he told him in halting words that he would play for much less than Lindsay as he had only come to this country to try earn money to send home for his family and he knew he could earn far more as even the lowest paid ice jouster than he ever cold as a humble squire.

Within days Evan of Lindsay was banished to the West and was never seen again although there were a few reports of him still playing as net guardian for teams in the New World. These reports were never confirmed and his whereabouts remain a mystery to this day.

The day of Rasto’s first game arrived and many of the peasants arrived early so that they could stand behind the net he would guard and see what this stranger that the Panthers had signed would be like. Those that arrived early were in for a shock. “Who is this child that leads out the other brave knights?” they cried for that is how it appeared to them. Rasto’s blue, dented armour still had pieces of straw sticking out of it and was a stark contrast to the noble black with golden plumes that the rest of the team sported.

As Rasto took his position in his net many noticed that he was barely taller than the net frame itself and more feared that his size would not help and that the team was doomed. Their fears were unfounded. The Panthers won that ice joust and started to regain their confidence that had so totally deserted them with Evan of Lindsay in the net. His style was unconventional as he flopped around on the ice but it seemed to be effective as he stopped shot after shot. Holland the scribe was soon calling Rasto a peasant favourite.

It was not just his unconventional style or that fact the Panthers were winning again that endeared Rasto to the peasants. He would always wave at the peasants at the start of each joust as they chanted his name and he would do a little dance with the crowd if the game had been won.

As a Panthers player he was allowed to enter the Hall of Greats to look at the tapestries of Zamick, Strongman, Chocolate Bob & Savoie. He returned to the hall almost daily but it was not the portrait tapestries that he was drawn to. Rather, it was the tapestry of Terence of Kurtenbach lifting the Playoffe Chalice that he studied for hours on end. The tapestry was old and faded as it had been made many years before but he loved the way the golden stitches still gleamed in the chalice & the way the long forgotten seamstress had captured the ecstasy on the jousters faces. Rasto knew, in his heart of hearts that the league was beyond the Panthers and had been before he joined them. It was the playoffes that he wanted to win.

As the weeks passed the Panthers continued to improve and soon the time of the playoffes arrived. The draw for the first round was not kind to the Panthers as they were drawn against their arch-rivals the Bronzers of Sheffield. They had not beaten the Bronzers in many a joust and Rasto knew that if they were ever to do it it would have to be in these games. The joust in Nottingham was tense but the Panthers finally clinched a single point win over their rivals. So both teams moved to the barren wastes of the north and the battle was rejoined. This time it was the Bronzers who triumphed but only by a single point. The scores were tied, there would be a penalty joust. Rasto would be one on one against the best knights of the Bronzers. Each time the knights approached and each time Rasto saved and with his fellow knights scoring against Lady Jody of Lehman at the other end Panthers had won. They had reached the great playoffe fayre for the first time in two years. Many of the peasants from the barren wastelands complained bitterly at the boring jousting Panthers had used but it mattered little as their team were released to take up the new fangled sport golfe.

The weekend of the playoffe fayre arrived & peasants from all over the country gathered at the jousting arena and various hostelries around it to enjoy the festivities. The first joust saw the Welsh Devils rise above the Godivas of Coventry to take their place in the following day’s final. This left the Panthers to face the Giants from over the causeway. Once again the game went to a penalty joust and once again Rasto blanked each knight and Sir Sean of MacAslan and Sir Corey of Neilson scored to take Panthers through to the final.

The day of the final arrived. Rasto had barely slept the night before and had spent many wakeful hours in the Hall of the Greats gazing at Sir Terence of Kurtenbach and the Playoffe Chalice. By the time the game arrived he was almost petrified with nerves but he held the tapestries image in his head and it seemed to give him courage. He knew it had to be today.

The joust was tense. Sir David of Clarke scored early to give Panthers a lead that they held until the start of the final period. The Devils equalized but they could not find the net again. The judges allowed further time to see if the teams could be separated but it was not to be. For the third game in a row Rasto was going to be part of a penalty joust.

The first to take a joust was Sir Trevor of Gallant who had recently arrived from Germany. He had missed his previous two penalty jousts so many of the peasants feared the worst. They were wrong he scored & Panthers were leading one to nothing. It stayed that way as the Welsh Devils missed their first two penalty jousts and Sir Sean and Sir Corey missed. The Welsh Devils had left their best player, Sir Mark of Smith until last. Rasto knew if he saved this he would be a hero, if he didn’t it would be sudden death penalty jousts. Sir Mark set forth & Rasto set himself ready. The image of Sir Terence and the Playoffe Chalice rose unbidden in his mind. He shrugged it away as Sir Mark bore down on him, this was no time for ideal daydreaming. As Sir Mark approached Rasto’s net Rasto fell to his knees. Sir Mark shot & Rasto lifted his glove. He never heard the noise as the puck entered his glove. The satisfying thwock was drowned out from the roar of the Nottingham peasants at the other end of the arena. His fellow knights engulfed him as he tried to rise and he was driven to his knees again. He had done it! The little squire from the east with the unpronounceable name had brought the Playoffe Chalice back to Nottingham. It was Sir David of Clarke that lifted the Chalice as team champion but it was Rasto who got the greatest applause. An applause that rang in his ears for many days to come.

Many of those who travelled from the barren wastelands to the north were unable stay to watch the chalice raised as they had left their wagons in a local storage area & were unwilling to pay an extra groat to stay longer. Many said the dread magician Hanson had caused them all to disappear but this was proved to be unfounded when they re-appeared at the next set of jousts.

Sadly, this story does not have an entirely happy ending. Rasto returned for the ice jousts the season after but age, or maybe Hanson’s curse affected his performances & he returned to his homeland after a few short months. His tapestry still hangs in the Hall of the Greats and his story will not be forgotten for many years.

Truly it is said that the brightest flames burn for the shortest times.


1 Response to “The Ballad of Rasto”

  1. 1 Duff May 29, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Fear not young writer with quill in hand. There will be such another Rasto one day and I do believe in the not too distant future. I trust you did as I, when, at the final hour of the contest, you did indeed take wine and refreshment to celebrate such a fine victory. So let us look forward to Lord Neilson, ah you see no longer a Knight, leading us peasants once more to the promised land!!! Yeh indeed we feel like this every year at this time, thinking of the promised land!!

    So fond farewell young writer. we should look forward to such another tale perhaps this time next year??

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