Gruadh and Bodhe ride to witness a meeting of kings on the border between Lothian and Saxon Northumbria. King Malcolm of Scotland has planned to meet the Saxon King Cnut and wants other Scottish lords behind him to show his strength. Both Aella and Bethoc come with Gruadh so she is not the only woman on the trip.
Although she is a woman, and not normally involved in politics, Bodhe has decided to train Gruadh to be a future mormaer’s wife, and maybe a future queen, who will need to understand the politics of her nation.
Days into their trip, Gruadh’s envoy passes a series of heads on pikes. Aella is disgusted, and although Gruadh is horrified, she forces herself to look. She understands that, “as wife to Scotland’s most powerful mormaer, it was in [her] interest to understand the ways of men and warfare.”
After many days of travel, Gruadh and her party reach their destination—a meadow where the kings will meet. King Malcolm and King Cnut each ride onto the field with a retinue of lords representing various lands under their control. Bodhe rides with King Malcolm, while Gruadh watches from the sidelines. Gruadh is confused when Gilcomgan does not ride, and is angry when Macbeth appears in his place, representing Moray. Ruari, who is watching the ceremony from a hillside with Gruadh, insists it is simply for the ceremony, but Gruadh feels insulted on Gilcomgan’s behalf. For the first time, Gruadh feels loyalty to Gilcomgan, and sees Macbeth as a “usurper.”
Although unhappy to be engaged to Gilcomgan, a man whose position is threatened, Gruadh instantly becomes loyal and territorial. When she marries Gilcomgan, Moray will be her territory as well, and so Macbeth, by standing in her future husband’s place, is taking what she feels is hers. Additionally, she recognizes Macbeth’s position as political favoritism, which could threaten Gilcomgan’s position.
Gruadh examines the beautiful land around her. She wonders why the kings will not use Hadrian’s Wall—a long stone wall built hundreds of years ago by the Roman leader Hadrian, and which formerly divided Britain from Scotland—as a border, instead of meeting to define a new one. Ruari explains that men will not settle for outdated boundaries if they can potentially fight for new, more favorable ones. Gruadh comments, “does death become an ordinary price when dominion is at stake?” But Ruari advises her to “consider what is best for Scotland and its Scots” to fully understand. Gruadh begins to see how not only “kin and kin groups” are important, but how Scots must value the land itself.
Throughout her life Gruadh will learn about warfare, as well as politics and revenge. This is an important lesson for her—although Gruadh has already learned to privilege her family’s wellbeing above her own, now she is learning that, as a ruler of Scotland, one must privilege the wellbeing of the nation above all else.
That evening Gruadh, Bodhe, and their entourage stay at a nearby thane’s house. They have dinner and listen to a bard who describes the events of the day and then all of the notable figures, including Bodhe, Macbeth, and Gruadh. Gruadh, who is described in flattering terms, is embarrassed but pleased.
By painting the assembled nobles and warlords in flattering terms, the bards implicitly encourage them to see each other in a warmer light. Gruadh and Macbeth especially, who have a tense relationship, benefit from hearing the other described generously.
That evening Gruadh talks to Lady Sybilla, wife of Duncan mac Crinan, who has two young sons, Malcolm mac Duncan and Donald Bán. Gruadh likes her, and the two women embrace as friends. Bodhe then calls Gruadh over to take over a chess game he is having with Macbeth. Gruadh is confused—knowing that Bodhe is better than her at chess—but recognizes that her father is playing some sort of political game.
Gruadh’s friendship with Lady Sybilla will continue to be important throughout their lives. Both women are involved in politics that they cannot directly affect but will become concerned with protecting their husbands and children at all costs.
Gruadh and Macbeth talk as they play. Gruadh discovers that Macbeth is married, and so is confused as to why Bodhe has arranged this meeting. In the chess game, Macbeth takes Gruadh’s queen, and he warns her “sometimes an unassuming warrior can move swiftly to possess a queen.” The pair discuss Gruadh’s name, both her given name and her nickname, Rue of the Sorrows. Macbeth that explains his name means “son of life,” and he comments “life and sorrow […] often go hand in hand.” As their game ends, Macbeth again cautions Gruadh to be careful when she is Lady of Moray. Once again, she ignores his warning.
Although Macbeth has limited lands and is not a mormaer, and although she does not fully get along with him, Gruadh recognizes that Macbeth’s ambition and heritage would make him a good husband, and a good match for her and her family’s ambition. Macbeth’s continued warnings foreshadow his own anticipated revenge against Gilcomgan, which will affect his new wife as well.
The next morning, King Malcolm and King Cnut meet a final time to conclude the ceremony. At one point, Gruadh observes King Malcolm carrying his great grandson Malcolm mac Duncan. Everyone present recognizes this as a declaration: Malcolm’s “line, grandson to son, would be kings hereafter.”
Lady Sybilla takes her child from King Malcolm and gives young Malcolm mac Duncan to Gruadh to care for. Gruadh feels heavy as the young child drags her arm and realizes she has seen another omen—everyone present that day is linked “as if by the tug of a heavy chain.” She doesn’t understand the connection between the “fussy child and two old warrior-kings,” but knows there is great meaning there.
Gruadh’s vision shows her the connection she will have to Lady Sybilla and to young Malcolm. Although she does not know it yet, the promise she makes to Lady Sybilla to protect her children many years later will have huge repercussions on her own life and that of her second husband, Macbeth.