Author's Note: This final chapter is dedicated to all of you who have read, especially those who have reviewed, my story. I can't tell you all what it means to have you say such kind things to me! You are all wonderful and I love you all! I hope this last bit is to your liking- please keep letting me know what you think... sorry that I overuse exclamation points in my author's notes. I don't know why it happens that way- it just does.
The next morning was spent getting Cassandra ready to welcome the traveling reception of honor that would be coming to claim them both. She would not stop laughing and giggling, and Tatterhood was equal parts frustrated that her sister did not take the task more seriously and delighted that her sister was so happy.
Cassandra kept asserting that, ere they reached the palace, Tatterhood would hold the heart of the older brother, just as she, herself, held the heart of the younger. Tatterhood kept ignoring her and pinning the locks of blonde hair into place. She took no more notice of her own toilet this morning than any other, and, indeed, was half-tempted to find some sticks to put in her hair to make herself even less appealing to Prince Damien.
Finally, the royal trumpets sounded, announcing that the procession had reached the dock. Cassandra walked out first, glowing with happiness and love, causing all assembled to gasp at her beauty and consider how very, very lucky their prince was.
Prince Damien felt heartened seeing Cassandra- for one sister to be so lovely, it would be impossible, would it not, for the other to truly verify the reports of her that had reached his ears? But then he saw Tatterhood and his heart fell somewhat- she was exactly as described, and more- there was an almost eerie wildness in Tatterhood's face which was difficult to convey using only words. Perhaps it was born of stubbornness, or of a general air of defiance. Either way, he had to admit, she was at the very least captivating.
They were introduced using old words and ways that had been taught to them all from infancy. Having such etiquette on hand was particularly useful during moments when Damien would rather think than pay attention. The more he considered the matter, Tatterhood was actually different in a way that he could not easily grasp. He was used to meeting princesses who were lovely, but had been taught to hide all glimmer of personality, of individuality, of any thought which had not been thought at least a hundred times before flitting across their consciousness. Tatterhood looked, with no effort, like a woman who knew her own mind and who would speak it at any opportunity. He found himself curious to hear what she would have to say.
The procession began to wend through the town and Tatterhood's discomfort became palpable. She was most certainly out of her element. Riding through the town, waving to the people, receiving their questioning glances, and meeting their eyes with her trademark defiance, was beginning to wear on her nerves.
"Are you troubled, Princess?" Queried Damien.
Used to the freedom of the open seas, Tatterhood forgot herself and the fact that she ought to say something demure and unassuming.
"Truly, I find the scrutiny of the public to be wearying."
"Indeed? You seem like someone who does not give much consideration to the kind of attention she receives from others."
Tatterhood sighed. "I usually do not. But, for some reason, today…"
Damien soon drew Tatterhood out of her inexplicable shell of tenseness by asking about her travels with her sister, and she was soon regaling him with tale after tale, some flattering toward her and her sister, some not, but all tinged with a sort of adventure and daring that had never had a chance to touch the life of Damien. He was more than captivated now- he was envious.
After a mile's worth of conversation, Damien felt comfortable enough to ask the burning question on his mind.
"May I ask, dear lady, why you carry a wooden spoon?"
Tatterhood laughed, and Damien had a chance to enjoy the gleam in her eyes as she did so. "Is it a spoon, or is it a magical scepter, able to change its appearance according to what I will?"
In the blink of an eye, or perhaps before his very eyes, the wooden spoon seemed to melt, to stretch, to darken. Now, it was no longer what it had seemed to be- it was a polished, black, bejeweled scepter, as Tatterhood had said. It gleamed, it shone, its sapphires and amethysts seemed to capture the sunshine and send it back to the watcher's eyes, split into a million pieces, each with a lovely vivacity.
Then she laughed again and the spoon was once more a spoon.
"It serves my purposes better to have a wooden spoon than a scepter. And so, this is what I have. If you'd rather, I can leave it in its other form…"
"No- indeed. As long as your will is served, I am content."
