THE PROVISIONER: Chapter Four

When Garen first met the lady-of-provision, he’d been so delirious he almost missed her.

Yura warned him not to try. She told him story after story of how she destroyed the lives of her devoted, but each tale his teacher told made him want to meet the lady more. So he’d gathered the candles and ground the resins, prepared the shrine and prayed.

Nothing happened the first day, nor the second. This confused him, but the more he was met with silence, the more fervent he prayed. Those days became a week, and then another. He hadn’t expected it to take so long, refused to leave the shrine except to piss and shit. He’d made no provisions for food, became weak eating stale bread and then crumbs and then nothing. He’d forget to drink water until his throat became so dry he couldn’t pronounce the chants. One week, and then another, and then another, trying to prove his devotion to her, trying to prove his worth.

He didn’t know how much time had passed until Yura told him, standing over his shaking body. He’d given her a spare key when he first started training with her, not her request but his. He wanted to know someone might find his dead body one day, someone besides his landlord.

“Three weeks I haven’t heard from you. And here you are covered in your own drool like our lady’s gonna talk to you if you look like a neglected baby.”

“She hasn’t found me worthy yet,” he blathered. “I’ll pray more.”

Yura might have been old, but she was also really strong. She yanked him up by the arm, shouting “You’ll do no such thing for anyone, lady or lord or lover. I’m putting you to bed.”

By then, Garen had become too feeble to resist. She undressed him as he relented helplessly. She threw him on the bed, and then wrapped his blankets around his body so he couldn’t get up.

Just after, drifting into sleep, she came. A sense of gold and black, sun and shadow. And then green and blue, tree leaf and beyond it the sky. Then all four, light filtered through branches: hot, dappled with cold shade. He was before and after, staring from the end of time and from its beginning. Water made sense, and wind. He saw stars, was stars, stars dead yet still shining at their birth. He was time, stretching before and after, and she was there, someone, a presence close but very distant, touching him without body, echoing before any sound was ever made.

When he woke late that night, it was not from sleep but an endless ocean of time. He woke into his room, with Yura still sitting next to him.

He met her. She had found him worthy. He told Yura this.

“That’s what you think, boy? You’re worthy? I’m a poor teacher if that’s what you’re getting from all this.”

Now Garen knew better. He didn’t need to be worthy at all, only to listen. He lit his candles, chanted her devotions, then relaxed. She couldn’t be found in effort anymore than wind could be held in the hand. Seek grand visions and none come, grip tightly to thread and it snaps.

He sat at her shrine and waited. She would guide him to the provisions, would reveal what was needed, would wake into him what the future knows of the now.

She told him one thing. And then he left the house to tell Yura what he learned.

Yura stomped her feet, furious. “My wolf claw? How do you even know I have one?”

He smiled. “You just told me. You wouldn’t have said ‘my wolf claw’ if you didn’t have one.”

“Praise and screw her,” she huffed. “I do. And I don’t want to think what she wants you with it.”

Garen shrugged. “Did you ever know what you needed provisions for until you needed them?”

Yura sat, loudly. “No. ‘Course not. I just—you know there haven’t been wolves for more than a hundred years, right?”

Rubbing his hand against the coarse stubble of his beard, Garen told her no. He hadn’t known that. “How’d you come by it then?”

“From my mother. From her mother. From her father to her mother, a hunter she never saw after the night her daughter was made.”

“Oh” Garen replied, understanding the weight of his request. “That’s a bit sacred to you then, huh?”

“Lady piss you, boy—you don’t…” Yura’s huff deflated in one loud exhalation. “Yeah. It’s great-grandmother sacred.”

“I can’t ask you for that, Yura. I’m sorry.”

“You already did, boy. And she wouldn’t have told you it was needed if it weren’t. And maybe my great-grandfather wouldn’t have fucked my great-grandmother if she-who-foresees didn’t want you to have a wolf-claw. So, I wouldn’t be here without you, you get it?”

Her logic was dizzying, but Garen saw she was right.

“This is how she works. You try to tell her no and she comes up behind you almost a hundred years to get something from you.”

Her face wasn’t as flustered as her speech. Garen though he saw her look a little…wistful?

