This subsection contains information on and discussion of the nature of various Shadowspawn - creatures of the Dark One.
[Sources: A letter from RJ in which I foolishly asked whether Trollocs breed, or whether they're grown in a big vat at Shayol Ghul; and various "monster-of-the-day lessons" sprinkled throughout the books.]
Of course, the diapers of baby Myrddraal don't wave in the wind. :)
[Pam Korda, Leigh Butler, Jennifer Liang]
The Gholam seems to be the hardest-to-kill monster RJ has introduced thus far. What, exactly, is it? We have information on it from Birgitte, who has some memories of the War of Power [ACOS: 40, Promises to Keep, 606-607], from Elayne, Mat, etc.'s encounter with one in [ACOS: 39, Six Stories, 598-600], from the short gholam POV scene in [TPOD: 2, Unweaving, 84-85], and from Mat's second duel with it in [WH: 16, An Unexpected Encounter, 353-355].
Gholam were created by Aginor [LOC: 23, To Understand a Message, 347] for the express purpose of killing channelers, although they're pretty handy at killing non-channelers, as well. The OP can't touch them; the effect of channeling at a gholam is exactly the same as channeling at a person wearing Mat's foxy medallion (i.e. the flows break apart on contact). Furthermore, they are immune to conventional weapons, too: nobody is able to harm the one who Mat fights with swords, etc, and the gholam itself thinks "it had never encountered anything that could harm it. Until that man with the medallion" [TPOD: 2, Unweaving, 84]. They can sense the ability to channel at a distance of about 50 paces, and they can detect use of the OP at greater distances (it felt the channeling at the Kin's farm in TPOD). They look like normal human beings on the outside. Inside is another matter. They have no bones, and can squeeze under a door, and are very strong, and very quick. Only six were ever made; three have a masculine outward appearance, three feminine. They appear to be at least as intelligent as Fades (Mat chats with the one he fights in Ebou Dar), and they are living things, not some sort of machine. (Mat surmises (actually, Birgitte surmises) that the one they met was "kept alive" since the Breaking in a stasis box.)
They feed on blood; the Ebou Dar gholam refers to its victims as "those I harvest" [WH: 16, An Unexpected Encounter, 355]. There is some way to control a gholam, and force it to do one's bidding. The Ebou Dar gholam thinks: "The one who commanded it wanted [Mat] dead.... for the time being, it was constrained. For its entire existence it had been compelled to obey one or another human, but its mind held the concept of not being constrained" [TPOD: 2, Unweaving, 84-85].
There is some contention over the nature of the gholam's exact physical makeup. Most people subscribe to the "liquid gholam" theory (a la the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day). RJ's choice of words in various descriptions of the gholam seems to suggest this ("Fluid as quicksilver", "flowed aside like water", etc.). It's not specifically said, but there is the intimation that the knife wounds Mat gave the gholam in ACOS closed up instantly; they didn't bleed, at least. The gholam do seem to be more limited than the T-1000, in that they apparently can't assume any form, only liquid form and their humanoid form. (If not, why specify that three are male-shaped, and three are female-shaped?) Stemming from this theory is the assumption that a gholam would be able to reattach a severed body part or parts.
Not everyone buys this theory, though. The description we have only says that the gholam have no bones, not that they have no internal organs or support structure at all; as Ben Elgin points out, "Mice can collapse their skulls and ribcage... Cartilage explains the traversal just as well." There is also no real reason to assume that the gholam can reattach a severed body part, other than that the T-1000 could.
Where have we seen gholam? We've seen two for certain, namely the one in Ebou Dar, and the one that killed poor Herid Fel in Cairhien at the end of LOC. There is one previous possible gholam encounter, which took place "off-screen." This is the killing of Lord Barthanes in TGH. Barthanes was clearly killed at Ishy's instigation because he helped the renegade DF, Padan Fain, get away with the Horn of Valere. Barthanes died in a very similar fashion to Fel, i.e. he was ripped limb-from-limb. Furthermore, this took place in the same building as Fel's demise. Again, this may or may not be a gholam-induced death, but it is worth mentioning as a possibility.
The only thing we know for certain that can injure a gholam is Mat's foxy medallion. When Mat smacks the Ebou Dar gholam with it in [ACOS: 38, Six Stories, 598], the gholam is burned-- "The medallion fell across the man's cheek. The man screamed. Smoke rose around the edges of the foxhead, and a sizzle like bacon frying....A raw red brand marked where the foxhead had fallen." Later in WH, Mat burns the gholam several more times with the medallion. What we do not know is why the medallion hurt the gholam. There are two possibilities:
Both the medallion and the gholam have the unusual property that they somehow neutralize flows of the OP. (Note that the actual mechanism employed by each may be different.) It is possible that some kind of adverse reaction occurred when the medallion came into contact with the gholam's body. While the medallion didn't get characteristically cold, it did seemingly get hot.
