Letting the dreams leave

The Deserving King

The announcement had come very suddenly. The attendees of the support group, after their confrontation with Jak, were contacted the next morning with an invitation and a role to play. After they had all accepted, the announcement was made city-wide: their King demanded their attention. He will hold a special ceremony the next day at Baron's Plaza and the entire city is both invited and summoned. Those who will not be able to fit into the plaza will have to view the ceremony on screens in other areas.

And so, the rapid organisation meant the plaza was quickly changed and outfitted in the space of a day, with monitors erected in other key areas. One of those areas was the old barracks, which were being used by the nomads as their home and professional space; Jak had decided they had the right to view the ceremony, even if they were not citizens and could not be invited (he was also secretly hoping his therapist would approve the actions he would perform). In Baron's Plaza - so named as that was the location of Baron Praxis' palace before its destruction, after which the rubble had been cleared and the large space left empty - lots of temporary event seating had been erected, most of which were two storeys high, a few at the very 'back' were three. Each of the groups of seats had walking spaces between them, allowing movement. There was also a mass of chairs that stopped about a city block in front of the temporary stage. There were not enough chairs to fill all the empty spaces, however, so many of the citizens had to stand. The only preference shown was for the elderly and the very young to have seating, all else was first-come, first served. In the space between the front row seating and the stage, to one side were rows of seating, occuppied by the City Councillors and their assistants (half of whom had one). They were dressed in basic mourning clothes, as were the group occupying the seats directly opposite them. The other side of the space had been completely filled by the members of the support group.

The stage itself was a basic setup. It was a platform, covered in a coloured sheet to make it seem presentable. A podium stood at the very front, in the middle, bearing the insignia of the House of Mar. In front of the podium were the stairs to the stage. On said podium was a microphone, waiting to broadcast the king's voice to any device ready to transmit it. What most people could not see, was the card lying on the podium stand, bearing the speech to be read out. There was a bench each side of the stage; those on the stage were expected to stand. The stage was in front of a Memorial Hall, connecting to its stairway that leads to its grand doors. The doors hung open. It was upstairs that the king and his entourage were in a chamber and waiting for the correct time. They stared out through the windows, marvelling at the large crowd and the skill with which the Freedom Guards directed the people.

There was quiet chatter between the people in the chamber. Jak said nothing, staring out of the window; people often glanced his way out of concern. All of them were wearing simple, black outfits, demonstrating their mourning. Even Samos found a dark robe he could wear, looking more regal than usual. Jak wore his amulet to demonstrate his rank. Watching the people outside, his overwhelming emotion was anxiety. At the same time, he could not help but be impressed by the power he had over these people, their loyalty to him. He had summoned them and they had attended, no question. His heartbeat refused to lessen its pressure against his ribs. He had spent hours rehearsing his speech in front of Keira, Daxter, Ashelin, Torn, Sig, even Tess. He had never been good at public speaking and had to learn to look up, look at people, speak clearly, pause at key moments, wear the correct facial expression, etc. The entire process had been exhausting and he still felt unprepared, or unable to perform. Or unwilling.

It felt unreal when Talia announced that it was time for the ceremony to begin. For several moments, Jak didn't move, half-convinced he had imagined the statement. Keira and Daxter had to further nudge him. One look at his stoney, drawn face made it clear to both that the blonde was nervous beyond belief. His movement to the building and stage entrance was automatic; he found it difficult to focus on his surroundings. His heartbeat was so fast and so loud, he wondered how he could possibly be standing. He clasped Keira's hand, drawing strength and support from it. He swallowed thickly, as he came closer to the open door, to the source of bright light.

Talia walked out, holding the staff of the Master of Ceremonies (as one had not been named, the ceremony organisor, Talia, was playing the part). She paused next to the Proclaimer on stage. The Proclaimer was actually a Freedom Guard decked in a special robe. He approached the podium and proclaimed: "All rise!" Everyone in the crowd that could, stood up as he introduced the people coming on stage. He introduced the 'Sage of Green Eco' Samos Hagi, the 'Ottsel Guests of the King' Daxter and Tess, Torn 'Commander of the Freedom League', 'Baron of Spargus' Sig (accompanied by 2 monks), 'Baroness of Haven City' Ashelin Praxis, 'Daughter of the Sage' Keira Hagi, then 'His Majesty Mar II of the Ruling House of Mar'. Everyone else stood in a predetermined spot on stage, Jak remained with Keira in the centre. The Proclaimer stood to one side of the podium, providing some distance, while Talia descended the stage stairs to the ground. Jak remained in his spot while the crowd cheered.

