A Taste of Diplomacy

He was walking near the library, adjusting a clasp at his neck. He appeared to be clothed in one of his most officious cloaks, silver lined with blood-red silk. Two of his father's ministers passed him and he bowed to them before continuing on in the opposite direction. Was he late to something? He hastened his steps, his boots making satisfying thuds against the white marble.

He looked at his fingernail-bitten hands. On his right ring finger was a wide band, set with a milky stone. As he passed a window, the gem lit up, and he stopped. Captivated by it, he stood in the streaming shaft of sunlight, turning his hand from side to side, admiring the shock of colours hidden in the cabochon.

Late! He was late! Of course- it was the wedding of Thengel, an officer in his father's army. He rushed from the window and ran smack into a child.

"Out of my way!" he yelled, and stopped. No child had a beard. What was this?

The bearded child growled something guttural at him, and pointed at the ring on his hand.


He was so confused.


Minas Tirith, T.A. 2943

Denethor tapped unfocusedly at the egg in its silver holder, then put his spoon down to take a drink of juice from a small goblet.

"Is something the matter?" Iolande's worried voice drifted down the table. "You have barely touched your breakfast."

He looked up at her and smiled. "No, Mother. I had a very vivid dream last night, but now it has escaped me. All I remember are wisps of images. I know I was late to something. And I had a ring." He looked down at his bare fingers before shaking his head. "You know me. My dreams are sometimes so real that I think I have lived them in truth."

His father Ecthelion looked up from his plate. "Know this in truth; we have a wedding to attend at midday, outside of the City. Our carriage will depart at twelve on the sundial, from the second level of the city. And you are absolutely forbidden to be late."

"Thengel, sir?"

"Yes. To Morwen of Lossarnach. Quite an age difference there, but I am not one to meddle in such affairs."

His normally stern father quirked a smile at his mother. "I know that I chose well, and I hope the same for him." He rested his fork on the linen tablecovering. "It does trouble me that King Fengel of Rohan will not be in attendance. Thengel has been with us for many years it is true, but I did not think that he had sundered all ties to his home." He dabbed at his coppery beard with his napkin, looking thoughtful. "We may well need the assistance of the Rohirrim in the years to come."

Denethor leaned forward to retrieve a triangle of toast from a silver paten, and smeared a healthy swath of butter on it. Munching, he waited for his father to continue. Silence drifted down the table until Denethor looked up from his bread to see two pair of eyes on him, one exasperated, the other temperedly tolerant.

"Chew with your mouth closed."

Denethor clamped his lips together and swallowed. Hard.


The ceremony itself was relatively brief. Denethor's primary interest in the day-long trip from the day prior was seeing parts of Gondor that he had viewed only a very few times prior. Lossarnach was nothing like the beautiful city of Dol Amroth, with its expansive bay, unending blue waters and almost foreign-looking architecture. When they had visited the Prince, Ecthelion had explained that there was an Elvish presence there that had remained for ages. Well, his father had said something like that, and perhaps it was the otherworldly element that caused a sudden rise of gooseflesh on his arms when he looked at the harbour. The castle looking out over the endless sea was old, very old, and the line of Princes who had ruled it were said still to carry some of the blood of the deathless in their line.

If Dol Amroth was regal and reflective of beautiful ancient mysteries, Lossarnach was its opposite. Utilitarian buildings, children and animals running amok, some of the roads dirt tracks, not even cobbled with ever-plentiful rock. There were many swaths and fields of flowers in the valley, however, and Denethor could acknowledge that the fields surrounding the settlements were quite beautiful in their own way.

Denethor had been surprised that the woman the officer married was so tall; to Denethor it was astonishing that she was easily his height, since Thengel was no shorter than most in his father's army. He wore his bright gold hair unbound so that it fell well below his shoulders, making him stand out even more against the predominantly raven and brown-haired citizens of Gondor. As the prince of Rohan further forsook his heritage by slowly announcing his intent of marriage, Denethor found himself reeling. The officer uttered the words in near-perfect Westron, though there was a lingering accent in the way he rolled his "r"s. But the deep baritone came as a shock to him. All of a sudden he understood that this was not a man to be underestimated, and he should pay far more attention to the emotions belied in the speech of those around him, rather than the expressions that played on their faces.

Afterwards, he sampled the multitude of foods that Morwen's father had provided for those attending the nuptials. Tropical fruits and delightful chocolates, and some gooey sweet things he had never before tasted. Luckily he overheard Thengel say that they were figs, a foodstuff that grew commonly in southern Rohan. As Denethor bowed to Morwen and gave his congratulations, upon seeing her up close, he knew all of a sudden that she simply must be of related lineage to the Princes of Dol Amroth. A quick query to his father confirmed this, and made the match seem all the more perplexing to him. "But why him, Father?" he asked quietly, tugging on Ecthelion's robe until a searing glance and hissed comment of, "Hair out of your eyes!" sent him off to look for some other companion, pulling his long fringe behind his ears as he went.

