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Prior to TPOD, there was little reason to really believe Sheriam was BA. There was some speculation, based mostly on the fact that Mistress of Novices would be a good position for a Black Sister. Certain examples of Sheriam's behavior towards El, Eg, and Ny could indicate that she is BA, but they all are explained equally well by considering that, in all these instances, she is a high-ranking Aes Sedai (either Mistress of Novices or part of the original Salidar Cabal) and El, Eg, and Ny are students. Here are the examples:
In [TPOD: 16, Unexpected Absences, 345], however, we discover that Sheriam is definitely under somebody's thumb. In this scene, Sheriam is tortured for information by a mysterious channeler. It is clear that this is not the first time that this has happened. What can we tell from this scene?
So, what is going on? Either: 1) Sheriam is BA, and her tormenter is either BA or a Forsaken, 2) Sheriam is BA, and her tormenter is not somebody related to the Dark, 3) Sheriam is not BA, but her tormenter is BA or Forsaken, or 4) Neither Sheriam nor her tormenter is of the Dark. This all basically boils down to two questions: 1) Who is Sheriam's torturer? 2) Does Sheriam's predicament mean she is BA?
However, it's not really possible to eliminate saidar-channelers on this basis. Sheriam may have been able to sense the channeler in her tent if she'd been looking for one. However, she was not expecting her visitor. From [LOC: 27, Gifts, 389-390] we know that an AS can't always pinpoint the location of a channeler she can't see. Thus, even if Sheriam sensed the presence of another woman channeler, she may not have thought it was important, since she's surrounded by woman channelers. Since it is not at all clear she could have pinpointed the channeler's presence to her own small tent, we shouldn't be too surprised that she didn't sense her assailant, even if it was a woman. Also, the attacker may have been using the Power to disguise her ability to channel. All of the Forsaken can do this for sure, Alviarin may have learned it from Mesaana, and others may know how to do it, from some other source which we don't know about yet.
The question of somebody else detecting the flows is a greater objection. However, it is not even close to being an insurmountable obstacle. For one thing, the scene occurs late at night, so most potential witnesses would have been asleep, or at least inside their own tents. Secondly, Sheriam's assailant would have taken precautions to prevent detection-- inverting and tying off the flows which shielded and bound Sheriam, for example. As for the beating itself, as Amy Gray points out, it is possible that "it doesn't take a significantly higher amount of the Power to make clubs of Air and move them around than it does to, say, move a chair with the Power or channel your lamp lit-- the sort of things she might actually be doing in her tent." Furthermore, while it is reasonable to assume that the beating was done with the Power, nothing in the scene indicates that it was actually done that way. It's quite possible that Sheriam was beaten with a stick.
Therefore, we cannot rule out all female channelers as suspects. Let us now turn to the question of particular suspects. The general categories are a Forsaken, a Black Sister, or Somebody Not Affiliated with the Shadow.
Semirhage: She is the only Forsaken who has shown or expressed a preference for torture over Compulsion as a way to gain information and loyalty [LOC: 6, Threads Woven of Shadow, 140]. However, Sheriam's interrogation is a far cry from that of Cabriana Mecandes in [LOC: 6, Threads Woven of Shadow, 139-143]. Physically beating her subject seems too mundane, too unsophisticated for Semirhage. Sem has mastered the art of stimulating her subject's brain to feel pain and pleasure directly, a method much more effective than physical attack, and it doesn't leave any marks. It's unlikely that she'd stoop to beating a subject with Air, or Light forbid, a stick.
Aran'gar: For one thing, Halima is right there in the Rebel camp, which gives her very easy access to Sheriam. Aran'gar as the culprit would also explain Sheriam's regrets about talking to Sitters/a Sitter. Aran'gar attached herself to Delana, a BA who is a Sitter. Delana could be the Sitter Sheriam is thinking of.
To this, Pam adds, "Okay, I just had a major 'duh' moment. During the Forsaken Coffee Hour, Aran'gar says, "'My own charge is...' She pressed a thumb down on the edge of the chair as if pinning something and laughed again" [WH: 13, Wonderful News, 314]. Now, we've been assuming that she means Egwene, since she is Egwene's back-rubber, and [is] doing something to Eg to give her headaches. However, Eg really doesn't seem to be totally under anybody's thumb; she's still pretty much the same old Egwene. So, what if her charge ISN'T Egwene? What if it's Sheriam? Sheriam is definitely under somebody's thumb to the degree indicated by Aran'gar. We've got a thumb-er and a thumb-ee, why shouldn't they be matched up? And, as a bonus, we know that Aran'gar (aka Balthamel) is a major-league perv. She may not need to strip Sheriam naked and beat her up to get info, but I can sure believe ex-Balthamel would do it for the fun of it. As to why Sheriam when she has access to Egwene herself, she may mistakenly believe that Sheriam the Keeper is the real power behind the Girl Amyrlin's throne."
