|Harbingers of Blood, Part 2 (Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare, PG-13)
||[Sep. 2nd, 2010|01:39 pm]
HA HA HA! Marlowe's my bitch!
Title: Harbingers of Blood
Fandom: Shakespeare--specifically, Macbeth
Characters: Gruoch (Lady Macbeth), Macbeth, Duncan, the Three Witches, Éua (the nameless Gentlewoman from the play), a Priest (OC), assorted Ghosts
Word Count: 12,046
Disclaimer: I most emphatically am not William Shakespeare. This should not come as a shock to anyone.
Prompt: And so our mothers and grandmothers have, more often than not anonymously, handed on the creative spark, the seed of the flower they themselves never hoped to see -- or like a sealed letter they could not plainly read. -- Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) , Pulitzer-prize-winning African-American novelist, short-story writer and poet. First black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. First black woman to win the National Book Award. (Both awards were in 1983 for The Color Purple.)
Summary: Written for femgenficathon. Queens have power. They need not hide who and what they are for safety's sake. But more than that--queens have names. And Lady Macbeth would do much to be known and remembered under her own name.
Warnings (if any): Violence and murder.
Author's Notes: (if any) This is a re-imagining of Shakespeare's play--a blend of historical fact, the play and AU. Where there is a conflict between the play and history--as with Duncan, who was young when he took the throne and who died in battle, or with the Norse king Sweno being Prince Malcolm's grandfather (as in real life), rather than the uncle Shakespeare describes--the play takes precedence.
Some of the speeches are paraphrases of Shakespeare interspersed with quotations. And the witches' conversation in Lady Macbeth's nightmare is, word for word, Shakespeare's dialogue for Lady Macbeth in the sleepwalking scene. The quotations are taken from The Tragedy of Macbeth on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Shakespeare site.
The title comes from Act 5, Scene VI of Macbeth. Macduff speaks of trumpets, often used to announce the start of a battle or tourney, as "those clamorous harbingers of blood and death." This made me think that there might have been other omens of what was in the wind...before the witches appeared.
Many thanks to lareinenoire for betaing.
That night, she has the first of her nightmares. She dreams of standing ankle-deep in blood in a butcher's slaughterhouse, her arms be-gloved with crimson up to her elbows, her hands gripping blunt daggers instead of sharp cleavers. And lying before her on a bed that is also a butcher's block is Duncan, dead but still able to see her, and whispering as she tries to stab him with the dull blades, "Beware. Beware Macbeth."
And then the guards to whom she had fed a surplus of sleeping potion materialize, sprawled on the blood-drenched floor on either side of her, their faces black with poison. "Beware," they whisper, their spurting throats whistling as they speak. "Beware the ruler who does not rule."
And then Lady Macduff appears, her gown and her body cut to ribbons by assassins. Cradling the corpse of Macduff's son, the lady gazes at her flatly with dead and hate-filled eyes. "Beware the monsters that made themselves," she says softly. "Beware the enemies you trust."
That's when she becomes aware of two things: a shapeless monster crouching on the other side of the room and watching her with hungry, death-filled eyes...
...and the cackling of decrepit crones.
It grows worse after that. Much worse.
The nightmares grow more complex, more intense, more vivid. She knows that they are dreams, and that dreams cannot hurt her. She also knows that, in some way, what she is dreaming is hideously real.
She has thought over those ambiguous warnings that echo in her dreams. A ruler who does not rule...oh, there are so many. Malcolm and Donalbain. A by-blow of Duncan and a miller's daughter who styles himself Malcolm III and who seems to be getting entirely too much attention and respect from the English nobles. Her son Lulach, who should be Mormaer of Moray by now but is not. And, of course, she and Macbeth, who cannot rule the country, their fears or themselves.
There's not much she can do about claimants to the throne. And perhaps it is impractical, but she has no desire to hurt Lulach. Nor can she exactly get away from herself. But Macbeth frightens her. He is desperate to destroy everything he fears, and his fears grow daily.
As for the other warnings--"the monsters that made themselves" is a bit obvious, so much so that she wonders if there's another meaning. She's not quite sure who the enemies she trusts are, except for herself, and she doesn't know how to stop trusting herself. Even Macbeth isn't someone she trusts these days, though she knows that, according to law and custom and all the bonds between them, she should.
