With Questioners, the women enter the stage - the trio now augmented by Aviendha, and a new sub theme is introduced: prisoners and how to handle them, torture, how much such information can be trusted, the dangers involved, and later the temptation of extracting knowledge from the Shadow.
That's the first scene in which this is introduced, but the theme will progress through the series, culminating for Nynaeve with her face off to come with her nemesis Semirhage, and for Elayne with her dilemna about her Darkfriend prisoners, a poisonned gift for an Andoran Queen that Elayne will have to handle carefully (torture is notably illegal in Andor, keeping Aes Sedai prisoner and claiming, or keeping secret, they are Black Ajah will no doubt create a few problems - with the High Seats who will be worried, with Elaida's envoy Duhara when she learns of it - and probably with the other Aes Sedai at Inns too) - and Elayne and Birgitte do not yet know their old friend Moghedien is around, that Moridin is at the top of these schemes... and there's Slayer/Luc Mantear in the area as well. Will Elayne manage to handle this better than she could with Amico and Joiya, with Moghedien, with Ispan?
As always, the theme/motif is reflected elsewhere in the book: Siuan and Leane will find themselves in the hands of Alviarin, the Head of the Black Ajah. The darkfriend Isendre will become prisoner of the Maidens - her fate similar to what awaits Amico and Joiya.
With Aviendha, the motif revolves mostly around her transition from Maiden to Wise One, her apprenticeship to give up violence and find in herself another sort of strength. For Elayne - the future Queen - the motif is mostly associated to her role as the maker and dispenser of Justice, around matters of Laws. For Nynaeve, it concers the darkness inside her that she struggle with, a darkness that lead her not to trust herself with the One Power that created her block that lets her channel only when she has already lost control of her temper and is in no state to fear what she might do. As I will look at in a post devoted to Nynaeve (for whom I have a special fondness) during the TFOH read-through, Jordan has created Nynaeve as a parallel of Semirhage. Even her misadventures with Moghedien are subtly twisted to prepare her for her real nemesis, her real challenge: Semirhage. Nynaeve had the potential to become Semirhage both as Healer and sadist, it's through her personal struggle, her moral fiber, her inner strength that she rejects such impulses. Her final victory over her temper and violent impulses come around the time she breaks her block. How far will she dare go with Semirhage, how far can she go before what the acts she commits are no better than what Semirhage herself does?
But let's get back to our prisoners and questioners for now.
The chapter introduces interesting notions and hints of things to come. The concept of the Black Ajah was quite interesting at the beginning of The Great Hunt, but it remained elusive in the end, limited to tantalizing yet a bit too straight forward apparitions by Liandrin, very few hints of what the society really was and how dangerous it may be. The Dragon Reborn offered us a bit more, with Liandrin's thirteen, but again they failed to had much depth to the world building of the organization and they played an extremely peripheral role in the book by the end. The Shadow Rising changes all of this, and as the Tower Coup looms ahead, Jordan begins to add details and depths that make the Blacks more intriguing and tentacular. It is in this chapter that we get our first clue about the organization of the Black Ajah into Hearts. We also get the first real clue that they may have sworn new oaths (without the capital, for now) that somehow severed the others, to use Egwene's expression. Jordan also introduced new details about stilling and burning yourself out, cleverly putting in place elements he needed established for Siuan and Leane's story line. The mystery that made Amico lose her ageless look (he later changed some of the rules about this, by the information given by Verin Amico is too young to have developped the ageless look yet; later in the series Jordan would establish it takes longer after swearing the Oaths to look ageless - but th ekist of it was there even at this point as Jordan had the difference in look for young Amico be very subtle, nothing like Siuan and Leane). Aviendah almost puzzle the mystery out, not knowing however about the Oath Rod - that part will be left to Egwene, much later. More clues will come once we meet the Wise Ones and discover that they haven't the ageless look.
