THERE was once a King who had one only son, and him he loved better than anything in the whole world—better even than his own life. The King’s greatest desire was to see his son married, but though the Prince had travelled in many lands, and had seen many noble and beautiful ladies, there was not one among them all whom he wished to have for a wife.
One day the King called his son to him and said, “My son, for a long time now I have hoped to see you choose a bride, but you have desired no one. Take now this silver key. Go to the top of the castle, and there you will see a steel door. This key will unlock it. Open the door and enter. Look carefully at everything in the room, and then return and tell me what you have seen. But, whatever you do, do not touch nor draw aside the curtain that hangs at the right of the door. If you should disobey me and do this thing, you will suffer the greatest dangers, and may even pay for it with your life.”
The Prince wondered greatly at his father’s words, but he took the key and went to the top of the castle, and there he found the steel door his father had described. He unlocked it with the silver key, stepped inside, and looked about him. When he had done so, he was filled with amazement at what he saw. The room had twelve sides, and on eleven of these sides were pictures of eleven princesses more beautiful than any the Prince had ever seen in all his life before. Moreover, these pictures were as though they were alive. When the Prince looked at them, they moved and smiled and blushed and beckoned to him. He went from one to the other, and they were so beautiful that each one he looked upon seemed lovelier than the last. But lovely though they were, there was not one of them whom the Prince wished to have for a wife.