The old knight would not abandon Joffrey easily. The need for deceit was a bitter taste in his mouth, but Ned knew he must tread softly here, must keep his counsel and play the game until he was firmly established as regent. There would be time enough to deal with the succession when Arya and Sansa were safely back in Winterfell, and Lord Stannis had returned to King's Landing with all his power.
I would ask this council to confirm me as Lord Protector, as Robert wished, Ned said, watching their faces, wondering what thoughts hid behind Pycelle's half-closed eyes, Littlefinger's lazy half-smile, and the nervous flutter of Varys's fingers.
The door opened. Fat Tom stepped into the solar. "Pardon, my lords, the king's steward insists ... "
The royal steward entered and bowed. "Esteemed lords, the king demands the immediate presence of his small council in the throne room."
Ned had expected Cersei to strike quickly; the summons came as no surprise. "The king is dead," he said, "but we shall go with you nonetheless. Tom, assemble an escort, if you would."
Littlefinger gave Ned his arm to help him down the steps. Varys, Pycelle, and Sir Barristan followed close behind. A double column of men-at-arms in chainmail and steel helms was waiting outside the tower, eight strong.