It was not a particularly memorable day when Lady Cassana Estermont gave birth to another baby boy.
Since Lord Steffon Baratheon already had two healthy sons, the arrival of the third was not especially politically significant and could therefore be afforded a little more privacy. Lord Steffon was called in to meet his new child, followed by Maester Cressen to assess the infant's health. The baby's two older brothers, Robert and Stannis, came into the birthing room briefly out of duty and curiosity. Then the mother and child were left alone to rest undisturbed.
In his journal, the Maester noted that the infant was healthy and average weight - not unlike any other newborns. There were a few wisps of black hair on he baby's head, which was not unexpected for a Baratheon. There had been the usual squalling following birth, but the child had quietened quickly enough, glanced at the face of each person in the room exactly once, and then gone right to sleep. The child's eyes, for the brief while that he'd opened them, were blue, although they appeared almost green when the light shorn a certain way. Again, quite common for a Baratheon.
Renly Baratheon, the Maester wrote, was a healthy child with no unusual features to note.
He, and the rest of the Westeros, had no idea how wrong that assessment was.
At age 3, Renly knew that he was somehow different. Dreams of battles with colourful flashing lights were his first clue. His brothers' habit of laughing at said dreams was his second. Sometimes he also saw things floating up on their own, or stone statues marching like real live soldiers. Sometimes he dreamt that he was someone else, a different child with black hair and green eyes, planning out strategies for something or the other and directing a group of... magicians? At first he didn't think much of them. His caregivers had read him plenty of fanciful tales of magic - tales that weren't real, as Stannis would tell him flatly afterwards. Except the dragons, said Robert. Those apparently existed, but were now extinct.
Renly didn't believe them. When he was finally old enough to command his tongue to pronounce the words that he'd long learned but could not speak, he asked the Maester about magic and received more or less the same response. Magic was apparently a myth of something that had died out long ago. It was something that people with their heads in the clouds might spend a lifetime studying, with little results. As a child of a Great House such as House Baratheon, admonished Maester Cressen, Renly should concern himself with something more down to earth. Perhaps he ought to go outside and observe Stannis's weapon practice or watch Robert drill his troops rather than dawdling inside.
Renly obeyed. But when he managed to light his candle with nothing but willpower the next evening, he decided that perhaps his brothers and Maester Cressen and just about everybody else simply lacked a little imagination.
He wondered whether his father and mother would've thought differently. He remembered them as clearly as yesterday, but they had vanished from his life sometime around his first birthday. It was said that they'd drowned at sea - an accident. Maybe that was why he'd always missed his parents so much in his dreams.
Eventually, Renly began to remember much more and could only come to the conclusion that he'd lived once already. In another lifetime, he'd lived in a much different realm and was known as Harry of house Potter. (Potter? Perhaps their ancestors had a gift for earth like the Gardener Kings did with plant?) He had been a magician then (except they were called wizards). Fortunately, it seemed he still was.
Little Renly didn't want to imagine what the Faith would do to him if they knew. His gift and his memories, he decided, shall be his best kept secret.
At age six, Renly had heard plenty of tales of brave knights and mighty warriors smiting swaths of enemies with their hammers. Life, as Robert would insist whenever he came home from his adventures in the Vale, was all about slaying men and screwing women. Stannis would make a disgusted face in response, but Stannis was always so angry that really it was not worth remarking.
Renly watched Robert march off to war against the Targareans. Stannis was wearing a hole into the floor as he paced, debating whether it was right to rebel against the king they'd all sworn to serve. Renly himself didn't feel particularly bad about it. A ruler is responsible for keeping his territory healthy and prosperous, and when one goes mad or otherwise proves to be incapable of upholding their job then they must be replaced. But then again, as Stannis told him when he tried to bring his brother around to his philosophy, he was just a baby and wasn't doing shit anyways.
Their troubles increased a thousandfold when they were surprised by the Tyrell army, who didn't breach the castle but cut off all of their supplies. Renly put his magic to proper use for the first time by attempting to multiply their food - at first painfully, exhaustingly slowly, then a little more quickly. He found that he could not wield magic half as easily as he remembered doing in his first life. Whether it was because of his age or something about the land, he didn't know. But still, nobody questioned why a crate or two of grain seemed to be overlooked by each previous inventory check, and the addition of the shipload of onions and fish by Davos Seaworth meant that they didn't have to end up eating dead people after all.
