THE WISEST WOMAN COMES TO THE KING'S CASTLE
AVING the shoe was not the same as having the
shoe-wearer; they searched and searched everywhere for
the maiden with the dress of gold, with the shining
veil and the one golden shoe, but not a trace of her
could they find. The Chamberlain went to search on his
own account: into every dwelling around, hall
or cabin, he went, asking every maiden that might be
there to fit the shoe to her foot. They were all glad
to try, but on none would the golden shoe go; it was
too small for the foot of every grown maiden.
 When the Chamberlain came back to the Castle the King's
son made a declaration that he would wed only the
maiden whose foot the golden shoe fitted. Then the
maidens who were still in the castle sat ring-around on
the lawn with their little shapely feet bare. But not
to the foot of any of them could the Chamberlain fit
the shoe of the MATCHLESS MAIDEN.
Their mother had given Berry-bright and Buttercup a
salve to rub on their feet so that the shoe might be
helped to fit. Buttercup rubbed on the salve; as she
did her heel shrunk away; then with great pain and
difficulty she got the shoe to go on. She stood up to
walk to where the King's son was standing, but the pain
in her foot was so afflicting that she had to sit down
and cry to have the shoe taken off. Berry-bright
rubbed on the salve, and her great toe shrunk away.
With great pain and difficulty she put on the golden
shoe. She stood up to walk to where the King's son was
standing, but the pain in her foot was so great that
she too had to sit down and cry to have the shoe taken
off. And the end of it all was that
 Berry-bright and Buttercup had to go limping to their
What now was to be done to find the maiden whose foot
the golden shoe fitted? This one and that one advised
this and that thing. But the ancient foster-mother of
the King's son went straight to the King himself, and
this is what she said to him:
"Listen to the words of your gossip, King Daniel: only
a woman's wit can help your son to find the
MATCHLESS MAIDEN that his heart is set upon winning. My own wits
are not as sharp as they used to be or else I myself
would help him. Now my advice to you is that you make
proclamation asking to come to the Castle the woman who
is the wisest in these parts. And that you may know
she is the wisest she will have to come in this way:
not naked, yet with no clothes on; not fed, and yet not
fasting; in no one's company, yet not alone. The woman
who can come in this way will be the wisest in these
parts, and she, you may be sure, will help your son to
find the maiden whose foot the golden shoe will fit."
 The King took his gossip's advice; he made a
proclamation asking that she come to the Castle, the
woman who was the wisest in those parts. And that he
might know she was the wisest she was to come, not
naked, but with no clothes on; not fed, and yet not
fasting; in no one's company, and yet not alone.
In the Castle and all around it every one talked of the
King's proclamation. The Ratcatcher got so excited
talking to the outlandish servants about it that he let
the brown rats, the three biggest he had ever caught,
bounce out of the cage and go running over Maid-alone
who, that minute, was filling up her tub with the ashes
of the third hearth.
The next day when he was walking in his private garden
with his Councillors beside him a messenger came to the
King to say that one was coming to see him in obedience
to the proclamation he had caused to be made. The King
sent for his son and for the Chamberlain, and he told
the messenger that whoever was coming in obedience to
his proclamation should be brought into his private
 garden. His son came with the Chamberlain and with all
the bright-haired and brown-haired and dark-haired
maidens who still stayed in the King's Castle.
The maidens whispered, "How can she come so as to be
not naked, and yet with no clothes on; not fed, and yet
not fasting; not in company, and yet not alone?" And
the Councillors said to one another, "What a great age
she must be, this woman who is the wisest in these
And then she came into the Garden. Not old at all was
she, but young and slender. She was not naked, and yet
she had no clothes on; she was not fed, and yet she was
not fasting; she was in no one's company, and yet she
was not alone.
All round her body a dark and heavy fishing net was
wrapped; she had a little apple between her teeth the
juice of which broke her fast; and on her shoulders
there were two starlings that saved her from being
alone. The King looked her over and over. "Maiden,"
he said, "as
 young as you are, I find that you are the wisest woman
in these parts."
The King's son took three steps to her and stopped;
took three more steps to her and stopped. And all the
time he looked at her like a man who was falling into
or wakening out of a trance.
