“The Last Work of Jan Rosthoven” by Matthew A. Timmins

As Zeus birthed Athena, so Jan Rosthoven produced his fiction: alone and silent, after much pain, he would split his head and forth with a cry would leap a novel fully formed and, but for his name on the title page, seemingly ex nihilo. If it were not so, his last novel would still sit upon the heavy shelves of Soph, Lord of Doors and of the Known. But alas, Rosthoven’s final work died with him. The fire that consumed the house consumed the author, consumed the manuscript.

So it is that Soph, Lord of Doors and of the Known, takes down from its place Rosthoven’s last novel and, looking fondly through the pages for the final time, prepares to take it away.

Soph is the Lord of Doors and the Lord also of the Known. The face of Soph is known to you. It is the face you know best; it is the face of your mother, your child, your lover, or your tormentor. We all know the face of Soph. The house of Soph, too, is known to you. It is the house of your heart, your childhood home, your dream-castle, or your prison. Though there are more doors than you remember.

Doors of every description. Doors of men and doors of women, doors of beasts and doors of machines. It is to one of these doors that Soph now comes. It is a solemn door, a low door; its lintel is fashioned of phosphorescent metal, its sill of antediluvian wood, its jambs of monstrous bone, its panels of the hardest blackness, its hinges of a mysterious construction. It has no lock or handle but stands always ajar, at the bottom of a staircase, at the end of a hall, behind a wall, known only to Soph. Soph is the Lord of Doors and loves all doors save this one. Soph is the Lord of the Known and fears not any knowledge, save this door. It is to this door that Soph brings the last book of Jan Rosthoven.

This door—that the Lord of All Doors fears—leads to the Space Between, that no-place that lies betwixt knowing and forgetting, possession and loss. Many times the Lord of Doors and of the Known has trod this way, but each journey is the first. How long this journey is, or how much time passes, Soph cannot say. And if Soph cannot say, who can say? For how much space lies between knowing a thing and forgetting a thing, or when lies the moment when memory fails?

And so by strange and secret way comes Soph to a wide and welcoming portal and, passing beneath it, the Place of Forgetting. Here Soph is greeted by a bewildered amnesiac. She casts about her for something and, not finding it, says, “Welcome . . . to . . . this place.”

Soph looks at her with pity and says, “Once we were known to one another . . . Helena Bethany Cook . . . before you came to serve the Lord of the Forgotten. But now, good and faithful servant, you must take me to your master.”

The servant smiles at the gift of her name, but immediately it slips from her like quicksilver and, not remembering why she smiles, she frowns. “This way.” Hesitating between two halls, she chooses at random and moves slowly away. Soph follows.

The Place of Forgetting, wherein dwells the Lord of the Forgotten, is vast. This much reason tells us, for it holds many things. It has depth and dimension, it is no nebulous void or ethereal realm: it is a place of sound and color, though no odor is to be detected. As you have visited the House of Soph, so you have been to the Place of Forgetting. Not hidden from you are its wonders, but upon your departure they remain in the Place of Forgetting and you take not any away, nor even all that you had brought.

The erstwhile Helena Bethany Cook and the eternal Lord of the Known pass through this house of loss and come finally to the Unremembered Library. Here Soph is sad to see many things that had once resided in the House of Soph: the volumes of Alexandria and the Philosopher’s Stone, the bottled dreams of a hundred million nights, and, alas, more loves than hates. There is prepared for Soph an old man’s chair draped in the flag of a forgotten principality; beside this, on a table thick with the portraits of the unrecognized, rests a plate of manna and a bottle of Carthaginian wine.

And standing before a vault of mercifully stolen pains is the Lord of the Forgotten.

“Master?” says the servant. Then noticing Soph as if for the first time, she adds, “Master . . . a guest?”

The Lord of the Forgotten bows to Soph and welcomes the Lord of Doors and of the Known.

Soph bows as well. “Greetings, most gracious Lord of the Forgotten. I trust you are well?”

The Lord of the Forgotten speaks.

“Yes,” chuckles Soph. “It is always so.”

Again, the Lord of the Forgotten speaks.

“I have come to lend you this,” says the Lord of the Known, offering up the last work of Jan Rosthoven. “Annals of Vainglory is its title. It is a defiant novel, full of lies and passion, poetry and defeat, baseless hope and rain.” Wistful is the voice of Soph. “Had Fate played differently it would have coiled like a viper in the tall grass. It would have spread among the quiet searchers like a shameful disease and founded the cult of Jan Rosthoven. I think you will enjoy it.”

The Lord of the Forgotten takes the book from Soph’s hand, and speaks.

Soph’s eyes narrow. “Perhaps. Perhaps not.”

The servant, forgotten, wanders from the room.

Turning, the Lord of the Forgotten walks to a shelf crowded with abandoned works and unread literature and dead secrets, and slips the Annals of Vainglory into its place, between De Tribus Impostoribus and a translation of Xu Bing’s A Book from the Sky. Turning back to Soph, the Lord of the Forgotten speaks at greater length.

And anger grows on the countenance of Soph. “I come, O Lord of Things Lost and Neglected, out of respect. I come, O Thief of Yesterday, because there need be no enmity between us. As it is with the Lord of the Born and the Lord of the Ended, so it is with us.”

Speaks the Lord of the Forgotten.

“It is to be war among us, then?”

Speaks again the Lord of the Forgotten.

“You are too proud, my Lord. Have you forgotten that I have taken things from this place as well? Ubar is known again and Helike is found. Yun Sook Min is restored to her family and the ‘Battle of Anghiari’ will soon be mine once more. My servants are legion and their power waxes. The Unremembered Library is vast, it is true, but the Library of Soph is ever-increasing and its doors are fast barred. Fewer and fewer are the losses to your spies; anon it will be unassailable, and then it shall be you who will crawl to me to deliver up your treasures!”

Softly, the Lord of the Forgotten speaks.

“Think you so,” scoffs Soph. “You know only those things that are old, dead, things that were. I know things that are alive, things that are. You sit here blind—blind!—till I bring you my refuse! But I! I can glimpse things that will be. Dimly I perceive wonders which you cannot fathom. It may be that you trust too much in the End. It may be the End will never come.”

The Lord of the Forgotten speaks again.

Soph stands, sets down a wine glass. “And if it is so? If there are none left to know, can there be any left to forget? At the End, who will forget, my Lord, who will forget?” With a cold nod Soph, the Lord of Doors and of the Known, departs.

Alone, the Lord of the Forgotten smiles.

Or perhaps not. I cannot recall.

Matthew A. Timmins lives in Massachusetts with his wife and far too many cats. His work has appeared in Stupefying Stories and Unlikely Story as well as the anthologies A Chimerical World: Tales of the Seelie Court and A Chimerical World: Tales of the Unseelie Court. When not writing he enjoys roleplaying games, Formula 1 racing, and writing about himself in the third person.

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