Now, I'm Not an Expert on Foliage
Eleanor woke up first, still tired, but the sun had risen on wherever they were. That wasn’t what had woken her up, though. It was the incredible pressure in her bladder. She groaned as though annoyed at her very body, and freed herself from her blanket, from Cullen’s arm around her, from Dorian who had slid over to rest on her shoulder. She hoped he hadn’t drooled on her cloak. Wiggling her way from the tangle of blankets and limbs, she adjusted herself, twisting the front of her robes back to the front of her body, and pulling up her tights, she left the small crevasse and stepped gently through the snow - now well past her ankles - to find a place to relieve herself.
She found a pine tree that was growing right next to the continuing cliff face about twenty feet away, far enough for her to feel like she had some privacy, but close enough that she didn’t feel like she was wandering away.
The simple act of peeing while wearing thick woolen tights and calf-length robes was an art in and of itself, one that Eleanor had slowly perfected in the tunnels, ever more jealous of the other members of her party who did not seem to have that problem. But now that she had a tree to lean against, and after much practice, she did the deed like she’d had to do it this way forever. She righted herself, adjusted her clothes once more, and picked up a handful of snow to clean her hands. She had brought a dozen tiny bottles of hand sanitizer from a particularly fragrant shop she hated to admit she frequented, but she had left them back with her things where the others were still sleeping, so she left her gloves tucked into her sash and turned to go back.
And she screamed.
It was Dorian who snapped awake at the sound, shoving Varric away from him and throwing off his blankets. He stood up and grabbed his staff, giving Cullen only a cursory kick before leaving the small cave and following, as best as he could, the sound of Eleanor’s cry.
Cullen got up, not quite as quickly as Dorian; he was stiff from the cold, roused from a dream, but his fingers found his sword and he pulled himself up and out of his bedroll, trudging quickly through the snow, catching words from Dorian as he approached.
“Put that thing down, Eleanor, you’ll catch the Blight!” he was a chastising tone of voice. Dorian had his hands on his hips and Eleanor seemed to be unharmed, holding something; it was only as Cullen shook of the final dregs of sleep that he realized Eleanor’s scream was actually a squeal of delight.
Varric had noticed the commotion and walked past Cullen to reprimand Dorian, “That’s not true, Sparkler, and you know it.”
Eleanor giggled and pressed the thing closer to her face. “I know it’s not true, yes, I know,” she said, speaking to the creature like it was an infant. It chittered in her embrace. She looked up and said, “I have no idea what this thing is but I’m keeping it.”
Cullen pressed his forehead hard into the palms of his hands. “It’s a nug,” he said. “It’s a fucking nug.” He dropped his arms, defeated, and looked around, looked at the trees, looked at the terrain, looked at the sun in the now crystal-blue sky above him, and didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. “Ferelden. We’re in fucking Ferelden.”
Eleanor dropped the cat-sized pink creature and it landed softly in the snow, squeaking quietly as it jumped away. “That’s not… how…” she looked around, trying to fix her eyes on something that would confirm or deny this assertion. She saw nothing. She could have been anywhere, high up in the mountains, from about October to April. She could have been a hundred miles from home. She could have been somewhere on the east coast. She could have been in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana.
She could not be in Thedas.
Dorian turned and walked away, throwing up his hands. “I have to eat something first. I cannot have this conversation on an empty stomach.”
“We can’t have walked to Thedas,” Eleanor lifted her face up to the sky, turning in a circle. “You guys need weird magic and some kind of a Breach to - to - We walked! Walked!”
“El, I know,” Cullen said, quiet but stern. “Believe me. I know.” He took in a deep breath through his nose, sniffing in the cold.
Varric circled around, looking at rocks, trees, little plants that poked up through the snow. “Now, I’m not an expert on foliage, but,” he pointed a gloved finger down at a curly green vine, “I’m pretty sure that’s elfroot.”
Eleanor closed her eyes, eyelids fluttering for a moment as she held back something - tears? a scream? - before she opened them again with an expression of resignation. “Well, fine. What do we do now?”
“If it were up to me,” Varric said, crossing his arms in front of his bare chest. “I’d say we follow Sparkler, get something to eat, and get back to Skyhold.”
“Yes,” Cullen agreed. “The Inquisitor will know what to do.”
“Can she get us back home?” Eleanor asked.
He looked at Eleanor and nodded firmly. “She’d better.”
They ate, extinguished their fire, scattered the ashes, and after readjusting their packs, were off into the snow. They walked along the cliff face until they came to a road sign, which pointed helpfully in only one direction: toward Redcliff.
“Well then,” said Dorian, “We just have to walk the opposite way.”
“How far is it?” Eleanor asked.
“Not far,” Cullen assured her.
It turned out that “not far” meant they walked until the sun began to lower itself down on the horizon, and the path they were on started to climb up a steep mountain pass. As much as Eleanor wanted to sit and rest, to eat something that wasn’t dried or prepackaged, to drink something that wasn’t snow water out of half-crushed plastic bottles, she couldn’t help but notice the world around her as she passed it by. She kept expecting something weird, something obviously foreign to pop up, something that absolutely could have not come from earth, from her earth. There were old cottages and strange sculptures, crumbling brick walls along the side of the road, their cracking mortar filled up with snow, and all of it looked ancient, but nothing about it was strange. It was all made with conventional materials, made presumably by hand, made perhaps by the travellers they passed every now and again as they walked. But even the people looked normal. Aside from the dirt path, the abundance of greenery, the absolute lack of modern technology - anything past what she would peg as about 1600, but she was no historian, she couldn’t say for sure - there was nothing that stood out to her and said, no. You absolutely cannot be home.
Until she saw Skyhold.
Eleanor brought her hand to her mouth and stopped in her tracks.
“Welcome…” Cullen said, pausing to think of a word, words to use, but the only thing he could find on his lips was, “home.”