The Twelve Huntsmen
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
Once upon a time there was a prince who had a fiancée whom he loved very much. Once when he was sitting beside her very happily, news came that his father was deathly ill, and wanted to see him before he died.
Then he said to his beloved, “I must now go and leave you. I give you a ring to remember me by. As soon as I am king, I will return and take you home with me.”
Then he rode away, and when he reached his father, the latter was mortally ill and near death.
The king said to him, “My dearest son, I wanted to see you one more time before my end. Promise me to marry the woman of my choice,” and he named a certain princess who was to become his wife.
The son was so grieved that without thinking he said, “Yes, dear father, your will shall be done.”
Then the king closed his eyes and died.
After the son had been proclaimed king, and the period of mourning had passed, he had to keep the promise that he had given his father. He proposed marriage to the princess, and she was promised to him.
His first fiancée heard about this, and was so saddened by his faithlessness that she nearly died.
Then her father said to her, “Dearest child, why are you so sad? You shall have whatever you want.”
She thought for a moment and then said, “Dear father, I want eleven girls exactly like myself in appearance, figure, and size.”
The father said, “If it is possible, your wish shall be fulfilled,” and he had his entire kingdom searched until eleven girls were found who were exactly like his daughter in appearance, figure, and size.
When they came to the princess, she had twelve huntsmen’s outfits made, each one like the others. The eleven girls put on the huntsmen’s outfits, and she herself put on the twelfth outfit.
After this she took leave of her father, and rode away with them. They rode to the court of her former fiancé, whom she loved so dearly. There she asked if he needed any huntsmen, and if he would take all of them into his service. The king looked at her without recognizing her. Because they were such good-looking fellows, he said, yes, that he would willingly take them, and then they were the king’s twelve huntsmen.
Now the king had a lion that was a miraculous animal, for he knew all hidden and secret things. It happened that one evening the lion said to the king, “You think that 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 is absolutely not true. How can you prove that to me?”
“Oh, just have some peas scattered in your antechamber,” answered the lion, “and then you shall soon see. Men have a firm step, and when they walk over the peas, none of them will be moved. On the other hand, girls trip and skip and shuffle their feet, rolling the peas about.”
The king liked this advise and had peas scattered on the floor.
Now one of the king’s servants liked the huntsmen, and when he heard that they were going to be put to this test, he went to them and told them everything, saying, “The lion wants to make the king believe that you are girls.”
The princess thanked him, then said to her girls, “Be strong, and step firmly on the peas.”
The next morning the king had the twelve huntsmen called before him. When they came into the antechamber where the peas were lying, they stepped so firmly on them, and had such a strong, sure walk, that not one of the peas rolled or moved.
After they had gone, the king said to the lion, “You lied to me. They walk just like men.”
The lion said, “They knew that were going to be put to a test, and acted like they were strong. Just have twelve spinning wheels brought into the antechamber. They will go up to them and admire them. No man would do that.”
The king liked this advice, and he had the spinning wheels set up in the antechamber.
But the servant who was honest with the huntsmen went to them and told them about the proposal.
So when they were alone, the princess said to her eleven girls, “Be strong and do not look around at the spinning wheels.”
The next morning when the king had his twelve huntsmen summoned, they walked through the antechamber without looking at the spinning wheels at all.
Then the king again said to the lion, “You lied to me. They are men, for they did not look at the spinning wheels.”
The lion answered, “They knew that they were going to be put to a test, and acted like they were strong.”
The king, however, refused to believe the lion anymore.
The twelve huntsmen always accompanied the king hunting, and the longer he knew them, the better he liked them. Now it happened that once when they were out hunting, news came that the king’s bride was approaching. When the true bride heard this, it hurt her so much that it almost broke her heart, and she fainted and fell to the ground.
Thinking that something had happened to his dear huntsman, the king ran up to him in order to help him. Pulling the huntsman’s glove off, he saw the ring that he had given to his first fiancée, and when he looked into 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 change that.”
He sent a messenger to the other bride, and asked her to return to her own kingdom, for, as he informed her, he already had a wife, and someone who had found an old key did not need a new one.
After this their wedding was celebrated, and the lion was accepted back into favor, because, after all, he had told the truth.
* Source: Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Die zwölf Jäger, Kinder- und Hausmärchen, final edition (1857), no. 67.
* The Grimms’ source: Jeanette Hassenpflug (1791-1860).
* Translated by D. L. Ashliman. © 2001-2002.
* This tale, with the title “Der König mit dem Löwen” (The King with the Lion), was included in the first edition (1812) of the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen. For the second edition the title was changed to “Die zwölf Jäger” (The Twelve Huntsmen), and a few stylistic alterations were incorporated.
* Aarne-Thompson type 884.
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