The three siblings had awakened unusually early to mount their surprise attack. Alan and Thom furiously pounded on their parents' bedroom door, while Aly dragged a very sleepy and reluctant Neal out of his room to join the melee.

"They're not answering," Alan called over his shoulder.

"Kick it harder," Aly soberly advised.

"MA! MA! HAPPY 40TH BIRTHDAY" Alan's voice warbled, dragging each vowel out for as long as he had air. Thom accompanied him on the door with frenzied percussion.

There was a brief moment of silence when Alan was forced to cease his wailing and draw breath. From inside the room came the unmistakable thump of feet hitting the floor, and what sounded suspiciously like a string of curses.

"Hey, maybe this isn't the greatest-" Whatever Neal was about to say was abruptly cut off by the door creaking open.

A very rumpled looking George leaned out from around the door. "Well hello there. Can I help you with something?" George's tone was agreeable, but hurried.

"We're here to see Mother," Aly answered evenly.

"What a lovely surprise. Unfortunately your mother is otherwise occupied right now-"


George continued on as though he hadn't heard Alanna's exasperated admonishment from inside the room, "-Very much otherwise occupied right now, and cannot possibly come out."

Alan blinked confusedly up at his father, "But we came to tell her 'Happy 40th Birthday'."

"Wonderful. Why don't you tell her at the noon meal?" George spoke very quickly, one of his hands making a "shoo" motion towards his children.

"But…we're here now," Thom's voice contained the barest hint of a whine, belying his fifteen years of age.

George sighed, and walked away from the crack. Before they could move to enter he reappeared in the doorway. They could see now he was clad only in a pair of hastily pulled on britches, and armed with a small handful of coins.

"I'll give you each a noble if you promise to go away and not come back for at least two hours," George said, his voice grave.

"GEORGE!" Alanna's outraged yell echoed off the stone hallway, making the children jump.

George grinned and glanced back over his shoulder. "You know what? Make it three." Without waiting for a response he quickly tossed each of them a coin, then turned and firmly shut the door.

As the slam reverberated down the hallway the children (and Neal) stared blankly at the spot where George had just been. From inside they could hear what sounded like Alanna scolding him, only to interrupt herself with a surprised squeal, followed by wild giggling.

"Ew," Aly said, her nose wrinkled in disgust.

Thom nodded in silent agreement.

Alan looked down at the coin in his palm. "Catrain of Blythdin told me her parents hate each other so much her ma permanently moved to their summer estate. She won't even be in the same room as her father. Cat gets to have two of everything now, one for each estate."

"Whoa," Aly said, her eyes wide, "That sounds incredible!"

Alan raised his eyebrows exaggeratedly, "I know, right?"

Neal realized he had grown disturbingly immune to the twins' offbeat sense of humor over the last three years. He rolled his eyes, then said cheerfully, "Well if you'll excuse me, I believe I just heard a rumor my lovely knight-mistress is giving me the morning off. I'm going back to bed."

After Neal's door had safely slammed shut, Aly cocked her head and looked at Alan. "How much burn balm d'you think we could buy if we combined our money?"

Alan's wicked grin mirrored hers. "Only one way to find out."

Thom frowned, "How about I'll give you my share if you don't." He flicked his gold piece towards them, the easy graceful motion mirroring his father's.

Alan plucked Thom's coin from the air, then glanced at his twin. Almost as one, he and Aly turned and began sprinting down the hall.

"Can't make any promises Thom!" Aly yelled back as she rounded the corner and disappeared from sight, Alan hot on her heels.

Thom briefly considered chasing them down to retrieve his coin, but rejected the idea in favor of curling up in bed with a new book. He trotted off in the direction of the library, leaving the corridor still and silent once more.

Inside of the besieged bedroom light spilled in from the open balcony, illuminating the couple lying in bed. George had Alanna gently pinned underneath him, and was intently nuzzling her neck. His lips sought out all of her sensitive spots, making her sigh and moan in his arms.

Upon hearing the sweet sound of silence descend outside their door, George pulled back to look his wife in the eye. "See? They'll get their celebration, and we'll have ours. I told you everything would be fine."

"I'm fairly certain bribing your children to leave you alone is considered bad form amongst most parents," Alanna replied, her tone slightly peevish.

"And when has my lass ever tried to live her life by someone else's rules?" George leaned down to touch his forehead to hers, the corner of his mouth turning up in a crooked smile.

Alanna felt her vexation vanish, as it always did with him. She was never able to keep a mood going once confronted with the warmth of George's eyes, or the charm in his voice.

"All I know is we've only got about two hours and fifty minutes left, so you'd better hurry up and finish giving me my present." She wriggled happily under his weight, and reached out to run her fingers through his hair.

She expected him to reply with a clever retort, but George only smiled down at her sweetly. He caught her outstretched hand in his, then gently brought it to his lips.

"Happy Birthday, my love."