“I can't thank you enough, friend!” Braum's voice boomed inside of the small cabin, a cozy home in the middle of the desolate Freljordian tundra. Malcolm and Tobias, known better by their “work aliases”, Graves and Twisted Fate, stepped into the warm living area, shaking snow off of their clothing.
“Remind me how you two know each other, again?” Tobias asked, removing his cowboy hat and tapping the snow onto the welcome mat. “It's not often a Freljordian shepherd and a Bilgewater con-man form a friendship.”
Malcolm rolled his eyes, placing the prize of this journey, a large red crystal, onto a nearby table. “Braum and I met at that pub we passed coming up here, the one at the base of the mountain.
“The Drunk Poro.” Braum beamed, clapping Malcolm, hard, on his back, successfully shaking all of the snow off of him from the impact. “He almost beat me! But we Freljordians, we are made to drink!”
“I made it through fifteen.” Malcolm, murmured, removing his overcoat and hanging it on the back of a chair. “That's more than the others did.”
“That's why I had to get to know you!” Braum laughed loudly, the noise reverberated through the small, fur-lined room. “I have never seen anyone come even close to my record!”
“Uh-huh.” Tobias quirked an eyebrow. “And you're just... okay with us taking the Rune Crystal?” He asked, sitting down on a chair and propping his boots up on the table.
Braum, ever the gracious host, didn't even bat an eye at the rude behavior.
“Well, I'd prefer if you'd return it to the Frostguards.” He stroked his chin thoughtfully. “They probably don't even know it's gone. Those silly polar bears!” He eyed the crystal warily. “There is something about its magic that upsets the poros. They are very sensitive creatures, you know. So, as long as it's not near my flock, you can do whatever you want with it!”
“Excellent.” Tobias smirked. “We're in agreement, then. I suppose we should be going, then-”
“So soon?” Braum asked, turning and walking into the small off-shoot kitchen. A small kettle had been boiling on an even smaller fire, and it has just begun to whistle. “I'm making cocoa!”
“Cocoa?” The taller cowboy had to resist the urge to laugh. Such a large, muscle-bound man, whistling happily as he poured cocoa into three large mugs. The situation was... comical, to say the least.
“The best in Valoran!” Braum replied. “Besides, the snow is angry tonight.” He nodded towards a small window. Indeed, a blizzard had whipped up in the time they had been talking. “I insist that you stay the night. I have more than enough room!”
He dropped a small green sprig of something into each mug before sliding it towards his guests. “A little bit of hearthmint! Really helps with the cold.” The enormous man had noticed that Malcolm had not stopped shivering since they had arrived back at his cabin. “Something for your shivers, friend.”
“I'm not cold.” Malcolm growled, obstinate as ever, despite his obvious shivering. Nevertheless, he downed the cocoa in record time, matching his beer-drinking record. The liquid was thick, much thicker than the watery swill he was used to from Bilgewater.
“You like?” Braum asked. “It's made with goat's milk! Richest in the land!”
Malcolm nodded, sliding his mug towards Braum, the universal symbol for 'another'. Braum obliged, filling the mug again. Meanwhile, Tobias was watching the two intently while he slowly sipped at his cocoa, wary of any liquid he didn't procure himself. But if his partner trusted Braum, he supposed he could, too.
“You are still cold, friend.” Braum noted, gesturing to Malcom's shivering body.
Unbeknownst to the party, the hearthmind in the cocoa was beginning to take effect. A local plant, the herb was famous in the Freljord for it's relaxing and warming properties, but Braum had perhaps added too much. Being as large as he was, he was used to a generous helping of hearthmint, something that Malcolm's non-Freljordian body was not prepared for.
“A little.” He relented, feeling a strange warmth radiating from his stomach. “Getting mighty tired, too.”
Braum nodded. “Then it is time for bed!”
In truth, Braum trusted the pair not to steal any of his belongings. But he did not trust them to do the right thing with the Rune Crystal. He knew, given their 'backgrounds', they would be pawning the Crystal for weapons or booze rather than delivering it back to their proper owners. He had a plan to make his two guests cozy, warm, and out of the way while he returned the Crystal to its home.
“Have you heard of forgewool?” Braum asked, walking to a large basket by the enormous couch that wrapped around an equally giant fireplace. “It is truly amazing!” He dug a strip of wool out of the basket, threading it through his fingers and presenting it to Malcolm.
“Feel how soft!” He offered the material to the cowboy, who begrudgingly felt the soft wool.
“It is mighty soft, I'll admit.”
“It's very warm, too! I'd be more than happy to show you a Freljordian tradition, if you'd like.”
“A tradition?” Tobias asked, already suspicious. “A tradition for what?”
“The night is cold, you know. We wrap ourselves in the forgewool to offer protection from the Freljord. It is unique! Sticks to itself and human skin. Very comfortable!” He sighed wistfully. “Many a night I spent, bundled in wool in front of the hearth! It would be wrong of me not to offer such a wonderful experience to my guests!”
