We have to go back in time, way back to a time when the kingdoms were in disarray. The old kingdoms were hardly as they used to be; usurpers, war lords and city states had rules of their own making, and every one of the land holders, no matter what titles or nobilities they claimed to hold or what blood lines they said they were decended from, fought constant wars of atrition against each other and one another.
Lord Brarec, who was Malme's father, was the overlord of a large area to the south-east of Pertineri, known then as Litavia. This was fertile land, temperate and kind, full of orchards and farms and this area was steady in comparison to the rest of the kingdoms, for the neighbours were Pertineri and the Twelve Cities, and all had a desire for peace and co-operation. Non-aggression and mutual defense pacts had kept the lands fairly well protected and the balance of power was reasonable, until the then Lord of Solland decided to make a bid for Pertineri and its riches, and decide to declare himself the king of kings.
He never succeeded but the wars waged in his attempts had serious effects on all of Litavia and beyond; so many knights and soldiers and general men were killed in the large battles that it left homesteads and castles unprotected and easy prey to warlords from the poorer areas of Walden, Merina and Sikoria, and as the rumours spread about Litavia's inability to defend its riches, bandits and soldiers of fortune came from as far as Tremain and even the Northlands.
Jennis the Barbarian took Lord Brarec's head when his only son was only 17 years old. He himself was slain not long after by another group of invaders but it left what was left of Litavia at that time to the young Lord Malme.
He was a fearsome fighter in spite of his young age and even then, absolutely determined to put an end to the endless fighting and restore a state of stability and peace he had never experienced himself.
Malme was very well educated for the times and very intelligent. Of fiery temperament and ruthless disposition, he drew back all the forces that were still at his disposal to the center of his holdings at Manoranta Keep, and there he began to rebuild his army with the aid of his father's advisors.
Malme had ideas of his own. He had studied ancient battle strategies since he was old enough to move small metal soldiers on a parchment map and it was clear to him that any force needed to be well trained and well equipped - this seems so obvious to us now but in those days, the lords forced farmers and labourers into war service, hardly giving them enough food and not even a decent sword to fight with.
Malme changed this.
He enlisted young men who, like himself were ambitious and who wanted to better themselves in life. He offered mercenaries knighthoods, for example, and changed the way the ranks were structured to allow forward movement in pay and standing as a reward for service and dedication.
And his men loved him.
He drank with his officers, was the first out up front when the battle started and there wasn't a one who could best him at wrestling or at sword play.
Malme was a soldier, through and through.
It wasn't hard to build up a core for his new army and to re-take the various keeps and outposts; the small gangs and groups from the foreign lands didn't stand a chance against his focussed forces with their excellent equipment and high morale and discipline.
Unlike all other army commanders, Malme did not allow his soldiers to loot after a victory. He paid them well, made sure there were plenty of cooks, vittels and camp followers and gave them glory and a dream of better days to come.
What was taken was plowed straight back into better equipment, better horses, better food and new recruits for Malme cared not for coffers of gold in his keep but counted his blessings in stretches of influence, firmly under his control.
And then, there was the Black Wing. Modelled on the legendary Knights of Ondar, these were the best of the best, and Malme's personal guard.
Although they held no rank, any member of the Black Wing outranked all ranks bar that of the chosen general. They had quarters of their own, whores of their own and the four sections took it in turn to eat with Lord Malme at his table. There were exactly 52 of them, no more and no less; the competition to be invited to join the Black Wing was intensive and the knights themselves, on their hand picked black stallions and in their custom made suits of armour were a legend from the moment they were first assembled.
By the time Malme received a message from the Serein High Council that the young Lord Tremain was to join his forces, he was gathering his army for a showdown with the new duke of Solland and his allies.
It was already late in the year and not long after Lord Tremain had finished his basic training and together with 6 comrades had been initiated into the Black Wing to make up for the losses sustained during the previous season, that Malme's army began the march on Solland.
Malme's general, Lord Cartek, was of an age by then and it was later said, feeble of mind. He had been Malme's tutor since the young lord had been but a boy and Malme trusted in his experience and wisdom. On this occasion, it proved to be a most costly mistake.
The Solland forces under the leadership of General Sistain had moved very fast in the night, and instead of being where Cartek had expected them, they had encircled Malme's army and Malme found himself surrounded in a muddy, swampy area with dry hills around in a densely forested area just north of Ibemar, one of the main strongholds of Walden.
Sistain unleashed his archers on Malme's forces and created terrible losses; by the time the Solland forces moved in for the kill, over two thirds of Malme's troops were down.