It is difficult to be more precise, because we don't know how either the medallion or the gholam actually work. Perhaps it is because the gholam are made with/are held together with/have some connection with the OP, and the medallion negates the OP. Or, perhaps it's a "like charges repel" sort of deal. Or, maybe the gholam is a kind of "living ter'angreal," and the effect is due to an adverse reaction between similar ter'angreal, as described in [TDR: 23, Sealed, 217]. If it is the case that the magic is the key, then a gholam could probably be killed by prolonged contact with some weapon/ter'angreal made to copy the medallion's effect.
An argument against the theory that the medallion's ability to negate flows is the key, is that then the gholam probably would have been hurt by contact with Mat himself, and not just the foxhead. [James Huckaby] Then again, maybe not. As stated above, we don't really know how the medallion works. It was pointed out that when Mat was wrestling the gholam, the foxhead fell out of Mat's "open" shirt: "Struggling for air, he [Mat] pushed himself up, foxhead dangling from his open shirt." [ACOS: 38, Six Stories, 597] So, if the medallion works only when it is in contact with the wearer, then Mat may not have been in contact w/ it when he touched the gholam. [Jason Wilson] Of course, this objection does not apply to the idea that the reaction was due to the "similar ter'angreal interference" effect.
The medallion is made out of silver [TSR: 26, The Dedicated, 306-307], and this is the key to its anti-Gholam capabilities. The argument for silver is more of an argument against the medallion's magical properties, combined with some cross-pollination from werewolf and vampire legends. It is not likely that the foxhead works because it is destroying flows, because the foxhead doesn't get cold after damaging the gholam, it just has "the cool of silver" [ACOS: 38, Six Stories, 598]. Loony idea: When the gholamstuff and silver come into contact, there is a chemical reaction. This reaction is exothermic--the heat is produced by the reaction, not by the medallion.
An argument against this theory is that it seems kind of silly. Why would the Forsaken make such specific, deadly anti-AS assassins if they have such a common, easily exploitable Achilles' heel? Why would the Forsaken be so wary of them that they limited their number to six? [Tim Yoon]--"Oh No! A gholam's chasing us!" "How much money do you have on you?" [Aaron Bergman] The former question can be rationalized by saying that the Forsaken counted on the fact that people wouldn't think to use silver on something the OP can't stop. This idea does NOT explain the objection that if it was so easily defeated if you knew the key, the Forsaken wouldn't have been so wary of it that they only made six. Furthermore, the Gholam thinks to itself [TPOD: 2, Unweaving, 84] that "it had never encountered anything that could harm it" until it met the medallion. In all of its existence it never encountered a common metal like silver? Unlikely.
In KOD it's discovered that Shadowspawn can't survive passing through a Gateway. It kills them instantly. Assuming that a Gholam doesn't unravel the weave by touching it, presumably you could destroy one by forcing it to pass through a Gateway. But we have no reason to believe a Gateway wouldn't unravel just like every other weave does in the presence of a Gholam. [KOD 19: Vows]
Many. Here are some of the more popular ideas for how to get rid of a Gholam:
[Leigh Butler, Jonathan Berlinghoff, Jennifer Liang]
...a palace serving woman came running into the room with her skirts gathered almost to her knees. "Lord Dobraine's been murdered!" the serving woman squealed. "We will all be killed in our beds! My own eyes have seen the dead walking, old Maringil himself, and my mam says spirits will kill you if there has been a murder done!"
Maringil was one of the Cairhien nobles Colavaere had murdered in her bid for the Sun Throne in LOC. Possibly this is just hysteria, but all things considered, probably not.
Elayne's maid Elsie spots Lady Nelein, Lord Aedmun's deceased grandmother, in a hallway. Elsie shrieks, Elayne embraces saidar and whirls around, but the spirit is gone by the time Elayne can look around the corner to see if anything is there.
While Perrin and Co. are finding weevils in the barley sacks someone again shrieks outside, and Kireyin and Seonid see a man walk through a wall.
[Seonid, to Perrin]: "The dead are walking in So Habor. Lord Cowlin fled the town for fear of his wife's spirit. It seems there was doubt as to how she died. Hardly a man or woman in the town has not seen someone dead, and a good many have seen more than one."
Mat is walking with Tuon and Selucia and sees a crowd of people on the road to the town: "Staring straight ahead, they moved so purposefully they seemed not to see anyone in front of them." Tuon and Selucia see nothing. The people disappear after a few moments as well, and Mat thinks that he doesn't remember any of them breathing mist in the cold.
It seems so. We may have seen one as far back as TEOTW, when Ishy/Ba'alzamon shows Rand the vision of Kari al'Thor [TEOTW: 51, Against the Shadow, 639]. The scene's a little long, but worth quoting in its entirety:
Egwene and Nynaeve blurred, became wafting mist, dissipated. Kari al'Thor still stood there, her eyes big with fear.
"She, at least," Ba'alzamon said, "is mine to do with as I will."
Rand shook his head. "I deny you." He had to force the words out. "She is dead, and safe from you in the Light."
