I was grateful for Abuela Malena’s suggestion as I swapped out my heels for a pair of sneakers and followed Leon downstairs. She knew how much I hated a crowd in my bedroom, a pet peeve that stemmed from my time in rehab and therapy. I can still see the healers, physicians, and therapists seated around a table, jotting notes down on their clipboards and staring at me with dubious eyes as I tried to convince them for the fourth time that I was well enough to return home…
She also knew how much I cherished the outdoors. I may not have looked it, but I was an active kid growing up. I climbed trees, made amateur attempts at parkour over low structures, and took part in various childhood games in the woods surrounding our home.
It was as I plucked our herb picking basket off the accent table beside the sliding glass doors and glanced over at Leon--this tall man with pale cyan eyes and slender features topped by strawberry blond hair styled in a backward-flowing, windswept look--that I realized that most of those treasured memories included him.
The two of us hadn’t always been at odds; there was a time when I would have considered Leon Porter, alchemist and the second heir to his coven, as my nearest and dearest friend. We did just about everything together, so much so that Abuela Malena would joke that “el es menos león y más patito,” or he was less of a lion and more of a duckling, since he tagged along for all of my youthful misadventures. Leon was a mystery wrapped in an enigma--he was intelligent, naturally athletic, effortlessly handsome, and yet possessed the social skills of an alley’s grimy, pissed-covered brick wall. What other kids would initially mistake as aloofness would reveal itself as an insufferable pompous attitude seemingly fueled by an inflated ego that came with being the future patriarch.
But I knew the real Leon--the boy behind the mask.
He was observant, pretending not to care one way or the other while hanging on every word directed at him. There were several times when he would do something to appease a previous wish I expressed or desire I spoke aloud, like the day he told me he wanted to see a horror movie even though that was his least favorite genre. And the Valentine’s Day in seventh grade when he sent me nearly three dozen rose grams, because the previous year I had made a joke about not getting any and feeling unloved. His secret considerate nature didn’t stop there--I distinctly recall him buying two cookies from the school cafeteria every day and always passing his uneaten second treat off to me, claiming he was too full. When we were back in elementary school, my shoelaces would always come undone, and he’d grumble about how much of an imbecile I was while kneeling to tie them for me. He loathed the human tradition of Halloween, but after learning that I was ridiculed at school because my family celebrated a blend of Samhain and Día de Muertos, he invited himself over and spent those three days at our house in what became like a tradition. Hell, he was at our place so often that he called my grandmother Abuela Malena, and she treated him like her own grandson.
There was a lot more to Leon Porter that meets the eye. His pride was a front, a barrier between him and the outside world, instilled in him by his neglectful father and reinforced by his desire to be acknowledged by Dexter Porter. The former patriarch was what we called “fake nice” or “two-faced”--he was polite to your face, even coming off as genuinely kind and interested to the uninformed, but as soon as you were out of earshot he would toss all allegiances aside and speak ill of you. That’s how I knew my mom’s covenant with him was one made out of desperation--she’d never tie herself to a man like him unless she truly saw no other way.
Growing up with a dad like that was hard on him, but he always acted as if he were unaffected by it, I thought to myself as Leon and I passed the treeline, officially in the woods that kept the Xirau Coven mostly hidden from outsiders. We exchanged no words to indicate any particular direction or route but forged ahead regardless, allowing muscle memory to lead us down the paths we took as children. I slowed down at times, my eyes passing over the low shrubbery in search of ingredients commonly used in potions. Leon simply idled by, his eyes glued to his smartphone while he waited for me to judge the plants accordingly and either pick them or move on. His interests had never been in harvesting ingredients or making potions, but he had always insisted on joining me when we were kids.
The silence between us was broken only by the occasional hum from me and the periodic sigh from him. Nearly ten minutes had passed before either one of us spoke.
“Thank you for joining me,” I said, deciding to be cordial. “And for helping my mom after I fainted. You didn’t have to, so it means a lot that you did.”
Leon didn’t respond right away; he continued swiping aimlessly through his phone, ostensibly ignoring my attempt at a discussion… But his eyes were unfocused and his jaw was clenched, alluding to his distracted state. He’s probably trying to come up with the best response--he was always an overthinker.
Finally, Leon pocketed his phone and let out a sigh. “It’s not like I haven’t had to look after you before--and with this covenant, it looks like I’ll have to get back in that habit. How you managed without me all these years is a miracle.”
I rolled my eyes and smirked. “Ah, it’s been so long since I’ve heard Leon-language that I almost needed a translator. Took me a second to realize you were saying, ‘you’re welcome.’”
He frowned. “I said no such thing.”
“And here I thought you changed,” Leon mumbled under his breath. With very few wildlife around us to produce noise, I was able to hear his every utterance--and his retort made me scoff.
“Me, changed?” I challenged him. “Why would I? You’re the one who left me for the popular crowd.”
He stopped in his tracks and tugged at my arm, keeping me from going any further. “Are you serious? You left me first!”
“Left you? I didn’t go anywhere!” I argued. “I was right here, Leon--the whole time. All day, every day, right here. Where the f**k were you--?”
“I was here, too!” he practically shouted. His blue eyes seemed to darken one or two shades as his voice rose. “I talked to you, I made sure you ate, I tried to get you to leave this house to do anything other than sit in your damn room, and nothing I did was enough!”