It was a lukewarm applause. The King could instantly tell the difference between the cheering here and the thunderous rapture of an applause he had received when he had won races, completed challenges and saved the day. The muted mood made him wonder if he should be encouraged or more conscious of his possible mistakes. He soaked it in for a while, glad that the crowd were at least polite enough to applaud him in some sort of support. He could hear the cheers quieten down. His intertwined hand squeezed Keira's as strongly as possible; he walked forward.

Jak attempted to smile at least somewhat, as Sig had told him that citizens always feel strengthened when they see their presence encourages their leader. He swallowed a huge, painful lump as he stood in front of the podium. The applause finally stopped.

"Thanks for the warm welcome, I'm glad you came." He was surprised at how solid and confident he sounded. His fleeting increase in confidence shot down again when he saw a number of people in the crowd roll their eyes and scoff. He looked down at his card, moving swiftly on before he could dwell on the moment. "Every person here knows that in a few days, we will cast our votes either for or against our new constitution. Well, excluding me. But I did decide one thing: I don't want you to vote in support of this constitution because you feel you have to. If you have a genuine problem with the constitution as it now stands, please, vote no. If not enough of you vote in favour of it, then it will go back to the drawing board and we will need to know why you cannot support it." He paused, allowing himself a chance to inspect the crowd in front of him. He was glad he held their attention. Looking to his right, he noticed some of the Councillors squirming. You just love every single thing going to plan, don't you? He kept his smirk private. "The reason why I asked you all here - summoned you all -" 'summoned' was a word he had improvised, as it was not in his speech, "is to make a case for the new constitution and the government it will make. I cannot expect you to vote in favour of something if no case has been made for it.

"We were all celebrating the anniversary of the fall of Baron Praxis' regime last week. I hope I can prove to you, that the constitution you will be voting on, will mean a government completely different from his." Jak paused, aware of what topic he will be discussing next. He remembered Daxter telling him how volatile this topic was, how so many citizens in Haven City had a grudge against the Krimzon Guards, for one reason or another. "We have our monument to remember the lives of the rebels that were killed, the members of the Underground who were killed. There is also the monument to commemorate those political prisoners, many of whom had suffered great torture in his prison." And I suffered with them. Jak had to force his thoughts away from his memories. He stared at the crowd instead, noticing a great number of spectators bow their heads in memory. "We even have the monument to remember everyone killed during the Metal Head War that took place after Praxis fell. But...there is one group of people that no one talks about, another victim of Praxis' regime, we did not even want to think about. That includes me." Thousands of eyes stared back at him in curiosity. "The Krimzon Guards."

The reaction was immediate and intense. People started chattering, jeering or simply staring crossly. Jak felt intensely small and had the sudden desire to spot an exit. He then looked to his left, seeing the surviving kin of his victims fidgeting, looking anxious. "I know what you're thinking! Believe me, I know!" The crowd quietened in surprise. A few still jeered their challenges, daring the King to explain himself. Jak looked behind him. He did not need to look at Torn, as the commander was fully aware of the content of his speech, but it was good to have the older man's encouraging nod in any case. Turning back, he continued. "Everyone is still convinced that the Krimzon Guards were just an extension of Praxis, loyal to him and cruel to everyone else." ... The crowd continued to generate some noise. "I hope you haven't forgotten that over half the Freedom League members used to be Krimzon Guards." This point silenced the crowd. "Working under Praxis, these men and women faced 3 key dangers: murder by rebels, attacks from Metal Heads and punishment from Praxis himself, if they were unfortunate. One hated aspect of them was their helmets, which covered their faces. I learned this feature was introduced because Krimzon Guards kept getting attacked when off-duty. Because they dealt with such conditions, I wanted to know what made them become Krimzon Guards in the first place.

"There were those who were conscripted and had no choice. Others volunteered because they had no other qualifications or possibilities for a stable job, with stable income. As Krimzon Guard members were lost to Metal Head attacks, more spaces opened up." The young king stopped his speech, letting out a sigh. "Now that you know this side of the situation, our recent history becomes a lot more complicated. My case to you, for our new constitution, is to guarantee a free discussion of our past. We won't - will not silence those with a different opinion to others, we will not discourage certain kinds of thoughts or ideas. With a history this tragic, we need to be honest. And it is tragic." He let out another sigh. He paused, clenching his sealed lips together. He was hesitant about the next part.

