Lady Catelyn, flanked by Ser Wendel and Hallis, arrives at an empty field, the chosen meeting place for a parley between Stannis and Renly. Storm’s End looms in the distance. It was built in ancient days by the legendary first Storm King, Durran, who is said to have married the daughter of the sea god and wind goddess, Elenei, and needed a strong fortress to protect him from their wrath since the marriage doomed her to a mortal lifespan. The gods are said to have destroyed his hold and his first five attempts at rebuilding with storms before he finally built a fortress that could withstand their rage. Lord Stannis arrives with Melisandre. Renly arrives soon after with Brienne. The brothers exchange taunts and threats with each other. Lady Catelyn tries to get them to cooperate, but they will not listen. Stannis even tells her that Robb is a traitor and will have his day too. Renly tells Stannis that if he surrenders, he can have Storm’s End. Stannis refuses to receive what is his by right. Catelyn points out that Stannis is not the rightful king either and learns about Cersei’s incest. It was Lord Stannis who first became suspicious, and he went to Lord Jon because he felt that the accusation coming from his own mouth would not be believed. Catelyn is inclined to believe him, but Renly continues to think it but a story. Renly pulls out a peach and eats it, threatening and mocking Stannis as he does. Stannis draws out Lightbringer, which glows brightly. He tells Renly he will give him until the morning to strike his banners. If he does, he will keep Storm’s End and his small council seat and be named heir. If he does not, he will die. Renly is unbelieving, as he has Stannis greatly outnumbered and flaunts his power by naming many of the great houses that have joined him, including Tyrell, Rowan, Tarly, Caron, Tarth, Penrose, Fossoway, Cuy, Mullendore, Estermont, Selmy, Hightower, Oakheart, Crane, Caswell, Blackbar, Morrigen, Beesbury, Shermer, Dunn, Footly, and Florent. Melisandre tells him to look to his sins as they depart.
Renly and Catelyn return to Renly’s camp. It is smaller now, because he left his foot at Bitterbridge and dashed to Storm’s End with his horse. They return to his tent, where his bannermen wait. Lord Mathis counsels leaving Stannis to his siege, as Ser Cortnay Penrose is strongly provisioned and the castle too strong to storm. Lord Randyll counters that Stannis is a danger that should be dealt with before he grows stronger. The others agree, and Renly decides to face him on the morrow. Catelyn asks leave to return to Riverrun, but Renly refuses. He wants her to observe the coming battle and report to Robb firsthand what happens to those who oppose him. Lord Mathis will command the center, Lord Bryce the left, and Renly himself the right. Lord Estermont will lead the reserve. Lord Randyll, Ser Jon, Ser Guyard, and several others clamor for the honor of leading the van, but Renly gives the honor to Loras. Brienne will carry Renly’s banner beside him. She protests being sent from Renly’s side and asks the honor of at least dressing him for battle. Catelyn realizes that she loves him. She asks leave to pray at a nearby sept, and Renly grants that request, telling Ser Robar of his Rainbow Guard to escort her. They pass through her camp on the way, where Hallis, Shadd, and Lucas are resting. She tells them there will be a battle. Lucas asks whether they will fight or flee and Catelyn answers that they will pray.
The conflict between the Baratheon brothers comes to a head and it’s incredibly hard to really sympathize with either of them. Renly is certainly more likeable; laid back and somewhat witty, he’s a sharp contrast to Stannis’ uptight rigidity but when you look past it, both men are children that have escalated their petty childishness to a national stage. When you look at this chapter through those lens, you begin to understand just why Catelyn is so frustrated and it becomes less a matter of who between Renly and Stannis has the ‘better claim’ but rather about whether either of them is inherently capable of being the bigger man and standing aside for the good of the realm that they allegedly love. I’ve put off dealing with the Baratheon brothers conclusively for a while but I’ll tackle it today.
So first we have Renly, the younger of the surviving Baratheons. He is older than Robb, I think the text put him at twenty-five or so but still very young nonetheless. I’ve never been sure how much of his decision to take the throne has been his own and how much of it was planted there by the Tyrells. The Tyrell attempt to replace Cersei with Margaery always seemed extremely clumsy to me. I mean on one hand, Robert was exactly the kind of person who would do something like that but without a good reason for putting Cersei aside, wouldn’t that just be asking for trouble? We don’t give Robert much credit but he isn’t all that dumb either and he knows just how important Tywin is to the realm’s stability and his own security on the throne. Anyway, back to Renly, would he have made a good king? In all fairness, yes, I think he would have been alright. He wouldn’t have been an amazing king but he probably would have done better than Robert or Joffrey, at least in the beginning. I wonder what he would have done when the times became tough and he lost the popularity of the people, but that’s a fairly futile road to explore now. On the other hand, you have Stannis. He gives every impression of being a dictator – he is utterly mirthless, he is prickly about his honour, he is popular among neither the lords nor the smallfolk but he does have a solid sense of justice and a good deal of military experience, perhaps more than any other commander in Westeros (correct me if I’m wrong). The thing is, his two biggest qualities are kind of pointless during peacetime whereas his numerous shortcomings are a big deal during the same. Still, there’s something appealing in a theoretical sense more than a practical one, about a man who can be relied on to do his duty no matter what but I just don’t think that it’s enough to convince anyone that he’d be a good king.
