Matteo led Adrianna out of the library and back down the stairs towards the drawing room. The chatter died slightly as the pair entered the room together but total silence was carefully avoided. People stole glances at her as Countess Novia crossed the room and linked her arm through Adrianna’s leading her away from Matteo.
“Are you ready to be introduced to the rest of our group?” She whispered in Adrianna’s ear.
“I think so,” Adrianna replied, looking back at Matteo out of the corner of her eye.
“Good, I’ll get Eduardo to call the meeting to order.” She left Adrianna for a moment, going over to their host and whispering something softly in his ear. Eduardo nodded, indicating that he understood, before daintily clinking his glass against another to call the room to order.
“Now we’re all present,” he announced to the room as faces turned towards him, “I think it is time that we introduced the newest member of our group.” Eduardo motioned for Adrianna to stand at his side, which she did hastily. “May I introduce to you all, Lady Adrianna Giordano.”
Adrianna was surprised when the room applauded her, some raising their glasses to her and most of them smiling.
“We are very glad to have you with us,” Eduardo addressed Adrianna, “and we look forward to spending many evenings in your company.”
“Thank you for your kind introduction,” Adrianna responded. “I am also looking forward to getting to know you all much better.” She quickly stepped back as the room applauded her again.
“As you know we have some returning members,” Eduardo continued. “Lord and Lady Basso have recently returned from a trip to Fersere where they talked with the Queen, who assured us of her support of our movement.” This time Adrianna joined in with the ripple of applause that went around the room. “And of course we welcome back Matteo Contadino who has been absent from our meetings for many weeks but has finally decided to come back to the fold.”
“What can I say?” Matteo said jovially. “I can’t live without your excellent company, conversation and food.”
“And we all know how Matteo is driven by his stomach,” one of the men joked, sending the rest of the room into laughter.
“Well welcome to all of you,” Eduardo continued, “newcomers, old friends and familiar faces. If it is agreeable to the rest of you then we will proceed into the dining room for dinner.”
There were mumbles of agreement and the gathering moved in the general direction of the double doors at the other end of the drawing room. Matteo approached Adrianna, holding out his arm for her to take.
“Would you like to join me?” He asked.
“I would love to,” Adrianna replied, linking her arm through his and they headed in the same direction as the others towards the dining room. Once they were in there, Matteo pulled a chair out for Adrianna.
Despite his radical ideas about a new social system for Verenia, Matteo had some surprisingly traditional habits. Holding out a chair for a woman or a man offering her is arm were both ancient forms of politeness that Adrianna thought Matteo would look down on. He had clearly been brought up with all the proper airs and graces.
“No, Adrianna,” Sir Eduardo called out as Adrianna was about to take her seat. “You must sit up here with us,” he insisted.
“Looks like someone’s in high demand this evening,” Matteo whispered in her ear as she rose again. “I’ll catch up with you later.”
“You won’t come and join me?” Adrianna asked.
“I don’t think I’d be welcome at the top of the table. Most of the people here tolerate me because I have some influence, but most don’t agree with my open attitude.”
“Are you coming too Matteo?” Countess Novia asked, almost as if she had read Adrianna’s mind. “I’m sure we can all move up one to make space for you.”
“Of course,” a stranger sitting next to Sir Eduardo said less than enthusiastically. “I can move for Matteo.”
“Thank you so much Lord Basso,” Matteo said, a hint of insincerity creeping into his voice as he followed Adrianna to the head of the table. He held out a chair for her yet again before walking around the table to sit in the seat opposite Adrianna, which had been vacated by Lord Basso.
A few minutes later, huge platters of food had been brought out from the kitchens and laid on the table for the guests to help themselves; a system Adrianna wasn’t used to. Even at home a servant put her food on her plate. However, she was not going to allow herself to be phased by this unfamiliarity and joined the rest of the party, helping themselves to food from the dishes.
Soon everyone was chatting and the room was filled with the constant hum of voices. Adrianna watched Matteo talking animatedly to Lady Basso, who was sitting on his left, his hands violently gesturing to make his point clear.
“I’m telling you, we have to do something about it or nothing will ever be done,” he insisted.
“Those who are patient will get what they deserve,” Lady Basso replied calmly, looking down her long nose at Matteo. “Queen Rowena told us her story when we visited her in Fersere and she agrees that there is a time when waiting and remaining silent is the best course of action.”
“I’m sure Queen Rowena is right in some respects but now is not a time to remain silent and wait. We must act now or the movement will die and all our work, our hopes, our dreams will have been for nothing. Do you not agree with me Adrianna?”