by James Macpherson
The second night continues. Fingal relates, at the feast, his own first expedition into Ireland, and his marriage with Ros-cranna, the daughter of Cormac, king of that island. The Irish chiefs convene in the presence of Cathmor. The situation of the king described. The story of Sul-malla, the daughter of Conmor, king of Inis-huna, who, in the disguise of a young warrior, hath followed Cathmor to the war. The sullen behavior of Foldath, who had commanded in the battle of the preceding day, renews the difference between him and Malthos: but Cathmor, interposing, ends it. The chiefs feast, and hear the song of Fonar the bard. Cathmor returns to rest, at a distance from the army. The ghost of his brother Cairbar appears to him in a dream; and obscurely foretells the issue of the war. The soliloquy of the king. He discovers Sul-malla. Morning comes. Her soliloquy closes the book.
"BENEATH an oak," said the king, "I sat on Selma's streamy rock, when Connal rose, from the sea, with the broken spear of Duth-caron. Far distant stood the youth. He turned away his eyes. He remembered the steps of his father, on his own green hill. I darkened in my place. Dusky thoughts flew over my soul. The kings of Erin rose before me. I half unsheathed the sword. Slowly approached the chiefs. They lifted up their silent eyes. Like a ridge of clouds, they wait for the bursting forth of my voice. My voice was, to them, a wind from heaven, to roll the mist away.
"I bade my white sails to rise, before the roar of Cona's wind. Three hundred youths looked, from their waves, on Fingal's bossy shield. High on the mast it hung, and marked the dark-blue sea. But when night came down, I struck, at times, the warning boss: I struck, and looked on high, for fiery-haired Ul-erin. Nor absent was the star of heaven. It travelled red between the clouds. I pursued the lovely beam, on the faint-gleaming deep. With morning, Erin rose in mist. We came into the bay of Moi-lena, where its blue waters tumbled, in the bosom of echoing woods. Here Cormac, in his secret halls, avoids the strength of Colc-ulla. Nor he alone, avoids the foe. The blue eye of Ros-cranna is there: Ros-cranna, white-handed maid, the daughter of the king!
"Gray, on his pointless spear, came forth the aged steps of Cormac. He smiled from his waving locks; but grief was in his soul. He saw us few before him, and his sigh arose. 'I see the arms of Trenmor,' he said; 'and these are the steps of the king! Fingal! thou art a beam of light to Cormac's darkened soul! Early is thy fame, my son: but strong are the foes of Erin. They are like the roar of streams in the land, son of car-borne Comhal!' 'Yet they may be rolled away,' I said, in my rising soul. 'We are not of the race of the feeble, king of blue-shielded hosts! Why should fear come amongst us, like a ghost of night? The soul of the valiant grows when foes increase in the field. Roll no darkness, king of Erin, on the young in war!'
"The bursting tears of the king came down. He seized my hand in silence. 'Race of the daring Trenmor!' at length he said, 'I roll no cloud before thee. Thou burnest in the fire of thy fathers. I behold thy fame. It marks thy course in battle, like a stream of light. But wait the coming of Cairbar; my so must join thy sword. He calls the sons of Erin from all their distant streams.'
"We came to the hall of the king, where it rose in the midst of rocks, on whose dark sides were the marks of streams of old. Broad oaks bend around with their moss. The thick birch is waving near. Half hid, in her shadowy grove, Ros-cranna raises the song. Her white hands move on the harp. I beheld her blues rolling eyes. She was like a spirit of heaven half folded in the skirt of a cloud!
Three days we feasted at Moi-lena. She rises bright in my troubled soul. Cormac beheld me dark. He gave the white-bosomed maid. She comes with bending eye, amid the wandering of her heavy locks. She came! Straight the battle roared. Colc-ulla appeared: I took my spear. My sword rose, with my people against the ridgy foe. Alnecma fled. Colc-ulla fell. Fingal returned with fame.
"Renowned is he, O Fillan, who fights in the strength of his host. The bard pursues his steps through the land of the foe. But he who fights alone, few are his deeds to other times! He shines to-day, a mighty light. To-morrow he is low. One song contains his fame. His name is one dark field. He is forgot; but where his tomb sends forth the tufted grass."
Such are the words of Fingal, on Mora of the roes. Three bards, from the rock of Cormul, pour down the pleasing song. Sleep descends in the sound, on the broad-skirted host. Carril returned with the bards, from the tomb of Dunlora's chief. The voice of morning shall not come to the dusky bed of Duth-caron. No more shalt thou hear the tread of roes around thy narrow house!
