Over the next year Duncan continues to send ships to fight Thorfin and continues to lose. Macbeth is often away at war, and Gruadh misses him. Gruadh spends her time embroidering, mostly images of battles, which fascinate young Lulach. His interest in violence frightens her, and she tries to distract him with “books and monkishness,” but it does not work.
Lulach is fixated on violence, which scares Gruadh because she worries he will grow into a warrior and come to harm. She understands where his obsession has come from—as a young boy he has seen his father go to war and has already had sword lessons himself. Meanwhile, her embroidery—a typically female task—of battle images—a typically male realm—reflects her own embrace of both masculine and feminine attributes.
That winter, Macbeth returns and he and Gruadh have sex, but she does not become pregnant. She has become more resigned to their combined infertility, but wonders “if, and when” Macbeth will replace her with someone more fertile.
Gruadh understands that a wife’s role is to produce heirs. Even though she loves her husband and wants to stay together, she understands he might think she is not doing her duty. Her loyalty to family means she recognizes he may replace her with a fertile bride.
Banchorrie acts as a messenger between Duncan and Macbeth. Duncan wants Macbeth to raise thousands of men to attack the Saxons. Macbeth refuses, even though without his help Duncan will not have enough soldiers. Two weeks later Duncan sends Macbeth another plea. With his messenger comes Drostan, Gruadh’s childhood friend. He has come to collect reports for his monastery and has brought gifts from Duncan: two drinking horns, red wine, mead, and sweetmeats. Gruadh is happy to see her friend but unimpressed by the gifts.
Although he has supported Duncan for many battles, Macbeth is beginning to turn. He knows if he doesn’t help Duncan, the King will falter, and thus Macbeth can more easily usurp him. Gruadh knows Duncan must be desperate, and the gifts are some kind of manipulation.
That evening, Gruadh pours mead for her friends and family. She gives Macbeth one drinking horn and Drostan, her guest, the other. Drostan shares with Maeve, as he does not like mead. However, soon after taking a sip, Maeve collapses. Gruadh rushes to her friend, who dies in her arm. Macbeth, still at the table, begins to vomit. His men escort him out, and Gruadh commands Bethoc to do what she can to counteract what she suspects is poison.
Duncan has tried to poison Macbeth and Gruadh because they are standing in his way. He sees this kind of subtle, ignoble violence as the best way to get rid of his political enemies. He only did this because he could see Macbeth was beginning to turn on him, and he wanted to remain in power.
Macbeth convalesces in bed. Bethoc does what she can, but Gruadh realizes she needs Catriona’s expertise. Catriona arrives and begins to care for Macbeth. Weak as he is, Macbeth is happy to see his old friend and lover. Gruadh recognizes this but swallows her jealousy, reasoning that, if his love for Catriona will save him, so be it. Catriona determines the poison was a mixture of foxglove and purple fairy flower. The antidote requires the herb ruigh, or rue—Gruadh’s nickname.
Although Gruadh hated Catriona for undermining her marriage, Gruadh is able to move on. She understands that Catriona is the only one who can save her husband, and therefore is willing to let go of her grudge for the sake of her family. In the end, it is Gruadh, or “Rue,” who symbolically saves Macbeth’s life, as it was was Gruadh who called for help.
As Macbeth recovers he and Gruadh receive word of Duncan from Ruari. Duncan tried to capture some holy relics but failed, and many Scottish men were slain in the process. Now, Duncan has returned to Dunsinane and complains that he failed because he did not have the support of Moray’s troops. Behind his back other mormaers have begun to meet and say that Macbeth is “the only mormaer in Scotland who can repair the damage Duncan has wrought.”
Duncan is on his last legs, and hopes capturing holy objects lend legitimacy to his kingship. Unfortunately for him, he does not capture the objects and the mormaers who formerly supported him have turned against him. Everyone but Duncan can see that he’s ruining Scotland, and for the sake of the country want a new king.
Early in August Macbeth asks Gruadh to prepare the house for a war council. Mormaers and warriors from across Scotland come to meet in secret. Banchorrie comes too and argues that Duncan must be stopped before he destroys Scotland. The other men agree they need an “elected king,” who is both a warrior and a wise man. Emboldened and convinced by the support of his fellow mormaers, Macbeth agrees to rebel.
Macbeth has wanted to be king his entire life but has waited patiently. Finally, his moment has come—he has the support of many of his peers, and he knows that fighting Duncan for the crown is what is best for Scotland. His own personal ambitions align with the country’s future.
Later that night Macbeth joins Gruadh in their bedroom. He tells her his coconspirators want him to participate in an old Celtic tradition—they want him to kill Duncan himself and win the crown. Although he has killed many men before, even his cousin Gilcomgan, Macbeth wonders if it is sinful to kill Duncan, thereby “forcing fate.” Gruadh counters that “sin is a choice […] and so is this path.” Macbeth points out that he’s always had ambitions for Scotland as much as for himself—he sees Duncan as destroying the Gaelic traditions, and believes he can save them.
Macbeth’s dreams of being king are, he claims, as much for Scotland’s sake as for his own. Still, he worries that, even though prophecies have declared he will be king, by actively taking the crown from Duncan he is going too far in grasping his own future. However, Gruadh, who has struggled with the morality of killing in the past, now understands that sometimes violence is necessary, and that Macbeth can choose to have a clean conscience.