His mother's lips trembled. Tears trickled down her cheeks; each one burned him like acid. "The Lord of the Grave is stronger than he once was, my son," she said. "His reach is longer. The Father of Lies has a honeyed tongue for unwary souls. My son. My only, darling son. I would spare you if I could, but he is my master, now, his whim, the law of my existence. I can but obey him, and grovel for his favor. Only you can free me. Please, my son. Please help me. Help me. Help me! PLEASE!"
The wail ripped out of her as barefaced Fades, pale and eyeless, closed round. Her clothes ripped away in their bloodless hands, hands that wielded pincers and clamps and things that stung and burned and whipped against her naked flesh. Her scream would not end.
Rand's scream echoed hers. The void boiled in his mind. His sword was in his hand. Not the heron-mark blade, but a blade of light, a blade of the Light. Even as he raised it, a fiery white bolt shot from the point, as if the blade itself had reached out. It touched the nearest Fade, and blinding canescence filled the chamber, shining through the Halfmen like a candle through paper, burning through them, blinding his eyes to the scene. From the midst of the brilliance, he heard a whisper. "Thank you, my son. The Light. The blessed Light."
It has long been argued over whether this Kari was real or an Illusion created by Ishy, but Alan Ellingson points out that in that scene, "Kari never tells/asks Rand to join Ba'alzamon. She only asks him to help her. Ba'alzamon might have limited what she couldn't say but he [evidently] couldn't force her to say anything. Remember in Rand's dreams in TDR the people he trusted tried to kill him? Why wasn't Kari like that? Why couldn't Ba'alzamon make her say something more... appealing to Rand? Second, she refers to him as 'Lord of the Grave' and more importantly 'Father of Lies'. Yes, have your chief witness call you a 'Father of Lies' in front of the guy you are trying to convince to join you. Third, her last words are 'The Light. The blessed Light.' Why would Ba'alzamon make her say that if she were an illusion he created?"
But wait - there's more! We originally thought that the image of Gedwyn and Torval coming up the stairs of the inn in Far Madding, minutes after Rand had found them dead [WH: 33, Blue Carp Street, 615-616] was an illusion created by Fain, but that really doesn't make any sense when you think about it. Gedwyn and Torval aren't shown brandishing swords, or doing anything that might be considered a diversionary tactic, which presumably would be Fain's purpose in creating them; they're just walking up the stairs with their cloaks over their arms, arguing. After Rand slashes at them with his sword, they disappear. In light of events in COT, it's probably safe to assume that Fain had nothing to do with the apparition, and that Gedwyn and Torval were ghosts. [Steven Cooper]
So it seems that the ghost phenomenon was at least obliquely foreshadowed prior to COT.
The walking dead are a sign that Tarmon Gaidon is near. Several characters bring this up as evidence that the end is nigh.
Tuon: "Do you know nothing Toy? The dead walking are a sign that Tarmon Gai'don is near." [KOD 10: A Village in Shiota]
Verin: "It will come soon. According to everything I've rread on the subject, the signs are quite clear. Half the servants have recognized dead people in the halls, people they knew alive. It's happened often enough that they aren't frightened by it any longer. And a dozen men moving cattle to spring pasture watched a considerable town melt into mist just a few miles to the north." [KOD 18: News for the Dragon]
Egwene: "Egwene was able to discuss it with Siuan in Tel'aran'rhiod, so she knew that these things were signs of the approach of Tarmon Gai'don." [KOD 24: Honey in the Tea]
The ghost seem related to the same phenomena mentioned repeatedly in the books: the Pattern itself is unravealing and the fabric of reality is coming undone. Further evidence is the hallways of the palace in Caemlyn and the White Tower shifting [KOD 14: Wet Things], [KOD 24: Honey in the Tea], [TGS 6: When Iron Melts], villages appear and disappear [KOD 10: A Village in Shiota], [KOD 18: News for the Dragon] and whatever was going on in Hinderstap [TGS 28: A Night in Hinderstap], as well as other unexplainable events. The characters all seem to agree that this is evidence that the Last Battle is emminent.
Jason Denzel points out that practically every time dead people are seen, it's at a crossroads, and at twilight (for slightly broad values of both terms). Elayne's maid sees Lady Nelein at the junction of two crossing corridors, at dawn. So Habor, where ghosts are rife, is itself a crossroad over the river, and the incident with the man walking through the wall happens at dusk. The sun is rising when Mat takes Tuon shopping and sees the apparitions, though here only a road is mentioned, no crossing. It's not said where exactly the Cairhien servant saw Maringil in the Prologue, but it's reasonable to assume that it was probably also in a corridor, and it was in the morning. It's not ironclad, but it's definitely a pattern.
[Leigh Butler, Rajiv Mote]
What do we know about Darkhounds?
From [TDR: 43, Shadowbrothers, 423-426] and [TDR: 44, Hunted, 432-433]:
From [TFOH: 6, Gateways, 113-115]:
From [COT: 6, The Scent of a Dream, 194] and [COT: 8, Whirlpools of Color, 225]:
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.
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.