As roll the troubled clouds, around a meteor of night, when they brighten their sides with its light along the heaving sea; so gathers Erin around the gleaming form of Cathmor. He, tall in the midst, careless lifts, at times, his spear: as swells, or falls the sound of Fonar's distant harp. Near him leaned, against a rock, Sul-malla of blue eyes, the white-bosomed daughter of Conmor, king of Inis-huna. To his aid came blue-shielded Cathmor, and rolled his foes away. Sul-malla beheld him stately in the hail of feasts. Nor careless rolled the eyes of Cathmor on the long-haired maid!
''The third day arose, when Fithil came, from Erin of the streams. He told of the lifting up of the shield in Selma: he told of the danger of Cairbar. Cathmor raised the sail at Cluba; but the winds were in other lands. Three days he remained on the coast, and turned his eyes on Conmor's halls. He remembered the daughter of strangers, and his sigh arose. Now when the winds awaked the wave: from the hill came a youth in arms; to lift the sword with Cathmor, in his echoing fields. It was the white-armed Sul-malla. Secret she dwelt beneath her helmet. Her steps were in the path of the king: on him her blue eyes rolled with joy, when he lay by his rolling streams: But Cathmor thought that on Lumon she still pursued the roes. He thought, that fair on a rock, she stretched her white hand to the wind; to feel its course from Erin, the green dwelling of her love. He had promised to return, with his white-bosomed sails. The maid is near thee, O Cathmor: leaning on her rock.
The tall forms of the chiefs stand around; all but dark-browed Foldath. He leaned against a distant tree, rolled into his haughty soul. His bushy hair whistles in the wind. At times, bursts the hum of a song. He struck the tree at length, in wrath; and rushed before the king! Calm and stately, to the beam of the oak, arose the form of young Hidalla. His hair falls round his blushing cheek, in the wreaths of waving light. Soft was his voice in Clonra, in the valley of his fathers. Soft was his voice when he touched the harp, in the hall near his roaring stream!
"King of Erin," said Hidalla, "now is the time to feast. Bid the voice of bards arise. Bid them roll the night away. The soul returns, from song, more terrible to war. Darkness settles on Erin. From hill to hill bend the skirted clouds. Far and gray, on the heath, the dreadful strides of ghosts are seen: the ghosts of those who fell bend forward to their song. Bid, O Cathmor! the harps to rise, to brighten the dead, on their wandering blasts."
"Be all the dead forgot," said Foldath's bursting wrath. "Did not I fail in the field? Shall I then hear the song? Yet was not my course harmless in war. Blood was a stream around my steps. But the feeble were behind me. 'The foe has escaped from my sword. In Conra's vale touch thou the harp. Let Dura answer to the voice of Hidalla. Let some maid look, from the wood, on thy long yellow locks. Fly from Lubar's echoing plain. This is the field of heroes!"
"King of Erin," Malthos said, "it is thine to lead in war. Thou art a fire to our eyes, on the dark-brown field. Like a blast thou hast passed over hosts. Thou hast laid them low in blood. But who has heard thy words returning from the field? The wrathful delight in death; their remembrance rests on the wounds of their spear. Strife is folded in their thoughts: their words are ever heard. Thy course, chief of Moma, was like a troubled stream. The dead were rolled on thy path: but others also lift the spear. We were not feeble behind thee: but the foe was strong."
Cathmor beheld the rising rage and bending forward of either chief: for, half unsheathed, they held their swords, and rolled their silent eyes. Now would they have mixed in horrid fray, had not the wrath of Cathmor burned. He drew his sword: it gleamed through night, to the high-flaming oak! "Sons of pride," said the king," allay your swelling souls. Retire in night. Why should my rage arise? Should I contend with both in arms! It is no time for strife! Retire, ye clouds, at my feast. Awake my soul no more."
They sunk from the king on either side; like two columns of morning mist, when the sun rises, between them, on his glittering rocks. Dark is their rolling on either side: each towards its reedy pool!
Silent sat the chiefs at the feast. They look, at times, on Atha's king, where he strode, on his rock, amid his settling soul. The host lie along the field. Sleep descends on Moi-lena. The voice of Fonar ascends alone, beneath his distant tree. It ascends in the praise of Cathmor, son of Larthon of Lumon. But Cathmor did not hear his praise. He lay at the roar of a stream. The rustling breeze of night flew over his whistling locks.
