Eight years have passed. Gruadh wakes from the dreams of a citadel, inside of which is Macbeth. Out of the window Gruadh can see a burning wooden fortress. Suddenly, in the dream, Gruadh is outside and can hear fighting and screaming.
Gruadh dreams of the past—the novel is primarily looking back on the events of her life, and this dream is a recollection of the battle in which Macbeth dies.
Waking up, Gruadh wanders the halls of Elgin. She has been spending her days considering her story, but notes, “I am reluctant to reveal all of the events,” because some are too painful, others too personal.
The novel takes the form of Gruadh’s own recollections, which she admits are biased, based on which events she does and does not feel comfortable sharing.
Gruadh finds Drostan and a messenger from Malcolm mac Duncan in the great hall. Malcolm has sent gifts, and a final marriage proposal. He is also informing Gruadh he has claimed Fife. He further disputes Lulach’s claim as the true king of Scotland. Drostan and Gruadh speculate that, once Malcolm learns of Gruadh and Lulach’s plots against him, he will accuse her of treason. Drostan predicts “he will ruin Macbeth’s name now through rumors, and permanently in the annals and chronicles.”
Gruadh is aware of the power of history, and the ways in which history can be shaped. Although she does not acknowledge young Malcolm as the rightful king, she understands that he will write histories anyway, and will slander her husband as revenge against him.
Gruadh thinks back over the past eight years and recounts the death of her husband, Macbeth, and the ascension of Malcolm mac Duncan. In July 1054, Malcolm crossed the border into Scotland. He and his troops fooled Macbeth’s guards by carrying leaves and branches and disguising themselves until they were close to Macbeth’s encampment between Dunkeld and Dunsinnan. Gruadh notes that annals state Macbeth was defeated, when in reality both leaders were wounded and retreated.
When Malcolm and his troops advance on Dunsinnan, his tactics mirror a famous passage in Shakespeare’s play, in which a fortune teller warns Macbeth he “shall never vanquished be until / Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinan Hill / Shall come against him.” This scene also further underscores the subjective nature of historical records.
Malcolm mac Duncan declared he was King of Scots, although the priests did not agree, and Gruadh, the crowner, would not crown him. After Macbeth’s defeat he returned to Elgin, where Gruadh and Catriona treated his wounds—specifically a blow to the eye that left him half-blind, similar to the wound Macbeth himself had given Duncan years earlier. For the next three years Macbeth continued to rule as King, but Malcolm mac Duncan remained a usurper, attempting to gain the throne.
Malcolm’s actions are entirely motivated by a desire for revenge. Even the wounds he inflicts on Macbeth are an attempt to right the wrongs he feels Macbeth committed against his own father; that the wound Macbeth suffer’s is similar to Duncan’s again suggests the cyclical, self-perpetuating nature of revenge and violence. Gruadh knew this would happen, because of Una’s prophecies, but now it is too late to do anything.