Among the personal effects of the Doctor, Jack had once seen books, filled not with letters but with depictions of curves. These he had leafed through in times of boredom; for though he could not read, he could stare at a strange curve as well as any other man. Eliza had sat next to him and pronounced their names: the Limaçon of Pascal, the Kampyle of Eudoxus, the Conchoid of de Sluze, the Quadratrix of Hippias, the Epitrochoid, Tractrix, and the Cassinian Ovals. At the onset of the recitation Jack had wondered how geometers could be so inventive as to produce so many types and families of curves. Later he had come to perceive that of curves there was no end, and the true miracle was that poets, or writers, or whoever it was that was in charge of devising new words, could keep pace with those hectic geometers, and slap names on all the whorls and snarls in the pages of the Doctor’s geometry-books.
Now, though, he understood that geometers and word-wrights alike were nothing more than degraded and by-passed off-shoots of the South Asian weapons industry. There was not a straight blade in all of Hindoostan. Some weapons had grips at one end and were sharpened elsewhere; these might be classed as swords. Others consisted mostly of handle, with a dangerous bit at one end; these Jack conceived of as axes or spears, depending on whether they looked like they were meant to be swung, or shoved. Still others had strings, and seemed capable of projecting arrows. Jack put these down as bows. But of the sword-like ones, some were bent all the way round to form hooks; some curved first one way, then thought better of it and veered back the other; some had a different curve on either edge, so that they became broad as shovels in parts; some quivered back and forth like wriggling snakes; some forked, or spun off hooks, beaks, barbs, lobes, prongs, or even spirals. There were swords shaped like feathers, horseshoes, goat-horns, estuaries, penises, fish-hooks, eyebrows, hair-combs, Signs of the Zodiac, halfmoons, elm-leaves, dinner forks, Persian slippers, baker’s paddles, pelican’s beaks, dog’s legs, and Corinthian columns. This did not take into account the truly outlandish contraptions that seemed to have been made by piling two or more such weapons atop each other, heating, and beating. Of long-handled swinging-weapons (axes, maces, hammers, halberds, and weaponized farm-implements, viz. war-sickles, combat-flails, assault-shovels, and tactical adzes) there was a similar variety.
Most troublesome to Jack’s mind, for some reason, were the bows which instead of the good old crescent of English yew, here seemed to’ve been made from the legs of giant spiders; they were black, sinewy, glossy, spindly things that curved this way and that, and were sometimes longer on one end than the other, so that Jack could not even make out which end was up; which part was the handle; or which side was supposed to face the enemy. For each of these weapon-styles, he knew, there must be a six-thousand-year-old martial art with its own set of unfathomable rites, lingo, exercises, and secrets that could only be mastered through a lifetime of miserable study.