Thorin and Dwalin walked along the hunting trail through the woods. They were the current hunting party out and the best hunters of their herd. They had already nabbed a wild pig and a boar, but they were hoping for at least one more kill before returning to their camp.
"The game gets more and more scarce every year." Grunted Dwalin.
Thorin nodded gravely. Theirs was already the last herd of the Durin tribe, and their herd was dwindling as it was. Many of their stallions had opted to travel to other herds in areas where the game was supposedly more plentiful.
Thorin knew better. The humans continued to multiply everywhere. Even with the non-hunting pact, in which the humans agreed to not hunt the wild game, the humans still required large amount of space for growing their crops and thus were encroaching on the natural territories of the wild game. And there were always poachers who went unrestrained.
As a result, the game populations were dropping and herds were forced to travel farther and hunt wider ranges. Thorin suspected there were few regions that weren't feeling the same effects of the rapid increase of humans as theirs.
Still, Thorin would never restrict his people from the possibility of more plentiful lands. And there was always the hope of finding a mare that drove many stallions to venture out.
Even more worrisome than the dwindling food supply was the rapid decline in mare populations. Even Thorin's heard, though prestigious in its own right, had only two mares in it.
No, Thorin suspected the Khuzd centaurs would die out long before their hunting game did. And he couldn't even blame that on the humans.
Dwalin interrupted Thorin's musings with a slap to the arm. "You hear that?"
Thorin stopped along side Dwalin and listened. Just when he was going to ask Dwalin what he was talking about, a distressed squeal reached their ears.
Thorin instantly dropped the rope tied to the pig he had been dragging and took off in the direction of the squeal. Dwalin followed suit and was hot on his heels.
They broke through the trees and stopped on a hill overlooking a human settlement. Another squeal had them directing their gazes to a large paddock where there seemed to be several Domestics.
In the center on the paddock was a small centaur tied to a tall post. The centaur's arms were tied high above its head to make it difficult to kick or buck and it was surrounded by several larger Domestics.
It took Thorin a moment to process just what he was seeing, when he did, his furry burned hot. Despite being tied, the little centaur was doing its best to buck and kick at the others who were cautiously trying to mount it.
"That's no Domestic mare." Dwalin concluded. "They're trying to force a mating!"
Thorin was off before Dwalin could even finish, barreling toward the paddock with Dwalin close behind. They vaulted over the paddock fence just as the three domestic stallions had managed to gang up on the little mare so one of them could mount her. She squealed in protest.
Thorin didn't even slow down. He slammed into the domestic stallion who was trying to mount her, knocking him off the mare as well as his own feet. The mare squealed in fright and confusion, nearly losing her own balance from the impact.
The domestic stallions momentarily backed off to regroup and assess their chances. Domestics were taller then the Khazad, but were only trained in manual labor. The Khazad were shorter, but built heavy and solid and were trained in combat and hunting.
Dwalin alone held them off easily enough while Thorin turned to let loose the mare. He slit the rope tying the poor mare, freeing her from the post but not loosing her hands. He could deal with that later.
He grabbed the mare, who was really little more than a pony, by the arm and started to guide her back the way he and Dwalin had come. Once he knew she would follow, he let go and moved to lead. Dwalin turned to follow after the pony mare, defending their retreat.
Thorin vaulted back over the fence expecting to be followed, only to be met with another frightened squeal. He spinned around. The pony hadn't been able to jump the fence and was dancing and rearing nervously, trying to find a way over the fence.
Dwalin had spun around and met the three Domestic stallions who had been emboldened by the potential loss of their mare. He drew out his war hammers to ward them off.
Thorin sprinted back to the fence section just off to the side of where the pony was still dancing nervously. He spun just before reaching the fence and gave a powerful kick. The top board of the fence gave a mighty crack as nearly the whole piece went flying into the paddock.
The loud noise startled the three Domestics. Dwalin took advantage of the distraction and started to lead the pony back out into the paddock to get a running start for the fence.
Thorin pulled out his bow and nocked an arrow as the Domestics recovered and pursued Dwalin and the pony. He aimed for the leader's rump. A shot to the rump wouldn't kill a centaur, but it would hurt like Mahal's hammer.
Thorin released his arrow just as Dwalin started to turn the pony around to aim at the fence. The lead Domestic reared with a pained squeal distracting the other two with him. Dwalin took the opportunity and gave the poor pony's rump a hard slap.
The pony cried out in surprise but sprinted towards the fence all the same. Dwalin followed after him. By the time the Domestics got themselves back together, the pony was already launching himself over the broken fence.
The poor pony was clearly already tired from fending off the larger stallions and he only just barely cleared the lower fence section as his hind hooves tapped the board. The pony stumbled as he landed and Thorin reached out and grabbed an arm to steady him.
