(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized negotiations.)
Rich finally proved a forum theory wrong for once… sort of.
Quite a few people speculated that Tarquin knew something about the Gates, and while theories about Tarquin and Nale working in collusion had died down considerably, I myself was still toying with them. Both theories look like they’ve been pretty much shot down… with regard to anything that happened before this strip, that is.
When last we talked about OOTS, Tarquin revealed that he didn’t actually know anything about Girard, but still gave the OOTS a lead toward his gate – a lead his late ex-wife had let slip, and that she was planning to follow up on, shortly before her death. The OOTS figured that her source was likely a disguised Sabine, and that Nale killed her when she was no longer useful – despite the fact that, when speaking of Penelope’s death earlier, Tarquin used phrasing that someone less dense than Elan would figure suggested he himself was the culprit.
If Tarquin did kill her, and if this clue was the reason for that, it might have been the result of jealousy and not wanting her to return to her ex-husband, or it may have been that he sensed the importance of what she said and wanted to keep her from spilling more beans. That means that, in all likelihood, if Tarquin killed her it was likely after he learned that Nale was afoot.
Interestingly, Tarquin implies in this strip that he only knew of Nale’s presence after Penelope let slip her clue, which was only “a few weeks ago”, although it seems apparent that Zz’dtri had been present for longer (his elf-ambassador disguise is shown as being present when Penelope lets slip her clue in the original strip), and Nale had earlier told Elan that he had been here for “months“. I don’t see how Tarquin could have drawn the connection between what Penelope said and Nale’s presence if he knew Nale was there the whole time, which lends more credence to the notion that Nale killed her either when she outlived her usefulness or to keep from tipping off Tarquin to his presence – although the notion that Tarquin only recently learned of Nale’s presence seems more credible to me. (The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course; though it’s unlikely, Tarquin could be telling the truth when he implies that he only learned of Nale’s presence in the last few strips.)
Why did Tarquin keep Elan around through the festival? Partly to make sure they were still around for it, rather than run off the instant they got their information or upon finding out this wasn’t the Draketooth they were looking for, partly to use the festival to draw out Nale, but maybe we should also consider why Tarquin said in the previous strip, “it is in our own best interest that they succeed.” Keep in mind, when he says this he knows nothing about the Gates or about Xykon, but he does know that Nale probably won’t be there when they get there, he knows that they are chasing “some cliched scenery-chewing villain bent on world conquest“, and we can reasonably assume that he has some inkling that he might want to chase off after them (especially since “cliched scenery-chewing villain bent on world conquest” is a pretty good description of Tarquin himself).
Everything Tarquin has done since we’ve first met him, then, has likely been aiming towards several goals: draw out Nale (doubtless engineering “Roy v. Thog” to help with this), weaken the teams of both of his sons, learn enough about the OOTS to properly incorporate them into his plans, send the OOTS on their way with enough time to stop the other cliched villain, find out what he can about what both teams are doing from a source likely to fold when he threatens him (he may have initially thought Elan stood a chance at qualifying until he found out how much of a Pollyanna he is), and maybe some other plots I can’t even fathom because I’m not the diabolical mastermind Tarquin or Rich are. Now that that’s been completed, it seems we have now officially filled in one of the “nine sides” going after the Gates (and Nale, like Xykon, presumably doesn’t know that the Snarl is pretty much worthless for conquest)… although it’s worth leaving open the possibility that Nale and Tarquin will make up and form one side.