Chapter I

Lilac Night

Darkness melted away, and morning quietly floated out of the night’s dreamy slumber. A fleet of twelve heavily laden ships sluggishly swayed on the waves. The boatswain of the flagship with the renowned name "Adunakhor", which in Númenorean meant "Lord of the West", looked angrily around at the cloudless sky, lazy shimmering sea and his sleepy seamen. This was really bad luck: for the whole month they had a good tailwind, without interference, and now were stuck ten miles from Andunie. Of course, he could always put soldiers to the oars – their homesickness would motivate them to reach the land swiftly, but Pharazon wanted to enter the harbour spectacularly, with full sails up.
 
The famous commander strolled restlessly across the deck. Admittedly, Pharazon went on Númenor’s campaigns to Middle-earth with a light heart, but he did not feel equally cheerful on the return home. In the army, he was an idol, mentor, hero; conquered peoples worshipped him, sought protection and regularly paid tribute to him. Who in Middle-earth knew of Tar-Palantir – the king who never left the island? For all Middle-earthers it was Pharazon who personified Númenorean power and glory, he was the true Lord of the West. And when the ships with their precious cargo entered the harbors, people rejoiced and enthusiastically welcomed Pharazon. More than once he was wondering why the throne was taken not by him, brave and decent, the people’s favorite, but by the king-mumbler, the king-deadhead, the capable of nothing Tar-Palantir? This lunatic sat perched in the tower for days at a time, locked in search for wonders in the distant lands of Immortals. Will arrogant idols have mercy? Will they send their white boats without oars and rudder to help? As if Númenoreans could not exist without stupid elves! Pharazon spat, expressing extreme contempt for his crowned uncle: "Sit in your tower and admire my sails on the horizon. Red with gold. There’s not much time left for you." It was always a bit worrisome to return home after such a long absence.
 
The soldiers and sailors stagnated in their idleness. They teased each other and wondered if they would make it on time for the joyous celebration on the island – Lilac night. They wanted finally to jump on solid ground, throw off their salty garments, bathe, dance with their ladies, spoil them with the trophies and tales of overseas lands.
 
Finally, bored soldiers came up with a little entertainment for themselves.
 
- It’s probably not a good idea to throw him in the boots, – a massive guy Booz whispered to jaunty Fizel, – it’s not right...
 
Blond cheerleader Lafer quietly made his rounds and talked to the idle sailors. Everybody nodded.
 
- Boots he will take off himself, – promised Fizel and marched to the front of the ship, where, leaning on the side, a pensive warrior looked at the offing. His name was Yunier, and he grew up in Middle-earth, having never been to Númenor before. Fizel stopped next to him.
 
- Can you see Valinor? - he asked after a pause.
 
- Where? – Yunier was slightly taken aback. He admired the island, friendly green with the high mountain and splashes of white stone buildings. The land was still far off.
 
- Over there! - Fizel pointed in the opposite direction, to the west. Yunier squinted, but shrugged his shoulders.
 
- Just something bright.
 
- How come?! – Fizel exclaimed. – Don’t you see the harbor? The ships? Lots of trees with smooth white trunks? And flocks of birds in those trees? Yunier suspiciously looked at his excited companion.
 
- Maybe, your eyes are not as sharp as those of the locals, – Fizel continued. - It’s a pity. That is a magical land. When the elves go to sea, they tie ships to flocks of birds, and the birds lead them where they need. What a carefree world! They feast all year around.
 
- I don’t believe that you see birds from here, Fiz! - said Yunier.
 
- You’ll also be able to do that with some time, - Fizel nodded encouragingly. - Or, do you know what? Try it from the mast!
 
Yunier was bursting with curiosity. He did not notice the teasing looks of the soldiers and sailors. If others can see the Immortal lands, why won’t he give it a try? Yunier took off his boots, jacket and skilfully climbed the mast. But even at the top he certainly couldn’t see the birds. Something dazzling bright was looming in the west, as if there were two suns and one of them decided to take a dip in the ocean. Yunier did not like to admit that he was tricked.
 
- What a brilliant city! - he cried, climbing down so that he could be heard. - What birds! What girls! Maybe, we should stop by Valinor?
 
