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our steps be towards the king.* He shall rise in his strength, and the host of Lathmon vanish. Our fame is around us, warrior, the eyes of the aged f will rejoice. But let us fly, son of Morni, Lathmon descends the hill." "Then let our steps be slow," replied the fair-haired Gaul; "lest the foe say, with a smile, "Behold the warriors of night. They are, like ghosts, terrible in darkness; they melt away before the beam of the east." Ossian, take the shield of Gormar who fell beneath thy spear. The aged heroes will rejoice beholding the deeds of their sons." Such were our words on the plain, when Sulmath % came to car-borne Lathmon: Sulmath chief of Dutha at the dark-rolling stream of Duvranna.|| "Why dost thou not rush, son of Nuath, with a thousand of thy heroes? Why dost thou not descend with thy host, before the warriors fly? Their blue arms are beaming to the rising light, and their steps are before us on the heath!"
"Son of the feeble hand," said Lathmon, "shall my host descend! They are but two, son of Dutha! shall a thousand lift their steel! Nuath would mourn, in his hall, for the departure of his fame. His eyes
* Fingal. f Fingal and Morni.
J Suil-mhath, a man of good eyesight.
|| Dabh-bhranna, dark mountain-stream. A river in Scotland, which falls into the sea at Banff, still retains the name of Duvran. If that is meant in this passage, Lathmon must have been a prince of the Pictish nation, or those Caledonians who inhabited of old the eastern coast of Scotland.
would turn from Lathmon, when the tread of his feet approached. Go thou to the heroes, chief of Dutha! I behold the stately steps of Ossian. His fame is worthy of my steel! let us contend in fight."
The noble Sulmath came. I rejoiced in the words of the king. I raised the shield on my arm; Gaul placed in my hand the sword of Morni. We returned to the murmuring stream; Lathmon came down in his strength. His dark host rolled, like clouds, behind him: but the son of Nuath was bright in his steel!
"Son of Fingal," said the hero, "thy fame has grown on our fall. How many lie there of my people by thy hand, thou king of men! Lift now thy spear against Lathmon; lay the son of Nuath low! Lay him low among his warriors, or thou thyself must fall! It shall never be told in my halls that my people fell in my presence; that they fell in the presence of Lathmon when his sword rested by his side: the blue eyes of Cutha would roll in tears; her steps be lonely in the vales of Dunlathmon!"
'* Neither shall it be told," I replied, "that the son of Fingal fled. Were his steps covered with darkness, yet would not Ossian fly! his soul would meet him and say, "Does the bard of Selma fear the foe?" "No: he does not fear the foe. His joy is in the midst of battle!"
Lathmon came on with his spear. He pierced the shield of Ossian. I felt the cold steel by my side. I drew the sword of Morni. I cut the spear in twain. The bright point fell glittering on earth. The son of Nuath burnt in his wrath. He lifted high his sounding shield. His dark eyes rolled above it, as bending forward, it shone like a gate of brass! But Ossian's spear pierced the brightness of its bosses, and sunk in a tree that rose behind. The shield hung on the quivering lance! but Lathmon still advanced! Gaul foresaw the fall of the chief. He stretched his buckler before my sword; when it descended, in a stream of light, over the king of Dunlathmon!
Lathmon beheld the son of Morni. The tear started from his eye. He threw the sword of his fathers on earth, and spoke the words of the brave. "Why should Lathmon fight against the first of men? Your souls are beams from heaven; your swords the flames of death! Who can equal the renown of the heroes, whose deeds are so great in youth? O that ye were in the halls of Nuath, in the green dwelling of Lathmon! then would my father say, that his son did not yield to the weak: But who comes, a mighty stream, along the echoing heath? the little hills are troubled before him; a thousand ghosts are on the beams of his steel; the ghosts of those who are to fall,* by the arm of the king of resounding Morven. Happy art thou, O Fingal!
* It was thought, in Ossian's time, that each person had his attending spirit. The traditions concerning this opinion are dark and unsatisfactory.
thy sons shall fight thy wars. They go forth before thee; they return with the steps of their renown!"
Fingal came, in his mildness, rejoicing in secret over the deeds of his son. Morni's face brightened with gladness; his aged eyes look faintly through tears of joy. We came to the halls of Selma. We sat around the feast of shells. The maids of song came into our presence, and the mildly blushing Evirallin! Her hair spreads on her neck of snow, her eye rolls in secret on Ossian. She touched the harp of music; we blessed the daughter of Branno!Fingal rose in his place, and spoke to Lathmon king of spears. The sword of Trenmor shook by his side, as high he raised his mighty arm. "Son of Nuath," he said, "why dost thou search for fame in Morven? We are not of the race of the feeble; our swords gleam not over the weak. When did we rouse thee, O Lathmon! with the sound of war? Fingal does not delight in battle, though his arm is strong! My renown grows on the fall of the haughty. The light of my steel pours on the proud in arms. The battle comes! and the tombs of the valiant rise; the tombs of my people rise, O my fathers! I at last must remain alone! But I will remain renowned; the departure of my soul shall be a stream of light. Lathmon! retire to thy place! Turn thy battles to other lands! The race of Morven are renowned; their foes are the sons of the unhappy!"
It may not be improper here, to give the story which is the foundation of this poem, as it is handed down by tradition. Usnoth lord of Etna, which is probably that part of Argyleshire which is near Loch Eta, an arm of the sea in Lorn, had three sons, Nathos, Althos, and Ardan, by Slissama, the daughter of Semo, and sister to the celebrated Cuthullin. The three brothers, when very young, were sent over to Ireland, by their father, to learn the use of arms, under their uncle, Cuthullin, who made a great figure in that kingdom. They were just landed in Ulster when the news of Cuthullin's death arrived. Nathos, though very young, took the command of Cuthullin's army, made head against Cairbar the usurper, and defeated him in several battles. Cairbar at last having found means to murder Cormac the lawful king, the army of Nathos shifted sides, and he himself was obliged to return into Ulster, in order to pass over into Scotland.
Dar-thula, the daughter of Colla, with whom Cairbar was in love, resided, at that time, in Selama. a castle in Ulster: she saw, fell in love, and fled with Nathos; but a storm rising-at sea, they were unfortunately driven back on that part of the coast of Ulster, where Cairbar was encamped with his army. The three brothers, after having defended themselves, for some time, with great bravery, were overpowered and slain, and the unfortunate Darthula killed herself upon the body of her beloved Nathos.
The poem opens, on the night preceding the death of the sons of Usnoth, and brings in, by way of episode, what passed before. It relates the death of Dar-thula differently from the common tradition; this account is the most probable, as suicide seems to have been unknown in those early times: for no traces of it are found in the old poetry.