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Always Play for the Win (Aran, Mordea &Annais)


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There was a certain art to the game of Chop, many people felt it was all about mastering the art of the bluff and chance, but people who felt that was all there was to the game were rank amateurs.  They might occasionally snatch a rare win, but more often than not, they were the first ones out of the game after having pushed all their money in to try and intimidate the other players into giving up their money.  It was at that point their bluffs were called and their money became someone elses.  Not only did it enrich people who actually knew what they were doing and penalise idiots who had no business being in the game to begin with.


In a game of twelve people, four people had already been dismissed in such a fashion, and Mordea Tempestae had collected the money of three of those people.  Her face completely expressionless, her lack of tell tale signs when it came to her cards made her impossible to read and as a result, her fellow players were disconcerted by her.  Four of them were fellow sisters, another two were gaidin, and then there was the most luridly dressed Tower Guard she had ever crossed paths with.  Aran, his name stuck with her because he had knocked out one of the other players.  Completely amateurish, it had been more sheer luck than anything else.  He wasn't game enough to play in the same rounds as her either, no doubt he knew that she'd call him up the moment she caught him bluffing and catch him out.


As it was, his bright green trousers and pink shirt were distracting, as was the jester's cap he was wearing and the jingle jangle of its bells.  A complete clown, and the only Tower Guard who had made it through the Chop tournament to this final.  The idea that he had made it so far was as laughable as his orange sandals, but he had managed to slip his way through the previous rounds and his money would spend as well as anyone elses.  It was just a matter of him actually playing in the same deal as her, she'd have him then for certain.


Looking at the cards she'd been dealt with a brief glance, Mordea immediately folded her cards and removed herself from this particular contest.  Two of her sisters did the same, but the other along with the pair of gaidin decided they had a chance as did the Tower Guard.  Foolish man.


Stretching, Mordea let her eyes wander about the room.  It was one of the private rooms at The Logical Choice, the rooms were private and rowdies didn't make a habit of visiting it so they didn't have to worry about being disturbed.  Besides, if she wanted to fleece some people of their money she would be better off going to some of the taverns by the docks.  New faces that didn't know what to expect, and all it took was a simple weave to remove the agelessness from her face.


Frowning, Mordea shook her head as the sister and one of the gaidin stood and left.  They'd both pushed all in along with the other gaidin while the little jester had shown the good sense to fold.  Smirking away as he made his way through his twelfth mug, the only surprising thing about him was that he hadn't gone all in with the others who had been so quick to try and buy their opponents out.  How they'd made it this far was beyond her, Dark One's luck favoured them all she supposed.  But, it was her turn to deal.  Gathering the cards, she began to shuffle with a proficiency that revealed she'd been playing for over two hundred years, she'd have their money by the end of the game, she was certain of it.


Mordea Tempestae

White Sister

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Mordea Sedai had of course chosen the day when Annais would have wanted to discuss with her to be out of the Tower. But then she had heard that there was a Chop tournament being held in her favourite inn so it was no wonder that the White was unavailable. Annais herself didn't have great interest in gambling even though Aes Sedai tended to fairly well in a game that relied on composure and bluff as much as it did on actually having a good hand. She enjoyed the fine weather and mulled over the story she had heard from a young Gray Sister on one of her first missions. Selena had shown quite a cunning that would have likely made even an elder Blue proud but some of the choices she had made... well, she certainly hadn't played along the ethics hand book but then all the people she had conned had been somewhat villainous themselves too and the end result had been good.


The Logical choice inn was Ogier handiwork and as old as the city itself. Annais hadn't been even born yet when the original building got converted into its current use. As it was located in a walled off block with only one entrace leading into gardens, it was a peaceful place that not many even knew about. The patrons tended to be finer folks like the White Sisters and traveling scholars for example. It definately wasn't Annais' kind of a place to frequent as she prefered music and dancing to intellectual discussion but she accommodated herself as the company required and Mordea definately did not owe her any favours so she had to do the footwork and approach the older White.


When she entered the private room where the game was hosted, only five people of the original twelve were left. It was no surprise that three of them were Aes Sedai but the single Warder and the Tower Guard and his garish costume definately made her arch her eyebrows. She doubted that he was in by pure luck even though the two Sisters seemed to think so. Mordea was unreadable as usual and Annais resolved to sit down and see how the game would end. She would have betted on Mordea but so had likely most of everyone else too and she didn't particularly enjoy putting her money on stake.


Annais Nevell

Gray Sister

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Turning slightly to see who the new arrival was, there was no change in expression as Mordea noted that it was Annais.  Dealing the cards out, Mordea chose not to say anything but instead looked at her cards quickly.  High.  Waiting as the others threw coins in, she tossed in her bet as well to remain in the game.  Then the Tower Guard had to raise it, either he was a fool or simply trying to drive the stakes up because when one of the sisters raised, he promptly folded.  Well, it made things easier for her as she stayed in the game with the sister, meanwhile the other sister and the gaidin folded.


