Standing outside the practice field under a tree that was shedding entirely too much pollen out of its many blossoms, Renly watched the younger boys run around with practice swords in hand, grins on their faces and cheeks flushed with excitement as they did anything and everything but practiced. The Master at Arms had decided to take a break, it seemed, and the squires had started to run freely, playing a variety of games.
Leaning against the fence and cherishing the shade that shielded him from the warm light from the high summer sun, Renly pursed his lips and observed the Master at Arms for a moment, the man lounging against the side of the weapons shed, eyes closed and mouth slack as he took a nap. Renly was trained by him, as was Stannis and Robert until they went off to squire with other lords. He’d seen more men pass through the halls of Storm’s End than most would ever meet in their entire life. He had experience and respect…
And yet he still let children run around with swords. Dull practice swords, of course, but swords none-the-less.
Sighing, Renly slumped further against the fence, chin resting on the palm of his hand, eyes drifting over to his new squire. Curly hair flying behind him and long limbs carrying him forward, Loras Tyrell chased after another boy, gaining speed on him quickly as they ran through the practice yard playing a game of what Renly assumed was Shadowcats and Deer. It only took a few seconds before Loras had caught the boy, the two laughing as the tides were changed and Loras was to be the prey, bounding away across the field, seemingly unfazed by exhaustion of any kind.
Loras had arrived only a few months ago, determination in his eyes to be the best that there was, his head held high and his chest puffed out. Renly knew that Tyrells were a haughty bunch, but Loras seemed to have taken such a title and run with it, all cock-sure about his abilities despite being a young boy with little to no formal training. But he was getting there, despite Renly’s misgivings the first time he’d seen the small, skinny boy enter Storm’s End in the middle of the day, drenched to the bone from a summer shower, making him look even smaller than he was. In fact, Loras impressed most everyone at the Keep. He was dutiful and respectful, did what was asked of him, and he did it well. He didn’t cut corners nor did he complain when he was asked to do something, even if it involved mud and grime.
He was the perfect squire.
And yet Renly hadn’t bonded with him…
He watched as Loras ducked an outreaching arm that attempted to pat him, and smiled as Loras rolled out of the way of another would-be shadowcat attack.
Loras had… kept his distance from Renly. At least, that’s how Renly felt. While Loras was with him practically all the time, serving as his squire, Renly hadn’t managed to break through his duty first exterior like the other boys had. He laughed and played games with them, while with Renly he acted as professional as he possibly could, doing what Renly asked of him and nothing more. Loras did not laugh and joke with him, and he never ever played Shadowcats and Deer with him.
But the thought of wanting to play such a kids game with someone four years younger than he made Renly blush, completely embarrassed at his jealousy. Loras was just one and ten, while Renly was one and five and a lord on top of that. He shouldn’t want to play silly games with his squire…
And yet he did.
He wanted to see Loras smile and have a good time with him—not with the other boys.
Renly hadn’t grown up with many children his age. His first few years were spent with warriors and his brother as they holed themselves up in the Keep. The time to play and act like child was always overshadowed by the need to survive, or by Stannis reminding him that he wasn’t to be frivolous—they were at war, a war their brother had started, so Renly ought to behave. By the time the war was done and the Keep was his, Renly was now seen as a lord and no longer as a child, despite being only eight. His friends had become the adults around him, serving ladies and fellow lords alike. They were the ones Renly would speak to and they were the ones he’d play with. Whether it be with dolls and wooden knights, or running through the keep with a makeshift cape and nothing but imagination.
But the adults would not play with him for long, and soon Renly was left alone to do what he’d like. He’d run around on the shore near the sea, collecting seashells while imagining what it would be like to be a merman, or he’d go into the woods alone to watch the deer as they frolicked together, combating the feeling of loneliness by pretending the deer were his friends, even when they ran away from him as he crashed through the bushes.
Renly was used to being alone, and while he did not like it, he had become accustomed to it, just as he’d become accustomed to having no family despite what his brothers would tell him in their infrequent letters. But when he was told he’d be receiving his own squire—a little boy from Highgarden—he was excited at the prospect of having a friend. Someone closer to his age who he could talk to, who would listen to his dreams and his fears, his aspirations and his colourful imagination.
But Loras hadn’t become that. Loras kept his distance, just like the other boys had who had come to train at Storm’s End. Renly didn’t understand it, really, but his older age made it so he felt terribly embarrassed about ever asking Loras to play a game of Shadowcats and Deer with him.
Letting out another sigh, Renly pushed himself off from the fence, once again staring at the Master at Arms who still hadn’t woken from his afternoon nap. Rolling his eyes, he scratched the back of his neck just as the feeling of being watched crept up his spine, making his skin tickle further. Looking off to the side, his eyes locked with Loras’ as he stood at the other end of the practice yard, cheeks flushed and skin shining under the glare of the sun. Loras’ large hazel eyes were full of curiosity as they observed at each other, before he was smiling—small and hesitant, but enough to make Renly return it, a little thrill going through him as Loras broke out into a larger grin.