- It will take us a month or more to reach the blissful land, – Pharazon responded. - Valinor only seems to be close.
 
- It cannot be! – Yunier didn’t believe it. Pharazon grinned.
 
- Someday, Yunier, they will meet us, as friendly neighbors should, mark my words, - he said.
 
Pharazon knew well many of his soldiers. Yunier was one of the bravest. Handsome, vigorous and incredibly lucky, he had never been wounded in battle, though he never tried to avoid dangers, on the other hand, he risked his neck in most daring adventures. There was something unusual in his looks: dark purple eyes and flawless elvish complexion... In the vast lands of Middle-earth Pharazon never met anyone with similar features. Yunier had been brought up by Ereb – a warrior from the glorious Númenorean clan, but he was not related to the man or his family.
 
- Sir! – Pharazon’s thoughts were interrupted by a grinning sailor. – We know why there is no wind. Ulmo doesn’t let us in.
 
- Yeh! - unshaven fellows nodded in unison.
 
- What ?! – Pharazon was amazed. Ulmo was the only Vala, whose authority he did not dare to question. Ulmo - the Lord of the Waters and the Ruler of the Seas, and when you trust a wooden boat - a shell on the vast swell - you want to believe that the master of this temperamental domain is in the peaceful mood. But to explain ordinary calm with his whim? Lafer quickly whispered something in Pharazon’s ear. Commander’s eyes flashed with a mischievous twinkle.
 
- Ah, that’s it! And why won’t he let us in? - He joined the game.
 
- A stranger on board, - the sailor said with mock hesitation, - not the descendant of Adans, so to speak. The island was given to the Adans as a reward for their good deeds. And outsiders are not allowed.
 
- Toss him overboard! Or we stuck here forever, - the second sailor joined in. Everybody turned around and stared at Yunier, who just managed to get down from the mast.
 
- Toss him! – Pharazon ordered. The crowd rushed to the victim with a joyous whoop. Yunier figured out where it was going, ducked under the mast and ran across the deck, swiftly missing all hands stretched to him. He could have made his chasers run after him for a long time, but all of a sudden broad-chested Booz came out and caught the guy in his tight clutches. The others joined. Yunier was taken from the deck, lifted into the air and tossed into the water.
 
- Bastards! – The pranksters heard, and the cry of despair was followed by a splash. The soldiers’ mood noticeably improved, vigour increased.
 
- To the oars! – Lafer called, barely noticing Yunier’s head on the sea surface. He would not allow their victim to immediately climb back to the ship. Nobody needed persuasion. Yunier floundered in the waves and snorted; the water was chilly. The ship "Adunakhor" was flying away from him. Yunier turned his head and looked at the boat following "Adunakhor". Most likely its crew would join the humorous conspiracy, and if they take him on board, he would be laughed at. Yunier was not afraid of laughter at his expense, he was a jocker himself, and knew that in any case it would be better on the deck than in the icy water. How could those rascals catch him by surprise?! Meanwhile, the boatswain was the first to feel a change in the atmosphere. Maybe, Ulmo enjoyed their joke? And now the flag began to flutter and rustle.
 
- Wind! - the boatswain cried. – All sails up!
 
The sailors dropped the oars and got busy with the sails. That gave Yunier enough time to approach the ship. At last his fellows took pity and decided that he had a sufficient bath.
 
- Hey! Rope for Yuni! – Lafer shouted for help. Cheerful fellows dropped the rope to the stubborn swimmer, and he grasped it with feline tenacity. The sails caught the wind, and "Adunakhor" glided over the waves. Rope stretched to the limit, and Yunier, bolt upright, screamed with delight:
 
- Wow! I am flying! Ah-ah-ah-ah!!!
 
A crowd of soldiers was watching him from the board.
 
- Do not lose your pants! - Fizel shouted, folding his hands as a mouthpiece. Now they all were a little jealous of Yunier who jumped like a flying fish, barely touching the surface of the sea, and was in no hurry to go up on deck.
 
