Disclaimer: I do not own Bertie or Elizabeth. I don't own the House of Lords either...they're half of the British government, people. And I only wish the Palace of Winchester was mine.
A/N: This is really just a sad, sweet little fluff piece full of hyphens and good prose, written especially for disoriented-problem. In return, she's drawing my main original character...shirtless...oh those abs...but now we have wandered off topic. Um. I'm not British and therefore, I'm not familiar with the proper terminology for the members of the government...bear with me on that. Also, I apologize for the excessive stammering...but that was kind of the whole point of the movie...
First thing I've posted in a very long time, so reviews would be great. Enjoy!
The chamber of the Palace of Winchester designated as the meeting place for the House of Lords echoed with the conversations of crusty old men. Their voices soared to the peak of the sculpted ceiling, lilting with the arrogance that so often accompanies political power. The hall was embellished with stained glass and colossal paintings and gold leafing. The Lords were garbed in flowing red robes and a deafening rustle like so many birds taking flight filled the chamber as they took their seats. The conversation dimmed, but did not die, for the man they were expecting hadn't stepped out yet.
Rather, he was standing in the corridor, trying to calm his quivering hands as he patted perspiration from his forehead with a handkerchief that was already damp. The collar of his meticulously pressed suit tightened its stranglehold around his neck and he swallowed hard in a bid for freedom. Butterflies fluttered merrily around his stomach and the feathery tickle of their wings made him nauseous. Contrary to the advice he had been given, he had stood at the window and watched the robed politicians stepping from their coaches, trotting through the rain and into the building by the dozen. It had sliced what little confidence he possessed into little bits of confetti on the carpet. Now he was struggling just to breathe, to slip back into the instinctive rhythm of inhale-exhale. It was surprisingly difficult, and he felt a little lightheaded…his knees were peculiarly wobbly…was it his imagination, or had the corridor begun to sway back and forth….
"Bertie, are you alright? You look a bit tipsy."
The delicate hands of his wife took hold of his shoulders and steadied him, and not a moment too soon. She stepped around him and looked anxiously up into his face. "You haven't been drinking, have you? Because you know that only makes things worse, and you can't address the House of Lords with brandy on your breath."
Bertie smiled numbly. "N-N-No, dear, n-n-n-no b-brandy. I w-wouldn't dare d-d-dream of it."
The wrinkles in her brow dissolved as she smiled at him. "Well then, it's just a case of nerves, isn't it. We can fix those in a jiffy, can't we? Just remember what Doctor Illingworth said, and picture the birds. Picture the birds in flight, and breathe in and out. Here, we'll do it together."
He shook his head, fidgeting with the handkerchief. "N-N-N-No, Lizzie, you kn-know that doesn't work."
"I'm only trying to help." She took the handkerchief from him and her slender fingers lingered on his. "You can do this, Bertie. I have confidence in you."
"M-Misplaced confidence, per-perhaps."
Elizabeth narrowed her big brown eyes at him. "With an attitude like that, you'll never get anywhere. Come now, let's get this over with. You'll give yourself ulcers again if we stand here worrying much longer."
"B-But L-L-Lizzie…." He hesitated, trying to decide just how much he believed in self-fulfilling prophecy before he spoke. "What if I…what i-if I…m-make a-a f-f-fool of myself? I-I-In…in front of…of the whole House?"
She gave him a roguish smile. "Bertie. The least you can do is try. Carpe diem, my love, and we shall see what happens." Elizabeth took his face in her hands and gave him a kiss. "I shall be sitting just in the front. Speak to me, Bertie, and things will be fine."
He still was unconvinced, but he felt the impatience of the Lords seeping into the hallway from the crack beneath the door and knew he could stall no longer—not if he wanted to present himself to an audience with a cheery disposition. Bertie took one trembling breath and tugged once more at his collar before striding to the door and giving them a soft tap. The doorman stationed on the other side pushed it open and Bertie entered the chamber, Elizabeth trailing behind.
There was a great whisper of movement as the Lords rose for him out of tradition, and a great hiss as everyone informed their neighbors of what to expect from the next few minutes. Bertie felt his ears grow hot and the blood drain from his face as he caught a few snatches of the words being mumbled on the front row.
"Stammering problem, poor man…."
"…can't get a word out to save his life…."
"Not fit to be a king, if you ask me…."
"…and just hope that it ends soon."
He licked his dry lips with an even drier tongue as he stepped up to the podium and gripped the scrolled rim for support. The Lords reclaimed their seats and a terrible hush fell over the assembled congregation as all eyes fell menacingly, accusingly, sympathetically upon him. Elizabeth sat gracefully in the third chair from the end, smoothing her skirt before looking up at Bertie and flashing him a reassuring smile. It did little to comfort him, however, because he saw the way her fingers were throttling one another in her lap out of sheer anxiety. This speech would not only humiliate him once again, but her as well. Bertie was overcome with guilt and shame for his inadequacies. Not for the first time, he wondered if she regretted their marriage.
These thoughts were in no way building his confidence. The hall seemed to grow and shrink all at once, and he felt the intensity of his audience's gaze like so many pins pricking his skin, and he knew that they were waiting on a man who simply was not good enough, and the thought made him tremble inside. The butterflies fluttered ever faster.
