After a moment of thought, William spoke.

" There are three points where he could've lost, I think. One, when he became willing to forfeit his life if he was defeated. Two, when he sat down at the table. Three, when he committed suicide after the first turn."

Nova idly turned the page of the book, though he was looking up at William. He had finished that page, anyway.

" So was the first turn of the game itself inconsequential?" Nova asked.

" If the specific moves taken were important, wouldn't they have been noted down in the story?" William asked in turn. " It's about the strength of one's resolve clouding their judgment, rather than strategy. He could've bet something less. He could've chosen to call the bet off before he sat down at the table. And he could've played a second round before killing himself. Arjun probably would've exposed himself as an amateur who made a lucky move then."

" Would you call him presumptuous, then?"

William thought about this for a moment, in his typical fashion.

" All sorts of people are prone to making errors in judgment," he said. " It could also be read as a story of cultural shame. In Arjun's time, when the Threefold War was just beginning, humanity held its own power outside of DASS and exported its ideas to other cultures readily. In Arjun's treatment of chess, he not only disgraced the presumptuous master, but the people who had placed such pride in the game. From the perspective of a man who feared his own cultural obsolescence, seeing his whole life treated as an idle aside, perhaps that led to his decision to commit suicide, as well? And now he's been immortalized as a sort of petty caricature of humans. All our inferiorities and such."

" Leave it to you to read someone like that sympathetically," Nova deadpanned.

" I'm not sympathetic to idiocy," William corrected cheerfully. " Besides, if Arjun really was so aghast at the master's resolve, he could've easily disarmed him, or not accepted the bet at all. So he's not entirely blameless in his own parable."

Ear flick.

" Did you study classically in your military education?" Nova asked.

" Well, made a couple attempts to, but the Ocean Manual is dry and full of conceptual holes. Arjun's Record of War is much more internally consistent, though the difficulties of fully translating gravitational strategy to weightless plague the early parts."

" Hmmm. It's a bit funny to hear you praising him right after your bit about cultural shame," Nova said.

" It's not like anybody from Earth is around to tell me off," William replied with a shrug.

" ...That's true."