The rest of the men are down to boiling the leather of their shoes. Stannis refuses to let them take apart their armor, though, for there may be a battle before this siege ends. Better to fight shoeless than without a leather breastplate.
As lord, he’s entitled to the last of the meat. The last stringy cat, a few rats, all days’ old now, but it’s meat. It smells like something from the trash heap, even though he’s forgotten what it’s like to feel not hungry. But it’s his right and he won’t be picky.
Maester Cressen is too old to withstand starvation. Stannis has him sent to bed, to live or die in honor, and takes all the old man’s responsibilities onto his own shoulders. When he walks, he imagines he can hear them start to creak under the weight. They’re just bones. All of him is like that. Eyes caving into his skull, skin tight against arms and legs. Each day’s practice in his martial skills is shorter than the one before as his strength wanes. Dogs, cats, rats…they aren’t enough to keep muscle on his body.
Today he doesn’t even bother with drills. He cooks the last cat and spends an hour getting the bits of meat from the bones. It steams and though it’s digusting his mouth waters. Stannis swallows hard, piles the meat on a metal plate, and walks up to the tower that his ancestors lived and died in.
Renly used to be the terror of the castle that had Maester Cressen wheezing and cursing, his robes flapping about his old body as he chased the black-haired child. But all those fantasies of wizards and knights have faded as his brother realizes that Robert isn’t coming, so there’s no terror caused by Renly any longer. No warhammer broke the siege and no wagon arrived full of Renly’s favorite sweetmeats, no matter how many times Renly played it out with his toys. Robert never comes for Stannis, he could have told his little brother, and has probably forgotten that Renly exists. It’s left unsaid, though, like all the rest.
When Stannis walks in, his brother is sitting cross-legged and staring out the window, a stone knight clutched in his hand. ”Is it over?”
“No,” Stannis says, and puts the plate of cat meat next to Renly on the window bench. “I’ve just brought you supper.”
Renly stares at the pile of food, pathetic as it is. “They said all the cats were gone because we’d eaten them. Did you say they could eat the cats?”
Stannis grits his jaw because Renly never makes sense. He’s still made of dreams and nonsense without any of the intelligence, the hardness, that manhood brings. “We’ve eaten all the horses and dogs, yes, and now all the cats too. This is the last one.”
For a moment the boy looks up at Stannis, blue eyes full of weakness when only a few months before they’d been full of mischief. Then, like the snap of a bowstring, he shoves the plate onto the floor, spilling the meat. “I won’t eat a cat, I won’t!”
Stannis’ knuckles go white while he scoops the food back onto the plate. “It’s already dead, Renly. It died so you can live a day longer. Eat it.”
“I won’t!” Renly yells, trying to sound fierce but only sounding desperate. He’s a scrawny boy of five and Stannis is a great warrior, after all.
Why did the gods plague me with brothers? Stannis pushes the plate towards Renly. “If you don’t eat, you will die.”
“I don’t want to eat it.” Renly’s voice wavers, so tired, so weak, and his little hands are balled into fists. “You eat it.”
“I don’t need it,” Stannis says, lips tight. It’s only half a lie—he has more muscle to lose, even if only a few days’ worth. Renly’s stubbornness, his childish naivete, is almost worse than the starvation. Almost. “Baratheons don’t die. You are a Baratheon. Eat, Renly. There’s nothing else.”
Hunger is a powerful weapon and the food smells like food, no matter how horrid. Renly’s only five and his willpower is non-existant. A tear drips from his eyes as he gives in and takes the plate from Stannis. Fingers trembling, he takes a bite of the meager food.
“Good.” Stannis can’t watch it anymore, his stomach rolling and challenging his will to abstain. Swallowing hard, he turns and walks swiftly towards the door. “Eat it all like a good boy.”
“I hate you,” Renly says behind him.
I love you too, brother. He walks out, his face a grim mask that seems to scare everyone from talking to him. That’s good. This is no time for pleasantries and no time for appreciation. Stannis does none of this for glory (and he’d be a fool to try, for no one rewards the real sacrifices). So doesn’t care if Renly hates him—he doesn’t—as long as Renly doesn’t die first.