The following day passed incredibly slowly for Adrianna. She couldn’t wait for evening to come so she could creep out of the house and run off with Matteo to The Prancing Lion and speak with her friends there. She wanted to see Dialta again and talk so me more with Alexander about his political ideas. And yet the hands on the clock in her room seemed to be stuck because every time Adrianna turned to check the time, they had not moved. Minutes felt like hours and hours felt like years as Adrianna sat in her room, trying to read but unable to concentrate.
Time crawled by as slow as death but the moment the clock finally struck the hour for dinner to be served, Adrianna was up from her seat and searching her wardrobe for something to wear. She pulled out her purple dress, so dark the colour was almost black and the mask that matched, dressing herself quickly so she could leave the moment that Matteo arrived.
She didn’t have to wait long. A few minutes after she had fixed her mask in place there was a quiet tapping at the window and Matteo’s face appeared out of the darkness. Adrianna threw open the window and leant out to kiss him from his spot on the window ledge, his eyes wide open with surprise.
“Hello,” Adrianna said when she pulled away.
“Hello,” Matteo replied, stunned.
“I’m ready to go.”
“Great.” Matteo swung back from the windowsill, grabbing hold of a strong branch and landing as nimble as a cat. He turned and held his arms out for Adrianna, who climbed out of the window with a little more difficulty but managed to swing far enough for Matteo to catch her.
“That’s the hard bit done,” Adrianna said as Matteo put her back onto her feet.
“Follow me the rest of the way down and we’ll be alright.”
Adrianna did as she was told, climbing down the same branches Matteo did, placing her feet carefully so she didn’t slip and fall. She felt much more comfortable when she felt Matteo’s hands on her waist, lifting her down the last few feet to the ground.
“Come on,” he said with a smile, grasping her hand tightly and running across the grass towards the edge of the house.
He had brought a buggy, just like the last time and the pair had to walk to the same place to find it.
“You will be nice tonight,” Adrianna asked nervously as Matteo helped her up into the buggy.
“What do you mean?” He asked. “Of course I’ll be nice, aren’t I always?”
“I know you’re nice, but Rowena asked to meet you specially and I don’t want you giving her the wrong impression. She’s a lovely, sensitive person and I don’t want you and your friends being mean because of who she is.”
“No one who has any support for women’s rights would dare mess with Queen Rowena,” Matteo exclaimed. “She is the figurehead for movements across the Known World. When she took the throne there was a revolution in Berat in favour of the King’s daughter taking the throne instead of his illegitimate son.”
“I know all that, but I can’t help worrying. She is a friend who asked to meet you and come to the meeting tonight and I don’t want her to regret making that decision.”
“I promise you that she won’t,” Matteo replied, taking his eyes off the road for a moment to kiss Adrianna quickly on the lips. Just that small touch made Adrianna tingle and she rested her head on his shoulder as they trotted onwards away from her home.
They sat in companionable silence for most of the trip, Matteo occasionally leaning to kiss the top of Adrianna’s head affectionately. Adrianna liked just being near Matteo and not having to say anything. To her that was a measure of how much he meant to her; not having to speak and sitting in a comfortable silence showed that words didn’t matter and their feeling for each other were real.
When they reached The Prancing Lion there was already another carriage waiting for them with two figures hiding inside. Adrianna jumped down from the buggy without waiting for Matteo to help her and hurried over to the carriage.
“Good evening,” she said, leaning in through the window. “I’m so glad you came.”
“I’m feeling nervous,” Rowena replied. “I’ve never done this before. Even now I’m not allowed out in my own city without at least one bodyguard to protect me.”
“Don’t worry,” Artem said from the darkness beside her. “You’ve got me.”
“Your Majesties,” Matteo said, approaching the carriage and standing behind Adrianna. “It’s such an honour to have you join our little gathering tonight.”
“It is an honour to be invited to join you,” Rowena said, genuinely pleased with being allowed to join them. “I wouldn’t want to be intruding into your select group.”
“I couldn’t imagine you intruding on anything,” Adrianna insisted, holding the carriage door open for Rowena and Artem to climb out. “May I present Matteo Contadino,” she said, nodding towards her companion.
“It’s a pleasure,” Rowena said as Matteo kissed the air above her gloved hand, her eyes looking him up and down, evaluating every aspect of his appearance.
“I can assure you the pleasure is all mine,” he replied before shaking hands firmly with Artem. “If your Majesties are ready then would you like to go in?”
“For tonight, we’re just Rowena and Artem,” the Queen insisted. “No your Majesty or Queen Rowena. We want to be normal.”
“In that case, perhaps you should like to choose a new name for yourself,” Matteo suggested. “Your name is exotic enough for people to wonder where you’re from and many know about the royal visit so it won’t take much for them to guess who you really are. Artem will be fine, there are enough people crossing from Madrimar for him to slip into the background.”
“Looks like I’ll be Ena once more,” Rowena said, smiling at Artem in a knowing way.
“Very well,” Matteo said smiling. “Follow me.”