“Well...” Malcolm felt so warm, so sleepy. The idea of being bundled in wool was extremely appealing. “What's in it for us?”
“Part of the tradition is that you get to keep the wool. And it's very valuable.” Braum replied, already digging a huge mass of wool out of the basket. “Allow me to begin!”
He gingerly took one of Malcolm's hands, who did not pull away due to a combination of the hearthmint and Braum's gentle touch. The wool was soft on one side, and smooth on the other. The shepherd wound the wool from his right elbow to his wrists, the strange fleece knitting itself into a single article, flush with his skin.
“Interesting.” Tobias murmured, halfway through his cocoa.
Braum wrapped the wool around Malcom's hand, forcing them into an open position.
“It's a little... tight.” Malcolm said quietly.
“It is supposed to be! You do not want the cold to get in, do you?”
“I reckon not...” He relented, trying and failing to flex his fingers. He felt a little odd, letting himself get slowly bundled up by the large shepherd, especially in front of his partner-in-crime, but he was so damn sleepy... and the wool was the most comfortable material he had ever felt, even with Braum winding it around his clothing.
Braum repeated the process with his other arm, rendering both appendages wool-wrapped.
“Now, on to the next!” Braum jolted Malcolm out of his reverie, who was attempting, unsuccessfully, to grasp his mug with his useless hands. “No more cocoa for you, friend!”
Suddenly, Braum clapped his hands on Malcolm's shoulders forcing him out of his chair and moving him in front of the large couch. “It is time for sleep!”
More wool was wound around his ankles, above his laced-up boots. Braum was quick, methodical, and gentle as he allowed the magical wool to thread itself together as it slowly swallowed Malcolm up to his knees, this his hips, then his stomach. There were no seams, as the forgewool fibers twisted themselves into a smooth surface, just as the shepherd had said they would. Braum took extra care to tuck Malcolm's cape into the tight material as he wound it, the cowboy's clothes creating yet another restricting, insulating layer.
“Arms down, please.” Braum asked, moving on his own to force Malcolm's hands to his sides.
“It's getting kind of hard to move...” Malcolm said, his voice lethargic and slurred from a combination of Braum's warm touch, the hearthmint, and the warm cocoon that was encapsulating him. “How am I going to get out?”
“I'm sure you will have no problem!” Braum lied, adding another layer of the self-propelled wool to pin the cowboy's arms to his sides.
“Well... if you say so...” In truth, Malcolm was enjoying the strange calm that was rolling over him. Perhaps staying the night wouldn't be so terrible.
Before Malcolm could get his thoughts straight, he realized the wool had been wrapped all the away up to his neck.
“Wait...” He murmured, looking down at his completely encased body, save for the his booted feet sticking out of the bottom. “This is a lot of wool...”
“We must be thorough!” Braum replied, quickly slapping an extra-thick piece of wool over Malcolm's mouth and wrapping it behind his neck. Immediately, it sealed itself to his skin and formed an air-tight, muffling covering.
Malcolm realized what was happening.
He had been tricked.
“Mmph... mmph!” He tried to speak through the wool, but a combination of the forgewool and Braum's hand pressing against his face made his complaints completely inaudible, even to his normally extremely perceptive partner, who had just finished his cocoa and was also beginning to feel its effects.
“Yes, it is warm!” Braum pretended to reply to something Malcolm had said. “Now, to the couch! It is time for sleep!”
Malcolm tried to squirm, but the wool seemed to constrict each time he attempted to move. What was this stuff? Why didn't they have anything like this in Bilgewater? He knew a few guys that deserved a few days wrapped like this!
Braum effortlessly lifted him over his shoulder, with Malcolm facing Tobias.
“Mmmph! Mmmmrmph!” Malcolm keened through the wool, his angry eyes glaring at Tobias even as Braum carried him over to the couch. “Mmprh!”
Tobias seemed unbothered, even amused. He probably assumed the sound was coming from outside, and was used to ignoring Malcolm's glare even when he wasn't cocooned in soft wool.
“Mmmph!!” He tried to shout, only for Braum to flip him over and practically slam him into the soft cushions of the couch. He had to tell Tobias they were be tricked! He thrashed weakly and muffled a pathetic growl through the wool. Braum leaned down, towering over the cocooned cowboy.
“You just stay here, okay?” He whispered, gentle as could be. “I will wrap your friend up. Then, I will return the Crystal. Tomorrow, you will be free to go.”
He planted a kiss on Malcolm's wool covered mouth, who tried once more to break through his confines. But alas, Malcolm's struggles were pathetic, barely registering outside of his woolen prison. And it was so damn cozy, too... he hated to admit it, but maybe this wasn't so bad.
Before he could completely doze off, Braum reappeared above him with a final strip of wool, placing it over his eyes. Malcolm managed to shoot a final angry glare before the wool knit itself together, becoming a single piece.
