King's Landing, 2015
“Not going to happen!” Stannis railed as they sat in the King’s Landing Marina VIP lounge. Yes, he made a bet on the outcome of their sailboat race, but did Davos honestly think he would rent a costume and actually go to a party dressed in it?
“I’m disappointed,” Davos returned, looking the part as he could almost be said to be pouting as he took a drink of his Dornish red wine. “I would have sworn you had too much honor to welch on a bet.”
They had raced their sailboats twice a year for the past six years and, for each and every one of those races, Stannis and The Fury came out the winner every time over Davos and The Lady Marya . . . until today, the first time they ever bet on the outcome. Had he, for one minute, thought he would lose, Stannis would never have set up the possibility of his having to go to Renly’s yearly Halloween Costume Party, much less go wearing a costume.
While Stannis ground his teeth to powder, Davos continued. “Look me in the eyes and tell me that you would not have made me go to the Public Broadcasting Fundraising Dinner Dance in your place, wear a dinner jacket, and stay for the whole thing. Tell me you wouldn’t be simpering right now about not having to go this year!”
“I. Do. Not. Simper!” Stannis hissed, furious. Unfortunately, he was furious at himself rather than Davos. Stannis had actually started it this morning by claiming that Davos was fortunate they didn’t bet on these races. Davos let it go the first time and Stannis had no idea what made him suggest they make a friendly wager. Granted, he had something far more friendly like twenty dragons and bragging rights in mind. However, when Davos suggested that he’d go to the PB Dinner Dance as the Baratheon Enterprises representative this year since Stannis was on the hook to go in Renly’s place, Stannis jumped at the chance. It never occurred to him that all Davos needed to beat him in one of these races was a little incentive.
Davos took another drink of his wine while Stannis had yet to touch his lemon water. “The dinner jacket can do for both occasions,” he said with an irritating smile. “You get a cape and a white mask, and you go as the Phantom of the Opera.”
“Tell me how you plan to enjoy my humiliation since you will be in your neighborhood ushering the boys around for Trick or Treat?” While Stannis would not go so far as to bet on it, or anything else ever, he was relatively certain Marya would not give Davos a kitchen pass to attend a costume party certain to have as many attractive young women as it did young men. The thought made Stannis groan; he knew Robert, Oberyn Martell, Tyrion Lannister, and a few other older men usually showed up for some part of this party so he wouldn’t be the oldest man there. Still, he was sure to be the most ridiculous if he couldn't find a way out of this mess. “The party is Halloween night. I have to take Shireen out that night just as you're taking the boys.”
“Nice try!” Davos laughed, snorting a little toward the end. “The plan was put into play over a month ago that Shireen is going out with us as she usually does, only since it’s on a Saturday this year, she’s spending the night.” They both sat in silence for a while, Davos sipping his wine and Stannis clenching his jaw and grinding his teeth. “Look,” Davos said finally. “You haven’t done anything social other than mandatory BE events and coming over to our house since the divorce. Hell . . . you didn’t do anything social before then. No one will expect Stannis Baratheon at this party, including Renly despite his inviting you every year. Trust me. If you wear a face mask, no one will know it’s you. Talk to people. Dance with a pretty girl. Flirt! Your reputation will be safe in the morning.”
Stannis could only hope that the glare he gave his best friend in return let him know that he could linger in every street in every hell that might exist.
“Or not,” Davos shrugged. “Your choice whether you have a good time or not. However, you will send me a picture taken from your phone at the party every fifteen minutes. Eight pictures should do.”
“Eight . . . eight pictures?” Stannis felt his heart pounding in his chest. “Eight means one and three-quarter hours. It would be impossible for me to stay that long.” He knew Davos meant for him to stay two hours for that would have been the absolute earliest Davos could have left the PB dinner. There was no way he could stay for over an hour and someone not recognize him unless he dressed as Darth Vader or something else that covered him from head to toe. What he didn’t want to admit was that he would be claustrophobic wearing something with a full head-covering.
“Eight pictures,” Davos affirmed. “Every fifteen minutes. Selfies.”
“Oh no!” Stannis was drawing the line at selfies. Phone pictures were on a cloud or a backup server as soon as you pressed the button. He wasn’t about to have that out there somewhere. “You will have to trust me. There will be no pictures of me from this debacle.”
Stannis felt sick to his stomach when Davos replied with a grin. “I agree.” Unless he could figure out how to get some deadly disease or hit by a lorry, Stannis saw no way out. Then again, he had two weeks to work on it.
