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, 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

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

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 heir.