The doors of the Green Dragon burst open, and two young hobbits with curly hair and broad smiles half-ran, half-capered inside. They were covered with muck and straw, as if they'd been spending a day tilling the field: or rather, as if the field had been tilling them. Their wide, hairy feet -- a source of pride for hobbits -- left muddy barefoot prints across the floor. Though it wasn't the first time someone had left muddy footprints at the Green Dragon, the barkeep raised an eyebrow in displeasure.
"We'll have two flagons of your finest beer," Merry proclaimed, with a flourish of his hand.
"What's the occasion? Did you get a job?" the barkeep, Rosie, asked. She was a hobbit herself, as were most regulars at The Green Dragon, except for every once in a while when the wizard, Gandalf the Grey, paid a visit. Rosie was about their age. A fair-haired lass with a wink in her eye, she liked to tease Merry and Pippin, known about the Shire for their carefree exploits.
"A job?" Merry returned. "That would be an occasion for weeping."
His compatriot now spoke up. "We are celebrating victory!"
"And adventure!" Merry added.
As Rosie filled two foaming mugs, setting them in front of the friends, she said, "It sounds like you're dying to tell the tale. So tell me all about your adventure, and especially about your victory. If it's a good enough story, the next two drinks will be on the house."
The two friends shared delighted expressions of surprise. Pippin began the tale. "We had just come from a visit to our cousin Frodo, where he told us how he'd once tried to steal mushrooms from Farmer Maggot."
Merry continued, "And I'd been studying maps of the Shire, so after we left, I told Pippin that I knew how we could succeed where Frodo had failed."
"And steal mushrooms from Farmer Maggot?" Rosie asked, a bit disdainfully.
"Yes," Pippin said. "But don't say it so loud." He glanced around the dark, rustic-looking room, crowded with drinking patrons.
Merry said, "We decided the best plan would be to go to my family home in Buckland, where we could take some nice naps before starting out at dusk. Unfortunately, we didn't count on oversleeping."
"So when we awoke, at dawn," Pippin said, "we had to spend the day eating and drinking..."
"And preparing," Merry interjected.
"Yes, and preparing. Until it was night again."
Here, Merry jumped in. "One of the things I did for preparation was to secure us a little rowboat."
"Secure?" Rosie asked, with a twinkle in her eye. "Do you mean steal?"
"Borrow, borrow. Not steal," Merry said.
Pippin again gave Rosie the signal to shush, looking about him anxiously.
Merry began again: "So as the sun set over the shire, we pushed our BORROWED boat into the Brandywine. My reasoning was to avoid the main road into the Marish that runs by the farm. Instead, we would approach it from the river. That way, we'd be less likely to be seen. For a while the pink sky gave us all the light we needed, but then the sun dipped below the horizon, and we were left in the dark. So dark I could barely see the shore to watch for landmarks."
"It was so dark, I ate a withered apple I found in my pocket, because I thought it was a bun," Pippin declared.
Rosie interjected, "But there was a full moon last night."
"Well, yes, once the moon came up it got a lot brighter. But before the moon arose, it was black as... black as a dragon's heart."
"How do you know they're black?" Rosie teased.
"You're ruining the story!" Pippin wailed.
"Anyway," Merry continued, "just as I thought we were completely lost and destined to continue to drift south to the marshes, I spotted the giant oak that marks the southern end of Bamfurlong, Farmer Maggot's farm. I told Pippin to row hard for shore, and we paddled as strong and fast as any seafarers, even though neither one of us had rowed a boat before."
"That is, until I got my oar stuck in my cloak, and when I stood up to untangle it, I toppled the boat," Pippin said.
"Gloriously!" Merry added weakly. He whispered a little too loudly to Pippin, "Try to make us sound good. Free beer is at stake!"
Rosie gasped loudly. "Did you drown?" she asked.
Pippin cleared his throat and said, "Miraculously, we did not, considering that neither of us is a swimmer. The water at that point was only chest deep. As it turned out, my mishap turned into our good fortune. Just as we fell in, we heard footsteps approaching. Farmer Maggot was out with his dogs, taking a last look around the property before turning in for bed. If we'd been sitting in the boat at the time he passed, we might have been spotted."
"From the shore? In darkness?" Rosie asked.
"Well, yes," Pippin said. "Farmer Maggot is known for his keen senses, and of course, the dogs..." Pippin shuddered. "They're slavering hell-beasts, they are."