By the time the fleet reached the harbor, the wharf was crowded with onlookers. The port, bustling with fancy dressed, noisy people, was intimidating, and the sailors, attacked with greetings, were stunned and for the first few minutes wanted to hide in a secluded place to recover. The warriors descended onto land were picked up, decorated with the wreaths, carried with honors to their homes or inns. It was impossible to get away from displays of love and honor.
 
Yunier looked around with curiosity. Nothing here looked like Middle-earth! The streets were wide, the walls were free of mold and cracks, and vines entwined elegant houses. The faces beamed with joyful serenity, not like those of the peoples on the continent - dreary, always anxious and grim. Nothing bad ever happened to the islanders; they smiled as if happiness was their essence. The smell of lilac floated in the air. Yes, they managed to make it in time for the Númenorean festival of love. Yunier stayed by Lafer. After having a rest, the friends met up with their fellow soldiers at the waterfront, and there they were hopping the taverns until tired. Still, they tried to restrain from drinking - everyone wanted to save strength for the festival.
 
- Oh no, not that! – Fizel exclaimed, coming out to the sunlit street from the darkness of another eatery. - Poor girl! The horse bolted!
 
- Where?! – Yunier reacted.
 
- Over there!
 
Along the bottom edge of the sea the black stallion raced like a wild, and the female rider bent down to his neck.
 
- She seems to cope, - said Yunier.
 
- At such a speed?! – objected Fizel. - I’ve seen her almost fall! How can they be stopped? While Fizel was talking, Yunier acted. Jumping over a low fence, running along the road paved with white stone, barely touching the hard pebble with his soles, he sprinted faster than any horse! Not sparing himself, Yunier rushed to intercept the infuriated mount, which whinnied in surprise and reared.
 
- What are you doing, stupid? – The rider sounded annoyed. She stayed in the saddle and now angrily looked at Yunier with her bright blue eyes.
 
- Saving your life, - awkwardly bowed Yunier. The girl chuckled and the stallion almost kicked Yunier for his manners, but he managed to dodge.
 
- Next time you will get a hoof in the forehead, - the rider promised.
 
- Happy to meet you too, - nodded Yunier. But the girl just shrugged her shoulders.
 
- Go, Blackmoon, - she addressed her horse in a gentle voice, and he proudly raised his head and set off at a gallop. Yunier gazed after her. Others approached.
 
- Who is she? – Yunier asked immediately.
 
- Tar-Miriel. The princess, - Lafer said.
 
- Beautiful, - admitted Yunier.
 
- And an excellent rider! - said Fizel trying not to laugh. Yunier looked at him angrily. – It was the second time you got tricked today, Yuni!
 
- You’re paying too much attention to me, Fiz, - replied Yunier.
 
- Just want you to remember your first trip to Númenor.
 
- Let’s go to the Aldarion forest! We can look at the preparations for the festival, - suggested Lafer.
 
- Are you going to the festival with the commoners? - Fizel gasped.
 
- Won’t you?
 
- I’ll go to the Marble Castle. All the Númenorean nobility will be there, and, be assured, we expect entertainment more refined than dancing in a forest glade. Think about it! All soldiers are invited. You don’t get an opportunity to dine with the highborn every day!
 
- Well, do not overeat without habit; - Yunier slapped him on the shoulder.
 
- And you, Booz, are you coming with us? - Lafer turned to the fourth pal.
 
- No, I will join Narin, - Booz blushed and looked down - but also to the Marble Castle.
 
- Well, - sighed Lafer, - nobody supports our idea...
 
- To flirt with peasants? - continued mocking him Fizel. – Thanks, but no, thanks!
 
- And even if so! - Ardently objected Yunier. - A peasant won’t run away before you manage to talk to her.
 
It looked like the fleeing of the arrogant princess still hurt him.
 
- Good luck with your simple little targets! - Fizel ironically blessed Lafer and Yunier. – Enjoy the celebration!
 
The friends scattered in every direction. Lafer and Yunier leisurely strolled to Aldarion forest.
 
