It is now the year 1050, a decade and a half after Macbeth’s crowning. Thanks to Macbeth, Scotland has enjoyed years of peace, and so Gruadh goes to visit Mother Enya with only a small envoy.
Macbeth has been a good king, as he expected he would be. He honors tradition, respecting the land, its people, and his ancestors.
Gruadh reflects on past battles—Macbeth killed Crinan six years earlier, and bested the Earl of Siward, uncle of Malcolm mac Duncan and Donald Bán, although the second battle left him with a limp. Now, in 1050, Gruadh discusses politics with her friends and guards. Angus believes Malcolm mac Duncan has the Saxon king Edward’s support, and has spent his whole life nursing resentment for Macbeth.
Just as Una, the coal-burner’s wife has predicted, Duncan’s children have grown up to be threats to Macbeth. They blame him for the death of their father (ignoring Duncan’s irresponsible rule beforehand) and want to punish Macbeth and take back the throne they believe is theirs.
Macbeth is currently in Rome, visiting the newly elected Pope. This is the first pilgrimage ever undertaken by a Scottish king. Macbeth, along with Thorfin, attended a meeting of kings and leaders organized by the Pope, who “dreamed of unity among leaders in the West,” or, at least, dreamed of coinage from them.
Macbeth’s rule is defined by a combination of respect for Celtic traditions and an embrace of new innovations. He understands that Christianity is the future and wants to help modernize Scotland.
Macbeth brought the simple clothes of a religious pilgrim with him, as well as a “small sack of the earth of Scotland,” so “he would not leave Scotland entirely.” He left Gruadh behind, and she serves as regent—managing trade, land disputes, and even legal judgments.
Macbeth’s journey is as much religious as it is political. In his absence Gruadh rules. He trusts her, and their partnership is truly equal. Additionally, Gruadh has spent her life preparing for queenship and so can competently rule in her husband’s absence.
Over the past decade Gruadh gave birth to two sons. The first, Ferchar, died before he turned two. The second, Cormac, died at six months old. Gruadh realizes history will likely say “the good wife of Macbeth […]. was barren,” and people will wonder why he did not replace her with a more fertile wife. She knows some will assume that he remained married to Gruadh because of the strength of her bloodline, but in reality, they remain married because they love each other and rule well as a couple.
Gruadh felt it was her responsibility as Macbeth’s wife to give him children and is upset that they cannot have healthy babies. Although she has one living child, Lulach, she is aware of how the history books will remember her, as she had no children with her second husband. This reflects the novel’s preoccupation with the subjectivity of history. Still, her marriage to Macbeth is loving and respectful, and he will not cast her aside for another woman.
Gruadh notes Macbeth became more religious after the death of his sons and spent a lot of time with his private priest. He worries that because he murdered Gilcomgan and Duncan, his first cousins, he has cursed himself and prevented himself from ever having heirs.
Gruadh often worried about the moral cost of violence, and now Macbeth worries as well. He turns to Christianity, which unlike Celtic traditions has a more complete framework for working through sin and guilt.
Over the years, Mother Enya and Gruadh have become friends. First, they talk, and then they look into the water to see the future. Enya tells Graudh she sees a ship and Macbeth will be home soon. However, she also sees Viking ships, and tells Gruadh she must act now to save Macbeth. Enya pushes Gruadh out the door.
Rarely do visions require immediate action. This is a rare instance, however, where Enya is seeing into the immediate future, and her visions suggest a specific course of action.
Gruadh and her men rush to the beach. Thorfin and Ketill, come to great them. Angus and two other guards ride out to defend Gruadh, but Thorfin raises his arm and uses magic to stop the warriors in their tracks. This is the first time Gruadh has seen Thorfin use this kind of power, and suspects he used magic to sink Duncan’s warships many years ago.
Although magic is often in the background of the novel, and Gruadh’s visions are obviously magical, this is the first instance of explicit magic taking place. It is also one of the instances that is decidedly unhistorical, and has been embellished for the narrative.
Gruadh decides to hear what Thorfin has to say, although she still doesn’t fully trust him after he abducted her as a child. He tells her they have since made a truce and warns her Saxon ships approach, intending to sink Macbeth’s ship. Malcolm mac Duncan knows if he “should sink the king’s ship […] in full sight of his people, and then invade Scotland, he could take the kingship.” Thorfin, who does not want to see Malcolm as king, offers Viking assistance on water, and Gruadh readies troops to defend the land.
Gruadh has held a grudge against Thorfin for many years but understands that trusting him will save her husband’s life. Once again Una’s prophecy has come back to haunt her—Malcolm, the son of the man Macbeth killed to become king, is proving to be an enormous threat.
The next morning, Gruadh stands on the cliffs of Moray backed by twelve hundred soldiers, with her son, Lulach, and her friends—Ruari, Angus, and others—by her side. Gruadh wears the armor Finn made for her many years before.
Although for years people told Gruadh that women couldn’t be warriors, in the end, she was right—she can be, and must be, for the sake of her husband and nation.
From her perch Gruadh watches Thorfin’s long ships hide themselves along the shoreline. Gruadh then watches Macbeth’s merchant vessel slowly make its way towards shore, and Saxon ships approach from the south, hoping to attack and trap Macbeth. Gruadh orders her troops down to the beach, reasoning that Malcolm mac Duncan “must know that no matter what happens on the sea today, he will not set foot on this land!” She knows that she, her troops and her country “could not lose all we had, all we loved, heritage and pride and our very selves.” This display reminds her of the gathering of forces when Macbeth won the kingship from Duncan.
Gruadh does not know what will happen—prophecies have warned her to be wary of Malcolm mac Duncan, as did Enya hours before. She is relatively powerless but does what she can to display strength for the sake of her husband, and for the sake of her nation. She sees this as a moment of reckoning and knows that she cannot let down her and Macbeth’s ancestors, and the thousands of residents of Scotland.
Malcolm mac Duncan’s ships chase Macbeth’s, but just when they are about to overtake him, Thorfin’s Viking ships reveal themselves and chase Malcolm’s boats away. Although they have won the battle today, Lulach comments that Malcolm will return by land, now that he knows he cannot attack by water.
Young Malcolm has his heart set on revenge and will never stop attacking Macbeth and trying to claim the crown he believes is his. In a way, this reflects the actions of Gruadh and Macbeth in their younger years, suggesting the cyclical nature of violence and revenge.