Tatterhood seemed to consider Prince Damien anew at this comment. She tilted her head and the goat gave a bleat. She shushed the animal, murmured something to it, and petted it lovingly between its horns. But, she agreed with the goat- she had met princes who were polite, and some who were solicitous. Never had she met one who seemed so genuinely kind as the Prince Damien- one who was so interested in talking to her and learning about her; for him it did not seem to be an obligation, he appeared to be interested in her, and genuinely good-hearted.
"I suppose that next, sir, you'll be asking why I ride on a goat instead of some sort of noble steed."
"Perhaps the question was in my mind, but I would not ask it now. You may answer or not, as you will."
"Why not ask?"
"I have a notion that I might already know the answer." Damien wondered if it sounded like he was teasing her, and figured she might end up thinking that. But, in the meantime, it was another five miles to the palace, and they continued at the strange, halting pace of such processions. He felt guaranteed to enjoy the rest of the journey, just watching her face as she thought, the way her head was thrown back when she laughed, and even the way the goat seemed to bleat at particular points in conversation, as if it were joining in. Of course, being a goat belonging to Tatterhood, he suspected it might actually be voicing its thoughts, it was his failing that he could not understand them.
"Besides- come to that, a steed of some sort might not be able to add to the conversation so fully as… How foolish of me not to have asked before. What is your goat's, name, Tatterhood?"
Never, in all of her years, had anyone asked her what her goat was named. Tatterhood had named her, of course. When she named the creature she had told Cassandra, and so the only one who might have asked never needed. But, still...
"Her name is Penelope."
"For her steadfast nature?"
Tatterhood's eyes went wide and she could only nod. Not even Cassandra had understood the goat's name and it's significance, or thought that it reflected the animal's own nature.
Damien nodded. "A good name. With one such as this, who could need a horse?"
Penelope bleated a thank you, and Damien almost understood. He began to wonder if his nearness to Tatterhood, his gradual acclimation to her nature and mode of thinking, were aiding his understanding. He smiled- perhaps she was bewitching him.
"Will you not ask why I wear this horrid old cloak instead of clothing more suited to my stature?"
"Do you not care?"
"Tatterhood-" Here, Damien reached out a hand and caught Tatterhood's. He gently nudged his horse aside, and he left the path, weaving between the others in the queue. Tatterhood, finding it slightly awkward to be riding a goat and holding the hand of a man on a horse which was so much higher, simply let him lead her.
Once they were to the side of the path, Damien dismounted and turned to Tatterhood. She remained sitting on Penelope, but was taken aback- both by fact that they had left the path at Damien's urging, and also by the fact that she had let herself be lead by him… she had never been one to follow.
Damien lifted Tatterhood's face to his, and he was able to tell, for the first time, that her eyes were of the clearest amber- a weird shade of dark yellow. Their color seemed to make them sharper, and he felt that she could look all the way through him, that they could discern his intentions and the desires of his very heart.
For her part, Tatterhood looked into Damien's eyes and realized that they were purple. She'd never seen anyone with purple eyes, and wanted to keep looking. She saw past his obligations to the throne, saw how lonesome he was, how he longed for something, someone who was Different. She saw that, as the first-born, he'd always felt set apart, committed to something else, and his greatest desire was to find a partner- someone to understand and to conquer his solitude. Someone to share his obligations and lighten them in the sharing; someone who would share his love and devotion to country- a woman who would desire to be queen one day, not for love of jewels and power, but for love of the people, and love for the king.
"Tatterhood- I understand fully that, with a thought, with a wave of your spoon, you could be just like those other princesses. You could be someone wearing the most fashionable attire, riding a gleaming white stallion, with ropes of pearls in your long, shining hair. You could do that in an instant, were it your desire.
"But it's sensible to have a spoon, it's interesting riding your wonderful Penelope. You've spent years protecting your sister and yourself, making plans, finding strange adventures and odd rewards- you haven't the time to worry about something as frivolous as clothes; your tattered old hood suits you fine, and you never need to let worry for spoiling your finery hold you back from any pursuit.
"And, as for your hair, which my brother warned me about- I think it quite beautiful and would not wish for it to change. It is beautiful, bright, wild- just like you.
"So, I ask you not to change anything unless it is what you desire. If you'd rather wear nice clothes, wear them. If you'd rather a horse, fine. If you'd prefer to have your hair long and set about with jewels and all frippery- by all means, make it so. But none of it shall be done on my account, because I want to marry you, however you look."