It didn't take long to conclude that particular deal, winning a hand of fire, the two pairs that the sister had lost her some of her money though it was by no means over for her.  Handing the deck over to the left to the sister who had just lost out, Mordea turned to Annais.  "Its customary in Tar Valon to greet people when you enter a room, Annais.  How are you?  And is there one of us in particular you wish to speak to or have you come to watch?"


Arching her eyebrows at the public chide, Annais inclined her head to signal that there might be some merit to it. "Greetings everyone", she said mildly. "The tradition quite varies by the inn and I did not wish to disturb you. I wanted to discuss something with you, Mordea, but I stay and shall watch as long as you remain in the table." That was as close as she would come to revealing any irritation. If the White by some strange reverse of fortunes would indeed loose... well, it would be better to schedule an appointment for another day then. "And I am quite fine thank you, Sister. How about you?"


"I am well." Taking the cards she was given, she folded them after a brief glance and handed them to the dealer.  Why she had been dealt absolute trash she was unsure, but she wasn't going to waste any of her coin on it.  The Gaidin likewise did so, inwardly she was beginning to nickname him Rockface.  His face resembled a cliff, like it had been carved by stone but the sculptor's chisel had slipped in a few places.  The Jester on the otherhand was giggling away like an idiot as he raised on the bet and the sisters followed.  That didn't bode well at all, just by looking at the three of them she already knew that the Jester was going to win.  He wasn't easy to read, there were so many things to pick out that it made narrowing it down difficult, but she'd managed.


And there it was, not only did the Jester push one of the sisters out of the game, but scalped the other one as well.  Why were people playing so loosely?  Out of all of them, it was only the Jester that was drinking.  Speaking of which, the inane little man was quick to excuse himself from the round so he could go and fetch himself another mug, following the sister who had been knocked out of the game.  They might as well have brought a keg up just so he could drown himself in it, she just hoped he didn't pass out before the game was done.  Watching as Rockface began to shuffle, Mordea broke the silence again.  "Maybe that should be the new Tower Guard uniform.  Distinctive, colourful, more than likely to blind opponents.  What do you think, Annais?"


The drunken titter of the Tower Guard made Annais' lips twitch slightly and she was quite certain that he annoyed Mordea. He should also worry her as he dropped the two other Sisters, a Blue named Sonia and Vella of the Red, from the game. She caught the slight look the White cast after the painfully colourful fellow and that was likely as much display of disapproval that the woman would show today. Shouldn't she just be happy if he drunk himself into stupor? But likely it would be unethical to take his money then.


"I am afraid that the Tower Guards would be confused for Tinkers then and it would be a tad unpractical. But feathers or other natural decorations could be quite fetching and good for disguise in the wilderness. How does that sound to you, Master Jester?", she asked from the Guard who was returning to the table. "And Mordea, may I bring you some refreshments? I am going to wet my throat." Mordea shook her head slightly and Annais couldn't quite tell if she meant no or frowned upon the idea. Since she got no answer, she just headed downstairs with a slight shrug to get herself a glass of brandy and a fine little cigar.


Annais Nevell

Gray Sister

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Smiling, Aran tossed his cards down, there was absolutely nothing in them but the White Sister, Mordea, had cottoned onto his bluff early on.  He was certainly left with the feeling that he needed a drink.  Excusing himself from the next round as he stood, he tilted his cap at the pair still left at the table.  The other sister had been banished and fancloak jockey was as serious about the prize as the White sister.  Neither of them took notice of him, or rather, they knew but didn't acknowledge him.  No doubt they were unimpressed by his manner, but he was here to have fun!  He certainly wasn't going to spoil it by being all gloomy and unreadable like the pair that were going to duel it out while he was gone.


Wandering downstairs, Aran approached the bar and found Annais was there, being served brandy while she was smoking a cigar.  Now that was impressive he had to admit, not many Aes Sedai smoked he'd noticed.  Then again, he didn't really either, he could but he didn't make a practice of it.  Seeing as her back was to him, he wandered over, waving to the man behind the bar as he did so for a new mug as he reached around from behind and promptly confiscated the cigar from her.  Definitely not what she'd been expecting.


"You know."  Aran drawled, gesticulating with the hand that was nursing the cigar.  "Pretty ladies shouldn't smoke, I'll take care of it for you though."  At that point, Aran helped himself to a long draw from the cigar, though it seemed that Annais still wasn't quite sure how to take someone relieving her of her cigar and smoking it infront of her.  Smiling at her as he lifted the cigar away from his lips and exhaled, he added.  "So, what brought you to our little game of Chop?  Perhaps you'd be interested in a game later, no?" Aran took a second draw, grinning at her as he did so.


It definately was unexpected to have one of the few cigars Annais allowed to herself per week to be snatched from her hand. Pursing her lips slightly with displeasure she decided to take it with a sense of humour. "Prettiness I will keep, thank you, but what if I recounced ladiness for tonight? I really do want a cigar now and I can get cranky when I don't get what I want. I am bigger and meaner than you so you don't want to make me angry." Snapping her fingers at the bar keep she was handed another little cigar that she lighted with a quick weave of Fire. "Maybe I like ogling fellows with unreadable faces. But alas, I think that I am taken tonight. I will be leaving in the company of the spiky haired Sister."


