Once upon a time in the Empire of the Center of the World, twin sisters, Lily and Rose, who were as beautiful as two flowers, lived with their old mother. At the center of the Empire was the Golden Palace and the Forbidden River encircled the palace. But the village of Lily and Rose was far away at the coast. Still, it was a beautiful village, with white stone houses and green bamboo roofs. The Emperors all loved the beautiful silk, and the mother of Lily and Rose made the most beautiful silk. She raised silkworms, wove the silk from cocoons and made the clothes to sell.
It is known that when the twins were born, there came out two flowers, a lily and a rose in their backyard, growing with the two sisters. It was a tradition in the village that when the babes reached their full month, they should get the blessing of all the villagers and the passersby. On the twins's full month day, there came a middle-aged lady who looked kindly and amiable. She gave the twins two beautiful and fresh flowers which were just the same as those growing in the backyard. She said: "May God bless the twins." Then she left. Nobody knew who she was and where she came from. It was so strange that one of the twins had partiality for the lily, the other for the rose. So they were named Lily and Rose. With their growing, Lily was more and more as beautiful as a lily, and Rose was more and more as beautiful as a rose.
Everyday Rose got up at dawn and helped her mother to raise silkworms. She learned all the skills from her mother of planting the mulberry field, feeding the silkworms, reeling off raw silk from cocoons, spinning and weaving. She had an untiring pair of hands, dexterous but full of callus.
Lily dressed up every day; she chose the best clothes to wear and the best food to eat. She was always telling her of dream that she married a prince and had uncountable exquisite clothes and foods and servants. When Rose asked her to go to the field together, she was always giving some excuses. So every day when Rose was working in the fields, Lily was daydreaming at home.
When they were twenty years old, their mother died. Before approaching her end, there came to her dream the middle-aged lady who blessed the twins twenty years ago.
"I am wormlady, old woman," she said. "Due to a lot of care you gave to my children in your life, I will give my blessing to your daughters after your death. One of them will become the princess if she wears the most beautiful dress in the world."
Then the mother told her dreams to the twins and left them at ease.
Rose kept her mother's words in mind and began to make the most beautiful dress in the world. She worked very hard, and when she worked in the fields, she was always talking to the mulberry tree: "I will care for you as for my mother; could you grow the best mulberry leaves in the world?" When she felt lonely she would talk with the silkworm: "I will care for you as for my mother; could you spin the best silk in the world?" With the best leaves to feed the silkworms she got the best silk, and she weaved all day and all night.
News came that the prince would marry the girl who made the most beautiful dress in the world. The wedding would be one month away, and on that day, the prince would choose the princess from all the girls who came for the contest.
When Rose took the dress with her and started off to the palace, Lily hadn't even started. She dreamed all the days. Now she began to worry. She asked to go with Rose.
One day before the wedding, a magnificent palace came in view. There were beams carved with dragons and rafters painted with the phoenix, golden verandas and pavilions, and wall hangings of colorful silk, especially the yellow ones which were the symbol of the power of the kingdom. After the long journey, Rose was so tired that she went to bed earlier. Lily was still worried; she looked at Rose's dress, and her dream seemed come true. She couldn't resist the temptation to be a princess any more, and she made up her mind. The next morning Rose looked for her dress but she couldn't find it anywhere, and her sister disappeared too. She realized what happened.
"What should I do now? How can I get in the palace if I don't have the dress?" The time of the competition was approaching. She was so worried that she couldn't help shouting: "Mother, please help me!"
"Don't worry, my little child." a voice sounded. She looked around; a beautiful lady stood by her. "I am wormlady. You took care of me as for your own mother; I will help you." After these words, there appeared on her body exactly same dress. It was a long pink skirt with long white sleeves and with yellow silk ribbon around her shoulder and waist. The dress was embroidered with the dancing phoenix. She was so surprised and happy, her face looked like a rose in full bloom.
She got to the palace just on time. There she saw her sister wearing the same dress as hers. Lily was very surprised when she saw Rose in the same dress, even prettier than before, because she thought Rose must be crying now. She couldn't believe her eyes. "The dress I am wearing must be fake," she thought.
The palace had a rule that the newcomers to the palace must take a bath before they could see the prince. Of course there was no exception for the beauties. When they bathed, Lily sneaked to Rose and exchanged the dresses.
At last all the beauties were eliminated from the competition except the twins. They both were wearing the same dress, and they both were as beautiful as two flowers. They both claimed that they made this dress by themselves. The prince was very handsome and clever. He tried to find out who was his true princess. He required both of them to promise that if either of them lied, she would become a cocoon and spin silk for the true princess for two years.
He asked Rose first that how she made the most beautiful dress. She said: "I picked the fresh leaves of 99 year-old mulberries at 9 o'clock every morning to feed the silkworms for 99 days. When they became cocoons in the stalks, I exposed them for exactly 9 hours every day. After another 99 days, I boiled them in 99 degree spring water and cooled them off for 9 days. That's the way I got the best silk in the world."
Lily tried to say in the same way, but just at the time the first word came out of her mouth, suddenly the dress made the noise "shi, shi, shi..." and became a cocoon and wrapped her up.
From then on, the prince and the princess lived a very happy life in the resplendent palace, and Lily cocoon spun all day and all night.
Acknowledgements: These people gave me important advice and suggestions for improving this story: Terry Heller, Manuel Lara, Joi Bergman, Jamie Pilgrim, Joe E. White, Lynn Ayer.
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