A/N: Wow, this one came out of the blue. It began as a minor plot bunny inspired by Thundera Tiger's latest masterpiece (Plug: Check out "Reflections in the Dark!") that evolved into a team of wild plot horses that refused to leave me alone until I started writing.

This story contains a few references to a previous story "A Little Nudge Out of the Door," but that fic is not required reading. This tale has a life all its own. It is somewhat AU, but I've kept an eye on the LOTR timeline in order to make it as realistic as possible. Please review and let me know what you think.

NOT INCLUDED IN THIS FIC: romance (other than what Tolkien wrote), slash, or Mary-Sueness.

Disclaimer: The only character in this fic that belongs to me is Disaran. All the rest are the property of the Great Tolkien himself, and though I love them, I should not presume to claim them. (Grovels in homage to the Professor)


Setting: Minas Tirith, mid-November 3020 (SR 1420) to January 3021, including various flashbacks to the Second Age

**Note: Frodo resigns the office of mayor on mid-year's day 3020, and departs Middle-Earth in September of 3021.**

Summary: A slightly AU tale. While the Fellowship and other heroes of the War of the Ring reunite in Minas Tirith, a man who has discovered the secret of stealing the lives of elves to prolong his own comes to Gondor searching for new prey.

WARNING: I swore I would never do this but…Character death!

REVISION NOTES: The additions to this and other chapters are in response for reader requests for more background on the Black Hunter and his weapon. I hope it's an improvement, and please let me know what you think!

Prologue: The Black Hunter

Númenor, the year 3262 of the Second Age…

The High King of Númenor regarded his chattel with carefully-disguised triumph. There was no power in Númenor or Middle-Earth that could touch him, Ar-Pharazôn the Golden, now that he had attained this victory. With this great land, Elenna the Star of Eärendil, firmly under his control, and now the greatest power in Middle-Earth bowing so humbly before him, his power was unquestionable. Still, one had to keep up some semblance of humility. "You surrendered to my forces easily," he observed, watching his captive carefully.

Without raising his bowed head, Sauron murmured, "I saw no call to destroy myself needlessly, my lord. For to struggle against the might of Númenor and the descendants of Elros would be the height of folly."

Though the King of Númenor agreed, he did not think to be blinded by flattering words. It was true, the fair Sauron was reputed to possess great wisdom--thus surely a wise man would do just as he had done--and yet…one who had sought to rule all Middle Earth and claim the title of King of Men should possess more pride. *Therefore, I would safely conclude that he seeks to curry a favorable alliance to himself at best, or to spy and seek out an opportunity for treachery at worst. He shall find neither.*

Aloud, he replied, "Your prostrations have been humble indeed, failed Lord of Middle Earth." He smiled at the slight stiffening of the prisoner's shoulders. He had meant the remark to offend. *I shall not be unguarded before one who declared his purpose to usurp my place as King of Men and to drive my realm into the sea.*

Nonchalantly, he turned to his waiting guards. "Take the prisoner to the dungeons."

Sauron's eyes widened in protest as the men moved to drag him away. "My lord!" he cried. "Have I not done all that you demanded? I struck not a blow against your forces, returned to Númenor as your most humble servant and pledged my fealty! How do you now punish me for it?!"

Ar-Pharazôn laughed aloud. "O fair and supposedly wise Lord of Barad-dur, surely you do not presume to think me a fool! Indeed, you have capitulated most graciously to my rule and pledged to serve me. Many sweet words you have given me, Sauron, sweet words indeed. But I think I shall consider carefully before welcoming you into my confidences on the weight of sweet words alone."

"My lord," Sauron pulled away from the guards and knelt even lower, the very image of a wronged and desperate innocent, pleading for justice. "I do entreat you to have my prove my intent and worth. Say only where you would have me demonstrate my loyalty. It shall be done, and I shall prove myself your willing servant. Cast me not off!"

Smiling openly, the King of Númenor beckoned the guards take the prisoner's arms again. "Oh, I shall have proof of your loyalty, Sauron, mistake me not. I shall find tasks for you to properly prove your words. But for now, I shall leave you alone in the hospitality of my dungeons, where you can consider carefully should your words prove less than sincere."

