“I’m off-duty, Tina,” said the sheriff. “How ‘bout a Bud? What y’all got on special tonight?”
“Barbecued half-chicken with two sides.” Tina grinned. “Bread and beans for your sides?”
Art returned the grin. “Like always.”
Tina left to put in the order, and Art’s mind began to wander. As Tina returned with a Bud and a cold mug, a newcomer slipped into the seat across from Art. A striking woman, with dark hair and eyes.
“Oh—” Tina started. “Well. Art, you didn’t tell me you’d found—”
Art scowled at the woman sharing his booth, then looked up. “Tina, this is Ann. My sister.”
“Oh,” Tina said again. “I didn’t know you had a sister, either.” She looked Ann over, then smiled. “Yeah. I can see where y’all favor. You like anything?”
Ann returned the smile. “What he’s having. He knows what’s good here.”
Tina laughed. “That’s true! Comin’ right up.”
“‘Art’? And ‘Ann’?” The woman shook her head.
“Close enough.” Tina swung by and dropped off another beer and mug for Ann, as Art poured his own. “What’s going on?” He glared at Ann.
Ann pushed the mug aside and drank from the bottle. “You’re looking good, brother.”
“As do you.” Art glanced around and lowered his voice. “Too good. Who did you kill?”
“Nobody that didn’t have it coming.”
“Not in my county, I hope.” Art put his hands on the table and looked his sister in the eye. “I won’t stand for that. Not even from you.”
Ann laughed. “Over in Colquitt,” she said. “I know better than to poach on your grounds.”
“Who was it?”
“Just a cop who got above himself.”
Art tensed. “Abusing his position?”
“With gusto!” Ann grinned and took a generous swig of beer. “But not anymore.”
“Better be careful. They’ll be looking for a cop killer.”
“Oh, I haven’t gone sloppy. They’ll never find him, or his carriage.”
“Patrol car.” Art smirked; Ann rarely slipped like that. “And let me know if you find a crooked cop here. I’ll deal with it.”
“Nobody’s above the law, even now.”
Art nodded. “That’s right.”
“Half-chickens, beans, bread.” Tina laid platters from front of each. “Enjoy! I’ll bring you both another round. Thirsty day.”
Ann watched Tina go. “Serving-wenches are so chatty nowadays.”
“Waitress. She’s a waitress.” Art sighed. “You’re playing with me. Now tell me, why are you here?”
Ann giggled. “Of course I’m playing with you.” She picked up her chicken with her fingers and tore into it. Barbecue sauce made her mouth look bloody, making Art think about the life she had taken. She swept a hand around the place. “Why are you here, Arthur?”
He glanced around. “I go by Art here. Art Pender. And I’m here because the people appreciate an honest man watching over things.”
“You were once a king, and now you are a sheriff? A shire-reeve? Subject to the approval of the peasants, like a Saxon kinglet?”
Art sighed. “As ‘shire-reeve,’ in this age, I do much the same I did as king. I uphold the law. I do not allow the mighty to exploit the weak. Yes, they are peasants, and ignorant as peasants often are. But they are content with their lot. And to sit, even in fair Avalon, wears at one after so many centuries.”
“You should find a woman. Yon waitress would swoon into your arms, methinks.”
Another long sigh. “I haven’t had such good luck with women. You know that.”
“That was a thousand years ago, and half again! And—” She caught herself.
“You have not yet told me why you have come, Morgana.” He paused. “Is it time? Has Merlin awakened?”
Morgana’s eyes turned milky white. “Merlin yet sleeps, but he has stirred. He has cried out in his dreams. The time draws near. Earth is not the only troubled realm. The King must soon become a King once more.” Her eyes cleared, and she lifted her beer bottle. “It took much time and trouble to find you.” Then she smiled. “The King should take a Queen,” she continued, nodding at Tina. “That one will not betray a good man.” She drained her beer bottle and stood. “What I have come to do, I have done. When I see you next, we will stand together and fight for the Realm. Until then.” She walked into the deepening evening.
Tina came to fetch the plates. “No offense,” she said, “but you sure got some odd ducks in your family.”
Art laughed. “You don’t know the half of it!”
“You ready for dessert? Pound cake’s pretty good tonight.”
“Not tonight.” Art paused for a moment. “You free tomorrow?”
“Uh, yeah. Why?”
“Oh, I thought maybe we could go over to the reservoir park. Have a picnic. I can bring you your supper for a change.”
Tina grinned. “You know what? You got yourself a date. Lemme get your check, and we can thrash out the details.”
Art smiled as she walked away. Morgana did know women.