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Brother, It's Cold Outside

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Renly tucked his cock back into his breeches of thick black wool. He wiped the spit and seed from Satin's lower lip with his thumb, before wrapping his lips around his thumb and sucking it clean with a pop.

"Will you be at the choosing?" he asked.

"I haven't taken my vow yet," said Satin. "Only sworn brothers get a vote."

"Lucky you," said Renly.

Satin was still a recruit, and could yet make a run for it if he chose. Not that a brothel raised boy from Oldtown would last long in the far north. Renly had said the words himself in Castle Black's sept when he'd turned twelve, and even if he had tried to flee before his nameday, he'd had nowhere else to go, and Ned Stark would have stopped him at Eastwatch and turned him over to his brothers.

Renly ruffled Satin's hair, and tugged him up by his elbow. "Give me a five minute head start before you leave."

The door swung open easily; in his haste Renly must have neglected to latch it.

Outside the sky was clear and black, but a bitter wind picked up fallen snow and whipped it around Renly, who hunched deep into his cloak. Stannis Baratheon stood silhouetted against the great, grey wall of ice.

"Where is your sword belt?" Stannis demanded of his brother.

Renly scratched his fingernails through his beard; he had spent much of his youth with sparse, itchy patches of fuzz on his cheeks, and his full beard was still a source of great pride to him.

He knew of only two men at the wall who stayed clean-shaven: Satin, who was new to this cold, and vain of his smooth-skinned prettiness; and Stannis, who preferred to let the bitter, northern winds carve his face into planes as hard and cold as those of the wall.

"I left it in the barracks," said Renly. Truth be told, it had fallen to the floor when Satin had tugged Renly's breeches down, and he'd neglected to pick it up afterwards. "I'll go back."

"It is of little matter," said Stannis, turning away and walking in the direction of the common hall, obviously expecting Renly to follow him.

Renly frowned, confused. Stannis had been the one to insist that Renly train with sword and shield, even once it had become obvious that he had little aptitude for it and was destined to spend most of his career in the watch counting onions. And as lord steward himself, Stannis had long insisted that all the cooks, squires, and craftsmen go about their work armed.

Renly was not without reason to be grateful for his brother's training. When wildlings had attempted to breach the wall under the cover of the new moon all the sworn brothers, stewards included, had been summoned to help defend Castle Black.

Renly had bragged often to Robert of the wildling he'd sent tumbling to his grave by slashing at the man's face the instant he'd topped of the wall. Every time he'd retold his story it had grown embellishments, and Renly had never totally understood why Stannis had never gainsaid him by telling Robert of how, after the brief battle, he had found Renly shaking in one of the warming sheds, having lost his last meal all over the floor.

He couldn't help but wonder if Stannis had opened the unlatched barracks door and seen Renly and Satin together; there was a vein popping angrily in Stannis' temple, but that was not uncommon and might mean anything.

Renly fell into step beside Stannis as they passed the ice cell where Jon Arryn's body still lay; even cold as it was the old lord commander must be getting... ripe. The watch had planned to give his body to the old gods just as soon as a new lord commander was chosen, and here they were on the ninth day of the choosing.

Renly could not find it within himself to grieve overmuch for the old man, who had never bothered to hide his disappointment that Renly had not grown into the warrior or leader of men that his brothers were.

Ned Stark had told him once that Jon Arryn had joined Stannis in asking the Iron Throne to be merciful and give Storm's End to Renly; he was but a child, they'd said, and ought not be punished for the crimes of his family.

The wall was mercy, King Rhaegar had told them, and that much only because Lady Lyanna had begged for it.

And so as a boy of six Renly had been sent to Moat Cailin, clinging to Stannis' leg; there they had been joined by Robert and Ned Stark, the leaders of the rebellion were being delivered to Castle Black in chains.

One of Renly's earliest memories was of Robert threatening to beat the tears from his eyes. Stannis had replied that Renly had not eaten a full meal in a year on account of Robert's fool rebellion, and if Robert struck Renly, then Stannis would strike Robert.

Later, Stannis had beaten the tendency to weep from Renly himself, but Stannis and Robert's relationship had never recovered from that first, shocking display of fraternal defiance.

"I wonder if we truly will reach a decision tonight?" Renly asked conversationally, and in response received only an audible grinding of Stannis' teeth.

Renly and Stannis pushed their way into the common hall, which was heaving with black brothers, and reeked of wet wool and unwashed bodies. Renly made a face, screwing up his nose, and divested himself of his cloak.

In the normal course of a choosing, sworn brothers would cast their votes throughout the day, as they happened to be passing through the common hall, whether for a meal or to gossip like fishwives. Some wouldn't bother to vote, and others would trade their votes for extra rations. But this choosing had been going on for more than a week, and still no candidate had reached the two-thirds majority.

Their new maester, a fat youth by the name of Samwell, had come up with the bright idea that they should all gather together to vote, and vote again, until a decision was reached.

"Brothers!" Robert bellowed from his place at the high table. Stannis clenched his jaw and crossed the hall, with Renly following in his wake.

Robert sat between the Old Bear and the young maester, he waved his goblet in greeting and sloshed ale onto the maester's robes; Sam hunched down and said nothing, and Robert didn't seem to notice the spillage.

