CURVING possessively around the index finger of Mia Maddox’s right hand, the delicate serpent-head ring is exquisite. As an heirloom inherited from her late grandmother Elin it has special significance for British Museum conservator Mia.
The ring in the display case is equally impressive, if significantly bigger; in fact, the size disparity notwithstanding, it is all but identical. This one, however, is part of an exhibition of Viking-era jewellery in Stockholm, where Swedish-born Mia is spending a few hours before attending Gran’s funeral.
As she stares in astonishment at the thousand-year-old twin bands of gold, Mia is interrupted by a stranger who has also noted the similarity.
Archaeologist Haakon Berger’s head is swirling with questions. Is this Englishwoman wearing an unauthorised replica, or is it an unreported – and therefore stolen – piece of Norse heritage?
Inspired to try to trace the origins of Mia’s ring, the pair decide to embark on an excavation of her family’s land on the shore of Lake Mälaren, an area known for its rich seafarer roots.
The physical signs suggest this could have been the site of a settlement presided over by a chieftain: a man powerful enough to have raided kingdoms far afield in search of precious metals and human slaves.
Unbeknown to the research team, one such local jarl, Haukr Erlendrsson, did indeed set out a-viking from this waterfront stronghold, returning many weeks later with a valuable hostage among his spoils. As the sister of a high-ranking Welshman, Ceridwen – Ceri – was destined to spend winter in the Norse community before being ransomed by her people.
The further Mia and Haakon investigate, the more clues to Haukr and Ceri’s long-ago presence emerge from the soil.
But, as Mia becomes increasingly invested in uncovering the stories of these past generations, her life in London recedes in importance. Could her future lie in rural Sweden instead?