By the time that Lord Stark finally came to lift the siege, Renly didn't want to be the big warrior out there "slaying men and screwing women". He wanted to be the one who surrounds his company with comfort and laughter even with a wall of catapults pointed futilely in his face. Just look at Lord Tyrell! Even Renly knew he was shit as a fighter (not that Lord Tyrell seemed to realize it himself) and yet there he was, feasting away outside while the castle starved. And because Lord Tyrell was able to provide the resources, he could keep people like Lord Tarly loyal and delegate the fighting to them.
Renly's brothers may be more interested in bettering themselves as fighters and warriors, but Renly was going to be the brain and the businessman. With a little magic on the side, but shh.
At age sixteen, Renly was a handsome and charismatic young man if he may be so bold as to say so himself, and Lord of Storm's End. Ever since Robert had given him control of House Baratheon's ancestral seat, he'd been working hard to make the smallfolks love him. Once upon another lifetime he had gone out of his way to avoid attention, but now that his livelihood literally depended on people's support he'd quickly learned better.
He'd kept up the fair ruling practices that his father had set into place and added a few of his own. On top of that, he was making good use of publicity stunts like feasts and tournaments. Somewhat unfortunately, this also had the effect of earning him the reputation of "frivolous dandy" among the lords of Westeros. Ah well, it could not be helped. He meant it when he swore to one day surround his people with every comfort, and his people included himself.
His own bannermen realized that he was a competent leader, however. Since his ascension to lordship, the Stormlands had grown in wealth thanks to new trade agreements and the organized, sustainable lumber industry that Renly had set up. The Stormlands unfortunately did not have any special natural resources of the likes that had made the Lannisters and the Tyrells rich, but it turned out that the berries of one of the common Stormland trees produced a decent liquor when processed through Renly's new distillation techniques. Gin was now one of the Stormland's biggest exports, almost head-to-head with lumber.
Meanwhile, although the mountainous regions of the Stormlands was not particularly well suited to farming, Renly was able to increase usable land and crop yields by introducing rice from Essos and the concept of terraces. Rice wasn't selling very well in Essos because it could not be baked into bread, but the smallfolks soon found much more appetizing ways of handling it. Renly planned to see how the other lords respond to Stormland's new specialty dishes at his next tournament. With luck, perhaps he could even start a new fad. Renly rather liked being the trendsetter. It was very fashionable. And profitable.
Of course, with increased wealth came an improvement in economy and buying power, which in turn meant more advantageous trade agreements. Renly was feeling very proud of himself, and he'd (very tactfully) made sure his lords knew just who to thank.
Most of Renly's spare time was spent either in the library reading or locked up in his bedroom practicing magic. He was now quite certain that magic was weaker in Westeros than the world of his first life, but at least the simpler spells, conjurations, and potions were still within the scope of his capabilities. Quiet inquiries while travelling on his diplomatic meetings had even given him a better idea of where magic might still exist in some forms. The North, for example, seemed quite probable. And then there was Volantis, and certain religious groups on Essos that he would keep an eye out for.
Ser Cortnay Penrose, who had more or less become Renly's surrogate parent over the years, would also urge Renly to continue his weapons training. "I am not asking you to be like your brothers, my Lord, but you should at least be able to defend yourself for long enough that we can come rescue you!"
Renly went reluctantly. It was a dull, painful affair and he couldn't feel himself improving one bit. He couldn't beat his armsmaster, he couldn't beat the squires, sometimes he could barely even beat the pages. But Ser Penrose's nagging had a motivational power all of its own, and so he dusted off his arse and kept going.
It was when he finally met a water dancer from his diplomatic trip to Bravos that he finally found his salvation. This master made fencing an art-form that reminded Renly oddly of that magical dance of flashing lights in his dreams. It was not about brute strength, it was all about footwork and dodging and aiming at just the right spot. Renly begged the swordman to come back with him and teach him, and he took to the dance like a fish to water.
He even managed to disarm the castle's armsmaster for the first time. The poor man looked at his hand all confused as if he thought he'd witnessed magic (it was not). Renly frowned. Victory was sweet but never to be repeated again.
Lately he'd begun to find his instructor's bare chest incredibly fascinating. He still couldn't quite figure out why... Maybe he would be enlightened eventually?
At age eighteen, Renly was appointed Master of Law by Robert, and joined the Small Council as its youngest member. Stannis seemed a bit pissed that Renly was chosen for the position while he himself was only granted the less prestigious position of Master of Ships. But the Master of Law's job was managing people - something that Renly was good at and Stannis was not. Besides, Renly at the moment had no knowledge or experience with commanding ships, although he did intent to eventually educate himself in naval warfare when he finds the time.
As his small retinue approached King's Landing, Renly noticed a putrid odor coming from the direction of the city.