Laughing, Aran hopped up onto a nearby stool before helping himself to the mug that he'd been given.  Bar tabs were wonderful things, it was all about knowing how to earn them.  This place had been more difficult than others, owing to it being entirely too wholesome and all, but where there was a will there was a way. "Ah, her, you know I'm going to have to take her money don't you?  Nothing personal and all, but her money is as good as mine.  I hope she doesn't get as upset as that first sister that Mordea stomped out of the game, would have said she was pouting prettily and all but she could have shaved a roast with her frown."


"Do you pout prettily?  No?  Thats a shame."  Sighing dramatically, Aran smiled as a thought came to him.  "At anyrate, Spikey and the Fancloak Jockey are probably up there still dueling it out, they can wait a little longer.  Tell me, you don't seem a day over twenty five, whats it like being new to the shawl?  You're new to the shawl aren't you?  Is my blatant flattery working or should I have gone for something a little more subtle?"


The Guard declared arrogantly that he would fleece Mordea and Annais grinned insolently back at him. "I will have to smooth the poor dear's feathers then as I really need her for something." Spikey and Fancloak Jockey, she really liked those monikers but his remarks about age earned him another arched eyebrow. "And your strategy requires a bit of work hunny. Most women don't like theirs years to be guessed or mentioned, especially Aes Sedai. But I really do like your voice. It is very expressive and shifts pretty agilely up and down. I bet that it would be nice for singing too. Or telling more of those sweet little lies, I mean flatteries." She begun to hum softly one of more rowdier drinking songs just to see if it belonged to his repertoire.


Laughing as he recognised the tune that the woman was carrying, Aran began to hum along in turn.  He would have been tempted to sing the lyrics, but in a place like this it was liable to have him thrown out and he had a game of chop to win.  Stopping a moment after she did, he clinked his mug to hers as he spoke. "The Soldier and Three Spinsters."  It was a surprise to know that the Aes Sedai knew the song, but then they lived long enough to come across things they probably wouldn't otherwise be expected to know.  Certainly, if he had a couple of hundred years on his lifespan, he was pretty sure he could find ways to spend the time in a variety of sordid pleasures.  "You're not half bad, in fact, I'd go so far as to say you were rather good.  Hair's also really nice, don't see that shade often.  Doesn't that take awhile to do though?"


He knew the song and yes, he definately did have a nice voice. Did he have a name too? Annais eyed him with genuine interest of a potential duet partner and smiled as their glasses met. The brandy drew a nice fiery line through her throat and all the way down to her belly. Tossing her head arrogantly at being called just rather good singer, she corrected him. "Good singer, better singer, Annais. And what kind of a comparison would we make of you? And thank you, I like the hair too." She preened enough that it took the worst edge off the smugness of the comment. "It takes some time to get it like that but it is worth it. And while I am being made all pretty, I can plot and scheme my daily mischief. How about you? How does your day start and how did you come to spend your nights in our fine Barracks? Don't tell me that it was all our fine lads."


"But they're all so pretty, just like Mr Invisible upstairs."  Smirking, Aran took a swig from his mug and a draw from the cigar before he continued.  "As for me, I'm the cream of the crop don't you know?  I'm surprised you don't recognise me, don't my chiseled features, immense stature and overwhelming aura not proclaim me as the one and only Captain Nara?  I'm shocked, clearly I haven't been doing enough heroic deeds of late."  Grinning, something seemed to occur to him.  "Speaking of which, I think we should probably head upstairs.  Your friend's money is calling to me, and I need a new wardrobe.  Or a puppy, not only smarter but eminently more likeable than a Gaidin and without constant neediness.  Shall we head upstairs?"


Captain Nara her ass. Annais knew all the Captains and this man was none of them. But she would get the name from Mordea once she had robbed the fellow of his money. Smiling pleasently all the way through it, she offered her arm gallantly at him in the end. "Please lean on my strong arm, my fair lady. And oi, Warders do have certain needs that some of us don't mind fulfilling", she smirked. "Puppies are nicer for kicking when you have a bad day as they don't dodge so well. But both lick nicely if in entirely different ways. The end result for both is wetness, though."


Well, this Annais was turning out to be quite the surprise.  Definitely different from a number of the Aes Sedai he had met, he might even look her up later.  Curtseying, if a little unsteadily, he took her arm and allowed her to lead as he couldn't help but add.  "Thats all well and true, but out of the two its only the puppy that can be house trained."  Smirking at the counter comment that got, he traded remarks with her as they made their way back upstairs.  There was money to be won and that was that.


Annais & Aran

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Mordea was surprised at how the game had gone.  Rockface had managed to hold his own, surprisingly enough.  More surprising was the fact that the irritating Jester was still in the game as well.  He seemed to reel from success to failure in equal measure, at one point losing three quarters of his coins yet managing to claw his way back in a series of bluffs that Rockface wasn't able to read, and everytime it was when she had folded.  He always did it, every single time she folded, he pushed Rockface up then threatened him with a significant loss in the bluff and he would back down, too cautious when he could have eliminated the man from the game.  Then, it suited her for Rockface not to end up with too much coin, otherwise he could use the advantage against her.


