Once upon a time . . . in the immense Rusn steppe, lay a little village where nearly all the inhabitants bred horses. It was the month of October, when a big livestock market was held yearly in the main town. Two brothers, one rich and the other one poor, set off for market. The rich man rode a stallion(種馬), and the poor brother a young mare(母馬). At dusk, they stopped beside an empty hut and tethered(系繩，系鏈) their horses outside, before going to sleep themselves on two heaps of straw.
Great was their surprise, when, next morning they saw three horses outside, instead of two. Well, to be exact the newcomer was not really a horse. It was a foal(馬駒), to which the mare had given birth during the night. Soon it had the strength to struggle to its feet, and after a drink of its mother's milk, the foal staggered its first few steps. The stallion gre
eted it with a cheerful whinny(馬嘶聲), and when the two brothers set eyes on it for the first time, the foal was standing beside the stallion. It belongs to me! exclaimed Dimitri, the rich brother, the minute he saw it. It's my stallion's foal. Ivan, the poor brother, began to laugh. Whoever heard of a stallion having a foal? It was born to my mare! No, that's not true! It was standing close to the stallion, so it's the stallion's foal. And therefore it's mine! The brothers started to quarrel, then they decided to go to town and bring the matter before the judges.
Still arguing, they headed for the big square where the courtroom stood. But what they didn't know was that it was a special day, the day when, once a year, the Emperor himself administered the law. He himself received all who came seeking justice. The brothers were ushered into his presence, and they told him all about the dispute. Of course, the Emperor knew perfectly well who was the owner of the foal. He was on the point of(正要) proclaiming in favor of the poor brother, when suddenly Ivan developed an unfortunate twitch in his eye. The Emperor was greatly annoyed by this familiarity(親密，精通) by a humble peasant, and decided to punish Ivan for his disrespect. After listening to both sides of the story, he declared it was difficult, indeed impossible, to say exactly who was the foal's rightful owner. And being in the mood for a spot of fun, and since he loved posing riddles and solving them as well, to the amusement of his counselors, he exclaimed: I can't judge which of you should have the foal, so it will be awarded to whichever of you solves the following four riddles: what is the fastest thing in the world? What is the fattest? What's the softest and what is the most precious? I command you to return to the palace in a week's time with your answers!
Dimitri started to puzzle over the answers as soon as he left the courtroom. When he reached home, however, he realized he had nobody to help him. Well, I'll just have to seek help, for if I can't solve these riddles, I'll lose the foal! Then he remembered a woman, one of his neighbors, to whom he had once lent a silver ducat .That had been some time ago, and with the interest, the neighbor now owed him three ducats. And since she had a reputation for being quick-witted, but also very astute, he decided to ask her advice, in exchange for canceling part of her debt. But the woman was not slow to show how astute(機敏的，狡猾的) she really was, and promptly demanded that the whole debt be wiped out in exchange for the answers. The fastest thing in the world is my husband's bay horse(棗紅馬), she said. Nothing can beat it! The fattest is our pig! Such a huge beast has never been seen! The softest is the quilt I made for the bed, using my own goose's feathers. It's the envy of all my friends. The most precious thing in the world is my three-month old nephew. There isn't a more handsome child. I wouldn't exchange him for all the gold on earth, and that makes him the most precious thing on earth! Dimitri was rather doubtful about the woman's answers being correct. On the other hand, he had to take some kind of solution back to the Emperor. And he guessed, quite rightly, that if he didn't, he would be punished.
In the meantime, Ivan, who was a widower(鰥夫), had gone back to the humble cottage where he lived with his small daughter. Only seven years old, the little girl was often left alone, and as a result, was thoughtful and very clever for her age.The poor man took the little girl into his confidence, for like his brother, he knew he would never be able to find the answers by himself. The child sat
in silence for a moment, then firmly said: Tell the Emperor that the fastest thing in the world is the cold north wind in winter. The fattest is the soil in our fields whose cro