Page 196: Sooner or Later
Sooner or Later
Summary: Kit and Day debate what the best course of action is when it comes to the Iron Isles.
Date: 29 January 289
Related Logs: The Siege of Seagard logs.
Day Kittridge 
Groves Encampment
It is the main tent used by the nobles of House Groves during their time soldiering around Seagard.
29 Jan 289

The morning after the liberation of Seagard is also the morning after the fall of Lord Jason Mallister, hero of the Trident and the Riverlands…. as such, it's a bittersweet dawn. The men who fought and bled and sacrificed and should be celebrating their victory have little heart to do so. It seems the world is in mourning along with the young Lord Patrek as the sun rises behind clouds and curtains of drizzling mist. The fires seem reluctant to provide warmth, and the figures around the campgrounds huddle in their cloaks.

In this morning of mourning, Day comes to find Kit, offering nothing more than her presence and a mug of strong, steaming tea.

Kit sits in a low camp chair inside the main Groves tent, feet stretched soles-first towards the fire in the center, watching the smoke curl up through the hole in the center of the pavilion's roof. He looks up to accept the tea as Day delivers it, saying, "Thanks," and pulling his feet back beneath him as he curls forward to lean his face into the steam and then take a slurping sip. "Morning," he adds, belatedly.

Day settles onto the footstool Kit abandons as he tucks his feet beneath him, nodding simply. "You're welcome, my lord." The tea is black and potent, infused with cinnamon and cloves, honey and — that might be a dollop of whiskey. As hot toddys go, it's delicious. She smiles faintly, the expression attuned to the melancholy of the day. "Good morning."

"You make the best tea," Kit comments, breathing it in and sipping slowly, both savoring and wary of the temperature. He's slouched in his chair, smudged and weary-looking, even his hair looking flat and limp rather than it's usual springy, wild self. "I guess it's a good morning," he says, "We're done here. I'm glad of that. I have to keep reminding myself we're done, it doesn't feel like it."

"Tea's good for the soul," opines Day, reaching out to reposition a lock of Kit's weary hair. She's silent a moment , tipping her head back and looking up at the drizzly gray visible through the smoke hole. "It's not over," she says softly. Her clear blue eyes settle back on Kit again. "The question is whether we'll be a part of what's to come."

"It could be," Kit replies, "They may change their minds. Let the naval battles settle it. Retake the seas and call it finished. And that we'd have no part in." He scrubs at a stubbly cheek and sips his tea, "I hope, anyway. I guess it's not very likely. The king will be out for blood, especially with Mallister dead. The Isles will be lucky not to be sunk."

"The Ironborn have taken their ambitions too far, this time, to simply be allowed to retreat home," Day says softly, her tone apologetic. "The King will want revenge. The Lannisters will want revenge. And the Riverlords…" she sighs, folding her hands in her lap. "We have a martyr to avenge. And the boy…" She glances mournfully out the tent flap, down the road to Seagard. "Our new Lord Paramount. He'll need us."

"Revenge is exactly what it will be," Kit replies, "It's not avenging him. He's no martyr. He wasn't executed. He accepted single combat, and he died in it. Call him a hero, if you like, but not a martyr. Such a stupid term, and only ever used to stupid ends." He swipes a hand through limp hair and then curls it around his cup once again, shaking his head as he flops back into the canvas chair. "Hasn't this business been ugly enough? Do we have to make more of it?"

"Yes," say Day, still soft but without hesitation. "These many years, Kit, the Ironborn have been - inconveient. Bad tempered puppies nipping at the shores. Now they have showen without question that they are a full-grown hound and that they will bite. That won't change. They won't go back to being puppies." She lifts her slender shoulders to conclude the metaphor. "They have to be put down."

"You're really in favor of this?" Kittridge replies, incredulous, "You're a septa, and you're suggesting— advocating! that we should slaughter an entire people? We could destroy their ships in the field and prevent their return, why isn't that enough?"

"And as a septa, should I channel only the innocence of the Maid and the compassion of the Mother?" asks Day, meeting his gaze levelly. "What of the Crone's wisdom, the Father's justice?" She takes a breath, looking away. "Even the Mother is not compassion alone. To protect what She loves, She puts the ferocity of the Warrior to shame. I do not relish what must be done, but I cannot pretend it will simply go away."

"But the Iron Isles are not a dog, Day," Kit replies, frowning at his tea, "It's not just one animal, that you can say it's mad and put it down. It's thousands of people, and they didn't all come here, or attack us. And of those who did, how many were just following the orders of their lieges? Haven't we already protected our homes? Aren't they safe now? You said yourself it would be revenge that took us to their shores. Where is the Father's justice in that?"

"I said the King and the Lannisters would want revenge — the Lord Paramount, as well, who could blame him? But revenge is not the only reason, it's certainly not the best reason — it's simply the most compelling reason to the hearts of most men." At that, she smiles tenderly at Kit, though still sadly. "You're far from most men, sweet Kit."

