It well suited Ferrand Carey, Duke of Murtagh to rescue his wife's brother from the schemes and machinations born of the Duke of Glimmering's implacable hatred of all things Caloxan and of Kay in particular. It pleased Isobel, though she would not show it, despite having demanded Murtagh act. It put a spoke in Glimmering's encroaching, ambitious, and spitefully cruel wheel, which pleased Murtagh in several ways, which equally he would not show. Finally, it was a right thing and fully in his power and authority so to do.
It had taken Isobel, once Brightmore, now Carey, Duchess of Murtagh, nearly five years after being given to the Duke in a marriage arranged by her brother to decide she could love Murtagh. It had not taken quite so long for Murtagh to love Isobel, and he had quickly grown sincerely attached to her. Many such alliances were far less happy, though fewer more tempestuous.
What Murtagh had not in the least expected was that he had not been in Kay's presence in the Hall of the Seven Virtues five minutes before he knew himself in love with the man. It did not matter in the slightest that Kay was filthy, furious, technically a traitor and murderer (more than technically, but the situation really was more complicated than Glimmering or any number of others was willing to see, much less acknowledge, a situation of which Murtagh had taken ruthless advantage in getting the ruling he wanted from the Convocation), and chained like a dog to the bier of the man he had followed to his doom. (It was not the chain per-se that was the problem, but the viciousness of application and entire lack of consent. There was nothing whatever of the shadow about Kay, and even if there were, this was not how one went about things.) It did not matter that the man argued with a sharper tongue than his sister, at what had to be a nadir of any kind of hope. It did not matter that Kay was now blind.
And it apparently did not matter — or perhaps it did, Murtagh was not then in a self-interrogatory state of mind, nor particularly interested in pursuing the question of his own temper beyond making sure it served his purpose and did not interfere with his aims — that Murtagh was as enraged as he had ever known himself to be. For Kay, not at him. At Glimmering, at obstructive and officious grudge holders and bureaucrats who had chosen to inflame rather than attempt to understand a conquered people, at the calculated inhumanity of Glimmering's treatment of Kay, even at Gerrard Hume for getting himself killed in such a way. But not at Kay Brightmore, no longer Margrave of Rothmarlin, but most definitely still his brother-in-law. Having Kay argue back was cause for relief, not ire; and it struck an unlooked-for blow over Murtagh's own heart. All that passion and brilliance, that Kay would never recognize as out of the common way, intact even under these appalling circumstances.
But why should he not love that fire in Kay as he had come to love it in Isobel? Except it was not just the fire that was gripping Murtagh's heart fast, but the man himself. Flesh and form as well as mind and heart. He had never before given thought to Kay that way, not even when crafting the solution of marriage to Vanessa as a means to serve many ends, not the least of which was to put someone who understood good governance in a place sore in need of it. Kay had been a peer, a Margrave, an intellect to reckon with, a formidable fighter with words and blades. Male, but not a man to interest the flame in Murtagh, and never perceived as a man he might desire as well as respect. Perhaps it was the chains and near-nakedness after all that had gotten through to him, made Murtagh see what he otherwise would not. Except that the feeling constricting his chest was not the flame's desire for shadow. It was deeper and more complex than that.
Furthermore, were Murtagh to express any such thing, Kay would not believe it. Friendship, though, that he might eventually accept, even return.
After freeing him from the the hall, guiding Kay to the Althammara by the shortest way possible, which meant only one expanse of cobbles but several flights of stairs, gave Murtagh a chance to think as well as attempt to assess Kay more closely. Most of the physical insults would heal, and Murtagh chose to believe that the wounds to his spirit would eventually as well. Water, bandages, use of a razor, even the advice of a physician-practitioner Kay would accept with grace. The other comforts — dress, lodging, the assistance of a manservant, other necessities — he would submit to with the stiff-necked tolerance Murtagh knew of old and even understood, to a point. Kay had no other choice, did he decide to live, and to Murtagh's sternly suppressed relief he had chosen life. And Kay would marry Vanessa Palliser, however little he liked the idea, because he had already made that decision.
Having now seen Kay, Murtagh held little hope that the blindness was anything but permanent, damn Glimmering for saying that one thing true. He wasn't going to entirely give up hope until after the Practitioner had seen him. Murtagh refused to allow himself to be anything other than practical about it, whatever the outcome. Kay would be too stubborn to let that keep him down for long. But none of that dealt with the other wounds, particularly not the grief that cloaked him like a mantle, carving lines in his face that had not been there three indictions ago, and hollowing cheek and temple more than Glimmering's cruelty could account for.
Damn Gerrard Hume for a man blind without excuse. With his new awareness of Kay, it dawned on Murtagh that Kay had loved Hume, not just as a friend, a leader, a companion-at-arms, but as a man. Loved him as one does a lover. Loved him as Murtagh was discovering he feared he loved Kay. Oh a heart is a fearsome generous thing, able to love more than one, and in many kinds. Murtagh's own earlier words about Kay's crusading passion dying along with Hume took on a greater meaning, slotting neatly into sense with Kay's minute flinch at the phrase. Kay would expect disgust did anyone suspect such. Murtagh felt only sympathy. He had always known Kay to be violet, a difficult enough state in this day and age, especially for one of their class. This insight merely made the entire picture more clear, and much more complicated. There was nothing at all Murtagh could say. Best if Kay never knew Murtagh guessed what he felt. Best if Murtagh put that information entirely aside, as if he indeed did not know. Kay's grief was more than heavy enough.
Some weeks after returning to Esmer with Kay, Murtagh found himself going up to the top of the house to visit him, prompted by an impulse Murtagh did not care to name. Kay was very much improved, and verbally sparring with him was both a terror and a delight. Kay's pointed mention of 'creeping to his bed in the middle of the night' held more than a little truth, though Murtagh denied the accusation with precision, and sat in the chair. He did not want Kay to know how close that shot had come. It was a prickly conversation all around, but when he retreated back downstairs, Murtagh knew it had been worth it, if only to hear Kay declare them friends. It had only taken a double hand of weeks, not months, or years.
Lady willing, what they had now could grow into something stronger. They had time.