A set of interconnected short stories set in the same place in different times, from the distant past to the fairly near future. The connections relate to a pledge made in the past that manifests itself in a variety of different ways, for different (albeit similarly named) people across the centuries. It's a clever mystery then, and its movement backward from the future down into ever earlier pasts offers tantalizingly similar details and hints of what might be connections, until a last section that returns to the time of the first one ties them all together. It's all related to a large painting made in 1915 by the Swedish painter Carl Larsson for the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm but not hung there until many decades later. The painting depicts an episode in a myth about an ancient king who offers himself as a sacrifice in order to bring an end to a famine afflicting his subjects--one of the stories tells of a similar painter and pairing with a slightly different name.