Tithed to the Fae – Bonus Epilogue
Do NOT read this story if you haven’t finished Tithed to the Fae – contains major spoilers for the ending!
Haven’t read Tithed to the Fae yet? Click here to get it on Amazon!
Spoilers below… last chance!
Tithed to the Fae Bonus Epilogue
by Zoe Chant
Tamsin had lost Cuan again.
She backtracked, following the faint tug of their mate-bond. Even without the psychic link, it wouldn’t have been hard to spot him. A six-foot-six, pointy-eared, glowing fae warrior tended to stand out in a crowd of Saturday shoppers.
Of course, she thought, repressing a smile, that’s not what everyone else sees.
She found him standing, enraptured, near a busy street food vendor. Even glamoured to appear human, Cuan still turned heads. Quite a few of the people waiting in line to be served were sneaking sideways glances at him. Though it was hard to tell whether that was due to his supernatural good looks, or just because you didn’t often see towering, heavily muscled men wearing such an expression of whole-hearted, joyous delight.
She joined him, slipping an arm around his waist. Even though they’d been mated for months now, touching him sent a little thrill down her spine. She knew it always would.
“What have you found this time?” she murmured.
“A true marvel,” he breathed, his eyes never leaving the street food vendor. “Look! She takes the, the—I have no word for it—and the other person indicates their desire. And then—so dexterously!—she scoops each ingredient just so, and with a few cunning folds wraps it so tightly that not a drop of fragrant sauce can spill. A whole meal, made to order in a span of seconds, and able to be held in one hand! What is this wonder called?”
Tamsin grinned. Cuan’s enthusiasm was always infectious. “A burrito.”
“Burrito,” Cuan repeated, savoring each syllable. “A beautiful name for a beautiful art. This lady must be a true master, given the speed of her hands. Do you think she would allow me the honor of tasting her work?”
“I’ll buy you one later.” She tugged at his arm. “Come on, or we’re going to be late.”
Cuan followed, though not without a few wistful backward glances. “My apologies. You are right. It would not do to be discourteous.”
She had to chivvy him onward a few more times. He goggled at a bookstore (“There are three levels. Three!”) and puzzled over a phone advert (“Why would anyone wish unlimited streams? Surely one would drown?”). Build-A-Bear frankly alarmed him, even after she’d explained that they were just toys (“This is a very unwise thing to teach children,” he said, with a rare show of disapproval. “Bears are not cuddly.”).
Despite her best efforts, by the time they reached the pub, they really were late. Betty was waiting for them outside the large white building, arms folded. A painted sign above her head showed an image of a perfect harvest moon sailing through a starry sky. Ornate black letters beneath read: The Full Moon.
“About time,” Betty greeted them. “I was about to send out a search party.”
“I fear the fault was mine.” Cuan offered the hellhound a deep, apologetic bow. “Even the simplest things in your human world still fascinate me. And this is my first time in a city.”
Whatever Betty might have said in return was lost by the pub door banging open. A tall man bounded out, like a Labrador let off the lead.
“See, I told you they were nearly here!” Gray frosted the man’s dark, curly hair, but his grin was boyishly exuberant. He seized Cuan’s hand—and then released it again, a look of consternation flitting across his mobile features. “Wait, do faeries shake hands? Should I be bowing? What’s the etiquette here?”
“You must tell me,” Cuan said, smiling. “I am the stranger in your land. I wish to follow your customs.”
“Hugs,” the man told Cuan with total sincerity. “Hug everyone. Especially Ash.”
“Chase,” Betty groaned. “Don’t prank the fae.”
“I’m not,” the man protested. “I hug Ash. Ash always needs more hugs. Most people do. Especially men. They’re just scared to admit it. The world would be a better place if more men hugged each other.”
Cuan looked a little confused, but he spread his arms. “I am eager to make this world better in any small way that I can.”
“That’s the spirit.” Chase grabbed him in an enthusiastic embrace, beaming triumphantly over Cuan’s shoulder at Betty. “See? Nothing wrong with a manly hug. Now, aren’t you going to introduce me?”
Betty put a hand over her eyes. “Cuan, Tamsin, meet Chase. He’s a firefighter—”
“And a pegasus!” Chase put in, still pounding Cuan on the back. “We’re practically cousins, from what I hear! Hey, you know what we need to do?”
“Breathe?” Cuan gasped.
“Race!” Chase announced. “Not flying, though. I’m told you don’t do that. But we could still see who’s faster on the ground!”
Betty buried her face in both hands. “Chase, do not set up a supernatural drag race through the streets of the city. Put the fae down right now, or I will tell your mate what actually happened with your sons and those damn apples.”