It didn’t last long, Loras having been tackled to the ground just as a flower dropped on Renly’s shoulder, making him jump as a flash of white whirled past his gaze. But it was enough, and as Loras scrambled up to chase after the other boys, Renly found it in him to speak to him later that night, and see if perhaps he’d like to play a game of cyvasse—like friends were supposed to do.
Sitting at his desk, Renly scribbled away at some document, deciding he might as well finish up what he was supposed to be doing, even though it was terribly dull work. When he was younger and been told he would be a lord, he didn’t imagine it would involve so many pieces of parchment and fingertips stained with ink.
Loras was walking around his room, having almost finished up his nighttime chores. His shadow was dancing across the walls as he passed the light candles, catching Renly’s eye every so often as he moved from one corner of the room to the other, saying little and doing his job accordingly.
Taking a steadying breath, Renly went back to his work, attention mostly fixed on Loras and what he wanted to ask of him. It was silly, really—he was being silly. It shouldn’t be so difficult to ask someone to play a game of cyvasse before the candles were put out and everyone went to sleep. It was a good way to relax after a long day outside; Loras would enjoy it.
Still, Renly couldn’t stop thinking about how pitiful he must look—an older boy desperately asking a younger boy to play a game with him. Completely pitiful… and yet…
“Would you like to play a game?” Renly asked, putting his quill back in the ink pot, a sudden surge of courage coursing through him. Loras paused what he was doing, hands on a pair of Renly’s riding gloves as he stood in the middle of the room.
“Pardon, my lord?”
“Would you like to… play game… with me?” he repeated, his voice faltering this time as Loras continued to stare at him. “I mean, we could play a game of cyvasse, or I know this fun drawing game we could try. I could teach you the rules, if you’d like.”
Loras smiled then, but it was hesitant, his gaze going down to the gloves in his hands. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, my lord.”
Renly’s heart dropped then, but he tried to keep smiling, although the hope in it was gone. “Oh… I… that’s alright, I suppose.”
“U-Unless that is an order,” Loras said quickly, head snapping back up, eyes wide. “Unless you’d like to play I suppose I cannot refuse.”
Renly shook his head. He didn’t want to order someone to be his friend. “No, I was just… wondering if you’d like to play,” he said, throat a bit tight as he spoke. Why didn’t Loras want to play a simple game of cyvasse with him? Sighing he went to pick up his quill when Loras approached his desk, curiosity in his eyes. “Yes?”
“Are you alright, my lord?”
No. “Yes, I am fine,” Renly said, looking anywhere but Loras’ face. “I’m just… a bit curious, I suppose.”
Sighing again, Renly put his quill back down and folded his hands together, trying to keep from fidgeting. “I’m just wondering why you never want to play any games with me.” As soon as he asked he regretted it. He sounded so… so small in his head—like a little child, tugging at his mother’s skirt asking to be picked up. His brothers would be appalled. Staring down at his linked fingers, he rubbed the pad of his thumbs against the sides of his hands, trying to stop the unease from getting to him.
“I’m sorry, my lord,” Loras said, and Renly could see he was wringing the gloves between his hands. Regarding him, Renly watched as Loras chewed at the corner of his lip, looking much the young boy that he was. “It’s just… well, my mother told me to behave my best while I was here as your squire. She said I should do as my lord commands and to never be a bother. She also told me to not… not challenge you in any way.”
“Why would she say that?” Renly asked, genuinely curious.
“Well… because I’d win, my lord. If we played a game I know I’d win. I must not appear better than you, my lord.”
Because I’d win…
Renly started to laugh. He didn’t mean for it to come out, but it shot out past his lips before he could stop it. Sitting back in his chair, he chuckled behind his hand, eyes squeezed shut as he tried to compose himself. Loras, win against him? Loras was younger than he and smaller at that. Yes, he showed great promise, but that did not mean he’d outshine Renly at every turn. Trying to compose himself, he opened his eyes and returned his attention to Loras. His eyes were bright with anger and his cheeks were flushed, the haughty Tyrell persona coming out in full force as he raised his chin a fraction.
“I-I’m sorry,” Renly said, little bursts of laughter coming out despite his better judgement. “I just… did not expect that.” Swallowing down any other giggles, he sat up straighter and ran a hand over his face. “You don’t have to fear that, Loras.”
“And why not?” Loras asked, still wringing the leather gloves. He was going to twist the leather and ruin them if he kept that up…
“Because you won’t win against me,” he replied, reaching out to gently take the gloves away from him.
The flush on Loras’ cheeks grew darker in that moment, and his eyes narrowed for just a second until they were once again wide and seemingly innocent. “Fine then… I will play a game with you, my lord.”
Renly couldn’t help but grin, pleased that Loras had taken him up on the offer, even if it had now become a competition. Still, there wasn’t anything wrong with a little competition. “Alright, I’ll get the cyvasse set,” he said, standing to get the game before Loras stopped him.
“No!” he said, mouth snapping shut almost immediately. “I mean, if it pleases you, my lord, perhaps we could race. Tomorrow after I am done my training?”