“Okay, okay. It’s yours,” she said. “You’ll need it, I don’t. I don’t got a daughter to give it to, and you’re the closest to a child I’ll ever have, so it’s time to pass it on. I’ll go get it.”

His teacher’s emotion struck him hard. “Wait—Yura?”

She’d stood already, was walking out of the room, but turned. “What?”

“I…I’m honored you feel like I’m your son.”

Yura grinned back at him. “Enough of this.” Then, motioning for him to follow, she added, “I got some provisions for you.”

Garen followed Yura into her shrine room. Warm from candles, smelling deep of incense, the small room always evinced the opposite emotion of his teacher: calm. He liked the room, also liked his teacher. What Garen didn’t like was how she acted when she was in the room.

The room was full of spirits. Icons, seals, sigils, bits of bone and bird arrayed around candles and oil-flames. Heavy with the breathing otherworld, full of silent voices ready to speak. Garen couldn’t unbid the awe from awakening when he entered, but Yura?

Yura was rude.

“You bitch them out, or they stomp all over you” she’d said the first time he’d entered with her. And then, turning to a shrine, she’d spoken again. “You hear me? I’m a bitch, but I’m not your bitch.”

She was less irreverent this time. “I did some forelooking for you. Talked to some I don’t talk to no more.”

The sudden tenderness startled Garen. If what she’d seen made her feel emotion at all, this provisioning was more serious than he feared. Yura gestured throughout the room, pointing at the shrines. “They all gave me different answers. Never can usually agree, but this time—it’s like they’re all arguing with each other.”

“Who did you ask?”

Yura shrugged. “All of ‘em. Some don’t want you to go. Some don’t want me to help you. Others…”, and here she pointed to her own shrine to she-who-foresees, “told me you’re not coming back.”

Garen felt the ground open beneath him. “She didn’t say that to me.”

“Course not!” Yura clucked. “You wouldn’t have wanted to hear it from her anyway.” And then, turning to face him, her eyes deeply serious, she said, “and she knows you wouldn’t believe me if I told you, which is probably why she said it.”

This didn’t make Garen feel any better. He hadn’t considered he might die. Unlike other provisioners, he hadn’t gotten a vision of his own death yet. Yura had told him it was usually the first vision they ever see.

“I’m going to die?”

“What’s death?” Yura asked, suddenly laughing. “It’s not coming back. But that doesn’t mean you don’t die again and again. We just don’t leave a corpse ’till the last death.”

Garen relaxed a little, remained silent.

“So you don’t come back, and that’s all good. But I see you again anyway, from far-off I guess. That’s something.” Her face softened when she saw her student’s grim stare. “Smile. We survive everything until we don’t.”

She took something off one of the shrines and handed it to him, closed-fist. It dropped into Garen’s hand and he stared at it, curious. A small, silver coin.

“You’ll be needing this. My wolf-claw’s in my room. Well, your wolf-claw now, I guess.”

When Garen first found his way to Yura four years before, she’d been very unhappy to see him.

Fevered dreams haunted his sleep and later waking for months. Nothing made sense, his life quickly fell apart. He couldn’t keep work, his friends abandoned him. He smelled awful, but couldn’t summon the focus for a bath.

He’d had no idea what was happening to him, didn’t know why he woke in alleyways and parks, remembered nothing of the nights before. No one could help him, he’d become a walking ghost. And then he was at a strange door, Yura’s door, soaking wet in a chill winter rain, knocking until she answered.

When she finally opened, she shouted at him. “I don’t teach anymore. Go away”

Garen didn’t go away. He couldn’t. This open door, this woman before him, made sense like nothing else had.

The old woman stomped her feet repeatedly, as if stamping out a fire on her doorstep. “Damn it. Go away. I told them I’m done.”

Garen started to cry.

She shut the door.

How much longer he’d waited there, crying, he didn’t remember. She’d opened the door again, started at him, stomped her feet again and barked, “get in out of the rain at least.”

She’d taken pity on him. She’d lost arguments she’d been having with her spirits when he’d shown up dripping wet and crying at her door. That didn’t make her ever quite happy about it.

