The Twelve Huntsmen
: Grimms' Fairy Tales
There was once a king's son who had a bride whom he loved very much. And
when he was sitting beside her and very happy, news came that his father
lay sick unto death, and desired to see him once again before his end.
Then he said to his beloved: 'I must now go and leave you, I give you
a ring as a remembrance of me. When I am king, I will return and fetch
you.' So he rode away, and when he reached his father, the latter was
dangerously ill, and near his death. He said to him: 'Dear son, I wished
to see you once again before my end, promise me to marry as I wish,' and
he named a certain king's daughter who was to be his wife. The son was
in such trouble that he did not think what he was doing, and said: 'Yes,
dear father, your will shall be done,' and thereupon the king shut his
eyes, and died.
When therefore the son had been proclaimed king, and the time of
mourning was over, he was forced to keep the promise which he had given
his father, and caused the king's daughter to be asked in marriage, and
she was promised to him. His first betrothed heard of this, and fretted
so much about his faithfulness that she nearly died. Then her father
said to her: 'Dearest child, why are you so sad? You shall have
whatsoever you will.' She thought for a moment and said: 'Dear father,
I wish for eleven girls exactly like myself in face, figure, and size.'
The father said: 'If it be possible, your desire shall be fulfilled,'
and he caused a search to be made in his whole kingdom, until eleven
young maidens were found who exactly resembled his daughter in face,
figure, and size.
When they came to the king's daughter, she had twelve suits of
huntsmen's clothes made, all alike, and the eleven maidens had to put
on the huntsmen's clothes, and she herself put on the twelfth suit.
Thereupon she took her leave of her father, and rode away with them,
and rode to the court of her former betrothed, whom she loved so dearly.
Then she asked if he required any huntsmen, and if he would take all of
them into his service. The king looked at her and did not know her, but
as they were such handsome fellows, he said: 'Yes,' and that he would
willingly take them, and now they were the king's twelve huntsmen.
The king, however, had a lion which was a wondrous animal, for he knew
all concealed and secret things. It came to pass that one evening he
said to the king: 'You think you have twelve huntsmen?' 'Yes,' said the
king, 'they are twelve huntsmen.' The lion continued: 'You are mistaken,
they are twelve girls.' The king said: 'That cannot be true! How
will you prove that to me?' 'Oh, just let some peas be strewn in the
ante-chamber,' answered the lion, 'and then you will soon see. Men have
a firm step, and when they walk over peas none of them stir, but girls
trip and skip, and drag their feet, and the peas roll about.' The king
was well pleased with the counsel, and caused the peas to be strewn.
There was, however, a servant of the king's who favoured the huntsmen,
and when he heard that they were going to be put to this test he went to
them and repeated everything, and said: 'The lion wants to make the king
believe that you are girls.' Then the king's daughter thanked him, and
said to her maidens: 'Show some strength, and step firmly on the peas.'
So next morning when the king had the twelve huntsmen called before
him, and they came into the ante-chamber where the peas were lying, they
stepped so firmly on them, and had such a strong, sure walk, that not
one of the peas either rolled or stirred. Then they went away again,
and the king said to the lion: 'You have lied to me, they walk just like
men.' The lion said: 'They have been informed that they were going to
be put to the test, and have assumed some strength. Just let twelve
spinning-wheels be brought into the ante-chamber, and they will go to
them and be pleased with them, and that is what no man would do.'
The king liked the advice, and had the spinning-wheels placed in the
But the servant, who was well disposed to the huntsmen, went to them,
and disclosed the project. So when they were alone the king's daughter
said to her eleven girls: 'Show some constraint, and do not look round
at the spinning-wheels.' And next morning when the king had his twelve
huntsmen summoned, they went through the ante-chamber, and never once
looked at the spinning-wheels. Then the king again said to the lion:
'You have deceived me, they are men, for they have not looked at the
spinning-wheels.' The lion replied: 'They have restrained themselves.'
The king, however, would no longer believe the lion.
The twelve huntsmen always followed the king to the chase, and his
liking for them continually increased. Now it came to pass that
once when they were out hunting, news came that the king's bride was
approaching. When the true bride heard that, it hurt her so much that
her heart was almost broken, and she fell fainting to the ground. The
king thought something had happened to his dear huntsman, ran up to him,
wanted to help him, and drew his glove off. Then he saw the ring which
he had given to his first bride, and when he looked in her face he
recognized her. Then his heart was so touched that he kissed her, and
when she opened her eyes he said: 'You are mine, and I am yours, and
no one in the world can alter that.' He sent a messenger to the other
bride, and entreated her to return to her own kingdom, for he had a wife
already, and someone who had just found an old key did not require a new
one. Thereupon the wedding was celebrated, and the lion was again taken
into favour, because, after all, he had told the truth.