Once upon a time, there was a princess who lived in a castle turret with twelve windows that looked out in all directions. From her windows, she could inspect the entire kingdom.
With her twelve windows and her extremely keen eyesight, she was able to see absolutely every person and thing in the land. Nothing at all could be kept secret from her.
She tended to be a bit difficult, so she proclaimed that she would only marry a man who was able to conceal himself from her. Many men had tried, but she had spotted them all. Once she spotted one of these potential suitors, he was hauled off to the dungeon. So far, ninety-seven men had been locked up in this dank place below the castle.
The princess really didn't want to marry, so she was pleased at the failure of these men. Since no one had tried to conceal himself for some time, she thought happily that she would never have to marry and settle down.
Then three brothers appeared before her and announced that they would like to try their luck. The eldest believed he would be quite safe if he crept into a deep quarry. But the princess saw him from the first window, made him come out, and had him hauled to the dungeon. The second crept into a distant corner of the palace, but she quickly spotted him and his fate was also sealed. Then the youngest came to her. He begged the princess to give him a day for consideration and also to be so kind as to overlook it if she should happen to discover him twice. But if he failed a third time, he would take his place in the dungeon.
He was so handsome, and begged so earnestly, the princess agreed.
The next day, he thought for a long time about how he should hide himself, but he couldn't come up with any good ideas. So he seized his gun and went out hunting. He saw a raven, took good aim at him, and was just going to shoot, when the bird cried, “Don't shoot! I will reward you.”
He put his gun down, went on, and came to a lake where he surprised a large fish that had come up to the surface of the water. When he aimed at it, the fish cried, “Don't shoot, and I will reward you.”
He allowed it to dive down again, went on, and met a fox that was lame. He fired and missed, and the fox cried, “You had much better come here and draw the thorn out of my foot for me.”
He did this, but when he wanted to kill the fox, the animal said, “Stop, and I will reward you.”
The youth let him go and then returned home. Next day he was to hide himself, but no matter how he puzzled over it, he did not know where to go. He went into the forest to the raven and said, “I let you live on, so now tell me where I am to hide myself so that the king's daughter will not see me.”
The raven hung his head and thought it over for a long time. At length he croaked, “I have it!” He fetched an egg out of his nest, cut it into two parts, and shut the youth inside. Then the raven made the egg whole again and sat on it. When the king's daughter went to the first window, she could not discover him, nor could she see him from the other windows. She began to feel uneasy, but from the eleventh she finally saw him. She ordered the egg be brought to her and broken, and the youth was forced to come out.
She said, “For once you are excused, but if you don't do better than this, you are lost.”
The next day he went to the lake, called the fish, and said, “I let you live, now tell me where to hide myself so that the king's daughter won't see me.”
The fish thought for a while, and at last cried, “I have it! I will shut you up in my stomach.”
It swallowed him and went down to the bottom of the lake. The king's daughter looked through her windows, and even from the eleventh did not see him. She was alarmed, but at length from the twelfth window, she saw him. She ordered the fish to be caught and killed, and then the youth appeared. It is easy to imagine the state of mind he was in.
She said, “Twice you are forgiven, but you have only one more chance!”
On the last day, he went with a heavy heart into the country, and met the fox. “You know how to find all kinds of hiding places,” he said. “I let you live, now advise me where I can hide myself so that the king's daughter won't discover me.”
“That's a hard task,” answered the fox, looking very thoughtful. At length, though, he cried, “I have it,” and took him to a spring. This was a magic spring and when the fox dipped himself in it, he came out as a merchant and dealer in animals. The youth had to dip himself into the water too and was changed into a small sea-hare.
The merchant went into the town and showed the pretty little animal. Many people gathered to see it. At length the king's daughter came and since she liked it very much, she bought it for a lot of money.
Before he gave it over to her, the merchant said to it, “When the king's daughter goes to the window, creep quickly under the braids of her hair.” When the time arrived to search for the youth, the princess went to one window after another in turn, from the first to the eleventh, and did not see him. When she did not see him from the twelfth either, she was full of anxiety and anger. She shut the window with such violence that the glass in every window slivered into a thousand pieces, and the whole castle shook. She went back and felt the sea-hare beneath the braids of her hair. Then she seized it and threw it on the ground, exclaiming, “Away with you, get out of my sight!”
It ran to the merchant, and both of them hurried to the spring. In they plunged and were transformed back into their true forms. The youth thanked the fox and went straight to the palace.
The princess was expecting him and they were soon married. He never told her where he had concealed himself for the third time, and who had helped him. She believed that he had done everything on his own and so she had great respect for him.