She always has a candle with her now, day or night. This is partly because of the nightmares...but it's also partly because of Macbeth. He grows colder and more vicious daily, and she wonders how long it will be before he decides that for him to be truly safe, she has to die.
A lit candle in a candlestick is more than illumination. It's a weapon.
And though the idea of killing again sickens her as she could never have imagined it would when this began, she knows that if her husband sends killers to her bed, she will use the candlestick as a club and the candle as a torch and try to beat and burn the hired killers to death.
And if there are no hired killers? whispers whatever remains of her soul. What if Macbeth comes to visit her by night, as husbands do? Her ladies would withdraw, her guards would be outside the room and she would be dead in an instant.
It seems all too possible.
One day, Éua--one of her gentlewomen--comes to her half-petrified, stammering a tale of sleepwalking and sleep-writing. When she asks if she's said anything in her sleep, Éua's denial is so fervent that Gruoch knows she's spoken some evil. There's little she can do, save to command the woman to attend her day and night and never to speak a word of ought that might be seen or heard in the course of her service.
Gruoch gets the woman to swear this on the salvation of her soul, which the woman does.
She feels no safer afterward.
Then Macbeth takes the field against the rebels. Three nights after he leaves for war, the witches appear in her dreams.
She is in the slaughterhouse, listening to the prophecies and accusations of the dead while she scrubs vainly at the blood on her hands. She has experienced this a thousand times, and it remains dreadful.
This time, however, an old woman's voice interrupts and silences the dead. "Yet here's a spot."
She stares down and wonders how she missed the blackish-red blood clot on her right hand. She scrubs harder, and the old woman laughs gleefully, scolding the blood for daring to be there. "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!"
A bell rings, and it sounds like all the death knells in all of Scotland blended into one.
"One," says a second old woman, who has appeared out of nowhere.
The bell tolls once more.
"Two," says the second old woman.
"Why then, 'tis time to do't," says a third crone, the ugliest and cruelest-looking of the lot. Gruoch shudders, for two bells had just tolled when Duncan died.
"Begone," she says, her throat so tight that she can barely speak. "Begone, all of you, and take your murky words with you!"
"Hell is murky," retorts the first old woman, and she sounds like one who knows all too well that what she says is true. Gruoch draws back--not much, as the dead are clustered about her feet, trapping her within a very small space, but enough to show that she fears the old woman.
The second laughs mockingly. "Fie, my lord, a soldier and afeared?'
She sounds so much like Gruoch herself ridiculing Macbeth's visions that Gruoch touches her own throat to reassure herself that she's not the one speaking. She has to wet her lips and swallow several times before she can mutter a reply. "You know too much." An admission, this, but she senses that lying to these women would be far, far more foolish than an admission of murder.
The first--the youngest of the crones, Gruoch thinks, and definitely the most talkative--glances at her as if amazed that anyone would dream saying something so foolish to the likes of her. "What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?"
The words give her a chill. For while it's true in one sense--no mere mortal can force the devil or his servants to be responsible, so her threats are meaningless--it also sounds disconcertingly like what she's been telling Macbeth for months.
She refuses to think of the implications of that.
The third hag approaches, scrutinizing Duncan's bleeding corpse as a master craftsman might study a journeyman's master work. She nods approvingly at the dead body, but frowns and shakes her head as she sees his blood drenching Gruoch's hands, arms and gown. When she speaks, she sounds both patient and weary, as if reproving a child for a foolish error. "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"
Gruoch can tell from the way the third witch says it that the witch would have anticipated Duncan's blood staining her hands and reputation, and that Macbeth and she herself should have realized that the blood of a king would not be easy to wash away from their hands or their names.
She can feel her cheeks growing hot. The third witch is right. It was a stupid mistake.
As Gruoch realizes this, the second witch glances at her blood-drenched hands and then pointedly gazes at the stabbed and poisoned guards and the butchered madwoman tenderly rocking the corpse of her small son, as if to say that it's not only royal blood that can't be washed away, either in fact or in men's minds. And the witch's coldly sneering words only confirm this. "The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?"
That is unjust, she wants to say. She had nothing to do with the slaughter of Macduff's family; that was all Macbeth's work, and she didn't learn of it until afterward.
