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Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you're not alone
'Cause I'm going to make this place your home

Phillip Phillips - Home

Shae's been living with the clan for a week. It's so different from the alienage, it's incredibly overwhelming. The ten year old is surrounded by elves; that hasn't changed. But they say words she doesn't understand. And they have so many Gods, so many stories to tell. Shae would usually enjoy them, but she misses her parents. She misses her mother's cooking, she misses her father's terrible jokes that always made her laugh. She even misses the alienage's kids. 

It's night and she's in the tent she shares with a few of the other kids. She's supposed to be eating dinner, but she's not hungry. She's never hungry anymore. She can feel a hole in her chest where her heart is supposed to be, shaped like her mother's smile and her father's soothing voice. It makes her lose her appetite. She can't sleep, either. Whenever she closes her eyes, she sees her mother's eyes go lifeless as she screams for her to run. She shivers in the loneliness of her tent. She can feel her eyes getting watery again and she's rubbing at them angrily when someone enters the tent. She hugs her arms to herself instinctually.

It's Dalenna, the hunter who saved her from the templars. She's the only elf Shae has spoken more than a few words to (the Keeper has tried, but her presence scares Shae to no end). 

Dalenna smiles warmly at the child. "Hello, Shae," she says. "Don't you want to eat?"

Shae simply shakes her head.

"Well, I want to show you something," continues the older woman, still smiling. "Want to come?" she asks.

Shae observes her. She trusts Dalenna. She saved her. She's been taking care of her for the past week; as much as she can, at least. Dalenna is not a mage, so she's out most of the time, hunting for the clan. She's told Shae that soon she will have to start her classes with the Keeper, who will teach her how to control her magic. The prospect scares Shae. She doesn't want to control her magic! She wants it gone! Magic took her away from her parents, from her home. She would be better off without it. Of course, she hasn't told anyone that.

Dalenna is still looking at her, waiting for her response. The younger elf finally nods, standing up from her bedroll. The hunter's smile turns bigger.

When she leaves the tent, she sees there are two other kids waiting for her outside. Ailwyn and Elora, she thinks, are their names. Ailwyn is smaller than her, maybe about two years younger. His eyes are a greyish color, wide with wonder. Elora is older, probably about Shae’s age. She has the same grey eyes, and the same tan skin as Ailwyn. It’s clear they are related. They’re both looking at her like they can’t believe she’s actually come out of the tent.

“Come on,” says Dalenna, holding out her hand. Shae takes it. The hunter starts leading the three children out of the clan, deeper into the forest. “Ailwyn and Elora thought it would be a good idea to show you one of our customs.”

Oh. That makes her stop. She thought it had been Dalenna’s idea, not the two siblings’. They don’t even know each other that well. Shae looks at them. Elora has a slight blush to her cheeks, while Ailwyn is still looking at her curiously.

On their way, they pass through the main fire, where everyone’s gathered. They’re singing songs using words Shae does not understand. They’re eating, laughing; it fills Shae with warmth. This is not that much different from the nights in alienage where they had a special party, for whatever reason, and all the elves reunited in the main square. But that only happened on certain days, for special occasions. The Dalish have been doing this throughout the whole week Shae’s been there. She’s starting to think they do it every night. They share a bond stronger than blood and it fascinates Shae. Maybe, with time, she could be part of it. Would she be able to see these people as her family, call the forest home? See the strange tattoos on their faces – or even on hers, some day, – and understand them, feel how much it means?

Her thoughts are interrupted when Dalenna suddenly stops. They’ve come to a sort of clearing in the middle of the woods. It’s not far from the actual clan is settled; Shae still can faintly hear the music.

She looks around. She realises that it’s a clearing full of trees of different sizes and different colors. She looks up at Dalenna, confused. The hunter smiles and looks to Elora, urging her to explain.

“We plant trees when a loved one dies,” explains the girl, not looking at Shae. She takes Ailwyn’s small hand on her own. “Our mother died years ago, so we planted a tree with dad.”

The child starts walking towards one of the trees, her brother following. The leaves of this particular tree are a vibrant a green, and it’s not one of the biggest ones, but it’s not small, either.

Dalenna crouches in front of Shae, smile still firmly in place. “What do you think about planting two trees for your parents?”

“One,” Shae mumbles.

“What?”

“One. I don’t…” Shae fights through the lump in her throat. “I don’t know where my dad is, or if he’s… if he’s…”

Dalenna puts both hands on her shoulders and squeezes in support. “Okay, da’len,” she says. “We’ll plant two, anyways. It’s a way to remember him, too.”