They were helplessly outnumbered and surrounded. It was simply a matter of time until the entire army was slaughtered in the muddy fields of Ibemar.
Malme, fighting as he did in the front line, was on the southern flank, surrounded by his Black Wing knights, trying to stave off the onslaught of well rested cavalry troops coming at them in their thousands. And it was here that he received a lance straight through his side, and where he fell from his horse to the churned mud.
And it was here that Lord Lucian Tremain, or otherwise known as Cia of the Black Wing, saw him fall, halted his horse, looked around and entirely calmly assessed the situation.
He had never sworn an oath of loyalty to his master, Sepheal. Nor had he ever been called upon to swear to the Serein Council in any shape or form; yet during the ceremony that gave him the black mark in the shape of two raven wings on his right wrist he had placed his hand on his heart and sworn an oath of loyalty to Lord Malme in person.
He had sat in Malme's tent and had shared his bread and wine when it was his company's turn to be guarding the Lord Malme and he had heard his tales and songs whilst sitting quietly and exactly as ordered.
Malme had addressed him in person on the his first attendance and had asked him about his father, and his father's lands. Lucian Tremain had not known what to say and found himself making some statement of future intent to reclaim the lordship over the Tremain estates, and although he had carried his own name for all these years, it was the first time in as many that he had been addressed for what he once might have been, what he could have been ...
Now, here the red haired Malme lies unconscious, in danger of being trampled by the crazy horses all around, with a lance stuck in his side and blood running across his bright chain armour, splattered with mud, and the enemy is closing in from all around.
Lucian Tremain made his calculations, and his decision.
He jumped off his horse and fought his way to Malme.
Knelt by his side and with a swift and violent movement, tore the lance from his Lord's side and then stuffed the gaping wound with mud, pushing it deep inside, hard and harder still to stop the bleeding. Then, shielding Malme's body with his own from the hooves around, Tremain began to strip the fallen lord, first cutting through the chin strap and taking off the helmet, flinging it as far as it would go, then tearing off the armour and the chain mail, then the boots and the trousers, then the undergarments as they still would well reveal a nobleman, until Lord Malme lay naked save his blood- and mudstained undershirt unconscious in the mud.
A glancing blow from a stampeding horse, the Black Wing rider still lolling halfway in the saddle, dead though he was, broke Tremain's right shoulder and he nearly fainted with the pain but in his state of brilliant white resolve, he gathered himself and stripped his own armour and underclothes as well, throwing it clear with his remaining good arm.
Then, he smeared mud and blood from his own wound and from Malme's wound across himself and lay down on top of Malme, and became very quiet, never moving at all, not even when a horse's hoof came down on his right leg, not even when the screams and cries of the last surviving comrades were eclipsed by the oncoming army's victory shouts.
He lay very still and quiet on the late autumn field, shielding and warming Malme's freezing body and he never moved, not even when he was struck deeply with a probing sword into his broken shoulder, when he was turned and his mouth checked for golden teeth, and it was only when night had fallen and all lay still and silent, save for a few screams and moans rising here and there and far away, the sound of singing and of celebration, in the direction of the soft gold glow at the horizon where Solland's army and their campfires lay.
It was a cold night.
It began to snow somewhere during that night where Lucian Tremain lay very still in the freezing mud, close up to what might well have been a corpse by now and where the battlefield was lit here and there, time and again, by torches as men wandered amongst the fallen, searching them for treasures and for useful items that might be worn or traded.
As the night wore on, the snow ceased and mists arose; and in the darkest hour, when even the most eager of the searchers had given in to fatigue over greed and gone to huddle beneath their hairy blankets somewhere, Lord Lucian Tremain began to gather himself and draw upon his deepest reserves so he could raise himself to his knees. His left leg was badly damaged as was his right shoulder but he gave it no heed and levered himself upwards, then picked up the Lord Malme with exquisite care and slowly, began to pick his way on bare feet and dragging his injured leg as best he could, through the mist and darkness towards the shelter of the forest, closest to the west.
When dawn came, pale and silent, it found Tremain slowly and painfully but with absolutely unwavering volition fighting his way through dense undergrowth, his body covered in scratches and sores, in mud and blood, his own and that of his liege's whom he carried over his good shoulder still.