Desolately, Sauron bowed again. "As you will, my lord. But in time, I shall prove my worth to you and reward your mercies to me."

With a chuckle, Ar-Pharazôn motioned him to be led away. "Then I shall expect great rewards indeed," he said, turning his back.

From behind him, he heard Sauron reply, "You shall have them, my lord. Far exceeding your expectations."


Minas Tirith, November of the year 3020 of the Third Age…

Great cheering throngs lined the streets of Minas Tirith as the legendary figures rode through its gates toward the Halls of the Kings. The soldiers of Gondor stood to keep the crowds back in their excitement, and saluted with great reverence as the procession passed by. Women strewed flowers in its path. The heroes smiled and bowed graciously to the mass, indulging those who had spent the past year singing songs of their legend.

One of the company, riding in the fine open wagon, looked at his closest companion, trying in vain to hide his blushing cheeks, "Ever think they've exaggerated our greatness just a bit, Mr. Frodo?"

Frodo shrugged at Sam, and then was forced to duck yet another barrage of autumn blossoms, "Obviously they don't think so. I don't see any of them looking disappointed."

Two knights of Rohan and Gondor rode on either side of the wagon on their ponies, waving cheerfully at the crowd. "Why should they be?" demanded Pippin. "The legendary Ring-bearers are returned to Gondor, and Peregrin the Great and Meriadoc the Magnificent! Who wouldn't be struck with dumb with awe!"

Laughing at that, for they had been forced to shout over the din of the cheers, Sam replied, "Whatever they're struck with, it is not dumbness, Mister Knight!"

Frodo laughed in turn, and waved back at a small clutch of young girls with a little less discomfort. He glanced around the wagon at the rest of the procession. What a sight it was; all these people together once again, only this time without war. Gandalf, riding Shadowfax as always, led the way through the streets, turning now and then as if to check up on Frodo and Sam. The sons of Elrond rode with a small company of Rangers just behind, and near to Merry on a gray steed rode Eowyn, Lady of Ithilien, followed closely by her brother, King Eomer of Rohan. The two had scarcely seen each other since the War of the Ring, and they too were engaged in happy conversation and reminiscence as the company moved through the streets.

"Aren't you glad we came now, Mr. Frodo?" asked Sam.

Frodo smiled. "Very glad, Sam. I did not realize how much I was missing everyone. I shall be happy to see Ara--that is, King Elessar again."

"Aye, and I wager Strider will be happy to see you," Sam replied.

They heard laughter nearby, and turned as King Eomer pulled his horse up next to them. "You win the wager, Master Samwise. For all that he is revered here in the Reunified Kingdom, Aragorn said nothing shall ever please him more than to always be Strider to you and the other hobbits."

The hobbits grinned at each other as the procession rounded a final bend, and Sam pointed excitedly. "Look there, lads! We've come to the Halls of the Kings!"

"And there upon the steps! It's Strider himself waiting for us! What a fine meeting this shall be!" cried Merry.

Upon the steps leading up to the White Halls of the Kings, there was indeed a great party waiting to greet the four members of the Fellowship, and their equally-illustrious companions. There stood Faramir, Prince of Ithilien, Steward of Gondor, slightly to the right upon the steps. He smiled and nodded to the hobbits, his eyes straying happily to his wife, the Lady Eowyn, who had come from their home in Emyn Arnen to take part in this grand celebration. Beside Faramir stood Legolas, son of Thranduil, Elven lord of a small colony in South Ithilien. It seemed to the hobbits that of all the Fellowship, Legolas had changed the least--not that it was surprising with him being an elf and all, they reasoned. His face was as fair as ever, and though his eyes showed the experience of many years, and much darkness, their light remained, and they brightened as he smiled down at them.

Next to Legolas was Gimli, son of Glóin, Lord of Aglarond, the Glittering Caves in Rohan. The elf and dwarf never missed an opportunity to meet each other in Gondor or Rohan, and when they had received the message that the hobbits were coming to Minas Tirith, each had thrust aside all other concerns in their rush to the reunion. Now they stood side-by-side, laughing and grinning at the excited shouts and waves of the hobbits as the procession reached the base of the steps.

