I am granddaughter to a king and
daughter to a prince, a wife twice over, a queen
as well. I have fought with sword and bow, and
struggled fierce to bear my babes into this world.
I have loved deeply and hated deeply, too.
Lady Gruadh, called Rue, is the last female descendent of Scotland’s most royal line. Married to a powerful northern lord, she is widowed while still carrying his child and forced to marry her husband’s murderer: a rising war-lord named Macbeth. Encountering danger from Vikings, Saxons, and treacherous Scottish lords, Rue begins to respect the man she once despised–and then realizes that Macbeth’s complex ambitions extend beyond the borders of the vast northern region. Among the powerful warlords and their steel-games, only Macbeth can unite Scotland–and his wife’s royal blood is the key to his ultimate success.
Determined to protect her small son and a proud legacy of warrior kings and strong women, Rue invokes the ancient wisdom and secret practices of her female ancestors as she strives to hold her own in a warrior society. Finally, side by side as the last Celtic king and queen of Scotland, she and Macbeth must face the gathering storm brought on by their combined destiny.
From towering crags to misted moors and formidable fortresses, Lady Macbeth transports readers to the heart of eleventh-century Scotland, painting a bold, vivid portrait of a woman much maligned by history.
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SUSAN FRASER KING lives in Maryland with her husband, sons, and a Westie.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Anno Domini 1025
Scarce nine the first time I was stolen away, I remember a wild and unthinking fright as I was snatched from my pony's back and dragged into the arms of one of the men who rode toward my father's escort party. We were heading north to watch our kinsman, King Malcolm, second of the name, hold an autumnal court on the moot hill at Scone. Proud of my shaggy garron and painted saddle, I insisted on riding alone in the length between my father, older brother Farquhar, and several of their retainers. Then horsemen emerged from a fringe of trees and came straight for us. As men shouted and horses reared, a warrior reached out and plucked me up like a poppet.
The memories of that day are vivid but disjointed. His furs smelled rancid and smoky; his whiskered chin was broad from my view beneath, trapped before him in the saddle; his fingers on the reins were grimy and powerful. I can recall the russet brown of his cloak, but I do not recall his name. I know it was never spoken in my hearing for years afterward.
Kicking, shrieking, twisting like an eel in the arms of that stranger, I managed to tear his dagger from his belt, slicing my thumb like a sausage. With no idea how to handle the thing, I meant to defend myself. A fierce urge insisted upon it.
He snatched the dagger back, but next I tore the large round brooch from his cloak, shredding the wool, and whipped it upward to jab it into his cheek. That slowed him. Swearing, he released me for an instant, and I lurched from the saddle, falling and breaking my arm in my thud to cold earth. Rolling by accident more than intent, I narrowly missed the forelegs of a horse as my kinsmen thundered past me.
Shouting then, and steel and iron clashed, and within minutes of yanking me from my pretty saddle, the man was dead, and two of his guard with him. My father and the others took them down with swift and ugly certainty.
Huddled beside the road on the frosted earth, I watched, arm aching, heart slamming, while men fought and died. Until then, I had never seen a skirmish, nor so much blood. I had heard steel ring against steel in the practice yard of our fortress in Fife, but I had never seen blade sink into flesh, nor heard the soft, surprised gasp as the soul abandons the body without warning. Since then, I have heard it too often.
I own that cloak pin still, good bronze and smooth jet, and I will never wear it. In the little casket with my jewels, its dusky gleam reminds me to stay strong and wary.
My brother, Farquhar, died of the wounds he took in my defense. I saw the angled sprawl of his body, though my father's men shielded me from the full sight. I remember, too, the taste of my salt tears, and my father's roar of grief echoing in the chill air.
Farquhar left a small son, Malcolm, and a pale wife with a grieving spirit, who soon returned to her Lowland family, leaving Malcolm to foster with Bodhe. My father found solace in the boy's presence, and he swore to discover who had plotted the attack that had nearly taken his daughter and had killed his son.
Through subtle inquiries, Bodhe learned that the men were sent by Crinan, the lay abbot of Dunkeld as well as mormaer--the Celtic equivalent to Saxon earl or Norse jarl--of Atholl. He was married to the king's eldest daughter. My father already loathed him as an arrogant fool, and now outright hated him. At the king's next judgment court, Bodhe accused Crinan of Atholl of plotting to abduct me to marry Crinan's son Duncan, a young warrior, and of cruelly killing Farquhar mac Bodhe. Denying all, Crinan claimed that Bodhe attacked his men without provocation, thereby inviting Farquhar's death himself.
The guilty party would have to pay cro, a customary penalty in recompense, a certain amount of livestock or other goods according to rank. While they awaited the king's decision, tensions were such that Bodhe and Crinan nearly came to blows, but for the king's housecarls who stood between them.
Justice stumbled on barren ground that day, for my father paid, as a prince, many cows each for Crinan's deceased men, some to their families and some to the king. Crinan basked in smug victory, keeping the fat coffers of his church at Dunkeld, and the continued favor of his royal father-in-law. The king, old Malcolm, showed no loyalty toward Bodhe and Farquhar, his own blood kin. My father never forgot it. Added to past offenses, the whole was fuel for fire.
