The Liar's Game
Remember the old mind game? Youre in a room with two doors, only one of which is safe. Each door is guarded, but only one of the guards speaks the truth, while the other always lies...
(The solution, by the way, is easy: Ask either of the guards If I asked the other guard which door is safe, what would he say? Then take the other door.)
Well, the situation that anyone looking for the Black Ajah is in is somewhat similar. Only worse. Because there are nearly a thousand guards, most of whom never lie (but dont necessarily tell the truth) and some of whom lie some of the time, but not all of the time. Whats more, the ones who arent liars dont believe the liars exist, and even the liars dont know who all the other liars are. Oh yes - and they may kill you, to stop you telling anyone else that theyre liars.
Theres no simple solution to that game.
If you can find one Black sister, you can, in theory, find others. (First, catch your rabbit...) However, the Black Ajah swear their own Three Oaths, which are just as unbreakable as the three binding other Aes Sedai. Since Ispan refused to name anyone despite persuasion from Vandene and Adeleas, not to mention threats from Elayne, Nynaeve and Aviendha, its a fair bet that one of them acts to prevent any Black sister from revealing the identity of any other.
My guess is that the Three Dark Oaths are:
"I swear (by what, I wonder?) never to reveal the identity of any living Black sister, including myself, to anyone who does not serve the Shadow.
"I swear never to reveal any current plans of the Shadow to anyone who does not serve the Shadow.
"I swear never to reveal that I have sworn these Oaths, or that they exist at all, to anyone who does not serve the Shadow."
(There may also be a clause in any or all of these along the lines of "unless ordered to by a Darkfriend of higher rank than myself," since dropping information might be useful at times.)
Number one is given. Numbers two and three are also based on Ispan's lack of revelations: according to Vandene and Adeleas, she said plenty about the Shadow's plans, but nothing that was actually current and useful. Furthermore, she did not take what would seem to be the easy way out and say "Look, I would tell you if I could, but I swore on the Oath Rod that I wouldn't, so you may as well stop torturing me!" The sisters had to infer the existence of Dark Oaths on their own.
Unfortunately, this removes two possible methods of Black Ajah-hunting; you cant simply torture the information out of a known Black, and you cant hope some Black sister will decide to change sides. But there are at least two ways left. One is trickery, and Ill go into that later. The other was introduced in A Path Of Daggers, and appears to be foolproof: the use of the Oath Rod.
On their first attempt at finding the Black Ajah, Seaine and Pevara have had a surprising amount of success. They found three Sitters who are definitely NOT Black...and one who is. They also found out the ten spies from Salidar. (I wonder what effect thatll have on the war?) Assuming none of the ten are Black, thats a total of - wouldnt you know it - thirteen people to help Seaine and Pevara hunt.
Re-taking the First Oath has, clearly, proved extremely useful. But theres another, equally important use of the Oath Rod - it can be used to free people from Oaths sworn on it. Such as the Dark Oaths. And we have a candidate already: Talene.
It was reasonably clear in The Path of Daggers that Talene was Black; even though there was no proof of it, the simple fact of her refusal to take the First Oath along with the rest was cause for extremely strong suspicion. It is now proven, so she gets no apology for the previous suspicion. In the prologue to Winter's Heart, precisely the course of action I earlier suggested is embarked on. After being forced to reswear all three Oaths, as well as a fourth of absolute obedience to her interrogators, Talene is asked "Are you of the Black Ajah?" and answers unequivocally "I am."
The scene ends before any further interrogation takes place, other than Talene volunteering her belief that Elaida is also Black, based on the fact that the Black Ajah knows everything that comes out of her office before it does. (Careless that no one even considered Alviarin as an explanation, particularly given Elaida's orders to follow the trail to the Keeper herself if necessary.) I presume that some point (most likely behind the scenes) she will be asked for the names of all Black sisters she knows or suspects, and given the first and fourth Oaths, I presume she will certainly give them. As yet they have reached no decision as to what to do with her, but I'm guessing that they will eventually let her go (with strict orders NOT to warn anyone, not to do anything without permission, and to keep them aware of any further developments) - and then go on to the next name.
Eventually, assuming that the Tower is unified by then, they should know who and where every Black sister in the Tower is. Then, if all goes well, they can make the results of the investigation public, take them all into custody, and start the trials.
