Andante

Tamino started complaining almost the instant they left the palace, amusing Maya. The moon had barely come out, and it was a new moon. Horrible for runaways but equally horrible for any pursuers.

"My feet hurt," the prince grumbled for what had to be the thousandth time in the last five minutes. "How much longer do these stupid gardens go on?"

"You should know, you've lived here for years."

Tamino shrugged. "I never went out."

Maya sighed and grabbed his hand, dragging him forward a few more steps. At this rate, the next village was unreachable. Tamino always criticized the king and nobles for being stuffy, even though he wasn't exactly a hardened veteran either, and the cold autumn night was unbearable to anyone who went out so late. Around midnight. It was just as bad for Maya, but she couldn't crack if her brother was already like this.

She looked up, ruby-crystal eyes capturing scattered flecks of moonlight. Maya had always been a pretty girl - she might have had suitors if she wasn't illegitimate. Or a "Lusitanian." But she was at her loveliest here, running into the wild, even though she didn't feel safe. Their mother had been a slave, but the king had set her free for that kind of exotic beauty.

Maya only remembered the stories she was told, though, and not the woman herself.

"You stand out too much," Tamino said crossly. "Get down."

She followed him down into the bushes that formed a tunnel over their heads, clutching a piece of metal between her fingers.

She had taken a knife from the kitchen on the way out, while Tamino had taken the food. Since Tamino had always been a glutton, they gave it to him without suspicion, but it had distracted them long enough to let his sister take the knife.

"There's something down here..."

"What?" Tamino looked up.

Suddenly, a familiar voice called out.

"Tamino! Is that you?"

Linde appeared, sprinting through the garden. Tamino ducked his head and swore, too late.

"And Maya?" Linde spun between the two of them. "Why are you running away?"

Tamino sputtered out his usual "Your Highnesses," but did a terrible job of hiding his irritation with the crown prince. So Maya stepped up instead.

"He doesn't want to live in the palace anymore-"

"I-" Tamino stopped mid-sentence. For all that he vented at Linde, he couldn't actually hate him.

Maya grinned.

"Anyways, Linde, you should go home," she said, pulling out the knife and pointing it. It was a risky move, since he could call the palace guards at any moment. "Please don't tell anyone about seeing us."

Linde shook his head and glared at Maya, ignoring the knife. Unlike the siblings, he looked fragile in the dark, with no guards around, but he held his ground.

"Then I'm coming with you."

"Are you stupid?" Tamino burst out laughing, "That would leave Shiso next in line."

Linde hesitated, as though remembering something important, then nodded. A fierce light gleamed in his eyes.

"If it's crazy, then stay."

"No."

"Why?"

"Because. We're not equals, Linde."

"I wonder why not?"

"I'm still a...a bastard. Your Highness."

"But you're a prince, too. And you always call me that, even though we're brothers." Linde sighed. "It shouldn't be like this - Coryn said-"

"Don't talk about it like you can change anything."

"I don't think that!" Linde yelled out, then immediately quieted, putting on a thoughtful face. "I just want to know the reason."

"You're...so stupid." Tamino wiped his face, which Maya could see was wet with perspiration. "Just go home and be a happy little prince. People like you shouldn't care about reasons."

"Isn't it better if I come with you and learn something?"

"Not if you're ditching the country, idiot!"

She glanced around, her eyes darting from brother to brother until:

A noise startled them. Tamino looked up and Linde suppressed a gasp. Maya, trembling slightly, reached for her knife.

"Where do you think he went?"

"Can't be far."

"Shh!" Tamino grabbed Linde and pushed him backwards into the tunnel of foliage where they had hid earlier, and Maya fell beside them. Linde struggled for a few moments to get upright, but gave up.

"What is there to be so scared of?" He said, coughing over Tamino's arm. "It's just the guards-"

"Just-?"

"Quiet!" Maya hiss, and they both shut up, shoving each other out of the way to get a closer look at the guards. Two were tall and one looked like a teenager. As he came closer, Linde gasped.

"That's Coryn!"

It was. Maya felt her heart thud against her ribs desperately, as though she knew what was about to happen.

"Coryn!" Tamino reached out too late, Linde had already dashed from the bushes, "What are you doing here?"

"There he is."

"The crown prince. And..."

Coryn advanced on Maya, holding out a sword that her knife couldn't match. She backed away, frightened. Even though Coryn had looked so kind before, almost like Yousha, he...

Linde spun around. "What are you doing? Stop!"

There was no response. As he lifted the blade to Maya's neck, Coryn turned to gaze, like steel, at Tamino.

"Stop it, I order-!" Linde's arm had been seized by the two guards closest to him, and they were now dragging him towards the palace. His feet kicked up dust, and barely reached Coryn. Coryn coughed, and glanced at him.

"Run," Maya said, shakily, in the brief moment that Coryn looked away.

"But Linde-"

"Go!" The voice was Linde's this time. Coryn had turned the sword on him, but Maya knew that no one would dare hurt the crown prince. Maya practically shoved him, and they disappeared into the underbrush again. Arrows flew over them, Tamino gasped. Above, she could hear Linde practically sobbing.

He'll be fine.

She closed her eyes to cool down.

Why were the guards here? If it were Linde they were looking for, then they shouldn't need violence. Maya closed her eyes and pressed Tamino's shoulders, urging him to run faster. An arrow struck her left arm, so she cried out. Tamino pulled her towards him and dashed out of the bushes.

"There's no point in hiding if they see us," he said with a huff, and she chased after him while ignoring the pain in her shoulder. The arrow could be pulled out later, she couldn't afford to lose her focus on the path in front of them.

But it seemed that the guards were disappearing, not coming together on them as she had expected. As the siblings passed the last gate of the garden, Tamino looked back - they were retreating towards the castle.

What if it isn't us that they want in the first place?

Realization slowly dawned on the prince, and he turned back to stare at the castle they had left behind. As he yelled out, Maya shook.

"LINDE!"

The End

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