In the very center of the steps, surrounded by the lords, ladies, and honor guards of Gondor and Rohan, upon a chair of carven polished wood, sat King Elessar, in his black mail girt with silver and white mantle, with the elfstone shining green at his throat. At his side, with her hand clasped lightly in his, sat Queen Arwen Evenstar, clothed in a shimmering gray raiment, even more radiant and lovely than the hobbits remembered.

Looking at them, Frodo unconsciously touched the white gem that hung at his neck, a gift from Arwen a few days after her wedding. "When the memory of fear and darkness troubles you," she had said, "this will bring you aid."

And it had. Frodo had been taken ill more than once since their departure from Gondor, and although the pain never completely faded, he found that when his hand clasped the gem of the Evenstar, the memory's weight did seem to diminish a little. And for that alone, he owed the Queen of Gondor much gratitude.

The procession came to a halt at the foot of the steps, and a hush came over the crowd as the King and Queen of Gondor rose in unison. The company dismounted and stood waiting, as King Elessar raised his arms to them and proclaimed, "Today is a momentous occasion, for with the return of the Halflings and noble Gandalf the White, the Fellowship of the Ring is once again joined!"

A great cry erupted from the people, and the King spoke again. "Welcome, all honored heroes of the War of the Ring. For all the time that we are together in Minas Tirith, the Reunified Lands shall celebrate and honor the deeds of those who fought, sacrificed, and died in the War against Mordor. Come forth," he beckoned them up the steps. "You are always the honored guests of the Halls of Kings, and tonight the White City shall honor your arrival."

The company mounted up to him, each bowing and receiving words of welcome in turn. Eowyn and Eomer joined Faramir at Aragorn's right hand, while Legolas and Gimli joyously greeted Gandalf and the hobbits. The people of Gondor cheered as Frodo and Sam kissed King Elessar's hand in homage, and Aragorn and Arwen turned to lead the assembly back into the Halls. "Come, dear friends, you shall precede us," said Aragorn to Frodo and Sam.

Blushing furiously, Sam replied softly, "We're most grateful, Strider. But you really didn't need to make such a fuss."


Among the guards of Gondor stood one of many volunteers in White City's ranks. But this guard had joined the armed men not out of loyalty or duty to King Elessar. To rise among the soldiers in the king's service was the only way he might be granted liberty to move through the city and even the Halls of the Kings without being questioned. He had found in many centuries of existence that great rewards could result from patience. So he had endured the rigorous training of the Gondorrim in order to obtain the rank necessary to be granted liberty within the Halls. Liberty was needed, if he was to gain close access to his prey.

Still, it was an arduous task. Somehow the man doubted that he would have the time to ascend to the rank necessary to get within reach of the Queen. This knowledge was not terribly discouraging, for although the challenge of taking the Queen of Gondor had its appeal, the man had to admit that Arwen's beauty was so great that he would be rather sorry to end her life. Nay, if he could find a source of endurance elsewhere, what better way to enjoy his own good fortune than to live within view of the Evenstar?

Nonetheless, this presented the problem of finding a source of power. The man had discovered the means of tapping this power long ago, when the survivors of Númenor had first come to Gondor. Concealed among them had been a few followers of Ar-Pharazôn, the King who had assaulted Valinor itself, resulting in his own destruction and that of his kingdom. With them had come a single relic of that King's former plan--a simple device, infused with dark magic, that if wielded properly, could provide the user with immortality.

Assuming said user was able to obtain the one ingredient from which to obtain the immortality: an immortal.

It was this need which had led the man to Gondor. With the Elfstone on the throne, elves were making appearances far more often in the world of men, and it would be much easier for the hunter to move among his own race and stalk his prey than to attempt to steal into a realm full of none but elves--a near-impossible feat for any mortal.