Merry nodded. "All fangs and yellow eyes. But we'll get to that soon enough. So after the farmer had passed, we pulled the boat shore, dumped the water out of it, and tied it to the oak. Then we made our way across the turnip field, on all fours."
Before Rosie could ask why, Pippin answered, "We wanted to be sure that the farmer didn't spot us, since we knew he was in the area. So we crawled along through the muddy fields. I think I found every single rock with my knees: pointy and jagged as knives."
"In his field? Wouldn't he take them out while he was plowing?" Rosie asked.
"Of course, he would. The big ones that are useful for making walls. The little ones, he left lay, and they cut me up something fierce." He pulled up one pant leg to display a latticework of cuts and bruises.
Merry picked up the story. "After we traversed the turnip field, we climbed the small hill that lay between the turnips and the legendary mushroom field. This might have been easy, except that we were crawling on our stomachs now."
"On your stomachs?" Rosie interjected.
"Yes. In order to not be seen, now that we were out of the turnip field and on higher ground. I don't know how mountain-climbers do it. Our arms and legs were aching from the effort of dragging ourselves uphill."
"Not to mention the ants," Pippin said. "Stinging ants. Stinging, biting, nasty ants. They crawled all over my hand and stung me as I was crawling up the hill."
"Why just your hand?" Rosie asked.
"It was sticky from a jam tart I found in my pack on our way across the turnip field," Pippin replied. "Ants apparently love jam."
Merry jumped in: "After enduring jagged stones and stinging ants, we finally reached the apex of our climb, where we could see our goal. Ahead of us lay a field full of luxurious mushrooms of every size. The full moon shone upon them, like a heavenly light, and I swear the mushrooms sang to me."
"Sang to you?" Rosie asked, wiping the counter.
"Like a choir of tiny, sweet voices, singing, 'Eat me!' So forgetting all of our plans, I scrambled downhill and began to fill our sack. But just then, I heard the pounding of canine feet running towards us. I looked up, and Grip, Fang and Wolf were flying towards us, with pure hatred in their eyes. Their mouths dripped with saliva, and they gnashed their teeth as they ran, no doubt imagining what hobbits must taste like."
Pippin added, "I hadn't even gotten down to the field yet, but I turned around and began to run. Merry soon followed, and we would have been dog food except for my quick thinking. I opened my pack and started tossing out all the provisions I'd brought, hoping the dogs would munch on the food instead of on us. And it worked! They gobbled up all the ham and salted pork and biscuits while we hot-footed it back to the boat."
"You brought all that just for your excursion?" Rosie asked.
"You never know when you're going to get hungry," Pippin said.
Merry said, "Throwing caution to the winds, we ran across the turnip field and headed for the boat. Unfortunately, I'd tied it too tight, so as I was unraveling the knot, the dogs were finishing their feast. We were just pushing the boat into the water when they barreled towards us, yowling and snapping. Fang bit my cape as we were jumping in, and I thought I was a goner." He held up the frayed end of his cape, to display the bite marks.
"But I gave him old Fang a tap on the rump with my paddle, and he let go," Pippin said. "We rowed home then, already exhausted and working against the current. It was like climbing a steep hill at the end of a long journey. We kept pushing, though, until we finally reached our destination, sodden, muddy and bruised, but victorious!"
At this, Merry held the sack of mushrooms high above his head. "How's that for a story?" he asked Rosie.
An older man with a farmer's ruddy face, which had been hidden before by a wide-brimmed hat, now raised his head at the end of the bar. "That's a heck of a story, and Mrs. Maggot will enjoy a laugh over it with me when I tell it to her." Crossing to the stunned hobbits, with his hand out, he demanded, "I believe those are mine."
Begrudgingly, Merry handed them over. As the farmer chuckled and headed back for his barstool, Merry moaned, "All that blood, sweat and tears for nothing!"
Rosie chucked him under the chin with her hand. "Not for nothing, boys. Here are those free drinks I promised you." Instead of their usual lager, from under the bar, she pulled a dark brown bottle with a fancy label. "The finest mead made in the Shire," she said. "You've earned it."
Here's a detailed map of The Shire, for those who appreciate such things.
Many, many thanks to my husband, The Gryphon, a.k.a. toanstation, who helped me flesh out the plot points of this story when I told him, "I'd like to write something about hobbits."