The Twelve Dancing Princesses

Stairs, slippers and secrets… ready for an eery fairytale?

I found this one in ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales’, an old, broken book that belonged to my Grandma. From my research, I think it’s the original writings of the Brothers Grimm, but it has been translated from German to English.

(And yes, I too thought of Barbie.)

Country of origin: Germany

Related song:

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.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, p36

The king determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. He made a decree that anyone who could find out what happened and where they went could marry any of the princesses, and would also be king after he died. Anyone who tried and did not succeed in three days would be put to death.

Neighbouring countries jumped at the chance, sending their princes to the castle, but with no success. As each one came, they were sent to the chamber next to the princesses’, with the door kept open so that they would hear any noise the girls made, but each prince fell asleep, waking only to find the sun peeking through the curtains and holes peeking through the princesses’ slippers. After the three nights were up, the king executed the princes, as they had been warned.

It so happened that an old soldier was passing through the country at this time. He’d been wounded in battle, and couldn’t fight, but while travelling through a wood, he came across an elderly lady.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’ve heard that if I solve the mystery of the princesses, I will become king. I’d like to try my hand at it.”

“It won’t be difficult,” the old woman said, “so long as you don’t drink the wine the princesses give to you, and when they leave, you pretend to be asleep. Take this cloak, too. When you put it on, you will become invisible.”

The soldier thanked her and travelled to the palace, offering his services to the king. That evening, he obeyed everything the woman had said, throwing away the wine before lying down and pretending to sleep.

The princesses laughed from the other room, and by opening his eyes to slits he could see them wearing ball gowns and doing their hair up and putting on new slippers. They joked about the princes who had been killed, and how the soldier was destined for the same fate.

When they were all ready, the eldest went to her bed and clapped her hands twice. The bed sank into the floor, revealing a trapdoor. Opening it, the princesses all descended down a staircase in order of eldest to youngest.

The soldier acted quickly. He snatched up the cloak and put it around his shoulders, running to follow the youngest through the trapdoor before it closed.

The stairs were dark and winding, and the sisters descended in silence. The soldier followed cautiously, but despite all his caution, he stepped on the dress of the youngest sister, causing her to cry out: “Someone grabbed my gown!”

“Don’t be dramatic,” said the eldest sister. “It was probably just a nail in the wall.”

So they continued, down, down, until finally they came to a grove of trees. The leaves were made of silver, and they glittered enchantingly. They continued through the grove, as the trees changed from silver to gold and from gold to diamonds. The soldier snapped off a small branch from each type of tree, and each time the youngest sister spun around at the noise, though the eldest told her that it was just her imagination.

They pressed on through the grove until the tree-line broke to reveal a large, sparkling lake. On the bank of the lake sat twelve waiting rowboats, and standing in front of each stood a young handsome prince.

The princesses sat in a boat each, the soldier sliding into the youngest one’s boat.

The prince started rowing, but soon was panting. “I don’t know why, but even though I’m rowing as hard as I can, we’re not going as fast as the others,” he muttered halfway along the lake.

“It’s just the heat,” the princess murmured, though she glanced around nervously.

The boat bobbed along the lake, and the darkness gave way to a castle, sitting proud and bright, eminating music and merriment. The princes led the sisters into the castle, where they danced with them through the night. Wine flowed freely, but the soldier would steal each goblet and drink its contents so that when the girls raised the goblets to drink, it was already empty.

The youngest sister was the most frightened, but her eldest sister silenced her each time. They danced non-stop until around 3am, when their shoes were worn through and they had to leave. The princes rowed them back, and, this time, the soldier joined the eldest’s boat. The princesses promised the men to return the next night, while the soldier ran up the stairs ahead of them. He took off the cloak and lay down on his bed with his eyes closed.

The sisters checked on him and, convinced they were still safe, undressed and climbed into their beds, falling sound asleep.

The soldier kept his silence in the morning, but the following two nights he followed them as he had before. He kept twigs from the trees and goblets from the castle, and on the fourth day he took all his evidences to the king, explaining what was happening each night.

The king called for the princesses, asking if the soldier was telling the truth, and they couldn’t deny it.

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.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales, p41

Published by Debbie Coll

I'm a storyteller, songwriter and author who loves God, fairy tales and music. I write about tales, creative tips and process on my blog,

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