His brother came to his dreams, half seen from his low-hung cloud. Joy rose darkly in his face. He had heard the song of Carril . A blast sustained his dark-skirted cloud: which he seized in the bosom of night, as he rose, with his fame, towards his airy hail. Half mixed with the noise of the stream, he poured his feeble words.
"Joy meet the soul of Cathmor. His voice was heard on Moi-lena. The bard gave his song to Cairbar. He travels on the wind. My form is in my father's hall, like the gliding of a terrible light, which darts across the desert, in a stormy night. No bard shall be wanting at thy tomb when thou art lowly laid. The sons of song love the valiant. Cathmor, thy name is a pleasant gale. The mournful sounds arise! On Lubar's field there is a voice! Louder still, ye shadowy ghosts! The dead were full of fame! Shrilly swells the feeble sound. The rougher blast alone is heard! Aid soon is Cathmor low!" Rolled into himself he flew, wide on the bosom of winds. The old oak felt his departure, and shook its whistling head. Cathmor starts from rest. He takes his deathful spear. He lifts his eyes around. He sees but dark-skirted night.
"It was the voice of the king," he said. "But now his form is gone. Unmarked is your path in the air, ye children of the night. Often, like a reflected beam, are ye seen in the desert wild: but ye retire in your blasts, before our steps approach. Go, then, ye feeble race! Knowledge with you there is none! Your joys are weak, and like the dreams of our rest, or the light winged thought, that flies across the soul. Shall Cathmor soon be low? Darkly laid in his narrow house! Where no morning comes, with her half-opened eyes? Away, thou shade! to fight is mine! All further thought away! I rush forth on eagles' wings, to seize my beam of flame. In the lonely vale of streams, abides the narrow soul. Years roll on, seasons return, but he is still unknown. In a blast comes cloudy death, and lays his gray head low. His ghost is folded in the vapor of the fenny field. Its course is never on hills, nor mossy vales of wind. So shall not Cathmor depart. No boy in the field was he, who only marks the bed of roes, upon the echoing hills. My issuing forth was with kings. My joy in dreadful plains: where broken hosts are rolled away, like seas before the wind."
So spoke the king of Alnecma, brightening in his rising soul. Valor, like a pleasant flame, is gleaming within his breast. Stately is his stride on the heath! The beam of east is poured around. He saw his gray host on the field, wide spreading their ridges in light. He rejoiced, like a spirit of heaven, whose steps came forth on the seas, when he beholds them peaceful round, and all the winds are laid. But soon he awakes the waves, and rolls them large to some echoing shore.
On the rushy bank of a stream slept the daughter of Inis-huna. The helmet had fallen from her head. Her dreams were in the lands of her fathers. There morning is on the field. Gray streams leap down from the rocks. The breezes, in shadowy waves, fly over the rushy fields. There is the sound that prepares for the chase. There the moving of warriors from the hall. But tall above the rest is seen the hero of streamy Atha. He bends his eye of love on Sul-malla, from his stately steps. She turns, with pride, her face away, and careless bends the bow.
Such were the dreams of the maid when Cathmor of Atha came. He saw her fair face before him, in the midst of her wandering locks. He knew the maid of Lumon. What should Cathmor do? His sighs arise. His tears come down. But straight he turns away. "This is no time, king of Atha, to awake thy secret soul. The battle is rolled before thee like a troubled stream."
He struck that warning boss, wherein dwelt the voice of war. Erin rose around him, like the sound of eagle wing. Sul-malla started from sleep, in her disordered locks. She seized the helmet from earth. She trembled in her place. "Why should they know in Erin of the daughter of Inis-huna?" She remembered the race of kings. The pride of her soul arose! Her steps are behind a rock, by the blue-winding stream of a vale; where dwelt the dark-brown hind ere yet the war arose, thither came the voice of Cathmor, at times, to Sul-malla's ear. Her soul is darkly sad. She pours her words on wind.
"The dreams of Inis-huna departed. They are dispersed from my soul. I hear not the chase in my land. I am concealed in the skirt of war. I look forth from my cloud. No beam appears to light my path. I behold my warriors low; for the broad-shielded king is near. He that overcomes in danger, Fingal, from Selma of spears! Spirit of departed Conmor! are thy steps on the bosom of winds? Comest thou, at times, to other lands, father of sad Sul-malla? Thou dost come! I have heard thy voice at night; while yet I rose on the wave to Erin of the streams. The ghosts of fathers, they say, call away the souls of their race, while they behold them lonely in the midst of wo. Call me, my father, away! When Cathmor is low on earth, then shall Sul-malla be lonely in the midst of wo!