The revelations of Amico about Tanchico provide a second clue to something with which Rand could be controlled - in a few chapters Jordan will raise the stakes by connecting the two, introducing Egeanin in Tanchico as an agent of Suroth, the woman who very much wanted to know how the Aes Sedai controlled Rand and who was sure they had a way. As it turns out, Amico's story was essentially true, though she may have left out much, we'll never know. An unresolved question is who was behind this plan. Amico only mentions Liandrin as the originator, but with hindsight on the working of the Black Ajah, that is very unlikely. A Forsaken must have been behind it, and since Amico hearing of that plan predates the fall of the Stone I think the most propable suspect was Be'lal. His full plan for Rand was twarthed by Rand's early arrival in Tear, by the interference of Lanfear with Liandrin's group and the Egwene etc. He wasn't ready to set in motion whatever he planned to do with his thirteen Black Sisters. It seems he may have wanted to send Liandrin and some others to investigate something about the ter'angreal in Tanchico. In any case, Liandrin seems to have known as much about it and its functions and weaknesses as Moghedien later did. It's highly unlikely the Black Ajah would have let this object around if they had known about it.
Joiya's story is another ball game. From what we learn later on the Oaths sworn by Black Sisters, Joiya should have been unable to reveal anything real about the Shadow's plans - and once we will get to know Alviarin better, it makes it even more unlikely that Black Sisters not directly involved in a plan would know anything about it. It seems to have been a pure coincidence, and sheer bad luck, that she happened to invent a believable scheme she placed far away from where Liandrin would be but that touched on elements others may have set in motion. In her first scene in the book, Alviarin asks Elaida if she's got anything concrete with which to accuse Siuan - Elaida answers 'not yet'. From that moment to the time Siuan was deposed, Mazrim Taim's escape was organized (officially by 'followers') and Elaida used the accusation against Siuan, who would get her revenge by inventing an all too believable story based in part on Red Ajah skeletons she (and her future target audience: the Sitters) knew of from the Thirteenth Depository of the Red Ajah setting Logain up. It seems Alviarin and Mesaana probably organized Taim's escape and provided Elaida with 'proofs', and later contributed keeping Taim elusive, then to keep Elaida busy and make her lash at everyone, an early step in Mesaana's plans to divide the Tower. The mystery of what happened with Taim during The Shadow Rising remains an interesting one even now.
In Tanchico or the Tower, the girls learn of the gruesome murder of Joyia and Amico. Their throats were slit and their tongues were first nailed to the door. The image, the message, was clear: it was related to what they revealed or could have revealed. Someone feared they would talk, or tought they had.
Or is it that clear? These murders have remained a mystery. It's only in Winter's Heart that we learned Slayer was sent to execute the women - by which Forsaken sent him, and why? Be'lal was dead, and so was Ishamael. No Forsaken or any of the Black Ajah's leaders were concerned with Liandrin or her group anymore (not yet, Moghedien eventually would grab them - of course). Mesaana was probably already in the Tower, but that is uncertain. Moiraine's messages to Siuan were intercepted. We know this because of the great delay before the Black Ajah let Siuan have any of them, and because they contained none of the information Moiraine told the girls she had sent to Siuan. All that reached Siuan was an apparently counterfeited message from Moiraine that told her Rand had Callandor and she was with him. The Black Ajah let Siuan have it right before she was deposed: it became the rope with which Siuan hanged herself. Elaida had planted all the seeds about this conspiracy between Siuan and Moiraine, and when Siuan made her announcement to the Hall she brought all the confirmation the conspirators neeeded. We even know for sure the Black Ajah, not Elaida, intercepted the message, because Elaida never learned of Moiraine's warning about Mazrim Taim. Mesaana would have learned the Black Sisters have talked, so she may have been the one who decided to silence them. However, Liandrin and her group never seemed to concern her. If Mesaana is behind the assassinations, it's more likely to prevent Amico and Joyia from being sent to Tar Valon. Moiraine (it's unlikely Siuan would have admitted it was Accepted) uncovering the first Black sisters ever and sending them to the Hall for trial would have been a major political victory for Siuan, one that may have made some Sitters hesitate more to depose her.