Denethor had hoped to take up discussion with some of the officers in attendance, but they were busy discussing their upcoming tours to Ithilien and, while polite, obviously had little to say to the Steward's son. When he was approached by one of Morwen's many siblings, a girl around his age, they struck up a stilted conversation. Eventually she suggested building a fort of sorts to fight off boredom, but he balked. Surely he was far too old for such frivolous and childish activities- but he was also a guest and didn't wish to insult anyone in the family that was now in-laws to the prince of Rohan, even if he had lived in Gondor for most of his lifetime. Grudgingly, but then with increasing enthusiasm, they clustered together some of the chairs on the periphery of the festivities, and the girl, Brianna, brought out some cloths from inside the house to provide a roof and walls. They made an entrance flap and a hidden corridor with a route into the hedge behind the house, just for good measure. Brianna had gone to retrieve some sweetmeats from the table to be put in the makeshift kitchen when Denethor heard the man from Rohan speaking to his father about him.

"You had best keep an eye on him, Ecthelion. That son of yours is already building his own empire!"

Denethor grinned.


"Elbow up, Master Denethor! Up! No, don't flap like a bird. Keep your arm straight."

Bograd was certainly forcing Denethor through his paces on the hot afternoon two days following Captain Thengel's wedding. The swordmaster took Denethor to task for every kinetic mistake, but his praise, when offered, meant all the more given its rarity.

"Again, Denethor."

Denethor grunted in agreement, taking a stance with his sword perpendicular to the ground, his knees slightly bent. After blowing a puff of air upward in a never-ending battle with the hair that hung in his eyes, he parried a few well-paced strokes against the older man but soon found that he was on the defense.

"Master Denethor! Bograd!" One of the Steward's advisors stood in the entryway to the upper level armoury and practicing quadrangle, his authoritative voice ringing over the clash of metal.

Denethor paused, regaining his balance and breathing heavily before stepping back from the swordmaster.

"Yes, Rordacan?" Bograd answered, lowering his sword and wiping the back of his gloved hand across his forehead. "Are you in need of me?"

The counsellor walked toward them, his boots crunching against the stones on a pathway. "Denethor," he said, "the Steward would like for you to join him in a meeting this afternoon. This is a small diplomatic gathering only, but your father believes that you are now old enough to be a part of a few selected matters of state." He stood straight, his black waistcoat recently oiled and shining in the bright midday sun. "Gondor is no island, and our guest this afternoon is from a land far to the north, a race that you have never seen, I suspect."

Denethor stared at him. "Another race?" he repeated, feeling a tear of sweat trickle down his wrist inside his glove.

"Yes." Though the advisor's voice did not betray any emotion, Denethor saw his eyebrows raise just slightly, making his expression far more conciliatory. "I think that you are in for a very educational afternoon."

Rordacan bowed slightly to Denethor, gave a curt nod to the swordmaster, and turned to leave the courtyard.

"Rordacan! Sir!" Denethor called. "What time is this conference to be held?"

The advisor turned back around. "At three by the sundial on the sixth level. And Denethor, the Steward did request that you bathe and attire yourself in formal dress." A brief smile twitched on his lips. He turned on his heel and walked down a covered walkway, the sound of his footfalls echoing behind him.

Denethor looked over at Bograd, who gazed intently back at him.

"That will bring the day's instruction to a close," Bograd said, pulling some stray sweaty curls behind his left ear and making a brief ceremonial bow.

"Three?" Denethor exclaimed, indignant. "But it's already at least a quarter past two, if our lesson began on time, and I do pride myself on always being punctual -"

"Yes, Master Denethor, you are always on time," the older man interrupted, moving away to another part of the recreation area, unlacing his leather gloves.

"So is this a test?" Denethor asked, stomping over to join the swordmaster and beginning to shed his combat gear. "Why would the Steward give me so little time to be prepared to meet this… this…" he struggled briefly for the appropriate word. "Emissary? Diplomat? Three by the dial?!"

"Maybe it is." The swordmaster sounded thoughtful. "Or perhaps he simply forgot to mention it to you until now."

Denethor carefully placed his sword on a swath of grass and tugged in frustration at his laced arm coverings. "My father never forgets anything. Ever," he said vehemently.

"Well then," Bograd replied, reaching for a cloth, "I trust your judgment in how you approach this meeting, and your participation in it."

A youth-sized pair of vambraces fell to the ground. "Thank you, Bograd." Denethor gave his instructor a grateful smile. He made to leave when Bograd gently cleared his throat.

"Your sword, Denethor."

"There's no time to clean it!"

