The Twelve Dancing Princesses

The Twelve Dancing Princesses is a classic fairy tale, but one that is not so well known. The version on this node is my own interpretation, partially from memory, partially from 'A Treasury of Fairy Tales' by Michael Foss. This is a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm.
There's nothing quite like the sharing of a story between generations, and I belive that stories and the time spent telling them are incredibly important, hence:

There once was a King who had twelve beautiful daughters. The princesses slept in the same bedroom, and each night, after they went to bed, the door was locked. Now, even though this door was locked, and there was no way that the princesses could leave the room, every morning their shoes were paper thin, as if they had spent the whole night dancing... yet nobody knew how this happened.

Needless to say, the King was worried about his daughters, so he sent messengers throughout the kingdom to offer a reward to anyone who could find out the secret. The person who found out the secret could marry the princess he liked best, and be the next king. However, there were strict conditions - each person had three nights to discover the secret, and should they fail to do so, on the morning of the fourth day, they would be put to death.

The King's son was the first man to try, and he decided to watch the princesses all night. However, he had a glass of wine, and fell asleep on every night, waking up to find the Princesses with paper-thin shoes asleep in their beds. On the morning of the fourth day, the King's son failed to explain how this happened, so his head was cut off.

Many other great gentlemen of the realm tried and failed, and it seemed that the mystery would never be solved.

One day, an old soldier, who was wounded and returning from the wars was passing through the realm, and he chanced upon an old woman in the woods. Being the friendly type, he stopped for a chat, and she asked him what he was doing.
"I haven't had much luck lately," the soldier replied, "But I'd love to discover the mystery of the princesses so I can marry one and rule the kingdom."
"Well," the old woman replied, "You've been friendly to me, so I'll help you out. Take this magic cloak, and remember not to drink the wine that the princesses give you at night. Pretend to be asleep, but when the Princesses get up, slip on the cloak which will make you invisible. Then you can follow them."

Figuring it was worth a try, the old soldier walked to the palace, where he was joyfully received and entertained by the King and court. Night fell, and the soldier settled down on a couch in the hall outside the Princesses' door. One of the Princesses brought him a glass of red wine, but the clever soldier had attatched a sponge under the collar of his coat, so that while he seemed to drink the wine, in reality, he was pouring the wine into the sponge. Having 'finished' the wine, he lay down on the couch and began to snore loudly.

"Another fool, soon to lose his head!" said the eldest Princess to her sisters, laughing at the snoring soldier. The Princesses all ran into their room, and changed into their finest dresses. Eleven of the Princesses danced excitedly around the room, but the youngest Princess was uneasy...
"I don't know why," she said, "But I get the feeling that something's about to go wrong."
The other Princesses laughted at the youngest, and the eldest replied that a simple soldier could not possibly succeed where Princes had failed, and anyway, he was already snoring from his glass of drugged wine. Clapping her hands, the trapdoor beneath the eldest Princess' bed flew open, and one by one, the Princesses stepped down a flight of stairs in the trapdoor. But the soldier, who had been listening intently, quickly roused himself, and flicked the invisibility cloak over his body. Following the youngest Princess (the Princesses went into the trapdoor in age order), he accidently got too close, and trod on the back of her long dress.

Unnerved, the youngest Princess cried out.
"Someone is holding my gown!" she said quakingly, but once more the eldest Princess told her that she was being silly.
"Hush, silly. It's just caught on a nail in the wall!"
Still unsettled, the youngest Princess followed her sisters, and they entered a gorgeous underground grove, full of strange and delicate trees. Leaves of silver glittered like summer rain, and they tree's branches sighed in a magical wind. Wanting proof of his visit to this strange land, he soldier snapped a silver twig off a tree, causing a loud crack. The youngest Princess jumped, and whirled around.
"What was that noise?" she asked of her sisters, "I'm sure that something's not right!"
But once again, her impatient oldest sister placated her, saying it was merely the sound of their Princes, calling for them to come.

The group walked next through a grove of golden leaves, then through one of diamonds. In each grove, the soldier broke of a small branch, and the loud snapping of the trees made the youngest Princess more and more afraid. But the eldest sister cajoled her onwards, with a mixture of reassurance and bullying... and finally, the group arrived at the shore of a great lake, and waiting... waiting were twelve handsome Princes in twelve small row boats.

Each Princess paired up with their Prince, but the soldier joined the youngest Princess as she stepped into the waiting boat. Rowing across the calm lake, the youngest Prince was perplexed by how difficult it was to row that night.
"Is it the weather?" he asked of the Princess.
"I do feel rather warm," she replied, with a slight sinking feeling.
On the other shore of the lake was a beautiful palace, with enchanting music and lighting. The couples filed into the palace, and into the waiting ballroom, where they commenced dancing. The soldier, who had a fun-loving personality, danced too, even though he was invisible. The dancing made him thirsty, so he snagged a glass of wine that had been set down upon a table, and drained it. The youngest Princess saw the wine disappearing, and was frightened again, but once more, her fears were ridiculed by the eldest Princess.

At three o'clock in the morning, the Princesses' shoes got holes in them, so sadly the couples departed the castle, and the sisters were rowed across the lake. The old soldier, who had remembered the path, ran ahead of the sisters, pulled off his cloak and began snoring on the couch again. One by one, the sisters wearily got into bed, satisfied with their evening, and with a pair of spoiled shoes at the foot of their beds.

Although he had enough evidence to show the King, the soldier said nothing of the Princesses' mid-night excursions, instead joining the sisters for another two nights worth of partying. On the third and final night, he took a goblet of gold from the beautiful palace as further evidence to present to the King in the morning.

After sunrise on the fourth day, the soldier was conducted into the presence of the King.
"Do you know," said the King, "Where my daughters dance every night? Think carefully, or else you will die."
The old veteran took a deep breath, and began.
"My Lord, each night your daughters travel to a beautiful underground palace, and are met by twelve Princes. They dance all night with these men, then return early in the morning, going back to bed. To prove my story, I have brought these three branches and this goblet from the underground realm."

Presented with the evidence, the King called for his twelve daughters, who saw immediately that there was no point in denying their actions. Sorrowfully, they told their father the whole story.

The old soldier married the eldest Princess (as he was not a young man), who suited him well. As for the other Princesses and their Princes, that's another story... but no doubt they lived happily ever after.

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