Long ago there lived a king who had twelve beautiful and clever daughters. The princesses all slept in the same huge room, with their twelve pretty beds in a row.
The king loved his daughters, but he was becoming concerned about what they did each night. Even though the king carefully locked the door of the princesses' room every night, the next morning he found the princesses tired and out of sorts. More puzzling still, their tiny silk dancing slippers were worn to shreds. Every day, the king had to order twelve new pairs of silk shoes for his daughters.
The next morning, when the king begged his daughters to explain why they were so tired and pale, and why their dancing shoes were in shreds, the princesses merely murmured, "Beloved Papa, we have been sleeping peacefully in our beds all night."
The king thought of a way to find out the truth. He issued a proclamation declaring that the first man to solve the mystery of where the twelve princesses went to dance every night would choose a wife from among them. However, anyone who tried to discover the princesses' secret had only three days and three nights to succeed.
It was not long before a prince arrived at the palace to try his luck. The king made the young prince feel welcome. The prince was led to a small chamber next to the princesses' bedroom. The door between the two rooms was left open. The princesses could not leave without being seen by the prince.
When the princesses filed into their room, the prince gladly accepted a cup of wine offered to him by the eldest princess. In no time, he was sound asleep in his bed.
When the prince awoke the next morning, the princesses were asleep in their beds. The prince was dismayed to see twelve pairs of worn-out shoes!
The next two nights, the same thing happened. The king was angry and banished the prince from the kingdom.
Many other princes met the same fate. The king began to despair of ever finding out where his daughters danced at night.
Then one day a poor soldier came limping along the road. He had been wounded and could no longer serve in battle. He had no sooner sat down by the side of the road to eat some bread and cheese when an old woman appeared all dressed in rags.
"Won't you have a bite to eat with me?" said the kind soldier to the woman. He offered her half of his simple meal.
"Where are you going?" asked the woman.
"I am going to the city to find work," replied the soldier. "Perhaps I can find out how the princesses wear out their shoes!"
The old woman surprised the soldier by saying, "Heed my words! Do not drink the wine that the princesses offer you. Pretend to fall asleep. And take this cloak, which will make you invisible. You can follow the princesses and discover their secret!"
The soldier didn't know what to think. He thanked the old woman and continued on his way. The soldier put on the cloak and discovered that it did indeed make him invisible. He headed at once to the king's palace, where he was made welcome.
In the evening, the soldier was led to the little room next to the princesses' bedroom. Soon the eldest princess brought the soldier a cup of wine. He pretended to drink the wine, letting it trickle down into his scarf. Then he pretended to fall asleep.
When the eldest princess heard the soldier's snores, she quietly said to her sisters, "He is as foolish as the others. Make haste. We must get ready for the ball!"
The twelve princesses chattered and laughed as they dressed in their best ball gowns and jewels and arranged each other's hair. Only the youngest princess felt uneasy. "Something just doesn't feel right tonight," she said.
"Don't be such a little goose," said the eldest princess fondly. "That soldier is sound asleep. He won't wake up until morning!"
Find out what the soldier saw next on the following page.