As she thinks this, the second witch's gaze turns contemptuous. Lie to others, it seems to say, but not to me. You know as well as I that you taught him to get what he wants by killing, and he has learned that lesson very well.
I'm not the one to blame! she thinks. Yes, I persuaded him to kill, but he's gone far beyond anything I ever told him to do-- And then she stops, as the witches all turn to her with mocking smiles on their bearded lips and dark amusement in their eyes.
"Will there never be an end to the ghosts and the death knell?" she asks instead, almost pleading. Of late, her life is a nightmare whether she wakes or sleeps.
The first witch looses a taunting response that is as swift and deadly as an arrow soaring over castle walls. "What, will these hands ne'er be clean?"
Gruoch strives not to flinch at the irrevocability of those words. I am iron, she thinks. I am stone. Arrows and words cannot hurt me.
The third witch favors her with a chilly glance, as if to say that Gruoch needs to stop pretending this instant. When she speaks, she once more echoes Gruoch's words to Macbeth. "No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that: you mar all with this starting."
The first witch is still focusing on the blood. She sniffs at Gruoch's hands and gown and--incredibly--smiles. "Here's the smell of the blood still," she says, and her face is suffused with dreamlike joy.
The second witch giggles--and what an ugly sound that is, coming from one of these three horrors--and then begins to mimic Gruoch by posing and staring at her left hand in an overly dramatic way, her right hand curled sideways on her breast to make it look narrower and more aristocratic. "All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand," she says in a voice two inches away from laughter. "Oh, ohhhh, ohhhhhh!"
The third witch taps her foot impatiently as she gives the other two a quelling look. Then she turns back to Gruoch and speaks briskly. "Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so pale."
"Is there need to look so ordinary?" Gruoch knows all too well about acting as if nothing is amiss, but she would like to know the reason. "Malcolm and Donalbain are far from Scotland, and Fleance is but a child; he is no danger yet. And Banquo...well do I know that he was not falsely reported slain." This she says, though she doesn't truly know it at all. It would not be the first time that a hired killer lied to collect a bounty.
The third witch shakes her head as if wondering at such folly. "I tell you yet again--"
"You have not told me anything yet."
"-- Banquo's buried; he cannot come out on's grave."
And this, she realizes, spells out who it is that she must fear. Not princes or political foes, and certainly not Banquo nor any of his line, but the man who put Banquo in his grave in the first place.
It shouldn't hurt to realize that all of her suspicions of Macbeth are justified, and yet it does.
The third witch shimmers, and in an instant, the frightened gentlewoman who has seen Gruoch sleepwalking is standing before her, her voice sharp and her words short. "To bed, to bed! there's knocking at the gate: come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's done cannot be undone.--To bed, to bed, to bed!"
And then, of course, she wakes up.
The dream (vision? visitation?) of the witches does not return, but that scarcely matters. What does matter is that what the priest told her was true, and yet fell far short of the truth. Macbeth and she are not only feared but hated, and her husband is lashing out like a wounded snake at anyone he fancies might suspect him.
And, she hears her ladies whispering, Malcolm and Macduff and the Earl of Northumberland are drawing near to Dunsinane Castle with mercenaries sent by Malcolm's uncle, the Norse king--the same one who was trying to foment rebellion against Malcolm's father not so long ago--ten thousand men-at-arms, and every commoner that can swing a scythe or stab with a pitchfork. Clearly Macbeth's attempts at quelling civil war went swimmingly.
To make matters worse, Macbeth has locked himself and his forces in the castle. No one--including herself--dares to tell him that they haven't the food or water for a prolonged siege. He's also insisting that he can't die until Birnam Wood marches on Dunsinane. Macbeth doesn't seem to realize that it's perfectly possible for Malcolm to conquer Scotland and reclaim the throne while he himself is still alive.
And the trees need not uproot themselves, she thinks, exasperated at his literalism and his unreasoning trust in the witches, whom she now loathes. A body of knights or pikemen calling themselves 'the Men of Birnam Wood' could march on Dunsinane with ease.
But she fears most what the stress of siege will do to a man going mad from guilt and fear.
A man locked in with the one person who knows--not merely suspects, but knows--that he murdered the old king.