Robert lounged in the common hall of Castle Black as though he were still in the high hall of Storm's End; his puffy, red face gave lie to a body still solid from wading through the waist high snows beyond the wall.

As always when he came face to face with his eldest brother Renly felt his powerful desire for Robert's approval go to war with how repellent he found the ale soused first ranger.

On the high table sat a pile of voting tokens, and three bowls, one for each candidate for the office of lord commander: Robert Baratheon, first ranger out of Castle Black; Stannis Baratheon, the lord steward, and Jeor Mormont, who commanded the Shadow Tower.

Any sworn brother could be nominated for lord commander, and on the first day of the choosing there had been more than a dozen candidates; Dolorous Edd had even nominated Renly as a jape. But as the days wore on the joke candidates and those with the least support had fallen away. Ned Stark had removed his own name from consideration; it was not that he was exactly happy to be exiled from Winterfell, but in command of Eastwatch-by-the-sea he was as unhappy as he cared to be.

"You're late," said Robert, as Stannis took his position on the other side of Mormont.

"I was looking for Renly," said Stannis curtly, and without looking at either of them.

"And what's Renly been up to, eh?"

Renly met Robert's gaze, then let his eyes slip away, pretending to fuss with his gloves where they were shoved through his belt. As much as he craved Robert's attention, it never failed to make him feel small and unworthy.

When Renly had first been caught, at the age of five-and-ten, sucking another boy's cock Robert had talked of taking him beyond-the-wall. Stannis had forbidden it; as a steward, admittedly a piss poor one, Renly was under his command.

It had been far from the first time Renly had been the subject of one of his brothers' fights. Robert had thought that Renly could be fixed, and Renly could still recall the way Stannis' voice had brooked no argument when he'd said: there's nothing wrong with the boy, nothing raping wildling girls will fix, anyway.

In a doomed effort to please his eldest brother, Renly had let Robert take him to the brothel in Mole's Town. The whores here weren't much, Robert had said, but they were better than boys. After Robert's favourite wench, a grey-eyed girl a year Renly's junior, had tried and failed to coax a rise out of his cock, they had ridden back to Castle Black in oppressive silence and not spoken of the matter since.

"Um," said Maester Samwell, pushing his chair away from the high table with a pained, wooden groan.

"Before we go through with this mummer's farce--" Robert addressed Stannis alone, although Mormont, Sam, Renly, and two hundred black brothers couldn't help but hear him too "--are you sure you don't want to do your duty as my younger brother and drop out."

"This is Castle Black, Robert," Stannis replied stiffly, "not Storm's End."

Robert shrugged carelessly. "How many stewards have ever become lord commander, anyway?"

The maester puffed up like he was going to answer, peeked nervously between the quarrelling brothers, and deflated in silence.

"Three," said Renly, affecting disinterest. "Lord stewards, at least." That, at least, was what Sam had told Renly when Renly had spoken to him before putting Stannis' name forward.

"Um," the maester cleared his throat and tried again. "So, each of the candidates will say a few words and then we'll vote, okay?"

Jeor Mormont rose and gave a speech about how he would command the night's watch in the same manner that he had always commanded the Shadow Tower; it made Renly's eyes heavy, but everyone knew that the Old Bear had the Shadow Tower vote locked up.

Stannis shoved his chair back sharply, cleared his throat, paused, and said, "I took the black fifteen years ago. In that time I have served as lord steward, and seen the men of the watch armed, clothed, and fed. I have done my duty and defended the wall when called upon to do so."

Stannis stopped as abruptly as he'd begun. Renly sighed heavily; Stannis had done a piss poor job of selling himself, he at least might have mentioned his heroism during the battle at the bridge of skulls.

Dolorous Edd caught Renly's eye, and mouthed, Really?

Renly could only hope Stannis didn't see him mouth yes, really, back at Edd.

Stannis knew nothing of Renly's low-key charm offensive to win him votes. He would probably consider Renly using charm to help get him into the lord commander's tower little better than if Renly had been trading handjobs for votes.

Robert rose from his chair like a rock fall in reverse. "I am a man of the watch! And the lord commander should be a man of the watch, and not some dragonspawn--!"

Renly couldn't help rolling his eyes. For years now it had been rumoured that Rhaegar Targaryen's legitimised bastard was going to take the black, and when Jon Arryn had fallen ill many had assumed that the boy would be sent north to take command.

Robert had seen nothing of Jon Targaryen since he was a babe in his mother's arms, but had nursed a loathing of him since even before his royal father had named him prince of the confiscated Storm's End.

There was no evidence beyond speculation that the baseborn prince was bound for the wall, and Satin, who had once seen Prince Jon in the company of his half sister in a brothel in Oldtown, said he seemed happy enough in the south.

Still, many of the black brothers were men who had fought in Robert's losing rebellion, and his Targaryen bashing spoke to something deep inside them. A ragged cheer rose up.

"Okay, um, I'll go first," said Maester Samwell. He picked up a voting token, his gaze flickering nervously between Robert and Stannis, and cast his vote for Jeor Mormont. Sam scurried to the side of the room and attempted to disappear within his robes.

"Renly," Robert ordered, "you next."

Renly stepped forward and picking up a voting token. He had voted in the earlier days of the choosing, but never with his brothers watching. Robert stared arrogantly, expectantly at Renly.

He met Robert's stare evenly, and cast his vote for Stannis.