(Tomi Ungerer, The Joy of Dancing)
Grimm’s Fairy Tale No. 133 The Shoes that were Danced to Bits
There once lived a king who had twelve daughters, each one more lovely than the next. They all slept together in one chamber, where their beds stood side-by-side. In the evening, when they lay there, the king locked and bolted the door. But in the morning when he unlatched it, he saw that his daughters’ shoes had been danced to bits. And what is worse, no one was able to wheedle the truth out of the girls about how it happened. The king issued a proclamation. Whoever discovered where they danced at night would be granted the hand of one of his daughters in marriage. And after his death that suitor would become the king. But if after three days and nights, the young man did not succeed, his life would end. It wasn’t long before a king’s son offered to take up the wager. He was well-received and at night was led to a room next to the sleeping chamber of the daughters. His bed was placed there and he was told to keep watch and find out where they went and danced. So that they could not sneak away without his knowledge, the door between the chambers was kept open. But the eyes of the king’s son soon fell shut like heavy lead and he fell into a deep slumber. In the morning when he awoke, all twelve had been out dancing and their shoes, standing beside each of their beds, had holes in the soles. The second and third nights were the same and so the young fellow paid with his head and there was no mercy. After this many other gallants came forward to take up the wager. But they all paid for their daring with their lives.
Now it happened that a poor wounded soldier, who could no longer serve, found himself on the path to the kingdom. He encountered an old woman, who asked him where he wanted to go. “I don’t quite know, myself,” he replied and sighed deeply. “I would like to find out where the king’s daughters dance their shoes to bits, and afterward become king.” “That is not so difficult, the old woman said, “you must not drink the wine that is brought to you at night and must act as if you were fast asleep,” the old woman said. She then gave him a little coat and said “When you wear this coat you will be invisible and can creep after the twelve daughters.”
When the soldier had received the good advice, he was encouraged and took heart. He went before the king and declared himself a suitor. He was welcomed like the others and given princely garments to wear. At night when it was time for bed, he was led into the ante-chamber and when he wanted to go to bed, the oldest daughter came and brought him a cup of wine. He had a sponge fastened below his chin and let the wine gush into it and did not drink a single drop. Then he lay down and after a while, he began to snore as if he were fast asleep. The twelve king’s daughters heard him, laughed and the oldest said “He should have spared his own life.” After this they all got up, opened the cupboards, trunks and boxes and took out beautiful dresses. They brushed their hair before the mirror, jumped around and looked forward to the dance. Now the youngest said “I don’t know why you are so happy. I feel something strange. I am sure we shall experience misfortune.” “You are a silly snow-goose,” the oldest said, “one who always is fearful. Have you forgotten how many king’s sons have already been here? I didn’t even need to give the soldier a sleeping potion, the rascal won’t wake up.” When they were all ready, they looked in on the soldier, but he closed his eyes and did not move. They now thought they were quite safe. The oldest went to her bed, knocked on it and it immediately sank into the earth. They climbed through the opening, one after another, the oldest daughter in the lead.
The soldier had seen it all, did not hesitate but put on his little coat and climbed after the youngest daughter. In the middle of the stairs he stepped on her dress. She became startled and cried out “What is this? Who is holding me back by my dress?” “Don’t be so silly,” the oldest daughter replied, “You caught your dress on a hook.” They all descended and when they reached the bottom they stood in a wonderful arbor. All of the leaves were silver and they shimmered and sparkled. The soldier thought to himself: “You should take a sign with you,” and he broke off a branch. A loud crash was heard coming from the trees. The youngest cried out again “Something is not right. Did you hear the noise?” But the oldest daughter replied “Those are shots of joy, because we will soon redeem our prince.” They now came to an arbor, where all the leaves were gold. And finally to a third arbor, where the leaves were clear diamonds. Each time the soldier broke off a branch, each time there was a loud sound so that the youngest daughter became terrified. But the oldest daughter insisted each time the noise was only a shot of joy. They continued on their way and came to an enormous body of water. There stood twelve little ships and in each ship sat a beautiful prince. They had been waiting for the twelve daughters and each prince now took one in his boat. The soldier sat in the boat with the youngest daughter. The prince said “I don’t know why the ship is so much heavier and I have to row with all my strength if I want to move the boat.”
“How should that be,” the youngest daughter asked. On the opposite shore stood a brilliant castle, from which cheerful music could be heard with drums and trumpet call. They rowed across, entered and each prince danced with his dear one. The soldier was invisible and danced along, and when someone held up a cup with wine, he drank it until it was empty before the princess could hold it to her lips. The youngest daughter became terrified, but the oldest daughter urged her to be silent. They danced until three in the morning, when all their shoes were danced to bits and they had to stop. The princes took them back across the water and the soldier now took position in the lead boat, next to the oldest daughter. On shore they took leave from their princes and promised to come again the next night. When they arrived at the stairs the soldier ran up ahead and lay down in his bed. The twelve slowly climbed the stairs in exhaustion, but the soldier snored so loud that everyone could hear him. They thought to themselves “We are safe with him.” They took off their pretty clothes, put them away and placed the shoes danced to bits next to their beds. Then they all lay down. The next morning the soldier didn’t want to say anything, but returned to see the strange events the second and third nights. Everything was like before and they danced each time until their shoes were danced to bits. The third time, the soldier took a cup with him as sign. When the hour came and he was to answer, he took the three branches and the cup and went before the king. The twelve daughters stood behind the door and listened, what he would say? When the king asked the question “Where have my twelve daughters danced their shoes to bits during the night?” He replied “They were with twelve princes in a subterranean castle.” And he described what had happened. The king had his daughters called and asked them whether the soldier spoke the truth. They saw they had been found out and did not lie. Everyone admitted it. The king asked the soldier, which wife he wanted. He replied “I am no longer very young, so give me the oldest daughter.” They were married on the same day and he was promised the kingdom after the king’s death. But the princes were enchanted for the exact number of nights they had danced with the twelve princesses.