"You didn't answer my question," Kit replies, "And aye, I've seen that well enough. I know few enough in this camp think as I do. But watching six knights hack away at one Ironborn together and three answer a call for single combat doesn't do much to make me think I'm the one in the wrong, here."

"No part of my conviction stems from a belief that our people are better or more honorable than theirs," Day says. "Only a stake in who survives."

"I wouldn't have expected such a narrow-minded opinion from you, Day," Kittridge replies, sounding disappointed, "You sound exactly like everyone else. Us or them, kill or be killed. As if it really works that way. Like we're any different. Like raiding their isles will make us any safer."

Day is made of human enough stuff to be a touch stung by his disappointment and dismissal, lumped in with everyone else. She frowns, though her aspect never turns angry. "How long will it take them to rebuild a fleet, Kit? Will you leave his matter unfinished to haunt your sons? Please, give me some alternative — some real, rational, effective alternative that will prevent us having to go through this all again in a decade. Less. When we've barely recovered or before. What do you propose to keep them from doing this again? And again? And again until you are dead and your sister a salt wife?"

"You think that going there will prevent that?" Kit scoffs, and shakes his head, "Unless you kill every single person with a drop of Iron blood in their veins, do you think that attacking them will do anything but delay them? If anything, it will make it worse, because then it won't just be greed and Balon Greyjoy spurring them on, it will be revenge. We revenge ourselves now, and then they will revenge themselves for it later, and then we will revenge ourselves again and on and on and on. Is that better?"

"There is nothing we can do to keep them from coming back," says Day, shaking her head. "We can only delay it to greater or lesser extent. I say greater. We need that time. We need the time to rebuild our walls, replant our fields, bear children and raise them into strong men. If we don't have that time, there will be no cycle — we will be defeated. We will be done. If you have some brilliant plan to broker a peace, knowing that the Ironborn hate the word, that their culture and identity are bloodshed and conquest… please. Speak it now."

"We have driven them from our shores, Day," Kittridge replies, "Defeated them decisively over and over. We've killed something like half their number and a good number of their chieftans. And what have they gotten for all the blood they've spilt here? The wine stores of a few taverns in the Roost and Seagard, and a new mast from the ashes of Tall Oaks? And this was when they surprised us, when we had to scramble to pull together any force at all. We have shown that it is neither easy nor especially profitable to attack us. We have already done all we might ever do to dissuade them from trying again."

"Until they can try again. Until they recover." Day looks at Kit. "Are you willing to do this again in a decade, Kit?"

"If the alternative is spending months going from isle to isle killing everyone we find?" Kittridge replies, "Then yes. I guess I am. I hate this, but I'd hate that more, and it probably wouldn't work anyway. And if I'm going to do something that's probably pointless in the long run, I'd rather it be killing a man who's actively attacking my home than killing a child who I fear might get around to it some day."

"No one's advocating the slaughter of children," Day says, frowning again. "We can cripple their infrastructure without slaughtering innocents. We are not them."

Kittridge snorts. "And then you've created a generation hungry to avenge their murdered fathers. They will be ten times more dangerous than a battered host limping home in defeat, wondering why they listened to Balon Greyjoy when he told them this was such a good idea."

"You have faith, then, that this single, unsuccessful campaign will change the very fabric of Ironborn society, their identity — that they will be so busy licking their wounds that they won't scramble to return and finish us while we're still weak? That they'll rethink a culture based on conquest and behave?" Day looks sadly at Kit. "I have faith in many things, my lord… but not in that."

She stands and places a kiss on his forehead, like the benediction of any priestess, though Day has always been more familiar with and affectionate toward the family than is strictly seemly. "You have my thoughts on the matter, Kit. What comes next is not up to me."

"And you think that crippling their infrastructure will do that?" Kit replies, "Either way, they are what they are and they will do what they do. If you want to make it impossible for them to ever do it again, you'll have to kill them all, innocent and guilty alike, and you said you won't advocate that. If we're settling for a temporary measure, then I'd just as well stay here and build our strength than waste more of it trying to put a few more dents in theirs. Taking the fight to them is hardly a sure thing. It's not like our choices are to burn their shipyards or not. We'll lose men trying, a lot of men. It just doesn't seem worth it." The kiss to his forehead doesn't uncrease it, or soften his frown, and he gestures vaguely with a hand in something like dismissal, an uncommon show of lordly formality.

She doesn't take her leave immediately, gazing down at the seated lord. After a moment, her pale, slender fingers lace with his for a brief squeeze. "If there were more men like you, my lord," Day says, "all of this would be moot. I don't… agree with your point of view, but I admire it. And the heart from which it comes."

Kittirdge snorts at that, not appearing to find admiration much of a substitute for agreement. He sulks on, but gives his fingers a momentary squeeze in return before they are released.

Day's fingers pass, very lightly, over his hair a final time before she takes her leave.