A long time ago, there was a wicked king who lived in a palace where Lake Bala is today It was said of him, “He killed whom he would; he spared whom he would.” It was also said that there were few who were spared.
Not long after this king came to the throne, he was walking in his garden, contemplating some cruel act, when he heard a voice. The sound was somewhere between a bird’s cry and the tinkling of a silver bell. The voice said, “Vengeance will come. Vengeance will come.”
Then the king heard a second disembodied voice a little further off, asking, “When will it come? When will it come?”
The first voice answered, “In the third generation. The third generation.”
The king laughed. “What do I care about that!”
Years afterward, when he had three sons who showed signs of being crueler even than he was, he heard the same voices in the same garden.
“Vengeance will come. Vengeance will come.”
“When will it come? When will it come?”
“In the third generation. The third generation.”
The king laughed defiantly. “And where is the king who is mighty enough to wreak vengeance on me?”
More years passed and the palace walls rang with celebrations over the birth of a son to the king’s eldest son and heir. A command went out across the countryside, ordering everyone to come to the palace to take part in the rejoicing. A guard was sent after a white-haired harper who lived up in the mountains; he was to provide the music for the feasting and dancing that night. He was reluctant, but he went.
The harper was amazed to see the king’s wealth on display: the silver candlesticks, the golden goblets, the ladies’ rich robes, and the flowing mead. He was ordered to play and played for hours until, toward midnight, he was allowed an interval for rest. He was given nothing to eat or drink, so he went to a quiet corner of the garden. There he heard a voice saying, “Vengeance will come. Vengeance will come.” He saw a small brown bird fluttering near him and it seemed to be encouraging him to follow it. He followed some distance and hesitated, but the brown bird repeated, “Vengeance will come,” and he followed it up into the hills.
At last they reached the top of a hill. Now the bird was silent and the moon had slipped behind a cloud. The harpist suddenly remembered his harp. He had left it in the palace. “I must go back. I must, before the dancing starts again.” But he was exhausted after playing all evening; sleep and night overtook him.
In the morning he awoke to an unfamiliar landscape. He looked back toward the palace, but it had gone. In its place was a huge lake, absolutely calm. His harp was floating toward him on the water.