He will not lash out at his forces or what few nobles are still loyal to their side; he needs them. And nowadays he barely notices that the servants exist. But he has no use for a barren wife whose tongue could drag him to the chopping block and down into Hell.
And soon he'll remember that.
It does not occur to her to give up. Whatever she's done and whatever price she'll have to pay for her crimes, she is still queen, by God's wounds, and in times of peril, queens do not tremble like saplings in the wind.
There is a way out. She simply hasn't found it yet.
The only way out, she realizes a day or two later, is death.
First she goes to the gentlewoman who swore before Heaven that she was not talking in her sleep. Gruoch puts on a poised yet apologetic look, telling Éua that she knows she has been difficult of late--which is nothing but the truth--and that, as a sign of favor, she would like Éua to sleep in her bed this night...and not to speak of this to the other ladies-in-waiting until the following morning, as she would prefer a good night's sleep with no ill-feeling about her. She does not add the words 'for once,' but they are all but audible, nevertheless.
She has to fight not to laugh at the expression on Éua's face, for the woman's clearly torn. Royal favor is not to be despised, of course, and yet...now? Royal favor now, with the enemy at the gates?
Gruoch privately wagers that Éua will be horrified by the appalling timing but will agree. Obedience becomes a habit with many women, and Éua is accustomed to serving.
Next, she goes to the castle physician, and she can tell from the man's lowered eyes and furtive behavior that he knows more than he should. She has little trouble convincing him that she needs a powerful sleeping potion, and will likely need it for the next week. Nor does she have difficulty convincing Dunsinane's apothecary not only to compile the potion, but to make it twice as strong as the physician requested.
She could mix it easily herself, but she wants no questions asked later. Her actions must be as transparent as well water.
She then goes to the kitchen and tells the cook she is feeling unwell--that she has been for days. The cook agrees that she does look peaky and suggests mulled wine, bread and dilligrout. She assents to this menu--with the proviso that the cook send these dishes to her room fairly early.
Finally she goes back to her chambers and ties a long, thin flaxen thread about the base of the candlestick that she keeps with her day and night.
All is in readiness.
She is in her nightgown and abed when Éua appears. Silently, she offers the woman a goblet of half-drunk wine, a heel of fresh-baked bread, and a bowl still half-full of a stew of almond milk, sugar, spices, and the meat of capons and hens alike. Éua does not hesitate; this too is a sign of favor, and all of Scotland is hungry these days.
That Gruoch mixed a goodly proportion of the week's worth of sleeping potion into the dilligrout and the wine after she ate her share, only she knows.
It does not take long for Éua to fall asleep.
Gruoch surveys her for a moment, hoping this will work. They are the same height; they are both slim with long hands; their hair is the same dark auburn. A pity that Éua is younger than she and that their faces look nothing alike, but naught can be done about either.
She touches Éua's hands and then her face. If Éua wakes--
But she doesn't. The plan can proceed.
Gruoch nods slowly once, pulls the pillow from beneath Éua's head and then presses it down on her face.
It takes a long time for Éua to die. Though she does not wake--probably cannot wake, given the strength of that potion--her body still thrashes about flailing and kicking, her breathing little better than wheezing that slowly fades into a death rattle.
Fortunately, there's no one to hear any of this. Gruoch's other gentlewomen are not yet abed in the next room; most are at table, and those that are still fasting are at Mass, praying for their safety and the safety of the castle. She's fairly certain that one or two are planning to flee the castle tonight; while she deplores their disloyalty, their disappearance will conceal Éua's quite nicely.
Even after the body relaxes, Gruoch crushes the pillow against its nose and mouth. It is anything but wise; no servant or courtier, walking in by chance, could mistake what she's doing for anything benevolent. But what must follow will be brutal even though the only victim will be a corpse. She could not endure it if Éua--if the body--were still alive during the next part of the plan. Fifty-one ghosts would haunt her forever for that.
And so she waits for what seems eternity. The body grows no cooler. At last she bows her head in despair. It will be hours before the body is cool enough for her to tell that it is dead, and she does not have hours. She will not get a second chance. Tonight is all she has.
She cleans the pillow as best she can, places it beneath Éua's head and then wipes the lips clean as well. She tosses the handkerchief that she used to clean both on the bed beside the body. She won't need it any more.
