nd so I was called once again to the old city of Dernholm, where Fate had brought me so often before, as explorer, envoy, soldier and spy. As always, the antique glory of the place tugged at my heart, and I felt that old sad yearning for a world which lay gasping on its deathbed the day I was born: the Age of Heroes, when the Knights of Dernholm carried the banners of their king to the very feet of the Gray Mountains, and dictates from the Iron Throne of Cumbria would be obeyed without question in half the world.
I rode up the King's Way to the royal palace, haunted by the smell of funeral incense which carried from the altar of an unknown shrine. A late frost had shocked the trees that lined the boulevard, and as I went along a light snow of apple blossoms whirled around me in the cold wind. In its day this same broad avenue had seen great armies pass, and envoys bearing tribute from all the vassals of the North; even the Wheel Clan and the Silver Lady of Qintarra once sent gifts to the King of Cumbria, to secure his good will. Looking up at the proud towers above me, I could still see the work of dwarven hands in the stone guardians which looked down from ever cornice and arch: dragons, drakes, and Wyrms, the symbols of the royal line.
Seeing the bright banners wave above the gates of Dernholm Castle, I could still see the last army of Cumbria arrayed in my mind's eye: a forest of bright spears raised in the light of dawn, their knights thundering across the open ground with the dragons of old still rampant on their shields. We smashed them on that morning, smashed them with wave after wave of rifle fire which they could no more fight than the waves of the sea, and in the thunder of our guns their chargers tumbled and they seemed to drown, flailing in an ocean of blood. I remember leveling my rifle and hearing a tear-choked voice somewhere near me, begging and pleading with those men on horseback to stop, to turn back and save themselves; it was only later that I realized that voice had been my own.
We could not understand then why they came on, why the last of them did not turn aside even from certain death, in this foolish battle which they could not hope to win. Their infantry was far wiser; they turned and ran from the field without taking another step toward our lines. But seeing the high towers of their native city again, I thought that perhaps, for a moment, I understood: the Dragon Knights of Dernholm were made of different stuff than ordinary men, and those we killed that day had been the last of a proud and storied breed. They could not live in this new world which men have made, when the ideals they cherished had grown threadbare, meaningless and outworn. And so in the name of the Dragon of Dernholm they came, and for all that they loved they died: knowing full well as they did that Honor, and Valor, and the pride of Cumbria would die with themů