THERE reigned some time in Rome a wise and mighty emperor, named Anselm, who did bear in his arms a shield of silver with five red roses. This emperor had three sons, whom he loved much. He had also continual war with the king of Egypt, in which war he lost all his temporal goods except a precious tree. It fortuned after on a day that he gave battle to the same king of Egypt, wherein he was grievously wounded; nevertheless, he obtained the victory, notwithstanding he had his deadly wound. Wherefore, while he lay at point of death, he called unto his eldest son, and said: "My dear and well-beloved son, all my temporal riches are spent, and almost nothing is left me but a precious tree, the which stands in the midst of my empire. I give to thee all that is under the earth and above the earth of the same tree." "O my reverend father," quoth he, "I thank you much."
Then said the emperor, "Call to me my second son." Anon the eldest son, greatly joying of his father's gift, called in his brother. And when he came, the emperor said, "My dear son, I may not make my testament, forasmuch as I have spent all my goods, except a tree which stands in the midst of mine empire, of the which tree, I bequeath to thee all that is great and small." Then answered he and said, "My reverend father, I thank you much."
Then said the emperor, "Call to me my third son." And so it was done. And when he was come the emperor said, "My dear son, I must die of these wounds, and I have only a precious tree, of which I have given thy brethren their portion, and to thee I bequeath thy portion; for I will that thou have of the said tree all that is wet and dry." Then said his son, "Father, I thank you."
Soon after the emperor had made his bequest, he died. And the eldest son took possession of the tree. Now when the second son heard this, he came to him, saying, "My brother, by what law or title occupy you this tree?" "Dear brother," quoth he, "I occupy it by this title: my father gave me all that is under the earth, and above of the said tree, by reason thereof the tree is mine." "Unknowing to thee," quoth the second brother, "he gave unto me all that is great and small of the said tree, and therefore I have as great right in the tree as you." This hearing, the third son he came to them and said, "My well-beloved brethren, it behoveth you not to strive for this tree, for I have as much right in the tree as ye, for by the law ye wot that the last will and testament ought to stand, for of truth he gave me of the said tree all that is wet and dry, and therefore the tree by right is mine; but forasmuch as your words are of great force and mine also, my counsel is that we be judged by reason, for it is not good nor commendable that strife or dissension should be among us. Here beside dwelleth a king full of reason; therefore, to avoid strife, let us go to him, and each of us lay his right before him, and as he shall judge, let us stand to his judgment." Then said his brethren, "Thy counsel is good." Wherefore they went all three unto the king of reason, and each of them severally showeth forth his right unto him, as it is said before.
When the king had heard the titles, he rehearsed them all again severally, first saying to the eldest son thus: "You say," quoth the king, "that your father gave you all that is under the earth and above the earth of the said tree. And to the second brother he bequeathed all that is great and small of that tree. And to the third brother he gave all that is wet and dry."
And with that he laid the law to them, and said that this will ought to stand.
"Now, my dear friends, briefly I shall satisfy all your requests;" and when he had thus said, he turned him unto the eldest brother, saying, "My dear friend, if you list to abide the judgment of right, it behoveth you to be letten blood of the right arm." "My lord," quoth he, "your will shall be done." Then the king called for a discreet physician, commanding him to let him blood.
When the eldest son was letten blood, the king said unto them all three, "My dear friends, where is your father buried?" Then answered they, and said, "Forsooth, my lord, in such a place." Anon the king commanded to dig in the ground for the body, and to take a bone out of his breast, and to bury the body again: and so it was done. And when the bone was taken out, the king commanded that it should be laid in the blood of the elder brother, and it should lie till it had received kindly the blood, and then to be laid in the sun and dried, and after that it should be washed with clear water. His servants fulfilled all that he had commanded: and when they began to wash, the blood vanished clean away; when the king saw this, he said to the second son, "It behoveth that thou be letten blood, as thy brother was." Then said he, "My lord's will shall be fulfilled," and anon he was done unto like as his brother was in all things, and when they began to wash the bone, the blood vanished away. Then said the king to the third son, "It behoveth thee to be letten blood likewise." He answered and said, "My lord, it pleaseth me well so to be." When the youngest brother was letten blood, and done unto in all things as the two brethren were before, then the king's servants began to wash the bone, but neither for washing nor rubbing might they do away the blood of the bone, but it ever appeared bloody: when the king saw this, he said, "It appeareth openly now that this blood is of the nature of the bone, thou art his true son, and the other two are bastards. I judge thee the tree for evermore."