Family. One of his most treasured luxuries, and one that he had been forced to leave behind many months ago.
It'd been a hefty sacrifice, and even though it was one that both he and his grandmother had agreed was necessary, it hadn't made it any easier to say goodbye.
Most kids said farewell to their parents and siblings upon reaching adulthood. He'd been a mere fifteen.
But even in possession of those mere fifteen years, he'd proven himself equal and greater to many of the top recruits at the Stagg academy - including the head himself. Vyperions were not known for their martial skills, but he'd become the black sheep in a good way, and had snatched himself a sponsorship along the way.
Among other things, but Renly wasn't common knowledge yet.
But finally, with another year under his belt and another reaping on the horizon, he'd be coming home, even if only for a short while.
Grandmother would be the most important one to greet, surely, but another - "Sister!" - commanded his attention first.
Margery had survived the lion's den and had too returned home, and that was a thought that gave him a joy matched by few.
We play a dangerous game. It's a hard one, the game of names, but if you win, you're set for life.
My brother and I had been taught about it since childhood. The wise words from our Grandmother resonated well and truly with us, I feel like I can repeat them all perfectly, word for word, line for line. Each one was a nugget of knowledge that would aid us in the journey to the top; she told us that it wouldn't be easy, that sacrifices would have to be made and that it would be hard.
We said fine, we said okay and said that it will all be worth it. It did mean that Loran and I would be split up. He would be on the right and I'd be on the left. Two roses would grow apart but I'd always known that they would come together again and have more thorns than ever before.
The lions had taught me a thing or two about life, but I had always stayed loyal to the blood in my veins. I could forget the lions' words in an instant, it would be easy, really, because they are worthless. They don't know that I'm only in it for the fortune and for the power. Game of names; I think we're in a good position.
"Been a while, hasn't it?" I scrunch my nose and pull him in for a hug. "How have you been, how has it been on the other side?" Divided by power, united by blood.
"Been a while, hasn't it?" She pulls him in for a hug even as he barely suppresses a snort. Now that's the understatement of the hour.
He loved her too much to give voice to such a snide remark back, however.
"How have you been, how has it been on the other side?" His least favorite part about their grandmother's plan had been their separation. It was smart not put all your seeds into the same pot, that much was common knowledge, but he hadn't liked it regardless.
But flowers needed space to grow, their own little section of the garden to truly reach their full potential, unravel their full beauty, and wisdom had won out over personal feelings.
And Ripred, what an experience it had been.
"I've been wonderful," came the eager reply. Better than wonderful - oh, just wait till she hears about Renly!"Turns out the deer were able to live up to their reputation after all. Stagg himself is every bit the fighter that he was made out to be, though the dude himself has fallen on hard times lately."Oh look, an understatement to match hers.
The score tied at one to one within his mind, he pressed on. "But the company ain't bad for the most part, and for all of his faults old Robert knows what he's doing."
Indeed, between Stagg himself on his better days and the big Tarbuck girl, he'd had no shortage of challenges on the battlefield - just how he liked it.
He almost went on, but genuine curiosity won a rare victory over his own ego for once. "What about you, sweet sister? Is the lion's den really as fearsome as they say?"
"I've been wonderful," he says. I'm glad, I've heard that the other side can often be harsher than mine. I don't want to lose my own blood, I don't want to lose my own brother to anyone. How sad would it be to be the only child left; I'm not sure what I'd do with myself. "Turns out the deer were able to live up to their reputation after all. Stagg himself is every bit the fighter that he was made out to be, though the dude himself has fallen on hard times lately."
"How sad." Blunt words.
"But the company ain't bad for the most part, and for all of his faults, old Robert knows what's he doing." That is good news. Hopefully Loran has developed the skill of observation: watching from a distance and learning from the best. Careful not to get too close though, the deers have horns and they are not afraid to buck. Just like us roses have thorns, everyone in Two has a secret weapon.
"What about you, sweet sister? Is the lion's den really as fearsome as they say?"
"Ah, well. Nothing a girl like me can't handle." I smirk. "They're quite soft, really. Hard on the outside but soft in the middle. It is easy to play into their hearts." It is especially easy to do when they still haven't healed the wounds that came with Circe's untimely death. Thinking of her is always quite a disappointment --- I think that the two of us could have been friends.
"You know I love to play games. Love games are complicated, but I'm getting there. I'm pleased to hear we are both growing strong despite being apart." My head tilts a little. "It is quite odd not having you around."
"How sad," she replies to the news about Robert, and silently he agrees. He's seen firsthand what the eldest Stagg had once been, a fearsome warrior who reigned supreme with his temper and his hammer alike. But leadership was not amongst his strong suits, and the burdens of running a family estate had taken their toll.
She brightens when the subject of her own experiences arises, however, and he couldn't help but grin as she describes the ease in which she had inserted herself into the mix. And the rumors that he'd heard from the Stagg compound were true - without their steel and their silver-tongued murderess, the Lyons were shadows of their former selves.
A shame, really.
"You know I love to play games. Love games are complicated, but I'm getting there. I'm pleased to hear we are both growing strong despite being apart." Her placement of the two words their father held dear and their grandmother scorned did not escape his notice, nor did the implications of the sentence, and his grin grew wider. But a head tilt and a statement that he echoed in all but words - "It is quite odd not having you around," - are quick to sober him up.
"It is indeed." Sixteen years he had walked this earth, and never for the first fifteen had he ever been far from Margaery's side. "But, as she so often likes to remind us, Grandmother knows best, after all."
The teasing tone coaxed the smile back to the corner of his lips. "Besides, we both seem to have come out stronger for it."
Pause. "I did miss you though. It's strange walking this world without you to experience it with."
"It is indeed. But, as she so often likes to remind us, Grandmother knows best, after all." He's right. Seventeen years and her knowledge has stuck with me every single day. Even the tiny little pieces of information about people who once lived in Two and died or escaped, I treasure the secrets she has spread with her silver tongue. I hold them close to my chest, my hand of cards, of secrets --- you never know when you might need to let one slip for all the right reasons.
"Besides, we both seem to have come out stronger for it." I nod in agreement. The truth is clear: we have both grown and bloomed into wonderful young adults. "I did miss you though. It's strange walking this world without you to experience it with."
A bittersweet smile. Sacrifices have to be made when you are in our shoes, when you are playing for power and it is dangled in front of you like a carrot on a stick. It was hard at first, leaving Loran to go to the lions, but after a while, it became habit. The acts of loyalty became the norm and though divided, we knew it was for the best. Glory and influence would come our way in the end, even if it was taken a while for the seed to grow into a flower.
Grandmother planted it decades ago. All in good time, I reassure myself, all in good time.
"It just what we have to do. We're Vyperions, it's our blood. We need to have a legacy just like the rest of them. Words or weapons, I think we're getting there slowly." I think to the training centre that houses the lion pack. They're brutal when it comes to blood, but they are driven by loyalty to their own kin and so am I.
Sometimes, severity is the price paid for greatness.