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by D. L. Ashliman


The Seven Iron Slippers
(A Portuguese Tale)

THERE lived once together a king and a queen, and a princess who was their daughter. The princess had worn out every evening seven pairs of slippers made of iron; and the king could not make out how that could be, though he was always trying to find out. The king at last issued a decree, that whosoever should be able to find out how the princess managed to wear out seven slippers made of iron in the short space of time between morning and evening, he would give the princess in marriage if he were a man, and if a woman he would marry her to a prince.

It happened that a soldier was walking along an open country road carrying on his back a sack of oranges, and he saw two men fighting and giving each other great blows. The soldier went up to them and asked them, "Oh, men, why are you giving each other such blows?" "Why indeed should it be!" they replied, "because our father is dead, and he has left us this cap, and we both wish to possess it." "Is it possible that for the sake of a cap you should be fighting?" inquired the soldier. The men then said, "The reason is that this cap has a charm, and if any one puts it on and says, "Cap, cover me so that no one shall see me! no one can see us." The soldier upon hearing this said to them, "I'll tell you what I can do for you; you let me remain here with the cap whilst I throw this orange to a great distance, and you run after it, and the one that shall pick it up first shall be the possessor of the cap." The men agreed to this, and the soldier threw the orange to a great distance, as far as he possibly could, whilst the men both ran to pick it up. Here the soldier without loss of' time put on the cap saying, "Cap, make me invisible." When the men returned with the orange they could see nothing and nobody. The soldier went away with the cap, and further on he met on his road two other men fighting, and he said to them, "Oh, foolish men, why do you give each other such blows?" The men replied, "Indeed, you may well ask why, if it were not that father died and left us this pair of boots, and we, each of us, wish to be the sole possessor of them." The soldier replied, "Is it possible that for the matter of a pair of boots you should be fighting thus?" And they replying said, "It is because these boots are, charmed, and when one wishes to go any distance he has only to say: 'Boots take me here or there,' wherever one should wish to go, and instantly they convey one to any place." The soldier said to them, "I will tell you what to do; I will throw an orange to a great distance, and you give me the boots to keep; you run for the orange, and the first who shall pick it up shall have the pair of boots." He threw the orange to a great distance and both men ran to catch it. Upon this the soldier said, "Cap, make me invisible, boots take me to the city!" and when the men returned they missed the boots, and the soldier, for he had gone away. He arrived at the capital and heard the decree read which the king had promulgated, and he began to consider what he had better do in this case. "With this cap, and with these boots I can surely find out what the princess does to wear out seven pairs of slippers made of iron in one night." He went and presented himself at the palace. When the king saw him he said, "Do you really know a way of finding out how the princess, my daughter, can wear out seven slippers in one night?" The soldier replied, "I only ask you to let me try ""But you must remember," said the king, "that if at the end of three days you have not found out the mystery, I shall order you to be put to death." The soldier to this replied that he was prepared to take the consequences. The king ordered him to remain in the palace. Every attention was paid to all his wants and wishes, he had his meals with the king at the same table, and slept in the princess's room. But what did the princes do? She took him a beverage to his bedside and gave it to him to drink. This beverage was a sleeping draught which she gave him to make him sleep all night. Next morning the soldier had not seen the princess do anything, for he had slept very soundly the whole night. When he appeared at breakfast the king asked him, "Well, did you see anything?" "Your majesty must know that I have seen nothing whatever." The king said, "Look well what you are at, for now there only remains two days more for you, or else you die!" The soldier replied, "I have not the least misgivings." Night came on and the princess acted as before. Next morning the king asked him again at breakfast, "Well, have you seen anything last night?" The soldier replied, "Your majesty must know that I have seen nothing whatever." "Be careful, then, what you do, only one day more and you die!" The soldier replied, "I have no misgivings." He then began to think it over. "It is very curious that I should sleep all night-it cannot be from anything else but from drinking the beverage which the princess gives me…Leave me alone, I know what I shall do; when the princess brings me the cup I shall pretend to drink, but shall throw away the beverage." The night came and the princess did not fail to bring him the beverage to drink to his bedside. The soldier made a pretence to drink it, but instead threw it away, and feigned sleep though he was awake. In the middle of the night he 'saw the princess rise up, prepare to go out, and advance towards the door to leave. What did he do then? He put on the cap, drew on the boots, and said, "Cap make me invisible, boots take me wherever the princess goes."

