Who killed Lord Barthanes?
The night after the visit of Rand to his palace near Cairhien, Lord Barthanes Damodred was assassinated, gruesomely if the rumor that rapidly spread through Cairhien isn't exaggerated. Those who watch too much procedural shows on TV know this often indicated personal hatred and a desire for revenge... or sadism, or torture.
Lord Bsrthanes's murder was an early example of an element of Jordan's storytelling that would become typical of his style as the series progressed. He loved to leave loose threads around and created quite a few, whenever the resolution of the mystery itself had no further impact on the plot. All WOT readers know the absolute classic of the genre: the assassination of Asmodean, which Jordan originally didn't intend to resolve (he changed his mind since and was looking for a way to either reveal it in AMOL - or if he couldn't find a proper place, to reveal it on his blog eventually - Brandon and Harriet have since found an opportunity for the revelation in the book). The Great Hunt has its fair share of unresolved issues, and it used to have many more before Jordan started answering questions about them on his Blog : Ingtar freed Padan Fain, Fain was responsible for the weird time loop trap in the village etc. Is that too many open-ended mysteries? To my personal taste, yes, at least as The Great Hunt is concerned. I must confess it's my least favourite book of the whole series, and each time I embark on a full re read, the first three books are a tad more difficult to get through than the rest. I find it a bit hard to get interested all over again in events that never get explained, in Forsaken plots that are murky at best in places. I find RJ got infinitely better at playing the 'open threads' game in The Shadow Rising and beyond.
About the murder of Damodred's High Seat, the book offers no definitive answer but still few scant clues - yet all pointing in the same direction. The list of realistic suspects is fairly short, basically there are four - and while most people assume Ishamael or his pawns were responsible, I'll also look at other avenues.
As we know, Lord Barthanes passed a message from Padan Fain to Rand, a message he knew came from another Darkfriend, and a message he didn't understand. As Linda demonstrated in her post about the 'Darkfriends social', Lord Barthanes wasn't one of the DF summoned, and had no idea he was facing the Dragon Reborn, or even a man very must wanted by Ishamael. The night after he passed this message, he was murdered.
As motive for killing him, Ishamael would have fury that Rand was lead to Toman Head. It's a viable scenario in a crude way, but I see many problems with that solution. The foremost is that Barthanes can hardly be blamed. Fain knew all the signs and secrets, and the way Ishamael organized the Darkfriends such mistakes can be expected. Ishamael may have been furious, but he had little motive to be furious enough at Barthanes to so gruesomely punish him. With other Forsaken and some Black Ajah, this wouldn't count for much, but this is Ishamael. He has let pass many failures unpunished before, Mili Skane's and Paitr Conel's in The Eye the World, for example. Ishamael is not Mesaana, while he punishes darkfriends, he isn't one to waste his resources for no good reason. Barthanes was an interesting asset, his power on the rise he had become the most powerful noble, second only to the King in Cairhien - a relatively short way from delivering the Sun Throne to the Shadow. As part of his schemes, he had secured a Waygate on Cairhien's doorstep. Furthermore, during his tenure as High Seat and in his rivalry against House Riatin, Barthanes had escalated and darkened the Great Game very much, which was also all to the Shadow's benefit. I find it hard to think Ishamael would stupidly assassinate the man for a mistake he wasn't even really responsible for.
The second problem with Ishamael is that he had to be aware of Fain's message before he could decide to kill Barthanes for passing it. The evidence is that Ishamael never knew, as it took no disposition over months to catch Fain up on Toman Head, nor did he, or his agents among the Seanchan like Suroth, seemed in the least prepared for Rand's arrival months later. As far as we can tell, Rand vanished and Ishamael had not a single clue what happened (perhaps suspecting Lanfear, another excellent tracker of ta'veren, was involved) - in a move to force Rand to resurface he rather had Nynaeve and Egwene 'kidnapped' from the Tower, perhaps thinking Moiraine was with him and could learn of this from Siuan.
So, Ishamael doesn't even make a good suspect.
