有个国王，他有十二个女儿，个个长得如花似玉。 她们都在同一个房间睡觉，十二张床并排放着，晚上上床睡觉后，房门就被关起来锁上了。 有一个时期，每天早上起来后，国王发现她们的鞋子都磨破了，就像她们跳了一整夜舞似的。 到底发生了什么事，她们到哪儿去过了，没有人知道。
不久从邻国来了一位王子，受到了热情的接待。 晚上他被带到了一个房间里，这房间正在公主们卧室的隔壁。 为了能听到看到可能发生的一切，他坐下后将房门敞开，一刻也不停地注视着。 可不久这位王子就睡着了，第二天早上醒来后，可以看出，公主们还是跳了一整夜的舞，因为她们的鞋底上都有磨破的洞眼。 接着两个晚上都发生了相同的情况，王子没能解开这个谜。 国王下令将他的头砍了下来。 继他之后，又有几个人来试过，但他们的命运和这位王子一样，都没有找出结果而丢了性命。
恰好有一个老兵经过这个国王的领地，他在作战中受了伤，不能再参加战斗了。 一天，他在穿越树林时，遇到了一个老婆婆 ，老婆婆问他要到哪里去，这位老兵回答说："我也不知道我去哪儿，该干什么去。"接着又自我嘲弄地说："也许我该去探听那些公主是在哪儿跳舞才对，这样的话，将来还可以当国王呢。"老太婆一听，说道："对，对！这不是什么难事，只要留心不喝公主给你的酒之类的东西，并且在她们要离去时，你假装睡熟了就成。"
他来到国王面前，说他愿意接受这项冒险的任务。 和其他应试的人一样，他也受到了热情的款待，国王还下令把漂亮的王室礼服给他穿上。 到了晚上，他被带到了外室。 进房后，他刚准备躺下，国王的大公主就给他端来了一杯葡萄酒，但这位士兵悄悄地把酒全倒掉了，一滴也没有喝下。 然后躺在床上，不久就大声地打起鼾来，好像睡得很沉似的。 十二个公主听到他的鼾声，都开心地大笑起来，大公主说："这家伙本来还可以干一些更聪明一点的事，不必到这儿来送死的。"说完，她们都起床打开各自的抽屉和箱子，拿出了漂亮的衣服，对着镜子打扮起来。 这时，最小的公主说道："我感到有些不对劲，你们这么兴奋，可我觉得非常不安，我想一定有不幸的事情将降临到我们头上。""你犯什么傻呀！"大公主说，"你老是担心这，担心那，难道你忘了那么多王子想窥探我们，结果都徒劳送命了吗？瞧这老兵，即使我不给他安眠药吃，他也会呼呼大睡的。"
公主们打扮完毕后，再去看了看士兵，只见他鼾声依旧，睡在床上一动也不动。 这一来，她们便自以为无人知晓 ，相当安全了。 大公主走到自己的床前拍了拍手，床马上沉到地板里面，一扇地板门突然打开了。 士兵看见大公主领头，她们一个接一个地钻进了地板门。 他想到再不能耽误时间了，马上跳起来，披上老太婆送给他的那件披风，紧随她们而去。 在下楼梯时，一不小心，他踩到了小公主的礼服。 她对她的姐妹们大声说道："怎么搞的，谁抓住了我的礼服了？"大公主说道："你别疑神疑鬼了，肯定是被墙上的钉子挂着了。"她们下去后，走进了一片令人赏心悦目的小树林，树叶全是银子做的，闪烁着美丽的光芒。 士兵想找一个来过这地方的证物，所以他折了一段树枝，树枝"咔嚓！""哗啦！"地发出了声响，小公主又说道："我觉得有些反常，你们听到这声音了吗？这声音以前可没有听到过。"大公主说："这声音一定是我们的王子发出的，只有他们才会对我们的到来欢呼雀跃。"
说着，她们又走进了另一片小树林，这片树林的叶子都是金子做的。 再往前，到了第三片小树林，所有的叶子都是用光采夺目的钻石做的。 士兵每到一片树林，都要折下一根树枝留作证物，每次也都发出了"咔嚓！""哗啦！"的声响，这响动总是使小公主担惊受怕，而大公主又总是说这是王子们在欢呼。
当他们在湖上划动小船时，与小公主和士兵在一条船上的那个王子说："怎么会是这样啊！好像这船今天特别重似的，我尽力划动，船却没有平时前进那么快，我都累坏了。"小公主说："这只是天气有点暖和 ，我也觉得非常热。 "
湖泊的对岸，矗立着一座美丽的宫殿，宫殿里灯火辉煌，从里面还传来了愉快的音乐，有管声和号声，还有喇叭声。 他们上岸后，一起走进宫殿，十二个王子都开始与公主们跳起舞来。 他们一直看不见那位士兵，士兵跟着他们一起跳舞，他们也不知道。 每当有公主端起葡萄酒时，士兵总是暗暗上前将酒喝完。 待公主把酒杯端到嘴边时，杯子已空了。 见到这样情况，那小公主更感到害怕了，大公主却老是要她不要做声。