Folding again, she watched silently as the annoying little man pushed Rockface, not only by raising but with the jibes he had begun to mention every now and then.  It appeared the pair knew each other, and it appeared that Rockface was somewhat susceptible to the other man's comments.  It wasn't as if there was a rule against it, though Mordea wished there was as she saw Rockface push all in against the little man.  She already knew what was going to happen, she'd read the little man like an open book.  His hand was strong, Rockface's was middling, something aided by knowing what her own hand had contained.  Sure enough, Rockface's lack of patience was his undoing and the money ended up in the Jester's hands, and by this point he had a little over half of it, whereas she had the rest.


Now she was going to take it off him.


Several hands went by with one or the other folding, Mordea didn't deign to acknowledge the comments with even the slightest twitch.  There was no need to, she had him, she just needed to wait for him to go for the bluff, she'd see it when it appeared and then she would completely decimate him in one fell swoop.  That or he'd back down and a good deal of the money would be hers, it would be all over then.


There it was.  She had the little man now, raising on his raises as if trying to intimidate him out of the pot but he followed and followed.  More coins went into the pile until she went all in, forcing him to either match her or to bail out of the game.  He followed, an idiotic grin on his face as he did so.  It was time to end this well and truly.  Laying her cards down, her face revealed nothing as she laid down the Kings of Wind and fire as well as the queens of wind, fire and coin.  She didn't expect to see someone go so white of face so quickly, indeed, he looked like he'd sobered up at the crushing blow he'd been dealt.


Starting to pull the coins towards her side of the table, she froze as the cards the little man was holding tumbled out of his hand and revealed themselves.  The Queen of Rods, the Keeper of Cups, the King of Coins, the King of Rods and the Amyrlin Seat of Cups.  Unlikely.  Impossible.  There was absolutely no way that that could have happened, should have happened, she'd counted where the cards had gone and it was statistically as likely as her throwing herself off the White Tower.  Somehow, just somehow, this little man had managed to get the best of her in what should have been a guaranteed victory.


It didn't help when the idiot proceeded to get up on his chair and do some ridiculous dance, proclaiming that Captain Nara had been victorious.  The jingling of the hat, the ludicrous dance and grin painted on his face, the fact that she should have won that hand, the realisation that he'd known she had recognised his tell and used it against her, or he'd faked it all to begin with.  Surging to her feet, the chair fell on its back behind her as she pointed at the man and yelled.  "You bastard!  How in the Pit of Doom did you do that?!  You cheating stunted dwarf of a man, how did you switch those cards?!"


"Now now, there's no need for that.  Captain Nara will buy you new shoes should the spirit of generosity seize him." Watching as he hopped down from his seat as she tried to stop quivering with rage, he was gathering the coin in a large leather sack that had been brought specifically for the purpose of hauling away the winnings.  "Captain Nara extends his condolences, but Captain Nara is the Chop Tourney Champion.  Chop chop champion, get it?"  The lurid grin made at the awful pun made her head hurt, and the fact that she'd managed to be conned by the little bastard made it worse.


"Chop Chop Champ Captain Nara says you may have a drink on him." Catching the coin as it was flicked at her, Mordea caught the coin then proceeded to hurl it at the little man before storming out to the sound of the odious man laughing darkly.  She was going to get a drink, then maybe a few more for good measure.  She couldn't believe that the incredibly rotten luck had simply been that, luck, now she'd have to figure out how he'd managed it.  Everyone had their tricks, and she'd figure out his no matter how long it took.


Mordea & Aran

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Chop game did not really interest Annais that much when she wasn't involved herself and even though she did keep an occasional eye on what happened in the game table, she mainly was arranging her own thoughts. After going through her schedule for the next day and the rest of the week, she tried to remember faces of Sisters she knew and when she had last met them. She tried to keep her networks as broad as possible but still maintain closeness at least with the most important people. She had just finished with the Sisters of her own Ajah when Nara or who ever he was got Master Invisible's money. Very interesting. She begun to pay more attention to the game and a few hands later it seemed that things had come to end. Mordea seemed to be the winner with her strong hand but the Dark One's luck favoured Nara tonight.


A definate surprise and likely the White would be disappointed. But she should be able to distract her from it. She was grinning at the winner's dance Nara gave and noted the agile pelvis movements. Likely he would be good at something else too than singing and chop but she had no real interest to trying him out, he was simply too new acquiantance. Then came the real surprise. Annais would have never foreseen Mordea's reaction and complete loss of control and she just stared. Nara kept rubbing it on the White and his pun made her grimace. She abandoned her hope of getting any business done with Mordea today as the older Sister headed downstairs in a huff.


Annie remained in her seat for a bit longer even though she knew she'd have to head after the other Sister soon. "Well well, that was unexpected. I have to admit that I didn't have much faith in your chances. Congratulations." He had managed to ruin her plans but she'd just make new ones. "What are you going to do with all that money?"