"That much?" exclaimed Jak, looking up at Torn.

The Freedom League Commander gazed back unsympathetically. "I verified all the statistics personally. Especially your actions."

The younger man looked back down at the report. "My idea...will it be enough?"

"Only if you mean it."

He forced himself to find the courage he needed. "Our records say that attacks by the Underground and other rebels, resulted in the deaths of 162 Krimzon Guards in total. A further 312 were injured, 83 were injured so badly they had to leave their jobs." ... "I killed 51 of them."

A light gasp ran through the crowd. Saying the number with his own voice invited more guilt to sit uneasily in his stomach. He had never felt certain about how the citizens of the city would react to this announcement, but their varied reactions made him feel less secure, if that were possible. The spectators looked sad, fearful, smug and confused, sometimes all at once. He looked to his left, seeing the victims of his wrathful actions looking stunned. It seemed even they had not believed he could kill so many.

Jak refocussed on his written speech. "There is a reason, we are all wearing our clothes for mourning. The people seated here, in front of this stage, they all knew a Guard I had killed, in some cases they knew several." He faced the people he referred to. "This may come as a shock to you, but I know how you feel." As he read on, his focus wavered away from his speech. "I know what it's like, to see someone you love, trust, know, suddenly get killed. That source of safety and confidence in your life is suddenly gone. The wisdom or sense of humour you knew has vanished and is not there anymore. His advice that you need but won't ever get." His voice had become so thick. "That sense of emptiness during those times that, you feel like you know just what he would say, but then you're not completely sure, and you wish he is actually there. Those important moments in your life you wish he could see. There are even times you can't believe he's gone, suddenly switching to the feeling you wish he's completely gone, that you could forget about him." His chin quivered. "I know all of this. I lost my father too. This pain, this...these feelings." His vision blurred. He panicked! "I..." He forced the shakiness out of his voice, swallowing the growing lump. He did not want to break down in public like this. "I don't wish it on anyone." He gave up the battle for his inner control, letting the hot tears fall from his eyes. At that moment, he did not care how the people saw him, what opinions they were drawing.

The pressure, the guilt, the anger, the sadness; he let it out in his tears and defied his instinct to wipe them away. He looked to his left again. "I can't excuse what I did. I know what pain I caused you and I never wanted to give that to anyone, but I did. And what you really want is your...dad, brother, son, cousin, friend...you just want them back, and I can't bring them back. I wish I could." More pathetic tears rushed out. "I know I'll spend the rest of my life trying to make it up to you, but it'll never be enough." He had given up reading his speech long ago. He could hear no noises from the crowd but he had no idea how they were looking at him. His cries shook his body. "Those words are just pathetic but I mean it, I really do. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry." Sniffling, he undid the chain holding the amulet around his neck.

Everyone looked on, stunned, as their King placed his amulet, the symbol of his family line, onto the podium and descended down the stairs. The people on the stage looked solemn. They knew the parts to the ceremony after all. Jak kept his descent steady. His tears had slowed but inwardly, he felt intense relief. He was so glad to have expressed everything he had needed to. He did not need to speak any more, the rest of the ceremony would be easy. At the bottom of the stairs, he turned to his left, taking a few steps forward.

Talia stood by the microphone stand, waiting for the correct time to invite the first person forward. Jak stood still. His watery eyes looked at all the faces of the support group. Looking at the number, Jak realised only about half, maybe two-thirds of his victims were represented by this group of kin. Inwardly, he knew he would have to face more people; he hoped this public ceremony would be enough to convince them, convince them to seek help and convince them to suppress their rage and sadness towards him. He bowed his head.

Keeping his head bowed, he descended to his knees. And so he remained, knelt on the spot and his head bowed in deference to the people he had unwillingly harmed. Talia must have signalled the first person to approach, as he soon heard someone speak a name into the microphone. Soon after, something was placed in front of him. Jak kept his head resolutely bowed, his body still, his tears in place. What he could - and did - do was open his eyes, so that through the tops of them, he could see what the mourners placed in front of him. Part of the arrangement, was that for their part in the ceremony, each person or group of people would bring a memento of the person that was killed. Usually, they brought photos of the Krimzon Guard in question, out of uniform naturally. Other times, it was treasured objects, like a locket or a scrapbook, even a wedding tunic in one case.

