He stared at the letter in his hands. It was slightly crumpled at the edges now from all the times he had clutched it in a similar way. All the sleepless nights he had spent staring at it, even when the black ink letters faded into the inky black night so he could no longer discern them. Then he glanced back down at the neatly folded square sitting precisely in the center of his desk, simply bearing the words, "For My Family". Steeling his final wobbly nerve, he stood up and turned around.
The maid was standing where had just been behind him. She stared at him with knowing eyes. It was only to be expected; the woman had raised him about as much as his own mother had. Silently, he invited her and wrapped his arms around her. "Nothing I say is going to change your mind, is it?"
"No," he whispered.
"Just come back to us," she responded, just as softly.
"I will. I promise."
And then, for who knew how long or to where, he disappeared.
Many years passed. More than he would've liked. He had intended it to be a quick journey, a year at the most before returning. His family would scold him for leaving in the middle of the night. His mother would keep a close eye on him for a while. But, eventually, everything would go back to normal. It was with a light heart that he headed back to the house of his childhood, which wasn't nearly as long ago as it seemed. In a way, it was infinitely longer.
Without hesitation, he trotted his horse up to the front door and dismounted. He was finally home. He couldn't wait to see the faces of his family. He raised his fist and knocked at the old oak door. "Is there anybody there?"
Nothing answered his cries. Nothing but silence. It radiated out towards him, bringing a swirling, clawing unease. Where were his parents? Where were his brothers and sisters? Where was everyone or anyone he had grown up with? They had never been known for being quiet. He knocked on the door again, with all of his considerable might. "Is there anybody there???"
Silence once again surged out at him, pushing him away. His horse moved uneasily under the unfittingly clear, star–filled sky. The silence was becoming more than either of them could bear. He looked once more at the sturdy oak doors, hoping. He pounded on it, three more steady, resounding times. "Tell them I came and no one answered! That I kept my word!"
He couldn't stick around long enough for the fact that no one was there to tell anyone sink in. He mounted his horse and galloped off into the night.
Telling everyone that he had left when they all awoke was the hardest thing she ever had to do. His mother was devastated. His father raged, hoping to cover up the worry he truly felt in the depths of his heart. His younger brothers and sisters looked as lost as they all felt. She handed them the letter and told them of his promise, hoping to bring hope alongside the devastation. The letter gave them understanding, but not acceptance.
Days gave by to weeks gave by to months gave by to years. Every second that ticked by killed a bit of their hope. The waiting was killing them. They died slowly. But not slowly enough. Even in death, still they waited. One day, many many days too late, he finally returned.
They knew, despite how elated they were at his return, that he could not stay. It was far too late for any of them. So, in response to his calls, they gave silence. It was tinged with the loneliness they felt as his absence, even when surrounded by each other. He lasted longer than they thought he would. After one, final, desperate attempt, he leapt back onto his horse and galloped off into the never-ending night.
Silence was left in his wake. But, somehow, this silence was calm. They knew he hadn't forgotten them. They knew he had come back for them, even if he was far too late. A large burden was lifted off their shoulders. Their hearts lightened, and they ascended. Finally, after what seemed like a thousand million eternities of waiting, they were set free.