Annais Nevell

Gray Sister

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Smiling as he turned from the money to Annais, Aran hadn't expected her to stay around when she had her Mordea to go talk to.  No doubt it was unexpected, but people often didn't expect an idiot in a Jester's hat to achieve much of anything.  It just went to show that there was nothing that a bit of colour couldn't fix.  The question about what he would do with the money just made him grin, a few different things came to mind that he could have said, but he decided to behave, relatively.  "Its all how whim strikes me, really.  Not like I'm for want of any of the things I need as a Tower Guard.  Might spend it on some new clothes.  Might spend it on a night out.  Might even do something remotely constructive with it.  What would you suggest?"


The answer was something she had expected but her smile deepened to an approving one when he mentioned constructiveness. "If you would want to do something funny... well, with all this talk of puppies a thought crossed my mind. Aes Sedai don't prank of course as we are above such things but imagine if someone managed to loose a pack of puppies into the quarters or some Ajah or the public dining hall. Such chaos it would make with dogs disliking us female channelers for some strange reason." The little hounds would have to just be taken a good care of afterwards but likely there would be good homes to be found in Tar Valon.


"But if - oh gasp - we sobered up a bit and spoke of a real needs for the money, the Borderlands springs to mind immediately. People loose homes and entire villages there to raids. Of course the countries themselves take care of their people and they can move elsewhere but it is a bit hard to start over with nothing. And I get a word daily of other people in need of help too. A drought there and a flood or epidemy elsewhere... What kind of tragedy touches you the most or are you of the mind that people need to help themselves?"


The thought of letting loose a few litters of puppies in the Tower did have its appeal, the idea of some Aes Sedai having their footwear savaged by mewling infants still learning how to walk straight certainly had some merit.  But no, and it was interesting that Annais was the one that made the comment.  A sense of humour that he'd found beforehand when they were drinking together downstairs, she was different.  Maybe it was because she was Gray, they spent enough time out in the world mediating that they seemed more apt amongst the sisters to remember they were people as much as anyone else.  As a general comment anyway.


Giving the money to a good cause had its own appeal, but Aran was the one who had earned the money in the first place.  He doubted that the people playing were so high minded, not so much because they were bad people but because they were willing to gamble what they had in the first place.  People rarely gambled their money simply to spend it on others.  Then again, not everyone was the same, it all really depended on the individual.  But, there was a question that begged answering.  "The supplicant can easily become the slave, it all depends on how they're helped.  As for what I will do with it...  I'll think about it.  If it were yours, how would you spend it?"


Annais nodded gravely at his words about the method of helping making all the difference. "Teach them how to fish instead of giving them a fish. That is the only way to not make them dependant of the helper. Most Sisters would prefer the fish with a few hooks in it. As for how I would use the money, I would take it with me when I leave the Tower again and see where it could make the most difference. Like you said, our allowances give us all that we need and even more so to the Sisters so it would be kind of strange to call yourself a Servant of All and use the extra money to fatten your own purse. Not that there is anything wrong with wise investments. But I am afraid that I have to go and find Mordea now even though she likely is not in the mood to discuss ethics today", Annais chuckled. "It was interesting to meet you, 'Nara'. Maybe we will come across each others again."


Smiling, Aran titled his head to Annais, bells jingling and all as he did so.  She didn't have any fixed idea in mind, but Aes Sedai didn't lie and she spoke sense.  Yet another dangerous attribute for an Aes Sedai.  Talking sense and possessing a sense of humour, she was going to be mistaken for one of the common folk at this rate.  "Nice to meet you as well Annais, and perhaps we shall.  Have fun with Mordea in the meantime, no doubt she's figured it out by now so I'm sure you will have plenty to talk about." Tying up the bag, Aran slung it over a shoulder and walked over to the door.  Opening it, he inclined his head to it.  "After you."


Nara's hint at figuring it out puzzled her a bit but maybe he meant how he had been able to win Mordea. She grinned at his gallantry and walked downstairs first scanning the room for the White Sister. She spotted the spikey-haired woman sitting alone on a table with four small glasses in front of her which was very strange as Annais wouldn't have pegged her down as a drinker. But unexpected loss could do that. She turned to say goodbye to Nara and then headed to join Mordea. As she approached, the other woman begun gulping down the drinks with her usual neutral expression. Even the kick of the spirits didn't make her flinch or grimace so she had had practice then. "Do you mind if I join you?", she asked and sat only at the nod. "That is an interesting hobby you have, chop playing. Have you ever pondered the morals of it with all that bluffing and playing for money?"


Aran & Annais

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Noting Annais' approach, as well as the cheeky grin and wave that the Jester gave her, Mordea threw back the first drink without hesitation.  The second slid down as easily as the first, with a loss as terrible as that, she wanted to relax a little and this was the easiest shortcut.  Nodding at Annais' request to be seated, the third drink went down easily enough, though she decided that she was going to wait a little before having her fourth.  It was clear that Annais wished to have a word about something and she had taken the time to wait for the Chop game to finish, it was only fair that in turn she give Annais her time.  After all, it was hardly the first time that the woman had come to speak to her about a matter, and in turn Mordea had always made herself available to Annais when she needed advice.  It was a rare person who would take advice and actually use it, those were people that Mordea was willing to make time for.