"On one sad day," began the Freedom Guard, who had argued with Jak the day the group had confronted him, "I saw him kill over 20 of my friends and colleagues. His Majesty is now aware, how much his careless actions cost. In memory, I brought with me my old Krimzon Guard helmet, and a funeral bouquet."

Jak heard the helmet placed on the ground, the funeral bouquet had been placed on the side of the growing pile of mementos, so he could see a bunch of red flowers staring back at him. The remaining presentation of mementos went as before. The final one - though he was unaware this was the final one - was of a woman presenting her engagement ring, expressing how much she missed her husband, also father to their children. She placed it on the top of the pile. Jak could no longer see the top of the pile and refused to move his head in order to find a better view. He was surprised when the same woman called out a name, asking whoever-it-was to come back. He was startled when he felt a small hand brush away his tears.

"You can stop crying now, we get you're sorry," said a small boy. Jak looked up to find it was the same boy that had asked him if he had hated his father. "When my sister and me had a fight, we always cried. Dad said the second hardest thing to do is to say sorry, the first hardest is to accept the apology. But after that, everyone's happier." His sister knelt down beside him. "This is the biggest sorry I ever saw."

"Mom is always angry and sad," said the young girl ruefully. "I think she forgot what Dad always said to do and just hated you instead, 'cos it's easier."

Jak stared at them. What the twins had said rang very true for the situation, as well as any other situation involving a desire for revenge. Unfortunately, their comments left him with conflicting feelings: he felt flattered and relieved that they forgave him, but on the other hand, his guilt over murdering their father had only intensified. He sounded like a very wise and caring person. "What are your names?" he asked quietly.

"I'm Bowden. She's Cassio."

"What was your dad like?" asked Cassio, as if unaware of his previously asked question.

Jak had a small grin creeping up one corner of his mouth. "He was very strong, loud, very gruff. He didn't show his nice side very much. But when he did, I thought he was the wisest person alive."

Cassio seemed to want to say something else, but Talia had come over to usher them towards their mother. Bowden giggled as he went, while his sister waved at Jak shyly. The kneeling man stared after the children, forgetting for a moment where he was and his purpose for being there. He was suddenly shaken out of his reverie by the reverberating words of the Proclaimer, once again utilising the microphone at the podium.

"This pile of mementos, presented to you by the surviving kin, will be kept here and guarded for one day. Tomorrow the kin can recollect them. If any citizen wishes to show solidarity with the kin during this time of grief, all of you are invited to contribute a candle. On that spot, a monument will be erected to all Krimzon Guards killed by rebels or mishaps, including those victims of the King. The penance, accepted by His Majesty, will be to maintain and care for this monument for the rest of his life."

At the end of that announcement, two Freedom Guards, who had approached Jak from behind as the Proclaimer spoke, grabbed the arms of their ruler and hoisted him to his feet. Like any common prisoner, they marched him out of Baron's Plaza and into a nearby café, which had been claimed and appropriated by the Freedom Guards and the City Councillors for this ceremony especially. The café was empty when they marched in.

Jak thought the guards would escort him to one of the tables in the corner and sit him down. Instead, they let go of his arms and guided him to the customer toilets. He faced them in confusion.

"Um, I don't need to go."

One of them shrugged. "We thought you would appreciate the chance to clean up, Your Majesty."

The blonde blinked. Two acts of generosity within the space of 10 minutes, the last thing he had expected to happen. He did not feel worthy of such treatment. Such thoughts were quickly brushed aside, however, as Jak resolutely decided he would ponder these thoughts later. "Thanks." He stepped inside and proceeded to rinse his tear-streaked face.

A little later, Jak was sitting in a dark corner of the café, listening to the chatter of the citizens - his subjects - as they exited the plaza and made their way to resume their day. He let the hum and murmur of their chatter wash over him, as he was still trying to recollect his thoughts in the aftermath of so much emotion. He couldn't make out any clear words usually, but the tone of voice used made it clear that everyone had been given something to think about. He felt numb, emotionally exhausted. He then heard Keira's voice, inside the café, speaking to one of the Councillors. Very soon, she approached him. He turned to see Keira's encouraging smile and he did what came naturally: he wrapped his arms around her, laying his head on the comfort of her chest. As ever, a hand ran through his hair in affection.

"I did it," he whispered.

He felt a kiss on his head. "I'm proud of you, Jak, I love you."

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Written by Ruth Hüneke 2013

© Naughty Dog and Sony