Middle English Breton Lais
The Erle of Tolous
14th century Middle English; four manuscript copies, in Oxford, Cambridge and the library of Lincoln Cathedral.
In order to disguise himself, the earl assumed the outfit of a poor hermit, although he was well able to afford some better clothes!
Amongst all the earl's prisoners, the most high-ranking was a lord named Sir Trilobas of Turkey, a man of large estate and great renown, whom the emperor loved dearly. It happened one day that he and the earl were hawking beside a river, and the Earl of Toulouse said to Sir Trilobas: ‘Tell me, sir, for it’s widely reported, but is the emperor’s wife as beautiful as everybody says she is? If it’s true, then, I swear by book and by bell, the emperor must be a very proud man indeed!’
‘I shall tell you the truth, by my knighthood,’ replied Sir Trylobas. ‘There is no woman more beautiful in the whole world, neither in Christendom nor in the lands of the heathen. Her skin is as white as snow and her complexion is redder than the reddest rose. No man would harbour any doubt at all that she’s the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.’
‘Then this makes me long all the more to see her,’ said the earl. ‘I would waive your ransom and pledge you my support and my love, for as long as I live, if you would agree to arrange it so that, under guarantee of safety, I might be able to see this lady.’
‘I agree to it,’ replied Sir Trolobas.
‘I trust you like the new friend that you are, without question’ replied the earl, courteously. ‘Let us travel immediately to see this delectable creature. I swear by God and Saint Andrew that if I find you to be as faithful as you say you’ll be, I’ll shower you with riches.’
They let neither storm nor rain delay them, but set off at once. They didn’t rest until they came to the city were the empress was in residence. In order to disguise himself, the earl assumed the outfit of a poor hermit, although he was well able to afford some better clothes! He stayed there for three days, resting in his lodgings. Meanwhile, Sir Trilobas, who had planned all along to betray him, went to see the empress. He went down on one knee and said: ‘May Jesus Christ protect you from all peril, madam. By Jesus! I have the Earl of Toulouse with me in this city. He is our greatest enemy!’