Then she changes into a wretched array of clothes better suited to the rag-bag than to garments. In truth, she'd hoped that Éua would don her nightgown here in this room, rather than arraying herself for bed early; Éua's clothes would have fit her better and she could have slipped through the castle far more easily. Since that didn't happen...Gruoch hopes she'll escape anyone's notice before a servant or guard--or her husband, for that matter--begins asking inconvenient questions.
Once she's disguised and has concealed some packets of bread and cheese about her person (food is good currency before, during and after wars), she dons her simplest and plainest cloak. It isn't plain at all, but hopefully the commons will believe her tale of finding it among some dead soldier's spoils. Then, taking a deep breath and hating the necessity of this, she reaches down beside the bed, picks up the long flaxen thread she tied to her candlestick a few hours ago, and carefully walks backward toward the door.
Once she's halfway across the room, she stops and pulls the thread this way and that, trying to learn how hard she can pull it without the thread snapping. At last--more by chance than by design--she yanks the candlestick off of her bedside table and onto her bed, where it topples over and the candle's flame begins licking at the bedclothes.
And now comes the worst part of all--trying to char a corpse into unrecognizability.
The thought makes her ill.
But there's no help for it. Macbeth would never let her go even if she didn't know his secrets; he keeps what is his. The only way she will survive either the war or her husband's vengeance is by dying before either can kill her for aye and for all.
The candle flame, by itself, isn't powerful enough to do the damage she needs to do to Éua's face, which is staring up at her reproachfully. And she doesn't have anything in this room that will make the fire burn hotter, either.
She ends up picking up the hot brass candlestick with the bloodstained handkerchief and dripping lines of melting candle wax on the blankets, on Éua's nightgown, and on Éua's face. Then she lies the candle back down on the bed and touches a thin piece of tinder to its flame.
Once the tinder is lit, she starts lighting the wax.
It doesn't take long before both bed and body are ablaze. Now she has to wait until the flames have damaged Éua's face...and she can't wait long, for Dunsinane Castle, like every castle she knows, is made of wood. She has no desire to burn down the castle, particularly while she's still in it. She edges toward the door, her eyes aching, her throat scraped raw from smoke and heat.
When the fire is nearly as bad as it can get, she bursts from the queen's chambers, trying to scream dramatically...but choking, instead. It seems like hours before she stumbles across a young page, whose eyes widen at the sight of her.
"Hurry," she rasps. "Fire...royal chambers...the queen--" And then she collapses into a fit of coughing that is wholly unfeigned.
The boy bolts, screaming, "Fire! Fiiiiire..."
She slips into a side hallway, just to see if anyone will follow the child or heed his warning. If not, she'll have to seek other servants, and she would far rather be off and begone.
She doesn't have to wait long. The child returns almost at once, heading toward the royal chambers with a host of volunteers determined to keep the roof over their heads from burning. As they pass her hiding place, she hears one footman mutter, "Fire, eh? So the Devil came for his own at last?"
And then a serving girl screeches, "Smoke! Look!" And they stop, and gape, and rush toward the smoldering door.
Once they've passed her, she continues down this side hallway and up another, making her way toward one of the side doors of the castle by the most twisted, tortuous path imaginable. She'd prefer to race for the side door--or better yet, for the stables--but that would attract attention, which she does not need. She compromises by walking very fast, hoping that she looks like a self-important servant bustling about on a vital errand.
Some of the hallways are shadowed and unlit, and forcing herself to walk down them takes all her strength. It's not the dark that frightens her. It's the things lurking in the dark. The whisperers. The weepers of blood. The iron-taloned horrors that claw at her eyes and stink of burned and rotting flesh.
And it is darker outside than any shadowed hallway in this accursed castle could ever be.
For a moment, she considers running somewhere safe...the chapel, perhaps. But then she stops in her tracks and laughs bitterly at herself. Heaven stopped listening to her prayers a long time ago, if it ever listened at all.
She takes a deep breath, presses her right hand against the wall of the corridor (the wall is real, there is no blood running down it, there are no corpses hanging on it) and walks on.
Her meanderings lead her down one of the servants' passages to the banqueting hall of Dunsinane, where Macbeth sits with his army, still boasting that the castle can withstand a siege for ages while Malcolm and his forces die of famine and the ague. His bragging is interrupted, however, by what sounds to Gruoch like the groaning of ghosts.