“Shhh.” Braum hushed, rubbing his hand along Malcolm's chest. “Go to sleep.”
And before he knew it, Malcolm was asleep, drifting in the inescapable, warm confines of the wool.
Tobiad didn't even notice his friend had essentially been forced into a cocoon of wool and put to sleep against his will. Not that he could really notice anyway, what with the heartmint numbing his sense and warming his insides.
“Now me?” He asked, trying to maintain a blasé attitude, but accidentally letting a sliver of longing enter his voice.
“Of course!” Braum boomed, gesturing to the wool basket next to the wrapped Malcolm. “There is more than enough wool for everyone! Come, let me wrap you, make you nice and warm!”
Tobias obliged, setting his mug on the table and stepping up to the muscle-bound shepherd, who took him immediately into a strong embrace and began winding the wool around his booted ankles, just as he had with his partner.
The wool felt wonderfully soft and snug, but Malcolm was right; it was tight. Extremely tight, even. As it wound around his hands, reducing them to uselessness, he began to think; why did they have to be wrapped up to sleep? He hadn't heard of any Freljordian tradition like this, and he liked to think of himself quite well-versed in the cultures of Valoran (it was much easier to swindle people that way).
Even as the wool was wrapped around his leather vest, then his serape, then his neck, he wondered and pondered, trying to slog logic through his heartmint-hazed mind. His body had been cocooned up to his neck when he finally pieced it together; Malcolm's angry eyes, the heartmint, the crystal:
He had been tricked.
“Wait!” He shouted, forcing his mind through the haze. “You- you tricked!” He squirmed in his upright position, not even budging against both the wool trapping him and Braum's strong grip.
A sad expression crossed the shepherd's face. “Indeed, I did. I did not want to! Alas, the crystal must return to the Frostguards.”
“That crystal is ours!” Tobias shouted, attempting to roll his shoulders out of the wool and getting absolutely nowhere. “You hired us to take it, and we are! Let us out of this... stuff!”
“I know, I know.” Braum replied calming, grabbing some more forgewool. “And you will still be paid. But the crystal... the crystal stays in the Freljord.”
“That wasn't the deal!” Tobias snarled, gritting his teeth. “You're gonna backstab us, huh?”
“Not a backstab. Simply... shift in priorities.” Braum wrapped some more wool just under Tobias' chin. “I will let you both out in the morning, I promise no harm will come to you.”
“How can I believe that?” Tobias tried with a mighty roar to pull his arms out of the wool. He succeeded, for a brief instant, before the magically fibers snagged him and snapped them back into position.
“Because, your friend is sleeping quite peacefully. And soon, you will too. When you wake up, I'm sure you will feel better.” Braum's voice was warm and gentle, like a guardian or protector.
“How am I supposed to sleep when I'm wrapped up like this?” Tobias complained, feeling the wool reach his chin. “Seems mighty uncomfortable to me.”
“You will change your mind.”
“I don't think I will.”
Braum chuckled quietly, completely unbothered. “Are all Bilgewater people so stubborn?”
“It keeps you alive.” Tobias spat.
“You are in no danger here, friend. In fact, you are safest when you are with Braum.”
“Yeah? Well- mmph!” The cowboy began another well-thought-out retort, but was silenced by the thick wool winding itself over his lips.
“It is quiet time now.” Braum interrupted. “We can talk more tomorrow.”
“Mmmrph! Mm mmm mmrph!”
“Shhh.” The shepherd held a finger to Tobias' covered lips. “No more talk.”
In the following attempt at escape, triggered by the gag, Tobias' large-brimmed hat fell off and on to the floor, allowing his long hazelnut hair to escape and cascade down the woolen cocoon. Braum picked Tobias up over his shoulder, just as he had his friend, and placed him the opposite of Malcolm. The partners-in-crime were aligned head to feet, with one sleeping soundly and the other writhing.
However, his attempts were weakening. The cocoon was so warm and soft... and the hearthmint was still very much working its charm. And he did feel safe with Braum, even he had been backstabbed... sort of.
“Mm... mm...” Even his gagged protests had lost most of their fire as his eyes dropped into a half-lidded position.
“See? Nice and snug.” Braum said, picking up the fallen cowboy hat. “Here, so it doesn't get lost.”
He placed the cowboy hat over Tobias' face, enshrouding him in darkness and giving him the appearance of a cowboy who had stopped on the road to rest, pulling his hat over himself to afford him some shade. Except this cowboy (and his partner) were well and truly cocooned, trapped in soft woolen threads they absolutely could not escape from.
“There.” Braum dusted his hands off. “I will release you tomorrow. Until then...” He strode to the table, picking up the large red crystal. “I will return this to the Frostguard. Sweet dreams, friends!”
Tobias couldn't see, but he heard the door to the cabin slam shut. Now, he was alone with the crackling fireplace and his similarly trapped friend. And, inevitably, he felt his eyelids begin to close completely as the lull of sleep took him.