His words caused me to jolt. The time in my life when I was thrust into a horrible depressive state was a massive blur, days of school and therapy and doctors visits all blending together to the point where I barely remembered much of my second and third year of high school. I could certainly recall some instances when he spent the night sleeping on my floor instead of the guest room, or when he tried to encourage me to indulge in a snack or dessert, or when he would suggest that we scope out woods in neighboring towns for harvesting ingredients. Sure, I knew he had tried, but had he actually made more of an effort than I gave him credit for?
I recovered too slowly from my dumbstricken state, it seemed, as Leon did not give me the chance to counter or question him. “Never mind. None of that matters now--we have to focus on the covenant.”
We stood there, the tense atmosphere palpable as we gazed around in an effort to avoid one another’s eyes. The seconds ticked on, and the basket in my hands felt as if it weighed a ton in spite of its lightweight design and only being filled one third of the way.
“What do you think?” I asked. “About this whole covenant thing.”
He ran his fingers back through his hair and exhaled through his nose. “It is what it is.”
“Is that really all you have to say?”
“What else is there?” he grunted. “It’s just business, Yesenia. We just need to go through with it, unite our covens, and produce an heir.”
“Gee, is that all?” I sassed. I forgot how exhausting it could be to interact with him. “Fine. It’s just business… Just know that I’m not doing this to help you or your coven, but my own--and this ‘business relationship’ would be easier on both of us if we actually tried to get along.”
When he c****d his eyebrow in my direction, I gestured between us. “I don’t mean we need to be romantic or s****l beyond the conception of our heir. I’m just saying that it would be beneficial if things were good between us, platonically speaking.”
“Platonic?” he challenged, the corners of his mouth pulling up in a humorless smirk. “No. The bond between us is one borne out of duty. I will never feel anything for you, Yesenia--not now, and not ever. Not again. You will only ever be the matriarch of my coven and the mother of my heir. Do we have an understanding, Matriarch Yesenia?”
Fuming, I took a deep breath through my nose and let it out in the same fashion, my dark eyes boring holes into him. “Understood, Patriarch Leon.”
Then I turned to head back home with Leon’s footfalls not far behind, refusing to grant him the slimmest glance over my shoulder.
After the two of us had returned to the house, we informed our parents of our agreement to go through with the covenant. We didn’t go into much detail, but it wasn’t needed; Mom and Dexter were satisfied and thanked us for our cooperation.
If they only knew how much more I disliked Leon than I did yesterday…
Abuela Malena invited them to dinner, but they declined, each man claiming they had other plans while already on their way out the door. I had to fight the urge to roll my eyes at the pair of them--it was as if they couldn’t get away fast enough.
Dexter got the answer he wanted, and Leon got the assurances he needed… And, as I laid in bed following my evening bath, I thought about how I bore the brunt of the covenant’s responsibilities.
I had to marry my high school bully. I had to give up the right to lead my coven and instead jointly govern a new coven, while my future husband has already had a year to establish himself as a leader in his own right. And as if that weren’t bad enough, I had to let him impregnate me so that our lineage would carry on, and our child would link us together for the rest of our lives.
I should point out that, for witches, this isn’t that big of a deal. Arranged marriages happen all the time in our world as a way to forge alliances and merge powerful mages. We’re the only Enchanters who do this, by the way--the only ones with this desire to leave behind a noteworthy legacy. Fairies? Fairy children are rare, requiring a whole lot of magick and for both parents to be divine partners--but fairies could also live for hundreds, sometimes thousands of years before even gaining a wrinkle, so there was no pressure to procreate. Elves are in the same boat; long life spans plus the divine pairing requirement equals no real need to make more elves.
Oh, right--you’re probably confused by the whole ‘divine partners’ thing. Not many people realize this, but while Hunters have fated mates, us Enchanters have something similar called divine partners. It’s a different name for the same thing: your soulmate, the person or people you are destined to spend the rest of your life with. For both Hunters and Enchanters, their soulmates are determined by The Council of Fate. See, we occult beings are a polytheistic society, worshipping those who came before us--the deities from the ethereal realm, and the demons from the infernal realm. The council consists of both deities and demons who come together to decide each Hunter and Enchanter’s fated counterpart.
Due to their differences in physiology, ethereals needed an arid environment with lots of sun, and infernals needed a frozen wonderland with little light. Haunters can live in the infernal realm, as that’s where all mortal souls are transported after death. And no, the infernal realm isn’t “hell,” and the ethereal realm isn’t “heaven.” There is no bad place. There is no good place. Those are just the alternate dimensions our predecessors had to flee to after humans made the Earth uninhabitable.
The Council of Fate consists of Nahia, the goddess of love, s*x, and unions; Eder, the demon of lust and beauty; Umea, the deity of fertility and families; Hilargi, the moon demon and infernal mother of werebeasts; Lilura, the magick goddess and ethereal mother of fair folk and witchcraft; and Bihar, the demon of divination and precognition. Nahia and Eder find you a partner with s****l and romantic chemistry, Umea and Bihar hammer out the details of your future family, if applicable, and Hilargi and Lilura only offer their input if either of the suggested pair is a Hunter or Enchanter, respectively.
I know it’s a lot to take in, but finding the perfect partner for every living being on Earth is grueling work, so our society places these gifts above all else… Even us witches, who seem to be the least likely to receive these blessings.
I sighed and hugged one of my throw pillows, my eyelids drooping slightly. If there was even a snowball’s chance in hell that I was fated to someone, that dream is now shattered by this stupid covenant…
Tears brimmed my eyes as I turned on my side, curling into a ball. Besides, witches don’t have second chance mates like werewolves do… And I already met mine six years ago.