The Twelve Dancing Princesses
: Grimms' Fairy Tales
There was a king who had twelve beautiful daughters. They slept in
twelve beds all in one room; and when they went to bed, the doors were
shut and locked up; but every morning their shoes were found to be quite
worn through as if they had been danced in all night; and yet nobody
could find out how it happened, or where they had been.
Then the king made it known to all the land, that if any person could
cover the secret, and find out where it was that the princesses
danced in the night, he should have the one he liked best for his
wife, and should be king after his death; but whoever tried and did not
succeed, after three days and nights, should be put to death.
A king's son soon came. He was well entertained, and in the evening was
taken to the chamber next to the one where the princesses lay in their
twelve beds. There he was to sit and watch where they went to dance;
and, in order that nothing might pass without his hearing it, the door
of his chamber was left open. But the king's son soon fell asleep; and
when he awoke in the morning he found that the princesses had all been
dancing, for the soles of their shoes were full of holes. The same thing
happened the second and third night: so the king ordered his head to be
cut off. After him came several others; but they had all the same luck,
and all lost their lives in the same manner.
Now it chanced that an old soldier, who had been wounded in battle
and could fight no longer, passed through the country where this king
reigned: and as he was travelling through a wood, he met an old woman,
who asked him where he was going. 'I hardly know where I am going, or
what I had better do,' said the soldier; 'but I think I should like very
well to find out where it is that the princesses dance, and then in time
I might be a king.' 'Well,' said the old dame, 'that is no very hard
task: only take care not to drink any of the wine which one of the
princesses will bring to you in the evening; and as soon as she leaves
you pretend to be fast asleep.'
Then she gave him a cloak, and said, 'As soon as you put that on
you will become invisible, and you will then be able to follow the
princesses wherever they go.' When the soldier heard all this good
counsel, he determined to try his luck: so he went to the king, and said
he was willing to undertake the task.
He was as well received as the others had been, and the king ordered
fine royal robes to be given him; and when the evening came he was led
to the outer chamber. Just as he was going to lie down, the eldest of
the princesses brought him a cup of wine; but the soldier threw it all
away secretly, taking care not to drink a drop. Then he laid himself
down on his bed, and in a little while began to snore very loud as if
he was fast asleep. When the twelve princesses heard this they laughed
heartily; and the eldest said, 'This fellow too might have done a wiser
thing than lose his life in this way!' Then they rose up and opened
their drawers and boxes, and took out all their fine clothes, and
dressed themselves at the glass, and skipped about as if they were eager
to begin dancing. But the youngest said, 'I don't know how it is, while
you are so happy I feel very uneasy; I am sure some mischance will
befall us.' 'You simpleton,' said the eldest, 'you are always afraid;
have you forgotten how many kings' sons have already watched in vain?
And as for this soldier, even if I had not given him his sleeping
draught, he would have slept soundly enough.'
When they were all ready, they went and looked at the soldier; but he
snored on, and did not stir hand or foot: so they thought they were
quite safe; and the eldest went up to her own bed and clapped her hands,
and the bed sank into the floor and a trap-door flew open. The soldier
saw them going down through the trap-door one after another, the eldest
leading the way; and thinking he had no time to lose, he jumped up, put
on the cloak which the old woman had given him, and followed them;
but in the middle of the stairs he trod on the gown of the youngest
princess, and she cried out to her sisters, 'All is not right; someone
took hold of my gown.' 'You silly creature!' said the eldest, 'it is
nothing but a nail in the wall.' Then down they all went, and at the
bottom they found themselves in a most delightful grove of trees; and
the leaves were all of silver, and glittered and sparkled beautifully.
The soldier wished to take away some token of the place; so he broke
off a little branch, and there came a loud noise from the tree. Then the
youngest daughter said again, 'I am sure all is not right--did not you
hear that noise? That never happened before.' But the eldest said, 'It
is only our princes, who are shouting for joy at our approach.'
Then they came to another grove of trees, where all the leaves were of
gold; and afterwards to a third, where the leaves were all glittering
diamonds. And the soldier broke a branch from each; and every time there
was a loud noise, which made the youngest sister tremble with fear; but
the eldest still said, it was only the princes, who were crying for joy.
So they went on till they came to a great lake; and at the side of the
lake there lay twelve little boats with twelve handsome princes in them,
who seemed to be waiting there for the princesses.
One of the princesses went into each boat, and the soldier stepped into
the same boat with the youngest. As they were rowing over the lake, the
prince who was in the boat with the youngest princess and the soldier
said, 'I do not know why it is, but though I am rowing with all my might
we do not get on so fast as usual, and I am quite tired: the boat
seems very heavy today.' 'It is only the heat of the weather,' said the
princess: 'I feel it very warm too.'
On the other side of the lake stood a fine illuminated castle, from
which came the merry music of horns and trumpets. There they all landed,
and went into the castle, and each prince danced with his princess; and
the soldier, who was all the time invisible, danced with them too; and
when any of the princesses had a cup of wine set by her, he drank it
all up, so that when she put the cup to her mouth it was empty. At this,
too, the youngest sister was terribly frightened, but the eldest always
silenced her. They danced on till three o'clock in the morning, and then
all their shoes were worn out, so that they were obliged to leave off.
The princes rowed them back again over the lake (but this time the
soldier placed himself in the boat with the eldest princess); and on the
opposite shore they took leave of each other, the princesses promising
to come again the next night.
When they came to the stairs, the soldier ran on before the princesses,
and laid himself down; and as the twelve sisters slowly came up very
much tired, they heard him snoring in his bed; so they said, 'Now all
is quite safe'; then they undressed themselves, put away their fine
clothes, pulled off their shoes, and went to bed. In the morning the
soldier said nothing about what had happened, but determined to see more
of this strange adventure, and went again the second and third night;
and every thing happened just as before; the princesses danced each time
till their shoes were worn to pieces, and then returned home. However,
on the third night the soldier carried away one of the golden cups as a
token of where he had been.
As soon as the time came when he was to declare the secret, he was taken
before the king with the three branches and the golden cup; and the
twelve princesses stood listening behind the door to hear what he would
say. And when the king asked him. 'Where do my twelve daughters dance at
night?' he answered, 'With twelve princes in a castle under ground.' And
then he told the king all that had happened, and showed him the three
branches and the golden cup which he had brought with him. Then the king
called for the princesses, and asked them whether what the soldier said
was true: and when they saw that they were discovered, and that it was
of no use to deny what had happened, they confessed it all. And the king
asked the soldier which of them he would choose for his wife; and he
answered, 'I am not very young, so I will have the eldest.'--And they
were married that very day, and the soldier was chosen to be the king's