Pharazon walked casually along the waterfront, politely returning greetings. He had just talked to his man, who was put to monitor the king in Pharazon’s absence, and found out that Tar-Palantir still favored the Faithful and even thought of returning their lands in Andunie. Pharazon feared that the king would be able to revive the decayed alliance of Elves and Men in Númenor. "Sweet-talking henchmen of the Valar clouded Tar-Palantir’s judgement, - he thought. - Friendship between unequal nations is impossible. While elves do not agree to share the secret of immortality with people, they will not have a quiet life in Numenor. I will not allow that."
 
- Commander? – The surprised exclamation broke his gloomy thoughts. Pharason ran into his soldiers.
 
- Good timing! - He rejoiced. - I just have something to talk about.
 
They stepped aside. Pharazon explained Yunier and Lafer, that Tar-Palantir was expecting an envoy of the Faithful, and ordered them to go to the Silver String crossing immediately and follow the elven scout from there. Let them support a just cause. Pharazon needed to know exactly when the elf would enter the palace.
 
- But today is a holiday! – Yunier complained sullenly.
 
- To serve mankind, - that is a holiday! - Pharazon grinned. - I do not ask a lot, - only one important mission. You will have time to do nothing. And Pharazon explained in details where to wait for the elven envoy.
 
- Why did you need to call him?!- Yunier exclaimed when Pharazon left. - He would have never noticed us!
 
- What’s done is done, - replied Lafer mournfully.
 
"Waiting, any day now," - Yunier fumed. - What a misfortune! The elf may not appear at all, and two of us will be standing stock-still at the crossing.
 
- On top of it on Lilac Night - added Lafer.
 
- An elf in Númenor is not such a rarity that we ought to run after him.
 
– We won’t be able to follow every elf, - nodded Lafer with a laugh.
 
– Let’s not hurry, then. Peace to all, elves included, on this spring festival. We’ll tell Pharazon that the envoy was a product of his imagination, - concluded Yunier, and they went to the stables to pick up the horses and lead them into the secret place. For disobeying the order they could be put to death or sent to exile, but they were brave and buoyant.
 
* * *
 
- No, no. Do not even think about it, Miriel - objected Tar-Palantir to the requests of the princess. Arfest hosts a feast in his castle on the beach. All the Númenorean elite gather there and you have to be present.
 
- But it’s so boring! – Miriel exclaimed in utter despair.
 
- It may be boring for me, - protested Tar-Palantir. - I’ve seen many celebrations and I don’t get excited by them any more. But you, so young, should be thrilled and anticipating...
 
Miriel stood silent, scowling at him.
 
- Well, - continued Tar-Palantir, - what are the advantages of Lilac Night?
 
- I’ve never seen a festival like that, - the girl responded dreamily. - A free festival...
 
- You do not know much - Tar-Palantir frowned. – What you call “free” can be wild and dangerous for a girl like you...
 
- I swear by all the glory of Númenor! - Miriel exclaimed. - I do not believe that at my age you was same dull as now!
 
- Calm down, Miriel. - He gently took her hand and continued. - People of Numenor always respect their leaders and praise the valiant warriors. But there are days when they need to feel great and proud for themselves. They want their own festival. And Númenor has it - The Lilac Night. Handymen, gardeners, seamstresses and maids, soldiers and sailors are the audience that’s going there. Believe me; they do not need the shine of their everyday idols, nor the condescending supervising on out part. You will not make them happy with your brilliant presence, Miriel, Moonlight, the princess of Númenor!
 
Having listened carefully to her father, Miriel said:
 
- Fine, I’ll do what you want.
 
- There’s a good girl, - Tar-Palantir nodded, – everyone will be happy to see you in the Marble Castle. We’ll go together; after the official part, I’ll leave, and the best young men of Númenor will ward off your boredom...
 
- You are right, father, - Miriel said meekly, and Tar-Palantir smiled happily.
 
Miriel described her failure to convince Tar-Palantir to her trusted maid Airen. They grew together since childhood, and she always was more like a confidante to the princess than a servant.
 
- The king’s words are reasonable - assented Airen. - You’ll meet friends and have something to talk about! Pharazon and his army returned from the Middle-earth today. Worthy knights will entertain you with fresh tales of their exploits on the continent and fight each other for your favors. Are fishermen and apprentices the best company for you?
 
