Rumours, and those who spread them
Rumours is another interesting chapter, with a bit of a mystery. Merchants in taverns in Tear have heard and repeat stories about the ongoing events in the Two Rivers. There are several oddities about those rumours. The first one is their accuracy - the distortion of information over time or distance is a favourite theme of Robert Jordan, and that a story that the Whitecloaks have entered the Two Rivers, that they are looking for Rand and a young Darkfriend with yellow eyes without being garbled is decidely odd... as if the rumour had been transmitted first hand in Tear, by someone who knew.
The second oddity is how fast this rumour travelled. As Steven Cooper's Chronology shows, Dain Bornhald entered the Two Rivers on the 12th day of Saven. He was discreet and cautious not to let anyone spread the news of what he was doing. Sixteen days later, on the 28th day of Saven, the rumours were commonplace enough in Tear for Perrin, Mat, Faile and even Moiraine or her spies to have heard them - all the same story. Jordan even left us an element of comparison: on the same day, the far more earth shattering news that Rand has taken the Stone just begin to spread in Tar Valon. This makes no sense at all. Even if merchants had bumped into the Whitecloaks, they were acting in complete secrecy, to avoid attracting Morgase's attention. Bornhald would never have spread the news. In any case, merchants close enough to the Two Rivers (in Baerlon or Whitebridge etc.) would be nowhere near Tear yet 16 days later.
A third oddity is how widespread the rumour was in Tear itself for such an unimportant and remote piece of news. Someone, or more likely many someones obviously spread it in many taverns, among Defenders of the Stone, servants in the Stone etc.
In short, there's nothing 'normal' about those rumours. They were most definitely planted. Jordan never left too many clues to puzzle out who started it, and the present theory certainly as no hard and conclusive evidence to present, just some ideas.
The most obvious suspect, the one who has known in advance that he would go to the Two Rivers and why is Padan Fain, who started his expedition in Amadicia. There are however two major problems. The first is that later on in the book Padan Fain will start to take measures to ensure the news of his depradations in the Two Rivers. His POV more than suggest he has attacked Tam's farm and slaughtered the Aybaras before he start sending some of his men out to spread rumours. The second problem is that Padan Fain had no time to learn that the boys were in Tear. He could not send agents there to spread rumours, and doesn't have nearly enough of them to send them everywhere.... So the source of those rumours in Tear at the end of Saven is very unlikely to be Padan Fain.
A second suspect, far more believable, is Pedron Niall. Fain may have advise to begin spreading the tale that the Whitecloaks were entering the Two Rivers, looking for Rand and Perrin. Through Sebban Balwer and his local agents, Niall had the means to do it. One problem, however, is that at the time Niall could have done this, he believed Rand to be in the West, on Almoth Plain, not in Tear. Another problem is that Niall was taking a big risk by spreading that rumour, the risk that Morgase heard of it and sent the Queen's Guards to trap Bornhald in the Two Rivers - the very danger that may Bornhald insist on closing the area and making no news got out... So Niall is unlikely in the end.
There is yet another suspect: Lanfear. In Tear, Rand was a sitting duck for the Forsaken who wanted to kill him, like Moiraine she wanted him to move (but definitely not to go attack Sammael so early!) and she wanted him isolated to implement her plan to convince him to accept Asmodean as a teacher. And at the time, Lanfear still had no idea that she didn't need to bother with this, Rand would soon go to the Aiel Waste... Rand himself made the decision later. The remote Two Rivers where he came from was a perfect location for Lanfear to use. She just had to engineer a threat to his village and attract Rand's attention to it. From all she knew of him at the time, he would come. Her original plan would not have included Whitecloaks, she probably intended to let Rand believe one of the Forsaken was sending an attack on his village to provoke him - that he should be cautious not to fall intro a trap if he chose to go... and did he know he could really use a teacher? Of course, she would show up there as a peddler with a village gleeman (a mysterious woman, a peddler and a gleeman - that's one more example of Jordan creating mirrors - this time between Lanfear's plan and the beginning of EOTW, with Moiraine, Fain and Thom as the strangers). She would be able to precisely control the threat there, making sure Rand came in no more danger than she wanted him to be in, to convince him he must learn.
There is one problem with this theory: Lanfear shouldn't have known about the Whitecloak threat or that they were looking for Perrin (they were not, in truth, looking for Rand - this part of the rumour is false... and suspicious. The rumour don't make mention of Mat, he made sure of that, and that too is suspicious because Fain wanted him too while Lanfear didn't care for Perrin at this point).
Unlike the previous problem, however, this one can be dealt with: of course Lanfear could know all this about the Two Rivers, if she's the one who sent Slayer to mount a big threat against Emond's Field. On Saven 27, Slayer and Lanfear both even showed up in the Stone - Lanfear visited Rand during Sammael's attack, and Slayer killed Amico and Joyia. Coincidence? Interestingly, the day when Lanfear visited wasn't supposed to be the day of the attack, because she had missed her guess about the day on which Sammael would attack. She intended to come warn Rand, but she arrived too late. Slayer probably wasn't supposed to coordinate the murders of Amico and Joyia with the attack either, it just happened. This makes it possible Lanfear and Slayer had
Here's what I think happened:
Lanfear asked Isam to bring Shadowspawn in the Two Rivers to create a bait for Rand. Isam reported to her on Saven 27. He told her about Bornhald and that he was there to look for Perrin - and that Fain was there. Lanfear ordered him to keep going, and to eliminate Fain if he could. Before he went back, she ordered him to make a detour by the dungeons and kill Amico and Joyia and to nail their tongues to the door first: she wanted to get rid of the girls by sending them after Liandrin, and killing the captured BA that way might convince them to stop dwindling their toes and move on with their hunt, and reinforced the notion that what they learned from Amico and Joyia was true, that they were killed to silence them. Right away, Lanfear contacted tairen Darkfriend leaders and ordered them to put their circles to spreading the story of the Whitecloaks in the Two Rivers all over Tear. She changed her plan and threw in the bit Slayer reported about Perrin being hunted by Whitecloaks and added Rand to it for good measure - it was even better than her original idea. On Saven 27, no one seems to have known about this rumour, the next day, it seemed to be all over Tear. Darkfriend circles in Tear could achieve this overnight. This solution also explains why the rumour about Whitecloaks and the Two Rivers would be circumscribed only to Tear. Caemlyn, for example, would rather hear of the rumours spread by Fain's agents: troubles, and strange banners - much later, after Fain's agents slipped through Bornhald's watch of the Taren.
Nothing came out of the plan in the end: Rand asked Perrin only to go, and Lanfear learned Rand rather intended to go to Rhuidean. She simply changed her destination. This also explains why Lanfear was able to put her little expedition so fast after she learned of Rand's destination: they were already ready... but to go to the Two Rivers.