© 2004 Connard Wellingham
There was once a king who wished for a son to inherit his kingdom. It was his greatest sadness that he seemed destined only to have daughters. When their number reached twelve, and he had worn out three wives in the process, he finally accepted that it was his fate never to have a son to whom he could teach the manly arts of swordsmanship and jousting nor introduce to the pleasures of hunting. So he resigned himself to dying without an heir. Despite this, he was very fond of his daughters. In fact he positively doted on them. They were all very beautiful and could twist him round their collective little fingers.
So the oldest girls grew into adolescence then womanhood and the youngest from babies to little girls to adolescence. Yet, strangely, they never married despite the string of suitors eager to acquire the hand of the beautiful princess in marriage. The possibility of inheriting a kingdom was, of course, an added attraction.
Now, although the king adored his daughters, he was aware that something was not quite right. At first it was the younger girls' nursemaids complaining about the older sisters. Being a doting father, of course, he did nothing. As time went on, the complaints got louder. The nannies joined in, then the girls' maids.
"Every night your daughters disappear and do not return till morning," they said, wringing their hands. "We do not know where they go or what they get up to."
The king spoke to his daughters who, with wide-eyed innocence, declared that they didn't know what all the fuss was about and, anyway, how could they just disappear during the night? They were so persuasive that the king dismissed the complaints as the grumbling and whingeing of old women, which was grossly unfair as there were many young and comely girls employed in the palace.
Now it so happened that all the girls slept in the same room. Once upon a time it had been quite a small room, when the king had only a few daughters, but, as the numbers increased, so walls were knocked down and the room enlarged. Every time another daughter was added to the collection, their father would implore them to move to separate chambers. And every time he would meet with the same response. They loved their room. They didn't want to move. They liked being together. Please, Daddy, please don't make us move. For the sake of peace he would let the matter drop and do the only thing a good father could; knock down yet another wall to make the room larger.
The complaints continued. Indeed they became louder and more frequent. Finally, the queen herself joined in. As she was the mother of the most recent batch of daughters, the king was forced to listen.
"All right," he said at last. "If they disappear at night, we shall lock the door."
And so, from that day on, after the princesses had washed their faces and brushed their teeth and put on their nightdresses and gone to bed, the king would shut and lock the door tightly and take the key with him, placing it under his pillow while he slept. The princesses sulked and pouted most prettily but the king would not be moved.
"Until we have got to the bottom of this mystery," he said, sternly. "Your door shall be locked."
Locking the door, however, made no difference. Every morning the girls would awaken slowly and reluctantly, groaning and complaining how stiff they were. Their hair would be dishevelled, their nightdresses crumpled and torn, their bodies stained with sweat and other fluids. The king begged, the king pleaded, the king threatened but, try as he might, the princesses would not tell what happened to them in the night.
As he was unable to discover the truth directly, the king tried subterfuge. He posted guards outside the princesses' door. In the morning they sheepishly reported that they had heard and seen nothing. Privately the king suspected that they had fallen asleep but he kept his counsel. As the guards had failed, he made the servants stand vigil outside the princesses' door. They, too, reported only failure. Finally, since there seemed no other alternative, the king, himself, mounted guard and, though he was certain he had not slept a wink, in the morning his daughters were the same as always and he had neither heard a sound nor seen a flicker.
In despair he made it known throughout the land that, whoever could solve the mystery of the princesses nocturnal adventures, would receive the hand of his choice in marriage and be pronounced heir to the throne. However, if after three nights, the vigilant was unable to discover the secret, his life would be forfeit. Naturally, despite the dire warning, this announcement brought a queue of hopeful suitors, all of them eager to inherit a throne and all of them certain that the king was in his dotage. After all, the princesses were locked in their room all night and the room was at the top of the palace. How hard could it be to discover where they went?
The king selected the son of a king of a neighbouring realm to be the first. The young man was not exactly the kind of person the king would have chosen for a son-in-law being both arrogant and conceited. However the king and queen treated him courteously and entertained him well. At the appointed hour he was led to a small chamber adjoining the princesses' room. There he was told to make himself comfortable in preparation for his vigil. To assist, the door to the princesses room was to be left unlocked.
The prince settled himself on the bed. This would be easy, he thought to himself, all he had to do was wait and watch and the mystery would be resolved. He whiled the time away by considering which of the twelve beautiful princesses would be his bride.
The palace settled down for the night. The princesses prepared for bed. The prince was dozing lightly, for he had wined and dined well, when his door opened and the eldest princess entered. She was clad in a diaphanous nightgown that swirled about her as she moved. Beneath the semi-translucent material, her full breasts swayed seductively.
She smiled invitingly. "Forgive me for intruding," she murmured. "But I just wanted to make sure you were quite comfortable. Oh, and I have brought you a glass of wine and some sweetmeats."
The prince was overwhelmed by both her beauty and her generosity. In fact her was almost hypnotised by her swaying breasts.
"Why... thank you. Most kind," he spluttered.
He took the glass and drained it in one gulp. The princess smiled enigmatically.
"I will bid you goodnight, then," she said as she glided out of the door, her hips rolling enticingly.
The prince watched her leave with lust in his eyes.
The next thing he was aware of was the sound of the princesses' maids rousing them from their slumbers. The prince was in a panic. Somehow he had slept the whole night through. What was he to do? By the time he was summoned to breakfast, he had his story down pat.
The king had mixed feelings about the prince's lack of success. On the one hand he was disappointed that the mystery still remained unsolved while on the other he was beginning to dislike this self-important young man intensely. His tale of the night's vigil, told in a manner that made the prince out to be a hero of epic proportions, was so patently untrue that he felt almost sick. The prince was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed that it was clear he had enjoyed a night of solid an undisturbed slumber. The king sighed, though quietly and to himself. He had given his word and the prince would have his three nights.
The second night proceeded much as the first though, this time, the prince was visited by the second oldest princess. She was dressed in a robe even more filmy than her sister and was, if anything, even more beautiful. She flirted so outrageously as she handed him the glass of wine and the sweetmeats that the prince downed the wine without tasting it.
In the morning he was even more contrite and even more worried. He had again slept throughout. Not even the scratchings of a mouse had disturbed his peaceful slumber. As a consequence his tale to the king was even more outrageous and the king had great difficulty in restraining himself from strangling the pompous oaf on the spot.
On the morning after the third night, the king summoned the executioner before breakfast.
The fate of the prince dampened the enthusiasm of many of the potential suitors. A good number of them slipped away, deciding that a life in the clergy or as a merchant was, perhaps, not as bad as they had previously believed. Still, some remained, either confident that they could solve the mystery or believing the chance of inheriting a kingdom and marrying one of the king's exquisitely beautiful daughters was worth the risk.
None succeeded. Be he son of lord or knight, merchant or scrivener, each and every one of them failed to penetrate the mystery of the princesses' nightly outings. As each failed contender was led out to the execution block on the third morning, the queue of applicants became shorter and shorter until, one afternoon, the king looked up and there were none left.
.... There is more of this story ...