The Boys with the Golden Stars
A herdsman had three daughters. The youngest was the most beautiful. One day, the emperor was passing with attendants. The oldest daughter said that if he married her, she would bake him a loaf of bread that would make him young and brave forever; the second one said, if one married her, she would make him a shirt that would protect him in any fight, even with a dragon, and against heat and water; the youngest one said that she would bear him twin sons with stars on their foreheads. The emperor married the youngest, and two of his friends married 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, killed and buried the twins in the corner of the garden and put puppies in their place. The emperor punished 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. Finally, she convinced him, 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, and burned the originals. While they were burning, the two brightest sparks flew off and fell into the river. They became two golden fish. When fishermen caught them, they wanted to take them alive to the emperor. The fish told them to let them swim in dew instead, and then dry them out in the sun. When they did this, the fish turned back into babies, maturing 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, only then removing their caps. 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. But the transformation chase where the stepmother is unable to prevent the children's reappearance is unusual, although it appears 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.