"Marry me? You want to marry me?"
"You know, I have another name. Would you prefer it?"
"Actually, I rather like Tatterhood- but you still haven't said if you'll marry me and, long as the answer's yes, I'll call you whatever you like. I'll call you Fitzwilliam if it please you."
She smiled and was slightly overwhelmed by the air of sincerity which radiated forth from him.
"I'm a princess, you're a prince. If I demanded you return to my kingdom, would you still marry me?"
"No. It would pain me a great deal to say no to you on any matter, but I cannot leave my people. I was born to serve them, and I cannot leave them; no matter what my heart desires, no matter my own happiness."
"One last thing… Finish this sentence and I'll consider answering yes to you: An ounce of medicine is…"
"… worth a pound of cure. Wait- what?"
"In our land, there is a bit of a superstition that a man who knows his bromides must be sensible, intelligent, and all good, manly things. You want to marry me, Prince Damien?"
"And I don't need to give up my clothes, my Penelope, or my spoon?"
He shook his head, no.
"Then, yes- I think I should very much like to marry you."
He leaned toward her, and wound his hands into her hair. Without hurting her a mite, he held her hair and he kissed her. He felt a shifting underneath his hands and broke the kiss, only to find… a different Tatterhood.
Her wild, kinky hair was long, plaited, interwoven with amber jewelry to match her eyes, and which also matched the choker around her neck. She was wearing a gown of darkest indigo, made of softest velvet, which was cut to show off the loveliness of her shoulders, the trimness of her waist, the length of her legs. Penelope was gone- or rather, had been transformed into a horse of the most delicate shade of cream. The spoon was once more a bejeweled scepter. The smudges of dirt were gone from her face and her freckles shone to their best, sprinkled across her little snub nose.
"Did I do that?"
"Well, it seems that this happened when you kissed me, so yes. You did."
"I liked your hair before- It was reassuring that I put my hands in your hair and it was as if your hair held onto them. And…"
"If I was stuck like this- all prim and proper, all princess-like- would you still want to marry me?"
"Oh, and if my name were Hepzibah?"
"Don't tell me- your parents didn't really try to name you Hepzibah!"
"Answer my question and I'll answer yours."
He sighed and then smiled widely, showing off the crinkles around his eyes, the ones Tatterhood longed to kiss, and was beginning to imagine that, perhaps, she'd have a lifetime to attend.
"Tatterhood- you're the one I want, the only one I've ever wanted. I know it's your choice, of course, but I hate the thought of you ever leaving my side. So, yes, I'll take you like this, I'll take you any way you are willing to come to me."
This time Tatterhood was the one who took Damien's face in hers and brought it down for a kiss. And when the kiss broke, some things were as they were before, but some were not. Tatterhood shrugged-
"I liked the dress."
And so it was that Prince Damien and Tatterhood remounted their animals- Damien upon his horse named Teddy, Tatterhood upon her lovely Penelope- and returned to the path. Tatterhood's hair was wild, unkempt, and careless. Her wooden spoon was tucked into a pocket on her beautiful, velvet gown, and her hand was securely being held by Damien's.
That day, the celebration of the small land of Olledrob knew no bounds- to have both princes wed to such happy choices of brides (though people thought Tatterhood odd at first, once she accepted the prince's proposal, her happiness shone out of her like glory and all and sundry decided she was the perfect woman to marry their prince)! There were feasts and dances, and the two happy couples led every dance, toasted every bottle of champagne, and laughed louder than any of the other revelers.
They all returned to the kingdom from whence came Cassandra and Tatterhood, and there was much rejoicing on behalf of the reunited royal family. Cassandra and Barney stayed on, to inherit the kingdom from King Hal and Queen Beatrix. Tatterhood and Damien returned to Olledrob, and went on to reign in an era of lasting peace, tranquility, happiness, and good humor.
When they were alone together, Tatterhood even let Damien call her by her given name- which he was relieved to discover was not, actually, Hepzibah. It was Olivia, for the curious among you, but do not try to call her such, she will not heed your words. For she always has been, always will be, Tatterhood in faith and spirit, in fact and truth. And long live Queen Tatterhood!