Gruadh and Macbeth move to a new fortress, Kincardine O’Neil. Gruadh briefly returns to Elgin to fetch Lulach, but she also takes the time to work on fulfilling what she sees as her obligation as queen “to give the king a hero of his own blood.” Bethoc feels she has done all she can for Gruadh’s fertility, and the pair decide to visit Catriona.
Gruadh believes that it is her duty as queen to give Macbeth a royal heir. She is so committed to this that she is willing to put aside her grudge against Catriona entirely, if the woman can help her conceive.
Catriona is surprised to see Gruadh, but gracious. As they talk Gruadh begins to warm to her former rival, realizing that Catriona has saved both her life and Macbeth’s. Catriona gives her herbs and potions to drink and bathe in. Both women offer a kind of truce—Gruadh tells Catriona Bethoc would like to learn from her, and that she and Macbeth would be happy to foster her son. Catriona, for her part, informs Gruadh she is going to remarry. Gruadh understands why Macbeth once loved her but knows she will always be hurt by his betrayal.
Now that Gruadh and Catriona are both committed to making amends, they are able to form a shaky alliance. They likely will never be close friends, but Catriona’s promise to marry shows that she is truly no longer interested in carrying on an affair with Macbeth. Meanwhile, Gruadh’s offer to foster Catriona’s son, shows that she respects the woman and no longer minds being reminded of her; she is truly moving past her tendency to hold grudges.
By Christmas, Gruadh is pregnant. For the first time she tries to be careful—and displays a “new devotion to quiet activities,” reading the gospel, and embroidery.
In the past Gruadh has rejected suggestions that her temperament or interest in swordcraft sabotaged her pregnancies, but this time she decides to heed that advice.
Later that winter Macbeth debates whether or not to kill Duncan’s young children, who Crinan has recently smuggled out of Scotland. Some advisors insist these children should be killed, and others agree that if they are allowed to live they will grow into warriors who will return and challenge Macbeth’s title. Gruadh thinks of her promise to Lady Sybilla and her own pregnancy. She leaves the room to bring in Lulach. She points out that he is so young, the same age as young Malcolm mac Duncan and Donald Bán, and that they are children and no threat to Scotland. She urges the men to be “merciful and rightful,” and to not be obsessed only with power. She argues that each child is precious, and they are not enemies of the crown but children. Macbeth agrees to let the children live, although they are banished from Scotland.
Years earlier, Gruadh promised Lady Sybilla to look after her young children. Although Gruadh has heard a prophecy, warning her to beware of Duncan’s children, who will later threaten Macbeth, she decides she would rather risk Malcolm and Donald Bán growing up to take revenge against her husband than have the blood of children on her hands. This is partly a maternal instinct, and partly a desire to fulfill a promise. It also harks back to an early vision of Gruadh’s, when young Malcolm held her hand and she felt a great weight of obligation.
A visiting mormaer argues it is a mistake to let Malcolm mac Duncan come of age and tells Gruadh she has “sealed [her] husband’s fate.” That night in bed Gruadh reflects Una’s prophecy “Beware the son of the warrior whose spilled blood will make Macbeth a king.” She wonders if Una was referring to Malcolm, and if killing a child would have been a fair price for saving a kingdom.
Gruadh understands the risks of letting the children live, especially given Una’s prophecy, but stands firm—she believes killing children is wrong, even if they will grow up to be her enemies.