Looking at Annais as the question about Chop was asked, Mordea's tone betrayed nothing as she said.  "Chop is a game that sisters should consider as a good way to train their mental acuity.  In Chop, you learn to fool without words, to read opponents for the smallest hints to their true intention, to marshall what resources you have and learn how to understand a system in order to better make use of it in order to gain advantage.  These are all fine skills that any Aes Sedai should possess when they go into the world to represent the Tower.  It is also a good way to earn money if you happen to be short while you are travelling, and will give you access to circles you otherwise might not."


"It is only the way in which these skills are used that is an issue of morality, not the skills in themselves." The drinks were starting to kick in a little, a relief all things considered.  "Its just unfortunate that I lost that particular game.  I managed to realise what that man did, I have been watching all the games that have been played and he has effectively lied the entire tournament, constructed an identity and gave me multiple layers to interpret, hiding himself between them where I couldn't identify him for certain.  The moment he latched onto his cards, he knew he had a winner but his tell was otherwise, and he deliberately lost his earlier games in order to give it enough credence for me to take it.  The same mistake will not happen twice, and I suspect he knows it, but that is neither here nor there.  You wished to speak to me about something other than Chop?"


Mordea was as unreadable as usual but her cheeks were starting to warm from the alcohol and she seemed to loosen a bit. A good thing as it likely would improve her mood slightly too. Annais pursed her lips slightly at Mordea's advice that all Aes Sedai could benefit from Chop. She could play but she was middling level at most because she was too risk-averse. She just didn't like loosing money and because of that she almost always ended up folding and in fact loosing what she had put into the game so far. But then practicing without the money element took an edge out of the game and wasn't real practice for real life. In battles and negotiations people played with real stakes and they wouldn't go easy on you. Maybe she should start playing again or then just begin observing really good players in places like this. She regretted now that she hadn't paid better attention on the game of two really stellar players but with their skills she might have been unable to read anything anyway.


She nodded with sympathy as Mordea spoke of why she had lost. "Yes, there was another reason. I heard a story from a mission today and although it is fairly clear by the common moral perception what would have been the right thing to do, from utilitaristic point of view a case could be argued. And even if I likely wouldn't have done quite the same myself... if I ever was in such a situation, it would be a great temptation to gain a bit of an edge in the negotiations. I won't be naming any names but the people in question who had been quarreling were not exactly saints, there just was no concrete proof of their deeds. The negotiator in question got her evidence and gained a hold of them but in... hazy methods such as thievery and getting someone in compromised state and under... ahem, professional pleasing interrogation. These could never become a Tower norm but each case like this slowly erodes the limit of how much are we willing to justify by reaching our goal."


Mordea would have smiled if she were apt to doing so, instead she simply looked at Annais steadily.  "You mean Selena plied the man with drink, set him up with a whore and the said whore not only became a point of blackmail but she also secured information for Selena to use in addition to the indiscretion?"  Annais didn't seem to be expecting that, but they had known each other long enough to bother beating about the bush.  "The method was not precisely moral, no.  Some would argue that the target of the method would have done worse to achieve a similar advantage, but it is not a question of how our adversaries act but how we as Aes Sedai act.  At the same time, the practical nature of situations may sometimes lead to the consideration of foregoing moral restraints in order to achieve a 'greater good'."


"It would be simple if we could say that dirty methods are outweighed by the end result, or vice versa.  The truth is that each case and situation is independent and has to be treated so.  Practically."  Looking at her drink as she realised her stare might be unnerving Annais, she continued.  "As to whether Selena was wrong to do as she did.  Well, it can be reasonably assumed that there were other options, and that those options should have been explored first.  If for no other reason than the fact that, unless I am mistaken, she did not decide to entertain those alternatives.  Compromises of integrity should only be a last resort, if they are indeed to be resorted to.  If for no other reason than the fact that its nice to be able to wake up in the morning with a relatively clean conscience."


Annais didn't like the fact that Mordea had already known who she was talking about and the details of the case but she did her best to cover her dismay. That was Gray Ajah business even if she was asking a consultancy from a Sister outside their sphere. If the young Gray had told her story to others, she would get a stern talking and if she hadn't... she would have to figure out how Mordea had known. Maybe she had her own Eyes and Ears in Murandy but they must have then been keeping a special tab on Selena since despite any other flaws, she was not stupid enough to do it all openly. But then how much right did she have to judge Selena when she had been employing for years a woman who had been an assassin and whose methods of obtaining the information she sent her to get were likely as innovative as Selena's. At least she wasn't leaving a trail of corpses behind anymore while she was on Annais' payroll.


She definately agreed with Mordea about everything she said and Marce would be setting Selena straight about what kind of methods were acceptable for an Aes Sedai and what were not. "That is all very true. How much are you yourself on the field or are you philosophing from the armchair mainly? Have you come across any interesting dilemmas yourself aside from the cases others bring to you?" The tone of the questions was friendly and curious. Even if Annais herself traveled extensively, she did not begrudge Sisters who stayed in the Tower for the most of their time.


