When Adrianna came to an hour later she was lying in bed, propped up by a mountain of pillows. Her head was pounding and she felt a little sick, but apart from that there was nothing wrong with her.
“She’s awake,” someone exclaimed from Adrianna’s bedside and a pair of arms attached themselves around her neck.
“Stop that Luisa,” another, calmer voice protested. “You don’t want to smother her.”
Adrianna’s vision slowly came into focus and she saw her two sisters sitting beside her bed, both looking concerned. Vittoria’s hands were placed firmly on both of Luisa’s shoulders, restraining her younger sibling from flying forward and crushing her elder sister.
“How are you feeling?” Luisa asked, her eyes fixed on Adrianna’s face. “We were all so worried about you.”
“I’m alright,” Adrianna lied, trying to sit herself upright with a lot of difficulty. “What happened?”
“You fainted,” Vittoria explained, removing some of the pillows from behind her sister’s head and helping her to sit up. “You hit your head pretty hard but the physician says you will be alright.”
Adrianna suddenly remembered the sight of blood from the back of her head coating her hand and jerked her hand backwards to check her hair for more blood. She sighed with relief when her hand came away dry and unstained.
“I was bleeding,” she said blankly.
“You were for a while but it stopped quite quickly.” Vittoria leaned in, clasping her sister’s hand. “What happened between you and Father?”
“I don’t understand.”
“When you ran into me you babbled something about how he hurt you. Please tell me he didn’t hit you to make you bleed.”
“No, he didn’t,” Adrianna said, clawing her way through the fog in her brain to remember exactly what happened. “He told me something, something I didn’t like, and I tried to leave. He grabbed my arm to stop me but I pulled away. I hit him and he let go of me. That’s how I hit my head. I hit it on the wall.”
“What did he say to you?” Luisa asked, sitting on the edge of the bed, next to Adrianna, her eyes gleaming with curiosity.
“He told me… he told me I was going to be married.”
“But that’s wonderful news,” Vittoria said excitedly, smiling down at her sister. “Who has shown an interest? It would be the fastest proposal ever if he were to ask you now.”
“Count Alberto wrote to Father expressing his admiration for me. It’s not an engagement but everyone is acting as though it is.”
“A member of the royal family!” Luisa squealed. “You’re so lucky! You’ll get pretty dresses and go to wonderful parties and meet handsome men and beautiful women. I’m so jealous!”
“Why are you all so excited?” Adrianna said, raising her voice in annoyance. “It’s not like you’re the ones having to marry him.”
“Don’t you want to marry Count Alberto?” Luisa said, her face falling.
“Yes. No. I don’t know!” Adrianna sunk back down into her pillows. “I want to get to know him, see if he’s a good man.”
“Everyone says he’s the perfect gentleman,” Vittoria informed her, “and the most desirable bachelor in society too. What is there not to like?”
“He didn’t ask me. He sent my father a letter expressing his admiration,” Adrianna said with disgust. “That’s not love, it’s a political move.”
“Why must you be so frustrating, Adrianna?” Vittoria exclaimed, standing up from her seat by the bed. “Why does every action everyone around you makes have to have a political motivation? Can’t you accept that Count Alberto might like you for your personality and beauty rather than as our father’s daughter?
“Or maybe you don’t want to believe that people have other motivations because that makes everything too complicated. You would rather everyone was out to oppress women because it gives you something to fight against. It gives you an enemy. But nothing is that simple. It’s not so black and white. People are motivated by things other than politics in this world, Adrianna. One day you’ll find someone who’ll make you see that. But it certainly isn’t going to be me.”
“Then why do you say I’m always wrong?” Adrianna called after Vittoria as she headed towards the door. “Why can’t I be right at least some of the time?”
“Because you only look at things from one angle,” Vittoria argued. “You don’t even think that there could be another possible motive for Count Alberto writing to Father. Everything is a conspiracy to keep you repressed.”
“That’s because our system works through the bartering of women in order to gain political or financial alliances.”
“Did it never occur to you that our system works just fine without people like you wanting to change it?”
“Did it not occur to you that you don’t know what you’re talking about because you’ve blindly accepted everything anyone has ever told you about how women should act and appear? Women are people too. They shouldn’t have to hide behind masks and pretend they’re someone they’re not. I’ll tell you why I think Alberto’s actions are politically motivated. He only spoke to me for five minutes maximum and he can’t possibly admire my personality because I’m not allowed to have one.”
“Stop fighting,” Luisa protested, but her cries fell on deaf ears.
“I can’t listen to this any more Adrianna,” Vittoria said. “I’ve tried to be a good sister and for a while it worked, but I can’t put up with any more of your whining and protestations.”
“That’s fine by me. But when you finally see that I am right don’t come crawling back to me for forgiveness.”
The door slammed behind Vittoria, making Adrianna’s head scream in pain. She clutched at her head, trying to magically make the pain disappear. It subsided a little to a dull ache but Adrianna’s body still throbbed with fury and frustration.
“Don’t worry,” Luisa said calmly and with a tone far too wise for her seventeen years. “She’ll understand one day.”