- I’m not going to the Marble Castle! - snapped Miriel. - You’ll have to tell the king that I am sick and cannot accompany him.
 
- Deceive the king? – Airen trailed off.
 
- For the sake of our friendship.
 
- No, Miriel, it’s just dangerous. Don’t you understand?! Anything can happen.
 
- As you wish, - hissed the princess, her face hard. - But remember, if you do not take me with you, I will go to the Aldarion forest by myself.
 
Airen knew that it was impossible to contradict the young mistress, if she failed to come to her senses on her own. She got used to yield.
 
Miriel went for a ride in the garden. In bottomless heights, the midday sun cast a hot amber glow over the island. The air itself melted from heat. The princess closed her eyes from the blinding light and smiled. "I may get sunstroke if I ride a little longer - she thought – no matter, whether they believe me or not, I’ll be too weak to enjoy the festival in the Marble Palace."
 
Returning from a walk, Miriel felt weak and dizzy. And if an hour ago Tar-Palantir saw his daughter cheerful and perfectly healthy, now she stood before him barely alive. Miriel was trying so hard to portray a headache that she herself believed her illness. No one doubted her sincerity. Arfest, who hoped to court her at the festival, was upset with her sudden illness and expressed hope that Miriel would feel better and join him. But in the late afternoon Airen reported that her mistress had a fever and would have to suffer in bed for the entire festival. With glee the young liar watched from the window the fast chariots carrying the king and other nobles to the sea castle, away from her.
 
The girls could only escape from the castle by climbing onto the roof: all exits and entrances were protected by guards. It was risky to climb the barely noticeable ridges in the coming twilight, but they knew every stone in the castle. The most dangerous part was the steep and fairly smooth wall there they had to use a rope ladder. Then they rushed to Aldarion forest, bursting with sounds of loud music, funny voices and laughter. On the way, the girls stopped in a rose garden and picked flowers. Airen wove wreaths for the princess and herself. She capped Miriel with the wreath of fiery red roses and exclaimed: - Well… now you look like a village beauty!
 
Miriel laughed, her eyes shining with excitement. Her black hair was in a tight braid, and red roses blazed over the young face. Airen made a wreath of white roses and lilac for herself. To the large meadow, to the burning fires, they came in the middle of the festival.
 
- Remember, - said Airen in her strictest voice, holding Miriel’s hand tightly, – the most important thing is not to lose each other, and of course not to lose our heads.
 
At first, Miriel’s heart was stopping from fear that someone would recognize her, but she suppressed her fear and spun in a fast paced dance. The princess happily jumped over bonfires, danced and sang. After a few sips of rose wine, which was given to the thirsty by jolly fellows, sitting on the barrels, she began to playfully respond to any curious questions that her father was the King of Númenor, and she was relieved when absolutely no one believed her.
 
Everything was in blossom on that warm spring night. Yunier and Lafer have already jumped enough for a while and now stood in the shade, watching the youth frolicking around camp-fires. The air was saturated with the smell of lilac, the night sky colored by the lilac stars.
 
- These people are so beautiful, Lafer, - quietly said Yunier - of course, elves are even more beautiful, but ... they are somehow too cautious and restrained, and cold. When I look at the elven maidens, I admire them, but at the sight of our girls, my heart is overflowing with love, and I’m losing my head.
 
- To each his own, - Lafer said.
 
- Look at them! - continued Yunier. - Well, how do these people differ from the noble lords? I could not tell the distinction.
 
- We are not the only smart guys, Yunier. There should be other dressed offspring of worthy families of Númenor at this festival!
 
- Do you want to say that Marble Castle is empty?! - Yunier was amused.
 
At the height of the festivities, Airen suddenly pulled Miriel’s hand, breaking a round dance. When Miriel looked at her with inquisitive displeasure, Airen whispered:
 
- If I am not mistaken, the bell must ring soon, and this will be a sign for the May Engagement. Each girl will put a wreath on her chosen one. Therefore, if we do not want to stay with nothing, we should find some suitable candidates and make sure that we are not left behind.
 
- Funny, - giggled Miriel. - What do you say about those two at a lilac bush? I think they are rather cute.
 
