The Twelve Dancing Princesses

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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 discover 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, would forfeit their life.

A king’s son soon came. He was well looked after with food and drink, 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 dancing; and, so that none of them might pass without him 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 him to be taken away by the executioner.  After him came several others, also princes, but they had all the same luck, and all suffered the same treatment.

Now it so happened 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 lady, ‘that is not a 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 advice, he decided 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 to 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 looks like he will suffer the same fate as the others!”

Then they rose up and opened their drawers and boxes, and took out all their fine clothes, and dressed themselves at the mirror, 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 something bad will happen to 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 potion, he would have slept soundly enough.”

When they were all ready, they went and looked at the soldier; but he kept snoring and did not stir hand or foot: so they thought they were quite safe. Then the eldest went up to her own bed and clapped her hands, at which point it 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 then 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.”

Twelve dancing princessesOn 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. 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 said goodbye to 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. As the twelve sisters slowly came up very much tired, they heard him snoring in his bed.

“Now all is quite safe;” they said, and then they undressed, 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. Everything 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.

“I don’t suppose you can tell me where do my twelve daughters dance at night?” asked the king. “I presume you also slept through each night and have no answer. I will call for the executioner straight away as I have no patience for pathetic excuses and grovelling. Executioner! Another one for you!” he called out. The executioner appeared from behind a curtain and made his way towards the soldier.

“Not so fast, your majesty,” replied the soldier. “Every night they go dancing with twelve princes in a castle underground.”

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 their secret was 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.

“I am not sure I want any of them, to be honest,” he replied. “I don’t think I could love anyone who did not care about those other poor princes losing their young lives. It makes me sad to think of it. Cruel, do you not think?”

The girls laughed even louder. “Daddy wouldn’t hurt a fly,” said the eldest. “He only said that to scare people off. We never believed those princes were going to lose their lives.”

The king’s cheeks reddened. “Yes, I must confess,” he said. “I made up that story about losing your head if you fail to get rid of time-wasters and make sure the winner would be brave of heart.”

“So where are all those princes?” asked the soldier, a grin spreading on this face. “I thought the executioner took them?”

“That’s actually my butler dressed up as an executioner. We put them up in luxury apartments until the winner was found. Which is you! So I ask again, which daughter do you wish to have?”

The soldier hesitated no longer. “I would like to marry your beautiful eldest, but only if she will have me? I am a strong believer in marital self-determination.”

The eldest looked at the soldier curiously. “Can you dance?” she asked.

“If the king can arrange some music, you can try me out,” he replied, with a cheeky grin.

The king called for his orchestra, and they soon stuck up a merry waltz. The soldier led her out onto the floor and waltzed her and twirled her as she had never been danced with before.

When the tune finished, her eyes were sparkling. “None of the princes has ever danced with me like that,” she exclaimed. “Not even close. I would LOVE to marry you.”

They were married that very day. The unexecuted princes were released from their luxury apartments and the other sisters went and fetched the underground princes who also joined the celebration. There was dancing with all the sisters all night until everyone’s shoes were completely worn out and still, they continued to dance in their socks until the sun came up.

The soldier and his wife went on to become King and Queen, and they danced every remaining day of their lives.

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- Total nr. of readings: 8,454 Copyright © The author [2020] All Rights Reserved. This story may not be reproduced without the express written permission of the author except for personal use.

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