The day was colder still than had been the night, but the creator might have been merciful or it might have been that Tremain was still clear minded enough through all of it that he kept aiming for higher ground; be it as it may, as it began to wane and a freezing wind brought sleet down upon the two near naked men, Tremain found a small overhang and then, what was not much more than a burrow in which they could take shelter. Tremain, half unconscious himself with loss of blood and at the end of his strength crawled into the dirt hole backwards on his broken leg and pulled the heavy body of Malme in after himself across the earth that had embedded within it sharp stones and twigs, leaves blown in or brought by creatures who had lived here once.
Tremain just about managed to crawl over the body of his liege and drag some bracken and twigs over the opening before he fainted.
So they lay in their burrow, the two men, for the night and the best part of the next day and the heat from their bodies filled the small space and kept them both alive.
When Tremain awoke, there was only a momentary disorientation and right away, he set to work. He crawled from the burrow and listened intently. The light was already faded but after the dark, Tremain breathed the freezing air and thought he could see all there was, beyond the forest and the entire world. He let his mind range far and wide, but there was no danger near; the soldiers were still there but a good way off and there were less of them.
Solland's army must have been on the way back home, taking what few prisoners there could have been with them. Stragglers, camp followers and the sick and injured were remaining.
Tremain considered checking on Malme, to try and acquire water for him or improve his situation, but realised that there was no point. Instead, he stuffed the entrance to the burrow with wet and slimy pieces of plant and brush once more and slowly and carefully, began to pick his way down the slope, completely focussed and tightly controlled on the task in hand. It was a lucky thing that he had been quite unable to cover any great distance when he came here for his condition was alarming and he could clearly calculate that acquiring horses, weapons and clothing without raising the entirety of what was left of Solland's army, to return as close to the burrow as possible and bring Malme down, transfer him to one of the horses and to take him back to Manoranta was going to take him to the end of his reserves and probably beyond.
Lucian Tremain was no stranger to pain or to suffering. Indeed, he had been trained with great care to be an expert on the topic in every way, not just in the giving of it but also in the receiving; this was a fact that was not generally known and so perhaps, far more credit and indeed, homage was given to the events as they transpired, for Lucian Tremain did exactly what he had set out to do.
Silently, he moved from the shelter of the forest and under cover of the night which had now fallen. Silently, he killed an entire tent full of injured Solland soldiers and their attendants and just as silently, he collected clothes, weapons and the two horses exactly as planned.
He left the horses tied as close as he could get them through the shrub, and an hour later returned with Malme over his shoulder once more, dressed him in blankets and secured him over the second horse's package harness. Then, he began the long ride back to Litavia. Two days and three nights later, Lucian Tremain arrived at an old training camp, nestled near the borders of Merina in the hills above a small town called Salessi.
Malme was still alive and Tremain barely so. They were placed side by side in the infirmary and tended by the old soldiers who were keeping the camp, and side by side, they slowly began to recover, strong young men both with a will to live and a tenacity of a dozen apiece.
I think it safe to say that Malme never felt truly safe again unless he had Tremain by his side.
There was more than gratitude to his relationship with the young knight who had saved his life against all odds, against all possibilities.
It was not reasonable, and it was not rational; for all of Malme's life, his intense allegiance to Lucian Tremain created many problems, many rumours and made a great many things far more difficult than they ever would have been if Malme had simply divested himself of this demon who, from the day of the battle of Ibemar until Malme took his last dying breath, would never truly leave his side again.
But the truth is that men are neither rational nor reasonable; their greatest drives and their deepest decisions come from another place, and in that place, they were more than brothers.
Lucian Tremain did not even remember his own brother, long dead now and never grown beyond a mere babe in arms. Malme's only brother had died many years ago in a filthy ambush and many thought that this was what kept them together, but in truth it just far more simple to say that they loved one another as deeply as men such as they can love.
It is further true that without Tremain, Malme would never have been able to unify the kingdoms and have history record his name as Malme the Great, the greatest and wisest king who ever lived.
Without his general and greatest support, Malme would have simply failed and faltered at some point, would have lost a skirmish, would have fallen prey to intrigue or assasination, and the truly insane schemes they created between themselves would have never come to pass.
But both were young, and they had many things to learn, including many things about one another before they became that absolutely lethal unity which ate the world in its metal jaws and turned it into what they wanted it to become.
Mistakes were made.
Soon after their recovery, Malme made Tremain the head of the new Black Wing and put him in charge of training the new recruits.
It seemed sensible for there was simply no-one who could wrestle, fight or ride with the supreme excellence and classic perfection of Lucian Tremain, or Cia, the demon, as he was known behind his back.
Malme was perfectly happy to give the task of re-building his personal guard entirely to Tremain for he trusted him beyond his own life of course, and in all ways.