- Fine, - agreed Airen, – we must sneak up close to them, but so that they did not notice.
 
- Later we’ll compose a ballad for future generations, - Miriel whispered, making her way through the trees. - It will carol the princess of Númenor hunting for suitors on Lilac Night.
 
- Hush... – Airen cut her off, barely suppressing a laugh. – The grooms may flee.
 
They crouched behind a large tree close to their prospective grooms; pretty soon they heard a melodic jingle. The meadow started to fuss.
 
- What is it? - Yunier asked in amazement.
 
- The May Engagement, – guessed Lafer. - I told you.
 
- How could I have forgotten?! And we got into the shade, Lafer, - called out Yunier, alarmed. - No one will see us!
 
He was wrong, two girls already jumped at them, and a wreath of red roses fell on his head. Yunier saw that his "May Bride" was an amazing beauty. Love, which was filling his heart for the entire day, finally found a way out. At that moment, he forgot about Lafer, and everything else. He quickly sealed the union with an impatient kiss and was not letting his new found treasure go.
 
- Your choice has made me so... happy! - exclaimed Yunier, gazing admiringly at Miriel. She recognized the rascal, who ran under the hooves of Blackmoon early in the morning. She never thought about possible consequences of the "May Engagement" and now with bewilderment and even fear looked at her ardent admirer.
 
- I believe you, but ... if you do not restrain yourself, I’ll have to find someone modest, - she said, though noting that the young man was handsome and seemed to be sincere. Now Yunier recognized her as well. "The very princess chose me, – he rejoiced, - and I will not let her go." He laughed and hugged the girl by the shoulders and led her to the couples dancing in the meadow.
 
- You’re in good hands; do not be afraid - he urged "the bride." And, indeed, his strong arms caught her; the princess could not escape his hugs anyway. Yunier danced gracefully and skillfully, holding her close. Not giving a chance for the girl to look at Airen, who was making desperate signs to her, Yunier whispered something gentle and took the fascinated princess farther away from the crowd. Airen, who was courted assiduously by Lafer, could not help her mistress. The thing that they were afraid of had happened - they were separated.
 
- Let me go! – Miriel tried to break away.
 
- I don’t think so! - answered Yunier.
 
Miriel’s head was spinning. She could not hear voices and songs anymore, and certainly could see nothing around. The earth was slipping away from under her feet, but trusty hands were gently holding her. The agonizing call of spring was heard everywhere. They were young and easily succumbed to the mysterious heart attraction. Their souls met. Miriel did not realize it, but just felt that she never experienced anything like that before. And when the young man touched her hot cheeks with his lips, she felt not only fear and awkwardness, but also pleasure. "Well, rejoice, you are kissed by the May groom, you won’t be so curious anymore," - she thought, amazed that she could still think.
 
Yunier pulled away from her lips, and when she caught her breath, she discovered that they were standing in the forest, an immense sky was above them with pouring streams of stars, and the human voices and the music could be barely heard.
 
- What’s your name? - He asked, still holding her hands. She replied hesitantly:
 
- You can call me Leora.
 
- A beautiful name, - smiled Yunier, - and I am Kelvin, the son of a shepherd, one of the best in Númenor.
 
"Something to be proud of," - thought Miriel, but said nothing.
 
- I think I saw you somewhere, - continued Yunier - and not only in fairy dreams. Your image is somehow connected to the castle of our king. - The young man closely watched Miriel’s facial expression. - Your father...
 
- He’s the royal gardener, - quickly interrupted him the princess.
 
- Oh! - Exclaimed Yunier, - he’s a friend of mine. When I meet him next, I will definitely tell him that a rare beauty of a flower grew in his garden.
 
Miriel looked at him mockingly:
 
- I don’t think that it will be a surprise for him.
 
Somewhat embarrassed, Yunier again leaned toward her, but she pulled away and said firmly:
 
- Come, let’s dance.
 
When they approached the Big Meadow, Yunier asked:
 
- What prevents us from really getting engaged? After all, there are no obstacles?
 
- I will think about that, - she smiled, - and I’ll ask my father.
 
- Well, we’ll settle this thing with your father! - Cheerfully promised her Yunier.
 
