It is the middle of winter, 1058. The recently-widowed Gruadh has been rejecting the repeated marriage proposals of Malcolm mac Duncan, the man who murdered her husband Macbeth, and now claims the Scottish crown. Although Malcolm has sent her expensive gifts, she is uninterested in the power he offers her. She explains, “I am a Celt and value honor more” than power offered by a man she doesn’t respect and whose authority she does not acknowledge.
Gruadh’s husband has been killed, and she is living essentially in exile, but remains proud and strong. Although she knows remaining a widow leaves her vulnerable, and Malcolm could offer her power and protection, she respects her family legacy, and the Celtic legacy of Scotland, too much to marry someone who she worries will corrupt it.
If Gruadh will not marry Malcolm mac Duncan he would like her to go to a convent, but she sends a letter refusing both demands, and remains in her Scottish fortress. Still, although she has no need of a husband, Gruadh is lonely. She has her childhood friends Bethoc and Drostan to keep her company but misses her late husband Macbeth and her sons.
So much of Gruadh’s life has been consumed by family—both in raising her son, Lulach, and supporting and ruling with her second husband, Macbeth. Now, widowed with her son grown, for the first time in her life she has nothing to take up her time.
Drostan wants to write an encomium for Gruadh. Although she told him his idea was “silly,” she secretly wants an account of her life to be written down. She has a royal pedigree and has had an extraordinary life — learning “embroidery and hawks and kingship, and more magic than I should admit.” Still, Gruadh believes that her late husband, Macbeth, is more deserving of a chronicle. She knows Malcolm mac Duncan will write Macbeth’s history, and “ruin his deeds and his name,” although as long as Gruadh remains alive she will know the truth.
Gruadh knows she will likely not be included in the historical record because she is a woman. She also is aware that, because Macbeth died just as Malcolm came to power, Malcolm will do his best to ruin Macbeth’s legacy and elevate his own. This is a sort of meta-commentar,y as historically Gruadh was left out of the record and Macbeth’s legacy was permanently corrupted by Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth.
Until her life is truly over, Gruadh thinks it is too early to memorialize her. Still, “some truths there are which must be said.”
This passage implies that the rest of the novel is Gruadh’s recollection of her life, which is recounted for the sake of the reader.