Shae nods weakly. She really feels like crying right now. Dalenna seems to notice, because she squeezes her shoulders once more, and takes her hand.

They dig up two new holes and Shae plants the seeds that Dalenna gives her. She does it carefully, almost as if her parents were in those two small seeds. When it’s done, her hands are dirty and her back hurts, but she feels better than she has in the past week. It still hurts so much, but it’s nice doing something like this for her parents. To leave their mark upon the world, somehow. She doesn’t realise she’s crying until she’s lifting up her hand to rub at her eyes, when someone stops her. Ailwyn has taken her arm.

“You’ll get your face dirty, silly,” he says. He reaches up, standing on his tiptoes, and attempts to dry her face of the tears. “There, all better.”

She feels a hand slip into hers, and looks to her other side to see Elora holding her hand. She smiles warmly at Shae.

“Do you want to say something to them, Shae?” asks Dalenna, from behind them.

Shae thinks about it. She supposes there are a million things she could tell them.

I wish you were here.

I wish you could see these proud, free elves. They are one with the forest, they are one with our ancestors, and they tell stories of the past.

I love it here and I hate it because the only reason I get to be here is because you are gone.

“I love you,” she says, for the forest to hear.

“Falon’Din enasal enaste.”

She doesn’t know the words Dalenna says, but she feels like she understands the meaning.

***

Aneth ara Shae,

How are you, lethallan? We miss you so very much. I’m so glad you’re okay, after what happened in Haven. We heard about it. Deshanna was going crazy, but I knew you’d be okay. You’re strong.

Elora and Ailwyn miss you terribly. Elora likes to pretend she doesn’t, of course, but I know her. She’s got none to cause chaos with now. Ailwyn is glad of it because he doesn’t have to clean up after your messes anymore. They both want to join you but Dashenna won’t let them. She says she’s not putting any more of the clan at risk. Honestly, I don’t know why she thinks she can keep those two here. I’m afraid I will wake up one day to them gone, off to join you in your quest to save the world.

But tell me, how is Skyhold? I can’t believe you’re actually there. A fortress! Although that is more believable than the shemlen calling you the Herald of Andraste. Seriously? We laugh about that stupid title once a day. First of Clan Lavellan suits you better. Or even Inquisitor. Or just Shaethra, I suppose.

I hope you are well, lethallan. I look forward to hearing from y–

 

The writing stops and there’s a messy drawing of, Shae assumes, Elora, Ailwyn and herself. It is poorly drawn, but Shae recognises Elora’s handwriting.

Love you!

That was Elora. Ailwyn says he loves you too. And of course, I do, as well.

Also, I have attached two of the seeds from your parents trees. I thought you would like to have them, in case you have some place to plant them. I assume in Skyhold it’ll be easier than in Haven.

Dareth shiral,

Dalenna.

Shae clutches the letter in her hands to her chest. She looks at the seeds on her table and smiles to herself. Creators, she misses them so much. She immediately takes out her quill and starts writing.

Aneth ara Dalenna,

I’m well, except for the fact that I have a glowing green mark in my hand that lets me do weird stuff. I’m sure the Keeper would be eager to study it. Come to think of it, Ailwyn would too.

I miss you all too. It was harder in Haven. Haven was cold and grey and lonely. Skyhold is huge but it feels more like home. And I have… good people by my side. I’m slowly starting to trust some of them. You know how hard that is for me. Incredibly, I get along the best with two shemlen. Dorian is a tevinter mage whose views on slavery are wrong but it seems to be a… culture thing. It’s still not right, but he’s a good man. He wants to change things. And he understands me.

And then there’s Josephine. I don’t know what to tell you other than I have a dumb crush. I wish you or Elora were here to advise me. Remember when you tried helping me with Mara? What a mess. I’m a mess, Dalenna!

But I’m okay. I keep telling the dumb shemlen not to call me Herald but they keep doing it anyway. Shemlen not taking into consideration what an elf thinks? What a surprise, really. I just want to be done with this.

Please tell Elora and Ailwyn not to join me. The clan needs them more than I do.

She hesitates. That’s maybe not true, but she keeps it on the paper.

Tell them I miss them greatly and I love them.

Thank you for the seeds. There’s a beautiful, huge garden that you would love here. I will plant them immediately.

Dareth shiral,

Shaethra.