The message came to him on the day of the elven new year.
Nothing in it should have surprised him, but Prince Aeron of Eden Halas was nonetheless affected by its contents. He didn't realise until he read the message how much he dreaded what it would say, and he wished very much for a stay of execution. Reading it over and over again did nothing to lessen its impact and, finally, like a man beaten into exhaustion, he surrendered to his fate.
It was time for him to go home.
In truth, Aeron was surprised the demand to return took as long as it did to come. He expected its arrival following Balfure's defeat and the delay allowed him to become complacent. Of course, it was always inevitable he would have to return home. His father saw no reason for his continued absence from Halas now that the war was done and Aeron had no excuse to remain.
Despite missing his mother and the woods he grew up in, Aeron never felt as bound to Eden Halas as his father or his brothers. Eighteen years ago, he was more than happy to leave his home to help Dare vanquish Balfure from Avalyne. He was closer to Dare than he was to his own brothers and travelling with the exiled heir of Carleon seemed like fate. Once away from the woods, Aeron discovered he enjoyed travelling to new lands and meeting its people, something his brothers and father would never understand.
After the Aeth War, he remained with Dare, making only the occasional visit home to see his mother. Using the excuse he was needed to help Dare with hunting the remnants of Balfure's forces, Aeron was able to avoid his father's request to return permanently. It was always going to be a temporary salve and now it seemed his time in Carleon was done. Aeron knew if he returned to Eden Halas, as requested, it would be to stay.
While he would be happy for a time, reunited with his family, Aeron knew it would not last. After eighteen years away from Eden Halas, he no longer fit in with life there. Isolation was not for him and he would be trapped by the Veil and his father's insistence on keeping the world away from Eden Halas. Everything he had experienced these past years proved he enjoyed being in the world instead of being sequestered from it.
From the first, there was no denying Aeron was cut from a different cloth than his father and sibling. When Dare was brought to Eden Halas, Aeron accepted him with little difficulty, while his older brothers, Hadros and Syannon, took time to warm to the child. His father remained aloof until the day Dare left Halas, and never understood Aeron's decision to accompany him. Being away from home blunted the differences between father and son, but if Aeron remained in Halas permanently, they would become acute. Aeron had no wish to see his mother in pain because of their conflict.
Still, it was more than just the demand to return home that bothered Aeron.
Dare was now a king with a wife and an heir. He had a kingdom to consolidate and strengthen. Kyou, head of Clan Atrayo, had recently wedded his long-time love Hanae in the Jagged Mountains. When the Master Builder completed his work fortifying Sandrine, he would return home to Iridia to begin his life with his bride. Celene was now the Lady of Gislaine and, as wife to Ronen, would be expected to bear him children for their own house. The mage Tamsyn was travelling Avalyne, seeking out acolytes to restore the Order of Enphilim.
And what was he doing? Nothing.
He was doing nothing, and if he returned to Eden Halas he would continue to do nothing. As Aeron walked the sculpted gardens of Sandrine Keep, this bothered him a great deal. Adventuring and fighting Balfure had given Aeron purpose, but those days were now past. His friends were settling down, preparing to live the rest of their lives. Aeron had no such plans. Being immortal, he had no need of them and, until now, did not realise how hollow that felt.
There had to be some purpose to immortality beyond growing stagnant with time.
“Aeron,” Dare's sudden call broke him free of his thoughts. “There you are.”
The prince glanced briefly at the sky above and was somewhat surprised to see the sun had crested overhead and was beginning its evening descent. It was early afternoon when the message from his father had arrived and he had retreated into the gardens to read it. Now he realised the day had slipped by him without notice.
“I am sorry. I did not mean to be away for so long.”
“There is nothing to be sorry for. I merely wondered where you were. I was told that there was a message from your father.” Dare stood beside Aeron before one of the ornate fountains in the garden. This one was constructed from blue marble with the likeness of the Water Wife perched up high in the centre.
“Yes,” Aeron frowned, clearly implying it was not good news.
“Is it what you feared?”
Although Aeron never spoke to Dare of his anxieties regarding his father, the king suspected Aeron feared that his responsibilities at home would soon draw him back to Eden Halas.
“More or less,” Aeron shrugged, not bothering to hide his discontent from his old friend. “My father would like me home as soon as possible.”
“And you mean to go,” Dare was unable to hide the disappointment from his voice because he could not imagine Aeron being absent from his life. Not only was Aeron family, but they had been constant companions for almost two decades. Dare did not relish the thought of losing his best friend even though it had always been inevitable that they would someday have to part company.
“I do not see that I have any other choice; he is the king after all,” Aeron reminded.
“And you are his son, not his possession,” Dare pointed out.
“I have responsibilities at home,” Aeron countered, but he knew argument was weak. His older brothers Hadros and Syannon were of more use to his father than he. The only reason Halion wished Aeron at home was because he disapproved of his son living a life beyond the Veil. During Balfure's reign it was a necessary evil, but now the Aeth Lord was no more, there was no longer any reason for his continued absence from home.
“You have responsibilities to yourself first,” Dare stated firmly, conscious of the fact that while Aeron was more than 950 years older than him, the elf spent very little of that time actually living. As much as Dare loved the elves, he felt their immortality was more a burden than it was a gift from the Celestial Gods. Time was no one's friend when you had too much of it.