His lieutenant--a man named Seyton, and Gruoch wonders if Macbeth has heard the jests about the pronunciation of that name--identifies it as something different, however. "It is the cry of women, my good lord." He leaves the hall to see what the trouble is, and returns scant seconds later. "The queen, my lord, is dead."
"She should have died hereafter," says Macbeth in an indifferent tone as he toys with a goblet of wine. "There would have been time for such a word."
Any regrets Gruoch might have had cease at that moment. Her husband as good as said that her death is no more than inconvenient, and that she would have had to die some time. If anything, she suspects he is merely disappointed that he didn't get to kill her.
As she turns to retreat down the passage--for she has no wish to listen to Macbeth blathering on about life having no meaning--a young soldier enters, his face the grayish-white of whey. "My lord," he says, his voice trembling, "as I was standing watch, I looked toward Birnam Wood...and it moved."
The last prophecy of the witches has been fulfilled. They told Macbeth to beware the Thane of Fife--and who but Macduff is at their gates even now? They told him that none born of woman would harm him--but the witches' predictions were never alive, and the spirits that prophesied for the witches were never human. And now this. Macbeth is doomed, even if he chooses not to see that.
Gruoch does not wait to hear more, but scurries down the passage searching for an exit. There is no more time to be clever or subtle. She must be gone ere the battle begins.
She actually gets a fair distance from the castle and from the armies before Macbeth's men march out. She is stopped a few times by sentries, but they think nothing of a woman fleeing a battle, and while soldiers have been known to ravage girl-children and grandmothers as well as fair young maids, only one or two are rude. Most ignore her. A few are condescendingly courteous to what they suppose to be an old servant woman, advising her to keep to this or that path and to stay well away from the forest.
She sees a few skirmishes break out--two swordsmen battling each other a foot; a Scottish farm boy falling to a Norseman's club; a pikeman stabbing a screaming horse. This last bothers her more than the people dying around her, and she wills herself not to notice the rest of the battle as anything beyond an obstacle.
In her efforts to avoid fleeing peasants and Malcolm's armies on the road and bandits and Macduff's armies in Birnam Wood, she ends up making for open country. If she were thinking, she'd realize that there's not much on the heath--little food, few people and no shelter to speak of--but the sounds and sights of battle and the growing conviction that she will be recognized and torn to pieces by an outraged populace are clawing at her nerves. She needs to be far from here before she will feel marginally safe in the presence of people again.
So she hastens toward the harsh, thistle-strewn heath.
She ignores her exhaustion and her trouble breathing as long as she can. But at last she collapses into a heap, lays down her head on the ground, and drifts off into a state somewhere between unconsciousness and sleep.
As she spirals into this trance-like state, she hears the third witch's voice again: What's done cannot be undone.
A rumble of distant thunder.
And then the laughter of crows.
When she wakes, there's so much noise and flashing light that she thinks for a moment that the battle has followed her. It takes a moment or two for her to realize the crashing booms and the swiftly stabbing spears of flashing light are only thunder and lightning, and that rain has turned this place into a muddy wasteland.
The second thing she realizes is that two women are standing nearby, staring at her. There's something familiar about them, but she can't see their faces.
The first woman speaks, and Gruoch nearly jumps out of her skin, for her voice, too, is oddly familiar, and yet thin and whispery, as if she can't quite catch her breath. "When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightning, or in rain?"
The second's voice is filled with laughter that makes Gruoch shiver. The laughter sounds like shattered glass--sharp and splintered, bright yet broken beyond repair. "When the hurlyburly's done, when the battle's lost and won."
"That will be ere set of sun," Gruoch mutters to herself, unconsciously rhyming as she thinks back to the masses of soldiers she saw when she fled Dunsinane. Macbeth is an able soldier, but his forces are no match for a half dozen trained armies.
She totters to her feet, hoping for a glimpse of these two women, for they might help her. A deeper part of her hopes that she won't catch a glimpse of them at all. Something is very wrong here, and she'll be better off if she never finds out what it is.
Then--as if they were traveling players acting on cue--they turn to her.
When she sees their faces, she nearly chokes on a scream.