Yet he had succeeded, for an entire age, he had managed, through slowly-gained skill, patience, and occasional luck, in finding elves from whom he could drain the energy that would keep him alive and hale as he had been in 3319 of the Second Age, when Elendil and his sons had founded the Realms in Exile, unknowingly bringing with them the means to bestow upon a mortal the gifts of the Firstborn.

The man was cautious, never drawing attention to himself as a soldier, for as his long survival in the guise of a normal mortal had proven, he was no fool. He dared not reveal his secret to any other, for although he had managed to prey upon the lives of the Eldar for thousands of years, his identity had been discovered more than once, and the kindred of those whose immortality he had claimed still sought him. They knew his identity, but his careful planning had ensured that they would never find his whereabouts. At least not until he had claimed another prize, and then he would vanish again.

After all, why should they be the only ones to enjoy the fruits of eternal youth? Such a privilege belonged to he who had the means to take it. Any means.


Thranduil, King of the elves of Northern Eryn Lasgalen, watched with satisfaction as his people tended young seedlings in a scorched clearing. The defeat of Dol Guldor two years before had come with a heavy price: fire had swept through much of the forest and destroyed all of the wood elves' outer palace. The past months had been spent clearing away the burned timber, much of which they sold to the men of Laketown for their own rebuilding, for the War of the Ring had been hard on their land as well, and the previous spring, they had begun replanting the devastated woods. The seedlings had been gifts from the other elven realms: mallorn from Lothlórien, to the delight of Thranduil's people, elm and oak from Imladris, beeches from a southern stand in Eryn Lasgalen that had escaped the fire, and pine and redwood from Ithilien.

Legolas had brought the seedlings from his realm on a visit nearly a year before. Thranduil wondered how long it would be before his youngest son visited again. It was true, Legolas had his own realm now to look after, and by all accounts Ithilien had suffered much during the war, and the elves and men there had their work cut out for them. But Legolas spoke with much love for the woods in that fair land, and was determined to restore it to its former beauty.

*Perhaps I should go to visit him and see the place for myself,* Thranduil thought idly. Legolas was very proud of the colony his people were building there, and it would be an honor to him if his father came to view it. He was unlikely to accept much in the way of aid, and even less likely to ask for it, but if the King of North Eryn Lasgalen made a formal visit to the young Elven Lord of Ithilien, one would expect him to be bearing gifts. And if the gifts were substantial, well…Thranduil had always had a bit of a reputation among the Eldar for extravagance. And that Legolas would not be able to refuse.

Thranduil could not pretend he was entirely pleased with Legolas establishing the colony so close to so many mortal realms. Mordor to the near East was bad enough, even if the land was now leaderless, but Thranduil did not place nearly so much stock in the kingdoms of men that Legolas valued so highly. It was true, Gondor and Rohan had distinguished themselves during the War of the Ring, and so far, these past two years, they had managed to keep themselves out of trouble, but what would happen when hard times fell again? Or if the lands of men grew too prosperous? If they swelled enough, soon the mortals would covet the undoubtedly fair lands Legolas was lovingly nurturing, and what would the elf's friendship to the leaders of men count for then? Thranduil liked not the possibility. Legolas was young yet, and judging by what Thranduil had seen on his return, his son had miraculously maintained his naïveté despite all the darkness he had experienced.

*Naïveté, what other explanation could there be for this bizarre attachment he has formed with a dwarf?* Thranduil had been astonished when Legolas had returned to Mirkwood with a dwarf at his side, his chin raised as though daring any of his kindred to dispute his right to name that dwarf elvellon. The elven king had attempted more than once to gently point out the misguided nature of his son's judgment of the dwarf's character, but Legolas would hear no ill words against…what was his name? Ah, Gimli. Or any of the other mortal friends he had acquired during the War of the Ring. The heir of Isildur now sat on the throne of the Reunified Lands, and Thranduil suspected that it was devotion to Aragorn and the other mortals that had led Legolas to remain in such close proximity. He had not disputed his son's right to establish the colony once enough willing elves had joined the venture, and yet…*I still do not like it.* He knew that Legolas would be able to resist and survive any treachery among mortals, but Thranduil feared more for what it would do to his son's spirit when these revered friends of his inevitably failed to return his loyalty.

