“But what about those of us who think we should be focusing our energies elsewhere?” A lone voice called from the throng, challenging Matteo. “Surely women’s rights isn’t the most pressing matter that we could be looking at.”
“I agree that there are many other matters that we could be concerning ourselves with,” Matteo replied, unfazed by the interruption. “But consider this; women account for over half the population of Verenia. The majority of our country is made up of women so surely if they have a voice then it will make our cause twice as loud.” There were mutterings and exclamations of agreement for Matteo’s argument.
“But how do we know that women will support us?” The same voice retaliated. “Surely all the women who are likely to support reform are in this room already.”
“You don’t know that. Before last night, Adrianna had never heard of our group,” Matteo said, gesturing towards an embarrassed Adrianna, who was praying for the ground to swallow her whole. She didn’t want to get caught up in this argument. “If we put ourselves on the map by becoming known as a group who supports women’s rights then surely when women gain their voice they will remember that we were the group that helped them to do that.”
“The aristocrats aren’t going to remember us,” another voice shouted. “They are already told what their opinions are by their fathers, husbands and brothers. They’re not going to support us.”
Adrianna began to feel nervous as more voices murmured in support of Matteo’s challengers. The favours of the room were changing and she prayed that it wouldn’t turn violent.
“Adrianna is of noble birth,” Matteo argued back, making his guest’s head snap up and stare wide-eyed at him with fear. “She has made her decision to come here, against the will of her father, against the will of her class-“
“Matteo, stop,” Adrianna said, clambering up from her seat on the edge of the table and hurrying to his side, putting her hand pleadingly on his arm. “Not here. They can’t know who I really am.”
“Why not?” Matteo asked a little louder than Adrianna would have liked. “These are our allies; why shouldn’t they know your true identity?”
“Because I don’t want to get us killed,” Adrianna whispered, genuine fear in her eyes. “I know my father isn’t the most popular man in the world and I am also aware that there are many people who would be happy to harm me in order to get to my father. Please, Matteo.”
He gave her a slight nod to show he understood and Adrianna smiled gratefully.
“Not all women are as pliable as you believe,” Matteo continued. “Many noble women do not express their views at the moment because they feel they and their families will be shunned from society if they dare speak against the ‘right’ order. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t agree with us and won’t support us once they have a voice.”
Matteo’s hecklers had clearly lost interest in challenging him, or they had run out of things to throw at him, and so the evening continued. Matteo expanded his ideas on women’s rights, speaking for nearly an hour on the subject. Many lost interest in what he was saying towards the end, but Adrianna was transfixed, hanging on Matteo’s every word.
He spoke of the positions women should be allowed to hold; sitting in government, just as men did and being recognised for jobs that they were more than capable of doing. He acknowledged that many women were already behind the success of their husbands, keeping their accounts for them as well as managing a household, a complex task that no man would undertake.
These ideas were like music to Adrianna’s ears. She wanted to have all the things that Matteo was talking about and more. And the fact that the rest of the room agreed with her was something she couldn’t have imagined.
When he finished speaking, the whole room applauded, the tables wobbling as feet were stamped and tankards were banged against the wood. Matteo bowed to his audience before moving towards Adrianna and sitting on the edge of the table next to her.
“So how do you think I did?” He asked, a smug smile on his face.
“You were amazing,” Adrianna replied in awe. “The enthusiasm with which you spoke, I have no idea how you could be so engaging.”
“It helps when you have a willing audience. When people want to listen to what you have to say and agree with you, you find that the words flow more easily and you were a wonderful audience.”
“You’ll have to teach me to speak like that one day,” Adrianna said, trying to ignore Matteo’s compliment. “If I could stand up in front of a gathering like that and speak half as well as you have just done then I will die happy.”
“I would be very glad to teach you,” he replied. “Not that I think you’ll need much training, you are a wonderful speaker already, all you need is confidence.”
Adrianna smiled and felt her cheeks flush. She wasn’t used to being complimented for anything other than her looks with such frequency.
“But now that you’re here I should introduce you to some people,” Matteo said jumping down from the table and pulling Adrianna upright and onto the floor too.
“I couldn’t possibly talk to all these people,” Adrianna exclaimed, worried about having to remember a whole host of new names and faces.
“Of course not,” Matteo chuckled seeing the look of bewilderment on Adrianna’s face. “I wouldn’t wish that upon you. But I will introduce you to some of our more, colourful characters; the ones that matter.”