Dwalin landed only seconds behind him and followed behind as Thorin guided the pony into the woods back to the trail they had left. They stopped long enough to grab the game Thorin and Dwalin had left behind and cut the pony's hands loose before they continued down the trail at a brisk canter.
After about fifteen minutes, the pony was panting and starting to lag behind, so Thorin brought them to a stop. The pony leaned against a tree tried to catch his breath while Dwalin came over to stand beside Thorin.
"Our mare looks an awful lot like a stallion." Dwalin spoke in their native Khuzdul. "Has a sheath and everythin'."
Thorin side-eyed him, then went back to studying the pony centaur. "I noticed."
"Sure smells like a mare in season though." Dwalin continued. "Ya think it's some kind of artificial scentin'? Can the humans do that?"
"For what purpose? What do they gain by scenting a stallion to smell like a mare?" Thorin continued his study. The pony was small, even shorter than a Khuzd centaur, and not just shorter but slighter. A bit stockier than a Domestic maybe, but nowhere near as bulky as a Khuzd.
His coloring was difficult to pinpoint considering the dull, untended condition of his coat, but he guessed it might be a lighter chestnut color. His hair, mane, and tail were terribly matted and unkempt. And curly! He had never seen such curly hair on a centaur before, even the hair around his hooves was curly!
"Well, why don't we just ask him?" Dwalin interrupted his observations. "Hey! Why do ya smell like a mare? The humans do it?" He belted out at the pony before Thorin could stop him.
The pony looked at them uncertainty. "_____ ___." He spoke in a smooth foreign language and gave a small polite bow.
Thorin and Dwalin stared at the pony in disbelief.
"He don't speak Westron? Who doesn't speak Westron. Even we speak Westron!" Dwalin voiced loudly with a gesture of disbelief.
"__ _____, __ _____!" The pony spoke again with his head lowered and fidgeting nervously.
Thorin felt an instinctive rise of protectiveness towards the pony. "Quiet!" He ordered lowly. "You're upsetting him."
"So, what? He's not a mare." Dwalin shrugged him off.
"If this was the humans' doing, the scent should have faded by now. Something else is going on here."
"Easy enough to find out." Dwalin walked over and approached the pony from the rear.
The pony watched him uneasily, but stayed where he was.
Before Thorin could ask what he was doing, Dwalin reached out and ran his hand down the side of the pony's rump in a universal gesture of mating interest.
The pony studied him a moment without a reply, though his tail lifted and moved to the side reflexively. Dwalin's nostrils flared and his pupils dilated, but he patiently waited for a response.
Thorin stood shocked in outrage. Even if the pony was a mare, he had just been tied to a post and almost forcefully mated (possibly successfully for all they knew), now was not the time for making advances.
Thorin conveniently ignored the fact that he was upset because it was Dwalin who was propositioning the pony and not himself.
Thorin felt immeasurably relieved when the pony politely lowered his head and side-stepped his rear away from Dwalin, the universal gesture of disinterest.
Dwalin bowed his head slightly in acceptance and backed away non-threateningly.
"What was that?" Thorin growled when Dwalin returned to his side.
Dwalin shrugged. "The fastest way to find out what he is."
"And?" Thorin wasn't pacified in the least.
"I don't know how, but he's as much mare as he is stallion, maybe even more. And he's definitely in season." Dwalin answered. "I've never smelled such a strong heat scent. Almost made me hope he'd say yes."
Thorin glared at him. He had known instinctively that the pony was a mare, but he was relieved all the same to have it confirmed. "Have you ever heard of such a thing? A stallion mare?"
"Can't say I have. Balin might know something." He said stroking his beard in thought. "We bringing him back?"
"Of course we are. Stallion parts or no, he's still a mare. Mares are too hard to come by to pass up." Thorin tried to sound uninterested.
"Right." Dwalin looked at him knowingly. "It's not cause you fancy him or nothin'."
Thorin glared at him harder, but didn't try to deny it. His interest was already clearly visible. He approached the pony as non-threatening as possible.
It must not have been enough, because the little pony still danced around nervously. His reaction only further confirmed his mare status. Mares could instinctively identify lead stallions. The pony lowered his head respectfully.
Thorin reached out and gently lifted the pony's head by his chin. When the pony shyly made eye contact, Thorin gestured to himself, "Thorin," then to Dwalin, "Dwalin." He raised his brows and waited for a response.
The pony studied him. "Thorin," he repeated with a gentle accent. "Dwalin," he glanced over at Dwalin.
Thorin nodded approvingly.
The pony gestured to himself, "Bilbo."
"Bilbo," Thorin repeated liking the way it flowed of his tongue. Thorin turned to face the direction the trail ran. "Come?" He asked holding out an arm in invitation.
Bilbo hesitated for only a moment before he nodded and stepped up beside Thorin.
Thorin started leading them back down the trail again, while Dwalin returned to his spot in the rear.