Nothing someone says before the word "but" really counts.
Eddard Stark offered this council to his beloved brother Benjen before he first journeyed to the Wall, his lady wife and all their children. Never did they ring more true than in the moment Joffrey Lannister demanded for his head. Bile rose in the pit of his stomach, shame threatened to overwhelm him during this mummer's farce of a confession. Painting him a betrayer of a lifelong friend and a failed usurper of the Iron Throne. Yet for his dear children, what else could he do? It would not be the first time he cast honor aside for family.
Joffrey's command made it all for naught. Facing away from the shrieking masses and their fierce screams of treason, justice and blood Ned turned to his right where the boy king, his mother and Sansa stood. His firstborn daughter look of hope from moments ago was shattered. Already, tears, sobs and fervent pleas for mercy rushed out. She was not alone. Cersei, grabbing hold of the boy's arm whispered furious orders into his ear. The Spider rushed from somewhere else, appearing before the king and requesting for a stay of execution.
Ned knew intimately it was all a lost cause. A mere glance at Joffrey's expectant face was enough to tell him he was undoubtedly a dead man.
Grinning from ear to ear. Is this what Aerys looked like when he sentenced my father and brother to die?
Strong arms belonging to two of the Kingsguard forced his gaze away, bending both of his knees. The swiftness of it sent a horrid rush of pain to burst from his wounded leg. Illyn Panye approached from his left, cladding himself in the executioners garb and climbing steps of the pulpit. Ice was offered to him, the blade which had served House Stark for untold generations, for war and the dispensation of justice.
Now they intend to butcher me with it... A great rage sprang to life within him, one worthy of a Baratheon. Putting my household to the sword, crippling Bran, forcing Robb to wage war...
On and on he numbered the list of crimes and slights from the Lannister's, against Houses, Stark, Arryn, Baratheon, all of the Seven Kingdoms. For a single, foolish moment, Ned thought the rage would somehow save him. Break his chains, cut down all the vipers responsible for this and miraculously escape the capitol with Sansa and Arrya. The fury burned great, overwhelming even the throbbing pains of his wounds.
It was the last, foolish fancy he would allow himself. Dulled by the harsh truth this anger abated, leaving Ned tired and resigned. If this were his final moments, then they would be spent on what truly mattered: his daughters. Forcefully removing his anxious gaze from the bloodthirsty masses, Ned saw his daughter struggling against the hold of Meryn Trant. Her strangled sobs replaced by furious, tiery-eyed demands for Joffrey to stop.
Please, child, look away. He silently pleaded, hoping Sansa did so. She was the gentlest of his children, the thought of her bearing witness to this despaired him. Greenfield forced him back towards the crowd where Ned immediately searched for Arya. The feet of Baelor were vacant. Try as he might, Ned could not find her in the cheering crowd, alone or with Yoren. It comforted and dreaded him in equal measure.
A soft hiss of steel cut through the noise, Ice would soon be upon him. Payne's mighty shadow was cast upon the marble. Ned felt keenly the imminent danger of a blade nearby. It was most assuredly mere inches from his neck. Closing his eyed, he ignored the small rush of air from Illyn Payne lifting the blade high into the sky, the calamity all-around and even his own fears.
His final act was the only sensible one. "Old gods... Please, protect my family."
The polished blade carved through the filthy air and there was naught left but silence. Silence, save for Ned Stark's own measured breathing. Then the gentle beating of his own heart, the rattling of his shackles...
He could not say how long remained kneeling, waiting for something to happen. When his astonished eyes carefully opened and took notice of all before them, Ned Stark realized keenly something already had. Blinking the rays of fierce sunlight away, he gazed out into the assembled small-folk. Their faces of contempt, mouths spewing demands of blood, arms raised, poised to throw or claw at him. Yet all were deathly silent.. and still. Every single one of them, man, woman, child, was frozen where they stood.
"What in the name of..." He stared further, hoping to see a change in the bizarre sight before him. Gazing upward, even the birds themselves hung in the air, immobile. Next he turned to his right and saw the same fate befall Illyn Panye, Littlefinger, Varys, Cersei, Joffrey, Sansa...Ice hovered mere inches from his neck. From the way Payne stood, Ned could see his swing had been halted in the last possible moment.
Have I gone mad? He wondered, remembering tales of men falling to pieces when faced with their own execution. Yet he accepted the painful truth but moments ago. Am I in one of the Seven Hells? Part of a cruel trick promising hope when there is only oblivion? Yet he felt alive. The beating of his own heart, the insufferable sun of King's Landing leaving him parched in the overwhelming heat...
"A neat trick, don't you think?" Someone spoke from behind him, a voice Ned could not recognize. "Go on, do stand up. I prefer to conduct business face to face."
The shackles suddenly clicked open, falling from his wrists. Ned stared at his newly restored, free hands when he noticed something else amiss. My head... He gently touched where the stone struck. There was no wound or blood there at all. Nor from his leg. For the first time since the encounter with Jaime Lannister was Ned free of its maddening pain. Not even when he moved away from Ice and finally stood on sure feet again did he believe it.
"Good, good, now we're getting somewhere," The voice spoke again and this time, Ned turned to face whoever it belonged to. He was no older than 30, with a neatly shaved head and face betraying only the beginnings of brown hair. His attire belonged to one of the small folk, simple leather breaches, boots and fingerless gloves. A yellow, blue and long-sleeved tunic with a small hood pushed down around the neck. Yet what Ned found most striking was where he was sitting: on the wood holding down the banners behind the pulpit. Nothing save a small animal could sit upon it so without breaking it.
"Who are you?"
"A simple merchant who's gonna by many names over the years in as many places." Yet what Ned bore witness to proved he was no simple merchant. He rose to his full height atop the banner then stepped down to the pulpit... on nothing but air. As an ordinary man would a staircase.
I prayed to the old gods... Remembering this did little to put Ned at ease. Almost as still as those around the plaza, possibly all of King's Landing, he merely stood there until the merchant's boots touched the marble. With the distance between them lessened, Ned gazed closer into the man's eyes and found them far, far older than the rest of him.
"But for the purposes of our transaction," He spoke as if nothing was amiss. Even offering a small bow and smile. "You may call me Gaunter O'Dimm. And I've a great use for you, Eddard of House Stark."
A/N: I wanted to make a Witcher x ASOIAF crossover which wasn't just "Geralt appears in Westeros". This is just a one shot experiment, hope you liked it!