In 11th-century Scotland, a kiss on the night of the new moon brings Gruadh near to Mac bethed mac Finnlaech (Macbeth), although she is to be married the following day to his sworn enemy, the mormaer of Moray, Gillecomgan. To cement the ties of her family to the throne of Scotland, Gruadh’s father has made a match that, while distasteful to the new bride, will be in service of future plans. But that kiss on the night of the new moon is filled with portent: “Luck can open the door to fate.”
Accommodating her new husband, Gruadh is awaiting the birth of her first child when Macbeth rides onto the land to announce the Moray’s death. Considering Macbeth her husband’s murderer, Gruadh is forced to marry him, the new bride large with pregnancy and vile of humor. Eventually accepting her changed role, Gruadh, also known as “Rue of the Sorrows,” demands to be appraised of her husband’s plans.
Resisting the interference of a woman, Macbeth balks, only to discover his wife’s inherent stubbornness. The pair dance around each another, Macbeth steadfast, Gruadh angry by turns, curious by others, as yet undecided about her new spouse. When her son, Lulach, is born, Gruadh becomes even more involved in Macbeth’s politics, following local superstitions to foretell his future, although Rome looks upon such actions as heretical.
Caught in the beliefs of the 11th century, the old ways are just as appealing as the rigid rules of the priests, Scotland ripe for the mixture of both, to appease fate, God or fairy folk. It is this harsh, frigid landscape that Susan Fraser King captures so eloquently, the solitary courage of a young woman destined for greatness, boldly wearing her sword and helmet into the field: “I resolved to stay aware of any matter that might affect my kin, my son, or the great tree of my descent.”
At a time when violent men rampage across Scotland in search of power and land, womenfolk choose to remain close to the hearth. All but Gruadh, Rue of the Sorrows, who, as few women before and after her, refuses to accept the mantle of domesticity, fiercely protecting those she loves, her incisive wit and political agility the measure of any man’s, equally brave in the face of duty.
Beside Macbeth, Gruadh is proud and often cold to her own detriment, slow to learn the ways of marriage to this man. But she comes to view her spouse as mate and great leader, his hopes for Scotland writ large. Haunted by visions of war, Gruadh has reason to doubt her tender decisions once she and Macbeth set out to win the throne of Scotland, the crown hard won.
Gruadh and Macbeth live out the years of their union, fate waiting nearby to ambush peace with yet another deadly blow. It becomes Gruadh’s task in life to bear the sorrows of woman and queen, mother and widow, the author’s moving recreation a view inside the harsh world of a country ever at risk from invasion.