Banchorrie arrives one morning with a band of men to warn Gruadh and Macbeth that Scottish warships have been sighted off the Moray coast. Duncan has asked Thorfin for tribute for his province of Caithness (which he owns outright and owes no tribute on), and Thorfin refused. Now Duncan wants to arrange a new agreement, where Thorfin pays or else there will be war. Macbeth recognizes Duncan wants to take over as much of Scotland as possible, and likely set the tribute high to give himself an excuse to attack Thorfin. Although everyone agrees the cause is foolhardy, if Duncan weakens himself or his image, or dies, “it will only aid the cause” Macbeth, Gruadh, and others favor.
Duncan is motivated by a desire to claim land for his country. Although most characters are driven to make their families proud, the weight of Duncan’s family’s legacy, in addition to his general unfitness to be king, means that his attempts to leave a mark on Scotland is likely to end in disaster. Still, even as his enemies and allies see this they, like Macbeth, reason it is better to let him dig his own grave, which will only strengthen Macbeth’s eventual claim to the throne.
A few days later, Gruadh rediscovers the jet-and-bronze brooch from her childhood. She knows even if “war came to our shores,” she “would stand strong” and protect her family. Thorfin sinks five of Duncan’s ship and Duncan retreats with the rest. Macbeth and Banchorrie gather troops in anticipation of a clash with Orkney on land, and Macbeth orders Gruadh to prepare to leave at a moment’s notice.
Gruadh’s brooch, which she used to stab one of her kidnappers as a child, is a symbol of her fighting spirit; as such, it lends her strength in tumultuous times. She is nervous to see Macbeth go to war, and nervous to that there are naval battles so close to her home, but she knows she must stay strong for her family, her husband, and the people of Moray.
Gruadh visits Finn in the blacksmith. She asks him to make her a helmet and hauberk. He points out Bodhe already gave her armor, but she notes that it was ceremonial, and she wants battle gear. He resists, but she is persistent. She knows she will never be a soldier, but there is a Celtic history of women warriors, and marching by Macbeth’s side makes both of them seem strong, “for Moray, for Lulach. And Scotland.” Finn eventually agrees.
Gruadh spends much of her life convincing men to let her learn to fight. Once again, she must convince a man to help her continue in the tradition of Celtic women warriors. Finn, her childhood friend who sparred with her as a child, is eventually convinced, having seen Gruadh’s stubbornness before first-hand, and heard the same stories of women warriors. Here again Gruadh ties her own fate to that of her country.
Macbeth is gone for months, but eventually, that spring, a messenger arrives. The messenger removes his helmet and reveals he is Ketill Brusisson. He reports that Macbeth, Duncan, and Thorfin met to negotiate. Macbeth encouraged Duncan to back down, but he would not, and now Thorfin has returned to Orkney to gather more troops. However, Thorfin, not Macbeth has sent word to Gruadh. In thanks, she tells Ketill to tell Thorfin she hopes for peace between Moray and Orkney.
Many years after her kidnapping, Gruadh has begun to forgive Thorfin. She liked Ketill all along, but now, given time, and having practiced forgiveness and patience as she plotted revenge for her father’s death, she sees this as not a hill to die on, and instead as a useful alliance to foster in the future, especially when Macbeth makes a bid for king.
Macbeth returns to Elgin and tells Gruadh to gather her household and move somewhere safer. He tells her Thorfin wants to join together with Moray to defeat Duncan. Macbeth considered but refused. Now, he still supports Duncan, and will fight Thorfin’s troops if they ever attempt to march across Moray. Over the summer Duncan continues to fight with Thorfin, and Thorfin continues to sink his ships. Thorfin then sails his troops to Caithness, and begins to march them southwards, kicking off months of war.
Although Macbeth desperately wants to be king, and could likely win with Thorfin’s help, he wants to go about enacting his revenge and plot in a way that seems nobler. He and Thorfin have no hard feelings, each understanding their battle is not personal.