"I have."  That was about as much as Mordea was willing to say on the subject.  She didn't leave the Tower often, but she had seen and done things during her time.  Besides, if she ever needed any excitement, there was more than enough to be found in the Tower itself.  Yet there was always the matter of self discipline, while one might possess the intelligence and resources to dismantle their fellow sisters and ascend above them, it did not then mean that one should, embracing it simply as manifest destiny as some were inclined to do.  "The cases of others are always of more interest, they are diverse in their source and circumstance.  No doubt you have had interactions far different to my own because of my demeanour being difficult for people to approach.  You, on the otherhand, are much more welcoming and therefore liable to engage with many more people than I myself would or could.  All sisters have their strengths and weaknesses, it is simply finding the best application for them.  Perhaps, if Selena is comfortable with her methods, the Tower may have different uses for her than the ones she has been put to so far."


Mordea wasn't willing to volunteer more and Annais settled for that. She frowned in though when the White suggested that Selena should be put to different kind of work. "I am just not so certain that her 'strenght' is really that. If we don't want to make her way the norm, then shouldn't it rather be weeded out from her? That is the flaw of wanting our novices and Accepted to fit the mold and pretend meekness. In some cases we might not be able to really gauge their true nature and help them work with their actual advantages and flaws... and of course seen through the lense of what is expected of an Aes Sedai. For example ethics are taught far too little and some Accepted might manage to pass such considerations completely if they just choose not to study the subject. But this of course brings us to the interesting question that how much the Tower has the right to mold initiates and Sisters into certain direction. Aes Sedai work very individually within the Ajah frame of course which acts as a check and balance mechanism but is that the right way to do it? Also who is really dictating the 'Tower's' ideals? How do they form?"


"I'm glad that we've chosen to settle upon a smaller issue."  Taking a sip from her fourth mug, Mordea composed her thoughts before she spoke.  "The Tower's concern first and foremost is the protection of Aes Sedai and their status.  This in turn protects the Aes Sedai's ability to interact with the world from a higher position of authority that in turn enables the Tower to better effect its policies within the Westland.  The individual Tower Agenda has changed depending on the Amyrlin and Hall of the time, but the maintanence of the ability to act as an Aes Sedai can has always been a priority of the Tower.  Ethics are not necessary to achieve this, therefore they are not mandatory.  As to whether the Tower has a right to mold the Novices and Accepted, it is the role of any school to educate and shape its students.  It is the outcomes of that education and the degree to which the education is applied that are issues."


"Like any system, there are both advantages and flaws.  What in particular holds your interest?"


Was Mordea being sarcastic? Annais couldn't tell so she decided to just leave it be. The Tower was indeed concerned of its superior position but she thought that Mordea was wrong about ethics not being necessary in maintaining the respect of the nations. Certain moral compromises couldn't be avoided and the Aes Sedai had to play the Great Game when it came to dealing with the nobles and rulers too sometimes. But there was a big difference in being known as sly and crafty than being known for tricks like those of Selena's. Certainly most Sisters wouldn't resort to them as the first option but sometimes precedents could start changes of attitudes. "It is just interesting that we are taught to wield great power and position of authority but we are assumed to understand the responsibility that comes with it on our own after some basic classes while we are novices. The Raising system is supposed to prune out rotten apples of course but still it does tell something of what the Tower holds important."


"And I am not really following any particular train of thought currently as case Selena is pretty much settled with. Is there something that you have been studying lately?"


"Yes."  Taking a sip from her cup, Mordea continued.  "I would not worry about Selena, it is doubtful that her example will take root.  I doubt that the Gray Ajah approves, after all, you would not be here if it were otherwise.  Besides, Selena serves an important function, she has displayed what we should not do unless necessary and is now useful for reminding people of that particular lesson.  After all, without mistakes there can be no learning.  It is only when mistakes are repeated that you need worry, because then it is clear that people are not learning.  The only mistake you need worry about sisters in general making is them forgetting that there is still more to be learned.  That is probably why the Brown Ajah as a whole tends to be an approachable Ajah, they know that there is plenty they do not know.  Much like the Gray, but you are trained for it, for them it is a natural byproduct.  Usually."


Mordea & Annais

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Annais nodded to confirm that the Gray Ajah indeed wasn't entirely pleased with what Selena had done. "If only we all could take at heart the lessons learned from other people's mistakes since even Aes Sedai don't live long enough to make all the mistakes themselves. I think that the danger of thinking that you know all already and have seen everything plagues mainly Sisters who stay in the Tower and focus on purely academical topics. They sometimes forget that there are other things to learn than those you can gather from tomes. Also Sisters who do routineous things and don't try out something new from time to time might also be caught by that assumption."


"Have you ever seen me play Chop, by the way? I am afraid that I am nowehere near your level but I think that I will be taking your advice about practicing my skills with it. Which is more developing, to play with masters or someone of your own level?"


Fixing her stare on Annais as the woman finished, Mordea considered the rebuke she was going to give the younger woman.  While in some cases it was true, it was just as true of sisters who did not bother to read and learn at all from the Tower.  "You should be careful of the general comments you make, Annais.  Perhaps you are as prone to making assumptions as the people that you would accuse."  It was an easy mistake to make, but then that was why even she needed to be taken down a peg on occasion, even if it was by a Tower Guard in a Jester's hat.  "As to Chop, the same rule applies to it as anything else.  Your best teacher shall always be your opponent, the harder the better.  They will look for and find every weakness you possess, they will exploit it without pause and will try and crack you in every way, forcing you to adapt and address every weakness you possess."


