Chapter Twelve – Honest Men.

Moving through the house slowly and carefully, looking out for the signs which told him where he was, Jacob went looking for Gabriel. He was nowhere inside, not even in the kitchen, where a young man dressed in an apron had waved a knife at Jacob until he’d gone away.

Eventually wandering outside, Jacob strolled through the garden, which he’d never been in before. It was well tended, clearly Gabriel hired gardeners. Jacob had never cared overmuch for horticulture and he didn’t intend to start. Nevertheless, there was something soothing about walking through the ordered rows of plants. It calmed Jacob’s nerves. He’d been jumpy ever since he’d come to the house of the gods.

At the end of the garden was a tennis court. Here Gabriel was bouncing a tennis ball against the floor and catching it on a racket, dressed in shorts, t-shirt and sweatband. Seeing Jacob, he smiled, though it wasn’t a real smile. It was quite cold and there was a chill wind blowing around the place. How and why Gabriel was dressed as he was and was out at this hour, was a mystery.

“Ilse promised me a game,” he said by way of explanation, “I thought I’d get some practice.”

Walking over, Jacob picked up a tennis racket from the floor and tested its weight with his hand. He’d played tennis once or twice when he was much younger.

“You’ll practice better against a human,” he said, walking around one side of the net. Gabriel looked at him with surprise and suspicion. Jacob smiled his most innocent smile. Eventually Gabriel nodded.

“Thanks,” he said, “sure you don’t want to change your clothes?”

Looking down at his shirt, tie and trousers, Jacob shook his head.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” he said, “come on.”

Gabriel served and Jacob deftly returned it, making Gabriel stride across the court. His opponent’s next shot made Jacob nearly stagger as he reached for it and he knocked it right in front of Gabriel, who powered it over the net once more.

“What’s the real reason for your early rise?” Jacob shouted over the net, “Nobody comes out to practice by themselves.”

Gabriel pursed his lips and struck Jacob’s incoming shot out of the air with an almost disdainful flick of the wrist. Jacob returned it with a sweep of his racket. He’d almost given up hope of an answer when Gabriel spoke.

“I was in the ballroom again,” he said, “I thought I might see my father.”

With a lunging step he hammered the ball down just on the other side of the net. Jacob tried to reach it but failed. He chuckled, picked up the ball and tossed it over the net to Gabriel, who caught it and prepared to serve again.

“Did you see him?” Jacob asked.

“No,” Gabriel’s serve spiralled into the air and landed a couple of centimetres wide, “honestly I don’t know what it was that I was expecting.”

Catching the ball, which Jacob had thrown back over to him, Gabriel seemed to study it for a few moments. Then he sighed and looked up.

“Do you think I’m going mad, Jacob?” He said.

Jacob frowned and shrugged.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I’ve not known you for very long. That’s really for you to say, isn’t it. What do you think?”

Gabriel’s next serve was neat and bounced next to Jacob, who passed it back without thinking.

“From day to day my own opinion changes,” Gabriel said, “when… when I see things they appear so very real. Thinking about them later, though, it all seems a dream, a vision. There are some days where I wake up and I’m sure that every single thing I have ever seen is real. Sometimes, though, they’re like something that you look at through frosted glass. If you see what I mean.”

“I think I do,” Jacob said, “Sometimes something can happen that seems to unsettle our grip on the world around us. Could it be that an event in your past is making you see things a little differently now?”

Stopping short, Gabriel allowed the ball that was hurtling in his direction to bounce past him. He looked over the net at Jacob, his head bowed.

“No,” he said shortly.

Jacob nodded and gestured to the ball.

“My serve,” he said. Gabriel turned and went to pick it up, but he kept his eyes on Jacob, for a moment he was a cornered animal, not taking its eyes from its captor. Jacob placed his tennis racket on the ground and leaned against it idly, watching Gabriel with eyes that were only half open.

Taking up the ball, Gabriel threw it to Jacob who caught it neatly and served gently over the net. Gabriel returned with a little more force and the game continued.

“When I was younger I had a nickname,” Jacob said, “people used to call me ‘Honest Jacob’.”

Gabriel smirked.

“Why was that?” He asked, nimbly back-handing a shot from Jacob.

“I never lied,” Jacob said, “ever. I was known for it. I wasn’t always an accountant, you know, I used to live by my wits on the streets, or something like that. Local businesses used me as an errand-runner, messenger, that sort of thing. I earned a reputation for honesty. I’d learned from a young age that people respect you more if you tell them the truth. Nobody was ever done wrong by Honest Jacob. Or at least, that was what they said.”

“Right,” Gabriel chuckled, “so, Honest Jacob, tell me something. What do you really think of the house of the gods.”

Jacob swiped the incoming ball out of the air.

“I think you’ve been cooped up in here for too long,” he said, “I think you’ve cut yourself off from civilisation and now it’s affecting the way that you think. I think you’d do well to get out of here as quickly as you can.”

For a few moments Gabriel said nothing. He returned the ball with a volley and watched Jacob intently as he leaped to reach it.

“Thank you for your honesty,” he said after a while, “I think you might be right.”

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