Renly looked Loras over then, noticing the obvious height different between them. Loras was small and slight, and although he may be the fastest of the other boys his age, Renly knew he’d easily overpower his smaller legs. But the determination in Loras’ gaze, and the promise of having a bit of fun without lordly duties to attend to made Renly nod in agreement. “Right, we will race tomorrow after your morning practice. I will meet you at the stables?”
Loras nodded and bowed. “Yes, my lord.”
“Shall we raise the stakes?”
Loras gazed suspiciously at Renly then, lips open in a pout as he mouthed the words. “Raise the stakes? Do you mean a bet?”
Renly nodded, feeling a sense of giddiness he hadn’t felt in some time. “Yes, a bet. If I win… you have to play another game with me.”
“And if I win?” Loras asked, a brow raised.
“You don’t have to saddle my horse for a week. I’ll do it all myself.”
“But… I enjoy saddling your horse.”
Renly paused. “Oh… Well then what would you like?”
Loras smiled then—an honest, happy smile. “If it’s not too much trouble, I’d like to learn how to hawk. My brother breeds hawks and I’ve always wanted to learn myself.”
Renly nodded and stuck his hand out for Loras to shake. “Alright, Loras, a race it is. You win and you get to learn to hawk. I win and we play a game of cyvasse.”
Tying his hair back, Renly watched Loras out of the corner of his eye, his young squire doing the same before stretching his arms above his head, face serious but with a certain mischief in his eyes.
“Are you ready for this?” Renly asked, playing with the cuffs on his soft linen shirt. He’s worn simple trousers, a thin tunic and long boots—what he’d normally wear were he practicing lighter activities such as dancing or lounging about his room where no one could see him in such simple clothes.
“Of course,” Loras said, completely confident. Renly rolled his eyes, although he was pleased with how eager Loras looked. He’d had second thoughts about the race in the morning, remembering how Loras thought he was ordering him to play. But he pushed those thoughts aside, also remembering the deal they’d made and the tiny thrill he’d seen in Loras’ eyes. Loras wanted to do this just as much as Renly did. Besides, if he beat Loras now, he’d have to play another game with him.
“So, we start here and race toward the beach to that circular stone formation near the surf… simple enough, right?”
Loras nodded, practically bouncing in place as they approached the edge of the stables. Making a line with the toe of his boot, Renly stood back across from it and got into position, Loras doing the same.
“Three… two… one!”
The two shot off down the way, Renly gaining speed and overtaking Loras quickly. His longer limbs and the strength in them gave him a definite advantage, and Renly couldn’t help bit grin as he hurled himself around a path and down toward the sea, working his body as fast as it could go, determined to win. The wind from the sea and the speed at which he was moving made Renly’s hair come out of the ribbon it’d been tied in, black locks whipping around freely, reminding Renly of when his old Maester Cressen would stop to tell him he needed his locks cut, for he was beginning to look like a wild child.
He took that term to heart in that moment, letting himself go wild as his heart pounded in his chest and his feet hit the sand, not a care in the world as he sprinted toward the rocks that signaled the finishing line. He was so close he could practically feel it, and despite the burning in his legs and in his lungs he kept going, determined to win and to prove to Loras that he wasn’t the best at everything.
But then something flashed past him. Small and speedy, Renly only had time to see curls and a grinning face before Loras was out in front, charging toward the rocks like a hunting horse. Renly couldn’t believe it—he honestly couldn’t believe it. He thought he had it—he thought he’d won. Loras was smaller than he and not as powerful. He’d been in the lead the entire time. How could Loras beat him?
Slowing down, he jogged toward the rocks the rest of the way, and arrived to see Loras lying in the middle of them all, spread out and breathless, a huge smile on his face as he stared up at the sky.
“How did… I mean…” Renly panted out, stopping beside a rock, leaning against it. Pushing his bangs out of his face, he stared at Loras as his squire sat up, chest heaving as he grinned triumphantly across at Renly.
“I paced myself,” he said, then added on a ‘my lord’ quickly.
Shaking his head, Renly tried not to glare at Loras. That cocky little smirk of his was certainly irritating, however. Sliding down the rock, he sat at its base, feet kicked out while his fingers dug into the cool sand. “I guess you win, then…” he mumbled over the sound of the surf.
Maybe it was best Loras won. After all, how would it look if Renly defeated an eleven year old? Pitiful, that was what it would look like. Still, losing to Loras displeased Renly more than he’d cared to admit. He’d been so confident he’d win, and the bet…
Now Loras wouldn’t play other games with him.
Frowning, he picked up a shell he’d discovered in the sand, and tossed it a little ways away. By the gods he was pathetic… and sore. And lonely.
“So, tomorrow will you take me hawking?” Loras asked, sitting down beside Renly in the sand. Renly immediately ripped his gaze away from the sand near his feet to peer at Loras, a brow raised high.
“You want me to take you hawking?” he asked, completely surprised. “I thought you’d like to the falconer to teach you.”
“Aren’t I your squire and aren’t you my lord? I thought you were supposed to teach me things,” Loras said, picking up a shell, tossing it further than the one Renly had thrown.
