Rhodri watched Merlyn go with a deep sadness sweeping over him.
“That must have taken a lot of courage.”
He had forgotten Alice, who was standing next to him, her eyes resting on his face.
“Well, I can’t be an ungrateful fool all my life,” he replied gloomily. “And Papa made it quite clear that a lifetime of responsibilities lies ahead of me.”
“You might find you enjoy it,” Alice said, smiling faintly.
“At least I’d be paying penance,” he muttered.
“Nonsense,” she returned tartly. “Don’t feel so sorry for yourself. Here you are, lord of all you survey, with a chance of making a real difference to so many people’s lives, if you choose to take it. Most people would give their eye teeth to have that chance.”
“I suppose so.” Rhodri was cheered a little. “I just don’t know where to start.”
“You could do worse than listen to those your father trusted,” she retorted. “Just as I had to do when I took over where Aunt Sara left off.”
“I hadn’t thought of it like that.”
He turned to meet her eyes. She was smiling at him, a warm, gentle smile. The kind of smile that beautiful young women usually bestowed on other men.
He took a deep breath.
“Would you give me advice?”
“I’m not sure about that. I’ve never run a great estate.”
“Of course.” He shuffled his feet awkwardly. “And I wouldn’t like to impose . . .”
“But perhaps you might like to come and take tea here, to escape from your responsibilities, now and again?”
“Yes, indeed. I would like that very much.” He hesitated. But he was determined to be responsible, whatever it might cost him. “There might be talk.”
“I have no doubt there will be,” Alice said, meeting his eyes. “Some will say that I’m a schemer in search of ensnaring riches, and you are a fool. So I’ll understand –”
Rhodri shook his head. For the first time in his life there was absolute certainty in his mind.
“I would only be a fool if I listened to them.”
“Good,” Alice said. “Then it seems we are agreed.”
And slowly, without a head being turned as they passed, they made their way down to the riverbank to watch the paddle steamer arrive.
* * * *
Dusk was falling as the shining new Daughter Of Conwy made her way smoothly under the newly completed railway bridge towards Conwy.
“Are you sure about this?” Merlyn asked as David came to join her on deck. “I couldn’t bear the thought of you throwing away your chance to find fame and fortune.”
“And move from bridge to bridge?” he replied, taking her in his arms. “Never knowing where I would land next? Never seeing my wife, never knowing my family?”
He looked up at the great span of the bridge.
“This is the only life I shall ever wish for. Besides, the railways will always need engineers.”
“It’s all I could ever wish for, too,” Merlyn said, meeting his kiss.
As they turned back to watch the castle looming up beside them, Owain leaned over the side, allowing a single red rose to fall into the water.
“He promised Sara,” Merlyn said quietly. “In memory of all those who lost their lives crossing the Conwy.”
They stood in silence, watching with Owain as the rose swirled and eddied with the tide, holding with it the memories of those lost that day the ferry capsized.
The day, so long ago, when Owain had risked his life to save one small boy, and had taken in the ferryman’s orphaned daughter as his own.
The day so many lives had become intertwined, for good and for ill, never to be untied again.
“It’s love that is strongest, in the end,” Merlyn said, holding David tightly as the Daughter Of Conwy cleared the bridge and turned towards her moorings at Conwy, beneath the shelter of the castle walls.