Twelve Dancing Princesses | The Three Girls (A Gypsy Tale)

The following is an annotated version of the fairy tale. I recommend reading the entire story before exploring the annotations, especially if you have not read the tale recently.

SOMEWHERE there was a king who had three daughters, princesses. Those three sisters used to go to meet the devils, and the father knew not where they went to. But there was one called Jankos; Halenka [a fairy] aided him.

The king asks Jankos, "Don't you know where my daughters go? Not one single night are they at home, and they are always wearing out new shoes."

Then Jankos lay down in front of the door, and kept watch to see where they went to. But Halenka told him everything; she aided him. "They will, when they come, fling fire on you, and prick you with needles." Halenka told him he must not stir, but be like a corpse.

They came, those devils, for the girls, and straightway the girls set out with them to hell. On, on, they walked, but he stuck close to them. As the girls went to hell he followed close behind, but so that they knew it not. He went through the diamond forest; when he came there he cut himself a diamond twig from the forest. He follows; straightway they, those girls, cried, "Jankos is coming behind us." For when he broke it, he made a great noise. The girls heard it. "Jankos is coming behind us."

But the devils said, "What does it matter if he is?"

Next they went through the forest of glass, and once more he cut off a twig; now he had two tokens. Then they went through the golden forest, and once more he cut off a twig; so now he had three.

Then Halenka tells him, "I shall change you into a fly, and when you come into hell, creep under the bed, hide yourself there, and see what will happen."

Then the devils danced with the girls, who tore their shoes all to pieces, for they danced upon blades of knives, and so they must tear them. Then they flung the shoes under the bed, where Jankos took them, so that he might show them at home. When the devils had danced with the girls, each of them threw his girl upon the bed and lay with her; thus did they with two of them, but the third would not yield herself.

Then Jankos, having got all he wanted, returned home and lay down again in front of the door, "that the girls may know I am lying here."

The girls returned after midnight, and went to bed in their room as if nothing had happened. But Jankos knew well what had happened, and straightway he went to their father, the king, and showed him the tokens. "I know where your daughters go: to hell. The three girls must own they were there, in the fire. Isn't it true? weren't you there? And if you believe me not, I will show you the tokens. See, here is one token from the diamond forest; then here is one from the forest of glass; a third from the golden forest; and the fourth is the shoes which you tore dancing with the devils. And two of you lay with the devils, but that third one not, she would not yield herself."

Straightway the king seized his rifle, and straightway he shot them dead. Then he seized a knife, and slit up their bellies, and straightway the devils were scattered out from their bellies. Then he buried them in the church, and laid each coffin in front of the altar, and every night a soldier stood guard over them. But every night those two used to rend the soldier in pieces; more than a hundred were rent thus. At last it fell to a new soldier, a recruit, to stand guard; when he went upon guard he was weeping.

But a little old man came to him -- it was my God; and Jankos was there with the soldier. And the old man tells him, "When the twelfth hour strikes and they come out of their coffins, straightway jump in and lie down in the coffin, and don't leave the coffin, for if you do they will rend you. So don't you go out, even if they beg you and fling fire on you, for they will beg you hard to come out."

Thus then till morning he lay in the coffin. In the morning those two were alive again, and both kneeling in front of the altar. They were lovelier than ever. Then the soldier took one to wife, and Jankos took the other. Then when they came home with them their father was very glad. Then Jankos and the soldier got married, and if they are not dead they are still alive.


Groome, Francis Hindes. Gypsy Folk-Tales. London: Hurst and Blackett, 1899.

Also available in:

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






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