She started training him, teaching him to put off the dreams until sleep, showing how to make space for the unbidden visions. “Make space for them and they can’t jump you,” she’d said, though it took several more weeks for Garen to know what—and who—‘they’ were.

“You’re a provisioner, I’m sorry to say.” When she said those words, it’d been the first time Garen had heard of such a thing.

“You know when you just happen to have the very thing someone needs? Like, when someone needs to write something and you happen to have a pen on you, or you find some coins on the ground and it just happens to be the amount someone else needed to borrow to buy their dinner, or when someone mentions they lost their dog and you happened to see the pup running down the street earlier that day?”

“Luck, yeah” Garen answered. “Co-incidence.”

“Nope. Provisioning. You provide for folks because you saw something that you just sort of knew would be needed later. You didn’t know, really, or not like you know where you live or what your name is. But you definitely know.”

Garen shook his head. “That happens to everyone though. All the time.”

Yura clicked her teeth. “Sure. But they got no say in it. Provisioners do. We can see what’s going to be needed for others before it’s needed, and follow the stream of a thing to where it meets up with the river of a person.”

That made no sense to him then. She tried several other ways of explaining: hints to stories that haven’t been written yet, buying the ingredients to a soup that you only knew you were going to make when you saw those things in the market, hearing voices before they speak. Nothing made anything clearer to him.

“Oh!” she’d added, excited. “It’s just like falling in love.”

“What?” Garen had asked, still confused.

“So, you meet someone. And you don’t know you’re in love with them yet. And then later you are in love with them, and you realize you were the whole time and just didn’t know it. And then soon after, you start to feel like you were in love with them before you ever met them, like everything before was waiting for them and everything after is learning how much you were waiting.”

Garen had never been in love. When he told her this, her harshness melted away.

“I’m sorry, boy. It’s just like that, though. Maybe you have to know provisioning when you see it, just like you have to know love when it happens.”

Four years later Garen still didn’t know love. But he knew provisioning, and much more. Yura taught him to make tinctures from herbs and roots, to sew, to garden, to cook. She taught him the name of stars he’d never really looked at before, the name of trees he passed by daily and never thought on until then. Yura became almost a mother to him, albeit more foul-mouthed and less emotive than his own. She also became a guide, and his closest friend.

“Here’s your wolf-claw,” Yura said, handing him a bundle of cloth tied with leather cord. He didn’t untie it; it seemed wrong to do so here, it being so sacred for her. She handed him more things—a large leather shoulder bag, a small flat wooden chest. “Traveling supplies. You’re gonna be cold where you’re going, so pick up a coat. There’s money in the bag, and some other stuff you’ll find useful.

She unlocked the chest, opened the lid. “As many tricks I could gather for you on such short notice. You’ll know what to do with ‘em.”

Garen scanned the vials and small pouches. Tinctures, oils, dried herbs, salves. Mostly medicines, a few cooking herbs, and…

Yura saw where his glance lingered. “Poison, yup.”

Garen shook his head. “I’m not killing anyone.”

“I’m not telling you to, boy. But the spirits say you need this, so you’re taking this. Hold the key tight. I reckon they won’t know what half these things are unless they’ve got an apothecary traveling with you. I reckon you’re him, though.”

Garen sat down. Emotions hit him hard, so many, so different. Loss. Fear. Excitement at his first provisioning fading into terror. Homesickness for a place he didn’t call home. Humility that Yura trusted him so greatly. Gratitude for her help. Sorrow that he may never see her again.

“Yura…thank you.”

The old woman hugged him, laughing. “Don’t thank me. It’s I who should be thanking you. Or they who should be thanking you, anyways. But you should get going, now—you have more to get in the morning. Warm clothes, like I said. And eat some.”

Garen hugged her back. “Thank you, though. I mean, anyway.”

She closed the chest, locked it again, and slipped it into the shoulder bag before answering. They stood together at the door now, Garen staring out into the fading light.

“You’re welcome, Garen.”

Garen heard her voice tremble a bit, and politely avoided noting the sudden sadness there. He nodded, smiled and stepped into the night.

“And one more thing,” Yura called out, before closing the door behind him.

He turned, saw her smiling.

“You’ll know love when you see it.”