The man began to make his way down the line. He paused before two blond boys, Brom and Ichy. They were also in- betweens, twins left three winters after Ren. Broms neck was thicker, by about two inches, and Ichys feet were longer, by about two inches, but beyond those distinguishing characteristics it was hard to tell the boys apart when they were standing still. It was only when they were out in the fields working, or throwing stones at a pine tree, or washing their faces in the morning that the differences became clear. Brom would splash a handful of water over his head and be done with it. Ichy would fold a handkerchief into fourths, dab it into the basin, then set to work carefully and slowly behind his ears.
It was said that no one would adopt Brom and Ichy because they were twins. One was sure to be unlucky. Second-borns were usually considered changelings and drowned right after birth. But no one knew who came first, Brom or Ichy, so there was no way to tell where the bad luck was coming from. What the brothers needed to do was separate, make themselves look as different as possible. Ren kept this information to himself. They were his only friends, and he did not want to lose them.
Standing together now the twins grinned at the farmer, and then, suddenly, Brom threw his arms around his brother and attempted to lift him off the ground. He had done this once before, as a show of strength in front of two elderly gentlemen, and it had ended badly. Ren watched from the other end of the line as Ichy, taken by surprise, began to recite his multiplication tables, all the while struggling violently against his brother, to the point that one of his boots flew into the air and sailed past the farmers ear.
Father John kept a small switch up the sleeve of his robe, and he put it to work now on the twins, while Brother Joseph fetched Ichys boot and the farmer continued down the line. Ren put his arms behind his back and stood at attention. He held his breath as the man stopped in front of him.
How old are you?
Ren opened his mouth to answer, but the man spoke for him.
You look about twelve.
Ren wanted to say that he could be any age, that he could make himself into anything the man wanted, but instead he followed what he had been taught by the brothers, and said nothing.
I want a boy, said the farmer. Old enough to help me work and young enough for my wife to feel she has a child. Someone whos honest and willing to learn. Someone who can be a son to us. He leaned forward and lowered his voice so that only Ren could hear him. Do you think you could do that?
Father John came up behind them. You dont want that one.
Excerpted from The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti Copyright © 2008 by Hannah Tinti. Excerpted by permission of The Dial Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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