"Can you help us to find the maiden whose foot this
shoe will fit?" said the Chamberlain. He always
carried the shoe about with him, and now he held it in
"It may be that I can, lord," said she. She held her
own bare foot as if she wanted him to fit the shoe on
But now a whisper was going round that this was the
Cinder-wench from the underground kitchens. "To think
that she should imagine that the golden shoe that was
tried on many a Princess would go on her foot," some of
the maidens were saying. The Chamberlain did not heed.
He was now so used to fitting the golden shoe to a foot
that was held for it that he went down on his knees and
brought Maid-alone's foot to the shoe.
 Easily the foot fitted the shoe; easily the Chamberlain
buckled it on. And there stood Maid-alone with one
white bare foot and one golden-covered foot standing in
the grass of the King's garden, while the two starlings
on her shoulders sang aloud.
"By all the King's horses," said the Chamberlain, "this
is no other than the MATCHLESS MAIDEN!"
"No other than the MATCHLESS MAIDEN!" they all said.
The Kings' son took three more steps to her, and now it
looked as if he were awakening out of a trance.
"Will the King give me permission to leave, so that I
may put proper clothing on myself?" said Maid-alone.
"By all means we will give you permission if you say
you will come back to us," said the King.
"I will come back" said Maid-alone.
Then holding the golden shoe in her hand, Maid-alone
ran through the grass of the King's garden and out
through the gate. The maidens
 talked to each other, the King talked to his
Councillors and the Councillors talked to the King, and
the Chamberlain talked to everyone. But the King's son
stood silent and apart, watching the gate that
Maid-alone had gone through.
When they saw her again she had on a gleaming dress
with a glittering veil and gleaming shoes. The King
himself rose from his seat in delight at her
appearance. The King's son went to her. But all she
said to him was, "You can rede now where I have come
from: from Ditch-land which is by Old Shoe Garden."
Again she got the King's permission to leave, and again
she ran through the grass and out of the gate of the
King's garden. The all talked and talked of her,
saying that the King's son should be happy now that he
had found indeed the MATCHLESS MAIDEN. But the King's
son stood leaning against a tree, with the red of shame
coming and going in his face. He was thinking of the
maiden who gathered berries in an old shoe for him, and
how he rode his jennet against her, while her mouth
trembled and her eyes looked steadily on him.
 All watched the gate for the MATCHLESS MAIDEN'S return.
She came in a dress of silver, with a shimmering veil
and glimmering shoes. The King himself took a step
towards her, and all the Councillors began to say how
dark her hair was, and how full of light were her eyes.
The King's son went to her, but all she said to him
was, "You can rede where I have come from: from
She got permission to go from the garden once more.
She went, and all went to the gate that they might be
quick to welcome her coming back. But the King's son
stood on shamefast feet; he thought of the time when he
had let her go from the fire she had made into the
darkness of the moor.
She came again into the King's Garden. All in gold was
she now, with a shining veil, and two golden shoes on
her feet. The King himself took her hands, and the
maidens who were there praised her for the star she had
on her forehead.
But the King's son stood before her with head held
down. "You can rede now where I've
 come from," she said to him; "from where a dog's tongue
lapped water from my hands."
Again she asked permission to leave the garden. "But
she is so lovely that we want to do nothing else but
look on her,' said the King. "But, please your
Majesty," said the Chamberlain, "no one has seen the
MATCHLESS MAIDEN with her jewels on."
"No one has seen her with her jewels on," said the
The King gave her permission, and she went out of the
garden, leaving all high in impatience for her return.
The King's son stood shamefast, thinking of the time
when he rode his high-mettled horse with his
bell-mouthed hound beside him; she had come to him,
bringing water for him in her hands. And he had not
praised her hands, but had turned her away, bidding her
bring water in her hands for his hound to lap his
The watched and watched for the MATCHLESS MAIDEN'Sreturn. They would take her into the King's castle,
and give a feast for her, and bestow
 gifts on her. But though they watched long and long
she did not return. The Chamberlain went out to search
for her. He went to this place and that place, and
even down to the underground kitchens, but sign or
token of Maid-alone who had come to be called the
MATCHLESS MAIDEN he did not find.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics