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A Gift from Foreign Lands - by Constantia
It was a fine autumn afternoon in the Shire. The sun approached the horizon, casting a golden glow over Hobbiton and the crowd forming outside the Green Dragon. The excitement of ousting Sharkey and his noxious crew had been past for some time now, and life had returned to some semblance of normal. Hobbits are a sturdy lot; with the restoration of the ale stash to the storerooms of the Dragon, the residents of Hobbiton faced each day's work rebuilding their town with good cheer, knowing the reward of a good frothy half-pint and the company of friends awaited them at the pub that evening.

On this particular day, however, the group gathering at the Dragon formed earlier than usual and buzzed with excitement. The previous evening Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took had stood up on their benches and announced that there would be a special presentation at the Dragon on the following day. Something they'd found during their adventures out in the world, and which they wanted to share with their fellow Hobbits.

Word of this announcement spread quickly up and down the lanes of Hobbiton. Folk leaned over fences while chatting, speculating what the mischievous pair might be up to. The amazing tales the four wandering Hobbits had to tell upon their return to the Shire had been met with a mixture of delight and suspicion. Some rejected it all as outright lies designed to impress, some constantly plagued the adventurers for more details about their exploits, and some didn't quite know what to think. The Old Gaffer, for instance, was heard to observe, "Well I'm not sure what to make of it all, but I'm just glad my Samwise is home again--the back field was wantin' for attention. He's my boy and I don't think for a minute he'd be lyin'. But still, Oliphants--now that's something that takes some gettin' used to."

But Hobbits being as they are, it didn't take long for even the most suspicious to accept Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin back into the community. After all, hadn't they been the instigators of Sharkey's eviction? Well, then.

And so on this day many folk, unable to contain their curiosity, had put down their tools a bit early and wandered over to the Dragon to see what was up, only to find the door closed with a sign posted on it that read, "Closed Ôtil nightfall." In the two hours of daylight that remained, a sizable crowd built up, munching apples, smoking pipeweed, and chatting happily, guessing at what Merry and Pip might be preparing within.

At last the sun disappeared behind the horizon, and the crowd began to grow anxious, pressing closer to the door. Soon enough, Rosie Cotton opened the door from within and waved everyone inside, smiling in welcome. The Hobbits pushed in, jumping up to see over each other's heads and craning their necks to peer ahead toward the bar. What they saw was unremarkable: a trestle table had been pushed up in front of the bar, and on it stood Merry and Pippin, waving to the crowd and grinning. Between them on the tabletop was an oddly-shaped object draped with an old yellowed tablecloth. It was about half as tall as the Hobbits standing next to it, and from under the bottom edge of the cloth, the rough wood of an apple crate could be discerned.

Sam and Frodo stood on the floor next to the table, grinning as broadly as Merry and Pippin, greeting the gathering folk. Interestingly enough, with them stood Sean Claymore, the potter from Bywater, who rocked back and forth on his heels with his arms crossed over his chest, looking very pleased with himself. Clearly, these three were in the know regarding this mysterious business, but were not the masterminds.

Soon the Dragon was packed. Merry and Pippin stood above a crowd of Hobbits twitching and murmuring with anticipation and curiosity. Pippin raised his hands to quiet them, giving all a very stern look that indicated he had news of some import to convey. Once the crowd settled down, without a word Pippin gestured toward Merry, bowing deeply. Merry inclined his head toward Pippin in noble acknowledgment, took a half-step forward on the table, and scanned the assemblage before him. Raising his voice so that he could be heard by all, he announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you a gift from the lands of Big Folk!"

Without further ado, Merry reached for the tablecloth and whisked it away to reveal what it concealed. A puzzled silence fell upon the room as all beheld the much-anticipated "gift" before them: perched on the apple crate were two ceramic pitchers full of ale. Well, no, not pitchers… these were not really quite as big as any proper pitchers any of them had ever seen, and they were not quite shaped like pitchers, either. They were more like… well, like very large mugs.

As the five conspirators eagerly awaited a reaction from their audience, gradually a buzz of speculative whispering built up around them. Their disappointment became evident as the confusion rose around them with no happy reaction to their carefully planned plotting. At last, Ham Gamgee took the situation in hand and called out, "So wot's that, then?"

An expectant hush fell on the crowd and all eyes fell on Merry and Pippin as they looked at each other. They each picked up one of the enormous containers, clanked them together, and took a hearty gulp. Golden ale splashed those nearby as Merry and Pippin then raised the huge tankards in toast to the assembled crowd. With a glitter in his eye and foam glistening on his lips, Merry announced, "This, my friends, is a pint!"

The Green Dragon stayed open extra late that legendary night.

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