“Taiba, dear, king Cho-Hag called a meeting” Polgara said “Could you find Relg, please?”
Nobody, Taiba included, was surprised by such request. Everyone who spent even the shortest amount of time in the company of her and the Ulgo knew of their bond and how easy it was to find their way to each other.
Taiba nodded, getting up. She, Errand, Adara and Ariana were sitting in a large parlor, where each of them occupied themselves with something to pass the time. Unlike Polgara and Ce'Nedra, they didn't have an army and monarchs to look after, thank gods, so they had to find themselves some other pastimes and the burning heat outside forced them to stay inside this day.
“Tell him to come to the throne room in an hour” the sorceress added.
“Yes, lady Polgara” Taiba replied and walked out.
Humming joyfully, she strolled through the Stronghold, very happy with the fact that she had an excuse to bother Relg again. Since he arrived with his troops, she reluctantly decided to give him some space. While there was nothing more entertaining than accompanying him and enjoying the impact her presence had on him, Taiba didn't want to make him embarrassed in front of his compatriots. She wasn’t that sadistic.
The Marag reached the lowest level of Stronghold, situated underground. Most of it was taken up by pantries, storerooms and armouries. There were however a few training rooms that were used when the weather didn't allow practicing outside. They were low vaulted, but quite spacious. Not enough to hold an entire army inside, but suitable for one or two troops.
Taiba knew that Relg must be in one of these, together with other Ulgos. Thanks to the lack of windows, the intensity of light in the room could be easily regulated, which allowed the Ulgo troop to slowly adjust their eyes to the light.
However, the drawback of the basement was the airing – or rather, if not the lack of it, then significantly lesser efficiency, compared to the higher levels of the building. This caused a noticeably higher temperature in the underground and an almost stuffy atmosphere.
Because of that, Taiba shouldn't have been surprised by the sight of two dozens of Ulgo warriors in the middle of their training, using wooden sticks instead of real weapons and wearing, in most cases, nothing but trousers.
The woman quickly stepped back and hid behind the door, but even that split second was enough for her to catch a glimpse of Relg, sparring against one of his mates, his chest exposed as well and Taiba noticed with surprise that her cheeks get hotter.
Taiba didn't know the reason she was so struck by this sight. After all, all her modesty was long gone after what she's been through in Rak Cthol. Plus, she was more than accustomed to the sight of half-naked men. At least half-naked.
But, then again, none of these men did she care for much. And , Taiba smirked; none of them made such a huge deal of decency or defended his virtue as fiercely as Relg . Undressed, even partially, he looked like a turtle out of its shell. A very muscled, fine-looking turtle, Taiba thought.
Despite her knowing that Relg wasn't a weakling, his ascetic lifestyle, full of austerities could create a conviction that beneath his clothes was a skinny, feeble body, made for kneeling and praying, rather than fighting. The zealot's wide chest with visibly outlined muscles, his firm back and muscular arms successfully refuted that conjectures.
Taiba realized she was pressing her palms to her still burning cheeks and grinning like an idiot. Vaguely, she recalled that she was supposed to call Relg to the meeting and she couldn't just stand here all day, admiring the view.
But to talk to Relg she had to walk across the entire room of half-naked Ulgo warriors, presumably as prudish as her diviner. Well, she shrugged; there is no way of approaching him discreetly. I'm not going to creep by the walls. Maybe they won't die at the sight of a woman among them.
Taiba decided not to make a fuss of entering the room. Any subtle coughs or grunts would only create unnecessary commotion. The best one could do was simply walk into the room.
The effect was instant. A wave of silence followed her as the next warriors stopped their training and stared at her. Usually not being the most expressive of people and used to the darkness concealing any emotions, should they show any, the Ulgos couldn't hide their reactions well now. Some looked at her in horror, some in outrage, some just with surprise, with their mouth slightly opened.
Gods, is it that bad? Taiba wondered. Has Relg forbidden any presence of women among them? Or is it because of their disarray and me seeing it? If they were all at least a little bit like Relg, it was probably both. Poor fellows.
By the time she reached the middle of the chamber, Relg and his partner were the only ones still sparring. Up to the point when the other men noticed her and got distracted, momentarily receiving a hit of the training stick in the jaw and falling down.
“Hir zikha, Gir!” Relg said sharply.
Finally noticing that his partner, together with everyone else in the room was staring at something behind him, Relg turned around.
According to Taiba's expectations, he jumped back at the sight of her.
“Taiba!” he said rebukingly, his face turning red and his hands pulling the wooden stick closer to his chest protectively, as if he wanted to cover his nudity with it.
To Taiba's enjoyment, the blush spread to his neck and higher parts of his chest – an adorable detail she couldn't have noticed earlier.
“Relg” she said calmly, her face almost impassive if it hadn't been for the slight smile wandering around her lips and her eyes sparkling with joy at the enjoyable view.
“You shouldn't be here!” the diviner said.
“Guess” Relg replied in a tormented tone.
“It's not my fault that you decided to publicly flaunt half-naked”
“It wasn't public until you came here!””
“Why, I didn't say I mind”
Relg blinked and his face turned even redder. Taiba grinned.
“Lady Polgara wanted me to tell you that everyone meets for council in the throne room” she said mercifully “In an hour”
Relg nodded, gritting his teeth.
Taiba turned around to walk away, but taking one last glance behind her shoulder, decided that she couldn't pass up on such good an opportunity to tease the Ulgo zealot.
“Now we're even” she said with a devious grin.
The glare she received from Relg was the best reward she could hope for. Leaving the room, she smiled joyfully at the dumbstruck Ulgos.
Behind her, Relg closed his eyes and for the thousandth time in the past few months, prayed silently:
“UL, help me”