He conducted himself with the majesty of someone older, someone far more experienced in the art of Kingship. The stags which emblazoned his crown and dress were a cursory nod House Baratheon, yet the gold of his hair was that of the lion - a Lannister. The crowd consisted predominantly of the poor and malnourished, unruly in presence of their young King. Hungry for a scapegoat, someone upon which they could lay the blame for the slow deterioration of King's Landing, they called for her father's head.
But he had promised mercy.
It happened far too quickly. Hands caught her, locking her arms in a grip as strong as iron. She was weighted. Fettered. There was little she could do as the executioner approached her father, the blade swinging in his hand. There was little she could do as the crowd erupted with coarse cries, their cheers laced with the rough accent which so easily distinguished the poor from the wealthy. There was little she could as the King, her King, waved them on.
He had promised, perhaps, but words were not enough to save Ned Stark.
She shivered, the air was not particularly cold, but she was haunted by an inexplicable chill. It had been less than twenty-four hours since Joffrey had proclaimed her father a traitor, executing him on the steps of the Sept of Baelor, but it may well have been an eternity. Her memories had fragmented, and Sansa was left with mere shards. The stench of dirt and sweat. The roughly spun material of the bag which they had placed over his head. Joffrey's eyes, glinting as he surveyed the crowd. She swallowed, cursing herself for being so stupid as to believe that he'd ever loved her. She should have known, perhaps, but she'd been blinded by stories and songs. Blinded by kind words and pretty gifts. They meant little now, unable to mend the hollow sensation which had slowly crept into to the pit of her stomach.
She should have known.
There was little support to be found amongst the people of King's Landing, and Cersei had gone so far as to confine her to the castle grounds. Arya, shrouded by turmoil which had followed Lord Eddard's execution, had managed to slip away, evading the watchful eye of the Queen Regent. Sansa, once entranced by Cersei's beauty and her easy grace, now felt nothing but repulsion for Joffrey's mother. The lioness had trapped her within King's Landing, welding the city which she had once thought of as a paradise into the cruelest kind of cage. They were watching her now, she supposed, hoping to find some form of fault. A weakness. Sansa stiffened at the thought, straightening her back and lifting her chin. Courtesy, she had once been told, was a lady's armor. To let her composure slip would be dangerous - far too dangerous.
Joffrey had not yet requested her company, and she had chosen to make the most of what little freedom she'd been offered. The gardens of King's Landing were renowned for their beauty, but Sansa had set out in the hope that she would find some small kind of solace in her solitude. Truthfully, there was little comfort to be sought in the company of flowers and foliage, but she was spared from the hushed whispers and wandering eyes of the castle buildings. Spared from Cersei, from Joffrey. Situated at the edge of her cage, she could afford herself a little time to think. Her thoughts, though plagued by fragmented memories of the execution, were her own. They did not belong to Joffrey's betrothed, nor to Lady Stark, but rather to Sansa, the girl that she had left behind in Winterfell.
Winterfell, it seemed now, was several worlds away. And there was little she could do aside from sigh. Little she could do aside from wipe her tears from her cheeks. Little she could do as the King, her King, waved her on.
The port was bustling with activity. Merchants, deeply wounded by the poverty of King's Landing, clustered along the docks, attempting to press their goods upon anyone who happened to be passing by. Young men and women, driven to thievery by their lack of coin, dipped their deft fingers into pockets and sifted through the whatever scraps had been left for them find. It was a dismal portrait of Southern life, one which was a sharp contrast to the overly indulgent life of those who inhabited the city castles. Rather than buffering the courageous, compassionate image of Joffrey which the Lannister's had been so determined in projecting, it exposes the sheer incompetence of the young King and his council. Motivated only by their own survival, there was little which had been done to support the commoners.
The people of Winterfell, though not gifted an abundance of clothing and goods, had been treated justly by their Lord. The same Lord who, to no one's knowledge but Joffrey's, stood amongst the crowd of sailors, merchants and thieves who frequented the port of King's Landing. In quiet defiance of his own supposed death, Lord Eddard Stark was very much alive. And his heart, though it may have been jumping for joy at the prospect of life, was heavy. Ned was the sort of man who had always placed honor before personal gain, placed his family before the hunt to elevate status. He had never become ensnared in the pursuit of power which had lead to the destruction of so many of his peers. The pursuit of power which had lead to the destruction, Ned suspected, of Robert Baratheon.
When the golden haired King had first approached him, armed with a proposition so obscene that it would have put the most cold-hearted of sellswords to shame, Eddard had been quick to refuse. There was honor in both death and truth, but to buy one's life the promise of a child's death was crude, vile. It was the sort of deal which the Kingslayer might have accepted, guided purely by his own self-interest. The Targaryen girl posed little threat to King's Landing. She was young, and he would not be swayed by rumors of Dragons and armies. The Horse Lords were strong, but they had no ships with which to travel the sea. The girl was stranded within the Dothraki Sea, protected only by hope and stories long since forgotten. There had been a flicker of fear in Joffrey's eyes, one not hidden by his smirk, nor by the crown which they had placed upon his head.
A boy, he is still a boy.
Ned surveyed the crowd, grunting slightly as he moved to accommodate the movement of several young men. He had accepted, eventually, but it had been for Sansa and Arya that he had surrendered his honor. Cersei, though erratic, was both spiteful and vicious. There was no telling what the Golden Queen would do to his daughters after his supposed death, and he could only hope that his compliance would offer them some form of protection. Joffrey, despite his petty brutality, would not let them wither - he would not let them die. There was little he could do for Cat. To think of her was too painful, memories left his tongue feeling heavy, laced with a bitter taste that he struggled to place. Grief, perhaps, a sense of unimaginable loss. No, there was little he could do but shield their children. But she was strong, his Cat, and he placed his faith in her. Well, what little faith he had left.
To kill an innocent man was burden enough, to kill a child was something else entirely. Something that Eddard could not - would not - do.