Malvina, the daughter of Toscar, is overheard by Ossian lamenting the death of Oscar her lover. Ossian, to divert her grief, relates his own actions in expedition which he undertook, at Fingal's command, to aid Crothar the petty king of Croma, a country in Ireland, against Rothmar, who invaded his dominions. The story is delivered down thus in tradition. Crothar, king of Croma, being blind with age, and his son too young for the field, Rothmar, the chief of Tromo resolved to avail himself of the opportunity offered of annexing the dominions of Crothar to his own. He accordingly marched into the country subject to Crothar, but which he held of Arth or Artho, who was, at the time, supreme king of Ireland.
Crothar being, on account of his age and blindness unfit for action, sent for aid to Fingal, king of Scotland; who ordered his son Ossian to the relief of Crothar. But before his arrival Fovargormo, the son of Crothar, attacking Rothmar, was slain himself, and his forces totally defeated. Ossian renewed the war; came to battle, killed Rothmar, and routed his army. Croma being thus delivered of its enemies, Ossian returned to Scotland.
"It was the voice of my love! seldom art thou in the dreams of Malvina! Open your airy halls, O father of Toscar of shields! Unfold the gates of your clouds: the steps of Malvina are near. I have heard a voice in my dream. I feel the fluttering of my soul. Why didst thou come, O blast! from the dark-rolling face of the lake? Thy rustling wing was in the tree; the dream of Malvina fled. But she beheld her love when his robe of mist flew on the wind. A sunbeam was on his skirts, they glittered like the gold of the stranger. It was the voice of my love! seldom comes he to my dreams!
"But thou dwellest in the soul of Malvina, son of mighty Ossian! My sighs arise with the beam of the east; my tears descend with the drops of night. I was a lovely tree, in thy presence, Oscar, with all my branches round me; but thy death came like a blast from the desert, and laid my green head low. The spring returned with its showers; no leaf of mine arose! The virgins saw me silent in the hall; they touched the harp of joy. The tear was on the cheek of Malvina: the virgins beheld me in my grief. Why art thou sad, they said, thou first of the maids of Lutha! Was he lovely as the beam of the morning, and stately in thy sight?"
Pleasant is thy song in Ossian's ear, daughter of streamy Lutha! Thou hast heard the music of departed bards in the dream of thy rest, when sleep fell on thine eyes, at the murmur of Moruth. When thou didst return from the chase in the day of the sun, thou hast heard the music of bards, and thy song is lovely! It is lovely, O Malvina! but it melts the soul. There is a joy in grief when peace dwells in the breast of the sad. But sorrow wastes the mournful, O daughter of Toscar! and their days are few! They fall away, like the flower on which the sun hath looked in his strength, after the mildew has passed over it, when its head is heavy with the drops of night. Attend to the tales of Ossian, O maid! He remembers the days of his youth!
The king commanded; I raised my sails, and rushed into the bay of Croma; into Croma's sounding bay in lovely Inisfail.<1> High on the coast arose the towers of Crothar king of spears; Crothar renowned in the battles of his youth; but age dwelt then around the chief. Rothmar had raised the sword against the hero; and the wrath of Fingal burned. He sent Ossian to meet Rothmar in war, for the chief of Croma was the friend of his youth. I sent the bard before me with songs. I came into the hall of Crothar. There sat the chief amidst the arms of his fathers, but his eyes had failed. His gray locks waved around a staff which the warrior leaned. He hummed the song of other times; when the sound of our arms reached his ears Crothar rose, stretched his aged hand, and blessed the son of Fingal.
"Ossian!" said the hero, "the strength of Crothar's arm has failed. O could I lift the sword, as on the day that Fingal fought at Strutha! He was the first of men; but Crothar had also his fame. The king of Morven praised me; he placed on my arm the bossy shield of Calthar, whom the king had slain in his wars. Dost thou not behold it on the wall? for Crothar's eyes have failed. Is thy strength like thy father's, Ossian! let the aged feel thine arm!"