Early on I learned why we despised Malcolm's faction of our kinsmen. Our kin group had endured the deaths of others, including Bodhe's father, King Kenneth, the third of the name. He had been murdered by then-young Malcolm, called the Destroyer, who took his cousin's throne.
My blood had even more merit once Bodhe had no other heir. Because I am descended in a direct line from Celtic kings, the purest royal blood courses through me and blushes my skin. I could prick a finger and it would be gold to some.
I am Gruadh inghean Bodhe mac Cinead mhic Dubh--daughter of Bodhe son of Kenneth son of Duff. My grandfathers going back were kings of Scots, and I was born a princess of the house of Clan Gabhran that boasts Kenneth mac Alpin, the first king of Scots and Picts together. The line reaches back to the Picts who were native to this land, and the Scotti who came over from Ireland to settle as the Dalriadans in Argyll. We are proud of our heritage, and know the old names by heart: son of, son of.
My lineage combines the ancient royal branches of Scotland through my father, and through my mother, the proud line of the high kings of Ireland back to Niall of the Nine Hostages and beyond. Our old tree has many branches, some warring and some not, and divides along two main trunks, Clan Gabhran and Clan Loarne, descended from a single king, ages past.
Because a man could claim the throne of Scotland by marrying me, I was not safe. Nor were my kinsmen, come to that: if they were killed, one after another, our line would be eliminated at its heart, making room for others' ambitions. Such is the way of things when one's heritage is ancient, pure, and royal.
Little good did the blood of ancients do me. I was like a lark spiraling upward, unaware of the hawks above judging time and distance to the prize.
The second time I was snatched off, I was walking the hills with my cousin Bethoc and Aella, my Saxon maidservant. I was a fortnight past thirteen, having been born in the last of July after the Feast of the Seven Sleepers. We were plucking wildflowers for Bethoc's mother, Mairi, a healer. She had sent us to search out club moss, yarrow, and heather--including the rare white sort if we found it--and we were dropping blossoms into the large basket that Aella lugged along. Finding club moss, we were careful to pick it with our right hands tucked through our left sleeves, so as not to taint the plant's healing power.
The summer sun was warm that day, and I was glad to be dressed simply in a tunic gown of lightweight blue-gray wool, a gauzy shift beneath, and plain leather shoes. Earlier my nurse, Maeve, had braided my hair out of the way into one fat braid, looping and securing it with a thong. Bethoc remarked that my hair's sheen, like bronze, looked like a fire beacon in sunlight, so that Maeve, who had kept close watch over me since my mother's death two years before, could see me from the walls of Abernethy, and be content in my whereabouts.
"Once I marry I will cover my head with a veil," I replied. "And Maeve will not be able to spot me when I go searching for heather and lavender."
"Those flowers, my mother says, will keep spies away," Bethoc said. "Maeve, too." We all laughed. My cousin Bethoc, daughter to my father's cousin and Fife born, knew our Celtic customs well. Aella was of Saxon birth, stolen away as a small girl and enslaved by the Irish, then rescued by Bodhe, who bought her in a Dublin market. She did not know Scottish traditions so well and was wary of them. But she knew the Saxon tongue and taught that to us, as we taught her the Gaelic.
Below the hills where we walked, men were busy far out in the golden spread of fields, taking in the hay; that morning, women had sained their cattle, putting a spell of protection around them with juniper smoke and tying fresh juniper to their tails. The Gaels have a sian, as is properly said, for every situation and every creature. No one had sained us that day as we went into the hills to search for blossoms among turf and rock.
Talking and laughing, not looking about as we should, we ran ahead and left my guard, Dugal, well behind. Bethoc, whose angelic fair-haired looks hid a talent for mischief, began a game of guessing how long it might take lazy, good-natured Dugal to catch up to us, following the torch of my hair in the sunlight.
Then men appeared over the rim of the hill. My constant guard was not with them. His head, however, was.
Bethoc screamed, Aella dropped the basket, and I stood transfixed in horror. Two more men surged out from behind a cluster of boulders and then we ran, but my friends were thrown roughly aside. One assailant grabbed me up while I dragged and struggled. Another took my feet, and we went over the hill with me slung between them like a whipping hammock.
Other men met us, all of them strangers to me. Someone bound me with ropes and swathed me in a blanket--a filthy thing, nipping with fleas--and put me on a horse to ride in front of a silent warrior. Over hours and near a day, I was moved from the horse to a cart that rumbled over rough terrain, and finally to a boat, gliding on lapping water. When the blanket was removed, night had descended, the air fresh and sea-damp. The men dipped oars over a distance through mist, and no one spoke to me. Among them I heard more Norse than Gaelic, and heard them speak of boats, oars, and the sea. Then I knew them for Vikings: no Gael would name such things directly while on the water. I hoped the Norsemen would invite bad luck to themselv...
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