There is another very good possibility. There is one Forsaken who has used the girls but had no further use for them, one Forsaken who we know was spying on Rand in Tear: Lanfear. For Lanfear, the time may very well have come to get rid of the girls - she may have become a bit tired of 'his harem' and they would be an hinderance, a distraction to Rand, when she came to seduce him - but she didn't want to antagonize Rand by using radical means that would turn him against her. A perfect way to achieve this would be to send them chasing the Black Ajah, something she knew quite a bit about, since she's the one who organized to have the girls go to Tear in TDR. Lanfear may have had one more reason not to want the Black Sisters to talk too much: in TDR, Egwene had a dream where she saw Liandrin laughing at them as they walked into a trap, and Lanfear laughing at Liandrin. It's fairly plain from this dream the 'tip' to capture the girls came to Liandrin from Lanfear (it should be noted Be'lal let them do it, but seemed to have no interest in the girls - he confessed to Rand his surprise that the girls could have been useful as a bait, that was RJ's confirmation to the reader to look elsewhere for the culprit). Lanfear had witnessed first how the Pattern shaped itself around Rand and his friends when they were together at Falme. Sending the girls to the Stone, even as captives, was sending Rand allies. She urged Mat to leave the Tower too, and urged Perrin to go forward and "seek glory" when Ishamael tried to make him turn away. It is well to remember that the Forsaken who attracted Rand to Callandor was Lanfear (not Be'lal - who didn't think at the end Rand would show up so soon - he was caught by surprise, with the BA scattered all over the place etc.), as was revealed late in the book, when she started appearing as Selene in the dreams and enticed Rand to take Callandor. In the beginning, she sent dreams of the Sword only).
RJ may very well have left a clue that the one who had Amico and Joyia killed by Slayer (the tel'aran'rhiod assassin she also seemed to have sent to kill Ishamael's Gray Men who were to kill Egwene and Nynaeve in the Tower) was Lanfear. The clue would be to reveal to us her motive: convince the girls what Joyia and Amico said was true, thus having them go after either Taim or Tanchico and away from Rand. Elayne, who is in 'Game of Houses' mode and quite clever at seing the hidden motives in this scene, puzzles ut out and (as often when characters are right in The Wheel of Time), decided not to bring up so a twisted conclusion aloud, when it meant someone could be manipulating them, again: Elayne swallowed, thinking of being in a cell, having your face pressed to the door so your tongue could be pulled out and... She shivered, but made herself say,
"They might have been killed simply to punish them for being captured." She left out her thought that the killing might have been to make them believe whatever Joiya and, Amico had said; they had enough doubts about what to do as it was".
Another interesting point is that we do not know who told Liandrin about the ter'angreal dangerous to Rand in Tanchico, and if any Forsaken sent her after it. I suggest Lanfear (without revealing herself) could also be the one who gave the tip to Liandrin. That may have been meant to tempt Be'lal in sending some of his thirteen to Tanchico, thus not having the full circle as he planned to when Rand came (IMHO, Be'lal's real plan was to turn Rand to the Shadow using the BA and Myrddraal before he got him to take and give him Callandor). The Forsaken (Moghedien at least), know this ter'angreal is actually useless - because it's dangerous for the women holding the man. Again, Jordan may very well have given us a clue to reach this conclusion: we discover at the end of the book Lanfear has been in the Panarch's museum, because she reveals her knowledge of the broken ter'angreal Access Key that is found there. The Lanfear solution is elegant, because obviously it was all goose chase and she wouldn't have told Liandrin where exactly to find the object, just that it was in Tanchico. This would also explain why neither Alviarin nor the other Forsaken seemed to have any interest in Liandrin after Tear.