“I suppose,” Renly said, fiddling with a little clam shell, throwing it a bit further than Loras’. “Did you want me to teach you?” The thought of teaching Loras something—something he knew nothing about but Renly did—made him warm inside. This was what he thought he’d get to do when he was told he’d have his own squire. He’d get to teach him things and spend time with him. They’d get to become friends.
“If it is not too much trouble, my lord,” Loras said. He tossed another shell. It went much further than Renly’s.
“No, it shouldn’t be. And if it is, I’ll make room to teach you. I am the lord of the Keep, and what I say should go.”
Loras smiled and nodded as Renly threw another shell. “And then we can play that drawing game you suggested last night.”
“Yes… yes I suppose we can.” Renly couldn’t help but feel a bit of happiness spike through him, the mere thought of having someone to do things with—someone close to his own age— was exciting and a delight. “You’ll have to listen to what I say, though. You can’t pretend you know how to do something just to show off.”
“My lady Grandmother told me never to show off,” Loras said. Renly couldn’t help but laugh as Loras actually looked bashful for a moment. Oh yes, Loras did not appear to be the type to try and impress—not at all.
“Have you ever wanted to fly?”
Renly stopped playing with the lacings on his boots and turned to look at Loras. Twirling a falcon feather between his fingertips, Loras watched the tip of it as it became almost invisible it was swirling so fast, before it slowed to reveal a white tip streaked with grey. “Have I ever wanted to fly?”
Loras nodded, eyes narrowing as he stared at the tip, inspecting it almost.
Renly shrugged. “Of course I have—I think most everyone would like to fly.”
Renly wasn’t surprised by the question, in all honesty. It had been two weeks since Loras had started to spend more time with Renly, and the two had been slowly developing a bond—a friendship, Renly liked to think of it as. But it was just a basic friendship, the two of them having silly conversations such as if they could be any animal, which animal would they choose to be, or gossip about some of the lords and ladies they’d met throughout their life. Nothing substantial, really, but enough to make Renly laugh and smile and remember what it was like to be young and carefree and not a lord with duties and responsibilities. Besides, it wasn’t as if Renly had been expecting thrilling conversations about deep and meaningful matters—Loras was still only eleven, after all.
“If I could fly I think I’d go visit my parents,” Loras said, kicking his feet out as they lounged on a bench, the sun setting off in the distance. Loras had been favouring his left side a bit as they sat, and Renly assumed he’d taken a bit of a fall during practice. He was going to ask him about it when Loras brought up his family. Loras cherished his family, this Renly knew, but he didn’t know too much about the Tyrell House, save for what he’d been taught and exposed to as a lord.
“Do you miss your parents?” Renly asked carefully.
Loras shrugged. “A bit, I suppose,” Squinting, he stared out at the sea, the sun still hovering above the horizon. “I just… haven’t been away from them for so long before. I actually miss my sister and brothers more.”
Frowning, Renly wondered briefly what it would feel like to miss someone. He’d learned at a young age that no one ever stayed around for long, and as a result had begun to train himself to not get attached. While he missed certain aspects of relationships, such as steady companionship and someone to spend time with, he never missed a single person—there was never a smiling face that made his heart ache with a sense of loss whenever he thought of them. But the way Loras’ lips were pulled tight and his eyes were now downcast, Renly could tell Loras missed his family dearly. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
“No… no, it’s alright, my lord,” Loras said, putting on a brave face. Tucking a curl behind his ear, he regarded Renly. “Do you ever miss your parents?”
“Can you really miss something you never had?” he asked, mimicking Loras’ movement, pushing a long, straight black lock of hair behind his ear.
Loras’ face seemed to pale then, before a blush covered his cheeks, eyes a bit wide. “I’m sorry, I forgot… I mean, I did not mean to ask such an insensitive question.”
Renly smiled and patted Loras’ arm gently. “It’s alright, Loras—I did not expect you to remember every detail of my life. My parents died when I was still a small babe, so I never really knew them. I suppose I sometimes miss what could have been, but the sense of real loss has never been in me. It is a burden my brothers have had to share…”
“Do you miss your brothers, then?”
Snorting, Renly shook his head. Loras knew little of his lord’s family, it seemed. Then again, not many people in Westeros really knew how divided the Baratheon brothers were, the three of them putting up the false pretense of getting along despite the growing animosity between all three of them. “Not really. I’ve never really… gotten along with them,” he explained. “My brother Stannis… well, we used to get along, I suppose. He took care of me for a time, but I was too young to really know him that well. Besides, he’s always been such a terrible bore—he doesn’t understand humour at all. He’s like, burnt bread—all cracked and tasteless and bland. And then Robert… well, he’s the King. That’s about it. I don’t really know him all that well.”
“Oh…” Loras mumbled, smiling slightly. “What sort of bread would King Robert be, then?”
Renly had been expecting Loras be sympathetic and coo at Renly in that patronising way other people did when he spoke about his family, or perhaps even a look of deep confusion on Loras’ face, not fully being able to comprehend the bitterness and lack of affection Renly had toward Robert and Stannis. After all, most people did not understand the Baratheon dynamic. But Loras… Loras just asked what type of bread Robert would be.
“I don’t know,” Renly said between laughter. “Something really heavy and rich… and round and large.”
