Ned chose each word with care. When he was done, he signed the letter Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Hand of the King, and Protector of the Realm, blotted the paper, folded it twice, and melted the sealing wax over the candle flame.
His regency would be a short one, he reflected as the wax softened. The new king would choose his own Hand. Ned would be free to go home. The thought of Winterfell brought a wan smile to his face. He wanted to hear Bran's laughter once more, to go hawking with Robb, to watch Rickon at play. He wanted to drift off to a dreamless sleep in his own bed with his arms wrapped tight around his lady, Catelyn.
Cayn returned as he was pressing the direwolf seal down into the soft white wax. Desmond was with him, and between them Littlefinger. Ned thanked his guards and sent them away.
Lord Petyr was clad in a blue velvet tunic with puffed sleeves, his silvery cape patterned with mockingbirds. "I suppose congratulations are in order," he said as he seated himself.
Ned scowled. "The king lies wounded and near to death."
I know, Littlefinger said. "I also know that Robert has named you Protector of the Realm."