It is an interesting fact that there seem to be far more Black sisters in the Tower than there are Darkfriends elsewhere. Approximately 0.5-1% is the figure given for the population as a whole. However, nineteen Black sisters (counting Talene) have been named. There are 900-1000 Aes Sedai: call it a thousand for easy calculation, and just from the names we know we have 1.9%. Furthermore, the Great Council consists of thirteen sisters. Alviarin may or may not be counted among the thirteen. Galina presumably is. But even if Alviarin is, and even if Liandrin and Elza are on it, which I doubt (we know none of the others are) that's nine more. 2.8%. And if there are thirteen leaders, then considering the hierarchical and secretive nature of the Black Ajah (there are at least three levels, going by how much the various Blacks we've met seem to know: Liandrin knew the other twelve in her group, but they only knew four or five others each, and Katerine knew only two prior to being told of Galina) I'd say there must be at least a hundred in total. Ten per cent! I think the Tower's in for a shock.
That's most likely how the Black Ajah as a whole will be exposed, and to the Tower as a whole. But my guess is that at least one, probably two, and maybe more very high-ranking Black sisters are going to be caught via method number 2. That is, trickery.
Galina Casban, head of the Red Ajah, not to mention second in command of the Black Ajah, is currently a captive of the Shaido Aiel, and attempting to get hold of Sevanna's Oath Rod to free herself. If she succeeds in doing so, she is likely to head back to the White Tower; however, by the time she gets there, the Tower is very likely to be controlled by Egwene. In fact, Jordan may have set that entire situation up to lead to the combination of those three elements - Egwene, Galina, and the Oath Rod.
Now remember Lord of Chaos - Rands meeting with Coiren, Nesune, and Galina, at which Egwene was present, but invisible. Rand thinks - and Egwene is aware of it, or should be - that Galina has some connection to Alviarin, who we know is the head of the Black Ajah.
After her treatment by the Shaido, what kind of mental state is Galina likely to be in? Relieved? Yes. Hysterical? Probably. Not thinking clearly? Almost certainly. So what would her reaction be if Egwene commented on her connection with Alviarin, seemingly out of the blue? She wouldnt have the faintest idea how Egwene found out or how little she actually knows, so what is she very probably going to assume? That the connection Egwene brings up is the real one.
That Egwene knows she is Black Ajah.
My, my. How is Galina, in her current condition, going to react to that? Hmm. I think shed...confess. And blab all she knows about Alviarin and the Shadows plans in the hope of avoiding execution. The Dark Oaths wouldn't stop her to start with; since she'd think Egwene already knew about both she and Alviarin, she'd see it as admitting, not revealing, and the Oath Rod works on what you think. Chances are she'd be so panicked she wouldn't even realise it all came as a total surprise to Egwene - but even if she did and stopped straight away, Egwene has the Oath Rod, a lot more strength in the Power than Galina, and not many compunctions where the Black Ajah is concerned. All she needs is that first slip to realise what's going on, and she can then dig the rest of the facts out at her leisure.
Considering the role Galina played in the interrogation of Siuan and Leane after they were deposed, I'm sure those two will be quite happy to help Egwene dig.
Incidentally, it was suggested (in an entry in the Plot Contest) that Egwene could use this knowledge to force Galina to support her as Amyrlin, scoring her a point over Elaida in having support from all seven Ajahs, and doubly scoring since Galina heads her Ajah. Obviously, this can only happen if Egwene gets Galina before taking the Tower. It's an interesting idea, though.
And let's not forget that even Alviarin isn't the highest-ranking of the Shadowsworn in the Tower. Mesaana is - and Alviarin is doing her best to find out who she's hiding as. If she does find out, either that information can be forced from her, or she could conceivably trade it for a pardon. Egwene might be prepared to promise Alviarin her life in return for finding out another Forsaken - but while we're on the topic of Oaths, let's not forget that Egwene hasn't taken any, and there's nothing forcing her to keep that promise.
I'd like to see at least one Forsaken formally put on trial and executed. Moghedien's a possibility, but Mesaana seems an even better candidate. And think how demoralising that would be for all the mere Black sisters...
No question about it. The days of the Black Ajah are numbered.