"It’s strange, - Miriel thought. - How can it be, that he did not recognize me?" The girl looked for Airen, but she was not among the dancers. The "groom" did not leave the girl for a moment. They drank wine from the same cup, and intoxication poured into their hot blood. Soon the princess was spinning in a dance joyfully and enthusiastically, completely taken by the madness of the Lilac Night.
 
After a while, they heard the excited cries: "Attention! Attention!" – The dancing had stopped, and everyone retreated farther to the edge of the meadow. People with blurred faces prophesied about something, standing on the wine barrels. On individual cries Miriel realized that the Lilac couple had been chosen. Airen told her that the Lilac kings marry straight there, at a party in a tent prepared for them. The next day, their names will be known to the whole city, and Tar-Palantir will provide a couple with dowries. Along with everybody else she cried joyfully: "Hurrah!!!" Suddenly Yunier pulled her hand.
 
- Run now, run away! - He said making his way around many couples.
 
- But why? – Miriel objected.
 
- If you are overcome by vanity, you can stay, - he told, pulling her away from the meadow.
 
Now Miriel realized that the choice fell upon them. The crowd, stunned with the flight of the Lilac kings, rushed after them. Apparently, finding in it exciting entertainment, people chased them upon heels. "What would happen if they caught us? Will they forcibly send us to the tent?" - Miriel thought with horror, not daring to look back, but hearing the clatter behind. Sometimes they were overtaken, and then had to break off the most bothersome. "Happiness in love, happiness in love" the crowd chanted.
 
- To the sea! Drive them to the sea! - Someone cried.
 
- Can you swim? - asked Yunier.
 
- Yes, - she said, out of breath from running. Yunier realized that they were inevitably driven to the sea, and thought of a small boat dock on the beach, where he had walked with Lafer in the afternoon. They had the opportunity to run there faster than their pursuers. Miriel raced, feeling hot vortexes swirling around her. Much to Yunier’s dismay when they finally reached the place, the crowd cut them off from the dock. He rushed to the cliff. In the morning, the boys jumped into the water from it, so that was possible. Miriel had no time to figure out what was happening and she jumped into the depths of the sea with her "May groom." When they dived out, Yunier quickly swam to the tiny grotto in the rock - there was a boat. He untied the boat, helped Miriel climb into it and started on the oars. After a while the noise of the crowd became softer, and then disappeared completely, they managed to break away from the chase. Yunier and Miriel sighed with relief and hugged. Yet the young man pulled the boat away from the dock to be on the safe side.
 
- And why would the son of a shepherd flee from the honors so hastily? - she asked sarcastically. What prevented him to become a Lilac king?
 
- The assumption that these honors tonight will turn into his funeral tomorrow, - calmly replied Yunier, and Miriel looked at him with genuine curiosity. The boat landed at the shore. It was unusually quiet, a drowsy haze enveloped everything around. The sea, full of fine glowing dust dispelled the gloom. Only now, Miriel understood how tired she was: her legs were bruised and sore, her clothes were soaking wet, and she had to reach her castle somehow. She had neither strength nor desire to go. When Yunier leaned over and kissed her, she replied feebly:
 
- I’m so tired, and we still have to go back...
 
- Why? - he asked. The warmth of his hands was calming, and he was so handsome.
 
What was Yunier thinking? His family could not be equated to the clan of the princess of Númenor, yet he gave vent to his feelings. It was not for nothing that he was called dauntless by his fellow soldiers.
 
- Let’s stay here - he pleaded to Miriel in a quiet but insistent voice. – Sea, sky, and us... Everything is calm… - he stroked the damp hair of the princess, and touched her soft lips. A powerful current flowed through his veins, and the tension was growing between them. The world was suddenly blissfully empty. And the future did not depend on them. Chosen Lilac Night kings did not oppose their fate ...
 
The irrevocable moments flew away quickly. Dawn had come. Yunier sighed and gratefully squeezed the princess’s hand. Miriel pulled away from him, and at once a whirlwind of thoughts occupied her head: "Have I gone mad, or what? Who is he, this son of a shepherd? What if my father finds out, and all the others too. Horror! I should go home immediately!"
 