Of course, it's hard to believe that Halima is still under the impression that Egwene is a puppet, but she may have thought so originally, and later decided to keep Sheriam as an ace up her sleeve, so to speak. There is the fact that Halima already has Delana to get information on the Sitters and the SAS in general, but Delana has never been part of Egwene's inner circle the way Sheriam is.
There is also evidence concerning Egwene's maid Chesa which provides a connection between Sheriam and Aran'gar, but recent events argue against the idea that Chesa is working for Halima (see section 1.5.5). This doesn't discount the possibility, though, that Chesa is a spy for Sheriam, and simply doesn't know to whom Sheriam is passing her information.
Stronger evidence that Sheriam's torturer is Aran'gar shows up in COT. When the Black Tower/White Tower alliance was proposed in the Hall, Sheriam quite simply flipped out, causing a rather extraordinary scene [COT: 19, Surprises, 471]. Though her reaction could be attributed to stress combined with the general "ick" reflex AS have towards men who can channel, another way of looking at it is that Sheriam freaked because she knew that the absolute last thing Aran'gar/Halima would want is to have a bunch of saidin channelers wandering the Rebel camp, since it would give Halima away in about five seconds flat.
Mesaana: "Mesaana, who to our knowledge has never worked with Halima, but who does have a vested interest in all events concerning the Tower, is a good suspect for the torturer. She does need info on Egwene's plans and, since Sheriam is Egwene's Keeper, would have every reason to believe that Sheriam would be a good source of such information." [Elizabeth Cornwell] However, as far as we know, Mesaana has never shown any interest in the Salidar Aes Sedai; she seems to be concentrating her efforts on the Tower.
Slayer's Employer, whoever he is: Included here because there is a better than even chance that he is Forsaken, though he could be Taim. The only real reason to suspect Slayer's mystery boss is because of the Gray Man incident in TDR, which seems to link Sheriam and Slayer, tenuously. But this is purely circumstantial, and not very helpful in any case, since we don't know who Slayer's boss is, though we suspect he's either Demandred or Taim (see section 1.4.04). One thing in favor of this idea is that that Dem and Taim, if they wanted information on the SAS, would certainly assume that Sheriam is the true boss and Eg is just a figurehead, and would go for her, rather than Eg. OTOH, the torture scene really doesn't seem like either of their styles, and Taim, at least, has never shown anything but disdain for Aes Sedai, and certainly not interest in what they're up to. As a final point, it's worth noting that Slayer has evidently done work for a number of Forsaken, and there's no reason to think that the person who sent him to kill the Gray Man in the Tower, way back in TDR, is the same person who sent him to kill Rand in WH.
Delana: Delana is a Sitter, which would explain Sheriam's regrets about talking to a Sitter. Delana could be interrogating Sheriam either at Aran'gar's instigation or as an independent effort. (She may be trying to gather information which would put her in good standing with Aran'gar.) A point against her is that she seems like something of a wet hen, so far as BA are concerned, and may not have it in her to torture Sheriam so brutally. Nathan Scott, however, notes that Sheriam arrives very late and flustered to the Hall meeting, and Delana is then the last to show up, also short of breath [COT: 19, Surprises, 460-466]: "I have a feeling that the summons... interrupted something." (Perhaps they were both being chastised by Halima?)
Alviarin: Like Mesaana, Alviarin has a vested interest in keeping tabs on the SAS. If Elaida were to be deposed by the rebels, Alviarin would fall with her. Since she can Travel, we know she's not particularly weak in the OP, and thus could possibly shield Sheriam, who is also relatively strong. Torturing people for information is not beyond her - she is most likely the one who tortured the novice Sahra in [TSR: 17, Deceptions, 204-205], to gain information which led to the Tower coup. She also happily participated in the Questioning of Siuan and Leane. From Elaida, we know that Alviarin may have been out of the Tower at the time Sheriam was being attacked [TPOD: 25, An Unwelcome Return, 492], and since she can Travel, she could have easily made a trip to Salidar. One problem with Alviarin being the attacker is that it doesn't explain Sheriam's thoughts about Sitters. The only possibility which comes to mind is if Elaida's secret plan [ACOS: Prologue, Lightnings, 24-26] involves the SAS Sitters, and Alviarin knows of it. Needless to say, this is a very tenuous connection.
