King Malcolm’s body is brought to Scone, where candlelight vigils are held. At Scone, Gruadh also witnesses Duncan’s crowning. Macbeth stands on the hill with Duncan as the ceremony begins, and Gruadh observes he “looked far more a king than plain, stocky Duncan.” Gruadh reports that the ceremony is a “crowning” not a “coronation,” because the kingship it is not bestowed by the church, but by “ancient, mystical rite.”
The crowning ceremony is pagan, relying on Celtic traditions instead of Christian ones. This is because Christianity came to Scotland relatively late, only after the people had already established many Celtic rituals.
Crinan serves as Duncan’s crowner, which, because they are father and son, “smacked of conspiracy to some.” That day and night, although there are celebrations, Gruadh has an ominous feeling.
As succession is normally supposed to travel nonlinearly, and crowners have a say in who will be king, but it is clear to everyone Duncan’s family is looking after its own.
Malcolm is buried at Iona. Macbeth goes with the escort, but Gruadh remains at Dunsinnan. Gruadh reflects on Lady Sybilla, who is “effectively queen,” although because she is Saxon can never be a fully Celtic queen. Gruadh wonders if she will also have the title of queen, acknowledging envy is a sin and coveting anyway.
Gruadh wants to be queen, and could be, because her ancestry is right. Although she envies Lady Sybilla’s position she has no hard feelings against her friend.
Gruadh and Lady Sybilla spend a lot of time together while their husbands are away. The morning Gruadh is set to leave Dunsinnan, Lady Sybilla asks Gruadh to promise that if she dies, Gruadh will watch over her children, Donald Bán and Malcolm mac Duncan. Gruadh agrees.
This moment is related to a vision Gruadh had many years before, when she saw King Cnut and King Malcolm meet. She held little Malcolm’s hand a felt a weight—the weight is this obligation to his mother to protect him.
Macbeth has returned from Iona and travels home with Gruadh. He hopes to be buried on Iona one day. Shortly into Lent, Gruadh miscarries a premature son. Macbeth is away when his wife miscarries, but rushes home. He tells her that her health is all that matters, but Gruadh is embarrassed she “kept such ill care of the little souls we invited between us.”
Gruadh feels it is her responsibility as Macbeth’s wife to bear healthy children, a message that others, like Maeve, have driven home. Macbeth, however just cares about her wellbeing, and understands it isn’t her fault.
When Macbeth, Finn, and Ruari all ride out without telling Gruadh where they are going, she reflects on how, although she has a place on the war council, lately she has not been included. Stuck at home, bored, she decides to do more charitable works in the community. She feels her “arms [are] so empty,” and knows Macbeth needs his people’s loyalty.
As she learns the names of her tenants and becomes known in her community, Gruadh begins to prepare herself for queenship. In exchange for her goodwill, people in Moray begin to send gifts back to her, which she sees as an indication that in the future they will provide loyalty and support if Macbeth ever makes a bid for the crown.
Gruadh commits her life to helping Macbeth, and therefore helping herself and her son, garner support in their region in anticipation of a potential bid for the Scottish crown.
That summer, Finn and Ruari return with two thousand men. Macbeth returns with sixteen hundred. They are preparing for war, and make arrangements for the men to be housed, armored, and fed. Gruadh wonders if this is on Duncan’s behalf or for Macbeth’s personal army. Finn explains Macbeth is both recruiting an army for the king and one for himself at once.
Although Macbeth is ostensibly supporting King Duncan, he is also supporting himself. He anticipates Duncan being a bad king and wants to be ready to rebel against him if and when the need arises. Macbeth does this for his own ambition but also for the sake of Scotland, underscoring that the two are closely intertwined.
Macbeth anticipates that Duncan will dispute the southern Saxon border, although King Malcolm had hashed it out years earlier with King Cnut. Gruadh complains to Macbeth that she wants to be on his war council, and to participate in “what may come.” Macbeth corrects her that she will participate in “what will come,” but that she must be patient.
Macbeth is confident that he will one day be king. Although Gruadh has had visions and knows this will be true, she remains impatient.
That fall, Gruadh becomes acutely sad that she is unable to carry a baby to term. She wonders if this is divine punishment for having ambitions and for wanting Macbeth to be king. Her husband comforts her, pointing out that they want the kingdom so that they will have something to give their children.
Still, Maeve tells Gruadh “old grief” is “poisoning” her body against pregnancy, and that by trying to be a warrior she is hurting her ability to be a mother. Gruadh disagrees. She believes “a queen tends to both” domestic duties and war games outside the home.
Even as Gruadh is upset that she cannot have another child, she understands that she must be both soft and strong in order to be a good mormaer’s wife, and eventually queen. Her interest in politics is not holding her back, but instead driving her forward.
One day Macbeth returns home with a letter from Duncan—compensation for Bodhe’s death. He gives Gruadh crowning rights, which would make her bloodline second only to the king’s. They both understand this would “dilute” Gruadh’s claim to the throne but that refusing “would be rebellious.” She recognizes that, in theory, this is a great honor and, although angry, signs that she agrees to Duncan’s terms.
Gruadh understands that she is being insulted and in a way her heritage is being undermined, but she is also beginning to understand that she is playing a long game and can absorb this slight in order to take over the throne later.