Annais accepted the chide. "I try to be careful but know that I too often still jump to hasty conclusions and apply generalisations where they do not befit." She had never said that every Sister who stays in the Tower thought that they know everything, just that they were possibly more likely to do so. But she had no need to justify or explain herself to Mordea. She had considered asking the White to play a few games with her but she didn't want to bore the woman with a much inferior opponent and she much rather lost to someone who didn't take it so very seriously. "What is the name of the Tower Guard you played with? He deemed to grace me with an alias. And who would you recommend as playing partners for me?"


"Let me guess, he claimed to be Captain Nara?" The nod that Annais gave Mordea confirmed that her assumption was correct.  "The idiot has been touting himself as that throughout the competition, I think today was the only day he didn't wear a cape and that was because he was playing here instead of at the Tower.  He's ten kinds of fool, but underneath that is an agile enough mind.  He's also a capable actor as he's managed to prove all tournament and catch nearly everyone he's played including myself out.  If you wish to enquire further of him, you would have better luck with his true name, Aran.  He's a Cairhienin, and from what I've heard he's one of our most troublesome guards, but he's managed to make himself useful enough not to be thrown out.  Word has it that he accompanied several Aes Sedai into Shadar Logoth, so I would presume that he is somewhat capable.  But I have not investigated further so I could not say for certain."


The man's heigh and looks had pretty much pegged him as Cairhienin and the Shadar Logoth mission rang bells as a Gray Sister, Lavinya, had been involved. For some strange reason she and two other Sisters - neither of them Reds - had decided to take it upon them to capture a male channeler their Eyes and Ears had informed them of. The poor bastard had been so Taint ridden that he had escaped into the former Aridhol where he had perished. The combination of the name, ludicrous clothing and singing... Aran was the same Guard who had infuriated the Keeper with his public performace in the dining room. Arette certainly needed something to lighten her up as there was a serious tumor in her humor but she doubted that Aran's trick was quite the right method. "I suppose that Aran would make a suitably challenging Chop opponent. What about the others in the table tonight? Are they the next best players in the Tower?"


"Some.  For others it was just chance that they managed to get in the final game, some of our finer players didn't participate this time around.  It was a closed tourney so the players from the city weren't involved, and some sisters were away.  If you want to find people to play, start participating in the games that come up, you will find opponents that you are happy with in time.  As for Aran...  Just be aware that he is tricky." Mordea had another sip of her drink, entirely too tricky for his own good.


"I will play in games hosted in the Logical Choice as long as I stay in the city." Mordea was likely aware by now of Annais' yearly schedule; she spent roughly a quarter of the year in the White Tower and the rest of the time she traveled on various missions and tasks she set for herself. "I will stay on my toes with Aran, thank you for the warning." Although him winning the tournament and being able to cloud even Mordea had been quite enough reason for cautiousness. "Do you think that you would win him if you played again? And do you have any special plans for today?" Annais was still trying to decide what she herself would do and if the Whites would be doing something social that wasn't closed for chosen inner circle, it might be interesting to participate. Or then just spend time with Mordea even if their relationship was more that of an experienced advisor and respectful protegee. She just wasn't certain if they would ever be able to shake free of the roles, a problem she had with most White and Brown Sisters unless they were considerably younger than she or they hadn't known each others for a long time.


"Today, no."  No, Mordea would return to her quarters after a few more drinks and consider what had occurred and plan for the next game with Aran where she would destroy him.  That and complete the rest of the work she had assigned for herself today.  At least, thats what she thought until she saw the expression on Annais face.  The girl, well, not a girl but with the age between them the term was very relative, didn't let on much but she always had the habit of wanting more from her sisters around her.  Friendship, smiles, laughter, things that Mordea had schooled herself from showing outwardly.  Annais should have been perceptive enough to notice when she was amused, but it wasn't the same as openly expressing the emotion she supposed.  "I will win when I play him again, short of another miracle on his part.  But, enough of him and about us.  I was thinking, you up for a game of Stones?  Loser buys drinks."


Annais was waiting for a follow up as usually people were willing to make plans if they were in company and didn't have anything else in mind. The silence was stretching a bit and she was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable but she tried to hide it to her best ability. Mordea just likely didn't want to spend additional time with her and she just had to live with it. She shouldn't let it affect anything else and just make a polite backout so that neither one of them would be left feeling awkward. She smiled genuinely at the thought of her and Aran playing again. If she was still in Tar Valon and they wouldn't mind a spectator, she would love the be there to see it. She was pleasently surprised when Mordea suggested a game. She definately was better with Stones than in Chop so she might stand some kind of a chance but she groaned and laughed at Mordea's suggestion jiggling her pouch. "Oh well, good thing that I took a good amount of coins with me then. Let me get us a board and a refill." It would be pleasent to spend some time with the older White over a gaming board and she could likely learn alot from Mordea's strategy.


Annais & Mordea

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