Lelaine: Between the two of them, there is a bit more reason to suspect Lelaine than Romanda. Rich Boyé points out, "The fact that Lelaine tries to be sweet and kindly all the time pretty much makes me distrust her. Something must be swimming in her depths, and I think she's prone to lashing out in private. Anyway, she is always patting Egwene and those who she deems inferior (Siuan being the most notable other example), touching cheeks, stroking hair, etc... Before Sheriam's assailant lets fly with the OP, he or she strokes Sheriam's hair." John Hamby adds, "Since Lelaine is Blue and so is Sheriam that might add another layer to the control that Sheriam's questioner has over her. Also this would fit with the part about the ten spies, as no Blues were a part of that group. So Lelaine gains much more with Sheriam under her thumb than she would in exposing a Blue agent."
All that said, at this point it looks like the front-runner for the identity of Sheriam's torturer is Halima.
Prior to this incident, there had already been suspicion cast on Sheriam, most especially from the Gray Men business in TDR. Darkfriends can treat one another quite badly, especially if revenge or a reversal of position is involved (for example, Shiaine's treatment of Falion and Carridin in [TPOD: 28, Crimsonthorn, 553-554]). If Sheriam is not BA, then she must be bound by the Three Oaths, and cannot lie directly. Because of this, her abuser should have been able to easily determine that she had told them all she knew. Of course, her abuser may have thought Sheriam had a poor memory, or maybe he/she just enjoys beating Sheriam up. Furthermore, Sheriam has sworn fealty to Egwene, and should be bound to it by the First Oath. Spying on Egwene surely violates this.
Another piece of evidence in favor of Sheriam's innocence is, oddly enough, her slacking off of her duties as Egwene's Keeper. In [TPOD: 16, Unexpected Absences, 330], Egwene notes, "The post of secretary provided [Siuan and Egwene] another reason to be seen talking, and Sheriam had not minded at all giving up the work." Contrast this with Sheriam's previous behavior; she was only too happy to take care of all the paperwork [ACOS: 8, The Figurehead, 158]. Consider that the secretarial duties of being Keeper give Sheriam access to all of Egwene's doings, and all the details of what the Amyrlin is up to. Perhaps she allowed SS to take over the position of secretary to limit her own knowledge. After all, she can't report on what she doesn't know. Avoiding her responsibilities as Keeper could be her way of keeping her oath of fealty while being under the thumb of her abuser.
Sheriam's thoughts in the torture scene don't seem to be entirely consistent with the theory that she is BA. Consider her thought to herself along the lines of "I'll never talk to another Sister." Clearly her torturer wants her gathering information, so the comment reflects her regret at getting into this situation in the first place, not her obedience to her controller.
Elizabeth Cornwell: "If she's BA, the comment would have to indicate that, at some point, a Sister, working as an evangelist for the Dark Side, got Sheriam into a conversation about the terrific feeling you get working for the Dark Lord, and, after shoving a few inspirational pamphlets at her, converted her to the cause. This doesn't, to me, really sound like the way BA would be recruited. I paint the scenario in the way I do because Sheriam's rueful comment doesn't seem to indicate a dislike for her current position within the Dark hierarchy (someday I'll be in charge and make her pay), but regret for getting sucked into the system to start with. Blabbing a blackmailable secret to the wrong gal-pal in an unguarded moment seems to fit a little better. If the secret spilling and consequent blackmail date back a while, it works to explain the Gray Man as well."
One thing which should be noted is that Sheriam's interaction with her abuser is not typical of Darkfriends. Generally, when DFs and BA are punished by their superiors, they are given the "opportunity" to do a lot of groveling and kissing-up, instead of just getting tied up and beaten. For example, compare Liandrin and Moghedien to Sheriam and her abuser. Furthermore, if Sheriam is BA, why didn't Halima attach herself to her? She was very powerful in Salidar (arguably as powerful as, if not more so, than any Sitter) even before she became Keeper.
One interesting suggestion, made by several people, is that Sheriam is Black, but not of her own volition: maybe the reason she knows about the 13 Dreadlords + 13 Fades trick (certainly not common knowledge) is through personal experience.
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