In 1032, when she is sixteen years old and seven months into her pregnancy, Gruadh is woken up in the middle of the night by a messenger sent by Banchorrie. The man warns her that Macbeth and his men are marching on Elgin. At first, Gruadh is unconcerned, and assumes the advancing forces are harmless, but Maeve is concerned for their safety and wants to evacuate—she explains that Macbeth is marching on Elgin, and “it is a matter for warriors, not women.” Gruadh ignores her nurse. She takes up her sword—even though her pregnant belly makes it hard for her to use it—and prepares to meet the invaders.
Gruadh is happy to use violence to protect herself, her home, and her unborn child. Although evacuating would probably be safer, as would leaving intimidation to her soldiers, Gruadh is a woman who likes to be in control of the situation. Banchorrie has not yet appeared in the novel, yet his messenger will forever warm Gruadh to him, and they will become friends later on.
Gilcomgan has gone on patrol with fifty men, leaving Elgin relatively undefended. Gruadh refuses to let Macbeth and his men in. She knows they will break down the door anyway but doesn’t want to make it easy. Macbeth breaks down the gate to her fortress and she greets him with sword in hand. He wonders why she has so few guards—he sees she did not heed his earlier warning to protect herself while in Moray.
Gruadh is stubborn and strong-willed, character traits often criticized as unwomanly, but which prove useful now. Although she knows Macbeth will break in, she feels as though she retains some dignity by forcing him to work for it.
Macbeth lashes out at Gruadh, knocking the sword out of her hand and throwing her to the ground. Gruadh’s men launch a counter attack, but Macbeth’s men kill or injure them all. He calls her foolish and wonders why she would risk the life of her child when all he wants to do is a deliver a message from her husband—Gilcomgan is dead. He and his men burned to death in a tower. Macbeth claims that, before he died, Gilcomgan asked Macbeth to take care of Gruadh and her child. Gruadh does not believe him and instead thinks that Macbeth killed Gilcomgan in the fire. She asks him if he did this to become the mormaer of Moray, and Macbeth responds, “I was always Moray.”
Although Macbeth does not announce it, Gruadh suspects he killed her husband in order to reclaim Moray. When Macbeth says, “I was always Moray,” he reveals that he had spent his whole childhood and early adulthood nursing a grudge and plotting against Gilcomgan. His cousin’s death is simply the final step in a decade long plan to reclaim the homeland he believes belongs to him.