“Apples?” Tamsin asked.
“We do not speak of the apple story.” Chase released Cuan—now distinctly rumpled—with one final squeeze. He swept back towards the door of the pub. “But come in, come in! Everyone is just dying to meet you!”
Betty followed Chase inside, but Cuan hesitated. Tamsin could feel his apprehension down the mate-bond, as if it was her own. She slipped a hand into his, squeezing in reassurance.
“It’s all right,” she whispered. “They’re Betty’s friends. I’m sure they’re good people.”
“No doubt.” Cuan ran a hand through his mussed hair, then tugged his shirt straight. “But I cannot help but feel somewhat underdressed for the occasion. I have never met a dragon before.”
Neither had Tamsin—at least, not to her knowledge. From what Betty had told her, she might have walked past half a dozen dragons every day, never realizing what they really were.
Once, she would have found it hard to believe that there could be a whole secret society of magical shapeshifters quietly going about their lives, all around the world.
That had been before she’d seen the fae realm. Now, she didn’t think anything could surprise her.
She smoothed a wrinkle out of his leaf-green t-shirt, enjoying the contrast between the soft cotton and the iron-hard muscles underneath. “You look great. This isn’t a formal occasion. No need to dress up.”
“That was not precisely my meaning.” Cuan let out his breath, his mouth crooking. “Well. I suppose my humble armor would do little good against one of the great fire-breathing wyrms in any event. And I do trust Mistress Betty. She would not lead us into peril.”
Nonetheless, Tamsin noticed that he stayed close at her side as they entered the pub. His right hand was cocked at his hip, fingers spread, as though hovering over an invisible sword hilt.
Uh-oh. Tamsin hoped that no one else would fling themselves at him, no matter how well-intentioned it was meant. Cuan was a lot more relaxed these days, but he was still a fae warrior. He’d spent the better part of his life in constant peril. Some habits—like drawing a blade from thin air if startled—died hard.
Tamsin had never seen a pub like the Full Moon. Even if she hadn’t known it catered exclusively to shifters, she would have thought it unusual. The big building was an odd blend of traditional and modern—bright and airy inside, but with rustic oak beams and a huge open fireplace that looked hundreds of years old. In a few places, the smooth plaster walls gave way to gray stones, crooked and worn.
It’s been built on top of something older, Tamsin realized. A lot of the beams and flagstones looked to have been reclaimed, salvaged from some ancient structure and repurposed. From the old, blackened scorch-marks on some of the stones, that original building must have burned down.
A deep brown, polished oak bar dominated the main room. A small group was gathered there. At least, technically it was a small group. The sheer mass of muscle present made it seem much larger.
Tamsin had to swallow her own flutter of nerves. Everyone looked friendly enough, but it was still intimidating to be the object of so much focused interest. Especially when many of those eyes weren’t quite human.
A woman broke away from the group, coming toward them with a welcoming smile. She looked to be in her sixties, her elegant ebony features creased with kind lines. She carried herself with such grace that she seemed to glide across the stone floor.
“I’m so glad you could come,” the woman said, holding out both hands. “I’m Rose Swanmay. Welcome to the Full Moon.”
“Thank you for inviting us.” Feeling uncharacteristically shy, Tamsin clasped Rose’s hands. “I’m Tamsin Farley.”
Rose’s hands were soft and warm, but Tamsin could feel the strength in the other woman’s fingers. An odd tingle went through the bondmark around Tamsin’s wrist, hidden under her sleeve.
She’s a shifter. Tamsin could feel the power around the gentle, unassuming-looking woman. How could I ever not have noticed people like this before?
From the way Rose’s head cocked slightly, she’d detecting something odd about her too. The woman gave her a lingering, thoughtful look before turning to Cuan. Her deep brown eyes widened.
“Goodness.” Rose’s gaze flicked from the spiraling lines of Cuan’s faemarks to the sharp points of his ears. “No need to ask your name. If you’re meant to be disguised, I can only hope your magic works better on humans than it does on shifters.”
“I have dropped my glamours, given that all here know my true nature.” Cuan gave a deep bow, much lower than Tamsin normally saw him make. “I would never use magic within your walls without your permission, gracious Lady Rose.”
Rose smiled, motioning him to rise again. “Just Rose. Welcome to my pub, Cuan. As far as I know, you’re the first fae I’ve ever hosted. Well, if you don’t count hellhounds.”
“We’re kind of distant cousins to the fae proper,” Betty said, overhearing. “Descended from them, according to some stories. Trust me, you won’t have met a full fae before. Especially not a high sidhe. The Wild Hunt takes care of that.”
