Alexander was in luck that evening for Matteo had chosen to keep his speech short, but that didn’t make its impact any less dramatic.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced as he stood on the table to address the crowd. “Welcome again to another of our meetings. Tonight I want to give a big welcome to two people who couldn’t be here tonight, but nevertheless are just as important in my beliefs, Queen Rowena and her husband Prince Artem of Fersere.”
Adrianna smiled as the room erupted into applause. She snuck a look at Rowena from across the table to see Rowena clapping nervously, a look of shock and bewilderment on her face.
“As you all know,” Matteo continued, “Fersere is one of the few countries that allows women to inherit, and the only one to allow them to inherit if they are the eldest child, above any younger brothers they may have. I believe this should be a system adopted throughout the Known World, but most importantly, that it should be enforced in Verenia.
“Now, I’m not asking you to listen to me talk at you for hours on end. I know the most powerful messages are the ones that are short. In four days time, when Queen Rowena and Prince Artem are due to depart from the King’s castle, I call on all of you who share my beliefs to join me in a protest there.”
This sent waves of murmurings around the room and Adrianna’s jaw dropped.
“I want you all to stand with me,” Matteo continued, “and show Prince Niccolo and the King’s advisors that we have a voice and that voice will be heard. This is our time to shout for what we want and for our voices to be heard. I expect to see all of you here in four days time when we will walk through the streets, telling the whole world that we are here to stay.”
“But we’ve never done anything like this before,” a voice from the crowd called out.
“That gives us all the more reason to stand up now while we have the chance. There will be no better time to protest for women’s rights and for us to stand a chance of the powers that be listening to us. Who is with me?”
Matteo’s call was answered by a wild cheer, but the table in the corner of the room remained silent, stunned by what their friend had said.
“Please tell me he didn’t just do that,” Ava breathed.
“I wish I could,” Pepe replied.
“Well I don’t care what you guys think,” Alexander said. “We’re meant to be radicals, so let’s start behaving like them.” He rose from his seat and began clapping and cheering with the rest of the room as Matteo jumped down from his spot and headed through the room of people towards their table. Progress was slow as people kept stopping him to shake hands or pat him on the back and tell him what a figurehead he was for their cause. He didn’t get such a warm welcome when he reached his friends.
“Great speech,” Alexander said, embracing Matteo as he approached the table. “Can’t wait to see you leading the crowd towards a bright and shining new future. I just wish I had the charisma to lead so many people.”
“Some people just have it,” Matteo joked, laughing as he clapped his friend on the back. He turned to the rest of the group and was met with disbelieving stares. “What’s with all the long faces?” He asked. “I thought you guys would be jumping for joy.”
“Have you any idea what you’ve done?” Ava asked. “We don’t have the time to plan a protest march in four days time.”
“Because there isn’t nearly enough time for people to hear about it and we’re not going to make a big enough impact with the people we have here today. Our numbers just aren’t big enough.”
“Our numbers are just the right size; any bigger and I wouldn’t be able to control them. We’d have violent groups breaking off to wreak havoc across the city. With the people in this room I can keep them focused on the message we are trying to get across.”
“Where did you put your brain this morning?” Ava shouted. “There aren’t even fifty people in this room. The numbers we have might seem big when we’re all crowded into the back room of a dingy tavern, but on the streets we’ll hardly make a mark on the map.”
“You’re wrong, Ava,” Matteo said, his mouth set in a hard line as he stared at his friend. “Do you think I would do this if I didn’t think it would work?”
“I think you’re drunk on power and love and that’s not a good combination.”
“Will you come with me for a second, Adrianna,” Matteo said, almost like Ava hadn’t spoken and yet not taking her eyes off her. “I’d like to have a quiet word.”
“Matteo don’t be like this,” Adrianna protested in a whisper, taking his hand and begging him with her eyes to calm down.
“Will you come with me?” He said again, more forcefully than before.
“Don’t talk to her like that,” Artem said, standing up from his chair defensively.
“It’s alright,” Adrianna said, waving him back. “I can handle this.” Artem didn’t look like he was going to give in until Rowena put a hand on his arm and he slowly sat back down again.
“Let’s go,” Matteo said, pulling Adrianna away from the table by her hand. Adrianna saw Rowena get up from the table and follow them.
“Matteo,” she called after them. “I need a moment.” Matteo stopped dutifully, turning to face the Queen. “I can’t stop you from doing this,” she said. “If your friends can’t stop you then I doubt that I can, but if you do decide to go ahead with this crazy idea then I ask you just one thing; don’t do it in my name. I don’t want to be the woman who causes violence and destruction. I am who I am, I can’t help that. But I can try to make you see that what you’re suggesting is madness. Ava is right, you don’t have the numbers to make a drop in the ocean, let alone start a nationwide movement.”
“Is that all you have to say?” He asked.
“For now, yes,” Rowena replied.
“Then I’ll see you back at the table in a few minutes.”
Rowena looked apprehensively at Adrianna who was still holding Matteo’s hand.
“I’ll be fine,” she whispered. “He won’t hurt me.”
“I know,” Rowena replied. Matteo pulled gently on Adrianna’s arm and she walked away from Rowena, following Matteo blindly out of the back room and into another, smaller room beyond it.