Note: According to a biographer, King George VI once threw a sword in a fit of anger and nearly hit his steward.
Sometimes it's the pages of the speech that get flung across the room. Sometimes it's a pen or a paperweight.
Today, however, it's the ceremonial sword that comes flying past, missing Lionel by inches.
A dagger of the mind, he thinks rather wildly, unable to believe that Bertie would actually toss such a thing - sharp enough to be deadly, both the finely wrought blade and the symbolic honor of the King.
Yet there it lies, clattering faintly against the floor which bears a new garish scratch. Bertie looks as astonished as Lionel feels, staring at the sword as though he can't quite make out how it got there.
Lionel clears his throat. It wouldn't do for the speech therapist to stammer, even now...perhaps particularly not now, when the King might believe himself mocked. "I think that's enough practice," says Lionel awkwardly, turning away from the weapon, very nearly turning away from the King.
"Don't -" The fury is still there, in Bertie's voice and in Bertie's clenched fists, though it seems as if Bertie doesn't know it. His eyes have grown wide with surprise, still glancing from Lionel to the sword and back. It isn't impossible that Bertie will blame Lionel for the sword lying there, insisting that Lionel provoked him past the point of reason.
Lionel is usually a very patient man, but suddenly it's too much - Bertie's rage, Bertie's condemnation, Bertie's alternating insistence that he can't manage any of it without Lionel and that Lionel is nothing but an unqualified common colonial. Careful not to commit the deliberate and intolerable insult of turning his back, Lionel shuffles toward the chair with his case. "A few minutes of rest will do you more good than another rehearsal."
"Lionel." The name makes him meet Bertie's eyes. Usually at the Palace it's "Logue" or still, occasionally, "Doctor." Bertie's mouth works, but no sound emerges. His jaw is more tightly locked now than it was while he read the speech.
At such times, Lionel instinctively reaches out to help - sometimes with words of encouragement, sometimes with a diversion, occasionally with a hand on Bertie's shoulder or his forearm. The arm nearest Lionel now - the right, the one Bertie was trained to favor for writing and shooting, traumatizing his brain and quite possibly leading to his stammer - is the same arm that moments earlier hurled the sword. He keeps his hands at his sides.
It is Bertie who steps forward, surprise giving way to panic, fingers clutching at the air when Lionel lurches aside too quickly to stop himself. He doesn't mean to do it. It's an automatic recoil from the hand shooting out at him so soon after the blade.
He forces himself to stand and face Bertie while Bertie's hand lowers, going still at his side, though Bertie's head shakes "no" again and again. Lionel can see the conscious effort it takes for Bertie to stop it, to shut his eyes and pause, to take a deep breath from the diaphragm, to rock onto the balls of his feet - all tricks Lionel has taught Bertie.
"I shouldn't have done that."
It isn't an apology, but it's more consideration than Lionel usually gets when Bertie has one of his gnashes, and he knows that he owes Bertie (that he owes the King) acknowledgment. He nods stiffly, still not entirely certain that he trusts his own voice.
If he could smile, Lionel knows, he could consign the incident to the past, perhaps even make Bertie smile too and get them back on track with the speech during the few minutes of rehearsal left to them. It shouldn't be difficult for someone who's trained in the control of the mouth and jaw to turn up his lips, slide his lower teeth forward, let the muscles of his face crinkle the skin around his eyes and crease laugh lines into his forehead.
He can't do it.
"P-please," Bertie continues, his remorse plain as he turns his palms out to Lionel, raising his hands. Is he offering them for Lionel to take or merely showing Lionel that they are empty? Lionel won't risk reaching out and being rebuffed. Instead he offers Bertie his own copy of the speech.
Bertie lowers his head, frowning, but he takes the pages, and after a moment he begins to read. His voice is slightly unsteady but less forced than earlier. He is midway through the third paragraph without a significant break or sputter when a knock on the door interrupts.
The equerry's face remains impassive as he enters, pauses, picks up the sword, polishes it, and awaits the King's approach before offering the handle. The King replaces it in the decorative scabbard.
"I shall need a moment," he tells the equerry, waiting for the bowed head, the acquiescence (always very good, sir), and the click as the door closes behind the man. He glances back at Lionel. "Is it better now?"
Lionel doesn't know whether Bertie means the speech or the wound Bertie inflicted when he flung the sword, even if it never came close to touching Lionel. It's a complicated question. Lionel is a paid employee of the Crown, better treated than some. He has always known that the King has a temper, and that the sort of work they do together often triggers frustration that has nothing to do with Lionel's teaching.
The real question is why Lionel feels so wounded.
Much easier to take the simplest meaning of Bertie's question. The speech is indeed better, and Lionel is able to smile as he nods in encouragement. Bertie smiles back, his face transformed with relief at the apparent reprieve.
"You'll stay where I can see you while I give the speech?" asks Bertie, wholly unnecessarily, since that is why Lionel is here.
Again Lionel nods, and the reassurance comforts him as well. "Of course. Though you won't need me - you'll be fine."
"Yes, I will." Bertie's face colors, though not with fury this time. "I need you to -"
Again a knock interrupts, this time a reminder that an audience is waiting. Lionel's smile comes more easily. "I'll be right there," he says again.
"Thank you." That, too, is something Bertie doesn't often say. When courtesy demands it, of course he expresses what gratitude is necessary, but heartfelt expressions of appreciation are more rare - only when something punctures the invisible barrier that separates royal from commoner.
Like a sword flung across a room.