“And a crown made out of sausages?” Loras suggested, giggling. That just made Renly laugh harder, the two of them finding humour in the inane little things. Calming down after a time, Renly let out a little sigh and pushed his hair back from his face, grinning.
“If I learn how to fly, I’ll teach you,” he said, looking at the feather in Loras’ hand, remembering their previous conversation. “After all, it’s what a lord should do, no?”
Loras nodded, and the smile on his lips made Renly feel good—feel happy and fulfilled inside. “And if I learn before you, I’ll teach you, my lord. The knight will teach his old master the ways of the sky and the air.”
“Hey now, you’re not a knight yet,” Renly said, stealing the feather from Loras. “As the older, more mature and experienced one, I feel as if I am the one who would learn to fly sooner.”
Loras took the feather back from Renly, quick as a snake. “But as the younger one, I am more open to learning.”
Renly quirked a brow and tried to nab the feather, Loras dodging Renly’s attempt with ease as he slid away from him on the bench, arm stretched to the side. “I am more powerfully built than you.”
“I’m lighter and smaller—birds and light and small,” Loras countered, grinning as Renly kept trying to steal the feather, Loras scooting further and further on the little bench before he was almost off. Mischief and a challenge swirled around in Loras’ hazel eyes, and Renly fed off of it as they both paused, neither moving as they stared at each other, daring the other to make a move. Fingers twitching and muscles tensing, Renly waited as long as he could, pausing to see if Loras, one of the most restless boys he’s ever met in his life, could stay still for too long…
Bolting off the bench, Loras ran away with the feather, Renly not far behind as they hoped over a fence and ran toward the Keep, laughing and yelling, Loras practically screaming with delight as Renly caught up to him just outside the gate, the two wrestling for the feather.
What had become a serious conversation had once again turned light-hearted, Loras’ curious questions turned into playful banter as soon as he’d seen the spark of uncertainty in Renly’s gaze. Renly didn’t recognize it fully just yet, but something told him that Loras would begin to be in tune to Renly’s moods like a musician was to his muse, knowing how Renly felt even before Renly really knew how he felt. It was an equally comforting and terrifying notion, but one he’d learn to cherish in time.
Sitting on the well-worn ledge of a window, Renly stared out at the night sky, the breeze from the sea ruffling his hair and tunic. A slight chill had begun to set in, but Renly refused to leave his perch, legs stretched out on the window sill. Renly had found himself spending many an evening sitting outside his room in the dead of night, the only sound the crashing surf below and the whistle of the wind through the cracks in the stonework of the Keep. When he was a young boy he was quite literally locked in a tower, unable to even spend much time looking out one of the windows that wasn’t boarded up to get some fresh air. It was too dangerous, he’d been told, first by his brother, and then by the other knights in the Keep when Renly refused to believe Stannis.
It was too dangerous, though. It seemed arrows were constantly aimed at the Keep during the siege, and to look out of one for too long could spell an early death, even though the constant darkness and lack of sunlight made one feel as if they were already dead.
But when the doors to the Keep opened after so many years, and the windows were opened and the light spilled in, Renly had refused to ever close his window for well over a year, desperate for the sound of the sea and the feel of the wind and the sun and even the rain on his face and hands. Since the doors opened and life was let in, Renly had spent almost every night sitting outside his room on the sill of a window, his feet dandling, not fearing the height down below. He wouldn’t sit for too long, but long enough to remind himself that there was peace out in the fields below, and that the wind still blew and the stars still twinkled and the air still smelled of life and salt.
Renly thought it odd how quickly he’d warmed up to Loras, given the fact that he was a Tyrell and they had been the ones to shut him in a Keep for his early years. But Renly knew it was war—that was what happened. It was in the past—a past Renly hated to be reminded of. He looked to the future; always to the future. The past was so… inconsequential to what he was going to accomplish.
Resting his head against the stone wall, he closed his eyes and listened to the sea and the wind, the peace of the Keep something to cherish…
Snapping his head around, Renly almost tumbled out the window, hands reaching out just in time to grab the sill, keeping him from plummeting down into the depths of the sea. He didn’t have time to recover, though, as Loras’ hands grabbing his arm, pulling him back into the Keep using all of his (surprising) strength. The two fell down on to the ground, Loras crushed beneath Renly’s weight as they struggled, Loras ‘politely’ requesting Renly get off of him.
When Renly finally figured out which limbs were his and which way was up and which way was down, he rolled off of Loras and stood, dusting himself off as he reached down to assist Loras.
“I’m sorry, my lord,” Loras said, rubbing his elbow. Renly did not care that Loras had tugged him down to the ground as soon as he saw him touch his elbow, wincing a bit in pain, and reached out to take his arm in his hand gently, pushing his sleeve up to see his elbow. Only, it was too dark to see much of anything, so he just rubbed the skin gently.
“Are you hurt?” he asked, Loras taking his arm back.
“No, just a bit bruised,” Loras replied, his smile visible in the moonlight. “I thought for a moment you were going to fall—you’ve shown a tendency to fall down an awful lot if not looked after.”
