After two weeks of planning, Macbeth receives word that Duncan is advancing Elgin with his troops. Gruadh gives Macbeth the blessed pin from Enya. Before he rides to battle. She says a final prayer of protection and the couple kisses.
Gruadh does what she can to protect her husband. She knows that Thorfin’s raven banner has protected him and hopes this pin will ensure Macbeth’s safety.
Macbeth prepares to ride out, and so does Gruadh. She reasons that if Macbeth is willing to die “for the sake of my kin group, I had to be there too.” She dresses in Finn’s armor, and arms herself with Macbeth’s dagger and Bodhe’s sword.
In addition to giving Macbeth a pin, Gruadh wants to give him her full support. Although women generally do not ride into battle, she feels it is the best way to stand by her husband.
When Macbeth sees Gruadh he tries to send her back inside, but Gruadh will not budge. She argues her presence will encourage the people of Moray to gather behind them. She also reminds him of the vow she made years before to protect her family and home. She points out she has killed and wounded before and is participating in a tradition of Celtic women warriors. She adds that she has her own reason to ride out—the deaths of Bodhe, Maeve, and the poisoning of Macbeth. Finally, her husband consents and allows her to ride.
Just as Gruadh suspected, her presence encourages men to join Macbeth’s army, and she even inspires some women to grab weapons and march. For the first time, Gruadh feels “like a monarch.” She feels the loyalty of her people and is inspired by them. They are unified in their cause—protecting Moray from invaders.
Seeing Macbeth’s wife ride with him shows his followers that he is a family man who deserves their respect, and seeing Gruadh shows women they, too can fight if they want to.
Eventually, Macbeth, Gruadh, and their army crest a hill and see Duncan and his forces on the other side. The Moray army prepares for battle, saying chants and prayers. Before the two sides can clash, however, Macbeth and some of his most trusted warriors ride out to meet Duncan. The men negotiate and decide Macbeth and Duncan will fight one on one and the winner will take Scotland.
Macbeth knows his feud is only with Duncan, and so he wants to save as many lives as possible. He is also a strong warrior and knows he can likely beat Duncan one on one, even if their armies are more evenly matched.
Macbeth and Duncan battle. Although Duncan is a strong fighter, cutting Macbeth’s leg, Macbeth first breaks his opponent’s jaw and then gashes his shoulder. Duncan falls to the ground, but Macbeth does not kill him; instead he walks away, the clear winner. Gruadh watches her husband kneel and pray before wiping his sword on the ground.
This is an instance of necessary violence. However, Macbeth, even after he has won, does not inflict any more harm than he must. Afterwards, he kneels to pray, likely to thank God, and to be absolved of Duncan’s imminent death.
In Celtic tradition, in between times are magical. That night—before Duncan’s wounds kill him and he is no longer king, and before Macbeth is crowned—is one of these special times. Gruadh does her best to nurse the dying king, but there is nothing she can do. She rinses her hands of his blood, and with Macbeth and a cluster of priests and medicine women sit with Duncan so he will not die alone.
Although Duncan is her enemy, Gruadh is kind to him. When she washes her hands the blood comes off easily—she has no guilt, and his death is honorable. This scene is the opposite of one in Shakespeare’s play, in which Lady Macbeth feels as though her hands will (metaphorically) never be clean of the sin of murder, speaking the famous line, “Out, damned spot!”