Gruadh remembers the first time she saw Macbeth. She was just four years old in 1020, and Macbeth was fourteen. King Malcolm was holding a royal judicial hearing, and Macbeth had come to accuse his cousins, Gilcomgan and Malcolm mac Malbríd, of killing his father, Finlach, mormaer of Moray.
Much of Macbeth’s life is defined by his search for justice for the death of his father. In this moment, he seeks it through courts; later, he will find justice through violence, and then through the acquisition of power.
Gilcomgan and Malcolm mac Malbríd join Macbeth in front of King Malcolm. They do not deny murdering Finlach but explain that they worried Finlach was grooming Macbeth as his heir, when inheritance should have passed to them. They claim Finlach attacked them when he and his soldiers happened to encounter them and their soldiers.
The Celtic line of succession is complicated, with succession acknowledging the mother’s heritage as well as the father’s and the throne passing between branches of the family tree. Therefore, Gilcomgan and his brother feel that the land should have been theirs but worried it would be passed linearly to Macbeth.
Macbeth refutes this; he says his father was brave and strong. He adds “if Finlach had intended to kill his nephews […] they would be dead now.” He argues that “treachery killed Finlach,” not his father’s own ambition.
Macbeth wants to honor his father’s legacy and defend him against slander. He knows his cousins killed his father for power and land, not because his father was the aggressor.
King Malcolm allows Malcolm mac Malbríd to keep his new title as mormaer of Moray, but he will have to pay 150 cows or 33 ounces of gold to be split between Macbeth and the crown. He will also have to give Macbeth certain properties. This is the highest possible fine, but Ailsa, who is watching the proceedings with Gruadh, argues, “this is not justice,” and believes Macbeth deserves more. Maeve, who has also come to watch the trial, explains that King Malcolm needs a strong warlord to rule Moray, and now the mormaer of Moray is indebted to him. Macbeth is too young to rule anyway, and so Malcolm’s ruling was intended only to increase his own power.
From a young age, Gruadh’s family involved her in politics, which were not an area typically open to women. This knowledge will help her as a wife and queen later in life. King Malcolm’s ruling is not in the interest of justice, but instead in the interest of keeping himself powerful. He knows that the mormaer of Moray is like a second king because of the strength of the region, and therefore wants to install someone already powerful and trustworthy.
As Macbeth leaves the hill where judgment was passed, men in the crowd begin to beat their shields. This is a gesture of respect “reserved for great men and kings,” and a show of support for Macbeth’s rightful desire for revenge, and rightful claim of Moray.
As Macbeth will explain to Gruadh later in life, sometimes the best revenge requires patience, and it often doesn’t require violence. Here, although King Malcolm took Macbeth’s lands from him, Macbeth gained the respect of the assembled men, which he will cash in on later in life.