The Brothers Grimm – The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces

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There was once upon a time a king who had twelve daughters, each one
more beautiful than the other. They all slept together in one
chamber, in which their beds stood side by side, and every night when
they were in them the king locked the door, and bolted it. But in
the morning when he unlocked the door, he saw that their shoes were
worn out with dancing, and no one could find out how that had come to
pass. Then the king caused it to be proclaimed that whosoever could
discover where they danced at night, should choose one of them for
his wife and be king after his death, but that whosoever came forward
and had not discovered it within three days and nights, should have
forfeited his life.

It was not long before a king's son presented himself, and offered to
undertake the enterprise. He was well received, and in the evening
was led into a room adjoining the princesses, sleeping-chamber. His
bed was placed there, and he was to observe where they went and
danced, and in order that they might do nothing secretly or go away
to some other place, the door of their room was left open. But the
eyelids of the prince grew heavy as lead, and he fell asleep, and
when he awoke in the morning, all twelve had been to the dance, for
their shoes were standing there with holes in the soles. On the
second and third nights there was no difference, and then his head
was struck off without mercy.

Many others came after this and undertook the enterprise, but all
forfeited their lives. Now it came to pass that a poor soldier, who
had a wound, and could serve no longer, found himself on the road to
the town where the king lived. There he met an old woman, who asked
him where he was going. "I hardly know myself," answered he, and
added in jest, "I had half a mind to discover where the princesses
danced their shoes into holes, and thus become king." "That is not so
difficult," said the old woman, "you must not drink the wine which
will be brought to you at night, and must pretend to be sound
asleep." With that she gave him a little cloak, and said, "If you
wear this, you will be invisible, and then you can steal after the
twelve." When the soldier had received this good advice, he fell to
in earnest, took heart, went to the king, and announced himself as a
suitor. He was as well received as the others, and royal garments
were put upon him. He was conducted that evening at bed-time into
the antechamber, and as he was about to go to bed, the eldest came
and brought him a cup of wine, but he had tied a sponge under his
chin, and let the wine run down into it, without drinking a drop.

Then he lay down and when he had lain a while, he began to snore, as
if in the deepest sleep. The twelve princesses heard that, and
laughed, and the eldest said, "He, too, might as well have saved his
life." With that they got up, opened wardrobes, presses, cupboards,
and brought out pretty dresses, dressed themselves before the
mirrors, sprang about, and rejoiced at the prospect of the dance.
Only the youngest said, "I know not how it is, you are very happy,
but I feel very strange, some misfortune is certainly about to befall
us." "You are a goose, who are always frightened," said the eldest.
"Have you forgotten how many kings' sons have already come here in
vain. I had hardly any need to give the soldier a sleeping-draught,
the booby would not have awakened anyway."

When they were all ready they looked carefully at the soldier, but he
had closed his eyes and did not move or stir, so they felt themselves
safe enough. The eldest then went to her bed and tapped it,
whereupon it immediately sank into the earth, and one after the other
they descended through the opening, the eldest going first. The
soldier, who had watched everything, tarried no longer, put on his
little cloak, and went down last with the youngest. Half-way down
the steps, he just trod a little on her dress, she was terrified at
that, and cried out, "What is that? Who is pulling my dress?" "Don't
be so silly," said the eldest, "you have caught it on a nail."

Then they went all the way down, and when they were at the bottom,
they were standing in a wonderfully pretty avenue of trees, all the
leaves of which were of silver, and shone and glistened. The soldier
thought, "I must carry a token away with me," and broke off a twig
from one of them, on which the tree cracked with a loud report. The
youngest cried out again. "Something is wrong, did you hear the
crack?" But the eldest said, "It is a gun fired for joy, because we
have got rid of our prince so quickly." After that they came into an
avenue where all the leaves were of gold, and lastly into a third
where they were of bright diamonds, he broke off a twig from each,
which made such a crack each time that the youngest started back in
terror, but the eldest still maintained that they were salutes.

They went on and came to a great lake whereon stood twelve little
boats, and in every boat sat a handsome prince, all of whom were
waiting for the twelve, and each took one of them with him, but the
soldier seated himself by the youngest. Then her prince said, "I
wonder why the boat is so much heavier to-day. I shall have to row
with all my strength, if I am to get it across." "What should cause
that," said the youngest, "but the warm weather?" "I feel very warm
too." On the opposite side of the lake stood a splendid, brightly-lit
castle, from whence resounded the joyous music of trumpets and
kettle-drums. They rowed there, entered, and each prince danced with
the girl he loved, but the soldier danced with them unseen, and when
one of them had a cup of wine in her hand he drank it up, so that the
cup was empty when she carried it to her mouth, the youngest was
alarmed at this, but the eldest always silenced her. They danced
there till three o'clock in the morning when all the shoes were
danced into holes, and they were forced to leave off, the princes
rowed them back again over the lake, and this time the soldier seated
himself by the eldest.

On the shore they took leave of their princes, and promised to return
the following night. When they reached the stairs the soldier ran on
in front and lay down in his bed, and when the twelve had come up
slowly and wearily, he was already snoring so loudly that they could
all hear him, and they said, "So far as he is concerned, we are
safe." They took off their beautiful dresses, laid them away, put the
worn-out shoes under the bed, and lay down. Next morning the soldier
was resolved not to speak, but to watch the wonderful goings-on, and
again went with them a second and a third night.

Then everything was just as it had been the first time, and each time
they danced until their shoes were worn to pieces. But the third
time he took a cup away with him as a token. When the hour had
arrived for him to give his answer, he took the three twigs and the
cup, and went to the king, but the twelve stood behind the door, and
listened for what he was going to say. When the king put the
question, "Where have my twelve daughters danced their shoes to
pieces in the night?" He answered, "In an underground castle with
twelve princes," and related how it had come to pass, and brought out
the tokens. The king then summoned his daughters, and asked them if
the soldier had told the truth, and when they saw that they were
betrayed, and that falsehood would be of no avail, they were obliged
to confess all. Thereupon the king asked which of them he would have
to wife. He answered, "I am no longer young, so give me the eldest."
Then the wedding was celebrated on the self-same day, and the kingdom
was promised him after the king's death. But the princes were
bewitched for as many days as they had danced nights with the twelve.

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