When the pair approached the tavern door, Matteo knocked sharply four times, followed by two slower knocks. The door opened to reveal a big, muscular man with a scar along his right cheekbone; a terrifying figure to an already worried Adrianna.
“You’re here at last,” the man exclaimed. “They were beginning to wonder if you were going to turn up.” He stood aside to let both Matteo and Adrianna inside, shutting the door firmly behind them. “They’re waiting for you in the back room,” he said.
“Thank you Luca,” Matteo replied. “I would like to introduce you to Adrianna first. If you ever see her, please grant her entrance. She’s one of us now.”
“Very good,” Luca said. “It’s wonderful to meet you Adrianna.”
“Oh, and one more thing,” Matteo said absentmindedly. “I’ve left a horse and buggy outside. Could you keep an eye on it for me?”
“Anything for you Master Matteo. Now you’d better hurry back there or they’ll start tearing down the walls.”
Matteo gave the doorman a nod of thanks before heading around the deserted bar towards a wooden door at the back of the room.
“You sure you’re ready for this,” he asked Adrianna before he opened the door. “It’s not too late to back out.”
“No,” Adrianna said, setting her jaw resolutely. “I’m ready.”
“Good,” Matteo smiled, taking Adrianna’s hand in his and squeezing it encouragingly, much to Adrianna’s surprise. She liked the feel of his hand round hers and wished he would keep it there as he opened the door and walked into the crowded back room, his hand slipping away from hers.
Nevertheless, Adrianna bravely followed him in, but her presence was barely noted as a swarm of people surrounded Matteo, sweeping him away from Adrianna and towards the other end of the room.
Adrianna was suddenly isolated in a sea of people, all cheering Matteo, trying to get close to him or talk to him. From what she could see, her new friend was clearly a hero to these people.
Matteo allowed himself to be swept forward but still looked back to see where Adrianna had gone. When he was urged up onto a table at the end of the room where he could see the entire crowd, his eyes scanned the room for Adrianna’s face.
“Adrianna,” he called over the noise, not expecting to get a response. “Adrianna?” At the sound of their leader’s voice, the room began to quiet, not wanting to miss any of his words. “Adrianna,” he called one last time.
“I’m here,” came a muffled answer from the back of the room.
“Let her through,” Matteo called and suddenly a path cleared in front of Adrianna, allowing her to walk, unhindered to the large wooden table that the other end of the room. Matteo leant down held out his hand to Adrianna. “Join me,” he said.
“No, this is your moment. You’ll have to learn that the world doesn’t revolve around me,” Adrianna joked.
“Nonsense. I want you here,” he said. “And I’ve got to introduce you.” He looked at her, half pleading, half charming her into taking his hand and joining him on the table. Adrianna didn’t have the strength to fight it so gave Matteo her hand and he pulled her up and onto the table to more cheers from the gathering.
To Adrianna there seemed to be far more people in the room when she was standing on the ground, and now she was above them the numbers seemed a lot smaller, no more than thirty people assembled in the one room.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Matteo announced to the room. “Thank you so much for the warm welcome. If only I got that reception everywhere I went.” This prompted a laugh from the gathering, a low rumbling sound with a few higher pitches thrown in. “But before I begin,” Matteo continued, “I have a new face to introduce to you, one I hope you will see a lot more of after tonight. May I present to you my friend, Adrianna.”
Adrianna blushed as the room applauded her and she shyly curtsied.
“She has taken a lot of trouble to be with us tonight so I expect you all to make her feel welcome. But now, to business, and the reason why we have all gathered; apart from to have a drink and discuss political ideas. To hear my speech.”
Adrianna slowly edged away from Matteo and sank to her knees in a corner of the table, trying not to distract from her companion’s speech.
“In honour of our newest member,” Matteo said, nodding in Adrianna’s direction, “I have chosen to revive the topic of women’s rights.” To Adrianna’s surprise, this was met with applause from almost everyone present. “As I’m sure you know, most women here tonight will be wearing the mask that is deemed compulsory for any respectable woman with a male relative.
“However, I’m sure you’ll have also noticed that there are a few brave women among you who choose to fight against this absurd and repressive custom by refusing to wear a mask. This does not make those who choose to wear one any less brave or courageous, I know that many of you have your reasons for keeping your faces hidden.”
At that point, Adrianna was sure Matteo glanced pointedly in her direction. She blushed and wished that she could be invisible.
“But that is why we must work together to make the governing classes see that what they subject our women to is wrong and should be stopped.”
A cheer rose up from the gathering in support of Matteo. Fists were banged on tables and tankards were raised in encouragement. The noise was almost deafening to Adrianna’s delicate ears; she had never heard such a roar.
“And this is why, my friends, we must stand up and fight.”