"Give me half the gold in your treasury", the Sorcerer said, "and I will turn your death into a tree, so you may cut it down and burn it and so live forever."
At first it seemed the Emperor had not heard him. He sat unmoved on his throne, apparently undisturbed by the hush that had fallen over the court. Then, just as the Sorcerer was about to repeat the offer, he nodded. Yes.
Whispers swirled through the palace. What? Had the Emperor lost his mind, to believe this charlatan? Was he really going to give him half his gold? But the Emperor sat unmoving, serene, and because he was the Emperor, the coffers were opened, the gold counted, and before nightfall the Sorcerer was on his way, a long line of mules, weighed down with pack saddles, trailing behind him.
The next day a tree appeared in the Emperor's garden. A bare skeleton of a tree, gnarled and sprawling, its limbs twisted with age. This being winter, there were no leaves upon it, just a confusion of twigs, knitting the sky between them. Every morning the Emperor would stand before this tree, the Royal Gardener three steps behind him, waiting for the order to cut it down. But the order never came. The Emperor would simply stare at the tree, as though trying to read some meaning in the cuneiform of its branches, then turn away and go back inside.
Speculation about the fate of the tree spread through the kingdom. Did the Emperor not intend to have it cut down after all? Why had he paid so much gold for it then? In the first month after the tree appeared the Sorcerer returned twice to the palace, each time warning the Emperor that if the tree were not cut down it would take root, grow stronger, eventually prove fatal. The Emperor heard these warnings out, a bemused smile on his face, but said nothing.
When March came and the snow in the garden started to thaw, the Sorcerer returned a third time, telling the Emperor that he must destroy the tree at once, otherwise it would be too late. "Why won't you believe me?", he asked the Emperor, "I'm telling you the truth." "But I do believe you", the Emperor said, speaking to the Sorcerer for the first and only time.
The Sorcerer left with tears in his eyes.
The day the first leaves appeared on the tree, the Emperor fell desperately ill. Physicians and wise men were summoned from every corner of the kingdom, but none could do anything to help. The Sorcerer was sent for also, but he refused to come, saying it was out of his hands. Three weeks after the arrival of Spring, with the tree covered in flowers, and a pair of nightingales starting to build their nest in its branches, the Emperor died. On the day of his death, the Sorcerer received a note, written in the Imperial hand. It said: "Thank you. It was a beautiful tree."
The official mourning for the dead Emperor lasted 33 days. On the 34th day the Sorcerer was brought to the public square, accused of devising the Emperor's death, found guilty and executed. They say he made no attempt to save himself. His body was hacked to pieces, then burnt.