He had won a great victory that day, all the greater for being bloodless.
So, I’m as much a fan of Ned as anyone but are we seriously attributing the victory at Storm’s End to Ned? I mean, Mace Tyrell basically went ‘Ok, feast time is over, let’s head home lads’ and that was the end of it. I doubt Ned had to even try very hard to convince him that the war was over but had Mace taken Storm’s End, suddenly he holds two major holdfasts and has a pretty substantial bargaining chip. I still don’t think he would have duked it out once it was clear that the Targaryens were done for but it might have altered the balance of power in the decade to come, so let’s give Stannis his due because it’s honestly pretty badass (and more than a little scary) that he just willpowered his way through starvation and mutiny.
The first to arrive must wait on the other, and Renly would do no waiting.
The maturity levels here are frankly infuriating. I know this kind of stupid shit happens in the real world but I don’t think I’ll ever understand the mindset of someone who sabotages such important negotiations just to maintain appearances. Say what you will about Stannis, he at least gives Renly this little bit of respect by showing up on time.
How they loved to promise heads, these men who would be king.
I really like this line. It just shows how pointless these men’s promises are. If you put yourself in Catelyn’s show, would you honestly be impressed by promises of revenge from two strangers? I mean, what were they expecting anyway? They declare that they will give her a chopped off head and she’s going to go ‘Wow, no one has ever done that for me before, let me pledge my son’s army, life and cause to you ASAP because you mumbled some clichéd crap about justice’? Please.
“Renly owes me loyalty and obedience. I mean to have it. From him, and from these other lords.”
Ok, this is one bit that we haven’t touched upon just yet. Regardless of who would make the better king, Stannis is right in saying that Renly owes him allegiance. There is no scenario where that would not be the case: even if Joffrey was Robert’s son, if Stannis rebelled, Renly would still owe Stannis his allegiance, either that or he would be fighting for Joffrey but Renly trying to strike out on his own is pretty much unacceptable regardless of the circumstances. Then again, Renly has a point too – when you’re rebelling against a crown, all the rules go out the window until you are in a position to reinforce the rule of law; in the end the law is only as strong as its enforcement.
“You presume too much, Lady Stark. I am the rightful king, and your son no less a traitor than my brother here. His day will come as well.”
Well, I see we’ve jumped from promising her justice to making threats. Diplomacy in the Seven Kingdoms is just a crapshoot most of the time, isn’t it? Still, I think this is Martin’s cue to the reader that neither Renly nor Stannis are really Robb’s friends. They may be all against the Lannisters but they are also all against each other.
“Can you prove any word of this fable?”
I’m always amazed that Cersei and Jaime get away with their incest, for the most part. Sure there are some people who know and a lot of people suspect but when you consider the fact that they’ve committed one of the worst kinds of treason – Cersei’s adultery is treason, I’m pretty sure, as is putting a bastard born of incest on the throne and passing him off as a trueborn heir – it feels like they’ve gotten away pretty much scot-free. I mean, Jaime did lose an arm and Cersei’s probably going to die sooner or later but still, none of that is a direct result of the incest and the treason. I’m not even mad; I’m actually kind of impressed.
“I did not come here to eat fruit.” Stannis was fuming.
Ah Renly and his peach. If there was a metaphor here at all, it’s lost beneath the absolute absurdity and ridiculousness of Renly pulling out a peach and munching away in the middle of a serious negotiation.
Cersei Lannister is laughing herself breathless, Catelyn thought wearily.
That’s quite an amazing guess, because yes, that is literally what she is doing.
“I am not without mercy,” thundered he who was notoriously without mercy.
One of my favourite lines in the series. I wonder when and why Martin stopped doing these comments – I guess in this context it could be Catelyn remarking that Stannis is without mercy but it feels more like there’s an third-person narrator that’s commenting on the irony of Stannis claiming to be merciful. I’ve definitely not noticed it in the later novels, though my memory isn’t the best. I’ll keep an eye out for it, though.