The second suspect is Lanfear. In her case, the only possible motive to kill Lord Barthanes would be to prevent Ishamael from learning where Fain, and Rand, were going next. It is somewhat weak, notably because it is quite uncertain Ishamael would even make the connection and learn he should go to Lord Barthanes for answers, and secondly because Lanfear had to be aware that Ishamael could track ta'veren as well as she. Lanfear also claims not to kill unless she has a good reason to, and her motives would be devoid of the rage or desire for revenge that the gruesome murder suggest. What Lanfear did in this book, a prelude to offering Rand a teacher, was to give to Rand a mean to almost-Travel, and thus increase his chances to escape Ishamael for a while (it's doubtful the Forsaken are able to track ta'veren in the Pattern very fast, especially if they do not know in which area to expect them - it is more likely a process of narrowing it down until they find the precise location). A problem with Lanfear is that unless she was right there in the night to learn about all this first hand, it's difficult to understand how she even found out, and so quickly, about Barthanes and what Fain did. The same might be said for Ishamael, for that matter.
So, Lanfear definitely doesn't make the best suspect either.
The third suspect is one of Padan Fain's cronies. Fain had the best motive to eliminate Barthanes as soon as he passed the message: he wanted to escape Ishamael and to have his chance to kill al'Thor, and what better way to erase his trace than to kill Barthanes, once he discovered he was a Darkfriend? Fain also had the means at his disposal: one or more darkfriends who were with him in Cairhien could easily be left behind, with orders to come to Barthanes's palace in the night to eliminate him. Darkfriends could explain the nastiness of the murder, possibly without rage or the desire for revenge - especially darkfriends in complete fear of Fain, and who had lived among Trollocs and witnessed Trolloc ways for weeks. One problem with this is Hurin, but it's a small problem: one or a few Darkfriends left behind would not leave that much of a trail, and Hurin could have overlooked it for the core of Fain's group. It is much harder to believe Fain could have managed to leave behind Shadowspawn, and for all I said above, the murder was still gruesome even for Darkfriends.
Still, Padan Fain is already a much better suspect than either Forsaken.
The fourth realistic suspect is King Galldrian. In the Great Hunt, RJ introduced a somewhat simplistic and crude version of The Great Game. It has yet none of the relative subtlety of later books. Ta'veren or not, this whole episode of the piling up invitations from incrementally powerful Houses is somewhat nonsensical. But that's the book, and this can be taken at face value. We even see that the results are indeed deadly - a complete innocent, Dena, got coldly assassinated the next day, obviously because Thom had been seen by Riatin spies (among the nobles or servants, possibly) talking to Rand at Barthanes's palace the last night. We are told that the fact Rand threw to the fire the King's letter and accepted Barthanes' invitation may well have dire consequences, that these two are deadly rivals. As ridiculous as it seems, we have to take at face value that the nobles became absolutely convinced Rand was utmostly important and up to some scheme. We must also note that he passed for Andoran nobility, and House Damodred still has links to the Andoran throne, all dormant that they were under Barthanes. Rand may well have passed for an agent of Morgase/Galad, and the presence of a Shienaran Lord and an Aes Sedai with him would have done nothing to appease Galldrian. In this context - and in the light of Dena's murder the next morning which suggests Galldrian left no stone unturned and may constitute a clue, it's not hard to believe that as soon as he learned in the night about Rand's presence at Barthanes's palace in the evening, Galldrian, by all accounts a dark character, entered in such a fury and decided to take the means to get to the bottom of this plot - sending his thugs to force Barthanes to reveal the secret of the conspiracy, torturing him if necessary, and eliminating this bitter and infuriating rival when they were done. Barthanes, of course, could not tell anything close to the truth or provide a satisfying explanation, short of revealing he is a darkfriend - signing his death warrant. So Galldrian's assassins ended up torturing him, learning not much - and the butchery may have been inflated by the rumor as 'he's been torn apart limb from limb'. By the next morning, one of the assassins was already after other people Rand had talked to, like Thom. By the end of that day, Galldrian's paranoia about Rand and Barthanes had lead to his death at Thom's Merrilin's hands - he had had committed one too many assassination. And Cairhien plunged into a bitter and senseless civil war.
Galldrian had the motive, the means and the dark character to get Barthanes killed. With the few clues Jordan left us about what could have happened - such as the evidence (from Dena's murder) he learned very rapidly all the details of what happened at the reception, he also offers the simplest solution to the murder.
Not a definitive answer - and probably not enough to convict Galldrian, but one better than Padan Fain, while Ishamael and Lanfear, well viable options, make very weak suspects.