The Serpent amongst Stags

Oberyn Baratheon

The news of King Robert’s demise painted a gloomy shade over Westeros, which was soon flung into the frying pan of civil war. Everywhere there were kings, raising armies, marching against one another, tearing the kingdom to bloody bits. The King on the Iron Throne was backed by the powerful Lannisters. The boy king himself was likely Lannister too, if the rumors about Queen Cersei were of merit. The boy-turn-King of the North was marching south, with the powers of the North rallied to his call of vengeance. The King of the Iron Islands saw it fit to break free from the mainland monarchy. The King on the Narrow Sea set out to claim his birthright.

Renly Baratheon was one of such kings. The King in Highgarden, they called him, with the power of Storm’s End and Highgarden behind his back. Being Robert’s youngest brother and the fourth in line, his claim of the throne was not the most concrete. But, does it matter ? Was there any place for Robert in the line of royal succession when he jammed his war hammer into Rhaegar’s black heart at the Trident, Renly wondered. No, there wasn’t. Robert had become king because he had been strong and the people had had faith in his abilities. If Robert had been able to sit on the Iron Throne, why wouldn’t Renly ? He had power, that was for sure. He had abilities, too. He would be the king to be loved instead of feared. He had the love of people and the will to make their lives content and happy, which, he doubted, his “fellow” kings had. Joffrey had proved himself to be complete monster by executing Eddard Stark mercilessly. He was only a puppet of his mother, of the Lannisters and the Lannisters’ concern for the people was as much as Lord Tywin’s for the Imp. Balon Greyjoy, with his iron lifestyle, would be yet another terrible king. Even the motto of house Greyjoy seemed to scream that a king like Balon Greyjoy would turn Westeros into a huge Iron Island, rough and barren and starved. The Stark king appeared to be a just king, being Eddard Stark’s blood and all, but he was still a green boy who was better at winning than ruling. Yet, if he agreed to bend the knee…

The real problem lied in his elder brother. Oberyn Baratheon, the first of his name, the second son of Lord Steffon, Lord of Dragonstone and the third in line. Oberyn had better claim than Renly, even Ned Stark had made it clear when he refused to side with Renly. The true heir of Robert if somehow Joffrey and Tommen were proved to be of Lannister blood rather than Baratheon. But claims paled in comparison with the size of host, which, by far Renly Baratheon was having the advantage. However, Oberyn was a seasoned warrior and general, as his nickname “Black Serpent” suggested. Soldiers feared and respected him, his or the enemies’. Should Renly have to face Oberyn in the battlefield, his elder brother would be the greatest threat.

A good warrior he was but when it came to ruling, Oberyn would be just a second Robert. Renly bore no malice toward his brothers; he loved them. But love would not hide the truth. Oberyn rivaled their eldest brother in drinking and whoring. He frequented whorehouses just as often as Robert and sired just as many bastards. If there was any difference between them, it would be that Oberyn was still in shape and that he acknowledged all the fruits of his seed. His “Sea Snakes”, he called them, with pride.

The Baratheon brothers met again outside Storm’s End castle. Oberyn Baratheon was pretty much the same, strong and handsome and proud. However, there was a crown rested on his dark hair.

“What a warm reunion you have prepared, brother. To lay siege on the Baratheons’ ancient seat.”

Oberyn, tall on his jet-black stallion and accompanied by his “Sea Snakes”, only shrugged and  smiled.

“I only wanted to see if out little brother was so busy with his kingly business in Highgarden that he would leave our ancient seat to the claws of enemies. To see that he rushed here to meet his brother, I am very pleased.”

“Now that you have seen, what would be your next step ? If you intend to take Storm’s End, I am afraid I have to stop you. Fight you if needed be.” Replied the younger Baratheon.

“Oh, listen to your dear uncle, my little snakes.” Oberyn turned his head to the eight baseborn daughters behind.”He wants to fight your old man. He who has never fought in war before.”

Heat crept up his face but Renly still remained calm.

“Sooner or later, we will all be on battlefield, brother. What matters is which side you are on, the winner’s or the loser’s. I only wish I do not have to fight my own kin. Especially you, brother, who shares the same Baratheon blood as I do.”

“So do I, Renly. But it seems my place in the line of succession is one step ahead of yours.”

“Yet you are raising host to fight the first in line.”

“Joffrey and Tommen are no Robert’s heirs. I have faith in the words of an honorable man like Lord Eddard Stark.”

A stubbornly honorable man, Renly thought.