*But it is no use. He is a grown elf, now Lord of his own realm, and it is not my place to interfere. Perhaps in time, when Eryn Lasgalen is well on the mend, I shall visit him, and make it known to him--subtly--that his father shall always be prepared to aid him when others prove less than faithful. When he takes such a gamble on mortal friends, the best I can do is never forsake him.*

"My lord!" a shout from one of the guards startled Thranduil out of his private thoughts. He looked up, and the guard pointed at a group of riding raising dust on the trail as they rode hard and fast toward the clearing.

Thranduil squinted through the obscuring cloud, for it was more ash than dirt, and beheld a golden-haired elven lord leading the small band. He rose at once from the chair in which he had been seated, a spike of alarm running through his heart. "It is Lord Celeborn!"

The riders wasted little time in reaching the clearing and barely managed to slow their horses to avoid charging over the new saplings. By now, all activity among the elves had ceased, for good reason. Celeborn's face, normally controlled in even the ugliest circumstances (a fact Thranduil greatly admired) wore an expression of anxiety and gravity that Thranduil had never seen before. He crossed over to the elven king in swift, long strides, agitation plain with every step. "Lord Thranduil," the Lord of East Lórien bowed somewhat hastily.

Thranduil bowed back, protocol forgotten in his concern. "My lord Celeborn, what is amiss?" he asked without preamble.

One of Celeborn's escorts, Rúmil, was already asking one of Thranduil's guards to bring the king's horse. "My lord, I received tidings of the most serious nature, and am departing with all speed for Minas Tirith. But first I am come to urge you most strongly to accompany me."

*By the Valar, what has happened?!* Thranduil's heart began to pound. Under normal circumstances, he would not so easily drop all concerns at home at another elf's word without demanding considerable explanation, but Celeborn's behavior told him clearly that these were grave circumstances. He seconded Rúmil's request for his horse, and turned back to Celeborn as the mount was brought. "Of course I shall rely on your judgment that my presence is required, my lord, but can you not tell me what is the need for this haste?"

There was a terrible look in Celeborn's eyes, a combination of fear, urgency, grief, and a deeply-embedded, long-lasting rage. Thranduil took an involuntary step backward at the low, black tone of the elven lord's voice. "A party of my elves on their way to Rivendell have sighted the Black Hunter."

Thranduil's heart leapt to his throat. Gasps and soft cries of horror reached his ears. It took a moment to find his voice. "Did he…were any of them…harmed?"

With a faint sigh, Celeborn shook his head. "Not that time. The scout saw him from a distance and they remained together and gave him a wide berth. But they have no doubt of his identity. He is on the move again."

"Valar," Thranduil whispered. The man Disaran was called many things by the Eldar. The Black Hunter, the Dark Thief, the Slaughterer, the Abomination…all names given to one man. Yet he was a man who could not truly be called a mortal, for he had first begun preying upon elves during the Second Age. The elves of many realms had sought him for centuries, trying to put an end to his evil pursuits, but no sooner did he strike than he vanished again. And when he was sighted…it was only a matter of time before another elf fell victim.

"You understand now, my lord, why I beg you to come," Celeborn said, watching the elven king's face gravely. "Not only have you had dealings with this creature before, but…he was moving in the direction of Minas Tirith" His eyes were fearful now.

And Thranduil understood with a surge of new, ever-increasing horror. Minas Tirith. Minas Tirith. Gondor! *The Abomination travels to Gondor, where the Evenstar is Queen, where there is a small elven colony, surrounded by men…A Elbereth! The Black Hunter approaches the home of my son!* Thranduil turned swiftly to two of his elves, ordering travel gear brought at once. "How many guards do you wish to accompany you, my lord?" asked one of his captains as the servants rushed off to do his bidding.

Thranduil looked at Celeborn, Rúmil, and Haldir, and slowly shook his head. "We shall go alone to the realm of Elessar. I do not want any more elves than necessary placed in the path of that creature."

To Be Continued…

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