Until the night came when Malme was at his table with his new generals and a naked, half starved and bleeding individual stumbled into the tent, threw himself straight into the trays of food before Malme, pleaded for the life of his companions and then stabbed a roasting fork deep into his own heart to take his own life.
The man had been a strong young soldier, the son of an honorourable keep owner from the North, and Tremain's treatments of his men had brought him to this.
When Malme investigated further, he found that all the new knights were in a similarly deranged condition, destroyed in body and in mind, entirely unable to perform the unreasonable burdens of suffering and degradation Tremain had put upon them, unable to flee or desert for terror of what Tremain would do to their families in return, and broken to the extreme.
It is reported that Malme never said a word at all and his face betrayed nothing when he returned from his inspection of the conditions of his new elite force but soon after, an order was given and the training of the new Black Wing went to another. Lucian Tremain was promoted to become Malme's new High General and strategic advisor, and so the problem was solved.
And Tremain had found his rightful place.
Now under the direct supervision and in close daily contact with Malme, his inordinate skills at planning and strategy came into play. There cannot have been a man more rigorously and exactingly trained in the art of war than Tremain, nor a one who would have such a knowledge of battles past, of every kind of warfare, any kind of weaponry.
As long as Tremain was kept in logistics and not allowed to bestow his views on discipline and what he considered to be possible for men to achieve or suffer, he was most likely the greatest asset a king to be could wish for.
Historians over the ages have made a special note of the fact that Malme did not dismiss Tremain after the Black Wing fiasco, nor even showed any signs of distress that he had made such a fundamental error in judgement. It is often cited as an example of what kind of a man Malme really was, and what it takes to become a great king against all the odds, namely that he dealt with the situation exactly as he did - as soon as he became aware of the mistake, he simply rectified it, as quickly and as profoundly as possible, and from then on, things improved dramatically.
It is often held that Malme did not know about Tremain's aptitude for atrocity, that he was blinded somehow by the fact that Tremain saved his life in such a dramatic fashion or his gratitude for Tremain's strategic miracles which created impossible victories from literally nothing, but that actually entirely untrue.
Malme knew Tremain intimately and better than any other man alive.
He also knew of Tremain's real Achilles heels, which included the subject of his conduct with women.
After their recovery from the wounds sustained at the Battle of Ibemar, there was an occasion where Malme decided to celebrate with Tremain, and had two particularly outstanding women brought to the camp.
Planned as a surprise, he took Tremain to the tent which had been specially decorated and outfitted for the occasion and where the two women were awaiting them.
When Tremain saw and understood what Malme had in mind, he pleaded with him to be excused; but Malme misunderstood his behaviour as shyness and commanded the women to charm the young Lord Tremain.
Back in those days, any form of control under these circumstances was entirely beyond Tremain and Malme and the second woman, shrieking in horror, saw Tremain tear the girl apart with his bare hands and teeth.
It would have been impossible for the hero-worshipping scribes and historians to understand or comprehend how Malme took his own knife and slit the throat of the second woman himself to stifle her screams and remove the witness to events; to call the guards himself and with his own hand, lay a cut across Tremain's neck that spurted blood most ferociously but was easily repaired later; to claim that the women had been Solland spies, send to kill them both in a moment of defenselessness, and to have their bodies stuffed into sacks and burned immediately and without proper ceremony as a punishment for their evil deeds.
Malme followed Tremain and watched him clean up. Not a word was spoken, not a question was asked nor an explanation offered and yet information was exchanged, a silent pact arose between them that did more for Tremain's admiration and service to Malme than anything else could have done.
Malme knew now. He knew that Tremain was not acting from caprice or even ill will and that he could rely on Tremain to be absolutely secretive about this side of himself. We cannot know if he ever wondered why this made no difference in his relationship with Tremain at all, but it is possible that Malme did not have such doubts at all; he was not given to second guessing himself.
Malme's actions and thoughts were always directed towards the future, and how to take the now in hand so that the right future would arise.
Tremain, on the other hand, now knew that he had to redouble his efforts to keep this side of himself under control. He cared not for what anyone thought, but the very notion of bringing Malme into disrespect simply by association must have been such a powerful fear and driving force to Tremain, that it served to keep his actions under control and away from his court and war activities from that day forth.
And indeed, it was entirely controlled. No-one ever learned of Tremain's loss of volition in those situations and all the atrocities ordered and committed by his hand later on, countless though they were, never even had a single rumour about the true nature of affairs, not in all the years of Malme's campaigns, not in the autumn of his glorious reign, and not in all the many centuries that followed.