“I fell down once in the practice yard when I slipped on some mud,” Renly said, trying to defend his honour, pouting. But Loras’ cheeky smile was infectious, and he reached out to ruffle his curls, some of them pressed in against his head from sleep. That reminded Renly—why was Loras wandering about in the middle of the night. “What are you doing out in the hallway late at night?”
“What are you doing?” Loras asked in turn, arms crossed over his chest. The smile he’d been wearing was gone, and instead he looked as if he was guarding a secret with a sullen exterior, eyes narrowed and jaw pushed forward.
“I shouldn’t have to explain myself to you about what I do in my own Keep. I’m the lord here and I get to do what I want. So, what are you doing?”
Sighing, Loras shuffled his feet a bit, nervous energy in him that Renly had never seen before. His jaw relaxed and his eyes opened wider, but instead of opening up he just turned to look out the window, his face cast fully in the light of the moon. Renly could see tears in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Loras, I didn’t mean to upset you,” he said, wondering if he should reach out and touch him—give his shoulder a pat or…?
“No, it’s alright,” Loras began, moving away to lean against the wall, distancing himself from Renly. “I… I hurt. I mean, not like I usually do—not like when I’ve practiced all day out in the field. It feels like my bones ache. I couldn’t sleep so I began to wander, and it started to feel better the more I walked so I kept walking...”
Growing pains. Or so his Maester had called him. Renly remembered having them when he was younger, and occasionally he’d still feel the ache—not as intensely, but it was still there sometimes. It’d start in his shins and work their way up to his knees before finishing in his thighs, making his legs scream to be moved. There seemed to be no reprieve, and even though he begged his Maester to give him milk of the poppy once, he was denied it. He was told he was being too dramatic, and that it would go away soon enough.
Sympathy flooded into Renly as he regarded Loras. “It’s normal, if that is any consolation,” he mumbled. “I had them when I was a bit younger, and sometimes I still get them. My Maester said they are growing pains—everyone goes through them.”
Loras snorted. “That is little comfort…”
Renly shrugged and leaned against the wall opposite of Loras. Fiddling with the cuff of his shirt, he watched Loras as he fidgeted under the moonlight, a vulnerability to him Renly hadn’t seen before. He sighed then, not knowing what he could do to make Loras feel better. Distract him, perhaps?
“Did you want a snack?” he asked after a time, the first thing running through his head being that he was sort of hungry.
Loras didn’t reply for a second, eyes fixed on a point on the wall near Renly’s head. But he then smiled and nodded. “Yes please.”
“Come on—we will sneak into the kitchens,” Renly said, ushering Loras down the hallway toward the stairs.
“You have to sneak into your own kitchens?” Loras asked.
“No, but it’s more fun if I think that I do,” Renly said, rolling his eyes. “Besides, when I was younger I wasn’t allowed in the kitchens without an adult. I once tried to steal a pie that had been placed up on a top shelf in the cellar. I knocked down so many things on my trek to get it, and just as I was about to touch it, I fell. Almost broke my arm.”
“When was this?” Loras asked, trailing beside Renly—ever the dutiful squire. He helped him with his armour, with his horses, and he helped him break into cellars and storage cupboards in kitchens.
“Long ago.” It was a lie—it had happened four years ago when he was eleven, and apparently very ravenous. He’d only been allowed back in the kitchens without supervision a year ago.
It did not take them long to get to the kitchens at the bottom of the Keep, the two trying to stay quiet as they moved about in the shadows, a few times ducking behind objects to hide from the guards or servants who were still awake. It was all great fun, the two feeling like assassins as they slid between shadows and doorways.
When they arrived at the cellar, Renly shut the door before they both started to laugh, having had to hold it in the entire way as they made fools of themselves, playing make-believe in the middle of the night.
“Did you see that one serving ladies’ face as she saw you run behind a door?” Loras asked from behind his hand, still laughing.
Renly nodded, unable to reply as he leaned against the table for support. Her face as he practically dived out of the way was funny in and of itself, but thinking about what she must have thought as she watched her lord barrel roll into a door amused him even more.
If the Keep thought their lord had been a bit of a fool when he was a child all alone playing silly games, what must they have thought of him now that he had Loras as a companion?
Loras calmed down first, and immediately went to explore the cellar, a candle burning in the corner, lighting the room in a soft glow. Loras was a curious boy, Renly found out quickly. He asked questions almost as much as he blinked, it seemed. Always wondering about this and that; what this did and what that could do, who said this and who was that—it was almost non-stop. But Renly enjoyed it, loving the fact that he could teach Loras something, even if it was just court gossip. While Loras learned most of his warrior abilities from others (something Loras should be grateful for—Renly wasn’t much of a fighter), he learned his way around the rest of the world following Renly. It felt good to be needed.
“What is this?” Loras asked, pulling down a pot covered with some cloth. Placing it on the table in the middle of the room, he let Renly pull back the cover, a smile blooming on his face as he saw what Loras had found.
“You found some honey,” Renly said, letting Loras look inside.
“Can we have some?” Loras seemed brighter than he had been in the hallway, and Renly hoped that he was fully distracted from the pain.
