The Boys with the Golden Stars
A herdsman had three daughters, and the youngest was the most beautiful. One day, the emperor rode by with attendants. The oldest said that if one married her, she would bake him a loaf of bread that would make him young and brave forever; the second, if one married her, she would make him a shirt that would protect him from any fight, even with a dragon, and against heat and water; the youngest, that she would bear twin sons with stars on their foreheads. The emperor married the youngest, and two of his friends the other two.
The emperor's stepmother had wanted him to marry her daughter and so hated his new wife. She got her brother to declare war on him, to get him away from her, and when the empress gave birth in his absence, took away the twins and killed them, then buried them in the corner of the garden and put puppies in their place. The emperor had to punish his wife to show what happened to those who deceived the emperor.
Two aspens grew from the grave, putting on years' growth in hours. The stepmother wanted to chop them down, but the emperor forbade it for a long time. Finally, she succeeded, on the condition that she had beds made from the wood, one for him and one for her. In the night, the beds began to talk to each other. The stepmother had two new beds made, identical, and burned the beds to ash. While they were burning, the two brightest sparks flew off and fell into the river. They became two golden fish. When the fishermen caught them, they wanted to take them alive to the emperor. The fish told them to instead let them swim in dew, and then dry out in the sun. When they did this, the fish were turned back into babies. They grew up in days.
Wearing lambskin caps that covered their hair and stars, they went to their father's castle and forced their way in. Despite their refusal to take off their caps, the emperor listened to their story. At the end, they took them off. The emperor executed his stepmother and took back his wife.
The motif of a woman's babies, born with wonderful attributes after she claimed she could bear such children, but stolen from her, is a common fairy tale motif; see The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, The Three Little Birds, The Wicked Sisters, Ancilotto, King of Provino and Princess Belle-Etoile. Some of these variants feature an evil stepmother as the villain. But the transformation chase where the stepmother is unable to prevent the children's reappearance is unusual. It does, however, also appear in A String of Pearls Twined with Golden Flowers and in The Count's Evil Mother, a Croatian tale from the Karlovac area. The Pretty Little Calf also has the child reappear, transformed after being murdered, but only has the transformation to an animal form and back to human.
- Andrew Lang, The Violet Fairy Book, "The Boys with the Golden Stars"
- Vrkić, Jozo in "Hrvatske bajke", Glagol, Zagreb, 1997. The tale first published in written form by Rudolf Strohal.