舞一直跳到了凌晨三点钟，所有的鞋子都已磨穿了，到这时，她们才念念不舍地离开。 王子们又用船把她们送过湖来，这次，士兵上的是大公主的那条船。 到了湖岸，公主和王子互相道别，她们答应第二天晚上再来。
当她们回到楼梯口时，士兵立即跑到她们的前面，自己先到床上去躺下了。 当这十二姊妹拖着疲惫不堪的身子慢慢上来后，立即就听到了睡在床上的士兵所发出的鼾声。 她们说道："现在可以安心了。"说完，各自宽衣解带 ，脱掉鞋子，扔在床下，都躺下睡觉了。
早晨起来，士兵对晚上的所见所闻只字不提，他还想多看几次这样的奇遇，所以接连第二个夜晚和第三个夜晚他又去了。 每次所发生的一切都和前一次一样，公主们每次跳舞都要跳到她们的鞋子穿眼才回到卧室。 不过，在第三个晚上，士兵又拿走了一只金杯作为他到过那里的证物。
第四天，他解开这秘密的期限到了，他带着那三根树枝和那只金杯，来到国王面前。 此时，十二个公主都站在门后张着耳朵，想听听他究竟说些什么。 国王问道："我的十二个女儿晚上是在哪儿跳舞？"士兵回答道："她们是在地下的一座宫殿里与十二个王子跳舞。"接着，他告诉了国王自己所看见和发生的一切，拿出了他带来的三根树枝和金杯给国王看。 国王把公主都叫来，问她们士兵说的这些是不是都是真的。 她们见一切都已经被发现，再否认所发生的事也没有用了，只好全部承认了。
There was once upon a time a King who had twelve daughters, each one more beautiful than the other. They all slept together in one chamber, in which their beds stood side by side, and every night when they were in them the King locked the door, and bolted it. But in the morning when he unlocked the door, he saw that their shoes were worn out with dancing, and no one could find out how that had come to pass. Then the King caused it to be proclaimed that whosoever could discover where they danced at night, should choose one of them for his wife and be King after his death, but that whosoever came forward and had not discovered it within three days and nights, should have forfeited his life. It was not long before a King's son presented himself, and offered to undertake the enterprise. He was well received, and in the evening was led into a room adjoining the princesses' sleeping-chamber. His bed was placed there, and he was to observe where they went and danced, and in order that they might do nothing secretly or go away to some other place, the door of their room was left open.