“Thankfully,” Tamsin muttered. Her own abduction was still fresh in her mind. “The last thing the human world needs are high sidhe like Lady Maeve moving in.”
“From your mouth to the Shining Ones ears,” Cuan said, making a brief ritual gesture from lips to heart.
“I’d better not monopolize you any further, or people are going to start shifting with impatience,” Rose said, gesturing them toward the group still waiting by the bar. She flashed Tamsin a rather wry smile. “By the way, in answer to the question you’re just dying to ask…I’m a swan shifter. Well, mostly a swan. It’s a little complicated.”
Tamsin’s face heated. Had her curiosity been that obvious?
Rose laughed, low and warm. “Please don’t be embarrassed. I’m the one who should be apologizing to you. I’m an empath, you see. I try not to pry, but sometimes it’s a little difficult to ignore other peoples’ feelings.”
Tamsin noticed Rose’s gaze drop to Cuan’s right hand—still hovering by his hip—as she said this. The swan shifter reached out, tapping his wrist.
“You are safe here.” The words were gentle, but there was a hint of steel in Rose’s tone. “This is a sanctuary for all, as long as they respect each other while they are here. Grudges and enmity must be left at the door. There is no fighting under my roof.”
Cuan dropped his hand at last, looking a little abashed. He bowed again, even more deeply. “On my blood and breath, I vow to respect your peace.”
“Then we’re going to get along just fine.” Rose patted his arm. “Now come and meet everyone.”
I am shaking hands with a dragon.
From the dragon shifter’s expression, he was also experiencing a moment of unreality. He’d introduced himself as Daifydd Drake—a name that struck Cuan as far more reasonable than all the exotic tongue-twisters most humans seemed to favor.
Dai was an imposing, well-favored man, with blazing red hair and deep green eyes. Yet try as Cuan might, he could see nothing about him to indicate that a beast out of legend coiled beneath his skin.
“An elf,” Dai muttered, in a lilting accent startlingly similar to that of some of the lesser wood-fae. “I’m shaking hands with an elf.”
“High sidhe,” corrected the dragon’s mate, Virginia—a striking woman with burnished brown skin and penetrating eyes. “Elf is pejorative. Didn’t you read any of the notes I sent you, Dai?”
“I fell asleep somewhere around page sixty seven.” The dragon made an apologetic grimace at Cuan. “Sorry. Virginia’s the scholar. I just run into burning buildings.”
“A noble profession,” Cuan said. “And one that seems appropriate, for a great wyrm.”
Dai let out a wry chuckle, letting go of his hand. “Most shifters don’t think so. Red dragons are more known for starting fires than putting them out. It’s nice to meet someone without that particular prejudice.”
“I have been judged for my own blood and heritage. I would hope that I know better than to judge others myself.” Cuan grimaced. “Though I must confess I was somewhat apprehensive about this meeting. The fae still remember our wars with dragonkind.”
“We don’t,” Virginia said. An avid light lit in her scholar’s eyes. “Humans only remember the fae as legends and stories, now. I’d love to talk to you sometime about your histories.”
A bittersweet pang went through Cuan’s heart. Even though Virginia looked nothing like Aodhan, that expression of academic fascination was painfully familiar. For all Aodhan’s prickly ways and vocal disdain for company, Cuan still missed his reclusive friend.
Well, he could not bring the human realm to Aodhan, but at least he could help the alicorn’s scholarly counterparts in this world. He dipped his head in a small bow to Virginia.
“I would be very happy to relate as much of our histories as I can for you,” he said. “Though I fear I am no scholar. Just a simple warrior.”
“My people still remember the fae,” rumbled a towering man who had yet to introduce himself. He was a good head and a half taller than Cuan, or indeed anyone else in the group. “All too well.”
“John!” Virginia put her hands on her hips, glaring up at the huge man. “Sea dragons know about the fae? And you never told us?”
“There are a great many secrets under the sea.” John looked down at Cuan, his indigo eyes flat and cold. “Some of them are better kept there. Land-dwellers would not sleep well if they knew all the foul things that the Knights of Atlantis fight to keep from polluting our world.”
Cuan noticed a gleam of metal peeking out from the sea dragon’s shirt cuffs. Armored bracers protected John’s forearms, hidden underneath his human clothes. Cuan found his feet edging into a combat stance, and forced himself to stop.
“John.” Rose swatted the enormous sea dragon shifter. She was barely able to reach as high as his shoulder. “Behave.”
