Balneverosoth felt nervous, and the nervousness thrummed through his entire body, thudding along with each beat of his heart. For the past five years he had been in training, had survived trials. Most of all, he had survived the taunts of those who said that he would never make it.
The arresai were tiny in comparison to all of his people, but he was especially large even for a dragon. His friends assured him that the arresai would never accept him. Not having ever met arresai – very few people ever did – his friends all shared in the common opinion that the arresai were primitive, barely even intelligent enough to count as sentient.
Bal, as he liked to be called, chose to believe otherwise
A long roll of chimes greeted him as he flew above the trees, coasting on the wind. Bal reveled in the feel of wind coasting over his wings, the empty air beneath them which helped to give him lift. What a glorious day to be aflight, with the golden orb of the sun set in a pure crystal blue sky.
Bal found the clearing and saw the priests and priestesses arranged in a ring around it. The high priestess stood atop a bare rock, waving at him with a bright golden staff.
Beyond these, he could see the entire community of arresai gathered around. This was Ringing Day and everyone would want to meet their newest ambassador.
As he settled himself on the soft green grass, he felt his claws dig comfortably in the dirt. And then, something unexpected happened.
He heard a high-pitched voice that he recognized from sense memories: a baby arresai, one of their nestlings. Quickly, before the high priestess could meet his gaze, Bal closed his eyes. As good as he had become at mental control, he did not trust himself to make mental contact with a child.
More voices all around him, this time the shouts of grown arresai, priests and priestesses running to intercept the baby.
Then, with a small shiver of surprise, Bal felt the baby human climbing up his rear paw. He was sorely tempted to turn around, just to see what was going on, but he did not dare do so. The baby human kept climbing, using his hind knee for a foothold, then continuing to climb up his rear thigh.
Was this part of the ceremony? Why had no one warned him this might happen?
The baby human tromped on a delicate spot and he felt his whole body rumble with involuntary laughter. And then, with the loudest noise yet, he felt the baby human run over to his backside and slide down his tail.
The arresai was playing with him, Bal realized with a surprised start. How often had he played the same game with his own parents as a child? Up the back leg, down the tail. It had driven his father crazy, and that had only made it more fun of course – more of a challenge. Again, he chuckled. Arresai were not so different, were they?
Adult arresai were waiting on hand to stow the nestling somewhere else. Bal was sorry that the child had to go. Then, he felt a gentle tap on his nose, and opened his eyes to see the golden staff in front of his face, with the high priestess just beyond. Their eyes met. As he had been warned, arresai minds were much tinier than their own, but not so tiny as the herd animals he had been practicing on. He was able to keep most of his thoughts locked away while receiving hers.
She confirmed his suspicions regarding the interruption and apologized, then added that she thought it boded well for their future relationship that he had handled this so well.
He thanked her and gave credit to his excellent trainers, making sure that she knew he had been prepared by others, who had made sure he would know how to respond.
She greeted this with polite acknowledgement and also sent her warm feelings to all of his trainers and to his entire clan, asking him to be sure to convey her respects. As soon as he had done so, she continued. Did his clan have any concerns they wished to raise at this time? The arresai were most content with their excellent relationship.
He had not brought any concerns. The herds were all flourishing, and they had plenty of delicious sheep and oxen. There were no unusual dangers on the border. Bal had been sent here purely for the regular monthly report and in order to make his first contact. The priestess expressed her pleasure and Bal expressed his in return. He may have expressed his a little too hard from the way she swayed slightly. He pulled back and apologized to her and hoped that this exuberance did not reflect poorly on him.
Bal was so afraid of messing this up, and as long as the mental connection was open, she would be able to see that, no matter how hard he tried to mute the fact.s compassion wash over him like a gentle caress, and relaxed. She had just pulled the ring from her staff. It was bright green and all of one piece.eyes.
He wanted to know what he looked like in her eyes.
but, she added carefully, she could see that he had a good heart. Other than that, she saw a gorgeous and well-formed dragon, with a kind face and a ready smile. Bal realized he should be more clear. It was so hard to talk in such a limited fashion. He had meant what he looked like with the ring on his horn, although he was glad of the other explanation as well.
She showed him that as well, his long, proudly curving horns, and one of them now marred with a strip of green. She wished it could look grander, more impressive, like he deserved, but she knew that the rings were a mark of each dragon’s willingness to put up with tiny humans, so it was fitting.
Bal let her know that he considered this a great honor, and that while they might be human, her and her kinsfolk would always be arresai to them – those brave enough to converse and work together with dragons for the common good. This ring would serve as a badge of honor and he would not have her think otherwise.
The priestess thanked him, then let him know that she was about to speak arresai words, announcing his willingness to accept his new role as ambassador to the arresai. Then, she began making the odd chittering sounds arresai made in order to communicate.
Soon, the ringing began again, and he craned his neck to see that each of the priests and priestesses were holding long-handled brass bells, chiming them back and forth as part of the celebration.
The high priestess stood in front of him, waiting to meet his eyes, to address him with the conjoined emotions of all her people, a wave of feeling as strong as any dragon’s. As he tasted her feelings he could see how glad they were to welcome him, and how happy they were that he had agreed to become their newest friend.
Welcome, he felt her say to him, and welcome, he said in return, and the thought rang out like chiming bells, surrounding him like the ring around his horn. Welcome. Welcome. Welcome.