But the eyelids of the prince grew heavy as lead, and he fell asleep, and when he awoke in the morning, all twelve had been to the dance, for their shoes were standing there with holes in the soles. On the second and third nights it fell out just the same, and then his head was struck off without mercy. Many others came after this and undertook the enterprise, but all forfeited their lives. Now it came to pass that a poor soldier, who had a wound, and could serve no longer, found himself on the road to the town where the King lived. There he met an old woman, who asked him where he was going. "I hardly know myself," answered he, and added in jest, "I had half a mind to discover where the princesses danced their shoes into holes, and thus become King." - "That is not so difficult," said the old woman, "you must not drink the wine which will be brought to you at night, and must pretend to be sound asleep." With that she gave him a little cloak, and said, "If you put on that, you will be invisible, and then you can steal after the twelve." When the soldier had received this good advice, he went into the thing in earnest, took heart, went to the King, and announced himself as a suitor. He was as well received as the others, and royal garments were put upon him. He was conducted that evening at bed-time into the ante-chamber, and as he was about to go to bed, the eldest came and brought him a cup of wine, but he had tied a sponge under his chin, and let the wine run down into it, without drinking a drop. Then he lay down and when he had lain a while, he began to snore, as if in the deepest sleep. The twelve princesses heard that, and laughed, and the eldest said, "He, too, might as well have saved his life." With that they got up, opened wardrobes, presses, cupboards, and brought out pretty dresses; dressed themselves before the mirrors, sprang about, and rejoiced at the prospect of the dance. Only the youngest said, "I know not how it is; you are very happy, but I feel very strange; some misfortune is certainly about to befall us." - "Thou art a goose, who art always frightened," said the eldest. "Hast thou forgotten how many Kings' sons have already come here in vain? I had hardly any need to give the soldier a sleeping-draught, in any case the clown would not have awakened." When they were all ready they looked carefully at the soldier, but he had closed his eyes and did not move or stir, so they felt themselves quite secure. The eldest then went to her bed and tapped it; it immediately sank into the earth, and one after the other they descended through the opening, the eldest going first. The soldier, who had watched everything, tarried no longer, put on his little cloak, and went down last with the youngest. Half-way down the steps, he just trod a little on her dress; she was terrified at that, and cried out, "What is that? who is pulling my dress?" - "Don't be so silly!" said the eldest, "you have caught it on a nail." Then they went all the way down, and when they were at the bottom, they were standing in a wonderfully pretty avenue of trees, all the leaves of which were of silver, and shone and glistened. The soldier thought, "I must carry a token away with me," and broke off a twig from one of them, on which the tree cracked with a loud report. The youngest cried out again. "Something is wrong, did you hear the crack?" But the eldest said, "It is a gun fired for joy, because we have got rid of our prince so quickly." After that they came into an avenue where all the leaves were of gold, and lastly into a third where they were of bright diamonds; he broke off a twig from each, which made such a crack each time that the youngest started back in terror, but the eldest still maintained that they were salutes. They went on and came to a great lake whereon stood twelve little boats, and in every boat sat a handsome prince, all of whom were waiting for the twelve, and each took one of them with him, but the soldier seated himself by the youngest. Then her prince said, "I can't tell why the boat is so much heavier to-day; I shall have to row with all my strength, if I am to get it across." - "What should cause that," said the youngest, "but the warm weather? I feel very warm too." On the opposite side of the lake stood a splendid, brightly-lit castle, from whence resounded the joyous music of trumpets and kettle-drums. They rowed over there, entered, and each prince danced with the girl he loved, but the soldier danced with them unseen, and when one of them had a cup of wine in her hand he drank it up, so that the cup was empty when she carried it to her mouth; the youngest was alarmed at this, but the eldest always made her be silent. They danced there till three o'clock in the morning when all the shoes were danced into holes, and they were forced to leave off; the princes rowed them back again over the lake, and this time the soldier seated himself by the eldest. On the shore they took leave of their princes, and promised to return the following night. When they reached the stairs the soldier ran on in front and lay down in his bed, and when the twelve had come up slowly and wearily, he was already snoring so loudly that they could all hear him, and they said, "So far as he is concerned, we are safe." They took off their beautiful dresses, laid them away, put the worn-out shoes under the bed, and lay down. Next morning the soldier was resolved not to speak, but to watch the wonderful goings on, and again went with them. Then everything was done just as it had been done the first time, and each time they danced until their shoes were worn to pieces. But the third time he took a cup away with him as a token. When the hour had arrived for him to give his answer, he took the three twigs and the cup, and went to the King, but the twelve stood behind the door, and listened for what he was going to say. When the King put the question, "Where have my twelve daughters danced their shoes to pieces in the night?" he answered, "In an underground castle with twelve princes," and related how it had come to pass, and brought out the tokens. The King then summoned his daughters, and asked them if the soldier had told the truth, and when they saw that they were betrayed, and that falsehood would be of no avail, they were obliged to confess all. Thereupon the King asked which of them he would have to wife? He answered, "I am no longer young, so give me the eldest." Then the wedding was celebrated on the self-same day, and the kingdom was promised him after the King's death. But the princes were bewitched for as many days as they had danced nights with the twelve.