“Of course we can—what is the point of sneaking down to the kitchens if you’re not going to sample some of the sweeter things?”
Searching further in the room, he found a bit of bread and tore off a chunk and passed it to Loras, the two eating honey and bread together as they sat on the table, feet kicking back and forth. They chatted about nothing in particular, just silly little things that Renly hadn’t realized he’d been longing for. Soon, however, once their stomachs were full and fingers were sticky, Loras began to yawn, and drooped a bit on his perch on the table.
“We should go to bed,” Renly suggested, cleaning everything up so as to hide any evidence they’d been there. Loras nodded and followed Renly, still yawning and rubbing his eyes now and again, trying to keep awake.
Renly was reminded of kittens when they were sleepy, heads bobbing as they nodded off in their little basket along with their siblings.
“How do your legs feel?” Renly asked outside his door, Loras’ room a few doors further down the hallway.
Loras paused a moment, as if he wasn’t quite sure, but nodded quickly, a sleepy smile on his lips. “I feel much better. Thank you, my lord, for helping me. I must admit, the pain also made me feel a bit… well, a bit homesick. I had desperately wanted to go visit my brother Garlan for advice, but my stomach began to ache when I remembered I wasn’t home…”
It was a big thing for Loras to admit a weakness, even if it was something as simple and as universal as homesickness. Renly wasn’t very attached to his brothers or his family, and sometimes he couldn’t wait to leave Storm’s End for a while to see other people in other courts, but there was comfort in familiarity.
“I am glad I could help, Loras. If it happens again, do not hesitate to come and wake me.”
Loras nodded, then paused. “What if I hurt again tonight?”
“Then come wake me.”
Loras regarded Renly for a moment, then moved to enter his room, brushing past Renly as he opened his door and stepped in.
“What are you doing?” Renly asked, following Loras. Shutting the door quietly, he watched with wide eyes as Loras climbed on to Renly’s bed and flopped down on the blankets, curly hair spread out on the pillows.
“I’m sleeping in here tonight, my lord.”
“I didn’t say you could!” Renly said, still shocked. He’d never shared a bed with another person before, and he was certain boys weren’t supposed to share beds.
“May I?” Loras asked. He sat up and peered at Renly, the embers from the fire keeping the room awash in warm hues. Loras always looked so comfortable on the bed, legs crossed and tired eyes watching him carefully. Renly didn’t want to tell him no, and despite knowing there would be questions in the morning about where Loras had run off to, he couldn’t help but nod as he approached the bed and sat down on the other side.
“Don’t hog the blankets,” Renly said, slipping under the cool sheets. “And you better not snore.”
“I don’t snore,” Loras mumbled, getting in under the blankets. “I used to sleep in the same bed with my brother Garlan when it got to be too cold at night. Or my sister Margaery and I would share a bed occasionally, too,” he explained, rolling on to his side to look at Renly as they lay in bed. Doing the same, Renly tried not to fidget, not at all used to having someone in bed with him. He didn’t want to disturb Loras as he slept if he tossed and turned too much, but he also didn’t want to lose sleep being so paranoid about his movements.
But Loras didn’t seem bothered by Renly’s awkwardness, and curled up under the blankets, almost immediately falling asleep before Renly could form a reply to Loras’ little story about spending time sharing beds with his siblings. He couldn’t imagine sharing a bed with his brothers—in fact, the thought almost made him laugh, until he remembered he was next to Loras. Sucking in the laughter, he stayed curled up on his side and stared at the embroidery on one of the pillows between them. Staying in that position for what seemed like hours, he finally he braved moving his legs, stretching them out after having been curled in tightly. The movement did not wake Loras, and Renly then moved his shoulder a bit so he could lie on his back, hyper aware of every movement he was making, and the reaction (or lack there-of) that Loras made in return. But even as he moved around, Loras did not wake, and Renly began to breathe normally, realizing with no amount of embarrassment that he’d even been holding his breath.
Staring up at the canopy of his bed for a time, he watched the light of the flames flicker across the fabric, and listened to the breathing of Loras beside him. It was… soothing. Comforting even, and the anxiety he’d had about sharing his bed with his squire left as soon as he began to doze. Letting out a little sigh, the last thing he remembered was the press of Loras’ nose against his shoulder, and a loose grip on his wrist as he hugged his arm.
“I missed you!”
Renly didn’t even have time to turn around before Loras was tackling him, arms wrapping around his waist tightly as he hurled his body on to Renly’s. Stumbling, Renly grabbed his desk and steadied himself, laughing away the scream he’d almost let out. Loras had startled him.
“When did you get back?” Loras asked, pulling away, allowing Renly to turn around. He looked like he’d grown since Renly had left to take a tour of the Storm Lands, attending to official duties and paying mind to the troubles of the lesser lords who helped take care of the vast and fertile area. He’d spent many a night in another man’s Keep, speaking and dancing and playing the role of the perfect lord who represented his perfect king brother in their perfect kingdom.
Renly thought he’d go mad. Deceitful lies and pettiness seemed to reign anywhere he went, and the droll conversations he had to endure made his mind go numb. But he was back home where he did not have to put up false pretenses, and the sight of Loras, perhaps a little taller and a bit more filled out, made Renly break out into a genuine smile. Reaching out, he tugged a curl near his ear, Loras batting his hand away. “I just returned—only an hour or so ago.”