The swordmaster gave him a stern look. "Even in the midst of war, any soldier worth his weapon will keep it in the best condition possible. You must consider your sword as part of your body whether in your hand or not; it is there to save your life. Treat it with the appropriate respect."

Denethor walked over to retrieve a cloth and flask of oil, shaking his head. "I had not realized that philosophical studies were a part of learning how to fight."

A small smile quirked in the corner of the older man's mouth. "'Tis about how to take life, and to save one's own and those of his comrades. I would say that is a very serious, and yes, even philosophical pursuit."

Denethor tried to mull over what Bograd had said, but his mind was a maelstrom of other thoughts. He tended to his sword with thorough, albeit hasty attentions and presented it for inspection. Once approved, he sheathed it before sprinting from the quadrangle toward his rooms.


He wasn't quite sure, but Denethor believed that his father had looked at him in approval. Per the Steward's request, he was washed up and in dress livery, including a silver cloak. They were in one of the rooms of state, the one with all of the tapestries lining the walls. It was meant to impress visitors, the ornate needleworks telling the story of Gondor and how the noble Stewards had been entrusted with her safekeeping. Denethor thought it was one of his favourite places in all of Minas Tirith, and he stood straighter just thinking of his ancestors and the safeguarding of the lands they had done over the centuries.

One tapestry in particular had always held sway for Denethor, the tenth hanging down the left wall. It featured a stern, but wise-seeming man, his auburn hair flowing over his shoulders. His hand was placed on a carved stone wall, the image of a white city gleaming behind him in the distance. Denethor, the First. His namesake. He had been the last Steward to know the beauty of Osgiliath before it was overrun at the end of his reign, over 450 years ago. His second-favourite tapestry hung only two hangings down from his red haired forebear, one of Cirion. The story of how the courageous horselords to the north had joined forces with Gondor, and how Cirion had so generously bequeathed to them the grassy plains now known as Rohan, made him thrill with pride. Denethor had, after all, spent countless hours in the vast libraries of Minas Tirith learning about the history of Gondor; her Kings, her Stewards, her allies, her enemies. One day he would be Steward, as he was the oldest son. He intended to rule her as nobly as his ancestors, if he were able.

Denethor snapped out of his reverie at the sound of the far door opening and a herald blowing an entrance-call on his horn. The echoes of the attendant's mordent still rang in the room when Rordacan announced, "Vrain the Sixth, of the House of Oban, Emissary of King Dáin the Second, King under the Mountain."

Denethor sucked on his lower lip, listening to the string of titles. Who on earth had such a royal pedigree? His mind raced as he stared at the marble doors, expecting to see a tall, regal man from… Well, he must be from the far north. The King under the Mountain. Denethor puzzled over the title, squinting toward the empty doorframe. He had not come across that name in his reading, though granted he tended to focus on the history of his homeland. Was he one of the Bardings? But they were plain men, only distantly related to the ancient line of Rangers who still managed to live in the harsher climes and long-ruined lands of the north. Vrain. It sounded foreign.

"Master Dwarf. Welcome to Gondor."

His farther was standing. The dozen or so other counsellors were also all standing. Denethor wrenched himself out of his chair, overbalancing in the process. He tried to appear as dignified as possible while regaining his straight posture. A short creature stood before the Steward. It - he, for surely it was a he, with a beard of such magnitude - bowed gracefully toward the floor, the plaits in his hair sweeping the ground before rising again, standing proudly.

"Steward Ecthelion." The voice was as deep as any Denethor had heard, though it seemed to suit the hirsute being.

"Greetings from King Dáin of the Lonely Mountain and King Bard of Dale. It has been many years since any from our lands have visited your sturdy city of stone, and now that Smaug has been defeated, we are able to do so."

Denethor's eyes were drawn to the detailed accoutrements on Vrain the Dwarf. His tea-russet hair fell to his waist, at which hung a wide leather belt. Denethor felt his mouth begin to open again as he gazed with incredulity at the silver filigreed buckle, inset with an emerald as large as the palm of his hand. He bit on the inside of his cheek to force his lips to stay closed.

With a start Denethor's dream from two nights prior flashed in his mind. The person he had run into had been a Dwarf. It had been a premonition! How exceedingly odd.

"My son, Denethor," his father was saying. Denethor swung his right arm across his chest, fist clasped, and bent forward. As he righted himself, he let his gaze rake over their guest. Much bushy hair. An axe, thrust into a holder of its belt, the sharp blade glistening at the edges. Bograd would have been most appreciative of the attention obviously lavished on it. Denethor was a bit surprised that they had let the Dwarf keep it, coming into conference with the Steward, but he shrugged it off. The guards obviously knew he was not a foe. And given the numbers of armed courtiers in attendance, if the Dwarf had drawn his weapon, he would have had multiple swords at his throat within the space of a single heartbeat.