“There are people who believe they are. In their eyes, you and I are rebels who fight against our own blood. However, Aerys Targaryen did not name Robert his heir and did Robert care ?”

Renly gestured to the vast field filled with the green and gold. “Look around and tell me what you see.”

“Ah, the Tyrells. I remembered well the time when the lords Tyrell and Redwyne nearly starved us to death. I was a bit surprised when they crowned you king. I suppose they make excellent subjects, no ?”

“They are not my subjects, Oberyn. They are my friends.” Renly took a brief glance at the face of his most precious knight riding beside him.”My friends make me king. A man without friends is a friend without power. And Oberyn, how many friends do you have ?”

For a moment, Renly saw a mischievous gleam in Oberyn’s deep ocean eyes. Though he knew his swordsmanship was no match for his brother’s, his hand unconsciously reached for his sword as he watched Oberyn casually approaching.

“Aye, aye. His friends made Robert king and your friend make you king. Seven hells, not only do you look like Robert, you sound like Robert. I almost see our brother there, minus fifteen years of laziness.”

Oberyn was laughing when the elder Baratheon reached for his crown of bronze. To Renly’s surprise, he threw his crown over the cliff, down the ocean. The embodiment of power was soon washed away by the waves.

Whispers sprouted like mushrooms after the rain but the Black Serpent remained tranquil.

“Spare me this kingly business. I am not made for ruling. Neither was Robert. Just look at what the crown had done to him. Seven hells, I am more fitted to drinking and whoring and fighting. But being a king, no! You are different from the two of us, Renly. Sometimes too different that I begin to doubt whether mother had really given birth to you. You may become a better king than Robert was.”

Renly eyed his brother with awe. It was a queer act for a king to throw away his crown, yet it was so… Oberyn. Spontaneous, proud and strong. The brother Renly admired.

“I was reluctant to don this crown as my men urged me. I promised them that I would see and judge if my brother was a better choice for the Iron Throne. I have seen that he is.”

Pride swelled in his heart. To Renly Baratheon, there were few things as sweet as his elder brothers’ acknowledgement.

“Would you fight by my side, brother ? When I sit on the Iron Throne, you will be lord of Dragonstone as well as Storm’s End.”

“Now you are offering terms, eh, Renly ?” Oberyn laughed. “Storm’s End is fine but it is the fightings that excite me. Even if I join you, no bending knee or ‘Your Grace’ !”

“Of course not. You are my elder brother after all. And my heir till my son is born.”

“Spare me that, too. I have enough of being my brothers’ heir.”

The Baratheon brothers both laughed; their laughters were joined by the waves crashing the stony shore.

“So I will lead the vanguard ?”

The Baratheons brothers were sitting in Renly’s tent, around the map. Aside from Oberyn and Renly, Loras was the only one around.

“Who else is more fitting, my brother? I can almost imagine their fears when seeing the Black Serpent coming to devour them.”

“I can think of a few. Your brave Knight of Flowers, for example.”

“A seasoned general is best suited for this honor, my lord.”

“Humility doesn’t suit you, Loras. Quit that !” Oberyn snarled, not unfriendly.

“I trust you the most for this task, Oberyn. To lead the host and attack King’s Landing while mine will look out for Lord Tywin’s.”

“So I will take King’s Landing for you. What’s my prize ?”

The look Renly gave him was comical.

“Weren’t you who said fighting excited you the most ?”

“Aye, aye. But a little prize only sweetens it, no?”

“Name what you want and I will grant it.”

A devious smile graced his lips.

“How about your pretty Knight of Flowers for a night ?”

Renly and Loras were looking at him with eyes wide as a goose’s egg. Oberyn tried hard to suppress his laughters.

“What madness are you talking about, Oberyn Baratheon ?”

Both king and knight shouted in perfect unison.

No “my brother” or “my lord”, eh ?

“Come on Renly. Just one night. It isn’t like I claim your beloved knight as my concubine.”

“Oberyn I…am….”

“Not into boys or not like you ?” Oberyn finished the sentence for him. “We are brothers, Renly. We are bound to have something in common.”, said Oberyn, with mock solemnity. “How about allowing your brother a taste of that lovely face ?”

Both looked as if they were about to cut him in half.

“Gods have mercy. It’s a jest. You two are no fun.”

Adding any more heat to their miserable faces would be a crime, Oberyn decided. As he advanced to the entrance, Oberyn looked back one more time. “You just keep your rose, brother. I have mine already.”

Laughing, he walked out, leaving the puzzled pair to decipher the meaning of his words.

Ah, what should he bring to his rose the next time they met ?

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