I gave my arm to the king; he felt it with his aged hands. The sigh rose in his breast, and his tears came down. "Thou art strong, my son," he said, "but not like the king of Morven! But who is like the hero among the mighty in war? Let the feast of my hall be spread; and let my bards exalt the song. Great is he that is within my walls, ye sons of echoing Croma!" The feast is spread. The harp is heard; and joy is in the hall. But it was joy covering a sigh, that darkly dwelt in every breast. It was like the faint beam of the moon spread on a cloud in heaven. At length the music ceased, and the aged king of Croma spoke; he spoke without a tear, but sorrow swelled in the midst of his voice.
" Son of Fingal! beholdest thou not the darkness of Crothar's joy? My soul was not sad at the feast, when my people lived before me. I rejoiced in the presence of strangers, when my son shone in the hall. But, Ossian, he is a beam that is departed. He left no streak of light behind. He is fallen, son of Fingal! in the wars of his father. Rothmar the chief of grassy Tromlo heard that these eyes had failed; he heard that my arms were fixed in the hall, and the pride of his soul arose! He came towards Croma; my people fell before him. I took my arms in my wrath, but what could sightless Crothar do? My steps were unequal; my grief was great. I wished for the days that were past. Days! wherein I fought; and won in the field of blood. My son returned from the chase: the fair haired Fovargormo. He had not lifted his sword in battle, for his arm was young. But the soul of the youth was great; the fire of valor burned in his eyes. He saw the disordered steps of his father, and his sigh arose — "King of Croma," he said, "is it because thou hast no son; is it for the weakness of Fovargormo's arm that thy sighs arise? I begin, my father, to feel my strength; I have drawn the sword of my youth; and I have bent the bow. Let me meet this Rothmar, with the sons of Croma: let me meet him, O my father? I feel my burning soul!" — "And thou shalt meet him," I said, "son of the sightless Crothar! But let others advance before thee that I may hear the tread of thy feet at thy return; for my eyes behold thee not, fair haired Fovargormo!" He went; he met the foe; he fell. Rothmar advances to Croma. He who slew my son is near, with all his pointed spears."
This is no time to fill the shell, I replied, and took my spear! My people saw the fire of my eyes; they all arose around. Through night we strode along the heath. Gray morning rose in the east. A green narrow vale appeared before us; nor wanting are its winding streams. The dark host of Rothmar are on its banks with all their glittering arms. We fought along the vale. They fled. Rothmar sunk beneath my sword! Day had not descended in the west, when I brought his arms to Crothar. The aged hero felt them with his hands; and joy brightened over all his thoughts.
The people gather to the hall! The shells of the feast are heard. Ten harps are strung; five bards advance, and sing, by turns, the praise of Ossian; they poured forth their burning souls, and the string answered to their voice. The joy of Croma was great; for peace returned to the land. The night came on with silence; the morning returned with joy. No foe came in darkness with his glittering spear. The joy of Croma was great; for the gloomy Rothmar had fallen!
I raised my voice for Fovargormo, when they laid the chief in earth. The aged Crothar was there, but his sigh was not heard. He searched for the wound of his son, and found it in his breast. Joy rose in the face of the aged. He came and spoke to Ossian. "King of spears!" he said, "my son has not fallen without his fame. The young warrior did not fly; but met death as he went forward in his strength. Happy are they who die in youth, when their renown is heard! The feeble will not behold them in the hall; or smile at their trembling hands. Their memory shall be honored in song; the young tear of the virgin will fall. But the aged wither away by degrees; the fame of their youth, while yet they live, is all forgot. They fall in secret. The sigh of their son is not heard. Joy is around their tomb; the stone of their fame is placed without a tear. Happy are they who die in their youth, when their renown is around them!"
<1> Inisfail: one of the ancient names of Ireland.