“You should have told me!” Loras said, bouncing on the spot. “I want to hear about your adventure—who did you meet? Where did you go? Did you see anything interesting? What about the horses—how was riding on the horses for so long? Did you eat any interesting foods?”
Laughing, Renly placed his hands on Loras’ shoulders and shook him gently, getting him to quiet. “Loras, please, I just returned. I’d like to sit for a bit and just rest.”
Loras’ mouth snapped shut then, and a blush crept across his cheeks. “Yes, of course, my lord. I am sorry. I just… I want to hear, when you have time. You couldn’t bring me along, and so I’ve grown more curious over the weeks as to what you’ve been up to and what I’ve been missing out on.”
“You did not miss much,” Renly said, tugging the curl again. Walking around his desk, he sat down heavily and ran a hand through his hair, sighing.
“You look like my father right now,” Loras said, pulling a chair up to sit across from Renly.
“How do you mean?”
“My father always sighs and sits at his desk like a lump whenever he’s been out touring the Reach.”
Renly sighed again. Perfect, he was already an old man. “Tell me; does his headache ever go away?”
“After he’s spent some time at home, yes,” Loras said, grinning as he hunched over and rested his chin on the edge of the desk, peering across the top of it at Renly. They didn’t say anything for a time, Loras inspecting Renly while Renly stared out the window, rain hitting the glass.
“Did you want to play a game of cyvasse?” he asked, a feeling of familiarity creeping over him as he asked.
Only the reply was not familiar. “Alright—I’ll get the game and you sit.” Rising, Loras bounded off to one of Renly’s wardrobes and sat down in front, pulling the bottom drawer out to get the board and the pouch that held the little pieces. Returning, he set the game up, Renly watching him as he slumped in his chair. Once it was all laid out Renly straightened and made the first move, one Loras followed up quickly enough.
Loras, it seemed, had started to train his mind a bit more. He didn’t move around as much as he once did, and the determination and studious expression he wore was like the one he had in the practice field. It made Renly smile, and the two played a good game, the click of the pieces on the board and the patter of rain the window the only sound.
As they continued, Renly found his attention was more fixed on Loras across the way, soaking in his features. Occasionally Loras would look up, and their eyes would lock, a small smile breaking out across Loras’ lips before his eyes returned to the game, a blush on his cheeks.
Renly felt himself relaxing, and the tension he hadn’t aware he’d been holding the last two months left. And it was in that moment, as he stared at Loras and the way the light from the candles made his hair shine, and how the chair he was in didn’t seem to swallow him whole like it once did, that Renly realized this was what it was like to miss someone.
This was what it was like to cherish someone.
This was what it was like to long for someone’s companionship—and not just anyone’s, but a particular person’s.
He’d been feeling glum much of the trip, and he’d spent nights tossing and turning, an ache in his gut as he thought about how much easier it would be if Loras were there with him. He’d become so accustomed to having Loras sleep with him in his bed, to have Loras tail after him in the hallways, and to have Loras there with him to witness both feats of brilliance and those of utter stupidity, that he’d forgotten what it was like before… before he had a friend.
“I missed you,” he said suddenly.
Loras smiled—small and appreciative as he sat back in his chair and looked at Renly across the way. “I missed you too, my lord.”
He realized his heart had been hammering in his chest before he’d blurted it out, and now that Loras had smiled and returned the same sentiments, he felt as if his heart wasn’t trying to claw its way out of his chest cavity. He didn’t know what to say after that, and simply went to make one more move, winning the game, much to Loras’ displeasure. Glowering at the game, Loras scrunched his nose before sighing dramatically.
Apparently Loras did not win everything he played. Then again, he’d certainly won over Renly, and sometimes Renly felt as if he was playing him like an instrument, getting him to do things he wouldn’t normally do, of convincing him of things he would have never believed. And, he made him feel things he’d never felt before—homesickness just being one of them.
“I have a request,” Loras said as he cleaned the game up. “If it’s not too much trouble, that is.”
“Request of me whatever you desire, and I will see if I can fulfill it,” Renly said, watching as Loras’ hand stalled on top of a piece, fingers pressed against it.
“I was wondering if I may call you Renly, my lord. Of course, only in private… It’s just, well… I feel a bit silly calling you ‘my lord’ when we play games such as this. I like to call my friends by their names, not their titles.”
Renly couldn’t help the surge of happiness that swelled through him as the word ‘friend’ was mumbled. He was Loras’ friend… he was someone’s friend.
“I do not mind at all, Loras—anything for a friend.”
“Thank you, Renly.”
“You are welcome, Loras.”
Renly knew that having a friend meant attachments he’d avoided before and responsibilities he wasn’t sure he could live up to, but the thought of tackling all of these new things did not scare Renly. Because when he had a friend like Loras, he knew anything was possible, and greatness was within his grasp so long as Loras was following behind like he always did—his shadow and his confidant; his squire and his warrior; his companion and his friend.