1.6.4: What's up with Darkhounds? Who are the big pack in COT hunting?

[Leigh Butler, Rajiv Mote]

What do we know about Darkhounds?

From [TDR: 43, Shadowbrothers, 423-426] and [TDR: 44, Hunted, 432-433]:

  • They are extremely difficult to kill, and Lan claims it is impossible to outrun them once they have your scent.
  • They leave footprints in stone, but not on soil. Their tracks are accompanied by a sulphurous stench.
  • They don't like rain, and "a good thunderstorm can stop them completely."
  • Hopper calls them "Shadowbrothers".

From [TFOH: 6, Gateways, 113-115]:

  • "...black dogs, darker than night and big as ponies..."
  • Swords cannot kill them; the ones Rand "killed" just melted and reformed.
  • "...they would not stop until you faced and defeated them or put running water between you."
  • Their saliva is highly poisonous, and a single drop on the skin is enough to kill.
  • "Crossroads were supposed to be particularly dangerous places to meet them, and the time just after sunset or just before sunrise".
  • They usually travel in packs of ten or twelve.

From [COT: 6, The Scent of a Dream, 194] and [COT: 8, Whirlpools of Color, 225]:

  • "Just before sunrise was one of the worst times to meet the Wild Hunt... At least there was no crossroads nearby, no graveyard, but the only hearthstones to touch lay back in Brytan..."
  • "...putting running water between you and Darkhounds would stop them supposedly. But then, so would facing them, supposedly, and he had seen the results of that."
  • Elyas tells Perrin: "They were wolves, once. The souls of wolves, anyway, caught and twisted by the Shadow. That was the core used to make Darkhounds, Shadowbrothers. I think that's why the wolves have to be at the Last Battle. Or maybe Darkhounds were made because wolves will be there, to fight them. [...] A hundred wolves could die trying to kill one Shadowbrother. Worse, if they fail, the Darkhound can eat the souls of those that aren't quite dead yet, and in a year or so, there'd be a new pack of Shadowbrothers that didn't remember ever being wolves. I hope they don't remember, anyway."
  • Perrin wants to know if they can also eat the soul of a Wolfbrother, a man who can talk to wolves, but Elyas doesn't know.

Elyas's information about how the Shadow goes about collecting wolf souls to make Darkhounds seems to imply that only a Darkhound can do it, but several people have pointed out a different connection between wolves and Darkhounds: Slayer.

His favorite hobby is killing wolves in T'A'R, after all - that's where he got his nickname. And then there is the Dark Prophecy that appears in [TGH: 7, Blood Calls Blood, 89]:

Luc came to the Mountains of Dhoom.
Isam waited in the high passes.
The hunt is now begun. The Shadow's hounds now course, and kill.
One did live, and one did die, but both are.
The Time of Change has come.

The first and last two lines of the stanza are concerned solely with Slayer, but why else would that middle line about Darkhounds be in there unless there was a connection of some kind? It's been suggested, therefore, that Slayer may also participate in wolf-soul collecting. (Looney theory: Slayer is the Shadow's equivalent of a Wolfbrother.)

Then again, there are a couple of problems with this theory. For one thing, Slayer is not immune to poison [WH: 22, Out of Thin Air, 448], which would seem to be a problem when dealing with Darkhounds. For another, if Slayer can make Darkhounds why doesn't he ever have any with him? Wouldn't they come in handy? There's also the question of whether you could collect a wolf's soul in T'A'R, which is where Slayer does his wolf-killin'. Hopper tells Perrin that when wolves die in the Dreamworld, they die for good [TSR: 28, To the Tower of Ghenjei, 323], which seems to preclude the possibility of being "harvested" to be a Darkhound.

What about the big pack of Darkhounds in COT?

The pack that circled Perrin's camp is huge - about fifty Hounds - and Masuri (who studied Darkhounds) tells Perrin that she's never heard of such a large pack. Masuri has a couple of other observations as well:

"There is always a feel of urgency about Darkhounds' trails, but it varies according to a number of factors [...] This one has an intense admixture of... I suppose you would call it impatience. That really isn't strong enough, by far - as well call a stabwound a pinprick - but it will do. I would say their hunt has been going on for some time, and their prey is eluding them somehow."
[COT: 7, Blacksmith's Puzzle, 209]

So, who could they be hunting?

Well, obviously it's not Perrin, since they passed him right by. It's also probably not the Whitecloaks, because they seem to have passed that camp by, too; the nasty and suddenly-cut-off stench Valda smells [COT: Prologue, Glimmers of the Pattern, 27] could well have been a Gateway opening from the Blight to send the Darkhounds through. This makes sense because Perrin observes that the Darkhounds were traveling from north to south, and the Whitecloaks' camp was north of Perrin's at that point.

So, presumably they're looking for someone south of Perrin. Suggested candidates are Mat, Jain Farstrider (aka Noal), or Fain (who could be in the south by now for all we know, and has proven himself quite good at eluding those who seek him). Tom York suggests Semirhage is calling on them to locate Tuon for her, but this is contradicted by Masuri's assertion that the Darkhounds have been hunting their prey for a long time (though "some time" could mean anything from days to months, really). Another possibility is Rand, who is now in Tear; since he had spent quite some time bouncing all over the place using Gateways, that probably would be quite frustrating to a pack hunting him.