John let out his breath, massive fists opening again. He gave Cuan a stiff bow. “My apologies. As you said earlier, one should not judge an individual by their race.”
Cuan bowed back, his own muscles still tense. “I cannot fault anyone for being wary of a high sidhe. Especially one recently of the unseelie. My own people’s reputation is…not precisely undeserved.”
“Ah, well, no one’s ancestors are perfect,” put in a stocky blond man. He held out a hand. “I’m Griff. Technically in command of this sorry lot, since Ash managed to wriggle out of the job.”
“Where is Ash?” Chase asked, looking round the pub as though expecting the mysterious Ash to pop out of the woodwork. “And Hugh and Ivy? I can’t believe they’re missing this.”
“They’ll be here later,” Rose replied. She sighed, looking aggrieved. “At least, Hugh and Ivy will. Ash had to fly to London. The Parliament of Shifters still call him up about all kinds of ridiculous nonsense. He’s supposed to be retired, for pity’s sake.”
“He retired from firefighting,” Dai said. “Not from being the Phoenix Eternal. Not sure it is possible to retire from that.”
“It is true, then?” Cuan asked, looking between them. “I was scarce able to believe Mistress Betty when she told me that there was a true phoenix among your number. Even to the fae, such creatures are the stuff of legend.”
“Oh, Ash is very real.” Chase grinned. “Just remember to hug him.”
“Uh.” Tamsin was shaking Griff’s hand. “I don’t want to be rude, but…”
“What am I?” Griff finished for her. His warm golden eyes crinkled in amusement. “Bit of a complicated tale there, lassie. But to cut a long story short, I’m a griffin.”
“Ah.” Cuan nodded, pleased to have his suspicion confirmed. “May I ask which clan?”
Griff’s tawny eyebrows rose. “MacCormick. From the Scottish Highlands. You know us?”
Cuan had to shake his head. “I am sorry, I do not. But my education was not thorough. I am ashamed to admit that I am not familiar with all the noble griffin lineages.”
Griff blinked. “You…have a lot of griffins, in the fae realm?”
“Oh yes. The ice-griffins of the north, and the lion-eagles of the south, and even a few families of the tiger and leopard-kinds. And then of course there are all the lesser fae breeds, the song-griffins and crow-cats and…” Cuan trailed off, becoming aware that everyone was staring at him. “Do…do you not have griffins here?”
“I told you.” Virginia jabbed a triumphant finger at Griff. “I told you that you couldn’t be the first. That we had to have gotten the legends from somewhere.”
Griff rubbed the back of his head. “I’m not sure whether it’s reassuring or disappointing to find out that I’m not special.”
“Says the literal griffin?” Tamsin muttered.
“You seem unique enough to me, Master Griff,” Cuan hastened to reassure him. “I had never imagined to meet a griffin that could take the form of a man.”
He decided not to mention that he’d never imagined that he would meet a griffin who wanted to take the form of a man. In his experience, from the largest ice-griffin to the smallest wren-kitten, the one thing that united all griffins was a deep sense of their own superiority.
Griff, at least, did not seem over-full with self-importance. He chuckled, sounding genuinely amused. “Wait until I tell Hayley and the kids about this. They were already desperate enough to meet you. When they hear that there are other griffins in your realm…well, I’ll be lucky if I can stop my younger daughters from trying to tithe themselves to the fae. Betty, I hope you’re guarding those stone circles.”
“That’s our job,” the hellhound replied dryly. “Please don’t make it any harder than it already is.”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Chase held up both hands, like a referee calling for a time out. “What else do you have in fairyland? Do you, perhaps, have…unicorns?”
“Of course,” Cuan said, puzzled. “A great many. Mostly amongst the seelie, of course. The Summer Knights ride them.”
“Faeries. Ride. Unicorns,” Chase said, clearly savoring each word. “They ride them.”
“Well, the lesser knights do, at least,” Cuan said, wondering why Rose seemed to be fighting back giggles. “The elite troops are mounted on more noble steeds, of course.”
“Of course,” Dai echoed, in a very odd tone of voice.
“Naturally,” Griff added, sounding somewhat strangled.
Dai, Chase, and Griff exchanged glances…and all three firefighters burst into howls of laughter.
Virginia gave her mate an exasperated look, although a grin tugged at her own lips. Rose had a hand over her mouth, shoulders shaking. Even John seemed to be struggling to keep a straight face.
Cuan looked helplessly at Tamsin. She shrugged back at him, in an I have no idea either kind of way.
“All right,” Griff gasped. He straightened, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. “Which one of us gets to tell Hugh?”