One day, when she was about ten years old, she discovered in her mother’s wardrobe twelve shirts. “Mother,” she exclaimed, “whose shirts are these? They are much too small for my father.”
The queen sighed as she replied, “Dear child, these shirts belong to your twelve brothers.”
“Twelve brothers!” cried the little maiden. “Where are they? I have not even heard of them.”
“Heaven knows where they are,” was the reply; “but they are wandering about the world somewhere.” Then the queen took her little daughter to the private room in the castle, and showed her the twelve coffins which had been prepared for her brothers, and related to her, with many tears, why they had left home.
“Dear mother,” said the child, “do not weep. I will go and seek my brothers.” So she took the twelve shirts with her, and wandered away into the forest.
She walked for a whole day, and in the evening came to a cottage, stepped in, and found a young boy, who stared with astonishment at seeing a beautiful little girl dressed in rich clothing and wearing a golden star on her forehead.
At last he said, “Who are you, and what do you want?”
“I am a king’s daughter,” she said, “and I seek my twelve brothers, and I intend to search for them till I find them;” and she showed him their shirts.
Then Benjamin knew that she was his sister, and said, “I am your youngest brother, Benjamin.” Then she wept for joy. They kissed each other with deep affection, and were for a time very happy.
At last Benjamin said, “Dear sister, we have made a vow that the first young maiden we meet should die, because through a maiden we have lost our kingly rights.”
“I would willingly die,” she said, “if by so doing I could restore my brothers to their rightful possessions.”
“No, you shall not die,” he replied. “Hide yourself behind this tub until our eleven brothers come home; then I will make an agreement with them.”
At night the brothers returned from hunting, and the supper was ready. While they sat at table, one of them said, “Well, Benjamin, have you any news?”
“Perhaps I have,” he said, “although it seems strange that I, who stay at home, should know more than you, who have been out.”
“Well, tell us your news,” said one. So he said:
“I will tell you if you will make one promise.”
“Yes, yes!” they all cried. “What is it?”
“Well, then, promise me that the first maiden you meet with in the forest shall not die.”
“Yes, yes!” said they all; “she shall have mercy, but tell us.”
“Then,” said the youngest brother, “our sister is here;” and, rising, he lifted the tub, and the king’s daughter came forth in her royal robes and with a golden star on her forehead, and looking so fair and delicate and beautiful that the brothers were full of joy, and kissed and embraced her with the fondest affection.