"Favík! Gifts!" Vrain shouted over his shoulder. The Dwarf began talking again, making pleasantries with Ecthelion in his gravelly voice. Denethor was fascinated. He had read of Elves, and of Wizards; knew of orcs who had broken Osgiliath; he knew even the stories of long-lived Men descended from the most-ancient founding men of Middle-earth, those of sunken Númenor. He had read nothing, however, of Dwarves.

Another one was now walking through the hall carrying a lustrous metal box. When he passed through the several streams of light in the room, the silver's brilliance made Denethor's eyes ache. He thought again of Bograd, whose oft-shined weapon couldn't even begin to rival the small chest that was handed to Vrain. With much pomp and ceremony, the first Dwarf presented an extraordinarily fashioned necklace of delicate gold chain for Ecthelion to give to his wife. Denethor's blue eyes nearly popped out of his head when he saw the wide silver ring with a pearly rounded stone that was pulled out next, especially when it was indicated that it was to go to Denethor. He had a sudden flashback to his dream from two nights ago. It is the same band, the same jewel! he thought, mind racing before his father's eyes flashed and Denethor hastily remembered his manners. He thanked the Dwarves, saying that he would hand such fine work down to his son, when it was time. Denethor was so absorbed in touching the smooth surface of the band and nacreous stone that he nearly missed his father's request that he escort the Dwarf named Favík on a brief tour of the seventh level of the City where there were many carvings that could be of interest to their guest.

After excusing himself from the small assembly, Denethor escorted Favík to the door and they walked out into the dazzlingly bright day. He asked the Dwarf a few polite questions about their lands, how long their travels had been, and was stunned at the answer when he asked about the pair's transportation.

"We walked."

"Walked?" Denethor said incredulously. "Why wouldn't you ride a horse?"

The obvious answer hit him like a blow to the head as soon as the words had left his mouth.

"Dwarves simply prefer to walk, son of Ecthelion," Favík answered a bit peevishly.

"Of course."

Most of the rest of their tour was done in silence. Denethor and the Dwarf looked long at the dais with the King's elaborate canopy-covered throne and the Steward's far plainer seat below it.

"Who sits in front of the Steward?" Favík asked.

Denethor drew himself up a bit, squaring his shoulders. "That is the Steward's seat. The other is for the King should he return, but in action, the Stewards are the kings and rulers of Gondor and have been for centuries."

The Dwarf looked at him oddly from under his heavy eyebrows and made a noise that could have indicated almost any reaction. Stepping over to one of the vast ebony pillars, he ran his hand reverently across it, as though in a caress.

"This is good stone," he said approvingly. "Is there else I should see?"

"Oh yes. The view from the Citadel wall."

Denethor surreptitiously admired his gift some more as they walked across the courtyard and to the imposing parapet. It wasn't until he was almost to the wall when he realised his companion was no longer at his side. He spun around and saw the Dwarf several paces behind him, standing quite still.

"I do not like heights," Favík said, his voice gruff.

"Why don't-" Denethor began before being interrupted.

"I live underground. The earth and below are fine, as is standing on this rock. But I prefer not to look down, all the same."

Denethor returned slowly to the Dwarf, nodding. "Shall we return, then?"

Favík made no reply, so Denethor waved in the direction of the path back down to the sixth level and the room of state, his heart sinking even as he twirled the impressive ring on his finger. What if he'd managed to insult their guest? The Steward would be ferociously displeased. Perhaps more effusive thanks would put things right.

"This is a most refined jewel," Denethor said, shaking his head. "I even dreamed about it before you arrived. I hadn't known that you and Master Vrain would be visiting."

The Dwarf looked contemplatively at him as they continued to walk. "We do not tell many about our ways, but it is not uncommon for Dwarves dream to of designs for shields, sword-hilts and the like. Once in our workrooms, we let the rock or metal sing into its shape under our tools."

Denethor stopped in his tracks. "It sings?"

Favík seemed to be smiling, but under his wild beard, it was hard to tell.

"It does to Dwarves."

"I'll go to the armoury tomorrow," Denethor said, admiringly. "Perhaps I can hear it too."

The Dwarf clapped him on the arm in approval as they re-entered the hall. "Thank you for your escort, son of Ecthelion," Favík said, giving Denethor a low bow.

"It was my pleasure," Denethor replied, hand above his heart.

Maybe he wasn't hopeless at diplomacy after all.


Author's Notes

~My inspiration for the idea that Denethor may have begun having premonitions from his youth is from this phrase in Appendix A: "he was wise also, and far-sighted, and learned in lore."

~Iolande is a name I made up for Ecthelion's wife since as we know, Tolkien tends not to list many wives by name in the appendices.

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