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The Twelve Huntsmen
Grimms Fairy Tales and German Folklore
There was once a king's son who had a bride whom he loved very much.
And when he was sitting beside her and very happy, news came that his
father lay sick unto death, and desired to see him once again before
his end. Then he said to his beloved, I must now go and leave you, I
give you a ring as a remembrance of me. When I am king, I will
return and fetch you.
So he rode away, and when he reached his father, the latter was
dangerously ill, and near his death. He said to him, dear son, I
wished to see you once again before my end, promise me to marry as I
wish, and he named a certain king's daughter who was to be his wife.
The son was in such trouble that he did not think what he was doing,
and said, yes, dear father, your will shall be done, and thereupon
the king shut his eyes, and died.
When therefore the son had been proclaimed king, and the time of
mourning was over, he was forced to keep the promise which he had
given his father, and caused the king's daughter to be asked in
marriage, and she was promised to him. His first betrothed heard of
this, and fretted so much about his faithlessness that she nearly
died. Then her father said to her, dearest child, why are you so
sad. You shall have whatsoever you will. She thought for a moment
and said, dear father, I wish for eleven girls exactly like myself in
face, figure, and size. The father said, if it be possible, your
desire shall be fulfilled, and he caused a search to be made in his
whole kingdom, until eleven young maidens were found who exactly
resembled his daughter in face, figure, and size.
When they came to the king's daughter, she had twelve suits of
huntsmen's clothes made, all alike, and the eleven maidens had to put
on the huntsmen's clothes, and she herself put on the twelfth suit.
Thereupon she took leave of her father, and rode away with them, and
rode to the court of her former betrothed, whom she loved so dearly.
Then she asked if he required any huntsmen, and if he would take all
of them into his service. The king looked at her and did not know
her, but as they were such handsome fellows, he said, yes, and that
he would willingly take them, and now they were the king's twelve
The king, however, had a lion which was a wondrous animal, for he
knew all concealed and secret things. It came to pass that one
evening he said to the king, you think you have twelve huntsmen.
Yes, said the king, they are twelve huntsmen. The lion continued, you
are mistaken, they are twelve girls.
The king said, that cannot be true. How will you prove that to me.
Oh, just let some peas be strewn in the ante-chamber, answered swered
the lion, and then you will soon see. Men have a firm step, and when
they walk over the peas none of them stir, but girls trip and skip,
and drag their feet, and the peas roll about. The king was well
pleased with the counsel, and caused the peas to be strewn.
There was, however, a servant of the king's who favored the huntsmen,
and when he heard that they were going to be put to this test he went
to them and repeated everything, and said, the lion wants to make the
king believe that you are girls. Then the king's daughter thanked
him, and said to her maidens, show some strength, and step firmly on
the peas. So next morning when the king had the twelve huntsmen
called before him, and they came into the ante-chamber where the peas
were lying, they stepped so firmly on them, and had such a strong,
sure walk, that not one of the peas either rolled or stirred.
Then they went away again, and the king said to the lion, you have
lied to me, they walk just like men. The lion said, they have been
informed that they were going to be put to the test, and have assumed
some strength. Just let twelve spinning-wheels be brought into the
ante-chamber, and they will go to them and be pleased with them, and
that is what no man would do. The king liked the advice, and had the
spinning-wheels placed in the ante-chamber.
But the servant, who was well disposed to the huntsmen, went to them,
and disclosed the project. So when they were alone the king's
daughter said to her eleven girls, show some constraint, and do not
look round at the spinning-wheels. And next morning when the king
had his twelve huntsmen summoned, they went through the ante-chamber,
and never once looked at the spinning wheels.
Then the king again said to the lion, you have deceived me, they are
men, for they have not looked at the spinning-wheels. The lion
replied, they have learnt that they were going to be put to the test,
and have restrained themselves. The king, however, would no longer
believe the lion.
The twelve huntsmen always followed the king to the chase, and his
liking for them continually increased. Now it came to pass that once
when they were hunting, news came that the king's bride was
approaching. When the true bride heard that, it hurt her so much
that her heart was almost broken, and she fell fainting to the
ground. The king thought something had happened to his dear
huntsman, ran up to him, wanted to help him, and drew his glove off.
Then he saw the ring which he had given to his first bride, and when
he looked in her face he recognized her.
Then his heart was so touched that he kissed her, and when she opened
her eyes he said, you are mine, and I am yours, and no one in the
world can alter that. He sent a messenger to the other bride, and
entreated her to return to her own kingdom, for he had a wife
already, and someone who had found an old key did not require a new
one. Thereupon the wedding was celebrated, and the lion was again
taken into favor, because, after all, he had told the truth.