Serenity gasped. "Caprice, there's a man back here!" She knelt to help untangle the fellow.
That action finally got Caprice's attention. "Oh, leave him be! I don't want him to get away again. He's my fiancé, you know."
"Your what?!" came three voices from the back of the cart.
The man traded incredulous looks with Beauty and Serenity, and then resumed his attempts to free himself, with even more vigor than before. The three sisters were soon in an argument about the propriety of kidnapping one's intended husband - or at least two of them were, since Caprice paid no attention to anything the others were saying. Her interest was entirely focused on the road, as she searched for some landmark.
"Ah, there it is!" she cried happily. "I was beginning to think that farmer gave me bad directions, or that I had taken the wrong turning." She stopped the cart again in front of a white wooden frame building. The small belfry atop its roof identified it as a chapel, and a thin, black-clad clergyman appeared by the door to welcome his visitors. Caprice swung down from her perch to greet him, and they were soon deep in conversation. The clergyman seemed delighted to be of service, for he nodded and shook hands with Caprice, then ducked back inside the chapel.
Caprice turned to face her sisters. "How marvelous it is that I found you, for now you can be my bridesmaids! Would you mind picking some of those flowers to make me a bouquet? If only I had a veil! I don't suppose either of you has a shawl I could borrow for the purpose, do you? Bother, I feared not. Really..."
Neither Beauty nor Serenity could get a word in edgewise, no matter how hard they tried. Their expostulations simply bounced off the impenetrable wall of Caprice's self-centered happiness like a tailor would bounce off a giant. If fact, she only ended her list of bridesmaids' duties because she saw that her husband-to-be was on the verge of slipping away again.
He had finally gotten out of the tightly wrapped blankets, but he needed a few more moments to untie the knotted ropes that bound his wrists and ankles. He was about to take off running down the road when Caprice tackled him.
"Drat that herbwife! She assured me the sleeping potion would be good for another hour or two! I have half a mind to go back and demand a refund!"
The magician (for it was the same fellow Caprice had pocketed behind the stable) twisted like an eel, seeking his freedom. Beauty and Serenity darted back to the cart, to be out of the way as he kicked and turned; Caprice, in the midst of the mêlée, refused to slacken her grip.
The clergyman reemerged from the chapel at this point, now wearing a white surplice and carrying a large book under his arm. His only reaction to the odd scene unfolding on his doorstep was to raise his eyebrows and calmly inquire whether they were ready to begin. Caprice managed to reply in the affirmative as she rearranged her hold on the magician's collar. The clergyman opened the large book and began to read. "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here..."
"You know, you are seriously beginning to annoy me," the beleaguered magician told Caprice. He gave a sudden exclamation as he finally got one arm free; now he could use his conjuring talents to hasten his escape! In a moment he had transformed himself, and Caprice suddenly found that she was holding a huge hissing serpent, which darted its long tongue at her face and tried to slide out of her grasp. Caprice ducked away from its striking head and wrapped several scaly coils around her arm, preventing it from moving.
"I require and charge you both, as ye will answer at the dreadful day of judgment..." The clergyman droned on, not looking up from his book.
Caprice was working on tying the serpent's tail into a knot when the magician gave up on that creature. He resumed his human form long enough to tell her, "You're persistent, I'll say that for you! Don't you know it's unwise to make wizards angry?"
Then the shape under her hands changed again. Scales turned to fur, fangs turned to teeth, and Caprice was holding a young bear! It tried one or two swipes at her with its sharp claws before she managed to twist one paw behind its back and get a chokehold around its throat. She had to keep spitting out mouthfuls of fur as the animal struggled, but she wasn't about to give up. Besides, the ceremony wasn't over yet!
"...in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?" the clergyman inquired calmly, taking a step sideways to avoid Caprice and her captive.
"He will!" Caprice spat, just as she wrestled the bear to a standstill.
Since that form didn't work either, the magician - or rather wizard, as he called himself - turned human again. "It has been some time since anyone gave me so much trouble," he said, wheezing for air.
The small respite seemed to provide inspiration, for then he changed again! Tawny fur covered his body, the sharp claws reappeared, and an angry growl split the air as the wizard turned into a lion. Perhaps he remembered how much this shape frightened Caprice the first time she saw it, but it was a miscalculation on his part. She might have been unprepared then, but not now! In a trice she had the lion's paws so tangled in its long tail that it could barely move.
The clergyman had to raise his voice a little to make himself heard above the din. "Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband..."
Caprice was catching her breath before the wizard could think of any other forms to try. "I will!" she cried at the appropriate moment. Just in time - for a malicious hissing and squawking filled the air as the lion transformed itself into a swan. It struck out once, then twice with its unforgiving beak, lashing towards Caprice with its muscular neck. Two strong wings beat at her until she managed to drag one of the blankets from the back of the cart to ensnare it.
The clergyman had taken the liberty of skipping over a few paragraphs - not seeing how one could exchange rings with a swan - and was nearing the end of the service. "Forasmuch as this man and this woman have consented together in holy wedlock, and have witnessed the same..."
The swan gave a despairing cry as it melted back into human form. "The last person who tried to capture me got turned into a hideous Beast, so I'll think of something equally appalling for you when I'm free!" the wizard snapped.
Caprice was tired, but she could not let her resolve fail at this point - she was too close to her goal, and only needed a little longer to accomplish it! However, the flaming salamander that the wizard became was nearly too much for her. The fire was blinding, and the heat was scorching - in another moment the blanket that had wrapped the swan would be no protection.
Looking around frantically, she spotted a trough of water near the side of the chapel, where the cart horse was calmly drinking. She clasped the salamander as tight as she dared and dragged it the few steps required, then heaved it into the trough. Boiling clouds of steam arose, but when they cleared she could see the wizard - dirty, bruised, and now soaked, but human again - sitting up to his waist in the water.
The clergyman concluded the ceremony, without having batted an eyelash through the whole extraordinary performance. "...and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be husband and wife together."
"No!" cried the wizard, just as the clergyman snapped his book closed.
"My congratulations to the happy couple," were the clergyman's parting words. He made haste to take himself inside the chapel and slammed the door, before anything else could happen.
Caprice, reaching ecstatic heights of joy, flung her arms around her new husband. "My very own prince, at last! Here's the best part - I may now kiss the groom!"