The princess entered a carriage, and the soldier followed her into the carriage and accompanied her. He saw the carriage stop at the seashore. The princess then embarked on board a vessel decked with flags. The soldier on seeing this said, "Cap, cover me, that I may be invisible," and embarked with the princess. She reached the land of giants, and when on passing the first sentinel, he challenged her with "Who's there?" "The Princess of Harmony," she replied. The sentinel rejoined, "Pass with your suite." The princess looked behind her, and not seeing any one following her she said to herself, "The sentinel cannot be in his sound mind; he said 'pass with your suite;' I do not see any one." She reached the second sentinel, who cried out at the top of his voice, "Who's there?" "The Princess of Harmony," replied the princess. "Pass with your suite," said the sentinel. The princess was each time more and more astonished. She came to the third sentinel, who challenged her as the others had done, "Who's there?" "The Princess of Harmony." "Pass on with your suite," rejoined the sentinel. The princess as before wondered what the man could mean. After journeying for a long time the soldier who followed her closely saw the princess arrive at a beautiful palace, enter in, and go into a hall for dancing, where he saw many giants. The princess sat upon a seat by the side of her lover who was a giant. The soldier hid himself under their seat. The band struck up, and she rose to dance with the giant, and when she finished the dance she had her iron slippers all in pieces. She took them off and pushed them under her seat. The soldier immediately took possession of them and put them inside his sack. The princess again sat down to converse with her lover. The band again struck up some dance music and the princess rose to dance When she finished this dance another of her slippers had worn out. She took them off and left them under her seat. The soldier put these also into his sack. Finally, she danced seven times, and each time she danced she tore a pair of slippers made of iron. The soldier kept them all in his sack. After the ball the princess sat down to converse with her lover; and what did the soldier do? He turned their chairs over and threw them both on the middle of the floor. They were very much surprised and they searched everywhere and through all the houses and could find no one. The giants then looked out for a book of fates they had, wherein could be seen the course of the winds and other auguries peculiar to their race. They called in a black servant to read in the book and find out what was the matter. The soldier rose up from where he was and said, "Cap, make me invisible." He then gave the negro a slap on the face, the negro fell to the ground, while he took possession of the book and kept it. The time was approaching when the princess must depart and return home, and not being able to stay longer she went away. The soldier followed her and she returned by the same way she came. She went on board and when she reached the city the carriage was already waiting for her. The soldier then said, "Boots take me to the palace," and he arrived there, took off his clothes, and went to bed. When the princess arrived she found everything in her chamber just as she left it, and even found the soldier fast asleep In the morning the king said, "Well, soldier, did you see anything remarkable last night?" "Be it known to your majesty that I saw nothing whatever last night," replied the soldier. The king then said, "According to what you say, I do not know if you are aware that you must die to-day." The soldier replied, "If it is so I must have patience, what else can I do?" When the princess heard this she rejoiced much. The king then ordered that everything for the execution should be prepared before the palace windows. When the soldier was proceeding to execution he asked the king to grant him a favour for the last time and to send for the princess so that she should be present. The king gave the desired permission, and the princess was present, when he said to her, "Is it true to say that the princess went out at midnight?" "It is not true," replied the princess. "Is it true to say," again asked the soldier, "that the princess entered a carriage, and afterwards went on board a vessel and proceeded to a ball given in the kingdom of the giants?" The princess replied, "It is not true." The soldier yet asked her another question, "Is it true that the princess tore seven pair of slippers during the seven times she danced?" and then he showed her the slippers. "There is no truth in all this," replied the princess. The soldier at last said to her, "Is it true to say that the princess at the end of the ball fell on the floor from her seat, and the giants had a book brought to them to see what bewitchery and magic pervaded and had taken possession of the house, and which book is here?" The princess now said, "It is so." The king was delighted at the discovery and happy ending of this affair, and the soldier came to live in the palace and married the princess.


Pedroso, Consiglieri. Portuguese Folk-Tales. Folk Lore Society Publications, Vol. 9. Miss Henrietta Monteiro, translator. New York: Folk Lore Society Publications, 1882.
[Reprinted: New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1969.]
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Also available in:

Heiner, Heidi Anne, editor. Twelve Dancing Princesses Tales From Around the World. Nashville: SurLaLune Press with CreateSpace, 2010.
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