"What's that stink?" Beside him, his first squire Loras Tyrell was scrunching up his nose. Renly had taken on the Tyrell's third son last month to mend bridges with the family that had inspired him so much. So far, Loras was turning out to be easy enough to befriend, if somewhat rash and quick-tempered. And he was clearly going to be a good warrior, since he could already hold his own ground against the armsmaster despite being only thirteen years old. Renly still didn't know Loras very well yet, but at this rate of progress it looked like his squire would be leaving with a knighthood quite soon.
"My brother says you can smell King's Landing before you see it," Renly quoted. But upon crossing the gates, he himself could hardly believe that the capital of their nation resembled such a refuse dump. As the hooves of his horse landed in yet another pile of what was probably excrement with an unpleasant squelch, Renly began to feel very sorry for Robert and all the other poor sods who had to live here. Now that he was moving here too, he'd have to breath some joy into the city. He'd get more profit and influence, his brother would get a cleaner home, and more importantly living conditions would be improved for the smallfolks. Gains all around, right?
And he'd have to do something about the City's Guard too. Something about the rampant crimes told him the Goldcloaks weren't exactly doing their jobs. Worse, experience told him that someone was probably interested in keeping them that way. But he'd probably have to wait until tomorrow's Small Council meeting to figure out who. And how to deal with them.
In all his memories of his past and present Renly had never enjoyed watching people suffer, and he would not sit by now when it was both within his responsibility and his power to do something.
In the Red Keep, various parties were notified of the arrival of the new Master of Law.
King Robert Baratheon had to admit that he really hadn't spent much time getting to know his youngest brother in the recent years and wasn't actually sure if Renly would be good for the position. But better Renly than a Lannister! There was already too many lions hanging around!
Stannis Baratheon took the news grudgingly, and decided not to greet his brother before his planned departure for Dragonstones this afternoon. Besides, Selyse had written him about some Red Priestess wielding magic, and he was still wondering what that was all about.
Jon Arryn knew Renly, but not well. He spared a brief hope for the young man that he would survive the snake pit that awaited him, then went back to his papers.
Maester Pycelle knew of Renly Baratheon, but hadn't paid him any attention. It was said that the boy was an airhead and a dandy who concerned himself only with tournaments and his clothes. Renly's presence would affect nothing, he dismissed.
Petyr Baelish despised lords like Renly Baratheon. Petyr himself had to scheme and plot and backstab countless people to get to where he was, and meanwhile here was a young lordling who had his whole fortune handed to him on a silver platter, and who was waltzing into the Small Council just like that. Petyr had made sure to gather dirt on all his colleagues, and this soft little boy was no exception. Renly Baratheon had no combative talents and had never seen a war. Instead he was famous for his parties, an obsession with bathing and fresh clothes that would rival a lady, and rumours of "playing with swords". Petyr would learn all his secrets soon enough, if the boy was to live here in King's Landing. Then he'd tear the dandy down along with the rest of them.
Varys was curious about the current king's youngest brother. It was easy for lords to scoff at his more frivolous pursuits and dismiss him as just that, but Varys had trained himself to look at long term effects rather than just immediate actions when studying a person. And the fact of the matter was, Stormlands was growing stronger since Renly Baratheon became lord. This made Renly quite impressive, thought Varys, and just a bit dangerous...
Because the "frivolous dandy" had just joined the game. And amazingly, nobody even knew.
AN: I'm posting this as a plot bunny and a challenge!
I find it weird that Renly gets so little love or attention. I mean, he had a serious chance at taking the throne, and was actually in pretty good shape before Stannis pulled out magic. The other characters in power got killed because of a mistake they made or something they could've done differently, but Renly's death was by something nobody could've anticipated and prevented. I truly believe that Renly could've been king and a decent one if not for Melisandre. And yet, I've yet to seen a story where Renly is the protagonist and actually winning lol... He just seems to be kept dumb in fanfiction to justify his defeat at the hands of more popular characters.
So yeah, I challenge someone to write a Harry-as-Competent!Renly story. Since he's one of the black hair, green(ish)-eyed characters in the series, I think it's kind of fitting. Renly has to have at least some resemblance to his Canon personality but he would obviously be different as well. Here's to hoping someone takes this up!
Apr 29 edit: Possibly I didn't express this clearly enough, but this is just a very long story prompt and not an actual story... I unfortunately don't have the time or the necessary GoT knowledge to write a HP-GoT crossover. The purpose of this post is to tempt somebody else into building a nice story around the competent-Renly-with-magic idea for all of our enjoyment XD