He sensed the Lords' growing irritation and he willed himself to speak. His lips parted and he tried desperately to form the words that sounded so perfect in his mind.
"I…w-would…like t-t-to…ad…address you…t-t-today…."
Bertie swallowed hard, painfully aware that he had already let them down. He would not allow himself to look at Elizabeth for fear of the disappointment he would see in her face. He squeezed the podium harder, silently begging for a miracle.
"I-I would like…t-to sp-speak about…the n-n-new…agri…agricultural…b-bill."
Sweat was saturating his brow. His mouth was bone dry and his tongue felt like rubber, sitting heavy and useless behind his teeth. Bertie tried to calm his racing heart with slow, even breaths, but he found himself gasping for air in the stifling room. The silence was horrid. It pressed in on him expectantly, waiting for him to fill it with words that utterly refused to come out, and all the while the assembly sat motionless. Staring at him without mercy, unmoved by his plight, willing to let him stand there and shake. They had no confidence in him—they never did. They had come with a low expectation, and he had failed to meet even that. He was pathetic. He was useless. He was a fool.
All at once, he was overwhelmed by his sheer inadequacy. His face flushed with humiliation and he released his grip on the podium. The looping grapevines carved into the wood had imprinted themselves on his palms. He stepped slowly back from the podium, unable even to make an apology for his failure before he bolted off the platform and out of the chamber, leaving the Lords shaking their heads. The silence remained, thick with condescension, a memorial to the speech that no one had expected to hear. The man sitting beside Elizabeth on the front row leaned to whisper to his other neighbor and the beginning of his statement happened to reach her ears.
"Well, it isn't like no one expected this."
Immediately, she rose from her chair and strode to the doors, conscious of the fact that she was holding the gaze of every member of the House. The doorman, only just recovered from Bertie's flight from the room, made a move to open the door for her. She didn't give him the chance. She left the chamber with her chin held high and her respect for Parliament severely depleted. Bertie had evidently made it farther than the hall; she suspected he had gone outside and so she followed.
The skies were still dripping and the chilly wind tugged at her skirt. Elizabeth pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders and set off towards the street. She looked to her left and saw nothing; she looked to her right and could make out a misshapen figure through the fog. Her heart sank. She hurried in that direction, heels cracking on the wet pavement.
He was sitting on the curb with his head in his hands and his shoulders slumped low. His hair was plastered to his skin and every last inch of him seemed to be saturated with rainwater. He was shaking, whether from cold or sobs or residual fear she didn't know. She hesitated for one moment, eyeing the grime on the sidewalk before taking a seat beside him, gingerly avoiding the miniscule river in the gutter. There was no measurable response from him and she sighed.
"Bertie? Bertie, dear?" He answered with a mute shake of his head. "Bertie, come now…it wasn't so bad."
He turned his face toward her, regarding her with bloodshot eyes. Hot tears of shame melded with rain and streamed down his cheeks. "W-Wasn't s-s-so b-bad? Elizabeth, i-it w-was awf-f-ful!" Bertie bit his wavering lower lip. "I-I'm…I-I'm a-a disgrace t-t-to m-my f-family…m-my f-father…what w-will he s-s-say?"
"Bertie, the important thing is that you tried."
"N-No, Elizab-b-beth, th-the important thing i-i-is that I f-failed. I-I keep humil…miliating myself. I-It isn't fair t-t-to m-my father, o-o-or t-to you o-or the girls…n-no o-o-o-one wants a-a son o-or a husband or a-a father wh-who can't even sp-sp-speak!"
The pain in his voice was so great that for a moment, Elizabeth caught a glimpse of the anguish that regularly tormented his soul. Moved with compassion, she wrapped her arms around his soggy figure and hugged him close.
"Bertie…oh, Bertie, how can you be so blind? You are so loved, darling, so loved even with your imperfections. We all have them—why, it's the price of being human. You mustn't feel this way. You are in no way inferior. You are special, Bertie, more valuable than any king of any country." She took his face and turned him towards her. "Our faults do not define us. You mustn't feel that they do." Elizabeth pressed her lips to his cheek. "You are my husband, and I love you very much."
He stared at her with pleading eyes, until a soft sob escaped his throat and he hung his head in despair, exclaiming, "A-A-At least o-one of us d-does!"
As Bertie's tears joined the steady flow of water in the gutter, Elizabeth stroked his sopping hair and began to think. This could not go on—she was certain of that. Something had to be done, and it was apparent that the responsibility had fallen upon her shoulders. But what to do? Surely some solution existed, something infinitely more effective than picturing birds. She only had to find it. It may take time, it may take effort, it may take patience and the sting of disappointment. But she would find it. For the sake of her husband, her country, and herself, she would find it.
In the meantime, she could only hold her trembling husband and worry about the headline in tomorrow's paper, watching the street melt in the mist.
Hooray for Elizabeth! I promise that this did not start out as a women's empowerment thing...I feel like it kind of ended that way though...oh well. I hope you had fun, maybe shed a few tears but probably not, and let me know what you thought of it by hitting that cute little button at the bottom with the letters R-E-V-I-E-W on it. Much love and appreciation to all. ~