A few days later, as Macbeth, Gruadh, and their party ride home, a group of men attacks them. One man grabs Gruadh and tries to drag her into the trees nearby but she stabs him with her knife, killing him. One of Macbeth’s men then grabs Gruadh and brings her towards the cart where Lulach is. Gruadh realizes the attackers are trying to kill her son. She holds him close until the fight is over.
This is the first man Gruadh has ever killed. However, she does not hesitate, because she knows she must protect herself and her family. Her first instinct is to go to Lulach and make sure he is safe from harm.
The battle ends. Macbeth and his men “won,” but there were casualties on both sides. Macbeth comes to check on Gruadh and tells her he suspects Crinan sent the attackers to cut off Bodhe’s line. Gruadh wonders if it was King Malcolm who sent the men, but Macbeth points out Crinan, Duncan, and Malcolm are all working together.
Gruadh has been aware of the abstract danger she is in now feels the reality of the acute, violent threat against her life and Lulach’s. She understands King Malcolm and his children see her as a threat and want to cut off her line completely.
Gruadh is suddenly overwhelmed by guilt. She has killed a man and wants to go to church to confess. Macbeth argues she doesn’t need penance. He believes “battle killings are defensible even within the Church.” Gruadh wonders how Macbeth has managed to kill so many men. He tells her he’s let it go. Still, before they make it back to Elgin Gruadh finds a priest to confess to. He quickly absolves her although she wonders how “faith and violence could exist as near bedfellows.”
Gruadh occasionally turns to the church to absolve herself of guilt or to let go of grudges. In this case, however, Macbeth argues that killing a man in self-defense or in battle is not a sin, and she should be able to forgive herself. Macbeth has had more practice with this, but Gruadh has not, and cannot fully reconcile “faith and violence.”
A few weeks later Macbeth is thrown from his horse. He recovers in a tenant’s house and Gruadh goes to see him. She is surprised to find Catriona already there. She urges Macbeth to return to Elgin with her, but cannot share a saddle with him because, she reveals for the first time, she is pregnant. Although this is true, she announces it in order to “claim [her] territory.” Catriona offers to help with the pregnancy, but Gruadh insists Bethoc can take care of her. Macbeth returns to Elgin with her and recovers for a few days. Although happily pregnant, Gruadh is filled with a vague foreboding.
Gruadh no longer feels as angry towards Catriona as before, still she does not want the woman’s involvement in her life or pregnancy. Gruadh knows that Macbeth had an affair because she was not intimate with him, and so she uses her pregnancy to prove that she and Macbeth are now intimate, a kind of nonviolent revenge against the woman she feels wronged her.
Gruadh has another dream of the future. In this one, she is in a boat, and from her boat can see Macbeth in a warship along with two young men, all sailing west towards the setting sun. She recognizes the two men are her sons with Macbeth but is surprised not to see Lulach. She tries to catch up with the ship but fails.
Seeing Macbeth with two sons suggests to Gruadh that they will have children together. However, that they are sailing on a boat without her and Lulach seems ominous. Later she will learn that sailing west means sailing towards death.
That fall, on All Saint’s Eve, Gruadh goes out into the community with Bethoc and Aella. Her two friends are most excited to visit an old woman who is said to be able to tell the future. The old woman is the charcoal burner’s wife, Una, dressed up as Old Cailleach, a woman from Celtic mythology.
Although All Saint’s Eve is a pagan holiday, everyone enjoys celebrating it anyway, as it is a long-standing tradition that brings the community together. This points to the frequent mixing of Celtic and Christian tradition of the time.
By cracking eggs into water Una predicts when and if women will marry. She tells Aella she will marry a tall man, which delights her, but Bethoc may not marry at all, which the healer finds upsetting.
Often, specific knowledge about the future only makes the seeker unhappy—Bethoc learning she might not marry at all is more upsetting than ignorance.
Una wants to talk to Gruadh and takes her aside. Gruadh has come to see Una but is reluctant to admit it, before finally asking about dream reading. She tells Una about her most recent dream and Una suggests “when we sail west in dreams […] then death is beckoning.” She says Gruadh’s sons will go west, but one will be a warrior, and Macbeth will be remembered as a great king. Gruadh wonders about her other two sons, but Una can only say that they will not be warriors like their brother.
Sometimes, it is better to only know part of the future than the whole tragic story. Macbeth and his sons traveling west suggest they are traveling towards death. Even though Gruadh is happy to know she will have two sons with Macbeth, she suspects that, by saying they won’t be warriors, Una is saying they will not live into adulthood.
Una continues her prophesying—she tells Gruadh she will have three husbands, six pregnancies, and more than six heartbreaks. Una then give Gruadh a warning to bring to Macbeth—“beware the son of the warrior whose spilled blood will make him a king.”
This prophecy is arguably the most important one in the novel. Unlike other prophecies, it takes the form of specific instructions, that Gruadh can choose to heed or not.
Gruadh does not repeat Una’s message to Macbeth. She realizes either Una is telling her lies or telling her truth’s she doesn’t want to hear. She decides to bury the little crystal Una gave Lulach for protection, and to try to forget what Una said.
Gruadh worries that Una is a fraud, but that Una already wanted to talk to Gruadh before knowing her dream suggests she is not, and thatnGruadh simply doesn’t want to believe the dark truth.
A few weeks later riders arrive at Elgin. They announce King Malcolm has died in an ambush. Duncan is now king. Macbeth will go to bury his grandfather on Iona, where all kings are buried. Gruadh insists on coming with him.
Just as Malcolm had threatened, his grandson is succeeding him as king, although traditionally this was not how succession worked, King Malcolm did all he could to ensure the longevity and power of his bloodline.
Before arriving in Iona, Macbeth, Banchorrie, and Gruadh meet in Scone and discuss King Malcolm’s death. Banchorrie warns the couple that some people are accusing them of orchestrating the murder. Gruadh asks Macbeth if he was involved, but he insists he was not. Macbeth anticipates Duncan will likely be a bad king, for although he “bears the ambitions of three—himself, his father, and his grandfather […] he lacks the wit or judgment of the others.” Macbeth has been asked to serve as Duncan’s general. He puns drily that while the crown needs Moray, it is also true that “Moray needs the crown.”
Although often the weight of a family legacy can do good—Gruadh and Macbeth are both made more ambitious by their heritages—Duncan is burdened by the memory of his grandfather and the machinations of his father, who remains alive. Duncan was not chosen because he was a good king, but merely because his grandfather and father installed him. More than ever, Macbeth’s ambitions drive him towards the crown, which he fears Duncan will corrupt.