Gruadh confronts Bodhe and tells him she wants to learn how to fight. He resists, but she points out there’s a historical precedent for Scottish warrior princesses, including Scathach of Skye, a noblewoman and a fighter. When Bodhe remains unconvinced, Gruadh threatens to use the spellcrafts her mother, Ailsa, taught her.
Having been kidnapped twice, and facing a marriage arranged partially to keep her safe, Gruadh wants to take her wellbeing into her own hands. Although women are not usually trained to fight, she points towards the long Celtic history of women warriors, passed down through oral tradition.
In Bodhe’s mind, Gruadh’s “most important role” is being the direct descendant of several Picts and Irish kings. She is important because she “can make a future husband into a king.” He does not want her to risk her life on the battlefield.
Although Bodhe loves his daughter, he sees her less as a person and more as the culmination of generations of kings, whose potential comes from marrying someone of equal status.
Gruadh continues to insist. She argues that “men will always argue over me, and more deaths will occur on my account.” Bodhe eventually gives in, admitting that his daughter has a “warrior spirit.” He arranges for her to practice fighting with Fergus.
Gruadh has already seen violence and knows she will see more. She wants to do what she can to protect herself, so her friends and family do not have to die for her. Bodhe finally recognizes this. However, her struggle getting people to accept her interest in sword craft will be lifelong.
Gruadh’s mother, Ailsa, died from complications of childbirth when Gruadh was eleven. Gruadh’s little sister, Brigid, was baptized by the priest, blessed by the midwives, and given the name Brigid as protection, but she, like her mother, died within a few days. Gruadh wonders if the pair went to heaven or Tír na n’ Óg, “the paradise beyond Ireland in the misty realm, which our bard spoke about.”
Christianity and Celtic tradition coexist in medieval Scotland and are often used together. In this case, both practices are used in order to give Ailsa and Brigid the greatest chance of survival. Gruadh, even as a child, straddles both traditions, wondering if her mother and sister will travel to a Christian, or pagan heaven, both of which seem equally likely to her.
In the days after Ailsa’s death, Gruadh’s aunt, Eva, gives her a bag of charms—crystals, Ailsa’s needles and embroidery, and a small doll for Brigid—to leave with the bodies. Father Anselm disapproves, and suggests that Ailsa may not go to heaven because “she practiced pagan arts and taught her daughter that same insolence against God.” However, Gruadh is not discouraged, and leaves the bag with her mother and sister, reciting an old chant over their bodies. Before she died, Ailsa told Gruadh to be strong, but the young woman cannot hold back tears as she says goodbye.
Although Father Anselm and other agents of the Catholic Church disapprove of pagan traditions they see as undermining their authority, for the majority of people Celtic traditions simply offer supplemental comforts and charms. These “pagan arts” make Gruadh feel close to her mother, who taught them to her. There is a special personal connection to Celtic traditions that links her to her family and history.
When her daughter was a baby, Ailsa gave Gruadh a Celtic tattoo, the triskele, or symbol of the goddess Brigid. It is a symbol of protection, which “holds blessings near, while keeping harm at bay.” Although such markings were banned by the church centuries earlier, Gruadh occasionally reworks the design herself with a needle and thread.
The church dislikes Celtic traditions, which it sees as undermining its authority, if not actively devilish. However, Gruadh practices both and feels no conflict. Her triskele tattoo connects her to a lineage of strong women—both the goddess Brigid and her own mother.