For the whisperer is Éua--her face mottled, her lips blue, but unmistakeably Éua. And the madwoman--smiling as if she's about to go for Gruoch's throat--can be no one but Lady Macduff. But they're dead.
She backs away, and nearly stumbles over something. A log, maybe.
When she glances down and sees that she nearly tripped over her own body, she's not truly surprised. For a brief moment, though, she wonders why these women would be punished with her. Éua's a deceitful besom, but not truly evil. And by all accounts, Macduff's wife should have been wafted straight to the arms of Jesus and Mary.
Then she decides that it doesn't matter. Judging from the venom in Éua's eyes and the murderous madness in Lady Macduff's smile, they're here for some accursed reason, as is she.
Éua speaks--well, whispers--again. "Where the place?"
"Upon the heath," says Lady Macduff with crazed and broken satisfaction.
"There to meet with Macbeth," Gruoch says slowly, realization crashing in on her.
Of course. That's why they were waiting for me. I have to be there at the beginning or the end will not be the same. Like a snake swallowing its own tail. Forever.
The other two cry out for familiars they've surely had no time to acquire. And now their faces are changing, too swiftly for her to recognize them. She can feel her own features reshaping into something that Macbeth will not know on sight, her memories crumbling like dried leaves underfoot.
No, by God. She may be a murderer several times over, but she will not twist time into this tortured loop so that Scotland may suffer eternally.
Yet there is little she can do. The pattern is set. The prophecies must be spoken. This she knows without being told.
One word. If she could just change one word, it might make all the difference.
She finds the word and grips it tight.
And then the other two take her by the hand and they vanish into the fog and filthy air.
They reappear on another heath moments later. The other two chatter as if they've been off doing evil in a dozen or so places. Gruoch answers as she feels she's expected to, and waits for her chance.
At last, Macbeth and Banquo happen by, and Éua and Lady Macduff hail her husband as Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor.
And Gruoch smiles as she speaks both prophecy and warning:
"All hail, Macbeth. Thou shalt be tyrant hereafter."
End Notes: There was a Macduff during Macbeth's reign and he did have a wife (whose name I cannot discover) who was, by the accounts of the chroniclers, both supportive of her husband and clever. But there was no Thane of Fife. The title of the Earl of Fife was given to a man called Ethelred in 1057 after Macbeth's death. Malcolm, not Macduff, slew Macbeth--three years after the Battle of Dunsinane.
Gruoch ingen Boite, who ruled Scotland with her husband from around 1040 to 1057, is indeed the historical Lady Macbeth's name. And she did have a son named Lulach by her first husband, Gille Coemgáin. Lulach was nicknamed "Fatuus" or "the Foolish" by Latin chroniclers; perhaps more tellingly, in "The Prophecy of St. Berchan," he's referred to as "Tairbridh," which one historian translates as "misfortune." It may be a mistranslation for "táirbrigh"; the "dh" and "gh" sounds in Gaelic are very similar. The translation of "táirbrigh" would be closer to "the essence (or maybe the quintessence) of disgrace."
Contrary to the play, Lulach ruled Scotland after Macbeth died. However, his reign only lasted seven months. According to Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 34 by Sir Leslie Stephen and Sir Sidney Lee , Lulach was "slain by craft" by a grandson of Duncan "at Essy in Strathbolgy, on the border of the present Aberdeenshire, on 17 March 1058." The Annals of Ulster, edited by B. McCarthy, says that Lulach was killed in battle (which doesn't preclude the use of craft or sneakiness) by Mael-Coluim [Malcolm], son of Donnchadh [Donalbain--or rather Donal Bán, Donal the Fair-Haired]. Lulach had a son, variously called by chroniclers Máel Snechtai. Máel Snechta, Maelsnechta or Maelsnectan, who followed him as Mormaer, though Máel Snechtai called himself King of Moray.
Lulach also had a daughter whose name has not come down to us, but her son Óengus inherited Máel Snechtai's position. Óengus was killed in a punitive invasion that occurred after the people of Moray killed a young man named Ladhmunn, who was the nephew of Alexander I, the King of Alba and the son of Domnall, Alexander's half-brother. After Óengus's death in 1130, Moray was given to William fitz Duncan, another nephew of Alexander I. The title also changed from "King of Moray" to "earl of Moray." I thought you might want to know how it turned out.