Marya helped him put the modified Phantom of the Opera costume together. A ruffled shirt was found to wear with his dinner jacket and bow tie. She insisted a burgundy waistcoat was required to go with the period and he was grateful for the wide-brimmed fedora to cover his thinning hair. That would have been the biggest giveaway to someone who knew him. Stannis would not wear the half-face mask from the musical or the movie; again, thinking it revealed too much of his face. Instead, he found a full face solid white mask and carefully cut out a u-shaped area starting just below the nose holes and exposing his mouth and chin. He used a small rotary sander to smooth out the edges where the mask was cut and allowed him to feel better about being able to breathe.
A black cloak finished the costume and Stannis felt a little childish about insisting that Shireen not see him in the costume or know anything about where he would be going. There was no denying she would have thoroughly enjoyed seeing her stuffy father dressed in a Halloween costume . . . just as he had enjoyed seeing her dressed up in her Princess Daenerys from the Disney collection. The costume actually looked better than he expected and you’d have to be very familiar with his beard to know it was him. Davos was right about one thing. No one would be expected Stannis Baratheon at this party and no one was going to look at him and see Stannis Baratheon. If his plan worked, he could be in there, stay for an hour and three-quarters, and leave being able to hold his head up that he didn’t renege on the only bet he remembered making or that he ever would make.
Stannis took a taxi to the Renly’s house despite it being a ten-minute walk at best. All three Baratheon brothers lived in similar upscale neighborhoods on the outskirts of King’s Landing. As he had hoped, the party was already well attended so that someone new joining the throng wouldn’t be particularly noticed. There were people out on the freshly mowed lawn now covered with lit skulls and other macabre decorations such as gigantic spiders and one fire-spewing dragon. Stannis discretely snapped his first picture, this one of the dragon so he could show it to Shireen later, and sent it to Davos. Less than a minute later, Davos texted back, “Having fun?” Stannis found that those using their phones to take pictures and text were less engaged with other people so this wasn’t a bad idea. He texted back, “Go to hells.”
Walking around outside, Stannis noted the costumes and attempted to see who was there that he might recognize so he could steer clear. He was able to go to the back garden without going into the house. Unfortunately, he was one of three Phantoms. One, already inebriated, walked up to him and told him his mask looked “fucked”. “Not as much as someone chugging a beer in that costume,” he grunted and the kid walked off unfazed, continuing to turn up the beer bottle and drink. Among the costumes were soldiers from any number of video games and historical eras; young women dressed in costumes with bustier corsets that shoved their breasts so high, many could set their drinks on them; septas; black body suits with glow-in-the-dark skeletons painted on them; various movie characters, playboy bunnies; four Darth Vaders; and one couple dressed as bacon and eggs.
He heard Joffrey’s whiny voice before laid eyes on him. Dressed as a medieval king, his nephew Joffrey looked just as much an arrogant idiot in costume as he did in street clothes. Stannis heard him going on about why someone wasn’t there yet, and Stannis moved away until the whiny voice was drowned out by others.
Stannis’ idle survey of the outside part of Renly’s party took up another fifteen minutes and he snapped a picture of one of the corseted ladies for Davos’ amusement and sent it to him. The text that came back read, “Ask her to dance.” Stannis quickly sent back, “When pigs fly.”
The moment he was waiting for came only a few minutes later. Renly walked outside in his Captain Westeros outfit, complete with tights, and began mingling. This allowed Stannis to go inside and not worry about running into him. He knew Renly would have his study door locked to keep others out of the first floor room that had a door onto the balcony and overlooked the back gardens. Fortunately, Stannis knew where he hid the key.
In less than five minutes, Stannis was comfortably seated in the darkness of Renly’s study waiting for another ten minutes to go by before he opened the blinds on one of the Dornish doors and looked out onto the balcony and took a quick picture of whatever he saw.
What he saw was King Joffrey out in the garden screaming at a young woman, a red-haired Cinderella in a blue gown from where he stood, who was backing away from him. Stannis snapped the picture using the zoom but didn’t send it right away. If Renly or someone didn’t deal with this in one more minute, he was going to have to risk identification and go haul Robert’s hellspawn away from the party and be damned with the bet. Stannis was just opening the door when Sandor Clegane, dressed as Sandor Clegane, pulled Joffrey away and Cinderella began to walk away from them as fast as her slippers would take her.
Stannis closed the blinds and looked at the picture before he sent it. He could see the side of the young woman’s face, but not enough to make out details. She had a long, graceful neck and unless the twilight was playing tricks, her hair was the color of burnt copper. Stannis sent the picture to Davos with a text, “Almost had to execute a rescue mission.” The text he received back read, "You do have a thing for redheads.”