- You took me too far away, - she said to Yunier. - If you like it, stay here, but I have to go. - She head to the boat, not quite confident. Yunier jumped up and hurried after her. He was a warrior and did not feel tired. His heart was filled with affection for this slender girl with her messy black hair. But the tenderness was already mingled with bitterness, because the night was over.
 
The May couple soon arrived at the boat dock and from there went forward through the forest. For a while, until they began to meet people, he carried her in his arms. The road went up and up; Miriel understood why they were running so fast last night. Now Yunier had to drag her by the hand. She felt so worn out that tears came out of her eyes, but when Yunier tried to comfort her, she got even more angry.
 
As they approached the Big Meadow, they slowed down and hid behind the trees, if there were people on the way. They did not want to be seen. No one was wild anymore; the festival looked quite peaceful, beautiful singing was heard. Yunier accidentally noticed his friend.
 
- Lafer! - He called softly. The relieved friend ran up to him.
 
- I thought you were lost! - He exclaimed. - When I saw that you were chosen the Lilac King, I decided that was the end of us. - And here Lafer looked at his friend’s companion and stopped dumbfounded. Although the princess of Númenor had a very shabby look, face to face she was easily recognizable. He bowed helplessly, unable to find the right words; Miriel gave him a forced smile.
 
- Where is Airen? - She asked, looking at him defiantly.
 
- We lost each other... when the pursuit of you started, and I have not seen her, - Lafer said, stammering slightly.
 
- Will you allow us to see you to the castle safely? - Yunier asked Miriel.
 
- Sure, – the princess responded quickly. - That would be better.
 
They came to the road leading to the main gate of the castle, and then said their goodbyes. They wanted to hide in a safe shelter before the day began and people started returning home from the festival.
 
- We will meet again, it is inevitable, - Yunier said to Miriel, bidding goodbye.
 
- I don’t think so, - she objected. - I have a very strict father. - She turned and went to the castle.
 
- It seems that this night gave you more thrills than any battle, - Lafer grinned.
 
- This was a perfect night, - assured him Yunier. They were about to leave, when suddenly Lafer pulled his friend’s hand, and they fell into the grass.
 
- Look! - He said. Yunier looked in the direction indicated by Lafer, and saw a tall wanderer in green clothes, thanks to which he was almost invisible in the woods. His hair was gold, his pace was incredibly easy.
 
- Elf, - whistled Yunier. - Heading towards the castle.
 
- What luck that we saw him now. We’ll say to Pharazon that we were following him from the Silver Stream itself!
 
- Good! Everything is going to be just fine! - Yunier smiled.
 
Miriel did not go to the main gate; she turned off the road and went to the Rose Garden. It seemed that someone was following her. The girl turned around, but saw no one. However, the feeling of stranger’s presence did not leave her, and when she looked again, she saw a slender tall golden-haired man strolling along. When their eyes met, she was surprised by the glow pouring out of the stranger’s eyes. "Maybe, another adventurer returns from the festival," - she thought.
 
She entered the garden, climbed through the hole in the wall with difficulty, got up and staggered to the stairs. Miriel hopelessly looked at the rope ladder, then gathered all her will and began to climb up, scraping her knees and elbows. "A little more, - she told herself, - damn festival!" Her body was shaking from the stress, the clothing soaked. That’s it. Some four rungs were left, but she could not climb further. "It would have been better to go through the main entrance, than to fall and break my neck. What an ignominious end!" The princess looked down to determine how far she would fall down, and saw the stranger in a green cloak. He looked at the weird girl dangling on the crossbar with amazement. "Well, what does this one need here?" - Miriel got furious, but then she felt a surge of strength because of shame or anger quickly overcame the last stage and even walked a little on the roof, no longer looking back and wondering why someone is climbing over the walls of the castle in the early morning hours.
 
Airen, who returned safely before her mistress, helped her to the room. She asked some questions, but Miriel was too exhausted to talk to her. "Later," – the princess barely managed a whisper and, as soon as she found herself in her quarters, she fell on her bed and went to sleep.

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The Last Princess of Numenor
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