300 THE BOYS WITH THE GOLDEN STARS
' Listen, sisters ! ' said Anna, as they passed on. ' If one of those young men should make me his wife, I would bake him a loaf of bread which should keep him young and brave for ever.'
'And if I,' said Stana, 'should be the one chosen, I would weave my husband a shirt which will keep him unscathed when he fights with dragons; when he goes through water he will never even be wet; or if through fire, it will not scorch him.'
'And I,' said Laptitza, 'will give the man who chooses me two boys, twins, each with a golden star on his forehead, as bright as those in the sky.'
And though they spoke low the young men heard, and turned their horses' heads.
' I take you at your word, and mine shall you be, most lovely of empresses! ' cried the emperor, and swung Laptitza and her strawberries on the horse before him.
'And I will have you,' 'And I you,' exclaimed two of his friends, and they all rode back to the palace together.
The following morning the marriage ceremony took place, and for three days and three nights there was nothing but feasting over the whole kingdom. And when the rejoicings were over the news was in everybody's mouth that Anna had sent for corn, and had made the loaf of which she had spoken at the strawberry beds. And then more days and nights passed, and this rumour was succeeded by another one — that Stana had procured some flax, and had dried it, and combed it, and spun it into linen, and sewed it herself into the shirt of which she had spoken over the strawberry beds.
Now the emperor had a stepmother, and she had a daughter by her first husband, who lived with her in the palace. The girl's mother had always believed that her daughter would be empress, and not the ' Milkwhite Maiden,' the child of a mere shepherd. So she hated the