GIRL WHO PRETENDED TO BE A BOY 321
displeasure? To smooth away your wrinkles, we would gladly shed our blood, for our lives are bound up in yours; and this you know.'
' My daughter,' answered the emperor, ' what you say is true. Never have you given me one moment's pain. Yet now you cannot help me. Ah! why is not one of you a boy!'
' I don't understand,' she answered in surprise. 'Tell us what is wrong: and though we are not boys, we are not quite useless !'
' But what can you do, my dear children? Spin, sew, and weave — that is all your learning. Only a warrior can deliver me now, a young giant who is strong to wield the battle-axe : whose sword deals deadly blows.'
'But why do you need a son so much at present? Tell us all about it! It will not make matters worse if we know!'
' Listen then, my daughters, and learn the reason of my sorrow. You have heard that as long as I was young no man ever brought an army against me without it costing him dear. But the years have chilled my blood and drunk my strength. And now the deer can roam the forest, my arrows will never pierce his heart; strange soldiers will set fire to my houses and water their horses at my wells, and my arm cannot hinder them. No, my day is past, and the time has come when I too must bow my head under the yoke of my foe! But who is to give him the ten years' service that is part of the price which the vanquished must pay? '
' I will,' cried the eldest girl, springing to her feet. But her father only shook his head sadly.
' Never will I bring shame upon you,' urged the girl. ' Let me go. Am I not a princess, and the daughter of an emperor?'
' Go then !' he said.
The brave girl's heart almost stopped beating from